Questions raised over drowning of six girls in Saudi Arabia

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Questions are being raised about who was responsible for the creation of a swamp in which six girls aged 10 to 18 drowned in the Al-Armah area, 25 km south of the Al-Ramah region.

According to the preliminary investigations, the swamp was a location for removal and transportation of sand for construction purposes.

The reports said the swamp was nine meters deep, six meters more than the permissible depth.

According to a report published Tuesday by Alsharq newspaper, there were many parties who might be directly and indirectly responsible for the tragedy.

They include the authorities that allowed the eroding of sand in an area near a valley path.

The parties involved also include those who profited such as contractors or illegal expatriates looking for easy profits.

They had no sense of responsibility toward the picnickers who visit the area when the weather is good, said the newspaper. Citizens who fail to realize the danger of these places, especially during times of rain and floods, are also responsible, said the report.

According to press reports, the Al-Armah swamp is nine meters deep, making it very difficult for the Civil Defense to recover the bodies of the six girls before reducing the level of water in some parts.

The system does not seek to curb the removal of sand but regularizes it, the newspaper claimed. Many government authorities are responsible for this, including the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment (PME) and the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs.

The report asked if the Ministry of Petroleum licensed the location or whether the hole where the swamp formed was dug illegally.

The ministry has developed certain rules governing mineral investments with the aim of curbing the negative effects of the removal of sand for construction purposes.

Under these rules, anyone who is digging for sand should fence the location and erect a signboard to prevent accidents, especially as many people come to this area to picnic during good weather.

In the case of the accident, it was evident that the location was not fenced and did not have any warning signboard.

If the location was used for removing sand, then it comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources.

In this case, the contractors who removed the sand and therefore created the deep swamp must bear part of the responsibility for the tragedy, said the report.

Some contractors resort to removing sand from unlicensed areas to avoid having to pay for a mineral license.

If the location was being used as a recreational area, then the Ramah Municipality was also partly responsible for the tragedy, said the newspaper.

The municipality should have checked the area for anything threatening the safety of the picnickers and pay compensation to the families of the girls, the report said.

Meanwhile, sources from the National Transport Committee said only about 10 percent of stolen sand is recovered by the authorities. They said many contractors tend to steal the sand so they can sell it to cement factories and construction companies.

The sources said the sand in the Al-Ramah area is the best of its kind in the Kingdom and attracts many contractors and expatriates looking to make easy money.

The Al-Ramah area is about 120 km to the south of Riyadh. It is a green and beautiful area that attracts a large number of tourists.

(This article was first published in Saudi Gazette on Jan. 22, 2014)