Failure to Manage Our Cities [Archives:1998/38/Viewpoint]

September 21 1998

The worldwide phenomenon of rural-to-urban migration has left its mark on Yemen. A country that had no real urban centers only a quarter of century ago, today has nearly one dozen cities of more than 100,000 people, and the capital city, Sanaa, boasts more than a million. The human influx to our cities is destined to continue, for a multiple of reasons, notably economics.
The phenomenon is itself a problem. But what is even more problematic for Yemen is that the nation has failed to manage its urban affairs. Let me use some examples:
1. Traffic:
Traffic flow in Yemeni cities is nothing short of chaotic. It is a reflection of the standard rule among Yemenis – the big intimidate the small into submission. So the guy driving the bigger car has right of way, no matter of what.
One witnesses many violations – frequent change of lanes, going through red lights, double parking, wrong parking, awful congestions at qat and other market places, speeding, etc.
The nation has been unable to manage traffic flows in its cities.
2. Garbage:
City people, given their higher level of affluence and different lifestyle, produce more garbage than village people. And given the high concentration of residents in small land areas, cities put out a lot of garbage. Yemeni cities have failed to collect it.
With visible international help (Dutch, Japanese, etc.), municipal authorities have been unable to collect garbage on a regular basis. Why? Nobody knows why we fail, but we do. The stockpiles of garbage in various streets, especially the capital city, Sanaa, is glaring proof to this failure.
3. Streets:
The per kilometer expenditure of Yemen on street construction and repair is about three-fold the average in Jordan, Oman and some other countries. Even then, the quality of Yemeni streets and their maintenance is very low. As a result, most streets fall in disrepair rather fast. Yemen has failed dismally in taking care of its urban streets, and this failure grows as the street network grows and commissions and foul-play grow.
4. Utilities:
Infrastructure and utility services have been unable to keep pace with sprawling cities and rising demand. As a result, big chunks of our cities are dark at night, have no water or drainage facilities, no parks, etc. While the main reason for this phenomenon is finance, lack of proper planning and management also play a major role.
5. Zoning:
Yemeni cities have yet to comprehend the concept of zoning. Thus, you will find a school next to a welding shop, a restaurant, a residence, a grocery store, a tube puncture repair place, etc. Zoning is an integral part of modern cities, which we have not yet appreciated.
6. Financial Reports:
Finally, I have yet to see any published statement of the finances of our cities. This is especially true of the capital city which has ample financial resources. Why isn’t anybody asking for a full statement of revenues and expenditures of our cities?
Prof. Dr. Abdulaziz AL-SAQQAF
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher