News for Yemen

Telecommunication towers, hazardous to your health?
Yemen Created: 13 Aug 2013
The spread of telecommunication towers around Sana’a, especially in the mountainous Noqom area, have engendered serious concern among those living nearby about the possible adverse health risks associated with the technology.

All over the world cell phone use has exponentially increased in the last decade. In Yemen between 2010 and 2012, according to the Central Statistical Organization, the number of mobile phone subscribers jumped from 11 million to 14 million, in a nation with a World Bank estimated population of 24 million.

To keep up with this demand, over the past 10 years, about 50 towers belonging to the Public Telecommunication Corporation have popped up in Noqom, a densely populated area in the Azal district of Sana’a with around 14,000 inhabitants. The Telecommunication Corporation allows private cellular providers licenses to operate the towers.

While the country’s cell phone users are largely unaware of the towers and their location, residents in Noqom believe they have led to elevated numbers of cancer cases in the area.

Locals say more than 40 people have been diagnosed with various forms of cancer nearby the towers.

Although there is a lack of scientific evidence on his side, Yahya Abu Ghanem believes his three sons and wife – who all have all been diagnosed with various forms of cancer – is a result of their home’s close proximity to a tower, which is adjacent to a building with a tower on top of it.

He said an official from the Public Environmental Health Office in Sana’a visited his home and confirmed the frequency of radiation emitted by the towers is high and may cause serious diseases.

“We have complained about the towers to the Telecommunications Ministry but they were elusive, claiming that the towers are stationed in a place that is far from residential areas,” Ghanem said.

Ghanem is in the middle of filing a lawsuit against the Public Communication Corporation. His case is currently sitting with a judge.

Amin Al-Hajj is another resident in Noqom who is suspicious that his wife’s brain tumor is no accident.

“I’ve taken her to hospitals outside Yemen and doctors have asked us whether we’re living near telecommunication towers,” he said. “Doctors have told us that [is a possible cause].”

There is much debate all over the world about the links between cell phones and the devices used to admit their signals and public health concerns.

The U.S.’s Environmental Protection Agency says the data linking radio frequency and exposure to electric and magnetic frequency is not conclusive but EMF and RF have been found to be “potential carcinogens.” However, there is no direct link found to date and they say experts worldwide continue to study the issue.

The World Health Organization’s has a very similar statement.

In Yemen, the head of Public Telecommunication Corporation, Engineer Sadeq Mosleh agrees and says there is no scientific evidence to support claims against the towers stationed in Noqom. He said the corporation adheres to rigorous international standards to avoid such hazards.

“These towers are stationed all over the world. The scientific research has proved that they [towers] have no side effects,” he said. “Talks about health hazards as a result of these towers is just a rumor that has circulated among people.”

Local cancer experts also downplay Noqom residents’ claims.

The head of Yemen’s Oncology Center, Dr. Afif Al-Nabhi, says people are dramatizing “so-called dangers of the towers.”

“People’s exaggeration of this matter is not logical,” Al-Nabhi said.

But, even local officials are upset about the position of the towers.

“We are always restraining angry people from storming the building by promising that we’re going to solve the problem amicably with telecommunication,” Mohammed Jaghman, the secretary general of Azal district told the Yemen Times.

But, so far Jaghman has had no luck. Conclusive scientific evidence or not, he would like to see the towers moved elsewhere considering Noqom’s schools and hospital are near towers.

Jaghman slammed the ‘insistence’ of telecommunication companies to try and save money by keeping the towers in Noqom.

“Sana’a is surrounded with many mountains that are far from residential areas but these areas need guards to protect towers and [telecommunication companies] don’t want to spend money on the guards,” said Jaghman.

Mosleh defends the corporation’s decision to keep the towers in Noqom as it is appropriate for their coverage operations.

Asked if the corporation would be able to install towers in mountain areas away from residents, he stated, “We decide where the proper places for these towers should go and it’s our decision.”

The head of Yemeni Center for Development and Environment Protection, Rami Al-Hammadi, told the Yemen Times there are environmental requirements to set up these towers like the towers being installed 50 meters above the ground surface, but the stipulations are not always met.

“Unfortunately, there is no [official] observation of these towers,” Al-Hammadi said. “[Telecommunication] towers in Yemen are still ambiguous.”
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Source: Yemen Times, Sadeq Al-Wesabi, 15 Jul 2013

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