Saudi Arabia is vulnerable to a number of natural hazards, including coastal and river floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, and water scarcity. Over the past three decades, the country has recorded 14 natural disasters, affecting nearly 30,000 people and resulting in economic losses of approximately $450 million.
Flooding is the most common natural hazard. In 2009 and 2011, flash floods in the city of Jeddah were registered as the worst floods in 30 years. A GFDRR-supported assessment identified unplanned urban development as the main cause of damage and loss. The relative lack of risk-informed territorial planning and the weak enforcement of building codes have resulted in unsafe construction in high-risk areas. Urban vulnerability is a key challenge, as 82 percent of the population live in urban areas.
Anticipated climate change impacts include increased temperatures, heat waves, and sea-level rise.
Saudi Arabia has taken steps to advance disaster risk management (DRM). The Presidency of Meteorology and Environment is responsible for disaster risk reduction efforts, while the Civil Defense Ministry of Interior is responsible for emergency planning and response.
The country has yet to develop a DRM framework to support local regulations or a systematic annual budget allocation for DRM. Further, most hazard and climate risks, for lack of a DRM strategy, are addressed through the National Social Development Strategy developed in the late 1990s.
To further advance the DRM agenda, the priorities of the Government of Saudi Arabia include:
- Performing risk assessments and updating preparedness strategies;
- Strengthening land-use planning and enforcing building codes; and,
- Ensuring effective operation of early warning systems.
Since 2009, GFDRR has supported regional dialogue in the Middle East and North Africa to highlight the importance of disaster risk management and to encourage regional coordination. Activities have included the development of a Regional Overview of Natural Disasters; knowledge exchange conferences and workshops; and post-disaster needs assessment training.
Following the severe flooding of Jeddah in 2009, GFDRR supported the development of a damage and loss assessment. Building on sustained regional and national dialogue and on the assessment findings, the government requested assistance to strengthen disaster risk information. The request complemented the government’s broader agenda to develop a proactive rather than responsive approach to DRM.
Through an ongoing engagement, initiated in 2011, GFDRR has supported the development of a preliminary multi-hazard risk profile. Technical workshops have been organized to present the study findings in order to strengthen the national understanding of and to build consensus around DRM. The risk profile will serve as a critical input to a World Bank project that will develop a comprehensive multi-hazard national disaster risk assessment and urban resilience plans.
GFDRR anticipates continued demand from the Government of Saudi Arabia in the following areas:
- Developing a comprehensive disaster risk assessment;
- Strengthening urban resilience planning; and,
- Building regional capacity for emergency response planning.