Middle East needs region-wide plan to tackle climate change

Middle East needs region-wide plan to tackle climate change

Working together is the only effective way of handling the crisis – and it is a crisis, if not an emergency as per Chris Doyle. In this article where he explains why the Middle East needs a region-wide plan to tackle climate change. In fact, it is high time for all in the MENA region to get together and try to build a future of a better and cleaner environment.

Middle East needs region-wide plan to tackle climate change

The picture above is for illustration and is of Routard.com

Middle East needs region-wide plan to tackle climate change
Sheep graze next to a dried out gulley usually flowing with spring water in the Palestinian village of Al-Auja, near Jericho, Mar. 7, 2014. (Reuters)

As western Canada and the northwestern US melt under a heat dome and as record temperatures are recorded in the Arctic, the climate change deniers should be in full retreat. The scientific evidence is overwhelming that man-made climate change is occurring and that the consequences are serious and global. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, the global average temperature has increased by more than 1 degree Celsius.

But what about the Middle East and North Africa region? It too has recorded record temperatures in recent years, rendering certain areas almost uninhabitable. This year, the mercury hit 49 C earlier than ever before. Iran and Iraq have suffered electricity blackouts in this summer heat. Climate change and environmental degradation bring with them huge challenges, from rising sea levels and the salinization of coastal areas to desertification, dust storms, and water and air pollution. The Arab world is home to a third of the world’s deserts and these areas are growing, with land degradation a serious threat to many countries that are reliant on agriculture.

Issues relating to the environment have featured in protest movements, notably in Iraq and Lebanon. The water in Basra is dangerously contaminated and toxic, so much so that 118,000 people suffered from poisoning in September 2018. Among the contaminants are depleted uranium munitions from earlier wars, as well as industrial and oil pollutants. And everyone remembers Lebanon’s great garbage crisis, which started in 2015, while even today waste is regularly burned in the open air, releasing yet more dangerous toxins.
The Middle East remains the most water-stressed region in the world. Unsustainable groundwater extraction has led to massive stresses on water, even without climate change. Every single country in the region is experiencing a decline in groundwater reserves, not least Iraq, Kuwait, Syria and Lebanon. Turkey is enduring its worst drought in a decade. None of this is made any easier by huge increases in population, which is arguably a bigger factor in water stress than climate change.

Dams have ensured massive flow reduction in major rivers including the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates. This has altered the whole hydrological map of these great river basins. Both the Syrian regime and the Syrian Democratic Forces have blamed Turkey for a huge decline in the flow of the Euphrates, which has led to electricity cuts, an increase in the levels of salinity and pollutants, and a reduction in fish stocks.

Academics have debated the likelihood of water wars for years. The reality is that water stress and climate change have not yet caused conflicts, but they have exacerbated them. Many argue that a drought in Syria caused the uprising in 2011, but it was merely a catalyst. The overwhelming cause remains the actions of the Syrian regime, including its brutality and corruption.

But what will happen in the Nile Delta, which is home to two-thirds of Egypt’s population? The city of Alexandria is sinking and the Nile Delta is shrinking. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change determined that it was of the three areas on the planet most vulnerable to a rise in sea levels.

There are also smaller impacts that hit specific areas. In Lebanon, the western conifer seed bug, native to the US, has flourished due to climate change and has devastated the pine seed industry.

Renewables are vital. Solar energy offers major opportunities to a country like Jordan, which imports about 97 percent of its energy needs. The regret is that the Middle East, perhaps overconfident in its hydrocarbon wealth, did not invest in solar back in the 1990s, when it could have played a leading role in solar technology. The dividends would have been immense. That said, investment in renewables is progressing now. Many oil-producing states hope to use renewables to satisfy domestic power consumption, enabling them to export more oil and gas. According to one Finnish study, Saudi Arabia could transition to be powered only by renewables as early as 2040. Morocco, which imports 90 percent of its energy needs, has also invested in wind technology. By 2030, renewables should make up more than 30 percent of its power production. Energy storage will be a vital hurdle to clear.

As with most areas of the world, the accusation that state and regional authorities have been slow to act carries significant weight. Certain states have acted individually, but not as a collective. Just like when fighting the pandemic, this is the only effective way of handling the crisis — and it is a crisis, if not an emergency.

Working together is the only effective way of handling the crisis — and it is a crisis, if not an emergency.

Chris Doyle

Middle Eastern states need to work harder on investing in their own technologies. They need to cooperate to be effective, as climate change knows no borders. So far, despite expressed intentions, Middle Eastern states have acted on their own, not as part of a regional plan. They could start by improving scientific and technical cooperation, as well as information sharing. They could also adopt better water management systems and end wasteful approaches that effectively subsidize the cost of water. They could challenge the dangerous levels of overgrazing and deforestation that assist the process of desertification.

Planning for and mitigating climate change is also vital. What happens when conditions lead to large movements of people, away from coastal regions that are under threat, for example? Without any planning, this will lead to social disorder, chaos and bloodshed.

But Middle Eastern states should also expect, as with the pandemic, considerable assistance from the richer powers that, in this case, have done the most damage to the climate. Finance and technological expertise has to be shared. Let us hope that, at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow in November, a spirit of determined collective action can inspire a truly global response. The Middle East must not be left behind; in fact, it should be at the forefront of such actions.

  • Chris Doyle is director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding. Twitter: @Doylech
‘Gardening’ in the Arabian Gulf

‘Gardening’ in the Arabian Gulf

Qatar University‘s initiative of ‘Gardening’ in the Arabian Gulf could be considered an unprecedented one. It is looking a long way forward. In effect, life in the Gulf revolved around living off the natural resources of the surrounding sea. Wild pearl diving was for centuries one of the few means of earning life. Pearl grounds originally stretched on the eastern side of the Arabian peninsula from Kuwait to Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman. The very recent advent of oil and gas has changed all that. For good? One cannot help but think that things might get back to the way they were. In the meantime, Gardening in the Arabian Gulf might be taken as a strategic step that ultimate goal. Here is the story as published by THE.

The picture above is for illustration and is of Doha News.

‘Gardening’ in the Arabian Gulf

Qatar is making ambitious plans to reintroduce corals and counteract marine pollution with a new artificial reef

For Qatar, like much of the planet, climate change is an ever-present concern. As demand for urban expansion increases, the country’s construction industry is booming – causing inevitable tension between Qatar’s economic and environmental agendas.

'Gardening' in the Arabian Gulf

One area that has suffered dramatically is the Arabian Gulf’s natural coral reef. Common estimates suggest that just 2 per cent of coral life here has survived since humans began their development of the region.

But a bold new plan led by experts at Qatar University hopes to change this trajectory: the Mushroom Forest Artificial Reef is the brainchild of Bruno Welter Giraldes, research assistant professor of marine biology at the university’s Environmental Science Centre.

According to Dr Giraldes, it is “the systemic pattern of urban development in coastal areas” that is to blame for the reef’s decline. Unlike many of the planet’s reefs – which are threatened by rising sea temperatures as well as other climatic changes – the Arabian Peninsula has one of the only types of coral reef ecosystems able to survive high temperatures. Because of this, experts believe that the loss of marine life here is a direct consequence of pollution, overfishing and, in particular, coastal sedimentation spurred on by construction work along the coast.

“There can be no doubt that it has killed a lot of the corals,” says Dr Giraldes. “It’s possible our generation will see the total extinction of one ecosystem – which is why we have to find an alternative.”

Originally from Brazil, Dr Giraldes came up with the idea of the mushroom reef after becoming fascinated with an unusual coral formation called “chapeirões”, which grows off the Brazilian coastline.

“It is the only species that grows vertically, creating something like a Greek column,” he explains. “When they get nearer the surface, they spread laterally, creating a mushroom effect.”

Observing how these vertical corals behaved in nature gave Dr Giraldes the idea that such a structure could be created artificially to boost marine life in endangered waters such as those of the Arabian Gulf. With help from the Qatar University Internal Funding Programme, he now leads a three-year project worth $300,000 (£260,000) to help achieve that aim.

“What we are doing is biomimicry – we are taking an idea of something that already exists in nature in the hope that we can reintroduce marine life naturally,” he explains. “If we can create artificial structures that naturally adapt to the marine environment, with a bit of help, we can ‘farm’ marine life indoors before introducing them to artificial reefs – I call it ‘gardening’”, he says.

This approach to growing corals indoors has been tested successfully in different universities worldwide, including the Australian Institute of Marine Science, which has the indoor tanks and facilities required for large-scale observation. The sedimentation experiment in the Coastal Engineering laboratory at the University of Queensland in Australia “worked beautifully”, says Dr Giraldes, thanks mainly to the mushroom-shaped design. “Imagine a lot of mushrooms together – they create one forest of mushrooms that can be deployed together, connected in the base. The water current moves horizontally, close to the bottom, isolating the coral habitat away from the sedimentation.”

While there are other artificial reef designs in the market, it is only his iconic vertical design that can withstand currents carrying sediment along the seabed, Dr Giraldes explains. “Most artificial reefs are fine when used close to natural coral reefs that already exist; but if you want to increase the habitat by starting from scratch in a soft, sandy bottom, this new artificial reef with a large base can ‘float’ above the sediment so that corals don’t sink or disappear, buried by sediment.”

To start such a project from so little is a huge challenge. Right now, there can be no guarantee that pollution won’t overcome the marine life eventually, should the current level of construction continue. But any attempt to reintroduce coral life is important, says Dr Giraldes, not only to protect the existing endangered reef but also for ecological balance and security.

“In Brazil, when we destroyed the forest, it increased dengue fever and other threats to humans,” he says. “In the case of the coral reef here, we’ve already caused an imbalance, where some animals are dying and others, which are harmful to humans, are increasing in numbers.” It is an acknowledged phenomenon, for example, that growing populations of jellyfish “stalk” the Arabian Peninsula and interfere with water desalination plants – a resource that humans depend on heavily in desert countries such as Qatar.

But reintroducing coral reefs is just one part of Dr Giraldes’ master plan. “What I am proposing is not just the reef but an entire change in approach to the social and economic system,” he explains.

To truly protect the natural environment going forward, his research takes into account the varying priorities for industry, as well as what he calls “nature users” of many kinds. “We have several social companies that use the marine environment for tourism; we have divers, recreational and commercial fishing and artisan users…all of them contribute towards a society that uses this environment. So if we satisfy the population with their ordinary needs – enjoying the sea, having fun, fishing, doing what they are used to doing – then it works for us as a scientific and environmentalist group, too.”

By offering these businesses an alternative to the existing, exhausted natural reef, the natural reef can be helped in its recovery. But more than this, Dr Giraldes wants to make the artificial reefs an investment opportunity for businesses, including the construction industries that contributed to the death of the coral reef in the first place.

“Industrial developers and academia fight each other – and environmentalists are losing the war,” he says. “That’s why I’m sowing a seed for this new form of construction – it’s a new field that the industry can make money in.”

One construction company is already working with Qatar University to build the base structures for the new reef using a special kind of concrete designed by the researchers. “This probiotic concrete assimilates faster,” Dr Giraldes says. “The bacterial microorganism can get really close to the natural rock, fast, which avoids barnacles and unwanted growth, for example”.

By the end of the current project, Dr Giraldes hopes to have successfully installed a living reef in the Gulf, but also have a patented product that can be sold to governments around the world.

“As a scientist and a stakeholder in the university, I am giving society an alternative to make this restoration a profitable action for all,” he says.

For more information, please visit www.qu.edu.qa

Radical improvements are needed to eradicate illiteracy in the region

Radical improvements are needed to eradicate illiteracy in the region

ZAWYA published an article by Sara Al-Mulla on how illiteracy is still the dominant factor in the MENA region. It recommends notably no less than Radical improvements are needed to eradicate illiteracy in the region once and for all.

Radical improvements are needed to eradicate illiteracy in the region once and for all

The picture above is for illustration and is of the Gulf Times.

Radical improvements are needed to eradicate illiteracy in the region
Students learn the alphabet in a classroom of 12 women of different ages all eager to learn to read and write at the literacy centre of Umm al-Hareth secondary school on April 17, 2009 in Amman, Jordan.
Students learn the alphabet in a classroom of 12 women of different ages all eager to learn to read and write at the literacy centre of Umm al-Hareth secondary school on April 17, 2009, in Amman, Jordan. Getty Images By Sara Al-Mulla, Arab News

In today’s world, knowledge is deemed to be the key to progress; spearheading innovations in myriad futuristic sectors, commandeering global competitiveness and empowering people to live high-quality lives. Indeed, the true wealth of any nation lies in its human capital’s ability to thrive.

The Arab region has achieved great strides in the field of education in the past five decades, with the widespread establishment of schools, high enrolment rates and government support for students. Data from the World Bank demonstrates this remarkable progress, as the Arab region has lifted literacy rates from 43 percent in 1973 to 79 percent in 2019. Despite this phenomenal achievement, illiteracy remains a shortcoming in the region. It is estimated that about 50 million adults in the Arab world are illiterate today, limiting their roles as active members of their societies. These figures are aggravated by the 6 million children who have been forced out of school due to conflicts and poverty.

The calamity of illiteracy manifests itself in a number of threats. Without the basic tenets of communication, people could find themselves drastically limited in their life choices and their ability to carry out important daily tasks. For example, illiterate people are unable to examine a medicine label, read a bank statement, skim through the news, calculate a financial investment, understand government policies, or communicate with family and friends via mobile phones or online social networks.

Illiterate parents also tend to have lower expectations with regards to their children’s educational attainment, aggravating generational illiteracy. Dr. Bernadette Dwyer, a professor of literacy studies in education at Dublin City University, made a powerful statement in this regard: “Literacy permeates all areas of life, fundamentally shaping how we learn, work, and socialize. Literacy is essential to informed decision-making, personal empowerment, and community engagement.”

Illiteracy also costs the global economy an estimated $1.19 trillion annually in lost economic productivity, according to the World Literacy Foundation. Globally, illiterate people earn 30 to 42 percent less than those who are literate, severely limiting their capacity to thrive and access important goods and services, such as food, shelter, education, and healthcare services. Furthermore, illiteracy has been linked to unemployment or low-quality jobs, lower lifelong earnings, reduced access to professional development courses, poorer health outcomes, increased crime rates, lower civic participation and community involvement, lower feelings of self-worth, increased isolation, limited retirement savings, and welfare dependency.

In order to tackle the issue of illiteracy in the region, it is imperative that policymakers understand its root causes. Perhaps the greatest barrier to literacy is the rampant poverty rate in certain communities, where children are forced to work to help their families make ends meet. At the same time, low economic productivity in many Arab nations has limited public funding for schools and reduced financial support for families in the form of tuition subsidies and scholarships. Poverty has also worsened gender discrimination in many parts of the region, resulting in limited female enrolment in schools due to early marriage and pregnancy, violence or cultural norms about the role of women.

Additionally, deteriorating safety issues and raging conflicts have, in recent years, resulted in an exodus of children from schools. Another leading cause of illiteracy is the presence of children with learning disabilities or difficulties that go undetected or untreated. Special education is expensive to finance for families on their own, as they would need to pay for diagnostic tests, treatments, dedicated shadow teachers, and special resources.

Research shows that children living in rural areas are more likely to drop out of school compared to children in urban areas, as nearby schools are lacking. Other institutional aspects that undermine children’s ability to learn include unsatisfactory learning environments, overcrowded classrooms, shortages of trained teachers, unengaging school curricula, and insufficient learning resources.

As such, radical improvements are needed to eradicate illiteracy in the region once and for all. It is imperative that household data be captured to elucidate illiteracy rates according to geographical location, age group and gender. Additionally, such research should evaluate the root causes behind illiteracy so that appropriate policies and programs can be formulated to overcome these specific barriers.

Solutions could be designed based on the size of the cohorts, such as the establishment of modern schools to cater for large groups or individualized workshops that are tailored to the needs of small groups of learners. Enrolment can be encouraged by taking on local volunteers who can sign people up or via applications on online portals. Additionally, relevant and engaging educational curricula need to be designed to accommodate local workplace needs, in addition to the hiring of skilled teachers. For participants who are unable to attend school due to work or family responsibilities, one-on-one tutoring sessions could be facilitated on a weekly basis to meet their learning needs.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is the cultural attitude toward education. Nationwide grassroots and media campaigns can play an influential role in highlighting the priceless value of literacy and its beneficial effects on people’s lives, especially among cultures that have contradicting viewpoints on the subject. Furthermore, governments could partner with nonprofit and private sector organizations that dedicate their funds and efforts toward literacy programs.

Nations are today competing against one another in terms of their ability to transform knowledge into economic productivity and high-quality living for their citizens. Literacy is the key for Arab nations if they are to create a new renaissance period.

  • Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature. She can be contacted at http://www.amorelicious.com.
Construction is feeding a global sand crisis, says new study

Construction is feeding a global sand crisis, says new study

A growing global population increasingly living in cities has led to a spiralling rise in the extraction of sand and aggregates, with serious environmental, political and social consequences.

Sand and coarse aggregates form the backbone of the modern world and, through land reclamation, the ground on which we live, of the materials we take for granted: concrete, glass and asphalt. A point in case, Archinect News looking at Construction is feeding a global sand crisis, per a new study confirms it.

Construction is feeding a global sand crisis, says new study

By Niall Patrick Walsh 

Photo by Vlad Chețan from Pexels

A new scientific paper has warned of the looming environmental and social consequences of the world’s appetite for sand. The study, headed by Aurora Torres at Michigan State University’s fisheries and wildlife school, notes that the global demand for sand and gravel is set to double by 2060, driven by the construction and expansion of cities and infrastructure.

The study, published in the journal One Earth, notes that “sand, gravel, and crushed rock, together referred to as construction aggregates, are the [world’s] most extracted solid materials. Growing demand is damaging ecosystems, triggering social conflicts, and fueling concerns over sand scarcity. Balancing protection efforts and extraction to meet society’s needs requires designing sustainable pathways at a system level.”

In total, around 50 billion tons of sand, gravel, and crushed rock are used by humankind each year. As a key ingredient in the production of concrete and glass, sand plays an important role in the construction of almost every component of the built environment, from buildings and walls to bridges and tunnels.

Construction is feeding a global sand crisis, says new study
Extract from study: Global annual material extraction in 2011 and projected extraction for 2060. Adapted from OECD.

As a global shift from rural to urban areas continues, it is expected to that eight cities the size of New York will be built each year for the next thirty years. As a result, global use of sand, gravel, and crushed rock is set to dwarf the use of all other solid materials on Earth, hitting over 50 gigatons per year by 2060. Torres’ study also makes the ironic point that coastal responses to climate change, which will involve significant construction and upgrading of sea walls and flood defenses, will also contribute to an increased demand for sand mining.

Despite our reliance on sand, the global supply network is poorly regulated and managed, leading to a lack of data and understanding over the quantities and impact of the network on both the environment and social fabrics. To overcome this, the latest paper departs from its predecessors, which tended only to focus on excavation sites, and instead undertook a broader overview of the network. “We take a broad look at the physical and socio-environmental dimensions of sand supply networks,” Torres told Gizmodo, “linking extraction, logistics, distribution, economics, policy, to gain an understanding of the stresses on both nature and people.”

Construction is feeding a global sand crisis, says new study
Extract from study: The global construction aggregates system represented as a generalized qualitative material flow analysis system

The paper sets out some of the environmental and social hazards associated with the sand supply network as it exists today. For example, sand mining can lead to riverbed collapse and increased erosion along coastal settlements. In parts of India and Vietnam, this phenomenon has forced coastal populations to move inland to larger urban areas, which only adds further to sand supply needs. The paper also describes the risk of conflict associated with sand mining, which has already triggered conflict and displacement in Singapore, and a dangerous black market in Southeast Asia. Gizmodo notes that sand mining gangs have also depleted enough sand to cause 24 Indonesian islands to disappear from erosion.

To combat these issues, the paper calls for more regulated, monitored networks to manage global sand resources. The authors also note the need to decrease our reliance on sand, whether through crushing rocks to create more a sustainable alternative to sand, or a requirement by governments that the rubble from demolished buildings is recycled as a replacement to new concrete. The authors also point to the need to embrace alternatives to concrete, such as hempcrete and timber, and call for the construction of buildings with a longer operating life. 

International MSMEs Day 2021

International MSMEs Day 2021

FP Trending‘s came up with all you need to know about the day that marks the recognition of small businesses of the international MSMEs day 2021.

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs), including tiny and micro firms, have always been critical to economic growth in all countries, the world over.
These enterprises play a crucial role in employment creation and product innovation. It is, therefore, necessary to devise a coordinated plan to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on SMEs. Restoring confidence in economic growth in a safe, sustainable and inclusive way has never been more critical in the MENA region.

Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) have not always benefited in the MENA region from any help and faced a significant challenge in promoting more vital financial inclusion for SMEs. According to the World Bank, as a percentage of total financing demand by region, the MENA has the largest global finance gap for SMEs, estimated at 84 per cent.

International MSMEs Day 2021: All you need to know about day that marks recognition of small businesses

June 25, 2021

The UN resolution passed in April 2017 stressed the importance of encouraging formalisation of MSME segment that accounts for over 90% of all firms globally, around 70% of total employment.

Representational image. Credit: CNBC-TV18

Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) Day is celebrated every year on 27 June. The day is marked to recognise the contribution of these industries in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As many as 90 percent of businesses are generated from MSMEs. As per a blog on the United Nations (UN) website, these businesses provide 60 to 70 percent of employment.

The contribution of MSME to GDP worldwide is 50 percent.

Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Day history:

The UN designated 27 June as Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Day through a resolution passed in the UN General Assembly in April 2017.

A month later in May 2017, a program titled ‘Enhancing National Capacities for Unleashing Full Potentials of MSMEs in Achieving the SDGs in Developing Countries’ was launched. It has been funded by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Sub-Fund of the United Nations Peace and Development Fund.

Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Day significance:

By observing the MSMEs Day, the UN wants countries to recognise sustainable development goals and create awareness about them. Member states organise presentations, workshops, discussions with business owners, and other events to celebrate this day.

Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Day theme:

A virtual event titled Key to an inclusive and sustainable recovery, co-organised by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs with other departments, is scheduled for this year. The theme is ‘Achieving the SDGs, and an economy that is greener and fairer, requires resilient and flourishing MSMEs everywhere’.

With this theme, the UNDESA will be discussing actions that can be taken to ensure a quick COVID-19 recovery for the MSMEs while also keeping sustainable development goals in mind. It will also discuss ways to enhance creativity and innovation while providing decent work for all.

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