In Jabal Al-Melh, local landowners dominated, exploited by wealthy sheikhs in powerful roles
Areas around the mountain have been dug out by tractors to establish salt and gypsum mines.
Hassan Al-Aqily, a resident and one of the mine's owners, said the real owners of the mountain, himself included, work for local sheikhs who took hold of the mountain and began to exploit its owners.
The documents proving the local families' ownership of the mountain go back to the Ottoman era. Hassan Al-Hasser has an Ottoman document indicating that Jabal Al-Melh belongs to the Bani Al-Hasser, Bani Al-Aqily, Bani Al-Hareb and Bani Al-Saket families, who live in the surrounding areas, and not to the sheikhs.
When the original owners decided to prove their ownership of the mountain based on legal documents, sheikhs sent them to prison.
Gypsum is taken by trucks from the mountain to Jizan, Saudi Arabia, while salt is sold in Yemeni markets. Al-Aqily said the mountain could also contain gold.
Two years ago, A.N., a businessman from the area, returned to Yemen to invest in the mountain. He signed business contracts with the original owners of the mountain, but the sheikhs in the area refused to allow him to do business there. The sheikhs claimed they were attempting to preserve the historical mountain from destruction.
So far, six salt and gypsum mines have been established in the eastern part of the mountain, some of which belong to wealthy people from Amran governorate, who signed land contracts with the sheikhs.
A large salt mine in the mountain under state ownership operated for 40 years, giving poor people the opportunity to earn a living. However, operations stopped and the workers were forced to find work in six illegal mines.
Mohammed Abdullah Ozaiq, a mine worker and one of the original owners, said that as of three years ago in the state-run mine, workers were paid YR 15 for digging a 15 kg bag of salt, whereas they are now paid YR 8 in the illegal mines. They must also pay transportation costs for the salt.
From early morning to noon, Al-Aqily works to produce 20 bags of salt and receives YR 160.
Several dozen people from surrounding villages work in the six illegal mines. Although the sheikhs controlling the mines take in immense income from selling salt and gypsum, they pay their workers salaries that don't sustain them.
A shipment of salt is sold for more than YR 100,000, and the gypsum is sold for even higher prices in Saudi Arabia.
However, this money is not being used to stem the destruction to the mountain caused by the digging. Historical Ottoman castles and fortifications on the mountain are crumbling as the digging continues.