Sana’a: Yemeni officials told the Riyadh conference they needed $2.17 billion (Dh7.9 billion) immediately for humanitarian and other purposes, and $5.8 billion for longer-term development and infrastructure projects.
Donors will meet in Riyadh again in late June to discuss the aid pledges.
Yemen’s experience with pledges of assistance from neighbours is mixed: its planning minister has estimated that some $3 billion of $4.7 billion aid pledged by the Friends of Yemen group when it first met in 2006 has not been delivered.
Donors and some Yemeni officials have argued the chaotic security situation, as well as corrupt and dysfunctional state institutions, impede aid by making it impossible to know whether it will be spent effectively, stolen or simply wasted.
“Most of it was not used because Yemen didn’t have the capacity to absorb the money in development projects for which the money was allocated,” said Charles Schmitz, an expert on Yemen at Towson University in Maryland in the United States.
Iryani, the former minister, said the most effective form of aid may be to bypass the government, and put money directly in the hands of Yemenis, abroad.
“What Yemen needs now is quick cash. Traditional development funds now are really not going to be effective,” he said, arguing neighbouring Saudi Arabia held a possible key, albeit politically fraught, to defusing the humanitarian crisis.
In the 1980s, more than 1.3 million Yemenis worked in wealthy Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and could even travel to Saudi Arabia without a visa. Since 1990, when Yemen failed to join its neighbours’ condemnation of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, they have been largely replaced by labourers from Asia.
Yemenis working in the GCC countries in 2010 sent home an estimated $1 billion in remittances, according to a Chatham House research paper. It said security fears and concerns about potential involvement in local politics were key obstacles to employing more Yemenis in Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia, a monarchy that tolerates no political organisation.
“The quickest and most direct way to help Yemenis is to grant them easier access to employment in Saudi,” Iryani said.