The UAE’s annual rainfall is normally around 100 millimetres. To put that number in perspective, the UK gets up to 1,400mm a year. This easily makes the Emirates among the driest countries on the planet.
It should therefore come as little surprise that the sudden arrival of vast quantities of rainfall is a major event.
That has very much been the case this week, as the Emirates readied itself for and eventually withstood severe rainfall in northern regions. The National Centre of Meteorology (NCM) told The National that this has led to the wettest July in the UAE since 1978.
Most of the downfall was recorded in Fujairah Port, where 234.9 millimetres fell between 10.30pm on July 25 and 9.18am on Thursday, July 28. But Sharjah and Ras al Khaimah have also been affected.
The real-world implications have been severe. In total, seven lives were lost and 3,897 people have had to be placed in temporary shelter in Sharjah and Fujairah. They will remain there until their homes are deemed safe for return.
But both the authorities and the affected region’s residents have met the situation with resilience.
Speaking about the incident, Egyptian mechanic Ismael Abdulwahhab, who lives in Fujairah, said he had thought that he and his family “were going to die” while they scrambled to get medication for their daughter as the storms hit. After abandoning his car, the police soon spotted the family and drove them to safety. It is one anecdote among many that demonstrates the co-operation between locals and authorities that is keeping people safe and the situation under control.
These actions in the moment are important. Because of them, life is on course to get back to normal as soon as possible, and while the loss of life and damage to property are major, the immediate actions of the emergency services and people of the affected areas to mitigate the perils of the floods are a fundamental sign of an effective response.
Preparation was also crucial. The Emirates had some time to brace itself for the event, and it used it well. Low pressure systems drifting across from India during its annual monsoons brought the unsettled weather. In response, the government had already said that non-essential public and private sector workers could work from home in flood-affected areas. Officers from Dubai Police came to assist. In Ras Al Khaimah, more than 70 patrols were on hand to support rescue teams on Thursday. The Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure is set to report on damages imminently so that rebuilding can start as soon as possible. And after storms swept the country in January 2020, ministers pledged Dh500 million of investment including dams and flyovers to reduce disruption caused by flooding, moves that will have helped during this year’s rainfall.
Disaster management has become a strong point of the UAE, particularly during recent years with Covid-19. Now, much of the new expertise and experience that led to a world-leading pandemic response will be in action to help a new, albeit more transient, crisis.
The rain is not yet over, but the NCM believes that the worst has passed. When it does, all parties affected can be proud that they overcame one of the worst natural disasters in the country’s recent history.