Turning the desert green: UAE minister recounts how Arabs have always protected the environment

Addressing audience at the Dubai Future Forum, Ohood Al Roumi speaks on ancient wisdom, forward thinking approach of country's founding fathers

by

Nasreen Abdulla

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Photo: KT file
Photo: KT file

Published: Wed 29 Nov 2023, 11:41 AM

Arabs have always had a history of wanting to protect the environment, according to Ohood Al Roumi, UAE’s Minister of State for Government Development and Future. “Centuries ago, the Arab tribes were not just surviving, they were planning decades ahead,” she said. “We used to have something called alhena, an environmentally protected area where, for example, the cutting of trees were prohibited. So it was managed in a way to preserve the resources and ensure sustainability. These ancient practices were not just about conservation, but also about leaving a legacy for the future generations.”

Al Roumi said that this ancient wisdom and forward thinking approach has trickled into the DNA of the UAE. “Our founding fathers always had the interests of future generations in their minds and in their hearts,” she said. “Back then, we were the future generation and we are enjoying prosperity now because of what they planted.”

She was addressing audience at the Dubai Future Forum (DFF), an annual event that brought together over 2500 futurists, foresight practitioners, thought leaders, and experts from various industries.

She credited UAE’s founding father, Sheikh Zayed, for his visionary approach to environment. “He embarked on an ambitious journey to green the desert,” she said. “His aim was then not just to preserve the environment of the resources that we have. His aim was to expand it, grow it for the well-being of future generations.”

She said that this was considered impossible by several international experts. “However he was determined because he understood the importance of green space for the environment, for the people And for the future generations,” she said. “And because of him, we have now more than 150 million trees in the UAE.”

Building the future

Al Roumi gave the example of how the late Dubai ruler Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum planned ahead for the future. “In 1976, he decided that he wanted to build another port in Dubai which is the Jebel Ali Port,” she said. “Many businessmen were against it as they didn't see a reason for building another port. Another port 40km outside the city centre might be adventurous, unnecessary and cause losses.”

However, Sheikh Rashid was determined to go ahead. “He said, I'm not building for today. I'm building for the future,” she said. “Fast forward half a century, the Jebel Ali Port stands as the 11th busiest port in the world. Dubai Ports manage more than 90 ports around the world. What stands clear is that there is a need to have that vision, but also to have the commitment to drive towards that vision.”

Long term plans

Al Roumi stressed that the UAE focused on long term plans. “We created the Centennial Plan, which is our plan for the next 50 years,” she said. “The aim of this plan is to elevate the UAE to be the best country in the world by 2071. This is our road for the future and at the heart of this plan lies the development of our future generations.”

She explained how the country was helping its youth reach their potential. “Empowering youth is very central to our agenda,” she said. “We have a national youth strategy. We have numerous youth councils, and a strong representation of youth in government bodies. It's very important that we don't just listen to the voices of youth, but give them the opportunity to shape and influence decisions that will create their future.”

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