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Coastal development and physical alteration

Rapid urbanization has occurred in most of the countries of the region over the past three decades, particularly in the smaller countries such as Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. By the early 1990s, some of the GCC countries had developed more than 40 per cent of their coastline (Price and Robinson 1993), and recent estimates indicate coastal investments in the region to be worth US$20-40 million/km of coastline (UNEP 1999).

In Lebanon, more than 60 per cent of the population of about 3.5 million live and work along a very narrow coastal strip (Government of Lebanon 1997, Grenon and Batisse 1989). Some 64 per cent of the population of all the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries except Saudi Arabia live along the western coasts of the Gulf and the Arabian Sea (ROPME 1999). More than 90 per cent of the population of Bahrain and 37 per cent of Kuwaitis live along the coast.

Coastal populations are expected to increase - for example, the population of Aqaba is predicted to more than double from 65 000 to 150 000 by 2020 (UNEP and PERSGA 1997). Increasing urbanization, accompanied by ill-planned coastal tourism and/or industrial projects, has resulted in the degradation of coastal and marine environmental quality. The Mashriq sub-region and the smaller states of the region are also unable to deal with the large quantities of domestic litter generated along the coasts, due to space limitations and inadequate waste disposal systems.

Dredging and land reclamation are also intensifying in most countries. Major landfilling has occurred along the western coasts of the Gulf countries such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. These activities have led to destruction of marine habitats and ecologically productive areas, coastal erosion, and loss of coastal stretches in many countries.

The need for environmental impact assessments and integrated coastal zone management has been recognized by most countries since the early 1990s and a number of coastal and marine action plans have been developed (see box). A new methodology for integrated coastal zone management was developed by UNEP's Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP), and a Coastal Area Management Project (CAMP) for the south of Lebanon was launched in 2001 by MAP and the Lebanese Ministry of Environment. Nevertheless, with the exception of a regional programme under MAP aimed at safeguarding 100 historical sites notably in the Mashriq region, no concerted effort has been undertaken to protect other historical sites, including submarine structures, from the ravages of dredging and landfill activities.

Coastal and marine action plans in West Asia

Three major action plans in the region are aimed at preserving the coastal and marine environment and promoting the sustainable development of the coastal zones:

  • the Mediterranean Action Plan: Lebanon, Syria and the Mediterranean countries of Europe and North Africa;
  • the Kuwait Action Plan: Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates; and
  • the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden Action Plan: Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

The Red Sea and Gulf of Aden Action Plan was specifically formulated to protect the region from the impacts of land-based activities. The Mediterranean Action Plan was updated in 1995 together with the Barcelona Convention and its protocols.