Zayed Prize for Environment

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August 1999

Just over two years ago there weren’t that many environmental happenings in Dubai. At least they didn’t get written about. Days would go by when the only environmental news would be far from local. Say, the anti-nuclear campaign of Greenpeace; or the Kyoto Protocol binding countries to cut greenhouse gases; or how the Aral Sea continues to shrink; or which endangered species in the USA were making a come back!

National eco-news reports, few and far between, came mostly from Abu Dhabi and Sharjah; from the Federal Environmental Agency (FEA), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency (ERWDA), the Sharjah Natural History Museum and Desert Park, the Arabian Leopard Trust… Dubai only reported the odd beach clean or the occasional plastic bag collection by schools. It’s not that these events weren’t important public awareness drives. They did spawn waste segregation and recycling in the emirate.

But in the last year or so Dubai, it seems, has been taking stock of and getting its environmental act together. There have been workshops, training programmes, campaigns, international conferences, exhibitions, some laws passed, fines and other punitive action taken (as deterrents), and awards announced (as incentives). Dubai is becoming more ecologically savvy and, hopefully, poised for translating talk into action. An environmental institution is in the making.

What is likely to emerge as the most coveted international prize for outstanding contribution to environmental conservation is named after President H.H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. The Zayed International Prize for the Environment was instituted by General, H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and UAE Defence Minister in May last year. This is an apt tribute to a ruler whose vision has been guided by his love for nature and wildlife, and the concept of sustainable development; long before these issues came up for discussion in global forums such as at the 1992 UN Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) or, even earlier, the 1972 UN conference (Stockholm, Sweden).

... will be awarded every two years in acknowledgement of outstanding achievements in environmental protection and sustainable development. The 12 main fields identified include: fragile ecosystems; freshwater resources; biological diversity; marine ecosystems; sustainable rural development; sustainable industrial development; environmentally sound technologies; human health; community education; capacity building; women in environment and development; and environmental security. Those distinguished by their achievements in these fields are eligible for the prize; whether they are individuals, groups, institutions, or organisations - governmental or non-governmental.

The maiden prize, comprising one million US dollars, a gold medal and a certificate of appreciation, will be presented in the name of HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan by the patron, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Makhtoum at a public ceremony in Dubai in February 2001.

A web site on the Zayed Prize is being developed and is expected to be on line in August 1999 (

The one million-US $ prize (world's largest environmental award), demonstrates the appreciation of a nation for its leader whose unfailing conservation efforts have drawn accolades from the international community. Recognition has come from, to mention a few, the World Wide Fund for Nature (Golden Panda Award), the Gulf Co-operation Council, Association of Arabian Cities, Pakistan, Egypt and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.

The Zayed Prize has been in the news intermittently for over a year now, including the competition for its logo design. What is not commonly known, however, is that it is the flagship of a far more ambitious project. The Zayed International Prize for the Environment will be an institution - a full-fledged non-profit organisation. Scientific research and studies on environment will be conducted; regional and international conferences will be held; a local environmental forum will be organised every two months to debate locally relevant issues; newsletters and journals will be produced. Besides, the Zayed Prize (as the organisation itself is referred to) will actively participate in various local, regional and international environmental events.

"The real aim is establishment of a centre of excellence for environmental protection and sustainable development. The prize is only a part of this, '' explains Dr. Moh'd Ahmed bin Fahad, chairman of the higher committee, which has been constituted to administer the Zayed Prize. Among the committee's 12 members are heads of federal and Dubai agencies including the United Nations Development
Programme (UNDP), Federal Environmental Agency (FEA), UAE University's Faculty of Science, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), Dubai Radio and TV, and Dubai Aluminium (DUBAL).

Technical advisor, Dr. Eisa Mohamed Abdellatif elaborates on the purpose of the Zayed Prize. ''It is an endeavour to honour and appreciate Sheikh Zayed who, way back in the 1940s, was concerned about sustainable development. Of course he didn't call it that. But even as early as in 1946, His Highness was worrying about the water resources of Al Ain and developed the water management plan for the area. He banned hunting in Abu Dhabi more than 15 years ago, and also established the Sir Bani Yas nature reserve for Arabian wildlife. He committed the necessary financial resources for conservation and has always been aware of the importance of striking a balance between development and environment.''

Already the Zayed Prize has plans for an environmental forum on ''best practice in industrial development'' in September '99, an international conference on ''Desertification 2000'' in February 2000, and a regional conference on ''Impact Assessment'' in 2001. Events like these, facilities such as the research centre, library, auditorium, and other requirements of a 'centre of excellence' surely call for spacious premises. These are being developed. Dr. Fahad does not reveal where, but he does convey that they will be lavish. For instance, the theatre will have a seating capacity for 800; and the grounds will be beautifully landscaped. Naturally!

The first Zayed International Prize for the Environment will be conferred on the winner/s in February 2001, during the period of National Environment Day celebrations. By then environment is likely to take centre stage in Dubai.
...jottings on a few environment-friendly people, products and events

Dehra Dun, India ''I've never seen these hills so green! Is this is how they're supposed to look?'' commented a visitor to this Himalayan valley town. He is an occasional visitor and had always seen the hills scarred and degraded. But they were picturesque at night, when the lights of Mussourie (a popular hill resort) twinkled; and also during the monsoon when, in the pelting rain, everything seemed to burst into bloom - even barren slopes. But in one sense the rains were bad news. They brought down the hill slopes; and that's
where the action to 're-green' has its roots. Through the '60s and '70s the hills had been mined relentlessly for limestone. Every mining rule, every health and safety regulation, every environmental norm, was broken with impunity - all for making a fast buck. The hills were laid bare, slopes gashed white with quarries (would you believe this? A quarry operator is known to have painted the white gashes of his mine with green paint when former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, was undertaking an air inspection of the area), the air polluted, water resources depleted and weather adversely impacted. Tourism declined. Landslides became routine occurrences. Villagers on the hill slopes lived in terror. When the rains brought the mining waste, loose soil and boulders down on cottages, grazing grounds, fields, livestock, and even humans, it was the last straw. Citizens were galvanized into action…. and the rest is history. A public interest litigation in which a powerful mining lobby was pitted against desperate but determined citizens, and which dragged on for years; a landmark judgement in favour of citizens and the environment; the cessation of mining; and the start of re-greening. Responsible for re-greening is the 'ecological task force,' comprising ex-servicemen belonging to the Territorial Army, who are trained to undertake work even in the most difficult terrain. The eco-taskforce has been on the job since the '80s, and still is. It's taken a decade and a half, but the hills are green again; and getting greener every year.

Dubai, UAE For the two months in a year that Sudha Shrikhande visits her family in Dubai, nothing from their kitchen is wasted. The plants in their garden are fed kitchen refuse - all vegetable peels, naturally, but also eggshells, bones and fat. Small pieces of paper, nails, hair are some other garden additives. '' Don't put in tins, bottles, foils and plastic,'' cautions Shrikhande '' and, if you are short of space and want to reduce bulk, just churn all the organic stuff in a blender and use it. Ideal for flowerpots in apartments!'' She has a compost pit of course, but frequently just digs up the soil with her little red spade and buries peels around the plants. Lemongrass, drumstick, mint,
a variety of flowers, all are flourishing under Shrikhande's therapy for, I have seen her doctoring her plants. ''This plant seemed to be drying up, so I have been giving it tomato skins and a few orange peels. I put lemon skin in the money plants. When it's good for us why shouldn't it be good for them? Orange peels do good to hibiscus.'' Finally, an important tip: wash your vegetables, pulses, meats and other foods in a large vessel, and use the water for your plants or your lawn. Don't pour it down the drain.

New Delhi, India I find environmental expositions irresistible. Simply because I can keep track of technological innovations that provide solutions for a multitude of environmental ills. Not all of them are grandiose, complex and expensive. I have often come across simple and clever solutions to serious problems that make me think I can use that or Now why didn't I think of this? Or this is definitely worth spending on or I must remember this when I build my own house. So, when I was in Delhi I came across an international exhibition called ''Environment India'99, Build India'99, Water India'99'' (13-16 April'99) organised by Building Materials and Technology Promotion Council and Exhibition India Pvt. Ltd. Here are glimpses.

Coir fibre erosion control. Fibre obtained from coconut husks is spun into coir yarn and then woven into geotextiles - a huge net that is spread on slopes to hold soil in place and prevent erosion.
Coir geotextile netting provides support on slopes for about five years, which is sufficient time for natural vegetation to grow and take over the job of soil protection, while the coir netting bio-degrades, leaving only humus.

Fly ash bricks. Fly ash is a byproduct of thermal power plants. Flyash pollutes the air and water, and its disposal gobbles up large tracts of land. Now it's being used for making smart looking bricks for construction.

Red mud tiles, bricks, roofing sheets, door binders. Red mud is solid waste that is generated during extraction of non-ferrous metals such as aluminium. This muddy residue, made up of alumina, iron oxide and titanium oxide, is usually disposed off in ponds, from where it runs off to pollute surface water sources and percolates into groundwater. It is now being recycled into tiles, bricks, corrugated roofing sheets, and as a binder for doors and panels and stuff. Red mud has been mixed with natural fibres such as jute to make a new material called red mud jute fibre polymer composite that replaces wood in wood-based panel products. It can also be used for furniture, flooring, paneling, electrical switch boxes etc.

Eco-wud planters, fences, wall panels, outdoor furniture, road signs. These products are made out of plastic waste that is converted to 'eco-wud,'(remember 'Eco Wood' of Eco plastic Industries, Dubai? See Earthsense, October 1998,) an alternative to conventional wood and concrete. Eco-wud products are made out of such waste as multi-layer film packaging and PET bottles mixed with jute fibre waste. Other examples of plastic waste utilisation: Conversion of tetra pack (cartons of milk, juices and vegetable oils) into chipboard; and recycled PVC (polyvinyl chloride) into a paste that can be mixed into paints.

I peeped into the conference hall where the talk was about plastics that have invaded the packaging industry. Plastic waste has become such a gargantuan problem that the Government of India had set up a National Plastics Waste Management Task Force that submitted its recommendations in August 1997. Following this, the Ministry of Environment and Forests drew up an action plan restricting the use of plastic carrier bags; banning use of recycled plastic bags for unpacked food items; participation of industry for collection and transportation of used bags for recycling; phasing out plastic carrier bags, cups and plates in services offered by the railways, ports, government canteens and hotels; research on biodegradable plastics; setting up of an Indian Centre for Plastics in Environment....Certainly laudable, if they are implemented. I sat through because plastic waste and its recycling are such an issue here in the Emirates as well.


When buying something ask ourselves do we really need this particular item? If we honestly do, then try and buy things that are reusable, recyclable, or compostable. And be sure to reuse, recycle and compost them.

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