x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

UAE’s rapid development captured on latest satellite pictures

The Arab Region: Atlas of Our Changing Environment examines the changes that have taken place at more than 80 locations using a combination of historical photographs as well as the latest satellite images.

Dubai in June 2009. The pace of environmental change in the Arab region seems more rapid than the rest of the world due to the extensive economic and social changes in the region, according to the UNEP Atlas for the Arab Region. Pictures courtesy Unep
Dubai in June 2009. The pace of environmental change in the Arab region seems more rapid than the rest of the world due to the extensive economic and social changes in the region, according to the UNEP Atlas for the Arab Region. Pictures courtesy Unep

ABU DHABI // The pace of economic and social development has led to rapid environmental changes across the country, research by the United Nations reveals.

The changes are more prominent in the Arabian Gulf than anywhere else in the world and are documented in the UN Environment Programme’s (Unep) atlas for the region.

Unep has been working with the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative, supported by the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, to release The Arab Region: Atlas of Our Changing Environment, which examines the changes at more than 80 locations using historical photographs and satellite images.

These clearly demonstrate the pace of development and wide-ranging change in land use, urban growth, degradation of marine and coastal areas, altered hydrology and shrinking water bodies, loss of habitats and the impact of climate change. The UAE is a prime example of such changes.

Briton Margaret Holmes, who has lived in Dubai for 18 years, has seen at first hand how the city and the UAE has been transformed.

“Dubai felt very small when we first came but it’s become a sprawling metropolis now as well as a place people look to for its forward thinking and rapid development,” she said.

“There were very few places to go back then and we really did feel we were living in the desert, whereas now, with the growth of spaces from parks to malls, it is a very different geographic landscape as well as socially and economically. Often it can feel like you’re in any urban city, not the desert.”

Christopher Dickens, also from the UK, has worked in the oil industry in Abu Dhabi for 15 years. He said changes in the capital had been rapid, most notably over the past eight to 10 years.

“When I first came, everyone in the community pretty much knew each other, or at least was connected in some way or another. Now, driving from one residential area to another can take you 30 minutes with all the developments to the city both on and off the island. It is a very different place, more modern, more urban, more cosmopolitan.”

The atlas images highlight the distinctive circumstances and challenges faced in the region, including limited fresh water, rapid urbanisation, depletion of natural resources and the vulnerability of many towns and cities to environmental risks and natural disasters.

It also illustrates how humans have positively or negatively altered their surroundings and continue to make observable and measurable changes to the region and its environment.

Although the challenges depicted are striking, the atlas examines the opportunities that these present, as well as some of the innovative responses that are being implemented.

The atlas also shines a light on the environmental issues faced by each country and tracks the progress each is making towards achieving the goal of ensuring sustainability as part of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

Aimed at environmental policymakers, non-governmental organisations, the private sector, academics, teachers and the public, the atlas will bring local-level changes to the attention of global audiences and support improved decision-making and policy formulation for a more sustainable future.

It is the latest addition to a series of atlases coordinated by Unep that began in 2005 with the launch of a global atlas, One Planet, Many People. This new atlas aims to contribute to a better understanding of the dynamics of environmental change in the Arab region.

mswan@thenational.ae