In 2023, an estimated 21.6 million people in Yemen will need humanitarian assistance.
The 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen (HRP) requires $4.3 billion to reach the 17.3 million most vulnerable people in need of humanitarian support.
The World Food Programme (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) identified eight acute food insecurity “hotspots” of very high concern from November 2023 to April 2024, including Yemen. The agencies said in Yemen, acute food insecurity “is expected to remain at critical levels, amid the protracted economic crisis worsened by an anticipated reduction in humanitarian assistance.”
Yemen’s highlands face temperatures that can dip below freezing in the winter months between November and February. In 2023, the country endured heavy rains and flooding, which is expected to lead to cold and harsh conditions. Humanitarian partners estimated that this winter season, extreme weather conditions will affect over 900,000. Shelter assistance and winterization support, including thermal blankets and winter clothing, is needed.
Since 2015, a persistent conflict between the Internationally Recognized Government of Yemen (IRG), with support from the Saudi-led coalition, and the de-facto authority (DFA) (also known as the Houthis) that is aligned with Iran, has resulted in a severe economic and humanitarian crisis.
The conflicting parties agreed to a United Nations (UN)-mediated truce on April 2, 2022, which expired on Oct. 2, 2022. Since the end of the truce, the country’s fighting had largely slowed. However, renewed fighting in March 2023 killed at least 16.
An attack by Houthi rebels in August 2023 served as a reminder that the conflict is not over. On Aug. 28, 2023, Hans Grundberg, the UN special representative for Yemen, said the war may renew unless its rival factions agree on a new cease-fire deal.
Cuts to humanitarian assistance persist due to a lack of funding. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said in August 2023, “This substantial funding gap jeopardizes the humanitarian response, compelling aid organizations to scale back or close crucial programmes.”
(Photo: A medical practitioner uses a Mid Upper-Arm Circumference (MUAC) measuring tape on a child suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) in Bani Al-Harith, Sana’a, Yemen. (© UNICEF/UN057347/Almang)
A China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia signed on March 10, 2023, renewed diplomatic ties between the countries and raised hopes for an end to the eight-year conflict that has caused at least 377,000 deaths and sparked a humanitarian crisis. As explained by the Council on Foreign Relations, the exclusion of the governing council and the Southern Transitional Council from the talks raised questions about the prospects for peace.
Earlier signs of progress since the March 10 deal included the Saudi-led coalition lifting eight-year-old restrictions on imports bound for Yemen’s southern ports and plans for the Saudi-Omani delegation to hold ceasefire talks with Yemen’s Houthis in Sanaa. On March 22, 2023, 141 non-government organizations issued an open letter to the Yemeni parties to the conflict calling for the truce to be renewed and lasting peace to be built.
In June 2023, Saudi Arabia and the Houthi authorities exchanged fighters’ bodies, a sign of progress in talks to end their eight-year conflict. Additionally, for the first time since the war began in 2015, Saudi Arabia said in June it would allow Yemen Airways to carry passengers into Saudi Arabia for Islam’s annual Haj pilgrimage from the Yemeni capital Sanaa. However, Reuters reported on Oct. 31, 2023, Houthi missile and drone attacks on Israel have increased the risks of conflict for Saudi Arabia.
Saudi officials are eager to demonstrate their increased investments in reconstruction, however, human rights groups continue to call for accountability for their role in the conflict, and humanitarians say the Saudis have large-scale and long-term obligations for recovery.
The 2023 HRP, published on Jan. 25, 2023, says, “Currently, Yemen is neither in a war of full-scale military offensives, nor does it benefit from a formal peace. During the truce which held from 2 April to 2 October Yemen, conflict related displacement decreased by 76 per cent. At the same time, victims of land mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW), including unexploded ordnance (UXO) increased by 160 per cent.”
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- In 2023, the number of people in need has decreased slightly from 23.4 million people in 2022 to 21.6 million in 2023. The 2023 HRP says these changes are mainly due to technical modifications assessments and revised food security projections. “They do not reflect an across-the board improvement in the humanitarian outlook.”
- Yemen remains one of the most food-insecure countries in the world. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) projects that the situation will worsen between June and December 2023.
17 million people are food insecure and in IPC Phases 3-4. 2.2 million children are malnourished.
- An estimated 4.5 million people in Yemen are displaced, most of whom have been displaced multiple times over a number of years.
- According to the 2023 HRP, “Natural hazards and disasters doubled related displacement in 2022, damaged public and civilian infrastructure and impacted delivery of essential services.” Heavy rains and flooding impacted more than 517,000 people in 2022 and led to over 160,000 new and secondary displacements between July and September 2022.
- Yemen has an INFORM Climate Change Risk Index for 2022 of 8.1, ranking third among the most vulnerable countries to climate change and least prepared for climate shocks, after Somalia and South Sudan.
Climate shocks and natural hazards
According to FAO in June 2023 early warning bulletin for Yemen, “Droughts, floods, and extreme weather events are becoming more frequent, thus further compromising the stability of food systems. This is particularly detrimental to vulnerable communities that rely heavily on agriculture for their livelihoods and food supply.”
A cyclonic storm named Tej made landfall on the eastern Yemeni coast overnight between Oct. 23 and Oct. 24, 2023. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports more than 10,000 households have been affected in Socotra, Hadramawt and Al Maharah governorates. The cyclone damaged homes and impacted the agriculture and fishery sectors. Parts of Yemen, an ordinarily dry country, saw eight times the average yearly rainfall from Tej. The Al Ghaydah airport in Al Mahrah Governorate recorded 17 inches of rain.
In a report released on Oct. 4, 2022, entitled Risking the Future: Climate Change, Environmental Destruction, and Conflict in Yemen, the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) warned that “resource-based conflicts in Yemen will increase in the coming years as water and land continue to be depleted.”
In the report, CIVIC outlined the major climate change problems facing the country, particularly the ongoing drought and rapidly decreasing levels of groundwater. “Without consistent rainfall, there is not enough water to replenish in the face of heavy use and mismanagement.”
Unfortunately, the rains that arrived during summer 2022 were far more harmful than helpful. These destructive downpours brought flash flooding to at least 19 governates across the country – affecting almost 74,000 households and killing at least 72 people. In addition, these floods wreaked havoc on critical infrastructure including roads, farms, WASH facilities and electrical infrastructure.
According to the 2023 HRP, “Natural hazards and disasters doubled related displacement in 2022, damaged public and civilian infrastructure and impacted delivery of essential services.” Heavy rains and flooding impacted more than 517,000 people in 2022 and led to over 160,000 new and secondary displacements between July and September 2022.
The New Humanitarian reported in April 2023 that many displaced people affected by the 2022 floods received minimal support for relief in the immediate aftermath, and several months on, families continue to struggle with meeting their basic needs and recovery.
Around 50,000 displaced people in Marib City were once again affected by heavy winds and rains in March 2023. In early April 2023, torrential rains brought flash flooding that killed at least five people in Yemen’s Shabwa governorate. In June 2023, the Shelter Cluster reported that 39% of the families affected by flooding had received assistance.
Further compounding the hazards to Yemen’s natural resources is the FSO Safer, a supertanker carrying more than 1 million barrels of oil that ran aground outside the port of Al-Hudaydah in 2015. For the last seven years, it has been rusting away as its structure has been exposed to the moisture and salt with little to no maintenance.
Not only is the ship at risk of spilling its contents into the Red Sea – a catastrophe that would ruin coastlines and fisheries across the body of water – it is also at risk of exploding after inert air that usually inhibits an explosion dissipated over the years. A spill would also reduce or eliminate capacity at the port of Hodeidah, the main entry point for humanitarian aid, while also eroding fishing capabilities and livelihoods for millions of people along the coastline.
The United Nations had raised $75 million in September 2022 to salvage the FSO Safer and its contents. However, rising costs presented a new obstacle for the complex operation. In a rare bit of good news, in April 2023 the United Nations Development Programme purchased a ship that will serve as a replacement vessel for the FSO Safer. A Dutch firm has been contracted to extract the oil and move the FSO Safer to safety. A conference in May 2023 aimed to raise the remaining funds required.
In June 2023, the UN announced it had secured insurance coverage to start the transfer of oil from the FSO Safer, a critical milestone in the effort to prevent a major environmental disaster. On Aug. 11, 2023, the UN announced the operation safely concluded, preventing the immediate threat of a massive spill. Crowdsource funding played an important role in closing the funding gap.
The 2023 HRP said, “Many of the most vulnerable internally displaced people live in flood-prone areas or inadequate shelters, risking further increased needs and displacement. Continuing protracted displacement even with lower rates of new displacement, may well ensure Yemen remains among the top six largest internal displacements in the world.”
Natural hazards and disasters, in particular flooding, doubled related displacement in 2022, damaged infrastructure and impacted service delivery.
According to UNOCHA, “Children are significantly impacted by disrupted services and infrastructure, with 8.6 million school-aged children in need of education assistance due to conflict-related damage and disruption. More than 2,700 schools have been destroyed, partially damaged or utilized for non-educational purposes.”
Compounding the situation are the 2022 floods that affected around 368 schools, compromising the learning of nearly 1.5 million school-age children. Approximately 2.7 million children are out of school, and girls represent 47% of this figure. Protection considerations are critical for education actors to ensure children can safely access services without causing harm.
Despite some improvements, Yemen remains one of the most food-insecure countries in the world. The IPC projects that the situation will worsen between June and December 2023. The number of people in IPC Phase 3 or above is forecasted to increase by 20%, reaching 3.9 million people or 41% of the population. The main drivers of the deterioration include a projected 20% shortfall in humanitarian assistance, an anticipated increase in food and fuel prices and a continuation of conflict in frontline districts.
The IPC’s acute food insecurity scale is broken down into five phases: no or minimal (Phase 1), stressed (Phase 2), crisis (Phase 3), emergency (Phase 4), and catastrophe, famine or famine likely (Phase 5). Data is not always available which makes it difficult to identify some trends over time and the full picture of food insecurity in the country. The IPC analysis quoted above “covers 118 districts and areas under the control of the Government of Yemen, for which new food security and nutrition evidence was available.”
Inadequate food consumption levels continued to gradually decrease since September 2022. However, WFP’s March 2023 Yemen Food Security Update said “Approximately 52 percent of the surveyed families in IRG-controlled areas and 47 percent of those in areas under Sana’a-based authorities were unable to access an adequate diet during February 2023, still higher than reported levels during the same month last year of 47 percent and 43 percent, respectively.”
Food security and malnutrition in Yemen have primarily been an issue of affordability rather than availability of food. The food security situation would have been worse without the truce among conflicting parties and additional donor funding received in the second half of 2022.
The issue of food affordability continues to play out in 2023. Analysis from a multi-agency household survey found that, “Availability of food supplies does not seem to be an issue affecting people’s food security. The total amount of food available in Yemen is dependent on local production, commercial imports, humanitarian food assistance, and food stocks/reserves.” Displaced people, Muhamasheen and female-led households were cited by the survey respondents as the members of the community most affected by food insecurity.
The persistence of food insecurity in Yemen occurs against the backdrop of funding cuts. The WFP has been forced to reduce the assistance rations they distribute, providing only 40% of the standard food basket per cycle.
In August 2023, Richard Ragan, WFP’s Yemen Representative, said, “We are confronted with the incredibly tough reality of making decisions to take food from the hungry to feed the starving while millions of Yemenis continue to rely on us for survival. We do not take this decision lightly and are fully cognizant of the suffering these cuts will cause.”
Laila Baker, the UN Population Fund Arab states Regional Director, said in March 2023, “Today, there is practically no health care system. Hospitals, facilities and equipment have been destroyed, health workers have remained unpaid and left in droves. Today, a woman dies every two hours during pregnancy and childbirth from causes that are almost entirely preventable with access to services.”
Nearly 13 million Yemenis have urgent humanitarian healthcare needs, and 540,000 children under five suffer from severe acute malnutrition. The dire health situation prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to warn in April 2023 that the fragile health system is overburdened and “edging closer to collapse.”
Yemen’s 2023 Humanitarian Needs Overview states, “The Health Resources and Services Availability Monitoring System, updated in 2022, reveals 49% of health facilities are either partially functional or non-functional due to staff, fund and power shortages, as well as lack of medicines, supplies and equipment. Long distance to health facilities, the unavailability of the required type of service and unaffordability are major obstacles for vulnerable households to receive quality health assistance.”
Discriminatory societal attitudes towards women’s movement and economic and social engagement remain entrenched. In the 2021 World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report, Yemen was ranked in the bottom five countries regarding women’s economic participation, political empowerment and educational attainment. Yemen was not covered in WEF’s 2022 report.
A study by Mwatana for Human Rights released on Aug. 30, 2022 found that incidents of gender-based violence (GBV) increased throughout the first seven years (the time period included in the study) of the conflict. The authors found that those who were victims or survivors of GBV were also systematically deprived of educational opportunities, which is particularly significant given the lack of educational opportunities within Yemen in 2022.
In 2023, 3.2 million people with disabilities need humanitarian assistance. Normative and implementation gaps in Yemen’s legal framework continue to diminish the protection of minority and marginalized groups, including women and girls and people with disabilities. An estimated 678,000 displaced people with disabilities experience compounding vulnerabilities and barriers to accessing aid. Along with people with disabilities, older people face stigma and social isolation, as well as an increased risk of being left behind and separated from their families and care providers during displacement. According to HelpAge International in a March 2023 update, older people are particularly affected by high prices of basic food items and “many older women are also limiting their food intake so that their children and grandchildren can eat more instead.”
The humanitarian crisis severely impacts children. According to the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), “The current humanitarian crisis in Yemen has increased the vulnerability of children and women to exploitation, violence and abuse, child labour, killing and maiming, recruitment and use of children by parties to the conflict as combatants and in various support roles, domestic and gender-based violence, child marriage and psychosocial distress.”
The most critical ongoing need is for unrestricted funding that addresses the needs outlined in the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan. Unrestricted funding allows agencies working in Yemen to direct the funds to the places and clusters where it is most needed.
Climate and natural hazards
Niku Jafarnia, a researcher with CIVIC and author of Risking the Future: Climate Change, Environmental Destruction, and Conflict in Yemen, said: “Even if the conflict in Yemen were to end today, Yemenis will have to prepare for another battle: the fight against climate change…The country will bear the environmental scars of warfare in its soil and water sources for decades to come.”
Funding for projects such as the one launched by the UN Human Settlements Program, which will identify needs and help determine climate adaptation priorities to increase climate resilience, are essential to helping Yemen become a stable and self-sufficient country after the end of the war.
Funding for the reconstruction of infrastructure that was damaged in the flooding of summer 2022 is another critical need. As rainfall becomes more intense, infrastructure must be built to withstand much more severe flooding conditions than before. Households, roads, hospitals, schools, electrical grids and other critical infrastructure must be rebuilt to higher standards to be better able to resist the effects of climate change.
Considering the increasing levels of climate induced crises and shocks, preparedness and minimizing disaster impact are important. In 2023, humanitarian partners plan to pilot anticipatory action activities aimed at minimizing the impact of flooding on vulnerable populations. Additionally, “Enhanced risks analysis, pre-positioning supplies and building capacity of local partners, will support both climate and conflict crisis preparedness activities.”
As in the Horn of Africa, which is also experiencing protracted conflict and severe drought, a two-track approach that addresses the immediate humanitarian needs of people in Yemen while investing in longer-term programs that strengthen resilience is needed.
According to the FAO, restoring agricultural production is needed as this represents a critical source of food and income for rural households in Yemen. FAO says that every $1 spent on supporting Yemeni farmers with cereal and legume seed packages yields 11 times its value in crops.
The 2023 HRP outlines the Food Security and Agriculture Cluster’s objectives, included below, which align with the two-track approach. To achieve these objectives, the Cluster requires $2.2 billion to reach 14.8 million people.
- Increase availability and access to secure, safe and lifesaving food for the most vulnerable households through the provision of emergency assistance.
- Protect and promote livelihoods and build assets to enhance resilience.
Funding for direct medical care is badly needed, particularly to support those experiencing cholera and other transmissible diseases. Many people are also suffering from the medical side effects of malnutrition, requiring additional care because of insufficient food supplies.
Lack of access to clean water can cause major health outbreaks, including the current cholera outbreak that started in October 2016. In the city of Aden during the months of July and August 2023, the Yemeni government-run electricity producer was only able to provide power for up to six hours a day for many residents. With high summer temperatures, the lack of regular access to electricity regularly produces a heat index dangerous to human health.
One of the underlying drivers of malnutrition is the lack of access to WASH and health services. Improving access to safe water and sanitation will have a multiplying impact on food security and health. Distribution of medical supplies, restoring health infrastructure, supporting vaccine deployment and continued investment in community health workers are other opportunities for funders.
The 2023 HRP says, “the Health Cluster will continue sustaining, strengthening and expanding essential health services that prioritize IDPs, women, children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, migrants, chronically and mentally ill patients, and other highest-risk groups.”
Support for livelihood development will provide some of the best return on investment. When people are given the opportunity to support themselves, they have some financial stability which in turn allows them to have sustained access to healthy food, housing and to re-invest into their communities.
Increasing the number of people who are self-sufficient or even produce extra resources will reduce the number of people reliant on international aid. Improving livelihoods also allows families and communities to start their recovery from prolonged shocks, meet immediate and longer-term needs, and promote resilience to future shocks, including disasters.
For example, a grant from Mercy Corps’ CDP-funded “Pathway to Sustainable Livelihoods” program allowed a university student with disability to buy a mobile cart to sell sweets, toiletries and stationary next to her neighborhood school and a busy market. The student said, “With the profits from my cart, I am now earning enough to pay for my school fees, my parents’ medicine and our everyday needs.”
More than 774,000 people were helped by multi-purpose cash assistance (MPCA) between January and November 2022, a 28% increase compared to 2021. MPCA strengthened local markets and livelihood opportunities. According to the 2023 HRP, “humanitarian actors aim to continue expanding MPCA, including by more than doubling the number of planned beneficiaries compared to 2022.”
In addition to supporting local economies, cash is cheaper than in-kind donations, flexible and gives people dignity of choice over their decisions.
Yemen is colder than most of the Arab world due to its elevation, and Yemen’s highlands can see temperatures dip below freezing in the winter months. Each winter, immediate shelter assistance is critical. In 2023, the shelter partners plan includes replacing damaged shelters, providing repair materials and tools, and distributing emergency shelter kits for those residing in open spaces.
According to UNOCHA in October 2023, “The Shelter Cluster Winterisation Response Strategy  requires $9.8 million to reach about 81,300 of the most vulnerable families dispersed in 68 districts and 12 governorates. Despite the critical nature of these winterisation efforts, securing sufficient funding remains a significant challenge.”
Support for marginalized groups
The 2023 HRP’s second objective is: “Improve the resilience of crisis-affected vulnerable people of all ages, women, girls, men and boys, through increased safe, dignified and adequate access to multi-sectoral response and durable solutions.”
In their report Fragile Walls: A study of domestic violence against women during the war in Yemen, Mwatana’s recommendations to international organizations and donors include ensuring the sustainability of projects over time, supporting research and survey studies on violence against women for purposes of influencing policies, and putting pressure on authorities to work towards effective reforms in law enforcement and judicial institutions.
Maternal mortality rates in Yemen remain extremely high, with one woman dying every two hours during childbirth from causes that are almost entirely preventable. Improving access to reproductive health services and antenatal care, and safe delivery, particularly in rural areas, is critical.
Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers who are en route to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are mostly Ethiopian nationals. Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers represent some of the most marginalized groups in Yemen and have limited prospects for becoming self-reliant and need access to basic services.
Inclusion in the design and implementation of humanitarian programming for women and children, people with disabilities, migrants, and older adults is essential and helps ensure that humanitarian assistance is relevant and targeted. Addressing forced eviction, housing tenure insecurity, negative coping mechanisms, mental health and psychosocial support, and protection concerns will help reduce vulnerability.
CDP’s Global Recovery Fund provides donors with opportunities to meet the ongoing and ever-expanding challenges presented by global crises. CDP also has a Disaster Recovery Fund that provides the chance for donors to meet the needs of those affected by this humanitarian crisis in the U.S. and territories.
If you are a responding NGO or a donor, please send updates on how you are working on recovery from this disaster to Tanya Gulliver-Garcia.
We welcome the republication of our content. Please credit the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.
Philanthropic and government support
CDP awarded Project HOPE $500,000 from the COVID-19 Fund in 2022 to extend the successful mental health and resilience training for COVID-19 frontline health workers in 11 countries including Yemen. Leveraging existing resources developed with CDP support, Project Hope will scale the program to reach an additional 16,000 healthcare workers across countries experiencing complex humanitarian emergencies.
CDP awarded Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) $250,000 from the Global Recovery Fund in 2020 to provide maternal and pediatric healthcare and operational support of surgical facilities that focus on war surgery and emergency obstetric care. MSF programs focus on the hardest-hit areas of Yemen, especially those in or near conflict zones. MSF teams work in 12 hospitals and health centers across the country and support an additional 20 health facilities in 12 governorates: Abyan, Aden, Amran, Hajjah, Hodeidah, Ibb, Lahj, Saada, Sana’a, Shabwah, Taiz and Marib. There is $50,000 designated for working with Health Ministries to enhance and strengthen infection prevention and control (IPC) measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic response.
CDP awarded $249,935 to Mercy Corps from the Global Recovery Fund in 2020 to increase market activity in the Taiz governorate of Yemen by strengthening small and micro enterprises through access to financial services, including grants and loans, as well as in-person business training and mentorship. This program also supports local communities with increased access to functional market systems that create competitive options when purchasing goods and services and more accessibility within their localities.
The 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen (HRP) requires $4.3 billion to reach the 17.3 million most vulnerable people in need of humanitarian support. As of Nov. 16, 2023, donors had funded just 35.2% of the 2023 HRP. The U.S. is the largest donor thus far of the 2023 HRP.
The High-Level Pledging Event on the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen resulted in financial announcements from donors totaling $1.16 billion as of March 5, 2023. The U.S. commitment of $444.21 million was the largest. The reaction from humanitarian organizations, including International Rescue Committee and Oxfam, to these donor announcements included calls for more to be done and for the international community not to leave Yemen behind.
On Aug. 4, 2022, the U.S. announced it was providing $431 million in further humanitarian assistance for Yemen through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The U.S. government had provided more than $1 billion in fiscal year 2022 to the Yemen humanitarian response.
On Oct. 16, 2022, the Yemen Red Crescent Society, the Qatar Red Crescent Society and the Kuwait Red Crescent Society announced a $150,000 project to provide almost 600 families with emergency shelter kits. This comes less than one week after the Qatar Red Crescent Society announced a $1.5 million project supporting over 3,000 families to “provide nonfood items (NFIs) and housing rentals for vulnerable groups, with funding from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ (OCHA) Yemen Humanitarian Fund (YHF).” These shelter kits included seven mattresses and blankets, two plastic mattresses, kitchenware, a solar lamp, two water buckets, and a cooking stove.
On Sept. 29, 2022, the European Union made a $9.25 million (€9.4 million) donation to the UNFPA to support reproductive health care and mental health services for displaced women and girls. The European Union also made an emergency donation of $147,568 (€150,000) as part of the response to the flooding in the summer of 2022.
Significant donations were made in September 2022 by the Qatar Fund for Development ($3 million) and the Government of The Netherlands ($14.76 million or €15 million) to support salvage operations of the FSO Safer.
Complex Humanitarian Emergencies
CHEs involve an acute emergency layered over ongoing instability. Multiple scenarios can cause CHEs, like the civil wars in Syria and Yemen, the man-made political crisis in Venezuela, or the public health crisis in Congo.
According to the United Nations’ definition, a “famine” has taken hold when: at least 20 percent of households in an area face extreme food shortages; more than two people in 10,000 are dying each day (from both lack of food and reduced immunity to disease); and more than 30 percent of the population is experiencing acute malnutrition.
The Latin root of “resilience” means to bounce back, but every field has its own definition and most individuals within each discipline will define it differently. Learn more.