The Egyptian Meteorological Authority (EMA) announced last Thursday that Egypt would pass through a four-day wave of unstable weather conditions and experience heavy rainfall from thunderclouds gathered over the North Coast, Greater Cairo, and parts of Upper Egypt.
Eight governorates, including Cairo and Alexandria, cancelled school classes on Sunday because of flooding. Torrential rain in Alexandria left a number of areas impassable as the run-off overwhelmed the city’s sewage network.
Alexandria had declared a state of emergency on 17 November, in anticipation of the seasonal Al-Maknasa rainstorm which each year hits the coastal city in the second half of November. Despite the EMA’s early warnings, the rainfall still brought the governorate to a standstill.
Videos and photos circulated on social media showing traffic brought to a halt by accumulated rainwater in Alexandria’s streets and squares.
“The rain has not stopped for 48 hours, and side streets and slums are still filled with rainwater,” Alexandria Governor Mohamed Al-Sherif said Sunday night.
Alexandria, which has a rainy season that runs from late October to early February, has been upgrading its ageing drainage system, but the city repeatedly fails to contain the rainwater. The city was hit by disastrous rainstorms in 2015, 2019, and 2020, leaving several people dead and many more injured.
The Egyptian Holding Company for Water and Wastewater (HCWW) said on Sunday that its branches in Cairo, Giza, and Alexandria had distributed equipment across the three governments to drain standing rain water.
In Cairo, which got the lion’s share of the number of equipment, the situation was not as bad as Alexandria. Rainfall on Saturday caused some traffic jams but by the following day the capital’s streets were mostly free of water.
With no separate rainwater drainage network, Egypt’s towns and cities rely on the waste networks to drain rain run-off, which is why preparations ahead of expected rainfall always include the cleaning of drains.
When floods in 2019 brought Cairo to a standstill, the cabinet issued a statement saying that setting up a new drainage network would cost billions of pounds which the country could not afford. Rather than constructing separate rainwater drainage network, the government has started to implement several national projects to update the road and the sewage systems.
Last year, parliament’s Housing Committee approved LE33 billion within the general budget for FY 2020-21 for water and sanitation projects.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 November, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.