x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Just how well is the UAE really doing?

Should the UAE's success in global surveys of livability and progress be taken seriously?

The authorities in the UAE are meeting the needs and wants of those who live and work here. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
The authorities in the UAE are meeting the needs and wants of those who live and work here. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

How much attention ought to be paid to the fact that Forbes magazine identified Dubai as the world’s seventh most influential city? Or that The Economist Intelligence Unit named Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the top three most liveable cities in the region? Or that a hotel booking website named Dubai as the foreign city that Indians most want to visit?

On one level, these results serve as recognition that the UAE is on the right track. But another view is that they should be considered only briefly, if not ignored entirely, and the focus ought to remain on providing what those who live in the UAE want and need rather than seeking to get high scores on league tables that attempt to quantify intangibles such as influence, aspiration and livability.

When keeping these results in perspective, it helps to understand that they are, at best, blunt instruments. For the influence survey, for example, Dubai’s score was flattered by the fact that Emirates Airline flies non-stop to 93 per cent of “global cities” outside of its home region – the highest of any city in the survey. Dubai’s position on the table was also aided by housing corporate headquarters that have been driven out of other regional cities by the instability of the Arab Spring.

The livability survey assessed more than 30 factors such as safety and infrastructure but didn’t include cost of living. It has also been criticised for being Anglocentric, because cities where the residents have English as their first language were often deemed more liveable. Melbourne in Australia topped this list but did not even make the top 10 in a rival list compiled by Mercer, a global human resources company.

We ought to embrace the promotional benefits of these league tables without using them to measure progress. What should – and does – count for more is that the authorities in the UAE are meeting the needs and wants of those who live and work here. All of us informally keep score of that every day. Whether it is Emiratis feeling proud of the country’s achievements or the way in which expatriate workers flock here, it seems that the UAE is doing pretty well.