Sheikh Zayed turned a desert into an oasis

He consistently put his words into action that would empower our ancestors to overcome the harsh desert conditions and scarcity of resources.

By Ghada Nabil (Green View)

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Published: Wed 10 Jan 2018, 8:40 PM

Last updated: Wed 10 Jan 2018, 10:43 PM

The late Sheikh Zayed was the knight in shining armour shouldering the concerns of his nation with a smile, and the caregiver who safeguarded the country's wildlife, birds, trees, sands, seas, and deserts. During the 'Year of Zayed', his year of commemoration, we find ourselves at a loss for words to describe Zayed - the environmentalist that conquered the desert.
He was the protective father and leader who strove to preserve the nation's riches across generations. With the rare experience of having spent his formative years surrounded by untainted nature, he was fuelled by an inspired and deep commitment towards protecting the environment - and his wise words drew our guiding vision. It was he who consistently put his words into action that would empower our ancestors to overcome the harsh desert conditions and scarcity of resources - and help prevent future generations from enduring similarly challenging or even greater hardships.
In fact, he excelled in his efforts to protect the environment and put his words into action. He said: "With God's will, we shall continue to work to protect our environment and our wildlife, as did our forefathers before us. It is a duty, and, if we fail, our children, rightly, will reproach us for squandering an essential part of their inheritance, and of our heritage."
Yes, dear father of our nation, none other than us - the people of this nation - have been blessed with diverse natural environments; from deserts to seas and mangroves. Therefore, who - besides us - holds the responsibility to protect these jewels?
As noted by Graeme Wilson, in his book "Zayed: Man Who Built a Nation", what distinguished the late Sheikh Zayed from others, who advocate for the environment, was his deep-seated belief to preserve it, as evidenced by succeeding generations of Emiratis who continue to recount his love for the environment and nature. One of his greatest stories came to be during his tour of Al Ain's development projects, when he noticed one of the city's oldest trees growing in the projected path of a new road under construction. After learning of the proposed plan to cut down the tree, the late Sheikh Zayed called on the project managers demanding that the tree be left in place, which eventually led to the road's bisection and re-mergence. He always lived by the motto:
"Cut a path, but don't cut a tree," and his efforts were not restricted to preserving existing flora, but also extended to breathing more life into the desert; planting thousands of square kilometres of trees and desert vegetation - ultimately resulting in a now countless number, in the estimated range of 100 to 150 million.
The late Sheikh Zayed did not seek recognition when he advocated for environmental protection, but since 'actions speak louder than words', his efforts attracted global attention and awards. He was the first president to receive the "Golden Panda" Award from WWF, the world's leading conservation organisation, as a testament to his nature preservation efforts.
In 2005, the late Sheikh Zayed also received the 'Champions of the Earth' Award from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in recognition of his regional and international achievements in agriculture, protection of endangered species, development of natural reserves and efforts to add greater vegetation to the desert.
We, at the Emirates Wildlife Society-WWF, are proud and committed to fulfilling the vision of our founding father; of preserving our natural heritage, and passing it on to future generations - in the same way we bequeath real estate and money. After all, what is the value of money in the absence of good health? And how will it ensure the happiness of our future generations if they are unable to find pure drinking water, or organisms to preserve the natural balance of the earth? As humans, we are part of an intertwined chain, in which each link is essential to completing the divine circle of life.
As orchestrated by our Creator, we are all part of a unit that plays in harmony, to create the synchronous melody of life.
Ghada Nabil is Senior Communications Officer at Emirates Wildlife Society-WWF

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