Abu Dhabi: The safeguarding of the environment for posterity should be the responsibility of every individual was a core belief of the UAE’s founding father, Shaikh Zayed Bin Al Nahyan. At the same time, his stellar efforts and principles in environmental conservation have transformed into a mission statement that has guided the UAE’s on to a glorious path of becoming a significant force for sustainability issues on the global centrestage.
From his early days, Shaikh Zayed had an abiding conviction about ‘sustainable development’, which meant improving people’s lives under the broader spectrum of the environment they lived in.
With the discovery of oil and the subsequent changes taking place in society in the UAE, Shaikh Zayed realised that such changes would pose a threat to wildlife. A federal law was passed which outlawed hunting in the country.
Additionally, the Higher Environmental Council (HEC), later named Federal Environmental Agency (FEA), was established in 1993 with the sole purpose of preserving the country’s flora and fauna with an initial budget of more than six million dirhams.
Besides the FEA, there were also a number of organisations, both government and voluntary, established for the conservation of the environment.
They included the Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency (ERWDA) with a role to support and advance sustainable development in Abu Dhabi; the Emirates Environmental Group (EEG), a voluntary, non-profit organisation; Marine Environmental Research Centre (MERC); the National Avian Research Centre (NARC); the Terrestrial Environmental Research Centre (TERC), which provides scientific information on environmental issues to the government.
We in the UAE, where desert forms 75 per cent of the total area, have been able to cohabit with this environment and to adapt ourselves with the limited resources for many years. Although numerous experts have assured us of the impossible task of establishing successful agricultural projects in these circumstances, we are determined to accept this challenge and go through this experience as we are confident that God will crown our efforts with success.
- Shaikh Zayed’s statement at the inaugural address to the second Asian ministerial conference on UN Convention to Combat Desertification in 2003
Additionally, a sanctuary for endangered species, including the Arabian oryx and gazelle, was set up on the island of Sir Bani Yas where deer, hedgehog, llama and other wildlife species were also bred as part of the ongoing conservation programme on the island. Shaikh Zayed also sponsored the Chair of Environment Sciences (set up in his name) at the Arabian Gulf University in Bahrain. In his statement at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro (1992), Shaikh Zayed had said: “Right from its early days, the UAE has considered environmental protection as a major objective of its development policies. The country worked under tiring and harsh natural conditions to halt the onslaught of desertification while concentrating on the expansion of its green areas. Simultaneously, work on the development of water resources was also carried on besides the protection of water from pollution and the conservation of fisheries and livestock.”
In appreciation of his dedicated role in the conservation of the environment and wildlife, Shaikh Zayed has been honoured on a number of occasions.
In 2003, Shaikh Zayed endorsed an agreement with the other GCC countries to pool regional efforts and chalk out joint programmes to protect the local wildlife, and restore balance to the damaged ecological system.
Host of awards for Zayed’s conservation goals
1995: Shaikh Zayed was awarded a golden medal from FAO for contributions to agricultural development in the UAE and other parts of the world.
1997: awarded the Golden Panda award by the World Wildlife Fund, the first award to a world leader by the fund, for his efforts to protect wildlife.
2001: the World Food programme, bestowed on him the World Food Day medal for his work to help the needy around the world.
2002: Shaikh Zayed honoured by the UNDP for his work to protect the environment and encourage conservation.
Shaikh Zayed awarded permanent membership in the British Royal Horticultural Society by Queen Elizabeth II for his efforts to turn the desert of the UAE into a blanket of green.