In Dubai, money tames nature

Dubai, February 19:

Dubai has gone from being a sleepy backwater to the business hub of the Gulf in a little over three decades. Now new colossal investments in infrastructure, together with ambitious acquisitions overseas and mega projects such as the wor-ld’s first underwater hotel, aug-ur another era for the city-state.

The desert dunes that were once Dubai have been turned into luxury hotels, shopping malls and manicured golf courses only because man and money have successfully tamed nature. Dubai’s ruling Al Maktoum family has built a diverse economy that can chug along even if oil prices suddenly plummet. Dubai has put its wealth into projects that make business sense.

The emirate boasts of a string of superlatives, including the luxurious Burj Al Arab hotel, billed as the world’s only seven-star hotel. Expected to open in 2008 is the nearly $1-billion ‘Dubailand’, a theme park the government promises to be ‘the biggest entertainment and tourism attraction on the planet’. Also under construction is the world’s tallest building, the ‘Burj Dubai’, the exact height of which is a guarded secret. Next in the offing is Palms project, a man-made island in the shape of a palm tree that will include apartment complexes, luxury hotels and shopping malls.

For all you know, the eighth wonder of the world might be right here. Another ambitious project is ‘Ski Dubai’, which brings Alpine skiing to the des-ert. The indoor facility is complete with chairlifts, ski runs and a state-of-the-art snowmaking machine. The adventure isn’t over yet. Dubai will soon be ho-me to the $500-million ‘Hydro-polis Hotel’, slated to be world’s first underwater luxury hotel.

New projects announced nearly every week and events like world-class golf and tennis hosted annually, keep Dubai constantly in the media spotlight. For big businesses, Dubai’s core advantage is still its strategic location between East and West. Just about every multinational doing business in the region has its regional headquarters in the city.

Dubai recently opened a brand new stock exchange, followed by a gold and commodities exchange. Dubai Holdings, the government’s investment arm, has also begun acquiring property as far away as Morocco, New York and London.

Dubai’s economy is growing rapidly, but the development comes at a price. Questions are being raised now about the city’s ability to accommodate huge numbers of expatriates.

The imposition of new taxes and sudden increases in rent has left many people doubting the safety of their investments in a place where laws change arbitrarily. Foreigners, who make up about 80 per cent of Dubai’s population, have snapped up properties, only to discover that legislation regarding foreign property ownership is still under discussion.

Accusations of Dubai being a centre for money laundering are common, especially in the US. There are reports of abuse am-ong poor Asian labourers who work 12-hour shifts to build Dubai’s economic miracle. Workers go unpaid for months. Many of them working in conditions, which international human rights organisations say, are tantamount to slavery.