Wandering in Yemen

Yemen’s Highway: Pipedream or Reality?

For anyone who has traveled on a Yemeni ‘highway’ before: good news. According to Mohammed al-Saeedi, Yemen’s Minister of Planning and International Co-operation, we’re gonna have a new, modern highway all the way from Sa’dah to Aden!

SahwahNet (Arabic):

“Dr al-Saeedi said … that strategic projects have been agreed upon … including the Aden-Sana’a-Amran highway.”

Firstly, the highway (called SAYICH – less frightening when you realise it’s the Sana’a-Aden Yemen International Highway Corridor) will be 710 km long, passing through Taiz, Ibb, Dhamar, Sana’a, Amran, Saada and end at the Saudi border. It will allow vehicles to travel at average speeds of 120 km/h and, amazingly, the whole highway can be covered in 6 (six) hours. Considering it takes six hours to get from Sana’a to Aden on a really good day with dangerous driving, this sounds miraculous.

Yemen Times:

“The approximately $2.2 billion highway project will include at least 150 rest stops, which will provide travelers with services including food, accommodation, fuel, parking spaces and emergency medical and rescue services … the project has been divided into three phases: 140 km. from Aden to Taiz, 214 km. from Taiz to Sana’a and 358 km. from Sana’a to Sa’ada. The Ministry of Public Works has already signed an agreement with the Saudi Fund for Development and the World Bank (two project funders) to contribute $550 million to help finance the first phase. The second and third phases still require funding commitments from international donors, something the World Bank thinks will happen.”

The Yemen Times carried an interview with Andreas Schliessler, a transport economist and transport infrastructure specialist for the World Bank, who is the task team leader for transport infrastructure projects in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. In it Schliessler expanded on the highway project.

1 ) Expected completion date:

“We hope that by next May the construction will start from Aden and within 1  1/2 years, the second phase from Taiz to Sana’a can start and be implemented in parallel to the first phase, and then within another 1 1/2 years the third part from Sana’a to Sa’ada would be able to start.

The total duration of the program is estimated to be eight years. Although funding for the second and third phases have not been committed yet. However, there is a visible willingness in the donor community to support the creation of this corridor.”

2) Benefits:

– Jobs: 4000 according to Schliessler (95% to Yemenis) + business opportunities at rest stops.

– Quicker journey times.

– Reduced number of accidents.

3) Displaced people/land:

“The World Bank is supporting an environment and social impact assessment to decide on a resettlement action plan [RAP] … Currently the Yemeni government is creating a committee composed of various stakeholders with three subcommittees at the local level to determine the lands that will fall in the route between Aden and Taiz … The RAP decided by the committee will also be used for the entire corridor and not just this phase.”

4) Corruption:

“As the World Bank, we will supervise the implementation of the part we are involved in, but we also help the Yemeni government build the nest so that other donors can feel safe to place their eggs in it … In all cases there will be an institutional structure set up to maintain this program, part of the creation program of the corridor will be involved to define this setup. This institution will manage, operate and maintain the corridor after it has been constructed.”

5) Security situation:

Cynics will like this –

“We hope that by the time the work starts, the National Dialogue Conference will have concluded, and the situation in Yemen will be more stable.”

***

Have you been on the Sana’a – Aden road? Especially the mountainous parts? Then you’ll understand when I say that it is a death-trap. A beautiful one, but a death-trap nonetheless. At times it barely deserves to be called a road, let alone a highway.

Firstly, the quality of some stretches of road is shocking. And, funnily enough, it’s often newer sections of road that are worse off (keep in mind that a lot of Yemen’s older intercity roads were built by the Russians, Chinese, or Americans). Traveling back from Taiz to Sana’a last week we had to travel through Ibb, one of Yemen’s biggest cities. Why? Because the ring road around the city designed to ensure that drivers avoid the city was simply in no condition to drive on. It is full of potholes, and at parts the tarmac has turned

   Normal Speed Bump

Normal Speed Bump

into rubble. The road is no more than 7 or 8 years old *cough* corruption *cough*.

Then, there’s these things called madabbat. Now, some people would translate these as ‘speed bumps’, but they’ve definitely not been to Yemen and seen our madabbat. Oh no. These monsters come in a variety of different sizes, some are big, some are small, some are more potholes than bumps, others twist and turn. And there are no warnings – imagine

driving at night between cities, and then, bang, a madabb. In fact, the only way you can usually tell if there is a madabb in your way is if you see someone begging/someone selling something/someone asking for documentation or searching your car (they don’t necessarily have to be representing the state). In fact, some of the aforementioned will actually make their own madabb, cos screw rules and regulations or any of that nonsense!

Yemeni Speed Bump

Yemeni Speed Bump

I remember when they first started appearing in Yemen about ten years ago teenage me thought they were a sign of advancement. How wrong was I.

While looking for a picture of the dreaded madabbat I discovered that I’m not the only one who hates these things.

Now there is one thing to say about roads in Yemen, especially the Sana’a – Taiz route: they’re stunning. Thanks to the natural landscape, it’s one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever been on, one where 75% of the time is spent staring open-mouthed at the green

Sumara, on the current Sana'a Taiz road

Sumara, on the current Sana’a Taiz road

mountains, mountain-top buildings, and valleys. However, the other 25% of the time is spent cursing other drivers – especially those who decide that it’s a reasonable and safe thing to overtake on a blind corner on a two land road. There are an unbelievable amount of ‘almost’ crashes, and, unfortunately, you’re pretty much guaranteed to see the wreckage of at least one crash on the Sana’a-Taiz road.

Whilst the prospective highway looks like it might actually come off the drawing board, I still lean towards the ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ philosophy.

For those who don’t know, there was the bridge to Djibouti ‘Bridge of the Horns’ (watch the video in that link – there’s something quite sinister about it), the railway project (although to be fair Yemen would’ve had an Ottoman railway 100 years ago had the Yemeni Imam not decided that it would cost too much to maintain), and, of course, Saleh’s nuclear power fantasy.

 

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2 comments

  1. Salwa

    I’m curious if you know what was the first “highway” or paved stretch of road built in Yemen? It seems to be the Hodeida Sana’a road built around the 1950’s? or late 60’s?

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