'How could we celebrate while starving?' asks Yemeni on country's 55th Independence Day

Views from across the country tell familiar story of economic hardship

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Yemenis across the country have expressed an almost identical sense of fatigue and disillusionment with the status quo on the nation's 55th Independence Day.

November 30 also marks what some Yemenis call the Day of Evacuation, when the last British soldier left Aden 55 years ago.

Speaking to The National, people across several governorates spoke of national pride for what the day represents but said it was overshadowed by economic hardships and what many see as a hopeless future.

"This year's Independence Day is no different from the years before because we have been living in the same conditions for a decade," said Sheikh Abdul Karim Mohammad, a father of seven from the southern governorate of Ibb.

He was referring to the events of 2011 when then-president Ali Abdullah Saleh resigned amid vast protests in Sanaa, three years before the Houthi takeover of the capital.

Mr Mohammad said the abundance of different factions in Yemen, all of which are "plotting against one another" showed their "disregard" for the special occasion.

"This day used to be celebrated and planned for across the country but after the so-called [Houthi] revolution, the political components became a fait accompli authority over the people."

Mr Mohammad, like many others, has little hope for what has yet to come.

Thousands of Yemenis rally in the city of Ibb, 190 kms southwest of Sanaa, on September 19, 2011 against the deadly clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces in the capita Sanaa. AFP PHOTO/STR
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He said: "We expect further deterioration in conditions with the ongoing fuel shortages and closure of roads across governorates, all of which has led to a steep decline in the standard of living."

Further south in Taiz, the isolation is felt even more prominently.

The Houthi militia failed to fulfil its obligation to lift a siege on Taiz which began in 2015, under a UN-brokered truce which was supposed to be renewed on October 2 but fell apart amid a series of Houthi attacks.

"Dozens" of civilians have died while attempting to take alternative, long and hostile roads to flee Taiz, which cross rugged and barren mountains, human rights groups said.

To circumvent the deadlock, a plan was put in place to open an airport in Mokha in Taiz — providing a new gateway for incoming aid in the future. But the project is still underway and has yet to start facilitating an influx of assistance.

Vehicles on a heavily damaged road, the only route between Taiz and Aden. AFP

"National occasions are rendered meaningless because their importance is dictated by whoever holds power," says student Alaa Ahmed, a resident of the governorate of about 600,000 people.

"Yemenis have become free of colonialism but at the same time, we are under a number of oppressors.

"Every year in the life of a Yemeni becomes harder than the one before. The economy is on its deathbed, services cost more every day, ports are closed and the ones benefitting the most are warlords and arms dealers."

Yemen's real GDP fell by almost half from 2010 to 2020, World Bank Figures show.

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In Aden, now the de facto capital and the heart of national day celebrations, the outlook is not much different.

"There are no plans for celebrations or passion for political will. The plans we have are on how to find food to put on the table, or a feeling of security," said lawyer Faisal Abdel Hafeth.

"People used to go out on the streets to celebrate when things were more stable. They used to sing."

Now, Mr Abdel Hafeth says, the future looks bleak.

"Yemen has entered a dark tunnel with no way out," he said. "People are looking abroad for reprieve. We used to be a happy country, one of tourism, and now we're living in destruction."

In central Yemen's oil-rich governorate of Marib, a recent surge in violence has the potential to worsen an already dire situation.

Marib's case is particular because of its vital role as the country's economic driver while remaining impoverished and lacking in basic infrastructure and development projects.

It is also a go-to destination for internally displaced people, with the number having risen from 360,000 in 2014 to three million in 2020, the Sanaa Centre for Strategic Studies reported.

Summing the general feeling in Yemen, humanitarian volunteer Naji Ashhal, a resident of Marib, asks: "How could a starving person celebrate?"

Additional reporting by Abdulraheem Al Aqab

Updated: November 30, 2022, 7:15 AM
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