Keeping Abu Dhabi's Pavement Clean
by Phileas Fogg with Ranger Kidwell-Ross
Editor's Note: Because we have purposefully kept spelling consistent with usage in that part of the world, you may find words that are spelled differently than you are used to.
Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, has an image of being extremely clean, a reputation that includes its roadway system. This is somewhat surprising, given that most countries and their cities in that part of the world have massive sweeping difficulties since they are sited on sand and are surrounded by sand. Add to that scorching temperatures, high winds and the dust they create, and the result is all the right ingredients to make a sweeping program into a difficult task.
Phileas Fogg, our globe-trotting WorldSweeper.com correspondent, interviews Tony Moran and Dan Ponder from Golder Associates, a global engineering consulting company. These two gentlemen, who are contract managers to the Abu Dhabi Centre of Waste Management, tell how they accomplish the task.
Readers will have noticed that much of my time is spent in the Gulf and Middle East countries. Over the last few years, Mrs. Fogg and I have been frequent visitors to Abu Dhabi, which is located in the United Arab Emirates.
My visits to Abu Dhabi have started to intrigue me as the streets and roads are far cleaner than those of its neighbours. The drive from the airport to the city is along a spotless, tree- and grass-lined highway that is neat and clean; sometimes, sprinklers soften the air as they water the grassy verges. The astonishing part is that all of this is just several hundred metres from a harsh, desert-like landscape. Upon arrival to the inner city, one finds it to be just as clean. Parks look inviting and median strips and sidewalks are shaded.
There are an enormous number of 'sweeping traps:' road indents for bus stops, traffic light islands and traffic splitters, street-level angle car parking. All these, as I well know, are places a sweeper operator, whether contracted or in-house, hates to sweep. Yet even a close inpsection shows they are all clean, clean, clean.
The small city streets are a parking nightmare, with a mish-mash of angle parking, parallel parking, centre of the road parking and all of it completely crowded. In some areas, new car distributors even use the street as their showroom with new vehicles lined up.
Night time didn't make much difference. Some cars are left in the kerb, virtually blocking access, yet the whole area was litter-free and looked freshly swept. Even construction sites were clean with concrete barriers installed and high fences built to keep in and debris. Remember, this is a city built on sand, where every hole dug produces fine sand and dust.
How can such a clean infrastructure be in place when everywhere else in the region is so very different? I set out to find out what kind of sweeping regime was in place.
To find the answers I visited the Centre of Waste Management, which is responsible for pavement sweeping and all waste management. I met with Tony Moran and Dan Ponder from Golder Associates, a global engineering consulting company that is the contract manager for the Centre of Waste Management.
The task of Golder Associates and, in turn, Tony and Dan, is to ensure the high standards set by the Centre are met by the many contractors working in Abu Dhabi. They explained that the success of their role was made easier by the very clear vertical integration of decisionmaking by the Centre, the Environmental Authority of Abu Dhabi and the Executive Council of Abu Dhabi.
Policies, initiatives and strong support flow down from the top, which is in this case Managing Director of the Centre, His Excellency Majid Al Mansouri, who plays a critical role in ensuring information flow and support. Under Mr. Al Mansouri's excellent stewardship the centre has looked closely at improving all aspects of waste reduction. To date, these have included an electro-hydraulic underground collection system (a first for any Gulf State) as well as a highly visible public "Let's Keep Abu Dhabi Clean" campaign. From what I could see, both are working.
"The future of the country is contingent on our ability to manage our natural resources with maximum wisdom and keenness on the interests of future generations."
–His Highness Sheikh Khalafi Bin Zayed Al NayNahyan
President of the United Arab Emirates
The Emirate is divided into areas and contracts for sweeping, litter and rubbish collection are let for each area. Areas that cover roads outside the city are notoriously difficult to handle, since high winds can cover a highway with heavy drifts of sand. This means a contractor with an area to keep both litter-free and clean has a particularly hard job balancing suitable equipment to cover both situations.
The Centre has many contract inspectors. The inspectors are constantly on the road checking standards and responding to complaints received at the citizens' free-callin centre. Complaints and breaches are noted electronically with the contractor. Complaints trigger photos to be taken and a simple – but thorough – complaints-handling process activated. This keeps contractors on their toes while also providing the public with a process for seeing their concerns addressed.
One of the contractors is currently using a GPS monitoring system. In the near future, the plan is to have all vehicles become GPS-tracked. This will allow data on sweeping distances, down time, landfill visits and travel to all be monitored so both the Centre and the contractors know exactly how the contract is running.
Dan Ponder said that complaints are a major part of the on-going contract performance measurement and there is constant dialogue between the Centre and the contractors. "We like to think we work in partnership with the contractors to lift their performance and to deliver a high level of service. In the time we have managed the contract we have seen some of the less experienced contractors blossom into well-performing companies as they take up the challenge to work closely with us. Abu Dhabi is growing at an extraordinary pace and we want to avoid burning out contractors as they struggle to take on increased workload. If more resources are required, we will listen to sound argument."
Because the Centre for Waste Management is integrated to the decisionmaking process for the entire Emirate, there is close liaison with Town Planning Department, Parks and Gardens and the Water Department to ensure that public projects are properly assessed regarding their impact on cleansing. As they are constructed around the city, new buildings are now required to utilize underground waste collection container. This is eliminating unsightly street-side bins. New roads are quickly landscaped, which not only looks refreshing but eliminates sand and dust drifting onto the road.
I spotted the answer to the clean car parking areas, which is a cadre of hand-pickup workers. The photo to the right is of one of the many litter pickers constantly working the area. Old-fashioned, perhaps, but probably the only effective way. Tony Moran said they have looked to mechanise a lot of this work but mechanical collection around expensive cars is both difficult and potentially expensive. Although it works in some areas, they still find a constant patrol by a diligent human is what really ensures the job is done well. I did not have an opportunity to talk to any of the contractors but will do so on a later visit. Certainly any contractor performing to this level will be interesting to talk to.
The Centre is determined to make Abu Dhabi one of the cleanest cities in the world. From what I have seen, they are well on the way. I can think of a large number of well-known cities in USA, UK and Europe that would be very pleased to be as good as Abu Dhabi. The coordination of efforts the city has in place appears to have gotten the process right. They have a strategy and commitment from all levels to be one of the best.
It is not only simple street sweeping that they have right; the entire development and feel of the place, from beaches to F1 tracks, from superb hotels to great shopping malls, gives off a feeling of careful, prudent planning. Throughout all, there is the appearance of someone having an eye on the long-term benefit. All of their neighbours should look closely to see how it is being done.
But it woulld take more than Abu Dhabi's clean streets to make this old sweeper driver happy. It is a friendly city with many interesting places to see, white beaches, crystal clear water, great fishing, access to the mysterious desert and much more. Yes I like the place and will happily go back. Even dear Mrs. Fogg reckons it has the best shopping in the region, which she says is better than the other place up the road and not so crowded. We are not the only ones going back; the large, modern airport is receiving record numbers of visitors. When we landed there were quite a number of obvious honeymooners, eager to get to one of the many 5-star hotels. Their sheer numbers reminded me of the time I spotted a mystery bride in Kuwait, but that is another story.
Phileas Fogg is an intrepid and voracious traveler with an abiding interest in the power sweeping industry. He has agreed to, from time-to-time, provide the WorldSweeper.com reading audience with interviews and other information from countries he finds himself in. You may reach Mr. Fogg via email sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.