Death toll rises to 11 from heavy rain in Egypt

Government says no plans to build drainage system despite chaos caused by downpour this week

Vehicles are stuck in a traffic jam due to rain in the Egyptian capital Cairo on October 22, 2019.  / AFP / STR
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The death toll from rain-related accidents in Egypt following a heavy downpour on Tuesday and Wednesday has risen to 11, security officials said on Thursday as more turbulent weather was forecast for much of the country at the weekend.

Government spokesman Nader Saad said Cairo received 15 millimetres of rain, double the amount forecast by the meteorological bureau a week earlier. The impact of the downpour was more severe because it lasted just 90 minutes, he said in a television interview late on Wednesday.

“Cairo and other cities in Egypt don’t have rainwater drainage systems because the weather is usually dry and we rarely see rain in Cairo,” Mr Saad said . “And when it does rain, it’s never that heavy.”

Flooding from the downpour caused chaos in the Egyptian capital, a city of 20 million on the banks of the Nile, but Mr Saad said the government had no intention of building a rainwater drainage system because of the high cost. The estimated cost of such a network ranged between 200 billion pounds (Dh45.4bn) and 300bn pounds, which would be better spent on building hospitals and schools, he said.

“Does it make sense to spend such an astronomical sum of money for something that happens once every one or two years?” Mr Saad said.

The spokesman said the government had put out an advisory asking people to stay indoors on Friday in anticipation of heavy rain.

The security officials said most of the 11 fatalities in rain-related accidents were electrocuted in six provinces, including Cairo. The victims included five children, one of whom was swept away by flash floods alongside her father from their farmland in the northern region of the Sinai Peninsula.

The downpour on Tuesday night and early Wednesday inundated streets and road tunnels in Cairo, bringing the usually congested traffic in the capital to near complete halt in some areas, and delayed flights from the international airport where one of the terminals was flooded.

Commuters complained that car journeys that normally take an hour took six to complete and parents reported delays of up to five hours by school buses dropping their children home.

The city’s mayhem dominated the news and made the front page of every newspaper. Social media has been abuzz with criticism of the government for its perceived inefficiency in handling the crisis, alongside photos and video clips of flooded streets and of young people helping elderly residents through knee-high murky water.

Mr Saad, however, said the government had no intention of offering an apology in the face of the criticism, arguing that local governments had done everything they could to deal with the situation.

“The government would have apologised to citizens if it had seen any negligence on its part, but everyone has carried out his duty,” he said.