The Governorate of Shabwah is located in the southeastern part of the Republic of Yemen, along the Arabian Sea coast between Abyan and Hadhramout. It is 474 kilometers southeast of the capital city of Sana’a. The governorate is divided into 17 administrative districts with the city of Ataq as its capital.

Shabwah governorate information

Districts of Shabwah: Dhar, Al-Talh, Jardan, Arma, Usaylan, Ain, Bayhan, Merkhah Al Ulya, Merkhah As Sufla, Nisab, Hatib, Al-Sa’eed, Ataq, Habban, Ar Rawdah, Mayfa'a, Rudum.

Map of Shabwah


Agriculture, beekeeping, fishing, and fish canning are the most important economic activities in the governorate. Shabwah produces about 2% of the total crops of Yemen, notably fruits and vegetables. The governorate is home to several of Yemen’s active oil fields and commercial oil exploitation takes place in the governorate, as does refining in Safer and Bayhan, and oil export from the governorate’s Bir Ali terminal. Production is below pre-war levels as some oil companies have suspended production, but it continues.1 The governorate is a domestic tourist destination thanks to its picturesque coastline.

In 2014, grants and central subsidies constituted 98% of Shabwah’s total general revenue, while local revenues accounted for only 2%. Local sources of revenue included local shared revenues, leasing government land, selling goods and services, and levying fines and penalties.2Republic of Yemen, Ministry of Finance, Budget Sector: estimated local authority budget for the 2014 fiscal year. These revenues were negatively affected by the war, causing major economic challenges for the governorate. Unlike other oil-producing governorates, Shabwah has not been able to reach a revenue sharing agreement with the central government. Indeed, it is unclear who is receiving the income from the Shabwah oil fields and the exports from Bir Ali, all of which are said to be in the hands of businesses and armed groups affiliated with the internationally recognized Vice President Ali Muhsin.3

According to the2014 Household Budget Survey, the poverty rate in Shabwah was 42%. By 2018, the poverty rate in the governorate may have surpassed 80%.4Interview with a member of the Shabwah local council. March 2019. 

Local governance

The local council in Shabwah in theory comprises 17 members and the governor. One seat could not be filled during the 2006 elections. Currently, there are three vacant seats in the council, putting the current number of councilors at 13. Since 2015, the council has been suspended and the governor has taken charge of all council mandates. The executive offices in the governorate are present and functioning normally.5Interview with a member of the Shabwah local council. March 2019.

Access to basic services

There are approximately 600,000 people in need of assistance in Shabwah, equivalent to 95% of the population. Forty percent of those in need are in dire need.6OCHA, Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen 2018.

Health services in Shabwah are provided through public hospitals and health centers, which receive limited central government and local authority support, as well as support from international donors. However, the services provided do not meet the needs of the population due to lack of medical staff, meagre financial allocations, and lack of equipment.

With regard to education, 43 schools have been damaged by the war in Shabwah,7OCHA, An Overview of the Humanitarian Needs in Yemen 2018. but teachers are being paid regularly.8Economic and Social Development In Yemen Newsletter (Issue No. 30, December 2017) published by the Economic Studies and Forecast Sector in the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation. Education in Shabwah has been relatively stable.

As for drinking water, 57% of households in Shabwah had access to potable water in 2016/2017.9OCHA, An overview of the humanitarian needs in Yemen 2018. The water authority provides water services in the city of Ataq. Sanitation services are lacking in the city and residents rely on traditional methods like cesspits.10Interview with one of the members of the local council in the governorate. March 2019. 



District Size (km2) Population (Female) Population (Male) Population (Total)
 Dhar 1,212 6,541 6,878 13,419
 Al-Talh 2,395 6,161 6,559 12,720
 Jardan 3,443 11,041 10,834 21,875
 Arma 6,742 6,866 6,852 13,718
 Usaylan 3,232 20,543 21,685 42,229
 Ain 824 14,210 15,580 29,790
 Bayhan 616 31,550 33,343 64,893
 Merkhah Al Ulya 2,591 21,157 22,295 43,452
 Merkhah As Sufla 2,591 26,149 28,475 54,624
 Nisab 2,15 27,942 28,831 56,773
 Hatib 851 8,363 9,522 17,885
 Al-Sa’eed 823 23,102 24,005 47,107
 Ataq 1,3 21,893 27,679 49,572
 Habban 908 19,529 20,180 39,709
 Ar Rawdah 2,856 18,265 18,672 36,937
 Mayfa’a 3,37 27,097 28,738 55,835
 Rudum 6,68 14,590 16,872 31,462
 TOTAL 42,584 304,999 327,000 632,000

Figures are 2017 Yemen Central Statistical Organization projections based on the 2004 census.

Resources relevant to Shabwah

Defeating al-Qaeda’s Shadow Government in Yemen: The Need for Local Governance Reform

Defeating al-Qaeda’s Shadow Government in Yemen: The Need for Local Governance Reform

Counterterrorism focused report that analyses the appeal of AQAP in relation to local governance failures in Yemen. It also includes an analysis of local governance in Yemen with a focus on its potential contribution to counterinsurgency operations.   In this Policy Focus, Daniel Green, a former defense fellow at The Washington Institute, draws on extensive […]

Wartime Challenges Facing Local Authorities in Shabwa

Wartime Challenges Facing Local Authorities in Shabwa

Overview of wartime challenges faced by local authorities in Shabwa governorate, Yemen   Five years of war in Yemen have weakened local authorities’ ability to fulfil their roles in economic, social and cultural development and their financial and administrative capacity to provide basic services such as healthcare, education, electricity, water and sanitation. This paper gives […]

Shabwa’s Journey to the Center of a Regional Proxy Conflict

Shabwa’s Journey to the Center of a Regional Proxy Conflict

Short discussion of the situation in Shabwa governorate, focusing on the local balance of power, the role of Governor Mohammad Saleh bin Adio, and the positions of different external actors. During the course of the ongoing conflict Shabwa has become a microcosm of regional proxy conflict in Yemen. The interests, agendas and struggles of outside […]

War and Pieces: Political Divides in Southern Yemen

War and Pieces: Political Divides in Southern Yemen

Analysis of situation in each of the governorates of the former PDRY with a special emphasis on local security actors This paper focuses on the origins, development, and prospects of political challenges in southern Yemen. It begins with an analysis of historical divisions in the south, outlining key issues within specific governorates – including the […]

“We did not know if we would die from bullets of hunger”: Civilian Harm and Local Protection Measures in Yemen

“We did not know if we would die from bullets of hunger”: Civilian Harm and Local Protection Measures in Yemen

Investigation of patterns of violence against civilians and local coping strategies, based on interviews and information gathering in Al Bayda, Taiz, Shabwah and Al Hudaydah governorates Civilians in Yemen have borne the brunt of armed conflict for over five years. As civilians struggle to survive, they face death, injury, homes that have been destroyed or […]