Saudis in mourning as fatal floods again hit Jeddah

Saudis in mourning as fatal floods again hit Jeddah
Blog: Residents of the Red Sea port have woken to another devastating flood, alleging officials have ignored their continued warnings over poor infrastructure investment.
5 min read
18 Nov, 2015
Jeddah frequently floods, such as in 2009 [pictured] when 123 people died [AFP]
At least eight people have died, officials said on Wednesday, as residents of the western Saudi city of Jeddah again woke to flooded streets and homes.

Photos on social media from the Red Sea port showed submerged cars and pedestrians wading through chest-height water, attempting to cross Jeddah's waterlogged roads.

Locals have been warned by the government not to leave their homes, to minimise the chances of lives being lost.

As one Twitter user in city put it: "It never rains in Jeddah, but when it does it is like the flood of Noah."

But for most Saudis, these biblical scenes highlight human error rather than the wrath of God.

With anger growing, Saudis - and particularly Jeddah residents - have taken to Twitter to complain about the recurring problem.

It comes days after the US announced a $1.29 billion arms deal to sell precision bombs to the Saudi military, which will undoubtedly be dropped on poverty-stricken neighbouring Yemen.

Most Saudis blame the local city council for refusing to invest the necessary funds to repair the decaying infrastructure of Jeddah, which pretty much ensures floods after heavy rain.

However, the response has been muted compared to 2009, when more than 120 people were killed in a wave of flooding in the city. 

That disaster sparked widespread anger about the disasterous response from emergency services and the city's crumbling infrastructure. 

The deaths sparked a short-lived civil society movement against corruption in the country.

Riyadh responded to complaints and jailed 45 government officials in 2014 on charges of corruption, which related to the floods.

What is different this time around is that social media is more widely used in the country.

Angry Jeddah residents now have the power to amplify their complaints to the rest of the world, while they remain locked in their homes waiting for the waters to drain.

"There's no reason to be afraid, everything is under control."

One well-known Saudi Arabian Twitter user known as Mujtahid - who reveals the inner workings of the royal court on a frequent basis - went straight straight for the jugular of Prince Khaled al-Faisal al-Saud, the governor of Mecca province which includes Jeddah.

The Saudi dissenter complained that this was the second time Jeddah had been flooded under his watch.

"For the second time, the drowning of Jeddah reveal the lies of Khaled Faysal, who said 'I promise you it [Jeddah] will not drown a second time, you will live in dignity and comfort.' Comfort has been effaced."

Fortunately for the Saudi government, the scale of the flooding is smaller than in 2009, despite the fatalities announced on Wednesday.

Anger - for now - appears to be directed at the local council rather than King Salman and his government.

"Saudis don't talk about the high level of government, they only talk about the local municipality... and the way they deal with the floods. There is anger, but just at the local council," said Badr al-Rashed, al-Araby al-Jadeed's Saudi correspondent. 

"They are afraid of talking about the whole government, this is always the way they deal with it. They don't want to make a problem [for themselves]."

So the royal family might be safe from attack - for now - but weather forecasts predict continued rain this week.

There are other worrying issues that the government will have to deal with in the coming years if it is to abate the growing frustrations of Saudi youth.

Low oil prices and a hugely costly war on Houthi rebels in Yemen has forced Riyadh to dip into its savings.

If the situation continues, the IMF predicts that the country could run out of money within five years, unless major structural reforms are enacted.

Suggestions include cuts to public sector jobs and subsidies, which would hit ordinary Saudis hardest.

Despite the boom years of high oil prices, many Saudis are still living in poverty, and youngsters - often graduates - are struggling to find jobs.

There is growing discontent among both young liberals and conservatives that the government's actions do not reflect the opinions of the majority.

One example all sides agree on is the way the government regulates housing and exacts "land fees", which many Saudis feel is an unjustified tax that targets the poorest in society.

This all boils down to resentment towards a select few royals who are perceived to have created a culture of corruption, which allows them to get rich while forcing the poor to bribe officials.

The people of Jeddah warned Riyadh officials six years ago of the insufficient infrastructure or services needed to deal with flooding, and now many feel ignored.

"It is about inefficiency, the government want to solve the problem but it cannot. Corruption is the biggest problem that face the government faces," Rashed said.

With growing anger, the local government appears to be taking the matter more seriously than in 2009, and have given Saudis an outlet to voice their frustrations - a Gmail address to which they can send their complaints.

"A letter from Prince Khaled Faisal (governor) to the inhabitants of exalted Mecca:

'I and officials in the crisis management centre are observing and following up on the conditions of the rain and we are working with all our efforts to reduce the damage.

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