Internal Displacement’s Impacts on Health in Yemen

M.P. Suprenant, R. Hussein, N. Al Dheeb, H. Basaleem, M. Zaman, L. Yasukawa


By the end of 2020, there were more than 3.6 million people internally displaced by conflict in Yemen, in addition to 223,000 people displaced by disasters. This paper discusses the health risks faced by IDPs in Yemen, the effect of climate change on IDPs’ access to healthcare, and the impact of reduced humanitarian assistance on health responses. The paper includes a ‘spotlight’ on the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic for IDPs, drawing on the findings of an online survey, commissioned by IDMC, to investigate the impacts of COVID-19 on the health, livelihoods, housing, education and security of IDPs, IDP-returnees and non-displaced people in Yemen.

Main points:

  • Some of the highest levels of vulnerability to health risks are concentrated in IDP sites where few services are available. IDPs living in hosting sites (i.e. repurposed facilities such as schools and spontaneous informal settlements) are particularly vulnerable to disease outbreaks, food insecurity and acute malnutrition due to uncoordinated or unreliable provision of services. Diarrheal diseases are common due to lack of basic WASH services as well as flooding after heavy rains. Among children, diarrheal disease increases the risk of malnutrition, while malnutrition increases the risk of severe diarrheal disease and associated complications. Additionally, availability of treatments for non-communicable, chronic diseases and mental health issues has been disrupted.
  • Climate change is expected to increase the frequency of natural disasters, which negatively affect access to health care. Natural disasters (in particular, storms and floods) negatively affect access to health care by making roads impassable, isolating remote communities, destroying health facilities, and interrupting clean water supplies. They also disrupt economic activity, affecting the affordability of health services.
  • Shortfalls in humanitarian funding for Yemen have precipitated cuts to basic health, nutrition and WASH programs, amplifying the health risks faced by IDPs. Funding for the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan fell sharply from US$3.6 billion in 2019 (87 percent of the funding requirement) to US$2 billion in 2020 (59 percent of the funding requirement). Funding shortfalls necessitated cuts to health, nutrition and WASH programs, reducing the number of people reached with humanitarian assistance.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has had particularly severe effects on the lives of IDPs. A November 2020 online survey commissioned by IDMC soliciting responses from IDPs, IDP-returnees and non-displaced people in Yemen found that: IDPs were more likely than the non-displaced to have experienced COVID-19 symptoms; more than a third of people in each group said they couldn’t follow social distancing guidelines; IDPs were least likely to receive treatment for COVID-19 symptoms, with more than half attributing this to not being able to afford treatment; and nearly two-thirds of IDPs said their treatment for chronic health issues had deteriorated.