Socotra Workshop: Urgent Need for Upgrading Infrastructure and Services [Archives:2000/25/Last Page]

June 19 2000

Socotra Archipelago, comprising the 3 islands of Socotra, Samha and Abd Al Kuri, is located in the Indian Ocean, 400 km off Yemen’s Gulf of Aden coastline. The islands are known for their unique flora and fauna, breathtaking beaches, impressive mountain ranges and solitude.
Last year’s extensive drought, followed by torrential rains has however, exposed another less well known side of the islands – their vulnerability to natural calamities, the difficulty in providing rapid humanitarian assistance in times of crises, and the poverty of its estimated 45,000 resident population.
The Government of Yemen has laudably reacted to a situation that is largely a result of decades of neglect of this isolated jewel in the crown Ð named Socotra. Hadibo’s airport, previously comprising an airfield that could only accept propeller aircraft, has now been upgraded with a 3.3 km asphalt runway, capable of receiving most of today’s passenger and cargo jet aircraft. The previously erratic air services have now become more dependable with 2 scheduled flights per week from the mainland. The 11 km of one lane gravel from the airport to the town, which took 45 minutes by car, has now given way to a tarmac road, which is cutting travel time in half.
The improvements in access are already attracting investor interest, notably from tour operators and seafood merchants. The government, which has rightly declared most of the islands nature sanctuary and nature reserve status, is however eager to promote the development of the archipelago more systematically and turned to the European Commission for the funding of a Master Plan.
This 15 month exercise, which involves over 30 European and Yemeni subject matter specialists at a cost of close to 1 million Euros commenced in October 1999. The Ministry of Planning and Development, the Environmental Protection Council and the Ministry of Housing convened a workshop in Sana’a on 12 and 13 June to discuss the Phase I Results of the Master Plan.
The chairman of the workshop, H.E. Mr Abdul Rahman Tarmoum, Vice Minister of Planning and Development, the co-chair H.E. Mr. Muhsin al-Hamadani, Chairman of the Environment Protection Council and Mr. Rainer Freund from the European Commission Technical Advisory Office, opened the Workshop with speeches which confirmed government and donor commitment to protect Socotra’s biodiversity, but also to address the pressing humanitarian and development needs of the islands.
Some 100 representatives of relevant Government Agencies, Socotran civic society, entrepreneurs and donors were subsequently invited to critically review, what is in recent history the first comprehensive inventory of the islands’ infrastructure, natural resources, public and private services, economic activities, number and distribution of its resident population, important local customs, human development indicators and public administration. The first phase report moreover provided an analysis of principal development constraints and a costed guide to recommended immediate, medium and long term interventions.
Bottom line of the inventory presented by consultants of the British firm WS Atkins International and the Aden based Yemen Engineering Group(YEG): Socotra, at present population growth rate requires capital investment in the order of 140 million Euros over the next 10 years(2000 Euro/person/year) in order to satisfy the most basic requirements of the islands in terms of water and power supply, health and education services, access and communication infrastructure and development of the 3 key economic sectors Ð livestock, fisheries and tourism. Of equal importance: the creation of a decentralized, competent civil authority, based on the islands and empowered to enforce stringent environmental legislation as well as provide for first class governance and thus an investor and tourism friendly climate. This and other software components of the 10 year plan are set to consume another 75 million Euros.
Combined government, private sector and donor resources are unable to mobilize resources in this order of magnitude and workshop participants agreed that a prioritization of interventions was required, based on clear objectives and selection criteria.
In the course of the ensuing deliberations, some participants, particularly from the Socotran community voiced their discontent with the number of studies and activities that had already been conducted on Socotra without yielding any tangible results. In response, Vice Minister Tarmoum pointed out that the Master Plan Phase I document contained no less than 62 small and medium sized projects, designed for immediate implementation by government agencies through their investment program, NGOs and the donor community. Mr. Freund added that the European Commission was in the process or had already addressed through existing projects some of the immediate needs issues in reproductive health, malaria control, education, water harvesting and more specifically the question of water and power supply in Qalansya, the 2nd district capital on Socotra. The Commission’s food security program offered further scope in principal to pick up certain costs of the proposed food security projects including livestock and fisheries development from 2001 onwards. Additional humanitarian assistance interventions relating to the 1999 drought and floods were currently under consideration by the Commission’s Services. Other agencies involved in Socotra, notably the UNDP had also shown interest in some of the immediate impact projects contained in the plan.
A general consensus on the said objectives and selection criteria for the larger interventions was quickly arrived at. They include –
1) Guarantee of food security: loss of life and decimation of livestock as witnessed in 1999 should never happen again. To ensure this improvements in agriculture, livestock, access and supply infrastructure and government institutions are required;
2) Community-led environmental management: nearly all people on the archipelago are directly dependant
on a healthy and well managed natural environment. Nothing must be allowed to upset this balance;
3) Provision of basic needs : such as health, education, water, housing and energy at acceptable levels;
4) Reduced population growth: to minimize pressure on scarce natural resources;
5) Improved economic performance: through increased output from existing enterprises, diversified production, creation of small businesses, increased employment opportunities, expanded markets, training of the workforce, increasing women’s contribution to the economy;
6) Strengthened district local government institutions: maximization of local and regional government and minimization of central control.
The workshop ended here and participants were given 2 weeks to comment in writing on priority projects to be developed on the basis of the above criteria to feasibility level in phase 2 of the masterplan, scheduled to commence in September 2000. From the preliminary discussions on these projects it transpired that strengthening the local administration, the development of a structure plan and regulations for the general use zone of the islands, standards for the development of tourism infrastructure and fisheries livestock development featured high on the agenda.