By Maram Alabbasi
The story of gas cylinders in Yemen is one of shock and misery. Gas cylinders not only cost double what they used to cost in 2010, but they have lead to the destruction of houses and furniture, and in some cases the injury or death of an entire family.
Yemen Gas Company markets were closed in the capital, Sana’a, for a long time, and only recently began to open to certain markets during the year 2012. This closure brought about a period prosperity for the private gas market during 2011 and 2012.
Nowadays with both private and public sectors employed in the gas industry, prices differ widely in the gas market, though both public and private sectors have committed to reduce prices. Public sectors and companies sell these cylinders for 1200 riyals as fixed by the Yemeni government, but private sectors will sell cylinders for 1250 riyals and sometimes more.
Citizens believe that this reduction is unacceptable, because the reduction did not exceed 12.5 percent. As recently as 2010, gas cylinders cost only 800 riyals, so the difference in price is huge.
The Yemeni market consumes about 24,600 barrels of gas per day, while Sana’a alone consumes 80 thousand cylinders provided by the Yemen Gas Company, stations and companies that follow the private sector in different proportions.
This competition between private and public sectors is seen by gas sellers as unequal. The central issue is that of price; private gas companies complain that 90 riyals is an unsustainable amount of profit, because this amount does not even cover the expenditures of the transportation.
The formal price of 1200 riyals was set a month ago, but this rule is rarely applied. Gas sellers refuse to sell cylinders for 1200 riyals, because they lose money at these prices.
Quality and weight vary among cylinders, and many types of cylinders are sold in the Yemeni gas market. Some varieties include Saudi, Italian, Chinese and Yemeni. According to Borhan Aljamali, gas cylinder vendor, “Yemeni and Chinese cylinders are of poor quality.”
On the contrary, Saudi and Italian cylinders are reliable and well-made. Aljamali added that “though Chinese cylinders look clean and new, these cylinders are actually of poor quality and leak gas more than Saudi or Italian cylinders.” People are attracted by the cleanliness and newness of Chinese cylinders, but discover the poor quality of these cylinders after purchasing them.
Osama Alabsi, consumer of gas cylinders, told National Yemen that, “I always buy Saudi cylinders because of their good quality; besides that, I also test the cylinder before using it.” What Alabsi and many others don’t know is that according to quality standards of gas cylinders, the life span of gas cylinders is only 15 years. These gas cylinders have been in the market since the sixties, according to the Yemen Gas Company. The Company has reported that more than 7 million cylinders in circulation are already expired. Gas cylinders are a critical problem in Yemen. Thirteen riyals are required for gas cylinder maintenance, but this maintenance rarely takes place. Am Nasr Alsalahi, cylinder consumer and housewife, complained that, “these are the same gas cylinders. New Chinese cylinders look nice, but they leak gas.”
Citizens complained that some cylinders are sold only partially loaded with gas; officials in the Yemeni Gas Company say that all cylinders weight the same. Am Malek Mohammed, also, commented, that “some cylinders last longer than others,” though she does not know why. Fraud weights are a widespread problem amongst cylinder consumers, and some complain about the issue frequently. Some of the cylinders simply weigh more than others, and no one knows exactly why.
Some officials in the gas sector believe that many gas cylinders, due to their age, have become nothing more than time bombs. Other cylinders may be equally dangerous because they have been imported to Yemen despite failing to meet quality standards. According to the Gas Cylinders Association, 20 died last year due to expired gas cylinders. Many stories can be told of leaking cylinders and other cylinder issues.
A new practice in Sana’a involves non-automobile owners visiting gas stations to refill their cylinders for however much money they can spare. This is a dangerous practice, because gas station employees unqualified to fill cylinders may overfill a cylinder and cause it to explode.
Every year, 1million dollars are assigned to the maintenance of gas cylinders. To maintain 4 million gas cylinders, 140 million dollars would be needed; the Yemeni government has not managed to keep up with complete cylinder maintenance.
Am Nasr Alsalahi added, “the cylinders are old and gas leaks; we feel unsafe.”
The gas stored in cylinders is supposed to contain a sulphurous substance, which would alert via a strong, sulphurous odor cylinder owners of gas leaking out of cylinders. This substance is not as commonly available as it was before, and now the gas can hardly be smelled as it leaks. Alsalahi added that her cousin had been asleep while her cylinder began to leak. Not noticing anything awry, the sister had awoken and begun to cook; at that moment, she was burned.
Many stories are told in the Al-Jomhori Hospital’s Burn and Cosmetic Center in Sana’a. A man who refused to share his name to prevent his family from learning of his situation, had been visiting his brother’s restaurant when he encountered a cylinder accident. Unable to smell the leaking gas, the man was painfully surprised when the cylinder exploded in his face.
Another painful story is that of Ali Al-Tabna. Al-Tabna woke up at 4 am each day to pray. One morning, during his daily early-morning ritual he traveled to the kitchen to boil water. The leakinjj Ali Al-Tabna’s misery; he is an old man who used to wake up at 4am to pray. That day, he wake up early, went to the kitchen to boil water but the gas cylinder was leaking and it fired him. A small daughter of one of his sons saw him in fire and went to tell her father.
Gas cylinders are considered as bombs in houses. Many tragic stories are there because of expired and not fit cylinders, which are all what the Yemeni citizen got. “This is what we have, I should risk my life and my family’s each day because of gas cylinders,” Alabsi expressed.
By Maram Alabbasi