Dh13bn to overhaul Sharjah's drainage

After rainfall resulted in three people dying and businesses being crippled, officials want a new network in place within three years.

SHARJAH // A Dh13 billion (US$3.5bn) plan is being put together to fix the drainage systems that failed during recent storms, leaving the emirate flooded and three people dead. Officials believe a new and improved sewage and drainage network will be in place within three years.

It would correct the sanitation and flooding problems that recently left business in Sharjah almost at a standstill for a week, said Salim al Owais, the head of the department of municipalities and agriculture. The Sharjah consultative council met senior municipality officials last week to discuss the plan. Mr Owais said Sharjah officials "have already made a study on the sanitation problem and would need Dh13bn (US$3.5bn) to have all the networks in place that would solve this crucial problem". He said it would cost Dh12bn to improve the sewage networks alone.

"We have already put this figure to the executive council," he said. "Once it is approved we shall have all the work done in co-operation with the Ministry of Public Works." Sultan al Mualla, the director general of Sharjah Municipality, said the drainage network would be in place in the next three years. "We have already put on paper the drainage networks plans that awaits approval. The plans have been subdivided into three phases that would include residential areas, industrial areas and the Eastern Region," he said.

Mr al Mualla said priority would be given to the most-affected roads - Emirates and Al Dhaid. Some drainage networks had burst as water overwhelmed their capacity, he said. The municipality would need to expand, as well as renovate, the drainage networks. Jamal al Khonji the owner of Al Shorafa Tyres Trading in Industrial Area 12, in Emirates Road, said he lost about Dh150,000 during the rainy season. Investing in drainage networks would help the emirate's business and investments prospects, he said.

"Imagine it happened for just three days and the losses were enormous. If it could rain for a week, could you even count the losses?" After heavy rainfall in early March, large tankers from Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority made 300 trips to Sharjah, hauling out three million gallons of water. Roads turned to rivers and car parks to lakes. At the National Paints roundabout, water levels rose above the wheels of cars before the road was partially closed.

This increased pressure on the two remaining Dubai-Sharjah routes. Traffic was diverted to Kalba Road, which a witness described as "completely submerged". Lorries created waves that washed over cars parked or abandoned at the side of the road. Three days before, three men died in two separate incidents in Sharjah when they were electrocuted while standing in floodwater. Baid Khan, the Pakistani owner of a shoe shop on Emirates Road, said drainage and sewage were a big problem for the emirate.

"I think the sewage problem is most important to deal with first," he said. "Flooding only comes a few days in a year but sewage odours are here from January to December." He said that sewage flooded his neighbourhood, and no one took action. "A good sewage network is an integral part of any developed state," he said. "Go to Europe or America, never would you find sewage wastes littering on streets like it is in Sharjah."

Abu Dhabi Municipality is also focusing on flood prevention and embarking on a major project to improve storm drainage networks, particularly on the mainland. Abu Dhabi Island already had a "highly efficient" network that spanned around 1,300km, said Ghassan Koujan, the head of technical support in the parks and facilities department. Upgrading about 70 per cent of the mainland area stretching from the city centre towards Al Ain up to Saih Sheib, and towards Al Gharbia up to Tarif is the next step. "Now we're in a position to remaster the storm system from an engineering point and generate some contracts for new developments in the mainland systems," Mr Koujan said.

He expected the entire mainland to be equipped with adequate storm drainage systems by 2025, with much of the work to take place over the next four years. Abdul Majeed Sifai, the director of the sewage network department for Dubai Municipality, said a "big report" would be turned in by the end of the month. "I can say that there were not many network problems this year," he said. "However, some areas were affected."

* The National with additional reporting by Praveen Menon