Taiz in the line of fire

Hanan Al-Hakry , Saturday 8 Jan 2022

In the absence of international monitoring, the Yemeni city of Taiz is falling apart

Taiz in the line of fire
A section of the Ashrafiya Mosque in Taiz (photo: AFP)

Despite its strategic location, Taiz city has been shredded by the ongoing war in Yemen, its residents’ rights lost to negligence.

Taiz is controlled by the Islamist Islah Party, also known as the Yemeni Congregation for Reform, which knows all too well the value of this city surrounded by mountains as a military asset and security haven.

Once dubbed the cultural capital of Yemen, Taiz is located in the southwest, near the port of Mocha, the gateway to exporting the world-famous coffee beans which gave the drink its name.

Taiz also overlooks Bab Al-Mandab Strait, the international waterway which connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and acts as a strategic link between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea via the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. The strait has great strategic importance, especially with Europe counting on importing oil from the Gulf through it. Bab Al-Mandab’s vitality could be maximised if an international road was built to link Mocha with Djibouti.

The Yemeni city of Taiz has tremendous potential but it suffers from economic, social and educational negligence. It is under siege intellectually and socially as well as economically. The economy is plummeting due to incredible inflation, with the US dollar costing 1,720 Yemeni riyals and the Saudi riyal 450.

Economic decline has driven citizens to protest, which eventually led to the price of the dollar going down to 1,368 Yemeni riyals and the Saudi riyal to 135. This didn’t last very long, however, with banks refusing to sell foreign currency and only buying them. This created a problem for the families who send remittances to students and patients to buy food. Meanwhile, aid organisations have reported that relief materials are not sufficient.

In Taiz basic commodities are not available, the shops are almost empty, and fruits and vegetables come from Hawban, a part of the region controlled by the Houthis. A trip to the market is mission impossible that can only be undertaken in four-wheel drives that transport passengers along with vegetables and fruits through extremely rugged roads called Akroad. These roads are closed after sunset and a line of fire is formed instead. If travellers are late, they are forced to go through an even more rugged and dangerous road, Samea, with women and children braving terrifying heights. The travellers may be subjected to killing or looting too.

Butane is a rare commodity. According to the sources that spoke to this reporter, about 10 or 15 people receive a butane gas cylinder every month, while some have to wait up to six months.

Protests erupted on the streets of Taiz in December demanding that the city should receive its share of butane gas cylinders. The demonstrators said the oil company doesn’t provide Taiz with its share and instead disburses it to other bodies.

The majority of Taiz doctors had left the city for other places where the national currency is somewhat stable against foreign currencies. There are only two paediatricians in the besieged city, a few inexperienced physicians, and three experienced doctors who chose to remain in the city they loved but are working under terrible conditions.

The prices of medicine are rising with the increase in the price of the US dollar and the Saudi riyal. Some pharmacists reported a rise of 200 per cent in one month, pointing out that it won’t go down even if the exchange rate decreases.

Taiz protesters demonstrated against the price hikes and the unavailability of salaries. Even the lucky few who receive their wages don’t find them enough to cover their basic needs. The people of Taiz resort to buying smuggled medicine, especially those with chronic diseases, such as diabetics and hypertension and heart disease patients.

Relief work is limited to the Keralty organisation, which is opening a branch in Al-Turbah, affiliated to the city of Taiz, in partnership with the Hayel Saeed Anam Group, a source told Al-Ahram Weekly. It provides relief to about 70 per cent of the population, while the rest cannot communicate with the organisation.

The people who receive aid usually share it with others. The organisation provides two sacks of flour (25 kg and 50 kg) and two bottles of oil (five and eight litres). In light of the absence of supervision by the organisation, some distributors deliver only the larger pack only.

The UNICEF has installed drinking water tanks in some streets and, according to the source, provides some medicines for chronic diseases and the elderly. Unfortunately, the medicines reach less than five per cent of the people of who need them and does not reach other places such as Wadi Al-Qadi, and some areas of Nasiriyah and Bir Pasha. Many of the needy hope relief materials will reach them, but this requires management and supervision on the part of the relief organisation.

The poor economic situation of Taiz led some of its executives and public sector workers to resort to looting the houses of widows and divorced women who were living off their inheritance. Corruption has proliferated in some judicial circles and among policemen, sources told the Weekly. Sadly, in Taiz, such crimes go unpunished.

The Yemeni media reported incidents of assault against judges due to their corruption, such as the armed attack on a preliminary court judge on 24 January 2021. Taiz judges have demanded tight security measures, which the Hadi government provides for a hefty price.

On the other hand, some lawyers are complaining that judges are present for work only once a week, which leads to the holdup of cases in courts, resulting in the spread of further injustices in the city.

Women are suffering all across Yemen, but in Taiz women’s conditions are worse than elsewhere. They are not even allowed to go to a police station to file a complaint without being accompanied by a guardian, otherwise they are subjected to verbal abuse. Some women who called the police to their homes were done injustice when their offenders bribed the responders.

However, the Yemenis are hopeful that the US envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking will act to drive the international community to resolve the situation. “We remain deeply concerned by credible reporting of human rights violations and abuses in Yemen by all parties to the conflict, including the unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers, torture, sexual violence and the use of starvation as a weapon of war,” Lenderking said.

A version of this article appears in print in the 6 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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