Regular 18 hour power cuts, the shortage of fuel for generators, water pumps and transportation, and a lack of security have all but paralyzed life in the major cities of Yemen. As a result, there has been a steady exodus of families leaving the cities and returning to their ancestral villages where life is less dependent on fuel and electricity.
Many of those who are heading back to the villages say that they first came to the city in search of job opportunities. With the massive layoffs that have continued with the economic collapse of Yemen, what job opportunities there were have now all but dried up.
The major infrastructure found in the cities had also enticed many to choose an urban existence. Cities had fairly continuous power, good roads and transportation, medical facilities, shopping and many other attractions. But without jobs, fuel or electricity, the comforts of an urban existence vanish. In some villages there has always been less than two hours of power a day, this is just part of normal life. And the lack of good roads have meant that people have always relied on animal transport rather than cars and buses.
“When there are long power cuts in Sana’a, there is nothing to do. Life there depends on power,” said Yasmin Ali from Joba, a village in Marib. She left Sana’a and retuned to her village about two months ago. “In our villages we are used to having power for less hours. This is how we grew up and we have different activities to do in this case.”
An equally important advantage of returning to village life is the improved security to be found there. The conflicts and battles that have flowed onto the streets of major cities in Yemen have not reached many remote villages. You are less likely to become a victim of random shooting or get caught in the crossfire in the village. And unlike in the cities, everybody in the village knows each other and has enduring strong relationships. If the village is threatened, everyone will help and protect each other, they will fight together on one side to protect the village.
“We feel more secure in Joba as everybody knows everyone else. In Sana’a people don’t show the same sympathy to help each other or to protect each other,” said Ali. “In the civil war of 1994 our house in Sana’a was directly targeted although it was empty, but in Joba it was not.”
Living costs in villages are usually far less that in the cities, especially as prices in the cities for many goods has spiraled 200 percent. Villages, partly by necessity, have depended less on manufactured products and more on homemade items. Because of this the price increases have had less impact.
“We have spent less money since we got back to the village. We are no longer harmed by the bus and taxi fares as we don’t need them here,” said Salim Mohammad, a resident of Sana’a who returned to his home town in Reda’a in May.
More unnecessary costs such as that of qat are also usually lower in the villages where the plant is grown, rather than the cities where it is imported from the countryside.
Whilst economic and security concerns are the major impetus encouraging people to leave the cities, it is made easier by the lack of belonging felt in the cities, especially in Sana’a. Village life is by its nature more cohesive, whereas cities are made up of a diverse collection of peoples from different governorates and villages.
“When people leave the city to their village they say: ‘We are going to our country’,” said Ahmed Al-Edrisi, a resident of Sana’a. “This reflects their sense of belonging in their villages, but not the cities.”
The major exodus from Sana’a began in late May and early June during the conflict between the Hashed tribal confederation and the state in the neighborhood of Hassaba. During conflicts people seek the protection of their tribes or villages, as the state is not trusted enough to protect them.