SANAA: Cry O Beloved City [Archives:1998/20/Viewpoint]

May 18 1998

Yemenis speak with pride of Sanaa, this city of thousands of years of civilization. They speak passionately about the beauty and magnificence of the architecture. They speak eloquently regarding the progressive land use and zoning patterns. They describe the ecologically advanced recycling system of the living style of its people.
And it is all true.
But visitors are immediately struck by the filth and chaos of Sanaa city. They are overwhelmed with the lack of care that is shown in handling the affairs of this lovely city. And it is not due to lack of resources. It is due to lack of vision, lack of commitment, lack of patriotism.
Now, take examples:
1. Late last year, the water drainage system of the First (Inside) Ring Road – east and west sides – was constructed. Evidently, it must have been designed and approved by engineers and people who are well informed about the rain-floods and other factors. With the arrival of only the first rains, it was clear that the job was not well done.
2. Donors gave the city a few years back, garbage collection, compacting and other equipment. Can someone tell us where these machines are today? Can anyone say why they are not being used?
3. The roads in some parts of the city are just awful. It is as if someone is trying to generate business for car spare parts, because the holes and bumps do break many parts in the cars. Look at the ring-road leading to the Old Sanaa University Campus. Look at Hayel (Riyadh) Street. Look at Djibouti Street. The examples are many. Why are the roads left to fall to such disrepair?
4. Have you seen the mountains of garbage pile up. We have foreign laborers picking up the garbage in a country that has an unemployment rate that exceeds 30%. But even then, the job is not done, unless you live close to foreign diplomatic missions or high ranking government officials. There, the garbage is collected more regularly than in other places.
5. Have you seen the schools in the city? Some of them are in excellent shape. But many are hardly a place that inspires any learning. The wear and tear is evident, and there is hardly any maintenance effort.
6. Driving in Sanaa is hell. Even New York cab drivers would throw in the towel. I have seen a few gutsy foreign women enjoy the venture, or rather the adventure. But there is extreme lawlessness in driving.
7. How can we leave our streets to be controlled by hoodlums and gangsters? That is another problem. Although Sanaa is still a small city, by international standards, street violence has increased dramatically. This happens at a time when the state has invested heavily in emergency police cars which are often parked at car intersections. These cars are half full with the remains of qat shrubs.
I can go and on in listing examples of decay. The situation has nothing to do with resources. It has to do with the interest of individuals to do their job. The barometer for this is how much the top executives are interested in doing their own work in a city they see as a milking cow.
They can continue to do the milking for as long as they want, but one day the cow may wither away.
Prof. Dr. Abdulaziz AL-SAQQAF
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher