Times of Oman
Aug 31, 2015 LAST UPDATED AT 05:45 AM GMT
Oman tourism: Littering in Salalah
August 15, 2014 | 12:00 AM
The trash left behind by careless visitors is not just an eyesore, but also has its adverse impact on the ecosystem in Salalah. - Supplied photo

The drizzles have turned it all green, carpeting the entire landscape to form lush and misty hills, canopied roads and stunning valleys with springs and streams. A real paradise on this part of the earth, it has to be, for picnicking or for spending holidays with family and friends.

The annual southwest monsoon has done the magic once again, turning the whole of Dhofar region into one of the most sought-after tourist hotspots in the GCC.

Visitors have been flocking, many flying down to Salalah from northern Oman and neighbouring countries and others travelling by road in their 4WDs and sedans, registering a huge 170 percent increase in the number of visitors (as per the National Centre for Statistics and Information figures between June 21 to August 6, 2014). Though awestruck and excited with the astonishing beauty of nature, they cannot remain content with the popular Salalah, Taqa, Ittin or Mirbat areas, but move on to explore remote but scenic places like Shurathat and Shuwaimiyah.

Following the recent Eid holidays, visitors have left for home taking along with them sweet memories to be cherished for days to come. But what have they left behind? Besides the streams, on the waysides and right in the middle of green pastures lie plastic bottles, food leftovers and other garbage, destroying the natural beauty, though the festivities of the Khareef season are far from over. They have left trash behind, and now it's time for the Dhofar Municipality or voluntary organisations like Clean Up Oman (CUO) to do the cleanup.

Indeed, the figures show that Salalah or the entire Dhofar region, over the years, has gained popularity as a major tourist spot in the region, but reckless littering seems to pose a great challenge, calling for awareness campaigns and hefty fines. At least, many local people and saddened tourists have started raising concern through social media on the grave issue.

"We have noticed that littering in Dhofar is increasing every year as the number of tourists increase. Though Dhofar Municipality rises to the occasion by providing large bins in main tourist areas, it does not help in preventing people from throwing garbage around," says Khalid Ateeq, a resident of Salalah. Now many have joined him urging the authorities to introduce and implement tough laws against littering.

The cleanup
Khalid and other residents like Adil bin Salim Bait Saleem and Salim Abou Hisham have also joined the CUO, which has initiated its cleanup campaign in Dhofar, to do their part in keeping the place clean. The first cleanup was held in Taqa last Friday, the second at Awqad on Sunday and the drives will continue for another month at different places, mostly on weekends.

"It's sad to see how thoughtless and irresponsible people are when they litter near beautiful springs in places like Ittin which are frequented by tourists during the entire Khareef season.

Nasser Al Kindi
Founder, Clean Up Oman

People who are collecting the garbage are unable to catch up with the amount of garbage being left behind. The increase in the amount of food consumed and other things used for entertainment also have a consequence on littering.
Adil bin Salim Bait Saleem
Resident of Salalah and CUO Volunteer

Most visitors to Dhofar do not seem to make use of the garbage bins. We are all obliged by our religion to maintain cleanliness so that all the creatures and human beings can coexist and survive. So, it's vital for us to promote awareness in this regard.

Khalid Ateeq
Resident of Salalah and CUO Volunteer

We've noticed that littering in Dhofar is increasing every year with the increase in the number of tourists. Though Dhofar Municipality has provided large bins in main tourist areas, they need to enforce tough laws to prevent littering.

This overburdens the municipal infrastructure and the workers are not able to catch up with the amount of garbage being left," says Nasser Al Kindi, the founder of CUO. According to him, the food being consumed by visitors while in the open and other items brought for entertainment have a substantial consequence on littering. "They bring in things like kites, which get stuck on trees, besides balloons and other plastic materials. This has quadrupled in numbers during the Khareef season," he adds.

CUO had been conducting annual campaigns in Dhofar coinciding with the Khareef season since 2012. "This comprises cleanups, lectures and presentations. Previously we used to participate inside the festival area to create awareness but it did not give the desired results. We still go to schools before the start of the Khareef season, to summer camps and do some presentations, besides cooperating with a lot of voluntary groups so that we can maximise our reach and our engagement in Dhofar," Nasser points out.

They have also tried to expand the campaign into areas on the periphery from the central part of Dhofar where most tourists are centred around and most densely populated. This year's programme will see volunteers cleaning up places including Awqad, where the country has a couple of natural reserves, Mirbat, Shuwaimiyah and Dhalkut.

Join the cleanup!

You can join the upcoming cleanups in Dhofar (4.30 p.m. - 6.30 p.m.) as follows:
August 15: Al Shuwaimiyah. Contact: Rashid Al Batthari 92507669
August 16: Shurathat. Contact Rashid Al Batthari 92507669
August 22: Mirbat  Contact Basmat Khair Voluntary Group 99091160
Dhalkut cleanup: (To be announced)

"We clean up mainly on weekends to get maximum number of volunteers, between 800 and 1000 people. But it's not just about cleanups in Dhofar, it also provides us a great opportunity to introduce the CUO to visitors from other parts of the country and instill awareness against littering. We often get some visitors who roll up their sleeves to help out and several of them continue to join the campaigns elsewhere," he says. However, the idea is to involve mainly local people in the clean-ups, both Omanis and expatriates, the people living in the area who would develop a sense of ownership, and this can add to the sustainability of CUO's efforts'.

All to blame
As the volunteers point out, one cannot single out and point fingers at tourists from outside the country. Both local and foreign tourists and even the local residents are to be blamed, they say.

The drizzles and continuous visit of people make the municipality workers' job difficult. "Civic workers might clean up in the morning but, half an hour later, there could be an influx of people and things will be back to square one. You cannot expect the municipality to dedicate teams of workers to do round-the-clock garbage cleaning in the entire region. So, we need to tell people not to litter. This is something which needs to come from the people themselves," says Adil.

Many residents in Dhofar have now started calling for certain measures to be taken to stop people from littering, instead of cleaning up later. "There are laws against littering in Oman and fines for that. But nobody has a clear idea which authority has to enforce the law. I haven't come across any instances of punishments," says Nasser. Meanwhile, the Dhofar Municipality has erected signboards in many places, saying that littering and other activities, including cutting of wood and killing of animals, are punishable.

Above all, littering in Dhofar remains to be a big concern, not just because of the amount of garbage being dumped there but because Dhofar, which has the maximum number of trees, birds, wildlife, in this part of the world,  is the 'environmental heart' of the GCC and not just Oman, they all point out.

To get in touch with the reporter salim@hioman.com

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