ABU DHABI // The Government yesterday pledged Dh2.4 billion (US$650 million) to help Yemen reverse the instability that blights the country. The grant is one of the largest ever made by the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD). The money will be spent on development projects in Yemen covering infrastructure, energy, water, transport and education. The fund was announced after an agreement was signed by the Foreign Minister and vice chairman of the ADFD, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, and his Yemeni counterpart, Abu Bakr al Qirbi.
Mr al Qirbi arrived in the capital on Tuesday to take part in UAE-Yemen joint committee meetings, which concluded yesterday. "The grant reflects our commitment to the sustainable development of Yemen," Sheikh Abdullah said in a statement yesterday. "The support contributes to ensuring the long-run stability of the diverse communities in the region, which is interlinked to socio-economic prosperity."
Almost Dh58m of the grant will be used to finance energy projects. One will see the building of a power station to meet the country's increasing demand for electricity. Another scheme involves the construction of a Dh275m dam with a capacity of 20 million cubic metres to address water shortages in Yemen. Bassam Ali al Shater, a member of the Yemeni parliament's foreign affairs committee, said the grant would help stabilise the country.
"Having this funding will contribute to the feeling by the citizens that something is being done, that there is something tangible on the ground," he said yesterday. Mr al Shater said the projects were "fairly" distributed across the country. "In my constituency, in Sana'a, the grant will fund the paving of an 11km dirt road." The country has been politically and socially unstable since north and south Yemen united in 1990.
This year, the Yemeni Army has been involved in an ongoing major offensive against al Houthi rebels in the northern parts of the country. Over recent months the Yemeni government has been struggling to contain growing public unrest. This has often culminated in riots and protests. The US president, Barack Obama, has voiced fears that an escalation of public disorder could provide opportunities for al Qa'eda to find a haven in the country.
Experts say improving stability in Yemen is crucial to the region; the country's strategic location enables it to control the Bab al Mandab Strait, a waterway that oil tankers use to carry more than three million barrels a day to Europe. The country also has an important role to play in the fight against Somali piracy in the Gulf of Aden. Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, according to the 2007 UN Development Programme's Yemen Poverty Assessment Report. According to the US Central Intelligence Agency, unemployment among the country's population of almost 24 million is 35 per cent. Some 45 per cent are classed as living below the poverty line.
Economic growth in the country has been severely hampered by a series of setbacks. These include the return in 1990 of approximately 850,000 Yemenis from the Gulf states, a subsequent major reduction of aid flows, and internal political disputes that culminated in the 1994 civil war. Yesterday, Mohammed al Suwaidi, the acting director of the ADFD, said the latest grant reflected "the strong commitment of our leadership to provide assistance to neighbouring countries through substantial support for their developmental drive".
"The projects are specifically envisaged to drive socio-economic growth in the long-term, and ensure balanced growth that will benefit all sections of the society," he said. The various schemes will be managed by the ADFD, which was founded in 1971. It has financed 12 projects in Yemen since 1974, totalling Dh394m. The UAE Armed Forces have also played a key role in supporting Yemen. They provided relief operations in areas hit by heavy floods in the country in October last year.
An airlift between Abu Dhabi and Yemen transported medicine, medical equipment and food supplies to survivors of the stricken provinces. A fully equipped field hospital with a qualified medical team was provided to help in rescue and evacuation operations.
The country has also funded a Dh100m housing project for flood victims.