Yemen Crisis Explained

Map of YemenAfter six years of war, Yemen remains the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. More than 4 million people have been uprooted from their homes and more than 20 million are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. The risk of a large-scale famine in the country has never been more acute. Tens of thousands are already living in famine-like conditions, with a staggering five million more just one step away from it. 

Here's What You Need to Know:


1. When did the crisis in Yemen begin?

2. Where are Yemenis fleeing to?

3. What are some of the biggest challenges facing people in Yemen?

4. How are Yemeni women and children being impacted by the conflict?

5. What is the UN Refugee Agency doing to help in Yemen?

When did the crisis in Yemen begin?

Yemen’s civil war began in 2015 as a result of clashes between Yemeni government forces and the Houthis - also known as Ansar Allah. Over the past six years, conflict and economic decline have taken a heavy toll on civilians, forcing millions to flee their homes and leaving 66 percent of the population in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Even before the current crisis, Yemen was the most vulnerable country in the Middle East. It ranked among the world’s worst in malnutrition rates and half of its population was living in poverty, without access to safe water.

Displaced Yemeni children in one of the hosting sites in Sana'a, Yemen.

Where are Yemenis fleeing to?

More than four million Yemenis have been displaced from their homes since the beginning of the crisis, but the vast majority remain inside the country. In 2020 alone, approximately 172,000 people became uprooted, giving Yemen the fourth largest number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the world - after Syria, Colombia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Many of the internally displaced have been living in exile for more than two years, straining their meager resources and facing increasingly harsh conditions. Approximately 66 percent of IDPs in Yemen live in dangerous locations, characterized by widespread food insecurity and lack of water, healthcare and sanitation services. Their situation has become even more challenging since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat of a looming famine in the country.   

Despite the conflict, Yemen hosts more than 135,000 refugees and asylum seekers from Somalia and Ethiopia, making it the world’s second largest host of Somali refugees.

9-year-old internally displaced girl, Ipteehal, plays kitchen with her younger sister Radia outside the unfinished building where they live with other displaced families in Al Mukalla, Hadramaut, Yemen

What are some of the biggest challenges people face in Yemen?

The risk of a large-scale famine, violence, collapsing services and protracted displacement are the biggest challenges in Yemen. Six years of intense fighting have pushed the country to the brink of economic collapse, leaving only half of the country’s health facilities fully functional and more than half of the country’s population without enough water and resources to meet their basic needs. Reports show that more than 16 million people could go hungry this year and half a million are already living in famine-like conditions.

And the COVID-19 pandemic is making things worse – with people’s immune systems already severely weakened after years of war and deprivation, Yemenis continue to grapple with the effects of the virus and outbreaks of other preventable diseases – such as cholera, diphtheria, measles, and dengue fever – that were long-ago eradicated elsewhere in the world.

Sameer gives water to his boy inside a collective center for displaced people in Hudaydah, Yemen

How are Yemeni women and children being impacted by the conflict?

Women and children are bearing the brunt of the crisis. They constitute 79 percent of the displaced population and are finding themselves in increasingly difficult circumstances.

Today, one of four of the displaced Yemeni families is headed by a woman or girl --  20 percent are under the age of 18. They are forced to take on the responsibility to sustain their families while facing inequality, limited access to services and multiple barriers due to entrenched sociocultural norms. With rampant inflation and few livelihood opportunities, many can no longer afford basic meals and are facing heightened risks of starvation, gender-based violence, exploitation and early marriage. UN reports show that more than a million pregnant and lactating women are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition in the course of 2021.

Somali refugees in Lahj Governate, Yemen

Meanwhile, Yemeni children continue to be killed and injured. At least one child dies every ten minutes due to preventable diseases, and in some parts of the country, one child in four is now acutely malnourished. Furthermore, more than 2.3 million children under the age of five could suffer from acute malnutrition in 2021. Tens of thousands of other children are at risk of severe acute malnutrition and even death without urgent treatment.

What is the UN Refugee Agency doing to help in Yemen? 

The UN Refugee Agency is on the ground delivering protection and emergency aid to vulnerable displaced families in all of Yemen’s 20 governorates affected by conflict through the provision of shelter, essential household supplies, cash assistance and legal aid. It is also protecting and supporting more than 135,000 refugees and asylum seekers - mainly from Somalia and Ethiopia -who have found refuge in the country -- and working with local partners to treat acute malnutrition and control the spread of diseases.

During the pandemic, UNHCR has distributed hygiene kits, increased its cash assistance programs and promoted activities to raise awareness about COVID-19.

UNHCR distributes aid and plastic sheets to displaced communities in Lahj, Yemen

Resolve to help refugees in 2020...

Monthly giving is the most convenient, effective and efficient way you can help people fleeing conflict. Start making a lifesaving difference today. Please become USA for UNHCR’s newest monthly donor.

Mar 2 2021
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