A project to develop human development in Socotra [Archives:2008/1208/Culture]

November 17 2008

Ola Al-Shami
Most of the projects in Socotra Island are directed towards the preservation of its natural wealth especially that it is competing to be voted as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. However not much attention has been directed to the 70,000 inhabitants living in both its two administrative districts; Hadibo and Qalansiya.

Although administratively the island follow Hadramout governorate the island people have maintained their very distinctive culture and even language (Socotri), and were not exposed to the modern day civilization except for a small percentage in the main towns.

According to the DBT Socotra Adventure Tour website, Socotra's population is divided between the inhabitants of the mountainous interior and the islands' coastal regions.

The former have traditionally made their living herding goats, sheep and cows and harvesting their date palms, while the latter's livelihood has been based on fishing. Some of the fishermen on the island's northern coast are of African origin, having been brought over at the end of the 19th century to work for the Sultan.

Since 1999, when the island's airstrip was lengthened, enabling flights year-round, including during the four month summer monsoon, development on the island has expanded rapidly. Simultaneously, Yemenis from the mainland have immigrated to Socotra in greater numbers, opening numerous shops in the island's capital, Hadibo.

Socotra heavily depends on outside support, which comes mainly from the Yemeni Government and some development programs of NGO's and International Organizations. An estimated number of 8,000 Socotr is live and work in the Emirates, probably contributing considerably to the income of related families on the island. Due to the insufficient provision of basic human needs, such as access to sustainable livelihoods, safe water, health services, education etc.., a majority of the population of Socotra Archipelago are considered to live below the absolute poverty line.

A project to help the people

Defending and Protecting Socotra project is funded by the French government and carried out by the Cultural Development Programs Foundation aims at developing the human capacity, especially women's, of some of the remote population aggregations in the island.

“Many people go to Socotra to enjoy the natural scenes and to see the rare plants; however no one knows how the natives there live” Dr. Raufa Hassan director of the foundation.

Medicines Du Monde also supports the program in terms of technical and medical awareness and medical equipment and first aid kits to be used in the communities for basic health care.

Within the project's framework, three women's associations were established in two in the main towns and one in the less accessible area of in Hom Heel village.

Despite the fact that very capable women run the associations, the challenges are tremendous.

The women living in Hom Heel, which is located on the top of a mountain, are isolated from other cities and so their situation is the most difficult. Trainers from the more developed areas in the Island and from Sana'a often travel to Hom Heel to help raise awareness and build local capacity.

According to the projects baseline survey carried out last year, there is a huge disparity between the awareness levels of those living in the main cities and the rest of the island especially for women. The illiteracy rate is very high exceeding 90 percent among women in the remote areas and there are no health care or medical.

“I saw a child that was burned with a hot rod to cure his diarrhea. That led me to think about the people and improving their lifestyles” said Dr. Hassan.

She added “One of the challenges that face us is that people in general are ignored from the government. It rather pays much attention to the trees, turtles, and stones.” Paying more attention to raise awareness among human is the only guarantee to conserve anything else Hassan explained.

Dr. Hassan also requested the Ministry of Tourism to train Socotra tourist guides the fundamentals of the tourism industry and to provide them with the necessary historical and technical information about the places in the island.