Yemeni civilians struggle through ‘invisible crisis’ during Ramadan

A Yemeni child carries a box as families affected by the country's ongoing conflict receive food rations provided by a local charity during the fasting month of Ramadan on June 15, 2016. (AFP)

For most Muslims, the holy fasting month of Ramadan is a time of peace that brings families together, but not for Yemen’s population of 24 million.

High food prices, little electricity, a humanitarian crisis and near-constant bombings from a 15-month-long conflict are causing misery in a normally joyful season.

Although people are trying their best to enjoy Ramadan, Yemen’s “hard and tough” situation is making life especially difficult, said Taiz-based human rights activist Ahmed al-Qadhi.

One of the biggest tragedies this Ramadan is that children have been deprived of their basic rights, Qadhi told Al Arabiya English.

Children “used to enjoy Ramadan every year, but this year they were deprived of safety, of play and joy.”

Qadhi explained that in his southwestern hometown, which he describes as a “city of life and pain,” civilians find it difficult to visit scattered families during Ramadan due to a siege on Yemen’s third-largest city by Houthi militias, which is depriving civilians of basic humanitarian needs.

Markets in Taiz lack many of the foods that locals enjoy during the holy month. With no electricity for more than a year, demand for gas has drastically increased.

Infographic: Yemen

Infographic: Yemen

A report published by the UN’s food agency this month found that the escalated conflict has “damaged public and private infrastructure” and “destabilized the market system and prices,” causing dramatic price rises in food and fuel.

“Gas prices are very high,” Qadhi said. Prices of gas cylinders in Taiz have risen this year by 200 percent. Last year, a gas cylinder cost 1,500 Yemeni riyals ($6). Prices this year stand at 4,500 ($18).

The average price of commodities in Yemen has increased in most of the governorates, according to Yemen’s Ministry of Planning & International Cooperation (MOPIC).

The price of produce such as wheat flour has increased by 22.25 percent compared to the pre-crisis period of Feb. 2015, according to MOPIC.

Electricity shortages

Jamie McGoldrick, the U.N.’s humanitarian chief for Yemen, said his staff on the ground have reported frequent electricity outages across the country, with many receiving only a few hours of power a day.

The shortages make Ramadan “difficult for families, and the lack of power supplies affect health and other facilities,” McGoldrick said, adding that sweltering temperatures in coastal areas make life there even worse.

Ramadan in Yemen

A university student based in Yemen’s capital Sanaa told Al Arabiya English that her family had taken to using solar panels and generators.

“One of the main difficulties that we face is that without [enough] electricity we don’t have a fridge, so we need to go to the market to get food every day otherwise it won’t keep," Safa Nabeel said. However, she considers herself lucky - her relatives in the port city of Aden suffer far more.

Marwa Gamal, a resident in Aden, told Al Arabiya English that this Ramadan had become “unbearable” due to the heat, “but we have hope that things will improve.”

Ramadan deaths

More than 6,400 people have been killed in Yemen since the Arab coalition began its campaign against Houthi militias, which have controlled Sanaa since Sept. 2014.

With no agreement in sight between the warring sides, the conflict has had a devastating effect on Yemenis.

Earlier this month, just days before Ramadan began, a market in Taiz bustling with shoppers was hit by shells, according to a UN spokeswoman. The attack killed 12 civilians and injured 122.

A series of rocket and mortar attacks continued over the next few days, killing six more and injuring dozens.

According to several victims, the shelling originated from the eastern part of the city, which is under the control of the Houthis and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

“Everyone in Taiz predicts death anytime due to day-and-night heavy shelling on their houses, buildings and even crowded markets,” local activist Mohammed al-Rumim told Al Arabiya English.

The “non-stop shelling” on residential areas by Houthi militias has killed many children, women and elderly people, Rumim added.

‘Immeasurable’ crisis

Although the fragile ceasefire that started on April 11 has improved humanitarian access, civilians are still facing an “immeasurable” crisis, the United Nations said this month.

McGoldrick said the truce, which began 10 days before the Houthis and Yemen’s government began U.N.-brokered peace talks in Kuwait, had allowed aid to access previously hard-to-reach areas.

He called Yemen’s war “an invisible crisis,” voicing regret at the lack of global concern given to the country compared to Syria. Limited progress has been made at the peace talks.

Qadhi said Yemenis just wish for a stable country, especially this Ramadan. “We want to live peacefully.”

 

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 12:05 - GMT 09:05
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