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UAE president orders review after flooding

  • Sheikh Mohamed acts after historic rainfall
  • UAE had heaviest rain in 75 years
  • Airports struggling to cope

The UAE’s president, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has ordered an urgent review of the country’s infrastructure after historic levels of rainfall brought the Gulf state to a standstill, with some areas seeing more than a year’s worth of rain in one day.

The president has contacted authorities “to quickly work on studying the condition of infrastructure throughout the UAE”, the state-owned Wam news agency reported.

On Tuesday the UAE experienced its heaviest rains in 75 years. The downpour turned main roads, particularly in Dubai, into waterways, leaving motorists stranded and causing widespread damage to commercial and residential properties.

Experts have called for investment to combat flooding.

“The major urban areas of the UAE are coastal and on flat topography, so that ocean drainage may have limited effect during intense rainfall coupled with sea surges,” Mohammed Mahmoud, water resource management and climate change adaptation expert, told AGBI.

Dubai International Airport, the busiest international airport in the world, continues to suffer from severe disruption with limited access to its Terminal 1 on Thursday.

“Due to crowding, access to Terminal 1 is now strictly limited to passengers with confirmed departures,” a statement said.

In 2021 work was completed on the $2.5 billion Deep Tunnel Storm Water System – a 10km tunnel measuring 11 metres in diameter, built 45 metres under the city in the southern area of the emirate, near the Expo 2020 site.

The tunnel drains stormwater from 40 percent of the city and is part of the UAE’s wider investment plan.

Dr. Hassam Chaudhry, associate professor at Heriot-Watt University Dubai, said: “As the country continues to experience rapid urbanisation and potential shifts in weather patterns due to climate change, having efficient and large-scale stormwater management systems has become essential, and opens doors for further projects.”

The National Centre of Meteorology said that 254mm of rain was recorded in 24 hours in the Khatm Al Shakla area in Al Ain. The UAE’s average annual rainfall is 140 to 200mm.

In January 2020, after 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.

Traffic stuck on a flooded road in Dubai Reuters/Rula Rouhana
Traffic stuck on a flooded road in Dubai

Ruchir Punjabi, co-founder of Distributed Energy and, said: “If any government understands infrastructure, it’s the UAE. It’s almost certain that they are thinking about how to upgrade the infrastructure for situations like this.

“These transformations are really, really expensive. You cannot do an overnight swap of a drainage system, for example. It’s really, really difficult. What you can do is, you make it part of new or redevelopment plans, and you build a transition.”

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.

Householders in the UAE are counting the cost of the flooding as the huge clean-up operation continues, although Neeraj Gupta, CEO of Policybazaar UAE, said home insurance is still not common in the country.

“Weather events such as the unprecedented rains we saw this week act as a catalyst towards users trying to understand the need for the same,” he said.

The UAE president called on support to be provided to people affected by the flooding, ordering the transfer of affected families to safe locations in cooperation with local authorities.

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