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Yemen's salary crisis: 'Help me sell my kidney'

Thousands of women widowed by the conflict are in need of humanitarian assistance [File Photo:Getty]

Date of publication: 27 October, 2016

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As Yemen's warring factions engage in battle, the nation's ongoing salary crisis has pushed civilians to the limit; forcing them to go through extreme measures to survive the deadly conflict.
Thousands of Yemenis have resorted to extreme measures to remain afloat after not receiving salaries for several months, while the two-year conflict continues to drown civilians into further difficulties.

The dire situation has caused suffering for many, including a widow that walked into the local Aden al-Ghad media offices to request assistance in advertising her kidneys so that she could provide for her five children.

The journalists at the office were so moved by the story that they decided to share the tragic plight in a tweet posted on social media platform, Twitter. 

Just hours later, the picture of the woman seen hiding tears behind her black face-veil circulated greatly online. Naturally, it gained so much traction that donations came flooding in – "enough money to last her family at least two years," Editor of Aden al-Ghad, Fathi Lazreq told The New Arab.

But although this particular story ends well, figures show more than half of Yemen’s 22 million population is currently living at emergency levels of food insecurity and need urgent relief – especially in remote rural areas that are often overlooked by humanitarian schemes.

A widow that walked into the local Aden al-Ghad media offices to request assistance in advertising her kidneys so that she could provide for her five children

Devastating images which recently surfaced across the world media have proven to be an uncomfortable sight for many who have ignored the unpopular conflict.

"Malnourished Yemenis of all ages; mere skin and bones sprawled lifeless across the floor as politicians engage in a battle of egos," Aden-based journalist, Nabil Basharahil told The New Arab.

"You cannot even differentiate between the different ages due to the severity of the situation," he added.

In September, the internationally recognised government transferred Yemen’s central bank to Aden after sacking its governor, in what is regarded as an unprecedented move against the Houthis.

President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi demanded the swift relocation to the port city after accusing the rebels of diverting funds from foreign reserves – a claim backed by a UN report that revealed the Houthis were diverting about $100 million from the central bank per month, and that the foreign reserves had dwindled to $1.3 billion from about $4 billion in November 2014.

"The salary crisis is due to this irrational move by the Houthis and their ally Saleh, who used money from the central bank to aid their war efforts," Basharahil argued from the city liberated from Houthi-control last summer.

"The question now is: where is this money, who will search for it and when will it return to the central bank," he asked.

"The reality is this money is being hidden in an undisclosed location and that is what has caused this crisis for millions."

Malnourished Yemenis of all ages; mere skin and bones sprawled lifeless across the floor as politicians engage in a battle of egos

But the region's poorest nation has suffered greatly even prior to the relocation, according to Amal Nasser, economist at the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies.

"As much as we want to blame Houthis for this, we know that the central bank was running out of money (bank notes) since June this year and everybody, including the internationally recognised government, saw this coming," she argued. 

Although the country’s finances had already hit employees in Aden, the latest measure to move the bank prompted an immediate halt in salary payments in Sanaa and other regions controlled by the Houthis and their allies of troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The salary crisis is due to this irrational move by the Houthis and their ally Saleh, who used money from the central bank to aid their war efforts

By any means necessary

In Sanaa, and across much of Yemen, the familiar script is unfortunately repeated for thousands of families.

Abdullah Sarhan is just one of many forced to find alternative means to provide for his family as the warring factions remain steadfast on fighting.

"I had to sell my furniture to put food on the table for my family and ensure that my two children can continue going to school," Sarhan said.

Professor Jamil Aoun said he abandoned his post at Sanaa University to work in a brick factory.

"We have to earn our living," he explained.

Similarly, his colleague Abdullah al-Muammar al-Hakimi made headlines earlier this month when he resorted to selling qat – the mild narcotic leaf popular in the Arabian Peninsula country – to survive.

"Selling qat... is more honourable than begging or having people's blood on one's hands," Hakimi noted in a Facebook post announcing his decision to quit teaching.

The suspension of salaries is the latest sign of economic deterioration in Yemen since the deadly conflict escalated with the intervention of the Saudi-led coalition in March 2015.

Abdullah al-Muammar al-Hakimi made headlines earlier this month when he resorted to selling qat – the mild narcotic leaf popular in the Arabian Peninsula country – to survive

‘Total economic collapse’

"The implications of the delay in paying salaries are immense since it affects about seven million Yemenis who have been living in hard conditions for the past five years," Amal Nasser said. 

"There is the risk of famine," she warned, while noting that it's not an issue of 'suspending' payments but rather an issue of 'inability' to sustain those payments. 

Last month the insurgents managed to raise eight billion riyals ($32 million) after launching a crowdfunding campaign aimed at raising funds from the public to cover for the central bank 

Economist Saeed Abdulmomen warned "an inevitable disaster is on the horizon" for Yemen's finances.

The conflict in Yemen has killed nearly 10,000 people and forced an additional three million to flee their homes since it broke out in March 2015, according to the United Nations.

On Tuesday, the UN’s World Food Programme warned millions of vulnerable Yemenis, already suffering from deteriorating security and political issues across the country, are at risk of severe malnutrition.

"Hunger is increasing every day and people have exhausted all their survival strategies. Millions of people cannot survive without external assistance," said WFP regional director Muhammad Hadi.

WFP's Yemen director Torben Due said "an entire generation could be crippled by hunger".

Agencies contributed to this report

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