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How green is this valley!

posted on 06/08/2004: 1998 views

Referred to as 'Oasis City of the Arabian Gulf' with its millions of trees and lush green vegetation, Al Ain is a pleasant surprise From a mere cluster of small villages, Al Ain has metamorphosed into a well-planned modern city witnessing fast-track development in all fields, with an emphasis on agriculture, greening and tourism.

The city is referred to as 'Oasis City of the Arabian Gulf' with its millions of trees and lush green vegetation. The seeds of this green revolution were sown by President His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan in the early 1960s when he was the Ruler's Representative (governor) in the Eastern Region of Abu Dhabi emirate.

The early agricultural experiments and planned utilisation of available natural water resources in this arid zone, set the foundation of this modern oasis city, which now boasts wide tree-lined boulevards, lush green parks, farm-houses, and cool bubbling fountains. It has gained a reputation as the nation's leading agricultural centre.

Al Ain, the birthplace of Sheikh Zayed, has always enjoyed his fullest support. It was he who initiated early experiments to realise his vision of fast-track development. He was driven by the determination to provide every facility to his people who had suffered immense hardship earlier.

Older nationals still remember the days when the city was a poor, undeveloped town, totally dependent on simple trading and plain agriculture. There were no modern amenities available, and food and water shortages claimed many lives. Sheikh Zayed's dream of achieving prosperity for all became easier with the discovery of oil. Oil revenues enabled him to launch a massive construction and development programme in Al Ain.

As governor of Al Ain, he paid great attention to the maintenance of subterranean water channels and the building of new ones to promote agriculture in the area. He also initiated tree plantation, which later transformed into a massive afforestation drive, making Al Ain one of the greenest cities in the Arabian Peninsula.

The lush green agricultural farms, gardens and date palm oases are the result of Sheikh Zayed's vision and passion. Many of his friends have seen him planting saplings with his own hands in different areas of Al Ain. Appropriately enough, Al Ain means 'spring' in Arabic — its awakening and rebirth the result of Sheikh Zayed's vision.

Agricultural farms

The Private Office of the President has continuously distributed agricultural farms among nationals. Some 11,592 farms were recently handed over to citizens in the Eastern Region of the emirate. And in yet another project, some 14.5 million palm trees have been planted along the 800-kilometre-long road linking Bayaa region to Al Ain.

The success of the afforestation and greenery projects has helped the city's municipality administration bring to fruition Sheikh Zayed's initiatives towards restoring the eco-balance. Several new projects have recently been launched to promote agriculture and afforestation.

These include landscape greening, tree planting, wildlife parks, fodder production, date palm tree cultivation, drilling of wells and building of water reservoirs. Significant achievements have also been made in the expansion of the green belt to combat desertification.

Distinct areas

Al Ain has focused on four distinct areas — agriculture, education, healthcare, and tourism for development —and the government has extended its full support to the city's planners and municipal administration. Al Ain Municipality and its different departments are taking part in a comprehensive development plan to build scores of new facilities and services in Al Ain up to the year 2020.

According to Engineer Ahmad M. Al Shareef, Assistant Undersecretary of the Al Ain Town Planning Department, the overall development of Al Ain is taking a well-conceived direction. "We don't want to allow modern development to overtake the traditional image of Al Ain," he says, adding modernisation has been planned to enhance the city's natural beauty.

A master plan, covering all urban and rural development in the region up to 2015, has recently been initiated following a comprehensive study of all aspects of urban planning and development. "We have been giving special attention to the impact of urban development on the environment," he says. Over the last several years, billions of dirhams have been injected into different infrastructure building projects that have created world-class facilities in the city.

Unlike the high-rise metropolises of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, however, most buildings in Al Ain are only three storeys high or lower, allowing for an uninterrupted view of the landscape. Construction of buildings taller than five storeys is banned.

The latest development also centres on building tourism and recreational facilities that can offer family entertainment to visitors from within the UAE and the neighbouring GCC countries. The city is best known for its historic forts and museums, all of which are dedicated to showcasing 7,000 years of living in the city.

There are plenty of activities for the family, including Al Ain Zoo, which is the largest in the UAE; shopping malls; Fun City, which is the region's largest amusement park with an Olympic-sized ice-rink; and more than 70 public parks and gardens. According to the municipality's statistics, some 80,000 people visit the zoo and Hili Fun City during the Eid holidays alone.

Another mammoth project is Mubazzarah Park, the city's biggest recreational facility at the foothills of Jebel Hafeet, the highest mountain in the UAE.

The lush green city located in the middle of the desert comes as a pleasant surprise to visitors with its more than 150 million trees.


Culture and heritage at the core...

A massive tourism promotion drive was launched in Al Ain at the turn of the new century. Culture and heritage were selected as the core of the drive and a distinguishing symbol and colour was selected for the city through public participation.

The city's public transport, including buses and taxies, will also be decorated with selected colours and symbols to match the overall efforts being undertaken through a well-devised plan by the Al Ain Economic Development and Tourism Promotion Authority.

The authority was established by His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, through a decree in October 2000. Under the authority, the development of the city as a family and culture-oriented tourism destination has been rapid over the last four years.

Located in the middle of the sand dunes on the UAE-Oman border, Al Ain has always been the base of living Bedouin civilisation that lies at the very core of UAE culture and heritage. UNESCO recently developed a heritage conservation strategy for Al Ain under an agreement. The main objective of the strategy is the protection of local culture and heritage through modern means. A city brand for Al Ain has also been developed through an international consultancy firm. Tourism in Al Ain is not about developing in alienation, but as a valuable addition to the UAE's tourism sector. It is looked upon as a supplement to Dubai and Abu Dhabi's tourism efforts, and seeks cooperation from them.

This expected contribution actually resides in the city's exclusive features that no other UAE city or place can offer. These features include the world's oldest 'aflaj' or ancient underground irrigation system; Hili Archaeology Park that has remains of human settlements dating back to the Stone and Bronze Age of 5,000 BC, and remains of a huge, ancient cemetery at the foothills of Jebel Hafeet that date back to 3,200 to 3,000 BC; more than 70 special parks for ladies and children, families, and the general public; an attractive combination of greenery, deserts and mountains; natural hot water springs; the Zoological Park (Al Ain Zoo), museum, camel and dog race tracks; old souks (markets); and game centres.

The foothills of Jebel Hafeet, the highest mountain in the UAE measuring 1,340 metres, are also being developed as a tourist resort, with a golf course and clubhouse. The hot water streams in the area are being transformed into an elegant spa, nestled in its natural beauty. (The Gulf News)


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