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Progress and preservation in Oman.

Environmental protection has become a focus of international attention over the past decade. The dangers of modern living are measured in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil in which foodstuff is grown, to name only the tip of the iceberg. All nations are becoming aware of the need to take action to protect themselves and their environment. Oman is a regional trendsetter in the field says the country's Minister of the Environment, Sheikh Amer bin Shuwain al Hosni.

"Oman strongly believes in the importance of preventing pollution and conserving the environment. It was among the first Arab countries to give priority to the protection of the environment, natural resources, and its citizens of today and of the future. Environmental pollution is one of the most serious problems of our times. It occurs particularly during the transition from simple life styles to the complexities of the modern age," explained the minister.

He continued: "From the time of its inception in 1970, the government of Sultan Qaboos has been keenly aware of the need to protect the environment in all its aspects. The government has had one particular advantage in this respect in that it has not been faced with the problem of rectifying the ravages of earlier industrialisation. It has been possible to monitor closely the progressive development of industrial plants throughout the Sultanate and control any possible pollution of the environment."

Oman has dealt with the dangers of pollution by offering two important tactics. On the one hand pragmatic, common sense. Inevitably change occurs in any country as the economy shifts from the simpler agricultural model to the more complex, urban development programmes.

Common sense understands where the line between growth and environmental damage must be drawn. Secondly, when that line is crossed, or about to be crossed, measures must be taken in the form of edicts or other legislation to hold in check actions which are either blatantly dangerous or simply over-zealously careless.

"The first law concerning environmental affairs was issued in 1974. This was followed in ensuing years by several other decisions and laws designed to secure the territorial waters of the country. In 1979, the Council for Conservation of the Environment and Prevention of Pollution was established with the Sultan as its Chairman. In 1982, all the ordinances covering the environment and prevention of pollution were codified in one law. In 1984, a further step was taken with the establishment of the Ministry of the Environment which was assigned the responsibility of implementing the national plan for the environment and the Law for the Conservation of the Environment and Prevention of Pollution."

In a country as small as Oman such laws and the effectual implementation of them is clearly possible. A rationalised planning strategy is needed and if possible smooth co-ordination between the busier, more densely populated areas and the rural, more desolate communities.

A couple of years ago a seven-year coastal zone project was completed in response to the threat posed by the rapid urban development.

With regards to this the minister believes: "This project which covered the entire 1,700 kilometre-long coastline of the Sultanate, involved detailed ecological surveys of the coastal regions, the sea and offshore islands, with the result that the Sultanate has one of the most intensively studied coastal environments in the world for management purposes. Surveys were undertaken to determine and map the distribution of coastal and marine resources and activities, and to identify management issues. All this information is logged into a comprehensive, computerised environmental database."

The extent and the thoroughness of the project has contributed much to regional scientific knowledge. Its findings include the discovery of new species of fish and corals, new turtle nesting and feeding areas, some of which are of global importance, as well as bird breeding and feeding sites.

New plans emphasise the special organisational and management needs for nature conservation and recreation areas, and identify critical management issues. They also recommend specific actions and responsibilities and point to ways of controlling coastal developments.

Commenting on them, Al Hosni explains: "They were prepared in full co-operation with all the relevant government authorities and have been submitted to the Ministry of Regional Municipalities and Environment, which is charged with co-ordinating coastal zone management. Together, these coastal and regional plans should help appropriate development of the coastal zone. As a result of this project and its many findings and recommendations, the Sultanate has a secure basis from which to proceed with the safeguarding of its valuable resources for future generations of Omanis."

All projects launched in the country are required to have a "No Environment Objection" certificate from the ministry. By this method the ministry oversees and controls plans for new industrial enterprises and other structural projects. Before issuing such certificates, the ministry takes into account possible repercussions and environmental effects. At all times it acknowledges the necessity for using every possible means to minimise pollution caused by the emission of waste products.

The official view in Oman is to stress the importance of environmental awareness as a general policy which infiltrates the consciousness of the people as a whole. As the minister put it: "We must conserve both the nonrenewable and renewable resources of the Sultanate water, land, pasture and marine resources."

The National Conservation Strategy (NCS), instigated by the Sultan, was prepared by the Ministry of Regional Municipalities and Environment (MRME). It was then supervised by a Permanent Committee, along with a second technical committee, to guarantee the work at key stages.

The NCS calls on all sectors to make stringent efforts towards sustainable development.

"These recommended projects and programmes are cross-sectoral and many include project recommendations for the industrial sector. While industrial development is seen as critical to the development of the Sultanate, the strategy stresses that development must not jeopardise the renewable resources of Oman or the health of the people. Furthermore, the industrial sector should be motivated to use environmentally sound technology," Al-Hosni confirmed.

This element of technology is, of course, crucial in any country which rapidly and efficiently goes through the industrialisation process. Technology can be put to both good and less good ends and carried out by a variety of means. The way Oman must progress is quite clear to the Sultan. "Clean technology is not a luxury but a necessity."

Here Oman is in the enviable position of being able to introduce clean technology from the very start and where it is introduced full consideration is given to the surrounding nature. The minister is convincingly reassuring when he asserts: "We also give a very high priority to the conservation of Oman's rich flora and fauna. This involves the protection of the latter's habitats and breeding sites and provides them with the proper conditions to enable them to breed successfully."

To this end, the ministry has set up wild-life preserves, notably the sanctuary in the Jiddat al Harasis where the oryx breed in their own environment after being wiped out in 1972 as a result of illegal hunting.

Environmental protection will be an ongoing priority in the sultanate. Much experience has been gained from neighbouring states, some of whom are paying the price of hasty development schemes. The Omanis are determined that will not happen to them. "We are open-minded in Oman, but the environment is not negotiable," Al Hosni concluded.
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Title Annotation:environmental policy
Author:Shehadeh, Hussein
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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