Zanzibar — The partial collapse yesterday of the House of Wonders, Beit Al Ajaib, that occurred in Zanzibar, the semi-autonomous part of the United Republic of Tanzania is a huge blow to the Isles’ tourism industry.
Constructed in 1883, Beit Al Ajaib is the largest and tallest building in Zanzibar located at the world’s heritage site of Stone Town. It attracts tourists from all corners of the world and generating forex for the government. Two people were first rescued by evening yesterday and rushed to the Mnazi Mmoja Hospital, while two others were removed from the rubble later in the evening – and also taken to hospital for treatment.
The building was undergoing restoration at a cost of Sh10 billion with funds from the Government of Oman.
Tabling the budget for the 2019/20 fiscal year in the House of Representatives, Zanzibar’s Finance and Planning Minister Mohamed Ramia Abdiwawa said 520,809 tourists visited the Isles in 2018, up from 433,474 tourists in 2017: an increase of 20 percent.
However, the trend was adversely impacted by the outbreak of the viral Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting travel restrictions in many world countries in 2020.
Detailing the achievements of his government in the House of Representatives on June 20 this year, the former President of Zanzibar, Dr Ali Mohamed Shein, said the number of tourists who visited the Isles increased from 133,000 in the 2010/11 financial year to 538,268 in FY-2019/20, as measures were taken to increase the number of tourists including rehabilitating historical sites and buildings.
Yesterday, Tourism and Antiquities Minister Lela Mohamed Mussa told The Citizen that, by 7pm, all the four constructors had been rescued.
“The accident is a huge loss to tourism in the Isles because over 80 percent of tourists who came to Zanzibar were attracted by the House of Wonders in the Stone Town,” she said over the phone.
A meeting with project funders established incompetence of the contractor, who was then given three weeks to ensure all the required equipment was made available at the site.
“We will decide his fate because the accident has occurred just a week after the meeting. But, the project will continue to re-construct a similar building because sketches and drawings are available,” she said.
The exercise to remove the rubble from the scene will continue even after the recovery of the four victims.
A tourism stakeholder in Zanzibar, Mr Said Amour Suleiman, said the building was the hub of tourism in the Isles because it combined the unique culture of the Isles and Arabic origins.
He said the building had a historic door and metallic poles that could not be found anywhere else in Zanzibar.
“It is a huge blow for what had happened that is why the whole top government leaders were at the scene shortly after the accident,” he said over the phone.
He suggested the government to make huge efforts and erect a building comprising with similar cultural outlook in order to preserve what was provided by the House of Wonders.
Earlier, the Urban West Regional Police Commander, Awadhi Juma Haji told The Citizen that after rescuing two constructors, the process was afoot to cut metal bars in order to reach the other trapped builders.
“Police officers are collaborating with members of the Disaster Committee and Fire and Rescue Brigade to rescue the remaining two survivors who could be seen but can’t be reached as they are trapped inside,” he said.
Zanzibar President Hussein Ali Mwinyi, who arrived at the scene shortly after the incident, commended the Isles disaster management committee and the Fire and Rescue Brigade for their timely response.
“We should pray that all of the victims come out alive and safe,” said Dr Mwinyi.
He said his government would be closely following progress of rescue efforts, assuring the public that his involvement will be in there for every step being made.