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No license, no problem.

Since 2011, the number of unlicensed gas stations in the capital has boomed. Officials say they are preoccupied with more pressing concerns, but residents fear for their safety. Clashes, car bombs and other explosions leave Sana'a in even greater danger o

With government attention elsewhere, potentially dangerous gas stations spread

Although it is both unsafe and against the law, illegal and unlicensed gas stations have been cropping up in residential neighborhoods throughout the capital city of Sana'a since 2011. Such gas stations pose a threat to the health, well being and safety of residents. Despite that, few actions have been taken by the government to combat their spread. According to Muhammad Hussein Otaf, director of the Capital Secretariat's Gas Management Office, there are roughly 350 stations throughout the city, and their number is increasing.

One such station, owned by local businessman Abdulrahman Murgham, was opened up last August on Khawlan Street in Sana'a's Al-Safi district. "I do not mean to put anyone's lives in danger," said Murgham. "I'm just here trying to provide a service, no one in the neighborhood has complained to me about me being here." Murgham admits that he never obtained a license for his station.

Abdulkarim Meyad, deputy chairman of the Civil Defense Authority--the body within the Ministry of Interior that is charged with preventing natural and man-made disasters--blames the spread of such stations on the fact that the government has been busy dealing with other issues. "The number of unlicensed gas stations operating in the capital have increased since 2011 because the government has been preoccupied with other issues, chief among them, combating terrorism and working to re-establish stability," he says.

Deputy Minister of Interior Ali Nasser Laksha met with representatives from Yemen's LNG Company on Nov. 11 to re-assess the phenomenon of unlicensed gas stations spreading, and to develop stricter rules regarding the monitoring, establishment, and maintenance of such stations.

As of now, the General Investment Authority, a government body established in 1992 to facilitate and promote investments in Yemen, is responsible for issuing licenses for gas stations. It was decided at the meeting that beginning in 2015, this process would be changed. "Now, those seeking to obtain licenses will seek approval for their requests from the Yemen LNG Gas Company and the Public Works Office within the Ministry of Public Works and Highways," according to Meyad. "If approval is received, they will then be sent to the Civil Defense Authority which will make the final decision."

Murgham claims that he previously attempted to obtain a license from Sana'a's Capital Secretariat, but was turned away. "They wanted me to pay a bribe," he said. "I refused." When asked about the role of the Capital Secretariat in issuing licenses, Otaif laughed. "We're purely a regulatory body, that is not involved in issuing licenses," he said. "To me this sounds like an excuse by someone who simply didn't want to go through the necessary procedures to open a gas station."

Otaif claimed that opening up gas stations in residential neighborhoods is dangerous, as gas stations are often prone to explosion in the event that clashes occur, or car bombs are set off, a real possibility in a city like Sana'a. This puts citizens at an unnaturally high level of risk.

According to Meyad, safety requirements stipulate that stations must not be opened in residential neighborhoods, that there be an appropriate number of fire extinguishers present at stations, and that fences are established clearly demarcating the territory of the station.

Abdulsalam Mohammamd, 32, a local resident of Sana'a, shares Otaif's concern. "It reflects badly on the government that gas stations have been set up throughout the capital," he said. "Fires and other explosions are a very real possibility. I still remember the fire that occurred last year in a restaurant on Taiz Street," he recalled.

In January of 2013, leaking gas caused the Eiffel Restaurant on Taiz Street to explode when a stove was turned on. While this incident is not directly related to the spread of unlicensed gas stations, it highlights the general dangers of untrained staff operating gas equipment without proper training and without adhering to specific safety regulations.

By the beginning of next year, unlicensed gas stations in residential areas will be shut down, while others, in less densely populated areas, will be required to comply with safety standards, according to Meyad.

Murgham called the government's attempted crack-down "merciless." "It's not fair that the government should prevent us from earning a living," he complained.

Al-Mikhlaifi, a resident who lives near a recently established gas station in Al-Safia neighborhood, sympathizes with Murgham, saying that, "Gas stations just want to eke out a living." However, he understands that the safety of residents can not be put at risk. As a solution, he suggests that the government simply relocate gas stations, without depriving owners of a means to support themselves.

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Publication:Yemen Times (Sana'a, Yemen)
Geographic Code:7YEME
Date:Dec 9, 2014
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