A much needed precedent: UAE toughens up on environmental crimes
: A draft law presented to the Federal National Council on Tuesday for review and approval would crack down on environmental crimes.
The bill, which introduces changes in the UAE Environmental Protection Law of 1999, would penalise offenders found guilty of polluting drinking and underground water with up to one year in prison and a fine of up to Dh2 million.
The draft law, in which the government suggests covering businesses in free zones across the country, includes tougher penalties for offenders convicted of failure to abide by air quality regulations. These offenders would face a prison term of at least one year, a minimum fine of Dh1 million or both, according to the draft law.
The move follows findings of recent studies by UAE University, which blamed air pollution for breathing problems and certain types of cancers.
Strict air quality regulations were introduced in 2008 to stop quarries from generating pollutants, including dust and toxins, and set limits on the amount of carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide as well as suspended particles and breathable dust permissible at quarries.
But residents in Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah, where nearly 90 per cent of the crushing plants are located, complained of lack of enforcement and said that the crackdown on these quarries had made little or no difference.
The House has repeatedly raised concern over health problems caused by the quarries. A report on the environment presented recently by the FNC’s committee on petrol, mineral resources and fishing, cited research findings conducted by the UAE University in Al Ain, blaming air pollution for breathing problems, certain types of cancers and psychological disorders. The link between these ailments and poor air quality in remote areas was dismissed by the Ministry of Environment and Water.
The report blamed the dust and toxins generated by the quarries’ use of crushing machines and explosives for asthma suffered by nearly 40 per cent of children and 15 per cent of the UAE’s population.
The bill would hold authorities responsible for regular monitoring of environmental impact of oil and gas exploration and extraction and for suggesting solutions for any threats to the environment.
It also provides for stringent measures to prevent marine pollution from oil and other harmful substances as well as effective prosecution of marine polluters.
The draft law would establish a liability and compensation regime related to vessel-sourced pollution, remedying harm to living resources and marine life, hazards to human health, hindrance to marine activities, including fishing and other legitimate uses of the sea, impairment of quality for use of seawater and reduction of amenities.
Owners of ships would be held liable for oil spills or any hazardous substances and to recover wreckage of a sunken ship within 14 days, which can be extended by the Ministry of Environment and Water. In the event of ship owners’ failure to do so, the authorities would fulfil the mission at the owner’s cost, imposing 25 per cent of the charges as a fine.