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Holm Akhdar: A Voice for the Environment in Yemen

A translated version of this piece is Available in: العربية (Arabic)

In July 2012, the Holm Akhdar (Green Dream) project was launched as a platform providing investigative reports on environmental concerns in Yemen. The project consists of a website that aims to be a reliable source of information and news on environmental, climate and sustainable development issues in Yemen.

The idea for ​​the project came along with Yemen’s continuing political and social unrest. The government’s disinterest in environmental issues had already resulted in deterioration due to neglect and a lack of awareness. Holm Akhdar is needed because the natural environment in Yemen is in dire need of a voice to raise awareness and call for its preservation. The Holm Akhdar platform was founded to draw attention to environmental challenges and to inform the public of facts, in order to promote more environmentally friendly practices.

Concept creation and goals

The concept of Holm Akhdar came about in mid-2011, when journalist and founder Muhammad al-Hakimi wrote an investigative report on the effects of plastic bags on Yemen’s environment. At the time he was also taking part in an intensive training program about virtual investigative journalism. The program was set up by the International Center for Journalists during 2011-2012. In February 2011, al-Hakami launched a pilot platform for the project with a Holm Akhdar Facebook page where he published his investigative report. The website was officially launched in July 2012.

Our mission at Holm Akhdar is to support the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals on a national and regional scale, and raise awareness of climate change and the environmental concerns facing Yemen, as well as provide reliable information to the public about various environmental risks and challenges. As an independent, non-profit media project, Holm Akhdar aims to raise awareness through a media message that calls for environmental preservation and that provides a voice that seeks change by carrying out virtual environmental campaigns advocating for nature and pressuring decision-makers into responding to environmental concerns. Holm Akhdar focuses on formulating ideas based on facts and providing solutions and recommendations in order to contribute to strengthening the system of legislation and public policies as they pertain to Yemen’s environmental issues, climate change and sustainable development.

Providing reliable content

The conflict that began in Yemen at the end of 2014 has contributed to the increasing amount of false information spread by new media platforms, especially those whose advertisements are a means to serve political goals. Some even use anonymous names. This led to a recent decline in the public’s interest in traditional media, and they have instead resorted to new social media networks and the content they share. But people in Yemen then began to distrust this media and question the information provided. Therefore, we at Holm Akhdar took it upon ourselves to provide people with environmental journalism they can trust. Thanks to the cumulative efforts of our team, Holm Akhdar has become a reliable source of environmental information in Yemen, and its reports have been shared by some of the most prominent international news agencies. We find that providing reliable information, highlighting key problems and proposing solutions is an ideal way to create a new relationship with the public, who trust our content and interact with it.

We believe that our platform provides content that interests our readers. Moreover, since its launch nine years ago, Holm Akhdar has adopted a press code of conduct  as an independent media source. Our team is bound by a set of values ​​and professional ethics and principles that include accuracy of the information we provide, impartiality, credibility and integrity. Holm Akhdar’s website avoids fake news, falsified sources and fabricated quotes. The site guarantees complete transparency, so there is no deliberate concealment of information. Rather, we seek to reveal the facts in order to meet public interest. In order to provide reliable high-quality content, we write in a language that is focused, accurate and accessible, to avoid misleading the public. In addition, we ensure that the information we publish is accurately backed up with sufficient and reliable sources.

Holm Akhdar provides up-to-date information on major environmental and climate issues in Yemen, as well as a multimedia resource library on Yemen’s natural reserves and biodiversity in its terrestrial and marine environment. The platform also contains many in-depth and specialized environmental reports. All of this is meant to support the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals on national, regional and international level.

Content creation tracks

In Holm Akhdar, we have two tracks that we follow in parallel in our process of selecting and creating the content we publish. The first track focuses on periodic investigative material that is divided according to specific fixed categories created in our work plan. This plan includes climate change, biodiversity (both animal and plant life), water crisis, environmental pollution, renewable energy, sustainable development and modern farming techniques. We are keen to provide exclusive content under each of these categories by using multimedia channels to review quantitative and qualitative information that has not been properly tackled before. We also create a variety of visuals that support the information and make it even more accessible.

The second track, however, revolves around sudden events or emergencies that occur in local communities, such as natural disasters and hurricanes, floods or oil pollution, water crisis, farmland problems and the poaching of endangered species, in addition to logging operations, leveling of lands and forests, and so on. In this case, the editorial board gives the greenlight to prioritize reports on such matters. To ensure the accuracy of information on such emergencies, we communicate with local sources and specialists as well as those affected by such disasters. We also verify pictures taken at the affected locations. Occasionally,  we receive reports from citizens about an environmental issue that concerns their region, to which we respond by highlighting the issue on our platform and prioritizing the environmental challenges of local communities. Through both of these tracks, we support the data with printed as well as digital sources, references and recent studies, to further verify the accuracy of the analysis and explanation of these issues.

The solutions journalism approach

Two years ago, we adopted the principle of news coverage with the methodology of solutions journalism. This was our way of addressing environmental issues through in-depth qualitative analysis linking citizens’ experiences with verified information and the analysis of local and international experts. We thus put forward proposals addressing the issues at hand, making them available to the public, local authorities and civil society organizations. It is important to note that our adoption of this methodology helps us avoid stereotypical recommendations that are not applicable in reality, and thereby trivialize the suffering of the local communities. The editorial staff also make sure to include reports that objectively discuss the probabilities and causes of success or failure of the solutions we propose.

One example that illustrates the impact we make by following the methodology of solutions journalism is the success story of the first water farming efforts in Yemen. This story helped change the public’s misconception that the technique of cultivation without soil is too difficult to apply and that the materials required for its success cannot easily be found in local markets. Following this story’s publication, we received many letters from farmers inquiring about this technique, which we proposed in the published story. We also put them in contact with the appropriate experts to advise them and help them apply this technique on their farms.

Another example of solutions journalism bringing positive responses from the public was our coverage of the poaching of endangered animals. Holm Akhdar addressed, through numerous reports, the seriousness of this crime and called for an end to it. We monitored the response of local authorities and were happy to see that last April the governor of Shabwa governorate issued a ban on hunting endangered wild animals, such as deer and antelopes. The governor also instructed the police to make a list of the people who practice this illegal activity.

An attempt to make a change in environmental policies

Among the most prominent issues addressed by Holm Akhdar in a series of exclusive and ongoing reports, which have generated local and international interest, is the case of the petroleum tanker SAFER. The tanker was loaded with nearly 1.1 million barrels of crude oil and had been moored off the Red Sea coast since 2015 without maintenance. As a result, one of the tanker’s tubes was punctured and its structure decomposed. Holm Akhdar was the first to warn of the severity of this disaster and the magnitude of the damage to be expected. We published the first report on SAFER on 15 October 2019 and continued to monitor its catastrophic repercussions. Then on 13 June of this year, the Holm Akhdar team published an exclusive report about it as part of an ongoing campaign to make our voice heard. The English version of the report attracted international attention and was reported by major news agencies, as it provided rigorous estimates and was thus able to reveal for the first time the extent of the environmental and economic costs that Yemen would be met with in case the crude oil was to leak from the floating tanker. The issue of the SAFER tanker continued to evolve and garner great interest until it eventually reached the UN Security Council.

Among our efforts to change environmental policies in Yemen was our endeavor to push the relevant authorities to reconsider the current policies and measures pertaining to climate disasters in Yemen. In a report published on 5 August, we called on authorities to declare a climate emergency in Yemen, and pointed to the necessity of preparing a national plan to confront climate disasters and establish a national center for climate emergencies to warn the public ahead of time. On 15 September 2020, officials and meteorologists responded to our call by holding a press conference calling for the need to prepare a national plan to confront climate disasters.

As for policy papers, we highlighted the role of the Holm Akhdar platform in addressing environmental issues in an important research paper on ‘The Role of the Media in Peacebuilding in Yemen’, which was issued by the Center for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient (CARPO) in Bonn, Germany, in partnership with the Yemen Polling Center (YPC) and in cooperation with the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ). This is a matter that brings us great pride at Holm Akhdar.

Barriers to content production

We face many challenges at Holm Akhdar, most notably the lack of financing, which affects the continuation of the team’s work at one end, and the sustainability of the Holm Akhdar website and the increase of the number of followers on social media on the other. In addition, the quality of content production is also negatively affected as we are unable to provide in-person live coverage of the rural areas and islands. Such coverage requires funding for our team’s transportation and accommodation, keeping in mind that the Holm Akhdar team is made up of volunteer journalists and concerned people who believe in the importance of preserving the environment, nature and its biodiversity, agriculture and water.

Because such challenges make it difficult to publish new content as frequently as we would like, we instead publish content intermittently and try to balance out this deficit by reposting stories and exclusive reports on social media every two or three days. We also summarize the information we have about natural reserves and endangered flora and fauna and other environmental crimes in Yemen’s local communities, and include them in electronic pictogram posters or infographics. Our goal is to facilitate the access and spread of the information on social media, but our efforts remain at risk of being halted due to lack of the financial support that would have guaranteed the continuity and expansion of Holm Akhdar.

Continuing to create content about Yemen’s environmental issues

Nine years have passed since we created our first online platform on Facebook, on 1 November 2011. Today, Holm Akhdar has over 10,544 followers on Facebook, 4,145 on Twitter and 1,112 on Instagram. We also have 156 subscribers on our YouTube account and 91 on LinkedIn, and the numbers keep growing.

As the voice of Yemen’s environment, our ambitions are great and our hope is endless. We aspire to institutionalize our activity and find sustainable resources to establish a headquarters and increase the number of journalists and photographers in each one of Yemen’s governorates. This would enable us to publish written and illustrated environmental survey reports on all the remote areas and affected communities in Yemen.

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Samah Al-Garany

A researcher and member of the editorial board of the Holm Akhdar website.

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