Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—No sooner were the Lebanese recovering from their recent political, security and food crises when winter arrived over the weekend to add fuel to the fire—or “add water to the cement,” as the Lebanese proverb goes.
It was the same old story for the Lebanese, who have suffered severe weather for the past few winters. Heavy rainfall caused power outages and road closures, leaving much of the population wondering what the government has been doing to improve flood defenses since the country was last deluged in December of 2013.
Familiar scenes of pedestrians stranded amid flood waters were broadcast, with the victim once again asking “where is the government?” The main road to Beirut’s international airport was once again cut off in both directions as a result of flooding in the two tunnels leading to the airport.
Several cars slid off mountain roads in Dhour El-Choueir, Faraya, Al-Sohayla and Jeita. Two people were killed, and 12 people were injured in 11 car crashes on Saturday alone.
Most Lebanese provinces, including the capital Beirut, were plunged into total darkness, in a power outage the state-run electricity company attributed to the heavy rainfall. Those Lebanese without generators lit candles for light; those at the other end of the class spectrum saw their social networking sites go quiet as a result of local Internet connections being knocked out.
Minister for Public Works and Transport Ghazi Zaiter vowed to solve the problem. “This is my duty and I will investigate the reasons for it. The Lebanese people’s suffering will not continue forever, and I will let people know the outcome of the information and investigations I will carry out,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.
When questioned on the Ministry’s failure to take precautionary measures to prevent flooding on the roads Zaiter said: “I assumed my duties in the Ministry while it was facing several problems, and this is one of those problems.” He explained that public works contractors would have to answer to any failings. “I’m committed to restoring peace and to holding to account any party proven to be mistaken, even if this party is the government itself,” he said.
The minister said that the contracts for the public works companies were due to expire on December 31, 2014. “In the event these companies are proven to be responsible for such a deplorable situation in view of negligence or mistakes they committed, then I will have the right to exclude them or even take them to court,” said Zaiter. “In this case, we would have to sign contracts with other companies, but this depends on the results of investigations to be carried in the next two days.”
In the meantime, the Lebanese have wasted no time in filling social media with sarcastic comments on the government’s inability to deal with the severe weather. Activist Thoraya Barakat tweeted: “Having suffered from the poison that exists in our food and water, as well as from the expired Botox injections, do we still have to endure more suffering in our streets until the officials wake from their slumber?”