The Republic of Yemen covers an area of over 531,000 square km in the south of the Arabian peninsula, and contains the highest mountain ridges in Arabia. The Republic of Yemen is characterized by a wide variety of broad environmental zones, with distinct geological, climatic and biological characteristics, the most prominent of which is the EAM zone. Yemen is one of the richer countries in the Middle East for biodiversity (especially endemic species), due to:
a) its great diversity of habitats, largely the result of wide altitudinal range and climate,
b) its position at the foot of the Arabian peninsula, lying at the center of a globally important flyway for migrant birds between Eurasia and Africa, and
c) its biological isolation by seas and deserts, which has resulted in the evolution of 13 endemic or near-endemic bird species on the mainland and a further 6 on the island of Socotra.
The CEPF EAM hotspot ecosystem profile cite this part of the Arabian peninsula as the Arabian peninsula corridor “The Arabian Highlands in Western Yemen and Southwestern Saudi Arabia are rich in plant endemism, and this endemism served as the basis for the identification of 37 KBAs in this profile. This narrow strip of Arabian Highlands near the Red Sea coast is relatively homogeneous and follows a clear terrain gradient. This corridor is also one of the most densely inhabited and cultivated areas in the Arabian Peninsula. Biodiversity in this corridor is highly reliant on traditional agricultural practices, such as shade coffee plantation, that create micro-biomes of high biodiversity value for plants, reptiles and birds”.
The highlands of Yemen (the EAM part of Yemen) is an Endemic Bird Area- EBA that comprises of 8 Important Bird Areas – IBAs ( Kawkaban – Shibam, Mahwit, Jabal al-Nabi Shu'ayb, Haraz mountains, Jabal Sumarah, High mountains of Ibb, Wadi al-Birayn and Jabal Iraf). The EBA holds 7 endemic species of which 2 are globally threatened, as follows: the Arabian Waxbill, Philby's Partridge, Yemen Serin, Yemen Linnet, Yemen Accentor (NT)Yemen Warbler (VU) and Yemen Thrush (VU). BirdLife International (2016) Endemic Bird Area factsheet.
During recent decades’ roads have improved access to the Yemen mountains and, in some areas, economic activity has shifted from agriculture to local tourism. Consequently, traditional cultivated terracing (and associated uncultivated scrub), which can provide important habitats for some birds, are deteriorating and are subject to severe soil erosion on steeper slopes; habitat is further degraded as a result of uncontrolled cutting of wood and timber and overgrazing (Jennings et al. 1988, WWF/IUCN 1994). More insidiously, however, in many areas mature trees are currently known to suffer from die-back; this may have resulted from climate change (reduced precipitation or drought) exacerbated by a range of other biological stresses (Gardner and Fisher 1994).
As well as being important for restricted-range species, the Arabian peninsula is a major fly-way for migrating birds: it has been estimated that some two to three billion migrants of up to 200 species pass through during both spring and autumn in route between sub-Saharan Africa and the Palearctic; the mountains no doubt provide vital habitat for feeding and resting. The region is also an important fly-way for birds of prey that cross the Red Sea at and around the Bab al Mandab, the narrowest crossing point between the peninsula and Africa (Welch and Welch 1992). The Critical Endangered Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita has been recorded as a spring and autumn passage migrant and non-breeding visitor at a few sites in the EBA (in Yemen), namely Bajil at the foothills of the Yemen highlands.
Decision making in all sectors in Yemen, and accordingly for biodiversity conservation, is central and follows top-down approach. Grass-root movements toward wider engagement of local communities in decisions related to nature conservation and biodiversity protection are growing, and the number of Civil Society Organizations is growing as will. Donors investment in protecting biodiversity in Yemen is also growing and positively impact the level of protection of species and habitats in this biodiversity rich country. However, a major limitation identified by Yemen official plans and strategies, and by Yemeni CSOs and many other stakeholders, is weak (or perhaps absent) biodiversity information management and sharing mechanisms and systems.
Implementation of biodiversity conservation programmes, and enforcement of respective environmental safeguarding policies and tools can be efficient only when information are readily available (i.e. available on time of decision, sufficient, up to date and accurate). And in the case of the EAM region in Yemen it was noted, from discussions with several CSOs, that readily availability of sufficient, relevant and trust-worthy information to national and local decision makers and to local communities is questionable. Some of the key concerns related to this situation can be summarized in the following:
1) Most of the protected areas within this region are lacking proper profiling of its ecological character, biodiversity, conservation priorities, threats, etc. And accordingly many of these PAs do not have proper PA management plan. Even when there is a management plan, like in the case of Buraa which have an outdated management plan, the PA managers and even the national authorities are less aware about the value of these protected areas as part of the network of KBAs and protected areas within the EAM region, and accordingly the need for collaborate effort within the whole network.
2) Decision makers, planners and engineers responsible for the development of infrastructures, services, utilities, land use planning and economic development projects are not aware about biodiversity designated and delineated areas in this region, they are not aware about the value of the unique habitat and conservation-worthy species in it, and accordingly they are not able to show enough appreciation to the need to conserve it. For instance, decision makers lack of information about the ecological value of a relict forest in Wadi Buraa caused the loss of at least 13% of extremely important and unique habitat and species for the construction of a 5 km road. The consequences of such a loss were reported by researchers to be much more complex and negative on biodiversity in this area.
3) Authorities responsible for enforcing, supervising and promoting the application of the national environmental safeguarding tools (like EIA systems) are suffering from lacking access to readily and up-to date information about delineated biodiversity areas and designated protected areas and species. Therefore the efficiency of such tools is hindered by the absence of information, and/or the lack of access to available information.
4) Environmental NGOs and CSOs do have absolutely minimal knowledge about biodiversity within the EAM region in Yemen, and accordingly they are in need to be supported with information, information management tools, and information sharing and presentation tools to be able to efficiently engage with the decision makers and developers as advocates of biodiversity conservation priorities and needs. They need such systems and tools also to outreach wider segment of the community, in particular expert researchers and young generations, to bring in more support to the conservation of biodiversity in Yemen in General and the EAM region in particular.
5) Though several research projects were implemented by researchers and scientist in Yemen in general, and the EAM region in specific, most of the knowledge generated and documented by such research is not available to most of the local CSOs, national NGOs and even to decision makers.