Taking a beating

How developments are designed to deal with cyclones and storm surges.

Almost unaffected, The Wave, Muscat has been designed to withstand a one in 250-year storm. Cyclone Gonu was a one in 50-year event.
Almost unaffected, The Wave, Muscat has been designed to withstand a one in 250-year storm. Cyclone Gonu was a one in 50-year event.

With global warming showing no signs of abating, this month's Cyclone Gonu in Oman has reinforced the need for waterfront and offshore construction projects to account for severe weather conditions and the possibility of drastic environmental changes in the near future.

One such example is The Wave, Muscat, a mixed-use development occupying an area of 2.5 million m2 along 6km of natural beach, which fell in the path of the storm.

According to the management behind the project, the waterfront development has been almost unaffected due to a masterplan that provides for extreme weather events.

"The Wave, Muscat has been unaffected overall, as an advanced flood absorption system had been designed and implemented, which minimised the damage caused by the cyclone. The power outages have been fairly limited and work is back in full swing," said Nick Smith, chief executive officer, The Wave, Muscat.

Even though designs for all offshore and waterfront developments include provisions for storm and sea level variations, environment experts have said that situations beyond the expected have to be considered.

"When you look at the initial investment that goes into these projects, you'll see that the extra expenditure incurred on provisions for these sort of disasters, fades into nothing," said Amer Al Fadhil, vice president, external affairs, The Wave, Muscat.

"What has happened in Oman is unfortunate but it has been an example to the rest of the Middle East of what can come about due to global warming. Global warming is a fact, whether you want to accept it or not, and it is having a drastic change on weather patterns all over the world. The way we construct will have to move in tandem with global weather changes."

He added that The Wave construction site sustained minimal damage due to its flood absorption system designs.

"Our masterplan has manmade lakes that double up as a water absorption mechanism, or overflow from any wadi water that we may receive from the mountains; it's amazing how incredibly well it worked.

"The cyclone that happened is a one in 50-year storm; we are constructing The Wave to withstand a one in 250-year storm, so it is capable of handling much more."

Al Fadhil added: "There are two types of catastrophes that we've kept in mind. One is water coming in from wadis and the other is very high tidal waves. In this particular case it was the wadi water, and the lakes took it in wonderfully," he said.

Offshore and waterfront developments make up a major part of developments in the region including the Palm Islands in Dubai, the Pearl in Qatar and Al Marjan Islands in Ras Al Khaimah, and of course concerns about their safety and ability to withstand storms of a similar nature have, with reason, been thrown into question.

"These things will happen - whether it's a cyclone or an earthquake," said Imad Haffar, chief operating officer, Rakeen - the company developing Al Marjan Islands off the coast of Ras Al Khaimah.

"But our island is going to be a safe place to live as we've taken care of issues such as water surge, tidal activity, water fluctuations and global warming - particularly since last year's World Bank report that predicted rising sea levels. So in terms of water elevation, the structure will be 4-4.5m above sea level. The island is also being constructed within a 2A zone for seismic activity."

Over on the Palm Islands in Dubai, all round confidence in an event of a storm seems to be the attitude of the day.

Shaun Lenehan, senior manager - environment on the Palm Jumeirah feels that the islands are more equipped than their Oman counterparts in an event similar to this month's hurricane.

"Our tidal behaviour is very different in the Gulf than it is in the waters that border Oman," he said.

"They can get waves that reach up to 10m high while ours would go up to a maximum of 4.5m. We've planned for a one in 100-year storm, storm surges and are very aware of global warming. Our Gulf waters are quite shallow, at depths of 35m, compared to the Omani coast off the Indian Ocean. Our breakwaters alone will be able to weather a storm of a similar nature."

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