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Towards a Sustainable Balance
The challenge to conserve the environment, however, has been accepted by Government as a major priority, with the ultimate objective being to reach a sustainable balance between environmental protection and the needs of development.
The federal Ministry of Environment and Water, along with local agencies, of which the most active is the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD), responsible for nearly four-fifths of the UAE’s land area, have continued to work on proactive programmes of scientific research and the preparation and implementation of ever-tougher regulations and guidelines. Educational campaigns have been designed with the help of non-governmental organisations such as the Emirates Wildlife Society (EWS) to raise public awareness of the need to protect the environment and to reduce consumption of energy and water.
At the same time, new areas of natural habitat have been given protection. In Abu Dhabi, for example, the Yasat Marine Protected Area, managed by EAD, has been enlarged to include several more islands, and now covers an area of nearly 3000 square kilometres. Nearly 20 per cent of the UAE’s population of dugongs, an endangered marine mammal, live in the area. The Al Gharbia 2030 Plan, part of Abu Dhabi’s vision for the future, includes several thousand square kilometres of desert as proposed nature reserves, where any future development will be tightly controlled.
Another important step, following extensive study by the EWS and the Fujairah Municipality was the declaration of the country’s first mountain reserve. Covering over 220 square kilometres including a large buffer zone, the Wadi Wurrayah Reserve is home to the endangered Arabian tahr, a distant relative of the goat, that is threatened with extinction in the UAE. The reserve is also home to a wide range of other fauna and flora, and, during studies leading up to the declaration of the reserve, a number of previously unknown invertebrate species were discovered.
In the UAE’s arid climate, one of the most pressing tasks is to conserve the limited supplies of fresh water. Although most fresh water is now provided from seawater, through desalination and power plants, the exploitation of underground aquifers, particularly for agriculture, far exceeds any recharge that may occur as a result of scanty annual rainfall.
In order to ensure that a coherent, all-embracing policy on water usage is developed, a Permanent Committee for Agriculture and Water Resources was established in Abu Dhabi in late 2009. Among its tasks are the preparation of an inventory of all water resources in the emirate, including groundwater, desalinated water and wastewater, and an assessment of future needs. It will also seek to maximise efficiency of water usage, so as to control the expansion of demand and will look at ways in which renewable energy resources can be used in the production of water.