Happy New Year to all! [Archives:2006/908/Viewpoint]

January 2 2006

“You can't challenge nature, you can only come to terms with it.” This was what an old man sitting next to the remains of Dhifar village said. Sad eyes, and panicking calls characterised the catastrophe that took place on Thursday at Dhafir village in Bani Matar District, Sana'a Governorate. Landslides caused by a mountain avalanche destroyed more than 31 houses. Estimations indicate more than 50 dead, and the counter is counting. The tragedy has been exaggerated because of weak infrastructure coupled with the unprepared state of the country's emergency units. Civil defence and emergency forces rushed to the village and yet there was only little that could be done to save lives. “It is beyond our abilities, we need at least 10 days to remove the huge rocks and discover what is beneath them.” Explained one of the search and rescue officers at the site.

Earthquakes and landslides were not on the disaster's management unit's priority agenda. It was thought that Yemen was likely to have disasters relating to floods, droughts, epidemics, even man made disasters such as civil wars and tribal clashes. Yet, the Earthquake Monitoring Center in Dhamar conveyed in more than one occasion that the northern part of Yemen is sitting on a volcanic area and that it is very likely to erupt at any time. It also reported that slides, earthquakes are very likely. However, it's not until something like the Dhamar earthquake in 1981 takes place and villages are swept underground that the information sinks in. Dr. Sha'alan director of the Earthquake Monitoring Center commented to me that: “Earthquakes don't kill people, it is buildings that do.” He was talking about chaotic construction, and that many of the houses built in disaster prone areas do not withstand even the minimum standards either in location or in construction. Fifteen houses of the destroyed village were completely squashed under the rocks because they were located immediately under the broken mountain. There were 8 story mud buildings that turned into dust in a matter of seconds.

The mortality number toll increases every hour especially that the rescue authorities do not have the required manpower or technical expertise to minimize the damage. In some cases rescue authorities do not even have the required common sense to act without causing more damage. “The bulldozers were used too soon before the rescue teams could investigate underneath the big boulders for survivals, we know the authorities meant well, but it was a total mess,” the citizens complained.

With the German's kidnapped at one end of the country and the landslides at the other, the stability of the country is in question again. Yet, in spite of all what happened – and is still happening – the Yemeni people remain of the friendliest people around the world. Quotes from many tourists and foreigners who have visited this peculiar country state, in more than one way, that it is a country worth loving. For Yemen, this is an achievement on its own, and perhaps something to celebrate the New Year with, and to hope that this coming year brings prosperity, joy and especially peace to Yemen and all people around the world. Happy New Year!