In the old city of Sana’aHistoric houses stand precariously [Archives:2005/843/Community]

May 19 2005

Hassan Al-Zaidi
The Old City of Sana'a is among the world's oldest cities. It was built by Sam, Noah's son and has been since named after him (called sometimes the City of Sam). Of the characteristics of Sana'a is Bab al-Yemen, a southern gateway which leads into the city. Another landmark is al-Jama'e al-Kabeer (Grand Mosque) which was built upon the order of the Prophet (PBUH). Recently, an international effort aimed at conserving this city has become apparent. Maintenance and rehabilitation is conducted in collaboration with the UNESCO.

However, a question that poses itself now is “Who should remove damage caused to houses by waste water coming from the Grand Mosque. Specialized committees say that the bases of houses have been affected making houses liable to fall on their inhabitants.

The Yemen Times representative went over to see depressed people in houses waiting for an inevitable collapse. Some of the houses have been abandoned while the remainder of residents have their lives at stake specially during the monsoon.

Yahya Mohammed Asdah, an owner of a 5-story house said, “The Higher Commission for the Conservation of the Old City of Sana'a is responsible. Our historic homes date back to 600 years ago. They had withstood all that time span until three years ago. Waste water from the sanitary disposal system installed by a Korean company in mid 80s of the last century leaked out and dampened the ground. Consequently, cracks appeared on the parts of the houses close to the ground. We are affected because our houses are in the vicinity of the Grand Mosque.”

Because of the sodden ground, houses sank. According to Asdah, this is confirmed by engineers and the Higher Commission chaired by Ahmed al-Ansi, Presidency Office's General Manager. The Higher Commission delays resolving the issue.

He added, “We called on all authorities. We were told that our houses would be bought from us. Several committees visited the houses to estimate their price but with no tangible result. They neither made maintenance to what they damaged nor compensated us. We live in jeopardy and we put the responsibility on the President and the government for 150 lives in the 12 five-story houses.”

The State is responsible for our safety:

Ibrahim al-Moayad told us saying, “We live next to the most important site in the center of Sana'a, that is, the Grand Mosque. However, we are awaiting a certain death due to sewage water. Engineers have admitted to the damage caused to our houses but they did not provide solutions. We can't afford to rent new houses. Our 5-story house contains over 30 people. Rainwater penetrates into the house. Despite our repeated pleas, no one responded except for the Minister of Human Rights whose cooperation we appreciate.

“I am afraid and anxious about this situation. I feel that all families are imperiled. When the government damages citizens' houses, tell me who on earth is responsible for maintenance and saving people's lives. Over three years, we have only received lies, unfulfilled promises and procrastinated action.”

Even the UNESCO doesn't care for us:

“I live with my five children,” said Amin al-Daram. “my wife left us for her father's home. We live in terror. When it is raining, I go to my father-in-law's fearing that the house might fall on us. I am not able to rent another house. Therefore, I send an SOS message to the President. Even the UNESCO which numerated all houses did not visit us.”

Opinion of official authorities:

We have recieved a number of memos from the Prime Minister directing the ministries of public works, electricity, and culture as well as the General Authority for Historic Cities Conservation to examine the complaints and take necessary action to cope with the situation.

The General Authority sent a memo to the Ministry of Finance asking for an allotment of YR 25,804,650 (half of the amount to be considered as part of the General Authority's budget) to hastily conserve the damaged houses which pose a threat to residents and pedestrians. The problems worsen day by day. Yet the General Authority told us that it had not received a reply from the Ministry of Finance.

The minute of the ninth meeting of the Higher Commission held at the Republic Presidency Office on March 10, 2004 ordered the formation of a committee including members from the Ministry of Endowment, local council, General Authority and residents' representatives to assess the price of the houses and study the possibility of purchasing them to expand the area of the Grand Mosque and remove damages. Yet, the committee since then has not settled the subject. The government did not purchase them nor did it rehabilitate them. The residents did not get compensation for damages and they are helplessly waiting for the disaster to take place.