The role of charities in Yemen’s development [Archives:2007/1089/Business & Economy]

September 27 2007

By: YemenTimes Staff
Social Capital is a very new concept to Yemen, it stands alone as an isolated understanding of Yemen limited to several micro-developmental organizations, known also as charities. Although splendid in numbers, according to statistics by the Ministry of Social Affairs, little impact do the people of Yemen see as a result of over 3,000 registered charities, with an exception of a handful charities which have a contribution towards poverty reduction in the Country.

Although poverty in Yemen has been reduced from 41.8 percent in 1998 to 35.5 percent in 2005, according to the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation. Ironically, the key issue is that 41.8 percent of the population in 1998 was 7.5 million people, while 35.5 percent of the population in 2005 was 7.7 million people, considering the annual population growth rate of 3.4 percent.

The Holy month of Ramadhan is an excellent occasion to study the role of charities in building social capital and reducing poverty, Most recently Al-Islah Charitable Society for Social Welfare has proclaimed that its activities directly affect half a million people. Since its establishment in 1990 in Hodieda governorate, which is the most impoverished governorate in the country, Al-Islah charity has grown to become the country's largest charitable organization, with operations ranging from Orphan care and vocational training to reproductive health and humanitarian assistance.

Secretary-General of Al-Islah charity AbdulMajid Farhan stated that the charity has distributed meats and foodstuff for over 120 thousand families all over the country during the last Eid occasion. He stated that they target the most impoverished families, orphans and students across the country for their assistance programs, which are run with highly levels of efficiency and proficiency.

During the on-going month of Ramadhan, Al-Islah charity is distributing foodstuff in Al-Hodieda and Sana'a governorates to over 60 thousand families, Farhan stated: “The foodstuff include sacks of wheat, flour, sugar, rice and quantities of cooking oil among other food stuff which will sustain these families at least throughout the whole month of Ramadhan, in addition to the Iftar meals which are provided to students, scholars, orphan and elderly homes among other locations.”

The Other big and rival charity is the President's Al-Saleh foundation, which was established less than two years ago and is funded by the president himself and the government, with initiatives such as the president's instruction to the treasury to pay up the sum of 100 million Riyals for an orphans program to the charity, which is chaired by the president's son.

Political analyst Nabil Al-Soufi comments on the recent developments in the political economy of charity work saying: ” we were invited to Al-Islah's charity to learn about its activities, and I was amazed by the wide span of activities the charity undertakes, ranging from reproductive health, general health services, illiteracy eradication, girl education, basic education, humanitarian assistance to impoverished families, constructing and renovating schools and health clinics, constructing roads, and most importantly, investing in the Youth”.

Nabil added that political parties do not have developmental agendas as reliable and diversified as this charity, which indicates that this charity touches the lives of many Yemenis more than many political parties in the political arena in spite of whatever activities they do and slogans they shout.

Al-Soufi reinforced the notion that Al-Islah charity among others are very much involved in the political life, as evident in the intensification of relief and assistance activities during last years election campaigning period mainly between the two rivals, Al-Islah and Al-Saleh charities, with the understanding that a relief makes people happy voters. The most recent involvement was Al-Islah's charity statement with regards to Yemen's acceptance into the Millennium Challenge Corporation Threshold program, where the secretary-general emphasized the role of the charity in developing Yemen's standing on the Health indicator.

Government Involvement:

The Third five-year strategy for poverty reduction includes a component on building capacity for the impoverished segments of the society through improving basic services and developing programs and schemes that aim at equipping these segments with the necessary skills in order to break the vicious cycle of poverty. Unfortunately, no such activates have been implemented with the exception of the Social Fund for Development and ad-hoc activities by several local councils.

Although the Social fund for develop is a government agency, it mainly implements its social relief and development strategies through several associations and charities located in several parts of the country, using survey data in order to reach the most vulnerable segments of the society, and serving them through local charities and development associations which can result in a synergetic impact, growing the charities while benefitting those most in need.

The Social Fund for Development has developed five programs for community development through cooperative charities, where these charities submit a proposal to the fund on how they aim at achieving development for their communities, was it through education program, health services program, water infrastructure scheme, feeder-roads construction, or providing tiny grants. The fund has successfully worked with 1,395 small charities during 2006 alone.

Specializing Charities

Apart from the large two rival charities which have cross-cutting operations, there are a number of other charities which are smaller in size but, nonetheless have strong impact on the society, Such as the Yemeni wisdom charity which specializes in cultural programs and organizing contests among the youth for sizeable prizes, in addition to distributing copies of the holy Quran to schools, mosques and religious centers, in addition to educational books, leaflets, educational cassettes among other materials.

There is also the Yemeni Medical Charity which educates the Yemeni public on health and hygiene issues, as well as carries out programs involving the youth in targeted communities, in order to use them as focal points to publicize best health practices which they have been trained on.

More specialized charities include the handicapped charity, the cancer charity, the disabled support charity, support for women charity, rural development charity as examples of many other charities which have a very specialized mandate.

Future Plans

The government of Yemen represented by the ministry of social affairs has drafted a strategy to coordinate the efforts of all operating charities in order to ensure maximum coverage and illuminate redundancy of operations, especially in terms of humanitarian support distribution and food aid. The Ministry also aims at limited the interference of political parties into the operations of such charities as an attempt to maintain these charities independent of affiliations and partisan politics.

Undersecretary Ali Saleh Abdullah stated that the ministry's plan includes strict monitoring and follow up of the operations of charities, as well as providing additional support and funding for charities which operations yield high success rate in building social capital and increasing social welfare within targeted communities.