Home / Exclusive / The price of freedom – How Yemen post –Arab Spring wrestles with abject poverty

The price of freedom – How Yemen post –Arab Spring wrestles with abject poverty

THE LEVANT EXCLUSIVE – By Catherine Shakdam – While Yemenis felt empowered by 2011’s democratic awakening, emboldened by the belief that autocracy could actually be brought down by the people, today many have said to feel bewildered by the misery that has since befallen their nation. If hopes were many and ambitions broad at the height of the Arab Spring, Yemenis have come to the realization that three years after their uprising little if at all, has truly changed.

Three years have passed since Yemenis took to the streets to demand the establishment of a modern civil state, and yet pro-democracy activists have little to show for their sacrifices. In many ways, Yemen remains a country stuck in political and institutional limbo, plagued by over-lapping crises, ravaged by terror. To add insults to injuries Yemen’s political woes have triggered a mighty economic unravelling, one of such magnitude that it has but ravaged the nation, leaving in its wake millions upon millions of hunger-stricken families.

In an irony which has not been lost to Yemenis, the very revolution which was meant to raise them from the throes of autocracy has actually crushed and obliterated the nation’s fragile socio-economic order, unravelling whatever stability the country enjoyed.

While Yemenis might have rebelled against nepotism in 2011, they now wrestle against a new brand of tyranny which shackles are much more pernicious in nature – destitution.

Yemen’s despair has reached such heights that it has become palpable.

No longer just the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen has been labelled a humanitarian catastrophe by aid agencies and the United Nations. In three years Yemen’s hungry have multiplied with a speed and frenzy which has left observers mystified.

Over 45% of Yemenis live now under the poverty threshold, with only $1 to $2 per day to survive. Over a million children have been classified by Word Food Program (WFP) as acutely malnourished and suffering from stunted growth. Yemen’s next generation will forever carry the stigma of this crisis, as their bodies will bear the debilitating marks of famine and poverty.

It is such crushing helplessness, such boundless indigence which moves Yemen and makes its people’s anger burn bright red.

The orphans of a democratic movement which bore the promise of a better tomorrow, Yemenis have struggled too harshly in their day-to-day lives to feel anything but disenchantment and bitterness towards politicians.

Stripped of their dignity, their future and their hopes Yemenis have had to learn to live with less – less food, less money, less electricity, less fuel, less water … less, always less until there is no more.

Yemenis have had to fight an endless line of battles – against the dark, against hunger, against corruption, against injustice, against poverty, against unemployment, against terror, against war, against violence …

While unemployment stood at 17.8% in 2011 – according to trading economics – it has now risen to a dizzying 40% in 2013, of which 60% are young people under 25. As inflation has ravaged the impoverished nation, Yemenis have seen their buying power disappear, at a time when a collapse of state amenities has forced millions to rely on alternative means to meet their most basic needs – such as access to water and electricity.

Faced with lengthy blackouts, an aggravated fuel penury, high food prices as well as a growing insecurity and widespread violence, Yemenis know not where to turn anymore for solace.

Aside from the continuing fragmentation and weakness of its state institutions, the ability of ordinary Yemenis to endure the repercussion of the Arab Spring has begun to erode. Yemen stands to become as much a broken nation as it is a failed state. While Yemen’s various crises have been dissected at length in the media, few reporters have managed to convey the sheer desperation, the disheartening degree of hopelessness which is now visible in the country. A nation which was once known for its boundless love for life faces the unravelling of its social fabric.

Beggars in the streets have multiplied, and the middle class has all but disappeared. Wasted bodies crippled by fatigue, Yemeni men can be found asleep on the cold hard floor of gas stations, clinging on to their jerry-cans as they wait for the state to release whatever little fuel it can still manage to offer its people.

Charitable organizations have been overrun by families looking for food assistance; hospitals have been forced to turn away patients, even though their state is critical for there is a dire shortage of beds and medicine.

Yemen suicide rate has risen steadily since 2011 as more people chose to simply check out from poverty. According to data collected by the Interior Ministry, Yemen suicide rate has steadily increased over the past three years, the symptom of a deep social fracture.

In the midst of such suffocating pain, endures an irony which should not escape anyone – Yemen needs not to live without. Yemen’s vast natural resources should mean that its people live maybe not in abundance but at the very least in dignity.

Yemen’ suffering is as sad as it is unnecessary and most importantly unwarranted.


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