By Berta Acero
CAIRO, 26 May 2014 – Recurrent flooding is becoming more of a threat in the Arab region, a part of the world usually associated with drought and desertification.
At least seven people were killed, schools were forced to close and vehicles were swept away in the latest flash flooding the Saudi Arabian province of Hail.
The Head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) in the Arab States Region, Mr. Amjad Abbashar, said urban flooding is a growing challenge in the region as well as globally.
“It is becoming more dangerous and costly because of the increasing population exposed within urban settlements. It is very important that governments manage flood risk today for a safer future through better urban management and resilient infrastructures,” Mr. Abbashar said.
“There is an urgent need to move from relief operations to preparedness and risk reduction and mitigation measures. Flood risk is a reality in the Arab region and it is very important that governments invest in flood prevention measures and an adequate land use planning.”
Flash flooding triggered by heavy downpours has claimed dozens of lives in recent years in the region with Saudi Arabia and Jordan as well as Egypt among the worst affected. The international disaster database EM-DAT recorded at least 300 flooding events between 1981 and 2011 in the region.
Major floods have been hitting Saudi Arabia recurrently since 2009, when almost twice the yearly average of rain (90mm) fell in four hours. More than 100 people were killed and economic losses were estimated at US$270 million in and around of Jeddah.
In Jordan, cities such as Maan, Petra, Zarqa, Aqaba and the capital Amman have witnessed flooded streets, inundated shops and vehicles, landslides and the closure of the main roads and schools.
Egypt has also suffered from periodic flash floods in the Sinai Peninsula, the Red Sea port of Hurgada and Aswan. More recently, the Cairo-Sokhna Road was temporarily closed because of flooding, which also affected the city of Taba.