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. In late 2011, 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 27.5 million (2014) has more than doubled since 1975 and has grown over 35 percent since the 1994 census, making Yemen the second most populous country on the Arabian Peninsula.

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). 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. A cessation of hostilities was negotiated in April 2016, and peace talks aimed at a political agreement were commenced in Kuwait in May 2016. The UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed has been leading the talks.  No settlement has yet been reached.

The conflict in Yemen greatly exasperated the needs of an already vulnerable population. An estimated 80 per cent of the population now requires some form of humanitarian assistance. More than 2.8 million people have been displaced by this recent violence and the number of people without enough to eat has increased by 20 per cent to more than 14 million, or roughly half the population. 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 further decreased availability. The UN is targeting an estimated 13.6 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, particularly health, water, food and protection. Yemen was declared a UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee Level 3 emergency in 2015.

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.

Bilateral relations

Australia has a limited but friendly bilateral relationship with Yemen based on collaboration through international fora, including the Indian Ocean Rim Association.

Since 2009, Australia has provided more than $21 million to Yemen in humanitarian assistance through UN agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross. This assistance has delivered food, shelter, water, sanitation, health care and protection to people affected by violence.

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. 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 contracted by approximately 28 percent 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. It is expected that Yemen will require significant reconstruction and development assistance to rebuild the country in the post-conflict period.

Trade and Investment

The security environment in Yemen has greatly hampered the development of commercial ties. Trade with Yemen remains limited. In 2015, total Australian goods exports to Yemen amounted to $385 million. These comprised mainly wheat products, as well as dairy and vegetable items.

Last Updated: 8 July 2016