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US eager to send foreign aid to Yemen, a land battling poverty and Al Qaeda

The West sees foreign aid as a way to help counter extremism and issues like child malnutrition, but Yemenis caution against too much, too soon – and point to Afghanistan.

By Correspondent / March 23, 2012

A child collects empty bottles of water to sell in Sanaa, Yemen, in February. One-third of Yemen’s population is going hungry, 500,000 children are reportedly at risk of dying of malnutrition, and 45 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day.

Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters


Sanaa, Yemen

As the dust settles on a year of popular revolt in Yemen, international actors are looking to shore up the new president as he tackles long-standing humanitarian and security problems – not least of all, one of the world’s most worrisome Al Qaeda franchises.

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One-third of Yemen’s population is going hungry, 500,000 children are reportedly at risk of dying of malnutrition, 45 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day, and studies have projected that the capital’s wells will run dry by 2015 as the arid country taxes its modest water resources. 

Meanwhile, the deterioration of security in Yemen has created an opening for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has twice attempted to blow up US-bound planes in the past several years. Among Western nations, foreign assistance is seen as a means of countering such extremism.

“The United States is going to have a very important role in trying to help Yemen undertake the necessary reforms as well to provide the assistance that’s going to allow them to move forward economically,” says Gerald Feierstein, US ambassador to Yemen, in an interview.

But Yemen, with its weak government institutions and entrenched corruption, has a history of struggling to effectively absorb aid. Providing too much aid too fast can have devastating consequences, as the West’s 10-year experience in Afghanistan has demonstrated.

So while international players, from the US to the International Monetary Fund, are eager to send assistance, Yemeni politicians are cautioning against creating too much dependency on outside aid – outlining instead a vision of foreign investment.

“Yemen does not need to live on handouts,” says Mohammad Abulahoum, leader of the Justice and Building Party and a prominent Yemeni politician. “If we become a welfare state, we will become a failed state. … Provide Yemen with aid, but then increase investment in the country.”

Of $5.5 billion pledged, only 7 percent spent

The International Monetary Fund has already indicated a willingness to discuss new aid programs in Yemen now that former leader Ali Abdullah Saleh has been removed and the situation is calmer. Other foreign donors are likely to follow suit if Yemen can maintain some degree of stability.

Calculating the level of aid a country can handle predictably varies from place to place, but there are some general indicators for whether aid will succeed.


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