Yemen is currently facing an unprecedented humanitarian and economic crisis as a result of the conflict that has gripped the country since late 2014. In addition to the armed violence, the utilization of economic warfare by parties to the conflict has resulted in a crippled central bank, depleted foreign exchange reserves and a liquidity crisis in physical banknotes. Government budgets have been slashed, and beginning in August 2016 the Central Bank of Yemen ceased paying public sector wages, resulting in more than a third of working Yemenis, and their families, losing their primary source of income. This has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis, had knock‐on effects across the entire economy and further devastate public service delivery in Yemen.
This rapid assessment has sought to measure the impact of the non‐payment of government wages on the health and education sectors specifically. For each sector a questionnaire survey was implemented alongside multiple qualitative interviews, assessing the impact across all levels of service delivery, from central ministries to local health offices or schools.
In short, the cessation of wages has been crippling. This assessment found that even when staff have continued to work there has been a significant deterioration in the quality of that work in both the health and education sectors. Absenteeism has not been as high as might be expected, especially in Houth‐ Saleh controlled area, due to disciplinary threats De facto power . In areas controlled by the internationally recognized government, protests and strikes have been more common. The assessment has found that due to the impact of the wage crisis there has been significant deterioration in the capacity of central ministries for both the health and education sectors to gather accurate data or assist in targeting emergency responses. Significant political interference has also been witnessed at the ministry level, adding challenges to accurate data collection.
In the health sector many workers have sought work in the private or NGO sectors, even while continuing to work in government hospitals. Those on short term contracts have often left government work completely, while those on full time contracts have stayed in the hope of keeping their jobs and receiving back pay in the future. Increasingly hospitals are covering budgetary shortfalls by passing costs on to patients, with some areas witnessing significant fee increases. Hospitals still in operation have witnessed significant increases in demand for services as other healthcare facilities have been forced to close or drastically reduce services. Significant reductions in the availability of medicines has also occurred.
Increasingly international organizations are being relied upon to support public health services. These organizations have also been hampered by the difficulty and cost of making financial transactions within Yemen and by the financial demands of the coordinating ministries.
The education sector has witnessed severe deterioration in the face of budgetary cuts and the cessation of wages. During the course of this assessment our research identified significant increases in absenteeism, low motivation rates among education workers, reductions in class hours and higher rates of conflict among workers. Learning outcomes have decreased significantly, while corrupt practices are on the rise, such as with the selling of grades and school certificates. Due to the severity of the economic crisis, it has also been reported large numbers of school‐age children have been forced to leave school to work, with more than a thousand documented as having becoming fighters in order to support their families. Our findings show that schools have attempted to cover budgetary shortfalls and salaries through requesting fees and donations, both from the public and international organizations.
In responding to the crisis, international organizations should 1) advocate for and support a solution to the challenges being faced by the Central Bank of Yemen, notably the paying of public sector salaries 2) Support the continuation of basic public services in the education and health sector, through means such as providing robust and well targeted incentives for public sector workers in affected areas of the health and education. 3) Work with local civil society and private sector groups to provide community focused solutions to the public sector wage crisis.
This assessment, undertaken in 15 days, should be considered a preliminary outline of an immense and deeply complicated crisis, one that outlines the importance of further study and data gathering to garner a more comprehensive assessment of the situation, which can then be turn into an actionable response strategy.