UN sketches apocalyptic scenario of Yemen’s future [Archives:2004/748/Front Page]

June 21 2004

Mohammed Al-Qadhi
A UN senior official warned that if the government of Yemen does not continue to take a set of courageous decisions fully involving civil society, the private sector and the international community, Yemen's future is bleak, or rather apocalyptic. After finishing up four and a half years in Yemen as a Resident Representative of the UN, James Rawley sketched two possible scenarios for Yemen's future; one rather pessimistic and another optimistic one which he said he believed can be achieved.

Economic Front
He pointed out that in a pessimistic scenario on the economic front “Yemen continues to remain almost totally dependent on oil resources. At the present time that does not seem a bad thing.” However, he said that with the drop of the oil price and production in Yemen, the scenario for the Yemeni economy will not be rosy. He also said that they have begun to see “signs of increasing budget deficits and indeed initial signs of fiscal difficulties, if not a crisis.” Rawley stated that the economy being dependent on oil makes reforms which are controversial have some impact on society, whilst the private sector remains weak and uncommitted to making the investment required to generate wealth and employment for the Yemeni people. This scenario includes a situation where there is lack of transparency and the pervasiveness of corruption, which to Rawley, is a problem identified not only by the donor community or foreigners but also the political regime itself. “Corruption is a problem that affects all countries. Unfortunately, the cost of corruption is particularly acute in poor countries like Yemen. We simply can not afford it. These resources need to be mobilized for investment and development in the country. A pessimistic scenario will include a situation whereby corruption not only continues but also expands, further taking resources away from development.” he alarmed.

Political Front
On the political front, the negative scenario represents a situation whereby the “judiciary remains weak; whereby the promising initial steps in improving human rights of journalists, I might say, come to a halt. Because of the war on terrorism, there is an erosion of the human rights of the Yemeni people,” he said. Rawley said that the negative scenario will also include a halt to initial steps on decentralization.

Other Fronts
On the security front, excessive zeal in the war on terrorism creates more terrorists and violates human rights. On the social front, despite the efforts made by the government in this aspect, the challenges remain and the pessimistic view about Yemen is that the population growth never declines and “if that is indeed the case, the fact is that almost all economic growth that the country is achieving simply goes into coping up with the additional population. So, indeed, there is not net growth available for improving the living standards,” he said. This scenario also includes that the very high rates of child malnutrition, maternal mortality and illiteracy, particularly for girls, do not come down. Also, HIV/AIDS, an area where the government has shown leadership, goes on to become an important problem in terms of the number of people infected by the epidemic. Gender disparities continue to widen. With regards to the environment, “if progress is not made in this area, if the water continues to drop, we would be facing a frankly disaster whereby large segments of the Yemeni population simply have to migrate from the areas they have been inhabiting for centuries, if not longer, to the areas, particularly on the coast, that are relatively rich in water,” he said. In the arena of pollution, Rawley said, if steps are not taken on this front, increasing areas of the country could be seriously damaged. Qat is also believed to have great negative impacts on the individual health as well as the welfare of the families, if it continues to be cultivated and its consumption expanded. In the field of cultural heritage, to Rawley, the “nightmarish scenario is that one whereby Yemen loses an accelerating rate much of its tangible and intangible cultural heritage. The loss of this rich cultural heritage would be a tragedy not only for Yemen but also for the world.”

Optimism is another possibility
However, Rawley stressed that there is no need for this pessimistic scenario to come through but it is important to see the possible scenarios of the future of the country. He confirmed that he does not personally share this dark attitude. He believes in the optimistic scenario, which is “entirely possible although would require expanded commitment not only by the Yemeni people but also by the international community,” he said. On the economic front, the situation will be one that would witness continued impressive progress in the implementation of binding related economic reforms, measures to strengthen transparency and the judicial sector. These measures are perquisites for increased investment from within Yemen and abroad. This scenario also includes a streamlined the civil service; “a smaller and more productive better paid civil service,” according to Rawley. He also hopes on the political front for “continued progress in terms of the elections in the country.” “We saw great progress in the parliamentary elections in terms of the technical administrative efficiency,” he said. “We would like to see progress in this area and even freer, fairer and less violent elections. We would like also to see more respect for human rights and a stronger justice system; more transparent and efficient and more accessible to all Yemenis,” he added. “When Yemenis have legal problems, they do not think first and foremost of resorting to tribes to settle differences; they think positively about the justice system; they know if they go there in a relatively short period of time, that case will be heard based on the merits of the evidence presented, that they will get a fair hearing by the justice system,” he emphasized.
He stressed that they would like to see the media playing an even stronger monitoring role in terms of keeping track of promises made by all parties; the government, the private sector and the international community, holding them accountable for these promises as well as acting in a constructive manner by transmitting important information to the people. In this area, others efforts need to be made to promote decentralization, the role of the local councils, progress in the area of population growth and a rapid expansion in literacy and enrollment in schools. Other efforts are hoped to be made in the area of de-mining and managing the refugees from the Horn of Africa as well as in the areas of the water shortage problem and environmental pollution.

Yemen in the Millennium Project
The UN has recently accepted Yemen as a Millennium Project (MP) pilot country, along with other seven countries. This project aims to help these countries achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Rawley said that one of the reasons for including Yemen in the project is that there is “an increasing recognition among the donors and the international community that important development progress, although not on equally all fronts, is being made in Yemen and increasing attention needs to be paid to it.” He pointed out that the decision to include Yemen in the project came as a result of a number of high level visits made by senior UN and World Bank officials to Yemen. He added these visits did not take place by chance, but because the messages that the international community is getting from Yemen is that despite the difficulties the country is facing the government and people of Yemen are making efforts. Rawley said that it is unfortunate that the image of Yemen abroad is not that good, but there is “a sense in the international community here in Sana'a that the time has come for the image of Yemen to catch up with the more positive reality, for the international community to further its engagement in the country.”. However, “it is recognized that Yemen is having difficulties that need more attention and engagement from the international community,” he said.
The government of Yemen set up its plan to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 and roughly estimated the amount of money needed for that at over $80 billion and that around $50 billion out of that will be paid by Yemen. Rawley thought the figure is very high, and that it is premature to specify a figure. “I think it is too premature to identify a figure; there are so many variables. I would say, first let us come up with a process that is highly participatory in terms of Yemen and the international community and then looks at the figure, and come to a conclusion whether it is viable or not,” he said.

Yemen in Mind
Rawley said he would leave Yemen with a number of unforgettable memories but he emphasized that the unified picture that would last in mind is Yemen as a whole, with all its culture, nature and people.