SANAA, Yemen (AP) – Heavy rains lashing Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, dating back to ancient times, have collapsed 10 buildings in the Old City in recent days, the country’s Houthi rebels said Wednesday.
At least 80 other buildings have been badly damaged by the rains and need urgent repairs, said the rebels, who have controlled Sanaa since the outbreak of Yemen’s civil war more than eight years ago.
The Old City of Sanaa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the area is believed to have been inhabited for over 2 millennia. Its architecture is unique, with foundations and first floors built of stone, and later stories of brick, considered some of the first skyscrapers in the world.
The buildings have red brick facades adorned with white plaster moldings with ornate patterns, designs comparable to gingerbread houses, a style that has come to symbolize the Yemeni capital. Many of the houses are still private homes and some are over 500 years old.
In a statement, Abdullah Al-Kabsi, the Houthi administration’s minister of culture, said the rebels are working with international organizations and seeking help to deal with the destruction. There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries from the collapses.
The houses had withstood centuries, but this season’s heavy rains have proved too much for the iconic structures. Bricks and wooden beams now form massive piles of rubble among structures still standing.
The rains show no signs of abating.
“I get scared when I hear the rain and I pray to God because I’m afraid my house will collapse on me,” said Youssef al-Hadery, a resident of the Old City.
Al-Kabsi insisted that UNESCO has some responsibility in the rescue and restoration efforts, given the area’s history. Years of neglect under the previous government had taken their toll, he added.
The conflict has also added to the disappearance of Sanaa.
Yemen’s civil war erupted in 2014, when the Iran-backed Houthis descended from their northern enclave and took over Sanaa, forcing the internationally recognized government to flee south and later into exile in the ‘Saudi Arabia.
A coalition led by Saudi Arabia, then backed by the United States, entered the war in early 2015 in an attempt to restore the government to power. Since then, the conflict has turned into a proxy war between regional foes Saudi Arabia and Iran and has spawned one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
Some observers say airstrikes in Sana’a by the Saudi-led coalition have also likely shaken historic buildings and damaged their foundations.
But the lack of maintenance is the biggest problem, according to Mohamed Al-Hakeemi, who heads a local organization called The Green Dream, which specializes in Yemen’s environmental issues.
A 2021 initiative repaired hundreds of houses and rebuilt a dozen, the first serious maintenance since the war began.
UNESCO did not immediately respond to a request for comment.