Problems on hold
Since I am a firm believer that Egypt is on the right track to reform and development, and since I understand the dire challenges the country faces on all fronts so have resolved to be patient and uncomplaining, I was determined not to join the wave of bitter criticism of the disastrous situation caused by torrential rains that fell on parts of Egypt on 22 October 2019. The criticism was directed through the media and social media at Egypt’s political administration, government, and Cairo local government for failing to adequately prepare for and handle the rains. And lest anyone thinks it was easy for me to practice patience because I had not personally suffered on account of the situation, let me explain that I was stuck stand-still on the road for six hours on that fateful afternoon and evening while on my way home from my office, a journey that normally takes no more than 30 minutes. And lest readers assume that the six-hour wait finally took me home, let me say that no, I was rescued by spotting a parked car drive out of its space, so hastened to park mine there instead, and walked home then. My walk home, some 1.5km, allowed me to see firsthand the huge chaos and traffic deadlock ahead, and the distraught pedestrians heading to the overburdened underground metro for rescue from the above-ground impossible situation which took till the early hours of the following day to clear.
Despite this gruesome experience and my anger at and resentment of obvious official failure to handle it, sentiments shared by all those who underwent it, I did not curse or join the unending procession of howling, wailing criticism that erupted. I knew, like everyone else, that the cause for the disastrous situation on Cairo’s streets was not solely the ‘natural disaster’, but owed to yet another chapter of the by-now usual pathetic scenario of defective rain drainage facilities, sloppy and apathetic local government officials, and the absence of crisis management apparatuses. I realised that we in Egypt are still in dire need of official discipline, commitment, firmness and accountability, features we would do well to learn from our military. Those who doubt me may look at our Railways Authority which, following a series of catastrophic accidents that largely owed to chronic apathy and poor discipline, was assigned to Lieutenant General Kamel al-Wazir who imposed military-like discipline on its administration, and got it finally running right.
So why am I writing now? Whereas all the above did not provoke me into criticism, declarations by high-ranking officials did. Instead of denouncing the catastrophic official failure in managing the crisis that never came as a surprise but was repeatedly forewarned by the meteorological authorities, and instead of holding local government officials accountable for gross negligence in maintaining roads and rainwater drainage facilities, State officials resorted to voicing lame pretexts which appear to underestimate our intelligence. Cloaked in vanity and arrogance, they gave us absurd lessons in history, geography, climate, meteorology, road networks and facilities. I cite here samples of these declarations but, in attempt to save face, withhold the names of the officials who made them.
“We do not have a rainwater drainage network in our cities because we are a dry country.” This is a ridiculous declaration that should drive the Minister of Education to review the Geography taught to generations of students, mine included, that Egypt is “hot and dry in summer, warm and rainy in winter”. Over the years, we have seen winter rains the intensity of which varies from one year to another and one site to another.
“Climate change is the main reason for the torrential rains.” This too is a ridiculous declaration that warrants checking with environment experts, since rains are not new to Egypt. Over the years the country has witnessed light, heavy and torrential rains, and has always handled them through rainwater drainage networks. Through vigilance, protection and rapid intervention, Egypt was able to ward off possible hazards. Throwing the blame on Mother Earth, and alleging that the recent torrential rains were unprecedented, was but an attempt to obscure administrative shortcoming.
“We stressed on all local government officials in all governorates to clean all street drainage networks twice every week.. But we got 12ml of rains in one hour, then the rain stopped and resumed for another one-and-a-half hour … The rain water that fell amounted to 650,000 cu.m which is a huge amount.” This declaration both shocks and provokes anger; because it admits that our streets do have drainage networks that should be regularly checked and cleaned. This is in direct conflict with the declaration that no drainage facilities are needed in our country. It is also given the lie by the fact that rainwater seeped into streets and buildings, including Cairo Airport, in full view of local and international media which pounces on any opportunity to belittle Egypt. As to local government officials, they have inundated us with their all-too-familiar apologetic pretexts of the type: “the gutters were blocked by garbage or asphalt”, or “road slopes are defective so the water does not flow into gutters”, or “speed bumps on the roads block the waters from flowing into gutters”, or “we commissioned the fast intervention apparatuses to clean the gutters, and divers to clear the drainage paths in the tunnels”. So it was not about the terrifying rains that poured for a full hour then dared to pour again for another one-and-a-half hours! Or about the huge 650,000cu.m of rainwater that fell! Are they to be held accountable for the flooding of Orouba Tunnel in Heliopolis? And are they to blame for flowing into the halls of Cairo Airport?
Finally, I would like to point out that my love for Egypt, my belief in the imperativeness of working to help the country out of failures, and my commitment to practice patience and understanding till we reach the safe shores of development and reform, does not mean I accept that facts would be obscured or ‘beautified’, or that I swallow declarations by irresponsible officials.
30 October 2019