Problems on hold
In most countries, developed or otherwise, rain is no catastrophe. Quite the contrary, it waters thirsty lands and plants, and is a valuable resource stored in reservoirs for use according to need. The exception to the rule is when rain comes as a natural disaster such as in a hurricane, storm, or torrential flood.
Egypt is a different story, however, where rain is concerned. Even though the seasons and times of rainfall are well-defined and well-known; heavy rain is officially forecast and the public and authorities warned against it, the outcome is invariably catastrophic. Come light or heavy rain, the usual showers or occasional torrents, they bring on fluster, chaos and complications that amount to disaster. The catastrophic outcome cannot be attributed to nature’s wrath; rather, it is the result of gross negligence by authorities which time and again fail to control the situation or make good use of the rainwater.
A spat of heavy rains that recently fell over Egypt cannot be described as unprecedented or unexpected during this time of the year. However, it shockingly revealed the extent to which newly-constructed buildings and infrastructure are ill-prepared to sustain rain. Rooftops, facades and basements easily succumbed to damage by the rain; roads and infrastructure networks incurred considerable damage since rainwater drainage facilities were either severely inadequate or lacking altogether.
The rainfall was disastrous to Egyptians of all walks of life. After one underground metro line in Cairo went out of operation owing to a power cut that was in one way or another linked to the rain, commuters were forced to go above-ground. Their huge numbers placed an extra load on the already overburdened Cairo traffic that was even then under exceptional stress owing to flooded roads. Traffic came to a total standstill; vehicles were stuck on the road for long hours; drivers and passengers called for help but none was available.
Houses, big and small, and residential spaces were not spared the flooding that inundated the roads, sidewalks, and gardens. Basements of buildings were submerged, ruining fixtures, furniture and appliances. Those whose poor luck had taken to the Red Sea coast along Ain Sokhna to Hurghada were trapped there since the highways were closed. The rainwaters shoved earth from the mountains down to the beaches, sweeping everything on the way and causing severe damage.
We cannot simply blame nature; we have no one to blame for the catastrophic outcome but ourselves. What happened in Egypt because of the rain is the result of apathy and poor or non-existent discipline; this applies to both State and developers. Here is the evidence:
• Newly built urban areas and developments have been equipped with ineffective rainwater drainage systems, in some cases none whatsoever. Where drainage systems were installed they were never tested or run, but were left to rot under piles of dust and garbage. When the rain came, the drains were blocked. State and developers are together responsible for the failure.
• To add insult to injury, a bunch of lame excuses were used to justify the drainage failure. It was claimed that some drains were covered with asphalt when the roads were last paved, that the roads were defective in that their slopes did not allow the waters to run unimpeded to the drains, or that randomly-built speed bumps blocked the water paths to the drains.
• No one has been able to get to the bottom of the dilemma that brings about power cuts during rainfall to a facility as vital as the underground metro. When a remote village or a lone building suffer a power cut, it is seen as a technical failure that should be dealt with. But for electricity to be cut off a metro line, and the matter brushed off as a natural outcome of the heavy rain, it exposes not a technical but a flagrant administrative flaw.
• Following every incident of damage to highways and coastal roads on account of heavy rains, officials declare that the rainwater runoff courses need reinforcement. As though the rains were some unprecedented occurrence and the runoff requires new, advanced technology to deal with! Such futile reasoning is no longer acceptable; it defies common sense. The problem is not with the rain; the real catastrophe is that modern man has tampered with the rainwater runoff courses carved by nature over thousands of years. The State and the developers have erected buildings, roads and public facilities over these natural courses without securing other paths for the rainwater to run through.
• Complaints by owners of upscale villas in new developments about the damage worked by the rainwater to their property are no longer acceptable. After all, it was they who allowed themselves to overlook basic structural requirements that would have secured their rooftops and basements, as well as the roads around their property, against flooding or water leakage.
Before I close, however, I care to stress two significant points. First, I hope we do not rush to criticise the western media’s coverage of the rains and their aftermath as some ‘conspiracy’ against Egypt; again I stress there’s no one to blame but ourselves.
Second, how can I overlook or not think highly and endearingly of the remarkable time-honoured Egyptian sense of humour? Egyptians outdid themselves in joking off the dire situation, and sarcastically turned the crisis into a good laugh that resounded all over social media. Talk of resilience!
6 May 2018