Are we ready for nature’s next anger? [Archives:2006/938/Health]

April 17 2006

Amel Al-Ariqi
[email protected]

Forty mountainous areas, most located in the west and mid-regions of Yemen, risk collapse due to natural erosion, according to geological researcher Salah Ahmed. However, rockslides and collapses are not the only natural disasters threatening citizens' lives.

Last year, the Seismograph Center recorded 2,485 seismic events: 943 on land and 1,342 in Aden Bay and Red Sea territorial waters. Compared to previous years, center General Manager Jamal Shulan said Yemen witnessed extensive seismic activity during 2005 in regions such as Sana'a, Hajja, Al-Mahwit, Al-Beidha, Yafa and Sa'ada. Although such earthquakes did not cause any loss of life, citizens remain afraid, never forgetting damage caused by the 1980s earthquake that hit Dhamar, killing thousands and leaving another thousand homeless.

Current natural disasters

Yemen recently has experienced floods and rockslides causing extensive damage to villages and towns, killing residents and causing others to be missing or homeless.

Yemen's government and citizens are threatened annually by damage incurred by floods due to heavy summer rains. The rains stop, however, the accrued damages remain.

In June 1996, heavy rains and floods struck several Yemeni regions extensively damaging villages and towns. Authorities confirmed that 324 died, 108 were missing, 20,000 were left homeless and another 10,000 were affected. Infrastructure including roads, irrigation canals, water pumps, community power stations and water embankments were damaged severely and a large amount of agricultural soil was washed away. Economic losses were estimated at $1.2 billion.

Nowadays, many Yemeni regions still suffer heavy rain. The media continue reporting the stories and numbers of flood victims in governorates such as Dhamar, Hodeidah, Ibb, Sana'a and Taiz.

Rockslides are another natural disaster that has become a nightmare to citizens, particularly those residing in mountainous villages. The worst incident occurred Dec. 28, 2005 at 9 p.m. when a huge rock collapsed onto Al-Dhafeer village, 42 km. west of Sana'a, killing 65 mostly women and children and crushing approximately 16 houses.

Are we ready for the next disaster?

A Civil Defense report obtained by the Yemen Times reveals that Yemen not only is exposed to earthquakes, floods and rockslides, but also drought, epidemics and locust infestation. This raises a question about the ability to fight or at least reduce the damages of such disasters. The report attempts to answer this question by reviewing government measures and efforts to deal with certain disasters in the past. The report also defined the task of the civil defense body, which is responsible to deal with states of emergency by saving lives and providing affected citizens with water, food and shelter.

However, the report revealed the fact that Yemen still requires a lot to be able to deal with nature's anger. According to the report, many obstacles and difficulties prevent this institution's development, such as shortage of staff equipment, tools and instruction, lack of information and databases and a small budget.

Numbers and victims

Abdulkhaliq Al-Ghaberi, Director General of the Environmental Emergency department, talked about the importance of observing and checking regions that have been exposed to natural disasters, for example to ensure that there are no chemical or radiation leaks from factories which may cause another disaster.

There also is a high possibility of widespread post-disaster disease outbreaks, as damage to water supply lines, sewage lines and hospital facilities, as well as lack of housing, may lead to conditions that contribute to the spread of contagious diseases like influenza and other viral infections. In some instances, lack of food supplies, clean water and heating can create serious health problems as well.

Al-Ghaberi also stressed the importance of raising public awareness about how to deal with bearable disasters, confessing that Yemen is one of the poorest countries regarding reducing disaster damages.

According to Al-Ghaberi, natural disasters cannot be prevented, but the damage they cause can be reduced greatly with communication strategies, proper structural design, emergency preparedness planning and raising public awareness.

Available victim numbers do not reflect each one's real tragic story, nor do they reflect the horrible experience each suffered. However, such numbers give clear evidence of the need for all efforts to reduce the damages from nature's anger.