Dubai is known for its excess. Everything is shiny and new; an oasis of lavishness planted in the shifting sands of an endless desert. But years ago, they did something so lavish it made everything else–all the gold-plated Lamborghinis, the Burg Khalifa, and the glittering fountains–pale in comparison. Called The World, it’s a massive man-made archipelago in the shape of the countries of earth, so large it can be seen from space. Now, though, it’s reportedly sinking.
Developers of The World had grand ambitions. When they were first constructed, they were to be full of hotels and luxury homes, sold exclusively to the super rich. Accessible only by boat (read: mega-yacht), the islands of The World were sold off to the highest bidders. Owners could then claim they owned Ireland, or Britain, or whatever chunk of The World they purchased.
According to Nakheel, the developer, some 70% of the 300 islands were sold before reports that the islands are sinking into the sea began hitting the news. Now, most of the development on all but one of the islands has been halted. Greenland, however, is still under construction. That’s because the ruler of Dubai lives there. The failure has been a few years in the making: when property prices in Dubai tanked after the Emirates basically went bust, most of the investors in The World weren’t able to continue financing continuing work.
But a crippled real estate market wasn’t the only problem. The project was plagued by a series of events that foreshadowed what was to come. A man named John O’Dolan bought Ireland for nearly £25 million, then killed himself. Safi Qurashi bought Britain, then was sent to prison for bouncing checks. In 2009, Nakeel has to be bailed out of a $25 billion debt. And now the company that payed to own the rights to ferry people to the islands is bringing a case against Nakheel. “The islands are gradually falling back into the sea,” said Richard Wilmot-Smith of Penguin Marine to The Telegraph.
According to Penguin Marine, the sand used to build the islands is slowly falling back into the sea from where it came. The channels between the islands are filling back in, and if it continues on this way, the entire World will soon be back beneath the surface of the ocean. A strange metaphor for sea-level rise, to say the least. And I ain’t a religious man, but I’ll be damned if the Bible didn’t see this one coming. It’s a foolish man who builds his house on sand, or something like that.
From above, The World looks like, well, the world.
Nakheel, though, disagrees with the evidence Penguin showed that the islands are sinking. “Our periodical monitoring survey over the past three years didn’t observe any substantial erosion that requires sand nourishment,” a from a company spokesperson statement said. They do not, however, dispute the fact that work has stopped, describing it not as dead, but merely in a “coma.”
There might be a rescue for the sinking islands, though, assuming they are indeed sinking. A company from the Netherlands claims to have a solution. Dutch Docklands, a firm that makes floating islands, wants to help. They recently won a bid to build something called the Floating Proverb, which will be 89 floating islands that, when viewed from the air, will spell an Arab proverb.
Nakheel, though, isn’t giving in just yet. “This is a ten-year project which has slowed down,” said Graham Lovett, a spokesperson. “This is a project which will be completed.”