Absence of storm water drainage worsens Dubai’s flooding woes

Published April 20, 2024
A car drives in a flooded road in Dubai on April 19, 2024. Three workers from the Philippines have died in heavy flooding in the United Arab Emirates, Filipino officials announced, as the desert country struggled April 19 to recover from record rains.—AFP
A car drives in a flooded road in Dubai on April 19, 2024. Three workers from the Philippines have died in heavy flooding in the United Arab Emirates, Filipino officials announced, as the desert country struggled April 19 to recover from record rains.—AFP

DUBAI: When record downpours sent water flooding into his Dubai home, Riaz Haq expected the levels to drop once it stopped raining. But instead of falling, the water kept rising higher.

“We went to bed, the water was half-a-metre,” the British lawyer said, recalling Tuesday’s tempest that flooded homes, malls, offices and roads.

“We woke up and it was one metre. My cars were submerged, water to our waist. Everything is ruined.” Haq, his wife and their dog spent more than two days trapped on the upper floor of their two-storey home before they were finally rescued by a neighbour’s boat on Thursday.

The couple, who were only able to salvage some bread and snacks, did not eat for most of that time, surviving on a few bottles of water.

“Fridge, freezer, even my car was floating. Ever­ything was floating,” he said.

“I had a brand new car. It’s all ruined. It’s a natural disaster situation. No one was prepared for this level of carnage,” he added.

During their ordeal Haq, his wife and their neighbours — about 18 families in a suburban residential community — were too scared to wade out through the waist-high, smelly water, fearing electrocution.

`Water is locked in’

The failure of water to drain away has proved a major obstacle to recovery efforts in the desert country, with persistent flooding blocking roads around Dubai days later.

Impassable roads have affected basic services, with supermarkets unable to restock and many employees struggling to reach their workplaces.

Dubai’s airport, the world’s busiest for international passengers, has suffered badly from staff shortages. Karim Elgendy, associate director at the Buro Happold engineering consultancy, said drainage for storm water had not been widely included in planning for the city.

“Someone must have vetoed this because of the fact that it hardly rains.

This conversation, I think, when it happened, was short,” he said.

“Water is locked in. If you have a hard surface like the road or the airport, where will it go? The ground is too hard (to absorb water),” Elgendy added.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2024

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