Yemen: Back to the dark ages

19 Nov
Many in Sana’a are forced to make do with just one or two hours electricity a day amid chronic power shortages.Photo by Luke Somers
Story by: Malak Shaher

Published:17-11-2011

Wood fires, oil lamps and candlelight. It’s not the dark ages:  it’s the year 2011, and Yemen is often without power.
Mona Hasan, a resident of Sana’a, said that sometimes she does not feel she lives in the 21st century After sunset, forced to live in near-darkness, she usually waits only an hour or two before going to sleep.

“No more TV, no more cooking gas, I can’t even do my housework. The electricity is usually off for 22 hours a day,” Hasan, 40, said.

Hasan said that her family no longer buys candles. “What is the use of candles when they finish but the power is still off? We live like our great grandparents lived.”

The mother of four added: “I am not the only one rushing to the power sockets. My daughters and my sons have fights over who can use the sockets as there aren’t enough to go around.”

Hasan lives on Airport Street in Sana’a, where she receives one or, at most, two hours of power a day. When the power comes back on, she rushes around the house, doing laundry and using the iron or vacuum cleaner.

“One day, I was using the iron when the power cut off. I was so angry and I tried to think of a way to get the work done. I heated a pan on the stove, put a thin scarf over my husband’s shirt, and started ironing using the very hot pan,” she said.

According to a report published by the Ministry of Electricity and Power, the cause of this return to a darker age is repeated attacks on power stations. The report states that there have been at least 64 attacks on different power stations between April and October 2011. The Marib Gas Station – which provides Sana’a with 40 percent of its power – has been specifically targeted.

The Minister of Electricity said that grids between Sana’a and the Marib Gas Station were attacked in many places since the uprising to bring down President Saleh’s regime began in February.

There are, however, conflicting opinions about the true causes of the power cuts. Since the beginning of the protests, both the government and opposition have been exchanging accusations over responsibility for the electricity crisis. At odds with the Ministry of Electricity and Power’s report, opposition members have claimed that power cuts are politically motivated, with both sides blaming the other for attacks on power stations and lines.

Electricity bills

Many Yemenis are complaining that even while they barely receive electricity at home, its cost is on the rise.

“The electricity bill sometimes goes up to YR 21,000, or USD 90,” said Nusaiba Ahmad, 33, a housewife in Sana’a.

“We now enjoy nearly four hours of electricity a day, but even so, I cannot understand why my electricity bill goes up when I do not even have a full day’s power.”

Ahmad said she feels as though she has returned to the time when she was a little girl, when her mother hand washed clothes in a big container.

Afraid that her washing machine will break down due to sudden power cuts, she has not used it in a month.

More than YR 15 billion, or USD 60 million, has been lost from the Sana’a-Marib grid over the past 10 months. Yemen’s Electricity Corporation has stated that it was not able to raise the YR 19 billion needed to pay power investors and oil companies, not to mention the funds needed to purchase spare parts and repair grids.

In a recent statement, Awadh Al-Socotri, Yemen’s Minister of Electricity, said that the National Bank of Yemen ceased providing the Electricity Corporation with employees’ wages as a result of the company being unable to pay its bank debts.

Gas shortage

In Sana’a, the prohibitive price of cooking gas is causing people to cut ration its use.

Mazen Hasan, married with one son, tells his wife to reduce the amount of cooked meals in order to make each canister last longer.

“We no longer enjoy food like we used to. My wife only cooks lunch now.”

Um Khaled, of Hodaida – one of the poorest governorates in Yemen – said that the cost of gas canisters keeps on rising. The price of a canister has increased from YR 900 or USD 4 at the start of the year to YR 2,500 or USD 10 today.

“We cannot afford the price of cooking gas, which increased two days ago to YR 2,500,” said the mother of five.

She has now resorted to using wood to prepare meals instead of the “very expensive” gas canisters that she can’t afford.

No electricity, no refrigeration

The electricity issue has presented yet another problem, as people can no longer keep food in refrigerators.

Heba Saif, 26, a housewife living in Sana’a, said that sometimes the food spoils.

“We bought meat for Eid but could not keep it for the next day so we gave it to our relatives,” she said.

Saif said that the electricity doesn’t just cause problems for herself or her husband, but added that it causes her children to experience a great deal of boredom.

Saif, who lives with her family in Al-Sunaina, said that she does not allow her son to go out and play with other kids because it is filthy outside. She is also afraid that conflicts could erupt at any time.

“He has become more nervous, he breaks his toys, and he always asks why we don’t turn on the TV anymore.”

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