All posts by khallahan

Extreme Urbanization in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E)

The UAE is naturally blessed with an abundance of natural oils.  This bountiful and profitable resource was not discovered until 1958.  Commercial drilling did not begin until 1962, which replaced the UAE’s previously lucrative and main industry of pearling.  This began the successful and monumental shift in the UAE’s economy and lead the country towards severe industrial changes.

The main features of new infrastructure and urbanization were not built until the late 80s and early 90s, but since then, the UAE’s skyline has developed exponentially.  This development does not only include the UAE’s buildings, but it is also their road system, clean water projects, irrigation, ports, as well as airlines. All construction was implemented under the notion that each project would help to diversify their economy by creating capital intensive businesses based on their oil and gas resources.  

The intricate highway road system and growing skyline of Dubai, UAE.

Within the UAE, there are seven Emirates, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Fujairah, Ajman, Emirate of Sharjah, and Ras al-Khaimah.  The UAE holds about 8% of the world’s natural gas reserves. When Abu Dhabi discovered oil back in 1958, the seven Emirates looked to shift government policy to focus on using their plentiful oil and gas supply to expand and shift their nation towards industrialization.  The manufacturing of oil has been highly sufficient and has driven the UAE’s economy through the late 20th century into the 21st.


The shift in Dubai, one of the UAE’s booming and wealthiest Emirates from 1973 to 2006.


Dubai from 2000 to 2011

The UAE, throughout all seven emirates, has a population density of 282 people per square mile as of 2014.  About 86% of citizens live within an urban settlement. There was not a significant transition or migration of naturalized citizens into the urban areas once the industrial process began.  Many of the people had already lived within the region where construction began.  However, many non-nationals and expatriates have moved and relocated within the urban settlements, most commonly Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah.  Research conducted in 2015 found that only 1% of their some 9.5 million inhabitants, were over the age of 65. The same study found that the youth amassed up to nearly 21% of the population.  The UAE’s population has been primarily centralized within the urban areas.

On a comparative scale, the UAE has found unmatched success in the construction rates of buildings and projects.  Buildings go up in unheard time frames, all roads across the UAE are paved, while flamboyant and excessive projects are composed and constructed constantly.  There are a few questions that must be asked. How does the UAE manage to do this? Who does the work? Where are the supplies coming from? And how long can this last?  The workforce in the UAE is fundamentally made up of expatriates, as almost 90% of workers are not naturalized citizens.  Most of these are from Asian countries, like India and Pakistan, and make up 37% of the total population.  Almost all of these workers, roughly 73%, find work within the service sector. UAE citizens only make up about 20% of the country’s population and very few of them work.  Almost all others living within the country are immigrants.  The rate of infrastructure can partially be explained by the large workforce, but the UAE also implements relatively low and unrestricted building regulations.  

Expatriots walking in Dubai

A serious concern for the UAE and their constant construction is their use of water, supplies and labor.  Those living in rural areas all have access to clean water while only 99.6% of urban residents do.  The UAE uses a lot of water, totaling 1.0 cu mi per year. Almost all water used goes to agriculture, while only 2% is used for industrial purposes, which is low considering the large amount of infrastructure. The country uses many native supplies coming from its vast array of desert. The main imports of the UAE are machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, and food.  When it comes down to it, water and supplies are not a major concern for the future. What must change is the use of intensive labor within the workforce. There have been some comparisons to the treatment of expatriate workers to those of concentration camps during the Holocaust.  

Regardless of future concerns and relatively low current implications, the UAE continues to plan their expansion across all seven Emirates.  The UAE is a very popular tourist destination, and has become a world leader in many categories, such as luxury airlines, shopping outlets and malls, and many, many more.  It is crucial that the UAE revisits parts of its current plan to expand, but in the long-run, the UAE will serve the world in many ways within the future.