Quest to place Dubai Creek on world heritage list

If accepted, Dubai Creek will join Great Barrier Reef and Grand Canyon to be on the Unesco World Heritage List.

Dubai Creek early 1960s. (Photo courtesy-Michale Stokes)FOR COLIN SIMPSON STORY
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DUBAI // The proposal to have Dubai Creek acknowledged as a world heritage site is before a UN committee, which will be sending an expert to study the site next month, the campaign's leader says.

Its technical committee met recently to discuss various topics relevant to the proposal, a year before a decision is expected.

If successful, Khor Dubai will join Al Ain's Hafit, Hili, Bida Bint Saud and Oases areas on the Unesco World Heritage list.

"In the words of the late Sheikh Zayed, Father of the UAE, those who have no past can have no present or future," said Rashad Bukhash, director of the Architectural Heritage department at Dubai Municipality and the man leading the campaign.

"Even after we get the recognition the work continues, our work never ends. We have to make sure there are ongoing activities and improvements.

"We handed our final proposal to the Unesco committee in January and they informed us the following month that the proposal is complete and meets their requirements.

"One of the main requirements for the Unesco accreditation is having legislation in place to protect antiquities.

"Dubai has established a law on this but it would be better to have federal legislation in place. The FNC and Ministry of Culture have already approved the federal legislation on antiquities. It is currently in its final stages with the Ministry of Justice. We are hoping it will be passed very soon. This law is already implemented in Dubai."

Mr Bukhash, also a member of the FNC, said the technical committee meeting was needed to discuss the management plan for the project, address expectations and brainstorm ideas.

"We are already working on restoring an old building in Shandagha to be used as the tourist centre for the Dubai Creek."

Mr Bukhash said the Unesco committee would spend the next few months studying the proposal.

"We expect a visit from Unesco experts next month to survey the site. From there we will receive a preliminary report in January 2014 and hopefully approval by June 2014."

The first recorded reference to Dubai dates back to 1587, when the Venetian pearl merchant Gaspero Balbi visited the area and wrote of the area's pearling industry.

But the earliest known description of Dubai Creek is found in an 1822 report by a British Royal Navy officer.

The creek was probably the reason for Dubai's creation and early development as a trading port, the starting point for which could perhaps be 1833.

That year about 800 members of the Bani Yas tribe, led by Sheikh Maktoum bin Buti Al Falasi, settled in the Bur Dubai area at the mouth of the creek.

The World Heritage List includes 962 properties forming part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value.

These sites include Australia's Uluru and Great Barrier Reef, and the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park in the US.

But perhaps no other site has been the focus of so much man-made expansion work and upgrading.

In September 2007, the Dh484 million extension of the creek was finished, which now ends just off Sheikh Zayed Road.

A final two-kilometre extension will cross the road, pass through Safa Park and Jumeirah.

The channel will reach the Gulf through Jumeirah Beach Park. Last year it was announced that the extension will be done through a hanging canal that will pass over these areas. The extension is part of the Business Bay development.

It holds value because it was around this humble creek that fishermen, pearl divers, and merchants once established a small town that turned into a metropolitan and architects' playground.

It was the lifeline that made Dubai what it is today.

"My father came to Dubai to be a pearl diver, he was well known to all the merchants and Nokhadhas (dhow captains)," said Sheikha Jasem Al Suwaidi, 80.

The Emirati grandmother of 27 recalls how life was in old Dubai.

"Dubai grew because of the trade, and that trade was always happening on the shores of the creek, in Bur Dubai and Deira. Merchandise was coming from as close as Iran to as far as Japan and England."

The creek was dredged in the 1960s and 1970s to allow for bigger ships.