By Abduljameel Abdullah Ali Mohammed
Due to the long isolation of the Archipelago, Socotris had to look for food and medicine in entire Socotra. People from the coastal areas live on fish and dates grown in valleys and lagoons (Socotra is mostly dry so most of the valleys and lagoons are planted by trees), while shepherds count on meet, ghee and sour milk. Few of shepherds own Palm trees since they live in mountains and they don’t have sufficient amount of water for growing palm trees. Since dates are the main diet, during the harvest season, shepherds come to valleys and lagoons where dates are harvested asking for some dates to Survive. Dates became a main diet for Socotris: up to few years. Now they import food from the main land, however it still considered as one third of their income; they eat and sell it when needed.
Debnah Lagoon is one of the biggest; people from different villages grew ten thousands of palm trees there. On Saturday 18th of June, fire ignited in the oasis.
Palm tree full of dates
Location of Debnah Oasis:
Debnah Oasis is located about 14 kilometers North East from Hadiboh. It is at the very end of the 3Km long Delisha beach. Debnah lagoon is about 2 kilometers long, and it is home to birds (Socotra Scops Owl Otus 'socotranu' (ENDEMIC Resident breeder (Taxonomy under review)…etc), crabs and insects.
Famous legend of Debnah Oasis.
The Islanders store palm dates in goats’ and sheep’s skins which could keep it eatable for years.
During the reign of Sultans, every family had to give a part of their harvest to the Sultan. The Sultan asked Sheikhs of shepherd’s tribes to supply him with goat skins to store the dates. In one of those seasons, he asked one of the sheikhs to provide him with 100 skins. The Sheikh didn’t have that amount of skins, however the sultan insisted on his request and informed the Sheikh that he needs them for Debnah Oasis harvesting. The Sheikh killed one hundred goats and prayed to his God to reduce numbers of palm dates in Debnah Oasis. Since then till now, 100 palm dates die every year in Debnah Oasis.
Fire in the Oasis:
When nearly harvest date, people clean their orchards. One of Debnah women as other Socotri women planned to clean her orchard. On Saturday 18th of June, 2011 at 10 am, she asked some of her female friends to help her in cleaning her orchard. While she was preparing a lunch to eat inside the garden, a strong wind blew fire towards one of her palm trees (The windy season starts in Socotra each year from beginning of June till the end of August and the wind speed reaches up to 65 nodes per hour). They tried to extinguish it using sands, but unfortunately that they didn’t manage.
Smoke comes out from a root of palm trees. Plate full of sands used to extinguish fire in the Oasis.
Fire was spreading from one palm tree to another starting from the South East of the fire point. They called for help from their village which is about 900 Meters to the South East of the orchard.
People came and tried to do their best to extinguish it but they didn’t manage too. People from nearby villages hurried to the Oasis when they saw black smoke rising to the air. They used water pumps from nearby gardens and sands to cut off the fire. Army who brought the extinguisher track of the airport and Rescue Police are called to intervene, however they didn’t manage to extinguish it. After six hours, fire reached the end of the Oasis and died off.
Water pump used to pump water from the Lagoon to extinguish the fire
The Local authority of Hadiboh district formed official committee to limit the damage. The committee estimated the damage at about 127 million Yemeni riyals.
4521 palm trees were burnt, three boats were melted (they were hidden under palm trees from wind) and over twenty goats were charred. About 60 families were affected by this fire.
Salem Rashed looking to his burnt palm trees Goat charred in the fire
Those families lost their harvest for at least 7 years. Palm tree needs to be watered and protected from livestock for approximately 7 years till it produces dates. They lost their palm trees for ever. Now instead of eating dates and selling some of them to gain some money (they gain about one third of their income from selling dates), they buy some dates for their use.
Salem Rashed showing his burnt water pipes Dates charred by fire
Those families can grow new palm trees in the same soil. “The soil now is perfect for growing new palm trees. Fire killed small worms that could badly impact on palm trees growth” one of the affected families said.
To grow new palm trees they need:
To buy small palm trees, each one costs 2000 YR.
Mesh to protect the palm trees from livestock; estimation of nets needed are 10000 nets (according to the official committee report), each one costs 9000 YR.
Water pumps to water palm trees; estimation of water pumps needed are 100 water pumps (according to the official committee report), each one costs 55000 YR.
Two families lost three boats, fishing being were the main source of income for. Each boat costs 300000 YR in addition to 50000 YR per each as transportation fees to the island.
The fire burned 4521 palm trees, four Ficus Cordata were affected but not damaged entirely.
Ficus Cordata affected by the fire.
No significant impacts on crab populations who nests there.
In Debnah lagoon and in the affected area of the Oasis there are ; Bruce's Green-Pigeon Treron waalia (Resident breeder) nests on palm trees and feed on palm trees dates, Socotra Scops Owl Otus 'socotranu' (ENDEMIC Resident breeder. (Taxonomy under review)) Nests on Palm trees, those birds have to acclimatize to new nesting places. Many insects living on the palm trees were charred.
This is not the first time that fire igniting in Oasis, but certainly it is the one who Socotris never forget. This time, many families left without harvest for at least 7 years.
Socotra Governance & Biodiversity Project