Dark clouds over Jeddah
By : Mahmoud Ahmad
It looks like a cloud is really hanging over the city of Jeddah. For every time it rains chaos reigns in the whole city with excessive water logging in various major nodal points such that the city’s arteries get choked and it comes to a veritable standstill. It has come to such a pass that when people see dark clouds out of their windows, they know a storm is coming — not only rainstorm — and many people fear the worst each time they see clouds in the sky.
Rain is a blessing and especially in a dry country like Saudi Arabia, where it is badly needed. However, it is thanks to the negligence of municipal officials and other related government departments that people look at the blessings of rain with a fearful eye while some even going to the extent of praying that it does not rain again.
I remember — while rewinding to my teen days — that the days when we got rain were for celebration. Not only was it a fun occasion of getting wet and playing in the rain, but it was time to smell the freshness that the rain brought with it. We used to pray it rains more, as the downpour would bring with it, its own share of bounties.
Heavy rain lashed Jeddah last Tuesday and the metropolis was again flooded for the third time. The memory of the first and second Jeddah floods is still fresh in many people’s minds, and this factor is what makes people fearful that a fresh deluge could create chaos again.
Although this recent downpour that caused the city to stutter and stop briefly cannot be considered a disaster like the first and second floods, but negligence by officials put more than a question mark on their performance and the level of their preparedness to face such emergencies.
I have to say that I was the only one of the few that were optimistic that this rain would not spark confusion and commotion by turning out to be a disaster, especially since there was warning of heavy rains, and the cautionary advices were relayed well in advance. During the week before the rains, when the PMEs warned of inclement weather, me and my friends would discuss what would be the state of Jeddah streets this time round. And every time, most of my friends would be pessimistic by arguing that the Jeddah streets would be flooded and cut off.
Sadly I did not believe them, and as was evident by the recent cloudburst, they were proven right and the optimistic camp, me included, were wrong by a mile.
After the rain, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman directed Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal to prepare a detailed report about the rain and its aftermath. Many people gave credit to the Civil Defense and the Education Ministry, who were prepared for the rain, by planning ahead for all the possible eventualities by issuing an early alert and in case of the ministry for providing school holidays on Tuesday and Wednesday.
During the first Jeddah floods, our students were at school and there was chaos as parents panicked and jammed the streets and drove in opposite direction just to get to their children. This time there was less chaos because of the holidays declared. I do not want to imagine what the scene would have been if our students were at school on that day?
Amid all this, when the rain let up, the blame game began. I enjoyed reading the exchanges between municipality and the Saudi Electricity Company (SEC). In my opinion, both of them have performed poorly in the past. The municipality was quick to put the blame on SEC for the flooding of roads and underpasses because electricity was cut from the pumps. SEC, however, responded saying that the pump damage came from the subscriber and not from the main company. In either case, I hope that both of them would be taken to task because people suffered due to their negligence. I know friends of mine who were stranded for eight hours on the street, seeking ways to just get home. Why should they suffer for the municipality’s neglect?
What I really want to ask is that haven’t the municipality learned from past mistakes? They know when the rain season starts and they also have a rough idea when the rain is expected and how many millimeters of rain will fall. But did they even bother to check on their equipment in the underpasses and whether they are working or not? Do they ever prepare an emergency plan for such natural events? Did they even bother to check if the drainage pipes were blocked, if so, did they clear it? Did they check if it was working on the first place. I do think if they had bothered to do these checks in time, than there would have been no need to take cover under excuses.
Jeddah, the bride of the Red Sea, is a bride no more all thanks to neglectful officials. They were trusted with billions of riyals in projects to make sure that flooding of streets never repeated. We were very lucky that floods from other areas did not wash into Jeddah because of the dams built. God forbid if the waters from outside had aggravated the flooding then it would have been a disaster of major proportions.
Thanks to Jeddah youth, who again rose to the occasion, and proved to be real Jeddawis when they took to the streets and offered helping hands to those who were stranded in the flood, pulling their cars out and distributing food. They are the ones who really learned how to react in such situations from previous experiences.
Jeddah is the gate of the two holy mosques and deserves better. We want to see a city that is competing with top cities in the world. A city with a reputation of drowning in light rain needs to be changed. For that the municipality should get its act together and they should remember that people’s patience is wearing thin and all their excuses are not acceptable anymore.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @anajeddawi_eng
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