Vanishing Omani Landscapes

Oman is located on the easternmost tip of the Arabian peninsula. The Sultanate is blessed with a varied topography and diverse climatic regions including the fertile coastal plain of Al Bathina, high altitude plateaus of Saiq and Hajar, various ranges of sand, salt and gravel deserts and the monsoon rainforests of Dhofar. These regions sustain fragile ecosystems with numerous endemic species. Unique landscapes formed over millennia of human inhabitation. Human settlement, cultivation of land and water management formed a sustainable entity. Traditional oasis towns with intricate irrigation systems, meticulous palm groves along the coastal plain, terraced mountain villages, scattered fishing towns and nomadic desert camps are just a few examples that form the Omani landscapes.

Since the opening of the country in 1970 and over the last 20 years in particular the Sultanate has seen a rapid economic and demographic development. The former port town of Muscat became a capital area of the size of Los Angeles and the home to half of Oman’s population. Technology, exploitation of resources lead to massive infrastructure projects and expansive urbanization. The urbanization process originates from the former settlement cores adjacent to fragile agricultural land and oasis’ landscapes. Highways cut through mountains, block wadis and destroy traditional villages. Hills are blasted and then leveled to make space for industrial developments. Lately, so called integrated tourism projects develop resorts similar to those on the Egyptian Red Sea riviera on pristine locations causing irreparable damage to the environment. The transformation process is not coordinated amongst the different governmental bodies, while private investors are not liable for their actions nor subject to taxation. Sustainable urbanization including an integrated approach to landscape preservation and protection is most needed at a time when oil is running out. Within very short time unique natural habitats, landscapes and with them the Omani culture might disappear once and for all.