With green mosques and schools, Amman pushes for zero emissions

With green mosques and schools, Amman pushes for zero emissions
The Hamdan Al-Qara mosque in southern Amman is equipped with 140 solar panels on its roof. (AFP)
Updated 30 October 2018

With green mosques and schools, Amman pushes for zero emissions

With green mosques and schools, Amman pushes for zero emissions
  • Almost all the mosques in Jordan now cover 100 percent of their energy needs
  • The country aims to generate 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2022

AMMAN: Poking above the bright pink bougainvillea that spills into the street, the lone minaret of the Ta’la Al-Ali mosque towers over the Khalda neighborhood of Amman.
Aside from its colorful stain-glassed windows and ornate calligraphy, this mosque stands out for another reason: its roof is covered with shining solar panels that make the building’s carbon emissions close to zero.
The structure is part of a wider effort by mosques — and many other buildings in the city — to capitalize on Jordan’s plentiful sunshine and shift toward renewable energy, in a bid to achieve Amman’s goal of becoming a carbon neutral city by 2050.
“Almost all the mosques here in Jordan now cover 100 percent of their energy needs” with renewable power, said Yazan Ismail, an energy auditor at ETA-max Energy and Environmental Solutions, a green consultancy in Jordan.
Amman is one of more than 70 cities worldwide that are aiming to become “carbon neutral” by 2050, meaning they will produce no more climate-changing emissions than they can offset, such as by planting carbon-absorbing trees.
Each is going about achieving the goal in its own way. But because cities account for about three-quarters of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the United Nations, and consume more than two-thirds of the world’s energy, whether they succeed or fail will have a huge impact on if the world’s climate goals are met.
In Amman, the push to make mosques greener — which began in 2014, with backing from the Ministry of Religious Affairs — has been so successful that many are now selling excess energy back to the national grid, Ismail said.
For the Ta’la Al-Ali mosque’s imam, who speaks to the faithful in his Friday sermons about protecting the climate, the decision to adopt clean energy coincides with wider religious values.
“The main reason for the use of solar energy is religious duty,” said Ahmad Al-Rawashdeh. Islam urges conservation of nature’s resources, he said, and “warns against extravagance.”
But the use of solar energy, and power-saving LED lightbulbs, also is helping the mosque financially, he admitted.
Amman, where temperatures already soar above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in the summer, has clear incentives to try to hold the line on global warming.
But renewables are far from the norm in most of the country. Jordan still imports close to 96 percent of its energy, most of it polluting fossil fuels, from its Middle Eastern neighbors, according to the World Bank.
Government officials say they are going to change that.
“We are committed to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030,” Minister of Environment Nayef Hmeidi Al-Fayez said.
The country aims to generate 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2022, Al-Fayez said. It’s a target he thinks will be met early, in part as solar panels go up on the city’s homes, businesses and government buildings.
Earlier this year the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) put in place $188 million in financing to develop Jordan’s largest solar power plant for the state National Electric Power Company.
The project is scheduled to go online in the first half of 2020, and will supply power to about 110,000 homes while displacing 360,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually, a statement from Masdar said.
On the other side of the city, the Al-Hoffaz international academy — one of the first schools to go solar in Amman, in 2013 — now gets almost 95 percent of its energy from renewable sources, said Khaled Al-Salaymah, assistant general manager of the school.
At Al-Hoffaz, children in orange and black uniforms chant their times-tables as they file down the stairs of the academy, one of about 100 schools in Amman seeking to lower carbon emissions.
“Based on our community and public responsibilities we want to reduce our emissions and carbon contribution urgently,” said Al-Salaymah.
“Also, there’s an economic dimension: we’ve reduced our energy consumption costs too,” he said.
Along with glimmering solar electrical panels covering the basketball court, the teachers’ car park and much of the roof, the school uses solar water heaters and recycles its waste while also prioritizing environmental education, he said.
“We hold awareness sessions for students, parents and teachers here to ensure they know the benefits of going green and using renewable energy,” Al-Salaymah told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“It’s not just installing solar panels. We want to be green in every way.”
He said he had noticed a rise in social awareness of the risks of climate change, particularly among young Jordanians.
“The mentality has changed,” he said.
Jordan is also trying to cut emissions from tourism. The country hopes to market itself as a haven for ecotourists keen to stay in zero-carbon resorts along the salty Dead Sea or near the UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra.
The Feynan Ecolodge sits on the edge of the Dana Biosphere Reserve, on the road to the ancient crimson carved city of Petra.
With solar appliances serving its 26 rooms and candle-lit corridors, the lodge is entirely off grid, and offers visitors the chance to feast on vegetarian food, stargaze or learn to bake bread beneath the hot sand.
Manager Nabil Tarazi said the lodge’s daily energy consumption was less than that of a two-bedroom apartment in Amman.
The lodge is part of a string of buildings backed by Jordan’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), including a similar resort north of Amman in the protected forest reserve of Ajloun.
Nestled among evergreen oaks, that lodge harvests rainwater and uses geothermal heating and cooling to keep its emissions at net zero.
Despite Jordan’s efforts to cut carbon emissions, Amman faces big challenges, including a booming population, swollen by the arrival of more than half a million refugees fleeing conflict in neighboring Syria.
Arid Amman is also among the most water-stressed cities in the world — enough that Jordan is now looking into desalination plants to keep the taps running.
But the push for solar power may also help.
A May report by the World Resources Institute found that thirsty Middle Eastern and North African countries, including Jordan, could cut water demand by switching to solar power, which uses less water to produce than fossil fuel electricity generation.
Jordan’s Environment Minister Al-Fayez said he has confidence Amman — and the country — will continue pushing to meet their ambitious carbon-cutting goals.
“We’re always optimistic in Jordan. That’s the way that we survive,” he said.


Top Lebanese hospitals fight exhausting battle against virus

Top Lebanese hospitals fight exhausting battle against virus
Updated 23 January 2021

Top Lebanese hospitals fight exhausting battle against virus

Top Lebanese hospitals fight exhausting battle against virus
  • In recent weeks, Lebanon has seen a dramatic increase in virus cases, following the holiday season

BEIRUT: Death stalks the corridors of Beirut’s Rafik Hariri University Hospital, where losing multiple patients in one day to COVID-19 has become the new normal. On Friday, the mood among the staff was even more solemn as a young woman lost the battle with the virus.
There was silence as the woman, barely in her 30s, drew her last breath. Then a brief commotion. The nurses frantically tried to resuscitate her. Finally, exhausted, they silently removed the oxygen mask and the tubes — and covered the body with a brown blanket.
The woman, whose name is being withheld for privacy reasons, is one of 57 victims who died on Friday and more than 2,150 lost to the virus so far in Lebanon, a small country with a population of nearly 6 million that since last year has grappled with the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history.
In recent weeks, Lebanon has seen a dramatic increase in virus cases, following the holiday season when restrictions were eased and thousand of expatriates flew home for a visit.
Now, hospitals across the country are almost completely out of beds. Oxygen tanks, ventilators and most critically, medical staff, are in extremely short supply. Doctors and nurses say they are exhausted. Facing burnout, many of their colleagues left.
Many others have caught the virus, forcing them to take sick leave and leaving fewer and fewer colleagues to work overtime to carry the burden.
To every bed that frees up after a death, three or four patients are waiting in the emergency room waiting to take their place.
Mohammed Darwish, a nurse at the hospital, said he has been working six days a week to help with surging hospitalizations and barely sees his family.
“It is tiring. It is a health sector that is not good at all nowadays,” Darwish said.
More than 2,300 Lebanese health care workers have been infected since February, and around 500 of Lebanon’s 14,000 doctors have left the crisis-ridden country in recent months, according to the Order of Physicians. The virus is putting an additional burden on a public health system that was already on the brink because of the country’s currency crash and inflation, as well as the consequences of the massive Beirut port explosion last summer that killed almost 200 people, injured thousands, and devastated entire sectors of the city.
“Our sense is that the country is falling apart,” World Bank Regional Director, Saroj Kumar Jha, told reporters in a virtual news conference Friday.
At the Rafik Hariri University Hospital, the main government coronavirus facility, there are currently 40 beds in the ICU — all full. According to the World Health Organization, Beirut hospitals are at 98% capacity.
Across town, at the private American University Medical Center — one of Lebanon’s largest and most prestigious hospitals — space is being cleared to accommodate more patients.
But that’s not enough, according to Dr. Pierre Boukhalil, head of the Pulmonary and Critical Care department. His staff were clearly overwhelmed during a recent visit by The Associated Press, leaping from one patient to another amid the constant beep-beep of life-monitoring machines.
The situation “can only be described as a near disaster or a tsunami in the making,” he said, speaking to the AP in between checking on his patients. “We have been consistently increasing capacity over the past week or so, and we are not even keeping up with demands. This is not letting up.”
Boukhalil’s hospital raised the alarm last week, coming out with a statement saying its health care workers were overwhelmed and unable to find beds for “even the most critical patients.”
Since the start of the holiday season, daily infections have hovered around 5,000 in Lebanon, up from nearly 1,000 in November. The daily death toll hit record-breaking more than 60 fatalities in in the past few days.
Doctors say that with increased testing, the number of cases has also increased — a common trend. Lebanon’s vaccination program is set to begin next month.
The World Bank said Thursday it approved $34 million to help pay for vaccines for Lebanon that will inoculate over 2 million people.
Jha, the World Bank’s regional director, said Lebanon will import 1.5 million doses of Pfizer vaccines for 750,000 people that “we are financing in full.” He added that the World Bank also plans to help finance vaccines other than Pfizer in the Mediterranean nation.
Darwish, the nurse, said many COVID-19 patients admitted to Rafik Hariri and especially in the ICU, are young, with no underlying conditions or chronic diseases.
“They catch corona and they think everything is fine and then suddenly you find the patient deteriorated and it hits them suddenly and unfortunately they die,”
On Thursday night, 65-year-old Sabah Miree was admitted to the hospital with breathing problems. She was put on oxygen to help her breathe. Her two sisters had also caught the virus but their case was mild. Miree, who suffers from a heart problem, had to be hospitalized.
“This disease is not a game,” she said, describing what a struggle it is for her to keep breathing. “I would say to everyone to pay attention and not to take this lightly.”
A nationwide round-the-clock curfew imposed on Jan. 14 was extended on Thursday until Feb. 8 to help the health sector deal with the virus surge.
“I still have nightmares when I see a 30-year-old who passed away,” said Dr. Boukhalil. “The disease could have been prevented.”
“So stick with the lockdown ... it pays off,” he said.