Even before the war in Yemen broke out in 2015, it was already one of the poorest and most vulnerable countries in the Arab world. Today, years of protracted violence has had devastating consequences for Yemen’s civilians, and the country finds itself in a relentless protection and humanitarian crisis.
A staggering 24 million people require humanitarian assistance - that is about 85 per cent of Yemen’s population of 29 million. More than 3,5 million people remain displaced after being forced to flee their homes, and many Yemenis remain incredibly food insecure due to the stagnating economy, bureaucratic impediments, and ongoing conflict. Famine is possible in many areas of the country.
Without a lasting peace in sight, Yemen continues to be torn apart by conflict, economic decline, the collapse of public services, disease outbreaks, loss of livelihoods and food insecurity.
In Yemen, as in every other armed conflict, it is the civilians that bear the brunt of the violence. More than 100,000 people have been killed since 2015. Cities, homes, and vital infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, and water supplies are damaged or destroyed by years of heavy fighting.
Almost five million people are estimated to have been forced to flee their homes since the beginning of the conflict. More than 3,5 million people remain displaced, living in camps for internally displaced persons where needs are incredibly high. These, normally improvised camps are comprised of makeshift shelters with little access to actual shelter, leave Yemenis fleeing the conflict extremely vulnerable. At the same time, Yemen is host to almost 300,000 refugees primarily from the Horn of Africa.
Across the country, humanitarian needs remain acute, and the protective environment has deteriorated. Few Yemenis can reliably access safety, security, and their basic rights – a challenge which is especially difficult for those who have been displaced by violence.
Population: 29.1 million
People in need: 24.1 million
Internally Displaced: 3.6 million
Refugees and asylum seekers: 247,797
Civilian casualties during the conflict: More than 100,000
Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis have lost their source of income, the country’s economy has faltered, its currency is in free fall, and food prices have doubled since the beginning of the conflict.
This means that 20 million people out of Yemen’s population of 29 million, according to the World Food Programme, are now food insecure, while nearly 10 million people do not where they will get their next meal, and a staggering two million children require treatment for acute malnutrition.
Like the rest of the world, Yemen has felt the weight of the global COVID-19 pandemic. By mid-October 2020, official numbers of coronavirus infections in Yemen amounted to some 2,000 confirmed cases and almost 600 deaths, according to WHO, but given the lack of test capacity, the real numbers are likely to be much, much higher.
The long-term negative consequences of the pandemic felt in other countries, will be amplified in a country where basic services have been lacking for years. COVID-19 will exacerbate such issues as poverty, the loss of basic human rights and increase the risk of conflict. Particularly for displaced populations, who are likely to have even further amplified impacts of the crisis they are already experiencing.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Yemen was already battling epidemic outbreaks. After years of war, many Yemenis lack access to clean water and sanitation which has paved the way for waterborne diseases such as diphtheria, dengue fever and cholera.
The current outbreak of cholera in Yemen was at its peak in 2017 the fastest-growing cholera outbreak ever recorded anywhere in the world. By the end of 2019, the cholera outbreak in Yemen had reached a total of 2,3 million suspected cases and almost 4,000 deaths – a third of them children under five years.
Meanwhile, only half of the country’s health facilities are still fully functioning.
Years of war in Yemen has created a relentless humanitarian crisis and left the vast majority of the population in need of humanitarian assistance. In 2019, aid agencies in the countries managed to reach an unprecedented 14 million people per month with life-saving assistance.
Yet, the UN-led plan for humanitarian assistance in Yemen for 2020 is dangerously underfunded by almost 60 per cent. Promises for funding for 2021 are unsure, and there are continued expected shortages. Additional funding is required to support the most vulnerable people living through the Yemen crisis – the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
What was Yemen like before the war?
"Six years have passed, leaving everyone feeling like the war is all they can remember. The blurry hindsight of what was reminds us of how habituated we have become to conflict.
Before the war, we all complained from the sensation of lack and scarcity. Electricity would go off for two hours a day to our great dissatisfaction. Fuel prices rose every few years at a small rate of under 10 per cent, and people would express their frustration in riots.
But it seems to me that before the war, we had safety, security, peace, an acceptable standard of education, a source of income – although not for all - and a sense of direction towards the future. Things were not perfect, and there was always room for improvement. But in comparison with today, things were much, much better.
Before the war, Yemen was a functioning country, albeit stagnant. Children went to school, adults went to work, fuel was available, electricity lit every house, and inflation was not skyrocketing. Yet, many Yemenis were incredibly dissatisfied with the seemingly never-ending struggle to find a better life."
What is Yemen like today?
"When the war came, it took whatever remaining hope away. Death became a familiar event, conflict became the status quo, salaries became a privilege, candle lights became our illumination, schools became empty rooms with no teachers, and peace became the one common longing in all our hearts.
Today, fuel prices have tripled, and the weary souls of the people are tired of speaking up. With all the deterioration and destruction in Yemen, it seems silly that we used to complain about our problems before the war.
But the troubles of today should not make us long for the troubles of yesterday. Instead, they should leave us longing for a better tomorrow.
Perhaps those in power have understood this, they have understood that everything is relative. This is evident in our everyday life, and we are actively and persistently reminded of that phenomenon. When fuel prices rise extraordinarily, we long for the high prices of yesterday which in comparison seems to be the lesser of two evils.
Safety is our number one concern, and despite everything, going back to the situation before the war is not what I long for, moving forward to a beautiful reality is the only path ahead."
But first, the war must end."
- Aiman Al Faqeeh, DRC Yemen
DRC has been present in Yemen since 2008 but scaled up its operation in 2015 and is now one of the largest international NGO’s working in the country. In Yemen, DRC aims to save lives and empower the displaced to build a better future.
In 2019 alone, DRC reached 1,2 million vulnerable people in Yemen. Read more about our work in Yemen here.