SEATTLE, Washington — The conflict in Yemen has caused immense suffering and financial devastation in disadvantaged communities, leaving many dependent on external aid. The Tamkeen Development Foundation, an innovative program under Yemen’s Social Fund for Development (SFD), supports communities through infrastructure and social empowerment projects. Tamkeen’s empowerment approach encourages financial independence and fosters inclusive development, providing hope for Yemenis even amid a devastating civil war.
A Devastating Civil War
For more than six years, Yemen has been engrossed in an ongoing civil war between the Houthi armed movement, a Shiite rebel group, and Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi’s Sunni-led government. The consequences of Yemen’s deadly conflict are staggering, with both sides abusing human rights and violating international law. More than 15,000 people have been killed or injured since the start of the civil war, and approximately four million have been displaced.
Yemen’s conflict has been named the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with the U.N. estimating that about 80% of the population is in need of assistance and protection. Food insecurity threatens widespread famine, and a cholera outbreak has infected nearly one million people. Moreover, the civil war has devastated Yemen’s already fragile economy, making it the poorest country in the Middle East and North African region. Poverty has increased substantially with over 40% of Yemeni households losing their primary source of income and becoming increasingly dependent on external aid.
The Tamkeen Development Foundation
Amid Yemen’s conflict, many development projects have been put on hold to focus on immediate humanitarian concerns, leaving the transformative potential of human capital and natural resources untouched. However, the Empowerment for Local Development (Tamkeen) Program has proven that transformative development is possible, even amid conflict.
The program was developed by Yemen’s Social Fund for Development (SFD), a national institution with support from the World Bank and United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Named after the Arabic word for empowerment (التمكين), the Tamkeen program has helped mobilize Yemeni communities to implement a variety of development projects in preparation for a brighter future when peace returns.
A Strategy of Empowerment
The Tamkeen program is focused on advancing human rights, developing self-reliance and encouraging widespread participation in community development projects. By investing in local community actors, Tamkeen aims to strengthen national institutions to ensure Yemen has a strong political and economic foundation after the war’s end.
The program has implemented more than 700 small-scale development projects, such as building rural roads, improving water sources, protecting essential service facilities and providing job training. These development projects have served more than 80,000 people in some of Yemen’s poorest and most inaccessible areas.
The Village Cooperative Councils (VCC)
The development of the Village Cooperative Councils (VCC) has been central to the Tamkeen program’s success. Tamkeen officers work on the ground in villages, training members to prioritize their community’s needs, use local resources, and encourage people to independently implement development projects instead of waiting for foreign aid.
The VCCs have also helped dissolve conflict-created distrust and foster social cohesion between local villages. In the past, water has been a major source of conflict for neighboring communities across Yemen. Women often stay up all night to fetch water, risking violence and abuse on their long trips. To address this issue, the councils have helped villages work together to develop safe and accessible wells.
Collaborative road development projects between villages have also been transformative for rural residents’ well-being and financial growth. For many years, war-torn roads have been difficult to access, cutting many Yemeni villages off from larger markets, basic services and employment opportunities. The VCCs of nearby villages have come together to rebuild rural roads, providing financial resources, labor and materials. Cross-communal projects like these have strengthened social cohesion and given Yemenis the tools they need to engage in collaborative development.
Inclusive Development and Responding to COVID-19
The Tamkeen Development Foundation ensures that the voices of marginalized communities, such as women and internally displaced persons, are heard in the planning of any new development project. In fact, 50% of people elected to Village Cooperative Councils are women, and many have taken this opportunity to break down long-standing hardships and increase the quality of life. For example, women in the Habor Dholaima District came together to address the problem of water access. By re-opening a pedestrian road and fixing its old spring, these women regained fast and easy access to fresh drinking water.
Currently, Tamkeen is also working on the ground to support local initiatives combating the COVID-19 pandemic. Yemen faces one of the world’s worst health crises of the pandemic. Nearly half of the country’s health facilities have been shut down due to violent conflict and more than 50% of the population is expected to be infected. In the highly populated Hajjah province, Tamkeen VCCs have mobilized women to produce almost 7,500 facemasks and 500 protective suits for medical staff working in COVID-19 health facilities. Tamkeen skills training has helped prepare female volunteers for sewing, allowing them to contribute to their communities during this unprecedented time.
Through its self-empowerment efforts, the Tamkeen Development Foundation works to strengthen Yemen’s most disadvantaged communities through community-led projects and collaborative planning. Even amid a humanitarian crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, Yemen moves to advance Yemenis’ quality of life and infrastructure projects.