War, poverty force destitute Yemeni to build home in a tree

Indebted, bankrupt and unable to pay the rent for his shop where he also lived, Ahmed Houbeichi found himself without a roof over his head. (AFP)
Updated 11 October 2018
0

War, poverty force destitute Yemeni to build home in a tree

  • Indebted, bankrupt and unable to pay the rent for his shop where he also lived, Houbeichi found himself without a roof over his head
  • Houbeichi’s struggle is not uncommon as the war has pushed millions to the brink of famine

SANAA, Yemen: Yemeni Ahmed Houbeichi is not acting out some childhood fantasy when he peers down on the street below from his tree-house. War and poverty have forced him to seek out such a lofty shelter.
Wearing a red shirt, white turban, and a loincloth around his hips, the 29-year-old recounted how he lost everything, and how his country’s dragging war has left him homeless and destitute.
Just a few months ago, he ran a small grocery store, “but the prices went up and the debts accumulated,” he said.
He would sell items to customers on credit, but they could not pay him back as the cost of living increased when the local currency depreciated amid a collapsing economy.
Indebted, bankrupt and unable to pay the rent for his shop where he also lived, Houbeichi found himself without a roof over his head in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa.
A four-year war between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the government, which is backed by a Saudi-led military coalition, has resulted in severe food shortages in a country already considered the poorest in the Arab world.
“I was late on the rent by only one month, which made the owner angry, so he asked me to leave,” Houbeichi said.
“He kicked me out. He threw my stuff onto the street. I felt ashamed, everybody was watching me as if I was an insane person.”
It was then he hit on the idea of living in a weeping fig growing on the busy Street 30 in rebel-held Sanaa.
His new home among the leaves has a door made of left-over wood from his old shop, while sheets and blankets draped between the branches provide both a makeshift roof and a soft platform on which to perch.
There are a couple of pillows, and some bags hold his few possessions. And he easily clambers up and down.
“It’s better than being on the street, and no one comes to you asking for rent,” said Houbeichi wryly.
A small solar panel provides some electricity, and the little money he makes monitoring children playing at a foosball table is just enough for food.
“There is no work. I hardly earn any money from the games center, and work is going to get worse because school started and the students returned to class,” he said.
“It just enough for food, for one meal a day.”
More than 22 million Yemenis – three quarters of the population – are in need of food aid.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Yemen’s economy is expected to contract by 2.6 percent in 2018, while inflation has been projected at 42 percent — inevitably leading to higher unemployment rates.
Houbeichi’s struggle is not uncommon as the war has pushed millions to the brink of famine.
Jalal Qasim, 45, teaches Arabic at a school in the southwestern city of Taiz by day and sells gasoline on the black market by night.
“It’s a very distressing situation,” he said, adding a teacher’s salary “isn’t enough for his personal expenses, let alone his family expenses, like rent.”
Nearly 10,000 people have been killed and more than 56,000 injured since 2015, resulting in what the UN has called the worst humanitarian crisis.


War on militants ‘won’t end unless West tackles root causes’

Daesh militants wave flags on their vehicles in a convoy on a road leading to Iraq. (AP)
Updated 15 December 2018
0

War on militants ‘won’t end unless West tackles root causes’

  • Driven from lands it once held sway over in Syria and Iraq, Daesh has returned to its origins as an underground militant outfit
  • “Beyond the tactical victories on the ground, the current strategy is failing”

WASHINGTON: Western powers fighting militant groups around the globe are condemned to a never-ending battle if they only tackle the symptoms and not the underlying causes of militant insurgency, experts say.

“Beyond the tactical victories on the ground, the current strategy is failing,” said Katherine Zimmerman, who wrote a recent report for the American Enterprise Institute.

“Every soldier and intelligence analyst that has worked on this problem understands what is happening,” Zimmerman told AFP.

“They understand that what they are doing is a temporary solution. It’s ending the immediate threat but not stabilizing or moving us forward. The problem comes down to policy and politics,” she noted.

“It’s easy to say, ‘We’re going to kill the person responsible for making the bomb.’ It is much more difficult to say that our partner government has disenfranchised this group and it’s one of the reasons why this person joins the terrorist group. And now he is the bomb maker.”

Driven from lands it once held sway over in Syria and Iraq, Daesh has returned to its origins as an underground militant outfit because the conditions that spawned it — a deep discontent among most Iraqis and Syrians — have persisted, experts say.

“The West is on the road to winning all the battles and losing the war,” warned Zimmerman.

In a report last month on the resurgence of Daesh as a clandestine guerrilla group, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said that while the US and allied governments have weakened some groups like Daesh, “many of the underlying causes have not been adequately addressed.”

Those root causes include a “fragile state with weak or ineffective governing institutions” in areas affected by militant activity, where the extremists can establish a sanctuary, the CSIS experts said.

They took maps showing areas where Al-Qaeda and Daesh were active and compared them to maps displaying “government effectiveness,” based on World Bank statistics.

The result was clear: Most of the countries where the insurgents are active — Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia — are also in the bottom 10 percent for government effectiveness.

At a conference this week in Washington, retired Marine Gen. John Allen — who once commanded US forces in Afghanistan and now heads the prestigious Brookings Institution — said the West had to get ahead of the issue and ask, “Where should we be looking for the next problems?”

“We should spend a great deal more time looking at those areas that are in fragile or failing states,” said Allen, who also served as presidential envoy to the international coalition battling Daesh.

“We have to recognize the hotspots where the human condition prompts the radicalization of large sectors of the population,” he added.

“Often we join the conversation when the process of radicalization has been in place for quite a long time.”

Allen noted that the problem is “a development issue, much more than a counter-terrorism issue.”