The UAE has adopted a flexible approach to dealing with risks posed by natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and floods, although it is not frequently hit by these kinds of disasters. This is part of its early warning system and proactive approach towards potential risks in order to ensure the security of its people and infrastructure. The UAE also provides aid at the regional and international level for countries dealing with natural disasters. Its expansive relief programs provide multifaceted support for victims of disasters around the world through the state’s humanitarian diplomacy. These factors help contextualize the announcement made by the UAE’s National Center of Meteorology on 2 July 2022 that monitoring stations had recorded a 6.3-magnitude earthquake in southern Iran and that this was felt in some areas of the UAE without causing any damage.
The UAE is not located within a zone in which these kinds of natural disasters usually occur, according to the most recent global statistics and indices on natural disaster and risk monitoring. This can be explained as follows:
1. The UAE is not located within a seismic belt: The UAE feels slight aftershocks when earthquakes occur in neighboring countries, but it is not located within a seismic belt. This was the case with the several earthquakes recorded in southern Iran in early July 2022. According to the National Center of Meteorology in the UAE, earthquake activity in southern Iran is normal, since the area is an active earthquake zone. Such quakes do not directly affect the UAE, although they usually produce aftershocks that, while not particularly strong, can be felt in neighboring countries. In these cases, some people in the UAE might feel slight aftershocks from the quakes.
2. UAE ranks low in 2021 WorldRiskIndex: The 2021 WorldRiskIndex calculated the level of risk from natural disasters for 181 countries and ranked them from "very low" or "low" risk to "medium," "high" or "very high" risk. The assessment methodology is based around four main factors: exposure to natural disasters such as earthquakes; vulnerability to disasters, including the susceptibility of infrastructure, food supplies, and the state of the economy; coping, which involves the state’s capacity to deal with disasters with regard to governance, healthcare, and social welfare; and adaptation, which involves dealing with natural hazards such as climate change, among other challenges.
According to the 2021 WorldRiskIndex, the UAE is one of the safest countries (very low risk) with regard to various kinds of hazards, including natural disasters. No countries in the Middle East or North Africa are considered very high risk for such disasters, while Gulf countries are all among the least exposed to such disasters.
3. Catastrophic earthquakes near the Middle East are uncommon: According to data updated as of 2021, none of the most powerful earthquakes (on the Richter magnitude scale) have occurred in the Middle East. Several South American countries ranked high on the list, with Chile, Ecuador, and Argentina all experiencing severe earthquakes. According to a 2021 natural disaster index published in April 2022, the Middle East is not regularly exposed to these kinds of disasters, while the US, Indonesia, India, and China most frequently experienced natural disasters. The risk of natural disasters and their repercussions has fallen for the Middle East as a whole, certain countries notwithstanding. For example, there have been some earthquakes in countries like Iran, most recently the eighttremors in southern Iran that occurred between the evening of 1 July and morning of 2 July 2022.
4. Drop in earthquakes worldwide in 2021: The most recent annual report published by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), the "Disasters Year in Review 2021," noted that earthquake activity fell worldwide in 2021. The number of deaths and injuries resulting from earthquakes were also fewer in 2021 compared with the 20-year average.
According to the report, no Arab countries suffered severe human casualties or economic losses as a result of natural disasters between 2001 and 2021. Although Asia experiences the highest incidence of natural disasters in the world, the Gulf remains largely insulated from these events, including catastrophic earthquakes. Floods and storms were the most common types of natural disasters in 2021, while the economic cost of all forms of natural disaster worldwide was about 252 billion USD last year.
The UAE considers it very important to take a resilient approach to dealing with potential natural disasters, including earthquakes. In addition to managing risk domestically, the UAE provides many forms of aid in the regional and international spheres. Its approach includes the following:
1. Establishing a national emergency and crisis system: The UAE has been a leader at the regional and international level in building a national emergency and crisis system as part of the UN’s Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030). It issued a Unified Municipal Work Guide on emergency, crisis, and disaster management in order to collect data, formulate policy, and strengthen its early warning system. This will contribute to reducing risks from all kinds of natural disasters. The UAE has also established units specialized in disaster management and risk reduction in the form of municipal cadres, and provided the necessary resources to bolster the state’s proactive and flexible structures for dealing with potential risks.
It is worth noting that the National Emergency, Crisis, and Disaster Management Authority in the UAE has produced a manual for dealing with emergencies such as earthquakes. It also periodically releases informative bulletins to raise public awareness of these risks. This is part of the country’s efforts to build its capacity to deal with disasters, including stepping up communications at the federal and local level to preserve the life and property of all persons in the UAE.
2. A flexible role for Disaster Management Authority: The UAE’s National Emergency, Crisis, and Disaster Management Authority focuses on several main areas. These include disaster readiness, advance planning, and sustaining and strengthening the seven emirates’ capabilities in dealing with emergencies and crises. The UAE also has a disaster response plan whose main objective is ensuring the safety of its population through a flexible response structure that distributes responsibilities, sets recovery standards, and ensures community participation. This is important since the community plays a key role in reducing risks from potential disasters. In developing this plan, the UAE has drawn on the experiences of other countries that have been successful in crisis and disaster management.
3. Designing earthquake-resistant structures: The state has developed flexible laws and policies for building infrastructure, including with regard to using up-to-date regulations and codes in accordance with the best practices at the international level. This will enable infrastructure in the UAE to become better able to withstand natural disasters and will significantly mitigate potential risks.
The UAE has systematically dealt with earthquakes and their potential aftershocks through implementing structural design requirements that buildings must be able to resist specified earthquake loads. Building permits are issues in accordance with revised seismic codes as well as the most up-to-date requirements at the global level. Buildings and structures are designed in the UAE according to the most recent codes and US and European standards in order to avoid potential damage to buildings in the case of an earthquake. This allows the state to reduce potential repercussions from such disasters and to protect the lives of all its residents.
4. Active diplomacy to support victims of natural disasters: The UAE pursues active diplomacy in offering urgent humanitarian aid to countries stricken by natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, and fires, among others. This is part of an ambitious relief program that provides basic necessities, including food and medical supplies, as well as shelters for victims of natural disasters around the world.
Indonesia, Malaysia, Sudan, and most recently, Afghanistan have all been recipients of UAE humanitarian aid following natural disasters. In June 2022, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, President of the UAE, issued an order to establish an air bridge to bring food parcels, basic medical supplies, a medical team, and field hospital to Afghanistan in order to help the latter cope with an earthquake that struck the southeast of the country.
A Resilient Approach
In conclusion, the UAE’s domestic, regional, and international policies for dealing with natural disasters are in line with its other risk reduction policies more generally. These have included implementing an early warning system and monitoring any indications that it might need to bring in the National Emergency, Crisis, and Disaster Management Authority. It has also adopted an information policy focused on providing necessary details on important developments. It works to ensure the sufficient readiness of all relevant institutions and that international expertise in the field of crisis and disaster management is used to strengthen the UAE’s resilience in dealing with potential risks in the near- and mid-term future.