Dubai and Sewage

Dubai’s latest legend: the poop‐truck!

In 1972, Dubai was born as a small town. In 2009, it is a boom ing busi ness dis trict that any­one from the ded i cated busi ness man to the casual tourist will be able to iden tify on the map. With a pop u la tion of 2 mil lion, a lit tle less than half of it being Indi ans alone, the city has attracted a lot of money and atten tion from all around the world. It is an impor tant logis tics hub, which came to be after the Jebel Ali Free Zone Area (JAFZA) was set up. After its suc cess came other free zones — Media City, Inter net City, Inter na tional City etc., where small com pa­nies could set up their offices to cater to the whole of south Asia and the Mid dle East while sit­ting cozy in their chairs. The dis cov ery of oil made the nation of UAE filthy rich. The USA’s refu­elling sta tions are located here, deliv er ing the nation with unpar al leled diplo matic secu rity. Mas sive con struc tion projects are busy redefin ing the sky line: there is the world’s largest free‐standing hotel (Burj Al Arab), the world’s tallest man‐made struc ture (Burj Dubai), the world’s sec ond longest man‐made marina (Dubai Marina), the world’s largest arti fi cial port (Jebel Ali), the world’s largest cargo ter mi nal (Dubai Cargo), the world’s largest mall (Dubai Mall), and the list is end less. Busi ness Bay has over 300 ongo ing con struc tion projects, one of which is to extend the Dubai Creek by as much as 14 km just to give 240 office build ings a water front loca tion — it is hoped that, on com ple tion, Busi ness Bay will be the largest busi­ness dis trict in the world. Dubai is indeed grow ing fast.

Under neath all this gold, oil and dol lars, there exists a mas sive net work of invis i ble sewage pipelines that are inhal ing and exhal ing mas sive quan ti ties of invis i ble effuse, seem ing more than capa ble of han dling it all despite an unprece dented growth rate in the noisy world above — pipelines whose actual and affirmable real ity might have saved the local munic i pal ity coun­cil from a big stinker that now looms on the hori zon. Here are some stats before we move on: the dis posed sewage quan tity in 2008 was 140.16 mil lion, which is 384,000 cubic metres per day. In 2009, this rate stands at 480,000 cubic metres per day. That is a 25% increase.

When the con struc tion of Dubai was just begin ning, the civic plan ners decided to omit the pipe‐laying for two rea sons: the city received almost no rain in the year, ergo not much nether drainage would be required, and the city was still very small and the funds not as much as they are now. Later on, how ever, some pipes were laid in select parts of the city; Inter na tional City is one such project (I live there). The res i dents of IC are now being ser viced by one sewage plant that is cur rently run ning at thrice its orig i nal han dling capac ity — and this is the only sewage treat ment plant in the whole of Dubai. And due to the incom plete lay ing of those pipes, most of them don’t reach up to the sewage treat ment plant sit u ated on the out­skirts of IC, neces si tat ing all the effuse to be pumped into pri vate tankers. Peo ple trav el ing at night along the Man ama st. and Al Ain rd. around 9 in the night onwards can see these tankers lined up in a seem ingly infi nitely long queue, wait ing for their turn to dump their loads off at the sewage plant; in fact, it won’t be an under state ment if I say there were a thou sand tankers at some point, and each of these tankers in turn con sumes so much fuel just wait ing for their turn to come what with their orange lights spin ning away on their crowns (and as this queue slowly moves, there is not enough time for the dri ver to take a short nap or even a piss). I think it will suf fice to say it these incom plete pipelines have caused more trou ble than help.

“A cash reward of 2,000 dirhams ($544) is being offered to inform ers who tip off Dubai Munic i pal ity inspec tors on sewage tankers dump ing raw sewage ille gally. The announce ment came in the wake of the detec tion of 55 tankers in one week alone for dis pos ing sew er age in storm water net works or in open areas.”

Now, the sec ond case in point is the sec ond plant that is com ing up in Jebel Ali, one that is being touted as an exten sion to the IC plant in terms of han dling the sewage dis pos als. The project was com mis sioned on May 15, 2007 with an ini tial bud get of $165 mil lion, a num ber that has now stands at $195 mil lion (all USD). On com ple tion, the plant will also cater to all the (mostly indus trial) effuse com ing in from JAFZA, although it will be lim ited to a han dling capa bil ity of 150,000 cubic metres per day for the next cou ple of years, after which it will be fur­ther expanded to 1.2 mil lion cubic metres. Now, JAFZA has 70 very large indus trial com pa­nies and over 40% being multi na tional: all with access to incom plete or no pip ing net works. Now you can imag ine the length of the tankers’ queue there.

But that is only the tip of the ice berg. Just to dis cuss the impli ca tions of the above mis man­age ments, take the instance of the fledg ling Dubai Off shore Sail ing Club (DOSC). When the fre quency of rains began to increase in the city, the munic i pal ity coun cil laid down the storm water drain sys tem — pipelines com plete with appro pri ately placed man holes to, at least, drain the water off the roads in the after math of an occa sional rain (some thing that the neigh­bor ing Emi rate of Shar jah con spic u ously lacks). What hap pened was, once the poop‐truck queue built up to mon strous lengths, frus trated truck dri vers decided to dump their tankers full of crap into this storm drain sys tem, caus ing all of it to run through the net work and out into the ocean; more specif i cally, into the stretch of beach where the DOSC has its now ex‐fun. For a city that is bank ing on tourists to fly into town and pay them out of the ris ing oil short age, this is so not good news.

Quick swim?
“… inde pen dent tests arranged by the sail ing club show the water to be highly con t a­m i nated with bac te ria and the human fae ces float ing in the sea.”

– BBC News (Mon day, Octo ber 13, 2008)

As of now, only a few storm drain out lets are open — the ones near the DOSC. Come this win­ter bear ing the rains, and the munic i pal ity coun cil will have to open the other out lets as well — many which lie along the strip of five‐star hotels along the Jumeirah beach. The coun cil has stated that it “will reassess the sit u a tion before open ing the drain holes” [para phrased]. If the DOSC test ing is any thing to go by, let’s just hope we will never have to find out what’s in those pipes when they open — let’s just hope they don’t open, shall we?

For a city that boasts of mind less extrav a ganza on the exte rior, this seething prob lem could pose a ver i ta ble demise for just that. With all the oil quickly leak ing out of exhaust chutes and inter na tional bor ders, this is not good news because, soon, Burj Al Arab, Burj Dubai, Dubai Marina, the Jebel Ali port, Dubai Mall, Dubai Cargo, Busi ness Bay and all those moun tains of con crete on that end less list will be stand ing on moun tains of crap.


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