Water-Food Linkage in Arab World

The water-food linkage represents an important and vital nexus in the Arab countries. Under the current unstable food security situation (fluctuating energy prices, poor harvests, rising demand from a growing population, the use of bio-fuels and export bans have all increased prices), the ability for the Arab countries to feed their growing population is severely challenged by competition over increasingly limited water resources. Agriculture is currently challenged by competition among sectors on available water resources.

While the majority of water in the Arab region is used inefficiently in the agricultural sector (about 85% with less than 40% efficiency), which is not only crucial for food production but also employs a large labor force of rural population, the contribution of agriculture to GDP is significantly low. Hence, and using the argument of higher productivity per drop, voices are increasingly advocating for shift of water resources from agriculture to meet pressing demands of the industrial and municipal sectors.  The negative repercussions of that on the agricultural sector and rural population are most evident.  However, improving irrigation efficiency can release water for other uses (see AFED report on water in the Arab Region).

The Arab countries are far from having enough water to grow sufficient basic food, the obsession with the idea of self-sufficiency at any cost, had been predominant in the 1970s and 1980s, has been abandoned. It is no longer rational or sustainable. In fact, the region has been importing more and more food to meet its need. Recent studies have shown that more than half of the food calories consumed in the region is imported and would increase to 64% over the next two decades (World Bank, 2009). An older study in the mid-1990s showed that the food imports of the region were equivalent to 83 billion m3 of virtual water, or about 12% of the region’s annual renewable water resources. In fact, the same study has shown that for selected countries, this percentage was much higher: Algeria (87%), Egypt (31%), Jordan (398%), Libya (530%) and Saudi Arabia (580%) (FAO, 2001). With the rise of the population and improvement of lifestyles, one can expect these figures to be much higher today.

A better policy to address national food security can be to improve agricultural production and maximise water productivity and to rely on virtual water trade in food imports. By importing water intensive crops, not only can there be local water savings, there are also energy savings through reduction in withdrawal of irrigation water from deep aquifers (Siddiqi and Anadon, 2011), which could be significant for many Arab countries that have energy intensive groundwater withdrawals, such as the GCC countries. 

Moreover, Arab food security could be achieved through regional agricultural integration that combines the relative comparative advantages of all of the Arab countries, such as land and water resources, human resources, and financial resources. Joint agricultural projects could be implemented towards achieving food security for the region as a whole using advanced agricultural methods supported by active R&D programs in agricultural production as well as effective governance of water and land resources. 

References:

  1. World Bank. 2009. Water Resources: Managing a Scarce, Shared Resource. http://siteresources.worldbank.org/IDA/Resources/IDA-Water_Resources.pdf
  2. FAO. 2001. The State of Food and Agriculture 2001. Rome, Italy. ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/003/x9800e/
  3. Siddiqi, A., and Anadon, L. D. 2011. The water-energy nexus in Middle East and North Afirca. Energy policy (2011) doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2011.04.023. 

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Ramadan: A Catalyst for Green Living

green-ramadanThe true meaning of Ramadan is to take care of our body, soul, people, surrounding and ecosystems. The month of Ramadan is a golden opportunity to make a real shift towards ‘green living’ that is environmental friendly, non-polluting, non-wasteful and aim toward saving of natural resources. During Ramadan, let us create awareness on use of resources, think and act positively towards our environment and change our unfriendly habits which are impacting our ecosystem. Let us seize this opportunity to adopt a model for a green and responsible behavior that addresses urgent environmental issues. 

Ramadan witnesses an over-consumption of meat, vegetables and fruits together with drinks, juices and syrups. We become more extravagant in terms of using food and resources. So, let us be patient on these consumptions, eat healthy and organic food in manageable quantities. Let us grow vegetables and fruits at our available land/ space. Use food items judiciously and avoid any wastage.

Let us be away from our routine habits that pollute our air, soil and water resources. Let us be aware of our wasteful habits which are affecting the environment and our future generations. We need to understand that any mismanagement of our precious available resources will be having an irreversible impacts on our ecology and for our future generations. Let us make concerted effort to encourage and embrace “green” practices, especially during Ramadan.

environment-protection-muslims

Ramadan presents the perfect opportunity to recharge our spiritual batteries for the year. It is a time to seek forgiveness for our misgivings and to reflect upon the signs of creation from Allah. As human beings, we have a duty as stewards over this planet, and it is our responsibility to ensure that the resources and environment are used in a sustainable manner.

Let this month not only harness our mental and physical ability but also be a turning point for respecting our resources and environment. Some basic thoughts are:

  • Support and utilize local produce. 
  • Plan food usage with no wastage. 
  • Reducing the water usage, especially during making ‘wadoo’/ ablution. Be vigilant that the tap is closed. Any dripping should be eliminated to conserve precious water.
  • Generating less quantity of waste especially food waste. Support & practice recycling and reuse. 
  • No littering especially in common areas, commercial and religious places and shopping areas.
  • Minimum or no use of plastic bags. Using less paper and stationery.
  • Switching off appliances after use like lights, ACs, fans, heaters, iron etc.
  • Using electrical appliances like washing machines, iron, vacuum cleaner and dishwashers in off peak hours. 
  • Eliminate use of disposables plates, cutlery, cups, containers etc. Avoid using Styrofoam containers and plastic cutlery. 

Food Security in the Middle East

Despite the fact that the Middle East is blessed with a rich geological inheritance of hydrocarbons and mineral resources, it is a water-scarce and arid region that has its share of demographic and socio-economic problems. It is difficult to grow food crops in the Middle East due to scarcity of water supply and limited availability of arable land. The region is highly vulnerable to fluctuations in international commodity markets because of heavy dependence on imported grains and food items.

According to a report issued in 2009 by the World Bank, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, “Arab countries are the largest importers of cereal in the world. Most import at least 50% of the food calories they consume.” Countries like Egypt, Syria, or Iraq used to be breadbaskets in the recent past but their agricultural sectors have suffered a lot due to government mismanagement, price ceilings, and underinvestment. Infact, all Arab countries are net importers of grains, with small GCC countries like Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Kuwait, and Oman almost completely dependent on imports for grains.

The Middle East nations are encountering price spikes on world food markets. This is due to competition for the same food products (wheat, corn, soybeans, animal protein, etc.) from other areas of the world, especially Asia, where incomes are rising and demand for more and better calories is exploding. Besides threatening the well-being of those already living on meagre resources, the price hikes have increased the number of poverty-stricken by millions in less-affluent Middle East nations.

To make matters worse for the food supply problem, world markets have experienced severe disruptions in the past several years from distant storms, floods and droughts — from Russia to Argentina to Australia. These natural phenomena have disrupted the fabric of global market mechanisms that underlies the international food trade. Prices for basic food staples are already at socially dangerous levels, approaching or exceeding their 2008 peaks.

Of all the Middle Eastern countries facing the current food crisis, Yemen is in the worst shape. A United Nations’ World Food Programme report states that seven million of Yemen’s 21 million people are “acutely hungry”, making Yemen the 11th most insecure food country in the world. Aquifers are being pumped well beyond the rate of recharge, and the deeper fossil aquifers are also being rapidly depleted. As a result, water tables are falling throughout Yemen by some 2 meters per year. With water tables falling, the grain harvest has shrunk by one third over the last 40 years, while demand has continued to rise. As a result, Yemenis now import more than 80 percent of their grain.

In Saudi Arabia there is little farming without irrigation, which depends almost entirely on fossil aquifers. The desalted seawater used by Saudi Arabia to meet the ever-increasing water demand in cities is too costly for irrigation use. Saudi Arabia’s growing food insecurity has led it to buy or lease arable land in different countries, including world’s hungriest nations Ethiopia and Sudan. Infact, the Saudis are planning to produce food for themselves with the land and water resources of other countries to meet rising food demand of its rapidly growing population. Unfortunately, transferring agricultural land from subsistence farming to export crops has led to even more food shortages. By attempting to ensure their own food security by acquiring foreign farm holdings, affluent nations are creating new food shortages in other parts of the world.

Due to reduced flows of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, Iraq and Syria’s grain harvests have been hit badly. Given the future uncertainty of river water supplies, farmers in both countries are drilling and over-pumping more wells for irrigation. Syria’s grain harvest has fallen by one fifth since peaking at roughly 7 million tons in 2001. In Iraq, the grain harvest has fallen by one fourth since peaking at 4.5 million tons in 2002. Jordan, with 6 million people, is skating on thin ice agriculturally. Forty or so years ago, it was producing over 300,000 tons of grain per year. Today it produces only 60,000 tons and thus must import over 90 percent of its grain.

With fast growing populations and an ever increasing pressure on water resources, governments must act urgently to prevent the looming food crisis.  A recent World Bank report found great inefficiencies in many Arab ports and the ways that Arab countries store grain compared with other large wheat importers, such as the Netherlands and South Korea. Port facilities, slow customs service and inefficient transportation from the ports to the mills all contribute to the worsening food situation. Arab countries are going to be huge importers of food no matter what; therefore they should improve their port and storage facilities and manage import risks.

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Tips for a Green Ramadan

Ramadan is quite different from other months in terms of activities, praying and eating habits. During this month, Muslims should abstain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset to boost physical and mental endurance and to understand the hardships faced by the poor and needy  who do not have enough resources to satisfy their basic necessities. The true meaning of Ramadan is purifying ourselves, taking care of our body, soul, people, surrounding and ecosystems which is supporting us.

The month of Ramadan is a golden opportunity to consider making a shift towards a ‘green lifestyle’ that is environmental friendly, non-polluting, non-wasteful and aim toward saving of natural resources. The green lifestyle means improving the quality of life and achieving sustainable development.

Like celebrating so many environmental days, Earth Day, World Environment Day etc., why not celebrate the Ramadan as a greening month. Let us create awareness on the subject, think and act positively towards our environment and change our unfriendly habits which are impacting our ecosystem. Let us seize this opportunity provided by Ramadan and offer a model for a green and responsible behavior that addresses the urgent environmental issues.

Go Green During Ramadan

Ramadan witness an overconsumption of meat, vegetables and fruits together with drinks, juices and syrups. We become more extravagant in terms of using food and resources. So, let us exercise moderation on these consumptions, eat healthy and organic food in manageable quantities. Let us grow vegetables and fruits at our available land. Use food items judiciously and avoid any wastage.

Let us be away from sins and habits that pollute our air, soil and water resources. Let us be aware of our wasteful habits which are affecting the environmental and our future generations. Any mismanagement of our precious resources will be having irreversible impacts on our ecology. Let us make concerted effort to encourage and embrace “green”  and ecofriendly practices, especially during Ramadan.

Ramadan presents the perfect opportunity to recharge our spiritual batteries for the year. It is a time to seek forgiveness for our misgivings and to reflect upon the signs of creation from Allah. As Muslims, we have a duty as stewards over this planet, and it is our responsibility to ensure that the resources and environment are used in a sustainable manner.

Let this month not only harness our mental and physical ability but also be a turning point for respecting our resources and environment. Some basic tips for a green Ramadan are:

  • Support and utilize local produce.
  • Plan food intake with proper nutrition and at suitable timings.
  • Cut down and eliminate intake of fast food.
  • Reducing the water usage, especially during making ‘wadoo’/ ablution. Be vigilant that the tap is closed. Any dripping should be eliminated to conserve precious water.
  • Reducing our energy and carbon footprint.
  • Generating less quantity of waste. Emphasizing on recycling and reuse.
  • No littering at any places especially common areas, commercial and religious places and shopping areas.
  • Minimum or no use of plastic bags. Using less paper and stationery.
  • Switching off appliances after use like lights, ACs, fans, heaters, iron etc.
  • Using electrical appliances like washing machines, iron, vacuum cleaner and dishwashers in off peak hours.
  • Planting a tree and taking care of plantation.
  • Replacing lights blubs from incandescent to CFLs or LEDs and turning off lights when they are not in use.
  • Similarly, at the mosque, keeping outside doors closed when the air conditioning is on and dimming the lights also reduces energy consumption as well.
  • Eliminate disposables plates, cutlery, cups, containers etc.
  • Avoid using Styrofoam containers and plastic cutlery.

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Microbial Biodiversity and Sustainable Development

Biodiversity is one of the Earth’s greatest treasures. Microbes despite their small size have a huge impact on our lives, therefore understanding their role in the environment as important to the maintenance of our planet as preserving the diversity of plants and animals. Microorganisms have the largest genetics diversity on Earth; billions of species of bacteria are suspected to exist, however only 1-5% or so species are characterized. Microorganisms, being the pioneer colonizers of this planet and the masters of the biosphere as they considered by some, they are ubiquitous, can exist in most inhospitable habitats with extreme temperature, pH, water and salt stress.

Microbes and Soil Sustainability

Soil ecosystems are highly complex and dynamic having an extremely varied biota comprising plants, animals and microbes. Soil is a highly heterogeneous matrix and is a habitat of an extremely diverse community of microorganisms including bacteria, fungi, archaea, protozoa, and algae. The soil microbiota is the ‘biological engine of the earth’ necessary for sustaining vital ecosystem processes and maintaining soil functions. Microbes play a fundamental role in a wide range of soil ecological processes, energy flows, degradation of toxic materials, and thus are a key player in climate change mitigation.

Soil microorganisms are a key component of food webs, they regulate bio-geochemical nutrient cycling such as in the nitrogen cycle, and hence the nutrient availability for the ecosystem primary producers.  Microorganisms are responsible for modifying the soil physical structure so as to better cope with disturbances and stress, allowing for more flexible responses to environmental changes than in low diversity communities. Due to the major role that microbes play in soil sustainability, some of them might be considered as indicators of soil health.

Applications of Microbes

Microbes are of tremendous importance to man. Worldwide, the economic value of microorganisms is estimated to be at least many tens of billions of dollars annually. The microbial application for economic or industrial purposes has advanced considerably with fast-paced developments in industrial microbiology and biotechnology. Microbial diversity has provided invaluable service to mankind since the ancient time.

Despite the fact that microbes were not yet been discovered in ancient times, people relied on microbes to produce different types of their food. Vinegar, yogurt, many types of cheese and most importantly bread are good examples. Almost all antibiotics have their origins in the metabolites of soil bacteria, especially within a family known as Actinomycetes. Microbes are also used to produce vaccine providing humans with immunity against several lethal diseases such as measles and smallpox. Many diseases can be treated with microbial compounds such as diabetes, cancer, cystic fibrosis, growth hormone deficiency and hepatitis B.

In addition, microorganisms are factories for industrial enzymes production which are used to enhance detergents, to clean up toxic wastes, to replace chemicals in paper and pulp processing, and for oil extraction. Futhermore, microorganisms and their enzyme systems are responsible for the degradation of organic matter. Currently, wastewater treatment uses microbes to decompose organic matter in sewage. Microbes can also be used to create biofuels like biogas or bioethanol

Significance of Microbial Biodiversity Conservation

While microbial communities are potentially affected by natural and anthropogenic activities such as agriculture, use of pesticides, pollution and urban development, it is not yet known how changes in microbial diversity can influence ecosystems. Dry lands have been neglected in both conservation and sustainable use efforts despite the fact that deserts are a fragile ecosystem which has to be handled carefully.

Knowledge of the composition of bacterial communities and of how these communities are affected by landscape sustainability measures will find wider application in landscape sustainability programs and contribute to future global policies. This new dimension when integrated into the general research conducted will enhance the findings that will be applied in the development, restoration and management programs of biodiversity conservation and the creation of a national biodiversity management policy.

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Waste Management Perspectives for Oman

recycling-OmanGlobalization and modernization have led to increased consumption among the Omani population. Reportedly, the average Omani household throws away one-third of the food it purchases. Conspicuous consumption fuelled by peer pressure and effective advertising brings more goods and products into the home than the family members can actually make use of. And along with the increase in merchandise comes a lot of extra packaging. Product packaging now accounts for the bulk of what is thrown into household rubbish bins.

The urge to keep pace with what one’s neighbours, relatives and peers acquire means higher rates of consumption: a new mobile phone every year instead of every five to ten years, a new car every three years instead of every twenty to thirty years, and so on. Consumption becomes excessive when we cannot make use of what we obtain. The result is waste. Yet the seeds of positive, environmentally-sustainable, community-based waste management are here in the Omani culture and tradition: they just need to be replanted in the right places and nurtured.

Why should anyone be interested in the issue of household waste in Oman? We can start by observing a few important facts—some positive and some negative—about Oman’s relationship with environmental and sustainability issues. As early as 1974, the governmental office of the Advisor on Environmental Affairs was established in Oman. Later on, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs took its place.[i] Environmental protection, sustainable development, and with that, waste management, are stated priorities for the Omani government.[ii]

Yet Oman has a long way to go when it comes to waste management. More than 350 registered landfills and dumpsites are active around the country, in addition to which, illegal and unmonitored dumpsites are often started by residents of underserved areas.[iii] Currently, the Omani population country-wide produces approximately 700 grams of solid waste per person, and in the Muscat area, the average per person is nearly one kilogramme.[iv] Furthermore, the amount generated per person is projected to increase year by year for the next ten years.[v] According to a study in 2012 by Sultan Qaboos University’s Department of Natural Resource Economics, the average Omani family wastes one-third of its food. That is, approximately seventy riyals worth of food per month is thrown out, not eaten.[vi]

Three important statistics to keep in mind as we discuss the situation in Oman: First, immigrants (migrant workers, expatriates, etc.) account for over thirty percent of the total population in Oman, so we cannot say that this is solely an “Omani” issue. It is an issue that affects all residents in Oman: Omanis and non-Omanis alike. Second, sixty percent of Oman’s population live in cities and large towns. Third, household consumption (i.e., purchases by household members to meet their everyday needs and maintain their current standard of living) accounts for 35.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).[vii] Compare Oman’s proportion to that of the United States, where household consumption as a percentage of GDP is almost double, at 70 percent.[viii]

Recycling efforts in Oman

Recycling efforts in Oman have until now been scattered and not coordinated. So far, all recycling programmes have been initiated by private entities such as schools, businesses, charitable organizations and non-profit environmental groups.[ix] Most recycling programmes have been only temporary, such as the Dar al Atta’a initiative to collect and recycle used clothing in 2013,[x] or very limited in geographical extent, such as the paper and plastic recycling efforts of local schools in the Muscat area. Lacking ongoing funding and logistical support from the government sector, many of these initiatives were unable to gain traction and eventually had to shut down.[xi]

Recycling rate in Oman is still very low

Recycling rate in Oman is still very low

The four Rs (reduce, reuse, repurpose, and recycle) of waste management have not yet entered the everyday discourse of Oman, but does this mean that they are not part of everyday life in Oman? We think the people of Oman can help us to answer this question. For this purpose, a pilot study was designed, a questionnaire was prepared, and in a series of interviews with individual Omanis we recorded their responses.

The Pilot Survey

The questionnaire covered household consumption habits, food waste and other household waste, and awareness of the four Rs, with particular attention to recycling. The main focus of the survey was on food waste. Of the 21 questions, fifteen were multiple-choice, with write-in options for any needed explanation. There were six open-ended questions, inviting respondents to give their opinion or share something of their experiences and knowledge of the topic. In the tradition of an anthropological study, the survey was specifically designed to be presented orally as a series of questions to individual respondents in a face-to-face interview setting. The questions were written in English but presented in Arabic to most of the respondents. Conversely, responses were given orally in Arabic and recorded in writing either in Arabic and then translated, or directly translated into English as they were written down.

The respondents were all adult Omani nationals, ranging in age from their early twenties to their late fifties. All respondents reside in Muscat, but the majority were originally from other provinces and maintained a strong connection with their home village or town. The respondents represented various occupations such as: university student, homemaker, bank clerk, teacher, taxi driver and police officer. The interviews were carried out in March and April 2016.

The major outcomes of the pilot survey are described in the second part of the article which is available at this link.

References


[i] Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs. n.d. ‘About the Ministry.’ MECA website. https://www.meca.gov.om/ar/module.php?module=pages-showpage&CatID=1&ID=1 (accessed 30/03/2016)

 

[ii] Omanuna Government Entities List. n.d. http://goo.gl/zO4bXZ (accessed 30/03/2016)

 

[iii] Zafar, S. 2015. ‘Solid Waste Management in Oman.’ EcoMena Knowledge Bank. 27 January, 2015 http://www.ecomena.org/solid-waste-oman/ (accessed 20/02/16)

 

[iv] Palanivel, T.M. and H. Sulaiman. 2014. ‘Generation and Composition of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman.’ ICESD 2014. APCBEE Procedia 10(2014): 96–102 (accessed 20/02/16)

 

[v] World Bank. 2015. ‘What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management.’ http://go.worldbank.org/BCQEP0TMO0 (accessed 22/04/16)

 

[vi] ‘Average Omani family wastes one-third of food.’ Gulf News. 23 June 2012 (accessed 28/02/16) http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/oman/average-omani-family-wastes-one-third-of-food-1.1039366

 

[vii] Central Intelligence Agency. 2016. The World Factbook. ‘Oman’.  https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/mu.html (accessed 20/02/16)

 

[viii] OECD iLibrary. 2009. ‘Household Consumption,’ National Accounts at a Glance 2009.

http://goo.gl/osZAKR (accessed 29/04/16)

 

[ix] Environment Society of Oman. n.d. ‘Project Recycling’. http://www.eso.org.om/index/pdf/ESO_Project_Recycling_En.pdf (accessed 10/04/16)

 

[x] ‘Dar Al Atta’a Raises RO 12,000 by recycling donated clothes.’ Muscat Daily. 19 August 2013. http://goo.gl/KeRkf1 (accessed 22/02/16)

 

[xi] ‘Ecologists in Oman pitch for recycling waste.’ Times of Oman.  4 August 2014.  http://timesofoman.com/article/38045/Oman/Ecologists-in-Oman-pitch-for-recycling-waste (accessed 22/02/16)

 

Zero-Waste Kitchens and Low-Energy Cooking

Food is the single largest source of waste. Worldwide, we throw away about a third of our food. More food ends up in landfills than plastic or paper. The enormous amount of wasted food depends on our cooking and eating habits.  Generally, it is easy to be sitting at home, in front of your television, consuming whatever you want then throwing every‑thing in the trash. But have we ever thought, where does the garbage go?

Zero-Waste Kitchens

Given that most of the domestic waste originates in the kitchen, a green home should definitely include a zero-waste kitchen. Zero waste kitchens is not about recycling more of our kitchen waste from plastics containers, metal cans and glass jars. It is about acting on needless waste and stopping it from coming into our homes in first place. Bea Johnson  introduced the concept of the 5Rs in her book Zero Waste Home which are Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot. The first and the second R address the prevention of waste, the third R encourage thoughtful consumption while the fourth and fifth Rs are the last stage processing of discards.

The Egyptian cuisine is considered one of the most time consuming and tiring kitchens with a lot of organic wastes. On top of that it is not energy efficient because of long cooking time. A lot of initiatives in Egypt started to promote for the idea of zero waste food. They collect food leftovers and pack them nicely and give them to needy people. Other NGOs can come to your door step and take for example cooking oil. Some also pay for it as incentives to encourage people not to throw it away. Throwing oil is not only a waste but also cause blockage for the sewage system. Food waste can be transformed to several sources of energy like biogas and biodiesel or even can be transformed to liquid fertilizers and compost.

Low Energy Cooking

Every winter we notice an increase in demand for gas cylinders.  Gas consumption increase during winter season due to long cooking time to prepare warm meals. It is not only waste of energy but waste of time as well.  We can reduce cooking time by following some simple practical tips.

  • Marinate the meat that we will consume along the month or even a week and then freeze them. They will take less time when cooked grilled or baked.
  • Another simple tip that is often overlooked way to reduce cooking time. Cook items you eat often in bulk – such as beef, chicken, rice and beans, or pasta – and freeze the leftovers for later use. If you’re freezing cooked pasta, drizzle a little oil over it to prevent sticking when you defrost.
  • Always make essential food components in a large quantity and freeze them. Like chopped onions, garlic, tomato sauce, broth etc.
  • It is important to match the size of any pot or casserole you use on the stove top elements.
  • Turn the heat down to the lowest setting after reaching boiling point. Higher heat just escapes round the side of the pot or boils the liquid faster but doesn't cook its contents faster.
  • Optimize the use of a preheated oven by cooking several dishes, either at once, or in a row.
  • Don't turn on the oven too soon before using. Just a few minutes is enough for pre-heating.
  • Turn off the oven or stovetop a few minutes early. The residual heat will keep cooking the food.
  • Use pressure cooker. It uses less energy than standard cooking pans. Reduction ranges from 70% up to 90 % and consequently reduces cooking time.
  • Adding one spoon of vinegar on meat reduce cooking time because it makes it more tender.
  • Do not add salt till late in cooking. Salt increase cooking time when added to beef for example. Add salt only if you are boiling water, as it makes it quicker to reach boiling point.
  • When you use the blinder, mixer or food processor, use it once for adequate amount not every day for small amounts. Freeze the extra amount for another use.

To conclude, it is not difficult to have a zero waste kitchen and it is easy to transform your kitchen's trash into valuable cash. Cooking can also be enjoyable, quick and yet energy efficient. We need always to remember that zero-waste kitchen is not only a physical kitchen, but it is mainly a mindset and lifestyle. 

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Green Roof Potential in Arab Cities

Urban green roofs have long been promoted as an easy and effective strategy for beautifying the built environment and increasing investment opportunity. The building roof is very important because it has a direct impact on thermal comfort and energy conservation in and around buildings. Urban green roofs can help to address the lack of green space in many urban areas. Urban green roofs provides the city with open spaces that helps reduce urban heat island effect and provides the human population on the site with a connection to the outdoors. However, we must differentiate between two types of urban green roofs and assess their adaptability to Arab cities. This article provides an insight on green roofs and roof farming in Arab cities.

What are Green Roofs

Green roofs are essentially sustainable and passive design features of vegetation surfaces applied to a waterproofing layer of a suitable conventional roof build-up in rainy climates. In rainy countries such as Austria, Germany and Belgium green roofs are recognized as a significant source-control feature,contributing mainly to storm water management and drainage control. Green roofs not only store water at roof level, but also reduce the run-off rate from the roof, which in turn reduces the underground drainage network requirements. It is also possible to use or harvest rainfall from a green roof, although the amount of rainwater that can be used may be reduced depending on the type of green roof implemented.

Generally speaking, there are no green roofs in hot arid climates. In Arabia it is hardly to find any examples of successful green roofs. According to European norms the minimum annual precipitation rate for a green roof should be more than 450-650mm. Therefore, it is impossible to grow a green roof in Cairo (26mm), Amman (276mm), Riyadh (20mm) or Dubai (10mm). Even coastal cities like Alexandria (190mm), Tunis (450mm) or Casablanca (425mm) witness extreme summers and drought periods that almost eliminates the sedum plants from recovery during the winter season. Facing these facts, there are many voices in Arabia that surprisingly continue pushing the idea of green roofs claiming to sustain it through artificial irrigation. An idea that make us lose the whole point of sustainability in an already water scarce region.

Unfortunately, across the Middle East there are large numbers of students, architects, clients and even researchers who have a wrong perception and a defective understanding of semantic of green roofs,which are essentially associated with the presence of renewable rain water. This is due to the unfamiliarity with word Green Roof in our region and the huge influence of the Northern imaged media. Moreover, there are many researchers who talk about the positive side effect of green roofsthat significantly save energy, enhance the thermal performance and comfort of buildings, particularly in terms of summer cooling, based on readings and studies made in countries with latitude higher than 40o with temperate or cold climates. What is missing here is local evidence based experimentation and practices that address green roof in the warm and hot climate not from a theoretical copy-paste approach.

The Real Problem

Arab cities suffer from serious problems that are similar to most other large cities in the developing countries. Among the most visible manifestations of the challenges posed by rapid urbanization are many environmental problems, such as pollution, dense urbanization, urban heat island effect and inversed greenhouse effect during winters. In fact, the dense concentration of automobiles and polluting buildings created a negative impact on the environment. In fact, the rapid urbanization not only created environmental problems but also economic problems. For example, air conditioners are running, over the whole summer period, trying to deliver an endless demand for cooling. This leads to increasing prices of electricity bills. This is due to the lack of energy codes, which means that roofs are without or with very poor insulation. Additionally, cities suffer from constant desert sand depositing together with disappearance of green spaces which lead to deprivation of open space.

During the last decade many Arab cities witnessed several times inefficient food production and distribution, inaccessibly high food prices and above all locally grown food, loaded with toxic contaminants. The fast-growing population and the failing government approaches to housing and spatial planning policies contributed to the growth off informal settlements within and around the center. For example, 8 million Egyptian live in informal settlements in Cairo with problems of unemployment, pollution, transportation, inadequate drainage and sewerage, and lack of usable urban open spaces. In Cairo, the amount of green space per inhabitant is roughly equivalent to 0.33 square meters per person (3.5 square feet), one of the lowest proportions in the world. Among the above listed problems stands out a common denominator. It is the building roof.

Roof Farming as an Alternative

Under the influence of the all those issues emerges the idea of roof farming. Urban roof farming has long been promoted as an easy and effective strategy for beautifying the built environment and increasing investment opportunity. Roof farming can help to address the lack of green space in many urban areas. Urban roof farms provides the city with open spaces that helps reduce urban heat island effect and provides the human population on the site with a connection to the outdoors. Challenged by environmental and pollution, Cities suffer from locally grown food, loaded with toxic contaminants that threat the health.

In the last couple of years, Cairo suffered from an inefficient production and food distribution and inaccessibly high food prices. The population explosion and the tendency to build on agricultural land have acted to limit the resources of city families and their access to healthy edible products. With a little effort and money, roof farming can contribute in improving the families quality of life and provide them with healthy food and raise their income, this is besides the environmental and aesthetical role it plays. For example, Cairo citizens and some governmental authorities acknowledged the problem of food contamination & distribution and are mapping measures and methods that can guarantee safe food.While it is not new, the notion of planting rooftops in Egypt has only recently been implemented. In the early 1990s at Ain Shams University, a group of agriculture professors developed an initiative of growing organic vegetables to suit densely populated cities of Egypt. The initiative was applied on a small scale; until it was officially adopted in 2001, by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

There are several case studies that represent successful projects implemented by different non-governmental organizations (NGO), public institutions and private civil initiatives. For example Ibn Kassir foundation, in Al-Zawya Al-Hamra, Cairo, created a roof farm from wooden containers (barrels) with plastic sheets filled with peat moss or perlite used as substrates. The drainage is driven through small plastic hoses to buckets. This system is producing leafy crops such as parsley, radish, and carrots. A square meter using this method would cost around 400 Egyptian pounds (LE).

Finally, in many Arab cities, where many environmental social and economic problems exist, a beam of light emerges to contribute in solving many of these interrelated problems. Planting our roof with different kinds of vegetables and fruits or even any kind of green plants will change lots of things. It is certain that roof gardening and farming have measurable qualitative and quantitative benefits. The techniques for implementation are simple and doable and above all cost efficient. However, no roof gardens can be created without the knowledge of the factors affecting the creation and design. The most important factors are the climate, the constructional and economic factors.

Regarding green roofs, we shall only address this issue based on experimental and monitored cases. More importantly, a vision is required to be drawn together with long term strategy, adopting the holistic approach of roof farming and providing support and sustainability. It is this holistic approach that can solve many problems of different background and aspects, and can contribute to improving the quality of life of the dense Arab cities. By exploitation of such roofs, their development and planting; a reasonable ratio of green areas can be reached in the near future. A ratio of 4 square meters per person can be provided once the suitable green framing roofs have been developed and exploited.

Source: Attia, S., Mahmoud, A., (2009) Green Roofs in Cairo: A Holistic Approach for Healthy Productive Cities, Conference Proceeding on Greening Rooftops for Sustainable Communities, June, Atlanta, USA http://orbi.ulg.ac.be/handle/2268/167604

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Tips for Minimizing Food Waste

Food waste has environmental, economic as well as social impacts. The rising per capita income and expenditure, living standards, affordability and our careless behavior towards food is taking a significant toll on our finite resources. In shopping malls, restaurants and eateries, it is common to see plates piled up with uneaten or partially eaten food. Unfortunately, affordability is leading to rampant increase in food waste generation all over the Middle East, especially GCC.

The gravity of the situation can be gauged from the fact that over 300 tons per day of food waste is being generated in Bahrain which constitutes around 11% of the total municipal waste. All this waste is dumped in bins and collected by Municipal Contractors and transported to Askar landfill site located some 25 km away from the city.

People in the Middle East must understand that we are importing major quantity of our food items and throwing it carelessly in the garbage is not feasible. It is estimated that around one fourth of all food purchased becomes rot and find its way to the garbage bin even before being used or eaten.

People tend to buy more than what they require or what they can consume and often leave the ‘ordered’ and ‘bought’ food half uneaten, which is in-appropriate to follow. Leaving the food behind is bad trend leading to more wastage as the food items bought are not being fully and efficiently utilized and ultimately end up in garbage bins. In addition, the food wastage is more witnessed at buffets, where choices of dishes are many and quantity unlimited. The answer or attitude towards our food should be ‘take only what you can eat’.

The cost of uncooked and cooked food has increased sharply in recent years, putting more pressure on domestic budgets of the bread earners who are already struggling to cope with other elevated costs of living, housing, medication, transportation etc. Food waste prevention is the number one task for us to help reduce the amount of biodegradable waste going to the bins and then to the landfill. In addition, if we implement food waste collections, then we remove a large element of the biodegradable fraction from the waste bin. We also know that when food is sent to landfill it produces more greenhouse gases as it biodegrades.

The situation calls for developing better food habits and Take Only What You Can Eat attitude respecting Mother Nature. The “social and cultural solution” lies in the smart way of dealing with food avoiding waste. Let us practice the following tips to minimize food waste in Middle East:

  • Buy specifically what you want and in actual quantities.
  • Buying food items especially fruits and vegetables in smaller quantities depending on use.
  • Optimize use of food items and eating the required food and even left overs.
  • Don’t feel ashamed of taking/ packing ‘left overs’ in the parties, it does not affect your self esteem and reputation.
  • Daily checking the food items in your fridge/ deep freezer and in your fruit basket regarding items that may get rot/ expired. Utilize it or donate it before it becomes waste.
  • We need to follow our elders in “buying less and eating leftover food” which is becoming ‘out of fashion’ and ‘out of date’ due to our ‘modern day habits’.

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Food Waste Woes in Qatar

food-waste-qatarFood waste is a huge issue in Qatar. In 2012, a massive 1.4 million metric tonnes of food was consumed and wasted in Qatar. This figure, divided by the then population of 2.05 million, equates to an average of 636 kilograms (kg) of food per person for the year, or 1.74 kg per day. Given the benchmark of two kg per person per day (preferably nutritious fare that does not contain too many kilojoules), that does not sound too excessive. But if you remove the young, elderly, short-term visitors/workers and people who consume less than two kg per day from the equation, it is clear that much more than two kg per adult is either consumed or wasted. This only compounds the country’s rapidly growing and expensive obesity problem.

Added to the wasted food are the litres of bottled water and soft or hot drinks that are consumed every day. The average Qatari resident uses 675 litres of water per day (drinking, washing and waste), at a rate double that of the average European.

Over and above the 1.4 million tonnes of wasted food, an additional 14 percent – representing nearly 20 million kilograms – is also discarded or destroyed before it even reaches the Qatari end-consumer. This food is either past its sell-by date or spoilt due to problems with the cooling chain. On one hand, this is due to a lack of effective agricultural planning, and decades of environmental degradation (after all, even the local fish industry is but a shadow of its former self). But on the other hand, Qatar’s growing and increasingly affluent population means that money is no deterrent in terms of the quantity and quality of food demanded. Huge banquets, often with expensive exotic food, are commonplace, and Qatar is the fastest-growing food consumption market among Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

According to data published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2014, the average local inhabitant wastes up to 250 kg worth of food per year, compared to just 70 kg in other regions. But while Qatar as a country, and the GCC as a region, are among the biggest culprits, food waste is a global problem. Nearly 30 percent of all food fails to end up in someone’s mouth, and if the total worldwide food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third largest CO2 offender on the planet.

Qatar-based sustainability advocacy group EcoMENA estimates that about half of the waste sitting in Qatar’s landfills is made up of leftover food. The combination of the country’s very high consumption rate and very low recycling rate, mean that mountains upon mountains of food are being dumped. Furthermore, only a minimal portion of this discarded food is being composted, despite the short supply of good soil. EcoMENA’s research shows that up to 25 percent of all food prepared during Ramadan is eventually thrown away – even at a time when the distribution of leftover food to the poor is traditionally at its highest.

Guidelines for Eco-Friendly Eidul Fitr

The culmination of the holy month of Ramadan is with the festival of Eidul Fitr or Feast of Breaking the Fast. Eid is considered as a religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide and to show a common goal of unity. The main aspects of Eid are congregational prayers in masjids, open areas and parks, get to gather of families and friends at home or restaurants, making and eating special dishes and wearing ceremonial dresses.

Eidul Fitr, like other local, national and religious festivals often have a major impact on the environmental resources. Extra food, drinks and clothings are made, used and consumed. People spend a fortune on these items. The cost and environmental consideration is often being neglected, not considered and forgotten.

The celebrations and festivity are often extravagant and cause pollution and harm to the environmental resources. The day starts with the special prayers whereby men, women and children gather to offer prayers. The site of praying after the ritual is often plagued by litter, rubbish and waste scattered all over the place and even blowing in the air and migrating to nearby safe havens for unaesthetic accumulations.

Special food is prepared in houses which are visited by the relatives and neighbours. This causes great food wastage often due to under utilization as food is prepared more than the number of visitors and with a feeling that it should not be finished. On the other hand, people also eat limited quantity of special food less than expected or prepared which goes waste quickly. This includes special breakfast, lavish snacks, sumptuous lunches and extravagant dinners during the festival days.

To supply the population with the required quantity of food, government makes huge efforts in procuring or rather over-procuring food stuff for local consumption. It includes meat, poultry, vegetables, fruits, dairy products, cereals, grains, packaged food etc. Meat and poultry is lavishly eaten during the Eid holidays. The demand of beef, mutton, chicken etc increases to around 50% of the normal demand, which in itself is very high.

Eidul Fitr also prompts extra and panic buying of food items and eatables, which are out of shelves quickly in the super markets and cold stores during the last days of Ramadan. This trend again leads to more wastage as the food items bought are not being fully and efficiently utilized and ultimately end up in garbage bins.

Over the period of years, the festivities are increasing with more buying of items and eatables per head. Consumption of eatables has increased many folds in the Middle East  and people have become more wasteful due to rise in income, living standards and affordability. But affordability does not mean that wastage should increase.

While planning for Eidul Fitr celebrations, it is now imperative that we need to think twice before buying, procuring any food items, clothing etc and taking environment into consideration.

Let us change our attitude towards festivity and wastage and celebrate the festival in the right spirit.

Tips for Eco-friendly Eidul Fitr

  • Buying clothes and dressings with minimum packaging.
  • Buy food items in calculated quantities based on the actual requirements and number of guests to be served.
  • It is better to serve food in limited quantities rather than extravagantly in large dishes and quantities.
  • Educating guests in avoiding left overs and wasting food.
  • Serving drinks in small glasses
  • Avoid using disposable cutlery, plates, napkins, tissues etc.
  • Giving leftover food to the less privileged and poor people in the neighbourhood

Let us endeavor to celebrate the Eid in an environment-friendly manner.

 

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Egypt’s Water Crisis – Recipe for Disaster

nile-pollutionEgypt has been suffering from severe water scarcity in recent years. Uneven water distribution, misuse of water resources and inefficient irrigation techniques are some of the major factors playing havoc with water security in the country. Egypt has only 20 cubic meters per person of internal renewable freshwater resources, and as a result the country relies heavily on the Nile River for its main source of water. The River Nile is the backbone of Egypt’s industrial and agricultural sector and is the primary source of drinking water for the population.

Rising populations and rapid economic development in the countries of the Nile Basin, pollution and environmental degradation are decreasing water availability in the country. Egypt is facing an annual water deficit of around 7 billion cubic metres. Infact, United Nations is already warning that Egypt could run out of water by the year 2025.

Let us have a close look at major factors affecting Egypt’s water security:

Population Explosion

Egypt’s population is mushrooming at an alarming rate and has increased by 41 percent since the early 1990s. Recent reports by the government suggest that around 4,700 newborns are added to the population every week, and future projections say that the population will grow from its current total of 92 million to 110 million by the year 2025. The rapid population increase multiplies the stress on Egypt’s water supply due to more water requirements for domestic consumption and increased use of irrigation water to meet higher food demands.

Inefficient Irrigation

Egypt receives less than 80 mm of rainfall a year, and only 6 percent of the country is arable and agricultural land, with the rest being desert. This leads to excessive watering and the use of wasteful irrigation techniques such as flood irrigation [an outdated method of irrigation where gallons of water are pumped over the crops]. Nowadays, Egypt’s irrigation network draws almost entirely from the Aswan High Dam, which regulates more than 18,000 miles of canals and sub-canals that push out into the country’s farmlands adjacent to the river. This system is highly inefficient, losing as much as 3 billion cubic meters of Nile water per year through evaporation and could be detrimental by not only intensifying water and water stress but also creating unemployment. A further decrease in water supply would lead to a decline in arable land available for agriculture, and with agriculture being the biggest employer of youth in Egypt, water scarcity could lead to increased unemployment levels.

Pollution

The pollution of river Nile is an issue that has been regularly underestimated. With so many people relying on the Nile for drinking, agricultural, and municipal use, the quality of that water should be of pivotal importance. The reality is that water of Nile is being polluted by municipal and industrial waste, with many recorded incidents of leakage of wastewater, the dumping of dead animal carcasses, and the release of chemical and hazardous industrial waste into the river.

River Nile is commonly used for dumping of household trash

River Nile is commonly used for dumping of household trash

Industrial waste has led to the presence of metals in the water which pose a significant risk not only on human health, but also on animal health and agricultural production. Fish die in large numbers from poisoning because of the high levels of ammonia and lead. Agricultural production quality and quantity has been affected by using untreated water for irrigation as the bacteria and the metals in the water affect the growth of the plant produce, especially in the Nile Delta where pollution is highest.

Sewage water from slums and many other areas in Cairo is discharged into the river untreated due to lack of water treatment plants. Agricultural runoffs frequently contain pollutants from pesticides and herbicides, which have negative effects on the river and the people using it. All of these factors combine together to make Nile a polluted river which may spell doom for the generations to come.

Regional Upheavals

Egypt controls majority of the water resource extracted from the Nile River due to colonial-era treaty, which guaranteed Egypt 90 percent share of the Nile, and prevented their neighbors from extracting even a single drop from the Nile without permission. However, in recent years countries along the Nile such as Ethiopia are taking advantage are gaining more control over the rights for the Nile.

A big challenge is tackling the issue of Ethiopia building a dam and hydroelectric plant upstream that may cut into Egypt’s share of the Nile. For some time a major concern for Egypt was Ethiopia’s construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in the Blue Nile watershed, which is a main source of water for the Nile River. Construction of the Renaissance Dam started in December 2010, and has the capacity to store 74 to 79 billion cubic meters of water and generate 6,000 megawatts of electricity for Ethiopia a year. This creates major concern for Egypt, who is worried that this damn would decrease the amount of water it receives (55.5 billion cubic meters) from the Nile River. Egypt is concerned that during dry months, not enough water will be released from the GERD thus decreasing the water received downstream. This will greatly hinder Egypt’s attempts to alleviate the water shortages during those months.

Conclusions

Water availability issues in Egypt are rapidly assuming alarming proportions. By the year 2020, Egypt will be consuming 20 percent more water than it has. With its loosening grip on the Nile, water scarcity could endanger the country’s stability and regional dominance. It is imperative on the Egyptian government  and the entire population of to act swiftly and decisively to mitigate water scarcity, implement water conservation techniques and control water pollution develop plans that would install more efficient irrigation techniques, and control water pollution in order to avoid a disaster.

With climate conditions expected to get drier and heat waves expected to become more frequent in the MENA region, Egypt cannot afford to neglect the importance of water conservation anymore and must act immediately to augment its natural water reserves.

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