As Qatar is heavily dependent on the hydrocarbons industry for economic growth and development, protecting the country's environment from any potentially harmful effects has been a matter of great concern in recent years.
Yet the environment is an area in which the state's role is enshrined in the Qatari constitution itself. This says that "The state shall preserve the environment and its natural balance in order to achieve comprehensive and sustainable development for all generations."
Qatar has also shown a formal commitment to the environment since at least 1978, when the country became a founding signatory to the Kuwait Convention for the Protection of Marine Environment and Coastal Areas Development. Emerging from this agreement was the Permanent Committee for the Protection of the Environment, which focused on the combating of oil slicks in regional waters.
More recent initiatives include Law Number 30, of 2002 - the Issuance Law of Environment Protection. The law charges the Supreme Council for the Environment and Natural Reserves (SCENR) with overseeing and enforcing environmental protection. This body is composed of the General Control and Environment Maintenance Section, the Information and Educational Environmental Centre and the National Centre for Environmental Information. The Secretary General, HE Khalid G. Al Ali, oversees the Wildlife Protection Department, the Administrative and Financial Affairs Department, the Central Laboratory, and departments for training and development and technical affairs.
The Environment Protection law authorizes the SCENR to prevent the hunting of scarce wildlife, the destruction of trees and grass. The council also establishes and manages nature reserves.
Article 6 of this law also bounds all administrative and private bodies to inscribe in local and international agreements and contracts environmental protection clauses and to include the clauses of penalties.
The later include fines ranging from one QR1000 to QR500 000 and one to 10 years imprisonment. The most severe punishments are reserved for violators of the law's restrictions on the importation and/or storage of dangerous wastes and pollution from ships.
The law also mandates that the planners of all public and private development projects must submit an environmental impact study before any relevant licenses can be issued. All projects must ensure that the allowed limits of pollutants must not be exceeded; however, if the General Secretariat of the SCENR does not inform the concerned parties of the council's decision within 30 days of the report being submitted, the project is considered approved.
Despite this potential loophole, the law obliges all industrial projects to establish waste treatment and recycling centres and calls for the establishment of emergency plans to respond to possible environmental disasters.
Among the achievements touted by the SCENR are a 3-month clean up campaign of the country's beaches and developing a map of radiation levels in Qatar in conjunction with a draft law on protection against radiation. The council also organised a major international symposium on the environment last year, called Qatar United for the Environment, Science and Technology (QUEST). The conference brought together many internationally, regionally and nationally renowned environmental experts to discuss environmental concerns in the MENA Region and to develop solutions on how these problems could be addressed.
UNESCO played a key role in the symposium, and the organisation was invited by Qatar Petroleum (QP) to conduct a report on the fauna in the area of Ras Laffan Industrial City. One of the proposals to emerge from the report was the establishment of Biosphere Reserves in Qatar.
A main priority of the Qatari government is protecting the environment around Ras Laffan Industrial City. A number of monitoring systems are in place or are being developed to keep track of the quality of seawater, groundwater and ambient air, as well as monitoring noise levels and the discharge of ballast water from ships.
The environment around Ras Laffan Industrial City is marked by a variety of habitats for numerous flora and fauna. Projects to protect the environment around the city have been in place since at least 1988, when the government launched a programme to reforest mangroves in Qatar. Mangrove swamps play an important part in stabilizing the coastal areas, attenuating seawater intrusion, breaking storm surges, providing nutrients and creating breading grounds for various types of marine life. The mangrove swamp site at Ras Laffan has been declared a protected area and future development banned. The management at Ras Laffan also initiated a mangrove conservation programme that protects existing mangroves and plants additional seedlings. This programme is said to have resulted in at least 12 000 additional mangroves in the area.
Other programmes afoot at Ras Laffan include the reintroduction of the Reem, or Arabian Gazelle, as well as the ostrich. A sea snake rescue programme has been adopted to help prevent the deaths of sea snakes that are trapped in catch baskets after being sucked into cooling water intake systems. Under the programme, all cooling water intake systems are inspected twice a day and based on the number and conditions of the stranded snakes, a rescue is attempted. The Environment Section at Ras Laffan also identifies and monitors the burrows, nesting sites and marine habitats of other wildlife in the area, which includes hedgehogs, lizards, turtles and birds. Efforts are made to ensure the long-term protection of these sites and to create greater awareness among the public as to how to avoid their degradation and destruction.
Other initiatives among Qatar's industrial giants includes Qatar Petroleum's (QP) development and gradual implementation of a Waste Management Plan that includes a hazardous waste treatment centre in Mesaieed, a domestic waste transfer station in Dukhan, a domestic waste incinerator on Halul Island, a hazardous waste storage facility in Dukhan and a domestic sewage treatment plant for Dukhan.
Qatargas also initiated a programme for environmental excellence in 1988, with the goal of ISO 14001 certification, an internationally recognised standard of excellence in environmental management systems, by the year 2000 - which was achieved.
Qatargas also created the first environmental section within the hydrocarbon industry in 1994, and commissioned the first major Environmental Baseline Survey (EBS) and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in Qatar in 1995/1996 to assess Qatargas' impact on the local environment.
RasGas has formed a relationship with the Scientific and Applied Research Centre (SARC) of the University of Qatar. SARC began work in 1997 on RasGas' ecological coastal survey. Biological, chemical, remote sensing (satellite) and oceanographic surveys were completed in 1999. Additional projects are being initiated in support of RasGas' full site development construction activities. These will cover hawksbill turtle nesting habitat protection, coastal area protection and restoration, deployment of artificial reefs and plantation of native desert trees and shrubs.
Taken together, these measures indicate that Qatar is taking environmental protection seriously, which is crucial to preserving that varied ecology for the present and future generations of such a small country, so dependent on the hydrocarbon industry.