Investigation: Why littering in Oman wadis is so dangerous

19 Oct 2017
POSTED BY Alvin Thomas

A beauty spot from a bygone age has become a dumping ground for businesses and householders alike. Alvin Thomas sees how litter bugs and fly tippers are scarring the landscape, and investigates what can be done about it.

The scene is picturesque, it’s almost like the setting from an episode of Man vs. Wild starring British celebrity survivalist Bear Grylls on television: my friend (whom I shall call the ‘explorer’) and I have come face-to-face with a barren wadi, which we discover just off the highway that heads to the city of Suhar.

It’s not your average wadi, though. It’s teeming with wildlife; scorpions, snakes (I presume) and several packs of wild wadi dogs.

It would be the ideal hunting ground for Grylls since he loves feasting on scorpions and snakes. But, because we’re not experienced explorers, we stay ensconced in our safe Toyota off-roader as we head in to explore the beautiful wadi.

And boy, we are in for a treat. The rays of the sun gleaming off the mountains make for a striking photo; the type you only get to see in postcards and paintings. To see it more clearly, we head deeper into the wadi.

But, the more we drive inside, the more variation we see in the landscape. And no! It isn’t changing for the better but rather for the worse. It’s something that unsettles both of us.

We are disappointed by what we see: it’s garbage littered across the wadi beds. And it’s not your regular trash. This is solid waste dumped by several industrial companies after their works; wooded crates, sofas, tables and chairs, cement, paint, tyres, used cutlery and in some spots, even exhausted bottles of liquor (!)

“What on earth is going on here? Are we in a junk yard?” asks my friend.

The answer is no. This wadi is actually quite significant to the history of Oman: it is known to be a part of a burial ground – an ancient tomb – of sorts, and has been prevalent in the country for a number of decades (although, the actual date of
the tomb has been known to go back even further).

The location has also been recognised by the Muscat Municipality as a “restricted site”, and numerous sign boards warning vandals with prosecution have also been erected.

However, all of them have been ignored. Just as we drive past (legally) one of the graves, we notice a group of workers dumping a load of wooden sticks next to a graveyard, which has been protected by a wall.

“I pity how these bodies are being treated,” my friend points out, before deciding to call the Muscat Municipality to report the incident.

The response, we get from the on-call attendant, however, is shocking.

“We know that people are littering in the wadi. But, the lands have been used for dumping waste by lots of new residents who are now erecting houses, there,” the Municipality spokesman explains.

“What can we do? Today, we will send people to clean the wadi but tomorrow they will begin dumping waste there, again.

“I am guessing that we will begin issuing warnings as soon as the industrial and personal construction sites are taken off,” he says, but also points out that the possibility of a clean-up in the near future is unlikely.

“This is the wrong attitude to the issue,” says one volunteer at the Environment Society of Oman (ESO).

“I have lived by the code that the only imprint you should leave behind in the environment after you have visited there is your footprint. So, it upsets me that the people are dumping waste in such grounds; and grounds of very high historical importance.

“People must take special care when it comes to preserving the environment. For instance, all you have to do is call for a dump truck and they will come and clear the waste out for you, but most people will not make that call as they will have to shell out money from their pockets,” the volunteer adds.

“This form of littering can not only cause an imbalance in the wildlife of the area, but can also pose a risk for humans travelling on foot.

“Snakes and scorpions can begin nesting in these dump yards, and people could get stung or bitten and subsequently poisoned because of that.

“Moreover, many people come to pay respects in these grave sites. How do you think they would react if they saw waste dumped right next to their family member’s burial ground?” he asks.

“Another recent trend we are starting to see is people burning their waste. This is toxic, I tell you. It will add to the pollution and also scar the area with black carbon stains. This will look like a bad scar on the land for a very long time.

“The ideal way to proceed would be to collect the waste and call the municipality truck for cleaning up,” the spokesperson adds.

Ditching our car, we visit one house that is currently being built. We talk to the workforce. One man says: “Our Arbaab (boss) does not pay us to dispose the waste with the municipality. We cannot afford
it, either.

“But, at the same time, if he sees waste on the construction site, he will shout at us. So, it is an easy way out for us to dump waste in the wadi.”

When we ask the workers whether they know of the importance of the area, they answer: “Yes, we do. But Arbaab is new here and he has only moved from Rustaq so he does not know about it.”

When we ask them to tell their contractor to clean the waste, they collectively begin threatening us to leave the premises.

After a quick chat with the Municipality, we learn that residents can call for a dump truck for roughly RO30. You can also ask for a larger truck for RO50, if the need arises.

Currently, offenders are asked to pay RO1,000 in fines for throwing trash in the street, as per the Muscat Municipality. It was also stated that fines would be doubled for repeat offenders and that they would be given 24 hours to clean up the waste.

The decision was issued on March 16, 2017, and will came into effect on April 15, 2017. But, is the law being enforced?

“No,” says Ibrahim al Khindi, an Omani national residing in the adjacent town to the wadi. “People will never learn if you are simply placing laws and not enforcing them. I think the fines are harsh but I do not see any form of checking being conducted to see who is littering. “Wadis are a dumping ground for waste as people think that no one sees them littering, there. This is the attitude people have, currently. And until that changes, we will continue to see such inhuman activities being conducted in Oman,” he adds.

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