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Yemen is now in the seventh year of its high-level conflict, which the UN estimates has killed more than 233,000 people through both direct and indirect means. Around 80% of the population (24 million people) were in need of humanitarian assistance in 2020 and 4 million were internally displaced. The UN has described it as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”

This briefing summarises the humanitarian situation in the country, including the impact of the conflict on civilians and the Covid-19 pandemic. It also describes the funding shortfalls in UN aid appeals, and the amount and purpose of UK aid to the country.

Brief history of the conflict 

The conflict has its origins in 2011, when President Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to resign following popular protests. Following an UN-backed transition negotiated by the Gulf Cooperation Council, President Abdu Rabbu Mansur Hadi took power in 2012. Despite attempts to negotiate a new political settlement, conflict broke out in 2014 and the capital, Sana’a, was captured by Houthi rebels. The following year, a Saudi-led coalition intervened in support of the internationally recognised Hadi Government.

Yemen is now divided between the Houthi rebels in the north of the country, which includes the Yemeni capital, and the Hadi Government, which controls much of the south and east of the country. The US and Saudi Arabia judge the Houthis to receive military support from Iran.

For a background to the conflict in 2021 and attempts to negotiate peace, see the accompanying Library Briefing: Yemen in 2021: Conflict and peace.

Humanitarian situation 

As stated above, a significant proportion of the Yemen population are in need of humanitarian assistance. 14.3 million require acute assistance, meaning they need aid to save their lives.

Yemen’s situation has worsened though currency collapse and rising fuel and food prices. Since July 2020, the Yemeni Rial has lost a third of its value against the US dollar. 

Humanitarian access has been constrained by the conflict. From March to April 2021, there were 575 reported incidents across Yemen of aid being denied or delayed

In July, the UN World Food Programme said the the situation remains “fragile”, and rises in food and fuel prices may see the risk of famine rise. 

UK aid to Yemen

The UK has provided around £1 billion in aid to Yemen since 2015, primarily to address the humanitarian situation.

For 2021/22, it has made a reduced pledge of £87 million, down from £160 million in 2020/21. The Chairs of the Foreign, International Development and Defence Committees have been critical of the reduction. The Government has defended its plans, stating the figure “represents a floor, not a ceiling.” It has also emphasised its diplomatic support for a negotiated peace in the country-these are discussed in the Library Briefing, Yemen in 2021: Conflict and peace

Shortfalls in UN funding appeals 

In March 2021, the UN appealed for $3.85 billion to fund the humanitarian needs of Yemen in 2021. To 13 October 2021, this remains about 55% funded. UN funding appeals have been consistently underfunded since 2016. 

In September, the World Bank warned that the decline in external aid-from a peak of $605 million in 2018 to $307 million in 2019-threatens Yemeni health services and has led to a downsizing of 30 core UN programmes from April 2021. On 22 September, countries pledged an additional $600 million to Yemen. This included contributions from the US, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.


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