The conflict in Yemen, presently in its sixth year, has caused long-term economic decline, high unemployment, and a rise in poverty among Yemeni households. The protracted conflict has posed significant threats to the country’s unique cultural heritage, which has suffered extensive damage. Due to short-term conflict-related factors as well as long-term lack of maintenance, Yemen has lacked the resources to coordinate on the protection and promotion of cultural heritage.
Despite a challenging context, extreme weather conditions affecting several World Heritage Sites, the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as severe risks for operations, UNESCO and the Social Fund for Development were able to implemented emergency rehabilitation works in Sana’a, Shibam, Zabid and Aden that are providing livelihoods support to young male and female beneficiaries and are informed by evidence-based damage assessments and newly produced technical urban rehabilitation guidelines.
Indeed, within its EU-funded project “Cash for Work: Promoting Livelihood Opportunities for Urban Youth in Yemen” UNESCO and its partners have (as of 30 September 2020) : surveyed over 8.000 historical buildings, stabilized and/or rehabilitated 78 historical buildings consisting mainly of private houses and public spaces; enrolled over 848 young workers (781 males and 67 females, representing 5,513 household members) over 17,865 working days in urban rehabilitation works; engaged over 250 youth in cash-based cultural programming and communication campaign on heritage; organized 4 capacity building and consultative workshops for 50 culture operators; and disbursed small grants to 8 cultural CSOs to boost income-generation in the creative sector.
The UNESCO-EU project in Yemen approaches livelihoods and culture needs for youth and local communities through contextualized methodologies of modern heritage rehabilitation and social protection. Activities executed thus far have achieved progress in meeting the most urgent humanitarian needs of crisis — providing access to livelihoods, strengthening economic resilience and restoring social cohesion — while promoting local ownership over the safeguarding of World Heritage.
Participatory cash-for-work schemes in heritage restoration and urban regeneration are implemented in World Heritage Sites for the first time through cohesive community-led approaches. Community-based assessments of priorities and urban rehabilitation works supported by consultations with local government agencies and Master Builder’s associations were carried out based on both inclusive human needs and heritage concerns.
This unprecedented large-scale intervention reaffirms the importance of human-centered approaches to cultural heritage safeguarding and urban resilience that ensure community ownership over heritage management. The Project contributes to an environment for sustainable cultural development that allows communities to come together and maintain their connections with heritage and each other, and appreciate the diversity of cultural traditions and contribute to efforts to rebuild dialogue and peace.