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OPINION

Yemen Needs More than Pledges

March 7, 2013


Inger Andersen As appeared on Alsharq Al-Awsat daily on March 5th, 2013



Last year the international community made a commitment to Yemen, pledging USD 7.5 billion in support of both the reconstruction effort and the political transition. Now is the time to fulfill those promises.

Yemen has made significant progress since the adoption of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) peace initiative that ended almost a year of crisis. Signed in November, 2011, the initiative called for the formation of a government of national reconciliation and the launch of a national dialogue to oversee the drafting of a new constitution, to be followed by new parliamentary and presidential elections. This process is largely on track. A transition government has been formed and President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi elected to lead it, and March 18 was recently announced as the official start date for the national dialogue.

In little more than a year since its formation, the new government, with support from international donors, has managed to stabilize the economy. Reserves that had fallen to USD 3.7 billion at the height of the crisis have risen to USD 6.2 billion, the local currency is stable, inflation is under control, and growth has been restored with a rate of four percent expected this year.

But there is still much more to be done, and the gains are fragile. The security situation remains tenuous and unemployment is still widespread, especially among young people, and with more than half of its children malnourished, the country is still in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. Ongoing and timely international support will be vital to consolidate and build upon the progress already achieved, and to maintain the popular consensus necessary for the transition process.

The new transition government in Yemen has also made a commitment. Along with last year’s pledges, a mutual accountability framework was also signed. This document formalizes the relationship between Yemen and its donors, and clearly lays out their respective responsibilities and obligations. The government has committed to an economic program that focuses on malnutrition, restoring basic services such as health and education, and laying the foundations for inclusive economic growth and the jobs that come with it. Improving the business environment by streamlining regulations and leveling the playing field will be a central component, along with building partnerships with the private sector and civil society. It was in support of this plan that pledges were made.

Yemen has also committed to addressing the source of the crisis with reforms to increase government accountability and transparency, and to open up the political system to give all Yemenis a meaningful say in the country’s future. The rights of women, who have long suffered high levels of economic and political exclusion but were in the vanguard of the revolution, will be a special focus of the change process. The national dialogue will also attend to the regional grievances over the concentration of power and wealth in the capital, Sana’a, with the aim of developing a more equitable federal formula to strengthen the country’s territorial integrity.

There is a long list of promises to keep, but the government is making headway. A fast track agency is currently being established that will facilitate the rapid absorption of donor funds and coordinate the implementation of the commitments made in the agreement signed with donors. This process needs to be accelerated as delays will create bottlenecks with knock-on effects across the entire reconstruction program.

In return, Yemen needs the international community to speed up the fulfillment of its obligations. Yemen does not have the funds to realize all of its goals. The economic program and the transition process are intimately related; one cannot succeed without the other. Better economic conditions will provide critical breathing space for the national dialogue. Improved living conditions will allow Yemenis to hope for a better tomorrow, the essential ingredient for remaining committed to the transition process. There is the constant risk that the positive dynamic could turn negative if overwhelmed by the level of humanitarian need, or frustrations with the pace of either reform or improvements. The international community has promised help and that help must be turned into action to keep up the momentum in the right direction.

The World Bank committed to expanding its current USD 700 million grant-based program of support by an additional USD 400 million in grants. In recognition of the urgency of the situation we have put more than half of the promised funds to work in less than five months since they were pledged. Three new projects have been launched that will focus on supporting the government’s own social welfare fund with direct cash transfers to 400,000 of the poorest households, building schools and training teachers to promote equal access to quality education, and linking centers of production to those of consumption and distribution with new roads to boost internal trade. Saudi Arabia has also delivered by putting more than half of its USD 3.2 billion pledge to work.

All donors need to match this speed and urgency by quickly turning their promises into action. The success of the transition period will ultimately be judged in the towns and villages of Yemen, not in the corridors of the presidential palace. If people see improvements in their lives, their belief in the political process will be strengthened. In the absence of any improvement they will soon become disenchanted. Yemenis need to be a given a reason to dream of a better tomorrow, and the transition government needs our help to deliver it.

Alsharq Al-Awsat daily

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