Tony Walsh –
For me, cyclone Gonu will be a lasting testimony to the extraordinary country Oman became under His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, where a government looks after its citizens and residents and they, in turn, are compelled to look after others in both small and large ways
On 16th March 1986 I stepped off the morning British Airways flight from London into the heat and humidity of Muscat; this was the start of my 34 years associated with Oman.
Muscat, Muttrah and Ruwi in 1986 were then much as they are today, so quickly had Oman developed since 1970 under His Majesty Sultan Qaboos. I lived initially in Ruwi, near the Star Cinema, and managed a retail business that also wholesaled the goods it imported, though Mina Sultan Qaboos, to other retailers. Therefore my working life involved travelling to distant towns and gaining an insight into the economics of areas outside the capital. Having travelled to Egypt, shortly before I arrived in Oman, I was surprised at how the government, in Oman, had already developed relatively remote areas in the country.
Newly built hospitals in minor towns like Sinaw already had Omani staff and one of the characteristics then was that the families of patients in those hospitals would come to camp at the hospital, so they could also look after their relative. This remarkable way of looking after people was also extended to me, in a slightly different way, when I moved later to live in Al Bustan village. On days when I was at home for lunch, there would be a knock on my front door and my Omani neighbour handed me a tray, with my lunch. This caring lifestyle was, I realised, a reflection of Omani culture and how His Majesty Sultan Qaboos’s government also looked after the population in Oman.
However, despite these everyday examples of community that were so different from my native England, the most outstanding example of how the government of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos looked after, not only Omani citizens but also non-Omani residents happened in 2007. On June 1, far out into the Arabian Sea, a storm developed into a cyclone named Gonu. Over the next week it moved up the Arabian Sea and clipped Ras Al Had before tracking up the coast towards Muscat. There are many superlatives attached to that cyclone; it was a Category 5, Super Cyclonic Storm and at that time the most powerful cyclone in the Arabian Sea.
The damage caused by Gonu was horrific, with many deaths, homes washed away by floodwater and entire sections of roads ripped up. What was remarkable was how ordinary residents acted to support those affected by the damage. In my neighbourhood, which then was Al Hamriyyah in Muscat, the residents collected supplies and made several trips through flooded valleys and by sea to get them to Qurayyat, which was seriously affected.
The government of course also acted, with Sultan Qaboos visiting areas impacted, then remarkably quickly large numbers of portacabins were supplied to act as temporary housing for these affected. Bottled drinking water was made available to the population of Muscat and roads and electricity supplies were swiftly made serviceable and mobile phone networks were also rapidly up and running again.
All of this was exceptional, but what was notable was how the government acted to compensate people who has suffered financial loss because of the storm. Those compensated of course included Omani citizens, however it was truly remarkable that compensation was extended to non-Omani residents many of whom could not possibly have plead for help themselves.
For me, Gonu will be a lasting testimony to the extraordinary country Oman became under His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, where a government looks after its citizens and residents and they, in turn, are compelled to look after others in both small and large ways.
Tony Walsh is an author about Oman with a number of titles published, including the current Bradt Guide. Tony leads tours in the region and previously ran retail businesses in Saudi Arabia & Oman, and a tour agency in Oman.