At least 1833 people died when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, but – as far as we know – nobody went to prison for building houses on land that had sunk 17 feet below sea level in New Orleans.
But Saudi Arabia recently sentenced nearly two dozen people to prison in connection with the drowning deaths of approximately 100 people. The first two men were convicted one year ago after the 2009 and 2011 floods in Jeddah, and the most recent convictions were announced in local press on Thursday.
In early January of 2011, a record 111mm of rain fell in Jeddah, where annual rainfall rarely exceeds 50 mm. The largest sea port on the magnificent Red Sea and an important commercial hub, the city has a population of 3.2 million.
Images from the flood show cars floating down the road, houses inundated with water, and debris strewn everywhere. And dramatic stories emerged of men and women being saved from drowning, though 100 were not so lucky.
Instead of glossing over the question of why their houses were built in a flood zone in the first place, which is what happens almost everywhere else, the Saudi government went after the culprits.
“A senior municipal official was sentenced to five years in prison,” according to Khaleej Times, “and fined $186,700 for giving permission for people to buy and build houses in areas hit by the floods.”
While this story is unlikely to receive much international attention, this is one of the few cases where developers and government officials have been held responsible for negligence related to the environment.