Although various forms of violence in Yemen are featuring in international and regional headlines, very little is known about the scope or scale of the challenge. Instead, rumours and speculation persist over the severity of the problem and the specific role of small arms. In fact, current estimates suggest that Yemen's 22 million citizens possess approximately 11 million (range 6 to 17 million) civilian firearms, though there is little evidence to verify this claim. Certain tribal groups are known to possess military capabilities including heavier weaponry, but few studies have documented this phenomenon.
Developing robust evidence and analysis of contemporary patterns of armed violence is critical to help close the gap between perception and reality. It is true that Yemen's history has been characterised by conflicts at multiple levels. More recently, conflict has escalated into a protracted insurgency in the north, various forms of civil unrest in the south, tribal conflicts and terrorism. What were once characterised as robust 'customary norms' and social practices regulating weapons acquisition, ownership and misuse now appear to be weakening. Compounding matters, Yemeni society is facing a range of significant pressures, including rapid population growth (3.0% p.a.) and urbanisation, natural resource depletion (water, oil) and inflation of basic goods and services, including fuel and food.
Nevertheless, the Government of Yemen is advancing a range of efforts to control small arms and other weapons. Among the many measures introduced is a widely-observed ban on the carrying of firearms in major cities, a heavy-weapons buy-back scheme that was implemented during 2005, and discrete interventions to close arms markets. A growing number of civil society and non-governmental organisations are also involved in small arms reduction and armed violence cessation programmes, including campaigning for arms control, awareness-raising, sensitization and education programmes, and conflict mediation initiatives. While laudable, the effectiveness of these various interventions in terms of preventing and reducing armed violence is virtually unknown.
A host of international donor organisations in Yemen have expressed an interest in developing a better understanding of the nature and impact of small arms and armed violence. These include, among others, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Kingdom (Department for International Development - DFID and the Foreign Commonwealth Office - FCO), the European Community (EC), the Netherlands and Germany. Their engagement reflects a firm conviction that armed violence inhibits social and economic development (see also www.genevadeclaration.org
In spite of growing concerns over armed violence in Yemen, comparatively little is actually known about the distribution and effects of arms, munitions or armed violence. Despite alarmist media reporting on the situation, there is virtually no data or analysis of weapons in circulation, the spatial, temporal or demographic distribution of victimisation (including fatal and non-fatal gunshot injuries), the motivations and means shaping weapons acquisition and traditional customs or rules associated with arms control. Even less is known about how to enhance resilience of affected populations and public authority capacities. Without such information it is difficult to set appropriate priorities, design targeted programmes or monitor and evaluate effective interventions.
The YAVA is established on the premise that solid evidence is the basis of sound policy. Thus, in working with stakeholders across the public health, crime and development sectors, the YAVA will generate a longitudinal evidence base to inform decision-making. It is only with reliable and trustworthy data that Yemeni government, civil society and non-governmental organisations, together with multilateral and bilateral agencies, can formulate policies that work.