Medical Waste Management in MENA

Healthcare sector in MENA region is growing at a very rapid pace, which in turn has led to tremendous increase in the quantity of medical waste generation by hospitals, clinics and other establishments. According to a recent Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs report, Egypt generated 28,300 tons of hazardous medical wastes in 2010. In the GCC region, more than 150 tons of medical waste is generated in GCC countries every day. Saudi Arabia leads the pack with daily healthcare waste generation of more than 80 tons. These figures are indicative of the magnitude of the problem faced by municipal authorities in dealing with medical waste disposal problem across the MENA region. 

Multitude of Problems

The growing amount of medical wastes is posing significant public health and environmental challenges in major cities of the region. The situation is worsened by improper disposal methods, insufficient physical resources, and lack of research on medical waste management. Improper management of medical wastes from hospitals, clinics and other facilities in MENA pose occupational and public health risks to patients, health workers, waste handlers, haulers and general public. It may also lead to contamination of air, water and soil which may affect all forms of life. In addition, if waste is not disposed of properly, ragpickers may collect disposable medical equipment (particularly syringes) and to resell these materials which may cause dangerous diseases.

Improper management of medical wastes from hospitals, clinics and other facilities in MENA pose occupational and public health risks to patients, health workers, waste handlers, haulers and general public. It may also lead to contamination of air, water and soil which may affect all forms of life. In addition, if waste is not disposed of properly, ragpickers may collect disposable medical equipment (particularly syringes) and to resell these materials which may cause dangerous diseases.

Medical waste management method in MENA is limited to either small-scale incineration or landfilling. The practice of landfilling of medical wastes is a matter of serious concern as it poses grave risks to public health, water resources, soil fertility as well as air quality. In many Middle East and North Africa countries, medical wastes is mixed with municipal solid wastes and/or industrial wastes which transforms medical wastes into a cocktail of dangerous substances. 

The WHO policy paper of 2004 and the Stockholm Convention, has stressed the need to consider the risks associated with the incineration of healthcare waste as a typical medical waste incinerator releases a wide variety of pollutants which may include particulate matter, heavy metals, acid gases, carbon monoxide and organic compounds. Sometimes pathogens may also be found in the solid residues and in the exhaust of poorly designed and badly operated incinerators. In addition, leachable organic compounds, like dioxins and heavy metals, are usually present in bottom ash residues. Due to these factors, many industrialized countries are phasing out healthcare incinerators and exploring technologies that do not produce any dioxins. Countries like United States, Ireland, Portugal, Canada and Germany have completely shut down or put a moratorium on medical waste incinerators. 

Promising Treatment Options

The alternative technologies for healthcare waste treatment are steam sterilization, advanced steam sterilization, microwave treatment, dry heat sterilization, alkaline hydrolysis, and biological treatment. Nowadays, steam sterilization (or autoclaving) is the most common alternative treatment method. Advanced autoclaves or advanced steam treatment technologies combine steam treatment with vacuuming, internal mixing or fragmentation, internal shredding, drying, and compaction thus leading to as much as 90% volume reduction. 

Microwave treatment is a promising technology in which treatment occurs through the introduction of moist heat and steam generated by microwave energy. Alkaline digestion is a unique type of chemical process that uses heated alkali to digest tissues, pathological waste, anatomical parts, or animal carcasses in heated stainless steel tanks. Biological processes, like composting and vermicomposting, can also be used to degrade organic matter in healthcare waste such as kitchen waste and placenta.

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Vanishing Aquifers in MENA

aquifer-menaAquifers are of tremendous importance for the MENA as world's most water-stressed countries are located in the region, including Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iran, Lebanon and Yemen. However, aquifers in MENA are coming under increasing strain and are in real danger of extinction. Eight aquifers systems, including those in MENA, are categorized as ‘over stressed’ aquifers with hardly any natural recharge to offset the water consumed.

Aquifers in MENA

Aquifers stretched beneath Saudi Arabia and Yemen ranks first among ‘overstressed’ aquifers followed by Indus Basin of northwestern India-Pakistan and then by Murzuk-Djado Basin in North Africa. The Nubian Sandstone Aquifer in the Eastern end of Sahara deserts (parts of Sudan, Chad, Libya and most of Egypt) is the world’s largest known ‘fossil’ aquifer system and Bas Sahara basin (most of Algeria-Tunisian Sahara, Morocco and Libya) encloses whole of the Grand Erg Oriental. The non-renewable aquifers in the Middle East are the Arabian Aquifer and The Mountain Aquifer between Israel and Palestine. Some parts in MENA like Egypt and Iraq rely on major rivers (Nile, Tigris and Euphrates) but these surface water flows does not reach the ocean now. Needless to say, water demand in arid and dry MENA countries is met primarily by aquifers and seawater desalination.

MENA region is the most water-scarce region of the world. The region is home to 6.3 percent of world’s population but has access to measly 1.4 percent of the world’s renewable fresh water. The average water availability per person in other geographical regions is about 7,000 m3/year, whereas water availability is merely 1,200 m3/person/year in the MENA region. The region has the highest per capita rates of freshwater extraction in the world (804 m3/year) and currently exploits over 75 percent of its renewable water resources.

Primarily global exploitation of groundwater is for agricultural irrigation. In Saudi Arabia, during 1970’s, landowners were given free subsidies to pump the aquifers for improvisation of agricultural sectors. Soon the country turned out to be world’s premium wheat exporters. But as years passed, water consumption was high in such a rate that the aquifers approached total depletion. Government announced peoples demand to be met by desalination, which is an expensive approach to meet agricultural sector requirement. By end of 1990’s agricultural land declined to less than half of the country’s farm land. Saudi Arabia is no more a wheat exporter rather relies almost entirely on imported crop from other countries. Unfortunately, country has exploited nonrenewable and ancient ‘fossil’ aquifers which could not be recharged by any form of precipitation.

Key Issues

Stress on a country’s agricultural and water resources majorly cause problems in human health as well as instability and conflicts over shared resources. Climate change has also exacerbated water availability in the Middle East. Infact, water stresses has triggered brutal civil war in Syria and worsened the Palestine-Israel conflicts over sharing aquifers. The key issues, according to World Bank, in water utilization in MENA are as follows:

  • Unsustainable and inefficient use: Middle East countries have the highest per capita consumption of domestic water in the world with 40-50% leakage in the urban systems. And 50% water withdrawn for agriculture does not reach as intended.
  • Ineffective policies: the countries diverts 85% of water to grow crops which would be better importing.
  • Deteriorating water quality: contaminated water systems due to insufficient sanitation infrastructure has caused negative impacts on environment and health issues. Like, in Iran where issues associated with inadequate waste water collection and treatment cost estimated 2.2% of GDP.
  • Excessive reliance on the public investment on water accounts for 1-5 percent of GDP.

In MENA an unexpected climate change is likely to bring 20% rainfall reduction and high rate of evaporation which intensifies water stress. And proportionate climate initiated human behavior, more it gets dry, less water in the river, more tendencies to substitute by groundwater. Also depletion of water below the ground will rise to other disasters like sea water intrusion, land subsidence, especially in Arabian Peninsula, in turn destroys the constructions, infrastructures and developments of the country made-up till date.

Tips to Save Aquifers

We do not know how much water is remaining beneath, but we must understand it is vanishing at a very high rate. MENA must treasure aquifers and natural water resource as same as oil reserves are valued. Individual can play a significant role in saving aquifers in MENA by adopting these simple water conservation guidelines

  • Do not drain cooking oil or grease into sink; use adequate amount, reuse like as a shovel cleaner, polish or donate to machinery shops.
  • Effective use of tap; do not run water while brushing. During winters, store the initial cold water that runs out of the tap prior to the hot water from heater. And also know the convenient tap adjustments.
  • Maintain healthy, hygienic and sanitation practices.
  • Replace conventional water pumps and home appliances with advanced water conservative ones.
  • Avoid unnecessary products, food materials and reduce wastage; water consumed in a diet account’s 92% of water footprint of an individual.
  • Avoid sprinklers for irrigation and in garden use to avoid water loss by evaporation and substitute with efficient water distribution system.

By nature, water is definite in this ‘blue planet’. But when there is no right quantity of water at right quality and time it is called ‘Crisis’.

 

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MSW Generation in the Middle East

The high rate of population growth, urbanization and economic expansion in the Middle East is not only accelerating consumption rates but also increasing the generation rate of all  sorts of waste. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait rank in the top-ten worldwide in terms of per capita solid waste generation. The gross urban waste generation quantity from Middle East countries has crossed 150 million tons per annum.The world’s dependence on Middle East energy resources has caused the region to have some of the largest carbon footprints per capita worldwide. The region is now gearing up to meet the challenge of global warming, as with the rapid growth of the waste management sector. During the last few years, UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have unveiled multi-billion dollar investment plans to Improve waste management scenario in their respective countries. 

Solid Waste Generation Statistics

Saudi Arabia produce more than 15 million tons of garbage each year. With an approximate population of about 28 million, the country produces approximately 1.3 kilograms of waste per person every day. More than 5,000 tons of urban waste is generated in the city of Jeddah alone. 

The per capita MSW generation rate  in the United Arab Emirates ranges from 1.76 to 2.3 kg/day. According to a recent study, the amount of solid waste in UAE totaled 4.892 million tons, with a daily average of 6935 tons in the city of Abu Dhabi, 4118 tons in Al Ain and 2349 tons in the western region.

Qatar's annual waste generation stands at 2.5 million tons while Kuwait produces 2 million tons MSW per annum. Bahrain generates more than 1.5 million tons of municipal waste every year. Countries like Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar have astonishingly high per capita waste generation rate, primarily because of high standard of living and lack of awarness about sustainable waste management practices.

Country

MSW Generation

(million tons per annum)

Saudi Arabia

13

UAE

5

Qatar

2.5

Kuwait

2

Bahrain

1.5

In addition, huge quantity of sewage sludge is produced on daily basis which presents a serious problem due to its high treatment costs and risk to environment, human health and marine life. On an average, the rate of municipal wastewater generation in the Middle East is 80-200 litres per person per day. Cities in the region are facing increasing difficulties in treating sewage, as has been the case in Jeddah where 500,000 cubic metre of raw sewage is discarded in Buraiman Lake daily. Sewage generation across the region is rising by an astonishing rate of 25 percent every year which is bound to create major headaches for urban planners. 

Waste-to-Energy for the Middle East

Municipal solid waste in the Middle East is comprised of organic fraction, paper, glass, plastics, metals, wood etc which can be managed by making use of recycling, composting and/or waste-to-energy technologies. The composting process is a complex interaction between the waste and the microorganisms within the waste. Central composting plants are capable of handling more than 100,000 tons of biodegradable waste per year, but typically the plant size is about 10,000 to 30,000 tons per year.

Municipal solid waste can be converted into energy by conventional technologies (such as incineration, mass-burn and landfill gas capture) or by modern conversion systems (such as anaerobic digestion, gasification and pyrolysis). The three principal methods of thermochemical conversion are combustion (in excess air), gasification (in reduced air), and pyrolysis (in absence of air). The most common technique for producing both heat and electrical energy from urban wastes is direct combustion. Combined heat and power (CHP) or cogeneration systems, ranging from small-scale technology to large grid-connected facilities, provide significantly higher efficiencies than systems that only generate electricity. 

At the landfill sites, the gas produced by the natural decomposition of MSW can be collected from the stored material and scrubbed and cleaned before feeding into internal combustion engines or gas turbines to generate heat and power. In addition, the organic fraction of MSW can be anaerobically stabilized in a high-rate digester to obtain biogas for electricity or steam generation. 

Anaerobic digestion is the most preferred option to extract energy from sewage, which leads to production of biogas and organic fertilizer. The sewage sludge that remains can be incinerated or gasified/pyrolyzed to produce more energy. In addition, sewage-to-energy processes also facilitate water recycling. Infact, energy recovery from MSW is rapidly gaining worldwide recognition as the 4th R in sustainable waste management system – Reuse, Reduce, Recycle and Recover.

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Energy Efficiency in Saudi Cement Industry

Saudi Arabia is the largest construction market in the Middle East, with large development projects under way and many more in the planning stage. The cement industry in the country is evolving rapidly and is expected to reach annual clinker production of 70 million tonnes in 2013 from current figure of 60 million tonnes per year. The cement industry is one of the highest energy-intensive industries in the world, with fuel and energy costs typically representing 30-40% of total production costs. On an average, the specific electrical energy consumption typically ranges between 90 and 130 kWh per tonne of cement. Keeping in view the huge energy demand of the cement industry, the Saudi Arabian government has been making efforts to reduce the energy consumption in the country towards a more sustainable.

Energy Demand in Cement Production

The theoretical fuel energy demand for cement clinker production is determined by the energy required for the chemical/mineralogical reactions (1,700 to 1,800 MJ/tonne clinker) and the thermal energy needed for raw material drying and pre-heating. Modern cement plants which were built within the last decade have low energy consumption compared to older plants.  The actual fuel energy use for different kiln systems is in the following ranges (MJ/tonne clinker):

  • 3,000 – 3,800 for dry process, multi-stage (3 – 6 stages) cyclone preheater and precalcining kilns,
  • 3,100 – 4,200 for dry process rotary kilns equipped with cyclone preheaters,
  • 3,300 – 4,500 for semi-dry/semi-wet processes (e.g. Lepol-kilns),
  • Up to 5,000 for dry process long kilns,
  • 5,000 – 6,000 for wet process long kilns and
  • 3,100–6,500 for shaft kilns.

Energy Efficiency in Cement Industry

With new built, state-of-the-art cement plants, usually all technical measures seem to be implemented towards low energy consumption. So, how to reduce it further?

Energy efficiency is based on the following three pillars

  • Technical optimization
  • Alternative raw materials for cement and clinker production
  • Alternative fuels

In Europe, the new energy efficiency directive from 2011 intends to reduce the energy consumption of the overall industry by 20%, achieving savings of 200billion Euros at the energy bill and with the goal to create 2 million new jobs within Europe. This approach will have a significant influence also on the cement industry. Saving 20% of the energy consumption is a challenging goal, especially for plants with state-of-the-art technology.

In older plants modernizations in the fields of grinding, process control and process prediction can, if properly planned and installed, reduce the electricity consumption – sometimes in a two digit number.

Alternative Fuels

Alternative fuels, such as waste-derived fuels or RDF, bear further energy saving potential. The substitution of fossil fuel by alternative sources of energy is common practice in the European cement industry.The German cement industry, for example, substitutes approximately 61% of their fossil fuel demand. The European cement industry reaches an overall substitution rate of at least ca. 20%.

Typical “alternative fuels” available in Saudi Arabia are municipal solid wastes, agro-industrial wastes, industrial wastes and some amount of crop residues. To use alternative or waste-derived fuels, such as municipal solid wastes, dried sewage sludges, drilling wastes etc., a regulatory base has to be developed which sets

  • Types of wastes/alternative fuels,
  • Standards for the production of waste-derived fuels,
  • Emission standards and control mechanism while using alternative fuels and
  • Standards for permitting procedures.

Alternative Raw Materials

The reduction of clinker portion in cement affords another route to reduce energy consumption. In particular, granulated blast furnace slags or even limestone have proven themselves as substitutes in cement production, thus reducing the overall energy consumption.

To force the use of alternative raw materials within the cement industry, also – and again –standards have to be set, where

  • Types of wastes, by-products and other secondary raw materials are defined,
  • Standards for the substitution are set,
  • Guidelines for processing are developed,
  • Control mechanisms are defined.

Conclusions

To reduce the energy consumption, an energy efficiency program, focusing on “production-related energy efficiency” has to be developed. Substantial potential for energy efficiency improvement exists in the cement industry and in individual plants. A portion of this potential will be achieved as part of (natural) modernization and expansion of existing facilities, as well as construction of new plants in particular regions. Still, a relatively large potential for improved energy management practices exists and can be exhausted by determined approaches.

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Renewable Energy in GCC: Need for a Holistic Approach

The importance of renewable energy sources in the energy portfolio of any country is well known, especially in the context of energy security and impacts on climate change. The growing quest for renewable energy and energy efficiency in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries has been seen by many as both – a compulsion to complement the rising energy demand, and as an economic strength that helps them in carrying forward the clean energy initiatives from technology development to large scale deployment of projects from Abu Dhabi to Riyadh.

Current Scenario

The promotion of renewable energy (RE) is becoming an integral part in the policy statements of governments in GCC countries. Particular attention is being paid to the development and deployment of solar energy for various applications. Masdar is a shining example of a government’s commitment towards addressing sustainability issues through education, R&D, investment, and commercialization of RE technologies. It not only has emerged as the hub of renewable energy development and innovation but is also acting as a catalyst for many others to take up this challenge.

With the ongoing developments in the clean energy sphere in the region, the growing appetite for establishing clean energy market and addressing domestic sustainability issues arising out of the spiralling energy demand and subsidized hydrocarbon fuels is clearly visible. Saudi Arabia is also contemplating huge investments to develop its solar industry, which can meet one-third of its electricity demand by the year 2032. Other countries are also trying to reciprocate similar moves. While rationalizing subsidies quickly may be a daunting task for the governments (as for any other country, for that matter, including India as well), efforts are being made by UAE to push RE in the supply mix and create the market.

Accelerating Renewable Energy Growth

However, renewable energy initiatives are almost exclusively government-led projects. There is nothing wrong in capitalizing hydrocarbon revenue for a noble cause but unless strong policies and regulatory frameworks are put in place, the sector may not see viable actions from private players and investors. The present set of such instruments are either still weak or absent, and, therefore, are unable to provide greater comfort to market players. This situation may, in turn, limit the capacity/flexibility to reduce carbon footprints in times to come as government on its own cannot set up projects everywhere, it can only demonstrate and facilitate.

In this backdrop, it is time to soon bring in reforms that would pave way for successful RE deployment in all spheres. Some of the initiatives that need to be introduced or strengthened include:

  • Enabling policies for grid connected RE that should cover interconnection issues between RE power and utilities, incentives, facilitation and clearances for land, water, and environment (wherever relevant); and
  • Regulatory provisions relating to – setting of minimum Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO) to be met, principles of tariff determination for different technologies, provisions for trading in RE, plant operation including scheduling (wherever relevant), and evacuation of power.
  • Creation of ancillary market for effectively meeting the grid management challenges arising from intermittent power like that from solar and wind, metering and energy accounting, protection, connectivity code, safety, etc.

For creating demand and establishing a thriving market, concerted efforts are required by all the stakeholders to address various kinds of issues pertaining to policy, technical, regulatory, and institutional mechanisms in the larger perspective. In the absence of a strong framework, even the world’s most visionary and ambitious project Desertec which  envision channeling of solar and wind power to parts of Europe by linking of renewable energy generation sites in MENA region may also face hurdles as one has to deal with pricing, interconnection, grid stability and access issues first. This also necessitates the need for harmonization in approach among all participating countries to the extent possible.

Conclusions

It is difficult to ignore the benefits of renewable energy be it social, economic, environmental, local or global. Policy statements are essential starting steps for accelerating adoption of clean energy sources including smaller size capacity, where there lies a significant potential. In GCC countries with affluent society, the biggest challenge would be to create energy consciousness and encourage smarter use of energy among common people like anywhere else, and the same calls for wider application of behavioural science in addressing a wide range of sustainability issues.

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Green Building Rating Systems in MENA

Green buildings not only contribute towards a sustainable construction and environment but also bring lots of benefits and advantages to building owners and users. Lower development costs, lower operating costs, increased comforts, healthier indoor environment quality, and enhanced durability and less maintenance costs are hallmarks of a typical green building.

A wide range of green building rating and assessment systems are used around the world, including LEED and BREEAM. Sustainability is now a top priority in MENA region and countries like Qatar and UAE have come up with their own green building rating system to incorporate socio-economic, environmental and cultural aspects in modern architecture.

Global Sustainability Assessment System (Qatar)

The Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS), formerly known as the Qatar Sustainability Assessment System (QSAS), was developed in 2010 by Gulf Organization for Research and Development (GORD) in collaboration with T.C. Chan Center at the University of Pennsylvania. GSAS aims at creating a sustainable urban environment to reduce environmental impacts of buildings while satisfying local community needs. 

GSAS is billed as the world’s most comprehensive green building assessment system developed after rigorous analysis of 40 green building codes from all over the world. The most important feature of GSAS is that it takes into account the region’s social, economic, environmental and cultural aspects, which are different from other parts of the world. Several countries in the MENA region, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Sudan, have shown keen interest in the adoption of GSAS as unified green building code for the region.

Qatar has incorporated QSAS into Qatar Construction Standards 2010 and it is now mandatory for all private and public sector projects to get GSAS certification. GSAS combines 140 building sustainability assessment mechanisms and is divided into eight categories including urban connectivity, site, energy, water, materials, indoor environment, cultural and economic value and management and operations. Each category of the system will measure a different aspect of a project’s environmental impact. Each category is broken down into specific criteria that measure and define individual issues. A score is then awarded for each category on the basis of the degree of compliance.

Pearl Rating System (Abu Dhabi)

The Pearl Rating System (PRS) is the green building rating system for the emirate of Abu Dhabi designed to support sustainable development from design to construction to operational accountability of communities, buildings and villas. It provides guidance and requirements to rate potential performance of a project with respect to Estidama (or sustainability).

The Pearl Rating System is an initiative of the part of the government to improve the life of people living in Abu Dhabi, by focusing on cultural traditions and social values. The rating system is specifically tailored to the hot and arid climate of Abu Dhabi which is characterized by high energy requirements for air-conditioning, high evaporation rates, infrequent rainfall and potable water scarcity.

The Pearl Rating System has various levels of certification. ranging from one to five pearls. A minimum certification of one pearl is required for all new development projects within Abu Dhabi. The Pearl Rating System is organized into seven categories where there are both mandatory and optional credits. To achieve a 1 Pearl rating, all the mandatory credit requirements must be met. 

ARZ Building Rating System (Lebanon)

The relatively unknown ARZ Building Rating System is the first Lebanese green building initiative of international standard with its certification process being administered by the Lebanon Green Building Council (LGBC).  It has been established to support the growth and adoption of sustainable building practices in Lebanon, with a specific focus on the environmental assessment and rating system for commercial buildings.

The ARZ Green Building Rating System was developed by Lebanese expertise of LGBC in partnership with the International Finance Corp. Its aim is to maximize the operational efficiency and minimize environmental impacts. The ARZ rating system is evidence-based approach to assessing how green a building is. The system includes a list of technologies, techniques, procedures and energy consumption levels that LGBC expects to see in green buildings.

An assessor accredited by LGBC will take an inventory of the energy and water consumption, technologies, techniques and procedures that are used in the building and then LGBC will score the building according to how well the inventory matches the list of technologies, techniques and procedures that make up the ARZ rating system requirements. 

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Asbestos Waste Management in MENA

Each year countries from the Middle East and North Africa import large amount of asbestos for use in the construction industry. As per the last known statistics, the Middle East and Africa accounted for 20% of world demand for the material. Iran and the United Arab Emirates are among the biggest consumers of the material. Infact, the entire Middle East has been steadily increasing their asbestos imports, except for Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which are the only two countries that have placed bans on asbestos but with questionable effectiveness. Iran alone has been reported to order 30,000 tons of asbestos each year. More than 17,000 tonnes of asbestos was imported and consumed in the United Arab Emirates in 2007. 

Fallouts from Wars and Revolutions

Asbestos is at its most dangerous when exposed to people who are not protected with masks and other clothing. In times past, such considerations were not thought about. At the moment, most people think of asbestos exposure as part of the construction industry. This means demolition, refurbishment and construction are the prime times that people can be exposed to the fibres.

In the Middle East and North Africa, however, turbulent times have increased the danger of exposure for people across the region. Since 2003, there has been the Iraq War, revolutions in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, plus the uprising in Syria. Not to mention a raft of conflicts in Lebanon, Palestine and Israel. The upshot of this is that a building hit by an explosive, which contains asbestos, is likely to put the material in the local atmosphere, further endangering the lives of nearby.

Asbestos Waste Management

In many countries around the world companies, institutions and organizations have a legal responsibility to manage their waste. They are banned from using substances that are deemed hazardous to the general public. This includes a blanket ban on the use of asbestos. Where discovered it must be removed and dealt with by trained individuals wearing protective clothing. In the Middle East and North Africa, it is vitally important for there to be the development of anti-asbestos policies at government and business levels to further protect the citizens of those countries.

Not a single Middle East country has ratified International Labour Organization Law Number 162, which was instituted at the 1986 Asbestos Convention. The ILO No. 162 outlines health and safety procedures related to asbestos, including regulations for employers put forth in an effort to protect the safety of all workers. Asbestos waste management in the MENA region needs to take in several distinct action phases. Education and legislation are the first two important steps followed by actual waste management of asbestos. 

Largely speaking, the MENA region has little or no framework systems in place to deal with this kind of problem. Each year more than 100,000 people die worldwide due to asbestos-related diseases and keeping in view the continuous use of asbestos use in the region, it is necessary to devise a strong strategy for phasing out of asbestos from the construction industry.

Future Strategy

Many may argue that there is still a philosophical hurdle to overcome. This is why education must go in tandem with legislation. As of 2006, only Egypt and Saudi Arabia had signed up to a ban on asbestos. Even then, there is evidence of its continued use. Whether as part of official pronouncements or in the papers, on the TVs or in schools, it is vitally important that bans are backed up with information so the general public understand why asbestos should not only be banned, but removed. It is important that other countries consider banning the material and promoting awareness of it too.

Governments have the resources to open up pathways for local or international companies to begin an asbestos removal programme. In many places education will be required to help companies become prepared for these acts. Industrial asbestos removal begins with a management survey to identify what asbestos materials are in a building and where. This is followed up by a refurbishment and pre-demolition survey to best see how to remove the asbestos and replace it with better materials. These come in tandem with risk assessments and fully detailed plans.

Asbestos management cannot be completed without such a survey. This may prove to be the most difficult part of implementing widespread asbestos waste management in the Middle East and North Africa. Doing so will be expensive and time consuming, but the alternative is unthinkable – to rip out the asbestos without taking human safety into account. First, therefore, the infrastructure and training needs to be put into place to begin the long work of removing asbestos from the MENA region.

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Agricultural Scenario in MENA

Agriculture plays an important role in the economies of most of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa.  The contribution of the agricultural sector to the overall economy varies significantly among countries in the region, ranging from about 3.2 percent in Saudi Arabia to 13.4 percent in Egypt.  Large scale irrigation is expanding, enabling intensive production of high value cash and export crops, including fruits, vegetables, cereals, and sugar.

Egypt is the 14th biggest rice producer in the world and the 8th biggest cotton producer in the world. Egypt produced about 5.67 million tons of rice and 635,000 tons of cotton in 2011. The area of cotton crop cultivation accounts for about 5% of the cultivated area in Egypt. The total amount of crop residues is about 16 million tons of dry matter per year. Cotton residues represent about 9% of the total amount of residues. These are materials comprising mainly cotton stalks, which present a disposal problem.

Although the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is widely thought of as a desert, it has regions where the climate has favored agriculture. By implementing major irrigations projects and adopting large scale mechanization, Saudi Arabia has made great progress in developing agricultural sector. The Kingdom has achieved self-sufficiency in the production of wheat, eggs, and milk, among other commodities, though it still imports the bulk of its food needs. Wheat is the primary cultivated grain, followed by sorghum and barley. Dates, melons, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, and squash are also important crops.

Despite the fact that MENA is the most water-scarce and dry region worldwide, many countries across the region, especially those around the Mediterranean Sea, are highly dependent on agriculture.  For example, the Oum Er Rbia River basin contains half of Morocco’s public irrigated agriculture and produces 60 percent of its sugar beets, 40 percent of its olives, and 40 percent of its milk.

Agricultural output is central to the Tunisian economy. Major crops are cereals and olive oil, with almost half of all the cultivated land sown with cereals and another third planted. Tunisia is one of the world's biggest producers and exporters of olive oil, and it exports dates and citrus fruits that are grown mostly in the northern parts of the country.

Agriculture in Lebanon is the third most important sector in the country after the tertiary and industrial sectors. It contributes nearly 7% to GDP and employs around 15% of the active population. Main crops include cereals (mainly wheat and barley), fruits and vegetables, olives, grapes, and tobacco, along with sheep and goat herding.

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Agricultural Biomass in MENA

 

Agriculture plays an important role in the economies of most of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa region.  Despite the fact that MENA is the most water-scarce and dry region in the world, many countries in the region, especially those around the Mediterranean Sea, are highly dependent on agriculture.  The contribution of the agricultural sector to the overall economy varies significantly among countries in the region, ranging, for example, from about 3.2 percent in Saudi Arabia to 13.4 percent in Egypt.  Large scale irrigation coupled with mechanization has enabled entensive production of high-value cash crops, including fruits, vegetables, cereals, and sugar in the Middle East.

The term ‘crop residues’ covers the whole range of biomass produced as by-products from growing and processing crops. Crop residues encompasses all agricultural wastes such as bagasse, straw, stem, stalk, leaves, husk, shell, peel, pulp, stubble, etc. Wheat and barley are the major staple crops grown in the Middle East region. In addition, significant quantities of rice, maize, lentils, chickpeas, vegetables and fruits are produced throughout the region, mainly in Egypt, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Jordan. 

Egypt is the one of world's biggest producer of rice and cotton and produced about 5.67 million tons of rice and 635,000 tons of cotton in 2011. Infact, crop residues are considered to be the most important and traditional source of domestic fuel in rural Egypt. The total amount of crop wastes in Egypt is estimated at about 16 million tons of dry matter per year. Cotton residues represent about 9% of the total amount of residues. These are materials comprising mainly cotton stalks, which present a disposal problem. The area of cotton crop cultivation accounts for about 5% of the cultivated area in Egypt.

Agricultural output is central to the Tunisian economy. Major crops are cereals and olive oil, with almost half of all the cultivated land sown with cereals and another third planted. Tunisia is one of the world's biggest producers and exporters of olive oil, and it exports dates and citrus fruits that are grown mostly in the northern parts of the country.

To sum up, large quantities of crop residues are produced annually in the region, and are vastly underutilised. Current farming practice is usually to plough these residues back into the soil, or they are burnt, left to decompose, or grazed by cattle. These residues could be processed into liquid fuels or thermochemically processed to produce electricity and heat in rural areas. Energy crops, such as Jatropha, can be successfully grown in arid regions for biodiesel production. Infact, Jatropha is already grown at limited scale in some Middle East countries and tremendous potential exists for its commercial exploitation.

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Environmental Education: Key to a Better Future

environmental-educationTomorrow's leaders need to be equipped for tomorrow's challenges, and we must adequately prepare our children for the future they will inherit. As climate change is being felt across the globe and its long term catastrophic impacts have never been so scientifically clear, environmental education is the key to a better future. In an era where more and more children are disconnected from nature, we should recognize the importance of making a real investment in environmental education and outdoor learning. Studies have shown environmental education engages students in learning, raising test scores, and encouraging youth to pursue career in environmental and natural resources. And not only that: environmental education can help children perform better in social studies, science, language, arts, and mathematics.

Engagement at Different Levels

The secret to environmental education is to act at different levels, engaging the entire school and addressing students, teachers, parents, administrators and all members of the schools community. Eventually, it will link up all the participants within the community. The components of this initiative depend on interaction and participation, with teachers undertaking a guiding role by encouraging students to discover solutions on their own.

At first students should determine and check the extent of their use of natural resources in the school. Through this, they evaluate their efforts in the field of environmental management. 

As a second step, children should set up and run Eco Clubs. Eco Clubs provide an opportunity to students to participate in environmental projects and activities. They also serve as a forum through which the students share environmental problems, along with the school staff, parents and the community surrounding the school, in order to work on finding solutions, and promote a positive environmental behavior. In this component the schools can implement internal and external projects, such as introducing efficient methods of irrigation, lowering the volume of waste, reducing the consumption of electricity and water and trying to reduce air pollution.

The third step focuses on organizing training courses for teachers and releasing educational resources in different themes and curricula, helping them to teach environmental concepts in innovative ways and through various educational materials. This will help teachers to adapt and to provide students with information about different habitats, biodiversity, climate change and other issues faced at the local level, as well as faced by the planet on a global level.

The final step should be to connect students to environmental causes and issues, and identify solutions through the provision of field trips. Additionally, such trips can be associated with the educational curriculum as they offer direct learning method. This helps boosting the understanding of various concepts by the students, and increasing the chance of using multiple senses such as eyesight, hearing, etc., which helps to raise their capacity to understand what they have learned. The success and engagement of schools to take on the environment field trips is great and extensive and it represents a set full of amazing adventures of exploration and knowledge.

Undoubtedly, the final and greatest outcome is to educate our children on the importance of becoming good environmental citizens.

Challenges in the Middle East

The Middle East region faces difficult natural conditions, and it is clear that steep population growth, poverty and the consequent degradation of natural ecosystems make it a priority when it comes to Environmental awareness and sustainability goals. One of the biggest challenges is certainly the lack of awareness. 

Most countries are blessed with high levels of education, with a large portion of the population pursuing secondary and higher education. Unfortunately however, human development and wealth are not always synonym with high environmental awareness and interest in sustainability issues… Jordan and Lebanon, for example, have their primary focus in tourism, which mostly contributes to their GDPs.

An interesting survey conducted in the Sultanate of Oman revealed that the environmental awareness of the Omani public was related to education level but also to gender and age. Males were found to have a higher level of knowledge about environmental issues than females. Males were also more environmentally concerned and tended to engage in more environmental behaviors than females. Younger and more educated respondents tended to be more knowledgeable and concerned about the environment than older and less educated respondents.

Eco Clubs provide an opportunity to students to participate in environmental projects and activities.

Eco Clubs provide an opportunity to students to participate in environmental projects and activities.

Another challenge that countries such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar are faced with, is trying to reduce their consumption patterns. Even though awareness levels seem to be higher than in other countries, these nations are notorious for their unsustainable consumption rates. For instance, KSA and the UAE’s water consumption have reached 265 and 550 liters per capita per day respectively, which significantly exceeds the world’s average. 

Participation of Emirati Youth

Educating the UAE youth and preparing them to lead the country’s sustainable future is the first goal in the UAE national environmental awareness strategy and the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment encourages the youth to innovate and be part of global environmental efforts.

Recently the UAE has taken a major step including environmental education in all schools: back in November Thani Ahmad Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, announced that awareness of climate change and how to help save the environment will be taught in classrooms across the country.

Under plans to tweak schools' curriculum to include learning on sustainability, schoolchildren will also be shown how to take energy-saving measures. These include schoolchildren of all ages, including in private sector schools, learning the importance of turning off lights and air-conditioning when not in use, and how to use less water. Each pupil will also be encouraged to spread the message to their family and friends. One of these initiatives, called Sustainable Schools, is an extension of a program that started in Abu Dhabi in 2009.

As a consequence to all these efforts taken by the government, I observed an increase in the numbers of UAE nationals volunteers participating in our programs: we've usually had a majority of Indians and Europeans taking part in our tree planting events or in the anti-pollution awareness drives, but lately large groups of young Emiratis have come forward to participate actively in all our programs and we continue to receive many emails asking to become long term volunteers. This is one of the biggest achievements we could wish for the UAE.

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Saudi Arabia Biorefinery from Algae (SABA) Project

The King Abdulaziz City for Science & Technology (KACST) is funding an innovative project called Saudi Arabia Biorefinery from Algae (SABA Project) to screen for lipid hyper-producers species in Saudi Arabia coastal waters. These species will be the basis for next-generation algal biofuel production. The goal of this project is to increase research and training in microalgae-based biofuel production as well algal biomass with an additional goal of using a biorefinery approach that could strongly enhance Saudi Arabia economy, society and environment within the next 10 years.

The primary mission of the SABA project is to develop the Algae Based Biorefinery – ABB biotechnology putting into operation innovative, sustainable, and commercially viable solutions for green chemistry, energy, bio-products, water conservation, and CO2 abatement. Microalgae are known sources of high-value biochemicals such as vitamins, carotenoids, pigments and anti-oxidants. Moreover, they can be feedstocks of bulk biochemicals like protein and carbohydrates that can be used in the manufacture of feed and food.

The strategic plan for SABA project is based on the achievement of the already ongoing applied Research, Technology Development & Demonstration (RTD&D) to the effective use of microalgae biomass production and downstream extraction in a diversified way, e.g. coupling the biomass production with wastewater bioremediation or extracting sequentially different metabolites form the produced biomass (numerous fatty acids, proteins, bioactive compounds etc.). This interdisciplinary approach including algal biology, genetic engineering and technologies for algae cultivation, harvesting, and intermediate and final products extraction is crucial for the successful conversion of the developed technologies into viable industries.

The first phase of this project entitled “Screening for lipid hyper-producers species in Saudi Arabia coastal waters for Biofuel production from micro-Algae” will build the basis for large scale system to produce diesel fuel and other products from algae grown in the ocean with a strong emphasis on building know-how and training. It will ultimately produce competitively priced biofuel, scaling up carbon capture for a range of major environmental, economic, social and climate benefits in the Kingdom and elsewhere. The project lends itself to an entrepreneurial new venture, working in partnership with existing firms in the oil and gas industry, in energy generation, in water supply and sanitation, in shipping and in food and pharmaceutical production.

The project is gaining from cross-disciplinary cutting edge Research, Technology Development & Demonstration for the industrial implementation of the fourth generation algae-based Biorefinery. The technology development is supported by a consortium of engineers, researchers in cooperation with industry players (to ensure technology transfer), international collaborators (to ensure knowledge transfer) and the Riyadh Techno Valley (to promote spin-off and commercialization of results). 

Since the research topic is innovative in the Kingdom research circles, a strong research partnership was promptly developed by the King Saud University / King Abdulah Institute for Nanotechnology with international distinguished research centers with proved successful experience in this technology development. The Centre of Marine Science (CCMAR) and the Institute of Biotechnology and Bioengineering (IBB) both from Portugal are a guarantee to the successful research-based technology development in the SABA project development and the effective capacity-building for Saudi young researchers and technicians.

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Saudi Arabia’s Road to Fuel Economy

Saudi Arabia is a private car-oriented society, and has one of the world’s highest per capita fuel consumption in the transportation sector. This is primarily due to lack of efficient public transportation and current fuel subsidy policy. The country is witnessing an escalating demand on its domestic energy needs and it is imperative on policymakers to devise policies for conservation of energy resources and reduction of GHGs emissions in the transportation sector. Adapting energy-efficient fuel standards will help Saudi Arabia country to bridge the gap with the developed countries. The enforcement mechanism for the establishment of Saudi fuel economy standards will lead to achievement of strategic energy conservation objectives.

Energy intensity in Saudi Arabia has set high records reflecting the growth of the economy and the increasing demand on fossil energy in the domestic use and heavy industries operations. Energy intensity in the Kingdom was twice the world average in 2010 and with unbalanced growth between energy use and economy, this should rang the bell for the Saudi government to adapt a bundle of energy policies that curtail the increasing growth of energy demand domestically.

CAFE Standards

Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency standard (CAFE) was first enacted after the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 in the USA. That policy was due to energy security concerns and environmental objectives. The USA current standard is 27.5 mpg for passenger’s vehicle and 20.7mpg for light trucks. Similarly to the USA CAFE objectives, the Kingdom approach is to reduce gasoline consumption and induce conservation and increasing efficiency of the light-duty vehicles (LDV).The proposed standard mandates require that all new and used passenger vehicles and light trucks either imported or locally manufacture should comply with new fuel standards. The framework for this law to be effective will start by January 1, 2016 and fully phased out by December 31, 2025. The Saudi Energy Efficiency Center (SEEC) and other entities including the Saudi Standards, Metrology and Quality Organization, Saudi Customs, and Ministry of Commerce and Industry have been asked to monitor the implementation of the CAFE standards.

The purpose of the fuel standards is to commit the light-duty vehicle manufactures sell their cars in the kingdom and comply with the Saudi CAFE. This standard has a double dividends from the automobile manufacturer side its incentivize them to introduce the up-to-date efficiency technologies and cut the supply the low-efficient technologies to the Saudi market. The Saudi CAFE standard targets an improving in the overall fuel economy with an average of 4% annually. This would lift up the Kingdom’s fuel economy LDVs from its current level of 12 km per liter to 19 km per liter by 2025.

The Saudi CAFE standard shows a focused strategy to setting long-term standards over the course of a given time frame and its committed efforts to manage both newly imported or used LDVs. According to Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman al-Saud, the Saudi transportation sector consumes about 23 percent of the total energy in the kingdom and about 12 million vehicles consume about 811,000 barrels of gasoline and diesel per day. Moreover, there are 7 LDVs entering the market every year with a forecast to reach 20 million by 2030.

Conclusion

Saudi Arabia’s CAFE standard is a means to stimulate energy efficiency and encourage resource conservation and contribute to the environment. This will enable consumers to save money, reduce fossil fuel consumption and strengthen the Kingdom’s role in the fight against climate change.

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