WHAT IT MEANSThe break-and-patch symphony in Sana’a streets [Archives:2008/1138/Local News]

March 17 2008

Abdulaziz Qassim Murshid
Yemen Juvenile Care Association
[email protected]

One can hardly find any Sana'a street that is in good condition, as most suffer the aftermaths of “surgery” in the form of break-and-patch works. While this breaking up and patching of streets represents its own problem, another major problem is the unevenness left behind. One sometimes wonders whether these bumps are the government's sung achievements.

Undoubtedly, every break-and-patch operation is justifiable. For example, the government first digs up the street to lay down pipes for water, which should be fresh, save minor contamination by sewage at certain points. Our government frequently breaks up and patches the streets either to build a sewage network, replace it, connect telephone lines, etc., so it's justifiable!

Planning and coordination

While the government has a certain logic behind digging up our streets, the illogical aspect of it is the frequent break-and-patch works done in short intervals. For instance, a few weeks after a street is paved, residents are struck with new pits.

The result is that all streets have lost their aesthetic appeal and are neither driver-friendly nor drivable. It's completely irrational to see convexes and concaves in the roads and sewer covers rising above or sinking below street level.

It's unacceptable adopting this break-and-patch approach in metropolitan management. Lack of adequate planning and coordination is the main force driving this vicious cycle of break-and-patch.

Irregular street levels are just a sample proof of the corruption that is rampant in Yemen's governmental departments. Overnight, some unqualified individuals become “contractors,” each claiming his share of public contracts. There's no accountability, just more patching and patching.

Another equally dangerous distortion of the capital city is manifested in the concrete blocks fortifying the “castles” of Yemeni officials and it's common to see them in numerous zones around the city. When driving down the Sheraton street past the U.S. Embassy, expect a row of concrete abruptly blocking the thoroughfare.

There are more than quarter of a million cesspits, each of which is a landmine that could potentially claim a life or swallow a vehicle. I don't intend here to list all of the incidents involving vehicles/pedestrians and these cesspits throughout our capital city because tackling such a task is as exciting as watching a late night thriller.

Intentional manmade road humps are yet another story. Yemen can fairly be called “the country of 20 million road humps,” instead of the “country of a million colonels” or, like Algeria, “the country of a million martyrs.”

Yemeni fatalities due to mediocre street works, manmade road humps, inadequate lighting and overabundant cesspits may exceed the number of martyrs in both Algeria's and Yemen's wars over the past 50 years.

Within this graphic context, one should remember the intensely dusty air that disturbs the Sana'a atmosphere year round in spring, summer, fall and winter – day and night – thanks to rock breakers, uncovered gravel trucks and desert winds.

Detrimental effects

These break-and-patch works, dim or no lighting, concrete barriers and random electrical networking in various areas throughout Sana'a cause numerous accidents and bring about death and material losses.

There have been accidents where drivers have rammed into concrete blocks and later awakened to realize that they are in a hospital intensive care unit. Drivers also are susceptible to falling into these cesspits or road pits, of which they are unaware, because only in Sana'a does one learn about construction work or pits only when it's too late!

This break-and-patch symphony has untold effects upon our citizens and our nation. For example, much money is spent on spare auto parts and medical treatment when Yemen is in dire need of money to feed its people and improve their living standards.

Although such improper street works may give some the wrong impression that Yemen is advancing and thriving and that the development pace is encouraging, the reality is that the results of these works are alarming, catching the attention of both friends and enemies, and giving a bad impression to guests and visitors.

What to do

As soon as Sana'a completed its most recent endeavor to remove both legal and illegal street vendors, things gradually began to get back to “normal,” which is attributable to the fact that we address our problems whimsically rather than systematically. We don't search for alternatives.

With such a high unemployment rate, it's absurd to think that rooting out street vendors will stop them from making a living because their simple jobs are the line between being able to feed their families and letting them starve to death.

We must examine our problems in general and then address the issues in totality as one interconnected entity. Just as it's impossible to keep a good apple in with a box of bad ones, similarly, changing Sana'a for the better requires changes elsewhere, including anticorruption activities, law enforcement and refraining from unlawfully awarding contracts based on favoritism.