Largely in the shadow of the world’s attention, Yemen’s 26 million people are suffering the deadly repercussions of an Arab Spring gone tragically astray. The country still reverberates with distant memories of ancient glory, but developmental progress in modern Yemen has long been stymied by a daunting range of challenges, from a clientelistic, and often absent, state to extreme water stress.
Grievances over lack of voice and opportunity sparked street protests in 2011, putting an end to the 30-year rule of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. When the subsequent transition process foundered, Yemen descended into a battleground between sectarian, tribal and wider regional forces, resulting in thousands of civilian casualties, an acute humanitarian crisis, and the virtual stoppage of economic activity.
Caught in a downward spiral of fear and privation, ordinary Yemenis are struggling to hold out hope. “Even before the war, life in Yemen was difficult because of the political situation,” Abdo Seif, Adviser at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), recently said in an agency report. “Now life has become almost impossible with constant airstrikes and ground fighting. Prices for basic commodities have increased and medicine is becoming rare. If the embargo is not lifted, we will get closer to a famine. I have three children, who see the war as punishment.”
The United Nations is leading efforts to seek a durable truce among the warring parties. In parallel, it teamed up with the World Bank and the European Union to convene a technical dialogue among a broad cross-section of Yemeni and international stakeholders to collaboratively identify how best to address immediate priority needs as well as the underlying causes of the conflict. CBI led a team of six facilitators in the design and management of this Consultative Meeting for Yemen, held in early October 2015 in Cyprus.
Over the course of three days, more than 120 participants from the civil service, the private sector, citizen’s groups and the international community, exchanged views on the current and likely future state of Yemen, and jointly elaborated recommendations not only for improving life-saving interventions, but also for rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, institutions and torn social fabric, where possible. The result is an enumeration of key requirements – such as fuel provision for water treatment, mobile clinics, mine removal, and human rights monitoring – along with guidance on how to ensure that such responses lay the foundation for a sustained recovery, first and foremost through systematic involvement of local institutions and leaders, especially women.
A key facilitation challenge was creating sufficient space for wideranging discussions while weaving a common thread, and for respectful disagreements while maintaining a constructive forward momentum. Applying Chatham House Rules and organizing much of the proceedings in six working groups, covering the full spectrum of sectors from essential social services to various key aspects of the economy and governance, went a long way towards meeting the twin objectives of efficiency and authenticity. Though participants at times expressed strong pain and anger, the large and diverse group built a strong sense of shared purpose anchored in the imperative to reverse Yemen’s course.