More than three billion people live in agricultural areas with high levels of water shortages and scarcity, the UN agriculture agency said in a new report launched on Wednesday.
The State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) 2020, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) flagship report, noted that available freshwater resources have declined globally by more than 20 per cent per person over the past two decades, underscoring the importance of producing more with less, especially in the agriculture sector – the world’s largest user of water.
“With this report, FAO is sending a strong message: Water shortages and scarcity in agriculture must be addressed immediately and boldly if our pledge to achieve the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] is to be taken seriously”, emphasized FAO Director-General QU Dongyu in the foreword of the report.
Paths for action
From investing in water-harvesting and conservation in rainfed areas to rehabilitating and modernizing sustainable irrigation systems in irrigated areas, actions must be combined with best agronomic practices, the report stressed.
These could involve adopting drought-tolerant crop varieties and improving water management tools – including effective water pricing and allocation, such as water rights and quotas – to ensure equitable and sustainable access.
However, effective management strategy must start with water accounting and auditing.
Mapping the SDG target
Achieving the internationally agreed SDG pledges, including the zero hunger, “is still achievable”, maintains the SOFA report, but only by ensuring more productive and sustainable use of freshwater and rainwater in agriculture, which accounts for more than 70 per cent of global water withdrawals.
Against the backdrop that FAO oversees the SDG indicator that measures human activities on natural freshwater resources, the report offers the first spatially disaggregated representation of how things stand today. Meshed with historical drought frequency data, this provides a more holistic assessment of water constraints in food production.
SOFA reveals that some 11 per cent of the world’s rainfed cropland faces frequent drought, as does about 14 per cent of pastureland.
Meanwhile, more than 60 per cent of irrigated cropland is water-stressed and 11 countries, all in Northern Africa and Asia, need to urgently adopt sound water accounting, clear allocation, modern technologies and to shift to less thirsty crops.
Did you know?
Total water withdrawals per capita are highest in Central Asia.
In least developed countries, 74 per cent of rural people do not have access to safe drinking water.
While 91 countries have national rural drinking water plans, only nine have implementation funds.
Around 41 per cent of global irrigation impacts the environmental flow requirements that are essential for life-supporting ecosystems.
Biofuels require 70 to 400 times more water than do the fossil fuels they replace.
As important sources of water vapor for downwind areas, forests such as in the Amazon, Congo and Yangtze river basins are crucial to rainfed agriculture.
Although “the inherent characteristics of water make it difficult to manage”, the SOFA report upholds that it “be recognized as an economic good that has a value and a price”.
“At the same time, policy and governance support to ensure efficient, equitable and sustainable access for all is essential”.
Noting that the rural poor can benefit substantially from irrigation, the report recommends that water management plans be “problem-focused and dynamic”.
Despite that water markets selling water rights are relatively rare, SOFA says that when water accounting is well performed, rights well established and beneficiaries and managing institutions participating, regulated water markets can provide equitable allotments while promoting conservation.
Qatar firms’ failure to pay leaves migrant workers destitute – report that details how ‘Despite government measures, thousands left struggling during Covid outbreak as companies withhold salaries and benefits, research shows’
Companies in Qatar have failed to pay “hundreds of millions of dollars” in salaries and other benefits to low-wage workers since the coronavirus outbreak, according to new research by the human rights group Equidem.
In its report, Equidem describes how thousands of workers have been dismissed without notice, put on reduced wages or unpaid leave, denied outstanding salary and end of service payments, or forced to pay for their own flights home.
The report’s findings appear to amount to “wage theft” on an unprecedented scale, leaving “worker after worker” destitute, short of food and unable to send money home during the pandemic, in one of the richest countries in the world.Advertisement
“I came here to work for my family, not to be a beggar living on my own,” said a cleaner from Bangladesh, who said he had not received his salary for four months.
In separate research, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre found that unpaid or delayed wages were cited by workers in 87% of cases of alleged labour abuse affecting almost 12,000 workers since 2016.
Equidem praises some measures put in place by the Qatar government during the coronavirus pandemic. In March, the government made it mandatory for companies to continue to pay workers in quarantine or government-imposed isolation, and set up a £625m loan scheme to help companies do so, but the report warns of “widespread failure to comply” with this and other regulations.
The government later permitted companies that had stopped operating due to Covid restrictions to put workers on unpaid leave or terminate their contracts as long as they complied with requirements of the labour law, including giving a notice period and paying outstanding benefits.
The report highlights a number of companies that exploited or ignored this directive. Up to 2,000 workers employed by one construction company were laid off on the spot, workers claim. Most did not receive their outstanding salary or end of service settlement, a payment equivalent to three weeks’ salary for each full year of work.
“Many migrant workers are in an extremely vulnerable position with no real ability to assert their rights or seek remedy for violations,” says the report.
Mustafa Qadri, the director of Equidem, said the lack of a lawful right to organise or join a trade union has been particularly damaging. “It has prevented workers from having a seat at the table with government and employers to negotiate an equitable share of funds,” he said.
The report describes similar findings in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, as well as policies in response to the pandemic which amount to racial discrimination. In both countries, the authorities required private companies to continue to provide wages and benefits to nationals, but allowed them to reduce wages or stop paying non-nationals.
In a statement, the Qatar government said its response to the pandemic, “has been driven by the highest international standards of public health policy and the protection of human rights”.
The government has provided free testing and treatment and said, “employers failing to pay their staff on time or withholding end of service payments have faced disciplinary action, including heavy fines and bans that prevent them from operating”.
Alcazar Energy and its partner, Hecate Energy, a leading developer, owner and operator of renewable power projects and storage solutions in North America and select international markets, have announced the commercial operation of their Shobak wind farm situated in the Ma’an Governorate of Jordan. With the granting of its Commercial Operation Date (COD) Certificate, Alcazar Energy now has seven operational wind and solar assets across the META region.
The project, which will facilitate the supply of electricity to the Jordanian grid in line with established tariffs, directly supports the Kingdom’s National Energy Strategy to achieve 20 per cent of its required energy from renewable resources by 2025. The wind farm is projected to displace (on average) over 75,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide and save in excess of 130,000 cubic metres of water annually over its 35-year lifespan.
Vestas, Danish manufacturer was contracted to construct the project which included the installation of 13 V136-3.45 MW wind turbines across an area of 14.5 square kilometres (km2) near the village of Al Shobak. Vestas commentd that it will continue to support the Alcazar Energy Delivery and Operations team by providing operation and maintenance (O&M) services for the wind farm in compliance with international best practice.
Commenting on the occasion, Daniel Calderon, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Alcazar Energy, said: “The completion of the Shobak wind farm, while navigating the challenges of COVID-19, is a real testament to Alcazar Energy’s resolve, expertise and unwavering commitment to all our public and private partners. The achievement of commercial operations demonstrates our credentials as a responsible market leader that operates with the highest levels of safety, discipline, compliance and integrity in our work.”
“This project also reaffirms Alcazar Energy’s role in supporting the Kingdom of Jordan not only to meet its rising demand for electricity in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner, but also to create jobs and empower local communities.”
The Shobak wind farm has a generation capacity of 45 megawatts (MW), which is enough to power over 30,000 Jordanian households every year.
“The Shobak wind farm is a great example of how a public-private partnership can work for the benefit of all stakeholders. The resilience shown amid disruptions caused by COVID-19 is further proof of the project’s viability and Alcazar Energy’s commitment to the communities where it operates. We are delighted to have been able to support this further addition of renewable generating capacity to Jordan’s remarkable green transition.”Harry Boyd-Carpenter, Head of Energy, Europe, Middle East and Africa, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) added.
The development and construction of the Shobak wind farm has been accomplished in line with world-class quality, health, safety, environmental and social standards and has been commissioned following rigorous technical tests.
Participation of local employees reached 30 per cent of the total workforce, higher than comparable projects in the wind industry, bringing significant social and economic benefits to the region. The on-the-ground team had a workforce of 350 employees. In total, the project required over 350,000 man-hours for the civil works, the specialised assembly of wind turbines and the construction of the substation.
The wind farm is jointly financed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD) and the Europe Arab Bank. Shobak represents Alcazar Energy’s third fully operational renewable energy project in Jordan, which together will make an important contribution to the Kingdom’s energy transition for decades to come.
Chances are that over the last few months you’ve found yourself trying to adapt to a new working environment as the nation gets to grips with home working and/or schooling. As few people are fortunate enough to have a dedicated home office space, many will no doubt have found themselves sprawled out on the sofa, taking over a kitchen worktop or even working from their beds (we’ve all done it!).
Wherever you have managed to find space, you have most likely been drawn to the brightest spot in the house. It’s no great surprise that people are attracted to natural light and that most of us feel better when the sun comes out. However, beyond the “feel good” factor there are many tangible benefits to increasing the amount of natural daylight entering a building, none more so than improved productivity levels.
Daylight is a vital natural resource that will significantly improve the environment within any building. Evidence from the numerous physical and psychological studies undertaken on the subject, suggests that buildings enjoying high levels of natural light are literally more successful than those more reliant on artificial light. In all environments our brains respond better to natural light, which means people perform better.
If your home has all of a sudden also become your workplace, the presence of natural daylight has never been so important. Daylight is proven to increase concentration levels in working environments, with numerous studies showing that well-lit spaces often achieve improved productivity, over those that are not.
Many scientific studies conducted in the healthcare sector also support the conclusion that natural daylight has proven health benefits. Daylight helps to shorten patient recovery times, improves their mood and generally promotes well-being. So it’s no surprise that architects involved with hospitals, housing for the elderly and other healthcare buildings are constantly adjusting and updating their designs to reflect the importance of introducing daylight and, more specifically, natural sunlight.
But it’s not just the elderly or unwell that can reap the health benefits of natural light. It is estimated that up to 20 per cent of the UK population suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of winter depression. These individuals are known to respond to the hormone serotonin, whose production is triggered by natural daylight.
The environmental and financial benefits
Natural light also offers an environmentally friendly means of saving money on energy costs. It stands to reason that the more natural light entering a building, the less energy for lights and heating is required. If home working is to become the new norm for you or those in your household, then the longer-term cost savings of natural daylight are not to be dismissed, especially as the increase in lighting and power consumption is likely to be required at peak-demand prices. Effective use of day lighting may save up to about 50 percent of your energy cost requirements, depending upon how natural light is used.
Even in our rather dull climate, passive solar gain provides significant potential to reduce energy usage. Buildings that enjoy high levels of natural light evenly spread throughout will be heated naturally for a considerable percentage of the year.
Natural daylight is not only beneficial to those working from home. If you are among the millions of households that have been home schooling your children over the lockdown period you may be interested to know that natural daylight also has a significant impact on education.
Much of the research on the benefits of natural daylight has focused on the learning environment. Enhanced student performance and motivation, increased teacher and student attendance, reduced energy costs, as well as a positive effect on the environment are some of the improvements seen in school buildings that use well-planned day lighting concepts.
One study by Sacramento California, ‘Light Helps Pupils Learn’, is one of the largest ever undertaken on natural light in schools. It suggests that children learn faster and perform better in exams in classrooms with more daylight. It identified that exam results were up to 26 percent higher for schoolchildren in classrooms with plentiful natural light than for those in classrooms with little or no daylight. These findings are reinforced by Alberta Education’s, ‘A Study into the Effects of Light on Children of ElementarySchoolAge’, which showed that natural light also has a positive effect on the health of children, as well as on rates of attendance and achievement.
These are all benefits that can be transferred from school buildings to the home learning environment.
The role of the rooflight
Rooflights let in light from the brightest part of the sky and are not generally affected by external obstructions, such as trees or other buildings. They also provide a more even pattern of light than vertical windows.
Rooflights can form part of an effective technical lighting scheme, particularly in conjunction with efficiently controlled artificial lighting, to produce specified illumination levels for particular tasks. According to leading consultants, horizontal rooflights provide three times more light than vertical windows (the equivalent of 10,000 candles on a sunny day), which is more than 200 times the light needed for most educational or work related tasks.
In addition, rooflights can also add to the more subjective qualities of spaces as an integral part of the building’s architecture. They can provide views of the sky and promote a sense of well-being and connection with the outside without the distractions encountered with views through vertical glass windows.
These facts are well understood by most people involved in building design. However the huge potential of rooflights to provide exactly the amount, type and distribution of natural light required to meet any given specification is not always appreciated by the homeowner. So, whether home working and home schooling is a short-term solution, or something that we all must get used to, the role of natural daylight in the home and the physical and psychological benefits that it brings, cannot be underestimated.
For further information or to discuss your bespoke rooflight requirement contact the Stella Rooflight team on 01794 745445 or email email@example.com
Stella Rooflight designs and manufactures high quality stainless steel bespoke rooflights. From design and production through to customer service, Stella has a single vision of doing things better than the industry standard.
Stella produces exceptional rooflights that combine a flush fitting profile, while utilising the very best of materials and has become the first choice for discerning clients looking to bring natural daylight into their living spaces through premium quality rooflights.
UAE FIRST NATIONAL RAIL NETWORK TO ‘TRANSFORM THE ECONOMY’ AND KEY ROLE IN REDUCING CARBON FOOTPRINT
Engineers in the Hajar Mountains between Dubai and Fujairah are making way for 16 Kilometers of tunnel, which will one day see trains shooting through it on a journey that stretches from coast to coast, and even possibly further afield.
The UAE is known for its love of cars as well as its strategic ports and airports, but now is betting big on its first national rail network. The 1,2000-kilometre artery will connect the Gulf of Oman to the Persian Gulf, down through the emirates, into Abu Dhabi’s interior and to Ghuweifat on the border of Saudi Arabia, a key step in a long-mooted rail network crossing the Arabia peninsula.
“The top line implication … is that it has the potential to transform the UAE economy — and not just the UAE, but potentially the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council],” says Richard Thompson, editorial director of the Middle East Economic Digest.
GOING GREEN WITH SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORT
But the move also signals the country’s green ambitions. The UAE has one of the world’s largest footprints per capita, according to the World Bank, and sustainable transport is one way the government plans to reduce it.
The diesel rail line could save 2.2 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year through its freight capacity alone, says the developer. That’s equivalent to taking 375,000 vehicles off the road and even has the potential to electrify in the future, which would massively benefit the environment by cutting emissions further by using renewable energy.
“I think rail has a huge role to play in helping the UAE reduce its carbon footprint,” says Thompson. “Rail can provide a much more efficient mode of transport for goods and people movement around cities; it can help your cities function better.”
Led by Etihad Rail and funded by the UAE Ministry of Finance and the Abu Dhabi Department of Finance, it has been designed first for freight, and passenger capacity to follow. There is no completion date announced just yet, through “the network is growing as planned” with all contracts awarded, Etihad Rail told CNN.
The network will include links to Jebel Ali Port, Khalifa Port and the Port of Fujairah and industrial hubs in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah. The route across the UAE, according to Thompson, when connected to an in-progress Saudi network could create a direct link from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea across the peninsula, bypassing the Straits of Hormuz to the north and the Horn of Africa to the south, with big repercussions for the movement of international cargo.
“You have a more efficient mode of transport, linking ports with each other and removing congestion on the roads and contributing to decarbonization,” he explains.
The executive director of commercial at Etihad Rail, Ahmed Al Musawa, expects 60 million metric tons of freight will move from road and sea to the rail network annually.
Beyond consolidating the UAE’s position as an international transport hub, there will be benefits at a national level too, Al Musawa says. Stage one of the network in Abu Dhabi has transported 33 million metric tons of sulfur since 2016 and has turned the UAE into the world’s largest exporter of the element, he says. Sulfur is used in the manufacturer of everything from fertiliser to paper.
Stage two, which stretches 367 miles began constructions earlier this year, could have even wider benefits.
Kevin Smith, the editor in chief of the International Railway Journal, identifies the railway as a “key strategy … to diversify (the UAE’s) economy slightly away from oil and gas.”
“I think the steel industry, oil and gas industry, then the mining and quarrying industry, should be the main beneficiaries,” says Thompson. “(The network) has the potential to integrate the northern emirate economies much closer into the national economy and accelerate growth and investment in those places.”
OFF THE ROADS TO THE RAILS?
It’s still unknown how the rail line will change the daily lives of the population. Passenger trains running at 124 miles per hour are touted by Etihad Rail – but no date has been announced. If the network follows through, it could change commuting forever.
“When you have direct, fast access, naturally that does change the way we perceive (distance), or we select where we live or work or study,” Al Musawa says. “The access to materials, services and markets can evolve around such a network.”
But will it convince Emiratis to swap their cars for trains? Thompson says there are some obstacles, including the “last mile problem” — getting people from their homes to train stations.
Walking in the summer sun isn’t an attractive option, but Al Musawa says ride-sharing and “other micro-mobility solutions” may be the answer, adding Etihad Rail is learning from other countries’ experiences.
“I think there’ll be great demand,” Smith argues. “Their whole cities are built around the car, but I think the popularity of the metro (in Dubai) has shown that people will use it if it’s there.”
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