Problems on hold
Watani’s issue of last week (21 November 2015) featured a story on the torrential rains that caught Egypt off guard earlier this month and drowned large areas and villages in Alexandria and Beheira. Even though the story was titled “Egypt drowns in an inch of water”—drawing on the Egyptian saying that denotes a person at loss for no substantial reason—Egyptian villages were in fact submerged under one-and-a-half metres of exceptionally heavy rainwater. Entire neighbourhoods, villages and agricultural land have been ruined owing to the inundation. The State is still extending rescue to those affected by the heavy rains.
The torrential rains were not the only calamity that hit Egypt; the ‘natural disaster’ uncovered some serious failures. It exposed that Egyptian officials use lame excuses to justify governmental shortcoming, and also brought to light the scandalous lack of maintenance of drainage networks in the older towns. Newer towns or urban areas in Egypt lack any rainwater drainage in the first place.
The lame, sickening excuses offered by Alexandria officials for the dire condition of the rainwater drainage network in town point to a flagrantly failed administration. The head of the Alexandria sewage company spoke of 57 drains along the Corniche, the seafront boulevard in Alexandria, but he admitted that 11 of them had been filled 20 years ago during construction work to expand the Corniche. Other outlets were blocked either by the concrete blocks which serve as wave breakers, or by the clubs and hotels built along the seafront. Did that official realise he was not talking of violations but of fully-fledged crimes? And that turning a blind eye to them for some 20 years was a further gross crime?
Mr head of Alexandria sewage company then announced that the Housing Ministry would establish a rainwater drainage network that would cover Alexandria in its entirety, as a long term solution to the rainwater problem there. I hope he does not think the proposal some amazing project on par with Egypt’s plan to establish its first nuclear power plant at Dabaa.
A handful of Alexandria roads built during the good old days of the first half of the 20th century were equipped with rainwater drainage but, in absence of any regular maintenance, even these are no longer operable. I am speaking of a time when standard specifications were respected, and vigilant officials faithfully carried out their duty in planning, execution, maintenance and monitoring. In the wake of the recent rainwater inundation, officials unashamedly admitted that the drains near the sidewalks were blocked by accumulated dust and waste, or by concrete blocks. I wonder that they didn’t see how much this exposes their failure at fulfilling their basic responsibilities in monitoring, supervision and maintenance.
Yet another crime has been systematically taking place in our streets over the years. This is the addition of new asphalt layers whenever roads need to be paved. The engineers doing that and the officials approving it completely disregard the construction standard that stipulates the stripping of the old asphalt layer before applying a new one. This ensures the optimal thickness of asphalt, the evenness of the road, and the accessibility of drains and network facilities. The old rainwater drains in Alexandria are today buried beneath accumulated layers of asphalt or beneath newer curbstones. Proper infrastructure has over the years been grossly neglected.
The modern infrastructure of Alexandria, and all new towns for that matter, is a resounding disaster. The huge projects of new towns and urban areas throughout the past 50 years or so feature no rainwater drainage networks. I equally speak of districts normally subject to heavy, sometimes torrential, rains and others where rain is a rare occurrence. The huge urban expansion south of Alexandria lacks sidewalk rainwater drainage networks or, for that matter, sidewalks in the first place. Satellite towns around Cairo or along the connecting highways have also been inundated during the recent rains, again because of the absence of adequate drains. With the same nerve Alexandria sewage officials mustered, Cairo satellite town officials appeared to unashamedly say: “Does it ever rain here? Why should there be rainwater drains?” This, as they supervised the rain suction trucks sent by the armed forces to pump out the water.
Again I say: Egypt did not drown in an inch of water; it is drowning in administrative corruption.
29 November 2015