Yemen: Basic Needs Planning is Necessary for Post-War Region


Yemen: Basic Needs Planning is Necessary for Post-War Region

Written by Rene Wadlow

As a result of Saudi-led bombing raids, Yemen's underdeveloped socio-economic infrastructure has been largely destroyed. The UN-mediated peace negotiations led by Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed of Mauritania, who had been earlier the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, have been broken off and most probably will not meet again in the near future.

The most probable next steps will be a division of the country into two with several, largely autonomous areas within both. The country's present form dates from 1990 when south Yemen (Aden) was more or less integrated into the north, but the country remains highly fractured along tribal, sectarian and ideological lines with the tribal structures being the most important. In the best of worlds, one could envisage a federal Yemen with the rule of law. More realistically, we could hope that these largely autonomous tribal areas do not fight against each other actively. On a short-term basis, we can hope that there will be minimum cooperation among the factions to allow necessary food imports and medical supplies linked to a cease-fire on Saudi air raids.

There is a serious need first for post-war planning to be followed by international aid for development. “Reconstruction” would be the wrong term since there was little that had been “constructed.” Rather, we need to look to a post-war socio-economic construction developed on a basic needs approach.

The Basic Needs Approach to Development with its emphasis on people as central to the development process is embodied in the June 1976 World Employment Conference Declaration of Principles and Program of action. (1) The Declaration underlines the importance of the individual and the central role of the family and household as the basic unit around which to work for development.

Although the Basic Needs Approach builds on the development thinking of the United Nations and national governments of the 1950s and 1960s such as rural development, urban poverty alleviation, employment creation through small-scale industries, the Declaration of Principles is a major shift in development strategies with its focus on the family with the objective of providing the opportunities for the full physical, mental, and social development of the human personality. The Program of Action defines a two-part approach: “First, Basic Needs includes certain minimum requirements of a family for private consumption: adequate food, shelter and clothing, as well as certain household equipment and furniture. Second, Basic Needs includes essential services provided by and for the community at large, such as safe drinking water, sanitation, public transport, health, education and cultural facilities.”

The Program added a basic element to the actions: “A Basic Needs-oriented policy implies the participation of the people in making the decisions which affect them through organizations of their own choice.”

The Basic Needs Approach concentrates on the nature of what is provided rather than on income − income having often been used as the criteria for drawing a 'poverty line.' The Basic Needs Approach is concerned not only with the underemployed but also with the unemployable: the aged, the sick, the disabled, orphaned children and others. Such groups have often been neglected by the incomes and productivity approach to poverty alleviation and employment creation.

For Yemen, which is largely structured on the basis of clan- extended family institutions, the Basic Needs Approach is most appropriate. In practice, there are few institutions or associations beyond the clan level, although tribal and religious identities are often mentioned. Tribes and religious identity are “shorthand” terms as it is impossible to mention the multitude of clans. However, a family welfare – meeting basic needs is the most appropriate strategy on which to base post-war planning. Although the fighting continues sporadically and agreement on a possible “unity government” seems far away, Basic Needs Planning must start now.

Rene Wadlow, President and a Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens                      


1) See the Director General's Report and the Declaration in the International Labour Office. Employment, Growth and Basic Needs: A One World Problem (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1977, 224pp.)