Impediments to speedier development

Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, has made some progress in terms of development but its pace has been slow, Pratibha Mehta, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) resident representative in the country, has told IRIN.

“If you review Human Development Indexes for the last few years, you will see that Yemen’s ranking is moving up, and in the last updated Human Development Index for 2008, Yemen ranked 138 out of 179 countries,” she said.

However, she said that at its current level of progress, Yemen was unlikely to achieve any of its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The country has high rates of poverty (35 percent), malnutrition (one in three Yemenis suffer from chronic hunger), unemployment (11.5 percent), illiteracy (45.7 percent), infant and child mortality, as well as maternal mortality.

According to the UN Children Fund’s (UNICEF’s) State of the World’s Children 2009, 370 women die per 100,000 live births; the under-five mortality rate was 73 per 1,000 live births; the infant mortality rate (under 12 months) was 55 per 1,000 live births; the neonatal mortality rate was 41 per 1,000 live births.

Around 35 percent of Yemen’s 21 million people live below the poverty line and the World Bank office in Yemen said higher food prices may have pushed an additional 6 percent of the population into poverty.

Experts say that other major challenges facing Yemen are a declining economy, political instability, a worsening water crisis, and high population growth (3.02 percent). They also say these challenges impede the achievement of the MDGs.

Photo: Muhammed al-Jabri/IRIN
UNDP's Human Development Index for 2008 ranked Yemen 138 out of 179 countries

“Pro-poor reforms”

“The next few years will require pro-poor reforms and budgeting, predictable ODA [Official Development Assistance], institutional and human capacity development and greater civil society involvement,” the UNDP’s Mehta said.

Yemen “has been suffering from high food prices and scarcity, has been hit hard by floods last year and has IDPs [internally displaced persons] and refugees,” she added.

Yemeni officials, however, say they are hampered by lack of funds.

Mutahar al-Abbasi, deputy minister at Yemen’s Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation (MPIC), told IRIN that Yemen needs US$48 billion to achieve its MDGs. Some $18 billion was needed for basic services, including water, sanitation and electricity as well as for food security; $16 billion for education; and $14 billion for the health sector.

He said Yemen gets the lowest Official Development Assistance (ODA) among countries at the same level.

Mehta agreed: “Yemen gets the lowest ODA and now the food crisis and global financial crisis are adding to the challenge.”

“Yemen is in the progress of installing an aid coordination database which will help in tracking aid flows,” she said.

Social unrest

Rebellion in Saada Governorate, unrest in southern Yemen and “terrorist” activities have put additional pressure on development challenges, according to al-Abbasi.

These, he said, had affected investment and made it hard for the government to implement development projects.

Yemen's economy depends mainly on its declining oil resources which account for 30-35 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), providing 75 of government revenues.

According to the World Bank's Yemen Economic Update Spring 2009, overall economic performance in 2008 was disappointing, and was expected to weaken in 2009.

On 5 June, the country’s Central Bank said Yemen’s oil revenues during the first quarter of 2009 dropped by 75 percent. The revenues fell to $365.1 million compared to $1.46 billion during the same period in 2009.

When asked about the possible humanitarian implications, Mehta said: “Often sources of conflict are inequality and poverty; even natural disasters hit the poorest the hardest as they can often afford to live only in environmentally unsafe places.”