Month: December 2011

COP17 report on climate change in Arab world

Bibi-Aisha Wadvalla

Climate change is a threat to poverty reduction and economic growth and threatens to undo many of the developments in recent decades in the Arab world, according to a World Bank draft report presented at the COP17 in Durban, South Africa.

The report, Adaptation to a Changing Climate in the Arab Countries, is produced in partnership with the League of Arab States (LAS) to provide information on climate change in the Arab countries, as well as technical guidance on how to adapt to a changing climate.

“Climate change poses a challenge to Arab countries in achieving our Millennium Development Goals,” commented Fatma El Mallah, advisor to the secretary-general of LAS.

Many Arab states are already feeling the effects of climate change, with 2010 being the warmest year on record since records began in 1850. The temperature is predicted to rise 0.3–0.4°C per decade, one and a half times the global average, according to the report. Most of the Mediterranean region will become drier and rainfall will decrease.

“The region will face a 10% reduction in water by 2050,” warns Dorte Verner, climate change coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa at the World Bank. Today, demand for fresh water exceeds available supply by 16%, likely to increase to 50% in 2050,”

In Jordan, the fourth driest country in the world, this fall in water supply would be disastrous. At present, it needs 1.5 million cubic metres of water to meet demands, but only 900,000 cubic metres are available. A temperature increase and rainfall reduction, compounded with a growing population, will result in food insecurity and water insecurity.

Economic impact


“Women are the most engaged in agriculture, but least in decision making processes.”

“Climate change is not a stand-alone issue,” says Amam Dababseh, director of sustainable development at the Amman Institute for Urban Development in Jordan. “It is linked to economic development and solutions need to converge across society, environment and economy.”

The cost to the economy could be severe. The report contends increased droughts will reduce GDP growth by 1% and increase poverty levels by up to 1.4%.

According to El-Mallah, Arab countries import food worth US$30 billion more than they export. “Droughts are increasing in intensity, and it’s a reality we have to live with. With climate change, Arab countries will grow more dependent on food imports,” she said.

Nearly 70% of the Arab world’s population live in rural areas, and will be the most affected. “The local food production system will come under stress”, said Verner. “The agricultural output could decrease 20-40% by 2080 due to high dependence on climate sensitive agriculture.”

Although the Arab climate has always been harsh, coping strategies used for centuries are inadequate for coping with climate change. The report cites the example of Syria’s Bedouin herders suffering from a drought lasting several years, who were forced to move to the outskirts of cities, losing their livelihood and way of life.

Disproportionate effects

Climate change disproportionately affects the poor and has a greater impact on the daily lives of women. Poor people have little capacity to respond to prepare their home for more extreme weather, and in Yemen, for example, women must travel greater distances to fetch fresh water — some trips taking seven hours a day.

“Women are the most engaged in agriculture, but least in decision making processes,” comments Verner. “We have to act now — together and differently,” she asserted. “The vulnerable must be taken into account when planning policy.”

Based on the report, the team has started to draft an action plan, Diversification, Integration, Adaptation, Leadership (DIAL). “Economic activities must be both at household and national level to improve climate resilience, and must be integrated into all projects, not standalone adaptation projects. We need a holistic approach”, stresses Verner.

The report will inform the fifth IPCC report. Leila Dagher, an economist at the American University in Beirut, sees the report as an important first step. “The next step should be a fully-fledged economic adaptation study, to produce a range of estimates to help Arab countries be better aware of their climate finance needs”, she said.

El Mallah pledged that LAS will do all it can to help the Arab world adapt to climate change. “We welcomed the proposition by the World Bank to compile this report. Climate change is on the political agenda of Arab summits, since the region is highly impacted by the effects.”

Green Schools Planned in Gaza

The United Nations plans to build a sustainable, carbon-neutral Gaza. As a first step, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has partnered with award-winning green architect Mario Cucinella to build a green school in the Gaza Strip.

“When we saw Mario’s work, we were immediately interested in it for Gaza,” said Ugo Bot, UNRWA’s external relations officer. “With Gaza’s precarious water and electricity supply, the school would be of educational and social benefit.”

Cucinella, founder of Mario Cucinella Architects, favours simple construction systems over expensive technology. “In the past, people in the Middle East built beautiful buildings with a natural heating and cooling system. That capacity is now forgotten,” he said.

Green technology is considered expensive owing to the initial investment typically involved, but Cucinella has demonstrated it can be affordable. At a cost of US$2 million, his school will cost little more than a normal school built by the UNRWA, which cost on average about US$1.8 million.

Green design

A concrete slab will form the foundation for the school, with the bedrock beneath acting as a first ‘bioclimatic moderator’, which can regulate the building’s internal temperature. Cucinella explains that pipes will run through prefabricated hollow concrete pillars passing through the school that can heat or cool the building’s interior to keep a tepid temperature within the classrooms. The pipes will suck hot air from outside, travel through the interior and cool it before being expelled through solar chimney ventilators.

Polycarbonate mashrabiya panels, a type of projecting window with a wooden frame popular in the Middle East in the 19th century, are another natural source of ventilation.

The curved roof is designed to collect rainwater and store it in separate storage tanks. Shrubbery on the roof will also act to cool the building. One storage tank will hold potable water, the other water for the sanitation system. A ground wetland purification system will recycle wastewater for toilet and irrigation use. Plants and bacteria remove pollutants from the water, with plants absorbing nitrates and phosphates and bacteria consuming organic waste.

The school will source its energy needs from local renewable resources. “It’s off grid-and self-sustaining. We aren’t reliant on expensive technology,” said Cucinella. Amorphous thin solar photovoltaic panels covering 400 square meters will provide the power.

Bot hopes the school’s sustainable approach will spread beyond its walls. “It can become a meeting place for the community, where they have good access to clean water and electricity. But also, it can change mindsets in Gaza. Very few people are familiar with green architecture and recycling of rainwater. It’s a learning experience.”

Technology transfer is high on UNRWA and Cucinella’s agenda. “We want to share this technology with communities, so they can use it to build their own schools or use this design in their homes.”

UNWRA plans to build another 20 such schools in the Gaza Strip. “We are adopting green technology, and want to mainstream it into our work in all sectors and in all areas, not just Gaza”, said Bot. “In developing green standards, we’ll be creating jobs and providing training opportunities.”

Life, Above All

By Bibi-Aisha Wadvalla /Special to Daily News Egypt August 25, 2010, 2:29 pm Other things may change us, but we start and end with family.” Anthony Brandt Two films at the recently concluded Durban International Film Festival epitomized this statement by Brandt. “Mammoth” and “Life, Above All” were poignant reminders of the familial relationships which shape us. It was difficult to keep a dry eye in both movies, yet the pathos is not soppily sentimental. The realities are portrayed with no polishes. Oliver Schmitz’s “Life, Above All” — which received overwhelmingly raving reviews when it premiered last May in Cannes — won the South African Best Feature Film award at DIFF. Based on Allan Stratton’s evocative novel, “Chanda’s Secrets,” this emotional narrative reveals a young girl’s loyalty and fearless courage in trying to keep her family together. Untrained local actress Kgomotso Manyake was discovered through auditions in a rural area, and delivers a powerful debut performance in here. When Chanda’s baby sister, who’s just a few months old, dies of a mysterious illness, rumors spread through her rural village. Her drunkard stepfather disappears, and when he returns, he shouts that his wife’s milk poisoned the baby. An estimated one in five South African adults is infected with HIV/Aids, yet as “Life, Above All” testifies, a positive status remains a shameful secret, especially in rural areas. Superstitious beliefs and prejudice results in people with AIDS being treated as outcasts. Twelve-year-old Chanda is forced to take responsibility for her family, as her mother falls progressively sicker. The community, most of whom are devout Christians, begins to shun them. Chanda tries, and fails, to get her mother to acknowledge she has AIDS. Their neighbor and friend Mrs Tafa perpetuates the hidden truth. Her mother is told by a sangoma (traditional healer) to travel to her home town to exorcize the demons inside her. After a fight with Mrs Tafa, Chanda visits her mother. There she discovers her mother has been left to die on the outskirts of the village, with other AIDS sufferers. “Life, Above All” is an illustration of how strength and courage of conviction can overcome adversity. It’s a tribute to child-headed households of AIDS orphans whom complacent South Africans now accept as a norm. “Mammoth” centers on a yuppie couple Leo (Gael García Bernal) and Ellen (Michelle Williams) who live in a fancy apartment in New York. “Mammoth” is an insightful, albeit somewhat conventional look at our globalized and material lives by Scandinavian director Lukas Moodysson. The film centers on a yuppie couple Leo (Gael García Bernal) and Ellen (Michelle Williams) who live in a fancy apartment in New York. She’s a trauma surgeon working nightshifts; he’s a dot-com entrepreneur who’s made millions through a videogame website. Their seven-year-old daughter is mostly looked after by the Filipino nanny Gloria, who has left her two sons and family to earn in dollars so she can build a home and give her children a better future. In an ironic scene, she buys a basketball in America, made in the Philippines. Set in three countries; America, Thailand and Philippines, the film is a call for evaluation on what ultimately matters. Nothing is tied up; it’s a seamless screenshot projection into psyches which leaves one discomfited. When Leo and his business partner travel to Thailand to sign a business deal, Leo feels distanced from the opulent world he inhabits. He longs for simplicity, checks out of his five-star hotel, and checks in to a beach house. Meanwhile, Ellen feels ravaged by her job, maternally jealous of Gloria, and distanced from their daughter, who prefers spending time with the nanny. Despite their careers, wealth and material possessions, they feel empty. In typical male fashion, Leo seeks to fill the void by sleeping with a Thai prostitute he strikes up a meaningful friendship with. Pitying her poverty, he gives her a pen gifted to him, which at $3,000, is the most expensive pen in the world. The pen and a Rolex watch fetch her just $25 at a pawn shop. It is Gloria’s sons’ plaintive need for their mother, and hers for them, which repetitively builds on a viewer’s sympathy, climaxing in an outpouring of grief. In an attempt to find work so his mother can come home, her eldest son is molested and beaten by a white male tourist. It is the weak and poor who are taken cruel advantage of by the wealthy and powerful; it is the children who suffer most. “Mammoth” is about the small details which make life so worthwhile, and the infinite yearning of humankind for love and companionship.

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