Starvation Marathon in Mukalla

A journey in search of subsidized bread in the alleys of city
June 8, 2023

Starvation Marathon in Mukalla

A journey in search of subsidized bread in the alleys of city
June 8, 2023

With the intensification of the economic crisis in Yemen, and the continued deterioration of the local currency against foreign currencies, which has cast a shadow over food prices throughout Yemen, especially the governorates that fall under the control of the internationally recognized government, the humanitarian situation is getting worse day after day. The local authority in Mukalla in cooperation with some charitable entities are trying to ease the burden on some poor segments of society by subsidizing the price of bread so that citizens can buy it at a reduced price.

Here in Mukalla, the largest city in Hadramout governorate in terms of population, in its alleys and main streets with the first signs of sunset every day, you see an extraordinary movement of people and a journey whose details start from the evening until the early hours of the night in search of subsidized bread.

The resurrection of starved 

As soon as the minarets of the mosques in the Mukalla neighborhoods resound with the call for the afternoon prayer, here in Ba Juma'an zone, in (the consumer hypermarket) bakeries, in the Al-Nasr neighborhood, the Al-Thawra neighborhood, and the Gol Al-Shifa neighborhood, streets become so busy as if a Marathon starts, where everyone is looking for his share of the subsidized bread.

In the (Consumer Hypermarket), which is located in Al-Nasr neighborhood, bread is sold at a price of 30 riyals per loaf, compared to the unsubsidized bread price in the rest of the city’s bakeries which is (90 riyals) per bread, as a result of an arrangement between the local authority in the governorate with the management of (Consumer Hypermarket) Bakeries, which gets subsidized diesel in exchange for selling subsidized bread. This comes in attempts by the authority to curb the risk of famine, the signs of which began to appear on many families in the city, especially the residents of the old neighborhoods of the city. Poverty and hunger have crossed the thresholds of the city, and it has become like a monster killing its prey one after another, in light of the internationally recognized government's failure to find effective solutions to prevent economic collapse.

Dozens stand in a long line of more than 20 meters in one of the consumer hyper halls, while the quantities of bread are not sufficient for all those crowding people. The more baskets of buyers are filled at the beginning of the queue, the greater the number of people joining the queue, an inverse relationship of its tringle: subsidized bread, time and the citizen.

Competition for cheaper dinner 

At 5:00 pm every day, as you enter the eastern gate of the hyper, you will easily recognize the unusual crowd in the main hall as soon as you walk towards that crowd, until you discover for yourself that it is a women's queue in front of the tables selling subsidized bread. Here, in this queue, there is a greater chance of winning dinner at a reduced price. As you stand looking at those long lines of women and men, you see that child squeezed between two adults, and there stands an old man who, as soon as he felt me staring at him, lowered his head; It's hunger when it puts you on edge.

A low price may preserve some of the necessities of life for those families that began to fade away with each passing year of this unjust war, which brought Yemenis back to the bitterness of hunger and destitution, after they fought their struggles for years to get rid of them.

The lines of subsidized bread form that edge, the brink between the queues of the hungry and the fall into the abyss of begging from others and the loss of human dignity. Only one step separates them from that, as many heads of families cannot stand in those lines, so they are forced to send their children, risking them in the traffic of street cars, and the dangers they may be exposed to like a reckless driver and another who drives his taxi with half concentration as his concern is to search for a customer on the sidewalks of the streets, in addition to the dangers of harassment committed by human monsters, who took advantage of the crowding for food to harass innocent children.

While some housewives are compelled to go out by themselves to get dinner, it can be noted that the women's queue is longer than the men's, but many of them return to their homes with empty hands, either because of a malfunction in the ovens, delays, or due to overcrowding, lack of sufficient bread, or shortage in the flour supplement quantities.

On the other part of the city, there is Al-Tayseer Charitable Bakery in the Gul Al-Shifa neighborhood, which also sells subsidized bread, but on a limited scale in some neighborhoods of the city of Mukalla. The price of one bread is only 20 riyals, provided that the share of one family in each neighborhood does not exceed 10 breads per day, at the price of 200 riyals.

A low price that preserves for these families some of the elements of life that began to fade with each passing year of this unjust war, which brought Yemenis back once again to the bitterness of hunger and destitution, after they fought their struggles for years to get rid of them.

Al-Tayseer Bakery was established with the cooperation of benefactors, who covered the costs of purchasing its assets at more than $100,000, as well as the costs of operating it and providing the necessary supplies for its continuity, including flour, oil, etc., which are essential for the production of bread, which costs $8,000 per month. The production capacity of this bakery is not less than 10,000 bread per day, yet it only covers parts of some of the city's neighborhoods.

Sighs and steps

The search for subsidized bread in that city may extend for about three hours a day, during which the hustle and bustle of cars fills its streets and the sounds of escorts of officials, especially in the Hyper Street, the route of those escorts from the command of the Second Military Region and the port of Mukalla to the governor's palace, on the western side and vice versa.

Within this hustle and bustle - if you have a clear conscience, and stop by that hall - you will hear people's groans and the rustle of their hasty steps towards the hyper hall, and they realize that this journey may take them all those hours, unless someone is lucky and arrives first, so he returns home early with a smile filling his lips. As I witnessed it on everyone who comes out of those lines with a basket of bread in his hand, as if he had defeated an enemy, and there is nothing more severe than the enmity of hunger in a brunt of man.

Immediately after afternoon prayer in the mosques of the city is performed, if you were to stand under the sea bridge from the western side, you can see the crowds coming from the old neighborhoods of Mukalla, and others from inside the neighborhoods of Al-Sharj. You will see how the people hurried the steps in groups as if they were in a marathon. Everyone watches the one next to him, so that he does not precede him in the line and his turn is delayed.

Some bread buyers have to walk a distance of (2) km on foot daily, while others take internal transportation or motorbikes to arrive early to reserve their place in the queue. In the consumer hypermarket, you can provide dinner within acceptable limits. As you are allowed 33 loaves of bread; That is, with a value of 1000 riyals, unlike the charitable bakery, which only allows you ten breads per family, to ensure access to the largest possible number of families.

Instead of taking a nap!

Bader (40 years old), a resident of Al-Salam neighborhood, which is 2 km east of the Consumer Hyper, says that he forgot something called a siesta, so he returns from work at 2:00 in the evening to have lunch, then goes on foot to the consumer hyper. He prays the afternoon prayer in the nearby mosque, to ensure obtaining an advanced position in the subsidized bread queue. He said:

"The day when hyper bakeries are not working or I cannot go to there for some reason, I have to reduce the share of bread for each member of the family, to half of the usual meal."

Similarly, Um Muhammad (48 years old), comes to the hyper hall, coming from Al-Safa area, Al-Thawra neighborhood, on an almost daily basis, as she walks a distance of four kilometers back and forth. This is because the bread she gets from the portion of Al-Tayseer Charitable Bakery is not enough to cover all members of the large family for dinner and breakfast, she said:

"My son Mohammad is busy with his work in the private sector, and my husband works as an electrician for a daily wage. In addition, he complains of back pain, and he cannot walk that long, so she had to go herself to get subsidized bread."

This is how many family members in the city of Mukalla spend those three hours on a journey to get bread, rejecting the proverb “Man does not live by bread alone”, to become: with bread alone, you can torture a person and destroy his dreams of a decent life that preserves his dignity.

  (Published in cooperation with Mwatana)

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