Published on Arab Voices

Yemen: Where humanitarian and development efforts meet

Reflections from the World Bank’s new Country Manager


The poorest country in the Middle East and North Africa even prior to the conflict, Yemen has through violence and subsequent economic freefall landed at the epicenter of a series of interrelated emergencies that the United Nations describes as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” This is the first of a three-part blog series on the Bank’s response in Yemen.

In July of this year, I assumed the role of Country Manager for Yemen. Much has happened in my first 100 days as CM. I learn something new every day and have been struck by the resilience and strength of the Yemeni people in the face of immense challenges and uncertainty. I’m equally inspired by the team and colleagues who are committed to tirelessly finding new and innovative approaches that are making a difference in the lives of Yemenis.

The crisis in Yemen is entering its fourth year and continues unabated. Some 75% of the Yemeni population – 22.2 million people – are in need of humanitarian or protection assistance, including 11.3 million who are in acute need. Approximately 16 million people currently lack access to safe water and sanitation, and some 18 million lack access to basic healthcare. Over one million cases of cholera have been confirmed since the epidemic erupted in April of last year. The rate of infection has now grown to 10,000 new cases per week, double the average rate for the first eight months of the year. 8.4 million people are severely food insecure and are at risk of starvation. Peace talks, scheduled for September of this year, failed to occur, and fighting has since intensified around the strategically significant port of Hodeida, a main gate for trade flows to and from the northern and central parts of Yemen.

We are at a pivotal point. While immediate prospects for peace remain slim, continued international support is crucial to preserve human capital and pave the way for future recovery.

A new model for supporting states affected by fragility, conflict and violence

The World Bank has been working in Yemen for more than half a century, and since July 2016 IDA, the Bank’s funding arm for the poorest countries, has supported a portfolio amounting to USD $ 1.2 billion for a crisis response program.  The emergency program is enabled in part by a paradigm shift in how the World Bank mobilizes financing for development in fragile and conflict environments. This response entails identifying the ways in which development, alongside humanitarian interventions, can promote resilience and ultimately support recovery and stability. Our strategy in Yemen has centered on designing a program of support that preserves the fabric of the society and economy, which can sow the seeds for transition to reconstruction when peace sets in.

Meeting immediate needs is critical

Recovery and reconstruction needs —essential to supporting the humanitarian effort—are vast and urgent. Despite operating in the context of active conflict, World Bank projects have shown highly encouraging results. One example of this is an integrated response to famine risk and support to health outcomes .  We are tackling the root causes of famine by providing essential health and nutrition services to more than 14.6 million people through the Emergency Health and Nutrition Project.  To support livelihood opportunities, our US$300 million cash-for-work and community-based investment programs have generated over 4 million work days, reaching over 1.2 million people. In addition, our US$200 million Emergency Cash Transfer Program has boosted the food purchasing power of 1.5 million poor and vulnerable households via unconditional cash transfers. Efforts are also targeting productivity- and nutrition-enhancing agricultural practices by smallholders through the Smallholder Agricultural Production Restoration and Enhancement Project.

We are also responding to the Cholera epidemic on various fronts . In partnership with UNICEF and WHO, the IDA cholera emergency response component has helped treat over 664,000 out of the one million suspected cholera cases, reducing the case fatality rate from 2.3% to 0.21%. In addition, around 0.7 million people were vaccinated with oral cholera vaccines in the high-risk districts. The program supports hospital and health workers and has funded 2,900 health facilities to preserve institutional capacity of the health sector.   Also, 1.43 million people were provided with access to improved water sources, and 1.79 million people with access to improved sanitation, in cholera affected areas.   

Another aspect of our approach is supporting infrastructure for critical service delivery . The Integrated Urban Services Delivery Project will support up to 1.4 million Yemenis by creating 1.5 million days of employment, building 400 km of roads, and generating an estimated 600,000 megawatts of energy. In September, the project installed off-grid solar energy systems and replaced around 6,000 indoor LED lamps in Sana’a’s largest public hospital, allowing the hospital and adjacent oncology center to provide lifesaving services to around 4,000 Yemenis every day. A US$50 million Emergency Electricity Access Project will soon pioneer a private-sector driven delivery model for electricity access to power critical health, education, water and electricity service facilities in rural and peri-urban areas.

These emergency operations are a balanced cooperation between the World Bank and the United Nations, in which we provide financing as well as technical and operational expertise and UN agencies provide on the ground support. While IDA resources are channeled via UN agencies, the actual delivery of services is largely done by national institutions, some of which were established over a period of two decades with IDA support. World Bank crisis response prioritizes the preservation of the capacity and resilience of such critical local institutions, including the Social Fund for Development and the Public Works Project.

The future is uncertain, but we must continue to invest and adapt to ensure Yemenis and their institutions do not further lose the gains made over the past decades.
The default path of a country escaping prolonged conflict is to fall into conflict once more. Seeds for peace, stability, effective institutions, and human capital must be sown now, not when conflict has ended. While IDA 18 significantly increased financing for programs operating in countries facing risks of fragility and conflict, including Yemen, the needs will be significant to continue to prevent further erosion of human capital and rebuild Yemen’s institutions and infrastructure. The launch of the recent WB Human Capital project provides a timely momentum to prioritize a human capital approach in the face of conflict. Peace remains uncertain, the road to recovery is long, and our work has just begun.



Raja Bentaouet Kattan

Advisor to the Education Global Practice

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