x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

We must all protect the UAE's precious desert

Dubai Municipality's new rules, aimed conserving the desert environment, should be accompanied by an intensive awareness campaign.

The people of what is now the UAE have called the desert home for thousands of years. Bedouin roamed freely in the desert and found refuge in it. To them, the desert was a life in itself.

In recent years, however, the situation has changed. Rapid urbanisation and population growth have been steadily taking their toll on this ancient habitat, creating an urgent need for conservation measures.

It is from this perspective that Dubai Municipality's plans to regulate desert usage, as reported in The National yesterday, must be welcomed.

The civic body said it would soon announce a set of rules for the winter camping season. The measures, which follow last year's decision to issue camping permits and the subsequent demolition of illegal tents, are expected to include the allocation of camping sites to families, to ensure their safety and to help authorities keep a closer watch on potential damage to the desert environment.

Human presence in this delicate ecosystem is threatening its incredible diversity as quickly as the rapid change in lifestyle is erasing the collective memory of traditional means of desert stewardship.

When the weather cools, tent cities spring up on the sand dunes as people seek to escape the pressures of city life. However, too many of those who turn to the desert for recreation show a careless and disrespectful attitude - something that has become obvious from the growing amount of rubbish piling up at illegal camping sites.

In 2010, desert awareness campaigner Mohamed Idris told this newspaper that there had been an increase of about 40 per cent in the number of people driving in the desert over the previous decade, accompanied by a substantial increase in the amount of rubbish left behind.

Without intervention by the authorities, the precariously balanced desert environment will be altered forever, leading to potentially serious environmental and economic consequences.

The measures to be announced by the municipality should be accompanied by an intensive awareness campaign to help campers realise that protecting the environment is not just an option, it is everyone's responsibility.