x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Pride of place can keep a city clean

While important tools for health policy and safety, inspection campaigns alone can not instil pride of place in a city like Abu Dhabi.

When it comes to investigating health violations in Abu Dhabi, Obaid Al Zaabi takes his job seriously. On one recent morning the municipal official was armed with a broom and a checklist as he pried apart ceiling tiles in search of violations – from fetid rubbish to illegal housing.

And as The National reported yesterday, diligence by inspectors like Mr Zaabi has unearthed a flood of offenses, nearly 24,000 in 2011, compared to well below 10,000 a year earlier.

Cleaning the city by enforcing rules and regulations is welcome, and needed. Inspection campaigns, if routinely done, can curb scores of hazardous trends, from polluting car repair shops in Musaffah to unsanitary grooming services on the island.

But there is more to creating a liveable city than policing for dirty walls and dusty light switches. Residents need to care for their surroundings – be they the entrance to their shop or the park where their children play. The prevalence of health violations suggests hard work remains.

Pride of place cannot be fostered through official campaigns alone. Shop owners must recognise the necessity for healthy practices, but residents must also embrace the concept of community responsibility. Instilling a sense of ownership, and of belonging, are concepts that are more important than any enforcement campaign. Rules on overflowing rubbish bins are obviously needed in a society built on laws. But in theory, laws become obsolete when residents share in the burden of responsibility.

Clearly this is easier said than done. If employers take workers for granted, workers can not be expected to nurture a sense of ownership for their place of employment. Moreover, it’s tough to expect a renter or homeowner to sweep the walk if the pavement is rutted with holes. Responsibility must be shared, from the shop keeper to the official from local authorities.

For now, inspections remain the best option to stamp out unhealthy practices. Over time, however, residents and citizens alike will have to take matters into their own hands.

A clean city does not have to be a sterile city. But it does have to be a place people are proud to live in.