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UAE invests in battle against severe flooding

Taxi in UAE caught in flooding Reuters
Dubai Municipality received more than 100 emergency calls relating to severe weather in one weekend
  • 100 emergency calls in Dubai over weekend
  • $2.5bn tunnel designed to fight flooding
  • Plans to use satellite data for early warnings

UAE government bodies and residents are working proactively to combat the impact of severe flooding, as climate change leads to increased levels of rainfall.

Dubai Municipality said it received more than 100 emergency calls at the weekend as a result of severe weather conditions, and the National Centre of Meteorology (NCM) has warned that heavy rain is likely to continue into next week.

Last year, NCM said July 2022 was the wettest in the UAE for over 40 years.

Severe flooding across the northern emirates last summer resulted in seven people dying and 3,897 people being placed in temporary shelter.

The Dubai government has taken steps in recent years to combat the effects of flooding on its rapid urbanisation. Work on the Deep Tunnel Storm Water System, for example, was completed in 2021.

The 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, it will drain stormwater from 40 percent of the city. 

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

Government internvetion

Babak Bozorgy, Dubai-based regional technical director for water at Canadian firm Stantec, was involved in the design of the Deep Tunnel Storm Water System.

He said the sector is receiving continued investment.

“There have been a few new tenders for assessment and upgrade of stormwater drainage systems in different areas of Dubai,” Bozorgy added.

Stefan Uhlenbrook, director of hydrology, water and cryosphere at the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said action by governments was needed to prevent the economic impact of climate change and severe weather anomalies.

“As the planet warms, the expectation is that we will see more and more intense, more frequent, more severe rainfall events, leading also to more severe flooding,” he told the UAE state-owned news agency Wam in July.

“Developed countries like Japan are extremely alert, and they’re also very well prepared when it comes to flood management measures,” he said.

“But many low-income countries have no warnings in place, hardly any flood defense structures and no integrated flood management. WMO is committed to improving the situation.”

The UAE is putting in place measures to address this.

The UAE Space Agency in May announced a partnership with Norway’s Planet Labs, which works with in Earth data and insights.

“We will use cutting-edge technology, space data, and satellites to map the loss and damage from climate change and help establish early-warning systems,” Sarah al Amiri, chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency, said.

The severe weather conditions have also had an impact on residents’ behaviour.

Only about one-third of UAE residents have home insurance, for example, but Neeraj Gupta, CEO of car insurance provider Policybazaar, said attitudes are changing.

“There has been an increase in demand for flood-related insurance policies in the UAE since last year, especially after the heavy rains and flooding that hit Fujairah and other emirates earlier this year,” he said.

Top priorities

The UAE will host the Cop28 climate conference later this year.

Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, minister of climate change and the environment, prioritised the issues of water scarcity and flooding at a UN conference in New York in March.

“With impacts of climate change manifesting most concretely through water – via droughts, flooding, tsunamis – these trends are only likely to worsen,” she said.

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