Cyclone Mekunu Devastates South Yemen’s Infrastructure
When Mekunu struck Yemen’s southern coastline late last month, dozens of residents of al-Mahra and Hadramawt provinces were injured and killed as the cyclone sank boats and swept cars and buses off the roads. Stormwater created a series of small waterfalls on the hilly island of Socotra, leaving over 40 people missing by Mekunu’s end.
Alongside the loss of human life, the storm also compromised Yemen’s already-strained infrastructure. In 2015, Cyclone Chapala destroyed roads and power lines in the very same areas hit by Mekunu. The absence of drainage systems exacerbated Chapala’s impact: water surged unchecked from surrounding wadis, washing out highways below.
Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) controlled Yemen’s coastal region when Chapala struck in 2015. Because AQAP had little ability or intention to rebuild damaged infrastructure, the slow process of reconstruction began only after the Yemeni government and multinational coalition forced AQAP from the area in 2016. The government did not, however, manage to install effective drainage systems before Mekunu, meaning that stormwater once again rushed in from surrounding wadis and wiped out the same highways destroyed three years earlier.
Residents of Yemen’s al-Mahra and Hadramawt provinces will pay a heavy price for Mekunu. Damage to roads is likely to increase food insecurity in a country where 60% of the population lacks access to affordable and nutritious food, and to further depress the local economy. The roads along Yemen’s southern coast are instrumental in overland trade between Yemen and Oman, meaning that Mekunu—like Chapala—will cause economic disruptions that extend far beyond the two immediately-affected areas.
Reconstruction, already progressing at a slow and uneven pace, will be further delayed. Saudi Arabia has pledged to rebuild infrastructure and provide aid, but it remains to be seen whether local and international actors will stop at immediate humanitarian relief, or prioritize the installation of drainage networks to prevent further destruction when the next storm strikes.