The Humanitarian Crisis
Yemen is the poorest country in the region and it has suffered chronic deprivation for decades.
Yemen – which means South Arabia in Arabic – is a country situated at the south-western corner of the Arabian Peninsula. It a very rural country with around three-quarters of the population residing in the countryside. Generally, the people inhabit nearly all five of the major regions of the country: the flat coastal plain along the Red Sea which extends from the north to the south of the country, the north-eastern desert regions, the mountains that rise in the central and western area, the eastern highlands, the fertile plains in the south and the world’s largest sand desert – Rub Al Khali.
For centuries Yemen was the centre of civilisation and wealth in which various tribes ruled and lived in happiness. They were blessed with the abundance of sustenance such as fruits and plants, etc. The land later benefited from ancient and modern trade routes in which it controlled the supply of commodities such as textiles, myrrh, spices, coffee, and honey. In Yemen’s eastern region in particular caravan towns developed into settlements – the most famous example of which is at Shibam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which remains preserved just as it existed 600 years ago.
The population of Yemen face many challenges in their daily lives.
(i) The scarcity of farmland means that villages tend to be small whilst buildings are erected along cliffs and rock outcroppings. The resources used to build houses are generally of poor quality with homes made of reed, mud brick, and thatch in the coastal regions and stone and mud brick in the highland regions. Throughout Yemen, access to safe drinking water and hygienic sewage disposal is poor, particularly in the rural areas, where only a small fraction of the population has electricity, indoor plumbing, and sewage systems.
(ii) Yemen is also an arid country which means that there are no permanent water channels. The majority of the rainfall that occurs drains out, in the north, towards the Red Sea and towards the Arabian Sea in the south. The country’s main source of water is groundwater – found underground in the cracks and spaces within soil, sand, and rocks – however, the water tables in Yemen have dropped to 1200 metres below the surface since 2012 which makes it increasingly difficult for the population to gain access to clean water. The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies the water poverty line being 1,000m3 per capita per year and the World Bank has estimated that Yemen only has around 120m3 of water available per person each year making it one of the most water-scarce country in the world.
(iii) The scarcity of water also has a huge impact on agriculture and the economy. Poverty is endemic and nearly half of the population lives on less than $2 a day. Yemen ranks 160 out of 188 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index (2014) and an estimated 82% of the population require humanitarian assistance in order to fulfil their basic needs to survive.
Ongoing conflict is devastating Yemen. An estimated 14.4 million are food insecure; 19.3 million lack access to clean water and around 320,000 are acutely malnourished. According to figures provided by the UN, 250,000 children face death within months from malnutrition and lack of proper food, water, and sanitation in Yemen.
The conflict has only exacerbated these issues and at least 2,500,000 people are internally displaced (as of 31st December 2015) whilst an estimated 2.7 million people are now in need of support to secure shelter, food, water, and essential household supplies.