GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Environmental Challenges for Sustainability in the Arabian Gulf Region
Paper Proposal Text :
UN speaks of three pillars for sustainable development: social, economic, and environmental. Of these three, social is often sacrificed for economic, and environmental is often sacrificed for both social and economic. In the Arabian Gulf region, environmental interest is not treated on the ground as a priority while development projects are suggested, studies, designed, approved and built. The consequences range from mild temporary environmental impacts to adverse irreversible ones.
There are many concerns regarding sustainability of renewable natural resources, ecosystems, biodiversity and even air and water quality of the region especially if development projects continued in a business as usual paradigm.

Bahrain can be a case study to illustrate all of that drawing attention to fresh water, fisheries and lost terrestrial and coastal habitats. The way forward to deal with such challenges is proposed both from lesson learnt in the region and best practices and recommendations in other places of the world. Public participation in a stakeholder approach all through decision making process from beginning till end, is a very important start in this direction.
Development projects such as building touristcs mega projects on top of coral reefs or constructing roads and infrastructures that destroys mangrove forests and cut the underground channels, can be destructive with great negative impacts on people and even on the economy of the state not to mention potential political impacts. Taking decision in absence of those important stakeholders leave the decision making round table unbalanced not to mention being unfair to people who will suffer the consequences of other people's decision.
Many aspects should be considered in a proper holistic environmental and social impact assessment process. Aspects that should be considered are partially derived from the understanding of potential direct and indirect impacts of those decisions that are still considered in many places as pure economic decisions, as successful projects financially on the short run could have severe impacts such as changing the livelihood of communities and forcing people to leave the only life they ever knew and the only sense of belonging to the land that they understand. This can be the spark for community dissatisfaction, isolation and even unrest, not to mention loss of source of income, self respect and community social activities. In a social study conducted by Environment's Friends Society at two coastal villages in Bahrain, it was found that many of cultural activities and community gatherings and celebrations had ritual with the sea itself and can be conducted only on the beaches. Also the study found that a fisherman was considered high in marriage proposals as he resembles both financial security and good sense of responsibility.

Civil society and in particular environmental non- governmental organizations movement in the region that was visible in the last 10 years hold hope for positive change by building awareness among public and also involved children as they are the ones who are more likely to be negatively impacted by environmental destruction and they might hold the hope for positive change even if it is gradual. Awareness also is directed to stakeholders to be more able to demand being involved in decision making processes. Some NGOs such as EFS also targeted decision makers at the level of parliamentarians and government officials in an advocating manner to raise environmental public concerns and invite them to sit on round table with environmental NGOs, experts and right holders. The environmental Alliance for the protection of Fasht Al-Adim (coral reef) was a very good example of how civil society was able to organize itself and use all legitimate methods to make its voice heard and then succeed to stop a huge development project when potential adverse irrepressible environmental, social, economic and aesthetic damages were illustrated clearly and persistently by active sincere civil society organizations supported by the media, fishermen and people who could see then the interrelationship between marine destruction and fish prices.

The definition of development projects and stake holder identification process and stakeholder involvement and the way benefits and losses are evaluated for a development project have to be revisited, reevaluated before natural resources are completely lost in the region and also to eliminate or at least minimize related irreversible social and economic damages.