Urban Studies Paper on Environmental Impact From the Construction Industry In The United Arab Emirates


Environmental Impact From the Construction Industry In The United Arab Emirates

The UAE is among the most highly developing economies as a result of its vast oil resources. The growth in the economy has paved way for a boom in the construction industry (Al-Hajj & Hamani 2011, p. 221). The construction industry boosts a number of projects responsible for the emergency of skyscrapers and other important buildings fueling the hospitality industry in the region. However, the construction industry in the UAE is responsible for issues affecting the environment, the glaring one being the increasing carbon footprint. Construction projects are sources of environmental pollution in the UAE. The pollution is caused during the site and construction stages.  The structures erected as a result of the construction projects are normally sited in extensive chunks of land and their further development involves modification of the existing landscape, and thus contributing to the continued environmental pollution. This paper explores the environmental impact from the construction industry in the United Arab Emirates.  The paper defines the problem and explores the impacts of construction activities on the environment before coming up with an answer for the problem.

Problem Statement

According to a study by Allacker and De Nocker 2012, p. 712), there are few literatures that have documented the effects of the construction industry on the environment. At the same time, Dixon (2010, p. 15) reports that the construction industry in the UAE is steadily increasing as a result of the focus on the booming hospitality industry. Fernandez, et al (2010, p. 29) report that the UAE has been noted on the global environmental conservation radar for its ballooning carbon footprint. Pacheco-Torgal  (2014, p. 141) observes that the increase in the carbon footprint has a direct relationship with the increasing activities of the construction industry. Amir, Piroozfar, Altan, and Popovic-Larsen (2012,p. 55) on the other hand, observe that there have been little efforts from those involved in the construction industry to mitigate the impacts of construction activities on the environment.  As a result, it is necessary to explore how construction activities affect the environments and thereafter design appropriate strategy to mitigate the effect.

Environmental Impact From Construction Industry In The United Arab Emirates

Emission of Green House Gases

The construction industry is among the heaviest industries depending on machine use on a large scale, as well as use of equipments.  Regardless of site construction or offsite construction in transporting and material manufacturing, the used equipments and machines consume fossil fuels. As a result, greenhouse gases are emitted into the air, affecting the quality of the air, as well as increasing global warming. The emitted gases affect people’s health, especially those working at the site. The emitted gases spread into the atmosphere and are carried by air causing pollution to the construction site itself as well as the surrounding region. This affects people negatively and causes many diseases (Zhen & Heng 2000, p. 320).

Activities related to construction have increased in the society today and this has in turn increased emission of greenhouse gases. This has been a major reason for temperature increase in the planet earth, which has a negative effect on the health of several species. Moreover, greenhouse gases have affected the supply of food by rendering agricultural land dry thereby damaging the productivity levels. Furthermore, these gases increase the melting of the ice pole caps, as well as glaciers and this increases the sea level resulting to flooding and unusual hurricanes and storms. Greenhouse gases emission has resulted to global warming, which has become a problem to the entire ecosystem (Planichamy 2011, p. 204).

Dust Pollution

Dust generation is common in activities related to construction and it is a major pollution to the environment. It is has been considered an element of air pollution because its solid particles suspend in the air, polluting it and causing potential problems to the environment. This affects people’s health directly, as well as plants and animals which come into contact with the operations of construction and the effect will extend to other areas beyond the sites of construction (Ahn, Peña-Mora, Lee & Arboleda 2013, p. 86). People working on sites can also be affected following the dusty environment, which can tamper with their styles of living. Also, such dust can cause accidents as it can lead to vision obstruction, especially to people who work at the construction sites for a long period. The major dust sources are the concrete and cement production factories, aggregates and stones crushers, civil engineering activities, material shifting, and demolition works (Yan &  Stellios 2006, p. 41).

Chemical Odors Emission

During chemical reactions that are vital for material production, harmful odors are emitted in the process. During the construction operation itself like in the case of cement hydration reaction and in reactions of construction chemical materials, chemical odors are emitted (Gangolells, Casals, Forcada, Fuertes & Roca 2013, p. 138). The emitted materials cause a major health problem, especially to people who suffer from respiratory diseases and can cause a broad range of dangerous diseases (Abolore 2012, p. 951).

The effect of chemical fumes is not limited to people’s health only, it also pollutes the air and causes acid rain. Acid rain pollutes water and soil and this result to serious environmental effects on to the total biodiversity and ecosystem (Bader 2005, p. 73).

Noise pollution

Noise is an ever present characteristic in construction operations and it affects human beings in different aspects, such as health wise and socially, as well. Ballesteros, Fernandez, Chavarria, and Quintana (2010, p. 30) examined the impact of activities that are construction related on the environment and realized that they can cause a serious problem to people’s hearing system when subjected directly to the noise of a high level. This increases stress and diseases related to blood pressure. People living near the construction site are affected and their social lives are interfered with depending on the noise level and the amount of time an individual is exposed to noise. Such noise may also cause a risk of accidents (Tokmechi 2011, 2652).

Depletion of Natural Resources

Natural resources are heavily relied upon in the construction. These are resources, such as fossil fuel consumption, which is vital in running factories and the machineries and equipments of construction. In addition, most of the construction materials are obtained from natural resources, including wood, stone, and iron. Also, the construction site occupies tremendous areas essential for agricultural use. Consumption of natural resources reflects an impact on the environment given that these resources play significant roles in balancing the ecosystem (Tokmechi 2011, 2652).

Ghaly (2011, p. 502) holds that natural resources demand has been heightened because of the increase in population, as well as construction activities. He adds that accessibility of natural resources is vital to the future sustainability. In addition, he holds that natural resources are essential for the maintenance of ecosystem balance. Consuming natural resources during construction, such as in usage of fossil fuels and trees together with emission of green house gases, along with occupation of agricultural land increases the rate of global warming (Jieh-Haur, Li-Ren & Shang-I 2014, p. 19). At the same time, natural resources reduce a lot and, therefore, the future generation may hardly access such resources.

Challenges Likely To Come If a “Business as Usual” Model Is Maintained

The “business as usual” model implies that the situation that is likely to occur if nothing is done to mitigate the current situation. If nothing is done in the current situation, the construction industry will contribute to a severe global warming. There will be a wide scale depletion of natural resources, bothersome noise pollution, heightened chemical odors emission, and a constant dust pollution.

Most structures in the construction industry in Dubai are geared towards the hospitality industry, which is on the rise. If no action is taken to mitigate environmental issues, the industry will be affected drastically because tourists will not visit the country if the landscape is destroyed as a result of construction activities (Kunkel 2010, p. 47). This is likely to destroy the hospitality industry in the UAE. The UAE is part of the global family enjoined in the Kyoto protocol, which is tasked with the responsibility of ensuring a reduction in the carbon footprint, thereby reducing the quality of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. As a result, it will experience pressure from the international community to reduce its emission if the current “business as usual” model is maintained. Such an occurrence is likely to attract sanctions from international bodies, and this will paint the UAE negatively and affects activities, such as trade and education. In addition, the UAE is likely to experience a number of negative impacts mentioned in the previous section in increased measures.

Solution to Environmental Issues Caused By the Construction Industry

The construction industry has a number of impacts on the environmental, which is derived from a number of sources. As a result, any meaningful package to solve the menace must take a holistic approach to the situation (Melanta, S, Miller-Hooks, E, & Avetisyan, H 2013, p. 547). This paper recommends the implementation of sustainable construction policies and procedures in the entire construction industry in the UAE.

Sustainable construction is a holistic strategy in the construction, whereby there is a close association among all players in the construction industry during all the stages of construction. In construction process, a number of stages are involved, and they include establishing the site of the space, designing the building, constructing the structure, maintaining, renovating, and demolishing the building (Ogunsanmi & Windapo 2014, p. 64). During all these processes, pollution takes place, as analyzed in the previous section, and thus sustainable construction takes into consideration all the issues involved in each stage. For successful implementation of the strategy, there is a need for a close association among the engineers, the design team, the client, and the architects of the building (Namini, Preece, Tahmasebi & Shakouri 2014, p. 64). The association ensures mitigation of pollutants at every stage of construction.

The success of sustainable construction relies on the leadership and policies put in place to guide the procedures in the industry (Teixeira 2005, p. 52). As a result, the focus should be made by the government to ensure good policies and leadership are in place. Although structures generally serve the same purpose worldwide, each county has its own traditions and practices and thus the UAE should design the sustainability package to suit its environment (Allen & Iano 2008, p. 57). This should be effected through all the players, including political, judicial, and parastatal bodies concerned with the construction. First, the government should draft regulations to guide all stakeholders in the construction industry. These regulations should direct that all stakeholders in the construction industry to stick to sustainable practices in their activities. The government should further appoint various personnel in every region to ensure that all cycles of the construction process are carried out within the specified sustainable regulations. Such personnel act as the quality control, whereby they check the quality of construction activities to ensure sustainability practices are incorporated.

The sustainability aspect of the design requires input from various stakeholders and thus may affect the price of the construction process (Sharma 2011,p. 657). As a result, it should be factored during the design stage to ensure that proper costing is done. In cases, the cost may seem high the government should subsidize some process as part of preventive measures for the protection environment.  In this case, a sound science should be adopted to continually monitor and measure air emissions and solid wastes, as well as landscape damage.

Construction contracts are prepared based on the rules within the region in which construction process takes place, and thus sustainability approach should be designed to include in the contract (Quale, Eckelman, Williams, Sloditskie, & Zimmerman 2012, p. 243). In this case, the one who applies for a tender will be required to take into considerations sustainable construction initiatives, and this should be factored in the tender when pricing. The person who applies for a tender should thereafter submit an environmental management plan for the construction process. The one who succeeds should be given the policy plan for construction environmental management plan prepared by the UEA government. Such plan is focused on waste reduction and prevention of pollution during the construction process. The plan should be monitored through periodic visits to the site and all contacts during the project lifecycle reported.

The solution adopted will work effectively because the government is normally in control of construction activities, and thus better placed to enforce the new rules (Mao, Lu & Li 2009, p. 4). Also, the UAE government has enough resources to carry out the supervision and law enforcement in the construction industry.


This paper has explored how construction activities affect the environments and thereafter designed appropriate strategy to mitigate the effect. The study discovered that the construction industry in the UAE causes a wide scale depletion of natural resources, bothersome noise pollution, heightened chemical odors emission, and constant dust pollution among others. If nothing is done to mitigate the condition, the situation is likely to increase to worse. As a result, a strategy to mitigate it has been designed. The strategy adopted involves a sustainable construction policies and procedures in the entire construction industry in the UAE.



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