Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 13 December 2019

Dubai festival organisers dismiss lantern safety concerns

Hundreds expressed anger over the desert event, which plans to release thousands of Chinese lanterns

A controversial music festival planning sky lanterns as its grand finale has been criticised for ignoring the potential disruption to wildlife and desert environment.

Hundreds expressed frustration on social media following the announcement of the RiSE Festival planned for November 8 in the Dubai desert.

The festival and lantern launch is near to the Al Qudra lakes nature reserve, with critics claiming the floating paper torches will pose a fire risk, litter desert areas and spook birds and animals.

Chinese Lanterns have been banned in Dubai since 2010 following concerns for the safety of aircraft raised by the Federal Civil Aviation Authority.

Emily Marsh, 46, is incensed the festival is being allowed to go ahead.

“It’s all just so unnecessary,” she said. “I have no issue with music festivals but there are plenty of more suitable places to hold them.

“I hope that the organisers of the event will seriously reconsider moving venues.”

The Ministry of Climate Change and the Environment said Dubai Municipality was responsible for allowing the event to proceed.

Rise festival is held near Las Vegas in the Mojave Desert every October. Rise
Rise festival is held near Las Vegas in the Mojave Desert every October. Rise

Event organisers insist the bamboo and paper lanterns are fully biodegradable, and their flight and subsequent clean-up will be tightly controlled.

Dan Hill, CEO of RiSE Festival, said organisers have working closely with government and other authorities to conduct a full assessment of the festival sites.

“We understand that there are concerns from some people around the event and its impact on the environment,” he said.

“RiSE is absolutely committed to the health of our planet, and the preservation of the ecology surrounding our festival locations.

“We will never host an event in a space where we can have a negative impact on these things.”

Mr Hill said the lanterns were 100 per cent biodegradable, contained no plastic or metal and had a low burn time of seven minutes, ensuring a maximum flight distance of 2.4km.

“We have operated under strict regulations in the USA for the past five years,” he said.

“Our ‘Leave it better than we found it’ policy is evidence of our commitment to ensuring our venue and the surrounding areas are cleaner than they were before we arrived.”

More than 8,000 people have already pre-registered for tickets, despite no information on who will be performing.

Critics are concerned lit lanterns could disrupt wildlife at Al Qudra lakes, a short distance from the planned launch site in the vicinity of the Last Exit services.

Dubai Municipality has warned anyone releasing loose lanterns without prior consent could be charged under public health and safety laws.

“I used to live in Hong Kong so lantern festivals were fairly common and the environmental impact was broad ranging,” said Sam Westland, a British vet at the Amity Veterinary clinic on Hessa Street.

“I’ve looked at the publicly available data on these kind of lanterns, and as long as they are made of materials like paper and bamboo, and the wind is in the right direction, the impact on wildlife should be minimal.”

A 2013 report by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs into the safety of Chinese lanterns found little evidence of reported cases of animals affected through panic or ingestion of leftover parts.

A risk to aircraft was identified in the report, with the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) providing evidence of 40 incidents said to involve sky lanterns between 2001 and 2012.

The Rise Festival is held in the Mojave Desert outside Las Vegas every October. Courtesy Rise
The Rise Festival is held in the Mojave Desert outside Las Vegas every October. Courtesy Rise

The main potential risk was found to be ingestion by engines in mid-air, or debris disrupting taxiing aircraft at nearby runways.

Although consumer risk was said to be minimal, the report did raise concerns over coastal rescue services, as lanterns could be mistaken for distress flares if floating out to sea.

“The fears are a little bit overblown on this,” said Mr Westland.

“Birds may get scared and leave a nest, but wildlife is programmed to deal with unusual events like how to spot predators and escape, so this is no different.”

Dubai Municipality did not respond to requests for comment.

Updated: July 18, 2019 02:56 PM