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 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. The political, security and humanitarian situation in Yemen has deteriorated rapidly in 2015 (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 26 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) 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 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 finalized on 15 January 2015 by the Constitutional Drafting Committee.

The political, security and humanitarian situation in Yemen has deteriorated in 2015. Government forces, Houthi militias from the minority Zaidi sect and other groups are engaged in violent conflict throughout the country. In response to 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. Aside from a five-day humanitarian pause from 12 to 17 May and an aborted ceasefire on 10 July, the conflict has continued since March. Mediation efforts are currently being pursued to resolve the crisis, including by UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed.

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 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, 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 its membership of the Friends of Yemen and collaboration through international fora on countering terrorism and piracy. Australia and Yemen also cooperate as fellow founding members of the Indian Ocean Rim Association.

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. Foreign Minister, the Hon. Julie Bishop, chaired and addressed the Friends of Yemen group meeting at the United Nations on 27 September 2013.

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 of January 2014, Yemen’s oil fields were estimated to contain proven crude oil reserves of more than 3 billion barrels. Much of the revenue from the country’s natural gas facilities had been used to fund ongoing development programs and rural service delivery. New discoveries were difficult to exploit due to security concerns and reserves are not expected to last beyond 2024. The World Bank has predicted Yemen's oil and gas revenues would start to slow from 2017.

In 2015, escalating conflict has spread throughout Yemen, significantly exacerbating the needs of an already vulnerable population. An estimated 80 per cent of the population now requires some form of humanitarian assistance. More than 1.2 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 13 million. 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 have further decreased availability. The UN is targeting an estimated 11.7 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, particularly health, water, food and protection. Yemen was declared an Inter-Agency Standing Committee Level 3 emergency on 1 July 2015.

Prior to the current conflict, approximately 13 million Yemenis did not have access to clean water sources, with rural areas hardest hit. Half of the population also lacked adequate sanitation facilities – this is especially evident among migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons.

Over the medium term and with international financial assistance, Yemen had been 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. In its 2014 budget, Yemen allocated over 20 per cent to infrastructure projects in a bid to stimulate growth and create job opportunities.

Trade and Investment

The security environment in Yemen has greatly hampered the development of commercial ties. Trade with Yemen remains limited. In 2014, total Australian exports to Yemen amounted to $400 million. These comprised mainly wheat products, as well as dairy and vegetable items.

Last Updated: 18 August 2014