x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Dh7bn effort to end 'north-south divide'

Government cash injection aims to improve roads, schools, hospitals and public services for those who live outside the major cities

ABU DHABI // Infrastructure projects in the Northern Emirates costing Dh7 billion (US$1.9bn) will help to close what has been described as an emerging "north-south" divide, the director general of the Ministry of Public Works has said.

The ministry has 41 major projects on its books in Sharjah, Ajman, Ras al Khaimah, Fujairah and Umm al Qaiwain. They include highways, schools, hospitals and community buildings such as cultural centres. "The aim is to cut the gap between the major cities in the UAE and the cities and areas that are more rural," said Dr Abdullah al Nuaimi. The Government is trying to narrow what has been described by some as a "north-south divide" as Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah develop at a quicker pace.

One way to do that is by improving and expanding the road network, Dr al Nuaimi said. Current projects include a Dh1.4bn motorway between Fujairah and Dubai, which is about 80 per cent complete, and a Dibba-to-Masafi road in Fujairah with an estimated cost of between Dh600m and Dh800m. Improvements to roads in Sharjah around the National Paints roundabout, notorious for its gridlocked traffic, will be welcomed by commuters.

Road widening work, and new intersections and bridges worth Dh800m will begin in April and be completed in 2012. Companies are bidding for contracts on the final stage of a Dubai-to-RAK bypass, of which the Umm al Qaiwain to Sharjah section is already complete. "Roads make the United Arab Emirates closer to each other and then you can make development faster," said Dr al Nuaimi. "It will also encourage economic growth."

On top of the Dh1.2bn annual budget the ministry has for the Northern Emirates, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, the President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, has allocated Dh16bn to be spent on area infrastructure over the next 15 years. Essential services such as hospitals and schools must also be upgraded to keep pace with economic development, Dr al Nuaimi said. "Unless there is a solution, northern Emiratis will be doomed to a poorer quality public education and standard of living, while their compatriots in the south go to well-equipped and staffed schools," Sultan al Qassemi, a non-resident fellow at the Dubai School of Government, wrote in a recent column in The National.

The Government is spending Dh1bn on the new Sheikh Khalifa Specialist Hospital in RAK. The 450-bed facility will specialise in cancer and heart treatment and is expected to be finished by the beginning of next year. Umm al Qaiwain's new general hospital is also under construction and due to be completed in October. Construction on a 300-bed extension for Al Qassimi Hospital in Sharjah will start next month.

Dr al Nuaimi described the construction of cultural centres in the area as "essential." One has been completed in Umm al Qaiwain and another was contracted for Ajman last week. "They have libraries, a place where people can meet for functions, read, research and a theatre for cultural events," he said. "They are very important for the community." @Email:lmorris@thenational.ae