The rapid rates of economic development and urbanization in Dubai and Abu Dhabi have attracted international attention in the last two decades. The two cities have attained recognition as major hubs for tourism, investment and market for various goods and services.
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Their growth in industry and real estate sectors has attracted foreign populations from various parts of the world. Despite this, the two cities face major social and environmental challenges. In this section, some of the major environmental challenges will be outlined.
The process of providing clean and safe water for domestic and industrial use has emerged as the main problem facing Dubai and Abu Dhabi (Kassler 2009). Specifically, Dubai’s situation seems to be worse than that of Abu Dhabi.
Dubai’s location on the Persian Gulf provides access to a large mass of water, but lack of desalination plants makes it difficult to purify the seawater (Murad, Al Nuaimi & Al Hammadi 2010). The presence of high population and industries makes it difficult to use the seawater because some heated sludge and domestic wastes enter the sea (Saunders, Al Zahed & Paterson 2007).
This requires a lot of energy to desalinate the seawater, but the competition with industries for electric power has made it difficult to provide adequate and continuous supply of desalinated water (Fox, Mourtada-Sabbah & Al Mutawa 2012).
For instance, studies have shown that Dubai desalinates about three billion bottles of water per day, but the backup is minimal. Dubai receives about four days of water every weak, which means that the industries and population spend three days without water every week (Kassler 2009).
In addition, the rapid growth of population and industries Dubai and Abu Dhabi have caused massive accumulation of waste. In case of Dubai, the location close to the Gulf means that much of the waste is deposited into the sea (Al-Katheeri 2008). Studies have shown that this phenomenon has caused an increase in the Gulf’s salinity levels from 32,000 parts per trillion in 1980 to about 47,000 parts per trillion in 2010 (UNEP 2011).
Social and economic problems
The influx of foreign population in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and the development of these cities into international tourist centres have affected the social system. For instance, foreign workers have taken the largest share of employment opportunities in all industries.
Secondly, most firms working in the cities are foreign, which means that they are there to exploit the economic opportunities. In addition, locals have fewer opportunities to start their firms because the competition is too high and the regulations seem to favour large corporations. Noteworthy, these firms are foreign corporate, especially those from developed world such as the US, Europe and South East Asia.
Thirdly, the influx of tourists and foreigners in the two cities, especially in Dubai, has a social impact. For instance, Dubai has set aside areas for recreation that are not affected by Islamic culture and traditions. These include areas set aside for alcohol consumption and nightclubs.
The Islamic culture and law in the UAE prohibits such behaviour, but the two Emirates have been forced to bend their laws slightly “to accommodate” tourism for the sake of economic growth and development. As more tourist destinations open up in the two cities, there is some probability that the foreign cultures and behaviours will affect the local culture.
Al-Katheeri, ES, 2008, “Towards the establishment of water management in Abu Dhabi Emirate. Water Resources Management”, vol. 22, no. 2, pp. 205-215.
Fox, JW, Mourtada-Sabbah, N & Al Mutawa, M 2012, Globalization and the Gulf, Routledge, London.
Kassler, P, 2009, Environmental issues for the Gulf: oil, water and sustainable development, Royal Institute of International Affairs Middle East Programme in association with Division of Research and Studies, Crown Prince Court, Abu Dhabi
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Murad, AA., Al Nuaimi, H & Al Hammadi, M, 2010, “Comprehensive assessment of water resources in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)”, Water Resources Management, vol. 21, no. 9, pp. 1449-1463.
Saunders, JE, Al Zahed, KM & Paterson, DM, 2007, “The impact of organic pollution on the macrobenthic fauna of Dubai Creek (UAE),” Marine Pollution Bulletin vol. 54, no. 1, pp. 1715-1723.
UNEP, 2011, The state of the marine environment: regional assessments, UNEP/GPA, Nairobi