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The city of Jeddah. Image Credit:

Just a stone’s throw away from the eastern cities of Saudi Arabia is Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai. With massive developments that have been ongoing for decades, these cities have been transforming themselves into a world-class metropolis garnering worldwide acclaim.

Even existing buildings are getting facelifts and undergoing extensive renovations.

But, surprisingly, there is little evidence of annoying construction litter and debris that usually accompanies such projects, and would invariably be unsafe to motorists or pedestrians.

The reason? Strict construction laws and a code of discipline and work ethics deeply ingrained in their conduct. Now flash across to the city of Jeddah following a mild windy day or a moderate dust storm. The city often resembles a war zone.

Strewn over the roads and sidewalks would be litter, and tonnes of it.

Cleanliness is a critical component of our religion, but I wonder why we are so lax when it comes to adhering to such matters of faith.

- Tariq A. Al Maeena, Saudi commentator

Particleboards, plywood, wood beams, empty cement sacks, paint cans, trash bags with their contents spilt out, and much more. It is not surprising that construction litter often makes up the bulk of the trash spread all over.

Why is it that building contractors do not feel compelled to place their waste in appropriate containers whereby the wind cannot blow them all over the place?

Even with large waste containers often seen at large construction sites, the debris seems to settle everywhere except in the container itself. Where are our municipality inspectors who are being paid to enforce such laws? Or are these laws simply penned on paper for everyone to ignore?

Not only contractors at fault

Municipal inspectors should go into every neighbourhood, to hand out litter violations. With construction sites in practically every neighbourhood, the coffers of the municipality could become very handsome in a short time.

Instead, these inspectors waste business owners’ time and money by squabbling over the size, wording or colour of their storefront signs, rather than doing a better job at enforcing municipal laws that affect all of us.

This litter, which is often left unattended for days on end, soon turns into filth, and a breeding ground for rats, as we have seen much of the Corniche suffer in the past. And rats bring diseases.

Empty or undeveloped lots are easy targets for building contractors.

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Rather than taking the time and effort to dump their waste in specified areas, most contractors simply shovel this rubbish onto the street in front of their work area or the nearest empty lot.

This way it does not eat into their profit margins, but it sure leaves the rest of us fuming. In all my time driving around Dubai, I have never encountered a man-made roadblock that was not planned by the city. In Jeddah, roadblocks are often mounds of dirt and other construction material haphazardly thrown past the sidewalk and creeping to the middle of the road.

That does not absolve the rest of us from this mess. It is not only contractors and construction workers who are at fault. We as inhabitants of the city often are collaborators in making this place dirty. We do not bag our trash and place it in appropriate containers. We fling litter out of vehicle windows, or empty soda cans onto sidewalks. Paper or plastics, you can be sure we throw it out. And just about anywhere we find convenient.

In our homes, we must preach to our children the importance of keeping our neighbourhoods and cities clean. And we must lead them by example. A father who carelessly dumps trash out of his car window while driving and without giving it a further thought is often observed by his offspring, who in turn one day will do the same.

Schools could contribute

While education begins at the home, our schools could contribute by forming teams of schoolchildren armed with litter bags and take them out on trash collection beats.

Let these kids learn at an early age the consequence of such careless, lazy and thoughtless actions. We should use teams of volunteers to clean up our beaches and shores every so often, and must consciously include schoolchildren in such a process. It should not be left to their nannies or the domestic help to do what these kids should be taught at an early age.

Business owners and managers must enforce hygiene beyond their front doors. How often do we see their sidewalks and pathways filthy and beyond reasonable trespass? Their employees must be instructed not to dispose of their trash or wastewater two or three feet beyond their doors. I realise we have workers from all parts of the world, each with his standard of hygiene. However, as dwellers of this city, we must collectively establish one standard to fit all. And that does not mean acceptance of any litter on our streets and roads.

Cleanliness is a critical component of our religion, but I wonder why we are so lax when it comes to adhering to such matters of faith. Creating a nuisance for our neighbours with our trash is another aspect that our faith warns us against. And yet again, we hardly give it much thought when we dump our rejects in front of someone else’s residence. No government in the world can police this kind of selfish violation if we as individuals are not willing to participate in making our immediate environment cleaner. After all, cleanliness is an important element of our faith. Should we not abide by it?

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