Riyadh soars in global smart city rankings

Riyadh city towers. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 18 September 2020

Riyadh soars in global smart city rankings

Riyadh has leapt up the ranking of the world’s smart cities, according to the annual survey of residents’ satisfaction conducted by the prestigious Swiss business school IMD.

The Saudi capital jumped 18 places to finish 53rd out of a total of 109 cities, one of the biggest improvements in the 2020 survey. Its new placing put the city ahead of such established global hubs as Tokyo, Rome, Paris and Beijing.

“According to the survey, which measures residents’ satisfaction in the services and technologies available in their city, the residents of Riyadh are more satisfied with their city’s offering than some of the most advanced cities of the world,” IMD said in a statement.

Riyadh ranked high by residents especially on provision of services in health and safety, as well as online access to government document processing.

Singapore came first in the 2020 survey, followed by Helsinki in Finland and Zurich in Switzerland. The US had two big risers, with New York up 28 places — the biggest improvement in 2020 — to 10th position, while Washington, D.C. jumped 19 places to 12th spot.

London rose five places to 15th as some respondents said that Brexit would make the UK capital an easier place to do business.

Abu Dhabi and Dubai both improved, rising to 42nd and 43rd, respectively in the survey results. Residents of Doha, Qatar, were not included in the survey.

Hundreds of citizens from the 109 cities were surveyed in April and May, and quizzed on the technological provisions of their cities across key areas of health and safety, mobility, activities, opportunities and governance.

Riyadh is in the middle of a multibillion-dollar investment program to double its population by 2030.

Taps and reservoirs run dry as Moroccan drought hits farmers

Updated 22 October 2020

Taps and reservoirs run dry as Moroccan drought hits farmers

  • The problems caused by increasingly erratic rainfall and the depletion of groundwater are growing every year in Morocco

RABAT: Two years of drought have drained reservoirs in southern Morocco, threatening crops the region relies on and leading to nightly cuts in tap water for an area that is home to a million people.

In a country that relies on farming for two jobs in five and 14 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), the problems caused by increasingly erratic rainfall and the depletion of groundwater are growing every year.

In the rich citrus plantations of El-Guerdan, stretching eastward from the southern city of Agadir, more than half of farmers rely on two dams in the mountains of Aoulouz, 126 km away, to irrigate their trees.

However, that water has been diverted to the tourist hub of Agadir, where mains water has been cut to residential areas every night since Oct. 3 to ensure taps in households did not run entirely dry.

“The priority should go to drinking water,” Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhannouch said in parliament last week.

In El-Guerdan, Youssef Jebha’s crop of clementine oranges has been compromised by reduced water supply, he said, which affects both the quality of fruit and the size of the harvest.

“The available ground water is barely enough to keep the trees alive,” said Jebha, who is head of a regional farmers’ association.

“Saving Agadir should not be at the expense of El-Guerdan farmers,” he added, speaking by phone.

‘We hope for rain’

El-Guerdan is not alone in facing drought. Morocco’s harvest of cereals this year was less than half that of 2019, meaning hundreds of millions of dollars of extra import costs.

Despite lower production, Moroccan exports of fresh produce have risen this year by 8 percent. 

Critics of the government’s agricultural policy say such sales are tantamount to exporting water itself, given the crops use up so many resources.

A report by Morocco’s social and environmental council, an official advisory body, warned that four-fifths of the country’s water resources could vanish over the next 25 years.

It also warned of the risks to social peace due to water scarcity. In 2017, 23 people were arrested after protests over water shortages in the southeastern city of Zagora.

In January the government said it would spend $12 billion on boosting water supply over the next seven years by building new dams and desalination plants.

One $480 million plant, with a daily capacity of 400,000 cubic meters, is expected to start pumping in March, with the water divided between residential areas and farms.

Until then, “We hope for rain,” the agriculture minister said in parliament.

In El-Guerdan, the farmers are digging for water. A new well costs $20,000-30,000. However, “there is no guarantee water can be found due to the depletion of ground reserves,” said Ahmed Bounaama, another farmer.