The Middle East is not used to planning for heavy rainfall, but the region must learn from recent floods that killed Asian migrants, experts warn
Arab towns are still recovering from severe flash floods last month that killed migrant workers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and forced more … than 3,800 people to evacuatemoving homes and essential infrastructure.
The government provided emergency relief to help people cope with the aftermath of the floods, but migrants told Climate Home News they feared further flooding and extreme weather in the future in a badly ill country. equipped to deal with heavy rain.
Heavy rains began on July 27, causing flash floods across the United Arab Emirates. Seven people died in the floods, all Asian migrants. Five of the seven people who died were Pakistani citizens, according to the Pakistani Embassy in the United Arab Emirates. Neither the United Arab Emirates nor Pakistan shared further details of the casualties.
Sharjah, the third most populous city in the United Arab Emirates, and the emirate of Fujairah in the Gulf of Oman, were among the hardest hit.
“At first we were enjoying the rain, but it quickly became dangerous,” said Amir Bukhari, a Pakistani migrant who works in sales and lives in Sharjah. “The roads have started collecting water. I live on the ground floor and the water started coming inside and it was scary.
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“I didn’t need to evacuate and there wasn’t too much damage,” Bukhari told Climate Home. “I can’t afford to buy new furniture or move house.”
Two-thirds of UAE residents do not have home insurance. Nearly 90% of the UAE’population is made up of migrants, who often have difficult living and working conditions.
“I worry about those who are very vulnerable, migrant workers and undocumented migrants,” said Natasha Abaza, an Arab-born urban planner and planner, who is now based in the UK and works at the firm of Prior + Partners architecture.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think there are resilience plans to prepare urban cities in the Gulf for flooding. They have money to help repair the damage, but I think that’s the whole plan right now,” she said. “There’s no resilience because of, well, racism.”
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The National Meteorological Center (NCM) of the United Arab Emirates told local press that climate change is responsible for the increased frequency of heavy rains, which can cause flooding, especially in the mountainous northern regions of the Emirates.
Such extreme weather events “could have even greater impact in a warming world” in the southeastern Arabian Peninsula, according to a study by Khalifa University of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi, in partnership with the UAE NCM. A warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapor, which means extreme events last longer, the study notes.
Faizal E, who would not give his full name for fear of ‘offending the government’, was forced to leave his home in Fujairah, along with his wife and two children, along with hundreds of other families , when flooding hit the area in July. The NCM has issued a code red alert, meaning that “hazardous weather events of exceptional severity are forecast”.
“We stayed in a government facility for a few days, but now I’m back home,” he told Climate Home. “The government was very helpful and worked hard to save us.”
“The Red Crescent and other charities provided free hot meals to [everyone], no questions asked,” he said. More than 500 volunteers work in coordination with organizations such as the Emirates Red Crescent. “There was a lot of damage…the UAE is not a country where it rains a lot.”
Faizal praised the authorities for their “quick and successful restoration efforts”, but is worried about similar results if heavy rains happen again.
“I think the heavy rains show the country’s strongest and weakest points,” he said. “They are so capable of offering help and saving people, but there are no plans to prepare for this type of weather, which is rare but is happening more and more now.”
Faizal is no stranger to heavy rains as he is a migrant from Kerala, India who experiences monsoon rains for several months every summer.
“I think my town of Kerala usually sees so much rain during the summer, but that’s how the weather is there,” he said. “The United Arab Emirates does not see this type of rain. It’s better built in many ways, but it’s not built to handle such weather.
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Many major cities in Fujairah are located in valleys and have drainage systems that are unable to cope with heavy rains or dams to protect residents from flash floods.
Large, expensive development projects are often built in flood-prone areas because the “probability [of severe floods] is highly unlikely,” Abaza said.
“They know it, of course. They have access to this data, [but] they don’t care,” she says. “I am not talking specifically about the UAE, [but] on the region in general.
The richest cities in the United Arab Emirates have record infrastructure, including some of the tallest buildings in the world. That could be part of the problem.
“Everything that was built there was built against nature. And nature will fight back,” Abaza said. “Over-engineering to combat these floods is never the answer.”
Instead, more drainage, ending developments in flood-prone areas and restoring the landscape should take priority, she said.
A report by Khalifa University recommends the following infrastructure investments: “The drains must be up to par, otherwise the roads will be flooded. Dams should be protected from flash floods, especially in dry wadis [valley] areas. Airport runways need to be on a slope, so that rain runs off into the drains (which need to work).
The United Arab Emirates was not the only country in the Arabian Gulf to suffer severe flooding. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia also experienced heavy rains last month, something the arid region has not seen during the summer in more than 30 years.
The UAE government did not respond to Climate Home’s request for comment.
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