This section's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. Please update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information.(November 2012)
The 2009 Saudi Arabian floods affected Jeddah, on the Red Sea (western) coast of Saudi Arabia, and other areas of Makkah Province. They have been described by civil defence officials as the worst in 27 years. As of 3 January 2010, some 122 people had been reported to have been killed, and more than 350 were missing. Some roads were under a metre (three feet) of water on 26 November, and many of the victims were believed to have drowned in their cars. At least 3,000 vehicles were swept away or damaged. The death toll was expected to rise as flood waters receded, allowing rescuers to reach stranded vehicles.
More than 70 millimetres (2.76 inches) of rain fell in Jeddah in just four hours on Wednesday 25 November. This is nearly twice the average for an entire year and the heaviest rainfall in Saudi Arabia in a decade. The flooding came just two days before the expected date of the Eid al-Adha festival and during the annual Hajj pilgrimage to nearby Mecca. Business losses were estimated at a billion riyals (US$270 million). The poorer neighbourhoods in the south of Jeddah were particularly hard hit, as was the area around King Abdulaziz University. The university was closed for vacation at the time of the floods, preventing even higher casualties.
Geography and hydrology of Jeddah
The city of Jeddah is situated on the Red Sea coast, beneath the northern escarpment of the Red Sea Rift known as the Jabal al-Hejaz, which reaches 600–1,000 metres (1,800–3,000 feet) in the region. The population of the city is about 3.4 million (2009 estimate) in an urban area of 1,765 km2 (681 sq mi), giving a population density of 1,900 hab./km2 (5,000 hab./sq. mi.). The climate is arid, with most rainfall occurring between November and January, usually as thunderstorms.
|Total: 56.1 mm (2.2 in.). Source: Global Historical Climatology Network, version 1|
At least eleven wadis converge on the city, and localised flooding is common after rain. The municipality is currently investing 1 billion riyals (US$270 million) in storm drains, but the cost of a full system is estimated at an additional 3 billion riyals (US$800 million). In November 2009, only some 30% of the city was protected against flash-flooding and then, often with only one-inch (25-millimetre) pipes.
2009 Hajj pilgrimage
25 November was the first day of the annual four-day Hajj pilgrimage to Islamic holy sites in and around Mecca, for which Jeddah is the main entry point for foreign pilgrims arriving by air or sea. The number of foreigners, as well as Saudi citizens, was slightly lower than in previous years, possibly because of health fears due to the pandemic of H1N1 influenza. However, over 1.6 million are still believed to have made the hajj, with 200,000 coming from Indonesia alone.
According to the Saudi Interior Ministry, none of the flood victims were taking part in the pilgrimage. However, the main Haramain expressway between King Abdulaziz International Airport and Mecca was closed on 25 November, stranding thousands of pilgrims. Parts of the 80-kilometre (50 mi) highway were reported to have caved in, and the Jamia bridge in eastern Jeddah partially collapsed. The highway remained closed on 26 November amid fears that the bridge would collapse completely.
Rain was unusually heavy in Mecca on 25 November, as well as in nearby Mina, where many pilgrims stay in vast tent cities. The weather had improved by 26 November, and pilgrims had to face “scorching heat” on the plain of Mount Arafat for the second day of the Hajj. Hassan Al-Bushra, an epidemiologist at the Cairo office of the World Health Organization, said “there is no evidence” that the rain would worsen the spread of the H1N1 flu virus, a view shared by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
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Coordinates: 21°30′N39°11′E / 21.500°N 39.183°E / 21.500; 39.183
The past week suffered no lack of drama in Saudi Arabia as the nation witnessed, in amazing contrast, what could be a labelled as a modern-day 'Tale of Two Cities'.
In Riyadh, the Kingdom's booming capital and impeccably well-structured city, the organizers of the highly acclaimed Global Competitiveness Forum (an annual Saudi version of the World Economic Forum which was established around the country's determination to enhance its global competitiveness ranking) were celebrating the conclusion of this year's event on the 25th of January. The GCF this year was attended by the likes of Former US President Bill Clinton and Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as well as a large number of delegates which include local and international movers and well, Sheik-ers.
However, as delegates were still absorbing all the thoughts, facts and ideas which shared at the Forum, a disaster happened less than 24 hours later -- one which certainly would disturb the positive image that most people who have attended previous GCF events have built over the years.
On the morning of January 26, residents of Jeddah, the Kingdom's key commercial port on the Red Sea, woke up to heavy torrential rain and it wasn't long before Saudi Arabia's second largest city was completely crippled by the flooding.
The rising water level (said to have been between 111 and 120 millimetres) caused people to be stranded in office buildings, students to be stuck at schools, roads to be jammed by dysfunctional vehicles as heavy wind blew away trees, destroyed bridges and fires erupted in many electrical generators leaving parts of the city powerless.
(a YouTube video uploaded by a Jeddah resident showing some of the damage caused)
As dreadful as this scene must have been, this isn't the first time such a thing happens, in November 2009, 130 people died under similar circumstances when the city couldn't handle the floods which resulted from the heavy rain.
Jeddah has long suffered essential issues in its infrastructure as most of the city (90%) lacks a proper sewage system -- For decades, 'sucking sessions' organized by municipality vehicles and equipment were the only means available for residents to get rid of their household wastewater.
Upon witnessing the disaster which occurred in 2009; The Saudi King, Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, ordered an immediate and urgent investigation into the matter and 40 people were found responsible as plans were placed to prevent this catastrophe from re-occurring.
The city's residents blame certain well-known individuals who are said to have made a fortune decades ago from a government contract to build Jeddah's sewage system but never actually implemented a sustainable solution, while pocketing most of the contract's money.
As Jeddah suffered another blow, The King (who is still recovering from a recent operation in his back) furiously ordered the full deployment of rescue teams, the immediate release of any and all required resources and that officials 'work night and day until they find a solution'.
Following up the rescue efforts on the ground, HRH Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, the recently appointed Governor of the Mecca (Western) Province which includes Jeddah, has confirmed 4 deaths and losses in property as he vowed that this time 'pain-killers will not be accepted, the problem will be solved from its roots'.
Once again, rescue teams were supported by a massive volunteer movement which has been coordinated and organized throughout the city providing lifts, food, clothes and shelter to those in need.
Yet, it will be a long time before Jeddah residents recover from the emotional, financial and social effects of this disaster, some of which can be seen in this photo-gallery published by the Saudi English language daily, Arab News.
(Rafting to safety: Jeddah residents had to use different ways to survive the flood - Arab News Picture)
People I spoke to varied from men in tears to women bursting with anger -- and who can blame them? How would you react when water was flooding into a car stuck in the middle of the street and your 2 year old child in it? Or if you were a mother of 3 who had to stay at your desk over night whilst each of your children spent the night at a different place, one of them with a complete stranger who volunteered to help?
On social networks, pictures and videos were heavily uploaded bitter comments such as ones which referred to Jeddah's Municipality which is known in Arabic as 'Al-Amanah' (a word which also means 'The Trust') as 'Al-Khiyanah' (The Traitorship).
On Thursday 27 January, a call for protest against the neglect to take place has been reportedly spreading across Blackberry Messenger, with another message spreading on Friday to warn people not to join as they say anti-riot police are enforcing severe measures.
The ironic ending of this 'Tale of Two Cities' is that of course one of those who were trapped on Jeddah's main roads was the Turkish Finance Minister who was visiting the country (perhaps on his way back from the Global Competitiveness Forum in Riyadh?).
Yes, Saudi Arabia has come a long way -- and the GCF showed that we can put on quite a good a show and year after year it proves to the whole world that we are more than capable to attract foreign investors and dignitaries.
However, those corrupt contractors and city planners must be held accountable IN PUBLIC, an early alarm system supported by pro-active weather forecasts and emergency rescue plans have to be all prepared and placed on standby and mostly -- an immediate solution has to be found to give Jeddah the proper infrastructure it needs and victims who have not been compensated yet must be compensated straight away.
Not that is it the most important thing to those who suffered in Jeddah at the moment, but if we don't act quickly to help and protect these people then all our foreign investment-courting efforts will go down the drain, after all why would anyone want to spend a penny in a place that has no sewage system?
Follow Faisal J. Abbas on Twitter: www.twitter.com/FaisalJAbbas