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Water, energy and food security key to MENA stability

Water, energy and food security key to MENA stability

Written by Omar El-Huni is that Water, energy and food security key to MENA stability are in the situation that
If allowed to continue, insecurity in the water-food-energy nexus will lead to political unrest, displacement and instability.


A farmer works in a plantation near the Jerash stream, which flows into the King Talal Dam, near Jerash, Jordan. (Reuters)

LONDON – The Middle East region is struggling to ensure adequate water, energy and food security as resources deplete and demand increases due to population growth and climate change.

According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), access to water, energy and food security (WEF) are linked throughout the world and play an important role in sustainable development, poverty reduction and human well-being. Achieving a balance between the sectors is important to maintaining stability in the wake of demand increase and resource decline that is linked to climate change, land use and human demographics.

With a finite amount of water meeting the needs of a growing world population, ensuring a reliable supply through proper resource management is critical to human survival. The most commonly used energy production methods are fossil fuel, biofuel production and fracking, the process of shale gas extraction. All of these are highly water intensive and unsustainable in the long term. As a result, there is a growing need for the development of wind and hydropower, renewable sources of energy that require far less water. Geothermal power is another alternative that does not consume water, produces little to no greenhouse gas as a byproduct and can serve as a climate-independent, long-term resource.

Agriculture, however, is the source of even more water usage, accounting for 69% of annual water withdrawal. Households account for 12%, while the industrial sector accounts for 19%, according to the FAO’s AQUASTAT.

As the world’s population grows, demand for food expands with it. The UN has also theorised that more global wealth has caused diets to shift from largely starch-based products to more water-intensive dairy and meat products. To save water, the organisation suggested more energy-efficient measures such as precision irrigation that tracks water providers’ data.

Nowhere are these changes more needed than in the MENA region, where many nations are suffering from limited energy resources and forced to import basic food as production drops.
These insecurities are triggering knock on effects in all parts of life, sometimes leading to social and political instability in vulnerable countries.

In Yemen, for instance, years of civil war that have rattled the country’s industry and economy have left it with no option but to import basic food products.

In Syria, as well, drought and displacement have damaged the water-energy-food nexus that is critical to human flourishing.

Water resources are critically low throughout much of the MENA region, with major aquifers being overutilised and left nearly empty.

The only available water supply to most rural communities, springs, have also been rapidly depleting over the last 20 years as a result of agricultural irrigation in Oman, Jordan and, to a greater extent, Saudi Arabia’s eastern provinces.

The latter was the world’s sixth largest wheat exporter until the turn of the century, but it was forced to abandon these groundwater resource-dependent plans after it exhausted its aquifers.
Similarly, Oman had no option but to shift from foodstuffs to Khat and to high usage irrigation methods from their long tradition of terraced agriculture.

Triggering a positive feedback loop, MENA’s water insecurity drove migration to urban areas, stressing already unstable public infrastructure.

While it is difficult for MENA nations to divert themselves from water-intense practices, renewable options are the only sustainable path forward for the region.

What are the alternatives?

Going forward, MENA countries should look to reduce demand and dependence on water-intensive sectors. Rising global temperatures will make the task more difficult, but also more important.

Restructuring energy systems is one way to proceed. However, investing in new technologies, such as wind and solar photovoltaic, will come at a high cost for already financially strained countries – an estimated $1 trillion by 2050, according to a 2019 World Bank Group study.
But there are economic benefits too that would come from lower dependence on water. The use of water recycling and desalination, for instance, provide a high degree of value. And the MENA region currently accounts for half of the world’s desalination capacity and is set to increase, according to a 2017 World Bank study.

The World Bank estimated that the MENA region would need to increase its supplies by 68 million cubic meters of water, or 60%, by 2050, while implementing moderate improvements in agricultural productivity and land use.

But to achieve water security and meet the region’s ever increasing water demands, the water supply portfolio must also have water recycling integration. Approximately 80% of the wastewater in MENA is simply discharged and not reused, although countries like Tunisia and Jordan have made positive steps towards recycling wastewater for irrigation use.  If wastewater is able to be treated to high standards, recycling should be viewed as an important section of the management strategy.

If allowed to continue, insecurity in the water-food-energy nexus will lead to political unrest, displacement and instability. Researchers have theorised that these developments have already been set into motion as the region largely resists adopting new agricultural practices or investment in new technologies.

Written By Omar El-Huni

Omar El-Huni is a contributor to The Arab Weekly on environmental issues. He is a graduate of the University of Reading on environmental matters. 

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Extreme Environments: farming in the Sahara Desert

Extreme Environments: farming in the Sahara Desert

The MENA’s Sahara region is increasingly being looked at for purposes stemming from power generation to food production. Here is how Danny Kane in this write up brings in to everyone’s attention the hot topic on Extreme Environments: farming in the Sahara Desert.


Every year, an area of fertile land roughly half the size of Britain becomes desert. This process, known as desertification, isn’t usually caused by one single factor, but the usual suspects make an appearance every time: climate change, deforestation, and poor agricultural practices. 1/5th of the world’s arable land is under threat from desertification.

With desertification likely to become an even greater issue in the future, it is time to start looking at possible ways to combat it. Reclaiming the desert is often a costly action few countries immediately affected by it can afford to pursue. The alternative, while also expensive, may be the best chance many of these countries, and in future the world, has to thrive. So, what if you could grow food in the desert?

Firstly, let’s dispel a myth — you can’t grow anything in sand. Numerous forms of plants will grow in sand, as long as they can source water and are able to tolerate the extreme heat, wind, sandstorms and occasional torrential rains found in deserts (particularly the Sahara), plants will grow. Unfortunately for us, a few wild plants cannot sustain a population, so for all intents and purposes, deserts appear to us to be barren.

Much of the problem comes from the sand itself. We’re not used to thinking about sand as a kind of soil, but it’s simply on the extreme end of the spectrum. The main issues come from two things. Sand isn’t very good at holding water, the particles are simply too big, so the water just runs off and isn’t absorbed as it is with soil, thus starving the plants of water. The second issue with sand is its lack of organic matter. Most sand is less than 1% organic matter, which is defined as organic material (plants and animal residues) in different stages of decomposition. This organic material feeds micro-organisms, which in turn create nutrients that are then utilised by the plants in their survival.

All this combined with the high temperatures, the weak structure of sand at holding roots and the high winds constantly trying to rip away the plants, make desert farming a huge challenge — but perhaps not an impossible one though.

Algeria

Extreme Environments: farming in the Sahara Desert
The Sahrawi refugee camp in Algeria

Algeria is the largest country in Africa at 2,381,740 square kilometres (919,590 square miles). Unfortunately for Algeria, around 80% of that land is in the Sahara Desert and essentially uninhabited.

Instability in the region following the Western Saharan War from 1975–1976 led to the creation of the Sahrawi Refugee camps, which today house between 90,000 and 165,000 (the exact number remains disputed by all parties involved, but the UN today recognises 90,000 individuals).

For decades, the refugees were dependent on the United Nations World Food Programme for food aid and to a large part they still are, but steps are being taken to reduce that dependence in the camps.

Here, growing plants in sand is possible thanks to hydroponics — a type of farming that grows plants in ‘inert mediums’ like packing peanuts, gravel and sand. Put simply, it is plants being farmed using nothing but water and a mineral nutrient solution. It vastly reduces the amount of water required to farm, which often has to be brought in by the literal truck load and at a high price.

The refugee camps and UNWFE have been successful in growing a strain of local barley in greenhouses, which is used as fodder to feed to the animals in the camp, noticeably increasing their dairy output, as well as the quality of the meat, and thus supplementing the diets of the refugees.

Though steps are being taken to reduce the cost, this remains relatively expensive and is far from providing enough food to support the camps. It is certainly a step in the right direction, but it’s still in its infancy.

Egypt

Extreme Environments: farming in the Sahara Desert
The Valley of the Kings from the River Nile

For a country that dared to try and tame the Sahara though, we need look no further than Egypt. At approximately 90% desert, Egyptians have always stayed close to the Nile, the life blood of the country. Evidence of agriculture in the Nile Delta has been dated to as far back as 8000 BC, so it would seem the Egyptians have already mastered the desert sands, but unfortunately the Egypt of today is very different than the Egypt of 10,000 years ago.

The population today has swelled to nearly 90 million, four times as many as in 1945. Egypt simply does not have the enough agricultural land to feed its people, and so the country that was once the breadbasket of the Roman Empire now imports 50% of its food from abroad.

The New Valley Project aimed to change that. It was one of the most ambitious construction projects ever created and has its roots in the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak in the 1990s. It aimed to add approximately 1.5 million acres of farmland to Egypt. Following his deposition in the 2011 Arab Spring, the project was frozen, but recently it has been revived.

The project aims to deal with arguably the most difficult part of growing plants in the desert — the lack of water. The New Valley Project and other desert reclamation projects undertaken by the Egyptian government solved this by either creating an elaborate system of canals and pumping systems to syphon water from the Nile River and Lake Nasser, or by pumping up ground water from below the surface.

Extreme Environments: farming in the Sahara Desert
Toshka construction site

So, did it work? Well, not really, no. Numerous factors plagued the projects. Firstly, a vast amount of work was needed to get the shoddily constructed canals up to standard, which increased the costs of the project exponentially. Next was the issue of pumping up ground water. The vast quantities required expected to have a drastic impact on the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer, the source of the water. Essentially, it was theorised that the farming would drain the aquifer, and thus the farmland would only be productive for a limited period of time.

This coupled with the fact that despite incentives, few people want to move to one of the hottest parts of the world to work on a potentially unsustainable farm has basically rendered the project a failure. A few companies have managed to stick it out at on the New Valley Project, but these companies are few and far between. It simply isn’t possible to make a profit or produce any notable amount of food in the area.

Extreme Environments: farming in the Sahara Desert
Toshka canal

Details remain scare, but it appears the New Valley Project has been set back once more, and the term Toshka (the Egyptian name for the New Valley Project) has become a joke and a byword for failure to everyday Egyptians, seem as little more than another political stunt by the government.

UAE

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Away from the Sahara in the UAE a more novel solution has been found — Liquid Clay. At 80% desert, the UAE faces the reality of ‘learn to grow food in the desert of rely on buying from abroad.’

However, an experimental farm working in conjunction with a Norwegian scientist has managed to half the water needed to farm by using the excitingly named Liquid Nano Clay. In essence, this clay and water solution is pumped a few metres below ground where it binds with the sand, creating fertile soil. It needs to be re-done every 5 years or so, depending on how the soil is being used, but it has been proven to reduce the water required to make the desert bloom.

Unfortunately, this seemingly miracle product comes at a very high cost, up to $9,500 (£6,900) per hectare. Desert Control, the company behind it, intends to sell their products to municipal governments and commercial growers but hopes to make it affordable to all growers in the future. The issue with this is that many of the countries within the Sahara Desert are incredibly poor, some of the poorest in the world. Even a low price may prove unattainable on the large scale needed to move these countries toward self-sustainability.

No easy answers

Extreme Environments: farming in the Sahara Desert
The Sahara Desert from space

The problem of the Sahara Desert has stubbornly refused to give way for much of human history. It has acted as a natural barrier to numerous empires like the Romans and the Carthaginians.

While you can farm in the Sahara and, in isolated cases, peoples and companies are, it remains a colossal challenge. Bringing water to the desert seems to be the greatest limiting factor to growing in the Sahara. Pumping seawater and desalinating it has been done successful in Jordan on the small scale and could potentially be re-created in the Sahara, but the scale required is nothing short of daunting and de-salination technology remains prohibitively expensive for many countries today, especially those most affected by the Sahara.

In addition, in a future where food is grown in the Sahara, it will likely be the private sector, not the governments of these places that develops the scalable technology needed for the project. Naturally, those companies are going to want a payoff for their investment and so may turn to exclusively farming cash crops. This has been seen in the New Valley Project, where one of the few companies that remains appears to exclusively grow Medjool Dates, a notable cash crop.

While obviously investments in these countries should be encouraged, farming in the Sahara should ultimately make these countries less dependent on foreign investment. If companies paid for the use of the Sahara, the governments of these countries would still be forced to use that money to buy food from aboard. If the desert can be turned into an oasis, let oasis be used for the independence of those countries, not to further a cycle of dependence that leads to nothing but instability.

Danny Kane

Turkey tries to keep wheels of economy turning

Turkey tries to keep wheels of economy turning

Bulent Gökay, Keele University elaborates on how Turkey tries to keep wheels of economy turning despite worsening coronavirus crisis. It, contrary to its neighbours, would not go down the same way. Read on to find out why.


Turkey confirmed its first case of the new coronavirus on March 11, but since then the speed of its infection rate has surpassed that of many other countries with cases doubling every two days. On April 2, Turkey had more than 15,000 confirmed cases and 277 deaths from complications related to the coronavirus, according to data collated by John Hopkins University.

The Turkish government has called for people to stay at home and self-isolate. Mass disinfection has been carried out in all public spaces in cities. To encourage residents to stay at home, all parks, picnic areas and shorelines are closed to pedestrians.

Some airports are closed and all international flights to and from Turkey were banned on March 27. All schools, universities, cafes, restaurants, and mass praying in mosques and other praying spaces has been suspended, and all sporting activities postponed indefinitely.

Manufacturing remains open

Many small businesses in the service sector are closed, and many companies in banking, insurance and R&D have switched to working from home. But in many industrial sectors, such as metal, textile, mining and construction, millions of workers are still forced to go to work or face losing their jobs. In Istanbul, where more than a quarter of Turkey’s GDP is produced, the public transport system still carries over a million people daily.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s president, has openly opposed a total lockdown, arguing a stay-at-home order would halt all economic activity. On March 30, he said continuing production and exports was the country’s top priority and that Turkey must keep its “wheels turning”.

But in the short term, many of Turkey’s export markets for minerals, textiles and food, such as Germany, China, Italy, Spain, Iran and Iraq, are already closed due to the virus. This has led to enormous surpluses piling up in warehouses. Even where there are overseas customers, getting the goods delivered has proven difficult. The process of sanitising and disinfecting the trucks and testing the drivers before they travel takes many extra hours, sometime days, after waiting in long lines.

Still, Erdogan’s statements give the impression that he sees this pandemic not only as a serious crisis, but also as an opportunity for Turkish manufacturers. The hope is that, after the Chinese shutdown, European producers which depend on Chinese companies for a range of semi-finished products may consider Turkey as an alternative supplier in the longer term. That’s why the government is still allowing millions of workers to go to factories, mines and construction sites despite the huge health risk.

A bruised economy

The Turkish government announced a 100 billion lira (£12 billion) stimulus package on March 18. It included tax postponement and subsidies directed at domestic consumption, such as reducing VAT on certain items and suspension of national insurance payments in many sectors for six months. But this is an insignificant sum for an economy as big as Turkey’s.

Most of the support will go to medium and large companies that were forced to close, and only a very tiny amount to individual workers. In order to benefit from the scheme, a person must have worked at least 600 days in the past three years (450 days for those in Ankara). Those with most need get the lowest level of help or no help from the state.

The tourism sector, which accounts for about 12% of the economy, has already been decimated. Some 2.5 million workers will not be able to work as they had been expecting to in the peak tourist months between April and September.

Limited room for manoeuvre

Even before the virus hit Turkey the economy was already weak, still trying to recover from the impacts of a 2016 coup attempt and a 2018 currency crisis, both of which caused severe stress to Turkey’s economic and financial systems.

In March, Turkey’s Central Bank reduced its benchmark interest rate by 1%, and several of the country’s largest private banks announced measures to support the economy, such as suspending loan repayments. As a result, the Turkish lira initially held up reasonably well, compared with other emerging market economies, but it fell to an 18-month low on April 1 as the coronavirus death rates accelerated. Official interest rates have fallen below 10%, providing some protection to those holding Turkish lira versus some foreign currencies.

Turkey’s financial options to limit the impact of the crisis are limited. Credit rating agency Moody’s revised its prediction for the country GDP from 3% growth in 2020 to a 1.4% contraction. Still, it may get a reprieve from the low oil price. Turkey imports almost all its energy needs, and with the recent fall in the price of oil and gas, this means Turkey could save about US$12 billion (£9.6 billion) in energy imports.

It is hard to see very far ahead. During the next few months, it’s expected that Turkey, alongside South Africa and Argentina, could be sliding toward insolvency and debt default. After that, everything depends on how this crisis progresses and how long it will take to end.

Bulent Gökay, Professor of International Relations, Keele University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Egypt to lose 1000 km of sandy coasts due to erosion

Egypt to lose 1000 km of sandy coasts due to erosion

Erosion of sandy beaches will endanger wildlife, cause massive losses in coastal cities in the world. Mohammed El-Said, in his Egypt related article titled Egypt to lose 1000 km of sandy coasts due to erosion: Study is by any means not exaggerating the potential impact of climate change on Egypt. The country’s habitable space is very limited to 5 per cent. The rest of the land is uninhabitable desert. The population, therefore, concentrated around the narrow Nile Valley and Nile Delta, with some smaller numbers along the Mediterranean and the Red Sea coasts would want to preserve as much as possible of the seafront.


The world’s beaches represent an interface between land and water, and provide protection for coasts from marine storms and hurricanes, but a new study by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre indicates that without mitigating the effects of climate change and adapting to it, half of the world’s beaches will be vulnerable to erosion by the end of the century.

Erosion of sandy beaches will endanger wildlife and may cause heavy losses in coastal cities that no longer have buffer zones to protect them from rising sea levels and severe storms. In addition, coastal erosion increases the cost of governmental measures to mitigate the effects of climate change.

In the study published last week in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers expect erosion to destroy 36,097 km, or 13.6% of sandy coasts around the world, including the Egyptian coast, within 30 years. The situation is expected to worsen in the second half of the century as 9,561 km, equivalent to 25.7% of the world’s beaches are estimated to be eroded.

Eroding scenarios

The study provides forecasts of the shoreline’s shape between the years 2050 and 2100. It links changes in the shoreline directly to climate change based on the concentration of greenhouse gases according to the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) approved by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Thus, the study aims to calculate shoreline changes globally based on the ratio of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

In the latest report of the IPCC in 2019, scientists studied the greenhouse gas concentration pathway and expect that, by 2100, if countries in the world do not comply with the terms of the Paris climate agreement, average global sea levels will rise between 61 centimeters to about one meter.

Researchers relied on climate data, models, 82 years’ worth of sea level monitoring, and 35 years of beach satellite imaging. They also simulated more than 100m storms and measured their global coastal erosion.

Based on the RCP of greenhouse gases, the study assumes two scenarios for melting ice surfaces. According to the first scenario, if the world continues to emit carbon at the current rate, sea levels will rise by about 80 cm, which means the coastline will decrease by 128.1 meters, and threatens to sink 131,745 km of beaches.

According to the most optimistic scenarios, sea levels will only rise by 50 cm by 2100, and the average coastline retreat will be 86.4 meters if governments adhere to international agreements to reduce emissions and reduce carbon dependence. According to the results of the study, up to 63% of the world’s low coastal areas will be threatened by flooding due to sea level rise and severe storms.

Facing waves 

“Climate change will exacerbate the effects of coastal erosion processes, which threatens densely populated areas,” said Michalis Vousdoukas, a researcher at the European Commission’s Research Centre and lead author of the study. 

He added that in the best scenarios, Egypt will lose between 35.1% to 50.5% of its sandy beaches due to erosion, which means the erosion of about 1,000 km of Egyptian sandy beaches. The percentage is likely to be even higher in countries like Saudi Arabia and Libya.

Hisham Elsafti, a coastal engineering consultant, and instructor in coastal engineering at Braunschweig Technical University in Germany, explained that according to the study’s expectations, the coasts of the Nile Delta will retreat by more than half a kilometer at the end of the century due to geological and hydromorphological factors. 

But Jeffrey S. Kargel, a senior research scientist at the University of Arizona, believes that although the methodology of the study is good and its conclusions are valid, it did not take into account some detailed changes. These changes include the sediment supply and the increase in the production and transport of sand and silt due to the increased melting glaciers, increased surface runoff of corrosion and more sediment supply from expanded agricultural areas, increased sediment supply from dam construction, and reduced sediment transport due to dams in many parts of the world.

Kargel explained that the melting glaciers do not directly affect Egypt, but affect places like Greenland and Alaska. “Construction of dams is the most important for Egypt due to the construction of the High Dam in Aswan, and then there will be a giant reservoir for the huge dam in Ethiopia,” he said. 

He added that “when the silt is blocked by reservoirs, this will be an obstacle to the construction of the delta areas, and thus the delta will drop and seawater will submerge its coast with its cities and villages, which will represent a major problem for Egypt.” But he believes that the Egyptian Delta, despite the problems it faces, is “lucky” because it is not subject to hurricanes.

A previous study by the American Geological Society, published in May 2017, indicated that Egypt is one of the countries most affected by climate change, and that between 20 to 40 km of the coast of the Nile River Delta will be flooded with seawater by the end of the century, due to Sea level rise.

Vousdoukas added that the UK expects to lose 27.7% of its sandy beaches, according to the best estimates, and 43.7% according to worst case scenarios. Australia is also expected to be the most affected, as about 15,000 km of its beaches are at risk, followed by Canada as one of the most affected countries, then Chile, Mexico, China, and the United States. It is also expected that more than 680 million Indian citizens living in the low-lying coastal region will be affected by the coastal erosion and climate change.

Glimmer of hope 

“The study provides first-of-its-kind forecasts regarding sand beach erosion, taking into account human interventions as well as the effects of climate change and natural factors,” said Vousdoukas. The researcher explained that there is still a glimmer of hope as it can reduce greenhouse gas emissions to prevent 40% of the coastline retreat, but this requires an international commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement and related protocols, and requires some coastal protection measures to protect populated areas.

Elsafti, however, believes that Egypt should work on two main axes to avoid the negative effects of climate change and protect the beaches. The first is the effective contribution to calls to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and asking major industrial countries responsible for the problem to contribute more effectively to solving the problem by increasing contributions in initiatives such as the Green Climate Fund, which is already participating in funding studies and work to protect Egyptian beaches.

“The second axis is a scientific axis, as Egypt must increase the funding of scientific studies that cross the disciplines required to find engineering solutions suitable for the Egyptian environment and prepare to change the planning of cities and coastal areas and their uses to adapt to the effects of climate change,” Elsafti said.

The Middle East still looking for a growth model

The Middle East still looking for a growth model

Posted on March 8, 2020, in The Arab Weekly, Six decades after independence, Middle East still looking for growth model by Rashmee Roshan Lall is an accurate survey of the region that faces, as we speak, prospects of harshest times. How is the Middle East still looking for a growth model? Investing in the human capital of children and young people as well as enhancing their prospects for productive employment and economic growth is little more complicated than relying on Crude Oil exports related revenues. These are the main if not the only source of earnings of the region now plummeting perhaps for good before even peaking. In effect, all petrodollar inspired and financed development that, put simply, was transposed from certain parts of the world, using not only imported materials but also management and all human resources can not result in anything different from that described in this article.


Though a large youthful population would normally be regarded an economic blessing, it’s become the bane of the MENA region.


The Middle East still looking for a growth model
Dramatic changes. Employees of Aramco oil company at Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq oil processing plant. (AFP)

It’s been 75 years since World War II ended and the idea of decolonising the Middle East and North Africa began to gain ground but, while formal colonisation ended about six decades ago, the region seems unable to find a clear path to growth.

Rather than an “Arab spring,” what may be needed is a temperate autumn, a season of mellow fruitfulness to tackle the region’s biggest problems. These include finding a way to use the demographic bulge to advantage, reducing inequality of opportunity and outcome and boosting local opportunity.

Here are some of the region’s key issues:

Youth ‘explosion’

The MENA region’s population grew from around 100 million in 1950 to approximately 380 million in 2000, the Population Reference Bureau said. It is now about 420 million and half that population lives in four countries — Egypt, Sudan, Iraq and Yemen.

The 2016 Arab Human Development Report, which focused on youth, said most of the region’s population is under the age of 25.

The youth bulge is the result of declining mortality rates in the past 40 years as well as an average annual population growth rate of 1.8%, compared with 1% globally. The absolute number of young people is predicted to increase from 46 million in 2010 to 58 million in 2025.

Though a large youthful population would normally be regarded an economic blessing, it’s become the bane of the MENA region. The demographic trend suggests the region needs to create more than 300 million jobs by 2050, the World Bank said.

Jihad Azour, International Monetary Fund (IMF) director for the Middle East and Central Asia, said MENA countries’ growth rate “is lower that what is required to tackle unemployment. Youth unemployment in the region exceeds 25%-30%.” The average unemployment rate across the region is 11%, compared to 7% in other emerging and developing economies.

Unsurprisingly, said Harvard economist Ishac Diwan, a senior fellow at the Middle East Initiative, young Arabs are unhappier than their elders as well as their peers in countries at similar stages of development.

Last year’s Arab Youth Survey stated that 45% of young Arab respondents said they regard joblessness as one of the region’s main challenges, well ahead of the Syrian war (28%) and the threat of terrorism (26%).

The region’s population is expected to nearly double by 2030 and the IMF estimated that 27 million young Arabs will enter the labour market the next five years.

Poverty and inequality

Most Arab people do not live in oil-rich countries. Data from the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) stated that 116 million people across ten Arab countries (41% of the total population), are poor and another 25% were vulnerable to poverty. This translates to an estimated 250 million people who may be poor or vulnerable out of a population of 400 million.

The MENA region is also regarded as the most unequal in the world, with the top 10% of its people accounting for 64% of wealth, although the average masks enormous differences from one country to another.

The middle class in non-oil producing Arab countries has shrunk from 45% to 33% of the population, ESCWA economists said. In a report for the Carnegie Corporation last year, Palestinian-American author Rami G. Khouri described what he called “poverty’s new agony,” the fact that a poor family in the Middle East will remain poor for several generations.

Egypt is a case in point. In 2018, Cairo vowed to halve poverty by 2020 and eliminate it by 2030. However, Egypt’s national statistics agency released a report on household finances last year that said that 33% of Egypt’s 99 million people were classified as poor, up from 28% in 2015. The World Bank subsequently nearly doubled that figure, saying 60% of Egyptians were “either poor or vulnerable.”

Wealth gaps between countries are greater in the region than in others because it has some of the world’s richest economies as well as some of the poorest, such as Yemen.

Inequality is not the only problem in the region. Former World Bank economist Branko Milanovic said the uneven picture means that last year’s protests in Lebanon, Algeria, Sudan and Iraq cannot be explained by “a blanket story of inequality.”

Indeed, Algeria, a relatively egalitarian country, was roiled by protests, first against a long-serving president and then against the wider political system.

French economist Thomas Piketty, who wrote the bestselling book on income inequality, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” said Arab countries must come up with a way to share the region’s vast and unequally distrib­uted wealth.

Lost decades of growth

In the decade from 2009, the region’s average economic growth was one-third slower than in the previous decade. The IMF said per capita incomes have been “near stagnant” and youth unemployment has “worsened significantly.”

The state is the largest employer in many Arab countries and over-regulation of the private sector left it underdeveloped and unable to overcome the significant barriers to trade and economic cooperation across regional borders. Meanwhile, inflexible labour laws stifled job creation and cronyism allowed inefficiency to stay unchallenged. In 2018, the average rank of Arab countries on the World Bank’s Doing Business survey was 115th out of 190 countries.

Along with structural factors, conflict has had a debilitating effect on economic growth. Three years ago, the World Bank noted that the Syrian war had killed approximately 500,000 people, displaced half the population — more than 10 million people — and reduced more than two-thirds of Syrians to poverty.

By 2017, conflict in Yemen and Libya had displaced more than 15% and 10% of their respective populations of 4 million and 6 million. Taken together, the Syrian, Yemen and Libyan civil wars have affected more than 60 million people, about one-fifth of the MENA population.

Infrastructural damage runs into the billions of dollars but it is the loss — or outright collapse, as in Yemen — of economic activity that has affected real GDP growth.

Countries in the region affected by conflict lost $614 billion cumulatively in GDP from 2010-15 — 6% of the regional GDP, ESCWA’s 2018 report on institutional development in post-conflict settings stated.

New thinking needed

This is the year when, for the first time, an Arab country holds the chairmanship of the Group of 20 of the world’s largest economies. It could be an opportunity to consider existing trends within the region, what needs to be changed and how.

In the words of Oxford development macroeconomist Adeel Malik, “the Arab developmental model… seems to have passed its expiration date.” In a 2014 paper for the Journal of International Affairs, Malik said “failure of the Arab state to deliver social justice is ultimately rooted in the failure of a development model based on heavy state intervention in the economy and increasingly unsustainable buyouts of local populations through generous welfare entitlements.”

It’s a good point, for the region’s richest countries just as much as its poorest. Oil-rich states are affected by dramatic changes in oil prices and the increasingly urgent suggestion that the world is at “peak oil.” An IMF report warned that, by 2034, declining oil demand could erode the $2 trillion in financial wealth amassed by Gulf Cooperation Council members. The IMF said “faster progress with economic diversification and private sector development will be critical to ensure sustainable growth.”

Creativity and courage will be needed if the Arab world is to meet the expectations of its youthful population and the challenges posed by its increasing inequality.

Water Scarcity is a Security Risk for the Middle East

Water Scarcity is a Security Risk for the Middle East

As Water is essential for agricultural production and food security, the world over, this is acutely felt in the MENA region. And yet, in the desert of Dubai, salmon farming thrives, hence the picture above. And if that is not enough, Why water scarcity is a security risk for the Middle East dated March 1, 2020, by Jumana Khamis who tells us how:

  • The probability that water scarcity will lead to conflict in the region is 8 percent, says study
  • Water scarcity is more likely to stoke internal unrest than trigger cross-border wars
Turkey’s 1,200-megawatt Ilisu Dam on the Tigris River in southeastern Anatolia, located 30 kilometers north of the Turkish border with Syria, has been a cause of conflict with Syria and Iraq. (AFP file photo)

DUBAI: In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, access to freshwater is a perennial quest.

Most countries have a limited supply of the precious resource, which is also under severe stress due to arid conditions, population growth, poor infrastructure and overexploitation. 

Large expanses of MENA are hot and dry, with only two percent covered by wetlands, so water supply is poor to begin with. To compound the problem, countries are placing increased demands on their limited supplies.

Against this backdrop, a report conducted jointly by Good Judgement, a geopolitical and geo-economic forecasting entity, and the Dubai-based Arab Strategy Forum has tried to find out if water scarcity would heighten future security risks in the region.

The study, which looked at 11 global megatrends and forecasts for the next decade, presented findings by a group of “superforecasters” from around the world, who have proven to be “30 percent more accurate than 4,300 members of the US intelligence community.”

According to the research, the overall probability that water scarcity would act as a pivot point in one or more regional conflicts over the next 10 years was fairly small, at 8 percent.

Kerry Anderson, a political risk consultant, says water concerns in the MENA region are more likely to stoke internal civil unrest and “exacerbate” other issues than cause cross-border conflict.

Describing water scarcity as potentially a “contributing factor in the escalation of hostilities” regionally, the Good Judgement report put the likelihood of a conflict between Jordan and Israel at only 1 percent.

The chances of war between Turkey and Iraq or Egypt and Ethiopia were both put at 3 percent, although the latter was considered to be among the more probable ones.

“(While) Egypt against Ethiopia is the only case where a more powerful downstream country may lose water, the report never says that a conflict may emerge considering the significant drought and deteriorating economic situation in Egypt,” Anderson told Arab News.

With regard to the tensions between Turkey, Iraq and Syria, Anderson said water disputes were unlikely to be the cause of any future conflict involving the three countries.

“Iraq’s government and military are not currently capable of launching the type of war against Turkey that would be necessary to force Turkey to change its policies,” she added.

Anderson also points out that objections by Jordan and Iraq, to what they see as disproportionate extraction of water from shared resources respectively by Israel and Turkey, are unlikely to escalate into a conflict.

“The risk of a war over competing claims might be low, but the risk of water shortages and disputes contributing to political instability, protest movements and economic challenges is far greater.”

For instance, rural families could be forced to leave unproductive farms and migrate to cities, which would contribute to increased social pressures on communities. In combination with corruption, water scarcity could worsen “inequalities,” fueling unrest, Anderson said.

The risks for MENA countries due to water scarcity cannot be overstated. A report released last year by the World Resources Institute (WRI) said 12 of the 17 most water-stressed countries in the world were located in the MENA region.

In the WRI’s “Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas,” Qatar was ranked first, followed by Israel, Lebanon, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Oman.

The scale of the challenge facing MENA governments can be gauged from the fact that in 2017, 17 out of 22 Arab League nations had more than half their populations living in urban areas.

Regional experts say the growth of urban areas in MENA countries is inevitable given that rural living was nearly impossible on arid land with marginal environments that could barely support subsistence agriculture.

The combination of increasing populations, especially in the cities, new municipalities and industrial units, rising living standards, and maintenance or expansion of irrigation systems, was putting additional pressure every year on already water-stressed countries.

In the past, the increasing demand on a limited supply of water had sparked strife, but in the future the same phenomenon could be a trigger for more migration and social unrest, according to Middle East observers.

Protests linked to water have repeatedly broken out in Iraq and Iran, and some experts have linked the Arab Spring uprisings to instability caused by droughts and heatwaves.

“There is substantial evidence that extreme, prolonged drought contributed to the causes of the Syrian civil war, partly by prompting a migration from rural areas to cities,” Anderson said.

Waleed Zubari, coordinator of the water resources management program at the College of Graduate Studies in Manama, Bahrain, said close to 1 million people were affected by an extended drought in northeastern Syria between 2006 and 2009.

This mass displacement of people from their farms in search of refuge in cities contributed to the conditions that led to the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, Zubari added.

Competition for scarce water resources exist in Palestine as well, he said, noting that Israel had exercised full control over water resources in the West Bank since 1967, including supplies from the Jordan River and mountain aquifers.

Darfur in western Sudan was another example, according to Zubari, where climate variability, water scarcity and loss of fertile land aggravated the region’s political problems, caused by ethnic tensions, to spark protracted civil war.

“Water is increasingly becoming an additional source of tension in an already unstable region,” he said, pointing out that it was now a national security priority for many Arab countries.

Given that 60 percent of the Middle East’s surface water originates from outside the region and almost all water basins are shared, the lack of management and planning in the distribution of these resources was likely to remain a source of political tensions.

Even so, Zubari added, water scarcity was an unlikely determinant of conflict in the Arab region if the past was any guide. “History also shows that power asymmetry in favor of the upstream or occupying countries is a major factor in avoiding conflict over water instigated by downstream countries.”

Put simply, even if water stress does not cause wars, across the Arab region factors such as population increase, economic growth and climate change will place ever greater strain on limited water resources and confront policy makers with daunting challenges.

Raising crops in PV facades of buildings

Raising crops in PV facades of buildings

An international research group has analyzed the visual impact of PV facades on buildings which include crop cultivation. Architects, PV specialists and farmers were surveyed and the results showed broad acceptance of such projects. The ‘vertical farming’ survey generated suggestions for the design of productive facades. So here is Raising crops in PV facades of buildings by Emiliano Bellini.


February 19, 2020

An international research team including scientists from Cuba’s Technological University of Havana and the National University of Singapore has investigated the potential of integrating PV facades with ‘vertical farming’ on buildings in densely-populated cities.

According to findings presented in the study Architectural quality of the productive façades integrating photovoltaic and vertical farming systems: Survey among experts in Singapore, published in Frontiers of Architectural Research, there is broad acceptance for projects combining crop cultivation and solar power generation – which the researchers defined as “productive facades (PF)” – despite concerns over architectural integration.

Web survey

The researchers conducted anonymous 10-minute, multiple-choice web surveys in English with 15 questions. The group also provided images of four variants of productive facade, with respondents asked to rate their architectural quality on a scale of one to five.

The questions addressed topics including the visual impact of PV modules and crops, preferences about the arrangement of PV modules and ease of operation for owners and workers. Around 80% of the 97 respondents were architects with the remainder engineers, PV specialists, productive facade experts, horticulturalists, solar facade professionals, consultants and other professionals.

Architectural concerns

The results indicated architects and designers gave low ratings to all four of the designs presented and rated the design of PV installation poor. However, respondents with experience in horticulture, farming and PV facades showed stronger acceptance of building-integrated productive facades. “All groups of experts agree that PFs have the most positive effect on the exterior facade design and have accordingly graded them with higher marks than the designs without PV and VF [vertical farming] systems,” the paper noted.

Concerns were expressed by almost all respondents about the logistics of crop cultivation and irrigation near electronic devices such as the vertical solar modules.

“Several comments recommended exploring more creative designs,” the researchers added.

The lowest rating – 2.84 – was given to a productive facade with only PV modules visible from the inside. The highest mark – 3.9 – was scored by the image in which only plants were visible.

Tips for developers

The study also generated recommendations for the improvement of productive facade prototypes. “It should be noted that the selection of elements for practical application cannot be made based on a single isolated PF element – the entire building should be considered, especially the aesthetic elements of the building envelope, such as composition, proportion, rhythm, transparency, scale, colors and materials,” the researchers stated.

The study’s authors recommended the installation of the PV systems on north and south-facing facades, with ceiling level a preferable location.

Tilt angles of less than 20 degrees were suggested as a better aesthetic solution which would also avoid reflection onto neighboring buildings. “However, a well-designed integration of the PV modules with the planter of the above storey provides additional advantages – it improves the quality of indoor daylight and obstructs the view from inside to a lesser degree,” the study stated.

The researchers added copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) panels were preferred to crystalline silicon modules, due to their more homogeneous structure.

Emiliano Bellini

Emiliano joined pv magazine in March 2017. He has been reporting on solar and renewable energy since 2009.

emiliano.bellini@pv-magazine.com

More articles from Emiliano Bellini

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Arab leaders: Fix the economy, stem corruption, create jobs

Arab leaders: Fix the economy, stem corruption, create jobs

ZAWYA’s ECONOMY on December 9, 2019, posted this Message for Arab leaders: Fix the economy, stem corruption, create jobs by Chris Doyle.

Religion is not seen as some great threat, but what clearly keeps people awake is the state of the economy.


Arab leaders: Fix the economy, stem corruption, create jobs

Opinion polls that contribute meaningfully to our collective understanding of the Middle East and opinions of Arabs across the region are vital. For too long, commentators and analysts, many in the West but elsewhere too, have presumed to know what Arabs think, to discuss the mind of the Arabs, or to buy into the group-think mirage of the region. It is ludicrous, of course, and as the latest Arab News poll highlights, opinions and views vary widely.

Just how significant a role religion does and should play in the lives and politics of the region is one of the great debates of the day. It matters in particular in two of the countries engulfed in serious protests at present: Iraq and Lebanon.

The headlines from this poll back up previous studies indicating that more people in the Arab world, whilst still seeing religion as an essential part of their lives, want to see a greater separation of religion and politics. They are less willing to support any extremist agenda.

Younger people are also veering away from religion more than previous generations. A BBC poll in 2018 indicated that Arabs were perhaps less religious than before, borne out by comparing it to a 2013 poll. This applies to many other areas of the world. Polls show that American Christians are also becoming less religious.

Such views figure highly in Iraq and Lebanon, where protesters over the last two months have been pushing for an end to sectarian models of government in an attempt to weaken divisive and counterproductive identity-driven politics.

Iraqis and Lebanese agree by 74 percent and 63 percent respectively that religion affects political decision-making by their government. And more than two-thirds of those polled in both countries do not dispute the statement that separation of religion and politics would lead to fewer wars.

Will they get their wish to rewrite their political systems? At present, despite the widespread and powerful nature of these protests, it would appear not. The existing elites in Iraq and Lebanon do not appear to be budging, and neither country looks like it is heading to a post- sectarian future anytime soon.

Strangely, however, the only politically significant leader in Iraq to be backing the protesters is Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the pre-eminent Shiite cleric from Najaf, but many other clerics do not back this position. In Lebanon, Hezbollah has unambiguously opposed the protests. Its leader Hassan Nasrallah has accused the protesters of being foreign agents.

None of these polls will make much impact perhaps in Europe and North America. How many will take note and believe that the Arab world is changing and becoming more opposed to extremism? It runs counter to the well-oiled narrative common in the media.

Yet the Arab News poll is also revealing of what other challenges Arabs see as relevant to their future. Religion is not seen as some great threat, but what clearly keeps people awake is the state of the economy. Iraqis and Lebanese strongly agree (57 percent and 61 percent, respectively) that the future would be better if economic matters were prioritized above everything else.

It has been a core feature of the protests, of which corruption — seen as the top problem in both countries, where it is endemic — and youth unemployment have been among the primary drivers. One wonders why the figures are not even higher when you consider how resource-rich Iraq is, but how poor public services are, and how frequently useless the flabby institutions of state are.

Iraq and Lebanon face multiple challenges, but the study’s message is clear: Fixing the economy, stemming corruption and creating jobs should be the primary focus. How that will be done, particularly in a country as indebted as Lebanon, is at the heart of the current crisis.

The poll does reveal a perhaps surprisingly optimistic outlook. Most of those polled foresaw that extremism in the region was in decline, envisaging a drop in terrorism in the coming years. Only 28 percent saw radical Islam as having a negative impact on society in the Arab world, and just 15 percent saw extremism as the main cause of conflict in the region.

Western policymakers and media moguls should take note. Everyone must hope that they are right, even if the risks remain high. Increasingly, polling shows — as this one does — rising support for inclusiveness (especially women’s rights) and less aversion to women having a prominent role in political life. Both Iraq and Lebanon have a poor record on female involvement at the upper echelons of their politics.

Arabs polled also seem to be clear on the way forward. That matters. The economy must come first. To achieve that, they desire improved governance, with systems they can trust and where religion plays a part in daily life but less so in politics.

• Chris Doyle is director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU). He has worked with the council since 1993 after graduating with a first-class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. He has organized and accompanied numerous British parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Twitter: @DoylechDisclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view

Growth in Emerging Market and Developing Economies

Growth in Emerging Market and Developing Economies

Romain Duval and Davide Furceri, authors of this article that obviously elaborates on the currently so-called developing countries. It does not ignore that there is some differentiation between oil and/or other scarce natural resources and the non-exporters of the same. It might as well be talking about these two categories of countries but perhaps along with the character traits described in the image below. Why you might wonder. Simply because How To Reignite Growth in Emerging Market and Developing Economies as developed here, could well apply to all countries in the MENA region, perhaps worldwide not for the same reasons.

Growth in Emerging Market and Developing Economies
NPR quotes the Associated Press, which says that the term ‘developing country’ is more appropriate than Third World when referring to the economically developing nations of Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

Let us, in the meantime, read what they say.

Growth in Emerging Market and Developing Economies
(photo: Kacper Pempel/Reuters/Newscom)

Emerging markets and developing economies have enjoyed good growth over the past two decades. But many countries are still not catching up with the living standards of advanced economies.

At current growth rates, it would take more than 50 years for a typical emerging market economy to close half of its current income gap in living standards, and 90 years for a typical developing economy.

Our research in Chapter 3 of the October 2019 World Economic Outlook finds that implementing major reforms in six key areas at the same time—domestic finance, external finance, trade, labor markets, product markets, and governance—can double the speed of income convergence of the average emerging market and developing economy to the living standards of advanced economies. This could raise output levels by more than 7 percent over a six-year period.

Structural reforms can yield sizable payoffs.

More room for reforms

Policies that change the way governments work—known as structural reforms—are difficult to measure. They often involve policies or issues that are not easy to quantify, such as job protection legislation or the quality of supervision of the domestic banking system.

To address this, the IMF recently developed a comprehensive dataset covering structural regulations in domestic and external finance, trade, and labor and product markets. The data cover a large sample of 90 advanced and developing economies during the past four decades. To the five indicators, we added the quality of governance (for example, how countries control corruption) from the World Gov­ernance Indicators.

The new indicators show that, after the major wave of reforms in the late 1980s and—most importantly—the 1990s, the pace slowed in emerging market and developing economies during the 2000s, especially in low-income developing countries.

While this slowdown reflects the prior generation of reforms, as in advanced economies, there remains ample room for a renewed reform push, particularly in developing economies—notably, across sub-Saharan Africa and, to a lesser extent, in the Middle East and North Africa and the Asia-Pacific region.

Reforms can boost growth and living standards

Based on our empirical research of reforms in 48 current and former emerging markets and 20 developing economies, we find that reforms can yield sizable payoffs. But these gains take time to materialize and vary across different types of regulations. For example, a domestic finance reform of the size that took place in Egypt in 1992 leads to an increase in output of about 2 percent, on average, six years after implementation. We get a similar result for anti-corruption measures, whose effects are sizable in the short run and stabilize at around 2 percent in the medium term. In the other four reforms areas—external finance, trade, product markets, and labor markets—the gains are about 1 percent six years after the reform.

For the average emerging market and developing economy, the results imply that major simultaneous reforms across all six areas considered in this chapter can raise output by more than 7 percent over a six-year period. This would increase annual per capita GDP growth by about 1 percentage point, doubling the average speed of income convergence to advanced-country levels. Model-based analysis—which captures the longer-term effect of reforms and provides insights on the channels through which they affect economic activity—points to output gains about twice as large as the empirical model over the longer term (beyond 6 years).

One channel through which reforms increase output is by reducing informality. For example, lowering barriers to businesses’ entry in the formal sector encourages some informal companies to become formal. In turn, formalization boosts output by increasing companies’ productivity and capital investment. For this reason, the payoff from reforms tends to be larger where informality is pervasive.

Getting the timing, packaging and sequencing right

Some reforms work best when the economy is strong. In good times, reducing layoff costs makes employers more willing to hire new workers, while in bad times it makes them more willing to dismiss existing ones, magnifying the effects of a downturn. Similarly, increasing compe­tition in the financial sector at a time of weak credit demand may push certain financial intermediaries out of business, further weakening the economy.

In countries where the economy is weak, governments may prioritize reforms—such as strengthening product market competition—that pay off regardless of economic conditions, design others to alleviate any short-term costs—such as enacting job protection reforms now with a provision that they will take effect later. These reforms can also be accompanied with monetary or fiscal policy support where possible. 

Reforms also work best if properly packaged and sequenced. Importantly, they typically deliver larger gains in countries where governance is stron­ger. This means that strengthening governance can support economic growth and income convergence not just directly by incentivizing more productive formal enterprises to invest and recruit, but also indirectly by magnifying the payoff from reforms in other areas.

Finally, to fulfill their promise of improving living standards, reforms must be supported by redistributive policies that spread the gains widely across the population—such as strong social safety nets and programs that help workers move across jobs. For reforms to be sustainable and therefore effective, they need to benefit not just some, but all.

About the IMF Blog

IMFBlog is a forum for the views of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) staff and officials on pressing economic and policy issues of the day. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the IMF and its Executive Board.

When growing vegetables is no longer safe

When growing vegetables is no longer safe

The Middle East and North Africa region comprises 14 low and middle-income countries or territories stretching from Iran to Morocco (see Map). The region supports a population of 296 million people, over 120 million of whom live in rural areas. Of these, about 84 million are dependent on agriculture – including fishing and livestock. However, lately, When growing vegetables is no longer safe having been witnessed, the FAO and Japan partnered to fight cholera on Yemen’s farms.


“When I was carried through the hospital doors last June, nobody thought I would live to tell this story,” remembers Adba Saleh Mubarak. “The nurses took one look at me and motioned my daughter to take me away. They thought I was dead,” she recalls. Her daughter, however, insisted that the nurses take a closer look, and thanks to medical treatment, Adba recovered from an acute case of cholera.

Adba Saleh Mubarak is a Yemeni farmer from the Sana’a governorate. She contracted cholera from poorly treated wastewater. The treatment facilities in this area are not sufficient. However, with water so scarce in the region, farmers often have no choice but to use contaminated water. ©FAO

While the disease is endemic in Yemen, the last few years have seen infections spike to a scale not witnessed in living memory. The destruction of water infrastructure due to the conflict, plus aquifer depletion, are largely to blame. With freshwater extremely scarce and sewage disposal systems in disrepair, more and more people are using water of dubious quality.

A still visibly frail Adba suspects she contracted cholera from water from Sana’a’s wastewater treatment plant. The overwhelmed plant is spewing poorly treated wastewater into the canal that runs through the Bani Al Harith District, where Adba lives with her daughter and three grandchildren. Many people here – mainly women and children – use this unsafe water to grow vegetables for their own consumption and to sell in the capital’s markets.

“This area used to be our own little Garden of Eden. We grew all sorts of vegetables,” Adba remembers. She learned the hard way about the risks of bacterial-laden water or food and now avoids contact with it. Yet, even though farmers and families have been warned about the dangers of using water from the canal, the supplies of this precious resource are too hard to come by – and the need for food too great – so these warnings often go ignored.

When growing vegetables is no longer safe
Dysfunctional water treatment plant’s outlet flows through Bani Al-Harith district. Without other choices, farmers often use this water to irrigate their crops, even if it is unsafe. ©FAO
When growing vegetables is no longer safe
Adba cleans vegetables in a bowl using safe, treated water from wastewater treatment plants set up thanks to a FAO-Japan project. ©FAO

Seeing this problem, FAO partnered with Japan to install small-scale wastewater treatment facilities that can produce safe water for irrigation.

The treatment plants use the power of gravity to cycle the water through the various stages of cleaning; this means that the facilities are both cost effective and easy to manage. The rigorous 26-day treatment process involves sedimentation, filtration and aeration that utilizes direct sunlight to kill the microbes and ensure treated water meets the standards required for use in agriculture. At optimum working capacity, each plant can treat 150 cubic meters of wastewater per day.

The vast majority of water in Yemen – as much as 90 percent – goes towards irrigation. To improve water use efficiency, the FAO-Japan project is also rolling out modern drip irrigation systems on an estimated 75 hectares of cultivated land. This system ensures the sustainable and responsible use of treated water for farming.

FAO staff visiting the water treatment plant under construction as part of the “Yemen Cholera Response Mechanism “project in Bani Al-Hareth, Yemen. ©FAO

Through already established Water Users’ Associations, the project is also intensifying public awareness campaigns regarding safe water use in agriculture, food processing and preparation. Farmers are being educated on the perils of untreated wastewater on human and animal health.  The campaigns also focus on the environmental dangers that contaminated water poses to the soil and ecology.

Rania Ahmad Handhal, head of the Women Sector in Ahdaq Water Users’ Association and a participant in the awareness raising effort, says women are particularly at risk. She herself also contracted and recovered from cholera last year. “Getting cholera, however, strengthened my resolve to continue raising awareness among women in our village because they are the ones who farm and use water more extensively than the men,” she says.

Every day Rania tirelessly goes from door to door talking to women about cholera and how to avoid it. “I do my best in trying to save the lives of my people. I am very optimistic and hopeful that with better information and projects such as this one, we can beat cholera and women can earn much more from growing and selling vegetables,” she concludes with a smile.

The FAO-Japan project will save thousands of families living in Sana’a who rely on vegetables from this region. While this project has done a lot to mitigate the spread cholera, it is, however, not enough to cover the irrigation demands of the population. FAO is thus proposing to scale up interventions through a new phase, which will see new plants constructed covering the remaining 320 hectares available.  This will allow farmers to expand their vegetable production while ensuring that untreated water is not used to irrigate vegetables in Bani Al-Hareth.

Water, food, health: the basics that everyone should have. FAO and its Member countries are working toward the Sustainable Development Goals, with this project particularly focusing on Zero Hunger (SDG 2), Good Health (SDG 3) and Clean Water (SDG 6), to ensure that people worldwide have access to these basic human rights.

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Cross-border water planning key, report warns

Cross-border water planning key, report warns

In AFRICATECH of August 22, 2019; More deals, less conflict? Wondered Laurie Goering, Thomson Reuters Foundation whilst Cross-border water planning key, report warns.

LONDON, Aug 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Efforts to share rivers, lakes, and aquifers that cross national boundaries are falling short, raising a growing risk of conflict as global water supplies run low, researchers warned on Thursday.

Fewer than one in three of the world’s transboundary rivers and lake basins and just nine of the 350 aquifers that straddle more than one country have cross-border management systems in place, according to a new index by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

With more than half the world’s population likely to live in water-scarce areas by 2050 and 40 percent dependent on transboundary water, that is a growing threat, said Matus Samel, a public policy consultant with the Economist Intelligence Unit.

“Most transboundary basins are peaceful, but the trend is that we are seeing more and more tensions and conflict arising,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

When work began on the index, which looks at five key river basins around the world from the Mekong to the Amazon, researchers thought they would see hints of future problems rather than current ones, Samel said.

Instead, they found water scarcity was becoming a “very urgent” issue, he said. “It surprised me personally the urgency of some of the situation some of these basins are facing.”

Population growth, climate change, economic and agricultural expansion and deforestation are all placing greater pressures on the world’s limited supplies of water, scientists say.

As competition grows, some regions have put in place relatively effective bodies to try to share water fairly, the Economist Intelligence Unit report said.

Despite worsening drought, the Senegal River basin, shared by West African nations including Senegal, Mali, and Mauritania, has held together a regional water-governance body that has attracted investment and support, Samel said.

Efforts to jointly govern the Sava River basin, which crosses many of the once warring nations of the former Yugoslavia in southeast Europe, have also been largely successful, he said.

But replicating that is likely to be “a huge challenge” in conflict-hit basins, such as along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Iraq and Syria, Samel said.

Still, even in tough political situations, “there are ways … countries and local governments and others can work together to make sure conflicts do not emerge and do not escalate,” he said.

“The benefits of cooperation go way beyond direct access to drinking water,” he said. “It’s about creating trust and channels for communication that might not otherwise exist.”

‘NO EASY SOLUTIONS’

The report suggests national leaders make water security a priority now, link water policy to other national policies, from agriculture to trade, and put in place water-sharing institutions early.

“There are no easy solutions or universal solutions,” Samel warned. “But there are lessons regions and basins can learn and share.”

The index has yet to examine many hotspots, from the Nile River and Lake Chad in Africa to the Indus river system in India and Pakistan, but Samel said it would be expanded in coming years.

Working toward better shared water management is particularly crucial as climate change brings more drought, floods, and other water extremes, said Alan Nicol, who is based in Ethiopia for the International Water Management Institute.

“Knowing how a system works effectively helps you know what to do in the face of a massive drought or flood event – and we should expect more extreme weather,” he said.

While efforts to coordinate water policy with other national and regional policies and priorities are crucial, the key missing element in shoring up water security is political will, he said.

“We’ve been talking about this kind of integrated water management for 30 years,” he said. “The problem is practicing it. And that’s essentially a political problem.”

Reporting by Laurie Goering @lauriegoering; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking, and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate

Keeping Global Warming to well below 2°C

Keeping Global Warming to well below 2°C

The word “climate” makes most of us look up to the sky – however, the IPCC’s new special report on climate change and land should make us all look under our feet. This is how Anna Krzywoszynska, Research Fellow and Associate Director of the Institute for Sustainable Food, University of Sheffield introduced her article published on The Conversation of last week before adding that ‘Land, the report shows, is intimately linked to the climate. Changes in land use result in changes to the climate and vice versa. In other words, what we do to our soils, we do to our climate – and ourselves.’ So, keeping Global Warming to well below 2°C is the hurdle that all humans need to get over in order to achieve the Paris Agreement requirements.

How? Here is Trade Arabia’s.

Keeping Global Warming to well below 2°C
Land is under pressure from humans and climate
change, but it is part of the solution, says IPCC

Land a critical resource to cut emissions: IPCC

Land is already under growing human pressure and climate change is adding to these pressures. At the same time, keeping global warming to well below 2C can be achieved only by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors including land and food, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in its latest report.

“Governments challenged the IPCC to take the first ever comprehensive look at the whole land-climate system. We did this through many contributions from experts and governments worldwide. This is the first time in IPCC report history that a majority of authors – 53 per cent – are from developing countries,” said Hoesung Lee, chair of the IPCC.

This report shows that better land management can contribute to tackling climate change, but is not the only solution. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors is essential if global warming is to be kept to well below 2C, if not 1.5C.

In 2015, governments backed the Paris Agreement goal of strengthening the global response to climate change by holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5C.

Land must remain productive to maintain food security as the population increases and the negative impacts of climate change on vegetation increase. This means there are limits to the contribution of land to addressing climate change, for instance through the cultivation of energy crops and afforestation. It also takes time for trees and soils to store carbon effectively.

Bioenergy needs to be carefully managed to avoid risks to food security, biodiversity and land degradation. Desirable outcomes will depend on locally appropriate policies and governance systems.

Climate Change and Land finds that the world is best placed to tackle climate change when there is an overall focus on sustainability. “Land plays an important role in the climate system,” said Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III.

“Agriculture, forestry and other types of land use account for 23 per cent of human greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time natural land processes absorb carbon dioxide equivalent to almost a third of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry,” he said.

The report shows how managing land resources sustainably can help address climate change, said Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of IPCC Working Group II.

“Land already in use could feed the world in a changing climate and provide biomass for renewable energy, but early, far-reaching action across several areas is required. Also for the conservation and restoration of ecosystems and biodiversity,” he added.

Desertification and land degradation

When land is degraded, it becomes less productive, restricting what can be grown and reducing the soil’s ability to absorb carbon. This exacerbates climate change, while climate change, in turn, exacerbates land degradation in many different ways.

“The choices we make about sustainable land management can help reduce and in some cases reverse these adverse impacts,” said Kiyoto Tanabe, co-chair of the Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories.

“In a future with more intensive rainfall the risk of soil erosion on croplands increases, and sustainable land management is a way to protect communities from the detrimental impacts of this soil erosion and landslides. However there are limits to what can be done, so in other cases degradation might be irreversible,” he said.

Roughly 500 million people live in areas that experience desertification. Drylands and areas that experience desertification are also more vulnerable to climate change and extreme events including drought, heatwaves, and dust storms, with an increasing global population providing further pressure.

The report sets out options to tackle land degradation and prevent or adapt to further climate change. It also examines potential impacts from different levels of global warming. “New knowledge shows an increase in risks from dryland water scarcity, fire damage, permafrost degradation and food system instability, even for global warming of around 1.5C,” said Valérie Masson-Delmotte, co-chair of IPCC Working Group I.

“Very high risks related to permafrost degradation and food system instability are identified at 2°C of global warming,” she said.

– TradeArabia News Service

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