x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Don't get carried away by the rains

There is no sense in disrupting existing infrastructure to make provisions for an event that makes life difficult for a couple weeks a year.

The grass is always greener or, in this case, the sky is always greyer. "In the UAE, people miss the rain. They look forward to it like Europeans look forward to the sun," Omar al Nami, a government employee who chases storms as a hobby, told The National this week. Mr al Nami is in good company. Had Ben Franklin not flown his kite during an electrical storm, spurring the invention of the lightning rod, the world might have been different. Children: don't try this at home.
Mr al Nami lets the rains direct his plans. The Government may not want to. As sure as thunder follows lightning, there are public calls after every storm to revamp the UAE's infrastructure to better cope with flooding. Another useful maxim, however: don't throw the baby out with the rain water. While the storms may seem particularly heavy this year, policy should take a long view. The National Centre for Meteorology and Seismology puts the rainfall in perspective, describing a normal climate cycle with heavy rains every few years. In response to a deluge every decade, or even two weeks of rain every other year, it simply does not make sense to dig up the streets and cause additional delays and traffic problems for the rest of the year. And, as can be seen in the capital, drainage networks simply accumulate sand 97 per cent of the year.
Still, there are some short-term solutions that can be implemented at relatively little cost. In particular, stepped-up road safety enforcement could help tame the adverse effects of flooding. And, on a personal level, Mr al Nami's advice is sound: slow down and enjoy the different weather. It will be dry again soon enough. How the UAE managed water a few generations ago should lend us some perspective on more prudent planning. Rains were scarce. Resources were husbanded accordingly. Someone who managed resources skilfully wasn't just a candidate for a big bonus; it was a matter of life and death.
Water, and many other resources, are much more plentiful today. Still, urban planning and infrastructure projects should be considered in the context of their costs and benefits. We can't wait for a rainy day to remember this lesson.