Wednesday, Nov. 23, marked a historic day when President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen signed, after some delay, the GCC initiative for a seamless transition of power in Yemen.
This initiative may provide the last chance for Yemen to stem the tide of self-destruction of recent months, and deliver itself from the abyss in which it has descended.
The signing was long overdue and the delay of some five months was unfortunate, as it resulted in the death and injury of countless civilians and contributed to Yemen’s descent into pure chaos.
However, more than merely signing the initiative, living up to its commitments is required to restore a degree of stability and normalcy that is necessary to address Yemen’s chronic existential problems.
Before the current crisis, Yemen was already on the verge of failing as a state, as some of its most senior officials were openly admitting. Today, matters are much worse. Consider just a few indicators (from official government sources):
Unchecked population growth, in excess of 3 percent, with two thirds of the population under 24.
Escalating unemployment, exceeding 50 percent among young people.
Growing illiteracy, as some 3 million children are denied access to education. There is space for only 70 percent of kids, less for girls.
Poverty, as close to 50 percent of the population lives on less than two dollars a day.
Malnutrition, as over 30 percent face hunger and 75 percent do not have access to clean drinking water.
Water resources are running dry, with the situation in some major cities approaching crisis levels.
Government resources to reverse these disturbing indicators are running dry. Oil production has nearly halved over the past decade, drastically reducing its revenue from oil.
The current crisis and lack of security have resulted in adverse conditions for oil production and transportation, leading to severe fuel shortages and reduced export capacity.
The government has resorted to importing fuel and selling it at subsidized prices, a situation that cannot be sustained. The budget deficit has exceeded 10 percent of GDP and is growing. Foreign exchange reserves are dwindling fast.
Giving this alarming state of affairs, Yemen does not have the luxury to wait indefinitely while politicians split hairs over arcane constitutional arrangements. The sooner they complete the transition of power according to the GCC initiative, the sooner they can get down to trying to restore Yemen’s shattered economy and sagging spirits.
Yemen’s friends and development partners should then be able to resume the mammoth task of jumpstarting the economy and putting it back on the right track.