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Unabated Concern - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The torrential rain which struck the city of Jeddah and caused renewed damage to streets, houses and public utilities has reopened the issue of services and utilities in the city and its surrounding areas. Passion for dealing with what happened last year, namely the worst natural disaster in the history of modern Saudi Arabia, which saw torrential rain causing flash flooding resulting in dozens of deaths, has waned. The challenge that is now being faced is the implementation of the required project, namely the creating of a rainwater drainage system, as well as completing the long-awaited sewerage network.

It seems clear that relying on the old and traditional approach with regards to undertaking projects is no longer feasible, productive, or effective, in solving Jeddah’s sewerage problem. Therefore it is now imperative to think outside of the box. What is needed, very simply, is a completely integrated and cost-effective project to be undertaken in record time.

One good example of such an approach is that taken by Saudi Aramco, which undertakes projects without problems or complaints. This is what prompted the government to choose Aramco to be responsible for building the greatest educational institute in the history of Saudi Arabia, namely the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). Its construction was completed on budget and to an extremely high standard, and most importantly of all KAUST was completed ahead of schedule. Therefore it is logical and rational to deal with the situation in Jeddah as an emergency which needs to be dealt with immediately, for it is completely unacceptable that people should be thrown into a state of fear and panic over what might happen whenever the sky becomes cloudy over Jeddah, and the weather forecasters predict rain.

In the past, the inhabitants of Jeddah, like the residents of other cities and villages, used to perceive rainfall as a good omen. Children would sing traditional [Arab] folk songs, and housewives would prepare the famous [Saudi Arabian] dish “Rice with Lentils” whenever heavy clouds appear on the horizon. Others would react to the rain by washing their faces and performing ablution [for prayer] with the rainwater, seeing this as a gift from God. However all of these festivities have turned into a terrifying nightmare that calls for a reconsideration of the way emergency projects are approached.

It is not acceptable that after more than two decades to draw up a plan for rainwater drainage, that we should be informed that this drainage project will not be completed within the next two years; for why should this project not be completed within one year? There are huge contracting companies around the world which carry out projects in record time and the evidence of this is readily available to anybody who is truly interested. Therefore this feeling of embarrassment, anxiety and panic requires a serious and integrated approach. It requires a mindset that thinks outside of the box and is willing to break the vicious circle of red tape, bureaucracy and negligence. These factors among others were the major cause of the Jeddah disaster and could also be the direct reason for its recurrence.

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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