RAS AL KHAIMAH // Water has been cut to homes in parts of the emirate after a toxic red tide of algae forced the Al Ghalileh desalination plant to be closed. Households in Al Jeil have been without running water for four days. "It is a pity. We don't have any water to cook, drink and later on use in toilets. The whole scenario is a mess," said Umm Hafisa, a resident.
He said the water had been cut since Thursday and his children had been forced to collect water in containers from other areas. Ali Ahmed, another resident, said authorities had not helped. "We can understand the reasons behind the closure, but no one can explain why there was no alternative supply to such a big area," he said. Mohammed Saleh Mohammed, the director of desalination plants for the Federal Electricity and Water Authority, said the closing was the result of a natural event and was therefore beyond the authority's control.
Dr Mohammed Saif, the executive director of the environmental protection unit in Ras al Khaimah Municipality, said it was the first time a red tide had hit the emirate. He said a committee had been set up to monitor the problem and its members were touring the area to assess the levels of pollution and see how it could be ended quickly. Two months ago, about 20,000 fish were reportedly killed when a red tide hit the shores of Diba Husn on the east coast.
Since then a murky cloud of algae has been visible a few hundred metres off the coast of Fujairah. According to a health official at Diba Husn Municipality, a high concentration of microscopic red tide algae produces a toxin which affects the central nervous system of fish, leading to death. "For humans, eating contaminated fish with the toxin can cause numbness, dizziness, nausea, fever and muscle paralysis.
"The most serious cases can result in respiratory arrest and death," the official said. He said the health risks to humans who swim in affected waters include breathing irritation, sore throat and itchy, red eyes. Red tides - more accurately known as algal blooms - disappear when the water cools down. The source of the red algae has yet to be defined as it can be from human waste or from a natural occurrence.
Red tides are caused by growth of phytoplankton organisms, encouraged by a build-up of nutrients, such as those found in sewage, and sunlight. Red tides reduce the amount of oxygen in water, imperilling other marine life, and can produce toxins that kill shellfish and fish, along with animals further up the food chain such as birds, dolphins, dugongs and manatees. Fish can suffocate if their gills become clogged by the overabundant algae.
* The National