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Saudi initiatives to protect the environment
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 24 - 10 - 2015

The Saudi Environmental Society under the theme "Towards an Ecofriendly and Healthy Home" organized the first environmental workshops for women and children at the Park Hyatt Hotel, Jeddah, this week. Several ministries, private sector enterprises, representatives of Arab countries and global experts in the fields of the environment and sustainable social development participated in the event.
There were workshops highlighting the issue of conservation and the efficient use of natural resources, in which experts pointed out the lack of community awareness and wrong practices that are harmful to the environment.
In the past, national campaigns have been initiated to preserve water and electricity and to keep our cities clean; however, they were not effective because of public indifference and so the negligence continued.
Raising awareness among the private sector and decision makers is crucial to the success of the global initiative to protect the environment and preserve resources.
Global experts stress the need to create incentives for children at an early age to contribute to preserving the environment. They assert that children should be more involved in activities and programs that protect their environment, such as recycling initiatives and keeping their cities clean and green. Educational materials should be based on accurate scientific information and updated research. Universities must give greater attention to environmental studies and more research related to the local environment should be funded and encouraged.
Global experts urge that private and government sectors along with citizens should work together to protect the environment. Also the media and advertising industries should mobilize a more creative campaign to attract more effective public outreach in order to bring about more responsible public behavior.
Unfortunately, the earlier limited and scattered attempts to raise awareness about environmental concerns lacked sufficient support and were not effective. Saudi environmentalists have consistently raised the alarm about the dangerous situation that threatens our shores, the toxic chemicals and industrial waste that pollute our air and the landfills and hospital waste that contaminate our soil. However, they were not supported enough in the past and were not given serious attention.
Save Jeddah Corniche was one of the first campaigns launched to raise environmental awareness in the Kingdom. A group of young people exposed the negligence and abuse that has led to the pollution of our shores and the dumping of sewage water that has endangered the beautiful coral reef and poisoned marine life. The campaign attracted some attention to the need to save the Corniche and address the dangerous situation; however, not enough to make a difference.
Climate change and other environmental concerns are also not recognized as serious issues by the public. Muatana, a young group of dedicated volunteers, raised the alarm during the tragic flooding of Jeddah in 2009. Young people posted pictures on social media exposing the environmental disaster and the neglected districts of the city that were completely ruined. Again the response was inadequate.
Naqa'a another youth imitative was launched by a group of young students from Dar Al-Hekma University in Jeddah. The objective was to spread awareness and involve the public in activities, such as recycling, promoting the value of "green life" and keeping the air, water and land clear of pollution and waste. In 2008, a young graduate from Al-Yamamah University in Riyadh started his own recycling business which involved transforming waste into customized handmade goods.
Unfortunately, limited public sensitivity to environmental concerns and problems and government bureaucracy and rigid regulations have for a long time limited civil society's involvement in the preservation of the environment.
Joint efforts of the government and civil society can have a significant impact on the environment which has been neglected for a very long time. There should be more accountability and stricter environmental policies and regulations to stop irresponsible acts and behavior that are harmful to the environment.
Hopefully, there will be more government and public support for such environmental campaigns to foster a better sense of civic responsibility and create stronger motivation and commitment for protecting the environment and preserving our resources.
Samar Fatany is a radio broadcaster and writer. She can be reached at [email protected]

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