The sinking city [Archives:2005/864/Health]

August 1 2005
People and cars getting ready by force for Sana
People and cars getting ready by force for Sana’a new status
An example of wetlands
An example of wetlands
Side view of the grand canal in Venice (left) side view of a water accumulation in al-Awqaf buildings in Sana
Side view of the grand canal in Venice (left) side view of a water accumulation in al-Awqaf buildings in Sana’a (right)
Earlier this month it was mentioned in the news that Yemen is preparing to join the Convention on Wetlands signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, by that joining 146 countries around the world.u Yemen has completed all the procedures for endorsement and the case will soon come before parliament for debate and ratification.

Apparently, there are more than 15 wetlands, in addition to the western coast of the Red Sea that qualify for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of international importance.

Basically, wetlands are lands where saturation with water is the dominant factor determining the nature of soil development and the types of plant and animal communities living in the soil and on its surface (Cowardin, December 1979). In simpler words: Wetlands are areas where water covers the soil, or is present either at or near the surface of the soil all year, or for varying periods of time during the year, including during the growing season. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs and similar areas.

Yemen is joining the Convention on Wetlands not only because of Soqatra and the coastal areas. The government has wisely realised that there is a more urgent and obvious example of wetlands in the capital itself, Sana”a. Yemen has seasonal rain, supposedly in summer time in addition to the rain falls every time there is a change in season. It”s a magnificent way of nature telling us, in Yemen, that say good bye to winter, spring is coming and so on. Eventually this leaves the streets and alleys of Sana”a covered with water.

Simultaneously, there is another natural classification for lands with water (other than islands) and this is about sinking cities. Melting glaciers and rising waters are two of the major concerns of global warming, and their impacts are particularly unnerving for low-lying, coastal cities around the world. Cities like New Orleans are in a battle with nature that threatens to wash them away.

Italy”s historic Venice is under siege by the surging Adriatic Sea much of the year, and they”re not alone. In the United States, many cities will be facing the same fate. In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a report estimating that a quarter of homes within 500 feet of the coastlines and along the Great Lakes will fall victim to erosion by 2060. FEMA”s predictions are already starting to come true in many areas, including Smith Island in Maryland”s Chesapeake Bay and in states along the Gulf Coast.

And now Sana”a is joining the list, why not? After it is being prepared to be categorized as a wetland (areas where water covers the soil) it is starting to become a sinking city. And guess what, for Yemen, this is actually not a problem; in fact it is an advantage. The advantages are many, think of the change in the city structure. Many Yemenis are bored with the way their city looks, so a change would do them good. Not only would it attract as much tourists as pests and parasites, it would also create a new scope for job opportunities, let away the significant impact this has on health and recreation.

And so, there is a good chance Sana”a would be transformed into a new phenomenon such as the sinking city of Venice. You cannot move through Venice with the same mind set as you would in any other city. The difference is obvious even to those who have never visited Venice, that, in the words of Robert Benchley, “Streets filled with water. Please advise.” But more than the 'streets' of water, the defining characteristic, what keepsVenice, is that the streets have no cars. Venice is far from an orienteer's typical wilderness, but blazing a trail down these streets, through the forest of homes, grand and modest, can seem as daunting as any backwoods.

The only problem we would face to transform sana”a into another Vience is what are we going to do with all those cars. But then again as the pictures show, these cars are bound to sinking in the raising waters. So on the long run, nature will take care of man”s problems as it always has. But this time, master mind is man and credit given to our government. But how Venice get that way?

Venice grew out of the water and into heaven. As the Ancient Roman Empire disintegrated, the people fled the rampages of the roving northern tribes (Goths, Visigoths, Vandals and Huns, to name a few) to islands of the Lagoon. They came to an island, went down a small canal (rio, pl. rii), and around a field (campo, pl. campi) they set the focal points of their lives: church (chiesa) and home (casa or ca'). They placed a cistern/well (pozzo) in the middle which was filled by the rainwater from the roofs of the surrounding houses. From earth to heaven (in building of churches), they grew, and from heaven to earth (from the rains), they were sustained.

Considering this, Sana”a has a good chance in this process. After all, we do have many mosques and anyway many of the people living in Sana”a would want to go to heaven the sooner the better, one way or the other. Swimming their way to work would be a good idea to create a healthy energetic environment. And instead of these irritating and air polluting vehicles we would have nice elegant boats. If we can also plant some fish, it would be better.