Torrential rains devastate mud houses in Yemen: at least 130 dead

August 19, 2020

At least 130 people have died from mid-July to today in Yemen due to torrential rains that hit the historic center of the capital Sana’a, a UNESCOs world heritage site since 1986. That is yet another challenge for Yemen. Powerless stage of a bloody civil war, the unconscious land of a geostrategic game that involves more external actors than the warring factions. A perfect storm that, so far, has caused the most concerning humanitarian emergency of the last decade, one of the worst of our century.

A context where the tragedy is famine, with 10 million people at risk of hunger. But also, the wave of epidemics that have hit the country. Covid-19 has recorded almost 500 deaths, numbers that dance between official and insufficiency. The health system is on the verge of collapse, unable to face an emergency of this magnitude. There are no masks, or very few, as well as extreme difficulties in finding other sanitary materials.

It’s a picture of suffering and difficulty, in which the rains made their contribution by striking the historical memory of Yemen to the heart. An exceptional weather wave, which produced weeks of rain to the point of causing the floods that razed part of that old city, the World Heritage Site. The worst, unexpected blow that soothes the community sense belonging that the violence of the ongoing conflict had not yet managed to dent. The fury of the civil conflict wears the country down from the inside, in a sort of Libyan scenario but without the strategic presence of others, except Middle Eastern powers.

The call for intervention by the international community is a mantra that accompanies who tries to peer beyond the curtain of indifference that hides the drama of Yemen. The broadsides between rebels and loyalists trigger dynamics farther than the simple advancement or retreat of one’s position. A crack in which mud, for centuries an instrument of architectural wonders, ended up entering, pushed by the torrential rains.

The complex of peculiar buildings, many of which date back to the 11th century, is on the UNESCOs World Heritage List since 1986 as the “old city” of Sana’a. A site that includes, according to the portal of the United Nations Agency, “103 mosques, 14 hammams and over 6 thousand houses”. Since 2015, UNESCO has placed Sana’a among the “endangered” sites for obvious reasons linked to political insecurity. The abnormal rainfall this summer caused the collapse of 110 of the thousand-year-old buildings in dried brick, a peculiarity of the ancient capital: another 5 thousand buildings in the historic center.

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