x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Three-mile-long queues at petrol stations as Yemen's fuel crisis starves economy

Yemenis are forced to either wait more than a week in front of petrol stations or buy it for six times the price on the black market.

Fuel shortages have caused three-mile-long queues at Yemeni petrol stations. Khaled Abdullah / Reuters
Fuel shortages have caused three-mile-long queues at Yemeni petrol stations. Khaled Abdullah / Reuters

SANA'A // Streets are empty as hundreds of thousands of vehicles are off the roads. Thousands of cars line up in front of petrol stations waiting for their turn at the pump. The Yemeni petrol crisis has seen the loss of thousands of jobs because people cannot get to work.

Yemenis are forced to either wait more than a week in front of petrol stations or buy it for six times the price on the black market.

With the petrol crisis entering its second month, people have become impatient. Mansoor Rajeh, a car owner who waited six days in front of a gas station to fill his car up, said: "We can't afford the petrol and this is making our life difficult. Politicians are not working for the people. We are dying and they are looking."

Mr Rajeh was forced to buy it from the black market in the end. "Prices of oil in Yemen are the highest worldwide while the Yemeni people are one of the poorest worldwide," he said.

Saudi Arabia donated three million barrels of oil four weeks ago. That did not stop the crisis from growing.

Yesterday, the government announced that it will repair a damaged oil pipeline in coming days. Yemen's main oil pipeline has been shut since an attack by tribesmen in mid-March, while another standing empty since the March incident was blown up last week.

Yemen's vice president, Abdrabhu Mansur Hadi, said during a meeting with Britain's ambassador to Yemen: "The repair of the oil pipeline will be carried out within the coming days in addition to the import of big quantities of import of crude oil and products." The state news agency gave no further details.

For now, lines in front of petrol stations are three miles long at times.

The Yemeni government announced in mid June that the first batch of Saudi oil reached Yemen and will be distributed to Yemeni market immediately. "Where is the distribution the government announced. I have been waiting for two weeks and still did not get one drop of oil," said Mohammed Basalem, the clinic owner in Sana'a who used candles to treat his patients.

He said the electricity cuts in Sana'a continue throughout the day and as it is only on one hour of the day.

Political powers in Yemen blame one another for the crisis and no one is willing to put an end to it.

Vice-president Hadi said the 3 million barrels received was not enough to halt the Yemeni oil crisis. He explains that 50 per cent of the crude oil is being used for electricity.

"The Yemeni government used to have three months of oil reserves, but the oil crisis in Yemen took that away," he said.

The vice-president blames the opposition Islamist Islah party for the crisis saying that opposition supporters are blocking the Mareb-Sana'a road, making it almost impossible for the petrol to go to different provinces. "The opposition control Mareb province and the tribes there do not cooperate with the government. "

Mr Hadi stressed that the crisis can end in fewer than three days if the opposition and ruling party agree.

Opposition parties reject the vice president's claims and said that, as usual, the government is not taking responsibility for a serious problem.

Mohammed Qahtan, the spokesperson for the opposition Joint Meeting Parties, said that if the government is not fit anymore to lead and serve the country that is why the regime must be changed. "The ruling party is in control of Yemen but the opposition is in control of the oil. This does not make any sense," Qahtan said.

Youth protesters believe that the government is creating the petrol and electricity shortage to broaden the Yemeni crisis and weaken the position of the protesters.

"We won't lose hope and quit protesting. This regime is making its people live a bad life. We will be patient for months. It is better than living a bad life for decades," said Mujahed Own, an activist leader.

Families able to get large quantities of petrol force their children to sell it in the black market for substantial profits.

Sana'a streets are filled with children under age 13 selling petrol to the highest bidder. Muntassar Abdul Wali waited seven days at a gas station until it reached his turn at the pump. Then, he sold it 30 minutes later for a tidy profit.

"I pump the oil out of my car and my children sell it in the streets at a much higher rate," he said.

The Republican Hospital in Sana'a cancelled all booked surgical operations for the next week under claims they did not have sufficient diesel to operate the machines.

A hospital official said that they informed the government almost three weeks ago about the shortage and the danger it creates but that did not help.



* With additional reporting by Reuters