Director General of Environmental Emergency, Ministry of Water & Environment, National plans do not give priority to disaster risk management [Archives:2007/1012/Health]

January 1 2007
The palms trees remains after the fire that broke out in  Wadi Almulook  in Taiz governorate  in 2004.
The palms trees remains after the fire that broke out in Wadi Almulook in Taiz governorate in 2004.
Engineer Abdulkhaliq Al-Ghaberi
Engineer Abdulkhaliq Al-Ghaberi
Flood in Taiz governorate causing damage to the infrastructure and land in 2006. Flooding occurs during the monsoon season, leading to a loss of productive agricultural lands along the wadis, increasing sedimentation and significant widening of the downstream wadi bed.
Flood in Taiz governorate causing damage to the infrastructure and land in 2006. Flooding occurs during the monsoon season, leading to a loss of productive agricultural lands along the wadis, increasing sedimentation and significant widening of the downstream wadi bed.
By: Amel Al-Ariqi
[email protected]

In the past two decades, Yemen has experienced different types of disasters including earthquakes, flash floods, and epidemics of communicable diseases as well as civil wars. Yemen Times interviewed the general director of Environmental Emergency Unit at the Ministry of Water and Environment. Engineer Abdulkhaliq Al-Ghaberi who highlighted the current situation of the environmental disasters and risks in Yemen.

How would you describe the current situation in Yemen regarding environmental disasters?

Yemen has undergone significant changes since 1990, and these changes are expected to continue and pose a challenge to improving human development conditions in Yemen. Moreover, the concentration of more that 70% of the country's population in rural areas, who are financially poor and lack access to basic services such as safe drinking water, education facilities and sanitation. Government resources are very limited to elicit the needs of geographically distant, vulnerable and isolated communities. In addition , there are a lack of programs to handle the effects of natural hazards and risks, which include flash floods, earthquakes, technological hazards, civil conflicts, urban migration, extreme climate events, desertification, soil erosion, landslide, mudflow, locust invasions, and tsunamis, depletion of groundwater, aquifers and disease epidemics.

According to the world disasters report 2000, within the period 1990-1998, the average number of people affected by disasters annually was 52,561 while more than 100 individuals were killed every year. The report estimated that in 1999 alone about 19,782 persons were affected by disasters in Yemen. Most of those affected have been the vulnerable segments of the society including women and children

In addition to that, many unaccountable risks can be observed to continuously take place in Yemen. A good example is the elevated number of car accidents every week. The number of casualties rarely goes below 50 deaths a week. Yemen also faces a variety of difficulties: desertification, pollution, drought and a scarcity of water.

Yemen offers a unique example of environmental diversity. The preservation of healthy and diversified model environment requires a coherent institutional and legal base, and that is what we are endeavoring to establish. However the considerable material resources necessary for the attainment of this objective still fall short of the essential needs, whether at the level of technology, training or the dissemination of information and awareness among the various population strata regarding this issue of significance for all generations.

According to your previous answer, is there a difference between natural and environmental disasters?

Of course, an environmental disaster is a disaster that is due to human activity and should not be confused with natural disasters. In this case, the impact of humans' alteration of the ecosystem has led to widespread and/or long-lasting consequences. It can include the deaths of animals, humans and plant systems, or severe disruption of human life, possibly requiring migration.

What are the main existing risks and environmental risk sources of natural hazards in Yemen?

We should note that there are many human factors that play a main role to influence the expected risks from the natural hazards:

1- Earthquakes

Yemen is one of the highest vulnerable areas for earthquake activities.

2- Land and terraces degradation

Due to the physiographic characters of the country, most of the arable lands are located within watershed entities. The accelerating degradation of watershed basin of Yemen has serious economic and ecological environmental and social implications. Insufficient information, however, is currently available on the magnitude of resources degradation, on the extent of soil erosion and sand encroachment. Most arable and watershed areas are subjected to extensive soil erosion and desertification. Sand encroachment on agriculture lands areas in the south (around Aden), west (especially Wadi Mawr and southern Tihama) and east (especially around Marib and wadi Al-Jawf) probably represents the most immediate and serious environmental threat in Yemen at present. Erosion from steep basins has resulted in talus fans with coarse gravel and silt along the foothills and gently sloping areas of fine silt along the alluvial plains below the outfalls of wadies( valleys) in the coastal and interior plains

3- Flooding

Flooding occurs during the monsoon season, leading to a loss of productive agricultural lands along the wadis, increasing sedimentation and significant widening of the downstream wadi bed.

4- Firewood

The natural vegetation of acacia scrub in the foothills has been degraded by the search for firewood. Natural forests have almost disappeared due to overcutting for construction, fuel wood, and fodder.

5- Land and rock slides

Most of Yemen's highly populated areas are located in the highlands. So this hazard must be considered a major risk. Many areas in Yemen are exposed to land slide events every year. Most of these events haven't been assessed environmentally


Yemen has experienced the huge Sumatra Tsunami. There are several points that are primarily appointed as high vulnerability for tsunami risk.

How do humans cause such environmental risks?

Manmade factors influencing the risk have an impact on and may cause environmental emergencies:

– Industrial units especially those which are located in the main cities, among the urban areas which lack effective governmental control and environmental monitoring systems.

– Transport activities of hazardous materials is lacking to applicable safety measures

– Mining activities

– Power energy plants where several of these factories are located near environmentally sensitive areas such as the coast of the red sea and gulf of Aden

– Waste water treatment plants in the main cities. Many of these plants are overloaded.

– Food industry factories and activities. It is noted that most of these plant discharge their wastes to the environment without any treatment.

– Public service plants such as vehicle services.

– Infrastructure projects such as roads and building in mountains areas without referring to environmental impact assessments. A Good example for this case is the landslide disaster that happened last year near Taiz. The report of this disasters indicated a road project in the affected area was the main cause of the disaster.

– The extensive use of the natural resources.

What is the role of the law to prevent activities that have a negative impact on the environment?

There are many laws such as the environmental protection law, water law, and civil defense law, but to implement these laws, the government needs to pay attention to establishing a national policy that addresses only disaster risk reduction. Unfortunately disaster risk reduction is not always addressed in any plan. For instance, the national water strategy does not give priority to the subject of disaster risk reduction while giving more attention to drinking water shortage and depletion problems.

What is the role of the Environmental Emergencies Unit, and what are the main challenges the unit faces in this field?

Let me clarify one point: EEU contains two parts , the first is The General Directorate of Environmental Emergency (GDEE) in the Ministry of Water and Environment, and The National Team for Environmental Emergency and Risk Reduction (NTER), in which most of the related governmental bodies are represented. The GDEE will play a technical and coordination role for NTER. NTER will consider a National platform for EE management and RR under Civil Defense Council as a higher umbrella.

In general our role will be to enhance, contribute to developing of national, regional and international partnership programs for Environmental Emergencies (EE) and Disaster Risk Reduction (RR),to introduce and integrate EE and RR provisions among the National Development Plans and Strategies in Yemen, to work on and support developing of National EE management &RR Policies, strategies systems, and legislation, to work on and support developing of national standards and guidelines of recovery, reconstruction and rehabilitation of disaster-affected areas and communities., to issue and implement NECP when EE occurred, to contribute and work on developing, approving, implementing, and supervision of national environmental safety standards guidelines and risk reduction prevention, and mitigation measures to contribute and work on developing, preparing and implementing of EE & RR awareness programs based on a proposal from EE general Directorate, and to review study the International, Regional resolutions, policies and strategies related to EE & RR to identify the best options to deal and apply them at the national and local levels.

EEU has undertaken a number of important initiatives including starting an emergency and contact database, carrying out rapid environmental assessments after disasters, adding environmental emergencies to the National Environmental Statement, proposing updates to national environmental legislation and developing a network of focal points in Yemen. However we faced many difficulties and challenges including:

– Lacking or absence of environmental emergencies awareness at officials, academic and public levels

– Lacking or absence of the basic facilities to deal with EE such as technical equipments, communication and transport tools and early warning system

– Absence of risk maps, and basic information on EE

– Lacking the clear safety legislations, standards, guidelines and principles

– Lacking the appropriate expertise

– Lacking the financial sources to strengthen the coordination and operation mechanisms

– Absence of response equipment

Therefore, there is an urgent need to conduct an immediate awareness program that should cover all levels. In addition, support is highly needed for the National Team for Environmental Emergencies & Disaster Risk Reduction in terms of capacity building and institutional arrangements.

What about the updates and ongoing activities?

Some work has been done so far on applying the recommendations by the international experts to the immediate action in the first three months.

– Developed proposal plan to apply the immediate action recommended in the report. This proposal has been approved by the Minister and secure financial resources for activities.

– Contact with civil defense general directorate (Disaster Management Unit) and identified that the response for the disasters should be the responsibility of disaster management unit and risk reduction would be the tasks of environmental emergency unit.

– EEU has developed a Draft National Environmental Contingency Plan through cooperation and support from Joint UNEP/OCHA Environmental Unit, UNOCHA and UNEP/APELL. This draft is now on modification and adjustment by the NTER member's agencies. Hopefully the final plan will be officially issued mid-2007 .

– Translated the draft contingency plan and distributed it to other agency members on the national team of environmental emergencies and disaster risk reduction.

– EEU organized a workshop on applying the Cairo principles on rehabilitation and the construction of Tsunami Affected Areas from 16-17th of April 2006.