• Philip Leung

Socotra - The treasure island between Yemen and Somalia (2021 Documentary)

The UAE and Saudi Arabia are throwing money at the Yemeni archipelago, but nature conservation is far from their agenda.





Region: Middle East and Africa

Country: Yemen


Learnings


On mainland Yemen, Iran and Saudi Arabia are fighting a proxy war with missiles and bullets. On the Socotra archipelago, 400km from mainland Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are fighting a different kind of proxy war - with money.

They are fighting to be more generous: UAE pays the salary of government officials, provides natural gas and gasoline, and donates homes. Anyone sick will get flown to the UAE for treatment. Saudi Arabia builds schools and offers boats to the fishing population on the island.

Some people are worried about this form of dependency. Others, not so much. One man said, "We didn't have a government. Then God sent us the Emiratis."

Rich Emiratis are purchasing seafront properties, creating a construction boom that will benefit many on the island. But this is not good news for those who are trying to conserve the island's nature.

Of particular interest is the Dragon's Blood Tree, a vulnerable species native to the Socotra archipelago and owns its name to its red resins that are commonly used for cosmetics. The archipelago used to be filled with these trees, but many of them have disappeared owing to a change in climate and the goat population that has eaten up much of the young trees.

The archipelago is a UNESCO World Heritage. But in times of war, nature is not a priority. It is unrealistic to expect the Yemeni government provides the funds. Neither the UAE nor Saudi Arabia is interested in conservation, as it hardly advances their causes.