Gulf unprepared for natural disasters
By Mark Summers, August 12, 2007
Gulf countries are dangerously unprepared for natural disasters and risk catastrophic destruction on land and at sea, according to a regional crisis centre.
It would cost billions of dollars to replace ageing infrastructure that would be destroyed in the event of such a catastrophe, says the Marine Emergency Mutual Aid Centre (Memac).
Billions should be spent now to strengthen structures on land - including highways - and at sea, such as oil rigs, against the increasing danger climate change is bringing, says Memac's Bahrain-based director Captain Abdul Munem Al Janahi.
He was at the heart of dramatic efforts to brace Oman for the devastating cyclone Gonu, which struck in June.
Capt Janahi worked through the night for three days in succession at Memac's Bahraini headquarters to co-ordinate with Omani counterparts at the height of the crisis.
The ferocious storm caused havoc when it eventually made landfall, and Capt Janahi warned that none of the eight Gulf countries under Memac's responsibility - the GCC nations and Iraq and Iran - are prepared for a natural disaster of similar magnitude.
'The Gulf is crowded with platforms and buoys and billions of dollars of installations,' he said. 'Many of them were first put in place in the 1940s and they have just been repaired rather than replaced in the years since.'
Such ageing infrastructure would be destroyed if winds approaching the speed of Gonu entered the Gulf, something Capt Janahi believes climate change is making increasingly likely to happen.
'Cyclone Gonu was tracked at 160 knots - that is 320 kilometres an hour, and that's a lot. It slowed down, but when it reached Muscat it was still 120 to 130 knots,' he said.
'The installations in the Gulf - the oil rigs, the platforms, the life buoys and so on are only built to withstand 60 knot winds. Over Oman, the minimum wind speed of Gonu was 80 knots.
'They are only built to withstand that because we have never had such winds here before - the maximum wind was 50 knots at the time many of these installations were built and that was rare.
'It would double the cost to install a platform able to withstand such winds.
'A platform here is much cheaper than those in the North Sea or in the China Sea near Vietnam because there they do have cyclones and such strong winds.
'Here people have thought 'why double the price of the installation when we don't really need it?'
'Any cyclone that reaches the Gulf will be at least 80 knots and you will have to evacuate the platforms, the installations and send the ships away from the ports because your cranes and your scanners for the radars are only built to withstand 60 knots.
'So the governments in the region have to change this to make things similar to that in the North Sea. It will be very costly. You are talking about billions and billions of dollars, if not trillions - a huge amount.'
Failure to take the threat seriously would be a mistake, Capt Al Janahi explained, revealing that as Memac tracked Gonu from its satellite station in Kuwait, there were fears the cyclone would destroy the port in the emirate of Fujairah and wreak havoc in Dubai.
On whether Bahrain was prepared to face such extreme weather conditions, Capt Al Janahi delivered a sobering view of the country's current readiness.
'Is Bahrain prepared? Not at all. Let's face the truth. In Muscat the damage was because they were not prepared and everything was built to withstand 60 knots of wind - even the roads,' he said.
'You saw that the roads and the bridges were just gone. The Omanis were excellent, the people were prepared to face the cyclone, but the infrastructure was not.
'If we had such a cyclone in Bahrain with winds of such speed, first of all the scanners and radars - which are very important for the airport - will be gone.
'Most of your masts, the cr