Here is the story of something happening before our very eyes, that of the pulse of the Dead Sea, giving us a feel of what to expect in the future. But if we go by its name, that sea that for millennia had no pulse has recovered but only to be shrinking.
The Dead Sea is shrinking. There are many reasons for this: climate change is a contributing factor, as is human overuse of water as a resource. The sinking water level has a number of dangerous consequences. For example, fresh groundwater flowing downstream causes salts to dissolve in the soil, resulting in sinkholes. But it also leads to large-scale subsidence of the surrounding land surface. Researchers from an interdisciplinary team of several sections from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, together with colleagues from Hannover, Kiel and Padua, have now for the first time demonstrated a direct link between the decrease in the water table, evaporation and land subsidence. They report on this in the journal Scientific Reports.
The team used a wide range of instruments; from measurement methods based on the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) to radar satellites and on-site gauge and climate stations. The researchers showed that the solid earth moves up and down synchronously with fluctuations in the water surface and groundwater level with a time lag of about eight weeks. However, the trend is clearly in one direction: downward.
The water level of the Dead Sea sinks about one meter per year, and the land sinks about 15 centimeters per year. Inflows from rainfall in the surrounding mountains and the Jordan River cause short-term rises in the lake level. However, water withdrawals from the tributaries for agriculture, pumping of saline water to extract potassium, and evaporation in the high heat turn the balance permanently negative.
The coupling of land subsidence to the sinking water table has long been clear. But the fact that the movement of the land surface is so directly related to hydro-meteorological fluctuations is new. The researchers determined this connection within three years. For agriculture, tourism and infrastructure in the region, land subsidence and water loss are very threatening. The measurements show for the first time how closely land, water and atmosphere are linked here.
Original study: Sibylle Vey, D. Al-Halbouni, M. Haghshenas Haghighi, F. Alshawaf, J. Vüllers, A. Güntner, G. Dick, M. Ramatschi, P. Teatini, J. Wickert & M. Weber: Delayed subsidence of the Dead Sea shore due to hydro-meteorological changes; in Scientific Reports.
EcoMENA produced writing on the role of indigenous knowledge in water management that, together with innovation, should always be considered for any space to live, work, and leisure not through far off concepts but local essentials of life itself. Let us see what the author put forward to justify such thoughts.
Our ancestors have created astounding water management systems and applications that helped them combat the harsh climate and scarce natural resources in many parts of this universe. Read on to know how ancient civilizations used indigenous knowledge in water management and how innovation and entrepreneurship can ward off the water crisis facing the entire MENA region.
The Golden Past
Within MENA and since the 4th century BCE, the strongest civilizations made it through arid and semis arid conditions mainly due to their robust water technologies and hydraulic engineering. In the 14th century, the deliberations of the great Tunis-born social scientist and scholar Ibn Khaldun indicated that resilient dynasties were supported by the establishment of cities. He also highlighted the provision of fresh water as one of the few critical requirements for anchoring cities and sustaining civilizations.
Petra, a 2,000-year-old capital of the Nabatean Kingdom (South of Jordan nowadays), contains invaluable evidence of such indigenous innovations. Using sophisticated water technology, the Nabataeans were able to ensure a continuous water supply throughout the year and simultaneously mitigate the dangerous effects of flash floods. They focused on the deep understanding of all sources of water available and on adopting techniques to best monitor, harness, maintain, and utilize those resources. They balanced their reservoir water storage capacity with their pipeline system and utilized particle-settling basins to purify water for drinking purposes.
The Nabataeans’ extensive understanding of their constraints and strengths allowed them to create a system that maximized water flow rates while minimizing leakage and supported a prosperous life for many years later.
Innovation is not about engineering and science only; water markets and decentralized management of water resources are important aspects in times when regulatory bodies and water user associations struggle to master. Oman enjoys one of the most ancient community-based water management schemes that was based on water rights, institutions, and markets.
Water prices were adjusted to respond to changes in demand and supply. Well established water rights, transparent management and allowing for water trading were major contributors to improved management of irrigation water back then.
The Future is Here
While the potential to innovate in the water sector is limitless, it is still underexploited in the MENA region. Information technology, data management, telecommunication, artificial intelligence, and many other tools create opportunities to innovate and contribute to robust water management solutions and to socio-economic development.
In the MENA region, innovation and entrepreneurship have never been as central to development plans as they are today. Creating an enabling environment for tech startups that would attract investment, create jobs, and boost socio-economic development is a common goal across the region. As far as water is concerned, and despite the strategic significance of the sector, water innovations that could enter the market and find their way within and beyond the region are very few.
Most recently, the trending concepts of green growth and climate-smart solutions are reigniting the spark for more locally anchored water innovations to help alleviate both the economic and social stresses associated with water scarcity and poor management systems. In parallel, impact investing is becoming more popular, and today’s investors are searching for companies with a strong environment, social and governance (ESG) framework to invest in.
If one is to find a positive side for the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be the refocus it brought to local production and self-dependence. Whether in food, energy, or water, availability and affordability cannot be jeopardized. Since 2019, programs targeting innovations and startups in the food security and agri-tech domain have been expanding. Special innovation hubs, accelerators, incubators, and competitions were launched to support the water, energy, and food nexus with a strong link to climate change and social inclusion.
One example is the WE4F MENA Regional Innovation Hub which supports innovators with proven solutions tackling water and/or energy issues in urban or rural food production to scale up through multiple financial and non-financial tools. As such efforts gain more momentum, local needs started to emerge, including up-skilling and knowledge management. Young graduates carry relatively enough theoretical information about a single topic/speciality, yet most of those engineering, science and business graduates lack the practical skills and understanding of the nexus and the interconnectivity between water, food, energy, society, and environment. This led to the design of several upskilling and training programs to bridge the knowledge gap and introduce the young generation to the future.
A promising example of such upskilling modules is the one implemented through a partnership between The Sahara Forest Project and Al Hussein Technical University (HTU) in Jordan. This Upskilling Program for Female Engineers in Agritech and Food Security is being piloted on 30 young females from various Jordanian governorates that got selected based on an open application and preset criteria. The participating trainees are exposed to field training at The Sahara Forest Project in Aqaba, technical lectures and seminars by practitioners, mentorship by female leaders, and inspirational talks by market experts.
The objective of such programs should not be to only help the unemployed youth find jobs but rather to widen their perspective to be able to create opportunities for themselves and for their peers and local communities. Re-anchoring the value of agriculture, water, energy, and nature is by itself a trigger for transformation in the future of work in the MENA region.
Ruba Al Zubi is a Sustainability Policy and Governance Advisor/Expert. She is a staunch advocate for policy-enabled action and has gained unique experience in the areas of policy and planning, institutional development, sustainability mainstreaming into economic sectors, donor relations and research and innovation management. She recently served as Advisor to the President for Science Policy and Programme Development, Royal Scientific Society (RSS – Jordan). Prior to that, Ruba led the Scientific Research Department at Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation, served as the first Policy Director at the Ministry of Environment, established and led several departments at the Development and Free Zones Commission, and served as the Chief Executive Officer of EDAMA Association for Energy, Water and Environment. In the nonprofit world, Al Zubi is a Plus Social Good Advisor with the United Nations Foundation and a Founding Member of Jordan Green Building Council. She is a global volunteer, mentor, speaker and blogger. View all posts by Ruba Al-Zu’bi →
As we all know, the MENA region is perhaps more vulnerable to climate threats; therefore, addressing climate change should be a top priority. It is especially vulnerable to climate shocks, facing a range of risks such as water scarcity, reduced rainfall, drought, and biodiversity loss. Ecological damage is the most extensive global risk by impact and likelihood as it is the case of Jordan suffering a summer of water shortages. Here is a story.
The picture above is for illustration and is of the UN News.
Jordanians face the country’s worse water shortage in almost a decade due to the combined effect of weak rainfall and water overuse during COVID-19 lockdowns.
The arid country had only 60 percent of the rainfall it usually gets between October 2020 and May 2021, leaving its four dams only 45 percent full, official figures show.
At the same time, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic raised demand for water by between 10 and 40 percent, amid lockdowns and increased handwashing, a report by the Economic and Social Council of Jordan says.
Jordan’s Minister of Water and Irrigation, Muhammad Al-Najjar, blames the mismanagement of water resources in 2020 for the critical situation.
“The kingdom witnessed an excellent rainy season [last year], and a number of dams reached their full storage capacity, but we mishandled what was stored, and we did not anticipate the possibility that the year 2021 would be dry.
“In fact, we wasted water by providing farmers with large additional quantities of irrigation, above their approved quota.”
The ministry urged citizens to cut down their water consumption. But many residents have had enough of the strain on resources and disruption to water supplies. Fadi Abu Qura, who lives in the Tla’ Al-Ali suburb of the capital, Amman, told SciDev.Net: “We always live in a water crisis, and I don’t know where all the rains go.
“We haven’t received sufficient quantities of water since last February, and we no longer know what day the water will come, while water pumping doesn’t last for more 12 hours a week.”
He added: “About a month ago, the temperature rose and we suffered a lot and resorted to buying water from tanks. It was expensive but we had no choice.”
An official report last year on the state of Jordan’s water highlighted rising pressure on the country’s main water sources that were already stretched before the onset of COVID-19.
“The pandemic has delayed some projects, such as the national carrier for desalination and transportation of water from Aqaba to Amman,” said water ministry spokesman Omar Salameh, citing increasing operational and maintenance costs facing the water sector.
The state of reservoirs—especially Al Wahda, Al Mujib and Al Wala—is an important indicator of whether summer water supplies will be safe, as groundwater must be mixed with water from another source to meet Jordanian drinking water standards.
Manar Almahasneh, Secretary of the Jordan Valley Authority, said this summer would be “tough for farmers,” with water quotas halved under a rationing policy introduced to address the shortage. He attributes the crisis to the “poor storage of dams designated for irrigation.”
Almahasneh advised farmers to only plant on half of their agricultural land and to choose crops that consume less water.
The Union of Farmers in the Jordan Valley has warned of the consequences of reducing water allocations for irrigation, such as fewer crops and the potential impact on food security in the country.
Duraid Mahasneh, president of the Association for the Sustainability of Water, Environment and Renewable Energy, said the water problem in Jordan is more political than geographical.
“Since 1948, the kingdom has received refugees due to the conflicts in the region, and at a time when the kingdom’s water suffices two million people, the current population requires distributing it among 10 million,” he said. “Most of the surface water and groundwater sources are shared with neighboring countries, and we are at their mercy.”
In amongst all countries within the MENA region, Iraq’s iconic marshlands, a quest for endangered otters, was by Samya Kullab dwells on what is most significant in that sub-region.
During ancient times, Iraqi lands were known as Mesopotamia, which meant “Land Between the Rivers”. It is a region whose extensive alluvial plains gave rise to some of the world’s earliest civilizations, such as Sumer, Akkad, Babylon, and Assyria. It, therefore, houses diverse ethnic groups and has a very long and rich heritage. Fast forward to its contemporary presence; it was due mainly to the very ‘interested’ British intervention after the collapse of the Ottomans. The Mesopotamian land marshes were once the largest wetland in the Middle East and home to an ancient civilization known as the Madan. By 2000, a politically motivated environmental genocide resulted in the near extinction of numerous endemic species of birds and mammals. Today efforts are underway to restore the hydrology of the marshes but salvage some of its inhabitants, be they be fauna or flora. Still, upstream water retention by Turkey, Iran and Syria through a series of dams and internal water reallocations of the transboundary water resources for agriculture and urban use seriously reduce the water available for restoration. Fortunately, Iraq, working with international agencies, has created marsh restoration plans, protected Ramsar Sites, a National Park, and recently a World Heritage Site in the marshes, conservation efforts that promise a better future for the Madan wetlands.
In Iraq’s iconic marshlands, a quest for endangered otters
CHIBAISH, Iraq (AP) — “Don’t move a muscle.” His command cut across the reeds rustling in the wind. On a moonlit embankment several kilometers from shore in Iraq’s celebrated southern marshes, everyone stood still.
Omar al-Sheikhly shined a flashlight across a muddy patch. “Nothing,” he said, shaking his head. His team of five exhaled in unison.
The environmentalist spearheaded this midnight expedition through the marshes of Chibaish. It is the latest in a quixotic mission that has spanned nearly two decades: to find any sign of Maxwell’s smooth-coated otter, a severely endangered species endemic to Iraq whose precarious existence is vital to the iconic wetlands.
Most of al-Sheikhly’s pursuits have been in vain; the quick-witted otter has always been one step ahead. But as climate change looms, finding evidence they still exist assumes new importance. Al-Sheikhly is among the conservationists issuing a stark warning: Without quick action to protect the otters, the delicate underwater ecology of the UNESCO protected site will be disrupted, and could all but wither away, putting at risk the centuries-old Iraqi marsh communities that depend on it.
At stake is everything: “We stand to lose our Iraqi heritage,” said al-Sheikhly, who is the technical director at Iraqi Green Climate Organization.
Studies indicate there are between 200-900 smooth-coated otters left in the marshlands. Dangerously unpredictable water levels, illegal fishing and neglect are driving their demise.
This year, Iraq is set to face an insufferable summer, with Turkish dam projects on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers compounding a year of low rainfall. “There is a real crisis,” Water Resources Minister Mahdi Rasheed al-Hamdani said this month.
Water rates from both rivers are half what they were last year, he said.
The Associated Press accompanied al-Sheikhly and his team on a 12-hour mission over two days in early May. At 8 a.m. on the second morning, al-Sheikhly was off again.
In long wooden canoes — called mashuf — they traversed narrow waterways lined with dense reedbeds crisscrossing the heart of the wetlands.
Jumping fish left ripples in their wake. Water buffalos languidly chewed grass. A kingfisher dove headfirst to catch unsuspecting prey.
As dragonflies chased his water-borne convoy, al-Sheikhly named whatever animal crossed his path as though they were acquaintances. “Marbled duck,” he pointed. “Squacco heron.” He has been studying them for 18 years.
Finding the evasive smooth-coated otter is the equivalent of winning the lottery. Since their discovery in 1956 by Scottish naturalist Gavin Maxwell, the otter, distinguished by its sleek dark fur and flattened tail, has only been photographed twice: when it was first found, and 60 years later, by al-Sheikhly.ADVERTISEMENT
Locals had tipped him off that otters were seen in the part of the marshes close to the Iran border. There, on the remnants of an old military road forged by Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war, he waited for six hours. He saw the otter for only a few seconds.
Because research efforts are so poorly funded and otters themselves are so hard to find, studies about the species have relied on their dead skins for signs of life.
In January 2006, the fresh skin of an adult male was obtained from a local fisherman — it was among the first indications that the otter still thrived.
On this mission al-Sheikhly watched for signs they leave behind: footprints, discarded fish heads, local sightings. He goes to areas they prefer, such as lakes lined with reedbeds and muddy shores.
In the central marshes of Dhi Qar province, his team happened upon two fishermen unloading the day’s catch. Al-Sheikhly stopped and asked them when they had last seen an otter — local observations are a main part of survey efforts.
“Maybe one year ago,” said one, piling mullets, catfish and carp onto a pickup.
Al-Sheikhly furrowed his brow.
“That is a big concern, if the local community sees them rarely it means something has happened,” he explained.
Their importance can’t be underestimated. To environmentalists, otters are known as “bio-indicators,” species used to assess the health of an entire ecosystem. Because they are on top of the food chain in Iraq’s marshes, eating fish and sometimes birds, their presence ensures balance.
There was a time when the otters were abundant.
British explorer Wilfred Thesiger, a contemporary of Maxwell, wrote in his travel book Marsh Arabs about one occasion when he spotted two otters playing a hundred yards away. “They appeared upright in the water, eyeing us for a few seconds, before they dived and disappeared.”
In that moment, his Iraqi escort reached for a gun. “Their skins were worth a dinar a piece,” he wrote. The durable otter skins were popular among smugglers who used them to transport illicit goods.
Hunting is on the decline, but electric pulse fishing, illegal but widely practiced in the south, is partly to blame. The electric pulse paralyzes the otter. Most die.
The fishermen who were questioned earlier each had electrocution devices on their boats, visible despite attempts to disguise them with carpets.
Al-Sheikhly said this might account for why otters are hard to spot. “Otters are smart, they know they are under threat and change their behaviors.”
Adaptability served them well throughout Iraq’s tumultuous history. The otters were feared extinct when Saddam drained the marshes in the 1990s to flush out hiding Shiite rebels. Since 2003, they have had to navigate a new Iraq where growing urban sprawl and industrialization has taken precedence.
As a result, Iraqi marsh communities are increasingly losing touch with the wetlands they dwell in.
On an island grazing ground for water buffalos, a marsh Arab boy tended to the animals. In the background, oil flares shot plumes of acrid smoke into the air — a ubiquitous sight in crude-rich southern Iraq.
But the greatest enemy to Iraq’s endemic otter species is an incalculable one: Water.
Cruising through a wide waterway, al-Sheikhly said that just last year the entire channel had been dry. Flooding re-filled it, but little rainfall this year threatens levels again. Experts said it is already decreasing by one centimeter a day.
One local woman, Um Muntadhar, said when the water dries up, the birds migrate and her livestock dies. “It is not livable here anymore,” she said.
The U.N. estimates at least 250 square kilometers (96 square miles) of fertile land in Iraq is lost annually to desertification. Rising salinity will likely drive out if not wipe away endemic species.
Iraqis largely blame Turkey’s Ilisu dam project for shortages. Turkish officials said Iraq’s request that Ankara release a set amount of water per year is impossible in the age of climate change.
“So much is unpredictable, we suffer,” said one Turkish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In an open lake at the cusp of the Hammar marshes, al-Sheikhly halted the boat and quickly removed his shoes.
He appeared from a distance like a marshland messiah: knee-deep in water, curly hair dancing in the wind, anchored by a wooden stick.
Threatened from all sides, environmentalists say it will take a miracle to push for conservation of the area.
But al-Sheikhly was absorbed in something unseen. “Listen, listen,” he said.
Construction Kenya’s INSIGHTS advises as to how to build sustainable cities for the good of all. Still, in an era of rapid urbanisation, we witness increasing demand for additional housing, infrastructure, transport and green spaces. We can only agree on how all around the world thinkers can help tackle these challenges.
How to build sustainable cities
More than 66% of humanity projected to live in urban areas by 2050.
In the next thirty years, more than two thirds of humanity is projected to live in urban areas with most of the urban population growth expected to happen in lower income nations.
With that in mind, there is an urgent need for planners to ensure that urban areas are inclusive, safe, sustainable and resilient enough to meet the anticipated population growth.
But what makes a city liveable? While there is no single magical bullet, cities can make themselves more habitable by adopting a range of social and technological measures.
Here are 10 ways to build more sustainable cities:
1. Clean energy
Although most cities can generate clean energy, their high level of power consumption means the metropolises are unlikely to be self-sufficient in terms of energy production.
However, cities can lower their carbon footprints by, among other things, converting sunshine into electricity; using timber from local forests to produce low-carbon energy for heating and electricity generation; and using solar to heat buildings and water.
Converting waste into energy is also a great step towards improving a city. The Indonesian city of Sodong, for example, has implemented an air-filled waste disposal system that uses pipes to suck trash from homes into processing centres that automatically sort the material to recycle and turn it into renewable energy.
London Heathrow, one of the busiest airports in the world, uses “springy” tiles to harness the kinetic energy in foot traffic and convert it into electricity.
Such innovations can help cities to become more sustainable.
2. Efficient buildings
Buildings consume most of a city’s energy intake while emitting large quantities of carbon. Cities should encourage the design and construction of efficient buildings – which are often more cost-effective and functional compared to installation of costly devices for clean energy production.
Creating efficient buildings involves the insulation of walls, windows, and roofs, and operating energy-efficient lighting and heating systems.
Passive House in Darmstadt, Germany, is a great example of energy efficient building. The ultra-low energy house is so highly insulated that it requires no heating or cooling.
Singapore and New York have shown the world how small initiatives such as painting roofs white and planting trees can reduce city temperatures by up to 2°C – thereby cutting a city’s energy consumption.
In Scandinavian and eastern European countries, hot water for heating is distributed to buildings through insulated pipes underneath the streets. The water is heated using energy generated from extremely efficient power stations that generate both heat and electricity.
3. Efficient transportation
While vehicles, trains and aeroplanes facilitate the smooth running of a city, the transport systems can cause traffic congestion, poor air quality and gas emissions.
To minimise the number of cars on the road, some cities have formulated ideas that can be adopted in other parts of the world.
The Scottish city of Edinburgh, for example, has developed one of the largest car-sharing clubs in the UK, which allows members to use cars only when they need to.
Singapore and London have designed high-quality bus and underground rail systems, as well as low-emission areas where only electric vehicles are permitted.
In Copenhagen, Denmark, cycle commuting is highly encouraged with cyclists given priority at traffic lights throughout the city.
4. Urban agriculture
The food we eat comes with a carbon footprint, which is worse if the produce travels hundreds of miles to reach us. It is therefore a great idea to encourage urban farming to ensure local sourcing of foodstuffs.
Urban farmers such as US-based Aero Farms are already embracing vertical farming solutions to produce food in cities. Vertical farming produces crops on stacked layers, often on skyscrapers, instead of on a single layer in either an open field or a greenhouse.
Advances in lighting and automation, as well as other factors such as reduced use of pesticides, enable vertical farmers to make higher profits than traditional farmers.
5. Sharing spaces
City residents around the world are reducing the carbon footprint of consumption through sharing of resources. It is increasingly common to find inhabitants engaging in carpooling, lodging rental and shared ownership of facilities such as gyms and lounges.
6. Design for social integration
Once considered the world’s most dangerous city, Colombian city of Medellin has transformed itself by focusing on architecture and design.
The city has adopted the use of shared spaces and improved public transport to blur economic boundaries and create a sense of connection among its residents.
7. Mobility on demand
Smartphone-assisted traffic management and car routing can reduce time and fuel wasted trying to navigate through congested cities.
Likewise, self-driving vehicles and carpooling can increase efficiency by maximising use of vehicles and reducing the need for space to park idle cars.
8. Nature-based solutions
Nature-based solutions to urban problems can help cities to tackle climate change while reducing disaster risks.
New York City’s greened rooftops and streets that can better manage storm water runoff and improve urban climate are a great example of natured-based solutions.
Another great example is China’s introduction of the concept of ‘sponge cities’, cities with open spaces that can soak up floodwater and prevent disaster in ecologically friendly ways.
9. Pocket parks
In densely populated cities such as San Francisco, local authorities have put in place small green spaces that help to increase green cover while providing recreation space to residents.
Most pocket parks re-use spaces that previously served other purposes — for example, rehabilitated street parking spaces or a public right-of-way that was earlier used for transportation.
10. Pervious concrete
Pervious concrete is a mixture of cement, coarse aggregate, water and admixture, with little or no fine aggregates. It is designed to allow water to penetrate the asphalt for absorption by the earth. This can help cities to tackle flash floods and worsening quality of water in river courses and so on.
Hailed as one of the most promising sustainable material today, pervious concrete has outstanding potential to counteract these adverse impacts while providing necessary structural integrity, thus supporting continued urbanization.
Originally posted on Gharamophone: In May 2020, I posted Sariza Cohen’s stunning recording of “أَشْكُوا الْغَـرَامَ”(Ashku al-gharam), released on Polydor in 1938. This is the other side of that record. It is no less remarkable. Here the pianist and vocalist from Oran performs a composition by Algerian Jewish impresario Edmond Nathan Yafil. The title of…
It’s a truism that Europe is unstable if its North African neighbours are unstable. That being so, it should be of some concern to EU leaders that, on the bloc’s south Mediterranean border, Tunisia’s 10-year-old democracy appears to be on life support.
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