x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Drive to protect desert's plant life

A national committee has been formed to tackle the threat of desertification to the country's 88,000 plant species.

Abu Dhabi // The desert's plant life is in danger, academics and environment officials warned yesterday as they launched an effort to preserve the fragile ecosystems of the country's vast, sandy plains.

At a seminar in the capital, officials from the Ministry of Environment and Water, and the Zayed Complex for Herbal Research, announced the formation of the National Committee of Desertification in the UAE.

Before the end of this year, the committee will consider what needs to be done to preserve the country's 88,000 plant species.

"A lot of these plants are now endangered due to the rapid growth of the country," said Ahmed al Matari, the ministry's director of combating desertification.

One early focus will be considering where to plant trees in order to protect cities from encroaching sand dunes. Desertification is a major problem in the region because of the high temperatures and low rainfall.

"There are green strips [palm trees] for the distance of 100km between Al Ain and Abu Dhabi, this helps protect the roads and cities from sand storms," said Mr al Matari. "There will be more in the future.

"People look at the desert and think there is nothing, but it has its own ecology and plants, a lot of which are very important to traditional and modern-day medicine.

"Just as the West have their forests, we have our desert."

The committee will start its first publicity drive in February with a campaign aimed at children using the slogan "the desert revives life". It will call on individuals to take small steps, such as not littering.

"People come from all over the world to go on tours in the desert. It is a major tourist attraction here," Mr al Matari said.

There will be emphasis, too, on the need to preserve the nation's plant species for study. "Some cure migraines, no other kind of modern medicine can do that, and research is being done to see if Aids can be cured by certain plants as well," said Dr Shyam Kurup, the associate professor of arid-land agriculture at UAE University.

"It is high time we switch to organic alternatives rather than synthetic medicines, which are harmful in the long run.

"A lot of people have recently been switching to alternative medicine to lessen the side affects. What is better than taking things from the Earth which have come directly from Allah?"