Time to take stand on climate change

MUSCAT, May 28 – The intensity and regularity of tropical storms and torrential rains lashing the Sultanate have peaked to an all-time high in recent years, bringing widespread devastation. According to AccuWeather, Cyclone Mekunu has brought as much as eight years of rain in Dhofar in three days inundating several parts in the governorate. Salalah alone received 617 mm of rainfall in just five days. This is only 9 mm less than the total rainfall of 626 mm that Oman received during the catastrophic Cyclone Gonu in June 2007.

According to Global Climate Risk Index 2018, Oman is the most vulnerable country in the GCC to be impacted by extreme weather conditions.
“Recent storms with intensity levels never seen before have had disastrous impacts,” said David Eckstein of Germanwatch, one of the authors of the index. Mohammed bin Salim al Toobi, Minister of Environment and Climate Affairs, in a report titled ‘Initial National Communication under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’ confirmed that Oman is vulnerable to climate change. “During the last few years, the country has witnessed severe tropical cyclones. The intensity of tropical cyclones and severity of their impact may increase in a future warmer climate,” the minister said in the report.

The environmental challenges faced in the Sultanate are quite similar to those faced in other parts of the world and include pollution of air, water and soil, coastal construction and urban sprawl, waste management and over-consumption of non-reusable materials.
While the disastrous Gonu wreaked havoc with almost RO 1.6 billion in damages in 2007, years that followed also witnessed more widespread losses due to intermittent cyclonic storms in the Sultanate.
After learning lessons from the previous calamities, the government institutions joined forces to become more proactive in proper planning and construction.
Although many preventive steps were taken, including construction of dams and installing of drainage systems at several areas, Cyclone Mekunu once again brings to fore the need that there is more to be done before the Sultanate is truly stormproof.
A public opinion survey carried out recently by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development in 22 Arab countries revealed that a vast majority, exceeding 60 per cent, believes that the environment has deteriorated in their countries over the last 10 years.
Ninety-three per cent people in the Middle East say that the climate is changing due to human activities and 90 per cent of the respondents believe that it poses a serious challenge to their countries. This represents a 6-per cent increase over 10 years.
A majority of over 50 per cent of the respondents in Oman indicated satisfaction with government action to tackle climate change.
Climate change is predicted to have numerous impacts on the Sultanate.
These include loss of livestock and fish resources, severe water scarcity due to droughts and increased temperatures, biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation.
The top causes for environmental deterioration chosen by those surveyed were bad environment management, non-compliance with environmental legislation, weak environment institutions and inadequate government spending on the environment — results that are all in line with 2006 findings.
When asked about what personal action respondents were willing to take to protect the environment, 73 per cent said they were ready to participate in environmental awareness campaigns and 65 per cent were prepared to fully comply with environmental legislation.
Regarding fiscal measures, 45 per cent accept government taxes to protect the environment, while only 20 per cent are willing to pay donations to an environmental protection fund.
“Results evidently show more understanding of environmental issues among the public, including their interrelation with economic and social factors,” said the survey report in EcoMena.
The report also reveals that people are worried about the deterioration of the environment and depletion of resources, and that they are generally dissatisfied with the level of response of governments.
On the other hand, the survey shows an overwhelming readiness from the public to support positive change, by encouraging stricter laws to protect the environment and preserve natural resources, alongside engaging in personal action in this regard.

SAMUEL KUTTY