Editorial: Jeddah flooding to be a thing of the past

Editorial: Jeddah flooding to be a thing of the past
Updated 20 July 2012

Editorial: Jeddah flooding to be a thing of the past

Editorial: Jeddah flooding to be a thing of the past

Jeddah is hopefully on the road to becoming flood-free by late next year. More than 130 people lost their lives and thousands of homes were destroyed or seriously damaged in the flash floods that hit the city, first in November 2009 and then in January 2010.
There were a range of causes for these disasters. Infrastructure, though properly-designed was not built according to plan, drains were often not maintained and became blocked, houses and farms were built illegally in wadis, other building regulations were flouted, causing structures to collapse. Last but by no means least, there was no proper disaster relief plan to which the rescue services could work.
These errors came about through a combination of professional incompetence, failures by regulators and inspection regimes, corruption and a lack of thorough contingency planning. Many of the individuals responsible for the catalog of failings have answered or are in the process of answering for their actions in the courts or have lost their jobs.
The seriousness of what happened should not be under-estimated. It would be fair to say that the citizens of Jeddah were traumatized by the disaster, which was covered extensively by media worldwide. There were pictures beamed around the globe of people looking down on flooded underpasses and inundated vehicles with their drowned occupants, with complete and utter disbelief. It was rightly asked, how could such an appalling event happen in a modern city with supposedly state-of-the-art infrastructure ?
Well, by September 2013, all being well, new drainage-oriented schemes will have been put in place that will make sure that, the next time Jeddah is hit by torrential rains, the consequences will not be catastrophic.
This week Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal inspected eight sites in a network of 82 projects where work is going on to instal or fix flood prevention schemes. It is a hugely ambitious SR 3.39 billion program, on which around 7,400 workers have been engaged since this March. Among the facilities under construction are 12 dams and 20 km of canals, together with 85 km of piping. In all the building work is going to require 45,000 tons of reinforced steel and nearly three quarters of a million cubic meters of concrete.
One of the largest projects is a major drainage system for Jeddah’s new airport. All this construction effort comes in addition to the emergency work already done on flash flood protection, where fourteen different projects were completed by last December.
It is notable that this time the authorities are determined that there will be no mistakes and no shortcuts. A neutral company has been hired to check and control quality at every stage of the projects in the program. Its brief is to report the slightest deviation from the approved drawings and to monitor quality, by ensuring that the right materials are used in the right quantities. Contractors will be obliged to redo any shoddy or inadequate work at their own expense and, if the project is delayed as a result, they could also incur penalty charges for late delivery.
It will be equally important, once all the schemes are handed over by the contractors, for all of these facilities to be regularly and properly maintained. More than one back up of water and consequent flooding in 2009 was caused by drains that had become entirely blocked with rubbish and sand. This must not be allowed to happen again. It must also be hoped that scheduled inspections of drains will be put in place, using the very same technology that is deployed so commonly in the oil industry for pipeline inspection.
It will not be long therefore before Jeddah will become an altogether safer city in terms of flooding. As cities in the Far East demonstrate, even the biggest storm drains will never be able to stop some flooding, but they will ensure that collected water is carried away quickly, and that no serious or lasting damage will be done.
There is, however, one final part of the flood prevention scheme that the authorities have yet to demonstrate clearly that they have put in place. This is the creation of well-prepared and regularly practiced disaster relief plans, which would be as applicable to any other catastrophe as well as flooding. In 2009, individuals within the emergency services acted with considerable bravery and initiative. However overall coordination and command and control was conspicuously lacking. When the next floods hit 14 months later, it was not obvious that all that many lessons had been learned.