The siege imposed on Sana’a since the war started on March 26 has created desperate humanitarian and economic conditions and has sparked a black market in oil. While soaring oil prices are a nightmare for most Yemenis, the black market has created much-needed jobs.
In Taiz Street in downtown Sana’a, oil smuggler Yahya Nasser sells gasoline for more than a third than the official rate. The price for 20 liters of gasoline has risen from the official rate of YER 2,700 to 11,000-17,000 (one US Dollar = 215 Yemeni Riyals).
Scarcity of petroleum products and the small quantities available on the black market have dramatically increased prices, lifting them by 300 percent for gasoline compared to official prices, 360 percent for domestic gas and nearly 300 percent for diesel.
Tankers and carts loaded with contraband petroleum products litter the main streets of Sana’a. They are the only avenue for getting these much-needed fuels into the city amid a crippling blockade imposed by the Arab coalition forces on the import of oil products by some Yemeni governorates, including the capital. “Smuggling, however, provides job opportunities amid continued unemployment imposed by the war and the blockade for the past months,” Nasser told Al-Yemeni.
Before August 2, the coalition forces and the Yemeni government in Riyadh would frequently allow the arrival of some supplies of oil products. Since then, however, they have not allowed any supplies to reach Al Hudaydah Port – the country’s main Red Sea outlet – which has caused sales at all gas stations to come to a halt.
Despite high security on the roads that link Sana’a with other governorates, smugglers have their own smuggling ways. “The pro-President Hadi forces which are still controlling Ma’rib Governorate do not allow us to smuggle oil products and have imposed strict security measures,” says Nasser. “Smuggling goes through several stages and involving a series of smugglers who smuggle these products from the city of Ma’rib, which has oil fields and refineries, to Sana’a. They use special routes that link Ma’rib Governorate with Al Bayda Governorate, in addition to other routes across Sirwah District in Sana’a Governorate.”
“We can no longer use our cars except for short distances and for urgent needs because the war has depleted all our savings,” says Nasser Dhibiyani. “We can no longer tolerate the siege and the war.”
“Smuggling tankers pass through Rada’a city, south of Sana’a, coming from Wadya crossing in Hadhramaut Governorate or from Ma’rib refinery, controlled by the legitimate president,” smuggler Hussein Khulani told Al-Yemeni.
Shadowy hands support the black market
Many citizens believe that the fuel crisis is caused by the manipulation of Sana’a’s authority of the Houthis who sell oil reserves in the black market in return for high profits.
“A fire broke out in a black-market district in Khawlan Street, eastern Sana’a, causing citizens to take to the street to keep smugglers away for fear of a repeat of the incident,” says political activist Hassan Sabari. “People however were surprised by the arrival of security forces and Houthis to protect the black marketers.”
Radwan Faqih, a resident of that area, holds the Houthis responsible for the emergence and nurture of black market in order to finance their military operations. “Yemenis are now bearing the brunt of the raging war and the siege,” he says.
In the face of the burgeoning black market, the Yemen Petroleum Company (YPC) announced late last September that it could no longer supply fuel to people. It expressed its inability to combat the black market, and blamed the Houthis for the ensuing crisis.
In light of the crippling blockade and ongoing war, the humanitarian situation has sharply deteriorated. The population’s suffering has increased amid skyrocketing prices of basic goods and a shortage of oil products. Black market trading has considerably increased, while over 81 percent of Yemen’s population has become poor, according to a report by Sana’a-based Economic Information Centre.
Looming humanitarian disaster
“The coalition forces are still imposing an embargo on the supply of petroleum products to Al Hudaydah Port,” says Anwar Ameri, spokesman for the YPC. “The YPC has not been issued any permits for entry of oil tankers despite continuing efforts.”
In a press conference held in Sana’a, YPC executive director called on the UN, international organizations and other relief agencies to urgently intervene to lift the embargo and allow the entry of oil supplies to Sana’a and other governorates and release the YPC’s tankers impounded by the coalition forces as of August 2015, in order to alleviate people’s suffering.
The failure to release these tankers, says the director, would disrupt water projects, bakeries, hospitals and public transportation, leading to a humanitarian disaster.