Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Headlines

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Dubai – Desert Village Turns Model City

Kunda Dixit

DUBAI, Nov 22 1995 (IPS) - There would a few cities in the world with as rapid rags to riches history as Dubai. A sleepy Gulf trading village just 35 years ago, Dubai has today emerged as a regional financial and trading hub.

Dubai’s success is modelled largely on the Singapore formula. Both are city-states where powerful and enlightened leaders used carefully calibrated investment incentives, efficient communications and regulatory measures to transform their countries.

Today, Dubai is much more than West Asia’s shopping paradise, it is at the geographical crossroads between the new Central Asian republics, Africa, Europe and Asia.

Moneyed Russians from Kazakhstan are so numerous that Dubai’s shops and restaurants have signs in Russian. Wealthy Pakistani’s and Indians, businessmen from Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania and Europeans give the city a cosmopolitan flavour found in few cities in the region.

Dubai has also become an international conference hub. In the past week the city has hosted an International Air Show, a meeting of plastic surgeons, a big leather fair, a global pharmaceutical conference. It was also the venue for a big United Nations meeting on improving the world’s cities.

“What has happened to Dubai is a success story in an urbanising world in which successes are more the exception than the rule,” said Waly N’Dow, who heads preparations for the big U.N. conference in June 1996 in Istanbul called the City summit.

“Dubai’s efforts are ahead of its time, setting a standard for other cities well into the next century,” he adds.

Dubai is the second largest of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the most urbanised. Key to Dubai’s success is its municipality headed by its powerful director general, Qassim Sultan.

“Dubai municipality provides a readily adaptable model for cities which are assuming an expanding role in the delivery of urban services though the accelerated devolution of powers and responsibilities from their central governments,” says Qassim Sultan,

Knowing that its oil wealth is limited, he says Dubai has deliberately tried to diversify its economy by turning the city into a trading, financial and communications centre for the region. The contribution of oil to Dubai’s gross domestic product has fallen from 84 percent ten years ago to 24 percent today.

At this week’s conference in Dubai the United Nations launched its Best Practices Initiative — a search for exemplary activities to make the urban environment more liveable. It hopes to compile a list of 500 best practices and unveil them at the Istanbul City summit next year.

Dubai is expected to make it to the top of the best 500 examples of urban renewal.

Less well known is the role of the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (known by its acronym HABITAT) in this. It has been assisting Dubai’s municipality since 1986 when it started transforming its management and organisational structure.

“Of particular significance to aid agencies is the way in which the United Nations technical assistance has been managed,” says Qassim Sultan.

The project is unique by U.N. standards, since it is paid for by the Dubai municipality and is one of the few countries with high per capita incomes in which the United Nations is still active.

The UAE figures among high human development countries in the United Nation Development Programme index for 1995, with a per capita income of 22,640 dollars for 1992.

A survey by a Swiss bank ranked the capital Abu Dhabi just ahead of London in the time residents had to work to be able to earn money for a kilogramme of bread.

The Dubai project has reduced the municipality’s dependence on expatriate consultants, streamlined the management structures and cut wastage.

“The main reason our capacity building efforts have worked in Dubai is because of the exceptionally strong and decisive leadership at the top,” says Kidane Alemayehu, UNDP expert with the municipality.

‘Capacity building’ has become a cliche in U.N. development reports, but Alemayehu says Dubai is an example of what it means

in practice: self reliance, increased efficiency, lowering costs and increasing revenue.

Alemayehu is certain Dubai’s example can be emulated in other cities in the developing world. He says: “Actually, there is nothing so unique about Dubai. We just have to ensure the same conditions exist: people are interested in the objectives and make the effort to achieve them.”

 
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UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Dubai – Desert Village Turns Model City

Kunda Dixit

DUBAI, Nov 22 1995 (IPS) - There would a few cities in the world with as rapid rags to riches history as Dubai. A sleepy Gulf trading village just 35 years ago, Dubai has today emerged as a regional financial and trading hub.
(more…)

 
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