This past month, the floods in Yemen brought even more damage to a country already on the brink of disaster, by killing around 200 people. Moreover, the torrential rain also destroyed homes and UNESCO-listed world heritage sites across the country. All of this adds up to the existing problems created by floods this year, which reports state to be the worst within the last decades, although it is a common problem in Yemen at this time of year.
In the mainly-government-held province of Maarib east of the capital Sanaa, 19 children were among 30 people killed by the floods, a government official said. Also, in the province’s displaced person camps, 1,340 families saw their tents and belongings swept away.
Over 200 houses in Yemen’s the UNESCO-listed Old City of Sanaa are also collapsing due to heavy rains, as months of floods and storms assail a country already reeling from war, food shortages, and disease, with 80% of the population reliant on aid, a general situation which the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis after five years of war between a Saudi-backed government and Iran-allied Houthi rebels. The crisis also claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced some three million people.
These distinctive brown and white mud-brick houses, with their ochre brick facades and white latticework windows, of Sanaa’s historic neighborhoods, which date from before the 11th century, have long been under threat from conflict and neglect. Moreover, the Old City is said to have been inhabited without interruption for more than 2,500 years, even though recently the foundations of the houses were weakened by the war’s bombings.
“Since dawn, we have been trying to clean the mud off the roofs and drain the water, but it’s no use,” said Ali al-Ward, a long-time resident. “We sleep with fear in the pits of our stomachs. We are between life and death,” stated the man as he surveyed the damage in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed site.
The extent of the damage can be blamed on years of “negligence and a lack of maintenance”, said Doaa al-Wassiei, an official with the authority that manages Yemen’s historic towns. “Sanaa is literally melting. The bombings which struck the town have made the foundations fragile. The rain has come to finish off whatever was left,” added Wassiei, who is also a member of a heritage protection group. “Undoubtedly budgets are squeezed because of the war but this is about our identity, and just as we defend our country, so we must defend our identity.” Moreover, she called for more coordination between government and civil society groups involved in conservation.
“Countless families have lost everything,” said Ms. Lise Grande, Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen. “This tragedy comes on top of the COVID-19 crisis, which comes on top of the pre-famine last year, which came on top of the worst cholera outbreak in modern history.”
Flooding has damaged roads, bridges and the electricity grid, and contaminated water supplies, cutting access to basic services for thousands of people. Conditions are hardest for thousands of families already displaced who have now lost shelter, food rations, and household supplies.
Humanitarian agencies have rushed to provide life-saving assistance including emergency health care, food packs, shelter, clean water, and survival items. Agencies are also helping to drain water and clean flooded sites.
Besides the damage brought upon the population’s belongings, the rain helps spread diseases like cholera, dengue fever, and malaria.