Once called “Arabia Felix” or “happy arabia” by the Romans, today Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East. With dwindling natural resources and a growing, deeply conservative Muslim population of 23 million, Yemen could be reaching a tipping point, claims a recent feature in the New York Times magazine.
Yemen is dealing with a potentially explosive combination of severe poverty, depleted oil reserves, water scarcity, corruption, and rapid population growth, according to Bruce Riedel, an expert in Middle Eastern policy at the Brookings Institution. Corruption is so bad, says the LA Times, that billions of dollars from Yemen's budget go to tribal elders and patronage networks in the form of kickbacks. And tribal feuding has become so dangerous that "as much as a quarter of the population cannot go to school or work for fear of being killed," according to the New York Times feature.
Yemen's ranking on this year's Failed States Index is further evidence of a downward spiral. Overall Yemen came in at 15th, up three spots from its ranking in 2009 and nine from 2007.
In response to Yemen's teetering security situation, Washington announced it was tripling its humanitarian assistance — up to $42.5 million — "to address the root causes of radicalism." But according to the Times report, "no one has a real strategy for Yemen..."
Moving Yemen towards a brighter future requires increasing the country's internal stability. Humanitarian aid projects aimed at meeting needs like food, education, infrastructure and community building are a good start. The World Bank is supporting nearly 40 active projects targeting these areas through interest-free loans, as well as offering microfinance loans through the International Development Association. Hopefully increases in foreign aid and international attention will usher in a better era for Yemen.