Yemen's 'Manhattan of the desert' damaged by flooding, say officials

The Unesco-listed town of mud skyscrapers is at risk of collapse unless urgent help is provided

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Officials called for urgent action after the historic mud-skyscraper city of Shibam in southern Yemen was damaged by torrential rains last week.

Dating back as far as the 16th Century, the Unesco-listed town of tightly packed mud buildings dates back as far as the third centry.

The town was hit with flooding and torrential rain on May 4 and then again last Monday, causing damage to dozens of towers, Hasan Eidid, Shibam branch manager of the General Organisation for the Preservation of Historic Cities in Yemen, told The National.

“This happens while the residents of the city are at a very critical time due to the worsening situation caused by the war,” Mr Eidid said.

“The majority of the buildings partially damaged by the recent torrential rain are those located in the southern facade of the historic city. Additionally, the heavy rains caused damage to the roofs of some buildings in the city, causing water leakage into the rooms.”

There is also concern for the foundations on the southern and northern sides of the town, home to about 7,000 people.

“In addition to the new threats caused by the torrential rain, Shibam city tops the list of World Heritage sites under threat from explosions and clashes between Al Qaeda and the army since 2015,” Mr Eidid said.

He said the city is in urgent need of international help to save the Unesco World Heritage site often referred to as the "Manhattan of the Desert" and believed to be the oldest settlement in the world to use such high-rise construction.

“We need emergency funds and urgent intervention to save the buildings with significant damage before they crumble. Moreover, we need Unesco, the EU and the other funding bodies in charge to help to reconstruct the walls of the city soon and reconstruct the deteriorated infrastructure of the city,” Mr Eidid said.

Hussein Al Aidrous, manager of Yemen's General Authority of Antiques and Museums, said the city was under increased risk of damage due to climate change.

"Shibam is an ancient historic city built from mud which means the climate change will cause a direct threat to its high skyscrapers," he said, explaining that hours of torrential rain will cause more damage.

Much of Yemen has been inundated with rain in recent days, with 13 people killed in flooding in the Red Sea city of Hodeidah.

“More than 40 residences – mostly cottages made of straw – were flooded by the rainstorm in Al Zuhra and Al Qanawis [northeast of Hodeidah] killing 10 people and dozens of cattle,” a resident from Al Zuhra said.

Residents are unlikely to have any respite as Yemen’s Civil Aviation and Meteorology Authority said on Saturday night that rain would continue in coastal areas until the end of the week.