expo dubai

Expo Dubai: Seven Billion Dollars for the World Exhibition

Satellite images show: The new Expo site fits the glittering metropolis of superlatives. Dubai paid a whopping seven billion dollars for the World Expo. And yet some of the glitter seems a little dull.

“Economy from above” is a collaboration between WirtschaftsWoche and LiveEO. This is a translation of the original article written in German by “Volker ter Haseborg“. Access the original article here.

The joy in Dubai was enormous on November 27, 2013. The Emirate of Dubai had been chosen as the venue for the Expo – and thus the first world exhibition in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia region.

Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum set off fireworks from the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. The government also declared a national holiday for all educational institutions in the United Arab Emirates.

The planning began. A site in the south of Dubai was chosen as the location of the Expo. The exclusive satellite images from LiveEO show: The area was built out of the desert sand – and for a lot of money: The Expo cost the desert emirate seven billion dollars.

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Al Wasl Plaza is the focal point – this is where the exhibition’s festivities take place. The steel lattice dome of Al Wasl Plaza is reportedly the largest 360-degree projection surface in the world. The motto is “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future,” with three sub-themes: opportunity, mobility, and sustainability. The pavilions are arranged according to these sub-themes. From space, the three themed streets look like three petals.

Around 200 participants from 191 countries – including nations, companies, and educational institutions – will present their innovations here. The German pavilion, for example, also delves into the topics of climate change and sustainability.

It is remarkable that Dubai, of all places, is concerned with the issue of sustainability. Within a few decades, a nest of 40,000 inhabitants in the desert (1960) became a megacity with 3.4 million inhabitants (2020). It is a glittering metropolis of superlatives that aims above all to attract adventure tourists. With man-made islands, such as the Palm Jumeirah in the shape of a date palm. With the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. Investors from all over the world were attracted with tax exemptions, free trade zones, gigantic infrastructure projects – all financed with oil billions. What no longer pleases is simply torn down and made new. The car engine is left running in the hot months so that the car stays nice and cool.

However, Expo vows to do better: More than 80 percent of the exhibition infrastructure is to live on. The Expo site is to become the “District 2020 city of the future, a global “model community for the future that uses cutting-edge innovation, science and sustainability to create a cleaner, safer and healthier environment,” as the organizers emphasize. Whether that comes to pass remains to be seen. The emirate is currently struggling with the fact that its successful model is being copied by its neighbor Saudi Arabia, among others.

Dubai is therefore also pursuing one goal above all with the Expo: to attract visitors again after the Corona lockdown last year. Dubai is reportedly expecting the world exhibition to generate $33 billion in added value. Up to 300,000 new jobs are expected to be created. The World Expo will be open from October 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022, with 25 million visits expected.

The migrant workers who helped build the Expo have already moved on. Human rights organizations criticized exploitation on the construction site, poor working conditions in the Corona period. The organizers reject the criticism.

Migrant workers are omnipresent in Dubai. They come from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, for example, and slave away on construction sites in order to be able to send money home. When Corona also spread to Dubai, they were often left to their fate. Now that the economy is picking up again, they are welcome back. That is if they pass the medical check: Blood is drawn, lungs x-rayed. Supposedly, diseases such as AIDS or hepatitis are to be ruled out. Those who fail the test must leave the country within 24 hours. With no chance of returning.