For the past few weeks, residents in Al Hudaydah, a town in western Yemen, have been suffering through an extreme heatwave with temperature regularly approaching 105 degrees Fahrenheit. None of the city’s air conditioners work because of the electricity shortage caused by the war that’s ravaged the country for the past year. The town is facing a severe humanitarian crisis and residents are sounding the alarm on social media.
Since October 2014, Yemen has been engulfed in a bloody conflict between forces loyal to the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and Shiite Houthi rebels. The government forces are supported by a coalition of Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia.
Al Hudaydah fell to Houthi rebels in late 2014. Shortly thereafter, loyalist forces enacted an embargo on the town. Because of the blockade, residents can no longer import the diesel needed to run the city’s power station. They’ve been facing cuts in electricity since then.
In Al Hudaydah, temperatures often reach 40 degrees Celsius (equal to 104 degrees Fahrenheit).
“Many children have developed severe skin problems from the heatwave”
Mohamed al-Shamiri is a pharmacist who works in public health in Al Hudaydah.
Al Hudaydah is one of the largest cities in Yemen [Local media has reported that there are about 3 million people living there, but there are no official statistics]. Since the war started, it’s expanded as thousands of people fleeing fighting in other regions have also taken refuge here.
The hospitals here are overwhelmed. First, they’ve had to deal with the lack of electricity.
They are also overcrowded because hundreds of ill and injured people arrive constantly from other provinces. Al Hudaydah’s main hospital has the largest dialysis centre in the country. About 50% of people with liver problems in Yemen come to this hospital for treatment. But the power cuts mean that sometimes patients have to wait for days before being able to undergo dialysis.
I’ve heard numerous accounts of people dying because of lack of treatment in the past few days, but the authorities have refused to comment on this.
That said, the situation has improved a little bit because the director recently managed to bring in several barrels of diesel to run the hospital’s electrical generators. A local businessman also donated a new generator.
This heatwave has been especially difficult for the children. Many of them have contracted a skin disease that doctors haven’t yet been able to identify. I’ve heard accounts of people developing large blotches and pustules on their skin, which is alarming.
Moreover, none of the schools have electricity even though the students are in the midst of exam period. Sometimes, there are up to a hundred students in a classroom, without even a fan. A lot of the boys have been going to school without shirts on.
Most people in Al Hudaydah have electrical generators but because there is also a diesel shortage, they can’t run them. Some people are trying solar panels, but they aren’t very efficient. They only produce enough energy to keep two fans running in a house.
This crisis has also led to a flourishing black market in diesel fuel. Many people accuse the authorities of being in cahoots with these dealers because they trade in broad daylight and no one stops them. Moreover, diesel fuel has become insanely expensive. A 20 litre jerrycan only lasts about two days and costs about 5,000 rials [equivalent to roughly 18 euros].
Hoping to get support from the international community, residents started a social media campaign using the hashtag (in Arab) “disaster in Al Hudaydah”.