Sanaa livestock market sales are slow ahead of Eid al-Adha

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As Yemen prepares for one of the Muslim calendar’s most important dates, trade at Sana’a’s livestock market is slow.

Eid al-Adha commemorates the biblical prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son to God, and is the second most important festival in the Muslim calendar. All Muslims who can afford it sacrifice livestock -- usually a sheep or goat -- as a reminder of Abraham's obedience to God.

But poverty and high food prices in turmoil-hit Yemen -- the region's poorest country -- have deterred many who cannot afford to buy the traditional sacrificial animal.

“The monopoly of the market and the high prices are outrageous, they have reached a level people could not have imagined. People can barely afford a kilo of meat, let alone a whole animal to sacrifice,” said one Sana’a resident at the capital's livestock market.

Yemen has been in turmoil since last year’s revolt against 33 years of rule by Ali Abdullah Saleh when already weak state control in outlying regions broke down as the army split into pro- and anti-Saleh factions and al-Qaeda militants occupied some areas.

Now nearly half of Yemenis go to bed hungry every night as political instability compounds a global food and fuel price surge, giving the Arabian Peninsula state the world’s third-highest rate of child malnutrition, the World Food Program reported earlier this year.

Forced to import most of its food needs because of a paucity of arable land, Yemen has suffered from a rise in global food and fuel prices, the WFP says.

“The poor are unable to meet any of the requirements of the Eid, they cannot afford even half a kilo of meat,” said one woman at the livestock market.

It’s traditional to remember the poor during Eid, and is obligatory to give money to charity to help the poor buy new clothes and food so they too can celebrate.

But one trader says many Yemenis have no money to do so.

“People's buying power is very weak, due to a number of factors. There are no salaries, the salaries are very poor, and we’ve just come out of a crisis, and all people's savings have been spent,” said trader Mansour Shawai.

Five million people, or 22 percent of the population, can't feed themselves or buy enough to feed themselves. Most are landless laborers, so they don’t grow their own food, and with the high food prices they can’t afford to buy it either, say the WFP.

Another five million are also hard hit by high food prices and on the edge of not being able to afford food, meaning up to 10 million people in Yemen go to bed hungry every night.

The number of people receiving daily WFP food rations has risen from 1.2 million in January to over 3.8 million, but poor infrastructure and fear of kidnappings by tribes have complicated the logistics of providing food aid, as has the political instability, conflict, and huge population displacement.

Thirteen percent of Yemeni children were now acutely malnourished as a result of the political and economic strains of the past year, giving Yemen the third-highest rate of child malnutrition in the world, the WFP says.

Another Sana’a resident says Yemen urgently needs stable government and investment in the country’s future.

“The policies of the old government are being reflected on the present, and may continue into the future unless there is strategic planning to move this country forward politically, culturally, intellectually,” said Ali al-Bakari.

Saleh was forced to stand down in February after over 2,000 people died. International donors have pledged $1.46 billion in aid to the country of 24 million.

Restoring stability has become an international priority for fear Islamist militants will further entrench themselves in a country neighboring top oil exporter Saudi Arabia and lying on major world shipping lanes.

Central government also faces a campaign of suicide attacks and assassinations by militants in revenge for army operations and U.S. missile strikes against them.