Qatar: Environmental Protection in Qatar; No Job for Dilettantes

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QATAR: ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION IN QATAR; NO JOB FOR DILETTANTES

BY RICHARD H. CURTISS

Even the most casual visitor to Doha, the sparkling modern capital of Qatar, sees that both the government and its citizens care about appearances. Along main streets and in the traffic roundabouts banks of annual flowers gladden the eye. In the city's parks, lawns almost too thick, carefully mowed, green and weedless to be real provide the venue for family picnics and impromptu games of soccer. Around the edges of parks and playgrounds and at prominent locations throughout the city, flowering shrubs and artfully placed weathered limestone rocks and picturesque succulent and cactus plants, some of them imported from Arizona, provide more green accents to this oncebarren metropolis.

Throughout the parks and along the city's several miles of beautiful seaside corniche there are public restrooms, drinking fountains, and unobtrusive but regularly placed trash receptacles. What's more, Qataris use those receptacles. There is less litter than on typical downtown American streets, and watchful cleanup crews are much in evidence.

From the time a quarter-century ago when Doha's city walls were taken down so that the once tiny fishing port could expand into the present sprawling seaside capital of 400,000 residents, aesthetic and environmental concerns have been evident. Back from the curving corniche, streets are broad and straight, running between roundabouts placed at regular intervals. And as new housing blocks, shopping centers and office towers are completed, the construction rubble is promptly removed. Following that rubble to its final destination would lead the visitor from the initial aesthetic concerns to the next phase of environmental protection in Qatar.

The phase of educating the public concerning the need for environmental protection has been the job of the schools for a generation and it is largely completed. While Qataris still express dismay that not all the residents are sufficiently environmentally conscious, in fact Qatari nationals, who as children were inculcated with the idea that real patriotism is taking care of their native land, now are government officials and CEOs of major industrial concerns. They seem prepared to cooperate with any government initiatives for protection of the land, air and surrounding coastal waters. What they need now is guidance on how to do this and on the difference between acceptable and unacceptable standards.

That is exactly where Qatar's Department of Environmental Protection comes in. Its predecessor agency was the Environment Protection Committee, established in 1981 and directed by an inter-ministerial council chaired by the minister of health. Its recommendations were submitted to the Ministerial Council (Qatar's cabinet) for approval. Initially most of these recommendations concerned which international environmental organizations, treaties and protocols Qatar should join or sign.

In 1993 the EPC was absorbed into the newly created Department of Environment, which now reports directly to Minister of Municipalities and Agriculture Sheikh Ahmad bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, son of Qatar's ruler. While it still is concerned with the more glamorous work of identifying and protecting endangered species of plants and animals, increasingly the Environment Department's resources are focused on the Herculean task of setting and enforcing standards for clean air and water and for waste disposal.

This is because the directorship of the department, which remained vacant for the first two years after it was established, has been filled since April 1995 by an energetic and pragmatic scientist who has organized his department to take a firm lead in coordinating the environmental protection standards of Qatar's major industries.

"If we can control our industry, 75 percent of our environmental problems will be under control," explains Khalid Ghanem Al Ali, director of the Environmental Department of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Agriculture. …