Press release

Emergency Interventions on Track to Save Cultural Heritage in Two World Heritage Sites in Yemen

As part of the EU-funded project “Cash for Work: Promoting livelihoods opportunities for Urban Youth in Yemen”, UNESCO is implementing since 2018 a large-scale urban rehabilitation programme covering four historic cities. The project aims at employing 4.000 young women and men over 500.000 cash working days and is being implemented in partnership with the Social Fund for Development (SFD). It enables skilled and unskilled male and female young workers to access income opportunities, gain additional skills, and contribute to the protection and promotion of heritage through a wide range of interventions from cleaning, stabilization, urgent repairs to restoration.

The long-term neglect, collateral damages, looting, and lack of resources exacerbated by the protracted Yemeni Conflict have caused serious threats to the preservation of the country's unique cultural heritage. Indeed, three of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites are in danger (Sana’a, Zabid, and Shibam). Thanks to an additional co-financing contribution from the UNESCO Heritage Emergency Fund, significant progress was made during the past weeks in Sana’a and Zabid. They consist of post-flood emergency interventions in Zabid and Sana’a as well as of urgent repairs of Al-Qasimi district in Sana’a.

In the Historic Town of Zabid

UNESCO and its partners are stabilizing two outstanding domestic architectures. Hawaiji House is one of the most distinguished merchant houses famous for its complex brick structure, sophisticated plaster works, carpentry details, and painted ceilings. The house was chosen as a film location by Pier Paolo Pasolini and is known in Zabid as Pasolini House. Another significant house with structural damages is House Raba’i, unique historic architecture of three floors. Those houses were already vulnerable due to lack of maintenance and were risking collapse. Following the torrential rains of August 2019, UNESCO and SFD prepared feasibility studies in order to raise awareness about the importance of those buildings. In June 2020, significant progress was made to repair the brick structures of the walls, the roofs (beams and covers), wooden reinforcement for openings, and to protect plasterworks that have been affected by the flood, which are instrumental to prevent water infiltration and further deterioration, while reinforcing the overall integrity of the buildings. Those interventions are sustained by larger Rehabilitation Plans developed under the EU-funded project and rely on comprehensive building and infrastructure assessments, which were updated end of 2019.

In the Old City of Sana'a

The emergency interventions are twofold. The first phase covered Al-Qassimi historical complex, which was thoroughly assessed to define stabilization and disaster risk reduction measures, in close consultation with local communities. The Al-Qasimi district near the famous urban garden “Bustan al-Qasimi” was majorly impacted by airstrikes in 2015, which led to the destruction of five houses and affected around ten more in the immediate surroundings. The damages and destruction to the Al-Qasimi, which was in a good state of conservation, has caused the displacement of families. Field inspections were conducted by UNESCO, SFD, and local authorities. Comprehensive photogrammetry-based data was collected in partnership with the General Organization for the Preservation of Historic Cities in Yemen (GOPHCY). Special materials for rehabilitation were identified, and appropriate procedures and technological systems were set up to address the context of scarce equipment and construction materials. Removal of debris and cleaning around the sites were implemented, thus laying the ground for stabilization works to be continued in 2020 in order to stop further deterioration and collapse of the adjacent buildings. The urgent stabilization works will thus secure the affected houses in order to support immediate relief for displaced inhabitants in a context of high pressure for housing.

Second Intervention Phase

Finally, following the heavy flash floods of April 2020 in Sana’a, the second phase of intervention has been launched. Indeed, the recent floods resulted in extensive damage to a number of historic houses around Al Mahadi Mosque, in residential areas located mainly on the west bank of Al-Sailah, which were already vulnerable and are now risking collapse. Interventions will prevent the loss of significant examples of civil architecture as well as the consolidation of main roads and infrastructures that are vital for the preservation of the Old City. After completion of a technical study covering water drainage, rain dischargement, and sewage infrastructures, preventive physical barriers will be set up to protect the property from future floods. Furthermore, around 18 traditional burned bricks and mud houses affected by collapse will be stabilized as well. Those initiatives will be implemented in partnership with the Public Works Project (PWP) and GOPHCY. In the context of a fast-progressing coronavirus pandemic in the country, the project is also putting in place preventive measures consisting of on-site awareness-raising sessions on COVID, provision of masks, sanitizers, and helmets to the workers.

Those activities were supported by the UNESCO Heritage Emergency Fund. We wish to thank its donors: the Qatar Fund for Development, the Kingdom of Norway, the Government of Canada, ANA Holdings INC., the Principality of Monaco, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Republic of Estonia, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, the Slovak Republic, the Principality of Andorra, and the Republic of Serbia. They are complemented and sustained by large-scale urban rehabilitation interventions carried out by UNESCO with the funding of the European Union.