Political unrest and poverty increase side by side in Yemen


Despite the ongoing violent crackdown and dire humanitarian situation, Yemenis are trying to make ends meet as they continue in their struggle to overthrow the regime of long time President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The uprising which erupted in the Arab world’s poorest country early this year was initially against high levels of unemployment, deteriorating economic conditions and corruption among officials as well as against the government’s proposal to modify Yemen’s constitution. According to the human development index of 2011, Yemen rates the fourth lowest in the Arab world, after Sudan, Djibouti and Mauritania, despite the United Nations Millennium Development efforts to eradicate its poverty.

Nearly half of Yemen’s populations of 24 million lives below the poverty line, almost seven million of them have no access to three meals a day, and 35 percent have no access to employment, according to international aid organization Oxfam. These numbers are subject to an increase.

“We are worried that people are busy with the political situation and the poor people will be forgotten,” said Aziz al-Athwari, Oxfam’s acting country director in an interview to The New York Times late in June.

The U.N. Security Council has voiced concerns over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. However, relief supplies from the international community are not guaranteed to reach civilians, the looming humanitarian crisis is largely ignored by officials as the political situation take the spotlight on policy. Many areas remain inaccessible to aid organizations because of running battles. In the strategic southern city of Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan, across from the Gulf of Aden, Islamic militants linked to al-Qaeda have been battling security forces on a daily basis.

The current political unrest turned the dire living conditions in Yemen even more desperate. Clashes between peaceful protesters and opposition calling for governmental change resulted in hundreds of deaths by government security forces. The violence has also left thousands of Yemenis displaced, while others have been left homeless.

Mediating efforts have failed to put limits to the escalating violence, with Saleh continuing to refuse to sign a Gulf brokered plan to hand over power, in return for immunity from prosecution.

Persisting poverty, shortages of fuel, rising prices of food and water, and breakdown of public services have surfaced in various guises across the country over the last nine months. The current unrest is likely to place serious negative impacts to the future efforts towards poverty mitigation and would place extensive pressure on the government’s failure to address the situation.

The prevailing political crisis has indeed led to an economic burden at large ─ the currency has crashed, and many well established businesses have shut off their operations, while others have raised their prices due to the shortage of goods. On the other hand, hospitals can’t operate at full capacity, as patients with intensive healthcare requirements cannot be admitted to hospitals due to electricity power cuts.

Add to this the fact that the government has been forced to import almost entirely its fuel from neighboring countries, due to oil shortages after an antigovernment blew up oil pipeline in March.

Residents of the capital, Sana’a, who face terrible living conditions, fear that rising food prices and fuel shortages are a reality they cannot escape. Despite aid and humanitarian assistance from various associations, more funds are required to deal with the current situation. The United States has provided $42.5 million in relief assistance so far this year, according to a statement by the American Embassy in Sana’a. The U.S. assistance announced late June will provide food, water and sanitation, shelter, and health care to refugees in southern Yemen and nearly 300,000 people displaced by the conflict in the country’s north.

In January 2011, the European Commission decided to provide 15 million euros, taking into account improved access in the north. The funds are currently being allocated to international organizations.

It is not just the West that has helped the poor Yemenis. Oman’s air force was enlisted to carry a total of 1,058 tons of relief supplies comprising foodstuff, medicines, medical equipment and other emergency supplies in September. The aid is destined for refugee camps in the governorates of Abyan, Aden and Lahj housing an estimated 21,000 internally displaced Yemenis.

So far, Yemen has received $127.4 million in humanitarian aid according to Kerry Smith, author of global humanitarian site.

In an interview with Al Arabiya on Saturday, Yemen’s Vice President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, however, has expressed concern that starving Yemenis would break out in revolt against the government’s inability to reach a final settlement to the dispute.

He added that Yemeni people are no longer able to bear more of this excruciating crisis which has threatened their security and economic stability.

“We fear that political instability will lead to more hunger and disputes about food pricing; 75 percent of Yemenis are not involved in political spheres but their daily lives are threatened by the country’s internal division,” he said.

During his meeting with ambassadors of the United Nations Security Council Permanent Member Countries, the U.N. Secretary-General’s envoy to Yemen, Jamal bin Omar said that the national council party has welcomed the U.N. resolution of 2014 and will work to apply it in every way possible.

The resolution, which was unanimously adopted, expressed profound regret at the hundreds of deaths in Yemen, mainly of civilians, including women and children. It demanded that Yemeni authorities immediately allow the exercise of the fundamental rights of peaceful assembly and expression, and end attacks against civilians. It stressed that all those responsible for violence, human rights violations and abuses should be held accountable.

Bin Omar was hopeful that a solution to the political crisis was possible and imminent.