x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Abandoned shopkeepers wait for the end, with no water or power

Their premises slated for demolition, a group of merchants in Abu Dhabi unable to rent elsewhere have been forced into an uncertain future.

Three men stand in a nearly empty room in a building scheduled to be demolished.
Three men stand in a nearly empty room in a building scheduled to be demolished.

ABU DHABI // For more than 24 years, Shaikh Amiruddin has run a laundry serving the neighbourhood around 23rd street. Now he has nothing to do but look forward to its demolition. Mr Amiruddin, 42, sits on a stool, facing away from the desolate shop's entrance. Drinking water from a one-litre bottle, he is waiting for the sun to set, the time at which his friends usually come by for a visit.

He has no work, or customers, because he has no water or electricity. Two blocks of shops and flats facing Khaleej al Arabi Street have been without those two necessities since July 5; all the shops have closed, and most of the residents living in the affected buildings have left their homes. It all started three months ago, when the owners of 32 small businesses received notice that the buildings they worked in were slated for demolition.

"No one challenged it," Mr Amiruddin said. "We kept receiving notices, but we never thought they would turn off the electricity and water while we were still here." Not long after notices went up in the area announcing that his building was going to be torn down, Mr Amiruddin's shop, New Mushrif Laundry, began losing customers, he said. And his is not the only one facing the wrecking ball. Abdur Rahman, a tailor whose shop is in the same complex that houses Mr Amiruddin's business, said: "If you look around this neighbourhood, we are the only shops here. But they know now they cannot rely on us, so they started leaving us."

Like most of the other shopkeepers in the area, Mr Rahman, 34, who has been a tailor at the Umaima Ladies Tailors for 13 years, is at a loose end. "I have no idea what to do," he said. "We may have to go home." While some of the larger shops, such as an electrical-repair store, restaurants and pharmacies, have relocated to other locations, smaller establishments, such as the tailor and cleaner, are unable to afford rents elsewhere in Abu Dhabi.

"People are helpless here," Mr Amiruddin said. "Not everyone can relocate. There has been no help. We are all here but are without any support. Some of our remaining customers come and see what the conditions are now, but what can they do?" The shopkeepers in the area pay between Dh20,000 and Dh80,000 a year. Mr Amiruddin says his rent is Dh23,000, and that he would be forced to pay at least twice that much if he set up his business in another location.

Amanullah Khan, 52, said he has lived in the UAE 34 years, 14 of those years with his family in one of the buildings that is scheduled to be destroyed. Earlier this month, faced with the demolition notices, he decided to send his family on holiday, back home to Pakistan. "Wherever we find place, we will have to move," he said. "But I cannot say the same for my family. I may have to force them to stay away from me. There is no way I can afford to find housing for my family," he said. "Maybe a shared accommodation for me, but in my last years here, I will have to live apart from them."

Mr Amiruddin estimates that he and his neighbours have a few more days left. "In a week's time, this will force us out," Mr Amiruddin said. "Then they will come and tear it all down after that." @Email:sbhattacharya@thenational.ae