Jordan's King Abdullah leads a nation’s grief

Civil defense members work to find survivors after rain storms unleashed flash floods near the Dead Sea in Jordan on Friday. Inset top: The Jordanian flag flies half-mast as a mark of respect for those killed. (Reuters)
Updated 26 October 2018

Jordan's King Abdullah leads a nation’s grief

  • For many families there was no end to the grief, but they continued to live in hope that their loved ones would be found alive, as the search continued

AMMAN: Laughing, chattering, happy and excited, the children from Victoria College in Amman piled onto their school bus, ready for the outing they had been looking forward to all week. The plan was for a trip to Wadi Zarqa Maein, a heritage site of rock formations and thermal springs next to the Dead Sea, about 40km southwest of the Jordanian capital.
The children, seventh and eighth graders aged from about 11 to 14, spoke of the lunchtime picnic they would enjoy on Thursday among the rock pools and the reed beds. Instead, a freak rainstorm created a flash flood in the wadi and at least 21 children and teachers were swept to their deaths.
Twenty-four hours later, Jordan was still in a state of shock — combined with widespread anger and frustration that such a tragedy could have been allowed to occur.
“My grief and pain is beyond description, and it is only equal to my anger at those who failed to take measures that could have prevented this painful incident,” King Abdullah said.
“I offer condolences to myself and to Jordan for the loss of my Jordanian family. The suffering of every father, mother and family caused by this incident is my suffering.”
The Royal Hashemite Court ordered the lowering of the Jordanian flag to half-mast as a mark of respect for those who lost their lives.
Among the families of the children caught up in the flood, the grief was palpable. Ali Rahoumi, an Iraqi resident, broke down in tears when he was told that his only son was among those missing. Rahoumi lost his wife a month ago, he told Prime Minister Omar Razzaz, who was trying to comfort him.
For many families there was no end to the grief, but they continued to live in hope that their loved ones would be found alive, as the search continued.
Mystery surrounds why the school trip went ahead at all, at a time of year when the weather in Jordan can be dangerous and unpredictable. Over the past week, the Jordan Meteorological Department’s daily weather forecasts warned of poor conditions, including heavy rain and dust that was expected to blanket most of the country, and urged people to take precautions. Thursday’s tragedy suggests that no one was paying attention.
In the immediate aftermath of the flood, the Jordanian government attempted to apportion blame for the tragedy to the school, for planning a trip to a non-approved destination.

Ill-fated trip
The school had approval for a trip to Al-Azraq, an eco-tourism destination in Jordan’s eastern desert, not to the Dead Sea, Minister of State for Media Affairs Jumana Ghunaimat said. “It is clear that there is a violation; the school that organized the trip did not abide by public-safety regulations which stipulate that students must not swim and must be kept away from waterways,” she said.
However, a document made available to Arab News showed that the permission issued by the relevant ministry indicated that the school had adhered to the approved route.
Nevertheless, Minister of State for Legal Affairs Mubarak Abu Yamin said the government would hold the school accountable, administratively and criminally.
“We have already started our internal investigation, in coordination and cooperation with the attorney general’s office, to determine the responsibility and to identify causes and reasons that lead to this catastrophe,” he said. “We will make sure the rule of the law is observed and implemented.”
The Ministry of Education has launched a full-scale investigation into the incident, spokesman Walid Al-Jallad said, and the ministry was keen to cooperate fully with all concerned parties.
Civil engineer Maysarah Malas told Arab News on Friday that the school had to shoulder the responsibility for organizing a school trip despite a weather warning notice issued by the Jordan Meteorological Department.
However, he said: “Blaming the school management does not relieve the ministry or the minister himself from responsibility. The weather had started to deteriorate in the early hours of the day. The minister should have issued instructions to all schools to cancel any plans for school trips, but he did not.”


Amnesty slams Qatar tracing app for exposing data of a million users

Updated 19 min 32 sec ago

Amnesty slams Qatar tracing app for exposing data of a million users

  • Glitch made users’ ID numbers, location, infection status vulnerable to hackers
  • More than 47,000 of Qatar’s 2.75 million people have tested positive for

DOHA: A security flaw in Qatar’s controversial mandatory coronavirus contact tracing app exposed sensitive information of more than one million users, rights group Amnesty International warned Tuesday.
The glitch, which was fixed on Friday after being flagged by Amnesty a day earlier, made users’ ID numbers, location and infection status vulnerable to hackers.
Privacy concerns over the app, which became mandatory for residents and citizens on pain of prison from Friday, had already prompted a rare backlash and forced officials to offer reassurance and concessions.
Users and experts had criticized the array of permissions required to install the app including access to files on Android devices, as well as allowing the software to make unprompted phone calls.
Despite insisting the unprecedented access was necessary for the system to work, officials said they would address privacy concerns and issued reworked software over the weekend.
“Amnesty International’s Security Lab was able to access sensitive information, including people’s name, health status and the GPS coordinates of a user’s designated confinement location, as the central server did not have security measures in place to protect this data,” the rights group said in a statement.
“While Amnesty International recognizes the efforts and actions taken by the government of Qatar to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures introduced to date, such as access to free health care, all measures must be in line with human rights standards.”
More than 47,000 of Qatar’s 2.75 million people have tested positive for the respiratory disease — 1.7 percent of the population — and 28 people have died.
Like other countries, Qatar has turned to mobiles to trace people’s movements and track who they come into contact with, allowing officials to monitor coronavirus infections and flag possible contagion.
“The Ehteraz app’s user privacy and platform security are of the utmost importance,” Qatar’s health ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
“A comprehensive update of the app was rolled out on Sunday May 24 with expanded security and privacy features for all users.”
But Etheraz, which means “Precaution,” continues to allow real-time location tracking of users by authorities at any time, Amnesty said.
“It was a huge security weakness and a fundamental flaw in Qatar’s contact tracing app that malicious attackers could have easily exploited,” said Claudio Guarnieri, head of the group’s security lab.
“The Qatari authorities must reverse the decision to make use of the app mandatory,” he said.