x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Bad weather tests UAE’s preparedness

The Arabian Gulf has been battered by unusually heavy rain in the past few days. Casualties from flooding have been reported in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, as well as the UAE. The sudden change of weather appears to have caught many off guard, raising questions over our preparedness to cope with inclement conditions.

In Dubai, Ibn Battuta Mall and its surrounding areas were badly affected by the weather. Cars were partially submerged and shop owners reported stock damage, which they blamed on leaking roofs. In Al Gharbia, 1,000 labourers were displaced due to heavy rain and high winds, while accidents were reported across the Western Region.

Such weather tests the infrastructure and the ability of the authorities to respond to natural emergencies. While more needs to be done to ensure buildings comply with safety standards and are better prepared for stormy skies, the authorities have generally responded adequately. As The National reported last week, dozens of drainage machines have been sent to areas across the country and emergency squads cleared most of the fallen trees in the Western Region.

Rains and floods do happen and are a part of our annual weather patterns, but there is a limit to how much this country can ready itself for these events, especially when they are relatively rare occurrences. All public expenditure has to be justified and spending a lot to guard against rare events may not be the best use of public funds. As a desert country and not a tropical one, the risk profile we must greatly prepare for are those related to sand and heat rather than rain and storms.

In one sense, calls for more preparedness can be exaggerated. Bad weather cannot be controlled, and many countries around the world suffer far more from weather-related damage – even those nations whose weather systems are far more prone to extreme conditions.

Proper infrastructure, public awareness and better responsiveness are key to minimising damage. The public has an important part to play, in terms of how to act during bad weather conditions. Advice to drivers and home owners have been issued. Police patrols have been sent out to ensure that deep puddles, especially in the fast lanes, are drained.

While it is fair to say that any mechanisms to cope with unusual weather are always a work in progress, the recent wind and rain show the country has stood up relatively well to the storms.