Yemen flag

Yemen country brief

General information

The Republic of Yemen is an Arab country occupying the southwestern to southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, the Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea to the south, and Oman to the east.

Of Yemen’s 200 islands, the largest is Socotra, about 354 km to the south of mainland Yemen.  Yemeni unification took place on 22 May 1990, when the Yemen Arab Republic in the North was united with People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen in the south, forming the Republic of Yemen under the continued Presidency of North Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh.  A secessionist movement in the former South Yemen led to a brief civil war in 1994, and although now more subdued, southern secession remains an issue in Yemeni politics, most recently as part of Yemen’s current political transition process (see below).

Yemen is divided into 20 governorates, the largest of which is Hadramawt with approximately 37 percent of the country’s total land area.

The majority of Yemen's population is divided into tribal groups, especially in the northern areas of the country where 85% of local residents belong to various tribes

Yemen’s population of 25.9 million (2012 est) has more than doubled since 1975 and has grown approximately 35 percent since the 1994 census, making Yemen the second most populous country on the Arabian Peninsula. Adding to the growth of the native population is the influx of Somali refugees into Yemen.

Political overview

Throughout 2011, Yemen experienced ongoing civil unrest due to dissatisfaction over corruption, soaring unemployment and poor standards of living.  In late 2011, in response to the crisis and in return for immunity from prosecution, President Saleh agreed to step down under a political transition agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in late 2011.  His Vice President Abd Rabbuh Mansoor Hadi was elected unopposed in February 2012 as President of a Government of National Unity to preside over the two-year political transition plan.

A “National Dialogue”, a central step in the political transition process, was convened in March 2013, bringing together over 500 representatives from different social and geographic groups.  Its main task is to lay the groundwork for a new constitution and electoral system.  The next steps in the transition timetable are the drafting of a new constitution followed by a constitutional referendum opening the way for elections in February 2014.

Yemen continues to face extensive security challenges including separatist unrest in parts of the country, as well as the presence of Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and affiliated extremist groups.

The Friends of Yemen group, of which Australia is a member, is an international grouping of countries established to support Yemen meet the political, economic, security and humanitarian challenges it faces.

Yemen is a member of the United Nations, the Arab League, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Economic overview

Yemen is the poorest Gulf economy, but grew strongly in the mid-1990s when oil production began. Yemen is a small oil producer and does not belong to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Unlike many regional oil producers, Yemen relies heavily on foreign oil companies that have production-sharing agreements with the government. Income from oil production constitutes 70 to 75 percent of government revenue and about 90 percent of exports.

Yemen contains proven crude oil reserves of more than 4 billion barrels, although these reserves are not expected to last more than 9 years, and output from the country’s older fields is falling, a concern since oil provides around 90% of the country's exports. The World Bank predicts that Yemen's oil and gas revenues will dry up by 2017.

Yemen’s GDP growth rate reached 4.4% during 2012 after an almost zero rate in 2011, which was attributed to a partial recovery of the political, security situation and regularisation of petroleum derivatives supplies.

Almost 10.5 million Yemeni households lack food security and basic services, with an estimated five million children suffering from malnutrition. More than half of the population do not have access to clean water and sanitation.

Over the medium term and with international financial assistance, Yemen is seeking to improve its infrastructure by expanding the production and distribution of electrical power, finalising road projects and networks, improving and modernising water resources and creating investment opportunities with the private sector.

The port of Aden is undergoing large scale redevelopment, under a 20 year management contract with the Port of Singapore Authority, which holds 60 per cent equity. The port should capture significant Europe-Asia container traffic, as it avoids the detour into the Persian Gulf.

Bilateral relationship

Australia has a limited but friendly bilateral relationship with Yemen.  Australia is working with other UNSC members and the Friends of Yemen group in support of Yemen’s political transition process and in helping Yemen address wider challenges.  Since 2010 Australia has provided $20 million in humanitarian aid to Yemen.

Australia and Yemen also cooperate closely as fellow founding members of the Indian Ocean Region Association for Regional Cooperation.

Commercial Relations

The security environment in Yemen has greatly hampered the development of commercial ties.  Trade with Yemen remains limited.  In 2012, total Australian exports to Yemen amounted to AUD$279 million comprising mainly wheat.

Updated September 2013