Storm clouds over desert

Dubai, known for its architectural marvels and bustling city life, saw a year’s worth of rain in just 12 hours, turning roads into rivers. Such torrential rainfall has not been witnessed in the past 75 years since records began. The city’s infrastructure faced a severe test as floodwaters rose swiftly, causing widespread chaos. This unprecedented event reveals the urgent need for resilient urban planning and infrastructure to handle such extreme weather events.

Dr Mohammad Radfar, Associate Professor and Programme Director of MSc Urban Planning at the University of Birmingham Dubai, discusses the implications of the recent floods on urban development. “In light of the recent rains and floods in Dubai, the necessity for cities in the Middle East to adopt more resilient urban planning and infrastructure becomes clear,” Dr Radfar comments. He emphasises that this resilience is crucial in managing extreme weather events, which are increasingly likely due to climate change.

The downpour in the UAE was part of a larger storm that swept through the Arabian Peninsula, moving across the Gulf of Oman first, resulting in catastrophic flash floods. The frequency of such severe rainstorms is on the rise, correlating with the warming of the atmosphere, a consequence of anthropogenic climate change.

Dr Radfar points to the rapid urban sprawl in Dubai as a critical area of concern, particularly regarding water management. “The city’s existing infrastructure, overwhelmed by unexpected floods, points to a deficiency in planning for drainage systems capable of managing surface water effectively,” he explains.

He advocates for integrating sustainable drainage systems that go beyond traditional methods. “Sustainable drainage systems that incorporate both functionality and environmental benefits must be integrated,” Dr Radfar emphasises.

The impact of impervious surfaces in Dubai, such as roads and parking spaces, is also a significant factor in the city’s flood response. “Dubai is home to over 1.83 million cars (Gulf News, 2020), necessitating vast areas of hard surfaces which contribute to rapid runoff and reduced water infiltration,” Dr Radfar notes.

To address these challenges, Dr Radfar suggests prioritising landscaped and soft surfaces within city designs. “These areas not only absorb rainwater, reducing runoff but also enhance urban biodiversity and provide recreational spaces for residents,” he adds.

Dr Radfar also highlights the importance of rethinking urban spaces to prioritise people over vehicles. “Designing multi-use spaces that accommodate pedestrians and cyclists promotes a shift towards more sustainable modes of transportation,” he states.

In conclusion, Dr Radfar calls for a multifaceted approach to urban resilience. “Urban resilience against extreme weather conditions requires sustainable drainage, increased green spaces, and a people-centric urban design,” he asserts. “These strategies will not only address the immediate challenges posed by climate change but also ensure sustainable urban environments for future generations.”

As Dubai continues to develop and so do the effects of climate change, insights from urban planning experts like Dr Radfar are invaluable in creating a more resilient infrastructure that can safeguard its population from extreme climatic events.