Hot on the heels of a scandal featuring a British couple who had sex on a Dubai beach comes the latest disaster to hit the city's tourist trade. For several weeks some of the emirate's fabled beaches have been covered with the stinking contents of septic tanks. That's poo to you and me.
Or rather raw sewage. Dubai's frantic and uncontrolled development has meant that it long ago outgrew its sewage system, which is now far too small for the amount of effluent the city generates. The city has no main drainage system, so tankers collect the sewage from septic tanks all over the city and transport it to the sewage works out in the desert.
For the moment, the existing site is operating at full capacity and the queue of tankers awaiting their turn to unload snakes out of the site amid a haze of
"The wait can be more than 10 hours. It is hard to bear, especially when it is hot," Ijaz Mohammed, a tanker driver from Pakistan, said.
Drivers are paid by the journey and in September some of them got fed up with the long queues and started offloading into the ditches intended as run-offs for the rare showers of rain.
Slip slap, slop?
The dumped effluent first runs into the sea, then drifts onto beaches, in particular those of the fashionable Jumeirah district, home to some of Dubai's swankiest hotels.
Doctors have warned of a heightened risk of catching diseases such as typhoid or hepatitis but adults and children continue to bathe in the sea.
Tourism is the motor of the local economy and the problem could have serious consequences if it starts to affect Dubai's image as a clean city, something it prides itself on.
"It's disgusting" said Avril Harding, an expat from Sydney. "There's no way I'd go swimming on those beaches now, no matter how posh the facilities are. I'll stick to the pool in my apartment block".
"This pollution is accidental and results from the practices of certain drivers," Mohammed Abdelrahmane Hasan, head of the city council's environmental services department, said.
Punishment is heavy for illegal offloading of waste, with the employer of any driver caught in the act being liable for a fine of up to 100,000 dirhams (A$40,907). The vehicle can also be impounded.
The local authority has decided to encourage informers after 55 drivers in one week were spotted while dumping their loads.
It has set up a public freephone number with the incentive of a 2000 dirham (about A$818) reward if the offence is confirmed.
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