Devastating agricultural damage in Hadramout and Maharah [Archives:2008/1208/Front Page]

November 17 2008

Aqeel al-Halali
and Yemen Times staff

SANA'A, Nov.16 ) Following the heavy rains and floods that devastated Hadramout and Maharah last month, the government has assessed agricultural damage in Hadramout at YR 67 billion, amid warnings of a possible poliomyelitis outbreak.

Director of Ministry of Public Health and Population's office in Hadramout Coast Al-Abd Ba-Mousa told the Yemen Times that there are fears of the poliomyelitis virus, more commonly known as infantile paralysis or polio, spreading because of the extent of stagnant water and destroyed infrastructure in most districts of the governorate.

He confirmed that international teams of specialists in disaster management and disease control continue to support Yemeni medical efforts in the governorate.

Ba-Mousa urged parents to vaccinate their children against the virus, and a national campaign is being carried out by the Ministry of Health this Monday to raise awareness and curb the spread of the disease.

“This virus is spread by flies, dirty waters and stagnant water pools, all of these factors lead to deteriorating health situation and fertile environment for spreading polio,” he said.

Polio is a highly-contagious viral infectious disease that can affect the central nervous system and cause paralysis. In 2005 there was a polio break-out where over 400 cases were reported in Yemen, but since the beginning of 2006, there has only been one reported incident of polio, according to the World Health Organization.

The Ministry of Health is targeting 4.1 million children under five in its current polio-immunization campaign and aims to announce Yemen free of the disease by 2009.

The director of the Hadramout health office said that previous health fears over possible catastrophe because of dead animals due to floods “have vanished after the government has succeeded in securing the health and environmental situation in Hadramout.” He affirmed that all dead animals threatening the population with the spreading of diseases had been removed. The Yemeni Vets' Association has estimated the number of animals that have due to the floods have exceeded 16,000.

Damage to the agricultural sector

According to the findings of governmental damage-assessment committees, agricultural losses in Hadramout have reached around YR 67 billion. Floods have swept up to 6,955 acres of agricultural land, killed livestock, destroyed beehives and damaged agricultural equipment. The price of honey is expected to double and grain production in both governorates is expected to be low this year. The government plans to boost grain and wheat cultivation in other governorates to make up for the loss.

In Maharah, not only have farms been washed away, but fishermen have also lost their livelihoods with almost 95 fishing boats and fishing equipment belonging to over 450 people lost in the floods, according to a report by the European Commission's Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The government has estimated losses in all sectors in Maharah have been estimated to reach YR 13.7 billion.

The Relief and Assistance Committee, chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister for Interior Affairs, is due to present its final damage report to the government on Tuesday.

Earlier this month government statistic showed that the floods have killed 81 persons in the two governorates. This contradicts reports announced by the United Nation Supreme Commission for Refugees which put the figure of the killed people at 180 and the displaced at over 10,000.

The World Bank and United Nations reports last week estimated damage in the governorates to have reached nearly USD 1 billion.

International relief

International relief assistance to the inhabitants of both governorates has continued steadily this week with donations in money and kind from international organizations and foreign governments.

So far over USD 120 million have been donated for relief efforts by various countries, organizations and individuals, in addition to millions worth of supplies.

Education impeded

About 180 schools were damaged by the floods, grounding education to a halt and leaving thousands of students idle, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) office in Yemen. The problem is compounded by the fact that hundreds of families have taken refuge in 45 schools.

The head of Mukalla Education Office said it had been decided to close schools until a team assessed the damage. Seventy percent of the 42 schools in Mukalla, Hadramout's biggest district in which about 50,000 students are enrolled, were damaged, he said. There were 20,000 to 25,000 displaced people in Hadramout, half of whom were women and children.

Archeological discovery

Uncovered by last month's torrential downpour, a new archeological site has been discovered in the district of Nour in Seyoun, Hadramout. Minister of Culture Mohammed Abu Baker Al-Muflahi called on security forces to protect the site and urged civilians to leave any archeological findings in place for specialists to look at.

Al-Muflahi has also called on international organizations to help protect, restore and re-build the buildings of the historical town of Shibam in Hadramout. Some of the town's mud-brick buildings were destroyed during the floods, while others sustained permanent damage. Built in the 16th century, Shibam has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 2007.