Narrative – [Abu Dhabi as an ARTIFICIAL CITY] Part 1 – Confront the Yellow Invasion with the Green Invasion
Abu Dhabi as an ARTIFICIAL CITY
Part 1 – Confront the Yellow Invasion with the Green Invasion
‘Plant more palm trees and still more palm trees. The desert is before you. Confront the yellow invasion with the green invasion.’
(Sheikh Zayed, quoted in Salloum, 1995)
Sheikh Zayed, the Ruler of Abu Dhabi was passionate about greenery in the sandy town of Abu Dhabi. Before becoming the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, Zayed was the wali (governor) of Al Ain. He encouraged agricultural development and tree plantation during his administration in Al Ain (Reem Bani Hashim, 2019). In Al Ain, he also rebuilt the indeginous falaj irrigation system. In Abu Dhabi, Zayed wanted to engage in afforestation, and solve the issues of desertification and sand erosion (former Abu Dhabi municipality employee as cited by Reem Bani Hashim, 2013). This idea may have been inspired by Lebanon.
‘I want Abu Dhabi as green as the mountains of Lebanon.’
(Zbal, 2001, p. 180; translated by Reem Bani Hashim)
Zayed was really keen on greenery because plants provide habitats for birds and animals (Reem Bani Hashim, 2019). Plants also beautify the sand covered town of Abu Dhabi and lower the burning temperature in the island (Salloum, 1997). In terms of agriculture, Zayed saw the need to provide food self-efficiency (Reem Bani Hashim, 2019; Salloum, 1997). This post will be dedicated to the investigation of how Zayed confronted the desert of Abu Dhabi with greenery.
Also mentioned in the post ‘Confront the Water’, Abu Dhabi is located in the tropical dry region. The climate is extreme and harsh for plants. Date palm was one of the rare trees that survives the climate of Abu Dhabi. In the pre-modern times, date palm grew around Abu Dhabi wherever there was water (Heard-Bey, 2006). Fruits and vegetables could hardly be grown in Abu Dhabi. As Al-Fahim (1995) mentioned, he could hardly see fruits and vegetables in the city in the 1940s to 1950s. People were undernourished (Al-Fahim, 1995). Zayed became the Ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1966. He sought advice from foreign experts on how to make the desert green (Salloum, 1995). Nevertheless, the experts insisted that it was impossible to plant in the hostile land (Salloum, 1995). But Zayed was passionate enough to try. In the ARABICON Plan, Zayed worked with John Elliott, a British architect who had experiences in Scandinavia. Both Zayed and Elliott wanted Abu Dhabi to have parks and tree-lined boulevards (Reem Bani Hashim, 2019). Zayed had an experimental farm in Al Ain. Elliott also did irrigation and cultivation experiments in his own garden (Elliott cited by Reem Bani Hashim, 2019). Seaweed and manure were used for composting. Tests on new desert plant species like Australian drought resistant plants and Xeric tree species were conducted (Elliott cited by Reem Bani Hashim, 2019).
After many experiments and studies, some solutions were found. The solutions include using large amounts of water for irrigation, choosing the appropriate tree species, and cultivating soil for agriculture.
First, to plant greenery, the city needed a lot of fresh water. The annual rainfall in Abu Dhabi is less than 100mm, but the annual reference evapotranspiration is more than 2000mm (Al-Yamani, Kennedy, Green, Kemp, and Clothier, 2019). The limited amount of rainfall makes irrigation crucial. Forestry in Abu Dhabi relies on groundwater. However, as groundwater is recharged very slowly in Abu Dhabi, it is a method that works but is not sustainable (Al-Yamani, Kennedy, Green, Kemp, and Clothier, 2019). Apart from groundwater, potable water is also utilized for irrigation. Potable water in Abu Dhabi comes from desalination of seawater or brackish groundwater (Al-Yamani, Kennedy, Green, Kemp, and Clothier, 2019). As large as 70% of the total potable water usage in Abu Dhabi is dedicated to greenery and agriculture in the city (McDonnel and Fragaszy, 2016). Another more sustainable source of water is the recycled wastewater from the town. Part of the wastewater in the town is treated for agricultural use (Salloum, 1995).
Second, selective species of plants were thoughtfully placed in various locations. Along the coastline of Abu Dhabi grew mangrove, a type of tree that can grow in saltwater (Salloum, 1997). Palm groves were used as a buffer to block the hot desert wind and to push back the desert (Salloum, 1995). The Australian eucalyptus and some other Australian plants were chosen by foreign consultants to be planted in the desert of Abu Dhabi near Al Ain (Al-Yamani, Kennedy, Green, Kemp, and Clothier, 2019). Those plants needed to survive low rainfall, high temperatures, and soil with high salt content in the desert. Although the chosen species require less water to survive, constant irrigation was still required in the harsh climate of Abu Dhabi. The city must expect to pay a high and continuing cost to maintain those vegetations. A network of underground water pipes provided water to the Australian plants throughout their lifetimes (Al-Yamani, Kennedy, Green, Kemp, and Clothier, 2019).
Third, soil is cultivated for plants that do not belong to the group of desert species. The government cultivated farmlands and gave them to farmers for free (Salloum, 1995). Subsidies were also given to farmers (Salloum, 1995). In farmlands and greenhouse, fruit, vegetables, and fodder were grown (Salloum, 1995).
When you walk around Abu Dhabi, you might be fooled into thinking it was naturally lush and green. Planting in a desert seems counterintuitive to many, but Zayed was not afraid of the challenge. He pushed the city to try numerous ways to tame the yellow invasion with his green invasion. A green Abu Dhabi may look ‘natural’, but actually a lot of money and effort was put into making this artificial picture we see now.
- Al Fahim, Mohammed, From Rags To Riches – A Story of Abu Dhabi. London: London Centre of Arab Studies, 1995.
- Heard-Bey, Frauke. 2006. ‘Adapting to change: an historical background to traditional and modern living conditions in the United Arab Emirates’ The Architecture of the United Arab Emirates, edited by Damluji, Salma S., 14-22. Reading:Garnett.
- Reem Bani Hashim, Alamira. 2013. ‘Former employee, Abu Dhabi Municipality.’ May 28, 2013.
- Reem Bani Hashim, Alamira, Planning Abu Dhabi – An Urban History. New York and Oxfordshire: Routledge, 2019.
- Salloum, Habeeb. 1995. ‘The United Arab Emirates Today: Abu Dhabi Has Been Converted From Desert Land To a Land of Gardens.’ The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, 14, no. 5 (December): 1-5.
- Salloum, Habeeb. 1997. ‘How Sheikh Zayed Turned the Desert Green.’ The Christian Science Monitor, 27, no.19 (May): 1.
- Wafa Al-Yamani, Lesley Kennedy, Steve Green, Peter Kemp, and Brent Clothier. 2019. ‘The historical basis and future options for native plant-species in the hyperarid forests of Abu Dhabi.’ Land Use Policy, no. 88 (September): 104186.
- Zbal, S. 2001. ‘The UAE from 1960–1974: I was a witness, The Journey of Passing from Scattered Sheikhdoms to a United Country.’ Abu Dhabi: Cultural Foundation.