Month: July 2008

Abu Dhabi and Dubai among world’s most pricey cities

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Abu Dhabi and Dubai among world’s most pricey cities
Vivian Salama THE NATIONAL Last Updated: July 26. 2008 8:26PM UAE

ABU DHABI // Abu Dhabi and Dubai remain among the world’s most expensive cities, though at a lower ranking than last year, a new cost-of-living survey has revealed.

This year Dubai ranks as the 52nd most expensive city, down from 32nd place last year, while the capital is number 62, down from 45th, according to Mercer, the international human resources company that conducts the annual survey. The cities rank second and third in the Middle East respectively, behind Tel Aviv, which ranked 14th. Conversely, a number of European cities have risen in the ranks and dominate the top of the list.

Yvonne Traber, a principal and research manager at Mercer, attributed much of the change to exchange rate fluctuations. “Current market conditions have led to the further weakening of the US dollar which, coupled with the strengthening of the Euro and many other currencies, has caused significant changes in this year’s rankings,” she said.

The survey, covering 143 cities in six continents, is designed to help multinational companies and governments determine compensation allowances for their expatriate employees. It charts the cost of more than 200 everyday items, from clothing and footwear, to groceries, personal care needs, transport costs and dining out, as well as the cost of renting a high quality two-bedroom furnished flat.

The cost of living in many European cities has grown more rapidly than in Abu Dhabi and Dubai because, in addition to inflation, the cost of goods is denominated in euros, which have strengthened against the dollar.

On the other hand, soaring oil prices and the rapid growth of GCC economies has fuelled inflation in the Middle East this year at a faster rate than in Europe and the US.

UAE inflation accelerated to a 20-year high of 11.4 per cent last year and will rise slightly to 11.8 per cent this year, a Reuters poll last month showed. Food, beverage and tobacco accounted for 11 per cent of that rise and, according to the Emirates Consumer Protection Society, a division of the UAE Ministry of Economy, food inflation could rise as high as 40 per cent this year.

“The saying goes that Emirates Hills is now more expensive than Beverly Hills,” said Mary Nicola, an economist with Standard Chartered Bank in Dubai. “Day-to-day expenses in terms of groceries and such have become more expensive here.”

Soaring rent prices have also become a burden for UAE residents. A report released by the Abu Dhabi Department of Planning and Economy (DPE) estimated that rents during the first quarter alone increased by 18 per cent.

A recent survey found that rents in the capital had risen by an average of 49 per cent since June of last year and, in some cases, almost doubled since the beginning of the year despite a Government cap of five per cent. The survey by Asteco, a UAE property services company, found that rent for two-bedroom apartments in the Muroor and Tourist Club areas increased by 80 per cent or more in the 12 months from last June.

The annual rent for two-bedroom apartments ranged from Dh180,000 (US$49,000) to Dh194,400 in Hamdan Street, on the Corniche, in the Tourist Club area, Salam Street, Muroor and Khalifa Street. The average rent for one-bedroom apartments throughout the city ranged from Dh110,000 to more than Dh140,000, depending on the quality and location of the unit, the survey found.

In comparison, the UK estate agent Foxtons is offering two-bedroom flats in the fashionable districts of Kensington or Notting Hill for £2,167 (Dh15,843) a month, or Dh190,838 a year. A similar two-bedroom apartment in the Financial District of New York was advertised by the CitiHabitats agency for $4,350 (Dh15,977) a month, or Dh192,000 a year.

Ms Traber said that multinational companies were attracted to countries with a high rate of economic growth. “Companies may assign high priority to expansion in these economies but may have to deal with inflationary pressures due to competition for expatriate-level housing and other services,” she noted.

Ms Nicola said inflation would have an impact on attracting new people to the GCC.

“Businesses trying to set up shop and attract new talent have to fork out more money,” she said.

Worldwide, Moscow ranked as the world’s most expensive city for the second year running, followed by Tokyo, and London. The only US city in the top 50 is New York, which is down from 15th place last year to 22nd this year, due to the weakness of the dollar.

Municipality issues new construction safety rules

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Municipality issues new construction safety rules
Praveen Menon THE NATIONAL Last Updated: July 29. 2008

The high number of construction workers being killed or injured after falling from buildings has sparked the introduction of a new set of on-site safety rules.

The municipality yesterday announced all building industry firms will have to meet new standards and that any who fail to do so will be fined.

The major area of change is the safety requirement for workers on tall buildings with four chapters of a new rule book dedicated to this area.

Essa al Maidour, Assistant Director General for Planning and Building Affairs at Dubai Municipality said the new manual was launched following “great concern for safety issues and a need to introduce future standards for the same.”

According to municipality statistics, workers falling from high rise buildings constituted forty-five per cent of the 865 accidents that occurred between 2004 and 2007.

Last year alone, nearly 48 per cent of work site accidents were due to workers falling from buildings.

“We have dedicated four chapters in our new safety manual to this particular issue. This is a serious concern for us and we believe that the consultant as well as the contractor is responsible for these deaths,” said Mr Maidour.

Abu Dhabi house rents soar 49pc in one yearBy Haseeb Haider

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Abu Dhabi house rents soar 49pc in one yearBy Haseeb Haider
29 July 2008 KHALEEJ TIMES

ABU DHABI — Rents of quality apartments in Abu Dhabi have gone up by 49 per cent over the past one year as the demand for reasonably priced apartments outstripped supply in a city that is witnessing hyper business activity, says a report.

“The most notable movement comes in the two-bedroom unit category with 66 per cent increase in rents over the last year,” says the report compiled by Asteco, a property management company that is analysing the current demand and supply situation.

The report has, however, painted a rosy picture for the future, as almost 70 per cent of the new projects being built in the Musaffah area have been earmarked as residential because the government is well aware of the shortage in accommodation.

The Asteco report for the second quarter of 2008 estimates that 60 per cent of the new accommodations would be two-bedroom apartments meant for couples and families. Nearly 25 per cent of the new accommodations will be one-bedroom units while the remaining will be three- and four-bedroom units.

Areas such as Muroor, Tourist Club Area (TCA) and Salam Street are witnessing the most activity. Khalidiyah, which showed the lowest growth due to low tenant movement, is still the most-sought-after location.

Khalidiyah attracts a mix of nationalities, specially emiratis and western expatriates, due to its proximity to Marina Mall and a number of international schools in the area.

Hamdan Street continues to command high rents of nearly Dh125,000 for one-bedroom apartments. Units in this area are of poor quality and landlords are taking advantage of the shortage of supply and are charging above average prices

Villas in Khalidiyah, Bateen and Manaser command some of the highest rents in Abu Dhabi starting at Dh150,000 for a three-bedroom property. Nearly 80 per cent of the villas in these areas are high quality and tend to be occupied by a mix of high-income individuals.

Villas in Al Falah and Airport Road areas are of slightly lower quality, yet the rents are high. In addition, many villas are split into separate units to cater to the growing ‘bachelor’ clientele.

According to Asteco report, there is no shortage of villas in Abu Dhabi, yet rents are high.

“This problem is likely to be eased when the more affordable villa projects in Khalifa City, Mohammed bin Zayed City, Al Raha, Sas Al Nakheel and Seashore come on line,” says the report.

Commenting on the situation, Rebekah Savage, of Foundation Property Management Co, which manages a large number of residential buildings, told Khaleej Times that Abu Dhabi Commercial Properties (ADCP) recently estimated that there are 250 buildings in and around Abu Dhabi city centre that would be demolished and 750 buildings would be built in and around Abu Dhabi and the garden city of Al Ain.

Ex-Google workers launch ‘Cuil’ search engine

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Ex-Google workers launch ‘Cuil’ search engine
Agencies Published: July 29, 2008, 10:29

San Francisco: A group of former Google engineers have launched a rival Internet search engine Cuil this week, calling it an improved version of the world’s most popular web-scouring tool.

Cuil’s founders include former Google staffer Anna Patterson. Patterson intends to upstage Google, which she quit in 2006 to develop a more comprehensive and efficient way to scour the Internet.

The end result is Cuil, pronounced “cool.” Backed by $33 million in venture capital, the search engine began processing requests for the first time on Monday.

Cuil had kept a low profile while Patterson, her husband, Tom Costello, and two other former Google engineers — Russell Power and Louis Monier — searched for better ways to search.

Cuil’s search index spans 120 billion Web pages. Patterson believes that’s at least three times the size of Google’s index, although there is no way to know for certain. Google stopped publicly quantifying its index’s breadth nearly three years ago when the catalog spanned 8.2 billion Web pages.

Cuil won’t divulge the formula it has developed to cover a wider swath of the Web with far fewer computers than Google. And Google isn’t ceding the point: Spokeswoman Katie Watson said her company still believes its index is the largest.

After getting inquiries about Cuil, Google asserted on its blog Friday that it regularly scans through 1 trillion unique Web links. But Google said it doesn’t index them all because they either point to similar content or would diminish the quality of its search results in some other way. The posting didn’t quantify the size of Google’s index.

A search index’s scope is important because information, pictures and content can’t be found unless they’re stored in a database. But Cuil believes it will outshine Google in several other ways, including its method for identifying and displaying pertinent results.

Minibuses will have their speeds limited, say Dubai police

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Minibuses will have their speeds limited, say Dubai police

By Alia Al Theeb, Staff Reporter GULF NEWS Published: July 29, 2008, 00:05

Dubai: Minibuses will soon be fitted with speed limiting devices, a senior police official said on Monday.

Brigadier Mohammad Saif Al Zafein, Director of Dubai Police’s Traffic Department, on Monday held a meeting with representatives of more than 50 companies that own or rent minibuses. The open discussion aimed at pinpointing the problems and the reasons behind the increasing number of traffic offences and accidents involving minibuses.

Check at 100km/hr

Brigadier Al Zafein said there is a plan to install speed limiters in minibuses which will prevent drivers from exceeding the speed of 100km an hour.
He said there is coordination between the traffic department and the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) regarding this plan which will contribute in reducing fatal accidents.

“Most minibuses which were involved in fatal accidents and resulted in high number of victims were speeding excessively which does not suit the vehicle’s nature,” he said.

He pointed out to the minibus accident which took place on Shaikh Rashid Road two weeks ago and claimed five lives.

“The driver of that minibus was speeding at 140km/hr to 160km/hr,” he said. He said in the next phase, they will meet with drivers of minibuses.

Brigadier Al Zafein said the traffic department confiscated 65 minibuses as part of a campaign launched to crack down on offences committed by minibus drivers. The vehicles were confiscated for 30 days for reckless driving and overloading with passengers.

Offence: ‘Most are reckless’

Brigadier Mohammad Saif Al Zafein, Director of Dubai Police’s Traffic Department, said according to him 99.9 per cent of minibus drivers are reckless drivers and they commit four common offences which are, excessive speeding, changing lanes without indications and not abiding by lane lines, overloading of passengers and tailgating.

UAE get set to Sing and Dance with the Super Stars

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A hoarding announcing the arrival of the Super Stars for their performance on 1st August 2008

National Theatre Abu Dhabi where the Super Stars Nite will be held on Friday, 1st August 2008

A view of the National Theatre Abu Dhabi where the Super Stars Nite will be held on Friday, 1st August 2008
Hoardings in the main street of Abu Dhabi announcing the programme on Friday, 1st August 2008.

Youngster is ‘super star’

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Youngster is ‘super star’

SCHOOLBOY dancing sensation Vidyuth Menon has returned to Bahrain to a hero’s welcome after starring in one of the world’s most celebrated reality TV competitions.
The Asian School pupil took time away from his classroom to grab the opportunity of shining under the spotlight in the Super Star Junior Dance Competition aired on popular Indian television channel Amrita.

Viewers watched in awe every week from Monday to Friday and thousands of Batelco customers here in Bahrain cast their SMS vote for Vidyuth, 11, who attracted millions of fans in India too as he battled into the semi-finals.
Vidyuth, was one of only 15 children selected from more than 7,000 worldwide entries, and said: “I just love to dance!

“This was an incredible experience and so exciting and I’ve made so many new friends.”

His proud mum Priya, from Hoora, said: “The competition has helped him immensely to overcome his shyness and has brought about a fresh ray of confidence – so I am very thankful.

“It was not one of the easiest ventures we have ever done as we had to travel up and down to India twice. After the first audition which was in August last year, we came back.

“He was selected for the next stage and so we returned in September for rounds two and three of the audition process.”

After the auditions were concluded and Vidyuth was finally selected his family were forced to make some serious decisions. Fortunately Vidyuth’s school permitted him to take a six-month leave of absence but his mum had to resign her position as a maths teacher at Al Noor International School so she could take care of her only son.
Priya explained: “Our jobs are very important but I knew that I could come back and look for a new one. Vidyuth’s chance was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For the sake of our children we sometimes need to make compromises and sacrifices.

“I am glad I made that choice, otherwise I am sure I would have lived to regret not going.”

The pair returned to the kingdom after spending six months back in India.
Although the family live in Kerala where the show was staged their hometown was actually 440km from the set.

They decided to rent a house close to the studios rather than face a daily gruelling train trek.

“Both of Vidyuth’s grandmothers came to stay with us. It was quite demanding … every 10 days there was a shoot for two days.

“This meant choosing two songs, learning the steps, arranging the costumes and preparing for the filming which began at six in the morning.”

Also assisting the family was Jyothi Raj, a well-known dance teacher from Bahrain, who is Vidyuth’s trainer. Priya explained: “He actually came to India and stayed with us throughout the competition – all at his own expense – to be able to help Vidyuth.”

During the adventure Priya was often overcome by the pressure but Vidyuth’s excitement and energy helped soothe over the periods of anxiety.

Priya said: “There were times when I wanted to just leave everything and come back home to Bahrain but my son would tell me not to worry.”

His talent and optimism proved decisive as he was the only contestant not to fall in the ‘danger zone’ – a part of the competition where the participant achieved low audience votes and marks.

In the competition, the selection process was done in two ways. While the judges gave them the marks and comments, the real fate of the dancer rested with the viewers and audience.

Text messages were the main source of voting a favourite dancer and after every performance, the number of votes were counted for each of the contestants.
With Vidyuth’s participation in the competition, the family requested the channel organisers to also accept votes from Bahrain, as this was indeed his home.

Vidyuth’s father, Arun Menon, commercial manager, African and Eastern, had the pressure of coping with the stress all alone in the kingdom.

He said his son had attracted a huge following of fans, adding: “He has one particular supporter living in Saudi who still regularly calls up! He is a dancer himself and has been keeping a track of Vidyuth’s performances since the very beginning.

“There are also two girls – Mary and Lachchu students of the Indian School who regularly keep in touch. They even created a community name ‘Vidyuth the Super Dancer Junior’ on the online friends networking site – Orkut!”

The youngster has faced a few embarrassing moments of fame too. Once he received a greeting card addressed to ‘Vidyuth of Class Five, Asian School’ from an Indian admirer.

Vidyuth also has a growing number of dance fans in Bahrain where he has been performing ever since he returned from India.

Priya said: “Recently during a show organised by the Indian Ladies Association for the Children and Mother’s Welfare Society, Vidyuth performed to an audience of Shaikhas.

“After the performance one lady came and gave him a small packet and congratulated him saying the society’s president sent her regards and a small gift.”
The gift, BD100, helped him purchase a collection of games for his Play Station which is his passion alongside dancing.

Vidyuth also performed at the May Queen 2008 event as part of his dance group – the Rap City Boys. The group was formed by his trainer and consists of six dancers.
His love of dancing began at an early age when he watched his mother give dance lessons at home.

Priya said: “When we first moved to Bahrain I used to hold dance classes at home and he would silently watch me before running to the sitting room and doing his own dance.”

Since his small screen performances, Vidyuth has been approached by TV soap opera producers in India who have expressed an interest in creating a part for him.

Solar eclipse on Friday

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Solar eclipse on Friday
28 July 2008

ABU DHABI – UAE Astronomy Society has announced that the UAE, Gulf residents and other countries in the region will view partial solar eclipse on Friday. The eclipse will cover Oman, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, eastern parts of Saudi Arabia and northern parts of Jordan and Palestine.

Mohammed Shokat Awda, Chairman of the Islamic project for moon sighting, said the eclipse will take place in the UAE from 2.45pm- 4.10pm. Viewers must use proper observation equipment to protect their eyes. In Dubai, the eclipse will reach it’s maximum around 1127 GMT and will cover about 15 per cent of the sun. The best place to see the eclipse is near. Nadym in central Russia, where the eclipse will be almost total. The total phase of an eclipse looks like the onset of a rapidly darkening sky whose appearance resembles evening twilight about half an hour after sunset. Go to to see an interactive Google map of the eclipse. This map allows the user to sellect any portion of the path and to zoom in using either map data or Earth satellite data. You will also find a link with tips on how to photograph the eclipse.

UAE: Expats opt to buy property than pay rent

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UAE: Expats opt to buy property than pay rent
July 27th, 2008 Indo Asian News ServiceSunday, July 27, 2008 (Dubai)

An increasing number of residents in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – especially expatriates – are opting to buy property rather than live in rented property because of soaring rents.

“Given the steady increase in UAE rental prices over the past few years, buying is appearing increasingly attractive to expats who are looking to build equity from the significant financial investment they are already making in their home,” Chris Dommett, chief executive of leading independent mortgage advisor John Charcol Dubai, said in a statement in Dubai.

Indians, at 1.5 million, form the largest expatriate community in the UAE.

“The era of pumping hard earned income into oblivion for rent is dissipating within Dubai’s expat community as educational awareness of the local mortgage market increases and home lending services become more accessible,” Dommett said.

Building equity is widely considered the most important financial advantage of buying a home, said the statement.

“The ability of locking in a fixed monthly payment for a long term period is also a major incentive as rent in Dubai in general increases markedly every year,” it said.

Recent reports showed the UAE’s capital Abu Dhabi overtaking the country’s commercial capital Dubai in property prices.

According to figures released by HSBC this month, the average rent per square metre in Abu Dhabi, which was $272 in the last quarter of 2007, rocketed to $430 per square metre in the second quarter of 2008, a rise of 58 percent.

In Dubai, average rent per square metre was $343 in the last quarter of 2007. But this rose 22 percent to $420 per square metre.

As for buying a house, in Abu Dhabi prices rose by 61 percent from the last quarter of 2007 to the second quarter of 2008, while Dubai witnessed a rise of 37 percent in the same period.

“The main reason prices in Abu Dhabi are outpacing Dubai is because the market is much tighter and delivery delays are more apparent,” Majid Alam, an analyst at HSBC, told the Gulf News.

“Ultimately, we believe that Abu Dhabi should be at a premium because affordability is higher,” he added.

According to John Charcol, the volume and variety of mortgage options in the market, coupled with low interest rates, are also enticing a growing number of expatriates to tap into the region’s booming real estate industry and invest in their own property.

“Depending upon the price of the property and its expected return as opposed to what they are paying in rent, for many buying is often times a more economic solution,” it said in the statement.

However, it added, despite these advantages, “many foreigners continue to rent at exorbitant prices, in part due to a lack of understanding of the local real estate market, but also out of hesitation to get involved in the seemingly daunting UAE property buying process”.