Explosive Violence in Yemen in 2021
In 2021, Yemen was the fourth worst-affected country for civilian casualties of explosive weapons, after Afghanistan, Syria, and Gaza. AOAV recorded 867 civilian casualties from explosive violence last year, 279 of whom were killed and 588 injured. Civilians accounted for 36% of the total 2,439 casualties. There were 133 incidents of explosive violence recorded in Yemen in 2021.
2021 marked a 27% rise in civilian deaths and injuries from explosive weapons compared to 2020, when 683 civilian casualties were recorded. Armed-actor casualties rose substantially last year, to 1,572 in 2021 from 419 in 2020; with many high casualty airstrikes conducted targeting Houthi rebels, particularly in Marib.
Ground-launched explosive weapons accounted for 66% (569) of civilian casualties. Further civilian casualties were caused by airstrikes (93 civilian casualties), mines (88), IEDs (56), and attacks using multiple types of explosive weapons (35). The remaining 26 casualties were caused by missiles with unclear launch methods.
The number of civilian casualties from airstrikes was notably lower last year, dropping 44% from 166 in 2020. Airstrikes, however, caused the highest number of total casualties in Yemen in 2021, killing and injuring 1,383 armed-actors. Casualties reached a peak in October, when 622 people became casualties of explosive violence during an intensification of the conflict between the Yemeni state and Houthi rebels in Marib. 422 of these casualties were armed-actors and 200 were civilians. With few independent journalists able to report from the impacted regions, this data should be treated cautiously as it is difficult to tell if casualty figures are inflated or if civilian casualty data is missing.
The highest numbers of recorded civilian casualties in Yemen took place in Saada (319) and Marib (223). Other provinces with high levels of civilian casualties were Taiz (90), Al-Hudaydah (88), and Aden (47).
Overall, reporting from Yemen has been consistently poor and is likely to have been inhibited by the coronavirus pandemic.
A Decade of Explosive Violence, 2011-2020
AOAV’s monitoring project, launched in October 2010, uses English-language media reports to capture information on who has been killed and injured by incidents of explosive violence. We have over 10 years of explosive violence data recorded and analysed. This data below focuses on Yemen.
- Yemen has been the fifth worst-affected state by explosive violence over the past decade.
- From 2011-2020, AOAV recorded 24,498 deaths and injuries from explosive violence in Yemen – of these, 16,645 (68%) were civilians.
- 88% of civilian deaths and injuries occurred when explosive violence was used in a populated area.
- Airstrikes have caused the most harm in this period, with 62% of all civilian casualties resulting from this type of explosive.
- Ground-launched weapons were responsible for 23% of civilian casualties, whilst IEDs accounted for 14%.
- 2015 was, by far, the worst year in this period for civilian casualties in Yemen, with AOAV recording 6,298 deaths and injuries from explosive violence.
Since the AOAV Explosive Violence Monitor began in 2011, Yemen has experienced significant levels of explosive violence. In 2011, the first Explosive Violence Monitor ranked Yemen as the 6th worst-affected state, recording 943 civilian casualties over the course of the year. Over the next three years, violence was considerably lower, with AOAV ranking Yemen as the 11th worst-affected country in 2012, the 8th in 2013 and the 9th in 2014. In these years, civilian deaths and injuries from explosive violence did not rise above 500 in a year, which, whilst representing high levels of insecurity in the country, suggested an improvement from the levels of violence recorded in 2011. From 2011-2014, violence in Yemen was perpetrated by a wide variety of actors, including al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and various separatist insurgencies, all of whom induced a continued environment of insecurity, and ongoing political instability.
However, in 2015, the security situation in Yemen collapsed completely. Early in the year, a fragile agreement between the internationally-recognised government, led by Abd Rabbo Mansur Hadi, and the leaders of the Houthi movement, who occupied much of the country, fell apart. This set off a series of violent events that escalated into full civil war between the two sides. As a result, there was a dramatic rise in the levels of explosive violence within the country, especially following the commencement of aerial strikes launched by the Saudi-led Arab coalition against Houthi rebels in March. The 2015 Explosive Violence Monitor recorded 6,298 civilian casualties caused by explosive violence, representing a drastic 1,204% increase from the previous year. As a result, AOAV cited Yemen as the second worst-affected country in 2015, behind Syria.
The damage done by the Saudi-led aerial intervention, known as Operation Decisive Storm, was particularly extreme and faced widespread criticism for its indiscriminate targeting of civilian areas and the use of internationally banned cluster bombs. Alarmingly, in 2015, AOAV recorded that 43% of all global civilian casualties from air-launched weapons took place in Yemen. Furthermore, the figure of 3,972 civilian deaths and injuries from air-launched weapons in 2015 was ten times greater than all the combined deaths from this type of weaponry in Yemen in the previous four years of the monitor. As a result of the drastic increase in civilian casualties that took place in 2015, AOAV recorded Yemen as the fifth worst-affected country by explosive violence over the first five years of the monitor, and the second worst-affected country by air-launched weapons in the same period.
Although 2016 saw a 57% decrease in recorded civilian casualties, the 2016 Monitor still placed Yemen as the third worst-affected country by explosive violence, with 2,713 civilian casualties. As in the previous year, the Saudi-led coalition remained responsible for the majority (82%) of all civilian deaths and injuries. The fall in the levels of violence can be seen as partly the result of a ceasefire that was put in place between April and August which, despite numerous violations, led to a fall in explosive violence in the country.
Yemen witnessed a further fall in the number of civilian casualties caused by explosive weaponry in 2017, despite a rise in the number of incidences of their use. The 2017 Explosive Violence Monitor recorded 1,670 civilian deaths and injuries in Yemen, representing a 38% fall from the previous year and making it the fifth worst-affected country – falling behind Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2018, AOAV recorded similar levels of explosive harm, documenting 1,807 civilian casualties over the course of the year. This only represented an 8% increase from the previous year, but due to falling levels of violence in other regions, the 2018 Explosive Violence Monitor, once again ranked Yemen as the third worst-affected country.
In the 2019 Monitor, Yemen remained the third worst-affected country by explosive violence behind Syria and Afghanistan, despite a 26% decrease in civilian casualties from the previous year. This fall was partly brought about by a 55% fall in deaths and injuries caused by airstrikes. However, a rise in casualties from IEDs in the same time period meant civilian deaths and injuries remained high. In 2020, however, explosive harm in Yemen fell by almost a half, with AOAV recording 683 civilian casualties over the course of the year. Although this figure still reflected a highly unstable security situation in the country, it did suggest that intense explosive harm in Yemen may be receding.
Over the ten-year course of the Explosive Violence Monitor, from 2011-2020, Yemen was the fifth worst-affected country by explosive violence, with AOAV recording 16,645 civilian deaths and injuries. Although explosive violence was common in Yemen between 2011 and 2014, the extent of violence since 2015 has been far more extreme, especially following the commencement of airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition. 2015 was, by far, the worst year for explosive violence in Yemen, but high incidences in recent years continue to reflect an unstable security situation and drive an ongoing humanitarian crisis in the country. It is also worth noting that the scarcity of reporters on the ground in Yemen has made accurate data gathering extremely difficult. As such, it is likely that the figures recorded by AOAV fail to capture the full extent of violence inflicted on Yemeni civilians. However, AOAV has tried to better understand civilian harm in two recent reports on the impact of explosive violence on children in Yemen and the reverberating effects of explosive violence on agriculture in Yemen.
AOAV reports on explosive violence in Yemen include:
In our ‘Wide Area Impact’ report, we examined the impact of airstrikes on civilians.
Air-dropped bombs in Yemen – an overview
Between 1 January 2011 and 31 July 2015, AOAV found that no manufactured explosive weapon type killed more civilians per incident on average than aerial bombs.
Yemen case study: bombing of the al-Asadi home
Zaid al-Asadi was killed by a falling concrete column. Two of Ali’s children inside the house, 18-month-old Buthanyal and seven-year-old Bilal, also died.
Over 90% of victims of explosive weapons in populated areas in Yemen are civilians – signatories to the Arms Trade Treaty should stop selling weapons to the Saudis
Following evidence of international arms sales to Saudi Arabia, AOAV calls on States to act to stop the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
At least 6,100 civilians reported harmed by explosive weapons in Yemen in 2015
Civilians made up 81% of all deaths and injuries in Yemen from explosive weapons in 2015, a figure that jumps to 93% when these weapons were used in populated areas.
UN says bombing of towns and cities must stop
The UN Secretary-General has highlighted the civilian suffering caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (courtesy of INEW).
One of the world’s oldest jewels: UNESCO condemns bombing of Yemen’s Old City
AOAV condemns Saudi bombing of World Heritage Sites in Yemen, and calls for further protection of cultural heritage from explosive weapons worldwide
AOAV condemns Yemen mosque bombings
AOAV condemns horrific suicide bombings of two mosques in Yemen's capital city which killed at least 137 people.