The struggle to get about $9 has left at least 78 people dead in a stampede in Yemen, with several others injured.
Several people have gathered at a school in Sanaa to receive charitable monetary donations, as the Muslims celebrate the final days of this year’s Ramadan. The crowd became too much as they await the distribution of the money by the generous merchants.
Pictures shared from the scene showed hundreds of footwear and scarfs left behind. Eyewitnesses told Associated Press that a gunshot by an armed officer to control the crowd hit an electric wire and caused panic among the needy residents waiting for their share of the donation. One person was supposed to receive about 5,000 Yemeni riyals, approximately $9.
A video shared by Houthi Television on Telegram showed a crowd of people packed together, with some screaming for help while others were pulling people to safety. Security officials were also trying to push back the crowd, but their efforts were not enough to save the 78 people.
“What happened tonight is a tragic and painful accident, as dozens of people were killed due to a large stampede of a number of citizens caused by a random distribution of sums of money by some merchants and without coordination with the Ministry of Interior,” the spokesman of the Ministry of Interior, Abdul-Khaleq al-Ajri, said in the statement.
The avoidable errors that caused the incident
Although an investigation is still ongoing, Mohamed Ali al-Houthi, head of the Houthi supreme revolutionary committee, hinted at some avoidable errors that caused the stampede.
“The merchant usually registers the names with him and delivers them directly, but this time he collected the names of several days to this school. He used the narrow street and the back gate, which is about a meter and a half above the level of the yard,” Mohamed tweeted, sharing a picture from the scene.
“It resulted in overcrowding with the opening of the gate and the stampede occurred,” he added.
Authorities have detained the two generous merchants as part of the investigation.
The Houthis, which control that part of the country after chasing the central government years ago, said it would pay about $2,000 as compensation to families that lost relatives. Injured victims could get up to $400.
The worse humanitarian crisis in the world
The crowd that came for the monetary donation in Saana could mean only one thing. The people of Yemen are in a severe humanitarian crisis. Even the UN describes the situation as the worse humanitarian crisis in the world after years of a fierce civil war.
“With 24.1 million people – 80 per cent of the population, in need of humanitarian aid and protection, [Yemen] is now the largest humanitarian crisis in the world,” the UN stated.
Currently, about millions of people have been displaced from their homes since 2015, with over 14 million people in “acute need.”
Before the war broke out, Yemen was already the poorest country in the Arab world. It is faced with unending conflicts, political instability, unavailability of food, and massive population growth. However, the outbreak of the conflict in 2015 led to the collapse of the few public institutions left, including healthcare, education, sanitation, and even water supply. Hence the invitation to receive $9 is enough to attract thousands of Yemenis.
Who is to blame?
While most people have accused the organisers of the donation for not adhering to safety standards, one man has accused the United States, Britain, and the Saudis of being behind the deadly stampede in Yemen. That man is Mohamed Ali al-Houthi, head of the Houthi supreme revolutionary committee.
He insisted that aggression from these countries has resulted in a humanitarian crisis that caused an unimaginable level of poverty in the country. He said sanctions from these countries “resulted in an economic catastrophe.”
“We reiterate holding America, Saudi Arabia and its allies fully responsible,” Houthi wrote.
“We hold the countries of aggression responsible for what happened and for the bitter reality that the Yemeni people live in because of the aggression, the blockade, cutting salaries and destroying the currency by printing,” he added.