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.
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
Oman reinforces commitment to sustainable development; set to organise Oman Sustainability Week in March
Muscat: Acknowledging the need for sustainable development to achieve economic growth, attain social inclusion and protect the country’s environment, the Sultanate has been committed to the principles of sustainability and has spearheaded innovative programs that advocate its quintessential role in the development of the country.
In a recent press conference organised on January 31, 2022 at Crowne Plaza Qurum, Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), CONNECT (Oman Exhibitions Organizing Company LLC), in partnership with Oman Environmental Services Holding Company (be’ah) and the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) announced the dates for the Oman Sustainability Week (OSW) event to be organized under the Ministry of Energy and Minerals. A national-level event dedicated to sustainability, OSW will be hosted under the patronage of His Highness Sayyid Theyazin bin Haitham Al Said who will inaugurate the week on March 14, 2022, at the Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre.
The press conference highlighted the role of sustainable development and Oman’s stance in the matter and also featured distinguished panelists including Abdul-Amir Ajmi Al Ajmi, External Affairs and Value Creation Director at PDO, Dr. Mohab Al Hinai, Head of Center for Sustainability and Circular Economy, be’ah, Chokri Ben Amor, Committee Chairperson of the Gaia Summit, Muhanad Al Kiyumi, Business Partner – CEO Alternative Energy from OQ, Ghada Al Yousef, Executive Manager of Nama Group and Malak Al-Shaibani, External Relations Country General Manager of Shell Development Oman.
“Sustainable development is not a choice but a prerequisite for development. It is essential that we strike the right balance between economic growth and conservation of our environment,” said Mr. Al Ajmi. “In line with the goals laid out in Oman Vision 2040 to achieve a developed, diversified, and sustainable national economy, there has been an immense concentration on the efficient utilization of technology and optimization of resources to ensure a sustainable approach to increasing consumption and GDP. Strategic national events like OSW will reinforce sustainable development as a key feature of governance and highlight its critical role in the diversification of the economy. With several projects already underway, Oman has been dedicated to achieving a green economy through green strategies and renewable energy production.”
Aligning itself to the UN Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) and engaging the national development stakeholders to present Oman as a model for sustainable development, the week-long event will comprise of an exhibition, conference, thought leadership summit, site visits, and awards. While the Oman Sustainability Week Expo will showcase an exhibition featuring the latest sustainability technologies, solutions, and initiatives from across the world, the International Sustainability Resources and Technology Conference (ISRTC), which is set to be held from 14 to 16 March, will connect local and global stakeholders to foster constructive debate and enhance cross-collaboration. The C-level thought leadership, Gaia Summit, will be scheduled from 13 to 14 March, and the OSW site visits on the final day of the week will offer attendees an opportunity to visit projects that are at the forefront of building a sustainable environment across the country. Meanwhile, the OSW Awards, which is slated to be held on 13 March, will honor the vital contributions to sustainability that have helped businesses to set themselves apart from competitors.
OSW foresees the active participation of over 100 companies from more than 20 countries and the attendance of 5,000 individuals, including industry stakeholders, policymakers, sustainability experts, and industry leaders from Oman, the wider GCC, and other parts of the world. In accordance with the prevalent COVID-19 situation, all protocols will be adhered to during the course of the event including maintaining a 50% capacity, temperature checks, proof of vaccination, and the wearing of face masks.
In line with Oman’s National Energy Strategy and to achieve the country’s sustainability goals of building a green and circular economy that addresses national needs and moves consistently with the global trends, OSW will further encourage energy independence, generation of revenues from non-traditional natural resources, and innovation in infrastructure to produce affordable and clean energy for the protection of the climate and environment.
Mohammed Al Harthy, Executive Vice President – Strategic Development, be’ah said, “be’ah and sustainability initiatives go hand-in-hand. It is an honor for be’ah to be part of the OSW, which is a platform to learn, share, and educate as Oman takes a bigger and more determined stride towards a sustainable future.”
With PDO, be’ah, Nama and OQ acting as Strategy Partners of the event, OSW will reaffirm the Sultanate’s position on the global map as a country that prioritizes, incorporates and advocates sustainability in all its initiatives
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