x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Yemeni civilians struggle to get by amid conflict

Food supplies are running out, fuel shortages are acute, and shops are either closed or reluctant to sell their stock.

A family flees with their belongings last week, fearing renewed airstrikes in Sanaa.Mohamed Al Sayaghi / Reuters
A family flees with their belongings last week, fearing renewed airstrikes in Sanaa.Mohamed Al Sayaghi / Reuters

Sanaa // Ali Al Dailami, closed his computer shop in Yemen’s capital when airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition intensified. Two days later, his shop was looted by local gangs.

“Who do I complain to now? There are no police,” said Mr Al Dailami. “I have had this shop for nine years and this was never the case. I never got robbed.”

Eleven days into a bombing campaign against Houthi rebels, basic services in Yemen’s main cities are gradually vanishing.

Food supplies across the country are running out, petrol stations have run dry and shops remain shuttered as the power vacuum deepens and violence intensifies.

Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, was already suffering from years of instability and a seven-month-old uprising by the minority Houthis, who seized power in Sanaa and drove south towards Aden, causing the internationally-recognised president to flee late last month.

In response, Saudi Arabia led a coalition of Arab countries, including the UAE, in a military operation against the Iran-backed rebels.

But the daily bombing raids have left the capital in a state of fear and many families have fled to the countryside.

The interior ministry, run by the Houthi rebels, says hundreds of thousands have evacuated the capital.

In Sanaa, businesses like Mr Al Dailami’s have shut down because of the threat from looters and a lack of customers. Parents make sure their children are in bed by sunset; that is the time when the airstrikes escalate.

Petrol stations have shut down in many cities, some because of a lack of fuel to sell and others because of fears over the fighting. At stations still operating in Sanaa, hundreds of vehicles queue outside every day. Some wait for days to fill up.

“After hours of waiting the station runs out of petrol, so we are forced to leave the vehicle lined up for a couple of days until the station is refilled,” said Noman Al Shaibiani, a labourer in Sanaa.

Those who cannot wait resort to purchasing petrol through the black market and pay three times the normal cost.

“I am poor and I can’t pay the extra money,” Mr Al Shaibiani said. “This is because of the Houthi revolution.”

Meanwhile, concern is growing over the humanitarian situation with the Red Cross appealing for an immediate truce to allow families to seek water, food and medical assistance.

As the Saudi-imposed air, land and naval blockade continues, the country’s food shortage is gradually threatening the country. Some shop owners are refusing to sell and instead stockpiling goods to sell later for higher prices.

Yemen’s chamber of commerce announced on Friday that 10 ships carrying food and basic goods were expected to reach the port of Hodeidah within a week. The Houthis are hoping the food shipment is not stopped by the Saudi warships stationed near the port.

Prices of foodstuffs have soared, with the wheat increasing 40 per cent from 4,800 Yemeni rials to 7,500 Yemeni Rials (Dh128) per 50-kilogram sack since the bombing campaign began.

Yemen Economic Corporation, one of Yemen’s largest food storage centres, was destroyed by three coalition missile strikes in Hodeidah last Tuesday, according to the Houthi-controlled defence ministry. The corporation had enough food for the entire country.

The government’s military food storage centre in Hodeidah was also targeted and destroyed on Tuesday, according to the defence ministry.

Also in Hodeidah, country’s second largest dairy plant was hit by five Saudi missiles on Wednesday, killing at least 29 people, mostly employees, and injuring dozens of others.

“Saudi wants to destroy the economy so that the people to turn against us. That will not happen and with this tactic they will stab themselves,” said Ahmad Al Bahri, a senior Houthi politician.

In Aden, where forces loyal to President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi have been fighting the Houthis and their allies for weeks, families are besieged and thousands do not have access to drinking water, food and basic supplies, according to local officials. Families are stuck indoors because of a street battles and mortar attacks by both sides.

Since 2012, the UN has warned of the fast deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country because of political instability and conflict. Recently, the UN said about two-thirds of the population faced extreme poverty and needed urgent aid.

“Civilians are suffering the most but no one cares about them,” said Ahmed Saleh, 37, a computer programmer in Sanaa.

“Families are rushing to buy large quantities of products at supermarkets and malls. The crisis and war this time will continue longer than any of us expect.”

foreign.desk@thenational.ae