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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Heavy rain and hailstorms have got everyone talking

When extreme weather brings communities to a standstill, we can only hope the storm passes as quickly as it arrives

Dubai clouds over as stormy weather approaches / Courtesy Tara Atkinson
Dubai clouds over as stormy weather approaches / Courtesy Tara Atkinson

Recent weather changes have been the talk of town. Last weekend, hailstorms and torrential downpours lashed the coastline over three days, while social media was equally flooded with images of snow-like hailstones settling in parts of Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Fujairah. The website arabiaweather.com put it mildly when it stated that the chances of having a barbecue or sitting outdoors were “poor”.

There is, of course, a serious side to the unexpected weather. More than 600 people affected by the heavy rainfall in Al Ain and Fujairah had to be evacuated from their homes and given emergency accommodation. Similar storms in Oman led to another 120 being left homeless while flash floods claimed three lives. Houses, roads and wadis in the northern emirates were flooded, putting drivers’ lives at risk as the coast was whipped by winds with speeds of up to 55 kilometres an hour and waves swelled to about 6ft. While rare, this is not the first time heavy rains have left emergency services scrambling to cope with floodwater. The great storm of March 2016 brought Sheikh Zayed Road to a standstill for four hours when the motorway flooded after a failure in the irrigation system. More than 3,000 calls lit up Dubai police’s switchboard that time, among them reports of nearly 500 accidents, and residents in private communities like Green Community West and Discovery Gardens in Dubai were still facing challenges a week after the worst of the weather had hit. Then there were the storms of April 2013, when rainfall was blamed for nearly 700 road accidents. They might not happen often but when they do, storms can cause chaos in this region with potentially serious consequences.

There is a question mark over how much authorities can prepare for the worst eventuality. In the past, they have lowered water levels in pump stations but it has not always been enough to absorb all storm water. Do they spend money on equipping existing roads and neighbourhoods with better drainage for the few days a year when it rains? Certainly new structures should be built factoring in the ability to weather the worst of the UAE’s winds and rains. Private developers also have a responsibility to keep infrastructure maintained and not to leave residents languishing in potentially hazardous conditions if the worst does happen. Beyond that, it is difficult to see how much authorities can do beyond laying on extra staff and hoping the storm passes as quickly as it arrives.