WHEN IT RAINS IN CAIRO
By Nehal El-Sherif
It rarely rains in Cairo. In the last days of November, it rained for less than 30 minutes for the first time after a very hot summer. While many enjoyed the cooler weather, complaints began flooding the social media as rapidly as water began flooding the streets.
The roadways filled with water and aggravated the normal traffic jams, a problem that has long been connected to the Egyptian capital. Many people had to spend up to four hours in their car, for a short trip that usually takes minutes, as the transport infrastructure became paralysed and ground to a halt.
Pictures of streets filled up with water spread across the Internet. A video picked up by local media, shows a young boy swimming across the street in one of the new suburbs of Cairo, as cars were struggling to drive due to the height of the water. One of the main problems highlighted by the video is that it shows one of the newest areas built in Cairo, only to reflect the poor planning of the area and the lack of rain drains. Of course Cairo is not the only city to experience extraordinary weather conditions. Climate change is happening on a global scale. But Cairo is typical of a large number of world cities which are expanding very rapidly, often with impoverished citizens, where enlightened city planning could go a long way to alleviate problems and bring positive change.
Civil engineers confirm to Thinking Urban that although storm drainage was installed in Cairo's newer areas, it has not been maintained regularly, so the channels become blocked due to Egypt’s dry and dusty climate. The intention was that they should be cleaned before every winter, but they aren't. The obvious alternative is that the drainage system should have been planned for extremely low maintenance.
The dire situation is even worse in coastal areas and the eastern mountainous Sinai Peninsula, where people die almost every winter in the flash floods. Despite the human tragedy, there have been no long-term plans over the years to remedy these problems. Too often the problem is shown to be lack of foresight rather than lack of cash.
Nehal El-Sherif is one is ThinkingUrban's global reporters on city planning affairs. With more than seven years of experience in the media and communications sector, Nehal has worked as a Communications Assistant at IFC’s regional office in Cairo for almost three years.