The Western Region of Abu Dhabi accounts for 80% of the emirate's landmass yet contains less than 8% of its population. This vast region is expected to undergo significant changes in the coming years as part of a government initiative to turn it into a business and tourism destination.
Despite its low population, the Western Region is a major contributor to the economy of Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as a whole. The region contains the largest oil fields and refineries in the UAE along with the majority of its gas fields. With its combined oil and agriculture activities, the region contributes 40% to the emirate's GDP. Mohamed Hamad Azzan Al Mazrouei, director general of the Western Region Development Council (WRDC), a government organisation created in 2006, said he believes the region still has much untapped potential.
The inhabitants of the Western Region are spread across seven main towns, making it difficult for the government to service the sparsely populated region. To address this issue, the WRDC developed the TAMM initiative, creating a one-stop-shop providing local access to all government-related paperwork and services. In doing so, the WRDC hopes to improve the interaction between the government and citizens. There are currently four TAMM posts. Some people who live in remote parts of the region previously had to make a 400km round trip journey to the Western Region's centre of Madinat Zayed to take care of government business.
"Developing remote areas and providing a dignified quality of life with safety and stability for citizens are among the government's top priorities. This strategy aims to generate a boom in the Western Region through launching economic, tourism, educational, transport, utility, electricity, water, sewage and housing projects," said Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi's crown prince. He stated that the projects will "generate a boom in the Western Region".
Creating employment opportunities is also a major concern for the region. Families from the area often move to more densely populated areas such as Abu Dhabi city in search of jobs. In an effort to create more employment opportunities, the council has taken steps to promote the region, to GCC and international financiers, as an investment destination for industrial development.
One such example can be seen by the investments in Al Ruwais, the centre for the region's downstream oil and gas services, which have been spearheaded by the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. Al Ruwais has developed into one of the most modern industrial areas in the Middle East. The local community is continuing to develop and grow, with the town's first mall currently under construction.
Other projects underway include storm water works in Madinat Zayed, various buildings in Delma and new buildings for civil defence in Sir Bani Yas Island and Bu Hasa.
There are water reservoir projects in Baynounah, Beda' Al Areedh, Liwa, Hadwaniyah, Beda' Yamrah, Ghameesat Qareen Al Aish as well as a desalination plant of 2m gallons capacity in Al Yasat Al Soghra Island.
Beyond infrastructure and industrial developments, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority and the WRDC are working to attract tourists to the region from the UAE and abroad, particularly at eco-tourism attractions that appeal to families.
One of these is a $3bn eco-tourism project, Desert Islands, which will combine six nature reserves spread across eight islands, including Sir Bani Yas and Delma. When fully operational, the Desert Islands are expected to attract 250,000 visitors and generate $326m in tourism revenue annually, as well as create around 6500 jobs.
One recently started project is a luxury resort called Qasr Al Sarab near the oasis in the Liwa desert. The project, led by the Abu Dhabi Tourism Development and Investment Company, the investment and financial wing of emirate's tourism authority, is expected to include 150 hotel rooms and 60 villas. Project organisers have planned for the resort to have a spa designed like a traditional hamam, complete with water fountains and hanging gardens.