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Committees on Dead Sea tragedy issue final recommendations

By JT - Dec 11,2018 - Last updated at Dec 11,2018

AMMAN — The Prime Ministry on Tuesday published the joint recommendations of the impartial and ministerial committees that had been formed to investigate the Dead Sea incident.

Twenty-one people, mostly schoolchildren, died and 35 were injured in late October when flashfloods swept the hot springs area near the Dead Sea, following quick and heavy rain.

The Prime Ministry said that the results and recommendations included a series of procedures and steps that would be taken to address the shortcomings and avoid them in the future, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported. 

In regard to the education sector, the joint recommendations included revisiting regulations governing school trips, with trip approvals to be issued in two stages; the first would include an “initial approval” to be issued two weeks before the date of the trip and is meant to obtain approvals from parents and other stakeholders, while the second “final approval” should be issued 48 hours before the date of the trip after completing other necessary paper work.

The request for approval must include a detailed programme of the trip and a certificate of vehicle’s conformity to public safety measures, the committees recommended. 

The government will issue a by-law for school trips and oblige schools to commit to it, which must also stipulate that a doctor or nurse accompany the students during any school trip.

The government must also reassess tourist sites where school trips are allowed and ban dangerous destinations.

As for the public works aspect of the incident, the recommendations included implementing immediate and comprehensive maintenance to bridges in the Dead Sea area, in addition to carrying out periodic maintenance programmes.

On the tourism aspect, the committees recommended enacting laws to organise the adventure tourism sector that would include standards to govern this type of outdoor activity, as well as adopting a mechanism to monitor the advertisements of tourism offices. 

Pertaining to the meteorological aspect, the recommendations called for improving the mechanism for issuing weather forecasts, using modern technologies and having direct communication between the Jordan Meteorology Department and official institutions in cases of unstable weather.

In relation to the mandate of the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, the government shall prepare a register for measuring floods in the country’s main valleys and implement technical studies to identify the nature of these areas. 

Recommendations regarding the crisis management process called for activating the role of the National Centre for Security and Crisis Management (NCSCM) and accrediting it as the sole institution tasked with collecting information in cases of crisis and evaluating the search, rescue and evacuation operations. 

In a related development, Prime Minister Omar Razzaz headed a meeting on Tuesday at the NCSCM to discuss ways to strengthen and consolidate national efforts to cope with unusual weather conditions that may occur in the Kingdom during the winter season, according to Petra.

As for the Civil Defence Department, the two reports recommended establishing a comprehensive diving unit at the Dead Sea area and other water surfaces, increasing the number of qualified personnel and necessary equipment for rescue operations and providing the department vehicles with lighting units necessary for search and rescue operations.

On measures to be taken by the Health Ministry, the recommendations included training enough doctors on forensic medicine and banning  the handing over of bodies to families without conducting DNA tests.

The report also underlined “the lack of the monitoring by the Education Ministry on school trips”, which is evident in violations related to the practice of adventure tourism, lack of commitment to times of trips and lack of clarity regarding trip destinations, among others.

The report identified shortcomings in the Tourism Ministry’s regulations, noting that the ministry had not issued instructions to regulate adventure tourism, despite the fact that the National Council for Tourism issued relevant regulations in 2016.

As for the Interior Ministry, there was overlap in the administrative and security tasks between governorates, where the Dead Sea area is administratively affiliated with the Madaba Governorate, but with Balaqa Governorate in issues related to security. 

Meanwhile, the committee noted that there was no coordination between the Public Security Department and the Land Transport Regulatory Commission in terms of issuing necessary permits for trip buses.

The committee revealed insufficient numbers of divers at the nearest CDD station, where only two divers, an officer and a driver were available to show up during the initial response to the incident.

According to the report, there was a low level of coordination between health centres in remote areas and the ministry’s headquarters, in addition to an absence of a clear mechanism to deal with the families of the victims.

As for weather conditions, the report said that ministries and public institutions are negligent towards weather forecasts issued by the Jordan Meteorological Department. 

The committee also called for avoiding routine warnings and developing the language used in preparing the forecasts. 

In terms of issues related to the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, the committee said that no specific institution was responsible for banning entry to the Zarqa-Maeen area.

The report also confirmed the safety of the Zarqa-Maeen Dam, as field visits to the location and reports by specialised geologists stressed that the dam was not among causes for the tragic incident, particularly since it has no floodgates and plants around it were intact after the incident.

The dam was empty in the morning of the day in question, the report indicated, noting that it stored some 435,000 square metres of water later in the day, after the incident occurred, which is bellow the full capacity of the dam of 2 million square metres, proving that the dam did not flood or leak.  

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