While Yemen’s natural resources are on the verge of perishing “There has never been a better time to invest in youth” [Archives:2006/1004/Front Page]

December 4 2006

Nadia Al-Sakkaf
& Agencies

SANA'A, Dec. 3 – There has never been a better time to invest in youth in developing countries, or so says the World Bank Development Report 2007.

With the challenges facing developing countries as they struggle to achieve Millennium Development Goals, it seems there's a window of opportunity by investing in youth.

More than one in four people are in search of jobs in the Middle East and North Africa region. According to the report, although unemployment rates are highest among both youth and adults, the good news is that youth are more educated and healthier than older generations.

The MENA region has approximately 100 million young people aged 12-24 and the number of young people in these countries will peak in the next 25 years. Nations differ – for instance, Egypt is set to experience an extended peak between 2010 and 2030, while Iraq and Yemen won't peak for another 20 years or more. Furthermore, the report says 300,000 young people under age 18 recently have been involved in armed conflict and another 500,000 have been recruited into military or paramilitary forces.

“Such large numbers of young people living in developing countries present great opportunities, but also risks,” says Francois Bourguignon, the World Bank's Chief Economist and Senior Vice President for Development Economics.

“The opportunities are great, as many countries will have a larger, more skilled labor force and fewer dependents. But these young people must be well-prepared in order to create and find good jobs.”

The report further lists the main challenges facing youth in the MENA region as:

– Finishing secondary school, especially in areas where quality of education is low and poverty is increasing.

– Obtaining the right skills for jobs in the local private sector, finding a job and entering the labor force.

– Dealing with social norms that limit education and work for females.

– Assessing health care for pregnancy-related illnesses.

– Having better access to information (to strengthen decision-making skills).

According to another World Bank report, because of Yemen's mismanagement of natural resources, the country could consume its water and oil reserves in less than 15 years. In its report, the World Bank warned that unless fundamental reform takes place and new oil resources are found (one-third of the oil reserve already ended by 2003), the total reserve will end by 2012.

The same report shows a huge decline in national GDP, which reached the lowest level of $530 in 2005. Moreover, the severity of child malnutrition has placed Yemen as second worst around the world in this aspect.

In a related issue, a recent gender gap survey conducted by several researchers from Harvard University, the London Business School and the World Economic Forum, women's labor force participation is only 30 percent of the total workforce. This means there's a lot of potential to increase women's participation to its optimum potential by focusing on young women. However, one of the main challenges in Yemen is that social norms can affect whether or not young women succeed in the labor market.

The World Bank Development report urged Yemen to seize the young window of opportunity to invest in the future before the aging process closes it.