Safiah Hussain Al Raimi stood for hours outside a store in Yemen's capital for five days to buy a tank of cooking gas to prepare food for her husband and four children. She left empty-handed each time.
"Life is becoming hell here and we can't afford it," Al Raimi, 43, said as she lined up during her fifth attempt. "We have no gas, no power, not enough food."
As President Ali Abdullah Saleh clings to power and Yemen edges closer to civil war, the country has become paralysed by shortages of fuel, bread, sugar and milk. Power cuts, which were the source of riots in the south last year, are now commonplace across the country, already the Arab world's poorest and a base for Al Qaida terrorist activity.
With the wave of Mideast uprisings in its fifth month, the issue of how long Saleh's regime will last is being compounded by the question of what would be left of the country should he be ousted.
"Yemen's economy is already at a crisis point," said Will Picard, director of the Yemen Peace Project, a US-based group. "No one is earning money, save the gasoline sellers, arms dealers, and foreign journalists."
Shortages of cooking gas and petrol are being reported across the country, and cars are often turned away as they try to refuel.
The shelves at local supermarkets are increasingly barren, with basic food items marketed up amid low stock. The price of a 110 pound sack of sugar jumped 22 per cent to $51.50 (Dh189) at Al Raimi's local grocery store since the protests escalated in February.
Yemen already faces a severe water shortage, with the World Bank forecasting that Sana'a will be the first capital city to run out of water by 2025.
More than half the country's population of 23 million is under 20 years old and about 40 per cent of the people live on the equivalent of less than $2 a day, according to the United Nations.
Not in good shape
Oil accounts for 60 per cent of government revenue and 90 per cent of exports, the International Monetary Fund said in a report on April 8. Oil reserves are expected to be depleted within a decade, the Washington-based organisation said. Saleh said on Wednesday that the economy was, "not in good shape."
Industry and Trade Minister Hisham Sharaf said the protests cost Yemen $4 billion and a growing budget deficit, now expected to reach $3 billion, threatens to destroy the country.
"The government is running out of money," Abdul Gani Aryani, an independent political analyst, said in a telephone interview from Sana'a. "The deficit is now close to half the national budget and as a consequence there isn't enough foreign exchange to import foodstuffs."
Black markets are burgeoning across Yemen as people look to profit from the shortages. Khalid Saleh, a supermarket owner in Sana'a, said he's losing business by the day and revenue has fallen 30 per cent since the uprisings began. Al Raimi said she can't afford the marked up prices.
"I bought a cooking machine that works on electricity but it's impossible since power goes off four times a day, each time for three or four hours," she said. Yemenis struggled to make ends meet before anti-government protests seeking to topple Saleh deepened the economic crisis. Demonstrators, like their counterparts in Libya and Syria, are demanding an end to corruption, and more jobs and freedom. The difference in Yemen is that Saleh's opposition is fragmented along tribal lines, posing the biggest challenge to the country since north and south were unified in 1990. Saleh said on Wednesday that recent violent threatened civil war and accused Al Qaida of inciting protests.
"Every day Saleh stays on the throne is another day that Yemen's already non-existent wealth is divvied up among his allies-for-hire," Picard said by email on May 23. "Economic recovery of any kind would be impossible given that fact." A US ally and the ancestral home of Osama Bin Laden, Saleh also struggled to quell the threat of terrorists. Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based branch of the group, said in a May 10 statement that it would avenge Bin Laden's death in a Pakistan raid on his hideout by US forces.
Last week, prospects for peace grew dimmer after the Gulf Cooperation Council abandoned efforts to broker an agreement between the country's political parties that would pave the way for a transition of power in Yemen. Saleh, who reiterated on Wednesday that he would be willing to sign the agreement, earlier called the deal a "coup on constitutional legitimacy." Anti-government protesters maintain the only acceptable solution is for Saleh to leave immediately.
"Outside investors and foreign donors will not put a penny into this country if things continue to looks so unstable," Mustafa Alani, director of security and terrorism research at the Gulf Research Centre, said by telephone from Dubai. "These problems will not go away with a magic stick.