1:16pm , Tuesday 14th August 2018

Repeated Fires at Unlicensed Gas Stations Claim Yemeni Lives

12 October 2017

Muhammad al-Nasser

Sanaa (New Arab)—Hundreds of dangerous, unlicensed gas stations are spreading throughout the Yemeni capital Sanaa in open violation of existing health and safety laws, journalist Muhammad al-Nasser found, unchecked by weak and negligent state agencies.

Yemen’s Republican Decree No. 80 of 1993 sets standards for health and safety that gas stations must abide by to receive operating licenses, but amid the ongoing chaos of civil war, that law is not being applied.

Between 2014—the year the civil war began—and 2017, the number of illegal gas stations in Yemen’s capital jumped from three to 647, according to a recent study by the Yemeni Gas Company, the agency responsible for monitoring and licensing gas stations.

In an inspection of some 180 of those gas stations—randomly selected the city—al-Nasser found that 98 percent did not have a fire extinguisher, even though the stations’ reliance on generators for electricity due to ongoing shortages increases the risk of sparks. In every station inspected, workers wore no protective clothing.

Because many illegal stations are located in residential areas—some adjacent to multi-story buildings or schools—they pose an active threat to residents. Over the past two years, 10 major fires started at illegal gas stations, injuring and killing people and destroying buildings, al-Nasser found.  

But when civilians complain to the Yemeni Gas Company—or officials at the company try to remove the stations—their efforts end in recriminations and denials of responsibility, al-Nasser found. The gas company refers complaints to the Sanaa Municipality, which in turn considers the Civil Defense responsible for removing illegal stations. The Civil Defense says war has left it without resources. So nothing changes and the stations stay.

As stations proliferate and oil and gas prices in Yemen rise—the price of a 20-liter tank of household gas has more than tripled over the past two years—owners are making a tidy profit.  The owners include “influential personalities” who want to block  removal of the illegal stations “because they are making huge profits from them,” an official at the Yemeni Ministry of Gas, who requested to remain anonymous, told the reporter.

This investigation was completed with the support of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) with coach Mohammed komani.