Yemen’s fuel crisis: Deliveries on horseback


A takeaway service in Yemen is delivering food on horseback amid severe fuel shortages that are pushing parts of the war-torn country to a pre-industrial state.

The streets of Sanaa echo with the clippety-clop of horses’ hoofs as the Tawseel delivery company transports food throughout the city without using petrol-guzzling motorbikes.

The company’s riders, dressed in red company uniforms and wearing catering bags, began roaming the city on horseback last week.

The sight provoked a strong public reaction, with pictures of the horsemen going viral and some people referring to the riders as knights.

Some were amazed at such a resourceful idea in a time of war, while others expressed sadness that businesses have been pushed to such desperate measures, while motorcycles stand idle.

“So Tawseel, a food delivery service, started delivering food using horses due to the fuel crisis in Sanaa, well! I have mixed feelings, this looks creative (resilience) but the truth is people are pushed to the limit! Aggressively pushed,” Hana Al Shawafi, a Yemeni development company employee, wrote on Twitter.

Yemen’s fuel crisis

AbdulHamid Thaiyban, the owner of the service, told The National that his company started using horses because of the severe fuel crisis that has hit Sanaa in recent months.

“The majority of the motorcyclists working with us decided to stop working due to the chronic fuel crisis the city has been living with, while others stopped as their bikes broke down because of the adulterated fuel they usually buy on the black market,” Mr Thaiyban said.

“It is really painful. We found ourselves unable to carry on during such hardship, so we resorted to using horses to convey a message to the world that we are suffering as a new start-up.”

Fuel shortages have been a fact of life in Sanaa for at least four years, but the situation has reached crisis point. Bakers who usually relied on gas or diesel have switched to using wood.

“Last week we hired a dozen horses as a first experiment,” Mr Thaiyban said. Things went well and his clients were happy with the service.

“We will consider hiring more horses in case the fuel crisis continues,” he said.

Tawseel Company for Food Delivery was established in Sanaa in March 2020 as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic, when many vulnerable people were unable to leave their homes. The company provides its service through a team composed of 30 riders, called “captains”, who in normal circumstances deliver food by motorcycle.

“We work with restaurants and cafes to deliver food to clients in their homes and in their workplaces and get commissions for our work,” Mr Thaiyban said.

“Our main transportation tool was motorcycles but as the fuel crisis tightened in Sanaa, we resorted to using horse.”

Twenty litres of petrol costs 35,000 Yemeni riyals, about $60 at the street rate in Sanaa, where a dollar was worth 600 riyals at the weekend.

“In addition to the fuel crisis, we face another challenge which is the internet outage, because most of the requests we receive are through apps,” Mr Thaiyban said.

The majority of the company’s clients praise the idea of using horses to continue the delivery service.

“It proves that the company is keen to provide the service to its clients in such critical circumstances at any cost,” Ahmed Najeeb, a client from Sanaa, told The National.

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