In Oman, pioneer steps for the environment
Muscat - Oman is one of the Arab world’s most engaged countries in the protection of the environment and has been working on the preservation of its rich flora and fauna for several decades. It was the first Arab state to create — in 1974 — a special government body dedicated to environmental issues and has since established a ministry for the environment and undertaken several projects to raise awareness about nature conservation.
Issues of the environment have long been among the sultanate’s government priorities, a fact that is largely due to the special interest attached to them by the country’s ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said.
“Environment work has reached advanced stages since His Majesty Sultan Qaboos came to power, first by establishing a consultancy bureau for the preservation of the environment, part of the Royal Diwan, in 1974, and then a special council for the prevention of pollution in 1979,” Minister of Environment and Climate Affairs Mohammed al-Tobi said.
In addition, Oman introduced legal instruments for environment protection. The principal framework legislation is the Protection of Environment and Combating Pollution law enacted in 2001, which prescribes strict penalties for the release of pollutants and discharge of effluents, both in the land and the maritime territory of Oman.
“Oman was also among the first (Arab) states to issue a national strategy to preserve its environment, which was designed to be a regulating and planning mechanism for environmental issues,” Tobi said.
The ministry, established in 2007, has plans to increase the number of natural and wildlife reserves, expand existing ones and increase the number of rangers in charge of monitoring wildlife on land and in the sea, he said, adding, “The law forbids causing any damage to the environment, especially trade in endangered species which the ministry is working (hard) to preserve.”
Several civil society groups have been formed to protect the environment and educate people on the importance of environmental issues and the conservation of flora and fauna.
Nasser al-Kindi, founder of Clean Up Oman, non-governmental organisation, launched his initiative in 2011 through a Facebook page, asking for volunteers to participate in a clean-up day. “Only 35 people then responded to my call,” he recalled. “But three months later, we called for an annual clean up of the whole country and as many as 15,000 volunteers turned up.”
Kindi, a 46-year-old private sector employee, underscored the key role of educational institutions in raising public awareness about the importance of environment preservation. “At least one activity related to the environment is being organised on a monthly basis at Sultan Qaboos University at the initiative of the students, and this is very comforting to us because we need to make extra efforts to protect a range of endangered animals and plants such as the juniper tree in Jabal Akhdar,” he said.
While official attention is focused on protecting endangered species such as sea turtles and the Arabian leopard, other rare animals, including hyenas and the Arabian wolf, are not given enough attention, Kindi said.
“In the past, I used to come across plenty of hedgehogs on the way to my hometown in the countryside, but today they have become very rare,” Kindi observed, singling out rampant development as one cause for their disappearance.
Oman has established natural reserves as part of its effort to protect endangered wildlife. The turtle breeding beaches at Ras al-Hadd and Ras al-Jinz are protected sites, as are the Daymaniyat islands, a bird sanctuary to which entry is restricted during the breeding season.
Glyn Barrett, an ecologist with international environmental organisation Earthwatch Institute, called for better implementation of environment laws, coupled with efforts to sensitise the public about problems of ecology.
“Many officials do seem to be aware of some of the issues that are affecting the country, but the problem is either they can’t do anything themselves or they don’t have the real passion to push for change,” he said.
“For example, in the reserve of Daymaniyat islands there are panels everywhere saying not to litter and not to take any coral branches. The ideas are there, but their implementation needs to be policed unfortunately,” said Barrett, who is leading a team of scientists studying the biodiversity of Oman’s al- Hajar mountains and Dhofar region.
Sayyida Tania Shabib Al Said, founder of the Environment Society Oman, said she set up the organisation in 2004 on the pillars of conserving marine life, protecting land ecology and educating the public about the environment.
“It is a civil society project to increase awareness about environmental issues in Oman and train young Omanis in the field of preservation,” Sayyida Tania, a member of the royal family, said.
She suggested that more efforts should be deployed in raising public awareness on ecological issues, noting that “the litter is surely not getting better but spreading everywhere”, including beaches, wadis and the mountains.
“It is an ongoing problem that needs to be better addressed by all sides, including the government and schools,” she said. “In parallel with education and raising awareness, the government must impose heavy sanctions [on those who litter].”
While acknowledging the “big effort” made by the government in keeping Oman clean, Kindi said the work of Clean Up Oman and other non-governmental organisations was needed “because of the attitude of some people littering recklessly”.
“It basically complements the state’s work,” he said.