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Yemen: Heavy rains threaten Sanaa’s ancient homes

Workers clear debris on the roof of a partially collapsed building in Sanaa's Old City on August 8, 2020.
Workers clear debris on the roof of a partially collapsed building in Sanaa's Old City on August 8, 2020. © Reuters / France 24
Text by: Sam BALL
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Video by: Sam BALL
2 min

They have been called an “extraordinary masterpiece” of early Islamic architecture, but after years of disrepair, the ravages of war and now months of heavy rains the ancient mud brick houses of Yemen’s UNESCO-listed Old City of Sanaa are collapsing.

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On Friday, August 7, one house partially collapsed as Sanaa was battered by rain, leaving a family including six children with nowhere to live.

"Six women and six children live in this house, we don't have anywhere else to go, no friend, no relative except God. Save us with a room or a bathroom, our house is in danger of collapsing,” homeowner Muhammad Ali al-Talhi told Reuters.

More than 100 homes have seen their roofs partially collapse, say local authorities, while more than 2,000 have leaks and two abandoned buildings have collapsed completely.

"We had 129 red-flagged buildings and now the number has grown and is likely to grow even more because the weather hasn't stabilised yet and the consecutive rainfall and the negligence by homeowners have all contributed negatively,” said Khaled al-Ibrahimi, head of Sanaa’s Historic Cities Preservation Authority.

“We could see up to 200 homes [destroyed] or even up to 500 if we count the homes with cracks and other minor issues.”

The more than 6,000 distinctive red and white houses of Sanaa’s Old City date back to before the 11th century. Built from rammed earth, many are several storeys high and elaborately decorated.

Efforts are underway to preserve the buildings using UNESCO funds but local authorities are appealing for more help to save the houses before it is too late.

“We call on them through your channel and other media channels to help us since this city is a world heritage site and can be considered a piece of humanity's heritage,” said al-Ibrahimi.

A five-year long war in Yemen between the government and Houthi rebels has killed more than 100,000 people.

Exceptionally heavy rains in recent weeks have added to the crisis, causing widespread flooding and spreading diseases including cholera, dengue fever and malaria.

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