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First World War: A time of starvation in the Gulf

Discussion in 'Middle East & Africa' started by Al Bhatti, Jun 28, 2014.

  1. Al Bhatti


    Nov 16, 2009
    +6 / 4,987 / -0
    United Arab Emirates
    June 26, 2014

    Interview with Shaikha Jassem Al Suwaidi surrounded with her photographes, the first Emirati photographer, to talk about the UAE before 1920.

    First World War: A time of starvation in the Gulf
    Stories have been handed down of hungry and lean years during and after the First World War

    The 100th anniversary of the First World War is being marked around the world tomorrow, remembering the 10 million who lost their lives and 20 million more who were injured.

    Shaikha Jasem Al Suwaidi, the first Emirati woman photographer, sat down with Gulf News just before the centenary of the Great War to recount how the area that would become the UAE was affected, and how people struggled to survive during the years of famine and hardships.
    The British Empire had a strong presence in the region since the 18th century, and its growing victories in India further enhanced its interests in the Gulf as it focused on protecting its maritime trade route. But when war broke out, the welfare of people living in the Trucial States was lost. Shaikha, 82, remembers the stories as told by her parents, who faced the extreme circumstances of either finding food or death by starvation.

    “During the war, the world was in chaos and the British could not provide the necessities for the local people, which lead them to starve. It was a very tough time for everybody. The people themselves did not have much to live from as they either worked in the farming, fishery or pearl diving industries,” she says.

    By late 1930s, the local people were already struggling to cope with lack of food and money, and to avoid starvation, many had migrated to Kuwait and Bahrain.

    “The situation deteriorated further and led to more starvation when the Second World War struck,” she said.

    By the late 1930s, the economic situation had all but collapsed.

    Businesses came to a halt, people started taking the odd job offered by the wealthier, and Shaikha explains that as there was hardly any money to go around, people would receive dates as their daily wage. “Others were also putting their children in to the care of wealthier families, as they could no longer support them. That way, parents would be assured that at least one of their children would be taken care of and survive,” she says.

    People from the Trucial States, as was the custom in the rest of the Arab World, dated years by the most important events that took place, and that year was then known as Sinnat Al Gahat [Year of Starvation and Poverty].

    The level of desperation was so great, that there were cases in Ras Al Khaimah when children were trampled on and killed by a stampede as everybody rushed to a shipment that was donating free sugar. “There were two dhows that would dock at port once a month, carrying goods from Basra, Zanzibar, Iran and Kuwait. Everybody knew in advance when the ship would dock, and what little money people had, would rush to get goods.”

    The struggle for survival however, did not stop there. Not soon afterwards, a raging fire broke out in the populated district of Bur Dubai, tearing down homes and shops.

    “This period of time was known as Sinnat Al Hareeja [Year of the Fire], when a fire running from Al Fahidi Fort to Al Shindagha area burnt people’s homes to ashes. Not everyone had their houses made of stone because they could not afford it, but still lived in homes made from palm trees. They lost everything.”

    Identity cards

    Local authorities started taking matters into their own hands. That year, explains Shaikha, was called Sinnat Al Bataaqa [Year of Identification], when Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, then the ruler of Dubai, ordered identification cards to families with limited income.

    “Families were identified and food was distributed to them, because otherwise, there was nothing for them to live on. The average income of a person was two rupees per month, which was not enough to buy sugar at the time, as 4kg of sugar cost 30 rupees. At that time, wealthy families had a problem buying food but poor people could not even smell it,” she says.

    The Trucial States were still battling famine when the Second World War broke out, and by 1940, the first British battalion and their military equipment arrived in Sharjah.

    “The British had a difficult time to get land for their military base and after being refused by the other emirates, they eventually were granted land in Sharjah. It was roughly in the mid-1940s when the country slowly started to pick up, and people had the means to start their own business,” she explains.

    In 1946, the British Bank opened its first branch near Dubai Creek and goods, consisting of textiles, wood, buildings materials, and a few cosmetics, were imported in the country — coming from Iraq, Iran, India and the East African Coast.

    Fact Box
    Through the LENS

    Shaikha Jasem Al Suwaidi

    Born in Deira, near Hamriya, in 1932, Shaikha’s father was a pearl diver who went out to sea for three months at a time to put food on the table. Her father was one of the many men who left their families behind to earn a living.

    While the men were away, Shaikha’s mother, Fatima Abdulla Humaid was given the responsibility of guarding their neighbourhood in Al Fahidi area during the night – armed with a torch, a pistol and a sword. “But she was instructed never to fire it,” Shaikha says.

    Her passion for photography started in the 1950s, when she asked a photographer to teach her how to use a camera and develop her own film.

    In 2010, her pictures were published in a book with other old photos of Dubai, and she received the Shaikh Mansour Bin Mohammad Photography Award. She has also received recognition from the Organisation of Arab Photographers.

    First World War: A time of starvation in the Gulf | GulfNews.com
  2. e3nad3alek

    e3nad3alek FULL MEMBER

    Nov 6, 2013
    +0 / 107 / -0
    the headline is misleading, it was a time of starvation in UAE. kuwait and bahrain weren't starving.

    Last edited: Jun 29, 2014