Affluent Dubai's Beaches Marred by Smelly Effluent Mars

by Hannah Punitha on Nov 3 2008 6:37 PM

Dubai's beautiful beaches have been making headlines because of a couple who allegedly had sex by the sea, but a more pervasive nuisance from washed up sewage threatens to deter tourists.

For several weeks some of the emirate's fabled beaches have been covered with the stinking contents of septic tanks as Dubai suffers the consequences of its frantic and poorly controlled development.

The foul effluent, which threatens to damage Dubai's image, highlights one of the paradoxes of the emirates it can build the world's tallest tower and six-star hotels but has not constructed the sewage works it needs.

Dubai officially had 1.3 million inhabitants at the end of 2006 but its population is ballooning.

New apartment blocks and neighbourhoods are rising everywhere at a record pace, but infrastructure is dragging behind.

For example, the city still has no main drainage system, hence the need for tankers to collect the contents of septic tanks and transport the waste to the emirate's only sewage treatment works at Al-Awir, out in open desert.

A second plant is under construction but will not be in use untilnext year.

For the moment, the existing site is operating at full capacity and the queue of tankers awaiting their turn to unload snakes out of site amid a miasma of nauseating fumes.

"The wait can be more than 10 hours. It is hard to bear, especially when it is hot," Ijaz Mohammed, a tanker driver from Pakistan, told AFP.

Drivers are paid by the journey and in September some of them got fed up with the long queues and started offloading into the ditches intended as run-offs for the rare showers of rain.

The dumped effluent first runs into the sea, then drifts onto beaches, in particular those of the fashionable Jumeirah district, home to some of Dubai's swankiest hotels.

"This pollution is accidental and results from the practices of certain drivers," Mohammed Abdelrahmane Hasan, held of the city council's environmental services department, told AFP.

Punishment is heavy for illegal offloading of waste, with the employer of any driver caught in the act being liable for a fine of up to 100,000 dirhams (27,200 dollars). The vehicle can also be impounded.

The local authority has decided to encourage informers after 55 drivers in one week were spotted while dumping their loads.

It has set up a public freephone number with the incentive of a 2,000 dirham (about 545 dollars) reward if the offence is confirmed.

However, the illegal unloading goes on, and not just into watercourses leading to the sea.

A British man driving a 4X4 vehicle in sand near the port of Jebel Ali, west of Dubai, was surprised to come across a lake of excrement, local newspapers reported.

Doctors have warned of a heightened risk of catching diseases such as typhoid or hepatitis but adults and children continue to bathe in the sea.

The situation is starting to worry some tourists, such as "Anna", a young Russian encountered outside a grand hotel.

"Yes, I've heard about that and it worries me. I am going to spend more time shopping, at the pool and sunbathing," she told AFP.

Tourism is the motor of the local economy and the problem could have serious consequences if it starts to affect Dubai's image as a clean city, something it prides itself on.

This is why the city council tries to be reassuring.

"Pollution is only affecting an area of beach and all tests prove that bathing is risk free," insists Hasan, the environment chief.