Watching a Hurricane Unfold in the Desert

Friday, September 9, 2005 | Amman, Jordan (map)

I don't have any photos yet that capture just how dry Jordan is, so here's me at a dam back in Syria, in a dried up reservoir.
As it turns out, Al Jazeera and other satellite news channels here in the Arab world are actually as disinterested and clueless as the American media at covering events outside their own little pocket of the world.

For the first few days, Hurricane Katrina has pounded the southern United States, particularly New Orleans, Louisiana, and here at the Haddads' house in Amman I've had to follow on BBC—the only station that was covering the hurricane. But the situation back on the Gulf Coast has grown bad enough that now even Al Jazeera and company have caught wind of it, and are broadcasting clips of the flooding and destruction. It's sad to see old and infirm residents suffering—and somewhat less sad to see those who just didn't heed the government warnings as the storm approached.

Ironically, just a few weeks ago I was back in Damascus talking to my Australian friend Julian about the US, and we mentioned New Orleans. I recounted what I remembered from high school Environmental Science class—that much of the city is situated below sea level and protected by a shaky system of levies that won't hold once a big storm eventually hits. And here we are.

It's particularly surreal to be watching the rushing floodwaters from here in Jordan—one of the dryest places on earth. According to a recent UNESCO study, the average Jordanian uses just 44 cubic meters of water per year in household consumption. The average American, by contrast, uses 217—that's nearly five times as much. Jordan is a huge importer of water. Here in the Amman suburbs, the Haddads actually have water delivered by truck every few days, for storage in a big tank beside the house, in the same way heating oil is delivered back home in the US.

The images of the flooding back on the Gulf Coast—probably surreal and incomprehensibly tragic already for those back home—seem even more so here in the desert.

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