Yemen country brief
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 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. By 2011, as Yemen continued to suffer from religious violence and Al-Qaeda inspired terrorism, President Saleh stepped down under a political transition agreement. The political, security and humanitarian situation in Yemen deteriorated rapidly in 2015, descending into civil war (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.
Yemen's population of approximately 33.3 million (2021) has more than doubled since 1975, making Yemen the second most populous country on the Arabian Peninsula.
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, comprising the other six countries on the Arabian Peninsula). His Vice President, Abd Rabbuh Mansoor Hadi, was elected unopposed in February 2012 as interim President of a Government of National Unity to preside over an anticipated two-year political transition plan.
A "National Dialogue Conference" (NDC), 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 was to lay the groundwork for a new constitution and electoral system. The NDC concluded in January 2014. The next steps in the transition timetable included the drafting of a new constitution, followed by a constitutional referendum opening the way for elections. Yemen's draft constitution was finalised on 15 January 2015 by the Constitutional Drafting Committee.
The political, security and humanitarian situation in Yemen deteriorated in 2015. Government forces, Houthi militias from the minority Zaidi sect and other groups became engaged in violent conflict throughout the country. In response to Houthi military advances against the internationally-backed Government of Yemen, an international coalition led by Saudi Arabia commenced a series of airstrikes on Yemen on 26 March 2015. Peace talks have been held several times since the start of the conflict, most recently in January 2021, but a lasting political solution has not yet been reached. UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Mr Martin Griffiths, has engaged both sides of the conflict, seeking constructive engagement in the peace process. In August 2021, the EU Ambassador to Yemen, Swedish diplomat Hans Grundberg, was announced as the new UN Special Envoy to Yemen, replacing Martin Griffiths.
Already the poorest country on the Arabian Peninsula, the conflict in Yemen greatly exacerbated the needs of an already vulnerable population. The UN has described Yemen as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. It is estimated that over 80 per cent of the population now requires some form of humanitarian assistance. More than 4 million people are currently internally displaced by the ongoing violence and the number of people suffering some form of food insecurity is estimated at 20.7 million in 2022. Prior to the escalation of the conflict, over 90 per cent of Yemen's staple foods were imported, but the closure of ports and other restrictions has further decreased availability.
The UN has described Yemen as one of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, with economic collapse and destruction of health and education systems. This has also affected the flow of aid to those most in need of assistance, with around 50,000 people already starving in famine-like conditions.
Complicating the current conflict, 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, ISIS and affiliated extremist groups.
Yemen is a member of the United Nations, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).
Australia has a limited but friendly bilateral relationship with Yemen based on collaboration through international fora, including the IORA. The Australian Embassy in Riyadh is accredited to Yemen.
Since 2017, Australia has provided $50 million to Yemen in humanitarian assistance through UN agencies. This assistance has delivered food, shelter, water, sanitation, health care and protection to people affected by violence.
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. Prior to the most recent instability, income from oil production constituted 70 to 75 per cent percent of government revenue and about 90 per cent of exports.
As a result of the outbreak of hostilities in 2015, Yemen's GDP has contracted significantly due to disruptions of economic activity and infrastructure destruction. According to the World Bank, improvements in Yemen's economic situation will depend on developments on the security and political fronts.
Trade and investment
The security environment in Yemen has greatly hampered the development of commercial ties. Trade with Yemen remains limited, and mostly consists of Australian wheat exports.