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Zayed considered environment as an integral part of the country's history and heritage: Al Midfa

posted on 19/04/2005: 1422 views

In a statement released yesterday, His Excellency Hamad Abdul Rahman Al Midfa, Minister of Health and Chairman of the Federal Environmental Agency (FEA), hailed selection of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for the coveted "Champions of the Earth" award, along with six other world personalities whose exemplary contributions made a significant impact on the global efforts for environment protection and sustainable development.

Following is the full text of the statement: "The news of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan's posthumous selection by the UNEP as Champion of the Earth has been received with a mixture of joy and pride as it reflects the world's appreciation and acknowledgement of the efforts he made throughout the years to preserve environment and his widely acclaimed contribution to the local, regional and international efforts to achieve sustainable development.

Sheikh Zayed's selection was, by no means, a surprise, simply because environment was part and parcel of his philosophy and day to day practices. He had always considered environment as an integral part of our country's history and heritage. Environment protection was among the top priorities in his endeavours to build the country and to lead its massive development that helped it attain prominence among the world's advanced nations.

During the early days of federation, and though he was almost totally engrossed in the creation of federation and leading the comprehensive development drive, environment had always featured among his agenda. He considered environment preservation as one of the main objectives in the country's development strategies.

This was stressed in his speech before the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), (Earth Summit), held in Brazil 1992. It was no surprise that under his leadership, the United Arab Emirates had made great achievements and that he received many awards and citations including the "Man of Environment and Development" title in 1993, the environment award and Arab League's Legion of Honour, the "Environment Campaigner" title, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO's) gold medal, the Golden Panda Award and many others.

Sheikh Zayed's wise approaches helped the UAE to get an eminent place in the global map of environment and to make its experience in that field an example to be followed by the other nations. A quick look at the achievements made under his leadership illustrates the enormous efforts he made.

In agriculture sphere, Sheikh Zayed will always be remembered as the leader who fought all the odds and challenged harsh climatic conditions and scarce water resources. Thanks to his persistence and keenness, the UAE was able to achieve what has been perceived as a miracle when the arid desert areas were turned into lush green.

The total area of cultivated land in the UAE soared from 12,500 hectares in 1973 to 271,000 hectares planted with different types of trees (the number does not include 311,000 hectares of forests, nor ornamental trees in and outside cities and public parks). Date palms population had risen considerably to 41 million in 2002, compared with only two million in 1980.

The late Sheikh Zayed's agricultural initiative extended to seeking to bolster UAE man's relation with agriculture, stemming from his belief that agriculture is one of the main ingredients of civilization. This was elucidated in his famous saying "grant me agriculture and I shall guarantee civilization for you".

It is worth mentioning that the agricultural progress has been attained in great conformity with environmental considerations. Protection and development of wildlife in the UAE is yet another success story of the late Sheikh Zayed. He was considered one of the world's best falconers.

Yet, he treated development of flora and fauna as a top priority. His environmental approaches earned him the world's admiration and respect. He was the first head of state to receive the Golden Panda award, presented by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), in appreciation of his efforts in protection of wildlife and endangered species.

Witness to the country's keen efforts is the programmes implemented to protect endangered species such as Oryx, Houbara Bustard, Sakr falcons, hawksbill turtles and Dugongs.

Not only the UAE had provided sanctuaries for endangered species, but also worked very hard to put in place breeding programmes in captivity and then eventual release into the wild. The programme started with small number of Arabian Peninsula animals which were on the verge of extinction and successfully bred in captivity.

Among them is the Sheikh Zayed Falcon Release Programme which aims at protecting the bird and re-introducing it in its natural habitat to allow breeding and completion of life cycle and to support of scientific research on falcons especially the Sakr and Shahin species, by providing maximum information on the migration routes of the birds and their ability to adapt to wildlife once again. The programme, since its inception in 1995, has succeeded return over 1000 birds to their natural habitat.

The UAE, in its attempts to preserve wild life, has established numerous land and marine reservations among which Sir Baniyas stands prominently, an island of the forefathers, which had developed in the hands of late His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan into a pardisal resort and abode of diverse species of birds and animals, hence, deservedly gaining the sobriquet: The Arab Noah's Ark".

Concern on those issues did not stop there, but was taken up as the most important accomplishment by virtue of which the UN Environment Programme unwaveringly named Sheikh Zayed as the "Champion of the Earth". It also embraced other related issues like providing drinking water to comply with the growing demands for water for all purposes. In that context, the UAE had exerted Herculean efforts and earmarked huge financial capabilities to redress the intense shortage necessitated by scarcity of water resources, energy and drainage systems in the country.

In the same breath, Sheikh Zayed was also concerned with the integration of environment and development being the most challenging issues at the early stages of the UAE's life as a young nation, during which the main focus was on achieving a comprehensive development. Hence, A High Environment Committee was formed in 1975 to convert that vision into reality with the objective of conjoining the environment and development in its youthful body politic.

Sheikh Zayed never distanced himself from developments in various aspects including the environment, but addressed them with great wisdom and his growing concern with the environment culminated in the convening of the UN Environment and Development Conference dubbed "The Summit of the Earth" in 1992 to promote the Environment programme in the UAE within institutional and legal frameworks, because operations within them were the most reliable means for sustenance and continuity throughout future phases.

Sheikh Zayed fully aware of the momentum of those frameworks ordered the establishment of "The Federal Environment Authority" in 1993 to replace "The High Environment Committee" established in 1975. He instructed the enactment of laws to regulate the relationship between the Environment and Development, and to provide plans and strategies that promoted work on the environment and supported the UAE commitment to the principles of sustainable development, which he had put into practice long before they were officially approved by the international community.

In the light of that, the UAE succeeded in enacting a body of laws like The Protection and Development Environment Law, The Exploitation, Protection and Development of Marine Life Law, The International Trade Control and Organization Law, The National Programme for Combating Desertification Law, and others.

Sheikh Zayed threw his lot with the international community in the belief that problems that emanated from environmental problems had no geographical boundaries and that redressing them would entail collective global efforts. He, therefore, he was adamant in achieving maximum cooperation with other nations and regional and international organizations. He was very concerned with UAE participation in the major global environmental forums, especially the UN Human Environment Conference, which was convened in Sweden in the year 1972, just a few months following the establishment of the UAE.

In the light of that cooperation, the UAE became a significant partner to various international organizations, and by virtue of the said partnership, had managed to launch several high priority principal initiatives within the scope of the UN Regional Anti-Desertification Programme in Western Asia. It also became the hub for various major international environmental forums.

The UAE boasts of the great achievements it has accomplished in the realm of Environment Protection and Sustainable Development. It is indeed gratified and proud with honour accorded to the name and tangible contribution of late Sheikh Zayed by the International Community. The UAE believes that under President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, the best honour to be dedicated to the memory of the immortal Sheikh Zayed was to follow his wise feats and preserve the achievements he had gained for his country in his lifetime. (The Emirates News Agency, WAM)


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