Extreme Weather in Algeria

I am stuck in Paris right now as my flight, which was due to take off last Tuesday, was cancelled due to bad weather conditions. Very annoying but I can’t complain as compared to other Algerians back home I have access to food and heating. Watching the news bulletin on the national TV channel never ceases to be a revelation! Everyday I discover, together with my compatriots who still make a point of watching the news bulletin at 20:00, the many efforts the Algerian State is deploying to counteract this unusual weather. Even the Police Force has gotten involved in addition to the National Army, the Japanese company (COJAAL) which is working on the East-West highway  as well as the citizens themselves. Indeed, citizens have taken it upon themselves to clear local roads and appeal to other citizens on the national radios to help them get bottled gas (used for heating and cooking) or give them a lift to hospitals to get treatment for various chronic ailments. Naturally, there are priorities, we are told. So the major connecting roads are cleared first. This leaves many remote communities practically cut-off from the rest of the world. Some sources report that 44 people have died in road accidents or from gas asphyxia. One thing I have noted however, is that the national TV channel does now broadcast angry citizens who complain about the State’s failings. Not often but still it is a perceptible change. Needless to say, we continue to be treated to the streams of contented and happy citizens thanking the government for the brilliant job it’s doing. However and to be fair, although this is the State channel, I do think that the staff themselves are more to blame for the poor quality of the reports than the government’s stance with respect to freedom of expression.

The events of recent days have made me realize how fragile the social situation in Algeria still is. If we are to expect more extreme weather in the future, because of global climate change, one can only fear how Algeria will be able to cope. Even in good weather, we have no food security and no energy security*, so you can imagine in bad weather. Will this make our rulers think of building capacity to cope with such events in future? Judging from how things have been managed in the last 50 years, I would say no. Consider the example of earthquakes which are a more common occurrence in Algeria than extreme weather: has anything been done to make sure buildings are more resistant to earthquakes in areas which are prone to these phenomena? Nope. Even relocating people in the event of an earthquake is not at all streamlined. Another indicator: has any Algerian ever heard or received an official action plan in case of such and such natural disaster? Not that I know of. If the State were efficient, local authorities should have anticipated the current weather situation and gotten prepared for it in advance. Unfortunately, the website of the National Meteorological Office was out of service due to bad weather conditions too. Making citizens aware is also part of preparedness because it would prevent panic and speculation in essentials such as food (national newpapers report that food prices have gone sky-high as a result of a surge in demand and insufficient supply due to bad weather). As always, the government’s policy is reactive and never or rarely proactive. Another clue: Air Algérie, the national airline company whose motto is “Always caring for you“, has it made a public announcement or broadcast an update bulletin about its scheduled flights? No. The answer is no to every question about how every single one of the State’s services has reacted to (never mind prepared for) the current extreme weather wave.

So after all this, how can anybody talk about the glorious State’s efforts and manage to keep a straight face? What makes the national TV coverage of the situation even more surrealist is that they reserved a slot for an insurance bloke who came on air and urged citizens to think of taking up insurance against bad weather. He said that it is unfortunate that, unlike Europeans (it’s not only Medelci who wishes we’re Europeans you see!), Algerians totally lack the culture of getting insured for various mishaps such as bad weather. Hmm, I wonder if that could be traced back to an unfortunate turn of history as well!

I suppose you could argue that despite extreme weather, the State is still pursuing political reforms which were announced by Bouteflika last April, following fears of an Algerian Spring in the aftermath of the ongoing Arab one. Our President came on air (the speech was recorded), to tell us that the reforms are still ongoing and must be in place before the upcoming legislative elections which are due this spring. I did listen to the speech but as with the April one, I didn’t understand anything of what he announced. Was all mumbo jumbo to me, and I bet it was even more so for the average Mo (Algerian equivalent for average Joe).

Despite all this, snow has always been considered as a good Omen by Algerians. Not only because it is white and beautiful but because it is a blessing for local farmers, especially after a particularly dry winter this year. Many see in these recent snow showers a generous response from the heavens to prayers which had been performed the week before last (salât alistisqâ). In addition, it even snew in regions which are unfamiliar with snow such as the capital Algiers ans some cities in the desert such as Bechar. This was welcomed by the locals who went out and enjoyed some heartening snow fights; Algerian-style. For some reason, our neighbour Morocco has missed out on this. Better luck next time eh!

* Algeria has of course good production capacity but the problem is poor distribution especially to remote areas and illegal smuggling of hydrocarbons across the borders. However, even production might not be enough if population continues to grow and energy consumption increases per household due to rapid urbanization.


16 thoughts on “Extreme Weather in Algeria

  1. Some of my family members were stuck in Heathrow last weekend and they had to wait for 9 hours before an Air Algerie plane came from Algiers. Needless to say that the company’s website didn’t give any information and nobody answered the phone. The funny part is APS and Algerian press publishing Air Algerie communique telling us which planes had been cancelled the day before!

    Your post calls for many remarks:

    The government is useless, definitely not proactive, and cannot plan anything properly. Even its reaction is too slow and too late. If I were Bouteflika, and under these circumstances, I would just say, “dear people, the government won’t do anything for you, you are on your own now” instead of lying and sending those poor journalists in the cold (I pitied the young woman they sent yesterday to Tizi-Ouzou) to show how hard the government works…
    The same could be said about drugs shortages, etc.

    On the other hand, the people rely too much on the government. It’s not totally their fault because that’s how their mindset was built (socialist past + inhibiting centralized government). But I still don’t get how they expect that much from a government which hates them, and without paying their taxes…

    Then there is the opposition, and Elwatan 🙂 They keep criticizing the government for not having enough trucks, etc. I live in a place where it snows heavily every year and the area is prepared for it. But last week, 300km to the South, the airport was closed, the roads were closed, etc. and they had no more than 3cm of snow… Many parts of Algeria are not used to this weather so don’t expect any government to invest dinars for something that occurs once in 10 years.

    I think you said all the rest so I’ll just stop here.

    PS: Bless the average Mo! He’ll be the one who will vote and prove these pseudo reforms are successful…

    • I don’t think that people rely on the government but they certainly expect it to be more present than it is. The discourse of the government and the political elite hasn’t changed much and it still portrays itself as the caring father. The problem is this caring father is long dead because his presence is not felt at all. No wonder nobody really knows what Algeria is today a socialist state or a laissez-faire capitalism open air experiment. Even though most people don’t pay taxes, they are as entitled as their rulers to the oil revenues. This is what the average Mo believes and I completely understand this and even think it’s legitimate! Doesn’t mean Algerians just wait for the government, they do many things by themselves whilst waiting to have their share. The size of the black market I think exceeds that of the regular one now because prices are completely controlled by individual barons. Algerians have taken many things in their hands since long ago and the results are only too apparent now.

      • Algerianna,

        My previous comment was written out of frustration, which could have been sensed from my “I still don’t get how they expect that much from a government which hates them”, and was balanced by the first paragraph in my comment. Or so I tried…
        I of course know that many Algerians, perhaps even most Algerians, do not rely on the government in their daily lives. They would have died of starvation otherwise.
        What I meant here was the fact too many people, population, press and political class included, still complain and say this or that as if we actually had a government.

  2. Mnarvi, je suis très d’accord avec ton commentaire.
    Ceci dit, il ne s’agit pas de réagir seulement à une situation extrême. Parce que c’est clair que nos “autorités locales” (ou autorités tout court) ne sont pas préparées aux situations extrêmes. D’ailleurs à propos d’autorités locales, je n’ai jamais eu le “privilège” de faire la connaissance avec le maire (les nombreux maires qui se sont succédés au fil des années et des mandats) de ma commune.
    Mais, le problème est qu’en dehors de ces moments “difficiles” il n’y a pas grand chose qui se fait, ou très peu et à très faible débit… Chez moi pas d’électricité pendant trois jours, et ce n’est pas la première fois, le réseau est toujours très perturbé. Il parait qu’il y a des travaux….. le gaz butane se vend au prix de l’or… la patate aussi :-))) les routes sont dans un état…. Il y a même des tronçons d’autoroute qui à peine finis sont pleins de nids de poule.
    Donc, forcément, ce n’est pas sous la neige, la grêle et dans le froid que les choses vont se faire…. même si, il faut toujours saluer les efforts de la protection civile (pour qui j’ai le plus grand respect) et des autres corps constitués qui ont quand même activé dans ces conditions extrêmes…
    P.S : à propos de la protection civile, un jour il y avait un chat qui était coincé tout en haut d’un arbre (très haut) en face de chez nous. Il était certainement monté pour chasser des oiseaux mais n’arrivait plus à redescendre. On l’avait remarqué en début de matinée et en fin d ‘après-midi, il était toujours là. On a appelé les pompiers qui sont venus (oui oui) et qui ont tout fait pour le faire descendre de là. ça a duré une bonne demi-heure (sinon plus) mais ils l’ont fait. Respect 🙂

  3. D’abord, je vous passe un petit peu de pommade. J’aime beaucoup votre blog parce que ses deux bloggeurs y tiennent un discours au contenu authentiquement algérien. Ma définition de ce qui est authentiquement algérien est tout ce qui jaillit de la réalité algérienne, qu’elle soit politique, économique ou sociale et le traitement de cette réalité y est éclairé, intellectuel… pas par des propos de joueurs de « doumines ». C’est très important parce qu’au delà de Medelci et des politiques, ce qu’on entend ou lit souvent des algériens, politiques ou pseudo-intellectuels est très souvent non authentiquement algérien.

    On parlait de la déclaration stupide du ministre des affaires étrangères et d’une manière générale de l’option prise par les autorités algériennes de discourir en direction de l’étranger pour satisfaire les demandes américaines et européennes de réformes politiques. En fin de compte de servir aux algériens comme preuve de leur bonne gouvernance, un satisfecit venant la secrétaire d’état des affaires étrangères des USA. Mais il y a la manière opposée, qui opère dans la dénonciation constante du discours venant de l’occident très loin de la réalité algérienne préoccupante à plus d’un titre et qui se laisse dicter quand même aussi ses réactions et son discours par des étrangers même si à première vue le but est de contredire.

    Ainsi récemment, en même temps que le froid causait (et il le cause encore) des drames de toute natures à l’échelle nationale, les déclarations d’un ministre français qui, s’adressant aux siens, a dit en français quelque chose comme : « نحن خير أمة أخرجت للناس  », ont retenu plus l’attention de nos pseudo-intellectuels que les difficultés graves soulignées dans l’article d’Algerianne et quasiment ignorées par les plus hautes autorités de l’état algérien.

    Que ce soit de la première manière ou de la deuxième, « l’intelligentsia » algérienne (algéroise?) a les yeux tournés au delà de l’horizon maritime (et pour la plus pieuse vers le ciel, le paradis céleste) au lieu de regarder et réfléchir à ce qui se passe devant ses pieds.

    • Thanks Qatkhal for your kind words about this blog, it’s great coming from a dark feline creature! I totally agree with your assessment about the disconnection of our ‘intelligentsia’ from the real problems which face Algeria but I think this is the problem in most ‘intelligentsias’, they live in their ivory towers and rarely descend from them to actually experience the reality as lived by the ‘common people’. I am not sure however what reliable criteria should be taken in consideration to define who belongs to the ‘intelligentsia’ – I wouldn’t put journalists in this category as they systematically produce poor quality stuff on top of being unrelated to Algeria. I sometimes think they are agents of the government – a double bluff type of stratagem. I think there’s lots of that in the Arab World (more than in more established democracies).

  4. this kind of snow accumulation only happens once every 50 years. Yes the government (big government) should do something it should look into isolated villages, but the people should do something themselves I want you guys to raise awareness and charity to give to so “called” isolated villages. even if there was 10,000 soldiers working on the roads they still will not be able to go to every single village.

    • ilfdinar

      Even if this snow accumulation happens once every 50 years as you say it not only exposes how inefficient our government is in times of crisis, but how little it has done in the previous 50 years before the snow accumulation. It’s easy to blame the people, and they are to blame for many things, but it irritates me to see the people blamed for everything and the government defended on grounds of statistical improbability and economic considerations. As if this government of ours has any kind of planning strategy or uses staistics to decide what policies to prioritize!

      And for your information, as clearly you know very little of Algeria and you don’t seem like you have lived in it, Algerian people have been doing things for themselves for ages, and the government has been quite absent, the result is the current anarchy (see my reply to MnarviDZ above).

      That said, if you want to do something for Algeria, don’t hesitate to do it yourself – practice what you preach 😉

      • Actuellement, je vis dans un village d’Algérie. Alors que je suis née, et que j’ai grandi (et vieilli :-))) dans la ville (Alger). Ces jours de froid on les a bien sentis : sans gaz de ville, la bouteille de gaz est introuvable… et maintenant elle est distribuée sous contrôle des autorités… sans électricité… El Hamdoullah on a de l’eau (de la rivière). Mais comment voulez-vous que les gens fassent les choses par eux-mêmes? Comment peuvent-ils s’approvisionner en gaz s’il n’y a pas de gaz? Comment peuvent-ils avoir de l’électricité si les services concernés ne le faisaient pas eux-mêmes? Ce ne sont pas des choses que le citoyen lambda peut faire lui-même, il est dépendant dans ce domaine. Pour le reste, bien sur qu’il se débrouille… El Hamdoullah… il le fait quand il peut, mais pour l’essentiel, ce n’est pas de son ressort. Donc, ils n’a d’autre choix que d’espérer avoir l’attention des autorités concernées qui sont censées agir (le servir) justement dans n’importe quelle condition et même dans les conditions extrêmes. Même si oui, on le comprend bien, la météo est rude et les conditions sont très difficiles (pour tout le monde). Et c’est bien pour ça que la responsabilité est une chose sérieuse que les gens devraient plutôt fuir au lieu de se battre pour un “koursi”….

  5. Oumelkheir,

    Tu me rappelles un bout de mon enfance. Je l’ai passee dans un village en montagne. A l’epoque il neigeait encore plus que maintenant. Nos vacances d’hiver duraient entre 1 et 2 mois a cause de la neige. On se chauffait au mazout dont on faisait des reserves durant l’automne. On avait un groupe electrogene car sinon pas d’electricite de Decembre a Mars. Pas de television non plus… L’eau et le gaz, n’en parlons meme-pas… Chose pouvant etre acceptable il y a 20 a 30 ans. Elle ne l’est plus aujourd’hui.

    Je passe 90% de mon temps sur ce blog a dire l’incompetence et la corruption de nos dirigeants, de Bouteflika au plus petit maire. J’ai un post en draft depuis des mois, et que je ne vais pas finir, dont le titre est “RIP the government” parceque, pour moi, ce systeme qui ne sert a rien doit etre supprime. Mais on revient a la seule question qui necessite une reponse aujourd’hui: Que faire et comment faire?

  6. Why should anyone work when the country is bursting with oil? I am not trying to be funny here am serious. Poor people need to work to earn a living. Rich people just enjoy their inheritance. Everyone is in pillage mode, from the head all down to the toes. I think the only thing left to do is wait for the catastrophe. Time is the best healer.

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