Yemenis worn down by war and poverty

Yemeni civilians are increasingly frustrated by deteriorating living conditions after more than three years of war.

SANAA - In a scene typical of war-battered Yemen, taxi driver Fahed Othman had been waiting to fill up at a petrol station in the Yemeni capital for two days, but when his turn finally came the fuel had run out.

"I don't have any other choice but to wait," the 35-year-old said wearily.

Hundreds of Yemenis queue up at petrol stations every day in the rebel-held city of Sanaa, with residents increasingly frustrated by deteriorating living conditions after more than three years of war.

The conflict, deepened by a Saudi-led blockade, has triggered crippling shortages, which in turn has caused prices to skyrocket.

Cooking gas, diesel and petrol have all increased by more than 25 percent since November 2017, according to the UN's humanitarian agency (OCHA).

While the Huthi rebels accuse the Yemeni army and its Saudi-led allies of blocking fuel supplies, others say rebel authorities and merchants are taking advantage of the dire situation to make a quick buck.

Black market sales

Sanaa resident Ahmed al-Rawdi, pointing to a petrol station behind him, said the pump had been closed because those who run it claimed to have no more fuel.

"Merchants are trying to exploit the situation by storing the fuel to sell it on the black market," he said.

Huthi authorities said Tuesday there have been fuel shortages since the end of last week, as Saudi-backed government forces launched a series of attacks on rebel-held Hodeida ending an 11-week pause in the battle for vital Red Sea port.

In November, the Saudi-led coalition announced a total blockade on Hodeida following a rebel missile attack that targeted Riyadh.

That embargo was eased under international pressure, with humanitarian organisations sounding the alarm over Hodeida, a lifeline for air and fuel shipments into the Arab world's poorest country.

Wrapping up a visit to Yemen on Wednesday, David Miliband, a former British foreign minister and head of the International Rescue Committee, an aid organisation, described "long lines of 50 cars waiting at gas stations for up to 24 hours" in Sanaa.

"Poverty in the face of very rapidly rising food prices and lack of medical goods are contributing to real trauma as well as real danger, especially for young children and infants," Miliband said.

In a stark warning, Save The Children said that more than five million children were now at risk of famine in Yemen, highlighting the fate of Hodeida.

Apart from reducing food supplies, any "disruption (in the port)... could drive up the price of fuel - and as a result transport - to such an extent that families can't even afford to take their sick children to hospital," said the organisation's CEO, Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

The head of the Huthis' political council, Mahdi al-Mashat, has warned against illegally jacking up fuel prices.

Merchants found to be "hiding fuel or raising the prices" will be detained, he said in a statement carried by the rebel-run Saba news agency.

'Too much to endure'

Mohsen Mheimed, a 38-year-old contractor in Sanaa, has not worked in four days because he has been unable to find enough fuel.

"I have to wait for a couple of days to fill up just one car, and in the meantime I can't do my job," he said.

Saudi Arabia and its allies say they continue to enforce an air and maritime embargo to prevent weapons shipments from Iran to the Huthis.

The rebels seized the Red Sea coast along with the capital Sanaa and much of the north in 2014.

The coalition intervened in March of the following year, when President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi fled into exile as the rebels closed in on his last refuge, in Yemen's second city Aden.

The Yemeni riyal has since then lost more than two-thirds of its value against the US dollar. This week, the central bank raised interest rates to a record 27 percent in a bid to stabilise the riyal.

Sufwan al-Khulani, in his twenties, said the country and its people were being "destroyed" by the war, which has claimed nearly 10,000 lives.

"It's just too much to endure," he said. "We are constantly looking for ways to get petrol... to get anything really."