RIYADH: Economists and environmentalists say sustainable investment is important for an island north of Dammam allocated billions of riyals for development.
Experts told Arab News that the SR2.64 billion ($703 million) awarded to Darin Island and Tarut by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last week has great potential to boost the Eastern Province’s economy.
Darin and Tarut are among the most archaeologically significant islands in the region, with evidence of 5,000 years of continuous human habitation and around a dozen heritage sites, including a fortress dating back hundreds of years.
Officials strive to improve the quality of life for its 120,000 people while preserving its cultural and historical heritage, revitalizing its natural beauty spots and improving its tourism economy.
As much as 48 percent of its 32 sq km area will be dedicated to public parks, coastal areas, roads and facilities. The island hopes to increase the number of tourists to 1.36 million by 2030 and create thousands of jobs.
“This project represents the first strategic work and initiatives carried out by the Eastern Regional Development Authority,” said Eastern Regional Development Authority CEO Fahad Al-Mutlaq.
He said that next year he will start work on a program to gradually improve social and economic conditions after completing comprehensive studies.
Fadhel Al-Buainain, a member of the Shura Council, said the island has historical significance.
“The development of Darin Castle and Darin Airport as historical tourist destinations will enhance the cultural side,” he said. “The establishment of the largest forest on the Gulf Coast will contribute to the advancement of the Kingdom’s environmental objectives.
“If eco-hotels develop in natural areas, it will be an important base for eco-tourism that will support the island’s economy.”
Al-Buainain, who is also a member of the Association of Saudi Economists, said the development plan will make an important economic contribution to the region.
“Providing small and medium-sized investments and employment opportunities will have an important socio-economic impact,” he said, adding that the development would contribute to the achievement of Vision 2030 goals.
Dr Saad Dahlawi, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health at Imam Abd al-Rahman bin Faisal University, said he believed the development announcement had come at the perfect time.
“The Kingdom is witnessing unprecedented economic growth and development and follows sustainable development standards,” he said.
However, Dahlawi added that project managers need to assess the impact on the environment, and especially on marine life, to ensure that endangered species are not put at further risk.
“Such a study would provide decision-makers with a clear picture of how to implement the project sustainably,” he said.
Dahlawi said it is important to follow international environmental standards as well as the standards and requirements of the National Environmental Compliance Center to avoid any damage to the environment.
Abdullah Al-Huzam, a member of the National Handicrafts Development Programme, said the intention to turn Darin Airport into a heritage museum “signals that a new period of prosperity is being written for one of the oldest inhabited islands in the Arabian Gulf”.
He said the museum and planned art festivals would help showcase “our ancient culture and civilization to the world”.