Bahrain enacted major environmental legislation in July 1996 (Amiri Decree No. 21 of 1996). Unlike previous legislation, which dealt with specific environmental issues, the Amiri Decree represents a first attempt at comprehensive environmental legislation in Bahrain. It establishes an Authority for Environmental Affairs within the framework of the Ministry of Housing, Municipality and Environment, which will have, inter alia, the power to draw up plans and policies as well as to supervise their implementation in cooperation with all other relevant authorities. Since a coordinating body has yet to be established, it remains to be seen how such coordination will be achieved.
The Amiri Decree covers nature reserves and protected areas, the marine environment, occupational hazards, and toxic and hazardous waste. It restricts and controls the use of toxic chemicals and pesticides and the emission of pollutants from various activities, including construction, excavation, and transportation. It also requires environmental impact assessment for select projects and waste treatment facilities for handling any waste generated by such projects. One significant feature of this law is the incorporation of provisions on liability establishing detailed penalties, including closure of premises, criminal sanctions for certain violations, as well as fines that reach up to US$135,000. Another law, Decree No. 16, issued in September, designates the Hawar Island and its coastal zone a protected area and a sanctuary for marine life and other wild fauna and flora.
In 1996, Bahrain ratified the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (depositing the instrument of ratification on 29 August). After ratification, Bahrain requested assistance from the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to carry out its country programme on biological diversity. It is expected that this programme will commence in 1997. By the end of the year, a national committee was still studying the possibility of ratifying the UN Convention on Desertification. A decision was expected in early 1997.
As a party to the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, Bahrain was classified as an Art. 5 country eligible to receive assistance from the Protocol's Multilateral Fund. With such assistance, two technical training workshops were held and the ozone country programme was completed. The country programme, outlining an action plan to reduce national consumption of ozone depleting substances (ODS), was submitted through the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and was approved by the Fund in 1996. A project for institutional strengthening to