YEMEN: Focus on increasing poverty levels 2005-03-05 IRIN news Despite its location in the oil-rich Middle East, Yemen is still one of the poorest countries in the world, even with ongoing efforts to reduce poverty. With a population of 20 million people, 42 percent are living under the poverty line on under US $2 per day, according to the government. In addition, 13.2 percent of the total population are living near to the poverty line. The average annual individual income is US $450 and unemployment was running at 37 percent in 2003, according to World Bank statistics. International organisations consider Yemen one of the 30 nations at the lowest level of development in the world. It was ranked 133 out of 162 countries, according to the UN Human Development Report for 2001. But experts say this figure is unlikely to change as the country faces very slow economic growth and is not able to provide enough jobs for the ever increasing population. EFFORTS TO REDUCE POVERTY In order to make headway on poverty reduction, the Yemeni government started an economic reform programme in 1995, following recommendations from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This programme, however, has had a negative effect on the poor,observors say, because of rising oil prices and high cost of basic materials and food. But it was considered a necessary though painful step to increase income, provide jobs, stop inflation and improve living conditions. Since then, a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) was introduced for the period between 2003-2005. The head of the PRSP follow-up and monitoring unit in the Yemeni ministry of planning and international relations, Yahya al-Mutawakel, said that although this strategy was ongoing it could not fulfil all of its goals without appropriate funds to finance the necessary projects. "These goals cannot be fulfilled without providing enough financial resources to finance important projects," al-Motawakel, told IRIN in the capital, Sana. "This strategy consists of four vital subjects related to economic growth, human resources development, substructure creation, social protection and good governance," he added. The head of the Yemeni Strategic Studies Centre, Mohammed al-Afnadi, believes that the strategy has not led to any improvement in economic growth and living standards. "After three years of starting the PRSP, we have not seen much improvement in reducing poverty. Poverty is still high and the number of poor people is increasing," he told IRIN. "I think Yemen needs a comprehensive economic and social development strategy leading to increased economic growth. Without this government efforts will meet a lot of obstacles and will not be able to reduce the level of poverty in Yemen," al-Afandi said. In 2002, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) began to integrate the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) into poverty reduction strategies in a further effort to reduce the problem. The MDGs were adopted under a declaration in 2000 at a summit of world leaders in order to raise living standards, achieve common values and equality for men and women in developing countries. RURAL AREAS WORSE OFF Poverty in Yemen is more prevalent in rural areas than in urban areas which are home to 83 percent of food insecure people. Most of them are concentrated in four provinces, Taiz, 256 km south of Sana, Ibb,193 km south of Sana, Sana, and Hudaidah, 226 km south-west of Sana, according to the World Bank. These regions lack job opportunities, healthcare and education, according to the Bank. According to aid agencies, the factors leading to increased poverty in Yemen are low income, unstable economic growth, low level of human resources development, rapid population growth, lack of jobs, poor water resources, rising goods prices and weak social protection. Family size also contributes to the problem. The average number of people in a poor family in the country is 8.2, creating a huge financial burden. Many parents cannot afford to send children to school and some 87 percent of poor people are suffering from illiteracy or are unable to finish primary education. FOOD SECURITY According to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), 7.9 percent of people in Yemen experience severe food insecurity and cannot afford to buy food for themselves or their family. The agency has implemented a number of projects to help alleviate poverty and increase education in the country and is reaching out to some 236,000 people. WFP representative for Yemen, Naila Sabra, told IRIN: "According to statistics and the actual state of poor people in Yemen, poverty has increased over the past few years". Sabra said this was due to low achievement of projects and programmes related to poverty reduction. "Most of the PRSP funds were being spent on construction and do not reach the poor, particularly as 87 percent of poor people are living in the rural areas, which deepens this problem," she explained.