The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is considered to be among the worst in the world. In 2019, 80 per cent of Yemen’s people were in need—an estimated 24 million people. The 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview for Yemen report shows that 14.3 million people are classified as being in need, with around 3.2 million requiring treatment for acute malnutrition. That includes 2 million children under-five, and more than 1 million pregnant and lactating women.
Basic services and the institutions that provide them are collapsing, making access to essential services very challenging.
Energy access is limited and expensive. Most people cook on wooden stoves and face indoor air pollution. With almost no organic waste treatment, unprecedented outbreaks of cholera have been triggered.
The country’s complex and tragic political military crisis have severe implications for its future, as well as that of the whole region. Yet despite the hardships, Omer Badokhon from Yemen set out to contribute to the livelihoods of his community. When he won the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Young Champion award in 2017, his idea was to design small-scale biogas plants that run on household waste to provide fuel.
This idea was to tackle the lack of waste treatment while providing a clean cooking fuel option for families in need. Despite enormous challenges, he has now created three biogas prototypes systems. These will be given to farmers to test and share their experiences. Next year, between five and ten systems will be distributed and shared in rural areas to receive even more feedback.
“Armed conflict significantly harms the environment and the communities that depend on natural resources,” said Muralee Thummarukudy, Operations Manager at UNEP’s Crisis Management Branch, reflecting on the achievements made by Badokhon despite the crisis.
“We must afford the environment the same level of protection as human rights. UNEP hopes to develop an environmental stress index to support integrated risk assessments and conflict early warnings. Building a digital ecosystem for the planet to map, monitor and mitigate environment, peace and security risks is one of the next priority investments and it will help improve the protection of human health, livelihoods and security,” he added.
Badokhon’s situation reflects the extreme difficulties of living in Yemen. “The situation in Yemen affects every aspect of my life and business. Internet is extremely slow, and logistics and travelling are very hard. Getting in and out of the country is complicated. On top of that, Yemeni banks are blocked, which makes money transfers very hard,” he said.
Badokhon has since established a non-governmental organization to help ease some of the challenges and receive support from local government, ministries and foreign partners. It also has enabled him to further network and work alongside other large organizations.
Now, he is part of a team conducting an assessment to gauge how many people are in need of energy and can benefit most from his biogas system. After the testing phase, more funds can be raised to increase scale and reach more people.
“We want to meet the needs of people while also taking care of our planet, but first we need to know how we can best do that. That’s why 2020 is the user feedback year,” said Badokhon.
Since winning the Young Champions of the Earth prize, Badokhon feels he had the chance to highlight the situation in his region, especially the daily challenges he continues to face. At the same time, he has had an opportunity to connect with influential decision makers in his country and region.
Today, Badokhon is one of the few well-known environmentalists in Yemen. He has met with influential leaders to advocate for environmental inclusion in their practices and policies.
He has actively participated in the World Entrepreneurs Forum in Bahrain, where he represented Yemen. He was also engaged in the Arab Entrepreneurship Rally, being one of the 21 promising start-ups in the Arab region and won US$50,000 in funding.
“Winning the Young Champions award has helped me build a strong network with the real decision makers in my country and region. One of the most important things that I got from this award is that it helped me increase my credibility, enabling me to communicate with high-level government officials.”
Badokhon would recommend everyone to apply for the Young Champions prize: “This planet, our planet, is dependent on young people who decide on the future. We must care about the challenges and environment damage. Applying for this award makes you, as youth, powerful. Your voice will be heard.”