Sultanate committed to balanced development

MUSCAT, June 3 – Supporting a proposal raised by Majlis Ash’shura members on the need to have a draft climate law, Mohammed bin Salim al Toobi, Minister of Environment and Climate Affairs, emphasised the role of the ministry in highlighting the environmental dimension as part of the country’s development system which aims to find mechanisms to comply with environmental regulations and standards and to ensure a balance between requirements of sustainable development and preservation of environment and human health. This was stated during Majlis Ash’shura session on Sunday, which hosted the minister.

Opening the session, Shaikh Khalid bin Hilal al Maawali, Chairman of Majlis Ash’shura, referred to the recent adverse weather conditions in the governorates of Dhofar and Al Wusta, and appreciated the national unity of public, private and civil sectors which faced Cyclone Mekunu with high professionalism. He extended thanks and gratitude for these efforts. Later, the minister in his statement covered six key themes including development of environment and climate affairs sector, training and rehabilitation of national cadre, coordination with environmental authorities, licensing, international agreements on environmental issues, besides a special focus on the ministry and its relationship with civil institutions.

“The ministry has prepared a draft law on Integrated Waste Management and is currently working on updating the rules on the use of plastic bags to reduce their risks to environment, human health and sustain ecosystems and biodiversity.
“It is also working on updating drainage regulations, emissions from fixed sources and working of quarries,” Al Toobi said, indicating that the ministry works to evaluate environmental work experience continuously in the legislative, institutional, technical and administrative aspects to respond to the successive environmental changes at the global level, and to keep abreast of the progress witnessed by the Sultanate.
Commenting on the ministry’s role during the recent adverse weather conditions witnessed in the Sultanate, Al Toobi said: “There are two centres affiliated to the ministry to follow up these conditions. The ministry communicates, through these two centres, with companies and factories affected by the adverse weather conditions to ensure conservation of environmental waste. It usually assesses environmental damage and do the needful after the weather condition is over.”
Al Toobi said that there is a continuous cooperation between Met Office and the ministry.
A Majlis member called for benefiting from what has happened at the Suhar industrial area, which had a health and social impact, and called for the use of clean energies.
He also stressed the importance of preserving the marine environment from the trans-shipment of oil vessels along the coast of the Sultanate in the Arabian Sea and have a system to deal with radioactive pollution.
The minister responded that the early warning system for radiation monitoring at the ministry has been expanded. It consists of 8 field monitoring stations distributed in governorates and linked to a central control room at the ministry to monitor, analyse and display readings.
The system was refurbished in 2015 and a ninth field station was established in 2016. “To avoid potential radiation hazards, the ministry has been working on developing this system by carrying out a study in cooperation with a global consulting firm.
“The first phase of the study was completed by determining the number of 16 new sites where field stations are being installed and is expected to be operational by the end of 2018,” the minister said.
Replying to questions from members regarding high fee for environmental activities, the minister confirmed that “the fee is for the impact of activities on environment and are considered low when compared to that in other countries. So, the fee that has been raised is for activities that have a significant impact on environment and is paid over three years. While small activity fee has been cancelled,” he said.
In this regard, the minister added that the Environmental Assessment and Permits Centre is now in-charge of issuing environmental permits for projects that require environmental impact studies within a period not exceeding 30 working days.
“In 2017 the ministry had issued regulations for the issuance of environmental permits, which details procedures and mechanisms for obtaining permits in terms of identifying lists of activities, fees, penalties for delay in renewal and non-compliance with requirements.”
Al Toobi said that during the past year, the ministry issued 7 regulations in the fields of waste and wastewater management, circulation and use of chemicals, and regulation of dealing with endangered species, animals and plants.
Some of the members proposed to open commercial investment in various reserves, in the light of utilising non-oil resources in line with the current economic conditions, and they emphasised the need to pay attention to green cover in Dhofar Governorate.
The minister answered that although the ministry seeks to make these reserves popular, there are a couple of reserves which cannot be used for tourist purposes. “We give permission for visitors to Daymaniyat Islands Nature Reserve, and we don’t encourage projects in such reserves,” he said, indicating that there is a cooperation between the Sultanate and the US that include sending Omani staff for training, sometimes lasting for three months, to benefit from the US experiences in development of natural reserves.
In terms of studies, the ministry, in collaboration with the Environment Society of Oman (ESO), is implementing a project on protecting and studying of whales and dolphins in Dhofar and Al Wusta, by tracing them with satellites and also taking DNA samples, as well as a series of studies carried out by a number of external research centres.
Besides a series of studies conducted by a group of external research centres, including the study of producing an Atlas for reptiles in the Sultanate in cooperation with the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Spain, and studies on bird habitats in the reserves which is conducted with Dutch experts.
The minister also highlighted modern technologies and the infrastructure made as part of its efforts to develop environmental work. He pointed out that the factories that have big impact on environment through the CEMS system; a system that allows the ministry to continuously monitor the performance of these factories.
Moreover, factories were mandated to fix CCTV to monitor the emissions instantly. The statement also shed light on the role of the ministry in giving environmental licenses.
The minister of Environment and Climate Affairs also pointed out the environmental assessment and license centre issues the environmental permits for the projects that require preparing environmental assessment study no later than 30 working days.

Zainab al Nassri