Is digital trust the key to sustainable planning?

Is digital trust the key to sustainable planning?

Is digital trust the key to sustainable planning? wondered Nicole Bennetts, Senior Urban and Regional Planner in an ARUP blog.  The answer follows.

Is digital trust the key to sustainable planning?

Our growth challenges in cities globally are becoming more complex. Now more than ever, we need new solutions and creativity to help us shape more resilient and sustainable cities in the future.

For the first time in history, we have access to dynamic urban data to understand people’s collective behaviours in real time. If used, this expansive evidence base can help planners, designers, and decision-makers make more informed decisions about the future of our cities.

However, the timing dilemma is an obstacle in harnessing this data. While urban environments typically develop every 50 years, technology moves more rapidly, significantly improving every five years, creating a disparity between urban planning and urban living.

So how does the planning industry keep pace with digital technology to create sustainable outcomes? One way is to improve our relationship with the digital world and put trust and confidence in digital tools and innovative solutions.

Is digital trust the key to sustainable planning?

While urban environments typically develop every 50 years, technology moves more rapidly, significantly improving every five years, creating a disparity between urban planning and urban living.

While urban environments typically develop every 50 years, technology moves more rapidly, significantly improving every five years, creating a disparity between urban planning and urban living.

Why should planners trust data and digital?

Our cities are where urban planning and living come together. They are a super ‘neural network’ of interrelated systems. To create intelligent, responsive cities, urban development must embrace new possibilities using data and the internet of things (IoT).

Technology and data have never been more available. As a result, urban planning has a massive opportunity to unleash its full potential by investing more time and resources into harnessing data and digital planning.

Tools like the ‘digital twin’ are likely to become an indispensable part of future ‘urban infrastructure’, enabling the seamless integration of the ‘physical’ and ‘digital’ worlds and redefining how we plan.

Similarly, digital master planning is a framework to test thousands of options based on various variables and parameters to test failure, resilience, adaptative pathways, optimal living conditions, human health and welling, energy efficiency and more.

The planning industry must adapt to this changing paradigm, by matching the efforts and confidence invested in building the cloud system and IoT coverage, or risk being left behind.

How Arup planners are using the power of digital

Projects worldwide show the value and credibility of digital tools to create growth and provide sustainable outcomes.

Cities urban tree canopy is a critical component of green infrastructure providing comfortable environments and reducing heat. Arup’s leading Urban tree canopy analysis used is a study for the City of Gold Coast, which uses a computer algorithm to determine the percentage of vegetation cover over different time intervals to show canopy changes.

Terrain is Arup’s bespoke artificial intelligence and land use analysis tool. It harnesses the power of data analytics, machine learning and automation to accurately digest large quantities of data and satellite imagery. Using this tool, we calculated seven cities’ sponginess by measuring the green and blue infrastructure areas to understand how cities can better use this infrastructure to face increasing threats from climate change – including heavy rainfall and extreme heat events.

Another Arup tool is the City Algorithm Tool (CAT) which tests hundreds of growth scenarios using different development and community value parameters to determine optimal outcomes for urban living. For example, Smakkelaarsveld in the Netherlands used algorithms to optimise the scheme design against multiple KPIs, including sustainability and environmental objectives.

Similarly, digital master planning can test site and precinct options based on various variables and parameters to test failure, resilience, adaptative pathways and optimal living conditions.

The last example, solar analysis helps test hundreds of layouts and orientations to achieve optimal living conditions and thermal comfort. For example, for Mahindra World City Jaipur, we used solar assessment tools to determine the optimal orientation for the plots and streets to provide thermal comfort in a hot climate.

Small risks, great rewards

Trust in the planning process is the foundation for our cities to take the best path to sustainable growth. Taking small, calculated risks in improving our digital capabilities now can lead to great rewards for our cities.

Is digital trust the key to sustainable planning?

Taking small, calculated risks in improving our digital capabilities now can lead to great rewards for our cities.

  • Speed and efficiency, automating tedious and repetitive tasks and allowing more design and collaboration time.
  • Test 3D scenarios, assessing hundreds or thousands of options during the planning process against agreed parameters or criteria.
  • Facilitate approval process, comparing design scenarios with consented planning schemes and existing site conditions for faster agreement on key issues.
  • Identify client priorities; testing many possibilities can help identify what is most important.
  • Improve participatory design; with more data, we can understand community needs and improve community engagement.

Read more on ARUP post.

Sustainability helps reduce the environmental impact of industry

Sustainability helps reduce the environmental impact of industry

Would Sustainability in the manufacturing sector help reduce the environmental impact of the industry, or as put by Nabil Nasr of Rochester Institute of Technology, who below talks about how Sustainability helps reduce the environmental impact of the industry. 

In their respective effort to develop and diversify their economies, the MENA countries would do well, unlike the developed countries hundreds of years ago, consider Sustainability and factor it in.  The sooner these countries can meet the current requirements would certainly lighten their future generation of entrepreneurs when tackling the world’s most significant challenge of Sustainability.

The image above is on how Sustainable manufacturing offers ways to reduce environmental impact.
Fertnig/E+ via Getty Images

 

How sustainable manufacturing could help reduce the environmental impact of industry

 

Nabil Nasr is the associate provost and director of the Golisano Institute for Sustainability at Rochester Institute of Technology. He is also the CEO of the Remade Institute, which was established by the U.S. government to conduct early-stage R&D to accelerate the transition to circular economy, which is a sustainable industrial model for improved resource efficiency and decreased systemic energy, emissions and waste generation. Below are highlights from an interview with The Conversation. Here, Nasr explains some of the ideas behind sustainable manufacturing and why they matter. Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Nabil Nasr, associate provost and director of the Golisano Institute for Sustainability at Rochester Institute of Technology, discusses sustainable manufacturing and other topics.

How would you explain sustainable manufacturing? What does the average person not know or understand about sustainable manufacturing?

When we talk about sustainable manufacturing, we mean cleaner and more efficient systems with less resource consumption, less waste and emissions. It is to simply minimize any negative impact on the environment while we are still meeting demand, but in much more efficient and sustainable ways. One example of sustainable manufacturing is an automotive factory carrying out its production capacity with 10% of its typical emission due to advanced and efficient processing technology, reducing its production waste to near zero by figuring out how to switch its shipping containers of supplied parts from single use to reusable ones, accept more recycled materials in production, and through innovation make their products more efficient and last longer.

Sustainability is about the proper balance in a system. In our industrial system, it means we are taking into account the impact of what we do and also making sure we understand the impact on the supply side of natural resources that we use. It is understanding environmental impacts and making sure we’re not causing negative impacts unnecessarily. It’s being able to ensure that we are able to satisfy our demands now and in the future without facing any environmental challenges.

Early on at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, emissions, waste and natural resource consumption were low. A lot of the manufacturing impacts on the environment were not taken into account because the volumes that we were generating were much, much lower than we have today. The methods and approaches in manufacturing we use today are really built on a lot of those approaches that we developed back then.

The reality is that the situation today has drastically changed, but our approaches have not. There is plenty of industrialization going on around the globe. And, there is plenty of pollution and waste generated. In addition, a lot of materials we use in manufacturing are nonrenewable resources.

So it sounds like countries that are industrialized now picked up a lot of bad habits. And we know that growth is coming from these developing nations and we don’t want them to repeat those bad habits. But we want to raise their standard of living just without the consequences that we brought to the environment.

Yeah, absolutely. So there was an article I read a long time ago that said China and India either will destroy the world or save it. And I think the rationale was that if China and India copy the model and technologies used in the West to building its industrial system, the world will see drastic negative impact on the environment. The key factor here is the significantly high scale of activities needed to support their very large populations. However, if they are much more innovative and come up with much more efficient and cleaner methods better than used in the West to build up industrial enterprises, they would save the world because the scale of what they do is significant.

In talking about how these two countries could either ruin or save the world, do you remain an optimist?

Absolutely. I serve on the the United Nations Environment Program’s International Resource Panel. One of the IRP’s roles is to inform policy through validated independent scientific studies. One of the panel’s reports is called the Global Resources Outlook. The last report was published in 2019.

The experts are saying that if business as usual continues, we’re probably going to increase greenhouse gas emission by 43% by 2060. However, if we employ effective sustainability measures across the globe, we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a significant percentage, even by as much as 90%. A 2018 study I led for the IRP found that applying remanufacturing alongside other resource recovery methods like comprehensive refurbishment, repair and reuse could cut greenhouse gas emissions of those products by 79%–99% across manufacturing supply chains.

So there is optimism if we employ many sustainability measures. However, I’ve been around long enough to know that it’s always disappointing to see that the indicators are there; the approaches to address some of those issues are identified, but the will to actually employ them isn’t. Despite this, I’m still optimistic because we know enough about the right path forward and it is still not too late to move in the right direction.

Were there any lessons we’ve learned during the COVID-19 pandemic that we can apply to challenges we’re facing?

We learned a lot from the COVID crisis. When the risk became known, even though not all agreed, people around the globe took significant measures and actions to address the challenge. We accepted changes to the way we live and interact, we marshaled all of our resources to develop vaccines and address the medical supply shortages. The bottom line is that we rose to the occasion and we, in most part, took actions to deal with the risk in a significant way.

The environmental challenges we face today, like climate change, are serious global challenges as well. However, they have been occurring over a long time and, unfortunately, mostly have not been taken as seriously as they should have been. We certainly have learned that when we have the will to address serious challenges, we can meet them.

Final question. Give me the elevator pitch on remanufacturing.

Remanufacturing is a process by which we bring a product that has been used back to a like-new-or-better condition. Through a rigorous industrial process, we disassemble the product to the component level. We clean, inspect and restore it, qualifying every part. We then reassemble the product similar to what happened when it was built the first time. The reality is that by doing so, you’re using anywhere from 70% to 90% of the materials recovered from the use phase. This has significantly far lower impacts on the environment when compared to making new products from raw materials.

You don’t mine virgin material for that. You’re saving the energy that made those parts; you’re saving the capital equipment that made those parts; you’re saving the labor cost. So the savings are significant. The overall savings are about 50%. For example, a remanufactured vehicle part in the United States requires less than 10% of the energy needed to make a new one, and less than 5% of new materials. That means lower costs for the producer while providing the consumer with a very high-quality product. Examples of commonly remanufactured products are construction equipment, automotive engines and transmissions, medical equipment and aircraft parts. Those products are similar to brand-new products, and companies like Xerox, Caterpillar and GE all have made remanufacturing an important part of their overall operations.The Conversation

Nabil Nasr, Associate Provost Academic Affairs and Director of GIS, Rochester Institute of Technology

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

The Conversation

Bioprospecting and Sustainable Development

Bioprospecting and Sustainable Development

 

Bioprospecting and Sustainable Development

 

On June 30th, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) published a report, titled ‘The New Gold Rush: Bioprospecting,” which elucidates the benefits of bioprospecting for sustainable economic development for underdeveloped countries. Bioprospecting is the exploration of biodiversity for animal and plant substances for medicinal, biochemical, or other commercial purposes. One cause of the socio-economic disparity between rich and poor countries stems from colonial practices of environmental exploitation; larger countries pilfered the resources of smaller countries or current or former colonies to support the metropole’s industrialization and growth.

As underdeveloped countries aim to promote economic growth and political stability, the UNDP report encourages the sustainable extraction of plant and animal substances for pharmaceutical and biochemical purposes, specifically discussing bioprospecting’s potential in Cambodia due to its wealth of biodiversity. As the report articulates, as Cambodia transitions from a “subsistence agriculture-based economy to an agro-industrial economy, its biological resources are increasingly under threat.”[1] Bioprospecting would thus harness traditional environmental knowledge alongside modern science and technology to promote sustainable development; in this way, the UNDP report attempts to revitalize the goals of the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Policy and scientific recommendations on how to deal with the loss of biodiversity due to climate change gained traction with the IUCN’s (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Commission on Environmental Law in the 1980s. Their efforts fed into the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Ad Hoc Working Group of Experts on Biological Diversity in November 1988, which advocated for a multilateral institution to establish norms and protection over biodiversity– ultimately leading to the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The CBD sought to reconcile the need to conserve biodiversity, but also recognize its utilization towards economic and societal development for underdeveloped nations. The CBD begot a Treaty that established three goals: the conservation of biological diversity; the sustainable use of its components; and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from its resources. 196 parties have ratified the treaty, including China, the U.K, Canada, and the E.U, but not the U.S due to its failure to pass the Senate. Its failure derived from three fears of U.S policy makers: that U.S biotech corporations would be required to share their intellectual property in genetic research with other countries; that the U.S would become financially responsible for other country’s conservation; and that the CBD would impose more environmental regulations on the U.S.[2] Even after the Biden Administrations’ efforts to reimpose environmental policy slashed by Trump, similar concerns are thwarting their efforts to ratify the CBD.

These guidelines thus recognize the right of a country to benefit from the extraction of its resources and attempted to prevent biopiracy – a centuries old practice through which indigenous environmental knowledge was exploited and turned to profit. While not a new practice, biopiracy surged throughout the 20th century as modern biotech fields crystallized, often developing by drawing on indigenous knowledge of plants and animals and then patenting them. Furthermore, the Treaty stipulates that potential bioprospectors would need permission from the country’s government,and would require them to state the country of origin of the resource in the patent. The country’s government may also impose access fees or royalty payments for bioprospectors and obtain the research results. Supplementary protocols sprouted from the initial CBD Treaty, including the 2010 Nagoya Protocol, which helped promote the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources, and the 2000 Cartagena Protocol, which ensures the safe handling of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from biotechnology. Such guidelines attempt to reaffirm small countries’ sovereignty over their land and resources, promote sustainable utilization of plant and animal substances, and avoid the recurrence of environmental exploitation that has, among other factors, impeded development in the past.

The inhabitants of the mountainous upland regions of Cambodia have a rich knowledge base of natural resources and conservation. Their cultural norms and worldviews, as well as their livelihoods depend upon a symbiotic relationship with their environment. Climate change currently threatens more than 300 medicinal plants that are native to Cambodia and face extinction. One such plant is Tepongru (Cinnamomum cambodianum), a species of cinnamon that grows in the Cambodian mountains. The healers and herbalists of Khmer traditional medicine– or Kru Khemer, harvest the bark of Tepongru to cure indigestion, tuberculosis, and the regulation of menstruation[3]. The bark also has high concentrations of cinnamaldehyde and eugenol, which biotechnology companies synthesize to use in both perfumes and essential oils, but also as an anesthetic. Furthermore, Kru Khemer engage in a variety of traditional medical practices including bone setting, herbalism, and divination; in this way, Kru Khemer maintain a vital societal role given their deep knowledge not just in medicinal plants and animals, but also in their knowledge of spiritual rituals that mediate the supernatural and the plant.

The CBD Treaty has been interpreted as an important step in sustainable development, a goal for which the U.N established its own ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ protocol under its department of Economic and Social Affairs. Furthermore, the report describes how the UNDP has attempted to support the goals of the CBD in actionable policy: “since 2011 the UNDP, with funding from the Nagoya Protocol Implementation Fund (NPIF) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), has been supporting governments, local communities, and the private sector to develop national ABS frameworks, build capacities, and harness the potential of genetic resources”[4]— and specifically, the UNDP is working with Cambodian officials to implement the new project “Developing a Comprehensive Framework for Practical Implementation of the Nagoya Protocol in Cambodia”. And so, despite lacking crucial support from the United States, responsible bioprospecting, and the revitalization of the CBD, presents an opportunity in combating climate change while encouraging sustainable development and international economic equality; the most effective practices for successful environmental protection derive from supranational pursuits, but they still require national cooperation.

[1] https://undp-biodiversity.exposure.co/the-new-gold-rush-bioprospecting

[2] https://www.vox.com/22434172/us-cbd-treaty-biological-diversity-nature-conservation

[3] p. 189 in “Ethnoveterinary Botanical Medicine: Herbal Medicines for Animal Health

[4] https://undp-biodiversity.exposure.co/the-new-gold-rush-bioprospecting

 

 

Technical standards have a key role in achieving the SDGs

Technical standards have a key role in achieving the SDGs

“Standards are a hidden part of the information and communications technology networks and devices we all use daily”. This is how according to Chaesub Lee the technical standards have a vital role in achieving all SDGs.
We all know that ; then this is perhaps a way out of this traumatic vicious circle.

 

Opinion: Technical standards have a key role in achieving the SDGs

By 

Devex, 7 July 2022
Technical standards have a key role in achieving the SDGs
Technical standards can help address some of the most pressing needs of the planet. Photo by: Matthew Horwood / Alamy

Standards are a hidden part of the information and communications technology networks and devices that we all use every day. Though rarely perceived by users, they are vital in enabling the interconnection and interoperability of ICT equipment and devices manufactured by hundreds of thousands of different companies around the world.

For example, 95% of internet traffic is on fiber, built on standards from the International Telecommunication Union, a specialized agency of the United Nations for ICT. ITU has also played a leading role in managing the radio spectrum and developing globally applicable standards for 5G cellular networks.

But while technical standards are clearly indispensable for business and society to work in our industrialized world, it is also becoming clear that technical standards have a key role in addressing the Sustainable Development Goals.

Indeed, the focus of the recent ITU Global Standards Symposium, which brought together more than 700 industry leaders and policymakers, was how standards can help address some of the most pressing needs of the planet, such as eradicating poverty or hunger and mitigating climate change.

To address SDGs 1 and 2 on ending poverty and hunger, an ITU focus group on “Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) for Digital Agriculture” is working toward new standards to support global improvements in the precision and sustainability of farming techniques.

Under ITU and the World Health Organization, a focus group on “Artificial Intelligence for Health” aims to establish an “open code” benchmarking platform, highlighting the type of metrics that could help developers and health regulators certify future AI solutions in the same way as is done for medical equipment. Also, standards for medical-grade digital health devices — such as connected blood pressure cuffs, glucose monitors, or weight scales — are helping prevent and manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Standards are helping bring broadband to rural communities with lightweight optical cable that can be deployed on the ground’s surface with minimal expense and environmental impact. The installation of ultrahigh-speed optical networks typically comes with a great deal of cost and complexity. Standards can change that equation by providing a solution able to be deployed at low cost with everyday tools.

To address SDG 11 on sustainable cities and communities, more than 150 cities around the world have started evaluating their progress toward smart-city objectives and alignment with the SDGs using so-called key performance indicators based on tech standards. These cities are supported by United for Smart Sustainable Cities, an initiative backed by ITU and 16 other U.N. partners.

 

International standards, recognized around the world, are essential for making technologies … accessible and useful to everyone, everywhere.

 

Addressing SDGs related to climate action and green energy, ITU standards for green ICT include sustainable power-feeding solutions for 5G networks, as well as smart energy solutions for telecom sites and data centers that prioritize the intake of power from renewable energy sources. They also cover the use of AI and big data to optimize data center energy efficiency and innovative techniques to reduce energy needs for data center cooling.

Financial inclusion is another key area of action to achieve SDG 1 on ending poverty. Digital channels are bringing life-changing financial services to millions of people for the very first time. Enormous advances have been made within the Financial Inclusion Global Initiative and the associated development of technical standards in support of secure financial applications and services, as well as reliable digital infrastructure and the resulting consumer trust that our money and digital identities are safe.

However, the complexity of global problems requires numerous organizations with different objectives and profiles to work toward common goals. Leading developers of international ICT standards need to work together to address the SDGs, using frameworks such as the World Standards Cooperation, with the support of mechanisms such as the Standards Programme Coordination Group — reviewing activities, identifying standards gaps and opportunities, and ensuring comprehensive standardization solutions to global challenges.

Including a greater variety of voices in standards discussions is crucial. It is particularly important that low- and middle-income countries are heard and that a multistakeholder approach is made a priority to have a successful and inclusive digital transformation.

Uncoordinated and noninclusive standardization can spell lasting harm for countries that already struggle to afford long-term socioeconomic investments. Without global and regional coordination, today’s digital revolution could produce uneven results, making it imperative that all standards bodies work cohesively.

Sustainable digital transformation requires political will. It was notable that last year in Italy for the first time, leaders from the G-20 group of nations used their final communiqué to acknowledge the importance of international consensus-based standards to digital transformation and sustainable development.

This important step could not have been made by one standards body alone.

Cities, governments, and companies face a significant learning curve while adopting new tech as part of low-carbon, sustainable, citizen-centric development strategies to meet the challenge of addressing the SDGs. International standards, recognized around the world, are essential for making technologies in areas like digital health and 5G — combined with bigger and better data use — accessible and useful to everyone, everywhere.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex’s editorial views.
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About the author
Technical standards have a key role in achieving the SDGs

Chaesub Lee

Chaesub Lee is the director of the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau at the International Telecommunication Union, a specialized agency of the United Nations for ICT. Lee has contributed to ICT standardization for over 30 years, specializing in areas such as integrated services digital networks, global information infrastructure, internet protocol, next-generation networks, internet protocol television, and cloud computing.

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Arab Human Development Report 2022: Expanding Opportunities

Arab Human Development Report 2022: Expanding Opportunities

Arab Human Development Report 2022: Expanding Opportunities for an Inclusive and Resilient Recovery in the Post-Covid Era

Post-Covid Recovery, an opportunity to boost development in the region. Responsive governance, more diversified economies, inclusive societies, and a green transformation critical to achieving sustainable, inclusive development and prevent future shocks and disasters

29 June 2022

 

 

The report contends that a sound recovery from the impact of the pandemic in the region will require a concerted effort to protect the vulnerable, empower citizens, strengthen human rights, ensure the rule of law, and make systems more effective and responsive.

UNDP PAPP

 

 

New York – As they pursue pathways to recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, Arab States should strengthen capacities and build effective and trustworthy institutional structures that can support a new social contract and enable societies to cope with future shocks and disasters—according to the Arab Human Development Report (AHDR) 2022 that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched today.

“Many countries in the Arab States region are still struggling to contend with the devastating socio-economic effects of COVID-19, now compounded by an unprecedented global food, energy and finance crisis that is being precipitated by the tragic war in Ukraine,” says Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator. “This new report analyses how countries across the region can get hard-won human development gains back on track through concerted efforts in four key areas. That includes building diversified and competitive economies; shaping accountable and responsive governments founded upon the protection of human rights; nurturing inclusive and cohesive societies; and driving forward a green recovery with sustainable human development at its core.”

Produced by UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Arab States (RBAS), the AHDR 2022 is entitled “Expanding Opportunities for an Inclusive and Resilient Recovery in the Post-Covid Era.” It is the seventh in the AHDR series, marking 20 years of keen analysis of development challenges and opportunities across the Arab States region since the launch of the seminal AHDR in 2002.

The report reviews impacts of the pandemic on human development across the region, as well as actions taken by Arab States to contain the outbreak and mitigate its most adverse impacts on people and the economy.  The AHDR 2022 argues that getting human development back on track in the post-pandemic era will require greater efforts to make governance systems more accountable and re­sponsive, economies more diversified and competi­tive, and societies more cohesive and inclusive—in order to ensure a resilient recovery for all.

“The Arab States region has been experiencing various vulnerabilities and is notable for a diverse range of development contexts– but the rapid onset of the global pandemic challenged all to varying degrees, presenting new challenges, and exacerbating vulnerabilities. But as the report tells us, vulnerabilities are not our destiny” said Khalida Bouzar, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director of RBAS. “Full of potential and brimming with innovative efforts, the region adopted many positive response measures that could be expanded and scaled-up beyond the Covid response. Knowledge and solutions to tackle the region’s challenges exist. Many are known and have been tested and shown to work. Our collective endeavour now is to create the conditions to allow these efforts to blossom and reach fruition.”

The AHDR 2022 contends that human ca­pabilities and human freedoms are enhanced by ac­countable and responsive governments, diversified and resilient economies, and cohesive and inclusive societies. Hence, the report’s focus on examining impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and measures adopted to contain its implications across the spheres of governance, economy, society, and the environment—considering underlying long-standing development challenges that the region has struggled with prior to the pandemic.

Trust in government is critical to Covid response

The report observes that the efficacy of responses to the pandemic across the diverse development contexts in the region was related to levels of institutional capacity and coordination between government agencies.

For example, Gulf Cooperation Council governments succeed­ed in bringing the pandemic outbreak under control, displaying an average recovery rate that was significantly higher than the global aver­age. Middle-income countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia were relatively successful in handling the first wave of the outbreak but loosened their control afterward. Countries in crises had limited capacity to mitigate impacts of Covid-19 outbreaks because of the destruction of their health in­frastructure, displacement or migration of health-care workers, breakdown of social relations and accumulating economic challenges.

During Covid, limited trust in government institutions was reflected in pushback against Covid-19 containment measures and high rates of vaccine hesitancy, a trend observed across different regions globally.

The report also notes that some governments expanded their executive pow­ers through emergency regulations to respond to Covid-19 and protect communities from its impacts. This was sometimes done, given the rapidly evolving context, with limited oversight mechanisms in place. Some put in place new meas­ures that affect civic freedoms, including regulations that expanded digital surveillance of citizens in certain instances. Others applied greater controls of free expression and the media, including social media, under the guise of fighting misinformation. The report cites that the percentage of citizens who believe that freedom of speech is guaranteed to a great or medium extent has declined by 20 percentage points since 2016, from 63 percent to 43 percent in the region.

Rising debt levels may last for a while

The report underscores that the region’s economy contracted by around 4.5 percent in 2020, with fragile and conflict-affected countries experiencing the larg­est average drop—around 15 percent. Despite positive signs at the end of 2021, the report notes that an ac­celerated recovery in 2022 is unlikely, given emerging challenges facing the region. With an average expected growth rate of 5.5 percent for the whole re­gion, driven mainly by the performance of oil-exporting countries, economic growth may continue to be challenging.

During the first year of the pandemic, existing large fiscal deficits widened further across the region, with falling revenues, due to dwindling oil demand, and rising financing needs for containing the pandemic and its economic impacts on households and businesses. In 2020, the average overall deficit widened by 7 percentage points, to 9.2 percent of GDP, while in 2021 the region’s average fiscal deficit narrowed to 2.3 percent and is expected to turn into a surplus of 4.1 percent of GDP in 2022.

Large fiscal deficits have increased government debt, worsening an already vulnerable debt position. In 2020, the region’s overall average government debt peaked at 60 percent of GDP, up around 13 percentage points from 2019. Over the medium term, government debt as a percentage of GDP is projected to rise sub­stantially and remain above 2019 levels for the ma­jority of countries in the region. Net flows of foreign direct investment (FDI) to the re­gion fell by 6 percent in 2020.

In 2021, unemploy­ment rose to 12.6 in the Arab States region, more than double the world average of 6.2 percent. Female labour force participation rates were among the lowest in the world, at 20.3 percent in the Arab States region in 2019. Women’s unemployment rate remained at 24 percent the Arab States region, still three to four times the world average.

In 2021, the region had the world’s highest youth unemployment rate (15-24 years old), at 28.6 percent, rising steeply from 25.3 percent in 2019. The unemployment rate among young women was also the highest in the world, and over twice the figure among young men, reaching 49.1 in 2021 from 44.7 percent in 2019 (compared to 23.8 percent among young men in 2021 and 20.8 percent in 2019).

It is important to note that many of these challenges mirror global trends in the currently volatile context, with a slump in global growth forecast for 2022 and growth across many regions decelerating even further than in the Arab States region.

Widening inequalities

The pandemic has led to widening existing inequalities and exacerbated exclusion, particularly from access to healthcare and education. The report points out that prior to the pandemic, inadequate public financ­ing had placed the burden of healthcare on patients. Out-of-pocket spending averaged 28 percent of household spending in the region, compared with 18 percent worldwide—but with significant var­iations from a low of 6.6 percent in Oman to a high of 81 percent in Yemen.

This reflects the severity of the impact of the pandemic, given this increasing burden was witnessed despite the Arab States region being one of the only regions in the developing world to increase health spending as a share of GDP in the decade prior to the pandemic.

Large percentages of the region’s sizeable refugee and internally dis­placed populations experienced greater difficulty getting medical care during the pandemic outbreak. Host governments in the Arab States re­gion did not include refugees in their national Covid-19 plans, with the notable exception of Jordan.

Following the pandemic outbreak, school closures and the transition to distance education led to the exclusion of significant segments of society. For example, only 55 percent of surveyed children who were enrolled in education in Algeria, Egypt, Jor­dan, Morocco, Qatar, Syria, and Tunisia prior to the pandemic were able to access some form of remote learning after schools were physically closed. Access to distance learning has been higher among students in private schools than public schools. Major inequali­ties in internet access between and within Arab States meant that school closures had a disproportionate negative impact on more vulnerable households, rural and marginalized communities, including refu­gee and IDP children and children with disabilities—increasing the risk of child labour and early marriage among girls.

The report highlights that prior to the pandemic, the inadequacy of care policies, social care service provision, and gendered social norms have contributed to women’s disproportionate burden of unpaid care work in the region, with women devoting 5.1–6.2 times more time than men to unpaid care work in West Asia and North Africa, which is much higher than the world average of 3.2 times. Consistent with global trends, the pandemic has led to a rise in unpaid care responsibili­ties in households across the region, with most of the burden falling on women. The report also records the alarming trend of rising rates of domestic violence targeting women associated with pandemic-induced mobility restrictions, finan­cial stress, and disruptions in access to support services.

Many of these challenges are also witnessed across multiple regions. Governments in the Arab States could take advantage of the current multiple crises to ensure that the recovery promotes sustainable and equitable development.

Opportunity for a green transition

The report estimates that the pandemic resulted in a 5 percent increase in water demand in 2020 for intensified hygiene practices, adding pressures on already scare water supplies across the region, where 18 of the 22 Arab States face serious levels of water scarcity and the average person receives just one-eighth of the global average renewable water per person. The report calls for prioritizing improved water governance and enhanced waste management as key components for post-Covid recovery to be sustainable and resilient.

The AHDR 2022 views with optimism, a growing momentum in the region to diversify beyond the fossil fuel economy and accelerate the transition to renewable energy and energy-efficient solutions. The renewable energy sector has been the only segment of the Arab energy market to experience notable growth, due to its cost-effectiveness and strategic value for carbon-constrained economies. The report singles out solar energy as a strategic asset for diversifying energy consumption, enhancing energy security and building the knowledge-based, high-tech, youth employment–generating economy of the future.

Mainstreaming green solutions into recovery strategies of Arab States is an important opportunity, which can help the region slow negative ecological change and build resilience against future shocks. The report suggests that Global summits can be instrumental in studying the challenges of climate change and envi­ronmental degradation and advancing tangible solu­tions, as with the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conferences of the Parties (COP) that will be hosted by Egypt in 2022 (COP27) and the United Arab Emirates in 2023 (COP28).

Glimmers of hope

The Report records notable examples of positive responses to the Covid-19 pandemic across the Arab States region. It points to instances where rapid gov­ernment action mitigated some of the worst devel­opment impacts. This included adopting stimulus and support packages to support domestic economic activity; providing direct relief to enterprises, particularly small and medium ones; and financing measures to protect workers through paid leave, unemployment benefits and cash transfers, especially targeting informal workers.

The report also notes successes with effective governance solutions in response to the pandemic, such as the adoption of swift coordination measures to ensure multi-sectoral responses involving nationwide whole-of-government responses in high-income Arab countries. Similarly, other countries adopted arrangements to allow for inclusive participation of local government, civil society, private sector, and communities in national response plans, expanding authorities of local government to take measures to ensure continuity of essential services and to identify and reach out to vulnerable groups.

The report also traces how social solidarity movements and civil society organiza­tions quickly mobilized in response to the pandemic’s challenges, filling gaps in awareness raising, expanding community outreach efforts to help cushion the adverse impacts of the pandemic on the most marginalized and vulnerable groups, and unleashing the power of frontline volunteers to complement strained health and social services systems.

Many governments in the region effectively resorted to digitalization of services in response to Covid, using innovative technologies in such areas as the fast delivery of cash transfers for social protection; telemedicine; safeguarding the continuity of essential public administration services; securing educational continuity through online learning alternative solutions; facilitating remote and tele-working; and ensuring inclusive outreach for vaccination.

A human-development-centred recovery

Covid-19 started as a public health emergency that quickly deteriorated into an economic, social, and human emergency that required whole-of-society responses with strong coordination between responsible govern­ment agencies and meaningful collaboration with private firms, civil society organizations and international organizations.

The report contends that a sound recovery from the impact of the pandemic in the region will require a concerted effort to protect the vulnerable, empower citizens, strengthen human rights, ensure the rule of law, and make systems more effective and responsive. Countries of the region need new social contracts that pave the way to peace, justice, and stability, leaving no one behind, building more resilient, inclusive, accounta­ble and trusted institutions, and expanding human capabilities and freedoms.

The AHDR 2022 underscored that post-Covid recovery presents an opportunity for countries to evaluate and strengthen capabilities and make structural changes to prevent and cope with emerging shocks, including a looming global food crisis, and diminishing international resources for development financing, both related to the current war on Ukraine, as well as future shocks and disasters.

The report’s recommendations for an integrated and human-development-centred approach to recovery include:

  • Investment in enhancing accountability and responsiveness of governance systems and structures, through inclusive and participatory processes to rebuild citizens’ trust in government, strengthen freedoms, human rights and the rule of the law, and leave no one behind. These processes should engage local governments, the private sector, civil society, and citizens, as well as expand the role of local govern­ments in responding to citizen’s needs, delivering services, and combating poverty and inequality.
  • Fostering economic diversification and resilience, by focusing investments on high-productivity goods and services, expanding exports through greater integration with global value chains, and tackling persistent unemploy­ment and labour mar­kets challenges through promoting job creation in the private sector, with decent working conditions, especially for women. This also entails improving the investment climate, strengthening public financial management through enhanced tax man­agement, and boosting social spending to protect the poor and vulnerable.
  • Enhancing social cohesion and inclusion, through inclusive and equitable access to quality social, health and education services; pursuing social cohesion and consensus-building initiatives; enabling greater civic participation and negotiation in the workplace; promoting gender-responsive laws and investing in care policies and services; and ensuring inclusion of marginalized and vulnerable groups in all aspects of the recovery, especially women, migrants, refugees and people with disabilities.
  • Ensuring that recovery pathways are green, through accelerating and scaling-up clean energy transition initiatives; expanding green transportation and infrastructure in­vestments; closing gaps in water and waste services; incorporating circular economy solutions into local development; and advancing ecological restoration and safeguards for biological systems. The report underlines that, if prop­erly planned, green recovery measures can help diversify economies and contribute to growth, generating new and sustainable forms of revenue, creating green job opportunities, and enhancing resilience for commu­nities and the ecosystems on which they depend for people’s lives and livelihoods.

For inquires please contact: Noeman AlSayyad | Communication Advisor | UNDP-RBAS | noeman.alsayyad@undp.org | +962(79)5672901

Read the original UNDP article.


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