Jordan’s ‘natural disasters’ are partly man-made

Amman is a city of asphalt with an old, rusty and inefficient drainage system – a recipe for flooding

Raed Omari
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In a country like Jordan, ranked as the world’s second water-poorest country, rainfall should be a blessing. But it has proved to be not always so. Only 40 minutes of non-stop heavy rain has recently caused flooding across Amman, leaving four people dead and dozens homeless and trapped. It was a wild scene in the mountainous capital, resembling massive floods in Bangladesh, Laos and other flat countries in South Asia. That is not at all an exaggeration because four days ago, Amman looked like it had Venice’s water-traffic corridors.

This also occurred in winter last year when the heavy rain storm and melting snow caused flooding across the capital. The authorities, much-criticized over the issue, at the time said they took the necessary measures to avoid similar incidents - but what happened last Thursday proved that little has been done. Officials, especially from the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) were silent and were “unable” to comment on a disaster which they once pledged to fully address. Those who appeared blamed the ‘unprecedented’ and ‘sudden’ rain storm behind the disaster. The storm was so strong and beyond the capabilities of the municipality to handle, they claimed. In statements, seen as an attempt to absorb public anger, some officials from other executive bodies blamed GAM’s inadequate maintenance of sewage systems and insufficient preparation for the change in weather.

But aside from public anger at the authorities excuses – or lack of – we should also pause to think about changes happening in Amman. Jordan’s excessively expanded capital has transformed dramatically over the last 15 years into a city of cement and asphalt with few empty spaces to absorb any rainfall.

Amman is a city of asphalt with an old, rusty and inefficient drainage system –a recipe for flooding

Raed Omari

Construction in Amman is expanding dramatically, covering all corners of the Jordanian capital, including areas with narrow paths and difficult-to-reach hills. Between buildings there is either a building already built or in the process of being built.

Amman, as visitors usually say, is a city for cars and not people. As a resident of Amman, one cannot walk in its streets, let alone run or do sports. In other words, it is a city of asphalt with an old, rusty and inefficient drainage system –a recipe for flooding.

GAM civil engineers have also previously said that the yearly floods is due to the lack of empty spaces in the capital. However, the GAM is continuing to grant rental construction licenses to contractors without considering the inevitable risks.

Although climate change, nature’s surprises, Amman’s topography, urbanization and refugee influxes are the main reasons behind the yearly floods, the city’s poor planning, unnecessary expansion, poor sewer systems and lack of empty spaces also have an undeniable impact on Amman’s natural disasters. “Natural disasters” can also be man-made.

Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via [email protected], or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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