Quick facts: What you need to know about the crisis in Yemen


Last updated: November 7, 2018

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The UN reports that 14 million people in Yemen may be on the brink of famine. More than half of Yemenis do not have enough eat.

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  • Abdullah is a banana farmer and father of 7. We met him and his 7-year-old daughter Nehan in a cholera isolation unit where Nehan has just begun receiving treatment. The family also receives food baskets from Mercy Corps. ALL PHOTOS: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps

The crisis in Yemen, caused by prolonged conflict, has led to staggering impacts on human life, basic public services and the economy. More than 2 million people have been displaced and 14 million are in desperate need of food. In the last few months, civilian deaths have increased 164 percent as violence has increased. Families are struggling to survive, severe outbreaks of cholera and other communicable diseases are ongoing, and the risk of famine looms.

Millions of Yemeni people need our help. Today, 22.2 million people within the country are in need of humanitarian assistance, and less than 80 percent of the Humanitarian Response Plan has been funded for 2018. Mercy Corps is there to connect communities with desperately needed resources, but our work is only possible with your knowledge and support.

Learn more about the crisis and find out how you can help.


It wasn’t the heavy shelling and gunfire that devastated her. It was the loss.

The warfare in Abha’s* village in Yemen had become too intense, forcing her and her family to flee to the city of Taiz. In one fell swoop Abha, 50, her husband, and their four children lost their home, their safety and their independence.

Worse yet, they lost the comfort of knowing where their next meal would come from. With no jobs or income, Abha and her husband started skipping dinner to make their meager resources last longer. Then there wasn’t enough for anyone in the family to eat dinner. “Most nights we went to bed hungry,” Abha says. “I felt very heavy.”

Prolonged conflict in Yemen has put 22.2 million people like Abha in these same precarious circumstances: out of options and in desperate need. 14 million people — more than half the population — do not have enough to eat.

Yemen rarely makes headlines outside of military action in the country, like the raid that killed a U.S. Navy SEAL. In fact, this devastating humanitarian crisis has, for years, gone largely unnoticed. But the world can’t afford inaction any longer — too many lives are at risk.

Where is Yemen?

Yemen is a country in Western Asia located on the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It’s bordered on two sides by water — the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden — and by Saudi Arabia to the north and Oman to the east. It is the poorest country in the Middle East, with a total population of 29.3 million.

What is happening in Yemen?

Since 2014, ongoing conflict between government and nongovernment forces has produced a severe humanitarian crisis. The clashes have destroyed public infrastructure and services, like hospitals and schools, blocked access to basic supplies and forced 2.3 million people from their homes. 22.2 million people — 75 percent of the country’s population — are in desperate need of humanitarian aid, including food, water and medicine.

How did the Yemen crisis start?

14 million people in Yemen are in need of water and sanitation services. Fatima and her grandson Mohammed, 4, used to have trouble getting clean water. Now they have better access at a new solar-powered water well installed by Mercy Corps.

Yemen has been vulnerable for years. Even before the current conflict, around half the population lived below the poverty line, and the country faced chronic instability, weak governance, underdevelopment, unemployment and hunger.

Where are the world’s hungriest countries? ▸

In late 2014, as the country’s relatively new president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, struggled to remedy his country’s challenges, an armed group called the Houthis moved into the capital city, Sana’a, and took over government institutions. Hadi and other senior government officials fled Yemen after the takeover.

Shortly after, a coalition of a dozen states, led by Saudi Arabia, launched a military campaign to take back Houthi-held areas and restore power to Hadi’s government. The conflict has only heightened since then as each of the warring parties attempts to gain leverage, leading to widespread destruction, displacement and hunger for millions of innocent civilians.

What's happening in Hodeidah, Yemen?

Yemen is being torn in two by civil war. Offensives are currently escalating around the port city of Hodeidah and other regions. Civilians are caught in the middle, struggling against three unimaginable nightmares: hunger, disease and economic collapse. Millions have fled the violence to rural areas of Yemen where they do not have any source of food or income. People forced from their homes by conflict are without the basic necessities to survive both the terrible conditions and the spread of disease.

The number of people fleeing the violence has increased five-fold and acute malnutrition has doubled in just the last month, according to our team on the ground near Hodeidah.

"This week's call for a ceasefire was a glimmer of hope, and it is already beginning to fade. Why wait a month for a ceasefire? The people of Yemen can't afford to wait any longer," says Abdikadir Mohamud, our country director in Yemen.

"An escalation in violence in Hodeidah will have an immediate and disastrous impact on the humanitarian crisis in the port city and surrounding areas. According to our team on the ground, the number of people fleeing the violence has increased five-fold and acute malnutrition has doubled in just the last month. The UK and US must stand by their calls for a ceasefire and reaffirm their commitment to ending this brutal and needless conflict."

How bad is the hunger crisis in Yemen?

Sahar holds her son Anwar, 1, who suffers from severe acute malnutrition and is getting treatment at a malnutrition screening center supported by Mercy Corps.

The situation is dire. Yemen imports 90 percent of its food supply but, because of the conflict, many of Yemen's sea ports have been closed, and goods can’t get in easily.

The food that is available is too expensive for families to purchase — the economy is in shambles and many people have lost their sources of income.

Many of the goods included in Mercy Corps' humanitarian food basket — including flour, canned beans, sugar and vegetable oil — are, on average, 80 percent more expensive than pre-crisis. Food prices have risen over 35 percent in the last year alone.

"With seven million people teetering on the brink of famine, Yemen simply cannot afford any additional obstacles," says Su’ad Jarbawi, Middle East regional director for Mercy Corps. "Even a short period of reduced humanitarian access will have catastrophic consequences."

According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET), Yemen is the largest food emergency in the world. Food is so scarce that 14 million people don’t have enough to eat, and 8.4 million are at risk of famine, meaning they could die of starvation.

And the United Nations reports child malnutrition is at an all-time high — two out of every five children are reported to be acutely malnourished in 2018.

What you need to know about famine ▸

In what other ways have people been impacted?

Entikhad, left, sits with several of her 4 children. She is pregnant with her fifth. Her family fled violence in Yemen and sought shelter in an abandoned school with more than 60 other families.

The obstruction of imports means other essentials, like fuel and medical supplies, are also severely limited and cannot be distributed.

More than 14 million people lack access to clean water and sanitation, because pumps and treatment facilities have been damaged, and there isn’t enough fuel to run the water system. This has exacerbated the risk of disease — already a state of emergency has been declared due to an unprecedented cholera epidemic. Yet, more than half of the country’s health facilities have been damaged or destroyed, and limited medicine imports are making it over the border.

Additionally, much of Yemen’s critical infrastructure, like the power grid and communication towers, has been impaired. And the economy is on the verge of collapse. Around one-quarter of companies in Yemen have completely closed, and 70 percent of laborers have been laid off.

The situation is so disastrous that the United Nations says a child under the age of 5 dies every 10 minutes from preventable causes, including hunger, disease and violence.

The story behind the photos of starving children ▸

How are people surviving?

Put simply: families are suffering. Around 190,000 people have fled to other countries for safety, but millions more are displaced and living in crowded, derelict shelters or damaged homes inside Yemen.

And with few ways to meet their basic needs, families have told us they’ve resorted to reducing the number of meals they eat, limiting portion sizes and eating lower-quality food. FEWSNET classifies nearly the entire country as either in crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity, the phases right before famine when people start to employ these negative coping strategies — skipping meals, selling assets — just to survive.

How is Mercy Corps helping?

These Mercy Corps community health volunteers walk from home to home in the northern hills of Yemen, helping mothers access malnutrition screenings and other assistance.

We’ve been helping people in Yemen meet their urgent needs and build better lives since 2010. And now, we’re focused on relieving the intense suffering of innocent people caught in the crossfire of this conflict.

We provide food vouchers to the most vulnerable people, like Abha and her family. We also distribute essential supplies like blankets, toothbrushes and soap. Since cholera is a water-borne illness, good hygiene is critical for stopping the transmission of infectious diseases like cholera.

We are also providing several cholera treatment centers with clean water, equipment and other much-needed medical supplies.

In response to the dramatic increase in child malnutrition, we’re treating malnourished children at mobile health clinics and health facilities. We're providing treatment for pregnant and nursing mothers at clinics, as well.

Additionally, we’re helping sesame farmers improve their yields and incomes, so they can better support their families.

A young girl collects water at solar-powered water well. Cholera is spreading in Yemen as families don't have access to clean water that is safe to drink.

We’re working to rehabilitate water infrastructure, including water systems, dams and wells. We’re also improving access to water and sanitation in schools and health facilities, as well as providing nutrition and hygiene education so people can keep themselves as healthy as possible.

These rehabilitation projects also provide people with short-term employment, helping them to make money to feed their families.

This work happens in parts of Yemen that have been deeply impacted by the violence. Last year we reached more than 3.7 million people with assistance. We continue to work where we safely can, but operations have been severely hampered by ongoing clashes on the ground and airstrikes that both damage infrastructure and risk the lives of Mercy Corps’ staff and the people our teams are helping.

Though our operations have been hampered by ongoing clashes, we remain committed to the Yemeni people.

Staff speak out about work in a conflict zone ▸

And this dedication is changing lives. Because Abha and her husband received vouchers to purchase food, they were able to save some of the money they normally spent on rations and open a small shop selling chickens. The modest income they now make allows them to purchase basic supplies and send their children to school, without having to rely so heavily on aid and loans.

“Thank you,” Abha told us, after receiving the vouchers. “You are protecting us and saving us from hunger. Maybe you are even saving us from death.”

What else can we do?

The only lasting solution is a peace agreement with a political way forward. But with no sign of the conflict abating, millions of innocent men, women and children need our support more than ever. Urgent humanitarian aid — food, water, medical care — is vital to their survival. Here’s how you can help:

  • Donate today. Every single contribution helps us provide even more food, water, shelter and support to Yemeni families and people in crisis around the world.

  • Tell your friends. Share this story and spread the word about the millions of people who need us.

*Name has been changed to protect identity and safety.