Bahrain’s Ministry of Public Works recently released a new manual to be adhered to for all land reclamation and dredging activity in the Kingdom. Last week the Ministry of Works undersecretary Nayef Al-Kalali discussed with Bahrain editor Benjamin Millington how the manual will help improve the process.
What is the purpose of the manual?
This ministry has initiated the process of establishing a dredging and land reclamation manual to ensure these practices are carried out in the correct manner. The objective is to create greater environmental benefits and in addition to that there are also economic benefits.
You cannot issue a reclamation proposal without before providing a solution as to where the sand will come from. - Ian Liversage.
Land reclamation is a vital process in Bahrain because there is a shortage of land space for our residential needs. Bahrain has increased in size by 26km2, that's 11.4%, since land reclamation statistics were recorded in 1981. In 1981 Bahrain was 665.3km2 and in 2007 it increased to 741.4km2.
Why did the ministry feel the need to develop the manual now?
This manual will provide very essential guidelines for reclamation levels. The global warming process will lead to sea level rise and we have modeled that in our studies and we have included additional thickness for land reclamation level in order to create a safe land reclamation level.
In some areas we have increased it by 40cm to 50cm in order to provide safe clearance levels. In the guidelines we have set it to account for 0.4m sea level rise in the next 100 years and we have added to that a safety clearance of 10cm more. In addition to that we also considered many other important factors that contribute to safe reclamation levels.
Extreme water levels happen once every 100 years and we've taken these measures and included storm surge information, barometric pressure, wind and wave set up, tide impacts, meteorological osolations - all of these have certain requirements for determining the reclamation level.
What environmental benefits could this bring?
This manual will give the government direction on which areas are best for reclaiming and where to dredge. We first studied most of the marine environment within Bahrain's territorial waters and we have identified the least environmentally sensitive area which is suitable for reclamation.
We also identified the best sand mining sources in the sea, we call them borrow areas because sand will eventually go back to them via natural flow processes. Therefore this important document will guide us and protect the environmentally sensitive areas. We wouldn't touch them.
In addition to this, the new laws require any new reclamation project to provide a thorough Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which must include remediation measures for the surrounding environment of that project, such as creating artificial coral reefs.
Land reclamation definitely destroys part of the sea, but at the same time you gain land - so we have to strike a balance between our needs and the environment. Hence we are ensuring the developer create these reefs in recompense.
The manual also addresses the problem of siltation which can be very detrimental to the marine environment because is suffocates the coral. When you reclaim, silt is usually mixed with sand and we have to segregate the silt and isolate it in a silt trap and then try and discard it in an environmentally acceptable manner.
Up until now, has some of the previous reclamation been un-environmentally friendly?
We have reviewed some of the projects that produced some detrimental environmental impacts and we are directing them on the proper way to do things - the manual we be a great benefit to them.
Fishermen in Bahrain have recently been demanding compensation from the government because they claim fish stocks have dwindled due to reclamation works, is this true?
There is a great housing requirement for the Bahraini population and a big land scarcity so this is why we look to the sea for reclamation. Of course in any project there are pros and cons but we have to strike a balance to achieve a win-win situation, this is my answer.
Will marine life continue to suffer with more reclamation?
If you look in the manual it lists fish species that could be lost owing to reclamation and discusses the causes etc. The manual is very rich in information it has specific topics that must be addressed by the EIA such as which fish species have biological significance, will they suffer from the impacts, would their displacement cause an ecological imbalance, will it cause a problem to surrounding areas, which new species will invade the new site, what affects will that have and what impact will result on fishermen's livelihoods? - all of these types of questions will have to be addressed by the developer who must hire an independent consultant to conduct the study.
What are the economic benefits this could bring for developers?
Some of the projects here in Bahrain are being done in a very un-economic way. By this I mean over-reclamation and overprotecting as well. Instead of reclaiming 2m they reclaim 5m - that extra 3m could represent (BHD 50 million), so this could be to their detriment.
But predicting climate change and sea levels rises is far from an exact science; don't you think it is a good thing that they are being extra cautious in case sea levels rise higher than expected?
Sure, but it is shareholders money, if you have unlimited funds then its fine to do it. Except that over-reclamation is also worse on the environment because you take more sand from the sea and destroy more marine habitat. Most areas to the north of Bahrain are also running out of sand due to the huge consumption of marine sand for the development project.
Could running out of sand put a halt to reclamation in Bahrain?
Today I met with the general director of fisheries, who is responsible for approving the sand borrow areas, and he voiced his grave concern about the unavailability of sand for reclamation. So yes we have to be very thrifty. Our reclamation map has also identified that reclamation in the north is three times more costly than reclamation in the south due to the conditions of the sea-bed and the wind and tidal levels there.
How likely is it that Bahrain could run out of sand in say 20 years?
We still have to collect more data from borrow areas and we might also commission a study to identify suitable borrow areas and work out how much is available.
Do you have enough sand for all the current reclamation projects underway?
We get the developer to undertake this study before they start the project. You cannot issue a reclamation proposal without before providing a solution as to where the sand will come from. This has been re-enforced in the new guidelines.
Could Bahrain reach a point where there is no more sand and no more reclamation?
My answer is no, inshallah. Sand shortage has always been a problem in Bahrain but the government has taken the necessary steps to provide the market with the required sand. This has been secured recently by the government after they injected 500m2 of marine sand into the market by dredging and area within the Bahrain territorial waters near the Saudi Arabian border.
Do other countries have such comprehensive manuals for reclamation and dredging activities?
We reviewed similar manuals in the UK, Australia and all of the developed nations that care about the environment. In places like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where they have a lot of land reclamation, I'm sure they have it one way or another. Things like reclamation permits from the municipality, other things from fisheries etc. But we have tried to put all these things in one place so it is streamlined and managed properly.For all the latest construction news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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