Yemen’s Public Works Project: Creating essential services, jobs and resilience

June 2, 2020

A school rehabilitated in Sana'a by Public Works Project under YECRP project in partnership with the World Bank. | Photo Credit: UNDP Yemen

“You feel alive when you have work, and the Public Works Project has given us that. The work I do is key to easing suffering in Yemen and fighting the cholera epidemic by keeping roads clean and safe.” - Abdulelah Alwadie, local contractor

Yemen’s five-year conflict has left more than 24 million people (80 per cent of the population) in need of humanitarian and development aid. Public institutions that provide water, sanitation, education, and healthcare have collapsed, making the country particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of 30 May, there are 283 confirmed cases and half of Yemen’s hospitals and clinics were destroyed (or shuttered) over the course of the war. Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that 18 per cent of Yemen’s 333 districts do not have a single doctor. More broadly, Yemen’s economic output has decreased by USD 90 billion and more than 600,000 people have lost their jobs.

But it wasn’t always this way.

Almost 20 years ago, the Public Works Project (PWP) was introduced to improve Yemen’s healthcare system, roads, sanitation, and water, while employing a large number of citizens. In 2015, when funding donations came to a halt after the war broke out, the majority of employees were laid off. PWP was forced to suspend its operations indefinitely, despite its long-term successes, the significant value it added to the community, and the trust and support it had gained from its donors.

In describing the personal toll that the ongoing war has had on his quality of life and livelihood, Nasser Jassar – who works as a contractor – explains that “Before the war, I used to work on three or four projects at a time. But since the war started, I barely work one or two projects the whole year. The conflict stopped our work and we were forced to sell our equipment to make ends meet,” he said. “My mental health has tremendously deteriorated during the war. It is very painful to go home with nothing to offer your children.”

The power of partnerships

Yemen Emergency Crisis Response Project (YECRP) has been mitigating the impact of the war on local households and communities since 2016. Assisting their recovery by using local systems, capacities, and institutions, citizens are progressively resuming and scaling-up service delivery. This allows households and communities to better cope with the devastation and build resilience for broader recovery efforts. As a core component of this strategy, PWP relaunched many of its operations across Yemen in 2016 through YECRP, a partnership between the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

In addition to succeeding in creating community assets and improving community infrastructure, PWP also offered short-term employment for labor and implemented small-scale infrastructure and labor-intensive sub-projects. Specifically, PWP implements sub-projects by contracting local private sector contractors to level roads, renovate schools, construct rainwater harvesting reservoirs, and perform sanitation and sewage services.

According to Jamil Hezam, who manages PWP’s Contracts Unit, “Our projects span almost all Yemeni governorates and sub-districts. We stand out from others because we intervene in areas that no one else does. We work under the most difficult circumstances and in the most remote areas.”

PWP highlights: At a glance

As of December, 2019:

  • 1,424 subprojects have been implemented by 751 contractors that have employed 117,538 workers (30 per cent internally-displaced persons and 40 per cent workers from local communities) in 307 of Yemen’s 333 districts
  • 4,775 female workers have been employed
  • 2,084,121 work days have been created
  • 2,752,953 Yemenis have gained access to key services (including 362,323 cubic meters of water, 13,211 hectares of agricultural lands, 46 kilometers of lifeline roads that have been repaired, and 2,533 classrooms that have been rehabilitated in 234 schools)

More broadly, this work is reducing internal migration and strengthening Yemen’s core infrastructure for the long run and across sectors.

Saving lives by paving critical roadways

A single stretch of road in and out of Ta’iz that leads to Lahj and Aden is a key lifeline and provides safe passage for families fleeing the conflict in the city. In 2016, on the eve of celebrating Eid Al-Adha, a car lost control navigating the precarious roads; four people died after plunging into a ravine.

Following this tragic accident, PWP contractors met with people living in the area to identify their priority needs. They wanted to pave the bumpy and steep parts of the heavily used road to make it safe for travel.

Benefiting around 37,300 people, including a little under 600 internally-displaced persons, the project built a 50 linear meter retaining wall and paved an area of 450 meters.

Stopping violence against women

Since women have been particularly vulnerable to acts of gender-based violence throughout the war, PWP has prioritized the hiring and training of local women as community researchers. This allows women to gain status as income winners, heads of household and contributors to society.

To identify the dynamic social needs in her neighborhood, “Raya” carries out regular visits to women in her community to identify their home conditions, and to help improve them by reporting acts of violence and escalating as necessary. This has been critical in helping women get the support they need to end domestic abuse and restore their safety and well-being.  

Reducing outbreaks of cholera and malaria

Accumulated waste and water in many of Yemen’s neighborhoods creates fertile ground for infestations of pests and disease-carrying insects. Recent outbreaks of cholera and malaria have been particularly devastating among elderly people and children, particularly during the rainy season.

In describing the “before” and “after” in his neighborhood in al-Huda, Mohamed al-Mushiki says that “After the two-phase intervention by PWP, the situation in the neighborhood changed drastically. The garbage piles that filled the alleys and streets and blocked water truck deliveries have disappeared. The health situation of the residents has improved. Infectious diseases have all but vanished. People and traffic can now move about the neighborhood easily and freely.”

Restoring life in barren land

Just a few months ago, most of Jafinah’s arable land was barren, leaving community members malnourished and many farmers living well below the poverty line. Despite the fact that they rely on farming year-round for food and income, their primitive irrigation system pumped water through channels filled with dirt, increasing water shortages.

Giving the community a second chance, PWP implemented a subproject to reduce water loss and restore life to the land – helping life return to normal. The living conditions for the farmers and their families have improved dramatically and farmers are now tending to their livestock again, since feed is now available year-round.

PWP programme evaluation and impact

At the request of UNDP and the World Bank, a rapid assessment of the PWP interventions was undertaken to evaluate the project’s benefits to targeted beneficiaries and participating communities. The evaluation confirmed that PWP has made rapid improvements to community infrastructure and services, just as it has enabled access to markets and social services.

In addition to bridging consumption gaps, it has helped Yemen’s crisis-affected people regain sustainable livelihoods, assets, and their sense of community. What’s more, by strengthening partnerships with local authorities, PWP has enabled Yemenis to reflect their priorities in broader recovery efforts and development planning, not to mention acquire new knowledge and skills that have empowered them to expand their opportunities and choices.

As Saeed Ahmed, the head of PWP, observes, “The project is not just another source of income for staff. It has become a vital link between the foundation, the contractors, and community to create access to the most basic needs.”


Funded and supported by the World Bank, the Yemen Emergency Crisis Response Project (YECRP) is implemented by the Social Fund for Development (SFD) and the Public Works Project (PWP) in partnership with UNDP. The USD $400 million project provides economic stimuli in the form of large cash-for-work projects, support to small businesses, and labor-intensive repairs of socio-economic assets, benefiting vulnerable local households and communities across Yemen.