In Jordan’s ancient Petra, sirens warn of flash floods

Flash floods caused by heavy rain forced hundreds of tourists to seek higher ground in the kingdom’s ancient city of Petra. (AP)
Updated 18 November 2018

In Jordan’s ancient Petra, sirens warn of flash floods

  • Earlier this month, sirens blared minutes before a torrent fed by heavy rains approached the UNESCO World Heritage site
  • The last fatal flash flood struck Petra in 1963 when 22 French tourists and a local guide were killed by rapidly rising waters

PETRA, Jordan: In ancient times, Arab tribesmen dug diversion tunnels to protect their low-lying trading post of Petra against desert flash floods. More than two millennia later, an alarm system warns visitors if flood water rushes toward what has become Jordan’s main tourist attraction.
Earlier this month, the alarms were activated for the first time, said Hussein Al-Hasanat of the Petra Development & Tourism Region Authority. Sirens blared minutes before a torrent fed by heavy rains approached the UNESCO World Heritage site carved into rose-hued rock face.
Hundreds of tourists were able to seek higher ground and were later evacuated, he said.
Amateur video posted online at the time showed visitors running through a steep, narrow canyon leading to the Treasury, Petra’s main draw, as guides urged them to hurry. Later, visitors were seen standing on a higher patch near the Treasury as knee-high water poured through the canyon.
Elsewhere in Jordan, such alarms are still missing. Thirty-four people were killed in flash floods in late September and early November.
The last fatal flash flood struck Petra in 1963 when 22 French tourists and a local guide were killed by rapidly rising waters. In response, Jordan’s Department of Antiquities built a dam to keep water from entering the canyon leading to the Treasury.
In 2014, the alarm system was installed as added protection, with sirens set to go off when flood water rises above four meters (yards).
On Nov. 9, the system was triggered for the first time, through a computer in the Petra Authority’s control room. The computer is connected to eight rain forecast systems and two water detection stations placed in the area, within 8 kilometers (5 miles) of Petra.
The network generates instant data allowing officials to measure possible danger and warn people by the time the water reaches Petra.
Omar Dajani, a meteorologist at the Arabia Weather company, said alarms should be installed in all vulnerable areas in Jordan.
He said urban sprawl has exacerbated the flood risk, which is particularly high in dry areas.
“Now towns have spread so much and many of them were not built with respect for the geography of the region, such as valleys for example, where the water has naturally caused floods for millions of years,” Dajani said.


Egyptian president uses UN address to call for peace in Libya

Updated 13 min 47 sec ago

Egyptian president uses UN address to call for peace in Libya

  • In speech to 75th General Assembly, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi again warns that Egypt will intervene if forces in the country cross ‘red lines’

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi told the UN on Tuesday that the crisis in Libya continues to have repercussions for neighboring nations and is affecting international stability.

In a recorded speech to the organization’s 75th General Assembly, he said that Egypt remains determined to support the Libyan people in their efforts to rid their nation of terrorist groups and militias, and end interference by regional powers that have deployed foreign fighters in the country.

He reiterated that if previously stated “red lines” are crossed by forces aligned with the Government of National Accord in Tripoli advancing on Sirte and nearby Al-Jufra, Egypt will intervene in defense of its own national security and the safety of its people.

El-Sisi renewed his call for both sides in the conflict to return to the negotiating table to find a political solution that can bring the peace, security and stability the Libyan people deserve. He added that Egypt continues to support UN-led efforts to reach a political settlement based on the 2015 agreement signed in Skhirat, Morocco, and this year’s Berlin conference and Cairo Declaration. The declaration, announced on June 6, is a joint political initiative designed to end the conflict, restore order and establish a consensus government.

Ambassador Mohammed Badr El-Din, a former assistant minister of foreign affairs, said that El-Sisi’s speech covered all the main issues currently dominating Egyptian foreign policy and national security, and highlighted the importance of international cooperation to confront the problems and, in particular, hold accountable those who violate international law.

“(The president) talked about the issue of countries that support terrorism and facilitate the movement of terrorists to conflict areas, especially to Libya and Syria,” said El-Din.

He added that the situation in Libya is one of the greatest concerns for Egypt, and that some countries, led by Turkey, are threatening international peace and security by supporting terrorists and deploying Daesh elements in conflict zones in the region.

“Egypt has surpassed the parties that are allied with the terrorist forces,” said El-Din. “It is no secret from the world that there are elements of ISIS who were transferred from Syria to Libya, and thus President El-Sisi repeated and clarified this position,” he added, using another name for the terror group Daesh.

He added that El-Sisi in his speech also confirmed Egypt’s stance on the Palestinian issue and support for a just resolution, and highlighted the importance of reaching political solutions in Syria and Yemen that preserve their territorial integrity.

Salah Hasaballah, a spokesman for the House of Representatives, noted that El-Sisi had expressed his regret that the international community continues to turn a blind eye to the support provided to terrorists by a handful of countries, through the provision of funds and weapons, by offering safe havens and media and political platforms, and even transporting terrorist fighters to conflict zones, especially Libya and Syria.

He also called on the international community to embrace El-Sisi’s vision for a solution to the Palestinian issue, and commit to working to achieve peace and establish a Palestinian homeland.