When I asked Moosa Elayah to describe where he was born—a province in Yemen called Ibb—the first thing he said was “green,” which makes sense. Ibb, in the southwestern corner of the country, is the wettest place in the entire Arabian Peninsula. It’s also a rare source of viable land for growing food and storing water in an otherwise dry, dusty country—one now facing a catastrophic, war-fueled famine.
But Ibb isn’t the same place it used to be, said Elayah, now a senior scientist at the Netherlands-based Centre for International Development Issues. “It was very green. Now it’s almost all stone,” he told me on Friday. Farmland has been replaced by buildings—many of which now hold starving Yemenis who have fled the civil war in the north. More than a quarter of Yemen’s two million internally displaced persons, or IDPs, have found refuge in Ibb, according to the World Health