Bahrain

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BAHRAIN, a small, oil-rich Emirate comprising 33 low-lying islands situated between the Qatar Peninsula and the mainland of Saudi Arabia, is a hereditary monarchy. The largest island is Bahrain Island, on which the capital, Manama (Al Manamah), is located. The King Fahd Causeway opened in 1986, links Bahrain Island to the mainland of Saudi Arabia. The highest point in the state is only 122 meters or 402 feet above sea level.

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The islands have hot, dry summers and mild winters during which a slight amount of annual rainfall (less than 100 millimeters or 4 inches) experienced. However, freshwater for the islands is supplied by artesian wells, which have so far proved more than adequate for the islands’ needs. The natural vegetation consists of desert plants, but irrigated areas can support date palms, fruits, and vegetables. Wildlife includes a variety of birds, reptiles, and desert rats.

Most of Bahrain is sandy and too saline to support crops, but drainage schemes are now used to reduce salinity, and fertile soil imported from other islands. Agricultural products include vegetables, dates, and fruits with artesian wells providing irrigation, mainly on the north coast. Oil was discovered in 1931, and oil revenues now account for about 80 percent of the country’s total revenue. Bahrain developed as a major manufacturing state, the main enterprises being aluminum smelting and clothing, paper products, and consumer goods. Traditional industries include pearl fishing, boat building, weaving, and pottery.

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Low rolling hills, rocky cliffs, and wadis (dry river or stream beds) comprise most of this barren land. However, a narrow strip of land along the north coast of the island of Bahrain is irrigated by natural springs and artesian wells (water that flows to the surface without pumping). As of 2002, increasing demands on the natural water resources had begun to deplete them, and some of the lush date palms and other vegetation had begun to decline. Most of the lesser islands are flat and sandy, although date groves cover Nabih Salih’s island. Bahrain also encompasses the Hawār Islands, off the coast of Qatar.

Bahrain is located in the Persian Gulf, connected to the Arabian Sea by the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman. Oil spills and other environmental hazards have damaged Bahrain’s coastline and beaches. Within the Persian Gulf, Bahrain occupies an inlet called the Gulf of Bahrain.

The six major islands in the archipelago are Bahrain (the largest), Al Muharraq; Sitrah; Umm an-Na’sān; Nabih Salih; and Jidda. At low tide, extensive mudflats along the east coast of Al Muhurraq attract wading birds. In 2001, the International Court of Justice awarded the Hawār Islands, long disputed with Qatar, to Bahrain. The remaining islands are little more than exposed rock and sandbar. Damage to coral reefs and sea vegetation from oil spills and other petroleum-related discharges has adversely affected Bahrain’s coastline and beaches.

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