By Chidi Emmanuel

KUWAIT: While cruising on the boat in the Arabian Gulf Sea, Failaka Island can be seen at the entrance of Kuwait Bay. The sea breeze blowing over the island is also a welcome change from the heat on the mainland. Failaka is a Kuwaiti island, 20 km off the coast of Kuwait City in the Arabian Gulf. The island is becoming a tourist magnet in Kuwait. The overall impression of the island demonstrates that a commitment is being made to preserve the distinctive cultural, social, and environmental heritage of the island.

Failaka is divided into various sections. Each section has its own uniqueness. There are tourist parks, family parks, heritage parks, sanatoriums, hotels, swimming pools, tents, zoos, among others. There are also small resorts for tourists who choose to stay for a night or weekend. The island offers family-fun activities ranging from renting electric scooters, visiting the museum, kayaking, 4-wheeling, picnicking on the beach and visiting the horse stables.

A resort entrance lights up for visitors to the island.

The island has its historical value with the tank-bone yard and war-stricken structures. It also has fertile soil, good for agriculture, and has a reserve of groundwater. According to a book 'Special Research on Kuwait's History', Failaka was inhabited by people since ancient times and was a key commercial stop between Mesopotamia and other civilizations along the Gulf coast. Excavation operations discovered a civilization dating back to the 3rd millennium BC until the Hellenistic Age, where Alexander the Great built a Greek colony called Ikarus towards the end of the fourth century BC.

Springtime in Failaka Island is regarded as particularly special by tourists. Failaka has quite a different ecosystem than mainland Kuwait and its budding flowers and changing temperatures are so refreshing. Although the island's infrastructure remains poor, Failaka is beginning to develop a local tourist industry based upon fishing, boating, swimming, sailing, and other water sports.

Museum of Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Palace

Investors' magnet

"This place can be transformed into Kuwait's Dubai. I wonder why this beautiful island has been kept without investment. If properly planned and developed, Failaka can become an investors' magnet, which could bring income and create much needed jobs. The ruins of this old beautiful island are so spectacular," Richard Clint, one of the American tourists, told Kuwait Times.

Meanwhile, a government document revealed a comprehensive vision for the development and implementation of projects on Failaka Island and the development of a tourist park. The project represents a unique opportunity to establish and develop tourism and lure investments, thus providing a valuable addition to the country's tourist attractions. According to a local Arabic daily, the Failaka Island Resort development project would revive the tourism sector, providing jobs, opening up opportunities for Kuwaiti companies and attracting tourists.

"The idea of getting away from the city to an eco-friendly and nature-friendly wonderland brought me to Failaka. We booked a full-day trip to Failaka with Ikarus. It was indeed a wonderful experience. The small resorts turn this place into a second home. The Gulf War ruins, old buildings, and security posts were dazzling. "Definitely, it is a nice outing to get away from the city," Esther Elliot, an expat teacher, said.

Prior to the 1990 Iraqi Invasion, the island had over two thousand residents and several schools. The village of Al-Zawr is situated near the middle of the northwest side of the island. It was the longest continuously inhabited location in Kuwait. In 1990 and 1991, the invading Iraqis depopulated the island, expelling all of its residents to the mainland. The Iraqi military mined the beaches and used the island's facilities and buildings for target practice.

In 1991, the allied forces forced the Iraqi army occupying the island to surrender through bombing and psywar operations. The sewage system was destroyed and is yet to be fully repaired. Also, many old homes continue to sit empty and decay. Failaka was cleared of mines after the war, but it remains under military use to some extent. Nevertheless, Failaka Island is becoming a popular holiday destination.

"The Failaka trip was a nice diversion from the hustle and bustle of the city. The island is well suited for families and friends. It has a zoological garden and an archaeological site of interest that reveals many historical secrets of the island's importance," Ahmed, a Kuwaiti who is on a family trip, told Kuwait Times as he urged Kuwaitis and expats to promote the Island and make it the Dubai of Kuwait.