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5 Architecture-Related Organisations for Emergency Response

5 Architecture-Related Organisations for Emergency Response

In Architects Doing their Bit: 5 Architecture-Related Organisations for Emergency Response written by Andreea Cutieru, all architecturally conscious people’s movements dynamics are judiciously enumerated.


Architecture can be a tool for social change, and the belief in this statement is what motivates the work of many architectural NGOs who strive to address the lack of adequate shelter, generate social and economic change, and build resilience in communities. These NGOs operate in two major areas, disaster relief, and community development, with many organisations pursuing both types of actions. This article rounds-up several architecture-related foundations that act in emergencies, covering their expertise, past involvement in humanitarian crises, as well as the means to join them in their efforts.

Natural disasters affect more than 250 million people each year, and according to UNHCR statistics, 70.8 million people have been displaced worldwide due to conflict and violence. One billion people live in slums, and the number is expected to grow to two billion by 2030. Add the lack of clean water and sanitation, and you have a comprehensive picture of a silent humanitarian crisis, with the need for adequate shelter at its core. Nonetheless, NGOs aside, the profession has recently started to reclaim its social responsibility, as more and more architects engage with humanitarian architecture. For those looking for ways to use their professional skills for the betterment of society, these NGOs are an excellent place to start.

Habitat for Humanity

5 Architecture-Related Organisations for Emergency Response
© HFHD licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The well-established non-profit housing organisation works to help vulnerable communities overcome the lack of adequate shelter. Created in 1976, the foundation works in over 70 countries and since its inception has helped more than 29 million people attain a suitable home. The organisation pursues its vision of affordable, decent housing for everyone in several different ways. In a participatory process, volunteers and future dwellers work together, creating suitable housing solutions, in the form of new construction or repairs and improvements to existing homes. Habitat for Humanity also participates in disaster response, through its dedicated program and addresses the need for sanitation and clean water by creating the necessary infrastructure. From local, long-term or as part of an event, there are several types of volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, which are covered in detail here.


Architectes de l’Urgence
5 Architecture-Related Organisations for Emergency Response
Nepal School. Image Courtesy of Architectes de l’Urgence

Founded in 2001, the NGO Architectes de l’Urgence (AU) focuses on re-establishing essential infrastructure (hospitals, schools, water supply, roads) in post-disaster situations. With branches in France, Canada and Switzerland, the organisation benefits from 19 years of experience with more than 30 reconstruction programs in 33 countries. Since its inception, over 1600 architects, engineers and additional support staff have participated in AU’s diverse aid initiatives. Most of their projects are not limited to immediate post-disaster response but incorporate rebuilding strategies stretching over several years. To catch a glimpse of their sustained endeavour, over the course of eight years, AU has rebuilt 12 healthcare facilities, 12 schools, one orphanage and over 1500 houses in Haiti, following the devastating tsunami. The organisation also helped in the Philippines, Sri Lanka, or Afghanistan. The foundation recruits architects and civil engineers on a regular basis for international solidarity missions. The type of involvement varies, from student internships, long-term volunteer work, short missions for experienced professionals. All information regarding requirements, recruitment process and forms of participation is available here.

Open Architecture Collaborative 
Collège Mixte Le Bon Berger. Image Courtesy of Architecture for Humanity
Collège Mixte Le Bon Berger. Image Courtesy of Architecture for Humanity

Open Architecture Collaborative is, to some extent, a successor to Architecture for Humanity. The latter filed for bankruptcy in 2015, stirring some controversy, but several of its international chapters picked up the pieces of the organisation, drew knowledge from the 16 years of experience with humanitarian architecture and created a new organism. The NGO’s philosophy is rooted in participatory design and its mission is achieving community engagement for marginalised people through architectural means. The new organisation is still in its infancy, but it derives its know-how from AfH’s successful past initiatives, like the Haiti rebuilding program. The NGO now focuses on local, small-scale projects like the Kids Skating Series in Nigeria. For information on how to get involved with the organisation, whether as a design firm or an individual volunteer visit their dedicated page.

 Emergency Architecture & Human Rights
EAHR School for Refugee Children. Image © Martina Rubino
EAHR School for Refugee Children. Image © Martina Rubino

The NGO focusses on aiding socially vulnerable communities around the globe who are dealing with crises or face inequality of any kind. Regarding architecture as the embodiment of a universal human right, their mission centres around resilience, be it social, economic, or environmental. Founded in 2015 in Denmark and with sister organisations in Santiago de Chile and Rome, Emergency Architecture & Human Rights has completed various humanitarian projects in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South America. Within the NGO’s initiatives, the EAHR team, volunteers and the local communities work side by side to design and construct projects such as the school in the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan. The organisation focuses on working with the communities, using locally sourced materials, while advancing local construction methods. In addition, the foundation held workshops on architecture for humanitarian emergencies at several universities around the world. For upcoming internships and volunteer opportunities, get in touch with the organisation using the information provided on their website.

 Architecture Sans Frontières International
Resilience by Design in Cartagena. Image Courtesy of ASF UK
Resilience by Design in Cartagena. Image Courtesy of ASF UK

This collaborative network of NGOs brings together more than 20 independent organisations in an effort to consolidate their individual endeavours. The history of the network began in 1979, with the creation of Architectes Sans Frontières in France, followed 13 years later by the namesake organisation in Spain. Now spread across 30 countries on all five continents, ASF International creates a framework for cooperation among the different entities and assists in the formation of new local organisations. With the stated mission of improving the built environment for people in need, all member foundations work for community development and engage in post-disaster and relief interventions. Each organisation has its own recruitment process and provides various types of volunteering and involvement for individuals who are interested in helping disadvantaged communities. See the complete list of member organisations and get in touch with any of them here.

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Construction industry updates from GlobalData

Construction industry updates from GlobalData

World Cementpublished by Emily Thomas, Editorial Assistant draws a picture of the MENA region related Construction industry updates from GlobalData.


GlobalData shares its forecasts for construction industries across the world in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

The revised and further-cut construction output growth forecast for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region for the year 2020 is -1.1%, down from the previous projection of -0.8% (as of mid-April) and 4.6% (Q4 2019 update) due to the soaring COVID-19 cases in the region, and the subsequent curfews and lockdown measures, according to GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

Yasmine Ghozzi, Economist at GlobalData, says: “The slump in oil prices will dent the sector’s growth. GlobalData expects cutbacks in spending and, in particular, cuts to capital spending on infrastructure, especially for oil and gas dependent countries given that investment plans were set on assumptions for oil at US$50 – US$80 per barrel. The IMF currently predicts that GDP growth in the MENA region will fall to – 3.3% in 2020 because of its exposure to lower oil prices and the extensive disruption in travel and tourism.”

Governments across the MENA region offered direct support to boost activity in construction and infrastructure. In the case of Egypt, for example, the government guided construction companies operating in public projects are set to resume work in full capacity by early April, following a period of two weeks of reduced business.

For Saudi Arabia, the biggest construction market in the region, the country’s finance minister announced plans to make deep cuts to public spending, so any further stimulus to the construction sector would rely on the amount of reserves the government is willing to draw upon, given the limit that lower oil prices have put on government revenues.

It remains to be seen whether governments in the region will lend direct support to companies facing acute financial pressure in the sector.

Ghozzi concludes: “In addition, construction, real estate, and oil and gas sectors are among the most exposed to the business risks created by COVID-19. Force majeure clauses in contracts are being more widely used by firms needing to scale back or rearrange their business plans amid the pandemic. The issue came under the spotlight when the Iraqi government announced the pandemic as an event of force majeure for all projects and contracts. Although construction sites are generally exempted from the lockdowns imposed in many countries in the MENA region, there is an expectation that legal claims, especially from contractors, will be filed citing the crisis as a justifiable reason for failure to deliver work on time.”

Construction industry updates from GlobalData

Egypt and The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

Egypt and The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

An article by Engidashet Bunare & Shiferaw Lulu dated May 19, 2020, carrying a title such as The Crocodile Tear of Egypt and The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) should be taken seriously for it is a point of view of an adjoining neighbour to one of the most prominent countries south of the MENA region. We all know that Egypt’s options were not that clear at the Nile talks some time ago. The first three sections are republished here for their obvious content.


I. Introduction 

The media and Egyptian professionals are trying to influence with one sided view and deceive the international community. The purpose of the propaganda and lies that are taking place internationally by the Egyptian politicians and professionals is to mislead the international community and countries about the GERD for getting biased support and to pressurize Ethiopia to sign an agreement that only satisfies Egypt’s interest at the expense of over 100 million people of Ethiopia. In addition Egypt is trying to use the GERD issue to shadow and divert political and diplomatic efforts from the CFA (Cooperative Framework Agreement) that requests reasonable and equitable share of the Nile water among the basin states. 

In addition to its hoodwink, Egypt has been and is supporting political opponents, religious radicals and ethnic radicals to destabilize upstream countries in order not to have peace in their countries to develop their nation, which inevitably consider using of their water. 

It has to be clear that the population of the basin countries is increasing and the demand for water supply, irrigation and power generation will definitely amplify. Whatever lies and deceptions are implemented, no one can stop the people and the countries that originate the Nile water from using the water from their backyard. It has to be clear that these countries will not continue under poverty and see their people starve while Egypt is enjoying prosperity. 

We Ethiopians need to bring the facts to the light and try to stop Egyptian professionals, scientists, journalists and politicians from deceiving the international community. 

II. The Nile Water and the GERD 

It has to be clear to all the international community and the Ethiopians at large that there is no any significant contribution to the Nile water either from Egypt or the Sudan. However, these two countries have shared 100% of the water among themselves. Ethiopia is contributing 84.1% of the Nile water and has zero shares and the rest of the countries contribute 15.9% and have zero shares from the Nile water. 

Egypt wants to keep this unreasonable share of water and keep the upstream countries to support Egypt’s prosperity, while living in poverty. Egypt has been using the World Bank and the other developed nations not to provide loans or grants towards development of the water from the Nile basinAs a result of this, the upstream countries obliged to live under poverty and famine

Ethiopia contributes 84.1 % percent of the waters for the Nile river system (94.5 Bm3). The Blue Nile 57.1 % percent (54 Bm3), Baro-Akobo (Sobat) 14.3 % percent (13.5 Bm3), Tekezze (Atbara) 12.7 % percent (12 Bm3) – while the contribution from the Equatorial Lakes region is only 15.9 % percent (15 Bm3), but contribution from Ethiopia other than Blue Nile is a total of 27 % percent from Baro-Akobo (Sobat) 14.3 % and Tekezze (Atbara) 12.7 % respectively which is almost double of the contribution from White Nile or the Equatorial Lakes region

The main water resources problem in Ethiopia is that the major rivers of the country have trans-boundary nature. 70% of Ethiopia’s water resources that are contributing to the 84.1% of the Nile River flow are found in the three sub-basins of the Ethiopian side of the Nile Basin namely; Abay (Blue Nile), Tekeze- Mereb and Baro-Akobo and whereas the population is no more than 40 percent of the country. On the other hand, the water resource available in the east and central river basins is only 30 percent whereas the population in these basins is over 60 percent. 

Out of the total 84.1% Nile water contribution of Ethiopia, the GERD is being constructed on Blue Nile (Abbay) river which is contributing 57.1% of the Nile River flow. This Abbay River Basin covers 44% of the surface water source and 26% of the population of Ethiopia. 

According to the 1959 agreement between Sudan and Egypt, the Nile water is divided as follows: 55.5 billion cubic meters to Egypt, 18.5 billion cubic meters to Sudan, and 10 billion cubic meters to account for evaporation and seepage. The Al-Jazeera documentary (The GERD, under the title “How big is Ethiopia’s new dam”?) clearly showed that based on the Colonial treaties the Nile’s water shared by Egypt 66%, by Sudan 22%, by Ethiopia 0%, and 12% lost to evaporation. We would like to make clear that the volume of High Aswan Dam 162 billion mis more than double of the GERD volume of 75 billion m3. Toshka and El-Salam huge projects of Egypt that have significant effect on the water rights of the upstream countries have estimated investment of about 100 Billion USD in 2017 which is about 20 times the estimated construction cost of the GERD. It has to be noted that Egypt has not consulted any of the upstream countries while developing these projects. In addition to the Nile water, Egypt has groundwater resources in the Nile Valley and Delta, the western desert, and Sinai. The largest groundwater deposit is the giant Nubian sandstone aquifer underneath the eastern part of the African Sahara, which is shared between Egypt and four other countries. It contains over 200,000 billion m3 of non- renewable water in total that can serve for thousands of years. The aquifer underlying the Nile Valley and Delta has a total capacity of 500 billion m3 (200 and 300 billion m3 respectively). Egypt has to learn a lesson from “The Libyan Great Man-made River (GMMR) Project, eighth wonder of the world” embarked by Muammar Qadhafi in 1983” which supplies 6,500,000 m3 of freshwater per day to the cities of Tripoli, Benghazi, Sirte and others. 

In addition, Egypt because of its unique location has sea outlet both on Mediterranean and the Red-Sea that makes desalinated water available both from the east and north of Egypt. Egypt is well aware of the recent technological advances that have significantly decreased the production costs of desalinated water. 

The GERD is located in Ethiopia; on the Blue Nile River about 20 Km upstream from the Ethiopia-Sudan Border. The GERD is for hydropower which is non-consumptive use and does not stop the flow of the river. The Dam is currently under construction; where totally about 73 % of the project both civil and electro- mechanical work is completed. The GERD has two power plants with capacities of 3750 MW and 2250 MW or total installed capacity of 6000 MW that could generate average energy of 15,692 GWh per year. 

Egypt and The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
Ethiopian Dam

GERD is an additional storage dam both for Egypt and Sudan, and also that save water that is lost by evaporation in the desert from Aswan High Dam and the reservoirs in Sudan. It also serves as a silt trap for the dams in Sudan and Egypt. The GERD specifically saves Sudan from the annual flooding of thousands of irrigable area and help to reclaim its irrigable lands that optimize irrigation in Sudan. The GERD also helps to increase the rainfall in the Ethiopian highland as a result of the evaporation from the reservoir that will contribute to the Nile flow. Based on these facts, to build a dam on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia is not a new issue at all. It was already considered as an option in the 19th century by the British, mainly because of the lower levels of evaporation, sediment control, and regulated flow. 

It is clear that GERD has no significant effect as compared to its remarkable benefits both for Egypt and Sudan. It has to be clear that the GERD is being constructed under zero percent water share of Ethiopia. Now what Ethiopia should negotiate is not about the GERD, it has to raise the issue of sharing the Nile water equitably among all the basin states. 

III. Cooperation Efforts of the Basin Countries on Equitable Use of Nile Water 

Based on the initiative of Ethiopia, a series of the ‘Nile 2002 conferences’ that started in 1993 continued up to 2002. This cooperation effort paved the way for the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) established in 1999. A Shared Vision Programme (SVP) supported cooperation through promoting collaborative action, and trust intended to build a strong foundation for regional cooperation, of which the goal was the creation of an enabling environment for investments and action on the ground (NBI, 1999). 

The NBI established a secretariat in Uganda and two subsidiary action programmes (SAPs) in the Eastern Nile (based in Addis Ababa) ENSAP (The Eastern Nile Subsidiary Action Program) currently includes Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan and the Nile Equatorial Lakes region (in Kigali). NELSAP (The Nile Equatorial Lakes Subsidiary Action Program): The Nile Equatorial Lakes region includes the six countries in the southern portion of the Nile Basin: Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, as well as the downstream riparian states Egypt and Sudan.

The Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) 1995-2011 resulted in the development of the Cooperative Framework (CFA) and the establishment of the UNDP D3 project which started the negotiations for a River Nile Cooperative Framework Agreement in 1997; The D3 project had main activities of which was major for the development of the Cooperative framework agreement (CFA). Accordingly, the Panel of Experts (POE) formulated cooperative framework and approved by Council of Ministers (COM). The CFA (2009) adopts the seven most relevant factors for determining equitable and reasonable utilization from Article 6(1) of the 1997 United Nations Watercourses Convention. 

The Nile-COM with the exception of Egypt and Sudan absent, agreed and resolved that the CFA is a clean text ready for presentation to the riparian states for signature. 

The CFA signing / “Entebbe Agreement”:- Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda signed the Entebbe Agreement on the day it was opened for signature on the May 14, 2010. Kenya signed on the May 19, 2010; Burundi signed on the February 28, 2011. After signing the Entebbe Agreement the four countries Ethiopia; Rwanda; Tanzania and Uganda have ratified the agreement. 

Egypt has become stumbling block not to sign the CFA and yet without reached agreement on water allocation, it considers any reduction of the Nile water quantity level as a national security issue. Egypt did not want to sign the CFA which would have been a spring board for all basin states to reach to an agreement on how to share and manage the Nile water. It has to be clear that Egypt’s rigid position will let the Nile basin state countries to take their own unilateral action, which will ultimately be a nightmare for Egypt

After four years Egypt’s position not to sign the CFA and the tensions between Cairo and Addis Ababa over the GERD project, the three Eastern Nile countries acceded to a Declaration of Principles on 6 March 2015 that lead them to agree on the guidelines of the filling and operation of the GERD. “Ethiopia as the owner of the GERD will commence first filling of the GERD in parallel with the construction of the Dam in accordance with the principles of equitable and reasonable utilization and the causing of no significant harm as provided on the Declaration of Principles (DoP).” In spite of the deception of Egypt, that is what Ethiopia is doing currently- “first filling of the GERD in parallel with the construction of the Dam”. Basically Egypt’s treachery is to use the DoP as scapegoat to gain time Ethiopia not to capitalize on the CFA and its diplomatic efforts to bring back Egypt and Sudan to the table of negotiation to sign the CFA. 

Read more on the original borkena.com
Extreme Environments: farming in the Sahara Desert

Extreme Environments: farming in the Sahara Desert

The MENA’s Sahara region is increasingly being looked at for purposes stemming from power generation to food production. Here is how Danny Kane in this write up brings in to everyone’s attention the hot topic on Extreme Environments: farming in the Sahara Desert.


Every year, an area of fertile land roughly half the size of Britain becomes desert. This process, known as desertification, isn’t usually caused by one single factor, but the usual suspects make an appearance every time: climate change, deforestation, and poor agricultural practices. 1/5th of the world’s arable land is under threat from desertification.

With desertification likely to become an even greater issue in the future, it is time to start looking at possible ways to combat it. Reclaiming the desert is often a costly action few countries immediately affected by it can afford to pursue. The alternative, while also expensive, may be the best chance many of these countries, and in future the world, has to thrive. So, what if you could grow food in the desert?

Firstly, let’s dispel a myth — you can’t grow anything in sand. Numerous forms of plants will grow in sand, as long as they can source water and are able to tolerate the extreme heat, wind, sandstorms and occasional torrential rains found in deserts (particularly the Sahara), plants will grow. Unfortunately for us, a few wild plants cannot sustain a population, so for all intents and purposes, deserts appear to us to be barren.

Much of the problem comes from the sand itself. We’re not used to thinking about sand as a kind of soil, but it’s simply on the extreme end of the spectrum. The main issues come from two things. Sand isn’t very good at holding water, the particles are simply too big, so the water just runs off and isn’t absorbed as it is with soil, thus starving the plants of water. The second issue with sand is its lack of organic matter. Most sand is less than 1% organic matter, which is defined as organic material (plants and animal residues) in different stages of decomposition. This organic material feeds micro-organisms, which in turn create nutrients that are then utilised by the plants in their survival.

All this combined with the high temperatures, the weak structure of sand at holding roots and the high winds constantly trying to rip away the plants, make desert farming a huge challenge — but perhaps not an impossible one though.

Algeria

Extreme Environments: farming in the Sahara Desert
The Sahrawi refugee camp in Algeria

Algeria is the largest country in Africa at 2,381,740 square kilometres (919,590 square miles). Unfortunately for Algeria, around 80% of that land is in the Sahara Desert and essentially uninhabited.

Instability in the region following the Western Saharan War from 1975–1976 led to the creation of the Sahrawi Refugee camps, which today house between 90,000 and 165,000 (the exact number remains disputed by all parties involved, but the UN today recognises 90,000 individuals).

For decades, the refugees were dependent on the United Nations World Food Programme for food aid and to a large part they still are, but steps are being taken to reduce that dependence in the camps.

Here, growing plants in sand is possible thanks to hydroponics — a type of farming that grows plants in ‘inert mediums’ like packing peanuts, gravel and sand. Put simply, it is plants being farmed using nothing but water and a mineral nutrient solution. It vastly reduces the amount of water required to farm, which often has to be brought in by the literal truck load and at a high price.

The refugee camps and UNWFE have been successful in growing a strain of local barley in greenhouses, which is used as fodder to feed to the animals in the camp, noticeably increasing their dairy output, as well as the quality of the meat, and thus supplementing the diets of the refugees.

Though steps are being taken to reduce the cost, this remains relatively expensive and is far from providing enough food to support the camps. It is certainly a step in the right direction, but it’s still in its infancy.

Egypt

Extreme Environments: farming in the Sahara Desert
The Valley of the Kings from the River Nile

For a country that dared to try and tame the Sahara though, we need look no further than Egypt. At approximately 90% desert, Egyptians have always stayed close to the Nile, the life blood of the country. Evidence of agriculture in the Nile Delta has been dated to as far back as 8000 BC, so it would seem the Egyptians have already mastered the desert sands, but unfortunately the Egypt of today is very different than the Egypt of 10,000 years ago.

The population today has swelled to nearly 90 million, four times as many as in 1945. Egypt simply does not have the enough agricultural land to feed its people, and so the country that was once the breadbasket of the Roman Empire now imports 50% of its food from abroad.

The New Valley Project aimed to change that. It was one of the most ambitious construction projects ever created and has its roots in the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak in the 1990s. It aimed to add approximately 1.5 million acres of farmland to Egypt. Following his deposition in the 2011 Arab Spring, the project was frozen, but recently it has been revived.

The project aims to deal with arguably the most difficult part of growing plants in the desert — the lack of water. The New Valley Project and other desert reclamation projects undertaken by the Egyptian government solved this by either creating an elaborate system of canals and pumping systems to syphon water from the Nile River and Lake Nasser, or by pumping up ground water from below the surface.

Extreme Environments: farming in the Sahara Desert
Toshka construction site

So, did it work? Well, not really, no. Numerous factors plagued the projects. Firstly, a vast amount of work was needed to get the shoddily constructed canals up to standard, which increased the costs of the project exponentially. Next was the issue of pumping up ground water. The vast quantities required expected to have a drastic impact on the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer, the source of the water. Essentially, it was theorised that the farming would drain the aquifer, and thus the farmland would only be productive for a limited period of time.

This coupled with the fact that despite incentives, few people want to move to one of the hottest parts of the world to work on a potentially unsustainable farm has basically rendered the project a failure. A few companies have managed to stick it out at on the New Valley Project, but these companies are few and far between. It simply isn’t possible to make a profit or produce any notable amount of food in the area.

Extreme Environments: farming in the Sahara Desert
Toshka canal

Details remain scare, but it appears the New Valley Project has been set back once more, and the term Toshka (the Egyptian name for the New Valley Project) has become a joke and a byword for failure to everyday Egyptians, seem as little more than another political stunt by the government.

UAE

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Away from the Sahara in the UAE a more novel solution has been found — Liquid Clay. At 80% desert, the UAE faces the reality of ‘learn to grow food in the desert of rely on buying from abroad.’

However, an experimental farm working in conjunction with a Norwegian scientist has managed to half the water needed to farm by using the excitingly named Liquid Nano Clay. In essence, this clay and water solution is pumped a few metres below ground where it binds with the sand, creating fertile soil. It needs to be re-done every 5 years or so, depending on how the soil is being used, but it has been proven to reduce the water required to make the desert bloom.

Unfortunately, this seemingly miracle product comes at a very high cost, up to $9,500 (£6,900) per hectare. Desert Control, the company behind it, intends to sell their products to municipal governments and commercial growers but hopes to make it affordable to all growers in the future. The issue with this is that many of the countries within the Sahara Desert are incredibly poor, some of the poorest in the world. Even a low price may prove unattainable on the large scale needed to move these countries toward self-sustainability.

No easy answers

Extreme Environments: farming in the Sahara Desert
The Sahara Desert from space

The problem of the Sahara Desert has stubbornly refused to give way for much of human history. It has acted as a natural barrier to numerous empires like the Romans and the Carthaginians.

While you can farm in the Sahara and, in isolated cases, peoples and companies are, it remains a colossal challenge. Bringing water to the desert seems to be the greatest limiting factor to growing in the Sahara. Pumping seawater and desalinating it has been done successful in Jordan on the small scale and could potentially be re-created in the Sahara, but the scale required is nothing short of daunting and de-salination technology remains prohibitively expensive for many countries today, especially those most affected by the Sahara.

In addition, in a future where food is grown in the Sahara, it will likely be the private sector, not the governments of these places that develops the scalable technology needed for the project. Naturally, those companies are going to want a payoff for their investment and so may turn to exclusively farming cash crops. This has been seen in the New Valley Project, where one of the few companies that remains appears to exclusively grow Medjool Dates, a notable cash crop.

While obviously investments in these countries should be encouraged, farming in the Sahara should ultimately make these countries less dependent on foreign investment. If companies paid for the use of the Sahara, the governments of these countries would still be forced to use that money to buy food from aboard. If the desert can be turned into an oasis, let oasis be used for the independence of those countries, not to further a cycle of dependence that leads to nothing but instability.

Danny Kane

Does the Sahara desert hold the key?

Does the Sahara desert hold the key?

Should we turn the Sahara Desert into a huge solar farm? Bigger than North America and without the obstacles of wildlife or people, setting up power stations across the desert could give the world a clean, renewable future. So why hasn’t it been done already, asks Steven Cutts whilst wondering: Does the Sahara desert hold the key to unlocking unlimited solar power?

Does the Sahara desert hold the key?
Solar power from only one to two per cent of the Sahara could provide electricity for the whole of Europe ( Getty/iStock )

There are some problems we never seem able to solve. The shortage of electrical power is one of them. Ever since President Carter proclaimed an energy crisis in the 1970s, people have been talking about all kinds of weird and wonderful solutions to the issue of energy and – thus far – no one has come up with one single answer.

While solar power is now providing as much as 4 per cent of British electricity, few people appreciate just how quickly electricity production will have to increase. If the internal combustion engine is on its way out then the western world will need to double its electrical supply just to recharge its battery-powered vehicles.

Progress on this scale demands a fundamental rethink of our entire energy supply industry. The beginning of the 21st century saw a group of German engineers doing just that. They developed a plan to harvest solar power in the Sahara desert and transmit the stuff across the Mediterranean using very high-voltage, direct-current cables.

Just as Carter had been influenced by the oil shock of 1973, the Germans had been influenced by the disaster in Chernobyl and a mounting recognition that all technology is associated with risk. At that stage, large scale solar power plants still sounded like science fiction but the potential of solar power had long been recognised.

One German engineer calculated that the amount of solar energy absorbed by the world’s deserts exceeds the total amount of energy consumed by man in an entire year. We’d only need to harness a small proportion of this energy to provide us with all the electricity we are likely to need without any of the usual headaches surrounding pollution or fuel supply.

The Sahara is a vast area of land, larger, even, than the continental United States and extending over several national boundaries. It would take only one or two per cent of the land here to provide the whole of Europe with electrical power. There isn’t a lot of wildlife to destroy in the desert and since the population density is close to zero, we can probably avoid the nimbyists too.

Does the Sahara desert hold the key?
Workers install solar panels at the Enel Green Power photovoltaic plant in the desert near Villanueva, Mexico (AFP/Getty)

At first sight, though, the Sahara isn’t quite as perfect since much of the land here is still some distance north of the equator. As we approach the equatorial regions of the world, it seems logical to assume that the intensity of sunlight ought to go up. However, the equatorial region of the planet is associated with a much higher level of cloud cover than the Sahara and on balance, about 20 to 30 degrees north of the equator turns out to be the ideal location for a large scale solar power plant.

Plenty of land, plenty of sun, not a lot of cloud and not that far from the nearest major market for electrical power, western Europe.

Some manufacturers are now producing photovoltaic panels that are cosmetically indistinguishable from traditional roofing tiles. It’s easy to envisage a future where it becomes compulsory

Many of the nation states in the region are quite poor with little or nothing in the way of oil or gas reserves. Ever since the 1970s, countries with significant oil reserves have been able to cash in on the oil boom and increase its standard of living overnight, whereas a nation that lacks oil reserves is forced to import at potentially enormous cost. Thus far, this kind of prosperity has been based on geological accident, but solar power is different. Soon, relatively poor countries might have access to a major energy resource of their own, enabling them to generate their own power at home and to export anything left over to western Europe.

So why isn’t it happening?

Part of the appeal of large-scale solar power generation is the opportunity it provides for a secure energy supply. Ever since the early 1970s, western governments have been living in fear of another Opec crisis or – at the very least – some sort of military and political confrontation that might interrupt the supply of energy. When we try to calculate how many lives might be lost or damaged by one source of energy or another, we really ought to factor in how many lives we’d be likely to lose by fighting another war for oil. Politicians who are too young to remember the Yom Kippur War are old enough to understand Putin and the fear that he might try to suddenly cut off the supply of natural gas to western Europe as part of some alternative economic warfare. What will Nato actually do if that happens?

During the 1970s energy crisis, a three-colour flag system was used to denote gas availability at service stations in the US (Rex)

But our friction with the Middle East goes back even further than Yom Kippur. A generation older than my own has not forgotten the Suez Crisis. During the 1950s, the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser decided to seize the Suez Canal and nationalise the entire project. The countries, companies and investors who had paid for its construction were far from pleased. Attempts at recapturing the canal ended in fiasco. The Egyptians came out of the 1950s quite well.

Against this is the relentless march of progress and the emergence of new tech that has thrown the whole equation into disarray. Just 10 years ago, the environmental movement was obsessed with the idea that western governments should continue to subsidise solar power. In those dim and distant days, solar power was so costly that people had to be bribed to actually use it. This is no longer the case and governments believe that it is entirely reasonable to phase out their solar power subsidies. Whilst this decision may be premature, it’s hard to ignore just how quickly the price of a photovoltaic panel has fallen. Part of the reason for this is mass production and part is the Chinese desire to subsidise their own industry, effectively destroying their competitors.

Does the Sahara desert hold the key?

Panels are falling in cost so rapidly that it is not unreasonable to suggest that we should delay buying them just to wait for the next major price fall. Some manufacturers are now producing photovoltaic panels that are cosmetically indistinguishable from traditional roofing tiles. It’s easy to envisage a future where it becomes compulsory for all new housing to be built with a photovoltaic roof. Given that Britain turns over about 1 per cent of our housing stock every year, it also isn’t difficult to envisage a future where the majority of homes in the country are self-sufficient in energy.

But if the vogue towards a cheap and efficient energy-powered future continues, people are bound to look at the Sahara again. A vision of the desert practically covered in solar power panels is now a reality with a number of projects already having been established in North America and north Africa.

There are already accusations that North African Solar Power represents a rebirth of colonialism with European powers attempting to snatch resources from Africa and seize it for themselves

Engineers in Morocco have built one of the most ambitious solar energy projects on the planet. Using Spanish technology, they have built a system of mirrors designed to reflect the sun’s rays onto a large box that has been placed on a pedestal in the centre of the solar farm. This kind of energy generation is different from photovoltaic panels. It requires moving parts and a different attitude, but it has advantages too.

The mirrors are placed on rotating platforms so they can move throughout the day to follow the sun. By synchronising the position of each mirror to the day-night cycle, the maximum possible energy can be directed at one point. That point is a box containing salt. The salt soon melts into a sort of man-made lava and can be moved as a fluid along pipes where it is used to heat water, which in turn generates steam. The steam can then drive turbines creating electricity. This kind of installation involves multiple moving components and would require more maintenance than a standard PV panel. However, the molten salt can remain hot well after sundown and continue to generate electricity for up to seven hours into the night. Given that a country like Morocco would typically experience about 12 hours of daylight, this still leaves the problem of the energy gap in the early hours of the morning while the system waits for the new dawn, but it’s much more comprehensive than PV. This kind of technology uses a lot of water for cooling purposes and this might restrict its use. But it’s already quite popular and a number of such systems have been built in the United States.

Does the Sahara desert hold the key?
An ambitious solar project in Morocco has devised panels that move with the sun throughout the day (AFP/Getty)

This kind of vision requires us to believe that it might be possible to transmit energy over vast distances. Electricity is pretty ephemeral stuff; it doesn’t lend itself to long-distance transportation. In complete contrast, crude oil is a liquid that can be pumped on and off a cargo ship quite easily. They say that if you stand on the bridge of an oil tanker sailing to Japan you can see the smoke from the funnel of the tanker ahead of you and the tanker behind you. Such is the hunger of the Japanese economy for the dark black liquid.

We still don’t know how to bottle electricity and the problems associated with battery storage remain formidable but progress has been made. There have been major electrical cables under the North Sea and the English Channel for many years now. In the southern hemisphere, the Australian government has also built a cable linking Tasmania with the Australian mainland so the idea of using high-energy, direct-current transmission from north Africa to Europe isn’t quite as far-fetched as it sounds. In these circumstances about 12 per cent of the power generated in the Sahara would be lost during transmission. Most authorities believe that the advantages of increased sunlight intensity associated with the north African environment outweigh the problems associated with this power loss.

And if the north African power plant succeeds? What then? Many of the countries involved have a clear memory of their days as European colonies and for some African politicians this is a difficult memory to forget. There are already accusations that north African solar power represents a rebirth of colonialism with European powers attempting to seize resources from Africa for themselves. Some of the optimists for solar power in the Sahara have suggested that most of our power could be generated in the desert but while this kind of political friction still exists, it’s hard to imagine European governments allowing more than 10 per cent of their grid to be supplied from overseas.

Covid-19 to trigger 27pc fall in Q2 global trade: UN

Covid-19 to trigger 27pc fall in Q2 global trade: UN

In GENEVA, Switzerland, today the UNCTAD forecasts, which project a quarter-on-quarter decline of 27% is elaborated in Covid-19 to trigger 27pc fall in Q2 global trade: UN as summarised by the following :

  • Global trade values fell 3% in the first quarter of 2020
  • An estimated quarter-on-quarter decline of 27% is expected in the second quarter
  • Commodity prices fell by a record 20% in March, driven by steep drops in oil prices

The coronavirus pandemic cut global trade values by 3 per cent in the first quarter of this year, according to the latest UNCTAD data published in a joint report by 36 international organizations.

The downturn is expected to accelerate in the second quarter, with global trade projected to record a quarter-on-quarter decline of 27 per cent, according to the report by the Committee for the Coordination of Statistical Activities (CCSA).

The report is a product of cooperation between the international statistics community and national statistical offices and systems around the world, coordinated by UNCTAD.

“Everywhere governments are pressed to make post-Covid-19 recovery decisions with long-lasting consequences,” UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said.

“Those decisions should be informed by the best available information and data. I’m proud that UNCTAD has played a central role in bringing so many international organizations together to compile valuable facts and figures to support the response to the pandemic.”

Commodity prices falling too

According to the report, the drop in global trade is accompanied by marked decreases in commodity prices, which have fallen precipitously since December last year.

UNCTAD’s free market commodity price index (FMCPI), which measures the price movements of primary commodities exported by developing economies, lost 1.2 per cent of its value in January, 8.5 per cent in February and a whopping 20.4 per cent in March.

Plummeting fuel prices were the main driver of the steep decline, plunging 33.2 per cent in March, while prices of minerals, ores, metals, food and agricultural raw materials tumbled by less than 4 per cent.

The more than 20 per cent fall in commodity prices in March was a record in the history of the FMCPI. By comparison, during the global financial crisis of 2008, the maximum month-on-month decrease was 18.6 per cent.

At that time, the descent lasted six months. Worryingly, the duration and overall strength of the current downward trend in commodity prices and global trade remain uncertain.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic sent international commerce into a tailspin, global merchandise trade volumes and values were showing modest signs of recovery since late 2019.

Situation changing rapidly

The UNCTAD now casts featured in the report incorporate a wide variety of data sources, capturing diverse determinants and indicators of trade, but the situation is changing rapidly.

“In this time of crisis, we are putting out the facts as we know them today. We’ll continue monitoring the global trade landscape as it evolves,” said UNCTAD’s chief statistician Steve MacFeely.

“I’m delighted the international statistical community could step up, mobilize quickly and publish such a useful and fascinating report. It was a great honour for UNCTAD to lead this endeavour.” – TradeArabia News Service

Egypt presses on with new capital in the desert

Egypt presses on with new capital in the desert

ZAWYA‘s INVESTMENT on 13 May, 2020 reports that Egypt presses on with new capital in the desert amid virus outbreak.
Officials see mega-projects as key source of jobs .

By Aidan Lewis and Mahmoud Mourad, Reuters News

CAIRO- While Egypt’s economy has stumbled due to the coronavirus outbreak, construction at a new capital taking shape east of Cairo is continuing at full throttle after a short pause to adjust working practices, officials say.

Cairo, Egypt – 1st December, 2016: The bridge, the Nile river & the Corniche Street in central Cairo.
Getty Images

The level of activity at the desert site – where trucks rumble down newly built roads and cranes swing over unfinished apartment blocks – reflects the new city’s political importance even as the government grapples with the pandemic.

Known as the New Administrative Capital, it is the biggest of a series of mega-projects championed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as a source of growth and jobs.

Soon after coronavirus began to spread, Sisi postponed moving the first civil servants to the new city and moved back the opening of a national museum adjoining the pyramids to next year.

Productivity dipped as companies adapted to health guidelines and some labourers stayed home.

But officials have sought to keep the mega-projects going to protect jobs, and after 10 days of slowdown construction had fully resumed at the new capital with a shift system, said Amr Khattab, spokesman for the Housing Ministry, which along with the military owns the company building the city.

“The proportion of the labour force that is present on site doesn’t exceed 70%, so that the workers don’t get too close,” he said as he showed off the R5 neighbourhood, which includes about 24,000 housing units. “We work less intensively, but we do two shifts.”

Sisi, who publicly quizzes officials responsible for infrastructure projects about timetables and costs, launched the new capital in 2015.

Designed as a high-tech smart city that will house 6.5 million people and relieve congestion in Cairo, it includes government and business districts, a giant park, and a diplomatic quarter as yet unbuilt.

One senior official said last year the cost of the whole project was about $58 billion. While some Egyptians see the new capital as a source of pride, others see it as extravagant and built to benefit a cocooned elite.

‘RUNNING ON TIME’

“We have clear instructions from his excellency the president that the postponement of the opening is not a delay to the project,” said Khattab. “The project is running on time.”

Disinfection and other protective measures were visible at the construction site 45km (30 miles) east of the Nile, though some workers were only ordered to don masks when journalists started filming and others drove by crammed into a minibus. Egypt has confirmed more than 10,000 coronavirus cases, but none at the new capital.

Delays in payments to contractors and to imported supplies were additional risks, said Shams Eldin Youssef, a member of Egypt’s union for construction contractors. Khattab said the government had contractors’ payments in hand.

The Housing Ministry expects to deliver two residential districts by late 2021, while the business district should be finished by early 2022, said Ahmed al-Araby, deputy head of the new capital’s development authority. Private developers and the army are building six other neighbourhoods.

In the government district, which Khattab said was 90% complete, ministry buildings fronted with vertical strips of white stone and darkened glass lead to an open area being planted with palm trees and mini obelisks in front of a domed parliament building.

To one side a large, low-rise presidential palace is under construction.

Sisi has urged people seeking work to head to new cities being built around the country, including the new capital, which Khattab said employs some 250,000 workers.

Critics have questioned the diversion of resources away from existing cities, including Cairo, parts of which are in slow decay.

“The question about how rational this is – whether it makes sense economically, whether it is doable, whether it’s the best course of action – this question is not even asked,” Ezzedine Fishere, an Egyptian writer and senior lecturer at Dartmouth College in the United States, said by phone.

On the other side of Cairo at the new museum next to the Giza pyramids, work has also been continuing at a slower pace.

In mid-April staffing levels sank to about 40%, with plans to recover gradually to 100%, said General Atef Muftah, who oversees the project.

Climate Change will shift Billions of People

Climate Change will shift Billions of People

Humans are amazing creatures, in that they have shown they can live in almost any climate. Think of the Inuit who live in the Arctic or the Bedouins in the deserts of North Africa. But a new study suggests humans, like any animal or plant, have a preferred climate or environmental niche in which they thrive – and climate change will shift billions of people out of this comfort zone.


For now, Climate change does not seem that high enough on the agenda of most countries of the MENA region and yet if there were a region that is closer to the hearth, it is this region as illustrated b this map of the world.

Mark Maslin, UCL asks “Will three billion people really live in temperatures as hot as the Sahara by 2070?” Here is his reply.

Climate Change will shift Billions of People
World map showing mean annual temperatures. Yarr65 / shutterstock

The study, published in the journal PNAS, was written by international team of scientists led by Chi Xu of Nanjing university. They first showed that for the past 6,000 years a majority of people have lived in regions where the average annual temperature has always been between 11˚C (roughly equivalent to London’s climate) and 15˚C (Rome or Melbourne).

Future climate change will affect this average temperature, and at its most extreme would mean 3.5 billion people would be outside their current climate niche. In fact one in three of us would experience annual average temperatures of more than 29˚C – a climate currently experienced by humans in only a handful of the hottest desert settlements.

The human niche

At the centre of this thought experiment is the concept of the human “climate niche”, or the environmental range in which modern humans thrive. And this range has changed over time. As humans evolved from primates in Africa, our ancestors’ climate niche was controlled by their own physiology. Modern humans are most comfortable between 21˚C and 27˚C, and our ancestors lived in regions of Africa with this average annual temperature.

But this climate range then expanded massively as early humans learned to domesticate fire, to store and transport drinking water, and to make clothes and build shelters. As I found in my own research, these developments eventually allowed us to settle on every continent except Antarctica.

Climate Change will shift Billions of People
Human climate comfort zone adapted by M.A. Maslin from [T.R. Oke Boundary Layer Climates (1988) Adapted by Mark Maslin from T.R. Oke Boundary Layer Climates (1988), Author provided

Our climate niche narrowed again with the invention of agriculture, starting around 10,000 years ago. The domestication of animals and plants occurred at the end of the ice age and appeared independently in at least ten places round the world including Asia, the Americas, and Africa. From each of these areas the new agriculturalists spread out, competing with the indigenous hunter-gathers and pushing them on to marginal lands. Today, 75% of the world’s food is generated from 12 plants and five animal species that were domesticated during this first wave.

As the agriculturalists expanded from the warmer regions into more temperate lands, their productivity increased significantly. Increased food production led to an expansion of the human population and hence the modelled human climate niche follows where our domesticated crops and animals thrive.

A more detailed look at the new PNAS paper reveals that today there are in fact two distinct human climate niches with two populations peaks between 11-15˚C and 20-25˚C. The latter is largely down to the huge populations who live in the extremely fertile SE Asia monsoon regions.

Our future climate niche

As climate change warms up the planet, the average annual temperature of each region will increase. The new study suggests that extreme climate change would mean 3.5 billion people theoretically would have to move if they wanted to remain under the same climate range as today. Even if strong climate policies were to keep global temperature increase to 2˚C they argue that 1.5 billion people would still theoretically have to move.

Climate Change will shift Billions of People
Small dark areas currently have annual averages above 29˚C. By 2070, an extreme climate change scenario would expand this area to include all the red shaded regions, will would be home to 3.5 billion people. Xu et al (2020)

What is disappointing about this study is that the focus is mainly on the worst case scenario, which due to changes in energy generation and efficiency is thankfully no longer realistic.

If you dive into the 23 pages of the supplementary material the authors have looked at other future scenarios where global warming is less severe, but who does this except science geeks like me? I would have expected a more balanced presentation, especially as more realistic warming scenarios are still scary enough.

The study also does not take account of the dynamic and adaptable nature of human technology and society. As the climate zones shift it will be possible to transfer the knowledge of societies currently living under a warmer climate to the new region.

Constraints on outside work

The study does, however, make an important point about food security. Half of the world’s food is produced by smallholder farms with most of the energy input from physical labour carried out by the farmers.

Climate Change will shift Billions of People
Billions of hours of work are already being lost to extreme temperatures. AJP / shutterstock

As the world warms there will be more and more days when it will be physically impossible to work outside, reducing productivity and food security. Climate change has already created areas of the world where heat and humidity are too severe for humans to tolerate. The Lancet climate commission has shown that more than 150 billion work hours were lost in 2018 due to extreme temperature and humidity. This could double or even quadruple depending on how many people stay working in rural agriculture.

Reservations aside, this is a brilliant thought experiment. Using the historic and current human climate niches shows us just how many people in the world, between 1.5 and 3.5 billion, will be shifted out of their current climate range due to global warming. It also highlights that the people most affected by shifting climate zones are the poorest and those that most rely on food that is produced by smallholders working outside.

Mark Maslin, Professor of Earth System Science, UCL

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

“MENA region” and “women-led startups”

“MENA region” and “women-led startups”

If we put together the words “MENA region” and “women-led startups” into the same sentence most of us probably would not expect the following statement: one in three start-ups in the Middle East and North Africa region is founded or led by a woman, which is a much higher percentage than in Silicon Valley. Women in Arab countries make up for 34-57 per cent of STEM graduates, a figure which is also much higher than in universities across Europe and the US. This led us to ask ourselves: how come, given these numbers, the proportion of female workforce in 13 out of 15 Arab countries remains among the lowest in the world? 

This is how Wamda‘s Thought Leadership on 11 May, 2020 introduced the hot subject of gender equality in the MENA region.

How can we encourage more women to pursue entrepreneurship?

“MENA region” and “women-led startups”
Image courtesy of Womenpreneur

Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, Sana Afouaiz, founder of Womenpreneur, an organisation established to support women entrepreneurs, toured three countries in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) to gain an insight into the challenges faced by women founders in the region. In this article, Afouaiz outlines the steps needed to overcome these challenges.

The answer to this is neither short nor simple. It is safe to say, however, that the figures above unveil the amazing potential to be unlocked in the region. For this reason Womenpreneur Initiative and SANAD’s Entrepreneurship Academy joined forces to promote female tech entrepreneurship in the Mena region. The goal of this unprecedented empowerment campaign was to give visibility to women in tech, innovation and entrepreneurship as well as to provide platforms to assess the current state of the tech ecosystem in three countries: Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan. 

During the Womenpreneur Tour we interviewed female tech entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds. They shared with us what motivated them to launch their businesses, as well as every obstacle they encountered on their journey. Did you know that 71 per cent of Tunisian women started their enterprises with absolutely zero resources and zero support? Or that only 10 per cent of Moroccan women are entrepreneurs despite them representing half of the population of the country? Or that only 6 per cent of women entrepreneurs in Jordan are generating revenues exceeding $100,000?

Mindset as major drawback for women entrepreneurs in the region

Most of them point out mindset as the main barrier preventing women from having equal access to the job market or promotion opportunities. Traditional values in Arab countries are still deeply-rooted and this is reflected in recruitment processes for example, where women are still inquired about their marital status and left as second choice in the presence of a male competitor. High demands in the family setting are another major drawback for women to advance their career. This traditional mindset extends to the investment-seeking process too. Due to lack of precedent in the region, investors are more likely to distrust the profitability of women-led businesses. 

What can be done to eliminate these constraints?

Many argued that a change of mindset is slowly emerging. For example, Jordan recently passed a new labour law providing equal day care obligations to both female and male parents in the workplace. This is a great achievement but real changes are taking too long to materialise. During our tour across these countries we also interviewed multiple experts from various fields who shared their recommendations to make the tech ecosystem more accessible and fairer to women. Most of them agreed on the need for gender quotas in the public administration to ensure the involvement of women in strategic decision-making at the political level as well as in board of directors in the private sector to promote that they reach top management positions. Recruitment processes should be revised from a legal perspective as well in order to prevent gender-based discrimination due to marital and family status. On the other hand, many pushed for the need to break the glass ceiling as well as gender roles and stereotypes which traditionally portray women as more suitable in social and human sciences and men as more capable for physics, mathematics and technology. 

Further recommendations related to the financial sphere, where some of our experts suggest a democratisation of processes and requirements for opening a business bank account is needed. This would facilitate that women receive funds quickly to start their activities and demonstrate recorded payments and credit history. As a result, female tech entrepreneurs acquire financial credibility and are in a better position to fundraise further. Additionally, the creation of female-oriented or women-only funds for all stages of start-ups, in forms of government grants or equity investments, would facilitate women access to funding and present the investment-seeking process as one based on merit and business skills rather than a risk journey into gender discrimination.

What next?

After the great success of our tour we are embarking ourselves into a second edition that will explore three new countries: Algeria, Egypt and Lebanon. This time, however, in the context of the current Covid-19 crisis our aim is to find out how this pandemic is affecting female entrepreneurs’ lives across the Mena region and how the female talent is tackling this challenging situation and bringing about solutions. 

If you want to know more about all the inspiring female tech entrepreneurs we met, then watch our documentary

Author: Thought Leadership

IMF reveals how COVID-19 could disrupt Arab economies

IMF reveals how COVID-19 could disrupt Arab economies

ZAWYA’s ECONOMY on 7 May 2020, elaborated on IMF reveals how COVID-19 could disrupt Arab economies. Here is how the COVID-19 pandemic by bringing unprecedented challenges, and strict lockdowns in some parts of the MENA region, could make it even worse for those petro-economies of the Gulf, the obvious object of this article.


Governments responded quickly to the pandemic and Arab youth will play a major role in economic recovery.

The Arab economies are facing a multi-level shock from COVID-19 despite the prompt responses by many governments in the region, the regional head of the International Monetary Fund has stated.

Image used for illustrative purpose. Financial Market Charts.
Image used for illustrative purpose. Financial Market Charts.GettyimagesBy Atique Naqvi, ZAWYA

Low oil prices will not only further distress producers but will also impact non-oil Arab economies, said Dr Jihad Azour, Director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the IMF.

“Starting with long-term structural problems, Arab countries will have difficulties addressing the direct impact of the ongoing slowdown,” said Dr. Azour, adding that one thing that helps in the recovery in Arab countries is that they have young populations.

Two-thirds of the Arab population in the region is less than 30 years old, and this human capital advantage would play a key role in speeding up the regional economic recovery in the post-COVID19 market, he said.

Dr Azour expects Arab countries to continue their technology adoption programs as the economic recovery would depend on the efficiency of such initiatives.

What is needed, he noted, are dedicated efforts to implement what Arab governments and international organizations know are essential reforms to the structure and emphasis of Arab economies.

Economic diversification

Oil producers in the Arab world should continue their economic diversification drive, he said, adding that ongoing COVID-19 pandemic should prompt countries in the Middle East and North Africa to focus on public health and social security. “The countries must work towards reducing trade barriers, decreasing financial vulnerability and avoiding high costs of armed conflicts.”

Dr Azour was answering questions in a webinar last night hosted by Khalil E. Jahshan, who is the executive director of Arab Center Washington DC.

In Tuesday’s IMF podcast on Arab economies, Dr. Azour said all countries in the region were affected by the COVID19-led economic crisis and most of them have introduced a certain number of measures to protect life and livelihoods and also to protect certain sectors in the economy.

“Most challenging moments”

“If we compare to the last hundred years, this is one of the most challenging moments in economic history for both Central Asia Caucuses as well as also for the Middle East and North African countries,” he said.

The IMF’s Middle East head believes the oil exporting countries in the Arab world will face the impact of the shock on their revenues and  fiscal situation.

Countries with ample buffers could use them to mitigate some of the repercussions of the shock, but the economic management is going to be more complicated for the nations with less buffers. Oil importing countries will be impacted due the fluctuations in the levels of remittances, capital flows and investment coming from the oil producers, he said.

During the Arab Center webinar, Dr. Azour also provided some global perspective on the impact of COVID19 pandemic.

The current economic crisis caused by COVID19 is not like that of 2008-2009 since it has precipitated a deeper and wider shock to the economies of individual countries as well as to the international economy at large, he said.

What also specifically differentiates the current economic crisis is the degree and level of uncertainty associated with it. He said the international community and organizations knew what instigated the 2008 financial crisis; however, the severity and impact of the current one remains unknown, thus addressing its effects is still indeterminable.

He stressed that the IMF’s current policy, which includes loans and advisory services, is to give breathing space so that “emerging economies and low-income countries are not left behind” in this period.

He predicted that there will be a new globalization effort that may try to address the deficiencies of the former international economy. The international economy, he argued, will have to determine how to address challenges to growth and to make sure that this growth is equitable between low income and developed countries.

(Reporting by Atique Naqvi; editing by Seban Scaria)

(seban.scaria@refinitiv.com)

Riyadh, Jeddah record delivery of over 9,000 homes in Q1

Riyadh, Jeddah record delivery of over 9,000 homes in Q1

The Saudi government’s drive to increase home ownership for nationals continued to gather momentum in the first quarter of this year, according to JLL, a specialist in real estate and investment management.  This is what is reported by TradeArabia as Riyadh, Jeddah record delivery of over 9,000 homes in Q1. One cannot help but wonder if it is Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 that wants to break its “addiction” to oil . . . or something else?


With the kingdom’s leadership working on its ambitious plan to boost home ownership to 60 per cent by the year-end, the delivery of residential units for Saudi nationals in Riyadh and Jeddah remained active during the opening quarter.  

The Sakani program is being delivered under Vision 2030 and was launched to provide more than 500,000 residential units across the kingdom, costing an estimated SR500 billion.  

The aim is to achieve 70 percent home ownership for Saudi nationals by the end of the decade, said the JLL in its Q1 2020 KSA Real Estate Market Performance report. 

In Riyadh, a total of 7,500 units had been delivered in the first three months, while in Jeddah, the number had reached 1,800, it added.  

“In the short-to-mid term, demand remains supported by the Sakani program and the various mortgage products launched over the past couple of years,” remarked Dana Salbak, the head of research for MENA region at JLL.  

“However, in light of the current conditions and with no specific stimulus package in support of the residential market, we can expect somewhat of a slowdown in demand over the coming period,” noted Sablak. 

Meanwhile, in the office sector, the drop in oil prices combined with shifts in the work environment towards remote working practices has resulted in a slowdown in demand for office space.  

According to JLL, this has reflected on the performance of office spaces in Riyadh and Jeddah, resulting in declines of between four – six percent across both Grade A and Grade B spaces. 

The retail sector in the kingdom has enjoyed an improved performance over the past year, however, it is expected to see a prolonged period of lower consumer appetite due to the current global pandemic.  

By contrast, demand for retail-driven warehousing will be active as restrictions on movement and trade have led to a shift in consumer behaviour, with online shopping (e-commerce) becoming more popular, it stated. 

“This aligns with some of the strategic goals of Vision 2030, which aims to increase the proportion of online payments from a target of 28 per cent this year, to 70 per cent by 2030,” said Salbak. 

As with other markets around the world, the hospitality industry in Saudi Arabia kicked off the year strongly, with occupancy rates in Riyadh and Jeddah, registering improvements in the year-to-February 2020 when compared to the same period last year, recording 74% and 58% respectively.  

However the period which followed, saw hotel performance levels decline as travel restrictions took effect, pointed out Sablak.  

With the suspension of the Umrah season and uncertainty around the Hajj pilgrimage, which begins in late July, the performance of the tourism and hospitality market in the kingdom is likely to remain sluggish for the remainder of this year, particularly in Jeddah, which is considered a transit city for pilgrimages to Makkah and Madinah. he added.-TradeArabia News Service

Solar and wind energy sites mapped globally for the first time

Solar and wind energy sites mapped globally for the first time

University of Southampton gives us an idea of the current situation through this article on Solar and wind energy sites mapped globally for the first time.


Researchers at the University of Southampton have mapped the global locations of major renewable energy sites, providing a valuable resource to help assess their potential environmental impact.

Solar and wind energy sites mapped globally for the first time
Global distribution of solar (a) and wind (b) farms showing power output and landscape area. Credit: University of Southampton

Their study, published in the Nature journal Scientific Data, shows where solar and wind farms are based around the world—demonstrating both their infrastructure density in different regions and approximate power output. It is the first ever global, open-access dataset of wind and solar power generating sites.

The estimated share of renewable energy in global electricity generation was more than 26 per cent by the end of 2018 and solar panels and wind turbines are by far the biggest drivers of a rapid increase in renewables. Despite this, until now, little has been known about the geographic spread of wind and solar farms and very little accessible data exists.

Lead researcher and Southampton Ph.D. student Sebastian Dunnett explains: “While global land planners are promising more of the planet’s limited space to wind and solar energy, governments are struggling to maintain geospatial information on the rapid expansion of renewables. Most existing studies use land suitability and socioeconomic data to estimate the geographical spread of such technologies, but we hope our study will provide more robust publicly available data.”

Solar and wind energy sites mapped globally for the first time
A wind farm in Caithness, Scotland. Credit: Seb Dunnett

While bringing many environmental benefits, solar and wind energy can also have an adverse effect locally on ecology and wildlife. The researchers hope that by accurately mapping the development of farms they can provide an insight into the footprint of renewable energy on vulnerable ecosystems and help planners assess such effects.

The study authors used data from OpenStreetMap (OSM), an open-access, collaborative global mapping project. They extracted grouped data records tagged ‘solar’ or ‘wind’ and then cross-referenced these with select national datasets in order to get a best estimate of power capacity and create their own maps of solar and wind energy sites. The data show Europe, North America and East Asia’s dominance of the renewable energy sector, and results correlate extremely well with official independent statistics of the renewable energy capacity of countries.

Study supervisor, Professor Felix Eigenbrod of Geography and Environmental Science at the Southampton comments: “This study represents a real milestone in our understanding of where the global green energy revolution is occurring. It should be an invaluable resource for researchers for years to come, as we have designed it so it can be updated with the latest information at any point to allow for changes in what is a quickly expanding industry.”

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New mapping application visualizes costs of developing renewable energy resources

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