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.

Pulmonary Diseases May Be Highest in Middle East

Bibi-Aisha Wadvalla

Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria as seen using a colorized scanning electron micrograph (SEM).CDC/ Dr. Ray Butler

A review of pulmonary diseases in the Middle East claims the region could have the highest incidence of pulmonary infections in the world.

“The wealth of pulmonary pathologies encountered in the Middle East probably surpasses all other regions of the world,” said Atul Mehta, chief medical officer at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi and lead author of the study, which was published in Respirology1.

People living in the region are more prone to respiratory disease owing to the environmental conditions, genetics and lifestyle particular to the Middle East. Last year, a study employing polymerase chain reaction (PCR) on the earliest known Egyptian mummy to receive an autopsy, provided evidence that pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) was a burden on the region thousands of years ago2.

The authors organized the contributing factors into several categories: environmental factors, infections, genetic-idiopathic diseases, sleep disorders, lung malignancies, pleural diseases and miscellaneous respiratory conditions.

Various causes

Extreme weather variations and allergens from the desert exacerbate asthmatic conditions. Children are especially affected by exposure to cigarette smoke and household allergens. However, a Gallup poll revealed that 25% of people in the Middle East smoke cigarettes, which puts it on par with other regions. Socially, the ubiquitous water-pipe and smoking are responsible for pulmonary disease and coronary heart disease. The regular burning of incense is also cited as a pollutant.

“The burden of respiratory illness is a drain on both patients and healthcare systems.”

“Bronchial asthma is more prevalent in urban areas, especially in children. Pneumonia occurs more frequently where people live in closed spaces, again with children most at risk,” says Yaser Abu El-Sameed, pulmonologist at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical City and a co-author of the study.

“Water pipe smoke could affect children in the womb. Secondhand smoke could damage the lungs of children because of the fine size of particle matters emitted from smoking,” explains Monique Chaaya, an epidemiologist at the American University in Beirut who has studied the effects of water pipes and maternal smoking. Fine particles settle deeper into the lungs, and children breathe more rapidly than adults, thus inhaling more pollutants.

Multi-drug resistant tuberculosis has a foothold in the region, accounting for 0.9–5.4% of new cases of TB. In 2010, the World Health Organization published a report, Multidrug and Extensively Drug Resistant TB, revealing the rise in its incidence in the Middle East3. Pneumonia caused by both viral and fungal infections is also common, with an overall mortality rate of 13%.

A culture of family relatives marrying has resulted in genetic conditions, such as sickle cell disease, Behçet’s syndrome and primary ciliary dyskinesia, which can have a significant impact on pulmonary health. Lung cancer is also a common disease.

El-Sameed says there are many ways to decrease the incidence of respiratory disorders, such as offering vaccinations for bacterial influenza and pneumonia. “Physicians can provide patients with medication to help them quit smoking. Counselling should also be offered. Education programmes to improve public health awareness are significant.”

If the rise in respiratory disorders is not curbed, it will exact a heavy socioeconomic impact, contend the authors. “The burden of respiratory illness is a drain on both patients and healthcare systems. Respiratory disorders are a major cause of death and disability for many people. The results are lost productivity, missed educational opportunities and extremely high healthcare costs,” says El-Sameed.

Solar Energy Projects Picking up Again After Uprising

Solar Energy Projects Picking up Again After Uprising

by Bibi-Aisha Wadvalla

(This article also appeared on Al Jazeera)

CAIRO, Jun 22 (IPS) – On a blazingly hot summer’s day in Cairo, it’s 36 degrees Celsius in the shade. Air-conditioners and fans whirr across the city, burdening the national electricity grid. Last summer, the populous city experienced frequent water and power cuts, causing a furore. Consumption had grown by 2,600 megawatts, an increase of 13,5 percent from 2009.

Over 1,000 years ago ancient Egyptians worshipped the sun god Ra. Centuries later, modern Egypt is only just beginning to realise the importance of utilising the sun as an energy source. One of the most sunlight-rich countries in the world, this North African country is making slow strides with solar energy.

About 100 km south of Cairo lies Kuraymat, Egypt’s first solar plant, which is expected to produce 120 MW. A hybrid power plant, 20 MW will be from solar energy and 100 MW from natural gas. Initially expected to start up in Dec. 2010, its activation has been postponed several times. The Jan. 25 uprising further stalled the launch.

“Foreign partners on the project left and we couldn’t continue”, says Khaled Fekry, director of research and development at the New and Renewable Energy Authority (NREA), a government body. German companies Ferrostaal and Flagsol, a subsidiary of Solar Millenium, provided the technology.

Currently, Kuraymat is in the final stage of commissioning, with tests being carried out. Fekry hopes it will be ready at the end of June.

A second 100 MW plant in Kom Ombo was announced last July and should be completed in 2017. Fekry lists other projects: “We aim to develop a 200 MW plant for cement factories and a 1,000 MW plant for the private sector. ”

This is all very ambitious but ties in with Egypt’s plan of producing 20 percent of energy output from renewable sources by 2020. Solar energy will provide a third, or 7,200 MW, of that percentage. Fekry is confident it can be achieved.

While large-scale projects won’t have a direct effect on Egyptians just yet, a joint undertaking by NREA and the Italian ministry of environment has changed the lives of villagers living deep in the Western Desert. The villages of Ain Zahra and Umm al Saghir, not connected to the national energy grid, have had their homes, schools, mosques and hospitals electrified with photovoltaic (PV) solar energy since Dec. 2010.

NREA engineers have remained on site, providing training to the villagers. Six months in, Fekry reports, there have been no complaints.

But Mohab Hallouda, senior energy specialist at the World Bank’s Egypt office, explains that, although PV energy is suitable for outlying areas, “the price must decline to be a viable alternative to electricity from the grid”.

Away from the bureaucracy of government-led proposals, a simple concept, SolarCITIES, is empowering residents of local communities. Darb el Ahmar and Manshiet Nasser are two of Cairo’s poorest areas.

Crumbling buildings are built close together, lining narrow streets and jostling with animal, vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Many residents cannot afford heating appliances and “women’s duties” include having to boil water on kerosene stoves. Winter is a hazardous time with frequent burn injuries being reported.

Mustafa Hussein, a Darb el Ahmar resident, is a founding participant of SolarCITIES. He became convinced of the usefulness of the technology after meeting Thomas Culhane, SolarCITIES founder, who sketched him a prototype of a solar panel and heater. The system was built; 25,000 dollars in funding was obtained from the U.S. Agency for International Development; and 35 units installed.

Amm Hassain, 70 years old, was one of the first residents to agree to the installation of the unit on his building’s rooftop. No longer does his family have to laboriously boil water for a bath, risking potential injury.

The unit provides 200 lt of hot water per day, which can serve up to 10 family members comfortably, and 200 lt of rooftop coldwater storage to help them get through the many days when water is cut in the community.

Mustafa Hussein feels projects like these have more value: “The government plans are removed from us. Here we involve the community directly. I live here, I know this place, I know how to connect with people.”

But, unless more funding is received, SolarCITIES may not grow. With the average annual income in these areas being 610 dollars, the 678 dollar unit is unaffordable for most.

Hussein feels people will realise the importance of turning to solar energy within a few years. “We’ll experience more power cuts. Last summer there was a scarcity of gas tanks and people died fighting for them.”

Fekry wants Egypt to follow the Tunisian model: “The government subsidised solar water heaters, and provided them on credit with low interest rates,” he explains.

But, with an unequal playing field, a paradigm shift toward renewable energy seems unlikely. Even with gas subsidies in Egypt being phased out, fossil energy remains cheap, while a lack of competition won’t reduce the cost of solar energy.

Kuraymat cost 360 million dollars and the Kom Ombo plant’s cost is estimated at 270 million dollars. The Egyptian government plans to spend 100-120 billion dollars to triple capacity by 2027.

Fekry points to taxes on imported solar components as the culprit contributing to the high cost of solar energy. He also believes that, “we can only expand if we have finance. Foreign investors should direct funds to Egypt now, and not wait until the country is stable. ” (FIN/2011)












Reducing Drag Through Vapour

Reducing drag through vapour


Bibi-Aisha Wadvalla

A vapour-encased sphere can move at much higher speeds through a liquid due to reduced resistance.Ivan Vakarelski

If water is poured on a hot metal plate above 100°C, it will skate across the surface rather than begin to evaporate. According to the 225-year-old Leidenfrost effect, a liquid produces an insulating vapour layer when it comes in contact with a solid surface that is hotter than its boiling point: known as the Leidenfrost point. Two researchers decided to take on this phenomenon and published their results in Physical Review Letterslast month.

Ivan Vakarelski, a chemical engineer at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Saudi Arabia, and Derek Chan, a professor of mathematics at the University of Melbourne, Australia, decided to see what happens in reverse: they dropped hot metallic spheres into a fluorinated liquid with a boiling point of 56°C.

“This makes it easier to initiate the ‘inverted’ Leidenfrost effect — a thin film of vapour covering the metal,” explains Vakarelski. Just as the vapour layer moves liquid across the surface of a hot plate, it allows for faster movement of the spheres through the liquid. “We thought that this could be the perfect system to model the drag reduction by [the] vapour layer,” he adds.

Research had demonstrated the reduced hydrodynamic drag that vapour layers can have on objects moving through liquids. Vakarelski says their study is the first measurement of the limit of drag reduction a vapour layers can produce. “We showed that the Leidenfrost vapor layer can reduce the drag on a sphere by up to 85%.”

Possible uses

Any object moving through a fluid experiences drag, or resistance. The drag coefficient, the measure of an object’s drag, of the vapour-encased sphere reduced from 0.4 to 0.07, a change of 571%.

These findings could help engineers optimize liquid flow through pipes and make microfluidic devices more efficient, says Vakarelski. It can also be applied on a larger scale, such as in shipping or submarines.

A reduced drag could save energy and reduce carbon emissions. “For ships or high-speed underwater vehicle achieving even 10% or 20% percent would be a substantial result,” says Vakarelski.

The research is fundamental and it will take a few more years before findings can be commercially applied though. Vakarelski hopes that devices exploiting the Leidenfrost effect could be ready for testing in a couple of years. “Our focus is on the formation and sustainability of bubble layers in water which will bring us closer to practical applications. We hope that this next stage will be completed before the end of this year.”

Alaa Ibrahim, an astrophysicist at the University in Cairo (AUC) says the research is original and of great value to the industry. Ibrahim also envisages application of the technology in shipping. “However, you will have to spend energy to heat up the surface of the moving body and this in itself opens up another interesting research investigation to minimize the energy consumption and safely insulate the cargo.”

  • References

    1.  Vakarelski, I. , Chan, D. et al. Drag Reduction by Leidenfrost Vapor Layers.Phys. Rev. Lett. 106, 214501 (2011) | Article | PubMed | ADS | ChemPort |

Air Pollution Threatens Health in Beirut

Bibi-Aisha Wadvalla

A graph showing the average distribution of nitrogen dioxide over Beirut. Areas in brown have the highest values.Saint Joseph University

About 93% of Beirut’s population is exposed to high levels of air pollution, according to a study by researchers at the American University of Beirut (AUB). Air pollution is a major environmental risk factor for poor health and causes about 2 million premature deaths worldwide each year.

The researchers presented the findings of a two-year study on air pollution at a seminar at AUB on 6 May. The study was carried out by the AUB and Saint Joseph University (USJ) in Beirut, in collaboration with the National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS). It involved collecting samples of air from various regions in Beirut between 2008 and 2010.

In 2010, across the city, the average concentration of nitrogen dioxide, a harmful air pollutant, was 58 micrograms per cubic metre of air. This exceeds the maximum average concentration recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO): 40 micrograms per cubic metre.

Nitrogen dioxide is produced by burning fossil fuels. Most of the nitrogen dioxide in cities is released from motor vehicles. Each car emits 1.6 tonnes of nitrogen dioxide per year. To offset the emissions from a single vehicle, at least 160 two-year-old trees would need to be planted each year. Lebanon has a large number of cars on its streets — the same number per capita as Japan, despite Japan covering an area that is roughly 36 times larger.

“In Beirut, as in many other overpopulated capitals, traffic is the main source of air pollution,” said Najat Saliba, a chemist at AUB who led the study.

Saliba proposed imposing staggered working hours and encouraging car pooling and bicycle use to ease the traffic on the streets of Beirut. She also suggested promoting public transport and building electric train lines.

Such strategies have been successful elsewhere. Istanbul, one of the most polluted cities in the world in the 1980s, managed to improve air quality by improving its public transportation network and installing an electric tram system.

According to the researchers’ findings, the average amount of airborne particulate matter, which in Beirut is created by dusty streets, wear and tear on tyres and incomplete combustion of fuel, is at least double that recommended in the WHO guidelines.

Breathing in large amounts of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter increases the likelihood of respiratory problems. These pollutants can inflame the lining of the lungs and reduce immunity to lung infections. Pulmonologist Marie-Louise Coussa-Koniski, from Rizk Hospital in Beirut, warned that “the number of cases of asthma, rhino-sinusitis and interstitial lung disease in Lebanon has been rising significantly over the past decade”. And the overall prevalence of asthma in Lebanon is at least 50% higher than that in Europe or the United States.

Such heavy pollution affects the cost of public health care. “The country could gain up to $16 million from lost work days and save up to $3.2 million in hospital visits annually if it would reduce its particulate matter by only 10 micrograms per cubic metre,” said Jad Chaaban, an economist in AUB’s Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences.

Workers Celebrate May Day in Egypt

[soundcloud url="" iframe="true" /]

South African Embassy in Egypt Celebrates Freedom Day

[soundcloud url="" iframe="true" /]

African Immigrants Held Hostage in Sinai

[soundcloud url="" iframe="true" /]

Scroll to top