Last week The National reported that labour camps in Dubai were to get a modern sewage system, ending years of relying on septic tanks.The very fact that this story is considered headline-worthy bears testimony to the chronically low standard of accommodation that migrant labourers have to put up with in the Emirates.
The labour camps in the Al Qoz industrial area house thousands of migrant construction workers who supply the cheap labour for building and infrastructure projects.
The present arrangement has created a major health and environmental hazard:
Al Quoz has one of the highest sewage outputs in the emirate with 300,000 cubic metres of sewage wastewater generated each day.
Some labour companies often ignore overflowing septic tanks to avoid paying for sewage tankers to dispose of the waste.
Earlier this year several sewage tanker drivers, faced with massive queues at the overburdened treatment plant in Al Aweer, dumped sewage water collected from labour camps’ septic tanks on to open ground.
Labourers enduring the stench of sewage have repeatedly reported health problems.
At Sonapur, one of the UAE's biggest labour camps, a sewage system is nearing completion. However, this improvement has been a long time in coming for the camp's inhabitants:
A construction worker living in Sonapur said yesterday he and his colleagues feared the possibility of rain. Last year, rain compounded the sewage problem when it caused more flooding.
“There may be rains in Dubai by the end of the year and this will make life really difficult for us. The streets are flooded and the stench from the leaking sewage makes it impossible to breathe,” said Viru Solanki, an Indian construction worker.
While the sewage systems at Al Qoz and Sonapur will be highly welcome to residents, one can only wonder about why these camps were not built with this most basic infrastructure in place in the beginning.