Litani River: A Sorry State of the Affairs

litani-river-pollutionThe Litani River, the largest river in Lebanon, faces a multitude of environmental problems. Due to decades of neglect and mismanagement, the river has become heavily polluted. The main contributors to the degradation of Litani River are industrial pollution from factories and slaughterhouse, untreated sewage, chemicals from agriculture runoffs and disposal of municipal waste. The pollution has reached such a level where it is obvious to the human eye.

The Litani River is a source of income for many families who use it in summer for many recreational activities; moreover, it is used for irrigation. On the banks of the Litani River, many hydroelectric and electric projects have been set up. The Lebanese government had made a dam that is linked to a hydroelectric power plant of 185MW capacity. The dam had been responsible for the formation of Qaraoun Lake; a polluted man-made lake.

In 2016, the World Bank approved a loan of $55 million to address the wastewater and agricultural runoff along the lake and the river.  The problem of the fund is that they did not give a bigger investment to agricultural runoff. The Litani provides irrigation to 80% of agriculture lands in Bekaa and 20% in south Lebanon. Many agricultural projects were implemented on the basin as Joun project and Al-Qasmieh project. Farmers are using the fertilizers and pesticides that are polluting the river with chemicals. On the other hand, farmers are impacted by the water they are using to irrigate their crops since it is polluted with chemicals and full of soil, gravel and sand.

Serious and concerted efforts are urgently required to restore Litani River to its lost glory

Serious and concerted efforts are urgently required to restore Litani River to its lost glory

Two years ago, the Lebanese government announced $730 million project to clean up the pollution of Qaraoun Lake and Litani river. The seven years ambitious plan is divided into four components: $14 million will go to solid waste treatment, $2.6 million for agricultural pollution, $2.6 million for industrial pollution and $712 million for sewage treatment.

The Way Forward

In order to save the Litani River, here are few steps that must be taken urgently:

  • Establish a sewage system especially for the new refugee camps near the river basin.
  • Promote measures to tackle the industrial pollution.
  • Stop industrial effluents from polluting the River.
  • Establish waste treatment plants in the area.
  • Hire staff to operate existing wastewater treatment plants. For example Zahle plant that lacks staff to operate.
  • Build water treatment facilities for the local communities.

Small steps can effectively reduce the pollution and restore the lost glory of the Litani River.  Thousands of people volunteered to clean up the Litani River on the national day of the Litani River. This took place after there was a huge online campaign titled “together to save the Litani River” initiated by activists. Thousands of people engaged online and then onsite to fish out rubbish; bulldozers removed accumulated sands and mud in the river from nearby sand quarries.

Green Resolutions for New Year

green-resolutionsThis year, in addition to our personal goals, let us make another New Year resolution: to make this year the year we really ‘go green’. Supporting environmental initiatives should be one of our main priorities and needs to be reflected through our resolutions and commitment to safeguard it against all forms of pollution and to protect our fragile and finite resources. Depending on our age, work, location etc., our priorities may be different but our actions should be in unison towards environmental protection.

We need to understand that we have very recklessly plundered the global resources in a short span of time that is causing many adversities and catastrophes, but we are the only species that have to take preventive measures to avoid any such occurrences in future. Let us make sincere pledges and serious commitments towards our planet and protecting our environment.

Let us, at the least, try to support the following activities and tasks starting from this year and onward, if we have not practiced earlier:

  • Protect and enhance the green spaces, parks and playgrounds.
  • Utilizing our roof for gardening and creating green areas.
  • Enviauditing of our household and office related activities. Improving tasks that require electricity and water usage.
  • Use minimum water for our daily activities.
  • Wash clothes in normal water and washing only when full loads are in the dishwasher and washing machine.
  • Turn off the faucet while we brush our teeth or shave.
  • Watering our lawn in the morning/ evening to reduce evaporation losses.
  • Changing incandescent bulbs for C.F.L.s.
  • Conserve energy in all forms. Switch lights when not in use.
  • Unplug mobile charger and computer after use as it wastes a lot of energy.
  • Avoid fast fashion. Reduce our insatiable appetite for design apparel and related clothing that we wear for only one season and throw it in next. Only buy what you need.
  • Do green shopping and donate items/ clothes we do not use.
  • Detox your home. Only use safe chemicals and detergents as household cleaning products for furniture, bathrooms and clothes including air fresheners.
  • Reuse and recycle material
  • Plan vehicle trips to avoid peak hours and traffic congestion.
  • Avoiding wasting any food items.
  • Avoid plastic bags and taking our own bag for shopping.
  • Avoid using Styrofoam cups, disposable cutlery and other related items.
  • Avoid un-necessary print outs and photocopy.
  • Minimize using bottled drinking water. This is expensive and generates plastic bottles waste. Instead use filtering equipment at home or use large refillable and reusable bottles.
  • Avoid using paper towels and napkins. Instead use cotton clothes and old used fabrics.
  • Enhancing our awareness by reading and knowing more on environment.

Let us make sincere pledges and serious commitments towards our planet and protecting our environment (Image Courtesy:

Let us make sincere pledges and serious commitments towards our planet and protecting our environment (Image Courtesy:

Enjoy the festivities of the season and be a more responsible citizen of the world. Happy New Year!

Egypt’s Water Crisis and Degeneration of Nile

pollution-nileEgypt is struggling to cope with water shortages and food production. It is expected that Egypt’s per capita annual water supply will drop from 600 cubic meters today to 500 cubic meters by 2025, which is the UN threshold for absolute water scarcity. Egypt has only 20 cubic meters per person of internal renewable freshwater resources, and as a result the country relies heavily on the Nile for its main source of water. Water scarcity has become so severe that it has been recorded that certain areas in the country could go days without water, with pressure sometimes returning only for a few hours a week. The country can no longer delay action and must act now.


Agriculture contributes roughly 15% of Egypt’s GDP, and employs 32% of Egypt’s workforce with rice being the biggest produce in the country. Rice is an important part of an Egyptian family’s diet. However, the cultivation of rice is very water intensive. On average about 3000 liters of water is used to produce 1 kilo of rice. This number can vary depending on climate, soil type and water management practices.

The government has restricted cultivation of rice to an area of 1 million acres (farmers were previously able to use most of the Nile Delta for cultivation) in specified areas of the Nile Delta. The government has even resorted to taking drastic measures as spreading incendiary compounds on rice fields cultivated outside the area allocated by the government. This has caused outrage and demonstrations by farmers who insist that the area allocated is not enough for them to be able to make ends meet. This type of tension caused by the lack of water was one of the catalysts of the Arab Spring in 2011/2012.

To alleviate population tension and unrest the government has been trying to increase water supply by exploring with reusing treated agricultural and municipal wastewater for agriculture. However implementation of such initiatives is not being applied fast enough to cope with the rising demand. Government must enforce new irrigation methods in the country (Egyptian farmers still rely heavily on flood and canal irrigation in the Nile Delta) as well as smart agricultural practices such as using less water intensive crops. Resorting less water intensive water crops could drastically cut water used in agriculture and help increase water supply.

Pollution of the Nile

The Nile has been a lifeline for Egypt at least since the time of the pharaohs. Yet, despite the world’s largest river’s importance to the country, its water is being polluted by various sources, and pollution levels increasing exponentially in recent years.

The degeneration of the Nile is an issue that is regularly underestimated in Egypt. With so many people relying on the Nile for drinking, agricultural, and municipal use, the quality of that water should be of most importance. The waters are mainly 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 Nile River.

Industrial waste has led to the presence of metals (especially heavy 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.

Industrial pollution is wrecking havoc in Nile

Industrial pollution is wrecking havoc in Nile

Of course the pollution of Nile is a complex problem that has been continuing for more than 30 years and the government is trying to implement stricter rules on the quality and type of waste/wastewater dumped into the river to reduce the pollution of the Nile. However, swift and decisive action must be taken towards cleaning the Nile, such as treating the wastewater prior to disposal, and placing stricter restrictions on industries to dispose of their waste safely and responsibly. This issue cannot be ignored any further as the continual increase in population will cause an increase in demand on Egypt’s dwindling water resources. Every drop of water counts.

The Blue Nile Dam

Another challenge at hand 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.

Earlier this year, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan assigned two French companies to prepare a report on the impact of the dam on the three countries. This report will clarify the affects the Dam will have on downstream countries. The results of this report are yet to be released. 


In case of business-as-usual scenario, Egypt runs the risk of becoming an absolute water scarce country in less than a decade. Therefore Egypt has a battle on its hands to ensure adequate conditions for its population. Like many other water scarce countries around the world, it needs to mitigate water scarcity by implementing smart conservation techniques, adopting water saving technologies, and control water pollution. With climate conditions expected to get drier and heat waves expected to become more frequent in the MENA region, Egypt cannot afford to neglect its water conservation policies and must act immediately to meet the population’s water demand.


Sources of Information

Earth Day 2014 – Focus on Green Cities

Earth Day, celebrated annually on April 22, marks the birth of modern environmental movement. Earth Day has now grown into a global tradition making it the largest civic observance in the world and is one of the widely celebrated events in which over one billion people from over 190 countries participate by taking suitable actions for saving our mother Earth. The Earth Day was first organised in 1970 to promote respect for life on the planet and to encourage awareness on air, water and soil pollution. Each year a different theme or topic is selected.

Earth Day 2014

Earth Day 2014 will focus on ‘Green Cities’ as a unique environmental challenge to make our livelihood environmental friendly. Due to rising population, more migration is taking place from rural to urban areas. Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities with urbanisation rates rising and impacts of climate change have prompted the need to create sustainable communities. The Earth day is observed believing that nothing is more powerful than the collective action of a billion people.

It is a fact that people are crowding cities and with the increase in population density, pollution of all sorts is increasing as well. Many cities are finding it difficult to cope with this fast urbanisation and to provide basic facilities like shelter, infrastructures, water, sanitation, sewerage, garbage, electricity, transportation etc. to its inhabitants.

People who live in high-density air pollution area, have 20 per cent higher risk of dying from lung cancer, than people living in less polluted areas. Children contribute to only 10 per cent of the world’s population but are prone to 40 per cent of global diseases. More than 3 million children under the age of 5 years die every year due to environmental factors like pollution.

Earth Day 2014 will seek to create awareness amongst people to act in an environmental friendly manner, promote and do smart investments in sustainable urban system transforming our polluted cities into a healthier place and forge a sustainable future. It’s exceptionally challenging for our communities and cities to be green.

Action Plan

It’s time for us to invest in efficiency and renewable energy, rebuild our cities and towns, and begin to solve the climate crisis. Over the next two years, with a focus on Earth Day 2014, the Green Cities campaign will mobilise a global movement to accelerate this transition. Most of the Middle East nations have limited land area and are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change which is affecting the social and environmental determinants of health, clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.

We need to audit our actions and see what are we contributing towards your environment and community? Earth Day is a day for action; a chance to show how important the environment is to us. Earth Day is about uniting voices around the globe in support of a healthy planet. The earth is what we all have in common.

Let us be a part of this green revolution, plan and participate in Earth Day activities moving from single-day actions, such as park cleanups and tree-planting parties to long-term actions and commitments and make our city a healthier place to live as the message of the Earth Day is to “Actively participate and adopt environmental friendly habits”.

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Destruction of the Dead Sea

Dead Sea is the lowest point on the planet and one of the most unique environments around the world. It lies on the borders of Jordan, the West Bank and Israel. Known for its high-density waters and mineral rich soils, the Dead Sea is visited by a large number of tourists from all over the world. Its soils contain minerals such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, and salt.These minerals are used in cosmetics, chemical products such as industrial salts and are even used in table salts for home use.

State of the Affairs

The once mineral-rich Dead Sea has shrunk to the size of a small and pitiful pond. Water levels have been dropping at a rate of 1 meter per annum. Currently it lies 1,300 feet below sea level and if the rate of decline continues it will reach 1,800 feet below sea level before the end of the century. This sharp decline is due to the over-exploitation of its minerals, the use of its water for desalination, and the large increase in agriculture in both Jordan and Israel.

Many environmental casualties have been associated with the rapid retreat in the shoreline of the Dead Sea. An example is the emergence of sinkholes. Many residential areas and roads around the Dead Sea have been destroyed because of sinkholes. Sinkholes are natural depressions in the Earth’s surface caused by the chemical dissolution of nutrients in the soil.These sinkholes endanger the livesof locals and tourists alike.

In an attempt to save the Dead Sea, the governments of Jordan and Israel plan to implement a project called the “Red to Dead Water Conveyance Plan” which involves building of a pipeline that connects both the Red and the Dead Sea and pumping around two thousand million cubic meters (mcm) of water per year into the latter which is equivalent to the water produced by 60 desalination plants in a day. However, many scientists are skeptical of this project due to the many problems that would arise including:

  1. The different densities and minerals in the waters would cause algal blooms that would be detrimental to the environment while also causing the water to turn red/green.
  2. Large water withdrawal from the Red Sea would have a detrimental effect on the coral reefs, sea level, and nutrient levels.
  3. The pipeline carrying the water from the Red to the Dead Sea might leak salt water into groundwater reserves along its route thereby increasing salinity in both the groundwater and the surrounding soil.

On the basis of these apprehensions it seems that this project would do little to help rectify the problem and might even add to it. An alternative way to save the Dead Sea would be to rehabilitate the Jordan River. As it stands today, only 50 mcm of water from the Jordan River reaches the Dead Sea as opposed to 1.3 billion cubic meters in 1950.

The Jordan River is a shadow of what it once was. The river acts as the main water source for Jordan, Israel, and the West Bank. As a result, 90% of the fresh water that replenishes it is diverted to agriculture.  Another problem facing it is pollution from agricultural and wastewater run-offs. About 50% of the agricultural run-offs from the surrounding areas are dumped into the river which has caused its water levels to drop dramatically.

Action Plan

Unfortunately, with limited sources of water, it will be difficult to ask concerned governments to stop relying heavily on the Jordan River. Some of the actions that governments may initative include:

  1. Improve irrigation systems and abandon the traditional systems that waste more than 25% of the water that is used.
  2. Renovate pipe systems in cities to reduce the number of leaks from the pipelines and to supply clean drinking tap water for the public.
  3. Plant local plants, which do not require much water and refrain from planting water intensive plants (e.g. rice).
  4. Harvest rainwater by manufacturing storage Pillars or tanks.

The Dead Sea has a geological importance in the region, and has many important aspects that make it significant. It is the saltiest and most mineral rich water body in the world. It also has a biological importance as it is home to many unique biological bacteria that are not present anywhere else on Earth. Regenerating the Jordan River, less water desalination, and improving water management practices will help regenerate the Dead Sea and help maintain this unique and important environment.

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Sustainable Water Management and River Rehabilitation in Jordan Valley

jordan-riverIn the context of EcoPeace Middle East's recently released Regional Integrated NGO Master Plan, the key challenge in sustainable water management is to overcome the water scarcity related problems  in the Jordan Valley. This means creating a sustainable water supply system that meets the current and future domestic and agricultural water demands; and at the same time preserves the water resources for future generations and for the environment. This requires an Integrated Water Resources Management regime for the whole (Lower) Jordan River, based on international co-operation among Israel, Jordan and Palestine, supported with adequate water management tools (like WEAP) to ensure sustainable water supply and an increase of the baseflow and rehabilitation of the ecological values of the Jordan River.

One of the related key challenges is to achieve full treatment of wastewater generated in the study area and full reuse for agricultural purposes. This will both reduce public health related risks and strengthen the agricultural sector. This requires development of a detailed technical and financial plan, including designs and tender documents, for full scale collection, treatment and reuse of the locally generated wastewater flows, including domestic, industrial (mainly oliveoil wastewater in Jordan) and manure management.

Another key challenge is to restore the function of the lower part of the Jordan River as a natural river and water conveyor in the valley for supply purposes, by keeping its flow as long as possible in the river. Rehabilitating the river will include actions in terms of realizing at least one minor flood (c.a. 20-50 m3/sec) per year. In order to bring back the original habitats of the river, also the flow bed of the river are to be widened to about 50-70 m in the north and at least 30 m in the south, with flood plains on both sides.

The salinity of the Jordan River has a natural tendency to increase downstream. This is caused by natural drainage of brackish groundwater into the river, particularly in the southern part of the valley near the Dead Sea. The key challenge is to prevent any inflow of salt or brackish surface water into the river above the point where the river would still be fresh, i.e. above the confluent with Wadi Qelt. This implies bypassing the salt water from the Israeli Saline Water Carrier (SWC), the brackish water from the Israeli Fish Ponds, and the brine from the Abu Zeighan desalination plant to a new outflow located south of the river’s confluent with Wadi Qelt, close to the Dead Sea. If this will be done, the river will be able to provide water of good quality for different user functions. In terms of chloride concentrations this means a maximum of 400 mg/l for drinking water purposes; 600 mg/l for fresh water irrigation; and 1500 mg/l for irrigation of date palms.

An olive oil mill in Jordan

An olive oil mill in Jordan

Another key challenge is to maintain total agricultural water demands at the same level as today, with the exception of Palestine which is currently heavily underdeveloped in terms of agriculture. To achieve a sustainable water balance within the valley and sufficient flows in the river it will furthermore be required that around 2020 Israel will largely cease pumping water to the extent possible out of the valley from the Sea of Galilee through the National Water Carrier (NWC), meanwhile maintaining its present agricultural water consumption within the valley; that the Sea of Galilee will be kept on a medium water level between the top and bottom red lines ("green line" as defined by the Israeli Water Authority); and that by 2050 Jordan will stop diverting water from the Yarmouk and other tributaries to the Kind Abdullah Canal (KAC) to the extent possible, and instead will use the Jordan River as main conveyor for its irrigation supply purposes. In addition, by 2050 Palestine would also use the Jordan River as its main water conveyor, meaning that the planned development of the West Ghor Canal will not be built.

These challenges require a series of related interventions, including adequate water data monitoring and modeling; promotion of water saving and water demand management measures in all sectors; provision of related training and institutional strengthening support services; improved regulations and enforcement on groundwater abstractions to stop groundwater depletion and salination; and implementation of efficient water pricing policies and related enforcement.

In terms of water governance, the challenge will be to strengthen the authorities, including JVA, PWA, in their role as regulator of the water sector in the Jordan Valley. This includes skills with regard to water data collection and management; water resources planning; efficient operations of the water storage and supply system; and strengthening the co-operation with the local water user associations. It also includes monitoring, regulations and enforcement of surface water and groundwater abstractions; protection of sensitive shallow aquifers, efficient tariff policies, and monitoring reduction of agricultural pollution loads.

Note: This is the second article in our special series on 'Regional Integrated NGO Master Plan for the Jordan Valley'. 

Islamic Principles on Sustainable Development

A huge number of verses in Qura’n and several sayings of the Prophet Muhammad indicate the great importance that has been given to environmental concerns and the responsibility of man to the environment. The concept of sustainable development in Islam can be defined as “The balanced and simultaneous realization of consumer welfare, economic efficiency, attainment of social justice, and ecological balance in the framework of a evolutionary knowledge-based, socially interactive model defining the Shuratic process”The Shuratic process is the consultation or participatory ruling principle of Islam.

The over arching principle in the use of nature is derived from the prophetic declaration that states: "There shall be no damage and no infliction of damage". The right to benefit from the essential environmental elements and resources such as water, minerals, land, forests, fish and wildlife, arable soil, air and sunlight is in Islam, a right held in common by all members of society.  Each individual is entitled to benefit from a common resource subject to establishing the degree of need, (needs have to be distinguished from wants) and the impact on the environment.

Earth is mentioned 61 times in the Qura’n. According to Islam, the universe has been created by Allah (God) with a specific purpose and for a limited time. The utilization of natural resources (ni‘matullah – the gifts of Allah) is a sacred trust invested in mankind; he is a mere manager and not an owner, a beneficiary and not a disposer. Side by side, the Islamic nation has been termed as) ummatan wasatan) the moderate nation in the Qur’an, a nation that avoids excesses in all things. Thus, Muslims in particular have to utilize the earth responsibly for their benefit, honestly maintain and preserve it, use it considerately and moderately, and pass it on to future generations in an excellent condition. This includes the appreciation of its beauty and handing it over in a way that realizes the worship of Allah.

The utilization of all natural resources – land, water, air, fire (energy), forests, oceans – are considered the right and the joint property of the entire humankind. Since Man is Khalifatullah (the vicegerent of Allah) on earth, he should take every precaution to ensure the interests and rights of others, and regard his mastery over his allotted piece of land as a joint ownership with the next generation. 

Land Reclamation

Prophet Muhammad said, "Whosoever brings dead land to life, for him is a reward in it, and whatever any creature seeking food eats of it shall be reckoned as charity from him". The Prophet in another occasion said, "There is no Muslim who plants a tree or sows a field for a human, bird, or animal eats from it, but it shall be reckoned as charity from him"; and, "If anyone plants a tree, no human nor any of the creatures of Allah will eat from it without it being reckoned as charity from him". This testifies the importance the Prophet in the early days of Islam has given to reclamation of land and the equal rights of all God’s creatures to benefit from the resources of earth. 

Wildlife Protection

Wildlife and natural resources are protected under Shariah (Rules of Islam) by zoning around areas called “hima”. In such places, industrial development, habitation, extensive grazing, are not allowed. The Prophet himself, followed by the Caliphs of Islam, established such “hima” zones as public property or common lands managed and protected by public authority for conservation of natural resources.

Water Rights

In the Shariah, there is a responsibility placed on upstream farms to be considerate of downstream users. A farm beside a stream is forbidden to monopolize its water. After withholding a reasonable amount of water for his crops, the farmer must release the rest to those downstream. Furthermore, if the water is insufficient for all of the farms along the stream, the needs of the older farms are to be satisfied before the newer farm is permitted to irrigate. This reflects the sustainable utilization of water based on its safe yield.

Environment Protection

The rights to benefit from nature are linked to accountability and maintenance or conservation of the resource. The fundamental legal principle established by the Prophet Muhammad is that "The benefit of a thing is in return for the liability attached to it.” Much environmental degradation is due to people's ignorance of what their Creator requires of them. People should be made to realize that the conservation of the environment is a religious duty demanded by God. God has said.  “And do good as Allâh has been good to you. And do not seek to cause corruption in the earth. Allâh does not love the corrupters”, (Al Qasas 28:77.(

Waste Generation

Islam calls for the efficient use of natural resources and waste minimization. God says in Qura’n: “Eat and drink, but waste not by excess; “He” loves not the excessive”, (Al-A'raf 7:31). "And do not follow the bidding of the excessive, who cause corruption in the earth and do not work good”, (Ash-Shu'ara 26: 151-152). “And do not cause corruption in the earth, when it has been set in order”, (Al-A'râf 7:56).

Water Pollution

Water also plays another socio-religious function: cleaning of the body and clothes from all dirt, impurities, and purification so that mankind can be presentable at all times. Only after cleaning with pure (colorless, odorless and tasteless) water, Muslims are allowed to pray. One can only pray at a place that has been cleaned. In light of these facts, Islam stresses on preventing pollution of water resources. Urinating in water (discharging wastewater into water stream) and washing or having a bath in stagnant water are forbidden acts in Islam. The Prophet said: "No one should bathe in still water, when he is unclean”. 

Water Conservation

The teachings of Prophet Muhammad emphasize the proper use of water without wasting it. The Prophet said: “Don’t waste water even if you are on a running river”. He also said: “Whoever increases (more than three), he does injustice and wrong”.  

Sustainable Forestry

Islamic legislation on the preservation of trees and plants finds its roots in Qura’nic teachings of Prophet. They include the following:Whoever plants a tree and looks after it with care, until it matures and becomes productive, will be rewarded in the Hereafter” and “If anyone plants a tree or sows a field and men, beasts or birds eat from it, he should consider it as a charity on his part". He is also reported to have encouraged tree planting as a constructive practice, saying that even if one hour remained before the final hour and one has a palm-shoot in his hand, he should plant it. Even at times of war, Muslim leaders, such as Abu Baker, advised their troops not to chop down trees and destroy agriculture or kill an animal.

Public Participation

The protection, conservation, and development of the environment and natural resources is a mandatory religious duty to which every Muslim should be committed. This commitment emanates from the individual's responsibility before God to protect himself and his community.  God has said, "Do good, even as God has done you good, and do not pursue corruption in the earth. God does not love corrupters”.

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The Problem of Used Lead-Acid Batteries

Lead-acid storage batteries are widely used on a mass-scale in all parts of the world.  They act as power sources in a wide-range of equipment and appliances used by households, commerce and industry. Lead-acid batteries finds wide application in all modes of modern transport including cars, trucks, buses, boats, trains, rapid mass-transit systems, recreational vehicles etc. During power-cuts, lead-acid batteries provide emergency power for critical operations such as air-traffic control towers, hospitals, railroad crossings, military installations, submarines, and weapons systems. All automotive batteries and 95 percent of industrial batteries are lead-acid secondary cells.

Harmful Effects of Lead-Acid Batteries

Lead-acid batteries contain sulphuric acid and large amounts of lead. The acid is extremely corrosive and is also a good carrier for soluble lead and lead particulate. Lead is a highly toxic metal that produces a range of adverse health effects particularly in young children.

Exposure to excessive levels of lead can cause damage to brain and kidney, impair hearing; and lead to numerous other associated problems. On average, each automobile manufactured contains approximately 12 kilograms of lead. Around 96% lead is used in the common lead-acid battery, while the remaining 4% in other applications including wheel balance weights, protective coatings and vibration dampers.

Collection of Lead-Acid Batteries

The most common and most efficient method for the collection of lead-acid batteries is through the battery retailer where a discount is given against the purchase price of a new battery provided the customer returns the used battery. In some countries a deposit has to be paid when a new battery is purchased and is only returned to the customer when the battery is returned to the retailer for recycling.

In several parts of the world, reconditioned lead-acid batteries are offered for sale. In the Caribbean islands there is a thriving second-hand auto trade and thousands of used Japanese cars are imported into the region every year to be broken up for spares. Many of these vehicles have a used lead acid battery, which is removed from the vehicle and shipped to Venezuela for recycling.

An informal collection mechanism is through rag-pickers who scavenge for discarded materials that can be reused or recycled. Rag-pickers scour waste dumps, strip abandoned vehicles and wrecks and even collect batteries that have been used for standby power in domestic houses.

Recycling of Lead-Acid Batteries

Lead is highly toxic metal and once the battery becomes inoperative, it is necessary to ensure its proper collection and eco-friendly recycling. A single lead-acid battery disposed of incorrectly into a municipal solid waste collection system, and not removed prior to entering a resource recovery facility for mixed MSW, could contaminate 25 tonnes of MSW and prevent the recovery of the organic resources within this waste because of high lead level.

Recycling of lead-acid batteries, provided it is done in an environmentally sound manner, is important because it keeps the batteries out of the waste stream destined for final disposal. Lead from storage batteries placed in unlined landfills can even contaminate the groundwater. Recycling prevents the emission of lead into the environment and also avoids the energy usage associated with manufacturing lead from virgin resources.

Obtaining secondary lead from used lead-acid batteries can be economically attractive, depending upon the market price of lead. Recovery of lead from batteries is easier and requires significantly less energy than producing primary lead from ore. Recycling also reduces dispersal of lead in the environment and conserves mineral resources for the future when undertaken in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.

It is to be noted that recycling of used lead acid batteries is not a simple process that can be undertaken in small scale enterprises. Infact lead-acid battery recycling is regarded as one of the worst polluting industries worldwide. Certain control measures should to be taken to prevent adverse impacts to people and the ecology. With exponential rise in consumption of lead-acid batteries, it is imperative on all Middle East nations to put together a viable strategy to tackle the problem of used lead-acid batteries.

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Green Buildings Certification in MENA – Issues and Challenges

Green building rating systems are increasingly gaining attention in the building industry in the MENA region. During the last 15 years, there has been a regional trend in developing and applying green building ratings systems. In several countries such systems have been developed in an attempt to follow the international green movement. For example, the Pearl Building Rating System (PBRS) was founded in UAE in 2007, the Green Pyramid (GPRS) and ARZ Building Rating System in Egypt and Lebanon respectively were founded in 2008, the Edama was proposed in Jordan in 2009 and Qatar Sustainability Assessment System (QSAS) was founded in 2010. 

A new study compared four regional rating systems in the Middle East, in addition to LEED and BREEAM. The study found that the problem with most emerging rating systems is that they imitate the LEED or BREEAM rating systems and are not enough adapted to local environmental, cultural, historical, societal and economic context. Thus certification systems must be adapted to meet the needs of the Middle East regional climate, social, environmental and economic conditions.

The study, conducted in 2013, compared four rating systems (GPRS, SI 5281, QSAS and PBRS) and a cross analysis study was used to answer questions about the strength and weakness of the systems. The four systems use score point system for assessment. The four tools provide programs involving the building life cycle process – pre-design, design and post-design (occupation). There are many common criteria and categories between the four examined rating systems; such as limiting the consumption of energy and water in the building, improving the environmental quality in both indoor and outdoor, resources and material conservation, service quality, and site strategies. The four rating systems operate from an ecological foot print minimisation paradigm. At the same time, each rating system focuses on certain aspects more than the other ones according to the country’s local context. Surprisingly, there is no agreement on weighing the different environmental criteria.

Problems of Rating Systems

The study found that the examined rating systems are proposing theoretical models that needs to move to effective market implementation politically (government) and economically (NGOs & private sector). The rating systems require more adaptation to local and regional context. Rating systems should differentiate themselves from well-established rating systems.  For example, the study believes that water scarcity should be the most important category together with human wellbeing. Already LEED and BREEAM programs are considered the most fairly comprehensive in scope – from registration to calculation to building certification. In the case of the four rating systems, the initiation approaches were bottom down and not bottom up approaches.

Therefore, the uptake and market penetration is slow compared to LEED or BREEAM. In the four countries, there is no encouragement/engagement in the form of working out incentives or law enforcement to apply the four rating systems except for PBRS. In fact, each country in the region is looking to achieve those criteria individually. The entry of the LEED and BREEAM rating system into the Middle East property market coincided with increasing demand for regional and local ratings systems. As a result, different systems were developed under serious time pressure in the last ten years. The four compared systems are based on American and British standard. In the same time, there are currently no standardisation efforts working at local level to quantify and assess sustainability.

Towards Harmonised Systems

Green Building Councils in the Middle East will have a long way; they have to manage to position themselves as leaders promoting green buildings in the countries where they operate. By comparing and evaluating the four rating systems lesson could be learned and problem could be avoided. Therefore, the study author believes that a harmonised system within the Middle East would have distinctly better chances if the following issues are addressed:

Institutional Setting

Since the oil embargo of 1973, Western countries developed local codes and standards, which are revised annually, for the built environment. Those codes correspond to their context and are strongly linked to practice and buildings industry. However, in the four examined countries, the (b) local codes and standards are still not mature when compared to American or British ones. So there is a regulation problem on the institutional level. More importantly, (b) energy and water are heavily subsidized in most of the four countries.The comparison revealed that the certification rates are low and the feesstructure is very high (registration, certification, auditing).

Thus the whole political regulation landscape regarding resources efficiency is contradicting with the rating systems scope and objective. Therefore, it is important to address the (a) efficiency regulations and (b) subsidies policies on the institutional level and avoid the dependence on Western standards, codes and rating systems. This should be done through facilitating the adjustment and upgrading for the specification of environmental assessment factors in a dynamic, flexible and simple way.

Scientific Rigour and Priorities

Developing an assessment framework should be based on in-situ building performance research and technical knowledge. Technical rigour is very important in this case, for example setting benchmarks and measuring the performance. Furthermore, the investigated rating systems are located in hot climates, with scarce water resources which require a different approach and credits focus. Issues like solar protection, water conservation, life style, solar cooling and urban planning should be more strongly addressed in future developments. This includes advancing environmental footprint issues, like climate change.


The assessment framework should suite the local context of each country in the Middle East, depending on its culture, issues, stakeholders, practices and institutions. Surprisingly, SI 5281 is the only rating system that was written in a native language, thus it is essential for each country, to design its own indicators to serve its goals in local language. This includes the development of local criteria to quantify the social part of sustainability that includes tradition and culture.

Providing a Platform

Multi-stakeholders should participate in developing rating systems, since they require participative and collaborative work process. Experts, designers, elected officials, working group, agency players, and others should be introduced as key participants in this process. The building industry should be encouraged to get into sustainable track to achieve a real transformation, regarding water and energy. There is a need to link those rating systems to grass root initiatives rather than developing them within academia or elite practicing companies.

According to the study, the examined certification systems need strong adaptation to meet the needs of the Middle East regional climate, social, cultural, environmental and economic conditions. Also there must be a harmonisation effort between regional rating systems aiming to develop and implement a common, transparent regional building assessment methodology. Otherwise, there will be a proliferation of immature systems without accumulated and unifying experience. 


There is still a long way before those examined systems examined become mature and widely usable.  Despite that the development of the examined rating systems is intended to facilitate the assessment of sustainable design in MENA; they fail to suit the local context culture issues, resources, priorities, practices and economic challenges. The GPRS, QSAS and PBRS systems neglect the interpretation of essential local sustainability measurements in their assessment set and normative standards. The study concludes that the existing rating system needs to increase the technical rigor and to put more weight on the most important categories, mainly water, IEQ, pollution and energy. The study suggests a number of recommendations to develop a harmonised green building assessment system in the MENA region. The usefulness of rating systems in the future depends on their flexibility and ability to measure the merits of buildings.

Note: The original version of the article can be viewed at this link.

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A Primer on Landfill Gas Recovery

Landfill gas (or LFG) is generated during the natural process of bacterial decomposition of organic material contained in municipal solid waste landfills or garbage dumps. The waste is covered and compressed mechanically as well as by the weight of the material that is deposited above. This material prevents oxygen from accessing the waste thus producing ideal conditions for anaerobic microorganism to flourish. This gas builds up and is slowly released into the atmosphere if the landfill site has not been engineered to capture the gas.

The rate of production is affected by waste composition and landfill geometry, which in turn influence the bacterial populations within it, chemical make-up, thermal range of physical conditions and biological ecosystems co-existing simultaneously within most sites. This heterogeneity, together with the frequently unclear nature of the contents, makes landfill gas production more difficult to predict and control.

Composition of Landfill Gas

Landfill gas is approximately forty to sixty percent methane, with the remainder being mostly carbon dioxide. Landfill gas also contains varying amounts of nitrogen, oxygen, water vapour, hydrogen sulphide, and other contaminants. Most of these other contaminants are known as “non-methane organic compounds” or NMOCs. Some inorganic contaminants (for example mercury) are also known to be present in landfill gas. There are sometimes also contaminants (for example tritium) found in landfill gas. The non-methane organic compounds usually make up less than one percent of landfill gas.

Hazards of Landfill Gas

This gas starts creating pressure within the surface of earth when no exit route is present. Excessive pressure leads to sudden explosion that can cause serious harm to people living in the surrounding areas. Due to the constant production of landfill gas, the increase in pressure within the landfill (together with differential diffusion) causes the gas’s release into the atmosphere. Such emissions lead to important environmental, hygiene and security problems in the landfill.

Accidents due to landfill gas explosions are not uncommon around the world. For example a mishap took place at Loscoe, England in 1986, where migrating landfill gas, which was allowed to build up, partially destroyed the property. Landfills in the Middle East are notorious for spontaneous fires and toxic emissions. Due to the risk presented by landfill gas there is a clear need to monitor gas produced by landfills. In addition to the risk of fire and explosion, gas migration in the subsurface can result in contact of landfill gas with groundwater. This, in turn, can result in contamination of groundwater by organic compounds present in nearly all landfill gas.

Treatment of Landfill Gas

Depending on the end use, landfill gas must be treated to remove impurities, condensate, and particulates. Minimal treatment is needed for the direct use of gas in boiler, furnaces, or kilns. Using the gas in electricity generation typically requires more in-depth treatment. Primary processing systems remove moisture and particulates. Gas cooling and compression are common in primary processing. Secondary treatment systems employ multiple cleanup processes, physical and chemical, depending on the specifications of the end use.

Uses of Landfill Gas

Landfill gas can be converted to high calorific value gas by reducing its carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and oxygen content which can be piped into existing natural gas pipelines or in the form of CNG (compressed natural gas) or LNG (liquid natural gas). CNG and LNG can be used on site to power hauling trucks or equipment or sold commercially. The gas can also be used for combined heat and power generation or industrial heating purposes. For example, the City of Sioux Falls in South Dakota installed a landfill gas collection system which collects, cools, dries, and compresses the gas into an 11-mile pipeline. The gas is then used to power an ethanol plant operated.

Landfill Gas Recovery Projects in Middle East

The number of landfill gas projects, which convert the methane gas that is emitted from decomposing garbage into power, has seen significant increase around the world, including the Middle East. These projects are popular because they control energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Landfill gas recovery projects collect and treat the methane gas, so it can be used for electricity or upgraded to pipeline-grade quality to power homes, buildings, and vehicles.

Dubai Municipality has commissioned the region's largest landfill gas recovery system at its Al Qusais Landfill site. The Al Qusais Landfill is one of the largest sites for municipal waste collection in Dubai receiving about 5,000 tons daily. Construction work for the landfill gas project involved drilling of horizontal and vertical gas wells 22 metres deep into the waste to extract the landfill gas.

The Government of Jordan, in collaboration with UNDP, GEF and the Danish Government, established 1MW landfill gas recovery cum biogas plant at Rusaifeh landfill near Amman in 1999.  The project consists of a system of twelve landfill gas wells and an anaerobic digestion plant based on 60 tons per day of organic wastes from hotels, restaurants and slaughterhouses in Amman. 

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Water Woes in Jordan

Being one of the most arid countries in the Middle East, Jordan is facing severe water shortages. The current per capita water supply in the country is 200 cubic meters per year which is almost one-third of the global average. To make matters worse, it is projected that Jordan’s population (currently at 6 million) will reach 9 million by 2025 causing a drastic decline in per capita water availability to measly 91 cubic meters.

State of the Affairs

Groundwater resources account for 54% of Jordan’s total water supply, and are being threatened by pollution due to over-pumping of aquifers, seepage from landfill sites, and improper disposal of dangerous chemicals. Agricultural sector is responsible for about two-third of Jordan’s total water consumption. Jordan is currently ranked among the top five countries most threatened by water shortages. More than 75 percent of the population lives in cities which are often located away from water bodies.

Management of water resources is therefore a big challenge for the Jordanian government which has been trying to reduce the rising demand for water through public awareness campaigns. A large fraction of freshwater supplies is contributed by aquifers which are threatened by overpumping and pollution. Managing the supply as well as the demand end of water resources has assumed tremendous importance in the country.

Future Strategy

The government may start water supply management initiative by enforcing regulation on water extraction from groundwater aquifers. The absence of strict laws is leading to illegal well drilling, reckless use of water and unsustainable extraction of water from aquifers. Aquifers in Jordan are being used at twice the recharge rate which is hampering natural replenishment process and may eventually lead to drying up.

The Jordanian government may also take initiative in renovating old and rusted water pipes that supply private homes with domestic water supplies. For example, in the United States alone, water leaks are responsible for wastage of 1 trillion gallons of water every year, which is equivalent to the annual water usage of Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami combined. Furthermore, rusted pipes can cause a change in the color and taste of the water, triggering additional water loss through the disposal of dirty water. Therefore, repairing old water pipes, and replacing them after 2-3 decades is very important.

A key component of water supply management is utilizing alternative sources of water such as wastewater treatment plants, which allow reuse of wastewater. This not only creates an additional water supply source, but also reduces the reliance on the natural water supplies, such as ground water, giving aquifers more time to replenish and recharge. Importantly, wastewater treatment is a potential source of energy, through harnessing the methane produced by the sewage water.

Furthermore, wastewater treatment plants reduce environmental pollution by extracting wastewater that is usually disposed off into rivers and aquifers in the form of runoffs. The government has been planning to build wastewater treatment plants across Jordan, such as the Amman-Zarqa wastewater treatment plant. However, these plants have yet to be built, and Jordan has yet to use wastewater treatment to its full potential.


Water shortage has significantly increased stress on water resources in Jordan. Aquifers have reached historically low levels, water demand is rising exponentially, water pollution is rising and mismanagement of water resources continues unabated. Water scarcity is a big threat to Jordan’s industrial development, economic growth, food production and overall well-being of its population. Jordan has already been forced to tap into non-renewable water resources from fossilized deep-water aquifers. The government and citizens should work together to find a plausible solution to tackle the water scarcity plaguing the country.

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Plastic Waste Management in UAE

Plastics are an inseparable part of modern society. However, their safe disposal is a big and highly challenging issue. A typical UAE resident uses 450 plastic water bottles on an average in a single year1. With the equivalent of 43 gallons on an average per person in 2011, the United Arab Emirates had the fourth-highest level of bottled water consumption in the world.

A whopping 11 billion plastic bags are used annually, according to statistics from UAE’s Ministry of Environment and Water. This goes on to add up to an annual overall waste of 912.5 kilogram per capita2, 3, and 4. These statistics reflect on the extent of use of plastic bags and bottles in UAE and the consequent generation of plastic waste.

Plastics are used globally in industries like packaging, construction and medical equipment among others. This is because plastics are durable, water-proof, lightweight and versatile. However, some countries use them more than others due to certain socio-economic factors. UAE has witnessed rapid growth in the last decade or so. This has been in terms of population as well as GDP per capita, both of which have more than doubled in this period5. The above two factors result in higher consumer spending. Moreover, the latter translates to greater importance, given to ‘convenience and hygienic shopping’ resulting in higher demand for plastics in packaging and shopping.

All this consequently leads to increased waste generation. From the supply side also, plastic manufacture (for all purposes including packaging) is a booming industry in UAE and rest of Gulf, one factor for it being abundance of petrochemicals, the raw material for plastics, in this region6.

Had it not been for the damage caused by plastic waste to environment and human health, trend of increasing use of plastics would have been acceptable. However, since waste is being generated at a dangerous rate and its management has become a critical challenge, a reality-check is called for. Plastics can take as much as thousands of years to degrade. Till then, they take precious space in landfills, are eaten up by unsuspecting animals & birds leading to their death or end up in sea, accumulated in certain areas called ‘gyres’.

While in landfills, plastics emit harmful greenhouse gases, which lead to ‘global warming’. This is apart from plastic waste being an eye-sore and civic menace. When in open areas, animals ingest plastic bags, mistaking them for food. Estimates suggest that 50 percent of the camels that die every year in the UAE die from ingesting them which can lead to massive calcified balls of plastic in the stomachs that eventually kill the animals.

The ultimate destination of this waste is ocean. Plastics and Styrofoam (used in disposable cups and plates) comprise 90% of the floating debris in oceans. Marine animals and birds are killed by entanglement or ingestion7, 8, 9 and 10. Further, plastic manufacture is an input-intensive process, using significant amounts of oil, water and power.

Realizing the flip-side of high use of plastics, UAE has initiated definitive corrective measures. The Ministry of Environment and Water has reported that it will ban circulation and marketing of non-biodegradable plastic products in UAE from early next year11. In that direction, Dubai Municipality have launched a “Say No to Plastic Bags” campaign starting May 2013 targeting a 20 per cent reduction in the estimated 2.9 billion plastic bags used annually in the emirate, by the end of this year. This is to be done by means of creating consumer-awareness and offering reusable and recyclable alternatives like jute and paper bags in major supermarkets12.

In Sharjah, a private company, in partnership with Sharjah Municipality, is working towards a 100% landfill diversion target set for the Emirate of Sharjah by the end of the first quarter of 201513. This is being done through development of waste management infrastructure on one hand and community education of the importance of environment principle of 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. The Government of Abu Dhabi has established ‘The Center for Waste Management’ (CWM) to control and coordinate all activities related to sustainable waste management. Several non-government organisations as well as community groups are also working towards the goal of better plastic waste management in UAE.


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(4) Bee'ah. (2010). Sustainability Report 2010. Retrieved May 4, 2013, from Bee'ah-UAE:

(5) National Bureau of Statistics UAE. (n.d.). UAE in figures – 2001 and 2009. Retrieved May 8, 2013, from

(6) Yousef, D. (2011, December 18). Petrol to plastics: Bagging the future. Retrieved May 8, 2013, from GulfNews:

(7) Time. (2013). The Global Warming Survival Guide. Retrieved from Time Magazine:,28804,1602354_1603074_1603179,00.html

(8) MoEW. (2013). Retrieved May 8, 2013, from UAE Ministry of Environment & Water:

(9) California Coastal Commission. (2012, June 20). Public Education Program. Retrieved May 8, 2013, from

(10) Science for Environment Policy. (2011, November). Plastic Waste: Ecological and Human Health Impacts. Retrieved May 8, 2013, from

(11) Salma, S. (2013, March 3). UAE bans non-biodegradable plastic products. Retrieved May 9, 2013, from GulfNews:

(12) Baldwin, D. (2013, April 23). Dubai Municipality launches campaign to slash 500m plastic bags. Retrieved May 8, 2013, from GulfNews:

(13) Bee'ah. (2013). Retrieved from



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