Yemen: Historic buildings collapse in Sanaa after heavy rains

Houthi officials said 10 buildings were destroyed in the old city of the Yemeni capital, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Heavy rains in Yemen’s capital Sanaa have caused the collapse of 10 buildings in the old city recently, the country’s Houthi rebels said.

At least 80 other buildings were heavily damaged in the rain and are in urgent need of repair, the rebels, who have controlled Sana’a since the outbreak of Yemen’s civil war eight years ago, said on Wednesday.

The old city of Sana’a is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area is believed to have been inhabited for over two millennia. Its architecture is unique, with foundations and first stories built of stone and subsequent floors of brick — considered one of the first high-rise buildings in the world.

The red brick facades of the buildings are decorated with white gypsum moldings in ornate patterns, drawing comparisons to gingerbread houses, a style emblematic of the Yemeni capital. Many of the houses are still private homes and some are over 500 years old.

In a statement, Abdullah al-Qabsi, the minister of culture in the Houthi administration, said the rebels were working with international organizations and seeking help to deal with the destruction. There were no reports of deaths or injuries from the collapse.

Yemenis inspect a UNESCO-listed building that collapsed due to rain in the old city of Sana’a on August 10. [Hani Mohammed/AP Photo]

The houses had stood for centuries, but this season’s heavy rains have proved too much for the iconic structures. Bricks and wooden beams now create massive waste piles in the standing buildings.

“I get scared when I hear the rain and pray to God because I’m afraid my house will collapse on me,” said Youssef al-Hadari, a resident of the Old City.

Al-Qabsi insisted that given the area’s history, UNESCO bears some responsibility for rescue and restoration efforts. He also said that the previous government had neglected it for years.

A Saudi-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 to restore the internationally-recognized government that had seized most of the country – including Sana’a – and was driven out of the capital by rebels.

Earlier this month, the warring sides agreed to extend a cease-fire that had been in place since April for another two months.

Some observers say the Saudi-led coalition’s airstrikes on Sana’a have shaken historic buildings and damaged their foundations. According to Mohammad Al-Hakimi, head of a local organization called The Green Dream, which specializes in Yemen’s environmental issues, lack of maintenance is the biggest problem.

In 2021 an initiative repaired hundreds of houses and rebuilt dozens – the first serious maintenance since the start of the war.

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