Sanaa – Despite President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s departure on Saturday to seek treatment in Saudi Arabia for wounds sustained during an attack on his presidential palace, insecurity and instability remain in embattled Yemen. And the Arab World’s poorest country, embroiled in a four-month protest movement that appears to be evolving into civil war, now faces skyrocketing commodity prices.
Daily life is becoming increasingly unaffordable for most Yemenis. Food prices have doubled. Most public transportation is not operating on the streets of the capital Sanaa, while taxi fares have become exobitant over the past three weeks. Water truck prices have doubled or more due to the shortage of fuel.
But since Saleh, strongman of 32 years, left the country, Sanaa’s residents have not experienced the lengthy power cuts typical of recent weeks. Saleh previously blamed the cuts on provincial tribes sabotaging the lines with explosives.
“We didn’t have a drop of water for three days,” said Sanaa resident Amal Mohhamed. “At least we have power since he [Saleh] left. It means the state was behind the power cut. They didn’t want us to know about what’s going on in Hasaba [the Sanaa neighborhood ravaged by street battles].”
Private water providers say they have greater pressure placed on their businesses now because government projects to provide water have been suspended. A 5000-liter truck that previously sold its load for 2500 YR now sells is for 5000 YR. The 3000-liter tuck that once sold its load for 1500 YR now sells it for 4000 YR. Still, they say, their businesses are suffering as a result of Yemen’s political and commodity crisis.
“I was able to work six days only in the last two weeks… because of the power cutting and the shortage of diesel,“ said water provider Ahmed Mohb al-Nabi “The diesel and fuel shortage made prices double, making us raise prices as well.”
Queues for fuel stretching more than a mile have become a relatively normal sight in Yemen’s major cities. Sometimes the cars completely block roads. Some Yemenis say they have waited longer than ten hours to reach their turn only to find fuel was no longer available.
“I was in the queue at the fuel station from 5 pm until 10 am the next morning,” said car owner Fares al-Ghubari. “When I got there the fuel was just finished. But it’s getting funny as the people in the queue start chatting and getting to know each other. I made lots of friends from fuel queues.”
Buses charge 50 YR instead of 30 YR now if they are able to pass through Sanaa’s streets without encountering roadblocks. Taxi fares have risen 150 percent due to the shortage of fuel and hikes in other basic commodities.
“I charge the custumer 700 YR, when I used to take 300 YR,” said one taxi driver. “I can’t give any cheaper prices as the fuel is so expensive now. I pay 6000 YR for what I used to get for 1500 YR – if I can find it in the first place.”
Locals from Mareb Governorate, where the country’s largest gas manufacturing stations are located, have flocked to Yemen’s cities to sell fuel and diesel at high prices. Some dilute the fuel by mixing it with water.
“I bought the diesel at a very high price because of the need to run the business that earns me my living,” said a repair shop owner. “But it was mixed with water, so once I put it in the machines, they broke. I went back to find the seller, but I couldn’t find him.”
The General Union of Chambers of Commerce and Industry said in a recent statement that the country’s production has come to a grinding halt due to the commodity crisis. Most of the workers and employees, moreover, no longer show up for work because they have not received their salaries. And foreign experts have left the country in large numbers due to the deteriorating security situation.
Banks are also totally paralyzed, the statement added, and some will soon declare bankruptcy. Food and medicine provisions will last only a few weeks, in the best-case scenario, with transportation difficulties exacerbating the situation, according to the statement.
“Yemen is in a dangerous situation now. Many families have crossed the food insecurity stage,“ Mostafa Nasser, chairman of the Studies and Economy Media Center told Al-Masry Al-Youm. ”The economy crossed the collapse phase when the revolution started its armed phase… We demanded the political parties sign the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative as the last hope to end the economic crisis.”
Gulf nations brokered a deal in late April, initially endorsed by both the president and the opposition, which sought Saleh’s ouster. Saleh, however, refused to sign at the last minute and since then violence in Yemen has escalated.
Sanaa resident Shawqi Mohamed said he recently went to his bank to make a withdrawal but the employees there said the funds were not available. The bank employees, according to Mohamed, said Saleh followers withdrew large amounts of the bank’s money to pay supporters to turn out for pro-Saleh rallies in Sanaa on Friday.
“The parties to the political conflict would never feel what we are facing,” said 45-year-old mother of five Oum Ahmed. “They will never experience hunger, not Saleh nor [defected general] Ali Mohsen nor [head of the powerful Hashid tribe] al-Ahmer. In their worst case they will go and live like kings in a Saudi palace, with only us to bear the results of their war for power.”