Flood Managament Of Jeddah In Saudi Arabia Environmental Sciences Essay

Jeddah is one of the most important cities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Located on the shore of the Red Sea, the city has a population of more than 3.5 million, and after Riyadh, is the second largest urban settlement of the country. Containing the largest port on the Red Sea, it is the principal entry point for Mecca, the holiest city of the Islamic religion. It acts as a conduit for millions of worshipers on their way to Mecca and is otherwise a very busy commercial centre. Jeddah is also known to be among the more cosmopolitan of Saudi Arabian destinations and is home to many people from western countries, because of its sea facing location, commercial importance and international connectedness.

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The city experienced flash floods in the last week of November in 2009. The floods resulted in a veritable catastrophe as much of the city was submerged in 3 feet of water and cars were swept away and piled on top of each other. Appendix 1 provides some pictures of the flash floods, which illustrate the extent and enormity of damage caused. The floods, which lasted for barely a couple of days, resulted in the loss of more than a 100 lives and damaged 2 billions of dollars of property. The next few days saw the residents of the city facing the dangers of a possible epidemic because of (a) overflowing sewage from the nearby Musk Lake, which threatened to enter the city, and (b) obvious difficulties in burying the men, women, children, and animals, who had died during the floods.
Western citizens were bemused by the intensity of the havoc and destruction caused by just three inches of rain in a very short span of time on November 25. A resident of Florida writes as follows:
“On Wednesday, my part of west-central Florida received three-to-five inches of rain. No one died, even as the result of a traffic accident. Other than a few puddles an inch or two deep, the water was gone within hours of the rain’s passing. My city has a population of about 52,000 people and nowhere near the financial assets of Jeddah”. (Crossroads Arabia, 2010, p1)
The days that followed the floods witnessed an unprecedented wave of outrage in Saudi Arabia over the incompetence of the government in preventing the floods, which assumed the overtones of a catastrophe of great magnitude in terms of loss of lives and damage to property. The episode also resulted in severe and all round condemnation of the inefficiency of town planning in Jeddah. Numerous accusations of corruption against government officials and members of the bureaucracy led to the suspension of numerous responsible officials and the institution of a public enquiry.
“Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has ordered the cases of all those accused of complicity in the November floods in Jeddah referred to the watchdog for government employees and the national prosecution body… The king made it clear that crimes involving financial and administrative corruption would not be included in the list of crimes he may choose to pardon later”. (Al-Sulami, 2010, p1)
1.2. Definition of Problem
Recent decades have witnessed a spate of natural flood related disasters of different dimensions with varying degrees of consequential damage.
Pakistan has very recently, in early August 2010, experienced floods of immense severity, which have resulted in more than 1500 deaths. The impact of the Indian Ocean Tsunami, where more than 100,000 lives were lost, will not be forgotten soon. A number of cyclones damaged American cities in the recent past and caused significant damage to life and property.
Environmental and ecological experts attribute the greater occurrence of such natural disasters in recent years to global warming and consequential climatic change. With the impact of such climatic change not expected to abate in future, national and international policy makers are working on various stratagems to protect life and property from the consequences of such environmental turbulences.
1.3. Purpose
Governments across the world are formulating and implementing customised plans and solutions for the protection of their citizens from the wrath of nature.
Such plans obviously have to essentially be bespoke in character and designed to protect against specific environmental threats. Cities in hilly areas need to be protected from the consequences of earthquakes and landslides, even as residents of habitations near rivers, dams, reservoirs and seas need to be protected from the onslaught of water. Plans to protect citizens from disasters must also essentially incorporate disaster preparation and disaster management activities before, during and after the occurrence of disasters.
The Saudi Government has evidenced high levels of concern about the implementation of flood and disaster management plans in the kingdom and the overcoming of associated difficulties and restrictions.
This dissertation aims to investigate the various risks that can emerge from floods in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is also proposed to study the effect of various factors that can challenge or obstruct flood management plans at Jeddah and the various plans and measures that can be implemented to overcome such challenges.
1.4. Aims and Objectives
The aims and objectives of this dissertation, framed in accordance with the defined problem and the purpose of this study, are now elaborated as under.
To examine the various reasons that led to the enormous havoc and destruction after the occurrence of the flash floods in Jeddah on November 25, 2009.
To examine and assess the various risks that can arise for life and property in the KSA because of unsuitable and inadequate flood management practices.
To study the different issues concerned with flood management as also the implications of such issues on risk management for concerned public and private agencies and for members of the population.
To study and understand the various implications of planning on ecosystems with specific reference to Saudi Arabia.
To recommend specific strategies, plans and measures to protect the human population, animal and plant life, and individual and organisational property, in KSA, from such challenges.
1.5. Structure
This dissertation has been structured to ensure sequential progress of research findings, right from the introductory section through the literature review, the choice of appropriate research methodology, and the obtaining and analysis of data to appropriate recommendations and conclusions.
The bibliography and various appendices used during the study have been placed at the end of the dissertation.
2. Literature Review
This review of extant literature involves a detailed study of various aspects of floods, their reasons, their effects, and the various ways in which communities and societies are (a) trying to prevent their occurrence, (b) minimise their impact on the ecosystem, human and animal life, and individual and organisational property, and (c) deal with their aftermath.
Information sources have been chosen carefully for their relevance to the Jeddah floods of 2009, and to the broader issue of flood prevention and management in Saudi Arabia.
2.1. Risks from Floods
Flooding is widely accepted to be the foremost causal factor for loss of life and damage to property from natural events in numerous regions of the world. It is to elaborate further considered to be far more damaging than other types of natural disasters or hazards like earthquakes and fires. The Munich Reinsurance Company, in a study conducted in 2000, found that practically 50% of loss of life and one third of economic losses that took place due to natural disasters, occurred because of flooding. Damages from floods have been particularly severe in contemporary times. The last decade in particular has witnessed a number of flood related disasters across the world, which has resulted in widespread loss of life and damages, amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars, to property. Whilst countries like China and Bangladesh experience flooding with associated loss to lives and property very frequently, other countries, like Saudi Arabia, for example, rarely face floods. However when floods do occur in such areas, their force, impact and consequential inundation is no less severe than in flood prone regions.
It is evident that all populated areas across the world face risks from flooding, even as some societies are far more vulnerable than others to flood hazards. Again whilst some societies have come to understand the damage that can be caused by floods and have adopted suitable measures to minimise associated damage, many others continue to be caught off guard and are found to be unprepared, to a great extent, when floods occur; such inadequacies exist both in minimising the damage from such floods and in taking appropriate post disaster action. The members of such under protected societies thus often experience far more loss to life and property than those of better prepared communities.
The rapid and progressive increase in global population has led to the need for people to settle in new and hitherto unpopulated areas, some of which are known to be prone to natural hazards. Saudi Arabia for instance is experiencing continuous increase in its population, much of which is fuelled by the inflow of people from other nations, who come in search of employment in the oil rich and fast growing Saudi economy. The movement of people on account of political, social and economic reasons often leads to the development of habitation in areas that could be prone to flooding events.
Floods are defined in insurance contracts as a “temporary covering of land by water as a result of surface waters escaping from their normal confines. or as a result of heavy precipitation.” (Kron, W., 2005 p 58) They can be categorised into three distinct classes, namely (a) storm surges, (b) river floods and (c) flash floods. Apart from these three types of floods, flooding can also occur because of specific reasons like the occurrence of tsunamis, breaks in dams, rising of ground water, and glacial lake outbursts.
Storm surges occur mainly on the coasts of big lakes, seas, and oceans. They have in the past been the reason for the greatest losses to life and property that have occurred because of natural water related disasters. Whilst developed countries are fortifying their coasts in order to minimise the damage from such occurrences, storm surges continue to be a major threat in coastal areas across the world.
River floods occur after heavy and continuous rainfall for many days, and even weeks, over substantially large geographical regions. Saturation of soil in such cases results in the inability of the ground surface to absorb water indefinitely and further rainfall results in water running directly into streams and rivers. Such floods generally grow gradually, even though they can sometimes occur within short periods, and can affect very large areas, especially where land topography is flat. Whilst river floods in narrow valleys lead to inundation of small strips of land alongside rivers, the depths of such inundation and velocity of water can be excessively high and lead to enormous destruction of life and property in affected areas. Whilst river floods occur from river based water sources and not from seas or oceans, their effect is often greater than that of flooding caused by seas.
Flash floods are predominantly local events, which occur in a scattered manner at different times across the world. Such floods come about after the occurrence of intense rainfall in a short geographical area. The rate of infiltration of water into the ground in such cases is much slower than the rate of precipitation, even though the ground may not be fully saturated. Flash floods often occur very suddenly and flood waves can rush to distant but contiguous locations in very short periods. Whilst the forecasting of flash floods is very difficult because of the extremely small period between its first indication and actual occurrence and the actual period of occurrence of rainfall is short, their potential for destruction is immense. Such floods occur not just in steep terrains, where water can flow swiftly, but also in flat areas where ground slopes are too less for the occurrence of swift storm water runoffs. Water in such situations collects on the surface in hardly noticeable depressions and in other areas like underground parking lots, basements and subways.
Flooding also occurs because of water logging when widespread and continuous rains inundate large traps of land.
2.2. Impact of Eco Systems on Floods
Environmental experts state that whilst climate change is possibly influencing the excessive rainfall that has been ravaging Asia in the last few years, the purposeful and progressive destruction of eco systems by humans is playing a greater role in the intensification of the severity of floods. Extensive deforestation, along with the conversion of wet lands to sprawling urban development and the blocking of natural drainage systems are intensifying the impact of floods.
A number of environmental experts agree that whilst much of the modern day problems associated with environmental issues are being attributed to climate change, the severity of natural disasters is actually intensifying because of human destruction of natural infrastructure. Millions of people are building homes along flood plains and increasing garbage is blocking natural water ways. All across Asia, cities are experiencing unplanned growth of urban sprawls, along with poor land and waste management. Such developments are reducing natural protective phenomena and exposing human life and property to chances of extensive damage.
Obtaining a true understanding of eco system services in the safeguarding of human well being is difficult because of the range of factors that can both protect and harm humans during natural disasters. The following table illustrates the various ways in which eco systems play important roles in flood regulation.
Key Role of Ecosystems in Regulating Extreme Events
Ecosystem
Role in Flood Regulation
Cultivated
Crop cover provides flood protection, conditioned on good management
Dry land
Protection through vegetation cover; recharge of aquifers
Forest
Protection from floods providing flood attenuation and soil loss prevention
Urban
Move people away from flood-prone areas, conditioned on good urban
planning
Inland Waters
Provide mechanisms for flood attenuation potential (wetlands, lakes, etc.)
Coastal
Benefits from sediment transport to the coastal zone; flood protection provided by coastal ecosystems (barrier beaches, mangroves, etc.)
Marine
Benefits from nutrient transport to the oceans
Polar
Discharge regulation to oceans in the Arctic system (freshwater provision to Arctic oceans)
Mountains
Regulating flood-related events (slope stability)
Islands
Benefits from sediment transport to oceans through floods from the mainland; aquifer recharge as main source of fresh water
(Source: Guenni, et al, 2005, p 444)
2.3. Role of Spatial Planning in Flood Prevention and Control
Increased vulnerability to flooding of different types is occurring across the world because of destruction of protective eco systems like mangroves, coral reefs and flood plains. Disasters have been found to be higher in regions that have suffered from greater environmental degradation.
Many countries experience severe problems from floods at irregular but frequent intervals. The traditional approach taken by such nations for reduction of flood control consists mainly of (a) measures like construction of dykes and dams, and (b) improvements to canals, channels, and drainage systems. Many of such programmes have been adopted specifically for cities and demarcated agricultural areas and have involved the deployment of a limited range of engineering activities for the overcoming of flooding problems. Whilst some of these solutions have proven to be useful, others have ended up in aggravating flood damage. Many western countries are now recognising the inadequacy of flood management programmes that are solely dependent upon structural measures.
Western countries are increasingly engaging in deployment of non-structural methods for flood prevention. Such measures aim to minimise losses through controlling urban and collateral development in areas at risk from floods. Non-structural measures are by and large utilised along with a range of structural measures in order to create comprehensive systems for dealing with flood problems. Many such programmes with non-structural components have however met with partial success because of problems associated with zoning of land and relocation of people.
“Comprehensive flood hazard management is the most effective way to address flood control issues. It incorporates a variety of engineering, environmental protection and planning measures. It includes flood plain management, flood control maintenance activities, storm water management, shoreline management, protection of frequently flooded areas under Growth Management, watershed management, other flood hazard mitigation activities, and preparation for flood disasters where mitigation activities cannot prevent flooding.” (MRSC, 2010, p1)
Experts agree that spatial management, which includes both structural and non-structural measures, can significantly help in preventing and reducing the impact of natural disasters. Such planning essentially contains the following elements:
Early warning system: Spatial planning will succeed only if it is based upon sound information on the region under consideration. This calls for the introduction and implementation of suitable methods for acquisition and measurement of data about environmental hazards.
Risk Assessment and Mapping: The formulation of effective systems for prevention of flood related disasters depends upon the availability of comprehensive information on the causes and impact of flooding. Such systems require the creation of appropriate frameworks for assessment and evaluation of floods. Hydrological and geological information like thematic hazard maps can help significantly in reducing loss of life and property because of floods.
Prevention and Reduction: Spatial planning efforts require the analysis of various inter-relationships between spatial planning and the occurrence of floods. Appropriate spatial models can be discussed and established only on the basis of results of such analysis.
Risk management: Spatial planning, to be effective, needs to carefully look at various elements of infrastructure like evacuation routes and safety spaces, which can help safeguard and secure individuals during the occurrence of floods.
Reconstruction: Spatial planning is of extreme importance during reconstruction after disasters, when rebuilding has to be appropriately executed in order to eliminate past inadequacies and prepare for future developments.
2.4. Prevention, Management and Control of Flood Disasters
Spatial planning, whilst extremely important for mitigation of the impact of floods is only one of a number of dimensions that have to be considered, when planning for prevention, management, and control of flood disasters. Some extremely important aspects of flood control are detailed in the following sub-sections.
2.4.1. Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping
A vulnerability analysis aims to assess the risks faced by structures and populations within flood prone areas. Such analysis assesses the potential impact of flooding by way of damage to roads, bridges, buildings and critical utilities. Vulnerability analysis is executed for different probability levels of floods and leads to the development of an elevation-damage curve. Such an analysis, by identifying high risk populations, is useful for formulation of required emergency responses in terms of evacuation and temporary shelters. A vulnerability analysis also helps in deciding acceptable risk levels and the level for which protection is essential.
Mapping is closely associated with vulnerability analysis and represents a detailed definition of risk prone areas. Mapping is an important fundamental activity for all types of flood preparation programmes. With such maps often having legal implications with regard to zoning and the execution of structural and non-structural flood control actions, they must be credible and accurate. Such mapping by and large takes place on the frequency of flood events and along with vulnerability analysis provides a basis for all flood control measures.
2.4.2. Protection of Flood Prone Lands
Vulnerability analysis and mapping provide vital inputs for the formulation of policies and programmes for controlling the incidence and impact of areas that are susceptible to floods. Policies and programmes for effective flood control often envisage carefully thought out controls over fresh development in flood prone areas, along with programmes for reduction of damage to existing development. Such policies are needed to limit the increasing economic and social losses that come about from floods.
Flood control programmes should in the first place focus on alternate utilisation of lands facing flood risks. It is often better to zone such lands and use them for parks or other nature areas, rather than to think of measures to protect future development from floods. Zoning along with appropriate measures for flood proofing can help significantly in mitigation of damages from future floods. However the final utility of such measures depends upon maintenance and enforcement. Many local authorities, who are under developmental pressure, have shown tendencies to relax their stand on flood control as years pass by without the occurrence of floods.
2.4.3. Climatological Forecasting and Geographic Information Systems
Significant advances in techniques and methods for climatological forecasting have now made it a very useful tool for mitigation of flooding risks. Such forecasting entails the correlation of extreme events to major alterations in ocean and atmospheric circulation patterns. The identification of such patterns helps in forecasting storm activity with substantially greater accuracy than what could be done in the past. Climatological forecasting provides important information for improvement of emergency response readiness. Such forecasts are also helpful for increasing availability of reservoir storage and for building awareness of flooding potential. Such measures can lessen flooding severity, as and when floods occur. Forecasting of extreme flooding can help local authorities in taking preventive actions such as piling up of sand bags, arranging for supplies of food and water, and removing high value goods. Climatological forecasting helps in building public awareness of the potential impact of floods, highlighting expected public responses, and carrying out drills to assess degree of preparedness.
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) represent software driven information and management systems that help in forecasting of water flows and in development of emergency responses. Such systems use data from various sources, combine them suitably, and thereafter provide information for specific locations. Data on vegetative cover is for example combined with information on soil and slope of land to assess infiltration rates for purposes of forecasting. Climatological forecasting and geographical information systems, when used in combination, can be helpful in providing information for the taking of a range of precautionary measures for the mitigation of the impact of floods.
2.4.4. Structural Measures
Structural measures represent the undertaking of a wide range of infrastructural activities that aim to protect regions from the devastation that can be caused by floods. Such structural measures largely consist of protective infrastructural development like reservoirs for flood storage, the diversion of flood water for storage in side channels or to other water sheds, and the building of storm channels that can carry water around risk prone areas. These structural measures can be built to ensure various protection levels and can help significantly in reduction of flood damage. The construction of structural work is influenced by (a) determined standards for protection against floods, (b) costs and benefits of planned structures, and (c) the need to satisfy determined risk levels.
The undertaking of protective infrastructure is important when (a) substantial infrastructure is already in place, and (b) the costs of protecting such development is expected to be substantially less than what can be expected to arise out of relocation of such infrastructure, lost economic activity, reconstruction of damaged infrastructure, or disaster relief and assistance. The example of Winnipeg in Canada underlines the importance of engagement in appropriate structural measures. Structural flood protection measures amounting to USD 92 million were completed for the city in the 1960s. It is estimated that these structures minimised the impact of five floods that occurred since then and prevented damages that would have cost approximately USD 2 billion to repair.
The erection of protective infrastructure often leads to increase in developmental activities in areas that are at risk from floods, because of assumptions that such areas become safe from floods after the execution of structural measure. Such assumptions can however prove to be misplaced and lead to over development with consequent increase in the vulnerability of such areas to floods. Storage dams can prove to be extremely dangerous when development in surrounding areas exceeds specified thresholds, because unanticipated levels of rainfall can lead to swift increase in water levels, thereby making emergency and evacuation responses very challenging.
Structural work, to be successful against flood protection, must be accompanied by systematic and established programmes for assessment, repair and maintenance, in order to maintain originally specified design capabilities. Canals, channels, and dikes, may, for example, be weakened by progressive erosion, movement of animals or erection of utility facilities. Such infrastructural work need to be subjected to carefully thought out safety programmes, in accordance with established guidelines and standards.
All new construction allowed in flood prone areas should incorporate flood protection measures in order to reduce the potential for future damage. Building codes should incorporate measures for reducing flood damage by ensuring that important utilities are located above expected floor levels. Items that cannot be moved away easily should not be allowed to be stored in basements or ground floors. Whilst allowing new development, care must be taken to ensure that such development will not lead to significant increase of flood waters and thereby increase risks to the complete area.
Protection of existing structures from floods is often a challenging and expensive process. Some governments have related post flood disaster help to the commitment of reconstruction methods that will reduce future damages from floods. Such a strategy becomes specifically useful where flooding takes place often and monetary help for disaster assistance is an integral component of disaster policies. Flood protection of existing structures and buildings can incorporate measures like raising the level of structures to prevent future harm, movement of utilities, alteration in use of buildings, setting up of protective walls, building of waterproof enclosures, and utilisation of materials that are resistant to water and can be restored easily after flood events.
The relocation of existing structures to other areas that are at lesser risks from floods is also a possible, though difficult option. Relocation for particularly vulnerable structures may however be imperative in certain cases, despite the associated difficulties and expenses. Particular buildings may be at such great risk that no amount of flood proofing measures may be sufficient to ensure desired levels of safety. Local authorities need to be firm in such situations and ensure relocation in order to prevent extensive loss to property and life in future flood events.
Numerous critical utility services like power lines, water pipes and telephone cables often cross flood prone areas and get substantially damaged during flood events, with consequent disruption to normal life, difficulty in implementation of emergency relief measures, and increased dangers from disease and epidemics. Such utilities can be effectively protected against the dangers of flooding by taking care to ensure extra burial depth, better standards for exposed parts, and placement of components above expected flood levels.
Special care needs to be taken for erection of water supply and treatment infrastructure. Such establishments are often located in flood prone areas, despite their importance for safety of human health, both during the course of and subsequent to flood events. Care must be taken to protect such structures from floods and their design should ensure prevention of cross contamination from sewage or flood waters.
Bridges by and large reduce water flows and often lead to the formation of artificial dams, when debris collides and builds up on such structures. The hydraulic features of bridges and roads in flood prone areas must be assessed during their design stage in order to prevent undue increase of upstream water levels. Bridges play important roles in maintenance of access for the removal of affected people and for transportation of emergency and medical service. Important transportation corridors should be designed and built to standards necessary for their withstanding of flooding events. It is important to enforce required standards and codes for areas at risk from floods. Whilst most developmental experts agree that such standards are as important as the planning and execution of structural flood control methods, strong tendencies often arise amongst planning and local authorities to deviate from important and carefully formulated rules with the passage of time, as memories of floods and their consequences gradually fade away.
Suitable enforcement regulations including application of penalties need to be incorporated into maintenance processes in order to ensure the continuance and effectiveness of various flood control measures. Audit procedures for checking the effectiveness of desired flood control measures should in the normal course be carried out by impartial checking agencies, along with participation of interested parties, in order to ensure satisfaction of laid down standards and codes. The introduction of governmental regulations calling for verification of required designed elevations or satisfaction of flood proofing methods can significantly help in improvement of flood control measures on suitably wide scales. The involvement of lending banks and insurance companies can help in this process, because of the interest of such agencies in safeguarding their investments.
2.4.5. Non structural measures
The use of non structural measures for flood prevention and control are particularly relevant in flood prone areas that are yet to be developed. Whilst non structural measures complement structural approaches in deve