SURREY, United Kingdom — Yemen is facing a devastating crisis and is on the brink of famine following years of conflict. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, close to 6 million Yemeni people are displaced and two-thirds of the population is in desperate need of humanitarian aid. According to Human Appeal, widespread hunger is approaching extreme levels, with 161,000 people in Yemen enduring famine. Despite holding an abundance of natural resources like oil, gas and minerals, Yemen has struggled to grow and stabilize its economy due to the ongoing civil war. As a result, poverty in the nation is an omnipresent concern that has prompted an urgent need to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
The Borgen Project spoke to Ahmed, a Yemeni refugee living in the U.K. “I was born and raised in the capital city, Sana’a. The main reason we left was the low quality of life in terms of salary, electricity, water and unsafe roads between provinces. My family managed to find a better opportunity abroad but I couldn’t leave with them because I was not given a residency permit due to strict regulations against Yemeni nationals.”
Ahmed explains further, “I eventually left when I was 18 years old, just a few months before the war started. My family and I were happy and excited about moving to a new country [with]a much better quality of life as that’s what we had [dreamed]of. I do miss Yemen, especially Sana’a and Aden, which are the cities that I spent most of my time in. I also miss my family members and my friends that still live there.”
Poverty and the Wealth Disparity in Yemen
The Yemeni civil war began in 2014 and is still ongoing as of 2023, leading to the impoverishment of more than 80% of the population, according to U.N. data from 2022.
Ahmed says that from a young age, he was aware that more than half of Yemen’s people endured impoverishment. Yet, “people are so hospitable, helpful and cooperative. I don’t remember witnessing anyone sleeping in the street but I did witness a lot of begging from women, children, old men and men that aren’t working,” Ahmed says.
In Yemen, many people without proper housing live in tin or wood makeshift shelters. Ahmed recalls three categories of poor people in Yemen. First, there are the people who go around begging and then there are people who sell items such as tissue boxes, cassettes, sweet treats and fruit in the streets and at the traffic lights. Lastly, there are street vendors with carts selling perishables, small items and food.
The wealth inequity is very visible in Yemen. While the wealthy live in large villas, the average person lives in a modest apartment and the poor seek refuge in shelters. Yemen’s impoverished tend to visit public hospitals, which are not free but are very affordable. Although, public hospitals are often overcrowded and staff struggle to attentively tend to the overwhelming needs of patients.
On the other hand, wealthy and middle-class people would go to specialist care hospitals that are quite expensive but are not busy, which allows health care personnel to attend to patients quickly and provide high-quality care.
From Yemen to the UK
“The best part of growing up in Yemen was being exposed to hardship from an early age and therefore becoming a tough and resilient person. I learned many lessons from my time in Yemen and picked up many habits that I continue to do today such as; spending my money wisely, conserving water, never wasting food and only buying what I need, especially with clothes. However, this hardship that I refer to was also the worst part.”
Since his arrival in the U.K., Ahmed has received kind and generous treatment from immigration officers, police, hotel staff and charity organizations. Considering that he cannot yet legally work in the U.K., he spends a significant portion of his time volunteering at a nearby charity. Ahmed is not only learning more about the way of life in a new country but he is also getting an opportunity to engage with the community.
Aid to Yemen
Ahmed recalls the aid coming into Yemen before he sought refuge in the U.K. “I remember there were campaigns from time to time, especially when celebrations were approaching like Ramadan and Eid. People would make food baskets and distribute them among poor people in different areas. UNICEF, the Red Crescent and other Saudi and Kuwaiti organizations were also helping.”
Aid to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen is coming from both within the country and internationally. The U.N. Refugee Agency has been working to provide people in Yemen with vital life-saving resources such as food, medicine, shelter kits and hygiene kits. The organization also supports health facilities that help Yemenis and provides legal advice to Yemeni asylum seekers, among other efforts.
Both the U.K. and the U.S. are providing significant financial aid to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen. In 2023, the U.K. pledged to give Yemen £88 million worth of aid, in addition to the more than £1 billion in aid provided by the U.K. to Yemen since 2015. In 2023, the U.S. pledged approximately $444 million in aid to Yemen, primarily through the USAID program, totaling more than $5.4 billion since the onset of the conflict in 2014.
Ultimately, only with continuing international support will it be possible to comprehensively address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen while greatly reducing poverty in Yemen and ensuring the safety of Yemen’s people. As the civil war approaches its 10th anniversary, hope for the survival and endurance of the Yemeni people must remain.
– Tasha B. Johnson