Development and the quality of life [Archives:2004/709/Opinion]

February 5 2004

There is no doubt that Yemen has progressed significantly in a wide range of fields and many of the things that have almost become an integral part of life in these modern times have now become readily available. Moreover there is a noticeable improvement in the availability of human resources in most of the basic skills and professions, which were all practically lacking some forty years ago, although there is ample room for more qualified personnel in most of the fields and more important a need to enhance the quality of the existing professional and skilled personnel. On the other hand great strides have been made in building up the basic infrastructure, which is so important for harnessing the country's economic resources. Having said all of that, this progress needs to be evaluated in light of the progress that such progress has on the people of Yemen and to determine the extent that development is having on he quality of life for the overall population of the most populous country in the Arabian Peninsula.
It goes without saying that development in its broader scale is not only to be gauged by the accumulation of physical assets here and there and the appearance of extravagance amongst a very small share of the population. In Yemen, development is visible in most of the major urban centers, while most of the inhabitants of the rural areas, where three quarters of the population still live, are still without access to most of the basic social services and lack much of the infrastructure, that could bring enhancement to their squalid living conditions. The neglect that is obvious to the countryside, especially in the remote areas of the country, has led to migration patterns with a bias towards the already overburdened large cities, and to a certain extent to the secondary towns. The obvious cause of this migration was the attraction to basic services, and the search for means of livelihood as the traditional agriculture (which employs some 70% of the population) and nomadic life are incapable of even providing the sustenance needs of rural households, with their large memberships (thanks to a high fertility rate). The hope is that the trend towards decentralization will go beyond “administrative and financial” decentralization and entail greater empowerment to local communities in deciding the course of development in their respective habitats. More important is to instill local ownership or access to the resources they will need, as well as participation down to the grass roots level in the management and oversight of the economic and social activities that will bring progress and better living conditions to the most remote of human habitats. An important need for these areas is to find other means of sustenance and livelihood to replace the traditional agriculture, where it has become practically useless or to supplement the latter, where there are semblances of viability still to be found, especially for rainfed agriculture. The introduction of modern agricultural inputs and techniques, which will help increase yields and conserve soil and water, may help to sustain much of the traditional agriculture. Care should be given to preventing excess use of chemicals and pesticides, and a greater reliance on natural pest control methods and fertilizers.
A very good catalyst for generating local rural development may be found in the reinvigoration of the tourist industry, mainly by public awareness campaigns on the value of tourism for improving people's lives and on Yemen's vast potential widespread tourism assets.
Two areas that could play essential roles in juicing up the development process are health care and education. One could say that Yemen has a long way to go to improve the indicators in these two sectors to enable to come out of the perpetual abyss of LDCs. There are noticeable improvements in the mortality rate, life expectancy and immunization. Nevertheless much work is still needed to improve rural access to primary health care and medical services, not to mention the need to enhance the quality of existing services, especially in the public sector. The need for strict standards of quality cannot be overstated, and it will be up to the medical and health professional associations to take the initiative to instill such standards and to set minimum requirements for health professionals, through testing or review of academic and professional credentials. On the other hand little stride has been made in the availability of adequate health insurance, in order to enable households to meet urgent emergency situations and cope with the increasing cost of health care, as the value of incomes diminishes. In education there is an obvious need to eliminate illiteracy, now estimated to be 50% (75% for females) and the efforts in this regard are still quite limited and their effects are negligent. Moreover greater attention is needed for vocational and technical training, to make Yemen's exported labor force more competitive in the international and regional labor markets and to provide the skilled and qualified manpower that is needed to operate and maintain the accumulating plants and other economic assets as well as the consumer durables and other equipment that are essential to the households.
On the whole greater stress should be made on quality in all development activities as quantitative achievements are very much diluted by the absence of quality that is at par with generally recognized international standards.