Civil Society

Perceiving Yemen

This post is also available in: العربية (Arabic)

We usually hear that the world has become a small village. We hear that information and data have become accessible to the majority of humans. We even think we know so much about everything happening around us. But think, for a moment, of the fact that you do not actually know much about livelihoods in certain regions in your own country. Many of us do not have access to information and, as a result, we tend to believe that everyone has the same living conditions or that we all think alike.

For instance, if a Yemeni citizen were asked whether he/she did not have enough food during the past year, answers would drastically vary depending on whether the person lives in Hadhramout, Lahj, Amran, Taiz or elsewhere in Yemen. This makes us wonder, how is it possible for a crisis to be resolved when many are not even aware of the scale of it?

This is not exclusive to the average Yemeni citizen. The same goes for decision makers and stakeholders whose interest is improving livelihoods in local communities and resolving the entire crisis in Yemen. Understanding the other’s viewpoint, experiences and priorities is of great utility for finding a common ground and consensual solutions.

For this reason, Yemen Polling Center, in collaboration with Data for Change, has recently launched the Perceiving Yemen website. The website provides an overview of life in Yemen, covering 20 governorates. Perceiving Yemen is a tool that compares livelihoods at a sub-national level in order to provide data that is of importance for all those interested in the situation in Yemen. Data was collected through a nationwide survey, where 2000 people between the ages of 15 and 25 were surveyed in various governorates. The process of data collection is part of the European Union funded project ‘Youth Voices in Yemen’.

In order to understand further young people’s lives in Yemen, the participants in the survey were asked questions that included topics such as the impact of the current war and conflict on their lives as well as accessibility to basic services such as water, food and electricity. Additionally, they were asked about their opinions on the government, foreign policy, security and media representations, among other issues.

Inaccessibility to Internet and electricity

The visualized data in the website

Among the issues people face in many areas are unavailable or weak Internet, as well as electricity blackouts. For this reason, Yemenis resort to instant messaging applications and Bluetooth technology for news, stories and video exchanges. Given these circumstances, and to make Perceiving Yemen accessible, the website is designed to be user friendly in regards to downloading data in the form of digital images that can be sent via Bluetooth without the need to be connected to the Internet. Furthermore, the website can be fully downloaded on computers and mobile phones, which makes it available for interactive offline use. The website also offers voice recordings of participants’ opinions that can be accessed by those who have reading difficulties.

The worst humanitarian crisis in the world

According to the United Nations, the current war in Yemen has resulted in one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. The collapse in infrastructure, unavailability of basic resources such as food, water and medication, as well as the large numbers of internally displaced persons and an increase in epidemics are some of Yemen’s most pressing humanitarian needs.[1] Although Yemen has many effective civil society organizations that work in several sectors, the impact remains insufficient. Among explanations for the inability to sufficiently meet needs is the lack of precise data that reflects the distinct needs of Yemenis throughout the country. The availability of precise data contributes significantly in the design and implementation of effective responses to people’s needs. The same goes for reaching a political resolution – which cannot be achieved without involving people’s views from all over Yemen.

Perceiving Yemen provides people’s views and experiences throughout the country, making them available for humanitarians and decision makers. The design of the website allows for comparison between different governorates, in terms of each of the topics, as accessing data is available both by governorate or topic. While going through the data, you can easily share what interests you with your family and friends via social media applications, such as Facebook and Twitter, or via instant messaging applications such as Whatsapp.

What do you know about Yemen?

During my last visit to Berlin, Germany, I participated in a youth leadership camp that brought 30 participants together from different countries. The first question I asked those at the camp or during interactions in the city was: What do you know about Yemen?

Answers varied between head tilting to express not knowing what Yemen was and guessing whether Yemen is a country in Africa or a small village in Europe!

Screenshot from the promotional video

This was shocking to me! I come from a country considered the ‘worst humanitarian crisis’ in the world. I carry so much sorrow and demands, expecting compassion and full awareness of the conditions in my country. However, only very few know. Those who do are often human rights activists or Arab immigrants. Even for those who know, their knowledge is restricted to the political conflict and not much about the humanitarian situation and life in this part of the world.

The same goes for the rest of the world. Suffering exists everywhere. This is what I became aware of during that experience. I used to think that we were alone in terms of suffering and difficulties. I learned that conditions may vary, yet suffering and difficulties exist within various contexts. This is where one realizes the shocking truth. The world may not be the small village as we had thought. We do not know enough about livelihoods in the various countries in this world. This is where our role comes in supporting the idea and the importance of transparent access to data and information.

Media plays a major role in shaping human consciousness. When it comes to Yemen, the majority of media platforms focus on the political aspect of the conflict and the danger of terrorism. Mainstream media tends to ignore living conditions and the fact that there are active young people who want to live in peaceful and coexistent societies that create change. When I was asked in Berlin about how people there can help, all I was able to suggest was to share this consciousness and news that shows the actual situation of Yemeni youth on the ground, in order to put pressure on decision makers. The first thing I did as soon as I left was share Perceiving Yemen with all the people I met abroad, with hope that it makes a difference, no matter how little, in shaping perceptions of Yemen.

Photo courtesy of the author




Shaima Bin Othman, a global citizen, Yemeni, culture, peace and human rights activist.




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Shaima Bin Othman

A cultural activist and a Master’s student specializing in Middle Eastern Studies at the American University in Beirut.

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