HANDICAPPED YEMENIS Who cares for them or about them? [Archives:1998/45/Viewpoint]

November 9 1998

It is estimated that some 12% of the Yemeni population suffers from one handicap or another. Basically, there are three kinds of handicap representing almost equal groups. 
These are: 
1) The physically handicapped: 
These are individuals who are unable to use their limbs properly either because of a defect at birth, an accident (car accident, anti-personnel mine explosions, falling off trees, houses, etc.), due to a disease (like polio) or other causes. 
2) The sensually impaired: 
These are individuals who have problems with one or more of their senses. As examples, they include the deaf, dumb, blind, etc. 
3) The mentally-disturbed: 
These are individuals whose brain does not control properly or fully their body movement leading to such illnesses as paralysis, seizure, etc. This group also includes crazy people whose brain does not function fully or properly leading to legally irresponsible behavior. 
In the traditional Islamic community, society used to attend to the needs of these people through an effective network of social arrangements. Responsibility fell jointly on the state as well as on the community. In addition, the extended family relations system provided the responsibility to care for such vulnerable groups in society. 
In today’s Yemen, which is fast losing some of its Islamic-based values, people’s responsibilities and duties are steadily being narrowed down to include only members of the nucleus family. At the same time, the state has not yet developed the institutions that should attend to the needs of such groups. Even if such institutions were to be created, they would exist only on paper, given that the resources of the Yemeni government do not enable it to cater for the needs of this group. In addition, in a tribal system that is ostensibly being democratized, the distribution of the pie (state budget) is based on the influence of various groups and sectors, which almost certainly leads to the total exclusion of groups like the handicapped who do not exercise much influence. 
What is the solution? 
One possible solution is the creation of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) based on extensive grass-roots level voluntary effort. The nation should retain the concept of shared responsibility regarding vulnerable members. This is also important for our democracy to work because all members should feel the need to interact positively for the public good. For example, such an attitude is indispensable to protect the environment. 
Such NGOs will then receive contributions which can be channeled from the government, private Yemeni donations, and of course, external assistance. But, for such a solution to work, the people (who are elected) to run these NGOs must be both honest and highly motivated. 
There is no point in throwing blame here and there for the sad state of affairs of Yemen’s handicapped persons. It is more important to find solutions, and fast. This is not just a moral duty, in the sense that society has to take care of its own. It is also a legal duty in the sense of human rights as well as economic optimality. 
Prof. Dr. Abdulaziz AL-SAQQAF 
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher