Political Analysis

Yemenis In Taiz Struggle To Meet Basic Needs

National Yemen

Taiz, Yemen – Conditions in Taiz – Yemen’s third-largest city, located 260km south of the capital Sanaa – have worsened dramatically since fighting came to the city in late March.

Residents of Taiz have found it difficult to obtain many basic commodities, which are no longer sold in markets. Fuel is in short supply, and food prices in Taiz have doubled since the clashes began, with 95 percent of local supermarkets shut down, residents say. Compounding the situation, many residents have also been forced to stop working.

Rafat Yaseen, a 25-year-old living in Taiz’s al-Masbah neighbourhood, says he lost his job as a marketer for al-Waseet newspaper amid an economic downturn brought on by the ongoing violence. He now devotes his time trying to obtain the basic necessities for his family and neighbours.

“Most of the residents have been unable to leave their houses because of the violent clashes in the city. I stay alert when the clashes halt, so as to rush outside to bring the basic things we need,” Yaseen told Al Jazeera.

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In order to buy bread or drinking water, Yaseen stands in line for hours at one of the few remaining open supermarkets in Taiz, paying much more than these goods used to cost. A 4,000-litre tank of water now costs 12,000 Yemeni rials ($56), compared to 4,000 Yemeni rials ($19) before the war.

The whole country has been in the grip of a massive humanitarian crisis since a Saudi-led coalition began bombing Yemen in an effort to stymie the advances of the Houthi rebels, who overran parts of the country and forced President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi into exile earlier this year. Shelling in Taiz has continued to hit civilians, Yaseen noted.

“There are some supermarkets and shops still open, but their owners sold out what they have stored and there is no more supply left,” he said. “The price of a 50kg wheat bag reached 11,000 Yemeni rials [$51], while it used to be sold for 4,500 Yemeni rials [$21].”

So far, al-Hawban – the northern entrance to Taiz governorate, and the first part of Taiz to fall under the Houthis’ control – is the only neighbourhood in Taiz that has not witnessed fighting, and life there remains relatively normal, despite a spike in the prices of basic goods. Fareed al-Homaid, a Taiz-based journalist who used to work for the Yemen Times, told Al Jazeera: “The special forces loyal to the Houthis took over al-Hawban area, and there are no anti-Houthi armed men active there. That is why it is a calm area.”

In a press conference in Riyadh late last month, Yemeni Information Minister Nadia al-Saqqaf declared the Taiz, Aden, and al-Dhale governorates to be “afflicted” amid the ongoing fighting. According to Homaid, relief organisations have been unable to help residents in these areas due to the clashes. Many other governorates throughout the country are in similar situations, with a desperate need for humanitarian assistance.

Yemeni Human Rights Minister Ezzadeen al-Asbahi said late last month that nine million Yemenis were in urgent need of medical services, while 365,000 houses have been destroyed, as well as many hospitals. More than 300,000 Yemenis have been internally displaced, while hundreds of others have left the country by boat for Djibouti.

Sadaam al-Abdini, assistant programme manager of the Yemen branch of the Islamic Relief aid organisation, told Al Jazeera that his group, along with several others, have been working jointly to distribute aid to conflict zones in Yemen, but they do not have enough goods to keep up with the demand.

“[Over two weeks], we distributed 1,000 food baskets in Aden and 1,000 others in Taiz, and 2,000 in Amran. In the coming days, we will distribute 1,000 others in Marib. In addition to that, we have started to distribute medicine in Aden,” Abdini said.

Each food basket contains a sack of wheat, vermicelli, milk, sugar and cheese. According to Abdini, Islamic Relief had been purchasing these goods from Sanaa and sending them to other governorates while international aid was unavailable.

Airplanes temporarily stopped landing at Sanaa’s airport, whose runway was destroyed in late April, after a coalition air strike aimed at preventing an Iranian plane from landing. Aid flights have since resumed.

“We still need a lot of food and emergency medical supplies, and what we have done so far does not solve a quarter of the problem, as the people really need help,” Abdini said, noting another aid ship reached the Aden port late last week, but the aid has not yet been distributed.

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Ahmed Qaed, who has received Islamic Relief food baskets in Taiz, told Al Jazeera that hundreds of other local families have not been able to access the aid because they were not aware of what the process was. “I had to share the food basket that I got with my neighbour as he was in need of food in this severe crisis,” Qaed said.

Abdini acknowledged that there are many people who need aid in Taiz, and his organisation has not been able to reach all of them.

During the last week of April, meanwhile, UNICEF said it delivered 78 metric tonnes of emergency medical supplies to the Aden port for distribution to local hospitals, according to a report released this month. An additional 32 metric tonnes of UNICEF supplies arrived at the Hodeida port a few days later, containing enough food to meet the needs of 4,500 children under the age of five suffering from severe acute malnutrition, for a period of one month.

In addition, UNICEF said it has provided nearly 420,000 litres of fuel to ensure that municipal water systems supplying more than two million people in Yemen’s worst-affected regions continue to function.

Along with the international aid, some local people have organised initiatives to try to alleviate the dire humanitarian situation. Akram al-Sharjabi, 32, has helped take displaced people from the zones targeted by air strikes inside Sanaa to public schools in the city, providing them with some of the basic daily necessities. The situation for Yemen’s displaced people has been worsening daily, Sharjabi told Al Jazeera.

“New displaced people arrived on Friday from Sadaa governorate, and we hardly had room for them,” Sharjabi said. “Sadaa’s displaced people have taken advantage of the [negotiated five-day] truce to leave the governorate, which they think is not safe any more for them to live in.”

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