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    Categories: Politics

Food and fuel crises in Arish intensify on 13th day of Operation Sinai 2018

A warning sign in Arish's Salam district

The city of Arish is beginning to show signs of a food crisis, 13 days into the Armed Forces’ Operation Sinai 2018. Main markets have been devoid of fresh produce and supermarket shelves have been scarcely stocked with food products since February 11, as the military campaign has halted all transportation in and out of North Sinai cities.

There are two main markets in Arish located in the center of the city, with a third in an eastern suburb and a fourth in Masaeed to the west. The vegetable tents have been empty and covered in nylon since the middle of last week, with the occasional vegetable seller putting out a crate of tomatoes grown inside the city.

Residents say that most families have been living off of spinach, pasta and canned food since the beginning of Operation Sinai 2018 on February 9.

Store shelves in the city have begun displaying signs of a food shortage. The owner of a well-known supermarket in downtown Arish confirmed that all egg and dairy products have disappeared from the city, and that wholesalers’ stocks have also run out.

“People are going to eat themselves,” he says.

Grocers and shopkeepers have not restocked their shelves since the operation began, according to the owner.

Given the Armed Forces imposed limitations on movement, villages on the outskirts of Arish, especially Karama in the east and Zaree al-Kheir in the west, are suffering marked food and supply shortages.

According to a local source in Karama, foodstuffs have not entered the village since February 9, and residents have been living off of the remaining produce in the city. Freshwater reserves have almost run out, and bottled water is no longer available, the source says, adding that most children in the village have not been able to receive vaccinations as part of a vaccination campaign that began last week.

There are similar circumstances in Zaree al-Kheir. A resident says that children have also not been able to receive vaccinations, and that there are no food products available, as transportation in and out of the village is prohibited.

Some families turned to the prospect of food supplies distributed by the Armed Forces in certain areas of North Sinai. However, residents say that the military supply trucks did not have enough supplies to meet demand.  

An Armed Forces vehicle arrives with supplies, residents say, and dozens of people flock to it. But when the crates run out, the vehicle drives off, leaving behind hundreds of residents empty handed.

A few days after the military campaign began, there were reports of a food crisis in the Sinai Cement Factory, which is owned by businessman Hassan Rateb. The reports indicated that there was a lack of drinking water inside the factory, as well as that workers were not receiving meals.

An official at the factory, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, denies that there were food shortages, saying that approximately 1,200 meals, consisting of meat, vegetables and bread, are distributed to workers and employees every day.

The official adds that the factory has water wells connected to filters that run throughout the day and that the factory retains emergency supplies, which include food.

As for the origin of the reports of a food crisis, the factory official speculates that they were rumors spread on social media with the aim of pressuring factory administration to coordinate with the Armed Forces to transport employees to their homes. With production at the factory having been halted since February 9, primarily due to road closures and the lack of heavy transport vehicles, the source says that employees’ demands to return to their homes are legitimate.

An employee who lives in the cement factory corroborates the official’s account that there is no shortage of food. Instead, the employee states that none of the workers at the factory took their weekly vacation last week because of the ongoing military operation, believing this to be the source of their anger. “All the workers want to see their children and their families, especially with the food shortage in the governorate and the fact that production has halted in the factory.”

Fuel crisis

A number of gas stations stopped fueling cars once the military operation began on February 9. The result has been a notable absence of private cars and taxis on North Sinai streets.

The Petroleum Ministry denied on February 13 that it had ordered the closure of North Sinai gas stations, calling reports that it had baseless rumors.

Despite the ministry’s denial, the North Sinai Governorate deployed buses along particular routes inside Arish, due to the shortage of public transportation in the city and the subsequent rise in public transport prices. An eyewitness also says police forces were dispatched to protect fuel stations in central Arish using armored vehicles.

A number of taxi drivers complain that the fuel crisis is disrupting their work, with one of them telling Mada Masr that his “life stopped after fuel stations stopped giving us fuel,” as he has no other source of income.

According to the driver, the cost of fuel on the black market has risen to LE400 for a 20 liter can, several times its normal value, with prices continuing to increase as more drivers resort to the black market.

There is another problem affecting business, the driver says. In an effort to limit internet communication in the area, security forces have confiscated taxi drivers’ smartphones, which they use to contact their customers. With a lack of mobile phone company branches inside Arish, drivers have been unable to obtain new sim cards, leaving many of their customers unable to reach them.

Residents have attempted to overcome the fuel crisis by using bicycles.

A bicycle sales and repairman on 26 July Street in downtown Arish says his shop has witnessed unusually high activity since the end of last week, as many people have come in to fix their old bikes.