Source: Gulf News 15 October 09
Unsightly debris meets the eye as you take in the vast expanse of a once-pristine desert. Toppled toilets, chunks of concrete, wooden chairs, water tanks, soft-drink cans, tyres, boxes and the remnants of what appear to have been praying rooms litter the horizon.
It's hard to imagine that only a few months earlier, this eight-km stretch, between the Margham gas field and Al Maha (Arabian oryx) reservation in Lihbab area on the Dubai-Hatta road, was home to 16 thriving desert safari camps. But razed by Dubai Municipality bulldozers, the camps stand flattened today, their ruins still waiting to be cleared.
The melee began in February this year when the municipality ordered eight tour agencies to immediately relocate their safari camps from Lihbab to Al Aweer. A rental fee, they were told, would also be exacted under the new scheme of things.
Municipal officials said the relocation programme was meant to organise the safari tour camps that had sprung up randomly.
‘Al Aweer not suitable'
Omar Abdul Rahman, Head of the Building Inspection Section at Dubai Municipality, said all safari firms were given warnings and they had the receipts to prove it.
Frustrated camp operators said even as they worked towards complying with the order, bulldozers began to level their old camps in May. Some companies said the municipality never gave them any specific dates to move out, while some said they received notices in 2005.
Hatim Nabeel, Camps Director at Atlanta Tours, said the municipality told them in 2005 to choose any location and build their camps free of any charge in contrast to the new fee-based Al Aweer location.
"Al Aweer is not suitable for camps," he said, adding that tourists were complaining. Instead of tourism being encouraged in Dubai, it is being shrunk, he said.
The Al Aweer area, the operator said, is home to snakes and scorpions with Nabeel's employees reportedly killing at least four to five snakes every day.
"Snakes and scorpions breed in the area and they live in the bushes that grow here," Nabeel said.
He said Atlanta Tours was still smarting from the forced relocation, noting that dismantling the camp for a new one may cost an estimated Dh700,000.
According to the tour operators, no original material from the camp could be recycled to lower costs. Only the camels were being relocated. "They even destroyed the mosque and the storage for soft drinks," Nabeel said.
The operators are also concerned about the clean-up issue. Abdul Rahman said arrangements were being made to remove the demolished desert waste, but declined to comment on who would foot the bill for the clean-up process.
Nabeel said the municipality had informed tour operators that they had to clean up the remaining debris or face fines of Dh50,000 if they didn't comply.
Rounding up and carting off the safari camp remnants may hit companies' pockets. Ayman Khalil, Manager of Desert Road Tours, said he estimates it may cost Dh40,000 to clean up the leftover materials from the two demolished camps under his firm.
Khalil said the total relocation loss to Dubai's safari firms was around Dh16 million at a time when the global financial crisis was still strong and tourism figures were on the decline.
"Tourists too complain about the long drive from Al Aweer to Lihbab for the safari," he said.
Another company, Arabian Team Tours, lost two camps and an animal farm worth more than Dh3 million. Mahmoud Gabal, owner of the firm, said he only received a letter that said bulldozers may knock down his camps, but the municipality gave him no specific date about moving his camps out.
"What I have lost already is enough," he said, claiming that bulldozers drove over his animals, killing a number of birds and smashing their eggs. It's a pity, he said, that things should have come to such a pass when "our business boosts the economy".
Gabal said he was not keen on spending more money on cleaning up the leftover debris. In the business for years, he said this had never happened before in the industry. Three similar safari companies have since closed because of losses.
Net Tours said it lost five camps worth more than Dh5 million but refused to comment, pending the outcome of court proceedings. Ali Bu Manser, chairman of the company, said they had taken the case to court and did not want to jeopardise their position by saying anything negative about the municipality.
Omar Abdul Rahman, Head of Building Inspection Section at Dubai Municipality, said that to build a new desert camp, each safari company had to apply for approvals from the Tourism Department, Civil Defense and the Municipality.
He added that each authority had its own regulations; the Municipality's regulations required details like the proposed camp's sketch, the material used to set up the camp, the location and the entrance and exit of the camp. He noted that without complying with these regulations the company would not be issued a licence for its camp.
Dr. Zain Al Abideen Al Sayed, Dean of Environment, Water and Energy Institute at the Ajman University for Science and Technology, said that the sand trapped in waste debris and litter during the rainy season were polluting ground water sources.
And generators used to provide camps with power were fueled with diesel, which also found its way to the underground water tanks, he said.
He noted that desert activities such as safari trips change the landscape of the desert sand dunes and natural hills which make up 74 per cent of the UAE's ecological landscape. "I am not against desert camps but I am calling for cautious desert activities," he said.
Emirates Environmental Group is gearing up for the Clean-up UAE Campaign 2009 to be held on December 12.
To be conducted across the length and breadth of the country, targeting a variety of locations and sites, EEG said the campaign would not only clean up the environment but also "create awareness about the environment and instill a sense of responsibility towards its upkeep and well being".
In a statement, EEG said it "has led a long and hard battle to raise the banner of awareness about the immediate and long-term negative impacts of waste."
A cause for concern
Dr Zain Al Abideen Al Syed, Dean of Environment, Water and Energy Institute at the Ajman University for Science and Technology, said sand trapped in the debris during the rainy season and diesel leaking from generators that once lit up camps, were polluting the ground water. He said safari trips change the landscape of the desert, the sand dunes and natural hills, which make up 74 per cent of the UAE's ecological landscape.
Omar Abdul Rahman, Head of the Building Inspection Section at Dubai Municipality, said to build a new desert camp, each safari company had to apply for approvals from the Tourism Department, Civil Defence and the municipality. He said each authority has its own regulations. The municipality's regulations required details like the proposed camp's sketch, the material used to set up the camp, the location, entrance and the exit of the camp. He said no company will be issued a licence for a camp if they do not comply with these regulations.