Yemen: Impoverished and War-Battered


The poorest country in the Middle East, Yemen is bogged down in war and the scene of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today.

Here is some background:

- Mired in conflict -

The seizure in September 2014 of the capital Sanaa by Shiite Huthi rebels saw a Saudi-led Arab military coalition enter the Yemen conflict in 2015 in support of the internationally recognised government.

The rebels, who come from the north of the country, are supported by Iran, which however denies any military involvement.

Since the March 2015 intervention, the war has killed some 10,000 people, according to the World Health Organization. Two million people have been displaced.

Human rights groups have said the number of victims could be five times higher.

The conflict has been further complicated by fighting between southern separatists and government forces that has its roots in the previous division of the country.

South Yemen was an independent state before its merger with the North in 1990, and separatists have remained powerful.

- Humanitarian disaster -

In October 2018 the UN reiterated that the humanitarian situation in Yemen was the worst in the world. 

About 75 percent of the population -- 22 million people -- were in need of aid and 8.4 million were at risk of famine, it said.

Save the Children says that, based on UN figures, between March 2015 and October 2018 some 85,000 children under five may have died of severe malnutrition or related diseases.

UNICEF estimates some 4.5 million children in Yemen risk losing access to state schools.

- Impoverished -

Yemen is the Middle East's poorest country and relies largely on foreign aid, with its economy in tatters.

Oil and gas production -- the main source of revenue before the war -- have ground to a halt.

The local riyal currency lost more than 36 percent of its value over 2018, despite a $2 billion (1.6 billion euros) bailout from Saudi Arabia in January.

The cost of basic goods has spiked, in particular of food and fuel.

- Jihadist base - 

Jihadist outfits the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda have exploited the chaos to establish themselves in southern Yemen.

The Yemeni branch of Al-Qaeda merged with that of Saudi Arabia in January 2009, forming Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). 

It is considered by Washington to be the jihadist group's most dangerous branch, with US drone strikes on the outfit increasing after President Donald Trump took office in January 2017.

- Heritage in danger -

Yemen was from 400 BC part of what the Romans called Arabia Felix, or Happy Arabia, and the kingdom of Sheba with its legendary Queen of Sheba.

This was followed by the Himyarite dynasty and the seventh century Muslim conquest.

The country has been left with a rich cultural heritage which is now in peril.

The historic town of Zabid, the old city of Sanaa and the ancient walled city of Shibam, known as the "Manhattan of the desert", are on UNESCO's World Heritage in Danger list.

- Chewing qat -

Yemen is a major consumer and producer of the mildly narcotic leaf qat which is banned in some countries but has been part of the Yemeni social fabric for thousands of years.

The widespread use of the plant and its spreading cultivation in the arid country has caused concerns. 

Besides claims about its negative social and psychological effects, the plant requires much water and its cultivation is in some cases at the expense of food production.