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UAE invests in future flood control after record rainfall

Cars stranded on flooded roads across the UAE
  • Seven died, 870 rescued by emergency teams in Sharjah and Fujairah
  • 5,000 deployed in rescue operation and 30,000 calls from public
  • Dubai Municipality tenders for stormwater and drainage systems

The UAE’s recent record levels of rainfall, resulting in loss of life and flood damage, pose budgetary challenges for authorities, but also opportunities for regional infrastructure investors.

The National Centre of Meteorology said last month was the wettest July in the UAE for over 40 years.

It said that 234.9mm of rain fell between 22:30 on July 25 and 09:18 on July 28. To put that in context, the UAE averages around 100mm for the entire year, Abu Dhabi’s The National reported.

The devastating impact was immediate, especially in the northern emirates. Seven people died in the floods, 870 people were rescued by emergency teams and 3,897 people were placed in temporary shelter in nearby hotels in Sharjah and Fujairah.

Nearly 5,000 personnel were deployed as part of the rescue operation, responding to over 30,000 emergency calls from the public. One of the companies involved was Xylem, a US-headquartered water technology firm.

“Xylem works closely with the Dubai Municipality to deploy its products and solutions in many key areas across the country,” Naji Skaf, managing director for the Middle East and Turkey at Xylem, told AGBI. 

The company deployed water pumps to the areas impacted, along with a team of technicians who worked around the clock for four days following the flooding.

Flooding around flats in Fujairah

Shift in rain patterns

Research in the US by the National Centers for Environmental Information found that flooding costs an average of $4.7 billion in damage per event.

“In the last two decades, the region has experienced a dramatic shift in its rainfall records patterns,” Skaf said.

“Many Arab cities such as Cairo, Kuwait, Riyadh, Casablanca and Muscat have experienced flash floods, despite their highly arid and semi-arid climate.”

He said the cause was a combination of several factors, including extreme precipitation, weak or insufficient urban stormwater infrastructure and drainage systems.

Other contributory factors were the silting up of sewers and inlets by sandstorms, urban streams bursting their banks, uncontrolled urban sprawl, rising groundwater tables, and tides generating backwater effects on drainage systems.

The Dubai government has taken proactive steps in recent years to combat the effects of flooding on its rapid urbanisation.

Last year, work was completed on the Deep Tunnel Storm Water System. A 10km tunnel, 11 metres in diameter was built 30 to 45 metres under the city in the southern area of the emirate, near the Expo 2020 Dubai site. 

Costing $2.5 billion and taking four years to build, the tunnel will drain stormwater from 40 percent of the city. It is part of the UAE’s wider investment plan. 

In January 2020, following another round of extreme rainfall, the government pledged AED500 million ($136 million) of new investment to safeguard the country’s infrastructure from the effects of flooding.

Lack of drainage infrastructure causes havoc on UAE roads when it rains heavily

New projects scheduled

Dubai-based Dr. Babak Bozorgy, regional technical director for water at Canadian-headquartered firm Stantec, who was involved in the design of the Deep Tunnel Storm Water System, said the investment is starting to materialise.

“I believe the impacts of climate change and urbanisation on flooding, and the need for investment to mitigate such impacts are already realised by governments and municipalities across the region, especially in recent years,” Bozorgy said.

He told AGBI that Dubai Municipality currently has several tenders in the market for studies and designs of stormwater management and drainage systems across Dubai and Hatta. 

Abu Dhabi Quality and Conformity Council also recently announced the approval of an update of its guidelines for stormwater drainage, in partnership with the Department of Municipalities and Transport. 

“These are all positive signs of focused attention on the subject of stormwater and flood management in the UAE,” he said.

Flood of insurance claims

Weather events like those seen in July result in a busy time for insurance companies, as property damage claims are filed with brokers.

While only about a third of residents in the UAE take out home insurance, Neeraj Gupta, CEO of UAE-based car insurance provider Policybazaar, said he has seen a surge in demand as floods become more common.

Gupta pointed out that, according to UAE law, it is mandatory to have insurance coverage if you have a mortgage on a property. He warned that not all policies offer the same level of coverage, however.

“It is strongly recommended that UAE residents must insure their homes and contents, as heavy rains may cause damage to property and home contents. 

“Tenants and landlords must read the fine print. They can only make a claim if they have home and contents insurance that insures them against water damage due to heavy rains and floods.”

Of AED60 billion of expenditure announced in its budget in January, Dubai has allocated AED25 billion towards investment in infrastructure and transportation.

Xylem’s Skaf said that with climate change leading to more severe weather anomalies, some of this should go into managing and preventing flood damage.

“Surely the demand for projects like the Deep Tunnel Storm Water System will increase in the Middle East in general, not only in Dubai,” he said.

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