2021 in review
As 2021 came to a close, Yemen remained one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with some 20.7 million people in need of some form of humanitarian assistance or protection. In 2021, the situation, which is primarily driven by conflict and an economic collapse, has been exacerbated by COVID-19, heavy rains and flooding, and escalating hostilities. Despite a critical funding shortfall and a challenging operating environment, 195 humanitarian organizations continued to deliver aid to an average of 11.3 million people per month.
Conflict intensified in Ma’rib, Al Jawf, Al Bayda, Shabwah, Ta’iz and Al Hodeidah governorates, along with continued clashes in Hajjah, Ad Dali’, Ta’iz City and adjacent areas, which challenged sustained humanitarian response and resulted in aggravated needs and further displacement. Out of an estimated 25,591 families (153,546 people) who have experienced displacement this year, nearly 13,000 families have been displaced in or to Ma’rib Governorate, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). With an estimated 4 million internally displaced people, Yemen remained the fourth largest displacement crisis in the world.
In 2021, Yemen’s economy was subject to further shocks and macro-economic stability remained absent. Three issues combined to further destabilize Yemen’s macro-economic position and push the prices of food upwards by 11 per cent in southern areas and 3 per cent in northern areas: namely, currency collapse in Government of Yemen (GoY) controlled areas in the south, escalating economic warfare over monetary policies between the north and south and restrictions on workers in Saudi Arabia. Before it improved in December, the value of the Yemeni riyal in the south reached an all-time low of YER1,600/US$ in November, down from YER717/US$ in January 2021. As a result, food prices have more than doubled across much of the country, making basic food unaffordable for ordinary people. The protracted fuel crisis, which started in June 2020, also continued. It is estimated that the conflict will have cost Yemen US$ 126 billion in lost production by the end of 2021, according to UNDP.
With only 50 per cent of Yemen’s health facilities functional, the ongoing pandemic placed additional pressure on the country’s already fragile health system. By mid-December, some 10,000 cases of COVID-19 had been recorded in the south, including nearly 2,000 associated deaths. These figures greatly underestimate community spread, given the lack of testing capacities across the country. They also completely exclude cases originating from the north. Vaccination is ongoing but the vaccines made available for Yemen in 2021 fall far short of existing needs. Only two per cent of the population has been vaccinated.
Recurrent seasonal flooding continued to cause deaths, injuries and displace people from their homes, and result in losses of property, crops and crucial productive assets. In 2021, more than 34,000 families, most of them IDPs who fled conflict areas, lost their shelters, incomes and livelihoods, mainly in southern communities.
The operating environment remained challenging in 2021, but there was progress in some areas. About 2,366 cases involving bureaucratic impediments were reported between January and November 2021. The humanitarian community, led by the Humanitarian Coordinator and OCHA, stepped up advocacy with the authorities to resolve bureaucratic impediments and ensure timely, sustained and principled access to people in need. Progress was made through this coordinated engagement with the authorities, notably in reducing the backlog of outstanding NGO project sub-agreements, visas and permits; and in agreeing on the progression of countrywide coordinated assessments, including the Multi-Cluster Locations Assessment, Food Security and Livelihood Assessment and Standardized Monitoring for Relief and Transition surveys needed for the Humanitarian Programme Cycle. However, these efforts will be sustained into 2022 to enhance the timely delivery of humanitarian aid.
2021 started with Yemen on the verge of famine due to escalating conflict, economic decline and reduced humanitarian aid. To scale up response, on 1 March, the UN, in partnership with Switzerland and Sweden, convened a high-level pledging event for Yemen seeking US$3.85 billion for the 2021 response plan to help 16 million people. A surge in donor funding after the pledging conference and other resource mobilization efforts enabled aid agencies to resume full food rations to some of the most food-insecure Yemenis in 2021, reaching nearly 13 million people with food assistance per month. While these efforts helped to push back the risk of famine and to scale up nutrition intervention, key humanitarian response sectors – including health, WASH, shelter, camp management and protection – remained severely under-funded and struggled to meet needs.
By the end of December, the 2021 response plan was only 58 per cent funded, leaving a gap of $1.6 billion. As we start 2022, aid agencies have already raised the alarm that they are running out of funds to continue to provide food assistance to 13 million people in Yemen. From January 2022, eight million will receive a reduced food ration, while five million at immediate risk of slipping into famine conditions will remain on a full ration. Funding is urgently needed to sustain the aid operation in Yemen.