Yemen - People
Yemen is the second most populous country on the Arabian Peninsula, nearly equal to Saudi Arabia. But Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Arab region. The population growth rate is one of the highest in the world, at 3 percent. Almost half the population below the age of 15 years. Population growth has outpaced economic growth, with unsustainable levels of unemployment. Unemployment is estimated at more than 50 percent, and over on third of the population lives below the National Poverty Line. High population growth also poses challenges at household level due to high dependants’ ratio, thus making it difficult for households to cope. Half the population has limited access to basic health services and access to reproductive health and family planning services is low. Gender disparity remains a major challenge.
Yemen’s population is predominantly Arab, but it also includes Afro-Arabs, South Asians, and Europeans. Arabic is the official language; English is also used in official and business circles.
According to composite data compiled by the World Bank, the adult literacy rate for Yemen in 2005 was 35 percent for females and 73 percent for males. The overall literacy rate for the population age 15 and older was 54 percent. By comparison, low-income countries in the aggregate average an adult literacy rate of almost 62 percent. There is a direct correlation between the very high rate of illiteracy and the lack of basic education. Although Yemen’s laws provide for universal, compulsory, free education for children ages six through 15, the U.S. Department of State reports that compulsory attendance is not enforced, and the cost of attendance (approximately US$10 per student per year) is an additional deterrent. This deficiency is confirmed by World Bank statistics. In 2006 only 75 percent of Yemen’s school-age population was enrolled in primary school; enrollment was even lower for the female population—only 65 percent.
The population is widely dispersed, with over 133,000 settlements. According to the United Nations, Yemen’s population in 2005 was 27.3 percent urban and 73.7 percent rural; population density was 40 persons per square kilometer. The capital of Yemen is Sanaa. Other major cities are Aden, Taizz, Al Hudaydah, and Al Mukalla.
Despite the significant progress Yemen has made to expand and improve its health care system over the past decade, the system remains severely underdeveloped. Total expenditures on health care in 2004 constituted 5 percent of gross domestic product. In that same year, the per capita expenditure for health care was very low compared with other Middle Eastern countries— US$34 according to the World Health Organization. According to the World Bank, the number of doctors in Yemen rose by an average of more than 7 percent between 1995 and 2000, but as of 2004 there were still only three doctors per 10,000 persons. In 2005 Yemen had only 6.1 hospital beds available per 10,000 persons.
According to the United Nations, in 2005 Yemen ranked 153 out of 177 countries on the human development index (HDI), a measure of life expectancy, education, and standard of living. Yemen had the lowest HDI ranking among the Arab states. Several welfare programs are in place, but they generally have been considered inadequate to meet the needs of Yemen’s impoverished citizens (estimated to exceed 45 percent of the total population).
Yemen’s latest census, conducted in December 2004, reported a population of 19.72 million persons, reflecting an average annual population growth rate of more than 3 percent. The U.S. government has estimated a population of 22.2 million persons as of July 2007, and the International Monetary Fund estimated almost 21 million persons in 2005. Yemen’s population has more than doubled since 1975 and has grown approximately 35 percent since the 1994 census, making Yemen the second most populous country on the Arabian Peninsula. Adding to the growth of the native population is the influx of Somali refugees into Yemen—tens of thousands every year. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, there were almost 96,000 African refugees in Yemen in 2006, including more than 91,000 Somalis. The Yemen government estimated 300,000 Somalis in Yemen in 2007.
Yemen’s population is predominantly young. According to U.S. government and United Nations estimates, in 2007 about 46 percent of the population was under age 15; slightly more than half the population, 15–64; and less than 3 percent, 65 and older. The population was almost equally divided between males and females. In 2007 the birthrate and death rate were estimated to be 42.7 per 1,000 and 8.1 per 1,000, respectively. The infant mortality rate was almost 58 deaths per 1,000 live births. The rate was estimated to be higher for males than for females—more than 62 male deaths per 1,000 live births, as compared with about 53 female deaths per 1,000 live births. Despite an increase of 14 years in the last decade, life expectancy at birth in Yemen has remained low compared with other developing countries— 60.6 years for males and 64.5 years for females, or 62.5 years overall. The country’s fertility rate was almost 6.5 children per woman in 2007.
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