Archive | January, 2011

Health risks of plastic bags

31 Jan

This meal covered with plastic seems safe but many people are not aware of the possible long-term health dangers of covering food in this manner.YT photo by Malak ShaherMalak ShaherPublished:31-01-2011

The rising steam off the hot corn from the pan looks just too tempting for ordinary people. No oil was used to cook it, and it will not cause any harm to the heart as it does not increase cholesterol in the blood.However, there is a hidden danger for those who like boiled potatoes and steamed corn, and their health is in danger in the long run. This danger comes not from the vegetables, but from the plastic bags they are put in.

“I do not find any obvious danger when I use plastic bags to put corn in,” said Sadeq Abdulkawi, a steamed-corn seller.

The danger lies in the process that occur after the very hot potato or corn is put in the plastic bag. Toxic chemicals from the bags can dissolve upon contact with the hot food and leach into the food before it is eaten. These chemicals from the bags can cause long-term health problems. This leaching of dangerous chemicals into food can occur whenever restaurants and take-away shops to cover hot food in plastic.

All over the world, people talk about the dangers of using plastic bags. However, in Yemen, we face an additional danger as plastic bags made in Yemen often contain more dangerous materials that could affect our health even faster, said Abdulaleem Al-Hashimi, from the Yemen Association for Customer Protection.

The association said that the plastic bags are dangerous to the health as they cause many diseases in the long run. They recommend that consumers not use plastic bags where possible, especially with hot foods.The plastic bags also affect the environment badly as they can take decades or even hundreds of years to breakdown.

All types of plastic bags are unhealthy and environmentally unfriendly, however, the most dangerous type of plastic bags are the black ones. The common black plastic bag is the worst as it is produced from the waste materials used in manufacturing other plastic bags and from other materials used in the oil industry.

In Yemen, the industries that manufacture plastic bags do not follow safety standards, say health experts. Moreover, people in Yemen use plastic bags extensively. They are the first and most popular choice of container in Yemen.

The extensive use of plastic bags, which has polluted the environment and threatened people’s health, has led the government to recently conduct a strict campaign in factories producing bags in Yemen. Last week, the Environment Protection Authority started conducting operations in shops around Sana’a to confiscate and stop the circulation of plastic bags, according to the head of the authority, Mohammad Al-Asbahi.

Al-Asbahi said that around 12 percent of plastic bags in Yemen are manufactured in factories in the capital Sana’a, with the rest coming from other governorates or even from outside Yemen. Since last Saturday, Al-Asbahi said that there has been a massive campaign in all the districts of Sana’a against plastic bags that are dangerous to both people and the environment. The plastic bag confiscation campaign will later involve other Yemeni governorates.

According to a Ryadh Abdulkareem, head of the Environmental Health Administration at Al-Safia district, he supervised the confiscation of more than 140 boxes, containing some 280,000 plastic bags.

Abdulkareem provided the Yemen Times with a copy of a letter from the Ministry of General Works and Roads that stated they should confiscate all plastic bags that are not able to breakdown quickly.

The letter is based on articles 39 and 99 of the General Code of Cleanliness. According to Abdulkareem, all plastic bags should contain a material called B2W, that helps the bags dissolve in a maximum of two or three years. He said that they will distribute posters recommending not to use plastic bags that do not contain this material. Bags containing B2W should be labelled so that consumers can recognize the bags that are environmentally friendly and healthy.

“There will be a very strict campaign against those who still sell such bags [not containing B2W],” said Abdulkareem. The cabinet will allow factories to continue producing plastic bags so long as they use the B2W additive that helps the bags dissolve faster.

Ordinary plastic bags can take more than 40 years to dissolve back into the soil, and can release dangerous chemicals into the soil when they breakdown, according to Al-Hashimi. He added that there are many products other than plastic bags that contain dangerous chemicals that can poison the soil when they breakdown.

The cabinet issued an order in 2008 that banned the use of black plastic bags and that violations could be tried before the law, according to the association. Until people are aware of the dangers of plastic bags, especially the black ones, the association is joining forces with the cabinet and the Environmental Health Administration to spread awareness in the community of the dangers posed by plastic bags.

According to the Al-Asbahi at least five plastic bags are used in Yemeni households every day

Women trained in traditional crafts at Sana’ani Heritage House

13 Jan
Amatalrazaq Ghaf, head of the Sana’ani Heritage House, displays hand-made items made by graduates of a recent craft production training course.
photos by Malak Shaher

Malak Shaher

Yemen Times

Published:13-01-2011

The Sana’ani Heritage House held a traditional graduation party this week for the first group of young women who completed their craft training at the house.

The course in traditional crafts lasted for three months from the beginning of July until the end of September. It was financed by the Liquid Natural Gas Company in Yemen (LNG).

The first 45 young women who participated in the training completed courses in a variety of fields, including sewing, embroidery and making bags. For many it was also a unique chance to learn the arts of preparing traditional Sana’ani food.

“Despite the fact that I am a Sana’ani girl, I learned to cook different Sana’ani dishes that we no longer prepare at home. This experience took us back to a time when we were little children and reminded us of our grandmother’s food,” said Iman Al-Hamzi, 25.

Iman Al-Hamzi, her sister and two of her cousins were among the first 45 participants. At the graduation party this week Tuesday, Jan. 11 2011, they shared their joy and some of their newly acquired knowledge with the Yemen Times.

Hana Al-Hamzi said she had learned not only about cooking but also how food affects one’s health.

Two men in Sana’ni traditional dress singing at the graduation party for craft course trainees. YT photo by Malak Shaher

“Beside the different dishes I learned nutritional facts about Sana’ani food,” she said.

“For example, Al-Salta, a very famous dish in Sana’a, contains a lot of fats and we should not have this dish too often. I have learnt that fatty and sugary dishes should only be eaten once a week,” the graduate explained.

Apart from the training, the girls enjoyed the particular and homely atmosphere in the Sana’ani Heritage House. They did not have to wear the face veil as there were no men around.

“Inside the house we were having fun as if we were in our own homes. This is the first time we had fun while learning something good for our future,” the two sisters and cousins said.

The specific Sana’ani style was the particular focus of all aspects of the course, including the graduation ceremony. The girls received their certificates in a traditional Sana’ani room where they sat on mattresses embroidered in red and yellow threads and listened to two men who sang traditional Yemeni songs.

Amatalrazaq Ghaf, chairwoman of the house, explained that the 45 girls had intentionally been selected from the Old City of Sana’a so that they would be near the venue. The house will continue to supply them with the materials needed to practice their crafts. When tourists visit the Sana’ani Heritage House they will invite the girls to sell their products or prepare traditional food.

The San’ani Cultural House in Sana’a Old City. YT photo by Malak Shaheri

According to Ghaf, the link between the graduates, the house and its visitors is beneficial for all. While the house is in need of trained people who can help out at short notice when tourists are around, the girls have an opportunity to earn their living with traditional crafts. Ghaf is particularly excited about the idea that Sana’ani girls will prepare and serve traditional dishes to tourists.

“Food is not just to be eaten. Food means culture and it reflects the people’s background,” Ghaf said.

Apart from enjoying the dishes, visitors will therefore learn about the historical and cultural background of Old Sana’a where they were invented.

At the graduation ceremony, Ghaf was already looking forward to welcoming more tourists and receiving them with Sana’ani food and crafts.

“I am very happy indeed as we are more ready now to welcome visitors to this house,” Ghaf said.

Contaminated juice sticks threaten children’s health

10 Jan
A young boy shows the contaminated and expired juice sticks. Authorities have warned consumers to avoid these products.Photo by Yazeed KamaldienMalak ShaherPublished:10-01-2011

SANA’A, Jan. 9 — Police have arrested a man for distributing contaminated juice that authorities said could have poisoned 200,000 children across Sana’a governorate in a matter of weeks.

Riyadh Abdulkareem, head of the Environmental Health Administration (EHA) in Sana’a, said that more than 30,000 boxes of plastic sticks containing contaminated juice were confiscated at Al-Safia district in Sana’a. Its value was USD10,000.

He said that the majority of the sticks were found at four shops owned by the product’s distributer. The rest were found at other shops in Sana’a.

Abdulkareem said that at least 200,000 children could have been poisoned if they had consumed the contaminated juice. The products had been taken off the market. He said that three underground laboratories in Sana’a manufacturing similar products were also closed down due to health risks, he said.

Abdulkareem said that some shopkeepers even dumped other juice sticks – not produced by the arrested manufacturer – for fear of contaminating consumers.

“They even threw out the ones that contained no impurities. It is a good move to realize the danger surrounding our children,” said Abdulkareem.

He said that these were not the only products that posed a threat to children’s health. He said that most of the products aimed at children in Yemen were made at underground factories without monitoring and that nobody really knows about them.

“These products are decorated with colors to attract the children,” said Abdulkareem.

Sadeq Al-Harithi, general secretary of the Al-Safia district’s Local Council, said that they have been sending teams to conduct tours at the schools in Sana’a to make children aware of the dangerous juices and other products.

Al-Harithi told the Yemen Times that the confiscated juice sticks were produced in Ibb governorate.

He said they sent the juice sticks for laboratory testing and results showed that the juice contained poison and dying materials that can cause cancer.

Al-Harithi said that some traders exploited consumers and sold them expired products for lower prices.

“They change the expiry date on the product’s cans,” Al-Harithi explained.

Mohammad Al-Asbahi, head of the Environmental Health administration in Sana’a, said that the distributer of the juice was arrested last week. Al-Harithi said that the distributer may be sentenced to imprisonment for six months to two years.

Talal Thabet, from the Environmental Health Administration, said that children did not always see the impurities in these juice products, especially when frozen.

He said that even if a product is not expired, the way it is stored or transported could affect its taste and color negatively.

“If people find that the product has not yet been expired but it tastes bad, they should stop eating it at once and report the product to the Environmental Health Administration,” said Thabet.

He said that any blurred expiry date meant that the product was not matching any health standards.

Abdula’leem Al- Hashimi, from the media department at the Yemeni Association for Consumer Protection, said that the association demanded that the expiry date was sealed on the product, instead of pasted on it.

“It is easy to change the expiry date if it is just pasted on the product. People should make sure of the expiry date before buying the product,” he said.

The Environmental Health Administration confirmed that its teams were regularly checking the safety standards of products in Yemen. It has confiscated and damaged more than 30-tons of expired products in 2010. The expired products contained dates “mixed with sugary water to make it wet”, juice for children, biscuits and cake.

The plastic sticks, called ‘ghawar’, are popular among children and cost only for YR5 (USD0.02) each

Yemeni fishermen blamed for African immigrant deaths

6 Jan
Yemeni fishermen in Aden (pictured above) allegedly use ill equipped boats to smuggle illegal immigrants into the country.
Photo by Malak Shaher
Yemen Times
Published:06-01-2011
SANA’A, Jan. 5 — Yemeni fishermen who are trying to earn a living were allegedly responsible for the death of illegal immigrants from Africa, Shuja’ Al-Mahdi, head of the Coast Guard Authority’s operational unit in Aden told the Yemen Times.On the first day of this year, two Yemeni fishermen attempted to make some money after their fishing attempts were in vain.The fishermen travelled to the Somali coast and overloaded their old boat with 46 illegal immigrants from Somalia and Ethiopia. The boat lacked basic safety standards and could not withstand angry ocean waves and winds. It capsized and sank in the sea.Only four of the Somali immigrants survived along with the two boat owners, said Al-Mahdi.

“The problem is that fishermen try to find another source of income by taking illegal immigrants from Somalia on their very tattered boats. Furthermore, they overload the boats with people who cannot swim,” said Al-Mahdi.

Illegal immigrants from poor African countries assume that paying USD100 or USD150 could buy them a better life in Yemen. However, they ultimately meet their destiny while at sea.

Al-Mahdi said that the two Yemeni and four Somalis were being detained at the Coast Guard Authority’s office at Ras Al-Ara, 100km west of Aden. He said they were waiting for the government to investigate the matter.

He said that the bodies of the deceased immigrants had not yet been found.

Nabil Othman, the deputy manager of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said that the boat which carried the unfortunate immigrants started its journey from Bobcat port in Somalia and sank just three hours later.

Othman, who said that the UNHCR had direct access with the survivors, added that a fishing net of the boat carrying the 46 immigrants got stuck in the boat’s engine. This caused it to stop in the middle of the sea.

Othman confirmed Al-Mahdi’s comment that the boat lacked minimum safety standards. There was no rescue equipment on the boat for the passengers who were three times more than the boat’s capacity.

Abdulrahman Al-Barman, a lawyer at the National Organisation for Defending Rights and Freedoms (HOOD), told the Yemen Times that any illegal attempts to take immigrants from their country to Yemen is considered a crime.

The law holds responsible for any damages the persons that transport the immigrants. He said that punishment could be harsher if the smugglers were not following the basic standards of safety on boats that transport immigrants.

Al-Barman said that helping people enter Yemen illegally causes many economic and political problems for the country.

Immigrant’s frequent attempts to find a better life in Yemen are ongoing. In 2009, two similar incidents occured in Shuqra, near Aden, and in Abyan, that left more than 100 people dead.

The Ministry of Interior’s website confirmed that another boat carrying illegal immigrants sank near Lahj coast, 100km east of Aden, on the same day that the 46 immigrants travelled to Yemen.

Coast Guard Authority officials said that most illegal immigrants die during such dangerous trips. If they do not die during the trip, they arrive at their destination in bad health conditions that eventually causes chronic diseases.

The UNHCR has confirmed that there is at least 171,000 refugees in Yemen.

Driving cars helps children grow up

6 Jan

Malak ShaherPublished:06-01-2011

In front of the bus a fancy car weaved right and left across the street. The bus driver shouted as he tried to see the driver and throw him an insult or two. It was clear from the bus that the car was full of women in black. When the bus driver approached the car, he discovered that the driver was a young child.“Stick to one side of the road,” the bus driver shouted angrily.“The road is not yours,” the no-more than 12-year-old boy replied.Despite the fact that no one can obtain a driving license before the age of 18, it is common to find children driving cars. In most cases, they drive their family’s car with their father’s approval. Sometimes, a child can even drive the car with his father in the next seat.

In most cases, children driving cars are associated in Yemen with power and manhood.

“I will teach my son how to drive as he grows up. I will not wait for him to be 18 and get a driving license,” said Hisham Abdullah, 33. “I want him to be a man, even if he is still a child.”

In Yemen, driving a car is also associated with responsibility. Driving a car before the age of 18 means that one is old enough to hold responsibility.

“I am no less than any man and I can take the responsibility,” said a 15 year-old boy who drives a bus. He preferred not to mention his name.

However, the responsibility he feels is not enough to make some passengers travel on his bus.

“When I got onto the bus, I did not see the driver’s face. But once I realized he was a child, I got out of the bus,” said Fatima Mukhtar. “My life is not to be put into a child’s hands.”

The number of children driving cars is on the increase and it is now double what it was in 2008, according to Ministry of Interior records.

The administrative offices in the country registered more than 1,000 cases where children were driving cars, 521 of whom had accidents during 2008. According to the same records, 454 accidents were in Sana’a, 39 in Hodeida and 11 in Taiz.

Despite the increasing number of children who drive cars, Yahya Zaher, director of the Traffic Administration, said that all drivers should follow the law.

“According to the law, a fine of YR10,000 [about USD50] is imposed on a person driving a car under the age of 18,” said Zaher.

“No one is excluded. If I find a boy under 18, I give him a violation receipt. The law is the law and I do not compromise,” said a traffic police officer in Sana’a who preferred not to be named.

Nevertheless, Saleh Sa’eed, 45, a taxi driver, said that he has never seen or heard of traffic police giving child drivers violation receipts.

“A child nearly caused me an accident. If he’d been caught already and given a violation receipt, he would not have been there,” said Sa’eed. “Children driving cars are not given violation receipts, especially if they are in fancy cars.”

Most Yemenis, questioned by the Yemen Times, who allow their children to drive cars, gave similar explanations. They said that their children did not need to be old to drive and that driving cars helped them to become responsible. Others said that they had to drive, as they were responsible for their families.

Sa’eed explained that he started driving cars when he was 15 to help his family and after the death of his father, he took care of his mother and sister. He had to drive them home from their village and to other places they needed to go to.

Women fight for their husband’s release from jail

3 Jan
Since the arrest of her husband, Waleed Sharaf Al-Deen, who was accused of spying for Iran in 2009, Alia Al-Wazeer (pictured above with her daughter Zainab) has joined the Yemeni Organization for Defending Human Rights in order to participate and organize protests demanding the release of her husband. Alia will continue working at the organization even if he is released. Photo by Yazeed Kamaldien

Malak Shaher

Published:03-01-2011

Since her husband was arrested in August 2009 and accused of spying for Iran, Alia Al-Wazeer has defended him as she believes he is innocent. The 30-year-old woman and mother of two girls said that her life changed drastically when her husband disappeared for almost four months before she had any news about him.“I was in a frenzy when I found out that my husband had been at the National Security Prison for four months without knowing what he was accused of,” said Alia.Her husband, Waleed Sharaf Al-Deen, was 33 years old and worked in the United Nations office as an accountant when he was arrested. Four months later, in December 2009, he and three others were officially charged with spying for Iran and attempting to promote the Twelver Shiite doctrine.Shiites have come under increasing pressure in Yemen since the Houthis, who follow the Shiite sect of Islam, demanded in 2004 the establishment of a separate state in Sa’ada province in the north of the country. In Yemen it is a widely held belief that Shiites are supported by Iran.

“For nearly seven years, since the war with the Houthis began, the Yemeni government has had a phobia of people following the same religious doctrine as the Houthis,” explained Ali Al-Dailami, head of the Yemeni Organization for Defending Human Rights.

From the beginning of the war between the Houthis and the government in 2004 until the most recent bout of fighting in 2010, many Shiite supporters were detained in various governorates and accused of supporting the Houthis. In response to these arbitrary arrests, over a hundred women joined Al-Dailami’s organization to defend their husbands.

“Ten of the hundred women are vital members of the organization now,” Al-Dailami told the Yemen Times.

Alia Al-Wazeer is one these women. A few months after the arrest of her husband, she joined the organization, in which she both organizes and participates in protests demanding his release.

Prisoner’s wives protesting for the release of their husbands whose pictures are shown in these posters. These women demand for the release of their husbands who are allegedly unfairly detained by the Yemeni government. Source: Freedom 4 Waleed

Last year while she was participating in a demonstration in front of the Al-Saleh mosque, Alia was beaten by police women. However, her struggle has made her only more persistent. “I will defend him with my life,” she said, adding that even if her husband was released she would continue her work as a human rights activist.

“When I see my two daughters growing up without their father who was arbitrarily arrested, I realize that I have to get my family back together,” said Alia. “The last time I visited my husband in prison with my daughter she cried in such a hysterical way that the guards allowed her to see her father.”

Recently, Alia, her two daughters and other families of Sa’ada prisoners protested in front of the Political Security building. The families sent a letter to the head of Political Security asking him to respect the law. The letter also stated that the children of the detainees often had not been allowed to visit their fathers.

Waleed Sharaf Al-Deen and his three fellow detainees are examples of people who were arrested in relation to the war in Sa’ada. However, none of them has benefited from the amnesty the president decreed for Sa’ada prisoners of war. Waleed and the others remained under arbitrary custody for four months before they were officially charged and the trial began.

Twelve months later the trial is still ongoing. Waleed’s brother Ibrahim, a lawyer in the Yemeni Organization for Defending Human Rights, considers the men’s arrest illegal.

“The police broke the criminal procedures code when they arbitrarily arrested and held the detainees for a long period of time without trial,” Ibrahim Sharaf Al-Din told the Yemen Times. In his view the accusations are false.

His boss Al-Dailami explained that the arbitrary arrests have turned many members of the prisoners’ families into human rights activists. He points to Fatima Al-Ezzi, 28, as another example of a housewife turned activist.

She joined the organization three years ago when her husband Imam Al-Ezzi Saleh Rajeh was arrested. He was arrested because he had been talking about the Sa’ada conflict in his Friday sermons. He was released last Thursday.

“I didn’t know why they were holding my husband. I couldn’t visit him either,” said Fatima.

Even though her husband was released, Fatima said that she would continue working with the organization to support other prisoner’s wives.

As Al-Dailami told the Yemen Times, his organization currently tries to find out where the arrested people have been taken and why it is difficult for their families to visit them. He demanded that the state investigate these arbitrary disappearances.

Hundreds of Sa’ada prisoners released

3 Jan
Malak Shaher & Mohammad Bin Sallam
Yemen Times

Published:03-01-2011

SANA’A, Jan. 2 — Nearly five hundred Sa’ada war prisoners were released on Thursday in exchange for weapons, Mohammad Albasha, the spokesman of the Yemeni embassy at Washington told the Yemen Times.

Albasha explained that the Qatar mediated and brokered the peace deal as part of proceedings initiated in August 2010.

Almost 270 prisoners were released from prisons in Sana’a and around 200 were released from political security prisons in Sa’ada, according to Mohammad Al-Mansoor, spokesman of the Shiite Al-Haq Party said to be in contact with the Houthis.

Al-Mansoor told the Yemen Times that the detainees were released after the Houthis returned 31 weapons to the Yemeni army. The weapons were taken by the Houthis in Sa’ada and Harf Sufian during the sixth round of the war between August 2009 and March 2010.

Concerns of those released

Some of the detainees claim that their property was seized when they were arrested and never returned back to them.

For Khaled Abdulwahed Shareef, who was arrested in June 2008 and released at the end of the same year, getting his cars from the port has become almost impossible.

Shareef, 26, imports cars. He buys them second hand from the USA and sells them in Yemen. He said that when he was detained by political security in Sana’a, he received four cars from the US that were seized by the political security.

“It has been around two years since I was released and I have still not got my things back that were with me at the time of my arrest,” said Shareef. “I have spent around USD 1,500 in procedures with the government to try to get my possessions back but have received nothing.”

Shareef said that besides from the four cars, two digital cameras and a university certificate were also taken from him when he was arrested. His certificate was for an Information Technology degree from the USA.

On Saturday, the Yemeni Organization for Defending Human Rights released a press release asking the government to compensate the released prisoners.

According to the head of the organization, Ali Al-Dailami, around 30 of those who have been released have registered their names at the organization in order to help them retrieve their possessions.

“The 30 cases we have are only a few of the actual number of cases as people are also going to other human rights organizations that are appealing for the return of their possessions,” Al-Dailami told the Yemen Times.

“Now, the organization is working on getting these possessions back to their owners,” he added.

He also explained that some prisoners became infected with diseases as a result of their time in the political security prison.

“The organization calls on the government to treat the prisoners who were infected with dangerous diseases – such as heart and gastric problems – as well as to return their properties back to them,” Al-Dailami said.

In a telephone call with the Yemen Times, Mohammad Al-Qaedi, the Press Officer at the Ministry of Interior, said he is not authorized to give any information regarding this issue.

Possible re-arrests

Despite the release of the prisoners, their families are still concerned about whether they will be arrested again.

Fatima Al-Ezzi breathed a sigh of relief when she heard on Thursday that her husband, Al-Ezzi Rajeh, was among those prisoners released from the political security prison in Sa’ada. Despite her happiness at her husband’s release, she said that she was still afraid that he may be arrested again if the government accuses him on another charge.

Al-Ezzi was arrested in 2005 and released in 2007 and then later that same year he was arrested again before being shortly released. On both occasions he was accused of having relations with the Houthis simply due to his position as both an Imam and a Zaidi.

The prisoners are still concerned that the government is not going to compensate them for the loss of their property as well as for the health risks they suffered while in prison.

There are still nearly 500 people in prison accused of conspiring with the Houthis, according to Al-Haq party.

According to estimations by the Yemeni Organization for Defending the Human Rights, approximately 8,000 people have been arrested on the charge of being either Houthis or of conspiring with Houthis since the beginning of the war in 2004.