UNESCO’s Response to Torrential Rain Damage in Yemen’s Historical Centres

Based on a damage assessment conducted with the General Organization for the Preservation of Historic Cities in Yemen (GOPHCY) and the Social Fund for Development (SFD) at the beginning of the European Funded cash-for-work project, 129 buildings were identified for intervention in the Old City of Sanaa. UNESCO with its local partners developed a rigorous selection criterion to identify the buildings with the most urgent interventions over three phased workplan. The first phase of intervention ended before Eid Al-Adha holiday with successfully protecting 40 buildings from collapse. Without such interventions, the buildings would have been extremely vulnerable to the extreme weather conditions.

Nonetheless, the recent climate crisis has exacerbated the situation by increasing the number of damaged buildings in the old city. UNESCO has been coordinating with the specialized local authorities and local partners to assess the situation and identify avenues of intervention. According to GOPHCY’s initial assessment, 3 buildings which were not occupied and have been neglected for a number of years have totally collapsed; partial collapse of a single occupited building; 50 buildings have incurred serious damage to their roofs; 111 buildings have an opening in their roofs of a diameter less than 1 meter; approximately 2000 building have suffered from water leakages; and 2 limited segments of the wall of the city were partially damaged.

As a result of the incurred damage, UNESCO and its local partners are finalizing the preparations to start rehabilitation activities in 40 new buildings in the next few days in addition to rehabilitation activities on vulnerable segments of the city wall. The selection of the new sites of intervention is based on the severity of the damage incurred during the recent climate crisis and the established workplans with the local specialized authorities. UNESCO is keen to scale up its interventions in the city in the coming few days to target more buildings by diverting available funds from other activities and focusing on emergency response.

The other two World Heritage sites of Shibam and Zabid have incurred levels of damage less than the observed levels in the Old City of Sanaa. Nonetheless, UNESCO stared working in the two cities with providing emergency restorations and repairs in houses, city walls and public areas. Re-assessment of needs based on recent events are ongoing to assure adequate response together with its local partners.

Considering the limitations of available fund and the large magnitude of damage, UNESCO’s ongoing interventions to safeguard Yemen’s cultural heritage are of rehabilitation nature. The European Union funded cash-for-work project has been designed based on the state of the historical building in the four cities of Aden, Sanaa, Shibam and Zabid over a period of three years and a particular focus on repairs of roofs, walls and foundations. This approach allows the organization to safeguard the structural integrity of more than 400 historical buildings and not exhaust available funds on reconstruction efforts of a fewer number of them.

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