The research for this report was designed to cover the time period of the current civil war in Yemen, and the corresponding humanitarian response from 2015 through 2020. The research takes into account the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, recognizing its potential to skew the data, and updated data has been incorporated as much as possible and where relevant, up to the time of publication.
This report draws on desk research, a literature review, semi-structured interviews and time spent in the field by the author working on the response in 2019. Seventy-three interviews, as well as some follow-up interviews, were conducted from November 2020 through January 2021. The 43 key informant interviews carried out by the author included 27 humanitarian aid workers (international and Yemeni), whose experience covered all stages of the Yemen response and among whom were 15 current or former UN staff representing seven agencies and entities. Ten analysts, three donors, two independent experts and one journalist also were interviewed. Field researchers with the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies carried out an additional 30 semi-structured interviews in Yemen with a further 26 Yemeni humanitarian aid workers, including national staff for international organizations and staff of national non-governmental organizations, one representative of civil society, two representatives of community organizations and one from a community committee to also gain their perspectives on the humanitarian response in Yemen. The key informant interviews were conducted by the author in English through Zoom, Skype or WhatsApp phone calls. Interviews in Yemen were carried out in Arabic by phone in December 2020 and included closed and open-ended questions.
Interviewees were selected on the basis of their expertise and their work and presence in and/or on Yemen during the timeframe covered by the research. Initial key informants were selected by the author based on knowledge of their expertise and areas of intervention in the humanitarian response or analysis, and these were built on through identifying further key informants based on review of the literature as well as recommendations and introductions by those initially contacted for interviews. A balanced representation of UN personnel, international non-governmental organization personnel and Yemen analysts were interviewed during the research process to ensure a wide depiction of views and insights. Additional interviews with Yemenis involved in the response by the Sana’a Center were specifically added to ensure Yemeni perspectives were taken into account in the research findings. Special effort was made to ensure representation for those working in both Houthi-controlled territory and in areas controlled by the internationally recognized Yemeni government. For specific topics (such as the famine case study) additional experts were consulted to ensure technical grounding. Participants in the Sana’a Center semi-structured interviews were selected on the basis of affiliation with preference to aid workers with Yemeni organizations, half of whom were from Houthi-controlled areas and half from government-controlled areas.
Key informant interviews were semi-structured with foundation questions that were asked of all interviewees (for example, their analysis of the efficacy of the response, the evolution of the humanitarian response in Yemen, which aspects work well and which do not, what key aspects they would change to improve the response and their views on security management). These questions were complemented by others specific to the interviewee’s technical and sectoral expertise. During the interviews, informants were asked to speak directly to their experiences in and/or on Yemen. Any findings from the interview process were triangulated through testing their assumptions with other interviewees, through follow-up interviews where necessary, and through literature review to ensure multi-source confirmation. As a general rule, no finding was taken into account or investigated fully unless a minimum of three key informants confirmed or brought up the issue. Where views on topics diverged, all sides have been reflected in the placing of the issue. Overall, key informants were open and willing to share information, which was facilitated through an anonymity clause.
Informants consented to participate upon confirmation that all interviews would be anonymized, and no statements would be attributed to them or be presented as a position of their organizations. For this reason, unless the identity of the organization in question was clear and already publicly known, direct references have not been made in this report to individual organizations when illustrating findings through examples.
Various means of data analysis were employed; qualitative analysis was done on the substance of the interviews by distilling key points and findings from each interview. Findings were grouped under topics (data, access, security, etc.) and coded for reference to interviews. Illustrative examples were ensured for each topic. In addition, some answers were quantified (for example, the percentage of those who feel that the security set up in Yemen is not adapted to the context) to illustrate the level of consensus on some key findings.
In addition to the interviews, an extensive literature review was conducted with desk research to further explore topics covered in this report and support the qualitative interview process. Lastly, the report builds on knowledge gained about the humanitarian response in Yemen through the author’s time working within the response in 2019. Findings of the final report rested on the research conducted from November 2020 to January 2021.
Some limitations were experienced during the course of the research for this report. Not all of those invited to participate in the interview process accepted the invitation. Data in Yemen is scarce and unreliable, an issue that is addressed in one of the sections of this report, which made confirmation of findings through secondary data sources difficult. In addition, Yemen has endured conflict for much longer than the scope of this report. More could be written on humanitarian response and root causes from a historical perspective, but the choice was specifically made to focus on the current humanitarian response from 2015 onward. Lastly, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the response in Yemen, but the choice was made to exclude this factor in the research to avoid skewing the broader systemic issues that are the focus of the report. That aside, COVID-19 is a reality that continues to affect the humanitarian response in Yemen, and globally, for the foreseeable future.