The Stream, April 24, 2024: Deadly Flooding Hits Dubai As Historic Deluge Brings Desert Nations to Standstill

Farmers in the Mekong delta move their produce to market. Photo © J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue


  • The Mongolian government has signed a landmark deal to better protect millions of acres of its waters and lands as climate extremes continue to batter the country. 
  • In Ecuador’s rivers, plastic waste flowing toward the ocean is being stopped and collected by floating conveyor belts.
  • A year’s worth of rain fell in one day in the United Arab Emirates and Oman, spurring deadly floods and shutting down cities like Dubai.
  • Monthly rainfall totals in major cities across southern China have been broken, as another round of deadly deluges in Guangdong province prompts major evacuations.

Farmers in Vietnam are changing how rice is grown and irrigated, using less water and mitigating methane emissions.

“We don’t know which month is the rainy season, like we did before.” — Nguyen Van Nhut, director of the rice export company Hoang Minh Nhat in Vietnam.

Growing rice in Vietnam, the world’s third-largest exporter of the crop, is becoming ever more a “paradox,” AP reports. While vulnerable to the effects of climate change — including hot temperatures and variable, extreme rainfall — rice fields are water-intensive, consume fertilizer, and generate great amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas. 

The country’s paddy fields cover an area of land “more than six times the size of London.” By 2030 Vietnam’s government aims to produce on these lands “high quality, low emission rice” using water-saving irrigation techniques and drone-delivered fertilizer, which reduces excess runoff. These methods, when implemented, have so far combined to reduce the use of seed by 40 percent, and water by 30 percent. 

About 90 percent of the country’s exported rice is farmed in the Mekong Delta, one of the world’s most vulnerable locations to climate change. Here, farmers are also switching to different varieties of rice that are more resistant to briny waters and heat.

— Christian Thorsberg, Interim Stream Editor

Recent WaterNews from Circle of Blue

The Lead

About five inches of rain fell on the United Arab Emirates and Oman last week, the extreme downpour accounting for a year’s worth of precipitation in just 24 hours. While meteorologists forecasted the storm, cities in both countries weren’t built to withstand the floods that followed — streets and highways turned to rivers and homes, cars, and businesses were all submerged. At least 21 people were killed, the New York Times reports

In the United Arab Emirates, this was the largest rainfall in 75 years. Striking images showed the flat, usually arid megacity of Dubai underwater, as people in both residential and commercial neighborhoods struggled to move and adapt to the standing water. The city is usually so dry, that scientists have experimented with the controversial geoengineering technique of cloud-seeding — artificially adding particles to clouds, so that they more easily produce rain — prompting unconfirmed speculation that the floods were in some way a direct result of the process, BBC reports. 

Instead, scientists are pointing to global warming as one cause behind the sudden, extreme rainfall. While storms on the Arabian Peninsula tend to drop rain in extreme bursts, the impacts of climate change are making these instances more powerful, according to the New York Times.

This Week’s Top Water Stories, Told In Numbers

35.6 million

Acres in Mongolia protected under the country’s new “Eternal Mongolia” agreement, which will allocate nearly $200 million over 15 years to conserve the nation’s waters and lands, including “the world’s last great tract of temperate grassland,” Reuters reports. The agreement is one of Asia’s largest climate finance deals ever signed, and comes as Mongolia emerges from yet another dzud year — a phenomenon attributed to climate change in which heavy winter snows follow a dry summer, killing millions of weak livestock. As part of the deal, mining companies will need to pay much more to operate in certain regions of Mongolia. Over the past 80 years, the country’s average temperature has increased 2.25 degrees Celsius.



Number of people in China’s southern Guangdong province who have been evacuated from major cities in recent days as deadly rains and flooding place millions more at risk, the South China Morning Post reports. As least four people have died and 10 are still missing amidst record-breaking downpours. Water levels on the Bei River hit half-century highs, while flows to the Feilaixia hydropower plant broke 100-year-highs. Massive cities rest along these swelling waterways, including Qingyuan (population 4 million) and Zhaoqing City (4.1 million). Cumulative April rainfall totals in Guangzhou (15 million) also have been broken.

On the Radar

Close to 80 percent of plastic waste in our oceans is carried there by rivers — a problem that is being met with a unique solution in Ecuador, BBC reports. A company named Ichthion is deploying a new technology called the Azure system that redirects the flow of trash to a riverbank, where a worker manually shuttles the items out of the water and onto a conveyor belt, from which trash is separated into recycle bins. The system’s placement in the water is angled such that it doesn’t impede flows nor fish, while drone footage and AI-powered software helps to diagnose the type and upstream source of pollution. On its best day, Azure has collected more than 1.6 tons of plastic waste, though it has the capacity to reach 80 tons per day. 

More Water News

Yalmy Galaxias: The critically endangered freshwater fish, native to just a few tributaries of Australia’s Snowy River, is on the verge of extinction, the Guardian reports

Freshwater Challenge: In collaboration with a number of states, cities, Tribes, and organizations, the White House has announced a new national goal to “protect, restore, and reconnect 8 million acres of wetlands and 100,000 miles of our nation’s rivers and streams,” by 2030.

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