Changing Socotra

Few years ago, not many people knew about a place called Socotra. The island was thanks to its location well hidden from the eyes of the world and from any possible changes. Modern transportation and communication technologies broke this isolation though and Socotra is not a lost island anymore. However opening of Socotra has brought many development risks and issues that must be addressed in order to keep the island pristine and to protect its biodiversity.

Local people have been living without running water, electricity, paved roads, functioning urban infrastructure such as well equipped hospital. Only recently an asphalt road has connected important part of the island and inhabitants of Hadibu got lucky enough to have electricity supply for a couple of hours per day. But the Socotris undoubtedly have the right to develop their island and to adopt modern life standards. All that only needs be done in a controlled and well planned way with strong concerns of biodiversity. The Government of Yemen has been attempting to address primary development needs of the Archipelago by following an integrated and evolving development plan tackling coming investors, tourist operators and immigrants from the Yemeni mainland.

Impact of the airport
A milestone in the Socotra modern history was opening of an airport in July of 1999. This new facility has made the Archipelago easily accessible for developers, tour operators, investors, traders and tourists from mainland and abroad. The national airlines Yemenia and the private Felix Airlines (Saida) fly to the island several times a week.
Recent development targeted on local inhabitants includes construction of paved roads (with ongoing works on controversial ring road), new port jetty, fuel storage facilities, new schools and a hospital, improved telecommunication facilities, limited electricity supply in the capital of Hadibu and opening of small hostels. Such developments have already brought positive changes to the lives of local people. However, they also threaten the survival of the islands’ unique biodiversity, culture, traditions and striking landscapes.
The island also has to face industry and business related development issues with negative impacts such as off-shore oil industry, illegal industrial fishery practices by foreign fleets, overfishing by local people due to breakdown of traditional practices, presence of invasive species such as rats and house crows, overgrazing and unsustainable management of rangeland, usage of pesticides and other chemicals, uncontrolled tourism and last but not least waste management.

These threats are not new to other islands in the world, but they have been proven over and over to lead to a direct loss of biodiversity and extinction, which is several times larger on islands than on continents. 

Good news for the island of Socotra was a ban of importing, growing and chewing qat, a plant with mild stimulating effect, in April 2009. 

Sustainable Development

The government-appointed body for addressing the above mentioned development issues is the Socotra branch of the Environment Protection Authority (EPA). They have been participating in development activities funded by UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), GEF (Global Environment Facility) and other international donors.

After successful completing of the Socotra Conservation and Development Programme 2003 – 2008, the UNDP Yemen has opened a new Socotra Governance and Biodiversity Project (SGBP) in June 2009 aimed on mainstreaming biodiversity management considerations in Socotra’s local governance.
The stakeholders of the SGBP are UNDP Yemen and GEF each contributing 975,000 USD, and the Government of Yemen with a parallel contribution.