Narcotic crops are worsening Yemen's climate woe

STORY: There's a narcotic plant that dominates life in Yemen, called qat. It's a green leaf, and chewing it is a national pastime.

But as the country continues to struggle through its ongoing civil war and famine fears, farmers around the capital Sanaa are draining groundwater and removing soil to cultivate it -- which is threatening to exhaust its already precious resources.

Why? Because qat farmers can get three times the revenue of any other crop.

But climate change is making Yemen's rainfall less reliable, the World Bank said in August.

The Sanaa basin aquifer is being drained rapidly, with farmers in surrounding villages saying they drill between 1,800 to 3,300 feet deep to reach groundwater.

Farms lie parched after years of droughts interspersed with intense rain, causing flash floods that did not replenish aquifers.

Farmer Khaled Measer is among those struggling.

“Due to the lack of rain and the receding water of the wells, all the farms have dried up. Our farm is the only farm where the supports for the grapevines still stand. As for the other farms, they were vineyards - but they had to dismantle the vine supports and used the vines as firewood. It’s all over.”

That's echoed by more farmers, including Saleh Rassam.

“The upper and lower farms have all dried up. And this greenhouse has dried up. Also, this one, and those eight greenhouses have dried up because of the lack of water.”

The farmers in villages where fruits and grains were once cultivated now plant qat.

Amid the uncertainties of war, cultivating qat has advantages, taking just a few months to reach harvest. Fruit trees take three to five years. And a qat crop is harvested several times a year, while fruits are harvested only once a year.

It comes amid despair as a recent report forecast that the East Mediterranean and Middle East will see temperatures rising nearly twice as fast as the global average, with overall warming of up to 5 degrees Celsius or more by the end of the century.