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BRIEFApril 28, 2022

Navigating Complex Challenges to Support Yemenis in Times of Compounded Crises and Renewed Hope

World Bank Country Manager for Yemen, Tania Meyer discusses the main aspects of the new Country Engagement Note for Yemen.

Seven years of armed conflict in Yemen have damaged its infrastructure and led to a humanitarian crisis that has placed most of its 30 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. Multiple shocks over the last two years have all exacerbated pre-existing vulnerabilities for Yemeni households. Parallel political and economic institutions—and a dual exchange rate—contribute to differences in what drives the humanitarian crisis in separate regions of the country, and increase the complexity of development operations.

What has the World Bank’s response been over the past seven years in Yemen?

Tania Meyer: The World Bank has scaled up its support to Yemen throughout the conflict. We have sought to be flexible and proactive in many ways. Rather than waiting for the fighting to end, we have supported the Yemeni people through a large country-wide, grant-based program which has complemented humanitarian efforts and helped preserve livelihoods, basic service delivery and institutions. Between 2017 and 2021, the World Bank disbursed a total of US$2.1 billion, a five-fold increase compared to the previous 5-year period. Our teams have also worked to establish the analytical foundation for policies that could drive the country’s recovery and reconstruction. For example, through our Dynamic Needs Assessment series, we estimate that in some sectors, such as housing and health, up to 40 percent of the country’s infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed.

What are the World Bank’s priorities for the coming two years?

TM: Yemen is at a crossroads, and we are standing by Yemenis across multiple possible scenarios. Recent political developments could prove to be a turning point in the conflict and pave the way for peace, in which case we will be ready to pivot into recovery and reconstruction.

The World Bank Group’s overarching goal is to support the people of Yemen and preserve the institutions that serve them, with a focus on: (i) basic service delivery and human capital; and (ii) food security, resilience, and livelihood opportunities. At the heart of the humanitarian-development nexus, institutional preservation will remain a fundamental objective of the IDA program across the two tracks.

We are particularly concerned about impact of the war in Ukraine at a time when food insecurity was already deteriorating rapidly, and are exploring options to frontload and scale up support. With a worsening food crisis and widespread malnutrition in Yemen, short-term interventions alone cannot provide sustainable solutions. To help break the cycle of aid dependency, the World Bank will pilot an innovative "continuum of support" approach that bundles short-term and medium-term interventions in areas where food insecurity is the highest.

Our program in Yemen will be anchored in scalable platforms with flexible, shock-responsive, and adaptive project design. These will be adjusted based on evolving developments on the ground and scaled up as additional resources become available. Multi-sectoral integrated approaches and geographically targeted packages of interventions will be prioritized to maximize impact.

Engaging in Yemen is risky. Isn’t it better to wait until the war ends?

TM: Given the multitude of challenges our teams and partners face in such a volatile operating environment, the easiest way to avoid risk would be to walk away. But from our perspective, the rationale for a large -scale program in Yemen - a high-risk, high-impact engagement – has never been so compelling.  We have leveraged partnerships with UN agencies and key Yemeni institutions to support Yemenis all over the country with results at scale. For example, defunct health facilities were rehabilitated to provide the population with over 28 million health and nutrition services, 7.7 million immunizations to children, and 1.6 million cholera treatments, 2.5 million Yemenis received clean water and sanitation services, more than 9 million vulnerable Yemenis received cash transfers, another 2 million benefitted from work opportunities, and over 50 000 small and medium enterprises were supported.  

I understand the World Bank has no office in Yemen. How do you monitor your projects?

TM: The security situation in Yemen has required us to be very agile and we are working with trusted partners on the ground to deliver much-needed assistance. We are using all the tools at our disposal to ensure that valuable development assistance is directed to its intended beneficiaries. We have internal controls and robust auditing, and we work with UN agencies and local institutions that have the capacity to deliver. We track our assistance through third-party monitoring, grievance redress mechanisms, and social media, and use other technology to allow remote, real-time monitoring. Amid continued security and access constraints, engagement in Yemen will continue to require a high degree of agility and risk management. We are also exploring options to re-establish a local WB presence in Yemen in the coming year.

Does the Bank’s new strategy take the private sector into consideration?

TM: Absolutely. The private sector plays a critical role in Yemen’s resilience, growth and recovery prospects. In fact the Yemeni private sector has shown remarkable resilience in recent years, despite facing considerable challenges stemming from the conflict. The World Bank Group as a whole is increasing its engagement with Yemen’s private sector—our new strategy was prepared by the three parts of the Group, the World Bank, International Finance Corporation, and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency. We will redouble efforts to identify private sector-led solutions to fill the gaps in infrastructure, as well as to support job creation and lay the groundwork for recovery.

What are your messages to the Yemenis and other stakeholders?

TM: The World Bank has been an active partner in Yemen’s development for decades through thick and thin and will remain so. Our $2.8bn program reflects the World Bank’s investment in preserving Yemen’s development assets, and our hopes for a better future for a generation of young Yemenis who have grown up in the shadow of war but will play a key role in the recovery. By increasing our support at this critical juncture, we are affirming our unwavering commitment to the people of Yemen and the institutions that serve them.

WB engagement in Yemen has also influenced policy on FCV and continues to inform WB engagement in other FCV contexts. At this time of increased fragility in different parts of the world, WB experience in Yemen provides many insights for other complex country environments, showcasing that institutions can still be preserved and results achieved at scale along the humanitarian-development nexus.