Yemen crisis explained

1 June 2020

A mother holds a baby in Yemen suffering from malnutrition, the UN warns that Yemen faces worst famine for 100 years.

A mother holds a baby in Yemen suffering from malnutrition.

The world's largest humanitarian crisis

A five-year brutal conflict has left millions of Yemenis homeless and suffering from extreme levels of malnutrition.

Now, the UN has described the spread of coronavirus in Yemen as "extremely alarming" with a healthcare system "in effect collapsed".

Already one of the world’s poorest countries, Yemen is now on the brink of catastrophe, with two in three people in urgent need of life-saving humanitarian assistance. 

The statistics are shocking. Five million people are at immediate risk of starvation, 16 million do not have clean safe water and sanitation and 22.2 million need urgent humanitarian assistance or protection. Behind these numbers, the full extent of the suffering is laid bare by real-life, impossible choices that face families every day.

Please donate to CAFOD's Yemen Crisis Appeal

Why is the crisis in Yemen happening? 

In Yemen there has been a long, bloody civil war between the Houthi ethnic group and supporters of Yemen’s government led by President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

At the request of the Yemeni government, an international coalition led by Saudi Arabia have carried out air strikes across the country against the Houthi. For ordinary Yemenis, the consequences have been devastating. The UN now estimates that more than 10,000 people have been killed since the start of the conflict, with 6,000 people killed in 2016 alone.

Yemen, already one of the world’s poorest countries, is being pushed to the brink of catastrophe. Hunger affects 14 million Yemenis, which is 60 per cent of the population. A child is dying every 10 minutes because of preventable diseases, and child malnutrition is at an all-time high.

People of different faiths are praying for Yemen. Let us continue to keep the people of Yemen in our thoughts and prayers. 

Download a prayer for Yemen

What are the humanitarian needs in Yemen?

Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Middle East, and ordinary people are bearing the brunt of a brutal conflict. 24 million people have no choice but to be dependent on international aid.

Severe water shortages combined with airstrikes, sniper attacks and a fuel blockade have turned this conflict into a humanitarian crisis. Demand for food, water, shelter, sanitation and medical care to vulnerable families in the greatest need continues.

According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the conflict has left millions of desperate people in need of humanitarian aid and protection. Yemeni families were already dealing with dire and extreme poverty but this conflict has exacerbated their suffering.

The economy and public services such as hospitals and clinics face collapse, and many Yemeni families have exhausted their savings as they struggle to earn a living. Women, children and men face a humanitarian catastrophe.

  • Food - More than 7 million people in Yemen are extremely vulnerable and need immediate access to food. 462,000 children under five are suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
  • Shelter - More than 3 million people have been recorded by the UN as internally displaced, nearly half of whom are children. Aden governorate is hosting the highest number (393,508 individuals) followed by Ta'izz (300,585) and Hajjah (280,821) [Figures as of October 2016]
  • Health -More than 1,900 of the country's 3,500 health facilities are currently either not functioning or partially functioning, leaving half the population without adequate healthcare. According to the UN, as of 5 November there has been more than 900,000 suspected cholera cases and 2,192 associated deaths were reported. More than half of the suspected cases are children. 

How are CAFOD’s experts responding?

We are still able to respond in Yemen, with an aid partner that cannot be named for security reasons. The partner was able to share this latest update with CAFOD's Emergency Response Officer, Josie O'Reilly, on the impact of coronavirus on the humanitarian crisis:

"Working with CAFOD we have adapted our programming to reflect the guidelines on crowds gathering. The project focuses on the distribution of emergency cash to the most vulnerable families who simply cannot afford to buy food."

Our aid experts are working with conflict-affected communities in the south of Yemen. They were able to deliver vital aid before the blockade and assault on Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah.

"Working with CAFOD we have adapted our programming to reflect the guidelines on crowds gathering. The project focuses on the distribution of emergency cash to the most vulnerable families who simply cannot afford to buy food."

Josie O'Reilly, Emergency Response Officer

They have been able to provide nutrition services, which involves screening and identifying children under 5 and breastfeeding mothers for acute malnutrition. Their work also included training community volunteers to spot the worst cases of malnutrition in their communities, and get mothers and babies treated at available health facilities or in the home. 

Against a challenging environment, they have been able to check thousands of children suffering from malnutrition or showing signs of the condition - providing the nutritious food supplements needed for proper treatment. 

This emergency response is vital as the country continues to battle with cholera.

CAFOD joins forces with other UK agencies to raise the alarm at the worsening humanitarian crisis

CAFOD with other UK aid agencies, in a letter on 28 January 2019 to the Daily Telegraph, has said more needs to be done to carry on the critical work of keeping people alive through feeding centres, health clinics, clean water, and sanitation projects.  There has never been a more urgent time to keep these life-saving aid programmes running.  

The agencies said: “Aid and commercial goods are not yet flowing in at the level needed to address the unfolding crisis. People are hungry, they are scared and they are desperate…”

Your donation will save lives 

Against a challenging environment, our local aid experts continue to work around the clock to provide food and medicine to people at high risk of malnutrition – such as babies, pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers.

Read the full letter to the Daily Telegraph

Pope Francis' historic visit to the United Arab Emirates

In February 2019 Pope Francis visited the United Arab Emirates. Peace and dialogue were major themes of his visit. He specifically named the war in Yemen, as well as other conflicts in the Middle East.

"War cannot create anything but misery; weapons bring nothing but death!" He said.

Pope Francis called on religious leaders to reject all forms of support for violence, saying: "Human fraternity requires of us, as representatives of the world's religions, the duty to reject every nuance of approval from the word 'war.'"

Working in neighbouring Djibouti

We worked alongside our partner Caritas Djibouti to support more than 500 families from Yemen, who had fled the conflict into neighbouring Djibouti. This money provided emergency medical care, food assistance and support for small micro-credit businesses so that refugee families could be more economically independent.

You responded with generosity and compassion just before Christmas 2016 to our Yemen Crisis Appeal, raising almost £500,000 for the people of Yemen, and we joined forces with the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal, which has raised £30 million. 

How can I support CAFOD during emergencies?

Please donate to CAFOD's Yemen Crisis Appeal

Whatever you are able to give to CAFOD's Yemen Crisis Appeal will help us reach some of Yemen’s most vulnerable families affected by this conflict.

Please keep the people of Yemen in your thoughts and prayers. 

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