x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Visit shines spotlight on needs

A tourism strategy promises to bring jobs and business opportunities with the hope of stemming migration from the region.


ABU DHABI // For many residents of Al Gharbia, the visit of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, presents a unique opportunity to personally convey both their appreciation and concerns. The region is undergoing a dramatic overhaul of services and infrastructure, with a greater focus on access to health care, education and government services. "This happens every year and he generally comes for two days and gives people the opportunity to speak to him and tell him about the problems they are facing and what they need," said Mohammed al Mazrouei, from Madinat Zayed, who is among those hoping to meet the President today.

"[Visits like this] are so important because he comes here to speak with people and see what he can do to look after the people. He speaks to young and old people." Mohammed al Qubaisi, from Liwa, said the visit gave people an opportunity to meet the President and focused attention on the region. "It is so important ... because most of the resources come from here, like oil," he said. "Everyone is very happy and wants to meet him."

Mariam al Hammadi, 26, from Mirfa, said she hoped the President would be able to visit her coastal town. "It is such a great idea for him to visit the area, but I would also like him to come here," she said. "If I met him, I would welcome him to Mirfa and let him know that we need jobs here, good hospitals and other [recreational] facilities." Al Gharbia accounts for more than 80 per cent of Abu Dhabi emirate, but has only eight per cent of the population. In recent years, with limited job opportunities in the vast and isolated area, young people have migrated elsewhere in Abu Dhabi, or to other emirates.

At the forefront of people's minds is the need for more jobs, as well as houses, schools and hospitals, say many residents. Mr Mazrouei said the limited number of hospitals in the region was one of the main problems. According to the Policy Agenda 2007-2008 for the emirate of Abu Dhabi, about Dh230 million (US$62.6m) must be spent on bringing health services in the region up to date with modern demands.

Infrastructure, including the state of the main motorway linking Abu Dhabi to Sila, is another concern. The road is scarred with potholes and there are long stretches without street lights. "This is a major problem because this is the main gateway to the UAE from the rest of the Arab world," he said. Residents in Al Gharbia complain of living in isolation, disconnected from the rest of the country and often without access to basic services.

However, the situation is changing, with millions of dirhams being invested to entice people back to the area. The Government is also devising initiatives to stem the flow of migration from the vast region. An ambitious tourism strategy will bring much needed jobs and other business opportunities. Phase One of the Desert Islands tourism development, including hotels and a nature reserve, is near completion and due to open to the public in October. A key development, the Qasar Al Sarab resort in the Liwa desert, is also under construction.

The Western Region Development Council and the Khalifa Fund are also encouraging more small- and medium-size businesses in the region and have made vast sums available to support the initiative. "The support of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE President and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, has been instrumental in helping us to shape the future of Al Gharbia to ensure it becomes a better place to live, work and visit," said Mohammed Hamad bin Azzan al Mazrouei, the director general of the Western Region Development Council.

"His determination and dedication helps us all to work towards his vision for the region and provide Al Gharbia's people with a higher quality of life through greater employment opportunities, better infrastructure and more investment." @Email:zconstantine@thenational.ae