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Environmental disaster looms over Jeddah
18th March 2001

  Researchers and municipal officials have warned of a large-scale environmental disaster looming over Jeddah. They said the city was sitting atop a lake with 80 million cubic meters of contaminated sewage water.

 Speakers at a seminar on the environmental impact of sewage dumping in Jeddah said the problem was further compounded by the fact that every day 700,000 cubic meters of sewage is discharged into the city underground storage tanks locally known as “bayarat”.  Of this, only 50,000 cubic meters is pumped out and carried away by trucks to the main dump site outside Jeddah where a huge lake has already formed and begun overflowing. The rest seeps into the soil further raising the water table.

 Jeddah Mayor Dr. Abdul Fattah Fouad called for a joint effort involving the public and private sectors to tackle the problem saying people’s active involvement was essential to make the move successful.  Addressing the seminar at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry last night, Dr. Fouad said a joint effort led by Makkah Governor Prince Abdul Majeed, and involving the municipality, government bodies and the newly established Jeddah Utility Company is under way to solve the problem. No timetable has been laid down but the problem will be overcome in stages as there are no magic solutions, the mayor said.

 According to Dr. Adil Bushnak, member of the consultancy board of the Supreme Economic Council, the current sewage network in Jeddah covers only 10 percent of the city and serves 30 percent of its 2.6 million population. A colossal sum has to be invested for the expansion of the network which requires digging of  80 kilometers of underground tunnel, 700 kilometers of main lines and 10,000 kilometers of subsidiary lines.

 “There is urgent need for a radical plan to expand the network to serve an additional 1.8 million people. Only a very small portion of sewage water is treated at plants which are of unsatisfactorily low efficiency. Large quantities go aground while water accumulating at the lake outside the city is polluting underground water. There is an urgent need for additional treatment plants,” said Dr. Bushnak who is member of Jeddah Utility Company. The firm is a subsidiary of the Jeddah Holding Company which is seeking a concession to build, operate and maintain the city water and sewage network.

 Dr. Fouad said 1,000 trucks roam the city streets round the clock to pump sewage from the bayarat on streetsides to carry it to the main dumpsite. Each truck makes an average of three trips a day, but they only take a fraction of the sewage stored in these tanks. Hundreds of thousands of meters of contaminated water are left behind to seep into the soil with the result that the level of ground water, which was eight to ten meters 20 years ago, rose to just three to four meters. He appealed to local investors to join the effort to overcome the problem.

 A study by Dr. Muhammad Qari of King Abdul Aziz University on the city’s main sewage dump has shown that the area affected by seepage from the lake is widening each day. Satellite pictures taken from a height of 700 kilometers confirmed this. The lake has an area of 612,000 square meters and a storage capacity of 2.5 million cubic meters. A high dirt wall built to control the overflow has failed to stop the seepage. 

 Dr. Qari said analysis of water samples had shown that water in the area contained 70 times more lead than usual. “Another problem is that many farmers in the area invite the truck drivers to pump sewage water directly into their farms. We found out that some animals living in the area have died of contamination.”

 Some farmers operate small treatment units before pumping the water to irrigate their crops.  Dr. Qari suggested the building of a new dumpsite to reduce pressure on the existing one, but Dr. Fouad said he was not in favor of such plans. Instead, he suggested setting up of more treatment plants and development of a green belt around the area where millions of trees can be planted for commercial use.


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18 March 2001 04:09:08 PM

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