With war, Yemenis’ misery is compounded
SANA\'A - Yasser Abdo has closed his business in his native Taiz and fled with his family to the relative safety of Sana’a. Despite intensive aerial bombardments in the Yemeni capital, the 38-year-old parent is happy to be out of Taiz, which he called “the city of death and destruction”.
“We had to shut down our entertainment park in the city centre and flee,” he said.
“Our park was the only in-town fun and entertainment facility for families and children. People visited us for recreation and to spend joyful and happy time with their loved ones. Unfortunately, there is no more happy time, no more happy place in Taiz at the moment.”
The war sweeping Yemen engulfed the southern province of Taiz in April, making Abdo among more than 1.3 million internally displaced Yemenis. They have been driven from their homes by fighting pitting Iran-backed Houthi rebels and allied troops to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh against Sunni fighters and troops loyal to President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, supported by a Saudi-led Arab military coalition.
Taiz is among 16 provinces affected by the conflict in the country where 42% of the population lived below the poverty line before the current fighting started, according to the World Bank. A few months after the outbreak of fighting, the United Nations declared Yemen among its top humanitarian emergencies, warning that it was a step away from famine.
Underlining the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian conditions in Taiz, home for 1 million people, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen Johannes van der Klaauw said: “The city has been turned into a battleground with people caught between frontlines, and rendered more vulnerable by the collapse of critical services like water, sanitation and health services.”
“The economy and basic services are collapsing. Food insecurity is growing rapidly, with food supplies and agricultural inputs only sporadically available and significantly more expensive,” van der Klaauw added in an interview with The Arab Weekly.
Most Taiz residents fled to relatively safer areas in the countryside after the city was shelled by both sides in the conflict, killing and injuring hundreds of civilians.
The crisis has escalated in recent months, wreaking havoc in several regions of Yemen. Disorder and lawlessness provided fertile soil for the spreading of violence and bloodshed. According to the United Nations, an estimated 21.1 million people — more than 80% of Yemen’s population — require urgent humanitarian assistance as a result of escalating conflict and drastically reduced imports.
The August 2015 Food Security Outlook Updates by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) indicates that more than 50% of the Yemeni population lives under severe food insecurity.
Those displaced live in harsh conditions either in schools, public buildings, deserted areas or with their extended families, relying almost exclusively on humanitarian aid to subsist.
Massive layoffs, collapse of public services, skyrocketing prices of basic commodities exacerbated the humanitarian situation. Yemen has been in turmoil for years and the latest war has worsened an already dire situation.
The conflict forced many businesses to stop operating. With major private and public factories bombed, either by Houthi rebels or coalition air strikes, hundreds of thousands of skilled and unskilled labourers have lost income. The situation is aggravated by an ongoing power outage and sharp fuel shortage.
Mahmoud Esmail, 23, worked at a restaurant in Taiz to earn enough money to get into the Taiz College of Medicine. “I had a dream to become a doctor and help the poor like me but the restaurant I work in shut down five months ago. I lost my job and I depleted all my savings attempting to survive,” Esmail said. The young man, who returned to his home village since the conflict escalated in Taiz, added desperately, “I have lost my dream to go to college, too.”
Abdo had to lay off his entire staff of 110 people who ran his amusement park in Taiz.
“Each worker was a breadwinner for a family and sometimes for more than one family,” he said. “Can you imagine how many families have been deprived of income as a result of the forced closure?”
Owners of private enterprises such as Abdo incurred huge losses.
“The entire market community has collapsed in the war, including suppliers, service providers, large factories and huge businesses in the entire country,” he said.
“Don’t forget street vendors and unskilled labourers as well!”
Abdo paused and then concluded: “The war is ugly and has catastrophic impact.”