x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

It's everyone's duty to help protect our water resources

We can't just count on government to clean up the pollution we are all responsible for causing, in the water and elsewhere.

When I took a dhow ride on Dubai Creek, two years ago, the boat was rickety and the boatman nonchalant.

I should have been terrified, but I felt safe because even if the dhow had capsized, I could have grabbed onto some of the many plastic soft- drink bottles floating in the water.

But who threw so much rubbish into the famed Dubai Creek, and why wasn't there anyone to clean it up?

Water pollution is a critical issue and more must be done to prevent it. One recent effort, a meeting at Sharjah Aquarium (SA), was intended to recognise World Oceans Day last month by discussing the problems of climate change, red tide, and the oil-production pollution that damages the UAE's waters.

Normally, I don't expect much from these "talk shops", but this time I felt a drop of hope as I listened to members of the panel and the audience talk about how to make the UAE's waters cleaner.

During a panel discussion things got tense as the conversation turned to who was responsible for the pollution, and for solutions.

One debate started between audience members and Juma'a bin Thalith of the Emirates Diving Association, who objected to the lack of penalties for polluters.

"Why aren't there rules for keeping our beaches, oceans and seas clean?" he asked. "I've gone out and cleaned the beaches myself, not because I want to be famous or receive any award."

Mr Bin Thalith also took the Dubai Fishermen's Association to task. He showed photos of refuse from fishing boats, and said that when he returned to that site a year after taking the photos, the situation was worse.

"You'd think that since fishermen make money from the sea, they'd be concerned with keeping it clean." One fishermen disagreed, saying it was the government's job to clean up the waters.

A woman from the audience said: "It is the responsibility of those who own the boats and bring workers from outside the country to train them properly; depending on government is not the solution."

She's right. There have been enough toothless campaigns, targeting those already aware of the problem. Now it's time to target litterbugs, from children who think it's fun to watch floating rubbish to those businesses and fishermen who dump their waste in the water.

For residents of Sharjah's Al Majaz area, clean waterways should be an important issue, especially now that we have the new Sharjah Waterfront being promoted as an attraction for everyone.

Since long before this project, the waters of the Sharjah Corniche have been a watery trash bin. People even dump entire bags of rubbish in the water. On weekends and by late evening, bottles, bags and other debris line the beach coastline along Khaled Lagoon in Sharjah.

Hardworking cleaners brave the sun and heat to make beaches, parks and pavements pristine again, but it shouldn't be the government's job to pick up after grown-ups or their children.

Even after three years of the Bee'ah recycling programme, it's rare to find people actively using it.

In walks around and about Al Majaz, I found that most children understand the concept of recycling. But when they ask their parents' permission to put a water bottle in the proper recycling bin, they're often told "No" - and into the regular rubbish it goes.

Laws, punishments and education are all critical to stemming the tide of pollution in our waters. Taking care of the oceans, seas and gulfs will be a long term campaign.

On land and on the water, we must catch litterbugs where they dwell - on the streets and highways and at the mall, souq and supermarket.

You can start at the United Nations Environment Programme's website which has a short, engaging video from millenniumassessment.org, illustrating the value of marine and other ecosystem management.

Perhaps this should be used on video screens around the UAE with subtitles or voice-overs in the major languages spoken here. No one should be left unaware.

Water pollution has serious repercussions, and not only aesthetic ones. We depend on water for everything from a cappuccino, to a stroll on the beach to cooking dinner.

Try living without water, and you'll find that it's "mission impossible". We all have to work to protect this vital resource.


Maryam Ismail is a sociologist and teacher who divides her time between the US and the UAE