“…elites had better clean up their act or they’ll find themselves wallowing in an empty city…”
According to some reports, Dubai is fast becoming the new Switzerland for the world’s elite, following pressure from the EU for the European money haven to loosen its secrecy laws. There are no taxes in Dubai and free movement of funds have prompted many of the world’s wealthy to seek monetary refuge in the emirate. Built on petroleum and oil revenue, the most populated of the United Arab Emirates relies now on its real estate and financial services revenue to propel its economy. During the last decade or so, Dubai has seen an explosion of money injected into the construction of elaborate skyscrapers, hotels and even private islands. The Emir of Dubai even went as far as saying in a BBC interview that he does not want a middle class in the emirate, only monied elites. Human rights activists have pointed out that the Dubai boom has largely been built on the backs of a mostly foreign, exploited workforce.
Dubai has become one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions due to the travelogue promises of constant sunshine and glorious beaches. But the elites had better clean up their act or they’ll find themselves wallowing in an empty city. For a recent article appearing in The Australian (and then picked up elsewhere on the web) brought attention to the pollution problem from which Dubai now suffers. One of the most frequented destinations by Western tourists – Jumeirah Beach – is now home to a “noxious tide of toilet paper, raw sewage and chemical waste”. Jumeirah is lined with exclusive hotels, yet the ocean water has been described as a “muddy brown”, emitting an “unbearable stench”. Keith Mutch, manager of the Offshore Sailing Club, indicated that tests conducted by the Club showed excessive levels of E. coli in the water and he has subsequently been forced to cancel regattas.
The problem illustrates the lack of proper planning amid the capitalist ideal of grand and grander. Much effort has been poured into the concrete of Dubai’s lavish constructions with little concern for the infrastructure of the city and the living conditions of the foreign workforce. The source of the contamination was traced by Mutch to a storm drain discarding waste into the sea, which in turn lead to the al-Quoz industrial area housing, among other things, cement and paint factories. The drains were originally constructed to transport excess water during Dubai’s rainy season, but were now also being used as a dumping spot for the city’s sewage. For the mostly poor Asian truck drivers, paid by the truckload, a dumping of the city’s human waste in the storm drains was more lucrative than a long drive into the desert to the only sewage plant in the area, accompanied by long queues upon arrival.
The pollution problem in the waters off Jumeirah Beach is such that there is a lack of confidence by many that anything will be done to reverse it. This is one aspect of Dubai that could spell its doom, for all the beautiful buildings in the world will never be enough to overcome the bad taste left in tourists’ mouths after a leisurely dip in the ocean. The continued exploitation of the poor has perhaps finally come back to bite the perpetrators on the backside with a nice dose of gastroenteritis.
by Max Drake
(Freelance writer and artist for GritFX.)