Friday, May 25, 2007

Putting Dubai in perspective.

I might be rambling here and I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with it, but I'm sort-of thinking out loud.

Reading a few newspapers today several stories semed to come together in a picture of many of the things that we talk and complain about in Dubai, and they put it all into some perspective.

I've long argued, for example, that Dubai is not the overly expensive place that many expats complain it is. We have bad inflation that's pushed prices way above what they were not so long ago, but compare like-with-like and Dubai stands up pretty well.

Anyway, to the stories I read.

Rent is the number one topic of complaint, and they have rocketed up by huge percentages in Dubai, unfairly so. But...AFP in Gulf News (but not on their website) says a new study on rental apartments for expats puts Dubai down at 14 on the list. Taking unfurnished three bedroom apartments as a base because they're the most commonly rented by expats, Hong Kong is top at about AED375,000 a year. Tokyo at AED325,000, New York at AED320,000 follow, then Moscow, Seoul, London, Mumbai, Shanghai, Caracas & Paris.

Then there's the price of buying property, another hot topic here. According to a Reuters story in Gulf News (not on their website) prices of prime property in central London have risen by more than 33% in the last 12 months. A property worth £100,000 (AED730,000) in 1976 would now be worth more than £4.1 million (AED29.93 million).

In Sydney, we're told:

THERE are now 42 Sydney suburbs with a median house price over $1 million (AED2.7 million), more than when the city-wide property boom peaked 3 years ago...Palm Beach has emerged as Sydney's most expensive suburb. Its median price has more than doubled in the past three years to $3.1 million (AED8.56 million). Four suburbs - Bellevue Hill, Vaucluse, Dover Heights and Clontarf - all have median prices over $2 million (AED5.52 million)...The boom at the top end of the market means about 11 per cent of suburbs now have a $1 million-plus median house price.

On to exploitation of labour and in the UK the Guardian tells us:

British law allows escape clauses from paying the minimum wage. Last week, another restaurant chain was denounced for paying its waiting staff only £3.75 (AED27.38) an hour, which is £1.60 (AED11.68) below the minimum wage. (Which is AED39)...Enforcement of the minimum wage is minimal, with only 100 compliance officers to cover the country. HM Revenue & Customs have only prosecuted one cheating employer... With £5,000 (AED36,500) as the maximum penalty, rogue employers are not deterred...Agency employees can be fired on the spot at any time within one year of employment. Frequently, they are fired just before the year's end - only to be hired again the next day. That way they can work for years for one employer with no holidays, sick pay or pensions...Their YouGov survey of agency workers finds over half have had no holiday break in the past six months. They talk of terrible conditions - 12-hour shifts at sub-zero, freezing vegetables.

None of that excuses Dubai employers exploiting workers, of insufficient inspection, of too-lenient fines - but it does show that so-called advanced societies are also guilty.

Then something I posted about on Wednesday, domestic violence. Of course, sadly, we have it here. In Australia a report says:

DOMESTIC violence against women causes about 15 per cent of the depression and anxiety affecting females, and nearly a third of female suicides, while child sexual abuse causes 10 per cent of the anxiety and depression in the entire population.

On to driving around schools, in the news here because children have been killed by vehicles over the last few weeks. From my local newspaper in Australia comes this:

TOUGH new penalties have slowed motorists driving through school zones. But it's still Rafferty's rules when it comes to double parking, dropping children off in no stopping zones and obeying pedestrian crossing regulations...Three days after the Roads and Traffic Authority introduced new penalties for breaking the road rules in school zones motorists continued to ignore laws which now attract more demerit points and heftier fines....parking in no stopping zones and across driveways, and double parking, were the most common offences...there was still the odd car ``drifting through'' when the crossing was being used.

Then bad planning, delays and waste came to mind when I read another story in my local newspaper in Australia:

The controversial new trains planned for the Central Coast were under fire on several fronts this week...criticised the State Government over year-long delays in introducing the new carriages...they would be more crowded and uncomfortable than the trains they were replacing.
...suspension problems needed to be fixed before the trains could begin running in then many commuters would be committed to using their cars.

The State Government is spending $439 million (AED1.2 billion) on 122 of the new outer suburban carriages. They were to begin operating to the coast this year. But even when they did arrive overcrowding and lack of toilets would be problems. The V Set trains now used had the equivalent of a toilet for every carriage, the new ones would have one toilet for every four carriages and ``that's just not enough.''

Seating would also be less comfortable.

The coast's exploding commuter population needed an attractive rail service.

The introduction of the trains had been delayed because ``minor vibrations'' had been discovered in some carriages...some fine tuning of suspension systems was being undertaken to correct the problem.

I'm not for one moment suggesting that because something happens elsewhere that it's acceptable in Dubai. Nor am I suggesting that if we see something that should be exposed and improved that we should turn a blind eye. Of course these things should be pointed out, otherwise they'll never be improved.

I am, I suppose, saying that we shouldn't fall into the trap of believing these things happen only in Dubai, that Dubai is uniquely guilty. What are considered more socially and legalistically advanced countries, the countries we come from, have many of the same problems. Indeed, they have more in some instances, such as crime. Dubai is part of the global community, it's becoming a big international city, it has a lot of catching up to do...but maybe our expectations are too high? Are we expecting Dubai to have none of the problems that other countries have?

On the cost of living thing, I'm also suggesting that prices here need to thought of in perspective against other cities, not against 'what they used to be'. That comparing the rent of a luxury apartment in Dubai Marina with a small flat in an English provincial town is not a fair comparison, it's not like with like.

If you want to read the original stories, here they are:

March of the million dollar suburbs.

McJobs are giving Britain a reputation...

The preventable things making us sick.

New rules ignored.

Controversial new trains.


secretdubai said...

I've never thought most problems were unique to Dubai, but people blog and complain about them because we live here. Were I living in the UK I would doubtless complain about the situation there.

That said, there are certain issues that are unique to Dubai. For example it is not illegal to pay a worker Dh400/month in Dubai: that would be illegal in the UK or Australia. I have interviewed people involved in the plight of outworkers in Australia, and I can vouch that if and when they do make their plight know, the law is on their side as well as free legal aid.

Rents in premium areas of Dubai may be cheaper than Knightsbridge and Manhattan. But even in London one can share a house relatively cheaply within 45 minutes commute of the centre. Sharing a house isn't even legal here, and the Sharjah commute is around two hours each way; plus people don't earn as much here. The needy get council houses in the UK, here they get nothing.

Domestic violence: no one disputes it is an issue worldwide. And although there are terrible miscarriages of justice in every country, there are more here. There are legal women's shelters overseas, restraining orders, safe houses. There are still police and judges that order women home to abusive husbands here. That would be unthinkable in Australia or the UK (and if it did happen with some wacko police officer, the victim would be in line to sue and claim heavy compensation).

Let us not also forget that there is tolerance of (limited) domestic violence enshrined in Islam. Obviously no sane Muslim would take this to mean that one may beat a woman black and blue with impunity. But it is not illegal to use physical discipline on your wife, even if - one would hope - the average Muslim would never dream of doing it. And women and daughters are "owned" here, they are not considered people with full individual human rights by the average judge, regardless of what the letter of the UAE law may say. No matter how many times senior sheikhs speak out on the rights of women, at the end of the day Emirati (and expat, to a lesser extent) women have less rights than men and in the case of local women, their rights are particuarly curtailed in the case of marriage and divorce.

Bad driving is also a worldwide problem. But the death toll is far higher here than in westernised countries. I have never ever seen a police pursuit here, I have never heard of anyone being pulled over for dangerous driving, and I have seen people speed and weave past police cars. People don't even lose their licenses here after fifty speeding offences. Asian expats have poorer driving tuition in their home countries and the UAE test is a very low, poor standard. Locals and western expats drive far faster, more powerful cars than they would back home (because they're cheaper, and fuel is cheaper) and people - and I admit this includes me, though I drive a shitwagon - worry far less about using their mobile phones while driving or speeding.

So Dubai is not the only country in the world to have these issues, nor is it even the worst country (driving in Iran is far worse, or the plight of women in Afghanistan, or - I imagine - the cost of renting a flat in Monte Carlo!) but Dubai is generally much worse than the average western country it regularly seeks to compare itself with.

dxbhack said...

The whole thing about Dubai being the 14th most expensive is hardly a cause of celebration is it?

Is Dubai the 14th greatest city in the world? I wouldn't even put it in my top 50. That's the reality of the survey. 14 is way too high for what you get in return.

dxbhack said...

I meant to add...Dubai says "We are cheaper than Hong Kong, New York and seriously compares itself in the bigger picture with these cities?

kavi said...

dubai is fast grawing there both advantage and disadvantage.