Yemen’s development challenges [Archives:2006/951/Reportage]

June 1 2006

By: Mohammed Al-Jabri
“Yemen has capacity deficits, financial constraints and governance shortcomings standing as major obstacles for the country to be able to achieve 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” said Flavia Pansieri, United Nations resident coordinator at Saturday's consultation meeting of the third national Development Plan for Poverty Reduction and Reform (DPPR) in Sana'a. “Yemen is progressing, but in slow incremental steps. It needs to rev up or double its efforts,” she added.

Yemen ranks among nations with the highest population growth rate. According to Dr. Ralf Dreyer, European Commission Charge d' Affaires in Sana'a, Yemen faces difficulties in the next 20 years due to population growth. Citizens are distributed among 129,299 villages and districts in the countryside, an indication of their wide scattering, thereby affecting the process of distributing services.

Increasing internal immigration poses yet another development problem, as the workforce heads for main cities in search of jobs, leaving behind agricultural land. All of these factors have negative consequences for the country's economy and weaken development.

Yemen lacks an investment environment capable of attracting both internal and foreign investors. According to the DPPR, there are a variety of reasons for this, most notably security, administration, taxation, customs, limited qualified human resources, land problems and infrastructure deficiency. Internal terrorist acts figure prominently as well.

“Now more than ever, Yemen requires rigorous action to move ahead toward improving its governance status and creating enabling environment for doing business. Apart from fighting corruption, this entails comprehensive judicial and land registration reform programs to provide an enabling environment to attract internal as well as foreign investors,” Pansieri said.

European Parliament member Avril Doyle criticized Yemen's investment environment as failing to attract investors, pointing out that rich Yemenis abroad don't invest in Yemen because they don't trust the country's economy.

Inability of human resources development poses a threat to society's development, with illiteracy as a case in point, as illiterate adults comprise 47.2 percent of Yemen's population. School dropout rates have increased remarkably, especially among female secondary students; consequently, Yemeni education outputs are feeble.

The number of secondary school students was 484,000 in 2001, whereas there are now 682,765 students nationwide. There are 14,617 basic education schools, of which 260 are private. Regarding basic education, the number of female students remains low at 53.9 percent of the population, whereas males comprise 73.1 percent.

Looking at vocational and technical education, there previously were 26 institutes with 6,567 students; however, this number increased during 2001-2005 to 29 institutes with 20,203 students. This sector faces problems, as evidenced by increasing students while the institutes suffer capacity deficits. The third DPPR aims to increase the number of institutes to 145 by 2010, with a seven percent student increase.

Women's development participation is not high. They comprise 28.3 percent of the private sector workforce, with 78.8 percent working in agriculture and grazing. Working women in the education sector are 18 percent, 25 percent work in Health and Social Affairs and 16.4 percent work in state administrative staffs.

Two women were appointed ministers in the last Cabinet reshuffle. Also, there is only one female ambassador abroad and one in Parliament, indicating the low number of women candidates. The third DPPR aims to increase women's participation in decision making by increasing their participation in running in parliamentary and local elections by five percent and by 30 percent as electors; participating in government employment by five percent and in diplomatic affairs by five percent; and in police and security authorities by five percent.

The agricultural sector plays a vital role in achieving food security, creating job opportunities and reducing poverty, as it is a basic means for development in the countryside. However, Yemen has limited agricultural resources, with 1.5 million hectares of agricultural land equivalent to 2.5 percent of its total area, which doesn't match population growth to ensure food security. Also, most farmers depend on traditional tools, resulting in low production and consequently, affecting limited-income farmers.

Qat planting continually increased during 2000-2005 – involving 10.6 percent of agricultural lands – whereas grain production slowed remarkably. Over the past three decades, qat fields increased 18-fold. Approximately 108 tons of qat were produced in 2000, increasing to 124 tons in 2005. Qat planting consumes approximately 30 percent of agricultural water use in general; that is, 850 million cubic meters annually.

Many poor and limited-income citizens chew qat, with studies showing that qat spending comprises 26 percent of family income. Some YR 250 billion is spent on qat annually and 20 million working hours wasted daily due to qat chewing.

The agricultural sector also faces various structural challenges like water shortage, limited agricultural lands, incompetent irrigation systems and inadequate rainwater collection.