FUJAIRAH // Electricity shortages are threatening to pull the plug on developments in the northern Emirates, but the Crown Prince of Fujairah is moving quickly to lure back hesitant investors. "We can't move forward until we fix the problem of electricity," Sheikh Mohammad bin Hamad Al Sharqi, told The National in an interview. "It affects the current residents, future residents and the investors. That is the truth."
Fujairah, like the rest of the northern Emirates, is dependent on the federal supply of electricity. The Crown Prince has asked Abu Dhabi for help but realises the capital is going through its own boom. "We understand it will take time to solve so we are looking into alternatives while we await assistance." The power shortages have meant that the emirate has not experienced the same rapid development as Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Yet while it has still to taste the fruits of expansion, it is already bearing one of its burdens - inflation. House prices in Fujairah have more than tripled in just over a year. "The same three-bedroom flat that cost Dh13,000 last year is now Dh50,000. It is too much," Sheikh Mohammad said. Investment in property developments could have alleviated some of the pressure but several projects have been put on hold.
"Investors may be willing to come, but the global financial crisis and the electricity problem, are holding them back." The Crown Prince said there was little that could be done about the international credit crunch, but that he was exploring ways of solving the power shortage. He has just dispatched a team from the municipality to the Netherlands to study the feasibility of a project he believes holds great promise for the emirate: a solid waste energy plant.
"Instead of waste piling up, why not turn it into a useful energy source?" Sitting in his office at the Royal Court, surrounded by large oil paintings of Fujairah's mountains and coastline, the 22-year-old Sheikh says he is determined to prepare Fujairah for the future - but not at the cost of its environment. "The quarrying industry is a critical source of income for this emirate, but at the same time, we know the side effects of such an industry and are doing everything we can to minimise the damage to the environment and health."
The export of aggregates to Qatar and Kuwait alone is worth tens of millions of dirhams to Fujairah each year. Sheikh Mohammad said there had always been laws and policies governing the quarries, but that until recently "they have not been strictly adhered to". He now makes frequent visits with his team of officials to ensure that quarries are obeying the rules - covering conveyer belts, introducing new filters and using water vapour to keep the dust down.
The emirate is also braced for the arrival of a new highway linking Fujairah with Dubai. The Dh1.2 billion (US$325m) road will cut the journey time between the two to about 45 minutes when it opens early next year. "It will be faster to reach us, but at the same time, we are preparing ourself for the congestion that it will bring, as people move here and work in Dubai." Sheikh Mohammad said Fujairah did not want to find itself in the same predicament as Sharjah, which acts as a spillover community for Dubai.
"We don't have enough housing now for a boom, and at the same time, we can't build more until we have secured the necessary electricity needed to run the new buildings. So you see, everything is intertwined." Some new residential roads have been built in Fujairah using part of Dh16bn in funds the federal government has allocated to develop the region's infrastructure, and more projects are planned.
The Sheikh is also determined to defend another of the emirate's greatest assets: its shoreline. He is putting his full weight behind protecting Fujairah's waters from oil spills, as well as the red tide algal bloom that has disfigured 60km of coastline up to Dibba. "We have one of the world's most beautiful coral reefs and great diving experiences, so we are trying our best to preserve that." Oil leaks are a major concern for the Sheikh. Ships dump used engine oil out at sea, beyond the UAE's maritime borders, to avoid the cost of having it cleaned out in port. The oil then pollutes the waters and washes up on beaches.
A team at Fujairah Port, with help from Bahrain, is studying the best means of dealing with these oil spillages, and expert advice is being sought on the toxic red tide that has killed thousands of fish. One of the emirate's biggest projects is a new oil terminal that will handle exports of oil from Abu Dhabi. This is being built in an industrial area near the port. "The plan is to keep the public beach open to its people and to preserve the scenic coastline and keep the more industrial sites together away from the public," the Sheikh said
Fujairah's long coastline makes it more vulnerable to natural disasters. After it was hit by Hurricane Gonu in 2007, the threat is being taken very seriously. "We have learned from previous disasters, and have special police and army units always on standby in case of a natural disaster," Sheikh Mohammad said. "We can't control nature, but we are doing our best at studying it and understanding it."
New regulations also prohibit houses from being built too close to the shore. At the end of each day, after finishing work, the young Sheikh indulges in his favourite pastime: driving across his emirate and admiring its grandeur."People say there is nothing here, but I say, that is what is beautiful here. You can relax here and take a break from malls and see a traditional way of life. "We remain a traditional emirate, and we want to preserve the mud houses and the old way of life, even as we move forward.
"We should not forget how our grandparents lived, and how hard it was in the past. It helps us appreciate what we have now." firstname.lastname@example.org