Most businesses provide basic goods and services (like grocery stores, restaurants, khat markets, fuel stations, car mechanics, or roadhouses). One businessman I interviewed recently opened a big supermarket in a cheap, metallic building. He said most merchants try to invest in variable assets, as they are unsure about the security conditions. Even at a high-tech business housed in Marib’s modern market area, there are reminders of the security situation. Although it is a tribal custom for men to carry weapons at all times, including while shopping, the practice has become even more common since the conflict began.
Outskirts dotted with refugee tents
The shortages in infrastructure and public services are even more apparent outside of the city. At the foot of the mountains, dozens of sprawling, makeshift camps host thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs). Due to the lack of humanitarian supplies, many families have pitched their own tents. However, this only solves one problem. Most IDPs also have very limited access to food, clean water, and healthcare.
Just outside the city, I met Saeed, a young boy who was filling potholes on the road leading to the Yemen-Saudi border. His first words to me were, “I am thirsty. Can you give me some water?” Saeed fled with his family from Taiz after the Houthis besieged the city in 2015. After pitching a small tent, he began filling potholes to earn money to feed his family. Despite being confined to the desert, he and his four brothers “are used to life here” and “in Taiz, it would be worse.” He has never known a life without suffering.
While many children in Marib are out of school for economic or other reasons, new schools have been built and existing schools have been expanded to absorb larger numbers of students. In November 2016, the University of Shaba Region was established as the first governmental university in Marib to offer higher education programs to the Marib community. It currently has 9,000 students enrolled, but with only three facilities, overcrowding is a major issue.
Tensions bubbling under the surface
Given the living conditions and diversity of the population, it is surprising that Marib has remained relatively stable internally – especially when one considers the hybrid governance model that has emerged. Multiple actors, including tribal leaders, political elites, military officers, and Saudi-UAE commanders, are managing to work together so far in Marib. In other areas of the country, there are deep rifts between these groups.