Sanaa – Fatima Salah, 58, does not sleep in the daytime as many do during the fasting month of Ramadan.
Instead, she wanders the city of Sanaa visiting neighbours and local shops, hoping to obtain enough food to feed her family at night.
“I am exhausted and thirsty because of walking, and I have been fasting without a good breakfast,” Fatima told Al Jazeera, her eyes filling with tears.
“I used to live with dignity in my house, and Ramadan was my best month. The war has deprived us of joy every day. Last Ramadan was fine, but this one is very tough. We fast in the daytime and starve in the night.”
Throughout the Muslim world, Ramadan is meant to be a joyful and spiritual occasion. But in war-torn Yemen, there is little room for joy these days.
The United Nations recently warned that 17 million Yemenis were facing famine, barring urgent humanitarian aid from the international community.
The war, which has continued for more than two years, has thrust many Yemeni families into poverty and despair.
“It is Ramadan, and I am up to my neck in poverty,” Fatima said. “I need food for my family and I need to pay the 20,000 rials [$80] for house rent. I have two ceaseless worries: hunger and eviction.”
This year’s Ramadan has also fallen at a time when Yemen is facing a severe cholera epidemic, with the World Health Organization estimating there have been more than 530 deaths and more than 65,000 suspected cases of cholera since April.
Mohamed al-Mokhdari, a father of 10 who lives in Sanaa, says he is thankful that his children have not caught cholera but unhappy with the overall situation facing Yemenis during the holy month.
“Ramadan is a special time. Unfortunately, I am not feeling the bliss I used to feel prior the war’s breakout in Yemen … Prices of food items are high and money is hard to earn here,” Mokhdari told Al Jazeera, gently stroking his grey beard.
In order to cope, two of his young children have started to collect plastic bottles off the streets and sell them to recycling plants, earning a few dollars a day. Mokhdari himself is unemployed, and the family cannot afford lavish Ramadan feasts; their daily iftar often comprises little more than yoghurt and bread.
“It is difficult. We barely find the basics, rice and bread. Eating meat, chicken and enough vegetables and fruits has become a dream this Ramadan,” he said. “Gone are the days when Ramadan used to have a special taste in my house and everyone’s in Yemen.”
Abdulatif al-Hubaishi, the owner of a grocery shop in Sanaa, said that the demand for food items from his store has been very low this Ramadan.
“There has been a nearly 50 percent decrease in demand compared with last year,” Hubaishi told Al Jazeera. “Even those coming to the store mainly buy sugar, flour and rice. Other items, like sweets, nuts and vegetables, are not in demand because the people can only afford the basics.”
The flocks of shoppers that have been drawn to markets during previous Ramadans have disappeared, as most families no longer have enough money to buy what they need, he added.
“This Ramadan is unprecedented,” he said. “This is the third Ramadan in wartime in Yemen. It is the toughest because salaries of government employees have been withheld for around nine months. Annually, people in Yemen spend more in Ramadan; this year, they have nothing to spend.”
Yemeni economist Saeed Abdulmomin agreed that circumstances have become particularly dire this year.
“Salaries are unpaid, prices have soared and businesses are stagnant,” he told Al Jazeera, noting that the ongoing slide in the value of Yemen’s currency has exacerbated the situation. “The persistent fall of the Yemeni rial against the dollar leads to price hikes, which is a source of agony for the poor across the country.”
Although Ramadan will last just one month, it is unclear how much longer Yemen’s quagmire will drag on.
Source: Al Jazeera