Orestes Morfín in MEI@75 of 20 April 2022, tells us how the MENA region’s climate regime influences its water resources. Let us have a look.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region faces unique challenges to environmental sustainability and human habitation. First and foremost among these is the limited availability of freshwater. As a broad swath of arid to dry-subhumid mountainous desert, the region sees most of its precipitation fall as mountain snow. Surface water is relatively scarce and the major rivers are fed by snowmelt runoff in source areas far from major points of use. The headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in mountainous eastern Turkey and the headwaters of the Blue Nile in the Ethiopian Highlands are prime examples. Sustained availability of water to these river systems is therefore dependent on the predictable transformation of mountain snowpack into runoff.
The relative hydrologic “health” of a system is often thought of in terms of the absolute amount of precipitation falling on the watershed. While the quantity of precipitation is important, precipitation alone does not guarantee runoff. The capacity of any basin to efficiently translate precipitation into runoff is dependent on a complex, sensitive interplay of forces that must align if it is to be predictable — and predictability is the foundation of sound planning.
Water stores energy more efficiently than air. The oceans, therefore, are a significant reservoir of heat produced by human activity. Not surprisingly, temperature anomalies in the ocean have skewed overwhelmingly higher since the 1990s. This is important because warming oceans have the potential to contribute more moisture to the atmosphere through increased evaporation. A warming air mass, however, buffers this effect with an increased capacity to retain moisture, meaning that more moisture is needed to reach saturation. This impacts both the amount and the timing of precipitation. In other words, when coupled with a warming ocean, a warmer atmosphere may take longer to reach saturation, but will deliver more precipitation when it does.
Studies suggest that wet regions will get wetter and arid regions will have even less precipitation. For regions already feeling the effects of increased average temperatures and aridification — such as the MENA region — longer, hotter summers and delayed onset of autumn cooling and precipitation may mean both a delay in snowpack formation and a diminished snowpack. This may be the result not only of insufficient moisture in the atmosphere needed to reach saturation, but may also be due to more winter precipitation falling in the form of rain rather than snow. The potential coupling of warmer oceans and a warmer atmosphere has significant and possibly dire implications for the expected lifespan of surface waters in MENA.
Some regions have more naturally favorable conditions than others for generating runoff. Areas with cooler, wetter fall weather at elevation have soils at (or close to) saturation prior to the snow accumulation season. This is important because the state of the “soil moisture budget” is often an influential factor in how much runoff is generated during melt. In this context, soil that is closer to saturation will have a reduced capacity to retain additional water. Thus, snow accumulating on saturated soil will be more likely to generate runoff with the onset of spring melt.
By contrast, a warmer atmosphere with longer, hotter summers will have a drier prelude to snow accumulation season. Warmer air wicks moisture from the soil surface and increases evaporative stress on regional vegetation, resulting in a soil moisture “deficit” in this crucial period. Since a greater percentage of meltwater first must be absorbed into the soil, less runoff will be generated.
Dust on snow
The sun also plays a significant role in this process. Snowpack development is sensitive to the daily inbound/outbound fluctuation of solar radiation in the atmosphere. Snow reflects most incoming solar radiation. Snow that has accumulated on saturated soil after a wet autumn reflects most efficiently. Snow that has accumulated after a long, hot summer and dry autumn, however, may continue to accumulate dust on the surface of the snowpack, which absorbs solar radiation, increases the temperature at the snowpack surface, and tends to result in a premature melt.
MENA governments have poured money into developing large-scale hydropower and water projects. Perhaps the most notable of these are Turkey’s Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), a series of 22 dams, 19 hydroelectric facilities, and agricultural diversions in the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates, and more recently the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia. Both mega-projects were designed to stimulate economic growth and ensure greater independence. The benefits of these projects may be overestimated, however, if both the quantity and quality of runoff proves increasingly disappointing.
Seasonal precipitation totals are important, but even the wettest of years will have reduced runoff if the timing of delivery is off, the autumn was warm and dry, and an already meager snowpack melts earlier than expected. In such years, a greater soil moisture deficit must be overcome before the watershed can generate any runoff in spring.
Reduced streamflow can also have adverse impacts on water quality. Reduced runoff means less fresh water available to dilute naturally-occurring salts eroded from upstream areas, resulting in higher salinity in both surface waters and agricultural soils. Hotter, drier conditions over a greater percentage of the year mean less irrigation water available to flush salts that accumulate from the soil. Increased soil and surface water salinity constitutes an existential threat to agriculture as well as an economic liability (in terms of damage to piping, drains, and other infrastructure).
These impacts can be mitigated with careful planning that takes this delicate balance of factors into account, such as coordinated facility management to minimize adverse impacts to all users or funding agreements designed to address the damage caused by excess salinity. Greater cross-border collaboration among MENA countries is essential if stakeholders hope to maximize the delivery potential of the water resources projects in which they have already invested so heavily.
Orestes Morfín is a senior planning analyst with the Central Arizona Water Conservation District and a non-resident scholar with MEI’s Climate and Water Program. The views expressed in this piece are his own.
Solar Appreciation Day 2022: Here’re Some Unique Use of Solar Technologies Worldwide to Combat Energy Crisis
India’s budget for FY2022-23 clearly highlights the country’s priority to double down for ‘green’ and renewable energy, particularly solar, to combat climate change and meet the emission reduction targets set for 2030.
Moreover, as the Ukraine-Russia war continues, coal and natural gas prices are surging sharply across the globe. With the soaring power bills, several European and Asian countries are seeking alternatives to Russian supplies. And using technologies based on solar energy is a comparative quick fix to the energy crisis.
Meanwhile, Solar Appreciation Day 2022 is here, which is celebrated globally on every second Friday of March. The day has become all the more significant amid the ongoing climate and energy crisis. On this day, here are some unique solar technologies that demonstrate the immense potential of solar technologies to address the needs of the modern world.
Solar trolley invented by a farmer from Haryana
Pradeep Kumar, a farmer from Haryana, has built a mobile solar plant with panels mounted on a trolley that can be moved on demand. The trolley is custom made as per the user’s requirements.
In an interview with The Better India, Pradeep said, “the devices come in two sizes and carry solar panels which provide electricity of 2 HP and 10 HP. The trolley can also be mounted to the back of a tractor and has sturdy wheels that allow it to move over uneven surfaces.”
The cost-effective technology has benefitted over 2000 farmers so far.
Bihar’s floating solar power plant
The Mithila region in North Bihar is called the ‘Land of Ponds’ and is taking complete advantage of its gift. A floating solar plant is set to be commissioned in the region, consisting of 4,004 solar modules. Each module lodged in a pond can generate 505-megawatt peak (MWp) electricity and nearly 2 MW of green and clean energy. The plant can supply electricity to 10,000 people in the state.
The main benefit of a floating solar power plant is that the water cools the solar panels, ensuring their efficiency when temperatures rise, resulting in increased power generation. It also minimises evoporation of freshwater and aids fishery.
This innovation has hit two birds with one stone: producing green energy from solar panels and promoting fish farming underwater.
South Korea’s solar shade
In South Korea, a highway runs between Daejon and Sejong and its entire bike lane on the 32 km stretch is covered with solar roof panels. Not only do they generate sufficient electricity, but they also isolate cyclists from traffic and protect them from the sun.
The two-way bike lane is constructed right in the middle of the road, while there are three other lanes for vehicles to travel on either side. This also obstructs the high beam lights of oncoming cars.
Using the technology, the country can intern produce clean, renewable energy.
Solar-powered desalination technique by Chinese and American researchers
Desalination process is considered to be among the most energy-intensive activities. Now researchers have developed a solar desalination process that can treat contaminated water and generate steam for sterilizing medical instruments without requiring any power source other than sunlight itself.
The design includes a dark material that absorbs the sun’s heat and a thin water layer above a perforated material that sits atop a deep reservoir of salty water such as a tank or a pond. The holes allow for a natural convective circulation between the warmer upper layer of water and the colder reservoir below and draw the salt from the water.
Not only is the solar-powered desalination method efficient but also highly cost-effective.
Saudi Arabia’s goal of sustainable development using solar technology
Dry-climate arid regions are prone to droughts and often face water scarcity. While local food production would have been a distant dream for countries that host mostly deserts, scientists in Saudi Arabia have developed a unique solution using solar technology.
In an experiment, they designed a solar-driven system that could successfully cultivate spinach using water drawn from the air while producing electricity. This proof-of-concept design has demonstrated a sustainable, low-cost strategy to improve food and water security for people living in dry-climate regions.
“Our goal is to create an integrated system of clean energy, water, and food production, especially the water-creation part in our design, which sets us apart from current agrophotovoltaics,” says senior researcher Peng Wang.
Key considerations for project owners in the construction of design-led projects in Saudi Arabia
A number of iconic, large-scale construction projects are currently in development as part of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 − an ambitious strategic blueprint for the creation of a more diverse and sustainable economy in the country. Amongst the most ambitious projects is a US$500 billion mega-city that is set to span approximately 27,000 km². Qiddiya Entertainment City is expected to be the world’s largest entertainment city, at almost 370 km², and the ultra-luxury Amaala project is planned to serve as a leading destination for wellness, arts and culture. A series of major projects have been announced at Al Ula – an ancient city of historical and archaeological significance. The scale, complexity and uniqueness of many of these projects give rise to important practical, legal and contractual considerations for project developers.
For many projects currently being planned or undertaken in Saudi Arabia, it is cutting-edge design and bold architectural vision that are of paramount importance. For example, for the hyper-connected city called “the Line”, the conceptual power of the project lies in the linear design of the city. At the Sharaan resort in Al Ula, designed by the renowned architect Jean Nouvel (designer of the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the National Museum of Qatar), the aesthetic profundity of ancient Nabatean culture is a crucial component of the project’s architectural concept, aimed at bringing to life a strong spatial, sensorial and emotional experience for those who visit. Similar considerations apply to a number of other developments that are currently planned or under development, such as at Diriyah, where the key design imperatives revolve around maintaining the Najdi heritage and architectural style.
The fundamental importance of design aesthetics for such projects may have a significant impact on the procurement strategies of project owners and the provisions they may seek to include in the construction contracts for these projects. For example, where design aesthetics are of paramount importance, project owners may look to exert more control and oversight over design elements than in the contracting arrangements for a typical EPC or turnkey project (in which functionality often takes precedence and aesthetic considerations do not usually feature as prominently).
From a procurement perspective, this may encourage project owners to move away from design and build contracting in favour of a traditional procurement strategy whereby the owner appoints specialist designers directly to develop and finalize the design of the project prior to embarking on the construction phase. Such an arrangement allows the project owner the right to tender for and appoint a designer of its choice on contractual terms that it dictates, and to enter into a direct contract with such designer, allowing the project owner direct contractual recourse to and oversight of the development of the design. This in turn ensures that the project owner has the opportunity to review, comment on and approve all designs for the project before construction commences. In such a scenario, the approved designs would typically be provided to one or many construction contractors, who would build the project in accordance with the design under a standalone construct-only contract (such as the FIDIC Red Book).
However, such a contracting arrangement is not without risk. As is well known, project owners and third party lenders often tend to favour a single contractor assuming “single point” responsibility for the design, procurement and construction of a project. The splitting of design and construction elements of the works across separate contract packages represents a move away from single point responsibility which may, for example, make it more difficult to resolve responsibility for defects in the works should they arise (as a contractor may seek to blame defects in the works on defective design and vice versa). In addition, where design and construction elements are split, the works will likely need to proceed sequentially, with construction only commencing following substantial completion of the design, giving rise to longer completion timelines for the project.
For these reasons, project owners may prefer to adopt a design and build contracting strategy. If this is the case, to ensure that the design and build contract allows the project owner appropriate control over the design of the project, the project owner may consider including certain provisions in the design and build contract, including: (i) detailed design review and approval rights for the project owner covering both the identity of the design sub-consultants for the project and the designs developed by such sub-consultants, (ii) allowing the project owner direct recourse against any design sub-consultants (for example, via inclusion of subcontractor collateral warranties or third party rights agreements) and/or (iii) the option for the project owner to appoint the design consultant (either directly, followed by a novation of such design consultancy agreements to the design and build contractor − similar to the strategy used for procurement of long-lead items (as discussed below), or as a nominated subcontractor) to allow the contractor to “wrap” the design risk.
While this approach may appear to combine many of the benefits of single-point responsibility and traditional procurement, it is likely to result in a higher overall CAPEX for the project (as a design and build contractor is likely to charge a premium for assuming design risk, particularly where the project owner is heavily involved in the design process and decision-making) and may be met by resistance from design and build contractors. Therefore, project owners will need to weigh up the relative merits of each approach and adopt the most advantageous approach on a case-by-case basis.
The design elements of a project often involve items or materials with long-lead times. For example, for new developments in the desert that require landscaping, plants and trees may need to mature for years before being planted at the site. So as to ensure timely installation of these components, a project owner may look to enter into contracts with suppliers for the supply of the long-lead items early on in the project lifecycle, and before the appointment of the main contractor. In order to ensure single point responsibility, the project owner may then consider novating the supply contracts to the main design and build contractor once the main contractor has been appointed, with the main contractor taking contractual responsibility for managing those supply contracts. Such an approach avoids the need for the project owner to wait until the appointment of the main contractor for progress to be made on the procurement of long-lead items. This is likely to save time and cost, and gives the project owner greater control over important components of the design.
Fossils, Antiquities and Artefacts
When, as is the case for projects in Al Ula, the development is on previously undeveloped sites of historical significance, careful consideration should be given to how the discovery of fossils, antiquities and artefacts will be dealt with. The typical contractual regime in respect of fossils, articles of antiquity and other items of geological or archaeological interest in standard form contracts such as FIDIC require the contractor to comply with all applicable laws and the directions of the project owner, and usually require that any such items found on the site should be placed under the care of the project owner. It is common to see the contractor placed under a contractual obligation to ensure that its personnel and subcontractors do not remove or damage any such findings. The contractor may be required, upon discovery of such items, to give prompt notice to the project owner (who will then issue instructions to the contractor for dealing with the items, and the contractor may be entitled to claim relief for complying with such instructions). In addition, fossils and artefacts discovered on site in Saudi Arabia may fall within the jurisdiction of the relevant government authority, such that the discovery of an artefact on site may require the contractor to notify government bodies in order to comply with applicable laws.
The projects referred to in this article are so large in scale that they will likely all involve a numerous contract packages, as well as various contractors and subcontractors (each potentially responsible for distinct but interconnected design components). The engagement of multiple contractors on numerous contract packages gives rise to a need for the proper anticipation of project interfaces and the correct sequencing of working methods. The careful consideration of how those interfaces are to be managed so to avoid clashes and delay during the construction phase of the works is therefore essential for the successful completion of these projects.
Contracting in the era of COVID-19
COVID-19 continues to impact construction projects in the region and around the world. There are a number of key considerations that project owners may wish to consider as part of their contracting strategy to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 claims. Project owners may, for example, wish to give careful consideration to the supply chain management of potential contractors at bid stage, to minimise the likelihood of disruption as a result of COVID-19, and to pre-agree a contractual regime and relief entitlement for COVID-19 related claims. Such considerations are discussed in more detail in the following article: COVID-19: Considerations for Future Construction Contracts.
Given the scale of the projects referred to above, the conceptual uniqueness of each project, and the unprecedented ambition of project owners, the specific contracting requirements differ across each design-led project, and are also likely to evolve over time. Careful consideration of these changing requirements, and the prompt implementation of contractual arrangements in response to them, will play an important role in ensuring the successful completion of projects that will push the boundaries of architectural design – both regionally and internationally..
Amr Al Madani, Chief Executive Officer, Al-Ula, elaborating in this WEF article on what can ancient wisdom teach us about sustainability, reaches a conclusion that is integrated sustainability means not only integrating the economy with nature and society but also integrating the past with the present, the present with the future, and technology with culture.
The main points are :
Integrated sustainability means using past, present and future techniques on projects that respect both nature and society, and technology and local culture.
Projects like Al-Ula’s Cultural Oasis in Saudi Arabia are trying to integrate lessons from the past to create a more sustainable future for areas in need of development.
These ancient techniques are being updated with new technology and innovative thinking to address sustainability issues such as desertification.
Sustainability is often viewed through a futuristic prism, yet what we often miss is that ancient wisdom can hold important lessons. The struggle to be more sustainable is a relatively new phenomenon, but inspiration can be drawn from ancient farming and water management techniques. Innovation and technology can help us adapt these techniques to meet our present-day needs.
Situated in the northwest corner of Saudi Arabia, the Al-Ula valley has seen at least 200,000 years of human history. One of the reasons people gathered here for millennia was because of the relative abundance of water in an otherwise arid environment. When long-term climate patterns meant less rainfall from the 5th millennium B.C., however, our ancestors in Al-Ula had to find ways to use this resource with minimal waste.
First, they dug wells. Then they developed an ingenious technique called qanat. Fortunately, Abdullah Nasif, an Al-Ula native and professor of archaeology at King Saud University, collected information on the qanat in the 1970s before their abandonment.
The technique involves digging a well at an elevated point in the landscape where the water table is easily reached, such as the base of a hill. Then, using a row of vertical shafts for access, digging an underground horizontal channel leading to settlements and fields at lower ground. Gravity is the channel’s engine.
Integrated sustainability means not only integrating the economy with nature and society but also integrating the past with the present, the present with the future, and technology with culture.
This point was made by William McDonough, a pioneer in this area, during the April 2021 session of Crossroads – a discussion forum that brings together industry leaders in art, nature, culture, tourism and heritage.
The important thing is to see this whole set of issues as a kind of ecosystem and organism. It’s important because everything affects everything else, and the benefits are tremendous.—William McDonough, Architect and Sustainable Development Expert
Al-Ula’s commitment to integrated sustainability is outlined in the Al-Ula Sustainability Charter. Its 12 principles guide Al-Ula’s development to create a new path focused on protection and preservation. The charter sets out an innovative and integrated approach that marks a shift from responsible development to sustainable development.
Key elements include:
A zero-carbon policy supported by circular economy principles (net carbon-neutral by 2035 for local emissions, excluding air travel and food imports).
Increasing the share of renewables for water heating and power generation.
Cradle-to-cradle solutions to expand on the use, recovery and reuse of safe and healthy products and materials.
An inclusivity framework which ensures that Al-Ula’s people, as the guardians of ancestral values, techniques, and traditions, are central to the long-term success of Al-Ula’s development as primary beneficiaries and partners.
Infrastructure agreements signed in October 2021 with infrastructure firm AECOM and the French consortium Egis, further this commitment to sustainability and community inclusion. For example, AECOM’s Sustainable Legacies strategy will work hand-in-glove with Al-Ula’s Sustainability Charter.
The Al-Ula Sustainability charter sets out an innovative and integrated approach that marks a shift from responsible development to sustainable development.—Amr Al Madani, Royal Commission for Al-Ula
Creating a sustainability oasis
One of our flagship projects, the Cultural Oasis, is a prime example of converting the charter into action. The project aspires to revive Al-Ula’s legacy as a prosperous agricultural heartland where for centuries farmers grew oranges, lemons, figs, pomegranates, chickpeas, barley and wheat. Our research shows that the advent of modern farming methods in the 20th century caused the water table to descend, greatly reducing the scale of farming.
Research and innovative solutions will rehabilitate the land and reverse desertification of the area. The Royal Commission for Al-Ula has already started to deliver programmes as part of the Cultural Oasis project, including wadi clean-up; the Orange Path project, where guests can walk through a natural setting to a citrus market; the Incense Road Market activation; and the Madrasat AdDeera (Al-Ula Arts and Design Centre) programme, which promotes the production of local handicrafts.
Part of an integrated approach means ensuring the community is on board and actively seeing the benefits of implementing more sustainable agricultural and environmental practices.—Amr Al Madani, Royal Commission for Al-Ula
Integrating the community
Part of an integrated approach means ensuring the community is on board and actively seeing the benefits of implementing more sustainable agricultural and environmental practices. In this regard, economic sustainability is critical. For many years, Al-Ula has had a stubbornly high unemployment rate (44.9% in 2019, for example, according to figures from the Kingdom’s General Authority for Statistics). Advancing sustainable practices can be challenging as a result, particularly if people believe there will be a cost to their livelihoods.
In Al-Ula, our approach works on all fronts to deliver a balanced approach to sustainability and we have already seen the first shoots of growth. According to Saudi Central Bank data, point of sale transactions in Al-Ula County have risen from 0.86 million in 2018 to 5.22 million in 2020, and value-added tax collections during the same time span have risen from 21.9 million riyals ($5.5 million) to 45.3 million riyals ($12 million), according to the General Authority of Zakat & Tax.
By 2035, our target is that Al-Ula will have two million visitors a year, will have made a cumulative contribution of 120 billion riyals ($32 billion) to Saudi GDP, and created 38,000 jobs. These goals are ambitious, yet achievable. And the ripple effects on environmental and social sustainability will surely follow.
New figures from GlobalData show that the construction sector in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is healthier than in most other regions and is continuing to improve.
The MENA region has received an overall score of 0.87 in GlobalData’s January 2022 Construction Project Momentum Index, which provides an assessment of the health of the construction project pipeline at all stages of development from announcement through to completion.
Every construction project in GlobalData’s database is assigned a score of between 5 and -5 based on its current progress, a score that is continually updated over time. These are then weighted by the value of each project in order to arrive at overall scores for countries, regions and sectors.
That score puts the MENA region in third place out of 11 regions, and is an increase on its score from December 2021 (0.62) when it ranked in seventh place.
One reason for the region’s relatively good performance in the index is its energy and utilities sector, which scores 1.21, putting it in first place out of 11 regions worldwide.
The MENA region’s institutional sector, by contrast, has performed somewhat worse, with a score of 0.48 (putting it in ninth place globally).
Within the MENA region, construction projects are proceeding with fewest obstacles in Qatar, which scores 2.15 in the index. The situation in Oman, however, is somewhat less positive, with a score of -0.02.
The improving health of the construction pipeline in the MENA region is partly due to the resolution of issues in the region’s energy and utilities sector, which has seen its score in GlobalData’s Construction Project Momentum Index move from 0.51 in December 2021 to 1.21 in January 2022.
The construction sector is also seeing fewer and fewer problems in Qatar, which has seen its score on the index go from 1.07 in December 2021 to 2.15 in January 2022.
The Construction Project Momentum Index
GlobalData’s Construction Project Momentum Index is based on analysis of thousands of individual construction projects around the world.
Each project is continually monitored for updates, with updates indicating progress increasing the project’s score, while updates indicating delays or cancellations reduce the score. The score always sits between 5, the best possible score, and -5, the worst.
The scores for individual projects are then weighted based on their significance in order to create combined indices for each region or sector.
Events that can reduce a project’s score include the project being cancelled or put on hold, delays, the rejection of applications or tender bids, or the reduction of the project’s scope.
Events that can increase a project’s score in the index, by contrast, include the completion or commencement of construction, the awarding of major contracts, or the approval of applications.
Ben van der Merwe is a data journalist at GlobalData Media, specialising in FDI. He joined from the Reach Data Unit, where he was a fellow of the Google News Initiative. His investigative journalism has previously appeared in the Observer, VICE, Private Eye and New Statesman.
The top featured image is for illustration and is credit to InvestorMonitor
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