UAE role making a difference in Socotra
UAE officials have detailed the country’s long efforts to support people on the Yemeni island of Socotra, a largely under-the-radar but successful undertaking.
“Because Socotra was far away from the conflict in Yemen, we took a decision not to communicate what we were doing there,” said UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash in a statement released last May through UAE state news agency WAM. “In hindsight, we should have communicated more.”
Through its developmental and relief organisations, the United Arab Emirates has helped Socotra recover from political instability, neglect and natural disasters.
Leading the efforts has been the Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation, which provided support in education, agriculture, health, trade and energy.
Over the last decade, the foundation has created pilot schools in Socotra with more than 300 teachers in all specialities. Placing education as one of its top priorities in Socotra, the foundation has helped increase the number of basic and secondary schools from 17 to 70.
The foundation promoted university education on the island’s two colleges: The College of Education and College of Society for Vocational and Technical Training.
To maintain Socotra’s essential link with the outside world, the Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation rebuilt the city’s commercial port and other facilities destroyed by storms. After Cyclone Chapala struck the archipelago in 2015, the foundation sent 16 cargo planes and four cargo steamships that transported 12,000 tonnes of food and relief materials to the archipelago’s residents.
The foundation installed lighting for the runway at Socotra’s airport and trained airport workers to keep the air link open even in times of natural disasters.
The foundation established a station to produce electricity 24 hours a day. Previously, residents only had access to electricity for 4 hours a day.
The Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Hospital, where 95% of the population is treated, was established and equipped at the cost of $1.7 million. Inaugurated in December 2012, the hospital, one of the few modern medical facilities on the island, has two operating theatres, an intensive care ward and departments of gynaecology and obstetrics, paediatrics and emergency care.
More than 30 wells and other water installations have been set up in the last decade to provide clean water for residents and boost local agriculture. The foundation improved harbours and built a factory for canning and export of fish in support of local fishermen.
These efforts improved living conditions for Socotra’s residents and changed the face of the archipelago while mainland Yemen was being further impoverished by civil war since Iran-backed Houthi rebels overran Sana’a in 2014.
The UAE’s investment in the island’s development, infrastructure and security has not been welcomed by the Houthis or their allies.
Those critical of the Emirati role in Socotra accuse the Gulf country of threatening the sovereignty of the archipelago. However, the United Arab Emirates was active in Socotra even before the conflict.
In fact, it was in March 2000 that the United Arab Emirates first reached out to Socotra, sending an Emirates Red Crescent team to provide residents aid and relief materials after major floods damaged buildings and agricultural lands.
In the face of accusations by the Houthis and their supporters, Emirati officials reiterated their respect and commitment to the unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Yemen.
“The UAE does not have any ambitions on the archipelago. It is a Yemeni territory,” Gargash said last May.
“The criticism that we have received in Socotra revolves around the same people that will criticise the UAE time and again. Clearly, our role in Socotra is about humanitarian development, and we continue to do so to support this island community.”