A small island with big plans: The Kingdom of Bahrain commits to environmental sustainability
In June 2019, the Kingdom of Bahrain revealed its plans to ban plastic bags. The move took many by surprise. Ahmed Rajab, a photographer in Bahrain for the Gulf Daily News, is one supporter of the decision. He recalls a sad episode he captured on his camera: “With their bright pink colour, flamingos are so majestic and beautiful during flight, but then I saw a dead flamingo on the coast surrounded with plastic waste, and it was the exact opposite of beauty. It was gut-wrenching to capture that picture on my camera—a beautiful bird surrounded by plastic bottles and waste… It almost seemed like our waste murdered it and that is the sad truth.”
The ban is a great start, he says, and it will put the country on the road to sustainability. But he also believes in the importance of changing people’s attitudes and perceptions, especially those of children, to ensure that they grow up environmentally conscious. “Anything harming the environment will eventually harm us, so we need to take steps to regulate and ban harmful substances, and work together towards a healthier planet for all creatures.”
Bahrain means two seas in Arabic, a tribute to its sweet water springs and salty seawater. The small island, home to nearly 1.5 million people, is particularly vulnerable to plastic waste. Historically, its waters have been known for their richness, hosting more than 200 varieties of fish. Fishing, more specifically pearl fishing, was for centuries the main means of livelihood for the people of Bahrain.
In 2013, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized Bahrain’s Pearl Road as a World Heritage Site, recalling the nation’s longstanding reputation for an industry that has shaped its culture.
However, with the booming oil industry and pollution, marine life in the waters of the Gulf of Bahrain have declined drastically. Coral reefs, sea turtles, dugongs and numerous fish species are suffering the effects of marine pollution. With population growth and the increased production and consumption of plastic products and packaging, marine litter exacerbated the problem and contributed to the diminishing fish stocks.
To address these critical environmental challenges, the Kingdom of Bahrain seized the opportunity in 2018 to join the UN Environment Programme’s global Clean Seas campaign. Since then, youth networks, civil society, the government and others have spared no effort to turn the tide on plastic.
In June 2019, a ministerial order to regulate and phase out the use of plastic bags was announced across the Kingdom and the region. The order also aims to ban the import of bags that are non-biodegradable, and future phases will include a permanent ban on the use of plastic bags at certain malls and supermarkets.
Furthermore, the government plans to expand recycling by increasing the total number of recycling bins, thereby reducing plastic waste that ends up in landfills.
Bahrain is moving steadily towards a full-fledged ban. The Supreme Council for the Environment together with the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism are working on policies and guidelines for manufacturers and suppliers to ensure a smooth transition to a suitable alternative. A seminar on plastic products regulations was held following the announcement of the ban to help manufacturers and importers meet the technical requirements. It also introduced measures that will be taken to monitor ports customs and local markets.
UN Environment’s West Asia Office Director and Regional Representative Sami Dimassi commended the bold decision that made the Kingdom the second country in West Asia to take a stand against non-biodegradable plastic bags after the Sultanate of Oman. “Plastic in the ocean has a disproportionately large impact on marine life. Small pieces of plastic are eaten by fish, sea turtles and sea birds, often resulting in their death. This is in addition to the fact that often, these animals become entangled in plastic debris which leads to fatal injuries and consequently puts an end to their short-lived lives.” He also added that non-biodegradable plastics break down into small pieces which are eaten by smaller marine animals and enter the food chain, eventually impacting human health.
Prior to the ministerial decision, many stores in Bahrain had already substituted plastic bags with paper ones. For them, the transition was not that difficult—they are mostly European franchises that had already switched to more sustainable alternatives years back at their mother companies.
However, during the years 2018 and 2019, a huge interest was sparked by local supermarkets and hypermarkets in building a culture of sustainability in Bahrain. At least 15 branches of the two main hypermarkets in Bahrain introduced reusable bags as part of their green policies. For instance, Lulu and Carrefour management have both sought the advice of UN Environment’s West Asia Office during the transition. For a small island like Bahrain, this is a great achievement.
The smaller corner shops and the food service industry are the main culprits when it comes to the use of plastics in the Kingdom. While biodegradable alternatives are available, it is less costly and more convenient to use the good old plastic bag. Nevertheless, activists, the government and youth are relentlessly raising awareness on the negative impacts of plastic pollution on the environment, while the Supreme Council for the Environment is guaranteeing that consumers will not bear the cost of the ban.
The people of Bahrain have always been pioneers in many aspects. Their openness to other cultures and interest in modern education have been the drive for many green-thinking advocates. The nation’s younger generation is empowered and entrepreneurial. There are several youth-led green initiatives in the country, including a focus on organic and green cosmetics production and upcycled fashion.
Bahrain’s active civil society has been on the back of polluters. Even schools have started exposing children to environmentally friendly practices and information, while the country’s private sector fosters environmental responsibility for the community.
And now, the people of Bahrain have a government that is adamant about making significant progress towards sustainable development.
Global Warming: Can Human Nature Be Changed?
It was an extreme heat wave in 2022 that brought the hottest temperatures since 1901 to the Indian Subcontinent. Heavy rains followed during the rainy season … as the source of the moisture, the nearby ocean, was warmer. As could have been expected, floods followed impacting millions in India and Bangladesh. Floods in Venezuela also in April of the same year affected more than 85,000 people. It should come as no surprise when scientists reliably inform us that such catastrophic weather events are becoming more frequent across the world.
Venezuela has not been spared in 2023 either as heavy rains triggered landslides and floods in February causing widespread damage in the state of Sao Paulo.
Meanwhile, Super Typhoon Mawar is active in the Pacific. Unusual both for bringing an early start to the hurricane season and for its intensity — over 200 km/hr gusts — it is barreling northwest towards the Philippines and Japan.
Is all this a harbinger of a warming planet and more unsettled weather? One swallow does not make a summer they say, perhaps not even two or three. So the scientists remain cautious in their predictions, troubled though they may be.
Then there is the upper atmosphere which is much less dense. The CO2 escaping to it has very few molecules to bump up against so it continues on into deep space. Moreover, the blanket of CO2 causing our global warming also prevents the normal escape of heat to warm the upper atmosphere. It is consequently cooling and shrinking, thus allowing more of the sun’s rays to penetrate through and worsen global warming.
It leaves one with a sense of foreboding and uneasiness relieved only by the thought that it might take a century plus before the earth becomes a living hell. There is in addition the fervent hope that human nature would change under greater adversity.
Look at us now. Greed is good. It drives the economy. If people stop buying goods and services, we enter a recession. Yet all of this activity consumes energy and releases CO2, its by-product.
We love convenience and the easy way. That too drives our economy. Our demands for convenience can lead to mostly empty trains during off-peak hours. We prefer to drive rather than walk distances shorter than a mile. The median distance to the nearest food store in the US is 0.9 miles according to the USDA. We can walk that distance easily yet how many actually do.
Humans are also in competition with each other. To the winners the laurels, yes, but for each winner, there are usually many more losers … who also have to survive. Thus the need for cooperation, for working together and helping each other.
Perhaps, the broadly defined cooperative purpose underlying our actions could be one of nurturing earth. In work, play or any mundane activity, the methods chosen could reflect this guiding principle.
Its importance, of course, cannot be overstated if we are to push back against climate change and leave behind a planet that is as good or better for succeeding generations.
Climate Smart Agriculture Can Help Balochistan bounce back
Climate change brings disaster to the province Balochistan, which is an arid region located in west of Pakistan. The drought-stricken region struggling to increase its agricultural productivity, faced a backlash due to catastrophic floods. The predominantly agriculture-based territory reached the dead zone as farmers had stopped farming, shepherds kept their animal numbers low, which put people’s lives on stake, as it increased food insecurity. This highlighted the need to start a policy debate for climate smart agriculture.
Climate smart agriculture is an approach that is making the planet prosperous again. It is an ambition to increase the integration of food security with enhance resilience in productivity. It is a sustainable agriculture practice that promotes soil health, water management, and biodiversity conservation with economic benefits. Its practices like, cover/tunnel farming, drip irrigation, crop livestock systems can help Balochistan to go green and integrated again. These practices can sequester carbon in soil and can fight the impacts of climate change more efficiently.
Climate change is affecting the province in various ways. The region of Balochistan is characterized by extreme aridity, with annual precipitation levels below average, causing severe droughts, which is leading to a catastrophic impact on the province’s agriculture and livestock.
Flash floods in Balochistan becomes the new common during the monsoon season as a result of heavy rainfall, with the most significant in 2022. These floods have a detrimental impact on the environment, causing soil erosion, depletion, and the loss of fertile topsoil. The soil is already deficient in minerals and cannot endure further depletion, requiring several hundred years to recover and cannot support agricultural growth.
In an interview with wealthPk, Dr. Hanif-ur-Rehman AP from university of Turbat said, that high efficiency irrigation system (HEIS) can play an efficient role in climate effected regions like Turbat, Makran, Kech where farmers had traditionally cultivated the crops for source of income. The use of drip, rain guns, Centre pivot, and sprinkler have the ability to bring back the lush green pastures that have turned barren.
Climate smart agriculture could not only fetch the lost agriculture but also increase the productivity rate by making the rest of the region green. Balochistan accounts for only 6% of cultivable land for agriculture which not only failed to meet food security needs but also added little in Pakistan’s 25% agriculture GDP.
Balochistan people despite having less literacy are very conducive to cultivating lands with new cultivation techniques. In late 1990s and 2000s when the entire western part of the province was severely hit by droughts, people brought the techniques of less resilient tunnel farming to moist the soil. They grow crops beneath protective plastic tunnels. This technique helps them cope with their immediate needs but it fails to produce yield on a massive scale. Cultivation in proper climate resilient tunnels usually requires 10 to 20 acres of area or economically 3 acres feasible, and the tunnels are created by using steel pipes, or aluminum pipes that support plantations that are usually 3 to 12 feet in height and 5-10 feet wide.
The drip irrigation technique also has enormous potential for minimizing production costs by moderating the input use of water, fertilizers and pesticides. Drip irrigation keeps the field capacity constant by enabling the crops to easily take in water and nutrients, which result in uniform growth of plants and enhances the quality that produces well. Drip irrigation distributes water through a network of valves, pipes, emitters, and tubing that can save 50-70% of irrigation water which can not only resolve the water scarcity issue of Balochistan, it also can produce efficient, extensive production of crops such as apples, cherries, tomatoes, and citrus.
The province also needs to move towards an integrated crop-livestock system (ICLS), which is sustainable, productive, and climate resilient compared to intensive specialized systems. ICLS have increased over time in arid regions but still, Balochistan lags behind due to lack of skills by producers, lack of investment, lack of sustainable awareness and market competition. Livestock production is the largest sector of the province’s economy. It is nearly impossible to have a dream of economic development for the rural masses without prior attention to Livestock and crop management.
After floods, the crops fields are destroyed due to which livestock become the main source of food for many rural households that make the rural farming through livestock less practicable. It can only be enhanced by administration policies through capital funding, educational services and markets to subsistence farmers.
CSA is a method that includes several elements entrenched in local settings rather than a collection of practices that can be used everywhere. CSA requires the adoption of technologies and policies, and it refers to behaviors both on and off the farm.
According to FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) of the United Nation 2023 report, Local farmers are the foremost holders of knowledge about their environment, agro-ecosystems, crops, livestock, and climatic patterns. Therefore, the adoption of Climate Smart Agriculture should be aligned with the local farmers’ knowledge, needs, and priorities. . Farmers of Balochistan have shown a keen interest in drip irrigation, tunnel farming technique but the high cost of imported pipes, emitters, plantation of aluminum tunnels from china has become their hindrance.
Mainstreaming CSA in Balochistan requires critical stocktaking and promising practices by financial and institutional enablers that can create an initial baseline for discussion and investment from the globe. If the government of Balochistan supports the farmers through public funding or by joint ventures with farmers for covering the startup costs, the techniques can be very useful not for food security but also for economic benefits on a constant level. According to a report on Climate smart practices, the CS techniques could not only help to save water up to 50-70%, reduce the fertilizer use by 45%, increase yield up to 100-150%, reduce the production cost by 35%, but could also mature the crops with better quality for uneven topography.
Human History and the Wonder of the Horse
Imagine a person accustomed to traveling at 3 to 4 mph, who discovers a means (the horse) to speed up to 5 times that pace with occasional thrilling bursts doubling even that.
At 15 mph, it is then not unreasonable to assume a 1000 mile range for a week on horseback allowing for breaks and sleep at night. It must have expanded enormously the horizons of those early Kazakhs who first domesticated the horse some 6000 years ago.
If the Kazakhs roamed west, the Mongols, a few thousand years later, roamed back and began a vast empire that eventually included all of China. Ties with Russia were close but as a hegemon, until a few centuries later when the Russians threw off the yoke.
As Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping shake hands forging a new treaty, China is once again a more powerful economy, the largest in the world, while Russia’s is more akin in size to Italy’s.
If the horse made the vast Central Asian steppes explorable, its remarkable navigational skills ensured the rider would eventually be able to return home.
Apparently horses are sensitive to the earth’s magnetic field, and not unlike homing pigeons can find their way home. Confirmatory tests have shown that when magnets are slung over their withers, they get completely lost. Observers have also noted that, in pasture. they tend to stand north-south aligned with the earth’s magnetic field.
Up until the advent of the internal combustion engine, horses were used for all kinds of transportation. Where the rail line ended, horses took over. They hauled freight in covered wagons; pulled stagecoaches in the Wild West and elegant carriages in Europe; they were a cowboy’s bread and butter, and personal transportation for anyone who could afford one; horses in the cavalry delivered the punch generals were seeking in battle; in racing, they provided thrills for the audience and excitement for punters — such is true also today, and with all the special attention given to the triple crown races, the casual observer might forget the weekly calendar of racing events across the country.
Horses for courses is a common saying for they are bred for speed in short races and stamina for long steeplechases like the famous Grand National in England.
Hark back to the wagon drivers of old, when on lonely long journeys the driver could talk to his horses — like dogs they are able to understand and develop quite a vocabulary of human words plus silent signals from the reins and legs of the riders.
And pity the poor trucker now and his lonely cross-country trips — not much to say to a noisy diesel engine! The only chance to talk he gets is when he takes a break to eat, rest and sometimes sleep at truck stops along the way.
With all that horses did for humans, one can wonder what they got out of it. Apparently they form close bonds with their owners, and as with dogs, the feelings are mutual.
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