Only chicken for Aidiladha in besieged Yemen town

TAEZ, YEMEN (AFP) – In the courtyard of his modest home in Taez, a Yemeni town besieged by Huthi rebels, Fadel al-Sbei feeds two chickens to be slaughtered for Aidiladha.

The father of six earns just two dollars a day as a dispatch rider, meaning that the goat, mutton, camel and beef traditionally served at Aidiladha are out of reach.

He is not alone, in a country where a grinding war has plunged the population into what the United Nations (UN) has labelled the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Many Yemenis live in extreme poverty and in Taez many have left the animal markets empty-handed because of spiralling prices, as the Yemeni riyal (YER) has plunged in all areas under government control.

“The situation is extremely bad,” Fadel told AFP. “I went to the market to buy animals to sacrifice and everything was too expensive. I wasn’t able to buy anything.

“Sheep and goats sell for between YER150,000 and YER200,000 (USD150 to USD200). I had to buy chicken for the day of Aidiladha,” lamented Fadel, who said they cost just YER20,000 apiece, all he could manage.

A boy looks at a giant Yemeni flag flying at the historic 12th Century citadel of al-Qahira in Yemen’s third city of Taez, on July 18. PHOTO: AFP

“Even clothes are extremely expensive and I couldn’t buy any. Life is very difficult,” he said.

The Yemeni riyal hit its lowest level in more than seven years of conflict against the dollar this month in areas under government control. In such areas, one dollar buys more than YER1,000.

Taez, besieged since 2015, is one of the areas worst affected by the conflict which erupted in 2014.

Ringed by mountains and home to around 600,000 people, the town has been brutally bombarded by rebels.

“The prices are crazy, completely crazy,” said Taez resident Mohammed al-Sharaabi. “We can’t buy goats because they cost between YER150,000 and YER200,000 riyals… This year it’s difficult to buy animals for sacrifice because of the suffocating crisis and the strength of the dollar and the Saudi riyal. We’re in a pitiful state.”

Five million people are on the brink of famine, while some 50,000 people in Yemen are living in famine-like conditions – the first time such critical levels of hunger have been reached in two years, according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

Food prices have jumped 200 per cent compared to pre-war levels, with some 80 per cent of Yemenis now dependent on international food aid, according to the WFP.

The war in Yemen began in 2014, with the fall of the capital Sanaa to Huthi rebels opposed to forces loyal to the government.

The rebels now control a major part of Yemen’s north, including Sanaa.

Conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives, according to humanitarian organisations, and displaced millions.

Yemeni economist Salem al-Maqtari warned of more dire consequences if the Yemeni currency continues its freefall.

“It’s the people who will pay the price,” he said.