Sustainable development and strategic environmental assessment (SEA) in the context of the Saudi Arabian planning process : the case of Al-Qatif oasis and its settlements
The starting point of this study was the influence of the rapid urban growth that Saudi Arabia has experienced during the last three decades, which has had a negative effect on the environment in general and in particular has led to the loss of the natural resources of the agricultural land of the oasis areas. The study seeks to answer the following questions: How can we sustain development in the oasis ? Are there comprehensive policies in respect of urban development, including infrastructure, agriculture and water, and environmental protection? And what is the impact of these policies on the general environment and on the oases in particular? The research covers a wide range of policies and the National Development Plans, which cover different areas of development such as urban development, infrastructure, agriculture and water, and environment, as well as other government activities within the authority of several agencies and ministries. AI-Qatif oasisi n the EasternP rovinceh asb eens electeda s a cases tudy to illustrate the existing situation and the result of implementing the national policies in terms of physicald evelopmenat nde nvironmentapl rotection,a nd to highlight the factors which haver esultedi n unsustainabled evelopmenitn the Kingdom's oases. The different experiences of other countries in relation to such concerns and the various policies of the Saudi government, such as urban, infrastructure, agriculture and water, and environment policies, are assessed and reviewed in general terms as well as more particularly in relation to the physical development and environmental protection of AI-Qatif oasis. Accounts are given of MEPA and MOMRA as the responsible bodies within the Kingdom for development and environmental protection, and general details of their institutional responsibilities and policies are provided in order to aid the analysis of the research. The researcher adopted a methodology combining both qualitative and quantitative elements, a descriptive approach, a survey type of research design, and an interview data collection technique, in order to gather information for his study. An assessment of the data gathered in relation to the research has helped to illustrate the factors contributing to the existing unsustainable development in AI-Qatif oasis and the loss of the agricultural land of the oasis as a valuable natural resource. The findings show that Saudi Arabia has produced appropriate policies and has established the ministries and agencies to carry out these policies; as a result the people enjoy one of the best standards of living in the world. However, there are still in evidence some factors which cause concern in relation to environmental matters. These include the lack at national level of comprehensive sustainable development policies for the oases, such as would be aided by the utilisation of EA and SEA, the lack at local level of wide-ranging implementation of the existing national policies in relation to the physical development and environmental protection of the natural resources of the oasis, and the lack of a comprehensive institutional framework to implement the policies which exist. Other very important factors are the absence of comprehensive co-operation between government ministries and agencies in relation to the sustainable development of the oases, and the lack of public awareness of, participation in, and education about environment matters, all of which contribute to the existing unsustainable development in the oasis. Finally, the study makes recommendations that would help and guide growth and change in the oases along the way of sustainable development.