Don’t you hate being on the beach, and the wind starts to blow, picking up the sand and causing it to hit you painfully? Imagine that feeling, not just confined to a small beach but covering an entire country, blocking out city skylines, grounding airlines, and decimating an economy. It is the potential that sandstorms may cause in Dubai.
The dust storm phenomenon is increasing in intensity and frequency, and the region faces an average of 272 “dust days” per year, with 300 days of dust annually predicted by 2050. Sandstorms in Dubai are growing in frequency which is cause for much concern.
In the past, while dust storms were regular occurrences at certain times of the year, they were not frequent. However, sandstorms are becoming more frequent and, worryingly, are becoming much bigger and causing more damage and illness.
The Cost Of Sandstorms In Dubai
On the face of it, a sandstorm doesn’t sound like a major event that could seriously impact the viability of a country. However, the reality is that sandstorms are potentially catastrophic occurrences.
And although it is difficult to quantify the economic cost of sandstorms on the Dubai economy, the following summarizes a few of the economic impacts.
The Danger Which Sandstorms Pose On The Economy
- While major sandstorms rage, the economy grinds to a halt because it is almost impossible to move.
- The tourist industry, which accounts for 20% of the country’s gross domestic product, will be critically impacted if the projected number of severe sandstorms becomes the norm.
- Severe sandstorms also close down air traffic movements, preventing aircraft from taking off and landing at the airport.
- If the situation became too bad (from an economic point of view), some large multinational companies would be forced to reconsider their operations in Dubai.
Health Concerns For Dubai’s Population
During the recent severe sandstorms in Dubai, there was a documented increase in the number of respiratory medical emergencies.
Sand particles can be inhaled and get trapped in the victim’s upper airway, which causes the mucus membrane to become irritated. If the smaller sand particles are inhaled, they can cause pulmonary inflammation and lung damage.
The most common medical issues that occur after dust storm exposure include.
- Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat
- Coughing and wheezing
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
People with allergies or those who have been diagnosed as asthma sufferers are most at risk.
Severe sandstorms also impact the health of people with weakened immune systems, the elderly, pregnant women, and young children with immature immune systems by exposing them to infections caused by viruses or bacteria in the dust.
The health risk of sandstorms to the Dubai economy is threefold:
- They place a burden on medical resources.
- There is also a significant economic impact on the sufferers’ ability to work.
- Workers are encouraged to stay home during a major dust storm, which burdens the Dubai economy greatly.
The Clean-Up Costs Of The Sandstorms In Dubai
There are massive costs incurred in cleaning up after each sandstorm in Dubai. These costs include:
- The cost of physically removing the large sand eddies obstructing the roads.
- Cleaning down buildings such as the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa.
- The increased maintenance of delicate jet airframes at the airports.
- The cost of fixing machinery that was damaged by sand particles that found their way into it.
What Is Causing The Increase In The Number Of Dust Storms
As the weather deteriorates globally, communities have had to study the reasons, and nations have had to research the causes and look for ways to lessen the problem.
Unfortunately, Dubai cannot control or reduce sandstorms because they are generally caused by events in other parts of the region.
Research has shown the following to be factors that have been responsible for the increasing number of sandstorms:
- When considering the causes of sandstorms, it is important to remember that while the UAE is an independent country, it shares borders with other regions.
- Unfortunately, mother nature is no respecter of manmade boundaries, and situations in other countries in the region have a direct impact on the United Arab Emirates.
The effects of global warming have far-reaching implications for Dubai. The melting of the ice caps reduces the temperature differential between the Arctic and the mid-latitudes.
Because the differences have narrowed, the air currents (which move from high pressure to low pressure) have slowed down.
Storms (caused by convection) would previously have occurred over a few hours and then continued moving.
These storms now take place over a few days, so the associated winds uplift considerably more sand than they would have in the past. A large amount of that sand is destined for Dubai.
Inadequate Land Management
In countries like Iraq and Iran, stewarding and water management resources have largely been ignored. As a result, deserts have continued to expand, and erosion has been magnified.
Natural features such as oases are not being protected, thereby reducing the overall surface water. Oases have a naturally suppressing effect on sandstorms but when they dry up, it creates more loose sand available to be caught up in a dust storm. This is the situation with the severe sandstorms being blown over to Dubai.
This pattern increases the amount of dry topsoil, causing more dust particles to be gathered by the very powerful winds blowing over the Middle East as a whole. The result is an ever-increasing amount of sandstorms landing in the UAE, and particularly in Dubai.
The UAE region borders Oman and Saudi Arabia. As of 1972, the UAE consists of 7 emirates, including Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, and Dubai.
This region has suffered from constant turmoil, with conflicts occurring almost continuously. These conflicts have had a large and damaging impact on the environment, governance, and society.
It has meant that instead of neighboring countries focusing their resources on reducing the sandstorms’ potential impact as a regional team, they have instead used their national resources to fight the conflicts amongst themselves.
How Is The Region Addressing The Problem Of Sandstorms?
Several projects are underway, aiming to reduce sandstorms’ long-term frequency and impact.
Long Term Forecasting Systems
UAE’s Masdar Institute has launched a dust forecasting system that enables Dubai to warn the population and better prepare the physical infrastructure to withstand the dust storm.
Increase The Water Stores In The Region
Increasing the volume of water reduces the dry topsoil with the hope that it reduces the dust in the air during a storm.
Iraq has committed to rehabilitating ten oases in the Western Desert; however, the work on the oases seems to have halted.
Saudi Arabia Is Planting Trees
Saudi Arabia, home to the region’s largest desert, has committed to planting 10 BILLION trees in the country.
Saudi Arabia has also committed to planting a further 40 BILLION trees in the broader region to reduce these bare areas that are exposed to high winds.
Technological and Architectural Advancements
The Absorbent Sandstorm Skyscraper pictured above aims to solve the problem of sandstorms in Dubai by using creativity and technology to make the air cleaner.
Led by a focus on sustainability, it is said that a planned row of curved glass buildings will be situated along the main road in Dubai. These buildings will catch the dust particles in the air and make them harmless.
This not only makes the weather better but also helps save energy. The project will also be a place for scientists to study sandstorms and find better ways to deal with them in the future.
Better Healthcare Responses to Medical Emergencies
Already a state-of-the-art medical facility, the Dubai Healthcare City complex is slated for not just an upgrade, but a relocation, too. The complex is currently located in downtown mainland Dubai and close to all amenities.
Pictured above is Ring Island, and the concept design for the new Dubai Healthcare City. The core skyscraper split down the middle spans an area of 1 million m²!
The island layout includes theaters, specialist clinics, wellness centers, a library, museum, and medical university, residential units for staff, restaurants, and a hotel for visitors.
It’s Not Enough
If all countries in the region do not start making similar commitments to plant vegetation and source more groundwater, the size and frequency of sandstorms will continue to increase.
Sandstorms in Dubai are becoming a more frequent occurrence, and at the same time, they are also becoming more severe. The consequences of wars and global warming have had a very real impact on the sandstorms in the region, directly affecting Dubai. Unfortunately, the United Arab Emirates has very little influence over these.
However, neighboring countries can contribute to regional rehabilitation by reversing the growth of the deserts and sourcing more groundwater. This will directly influence the size and severity of the dust storms in Dubai in the future.