Official name: Republic of Yemen
Area: 527,970 square kilometers (203,850 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: An-Nabī Shùayb (3,760 meters/12,336 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 3 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 540 kilometers (336 miles) from north to south; approximately 1,250 kilometers (777 miles) from southwest to northeast
Land boundaries: 1,746 kilometers (1085 miles) total boundary length; Oman 288 kilometers (179 miles); Saudi Arabia 1,458 kilometers (906 miles)
Coastline: 1,906 kilometers (1,184 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
Yemen is located in the Middle East on the southwestern part of the Arabian Peninsula, bordering Oman and Saudi Arabia. It has a western coastline on the Red Sea and a southern coast on the Arabian Sea. With a total area of about 527,970 square kilometers (203,850 square miles), the country is slightly larger than twice the size of the state of Wyoming. Yemen is administratively divided into seventeen governorates.
Yemen has no outside territories or dependencies.
Yemen has a very hot, semitropical climate, with temperatures as high as 54°C (129°F). The average temperature varies over the two basic seasons, ranging from 22°C (72°F) in summer to 14°C (57°F) in winter. The Red Sea coast is particularly hot and humid. The interior mountain regions experience frost in winter. Sandstorms often appear in both summer and winter as winds sweep across Yemen.
Monsoon rains drench much of otherwise dry Yemen twice each year, from March through May and July through September. In the southwest corner of the country there is more consistent rain, with constant fog along the coast. Yemen's average annual rainfall is 51 to 91 centimeters (20 to 36 inches), with great regional variation. Less than 12 centimeters (5 inches) of precipitation falls on the coastal lowlands, contrasting with 100 centimeters (39 inches) in the highlands above 3,000 meters (9,842 feet).
Yemen has five principal geographic regions: the Tihama coastal plain; the mountainous interior; the high plateau, the Wadi Hadhramawt region, and the Al Mahra uplands; the Rub'al-Khali interior desert; and the offshore islands.
The Red Sea lies to the west of Yemen. The Red Sea is a narrow, landlocked sea that separates Africa from the Arabian Peninsula. It links to the Mediterranean Sea through the Gulf of Suez and the Suez Canal. In the south, the Red Sea links to the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea through the Strait of Mandeb (Bab el Mandeb).
The Arabian Sea, which is an extension of the Indian Ocean, lies to the south of Yemen. The Gulf of Aden, to the southwest of Yemen, is an extension of the Arabian Sea. Some 5 percent of Yemen's coast has nearby coral reefs, with particularly diverse marine habitats in the Red Sea.
One of the world's most important shipping lanes, the Strait of Mandeb, connects the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden southwest of Yemen, and separates Yemen from the African countries of Djibouti and Eritrea. The natural harbor of Aden lies on the Gulf of Aden. The coast curves inward at Cape Fartak, forming the Qamr Bay (Ghubbat al Qamar) near Yemen's border with Oman.
Yemen has more than 115 islands, including Perim in the Strait of Mandeb and the Hanīsh Islands and Kamaran further north. Yemen also possesses the 3,626-square-kilometer (1,400-square-mile) island of Socotra in the Arabian Sea. Socotra has numerous endemic species, with intact land and marine ecosystems. The Brothers, a chain of small islands near Socotra, also belong to Yemen.
Cape Kathib (Ras al Kathib) interrupts the north-south stretch of Yemen's Red Sea coast near the port of Al Hudaydah. The town of Turba marks the corner on the Strait of Mandeb where the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden coasts converge. Yemen's Gulf of Aden coast runs from southwest to northeast. Coastal plains follow on the Gulf of Aden, with sandy beaches including Cape Sharma and Dhobbah, which are nesting sites for endangered green turtles.
Jebel al Houf, on the coast far to the east, has Yemen's largest forest (200 square kilometers/77 square miles), in an area where mountains trap monsoon moisture to create a foggy, misty zone; it is protected by the local community.
Yemen has no significant natural freshwater lakes. There are some small brackish lagoons along the coast, however, and several hot springs in the highlands.
Wastewater lagoons north of Ta'izz and northeast of Al-Hudaydah, and a treated-sewage outflow area west of the city of Aden, have become important bird habitats. Mudflats, sandbars, and mangroves form wetlands with individual ecosystems along the Red Sea coast.
Yemen's highlands are interspersed with deep wadis , or riverbeds. The wadis are usually quite dry with little vegetation, but many of them will fill dramatically during times of heavy rains. Rainfall drains through seven major wadis that can flow west as far as the Red Sea. These are the Rima, Rasyan, Mawr, Surdud, Siham, Zabid, and Mawza. Wadis that drain south into the Gulf of Aden from the eastern regions include Hajar, Jahr, Warazan, and Yemen's longest, Wadi Hadhramawt, at 240 kilometers (149 miles).
Inland from the mountains and north of the Wadi Hadhramawt valley, gravel deserts transition into the sand dune deserts of the Rub'al-Khali, or Empty Quarter, which extends across the border from Saudi Arabia. Even in this inhospitable region, oases are inhabited during the rainy season. Productive salt pans are found in the Rub'al-Khali.
On the Gulf of Aden coast is a coastal fog desert ecosystem, with vegetation that eventually gives way to the Tihama desert. The Tihama is a narrow, hot, humid, yet almost waterless strip that extends along the Red Sea coast and covers approximately 10 percent of the country.
Scrub grasslands, with sparse ground cover and shrubbery, are common throughout Yemen. This type of terrain, which covers about 30 percent of Yemen's area, is used for raising livestock. Over-grazing is an environmental threat.
Yemen's eastern mountains slope down into hills that merge with the sands of the Rub'al-Khali desert. Other hill areas include the Hadhramawt and Al Mahra uplands in the east. Throughout Yemen, the foothills of mountain ranges are terraced for farming.
The valleys of Wadi al-Malih and Wadi Warazan near the city of Ta'izz, as well as Wadi Zabid near the port of Al Hudaydah, contain marshes that are decreasing in area due to demands on the groundwater, agricultural conversion, and grazing.
The valley of Wadi Hadhramawt extends from the central part of the country south-eastward to the Gulf of Aden. Surrounded by desolate hills and desert, the upper and middle parts of the Hadhramawt, with their alluvial soil and seasonal floodwaters, are relatively fertile and are inhabited by a farming population. The lower eastern part of the valley, which turns southward to the sea, is barren and largely uninhabited.
The term "Middle East" was coined by western Europeans as a geographic designation for those countries of southwest Asia and northeast Africa that stretch from the Mediterranean Sea to the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan, including the nations on the Arabian Peninsula. This area was considered to be the midpoint between Europe and East Asia, which was often called the Far East.
In a cultural sense, the term sometimes refers to all the countries of that general region that are primarily Islamic. In this sense, the Middle East also includes the countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as some of the North African countries that border the Arabian Peninsula.
Yemen's interior is quite mountainous, with several ranges running along a north-south axis parallel to the Red Sea and also along an east-west axis parallel to the Gulf of Aden. The mountains, which include extinct volcanoes, reach 2,438 meters (8,000 feet) in the extreme west, gradually tapering off to the east. Elevations in the interior mountains range from 2,133 to 3,048 meters (7,000 to 10,000 feet). Rocky spars and sharp, steep ridges dominate these systems; the rugged landscape limits access to the country's interior.
There are western, central, and eastern ranges. The western mountains, although steep, are terraced to support intensive agriculture. The central mountain range begins in the vicinity of the old city of Ta'izz and includes Arabia's highest peak, An-Nabī Shu'ayb, which rises to 3,760 meters (12,336 feet). Yemen's capital, Sanaa, is located in one of the largest basins of the central range, at an elevation of 2,400 meters (7,874 feet). The eastern highlands rise to heights of 762 to 1,067 meters (2,500 to 3,500 feet).
Efforts are being made to preserve the forests of the mountainous Utma region of the central highlands, which include medicinal and fragrant tree species.
Yemen's canyons include the Al Guedam canyon in the mountains north of Sanaa, Wadi Dahero canyon on Socotra Island, and the Bir Maqsur limestone crevasse, also on Socotra. Deeply eroded ravines cut by extinct or seasonally flowing rivers (the wadis ) fissure much of Yemen's interior.
Yemen's eastern region occupies the irregular southern end of the Arabian Plateau, which was formed from ancient granite and has been partially covered by sedimentary limestone and sand. The central highlands of Yemen are broken into plateaus ranging in height from 1,200 to 3,000 meters (4,000 to 10,000 feet). The Harra Plateau, north of Sanaa, is a spectacular landscape of lava rock, sandstone striations, and extinct volcanic cones.
The largest lake in Yemen is the artificial Marib Reservoir, which was created by a dam built in 1986. The 30-square-kilometer (12-square-mile) reservoir is shrinking in size as its water levels have been depleted; it also has been afflicted with algae blooms. Throughout history, Yemeni residents have built small dams and canals along the country's riverbeds in order to collect water for drinking and irrigation. Unfortunately, since few of the rivers are permanent, these dams have not always been helpful. In fact, flash floods have destroyed some of these dams–swept away by the waters they were meant to contain.
Hansen, Eric. Motoring with Mohammed: Journeys to Yemen and the Red Sea. New York: Vintage, 1992.
MacKintosh-Smith, Tim. Yemen: The Unknown Arabia. New York: Overlook Press, 2001.
Stark, Freya. The Southern Gates of Arabia: A Journey in the Hadhramawt. London: John Murray, 1940.
Wald, Peter. Yemen. London: Pallas Athene, 1996.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations: Yemen. http://www.fao.org/ag/agl/swlwpnr/y_nr/z_ye/ye.htm (accessed May 5, 2003).
Yemen Gateway. http://www.al-bab.com/yemen/about.htm (accessed May 5, 2003).