Manmade islands, booming populations, overfishing and heavy use of fossil fuels have wreaked havoc in the Gulf environment and more should be done to prevent further damage, a Canadian study said Wednesday.
Eight Gulf countries – Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – were the focus of the report by the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, located outside Toronto.
By compiling data from outside researchers and combining that with observations and studies by UNU scientists, the report aimed to outline the scope of the problem and suggest ways to fix it.
“We believe there is a possibility of a positive outcome here,” co-author Peter Sale told AFP in an interview.
“There are lots of things that are going wrong. And the reason is that fundamentally there is a relatively weak environmental science capacity in the region,” he added.
“These are countries which because of their wealth have been developing so very rapidly that the pace at which things are happening is tending to outstrip the pace at which capacity to regulate is growing.”
For instance, many Gulf nations are engaged in furious coastal development in order to accommodate a fast-growing regional population, which at an annual growth rate of 2.1 percent is about double the world average, it said.
The UAE is building four coastal mega-islands (Palm Jebel Ali, Palm Jumeirah, Palm Deira and The World) which will add 439 kilometers (273 miles) of shoreline and approximately 120 square kilometers of land.
Qatar meanwhile has doubled its coastline in the past decade, from 563 to 1,239 kilometers (350 to 770 miles).
That growth has strained the area’s ability to handle waste, which is “frequently dumped directly into the Gulf or riverbeds and wetlands where it then infiltrates into shallow aquifers and eventually enters coastal waters,” the report said.
Providing fresh water is also a problem, because the area relies on desalination plants for 70-90 percent of its water and those plants “deliver toxic brine into the Gulf.”
The constant presence of oil tankers moving through the Gulf region, which contains 55 percent of the world’s crude oil reserves and produces 31 percent of the world’s oil supply, also boosts pollution.
The region sees “persistently high levels of hydrocarbon pollution throughout the Gulf, predominantly along the Iranian coastline,” said the report.
Climate change also has an impact, particularly in a part of the world where 100 percent of the energy used comes from fossil fuels and carbon emission rates are three times higher than the world average.
Original reefs are 70 percent gone due to massive dredging operations, and they will disappear altogether in the next decade “unless aggressive steps are taken to ameliorate the impacts of development,” the report added.
Poor regulation of the fishing trade, which brought the region 996 million U.S. dollars in 2007 and employed 250,000 people, means “many fishery species are in peril due to overexploitation.”
While the study pointed out that “Gulf countries rank lowest in the world in terms of the innovation and scientific research index,” a simple way to address the environmental problems is to add more spending and attention in this area.
Kuwait and Qatar were applauded for having employed design teams that included oceanographers and biologists, thereby helping “limit the negative environmental impacts of certain coastal developments,” the report said.
According to Sale, a major shift could come from simply appreciating the value of the natural beauty of the Gulf and its need for protection from human development and pollution.
“Fundamentally there is a need to appreciate –and this is something that is weakly developed in the region – that the Gulf ecosystem is a living entity and there are limits to how it can be changed,” he said.