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War-torn Yemen is experiencing the disastrous collapse of its currency. Food, fuel, medication and clean water is becoming astronomically expensive. The result is a looming famine that could become one of the biggest ever. By Christoph Reuter. The soldiers standing with their machine guns can't see us behind the mirrored windows of the SUV as we speed past.
A long succession of pickup trucks line the road along the shore, with men in uniform standing at the ready behind the MGs mounted in their beds. They have been sent to shoot at demonstrators should the need arise -- the very demonstrators we would like to speak with. The authorities, however, have not allowed for that degree of transparency for our trip.
The governor of the country's largest province, Hadramawt, invited journalists to demonstrate how safe and quiet the capital of Mukalla is, that the port is in operation, that oil exports continue and that there is a Yemen beyond the artillery and gunfire. It's the beginning of September, and since early in the morning, hundreds of demonstrators have been out and about despite the searing heat, burning tires and blocking roads.
Only clubs. Otherwise, it's gunfire. People aren't just taking to the streets in Mukalla. They are also protesting in the southern metropolis of Aden and in the national capital Sanaa against their living conditions. They are demonstrating on both sides of the front against an adversary that has proven almost as deadly as the armed conflict itself : the collapse of the country's currency. The Yemeni rial is in freefall, having lost almost three-quarters of its value against the dollar since the beginning of the war -- meaning there is less and less left over from the paltry salaries to at least buy bread, rice and vegetables.
More than 90 percent of all foodstuffs must be imported to Yemen in exchange for hard currency. Those in power on both sides of the conflict have reacted similarly. The Houthi rebels in Sanaa arrested dozens of protesters while the exile government of Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi beat marchers and opened fire on them.