Analysis of the context, crisis and needs
Humanitarian needs continued to grow in 2020, driven by the escalating conflict and a protracted economic blockade that has fuelled the ongoing economic crisis. The situation was exacerbated by torrential rains, a fuel crisis, the threat of desert locusts and COVID-19. The operating environment continues to be extremely restricted, hindering a principled aid operation, and the humanitarian response was crippled by a huge funding shortfall. Capacity within the humanitarian operation was a further limitation. By mid-2020, Yemen had returned to alarming levels of food insecurity and acute malnutrition. All indications suggest that the severity of needs for large sections of the population is increasing. COVID-19 has compounded food insecurity, mainly due to limited work opportunities, lower incomes and reduced remittances.
Conflict intensified during 2020, resulting in shocking levels of civilian suffering. By the end of October, there were 47 front lines, up from 33 in January 2020. The war had already caused an estimated 233,000 deaths, including 131,000 from indirect causes such as lack of food, health services and infrastructure. Hostilities have directly caused tens of thousands of civilian casualties; 3,153 child deaths and 5,660 children were verified in the first five years of the conflict, and 1,500 civilian casualties were reported in the first nine months of 2020. Attacks continue on facilities protected by international humanitarian law, including medical centers.
Yemen’s economy was subject to further shocks this year and macroeconomic stability remained absent. By the end of September, the Yemeni rial had depreciated to an all-time low of YER850 (US$3.4) in southern governorates. Foreign reserves dried up, and remittances from Yemenis abroad, the largest source of foreign exchange, fell by up to 70 per cent due to the COVID-19 global downturn. With nearly all goods imported, more people are being squeezed out of markets, unable to afford essential items. Fuel shortages in northern governorates from June onwards exacerbated the humanitarian situation, reducing essential services and the transport of essential goods, constraining access to income opportunities and restricting the humanitarian operation.
Between April and August 2020, heavy rains and flooding devastated communities, causing deaths and injuries, destroying infrastructure and livelihoods, and increasing the spread of deadly diseases. Tens of thousands of families were affected, many of them already displaced. Other natural hazards pose a threat, including desert locust infestations, which are expected to cause damage and loss worth $222 million to staple crops, animals and livestock.
Despite some advances made with authorities in overcoming bureaucratic constraints, the operating environment shrank further in 2020. Since August 2020, some 19.1 million people in need were in hard-to-reach areas, where armed conflict and insecurity, bureaucratic constraints and logistic impediments often combined to challenge aid deliveries. By October, most COVID-19-related restrictions had been lifted, but pre-existing challenges around movement restrictions and interference in humanitarian activities still hamper the response. Humanitarian staff continue to be detained, harassed and threatened and their visas arbitrarily refused or withdrawn.
With only 50 per cent received of the $3.386 billion needed to fund the response, drastic cuts have been made to the aid operation, and 31 out of 41 critical UN programmes have been reduced or closed. Aid agencies are now reaching about 10.7 million people a month, down from over 13.6 million people a month at the start of the year.
More than 3.6 million civilians have been displaced due to the conflict, including at least 158,000 in 2020. Some of the highest levels of vulnerability are concentrated in IDP sites where very few services are available. An estimated 422,000 migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Yemen are at extreme risk and an estimated 138,000 are completely reliant on aid. COVID-19 resulted in a backlash against this group, many of whom have been forcibly moved, detained and subjected to inhumane conditions. Thousands remain stranded in dire need of assistance.
Humanitarians continue to work towards delivering an efficient, effective and principled response, but the outlook remains bleak. The latest (partial) IPC analyses show that by December 2020, the population facing high levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 and above) will increase from 2 million to 3.2 million people (40 per cent of the 7.9 million population analysed in the south). In December 2018, a quarter of a million people were found to have slipped into severe food crisis, with the worst hunger clustered in conflict-affected areas.
Acute malnutrition among children under 5 years of age has hit record levels in some areas. Over half a million children under 5 years of age face acute malnutrition, up 9.5 per cent. Severe acute malnutrition is up by 15.5 per cent this year, leaving 100,000 young children at risk of dying without treatment. There are acute WASH deficits in 54 districts, and 46 districts are at high risk of cholera. COVID-19 is an added burden on the fragile health system, where only 50 per cent of facilities are functional. This has discouraged the population from seeking treatment for other deadly diseases and conditions.
Projected situation in 2021 and beyond
In 2021 the situation is expected to deteriorate further, and the severity of needs is expected to increase unless there is conflict de-escalation and an improvement in the economy and funding.
Response priorities in 2021
During 2021, more than 105 partners across Yemen plan to assist 19 million people. The response will prioritize: fighting hunger by providing food assistance and supporting livelihoods; reducing outbreaks of cholera and infectious diseases; providing basic services to displaced families living in emergency and IDP settlements; protecting civilians and advocating for adherence to international humanitarian law; and rehabilitating public infrastructure to enable life-saving basic services to the population.
- Figures for People in need, People targeted and Requirements are pending the finalization of the 2021 HNO and HRP.