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Cars drive past the King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Image Credit: Reuters

A body comes into existence. If all is well, this body grows and matures into a healthy being. Along the way, however, steps have to be taken to ensure continuous growth and development in a manner that will produce very little setbacks for a healthy and productive life. These necessary steps are what is called ‘maintenance’.

The same philosophy could very easily apply to all around us. Not just to humans, but to the vast infrastructure around us.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia witnessed a remarkable building boom in the ’70s and ’80s and the development of the infrastructure in this country was massive and formidable. Billions of riyals were spent to forge, build, and implement projects for the enrichment and comfort of the people. Communities sprouted in places where there was only dirt and sand. Smaller towns sprawled into and as large metropolitan cities.

The key element missing here is proper and timely maintenance, something we tend to ignore in just about every facet of our lives and an aspect not given enough priority.

- Tariq A. Al Maeena

Hardly a day went by when one did not hear of or witness a new scheme or development beginning to take roots. Workers from all parts of the world contributed in their own way and with their own expertise to the challenges faced with this mammoth boom. The maturation of society was rapid and occasionally painful, as the citizenry was overawed by a rise of activity all around them, the volume of which had never been witnessed anywhere in the past century. A desert was suddenly transformed into a sparkling megapolis, much like what later happened in Dubai although I have to admit they took it several steps further.

Schools, hospitals, roads and malls were sprouting everywhere, each trying to outdo the other in terms of design or flair. From statues to a seafront drive, the residents in Saudi felt blessed with every passing day with such massive developments as conveniences and aesthetically pleasing architecture began appearing. The topography of cities changed dramatically and spurred the migration of many from towns and villages into the bigger cities to enjoy comforts. There was a noticeable demographic shift as city dwellers became aware of alien customs and traditions also being introduced.

Today, most of the workers who had a hand in building this country are gone, having departed for their countries, but left behind are the relics of their efforts. Many are still a reminder of that period back in the last century when the building boom was an everyday occurrence. Some of the relics I may add, are beginning to show the ravages of time and are on their way to becoming chronicled fading monuments of a recent era.


This does not have to be the case. The key element missing here is proper and timely maintenance, something we tend to ignore in just about every facet of our lives and an aspect not given enough priority. We tend to neglect our bodies, and on a larger scale, tend to neglect everything around us. After all, why bother with something that works just fine for now?

This illusion is fine so long as things work well. But the moment that something falls apart, we are caught off guard by the unexpected. The evidence of such a demeanour is all around us.

Take to the roads today and you’ll see what I’m saying. Or walk into a modern and state of the art building or structure built in the latter half of the last century or so, only to notice the beginning stages of neglect and decay. Even schools and hospitals built in that era have fallen into shabby and dishevelled times. Some of the malls built then had fallen on hard times and have completely closed for lack of proper maintenance.

Our philosophy and indifference towards maintenance is a major factor in this decline. With money flowing then, an easier alternative was just to build another bigger and newer establishment. But that cannot hold forever.

An individual buys an expensive automobile, yet may search for the cheapest of labour to operate it. The same attitude applies to some of those investing in factories or industries. Just about any responsible individual or party is more concerned with the initial investment in a project than the continuing expenses of maintaining his investment.

Although Saudi Vision 2030 has given fresh impetus to a building boom, consideration must also be provided for maintenance of these new infrastructures so they do not follow the same path.

Is it indifference or ignorance, I sometimes wonder? Does not the analogy to a human body apply to just about everything we build or create? Admittedly, maintenance comes with a price. But the cost of ignoring this necessary function is far greater than imagined.

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena.