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Gonu: a lesson for the future

The recent storm that swept across Oman will no doubt prompt speculation on how such a natural disaster came about.

COMMENT, Human Resource

The recent storm that swept across Oman will no doubt prompt speculation on how such a natural disaster came about - the strongest tropical cyclone to have hit the arid Arabian Peninsula since record keeping began in 1945.

Cyclone Gonu brought with it wind speeds of around 175 km/h and waves that reached 11m, leading to the destruction of roads and bridges, overturned cars, submerged homes, water and power supply cuts and around 70 deaths.

Iran and the northern emirates of the UAE also felt the brunt.

The rebuild effort for Oman alone is estimated to run into hundreds of millions of dollars. But probably the most telling statistic to emerge from the catastrophe is the 25cm rise in sea level.

Several scientific articles have reported an increase in tropical cyclone energy over the last few decades in connection with warmer sea surface temperatures.

And if the rise in sea level as a result of melting glaciers spilling into the world's oceans occurs as predicted, then vulnerability to cyclone flooding will increase.

While it's not my intention to scaremonger, such a prediction gets you thinking about the future impact this could have on the region's waterfront and offshore developments.

Cyclone Gonu shows that developers can no longer be guided by the theory that ‘these things just don't happen here'. The residents of Kent in the UK probably didn't expect to wake up to their homes shaking when an earth tremor struck the county in late April, either.

The huge waves brought on by the cyclone may have been a surfer's paradise, but tourists who flocked to the emirate of Fujairah probably weren't expecting to be evacuated from their hotels. Their thoughts no doubt veered towards the Asian tsunami in 2004.

Seafront project developers may be factoring these eventualities into their designs, but they need to be looking decades ahead and constructing according to climatic change if they want them to be enjoyed by future generations.

As Oscar Wilde said: "to expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect." Developers may have to start taking the pessimistic view of thinking the worst, in order to produce the best.

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