Alaa Tariq Ahmed, Tunza Youth Advisor for West Asia, is working with the Bahrain Women Society to reconnect young people with their desert heritage and promote the value of desert life.

         
 

or thousands of years the people of the Kingdom of Bahrain - a tiny island nation in the Persian Gulf - were very attached to the desert, a big part of their cultural identity. But rapid economic and industrial growth, and the accompanying changes in lifestyle, have undermined this: Bahrainis now only occasionally venture into the desert for recreation, like camping and hunting.

Yet desertification - caused by the harsh climate and overuse of the land - is the most challenging environmental issue facing the Kingdom. It degrades Bahrain's limited arable land, dries up freshwater sources, and brings drought and dust storms.

Wildlife is already limited by the arid climate, and is made even more vulnerable by desertification and human abuse. In response, the Government has set up protected areas - gazelle and hares are not yet extinct, lizards and jerboas (desert rats) are common, and the mongoose, probably imported from India, lives in irrigated areas. Birds are sparse except in spring and autumn, when many migrant species rest here when travelling to and from temperate areas.

Heinz Stucke/www.bikefriday.com/bf/heinzstucke

 

 

Sadly, most Bahrainis do not appreciate the country's natural beauty, let alone take responsibility for it. The Bahrain Women Society (BWS), to which I belong, is trying to influence environmental attitudes and reconnect people emotionally to their desert, working hard to create awareness of desertification and to promote the value of desert life.

We aim to make learning about environmental issues easy and fun and - with our umbrella non-governmental organization, the Environment Citizenship Programme - came up with the project 'Creativity in Environmental Culture'. Our mascot is a spiny-tailed lizard, known locally as dabb, which is closely linked to Bahraini culture but is now threatened by hunting and habitat destruction. We named our lizard Wanees, meaning 'joyfulness' in Arabic.

The Wanees team already has two projects on the go: a children's storytelling series, and a website (www.wanees.info) with educational material and links to activities. And this is just the beginning. BWS has high hopes that the programme will improve peoples' awareness of the environment, keep the focus on cultural identity when implementing environmental activities, create a sense of affinity with the desert's creatures, and encourage appropriate investment in environmental tourism, among other goals. With luck - and Wanees' help - we will succeed!

 
         
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