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The Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, EAD, today launched a comprehensive soil map of the UAE to commemorate annual World Soil Day.

In a pioneering project that made use of high-resolution satellite data, the map provides a precision overview of the characteristics of different soil types throughout the emirates. Its multiple benefits include improved land-use and preventing the degradation of vulnerable areas of land.

The UAE is one of the first countries in the region to produce such a map, which will be integrated into a comprehensive soil atlas of Asia. The map was developed in collaboration with the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture, ICBA, an international not-for-profit agricultural research centre with a focus on marginal environments.

The EAD held a virtual ceremony to officially launch the map and to commemorate World Soil Day, WSD, on December 5. A United Nations initiative, WSD aims to focus attention on the importance of healthy soil and to advocate the sustainable management of soil resources.

A ceremony to unveil the UAE map was attended by regional representatives of GCC nations, as well as numerous institutions and UAE government agencies at federal and local level. Those in attendance included Dr. Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi, Cabinet Member and Minister of Climate Change and Environment, Dr. Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Secretary General of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi, Dr. Tarifa Al Zaabi, Acting Director General of the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture, Sasha Koo-Oshima, Deputy Director of Land and Water Division at the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation, FAO.

Dr Abdullah Belhaif Al Nuaimi said: “Protecting the environment, and preserving natural resources, habitats, and biodiversity has always been on top of the agenda for the UAE government. Our public and private sector entities are working together to implement the country’s sustainability objectives across all sectors and ensure a better future for the next generations.”

He praised the key strategic role of EAD in achieving this priority, as well as its long-standing partnership with the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, MOCCAE, in identifying and protecting environmentally important areas, such as their collaboration on the UAE Smart Map of Natural Capital project.

Dr Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Secretary General of EAD, said: “Soils occupy great importance in our world today due to their vital role in environmental and biological diversity. Countries have carried out special studies on soils at national levels to govern land planning, agricultural expansion, and the sustainable use of soils to maintain their basic functions and vital services.

“We are continuously striving to enhance our efforts in soil conservation by making use of the latest technologies such as remote sensing, artificial intelligence and drones to improve the accuracy and efficiency of soil monitoring and management in a sustainable manner,” Al Dhaheri added.

Dr Tarifa Al Zaabi, Deputy Director General of the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture, said: “We are delighted to see that this important project with EAD has come to fruition. The mapping and classification of the soils in the UAE according to the World Reference Base will facilitate international collaboration on soil research and will be a significant step towards the creation of an atlas of Asia’s soils. The project builds on many years of a strategic partnership between ICBA and EAD and the results of a major soil survey conducted in 2006-2009 and follow-up studies to collect soil data for the UAE, which are also showcased at the Emirates Soil Museum located at ICBA. This cooperation also forms part of ICBA’s efforts to support decision-makers in developing strategies on sustainable land management, which is crucial for agriculture and food security.”

Sasha Koo-Oshima, Deputy Director of Land and Water Division, FAO, said: “Soil biodiversity sustains life on earth and provides an essential solution to many of our current global challenges in achieving food security, climate change mitigation and adaptation and poverty reduction. Soil contains nutrients for growing our food and is home to more than 25 percent of our planet’s biodiversity. There are more organisms in 1 gram of healthy soil than there are people on Earth! We need to protect soil biodiversity and sustainably manage our soils for a better tomorrow.”

As an environmental regulator, the EAD seeks to provide sustainable and integrated solutions to preserve valuable natural resources in Abu Dhabi. As such, it has placed soil and land protection amongst its strategic priorities. It focuses on strengthening policies and planning frameworks concerned with soil quality, as well as overseeing a legislative framework that governs the resource. It also manages land degradation and reclamation, while working with other organisations to boost awareness of the issue of soil quality.

A first-of-its-kind project in the UAE, the soil map is a significant part of the EAD’s objective to protect land resources. It follows another important development this year in the production of draft regulation around the issue of soil quality – another first for the UAE. The regulation aims to ensure sustainable soil management to preserve its basic functions and vital services.

The EAD’s mapping project began in 2019 when it teamed up with the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture, the Global Partnership for Soil for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission.

Eng. Shaikha Ahmed Al Hosani, Executive Director of the Environmental Quality Sector at EAD, said the map used data from a comprehensive survey implemented by the EAD. The project provided more than 22,000 soil records that were used to classify soils using methods employed by the United States Department of Agriculture.

The UAE information will be fed into an integrated soil atlas covering the entire continent of Asia, which will in turn complement soil studies in other continents. The Joint Research Centre of the European Commission is currently working on producing this atlas based on an international reference system approved by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2014.

The event included the screening of a film bearing the slogan of World Soil Day 2020 ‘Keep soil alive, Protect soil biodiversity’. The film focused on the importance of soils as a major contributor to global biodiversity. It also detailed the role of soil in supporting agriculture and food security, regulating greenhouse gas emissions, and improving plant, animal, and human health. The event included a workshop featuring presentations related to projects that preserve healthy soil and protect biodiversity.

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