In Egypt, floods add to difficulty of fighting pandemic

The natural disaster is a reminder that the region's challenges have not gone away with the pandemic

Tourists walk along a bazaar alley in the Islamic Cairo district of the Egyptian capital near al-Hussein mosque, on March 13, 2020, as a man mops water along the alley from a heavy rain storm that hit the day before.  / AFP / Ahmed HASAN
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Since last weekend, Egyptians have been battling strong winds, heavy rainfall and floods that have cost at least 21 people their lives, including three children who died when their house collapsed. “Egypt has not experienced such weather conditions for nearly 35 or 40 years,” said the country’s Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly on Friday. Extreme weather events are likely to increase in the years to come, a consequence of climate change. In the Middle East, such events include desertification and drought as well as heavy rainfall and floods. To curb their impact and protect people’s lives, swift action is needed to implement contingency plans and help maintain a strained infrastructure. Long-term plans are also vital to make sure that the 100 million-strong nation can cope with such catastrophes in the future.

Authorities have declared a state of emergency on Wednesday, in preparation for the floods, and have made Thursday a national holiday to encourage citizens to stay in, and avoid unnecessary risks.

In addition to collapsed buildings, electric shocks and car accidents due to slippery roads were among the leading causes of death. Thirty people were injured in a train collision because of the weather. The people of Egypt now need all the help and sympathy that can be given to them during these difficult times.

Over the weekend, the ordinarily bustling streets of Cairo have emptied and businesses shut down as floods filled parts of the capital. The flooding has weighed on Cairo's roads, buildings and trains, underlining the need for better infrastructure. Power cuts and travel disruptions have disturbed life and the sewerage system has filled up with so much rainwater that it has prompted authorities to call on all residents to restrict their water usage.

Experts and critics have cited overcrowded and decaying infrastructure as one of the main factors behind Cairo’s weather-related woes. A growing population and financial pressures have added to these issues. For instance, railway accidents have seen an increase from 489 in 2011 to 1,793 in 2017.

Better infrastructure that can withstand extreme weather conditions is needed to protect lives in the long run. But today, the Arab world’s most populous nation is grappling with both the weather crisis and an outbreak of coronavirus in a country with already stretched resources.

At a time when the world's attention has shifted to the pandemic, Egypt's floods are a reminder that the region's challenges have not gone away with the spread of the virus

The number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Egypt has risen to 93 and the virus has claimed two lives.

At a time when much of the world’s attention has shifted to the pandemic, Egypt’s floods are a cruel reminder that the ongoing challenges that have plagued the region for decades – such as natural disasters, climate change, mismanagement and poor infrastructure –  have not gone away with the spread of the virus.

epa08291987 Egyptian municipal workers try to clear flood water from a street during rain in Cairo, Egypt 13 March 2020. The government announced the closure of schools and universities nationwide, planned sports events and matches are postponed. It is urging people to stay home, as the rain may exceeds the infrastructure's capacity in most cities.  EPA/KHALED ELFIQI

As states redirect emergency funds to contain the pandemic, Egypt’s unmet challenges are at risk of being exacerbated. It deserves all the help it can get.

In these times of frequent global strife, the international community must be already in a state of readiness to step up, not only to provide aid to nations burdened with added strain, but also to lend the on the ground support that is necessary to save lives.