More than ever before, the issues affecting the environment have been at the centre of the public debate. The number of activists, especially young ones, as well as the number of organisations committed to environmental protection, has been multiplying globally. Forty-two years after the first Earth Day took place, its legacy grows strong, and environmental conservation is finally being taken seriously.


Beyond what eyes can see

Despite the undeniable global wave of environmental awareness that marked the past decade, the planet’s health is in a precarious and delicate state- unregulated deforestation, endless droughts in the Horn of Africa, dangerous levels of air pollution in big capital cities, over 8 million tonnes of plastic entering the Ocean yearly, animal species at the brink of extinction, and so many other issues.

And the main reason for such rapid decline? Human action.

All except the most fervent climate change deniers know this to be true. However, amongst the myriad of man-made threats to the environment increasingly finding their way into our conversations, one is very often forgotten: war.

The rise of an ongoing problem

Armed conflict is a sad reality that still prevails in a lot of countries across the globe. Yemen, the homeland of Shahba Alkebsi, a 32-year-old environmental researcher, is one of those severely affected regions. The seven years of intense war in Yemen have triggered one of the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. According to the United Nations, 24.3 million people in 2021 were “at risk” of hunger and disease, of whom roughly 14.4 million were in urgent need of assistance. Moreover, the environment has also been deeply affected by the turbulent situation in the country, which only magnified the overall instability climate.

Like many other Yemenis, Shahba left the country for Europe to escape the armed conflict, hoping to return as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the short-term escape turned out to be an undetermined stay. But Shabba did not let the adversities compromise her future.


Researching to understand and find alternatives

In 2018, she completed a Masters Degree in Maritime Spatial Planning at three reputable European universities and has since been using her skills as a researcher and background in Sustainable Blue Growth studies to help raise awareness about the impact of human activity on the environment:


Shahba Alkebsi, Maritime Spatial Planner

My Master’s thesis focused on Ocean Literacy in Yemen’s national circular and the impact on Blue Growth. My vision is to help raise awareness about environmental issues amongst the younger generations, and to promote strategies to achieve a balance between human activities and environmental protection”.

The researcher has been closely following the ongoing armed conflict in her country and explained the reasons behind the apparent neglect of environmental issues during times of humanitarian crisis:

When the war started in Yemen, the media did not mention it. Yemenis struggled a lot and they learned how to live with what they have. To be honest, people didn’t care about the environment that much, because the voices of human loss were louder than the environment. Yemeni people are still focused on how to survive day by day. However, after years of the war, national authorities and NGOs finally noticed the negative impact it had on nature and how it extended to impact society. “


The magnitude of the consequences

According to Shahba, the negative effect of the armed conflict goes beyond land territory and is impacting  the Ocean and the communities that rely on its resources: 

“Coastal populations are directly affected by war too. Local fishermen, for instance, who depend entirely on catching and selling fish in the local markets to survive, are now limited by not only the high fuel prices but also the danger of going into the sea and getting killed. Moreover, the marine ecosystem is threatened by frequent oil spillages”

When asked to comment about the war situation in Ukraine and how the future of the country will be impacted by it, Shahba said that whilst it is impossible to predict what will happen over the next years, it is highly likely that air, water and soil pollution will be heavily affected.

She also stressed that, in the short-term, the dynamic shift of funding and political focus that is common during wartime is the most worrying: “Green and Blue projects funds were already limited, and now, because of the war, it will be even harder to direct funding for environmental causes, as a lot of the resources will go towards economic recovery and to support armies. Sustainable projects are at the bottom of their priority list”.


The power of education

Shahba enjoying the company of the Ocean in Azores

The daily stream of news about political, economic, and social instability in various parts of the world is hard to process, making it easy for people to get overwhelmed, or even desensitized to the issues.

Amidst countless stories of human tragedy, environmental issues fade away and rarely make the headlines. As a young woman, with lived experience of war and its impacts, and as a scientist, who dedicates her time and skills to finding sustainable solutions to protect both people and the environment, Shahba is a strong believer that education is the key to raising awareness about the environment and ends our conversation with a message:

“Young people should keep educating themselves on how to build peace between countries whilst raising awareness about the effects of war on the environment. Our ecosystem is not replaceable like urban infrastructure. You have the right to demand a brighter future for our planet.”