x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

RAK plans for rapid growth in rural areas

Blueprint for emirate's south incorporates a vastly improved quality of life by 2025 and an expected population boom.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // Municipal and federal governments are preparing for a rural population boom with strategies to narrow the gap in living conditions between urban and remote areas.

The Regional and Urban Development Plan for Southern Ras Al Khaimah 2025 will probably be announced next month. It will assess economic and social needs of 26 communities.

The project by Atkins, the UK's largest engineering and design consultancy company, began in June last year.

It was delayed after the federal announcement of Dh5.7 billion for infrastructure in the Northern Emirates and hundreds of housing projects for nationals. The project was amended to take these and expected future investments into account.

"It gives us a new idea of what we have to expect from the government," said Azza Al Ahmed, a planning engineer for the municipality. "We need to be ready … we have to have space for these houses. We're reviewing the final draft of the project."

About 40 per cent of the RAK population live in rural areas, according to the most recent figures.

Residents of southern areas often live in overcrowded, ill-kept houses. They have large families and limited job opportunities. Southern residents often say they have been forgotten by officials.

Housing, waste disposal and water treatment are priorities in the new plan.

When the federal government announced 667 new houses last spring, the RAK Government had to quickly find a place for them.

"We faced limited areas for housing," said Ms Al Ahmed. "In some of the areas the topography is not helping at all and the population is growing, not only from locals but also from the expats. We are trying to connect them all."

The Federal Electricity and Water Authority (Fewa) is working in partnership with the municipality to ensure the power shortages of the north do not happen in the south.

The Department of Roads opened the first 14 kilometres of the 35km Dibba-Masafi road from Dibba to Al Gowna two weeks ago.

The 7km road from Khor Fakkan to the seaport began construction three months ago, and building on the 6km road from Mleiha to the Oman border began this month. "For cities, the most important things are roads and houses. People have to live and they have to move," said Hessa Al Malek, the director of roads department for the Ministry of Public Works.

"This is even before schools, education and health can be developed."

The RAK Government is building roads in the south and widening existing ones.

The new 40km Dubai-Fujairah highway has already improved the quality of life in once-remote villages, due to safer road regulations and better access to health care and jobs.

Lorries are not allowed on the new highway, which has lights and gates to stop stray livestock.

"There are so many accidents that happened before on our old roads," said Raya Saeed, 16, a grade 12 student.

"It's very dangerous, there are so many trucks. Because of this people say they don't want to go to Fujairah to do courses."

Most people in southern villages have someone close who has died on the potholed roads dominated by industrial traffic and heavy lorries.

Raya's friend Amna Al Mazrooei, 16, has brothers who have been in serious crashes on these roads twice in the past year.

Raya, who wants to become a laboratory technician, believes new roads will also improve employment opportunities for women, most of whom return to the villages after completing university education and stay at home or teach.

Men usually work for the army or police and commute to cities each week.

Investment confidence is expected to increase now the RAK Government has finished its Dh500,000 economic census of the emirate.

"Up to now we've been relying on our licensing system and it's not precise," said Dr Djamel Bellout, the head of the planning and studies administration for the Department of Economic Development.

"With the census you have the real image of what is still on the ground.

"Some businesses are closed and they were still on the system.

"Information is in the essence of development.

"You cannot do development without information."

azacharias@thenational.ae