Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 May 2019

Yemen war sends city professionals back to the land

Left out of work because of company closures, employees seek new life in their home villages.
Workers harvest oranges at a farm in Yemen’s Marib province on December 28, 2015. War has forced many city dwellers to look for agricultural jobs in rural areas. Ali Owidha / Reuters
Workers harvest oranges at a farm in Yemen’s Marib province on December 28, 2015. War has forced many city dwellers to look for agricultural jobs in rural areas. Ali Owidha / Reuters

ADEN // Qat grower Abdulhakim Ramzi was once a graphic designer in Sanaa.

But after war broke out between Yemen’s government and Houthi rebels in March, the company he worked for closed and the 39-year-old father of three could not find another job.

Like many Yemenis, the conflict forced him to move with his wife and children to his home village in June.

He had not been to Al Rokz village, in Taez province’s Al Shimayateen district, in 11 years. He had met and married his wife in Sanaa, and neither she nor the children had ever been to Al Rokz, a village of several hundred people.

“When I found myself as a jobless man in my village, I was shy to ask people to help me as most of the people need help,” Mr Ramzi said.

He struggled to get work and eventually found two options. He could either work as a construction labourer or help his cousin grow qat, the mildly narcotic leaf that is widely chewed in Yemen.

“I decided to work in agriculture,” he said.

The World Health Organisation considers qat a mild-to-moderate stimulant. Nevertheless, it is deemed a controlled substance in a number of countries, even if its production and consumption are legal in Yemen.

Mr Ramzi did not know anything about farming when he began working with his cousin in August, but he has been learning from him.

“I have started to learn how to grow qat, but I need one whole year as I will work in the different seasons, as my cousin told me, and I am willing to do,” he said.

Omer pays him 3,000 Yemeni rials (Dh51) a day. Compared with his previous job in Sanaa, which paid YR80,000 a month, growing qat is more profitable.

“I plan to learn the growing of qat very well,” Mr Ramzi said. “Then I can plant a small plot of land with qat and earn more than enough for one family.”

Like Mr Ramzi, Shawiq Al Niwi, 33, was forced to leave Sanaa for his home village in Al Shimayateen because of the war.

A commercial correspondent for importers of goods into Yemen, he lost his job in April and returned with his wife and two children to Al Ghoor village.

Unlike Mr Ramzi, he was not lucky enough to find work that suited him.

“I did not get suitable work in my village. Then I resorted to taking the goats and sheep of the residents for grazing every day, from early in the morning until evening,” Mr Al Niwi said.

He said he tended around 100 sheep and goats and the owners paid him YR300 per animal per month, earning him enough to take care of his family.

“To graze animals is better than begging,” he said.

Professor Fadhl Al Thobhani, an expert on Yemeni society at Taez University, said many people displaced from cities to rural areas by the war have been forced to take up more traditional jobs than they might have had previously.

“The displaced people will work in anything to get money, but this will harm their futures as many of them will lose their original profession and continue to work in their new jobs such as agriculture,” Mr Al Thobhani said.

However, jobs in agriculture and grazing are not easily available as there are more experienced people in the villages. This means that displaced people from the cities have only a small chance of finding such work, he said.

According to the United Nations, 80 per cent of Yemen’s population is in need of humanitarian aid after months of fighting between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government, which is supported by a Saudi Arabia-led coalition of mainly Arab countries. Nearly nearly 6,000 people have been killed.


Updated: December 28, 2015 04:00 AM