x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Emiratis pleased with green efforts

New polling data shows most UAE residents are pleased with the way agencies are protecting the environment.

A development company's motorboat passes kayakers in the mangroves near East Road in Abu Dhabi. According to the survey, most Emiratis and Arab expatriates are happy with how the country has preserved its ecosystems. Silvia Razgova / The National
A development company's motorboat passes kayakers in the mangroves near East Road in Abu Dhabi. According to the survey, most Emiratis and Arab expatriates are happy with how the country has preserved its ecosystems. Silvia Razgova / The National

DUBAI // An overwhelming majority of Emiratis and Arab expatriates are pleased with the country's efforts to preserve the environment, a survey shows.

The survey, by the Abu Dhabi Gallup Centre, polled 5,100 people, 87 per cent of whom said they were satisfied with how the country had worked to preserve its ecosystems.

The same percentage said they were satisfied with the country's air quality, while only 4 per cent fewer were satisfied with water quality. The margin of error is plus or minus 1.4 percentage points.

Despite the upbeat findings, which also showed approval levels had increased between 2009 and this year, environmentalists said there was room for improvement in a country that has one of the world's highest rates of water usage and release of greenhouse gases.

"Most people's experience of water in the UAE is either through the tap or in the sea," said Dr Rachael McDonnell, a visiting scientist specialising in water policy and governance at the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture in Dubai.

"Both these areas, particularly the production of desalinated water, are well regulated by government agencies, so the figures of satisfaction are not surprising."

But Dr McDonnell added: "A question not asked in the survey that might elicit a different response would be: 'Is the UAE using its water resources wisely?'

"Conversations with many people, Emirati and residents, suggest that people think more wise water conservation could take place, for example, by reducing the washing of cars or watering gardens and parks, which in turn would lead to greater environmental quality."

Habiba Al Marashi, the founder and chairwoman of the Emirates Environmental Group, congratulated the Government on the findings of the poll.

"This is [also] a big responsibility on the shoulders of government departments to ensure that what the community believes is actually the case," Mrs Al Marashi said.

On water quality, she said she stood behind the efforts of water and electricity authorities to deliver safe water to the public.

"What I do not support is what happens to the water once it reaches buildings," Mrs Al Marashi said.

More regulations for property developers, mandating monitoring and maintenance of water networks and tanks within buildings were necessary, she said.

Data from Abu Dhabi's air-quality monitoring network show that for certain periods, some pollutants exceeded the national standards.

The two most common pollutants are ozone, created in car exhaust smog, and particulate matter in dust lifted from construction or natural causes such as dust storms.

The State of Environment Abu Dhabi, published in 2007, showed sulphur dioxide levels often exceeded pollution guidelines, mainly in Madinat Zayed, Habshan and Ruwais. The gas can lead to lung disease.

Mrs Al Marashi said the Government could increase transparency and communication on air quality to improve matters.

"This should be part of the weather forecast," she said.

Measures to improve air quality could also include more efficient public transport, raising the efficiency of imported vehicles, using more liquefied natural gas in factories and reducing the sulphur in diesel fuel.

Mrs Al Marashi said the study could also have looked at other issues such as waste and the quality of buildings in the country.

Mohamed Younis, the senior analyst at the Abu Dhabi Gallup Centre, said it was important to remember the study examined perceptions.

"Those perceptions may not necessarily be formed while taking into account the fact that the UAE has high per-capita water consumption," Mr Younis said.

"More likely on the minds of respondents are the various publicly discussed efforts and initiatives, such as Masdar and others, aimed at minimising environmental impact and degradation."

The Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD) said one of the agency's goals was to promote sustainable communities.

"We aim to contribute to a more positive behaviour towards the environment by providing people with the knowledge and tools necessary to make that switch and contribute to preserving our environment," EAD said.

"EAD is investing heavily in research around key environmental priority areas and also working with local and international partners to share data and discuss solutions. We … monitor public feedback to our awareness campaigns to ensure the right messages are getting through."