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The Yemen Challenge

David Craig's picture

Last month’s High Level Donor Meeting on Yemen in London reminded the international community once more that we have to support this country in need.

Yemen is in trouble. A worrying mix of security-related and economic crises has the potential to destabilize the country. We are now paying more attention to Yemen, because the Al Qaeda-inspired failed airliner bombing in the United States on December 24 originated, at least in part, there. But Yemen is also facing long-standing civil unrest in the north and south, as well as an increasingly deteriorating fiscal situation.


According to the UN refugee agency, 250,000 people have been uprooted since clashes in the country erupted in 2004, with the number having doubled since last August. Many are struggling to cope and depend on assistance from the government and NGOs. Even in more peaceful times 60 percent of the people are affected by poverty.


The challenges confronting the country call for action and immediate support from the international community including the World Bank.


The World Bank Group is committed to help fostering stability in Yemen. With interest free loans through the International Development Association (IDA) of about US$135 million per year, the Bank supports 20 active projects covering a broad range of sectors (education, water, roads, flood protection, community-based activities, and health). IDA also provides significant analytical and advisory services, and the International Finance Corporation is active with five operations worth $150 million. 


But despite this substantial commitment, we need to make sure that we provide the necessary help. Given the problems the country is facing, we as donors might have to step up our efforts to stabilize the country. The donor meeting was a good first step in our effort to collectively support Yemen. 


One of Yemen's trickiest problems is that it lacks an independent and accurate press thats capable of informing the public while holding government officials accountable and debating national issues. This week Muhammad al-Maqaleh, editor of the opposition Yemeni Socialist Party’s news Web site Aleshteraki, who was detained in September has finally appeared in government custody - held without charges. According to Marwan Damaj, secretary of the Yemeni Journalist Syndicate, who met him in prison on Monday. Al-Maqaleh was “tortured, beaten, and threatened with death several times”. I mention this because Yemen's problems with civil unrest in the north and south, and indeed its deteriorating fiscal situation are all related to its governance. While the World Bank's and IFC's assistence measures are welcome, its worth asking what changes are being asked of the Yemen government and its power structures society before stepping up 'to stabilize the country'as you put it. Handing more military and financial resources to a government may not prove such a wise long term bet in the absence of conditionality about civil society and the media. Besides the well deserved grants for education, water, roads, flood protection, community-based activities, and health, perhaps Yemen's media could use some assistance to aquire a media with the professional and technical expertise to fulfill its role as a watchdog rather than a lapdog.

Submitted by Martin Albrecht on
Trying hard not to sound too desperate on this poorest country in the Middle East, I have to say that Yemen's future doesn't look bright and hope is very hard to sustain. In addition to the above comments on the current focus of anti-terror actions, internal conflicts, refugees, the Bank's engagement throughout almost all sectors, repressions of the free press, the other major issues striking the country are the disproportionate qat-consumption, lack of gender equality, high unemployment rate due to lack of industrial sector, and - most importantly - one of the world's highest population growth rates. Especially the population growth puts an increasing pressure on the anyway fragile country: Lower education rate, High unemployment rate of young people leading (amongst others) to more radicalization, increased Qat consumption, overexploitation of water resources, decrease of agricultural production etc. etc. What can be done? At some point it seems as if all the interventions are still not sufficient. At some point, I wish to have a 'reset' button at hand to start all over again. However, when everything seems desperate and the conventional way goes against long odds, it might be easier to focus on alternative, innovative approaches. In terms of Yemen, this could mean focusing on the country's comparative advantages, such as vast areas of sun-lit desert to possibly be used for solar energy generation. Or focusing on alternative approaches such as agricultural trade based on the virtual water concept. (In a way, this has been tried through the attempt to import Qat from the much more water rich East African countries. Yemeni Qat farmers, however, severely opposed this by threatening to shoot down the planes carrying the Qat. Finally, the idea was dropped). In any case, this does not work without the urgently needed basics: Providing the youth with education in order to work against the high population growth rate, and creating sustainable economic development to provide the people with a future. After all this desperate talk, it is worthwhile mentioning some positive sides of Yemen: The country has never been an easy place to live in, considering the harsh Bedui living conditions most of the Yemeni people originate from. They have had to fight many small wars and conflicts within their extensive tribal systems. But they also have elaborated a very sophisticated system of coming to agreements and solving problems. If these 'cultural resources' are used in the right way, they might be able to substantially contribute to a sustainable Yemeni development.

Submitted by Anonymous on
The Bank and the other donors have no control whatsoever of the money once it reaches Yemen. There is no real assurance whatsoever that it will go to the needy. Besides no independent press, there are no independent NGOs.

Submitted by Anonymous on
Well, human perception is varied. The situation in Yemen deserves patience, faith, love and impartiality from all involved including those commenting. The issue of terrorism is true but not the entire population is terrorist, they therefore, deserve support just like any other person from any other part of the world who is faced with humanitarian crisis deserves. The worse situation to condemn is the current undemocratic rule imposed on the populations by the governments of various countries of which the world organizations have in effect, failed to overcome or combat despite all efforts. Typical example is the state of impositions on the Press. Most press bodies in such countries can't do much to help in enlightening the communities or even raise voices against awkward acts of the ruling governments. This implies that however much funds are being dumped in, such governments will never transform the lives and conditions of the citizens of those doomed countries with less human rights observance. A possible and practical approach to help alleviate such situations would be to involve the locals of the affected countries at grass roots levels to do things for themselves by themselves. The experience shows that many governments and humanitarian organizations receive lots of funds to alleviate and change conditions of the poverty stricken natives, but the reality on ground is that the conditions remain either unchanged or with very minimal improvements. One of the major components leading to these kinds of effects is the institutionalized level of Corruption in these countries moreover with impunity from the donors. Second is the high rate of dictatorship from sitting governments and sectarianism especially in African countries. E.g. Uganda Let donors/funding bodies develop practically meaningful methods of followup, monitoring and evaluation of funds disbursed in to such countries as the paperwork alone leaves a lot to desire. There should be stringent measures and sanctions against countries that misuse, misappropriate or divert such funds for other purposes than the stipulated ones. In regard to the Yemen background of fighting various wars thus having series of conflicts, there is still hope and solution. This can be alleviated through Serious sessions of a series of Conflict Resolution and Management trainings but taken to the grass roots for quite a long time. This should be carried out by the locals after their own local Trainer of Trainers are trained.

Submitted by harimao on
In addition to internal conflicts with Houthi tribe in the northeast and southern unrest together with Al-Qaeda activities, Yemen is facing serious problems: (i) depleting oil resources, (ii) unstoppable population growth, (iii) Qat addiction, and (iv) depletion of water. These problems have been further deteriorating the security situation of Yemen. To cope with these, the Government needs significant support from outside including the GCC and the World Bank. Since these issues are inter-related, if the GCC agree to accept Yemeni labor to work in the GCC countries, (i) a lot of unemployed workers especially young Yemeni will be mobilized to earn income for the country, (ii) which will increase the revenue of the country (by their remittance), (iii) fill the gap of decreased oil revenue, (iv) reduce the consumption of Qat (which consume a huge amount of precious groundwater in Yemen) and (v) preserve the groundwater aquifers for water supply. I hope that the GCC will consider this option favorably to help Yemen and secure their security from Al-Qaeda.

Submitted by Simon on
This seems to be a reverse of the current vicious cycle of the deteriorating economic and security environment of Yemen to a virtuous cycle, which may give hope to young Yemeni and improve security of Yemen (a win-win solution for both Yemen and the GCC). However, Yemen has not been accepted as a member of the GCC. I hope that the World Bank will help facilitate this process so that Yemen can be a member of the GCC, which will allow Yemeni workers to travel to the GCC without a visa and help increase job opportunities of Yemeni people in GCC countries.

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