The Saudi Arabian City of Jeddah on the Red Sea Coast has witnessed the power of Nature many times since the Yemeni Quada Tribe established a fishing village there two thousand five hundred years ago. It is today the bustling home to nearly 3.5 million citizens who enjoy a cosmopolitan life together in rare Mid-Eastern harmony. In the center of the modern city skyscrapers rise to challenge the finest North America has to offer. Beyond their shadows poorer communities still live in over-populated low-lying areas along what once were dry river gullies, until it rains and torrents of water may destroy a flooded Jeddah school.
Meteorologists are forecasting cloudy skies and possibly heavy rains for the two week period commencing Saturday. That is when 4 million intermediate and secondary Saudi Arabian schoolchildren are due to write their first-semester examinations. Worried parents are following every newscast with bated breath as the Education Ministry formulates wide-ranging emergency procedures in conjunction with national Civil Defense.
On the banks of the Red Sea alone over 260,000 school children are due to sit their Jeddah school examinations. Some schools are still situated in valleys along natural floodways although the program to relocate them is well advanced. If these are threatened and their examination halls closed the entire Nation’s examinations could be delayed.
The broader problem is evacuating a potentially huge number of children to safety should a cloudburst fall. Countries that receive such little rain are poor in storm water drainage systems and canals. Director of Education in Jeddah Abdullah Al-Thaqafi has empowered School Directors to take whatever steps they deem necessary to get their charges safely home.
This is dispiriting news for children who have been putting extra effort towards their Jeddah school examinations, and for their parents who have been supporting them. Some of the poorest may have hired private tutors to give their kids a leg up in life. Let’s all hope that Mother Nature is kind to Jeddah this time round, and that, if not, at least every child is spared the drowning torrents of fast-flowing water outside a flooded Jeddah school.