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Environmental Issues in Dubai
The UAE has an internationally recognised commitment to the environment, which started under the late Sheikh Zayed. He set up the Zayed International Prize for the Environment and was awarded the WWF’s Gold Panda Award in 1997. However, despite this interest and enthusiasm at federal level, the UAE was recently announced as the worst country in the world for environmental impact in the Living Planet Report by the WWF. The average resident of the UAE consumes more than double the amount of energy of citizens in countries such as France and the UK, and more than even America, traditionally the worst ecological offender. Perhaps as a result of living in a nation inhabited by a vast majority of expatriates, the average UAE resident feels little responsibility towards the country’s environment. There is a pressing need for residents to start making a personal contribution to reduce the impact of their presence. It is being increasingly recognised throughout the world that the time left to be able to make a difference to the future of the planet is decreasing, and it will require everyone to get involved or the earth could well become a very different place for future generations. Despite efforts being made, there are some serious environmental issues facing the UAE. The massive scale of development being pursued in Dubai on gigantic projects such as the Palm Islands and Dubai Waterfront is changing the coastline of Dubai and its ecosystem immeasurably, while the desert is being swallowed up by Dubailand and other leisure and residential developments. In 2001, the Dubai government banned any further development along the coast without prior permission, although that seems something of a paradox in light of the projects that have already been granted permission. Conservationists have suggested that the massive construction for projects in the Arabian Gulf will destroy coral reefs and fish stocks, as well as damaging breeding grounds for endangered species such as the hawksbill turtle. In 2007, it was announced by Nakheel that it was becoming difficult to source sand for the land reclamation from inside UAE waters for these projects as so much has already been taken. Changes to the coastal environment have been on such a colossal scale that effects on marine life have been significant. Another result of these developments is the possible downsizing of future projects due to lack of sand. The developers, however, argue that the sites will attract sealife, and point to the recent increase in fish and marine life witnessed around the crescent on the Palm Jumeirah. One strange by-product is that due to this crescent being 6 km out to sea, certain species of shark that wouldn’t normally come so close to the land have been spotted around the beaches. Also, while the UAE desert is not exactly teeming with wildlife, the animals that do survive are being affected by all the development and once gone from the country will be very difficult to reintroduce. While many conservationists slate the rapid expansion of Dubai’s infrastructure, the issue remains contentious. Many other countries enjoyed their boom-time in the early part of the last century when environmental issues were not as prominent as they are today, so in some ways it seems unfair that the UAE shouldn’t be allowed to develop as other nations have. Then again, the UAE has the advantage of being able to learn from the experience of others, and if there had been more environmental awareness during the industrialisation of leading nations, the world would probably not require such drastic environmental measures. The lower than average rainfall over the last few years and the increasing demand for water from the UAE’s growing population have compounded problems with the decreasing water table, which is at a record low. It was estimated in 2004 that the amount of water taken out of the ground was around 880 million cu m per year, while the amount going back in could be as low as 20 million cu m. The water table has decreased by an average of one metre a year for the past 30 years, and if extraction of water from the ground continues at this rate, there is a very real danger of this water drying out completely. As the water table decreases, saltwater moves inland to fill the gap. This contaminates the fresh water stored underground, especially near the coast where the increasing salinity of the ground affects the fertility of the soil, hampering farming. It has even affected places as far inland as the Hajar Mountains, where inland freshwater wells have started to dry up in areas close to Masafi, home of the country’s most famous brand of bottled water. One major factor is that the UAE currently has the highest water consumption per capita in the world, using an estimated 133 gallons a day, which is 150% of the amount used by the United States. To provide the ever-growing population of Dubai with water, a complex of desalination plants were recently set up in Jebel Ali to boost production. However, considering the projected growth of Dubai, both businesses and residents need to help reduce the amount of water that is wasted.




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