Al Gharbia in Abu Dhabi has modern makeover

The Western Region is a rural expanse of desert and salt flats with 60 per cent of the emirate's land mass but just 11 per cent of its population.

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ABU DHABI // The ancestral home of the ruling Al Nahyan family, Al Gharbia, has towering sand dunes, pristine coastlines and the emirate’s highest life expectancy.

But the Western Region with its desert expanse and salt flats, has seen significant development in recent years.

With 60 per cent of the emirate’s land mass, it has just 11 per cent of Abu Dhabi’s population.

But Al Gharbia is also home to major new developments, including the country's first nuclear energy project and Shams 1, the UAE's first large-scale solar power plant.

Only 225,700 people live in Al Gharbia – 6.4 people a square kilometre – and oil and gas account for 90 per cent of the area’s GDP.

Women make up just 4 per cent of the labour force despite accounting for 11 per cent of the population.

“Because Al Gharbia’s economy is still centred around the petroleum industry, which has been traditionally male-dominated, women in the Western Region face a shortage of desirable jobs,” researchers wrote in Abu Dhabi’s first Competitiveness Report, released by the Department of Economic Development.

Al Gharbia faces challenges familiar to many rural areas – little higher education, limited opportunities for employment and underdeveloped infrastructure.

But it has also been the focus of significant development and government spending in recent years.