In 2021, Yemen continued to face an unrelenting conflict, triggering what the UN described as one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. At the beginning of 2021, it was estimated that 21 million Yemenis, 2/3 of the population, needed humanitarian aid, and 80% of the population lived under the poverty line (HNO 2021).
The crisis continued to wreck the economy, reverse pre-conflict development gains, and exacerbate vulnerabilities. The loss of Government revenues, commercial import restrictions and rising commodity prices pushed the Yemeni population into further poverty and higher unemployment. Macroeconomic instability and the incapacity of the authorities to generate direct resources continued to leave public services - notably health and education - unable to offer adequate support to the population. Amidst denial and the inability of the health system to adequately respond, COVID-19 continued to take a toll on people's lives. The vaccination campaign, supported by the humanitarian community, could only be implemented in certain areas. While including refugees, the implementation of the campaign proceeded slower than expected.
Yemen continued to be primarily a displacement and an acute protection crisis. While diplomatic efforts for negotiated solutions were mired down in mistrust and factionalism, it is estimated that some 286,000 Yemenis were newly displaced in 2021, particularly as the conflict re-ignited in areas such as Marib, Al Hudaydah, Taizz, and Shabwah. A newly uprooted population added to the millions of IDPs already in protracted displacement. In 2021, the overall IDP population in Yemen reached record levels of 4.3 million, confirming Yemen is amongst the largest internal displacement crisis due to conflict worldwide. While return trends were not properly tracked, durable solutions to displacement, notably voluntary return, continued to face critical obstacles linked to insecurity, lack of services and livelihood opportunities, and sustainability.
Yemen remained a transit country for populations from the East and Horn of Africa. While in 2021, arrivals further declined from pre-COVID-19 due to mobility restrictions (some 27,600 arrivals compared to preconflict trends of 130,000/year), the presence of foreigners was increasingly perceived by the authorities an intolerable burden. Violations of the human rights of migrants were on the rise, combined with a shrinking asylum space for the 102,082 refugees and asylum-seekers.
The protection situation for millions of civilians remained severe. While figures remain unverified, it is estimated that some 2,500 civilians were killed or injured by armed violence in Yemen in 2021, marking a 20% increase from 2020 and breaking a two-year downward trend. It is reported that one out of five casualties were a child. Within a trend dotted by mass casualty incidents, increases in casualties were noted in Marib and Sa'adah. The conflict continued to provoke distress amongst the population, destruction of infrastructures necessary to the population's survival and contamination of land. The protracted nature of the displacement, coupled with the socio-economic downturn, continued to impact millions of Yemenis, pushing them into a spiral of negative coping strategies and alimenting protection risks such as child labour, early marriage, forced recruitment, and violence within the family and tensions amongst communities.
Once the largest source of foreign exchange in the country, remittances from abroad were further hit by measures against Yemeni foreign workers in Saudi Arabia, provoking the involuntary return of thousands of Yemeni migrants. At the same time, the restrictions caused by the blockade on seaports and airports prevented adequate supplies from entering Yemen, hindered critical imports and aggravated the fuel crisis.
Displacement, economic decline, lack of public resources, and poor water and sanitation services continued to affect overall health conditions negatively. Multiple waves of COIVD-19 hit Yemen, and although the officially reported cases are only around 10,000 across the pandemic, the impact of COVID-19 remains unknown due to the country's limited capacity to test and monitor the number of cases. Moreover, a new outbreak of vaccine-derived poliovirus was detected at the end of 2021 and required a prompt reaction by specialized UN agencies.
The operating environment in Yemen did not improve. It remained challenged by access constraints and restrictions experienced in the past; the recurrent bureaucratic obstacles; and new gender-based access constraints imposed by authorities, particularly affecting female humanitarian workers (mahram).