Yesterday was 21 March, the day we say goodbye to winter and welcome spring. This last winter was a fierce, bitter one that brought in unprecedented waves of biting cold and torrential rains to Egypt. It refused to leave without hitting us with one last blow: two days of a hurricane-like storm of gusty winds, rumbling thunderstorms and torrential rains that raged through the whole of Egypt, leading to momentous disruption in traffic, services, and livelihoods. This was last weekend, on 12 – 13 March; and was highly unusual for that time of the year. In fact it was so extraordinary that Egyptians began wondering if the basic geography lesson they learn by heart in their early school days should be reconsidered. That lesson: “Egypt’s climate is hot and dry in summer; warm and rainy in winter”. Should this now change into “hot and highly humid in summer; chilly with copious rains in winter”?
We must own, however, that the wrath of nature was not alone responsible for the agony of Egyptians last winter; equally to blame was their resounding failure to brace themselves for the ugly weather. Egypt’s weather, in fact, is not among the worst in terms of cold or rainfall; even during the recent storm, temperatures fluctuated between a high of 22 and a low of 8, very mild temperatures compared to snowy climates where temperatures dive to 10 and 20 below zero centigrade. Rainfall is never over prolonged periods of time, and cannot compare to anything like monsoon rains that go on for weeks on end. Sadly, our country’s moderate climate, for which we are envied by many, has restricted our capacity to protect ourselves and safeguard our facilities, urban communities and road networks against harsher climate conditions.
The most recent incident of stormy weather was not the only one this winter. Egypt was hit by three waves of heavy rains: one in October, another in February, and the last in March. These waves did not take us unawares; weather forecasts supported by satellite data and modern technology had predicted them all and warned against them. Everyone knew when they would hit, the authorities and the public. Yet with each of these waves, disaster struck because we committed the same errors, never learning from our mistakes and never bracing ourselves for the bad weather. We managed again and again to fall prey to the rains and floods; our public facilities and roads got cut off, submerged under vast lakes of water, because we failed miserably at clearing the rain drainage networks, if there existed such networks in the first place. Our only brilliant success was at torturing, displacing, and terrorising the public.
So what brilliant solutions did we implement to face the bad weather? We closed schools and universities, we suspended work in government offices and businesses. We closed main road networks as soon as they turned into lakes where cars sank to half their height, and trucks and large vehicles to the top of their tyres. Officials rushed to warn that roads inside and outside towns had been closed, as well as highways and main cross-national roads. This does not mean that side roads or smaller localities were spared the repercussions of the bitter weather. The ugly truth is that the poorer neighbourhoods become isolated, impossible to reach because they swam under the floods, their inhabitants placed under siege without water, electricity or telephones which all semester to have perished under the rainwater. All this to declarations by the authorities that they are intensifying efforts to drain the waters, restore services, water, and power, and repair the parts of the roads where the land had settled on account of the rain.
What happened—which is not a first—necessitates from us a serious, responsible stance. We could start by ceasing to blame our failures on nature, and confronting our catastrophic inadequacies to equip our roads, facilities and urban communities to deal with difficult weather conditions. An honest look on the impact of the last storm on our buildings, facilities and roads proved that nature is not alone to blame, but man ought to shoulder his share of the responsibility.