As fuel shortage worsens, Yemeni bakers return to firewood

A baker takes out bread baked in a wood-fired oven due to fuel shorages in Sanaa, Yemen February 15, 2021. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

SANAA (Reuters) - Bakers in the Yemeni capital Sanaa have swapped diesel and gas for firewood due to fuel shortages to keep making bread in a country where hunger is widespread after years of war.

Each day workers unload tonnes of wooden logs from trucks that have travelled hundreds of miles from Yemen's remote mountains to Sanaa's biggest wood market.

The growing firewood business is a stark reminder of Yemen's environmental problems which have been eclipsed by war and disease. It also puts more pressure on forests already damaged by the cultivation of the chewable stimulant qat.

"We used diesel before, then we moved to gas because of the blockade...then gas was cut off, so we moved to firewood," said Ali al-Shebeely, a bakery owner in Houthi-controlled Sanaa.

The Iran-aligned Houthis accuse their Saudi-led coalition foe of waging economic warfare on the territories they hold by holding up commercial vessels in the Red Sea port of Hodeidah, including fuel tankers.

The group took over Sanaa and most major cities in 2014 after ousting the Saudi-backed government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. The ensuing war has led to a major humanitarian crisis.

"Demand for firewood has increased sharply with fuel and gas shortages and the blockade imposed on Yemen," said Abdulrahman Yahya, a wood trader in Sanaa.

Both firewood and bread prices have risen.

Baker Tawfiq Abdulmughni said: "We used to buy a truckload for 130,000 riyals ($500). Now it's for 250,000 ($1,000)."

Under pressure from authorities, bakers have been reducing the size of bread instead of raising prices.

In al-Namri bakery in the UNESCO-listed old neighbourhood of Sanaa, workers prepared famous Yemeni Kodam and Rotti breads, while feeding the wood-fired oven with oak logs.

In the market, huge piles of firewood were stacked on the red brown soil, waiting for buyers.

"I call on the world to end the blockade on Yemenis, so they can live like everyone else in the world," said Matar Ali Nagy, a Sanaa resident as he bought bread.

"We are under siege here in Yemen."

(Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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