The Difficult Struggles of Sanaa City [Archives:1999/19/Viewpoint]

May 10 1999

Sanaa city used to be a wonderful place to live, some 20 years ago. The climate is temperate year-round. The mix of physical habitat between concrete cement block buildings and greenery was reasonable. There were a couple of streams flowing by, on the southern and northern outskirts of the city. The city was surrounded by small satellite villages which offered refuge to picnicking families, individuals and groups. Basic services were adequate, including asphalted roads, water supply, electric flow, etc. The number of people living in the city was manageable, but more importantly, the number of vehicles was manageable.

Today, the city is choked and exhibits signs of serious problems which our officials refuse to attend to. Only a third of the city’s inhabitants receive piped water supply on a regular basis. Periodic electric interruptions mean that half the city is dark, at any one time. The number of residents has grown to over 1.3 million persons. All kinds of vehicles madly roam the streets without any sense or order. Garbage litters the streets, and sewer flows in many quarters. Herding livestock is still a common scene in Yemen’s largest urban center.

But it is not just the infrastructure and utilities that are not well-developed. There are many aspects of urban life that have yet to evolve. Take a few examples.
1. Can any one believe that this city has not one convention center! What I mean is that when people want to meet in large numbers, there is no place to go. People have to do with the ballrooms of large hotels. That point was driven home a few days ago when the organizers of the upcoming conference on “Emerging Democracies Forum” were at a loss as to where to meet. They needed a large auditorium for the plenary sessions, and many large rooms for the group meetings.
2. Can you believe that this city of 1.3 million does not have one opera house or even one up-to-standard theater or cinema hall! Instead, it has many lavish and well-furnished qat-chewing rooms and mafrajs – what a curse. As a result, all kinds of acting and staging takes place in the cultural centers which are large theater-style facilities where all efforts go.
3. Can you believe that this city does not have simultaneous translation facilities and equipment! Whenever there is a multi-lingual gathering, the organizers either have to bring such facilities from abroad, or rent them from one of only two foreign entities who have them in Sanaa. The going rate is about US$ 1000 a day, which is plain robbery. We economists actually call it monopoly pricing.
4. Can you believe that this city does not have computer connected projector facilities to be used in presentations!. Today, there are three such facilities in the whole city – one at the Ministry of Planning and Development, which is often out of order; one at the Yemen 21 Forum, and a third one at a foreign company.
5. Can you believe that this city does not have one internet cafe! There are no adequate efforts to promote the use of computers, the internet or other modern information technologies.

Sanaa city is struggling to catch up with the world. As the capital of Yemen with its 18 million inhabitants, it deserves better facilities and services. Unfortunately, the leadership of the country, and of the city have their focus on big cars, big houses, lavish furniture, and other similar amenities of good living.
The city needs to develop those services which allow us to integrate and interact fruitfully with the rest of the world. It is only through such efforts and facilities that Sanaa can evolve into a modern city.