x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Illegal Dubai desert camps torn down

Dubai municipality destroy more than 80 camps and promise to level many more today unless owners get their permits immediately

Workers from Dubai Municipality demolish the unregistered winter camps in the Al Mushrif area of Dubai yesterday. More will be torn down today unless owners get them registered immediately.
Workers from Dubai Municipality demolish the unregistered winter camps in the Al Mushrif area of Dubai yesterday. More will be torn down today unless owners get them registered immediately.

More than 80 unregistered camps set up in the Dubai desert for the winter were destroyed yesterday by municipality workers.

The work crews began pulling down the camps at about 7am, and carried on until the evening. Officials will be out again from dawn today to pull down more camps.

"There are about 490 camps out here and more are being built every day," said Eng Jaber Al Ali, head of the building inspection section.

The municipality announced new regulations for camps last month after complaints about noise and littering. Camps must now be registered with owners paying a fee of 22 fils per week for every square metre, up to a maximum of 300 square metres.

Officials say the new permits are necessary to keep the desert clean and peaceful.

"Many people came to register at the building department's Umm Ramool Centre after they initially saw us handing out warnings," said Mr Al Ali. "But they only make up a small fraction of the people out there building camps."

The department initially said it would give a two-week grace period for people to register before handing out fines. That period was extended until this week when inspectors posted warnings to the owners of more than 250 camps.

"We've given them more than enough time to comply. Today we are showing them that it was not all a bluff, and that we mean business."

He added some owners were still refusing to abide by the municipality's rules. "They are blatantly telling the inspectors that they will not register their camp."

The new regulations only apply to long-term camp sites set up for months at a time, often by Emirati families, and not to weekend campers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Winter camps are only allowed in Al Warqa, Al Mushrif, Wadi Al Amerdi, Wadi Al Shabak, and Al Khawaneej 2.

"Its not fair," said Mohammed Al Ghaithi. "I would understand if they had announced this new regulation before winter, but they waited until most people had set up their camps."

Mr Al Ghaithi had noticed lorries and workers tearing down desert camps on his way to work and stopped to ask Mr Al Ali to spare his. "I don't know how to measure my camp's area," claimed the dry-docks security liaison.

After talking with Mr Al Ali, he promised to register his camp. "I'm willing to show some leniency, if people register their camps right now, then that camp is safe from our bulldozers," said Mr Al Ali.

Over the past month, municipality officials have written a number on the entrance of every desert camp they came across.

The owner must use the number when registering. Once registration is complete, they are given a wooden plaque to be displayed outside.

"Yesterday we came and checked the area and marked all the camps to be demolished," said Ahmad Ibrahim, head of the rural inspections unit. He added crews had spared camps whose owners promised to register right away - but they would not get a second chance.

As Mr Ibrahim was coordinating the levelling of another camp, a frail elderly woman wrapped in prayer shawls struggled up the sand dune he was standing on. "I beg you, please don't tear down my tent, if you do you might as well bury me with it," pleaded Mariam Ali Mohammed Hassan.

"Everyone knows my camp, I've had the same spot for five years," said the Emirati grandmother.

Mrs Hassan had registered, but forgot to claim her wooden plaque. Mr Ibrahim assured her that her camp was safe, but insisted she collect her plaque immediately.

Up until yesterday less than 100 camps had been registered, but as news of the demolition spread, more than 100 people came to the municipality's Umm Ramool centre, although not all were happy.

"Why couldn't they wait until after the National Day holiday, they knew everyone would be using their camps this weekend," said Nasser Kajoor, an executive at Dubai World Central.

Mr Al Ali vowed to continue pulling down any unregistered camp. "Tomorrow I will have every staff member out here and there will be nothing spared, everything will be demolished and scrapped."

malkhan@thenational.ae