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I am enjoying the recent public reaction to the words and statements of the Saudi Minister of Energy and Water, Abdullah Al-Hussayen. Who could forget his famous statement during the crisis whereby water was cut off from Jeddah, and queues of people were lining up to get their share of water tanks for their homes, when he said: “The water crisis in Jeddah is a psychological issue”. On another occasion, he commented on the crises of power shortages in some areas, stating “the power outage does not mean a lack of available services”. To understand the meaning of this statement, and appreciate it with sufficient depth, one needs to be a PhD graduate of the Sorbonne, Oxford or Harvard at the very least!

A few days ago, a ministry official announced that the process of draining an infamous lake in Jeddah [in order to dispose of its leftover high sewage content], was complete. The official ‘confirmed’ that the water had not been dumped into the Red Sea, but that it had been treated three times, ensuring that it was sterilized to the required standard. This statement was met with a tidal wave of criticism and skepticism by environmental specialists, and likewise those interested in meteorology and environmental protection. They deduced that, considering the number of treatment plants currently in operation in Jeddah designed for this purpose, the Ministry would not have sufficient capacity to accomplish what has been ‘achieved’ in the intervening period of time assigned to the task. Therefore it is logical, according to what they claim, that there are many sites off the coast of Jeddah where the color of the water has changed, and which are now emitting unpleasant odors.

The news of the elimination of sewage from this notorious lake is both important and positive. However, it seems that the solution to the problem has been to salvage the lake and to purify its waters “in any way and as soon as possible”, and dozens of problems have been created due to this solution. This is the wrong approach, and it deserves reflection and discussion. Furthermore, the recipients of official ministerial statements deserve more respect. The ministerial spokesman must support his statement with clear facts and figures, in line with what he has been instructed to say.

The volume of stagnant water in the notorious lake exceeded 50 million liters, so where has it gone so quickly? Especially considering the known absorption capacity of existing treatment plants in Jeddah, is it not ‘impossible’ to implement a process to eradicate such a quantity within this period?

As a matter of transparency and logic, I think that Jeddah specifically, and Saudi Arabia in general, deserve a clear account of where the sewage went and how it dried up so quickly. This would represent a complete solution to the problem, and an explanation to those who criticize or question that the water was dumped into the sea. This claim has no foundation, especially since it came after the ministry’s spokesman challenged to disprove any one claiming that the water was poured into the Red Sea without treatment.

People are waiting for a comment from the Ministry, with one hand on their hearts, and the other on the dictionary.

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi is a businessman and prominent columnist. Mr. Shobokshi hosts the weekly current affairs program Al-Takreer on Al-Arabiya, and in 1995 he was chosen as one of the "Global Leaders for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. He received his BA in Political Science and Management from the University of Tulsa.

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