Conflict preys upon countries that are already facing poverty – where institutions are fragile and resources are few. Too often, conflict entrenches poverty even deeper – propelling communities, institutions and countries into a vicious cycle.
Before the war, Yemen was already a tremendously impoverished country. People lived on an average of USD $4.5 a day and unemployment was 52 per cent. The impact of the war was evident just two years into the conflict. In 2016, the average Yemeni lived on USD $1.8 a day with unemployment estimated at above 60 per cent. Severe poverty rates were estimated to be between 62 – 78 percent.
The current numbers are unknown, but Yemen continues to fall further and further into despair. An estimated 21 million people (75 per cent of the population) are in desperate need of humanitarian or protection assistance today. An astounding 10 million Yemenis suffer from famine and don’t know from where their next meal is coming. Two million are internally displaced.
As the Secretary General of United Nations announced the agreements that developed from the Sweden Peace Talks, I am hopeful it is a first step towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict of Yemen. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Yemen, has been on the ground despite the ongoing conflict - on the front lines - working to reach the poorest and most vulnerable while implementing life-saving activities and tackling the cycle of poverty.
Continuously present in Yemen for over 50 years, UNDP has seen and experienced the rapid decline of Yemen’s society. We are painfully aware of the high stakes – the potential slip into an abyss from which it will take generations to recover. Already, we estimate that four years of conflict have wiped out over two decades of development. With the renewed hopes for a peace, we must redouble our efforts to prevent the downward spiral from spinning beyond the point of no return.
To help combat this, UNDP and the World Bank have partnered to launch the unique Yemen Emergency Crisis Response Project (YERCP) – a project that effectively responds to the famine related needs of the Yemenis, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. This was the first time the World Bank was able to unlock such substantial financing from its International Development Associatation to work through UN agencies and to keep critical development projects flowing during a crisis.
With this essential financing from the World Bank, our emergency response work has provided nearly 2.5 million people across the country with access to key services such as water, revitalized farm land, as well as rebuilt schools and roads. By keeping public services open, empowering people to run small businesses, and paying farmers, livestock keepers and fishermen to keep producing, it helps strengthen the resilience of the people and the economy.
Through funding from the World Bank’s support, UNDP has scaled-up our livelihood projects from only a few locations to being present in 95 per cent of the country and in all 22 Yemen governorates. Locally, we are working together with two already well-established public institutions – the Social Fund for Development and the Public Works Project – to continue to scale up the delivery of critical services. Our assistance has been vital in preserving their own capacity and helping them to continue providing crucial services to communities.
Our efforts are designed to complement the ongoing humanitarian assistance. In our programming, we recognize that not only do people need shelter, protection, and food – but a strong future requires more. People also need jobs to enable them to buy basic needs for their families. They need functioning markets where they can go to buy these items. They need assets. They need to be able to invest for now as well as for their future. Thanks to our partnership with the World Bank, UNDP has helped approximately 2.1 million Yemenis through cash-for-work programs, enabling families to purchase critical basic needs by providing nearly 6.8 million working days.
The unprecedented partnership with the World Bank means that UNDP’s work is helping communities survive the crisis by providing support to local institutions and communities to gain access to these critical services, as well as help them invest in their future. This helps Yemenis keep their dignity and hope alive for what comes next.