World Bank to present it in China conferenceSocial Fund for Development has its critics [Archives:2004/718/Business & Economy]

March 8 2004

Mahyoub Al-Kamaly
The World Bank (WB) has chosen the Social Fund for Development (SFD) in Yemen as a first example in the Arab region for presenting its experiment in developing local societies, at a conference to be scheduled to be convened in Shanghai in China next May.
The question is whether the fund, since its establishment in 1997, has scored a pioneering success in the process of fighting poverty in Yemen.
Marketing the SFD program at the world level stems from the WB assessment and the official report on its accomplishments in economic reform and supporting long-range development opportunities.
According to the Yemeni government version of assessment, the minister of Social Affairs and Labour Abdulkareem al-Arhabi says the Fund has develop and implemented 3,500 projects, some of which are still under construction.
He says the total cost of those projects amounts to $260 million. They serve around seven million people, 40% of whom are women, and provide about nine million working days and 8,000 permanent jobs.
The projects are categorized on three aspects, concentrated on development of the society, development of small enterprises and building capacities.

Development of society
The SFD is implementing projects aimed at enabling individuals of the local society to gain basic social and economic services.
The services included in the goals of these projects are in the fields of basic education, health, those of special needs, building of rural roads, implementation of water projects and environment activities.
Nevertheless the population of countryside villages sees that the fund's services do not cover the remote areas, and the elementary schools in the cities and countryside are still suffering from over-crowdedness, reaching in some cases to 120 pupils in one classroom in remote crowded schools.
Health services are still lagging behind and are not yet free of charge. Sons of the poor social segments still do not find necessary medication whereas there are many villages still living separated in long distance from each other because of shortage of road networks, of which the Fund says it finances.
As for introducing modern technology for supplying water, it is still limited and there are efforts still at the beginning aimed at preserving the soil, waters and fighting desertification and floods.

Small enterprises
The SFD says it seeks developing local capabilities and small and smaller installations to create job opportunities and reduce intensity of poverty, but figures indicate that:
– the number of unemployed are 469,001 males and 398, 635 females out of apparent unemployment in Yemen which is 11.5%.
– the rate of unemployment, according to the social understanding, reaches 30% of the work force.
– results of field surveys indicate that the number of the unemployed among the illiterate and those who know how to read and write is 285,903 persons, forming 61% of the unemployed.

Special needs
No doubt the SFD supports groups of those of special needs that are the handicapped children suffering from difficult circumstances, the women and those socially marginalized.
But the public believe that the criteria of benefiting from the Fund's services to those segments are limited and subject to nepotism and does not reach the targeted groups.
The people affirm that the fund's targeting of the poorest and most deprived groups is interfered with local factors, where notables interfere to receive assistance for those close to them and establishment of projects in areas that are not poor.
And here there is not encouragement to the principle of innovation and modernization and conveyance of support to those deserving it.
Local sources mention there are interferences in some areas by middlemen in activities of the social fund for development at funding the smaller projects regarding the granting of pieces of land producing income for the poor which are offered to those not deserving them.
This experiment is engulfed with some negatives and needs reappraisal and reassessment in order to be a pioneering experiment actually to be followed internationally.
It is especially so that the remarks come from the people who know better than the World Bank about what goes on in their areas. But nevertheless and despite of all those things its blamed for, the SFD plays an influential role in creating partnership between the state and the local society for implementing projects in the local societies.