It is attended by delegates from 196 countries, about 500 representatives of the European Union, civil societies, and academia.
At the plenary session, the Chairperson of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis Tanzila Narbayeva read out the address from President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev to the event participants.
As noted in the address, Uzbekistan and the entire Central Asian region are fully aware of the negative consequences of climate change in the form of social and environmental problems.
“Today, we are almost alone fighting the devastating consequences of the global catastrophe of the Aral Sea, which is disappearing before the eyes of one generation. All these threats and many other factors directly affect the well-being and health of the population not only in our region, but throughout the world, which requires even greater consolidation and strengthening of partnerships to achieve the key Sustainable Development Goals.
I count on the strong support of the international expert community for Uzbekistan’s initiative to adopt the Samarkand Declaration on Sand and Dust Storms following the current session”, said Shavkat Mirziyoyev in his welcoming address.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres also sent a message to the forum participants. It was read out by the UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the UNCCD Ibrahim Thiaw.
The UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the UNCCD Ibrahim Thiaw, the Minister of Ecology, Environmental Protection and Climate Change of the Republic of Uzbekistan Aziz Abdukhakimov, and representatives of various regions addressed the plenary session.
In the afternoon, the session continued its work in several directions. During these events, the implementation of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification was reviewed. The international forum continues.
The above-featured image is for illustration and is to Credit: Sahara Forest Project
Long-term satellite data shows a significant cooling effect of vegetation on land surface temperature.
The searing heat of the Arabian Peninsula translates to a population vulnerable to heat stress. As temperatures continue to rise, effective strategies are urgently needed to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change in the region.
A promising approach is the greening of dry areas, which has been shown to modify the surface climate in several regions. Monitoring the impact of vegetation on surface temperature is important, as KAUST climatologist Matteo Zampieri explains.
“As vegetation absorbs more solar energy compared to the desert, it reduces the reflectivity (albedo) of the land surface. This in turn increases the temperature of the land surface in water limited areas. So, the balance between increased evapotranspiration and reduced albedo compared to the bare soil determines the outcome of greening efforts,” he says.
“The outcomes may vary, based on the availability of water for plants as well as specific physiological processes of drought adapted plant species. While some instances of desert greening may lead to surface cooling, others can actually result in surface warming,” Zampieri warns.
To investigate the effects of managed vegetation, the researchers used satellite data to compare the surface temperature differences between planted areas and bare soil at five sites representing Saudi Arabia’s main agricultural regions. They also used a site at Al-Qirw with a mix of vegetation maintained by pivot irrigation. They analyzed the data at Al-Qirw, where temperature differences between vegetated and bare soil are not influenced by differences in elevation.
The satellite data were used to generate statistics on a daily basis, which showed the changes in average temperature over green areas and the effect of vegetation on temperature variability.
A normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) was used as an indicator of the presence and vigor of vegetation and the land surface temperature (LST) during day and night was used to estimate the effects of vegetation on the surface climate.
At Al-Qirw, the annual mean LST differed considerably between the planted areas and bare soil. Between 2010 and 2017, the daytime LST was about 4 degrees Celsius cooler inside the area covered by vegetation compared to the surrounding bare soil.
On hotter days, vegetation provides an extra cooling effect. These results corresponded with an increase in the NDVI in the vegetated area. After 2017, the NDVI suddenly decreased and the cooling effect in Al-Qirw vanished, possibly related to water management sustainability.
Leader of the research team KAUST’s Ibrahim Hoteit says the study supports other evidence that establishing vegetation and effective water management practices mitigates high temperatures in arid regions.
“Our study shows that managed vegetation plays a crucial role in mitigating the impacts of climate change, especially heat waves,” he says.
“However, it also highlights the importance of sustainability factors because the collapse of vegetation can diminish the cooling effect and accelerate local warming trends,” he warns.
Zampieri, M., Alkama, R., Luong, T., Ashok, K. & Hoteit, I. Managing vegetation for stronger cooling efficiency during hot days in the Arabian Peninsula. Ecological Indicators154, 110789 (2023).| article.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matteo Zampieri, Senior Researcher
In Ibrahim Hoteit‘s Red Sea Modeling and Prediction Group, Matteo is a principal investigator at the Climate Change Center (CCC) of KAUST where he coordinates the development of the sub-seasonal and seasonal forecasting systems and the investigations related to the Saudi and Middle East Green Initiatives.
This article reviews the prospects and challenges facing the agricultural sector in the world as per the recently rooted Greening trend that is increasingly prevalent worldwide. It is believed The Green Revolution is a warning, not a blueprint for feeding a hungry planet.
But where does the MENA region’s food come from? In the Middle East and North Africa region, the dominant concern of those petro-economies is their high and growing dependence on international markets for key staple food products, as arable land and water are not there or most obviously growing scarcer.
Feeding a growing world population has been a serious concern for decades, but today there are new causes for alarm. Floods, heat waves and other weather extremes are making agriculture increasingly precarious, especially in the Global South.
Amid these challenges, some organizations are renewing calls for a second Green Revolution, echoing the introduction in the 1960s and 1970s of supposedly high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice into developing countries, along with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Those efforts centered on India and other Asian countries; today, advocates focus on sub-Saharan Africa, where the original Green Revolution regime never took hold.
But anyone concerned with food production should be careful what they wish for. In recent years, a wave of new analysis has spurred a critical rethinking of what Green Revolution-style farming really means for food supplies and self-sufficiency.
There was a consensus in the 1960s among development officials and the public that an overpopulated Earth was heading toward catastrophe. Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 bestseller, “The Population Bomb,” famously predicted that nothing could stop “hundreds of millions” from starving in the 1970s.
India was the global poster child for this looming Malthusian disaster: Its population was booming, drought was ravaging its countryside and its imports of American wheat were climbing to levels that alarmed government officials in India and the U.S.
Then, in 1967, India began distributing new wheat varieties bred by Rockefeller Foundation plant biologist Norman Borlaug, along with high doses of chemical fertilizer. After famine failed to materialize, observers credited the new farming strategy with enabling India to feed itself.
The standard legend of India’s Green Revolution centers on two propositions. First, India faced a food crisis, with farms mired in tradition and unable to feed an exploding population; and second, Borlaug’s wheat seeds led to record harvests from 1968 on, replacing import dependence with food self-sufficiency.
Meanwhile, the government urged Indian farmers to grow nonfood export crops to earn foreign currency. They switched millions of acres from rice to jute production, and by the mid-1960s India was exporting agricultural products.
Borlaug’s miracle seeds were not inherently more productive than many Indian wheat varieties. Rather, they just responded more effectively to high doses of chemical fertilizer. But while India had abundant manure from its cows, it produced almost no chemical fertilizer. It had to start spending heavily to import and subsidize fertilizer.
India did see a wheat boom after 1967, but there is evidence that this expensive new input-intensive approach was not the main cause. Rather, the Indian government established a new policy of paying higher prices for wheat. Unsurprisingly, Indian farmers planted more wheat and less of other crops.
Once India’s 1965-67 drought ended and the Green Revolution began, wheat production sped up, while production trends in other crops like rice, maize and pulses slowed down. Net food grain production, which was much more crucial than wheat production alone, actually resumed at the same growth rate as before.
According to data from Indian economic and agricultural organizations, on the eve of the Green Revolution in 1965, Indian farmers needed 17 pounds (8 kilograms) of fertilizer to grow an average ton of food. By 1980, it took 96 pounds (44 kilograms). So, India replaced imports of wheat, which were virtually free food aid, with imports of fossil fuel-based fertilizer, paid for with precious international currency.
Today, India remains the world’s second-highest fertilizer importer, spending US$17.3 billion in 2022. Perversely, Green Revolution boosters call this extreme and expensive dependence “self-sufficiency.”
The toll of ‘green’ pollution
Recent research shows that the environmental costs of the Green Revolution are as severe as its economic impacts. One reason is that fertilizer use is astonishingly wasteful. Globally, only 17% of what is applied is taken up by plants and ultimately consumed as food. Most of the rest washes into waterways, where it creates algae blooms and dead zones that smother aquatic life. Producing and using fertilizer also generates copious greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
The Green Revolution still has many boosters today, especially among biotech companies that are eager to draw parallels between genetically engineered crops and Borlaug’s seeds. I agree that it offers important lessons about how to move forward with food production, but actual data tells a distinctly different story from the standard narrative. In my view, there are many ways to pursue less input-intensive agriculture that will be more sustainable in a world with an increasingly erratic climate.
Every country in the world faces water-related challenges, underscoring our collective dependence on the planet’s most vital resource. But instead of pursuing the systemic changes needed to address this crisis, the world’s governments are bowing to corporate interests and settling for insufficient incremental reforms.
LONDON – In March 1977, representatives from 116 countries gathered in Mar del Plata, Argentina, for the inaugural United Nations Water Conference. At the time, the event received very little attention. Global politics was dominated by a handful of powerful countries, most of them in temperate regions where water scarcity, severe pollution, and flooding were not considered major issues.
The atmosphere at this year’s UN Water Conference, which took place in New York in March, was markedly different. Instead of apathy, there was a palpable sense that the water crisis is a global problem. Today, every country in the world faces water-related challenges, underscoring our collective vulnerability as the planet’s most vital natural resource is increasingly threatened. The robust engagement of the scientific community and civil society was also instrumental in shedding light on the far-reaching consequences of this crisis.
Unsurprisingly, the countries that were most at risk in 1977 are even more vulnerable today. The reckless exploitation of the planet has accelerated humanity’s breach of planetary boundaries. The long-anticipated sea-level rise is now submerging vast areas, while deserts are expanding at an alarming rate as water sources diminish and aquifers become depleted. Meanwhile, pollutants from human waste, along with the byproducts of industrial activities, contaminate our rivers, lakes, and oceans. At a time of growing scarcity, our seemingly insatiable thirst for consumption has aggravated these trends.
The fact that some remain unaffected by this crisis attests to their privilege. While many experience environmental degradation on a spiritual level, some of the world’s poorest populations face immediate and tangible consequences as they try to adapt to rapidly changing conditions.
Much like the response to the climate crisis, the response to the water crisis suffers from a lack of global coordination and opposition from entrenched interests seeking to prevent crucial reforms. As the Indian environmental activist Vandana Shivaputs it, “When the rich, powerful, and dominant economic forces of society” exceed their fair share of Earth’s resources, “indigenous communities and minority groups are deprived of their share of water for life and livelihoods.” This, she writes, forces entire communities “to carry the heavy burden of water poverty.”
A recent petition proposed by prominent water-rights activist Rajendra Singh offers a potential path forward. Singh, chairman of the People’s World Commission on Drought and Flood, outlines ten critical transformations required to restore water harmony. By transcending anthropocentrism, his proposed pledge aims to rejuvenate the global water cycle and harness its immense power to promote the well-being of all living things.
At the heart of Singh’s pledge lies the bedrock principle of climate-oriented thinking: a complete system overhaul. This perspective views humanity as part of a much larger whole that encompasses the diverse species with which we share our planet. Instead of commodifying natural resources for profit and relentless consumption, this ethos encourages people to be mindful of the potential consequences of their actions and commit to repairing any damage they cause.
This raises three fundamental questions. First, what actions are required to address the global water crisis? Second, which key stakeholders must step up? Third, how can we ensure that these stakeholders implement vital systemic changes?
For too long, policymakers have emphasized minor changes in household consumption habits, thereby unfairly shifting the burden to families and communities whose contributions to the water crisis have been negligible. The root causes of water scarcity are large-scale industrial production, lack of attention to quality, and the failure to address rampant pollution. At the macro level, extractive industries and an economic system centered on profit maximization drive the increase in global temperatures, further disrupting water cycles.
While reducing household consumption is important, it pales in comparison to the potential impact of forcing corporations to adopt sustainable practices. But the increasingly symbiotic relationship between politics and big-business interests complicates this task. Instead of pursuing systemic changes, the world’s most powerful governments have opted for incremental reforms to create the appearance of commitment.
The recent UN Water Conference underscored the urgency of today’s crisis. If governments are unwilling or unable to pursue the necessary structural reforms, they must be replaced by political leaders with the vision and determination to overhaul the systems that jeopardize the natural resource sustaining all life on Earth.
Growing up in India, I observed the country’s relentless drive to catch up with wealthier economies. By investing in higher education, building roads and hospitals, and boosting economic growth through consumption and increased production, the thinking went, India could become richer and eliminate poverty. The mainstream education system frequently championed the commodification of nature, anthropocentric dominance, and extractivism. It revered the architects of our flawed economic system, treating their words as sacrosanct.
Indigenous communities have long warned that such “progress” was misguided, but they were dismissed as hidebound and out of touch with reality. As climate change disrupts water and food systems around the world, many now recognize the prescience of these warnings. Given that we might be the last generation capable of mitigating the worst effects of the water crisis, it is our responsibility to hold accountable those who are exploiting the planet for personal gain.
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The above image is for illustration and credit to Middle East Institute.
The Middle East and North Africa region is facing acute environmental degradation. A River Flows Downstream captures the lingering angst of ecological collapse through the lens of eight photographers from the region.
When the Middle East Institute, in partnership with Tribe Photo Magazine, invites eight photographers to collectively expose a brutalized nature in a new show in Washington DC, it’s hard not to succumb to eco-distress.
A River Flows Downstream curated by Roï Saade, centres ecological collapse – a reality hard-felt in the MENA region which is one of the most water-stressed areas in the world – and our gaze towards it.
“If the show’s title evokes the natural course of the water cycle – from cloud to river and sea – it also suggests a force that we can’t fight. In doing so, we fail to identify signs of hope and ways to apprehend an alternative to this accelerated decay”
We see the traces and evidence of this scarcity in Solmaz Daryani’s eerie series The eyes of the earth (2014-ongoing). In these photographs, the Iranian-born artist shows the changing, otherworldly landscape of a vanishing lake: Lake Urmia.
A highly saline body of water, the lake has rapidly shrunk from being one of the largest in the world to reaching an alarming status today, comprising of declining water levels, as well as red algae and bacteria proliferation.
Daryani, whose family used to own a hotel by Lake Urmia’s receding shore during the 1990s, has documented the strangeness of a place once so familiar and the many ways that people relate to this disappearance.
In Women swim in a shallow pond that is a remnant of Lake Urmia (2015), a woman bathes in the water. It could have been a holiday except that around her shallow water pool are salt and rocks, the remnants of former depths.
Her expression is one of bliss and stillness as if she’s experiencing something both sensual and spiritual. Despite this lyricism, the lake incarnates a sickly future and a radically altered local habitat.
Echoing with Daryani’s photograph of salt pillars (The stakes of a jetty covered in salt look like popsicles, 2014) is Reem Falaknaz’s The Tolerance of One Million Trees series (2016-2017) which captures isolated trees in an arid environment.
The trees are standing, against all odds, but their lifespan is uncertain. One imagines behind these singular shots a portrait of Emirati attempts made to combat desertification and sprawling urbanisation via afforestation. The trees are shaped by the wind and a cherished illusion that the desert can bloom.
While the region is commonly defined by such dry landscapes, sometimes warnings come from an excess of water, like a tap left open for too long. An unnatural abundance of water also threatens ecosystems that were once self-regulated.
For instance, the edification of dams has at times contributed to manipulating irrigation patterns while submerging villages and large swaths of cultural heritage.
It’s no exception in Türkiye, where photojournalist Emin Özmen directs his lens to the Atatürk Dam on the Euphrates river, part of the Southeastern Anatolia Project which includes dozens of other dams and hydroelectric power stations.
The impact of these mega-projects on people’s traditional livelihoods is immediately felt in The flock crosses Gerzan River, Turkey, Batman (2019).
There, sheep must swim to follow ancestral routes that were previously dry. The self-explanatory work The water level is rising in the reservoir lake of the Ilisu dam, near the mythical thousand-year-old caves of Hasankeyf, now totally submerged.
Hasankeyf (2020) bears witness to this physical and intangible destruction which transfixes our gaze like a form of sacrilege.
Zied Ben Romdhane’s Phosphate series (2014-2015) highlights the impact of the mining industry on southern Tunisian lives and its environment through the gripping, monochromatic lens of haunted vistas.
Phosphate contributes to 4% of Tunisia’s national wealth and it accounts for 15% of its exports. Yet Ben Romdhane’s landscapes are those of desolation. Concrete structures and corrugated material suggest an unfinished construction, an unsettling reality.
The show, which also includes works from Hoda Afshar, who captures the rituals and chromatic intensity of islands off the Strait of Hormuz, Paul Gorra’s unbearably obscene transformation of Beirut river into open-air sewage as yet another sign of neglect, as well as Roï Saade and Tamara Abdul Hadi’s visual travelogue in the dusty, drought-affected Iraqi lands that the Euphrates nourishes less and less, crucially leaves us to wonder: how can we reasonably adapt to all this?
The desaturated photographs suggest that we don’t; we fade, like expired film. While the artists individually underscore the man-made violence perpetuated against nature in their respective countries, together they sketch an irresistible march unfolding across an entire region – beyond site-specific concerns.
My latest offering for @The_NewArab tackles a topic close to my heart, the Mesopotamian Marshes, and how warfare and the climate crisis could see Iraqis in the south become climate refugees within our lifetimes 🇮🇶https://t.co/SV4yLZ412X
This is also what the poetic title of the exhibition suggests. For Zied Ben Romdhane, A River Flows Downstream resonates with the philosophy of flux proposed by ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, in which nothing is said to ever stay the same. “The world is in constant motion, unlike photography which captures a specific moment in time,” he told The New Arab, hoping for the show to trigger conversations.
Reflecting on his “Phosphate” series on display, Ben Romdhane also notes that in a decade, “nothing has changed except for a decrease in production and the daily shut down of the mines” in the Tunisian regions of Gabes and Gafsa.
If the show’s title evokes the natural course of the water cycle – from cloud to river and sea – it also suggests a force that we can’t fight. In doing so, we fail to identify signs of hope and ways to apprehend an alternative to this accelerated decay.
This lack of proposition embodies a parochial hopelessness, a further dispossession of our agency.
Saade sees the visual journey he presents as a “constellation of stories” that recalls “that water binds us together and that it’s key to our survival,” he told The New Arab. In some ways then, water is both a past and a future. Amongst so much strife and numbness, maybe it is our shared fate that ultimately unites people, we want to believe. But through this constellation, we collect more testimonies of fragmentation and despair.
Saade’s selection of long-term projects reinforces the value of deeply-researched, locally-rooted observations of these changing phenomena. Apart from Gorra’s Beirut photographs, other series date to several years ago. They signal ruminations and an obsession to probe, document, and bear witness.
These omens – often ignored until impossible to do so – haunt us in creating a new aesthetics, a metamorphosing, silent language for our collective resignation.
“A River Flows Downstream” is on show at the Middle East Institution in Washington DC through 13 October.
Farah Abdessamad is a New York City-based essayist/critic, from France and Tunisia.
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Earth has been used as a building material for at least the last 12,000 years. Ethnographic research into earth being used as an element of Aboriginal architecture in Australia suggests its use probably goes back much further.
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