Cities pivotal to overcoming challenges of global change: Saudi U20 summit leader

Cities pivotal to overcoming challenges of global change: Saudi U20 summit leader
Hosam Al-Qurashi (L), vice chair of the U20, who spoke to Arab News about the role cities will play in overcoming challenges of global change. Riyadh and Dubai skylines. (Supplied/Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 02 October 2020

Cities pivotal to overcoming challenges of global change: Saudi U20 summit leader

Cities pivotal to overcoming challenges of global change: Saudi U20 summit leader
  • Cities now consume more than two-thirds of the world’s energy
  • Since 1950, the urban population of the world has grown from 75.1 million to 4.2 billion

RIYADH: The world’s urban centers are, more than ever, pivotal to fostering global change, the vice chair of a G20-linked Saudi summit has claimed.

Cities now consume more than two-thirds of the world’s energy and account for at least 70 percent of global C02 emissions.

Since 1950, the urban population of the world has grown from 75.1 million to 4.2 billion. With 90 percent of urban areas situated on coastlines, cities are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including rising sea levels and storms.

Hosam Al-Qurashi, vice chair of the U20, told Arab News: “The U20 (the urban track of the G20 organization that has been meeting in Riyadh) is about voicing the issues that cities and their inhabitants around the world are experiencing.

“We want to make sure that these voices reach the leaders of the G20 so that they implement solutions and initiatives that guarantee the resilience and sustainability of these cities for the long term.”

Al-Qurashi noted the U20 pillars of collaboration, consensus, evidence and scientific-based outcomes.

He said the grouping was composed of more than 40 cities and 30 knowledge partners that were collaborating to find solutions to some of the challenges facing urban centers around the world.

The U20 Mayors Summit has been taking place under the shadow of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic with all its associated socio-economic uncertainties.

“COVID-19 gave us an X-ray and showed us that we are not as strong and resilient a species as we thought. Accordingly, there is now a global direction to re-invest in science, wellbeing, and healthy living,” Al-Qurashi added.

In the midst of the pandemic the U20 formed a special working group on COVID-19 — a sub-product of the U20 that was chaired by Rome and Buenos Aires.

The group has shared 32 case studies and best practices for dealing with the health crisis and also commissioned a survey to gather data from cities together representing more than 75 million residents.

The accumulated policy recommendations of all the special working groups will be combined in a communique for delivery to the G20 leadership.

Al-Qurashi said: “The process is so multilateral and so fair, and every city had equal say and contribution in the development of this communique. It has been built on consensus and full collaboration of all of the participating cities.”

He pointed out the speed at which the U20 had reacted in the middle of the pandemic.

“We could not meet. The working team had to quickly adjust to the needs of this common threat that humanity is currently facing. The group was created in order to develop policy recommendations on how to recover from the pandemic and how to prepare for future shocks,” he added.

Cities and their transportation networks were coming under increasing pressure as growing numbers of people moved to urban areas, he said.

“In the future a public transportation network is definitely going to adopt standard operating procedures to deal with pandemics so that people will automatically react to future pandemics and calamities by being more resilient, capable, and ready to face these shocking events that we were not prepared for in the past.

“I believe that Saudi’s presidency over the G20 has raised the bar quite high in the way we handled it and managed these sessions and the way we involved people that was so collaborative and so inclusive and open.

“Importantly, COVID-19 did not impact the deliverables of the summit. We are proud of the legacy that we are leaving behind and for the other cities to build on,” Al-Qurashi added.

The aim of the U20 was to build resilience for the present and future of the world through cities, he noted.

“Innovation is at the heart of these special working groups: Innovating new solutions, themes, new forms of economy, of improving the climate and safeguarding the planet.

“This was about innovating urban solutions to address the challenges of cities across the world. That was what the U20 was all about.”

In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

Updated 04 December 2020

In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

In Iraq, virus revives traumas of Daesh survivors

BAJET KANDALA CAMP, Iraq: For half a decade, Zedan suffered recurring nightmares about militants overrunning his hometown in northern Iraq. The 21-year-old Yazidi was just starting to recover when COVID-19 revived his trauma.
Zedan had lost several relatives when Daesh stormed into Sinjar, the rugged heartland of the Yazidi religious minority in Iraq’s northwest.
The militants killed Yazidi men, took the boys as child soldiers and forced the women into sexual slavery.
Zedan and the surviving members of his family fled, finding refuge in the Bajet Kandala camp near the Syrian border where they still live today.
“We used to be farmers living a good life. Then IS (Daesh) came,” he said, wringing his hands.
In a pre-fabricated building hosting the camp’s mental health clinic, Zedan shared his traumas with Bayda Othman, a psychologist for international NGO Premiere Urgence. Zedan refers to the violence of 2014 vaguely as “the events.”
The UN says they may constitute something much more serious: Genocide.
“I started having nightmares every night. I would see men in black coming to kill us,” Zedan said, telling Othman that he had attempted suicide several times. He has been seeing her for years, learning how to cope with his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through breathing exercises that she taught him.
Earlier this year, his nightly panic attacks stopped. Finally, he could sleep again. But only for a few months.
In March, Iraq declared a nationwide lockdown to try to contain the spread of Covid-19. Zedan broke down.
“I fear that my family could catch the virus or give it to me,” he said. “It obsesses me.”
As lockdown dragged on, Zedan’s brother lost his job at a stationery shop on the edge of the camp.
“There’s no more money coming into the family now. Just thinking about it gives me a panic attack,” he said.
“The nightmares returned, and so did my desire to die.”
Out of Iraq’s 40 million citizens, one in four is mentally vulnerable, the World Health Organization says.
But the country is in dire shortage of mental health specialists, with only three per 1 million people.


The Daesh extremists killed Yazidi men, took the boys as child soldiers and forced the women into sexual slavery.

Speaking about trauma or psychological problems is widely considered taboo, and patients who spoke to AFP agreed to do so on the condition that only their first names would be used.
In camps across Iraq, which still host some 200,000 people displaced by violence, the pandemic has pushed many people with psychological problems into remission, Othman said.
“We noticed a resurgence of PTSD cases, suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts,” she told AFP.
In October, there were three attempted suicides in Bajet Kandala alone by displaced people, who said their movements outside the camp were restricted by the lockdown, or whose economic situation had deteriorated even further.
A tissue factory who fired people en masse, a potato farm that shut down, a haberdashery in growing debt: Unemployment is a common thread among Othman’s patients.
“It leads to financial problems, but also a loss of self-confidence, which rekindles trauma,” she said.
According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), about a quarter of Iraqis who were employed prior to lockdown have been permanently laid off.
Youth were particularly hard hit: 36 percent of 18-24 years old who had been employed were dismissed, the ILO said.
A new patient in her forties walked toward the clinic, her hair covered in a sky-blue veil.
Once settled in a faux-leather chair, Jamila revealed that she, too, feels destabilized by the pandemic.
The Yazidi survivor lives in a one-room tent with her son and four daughters. But she doesn’t feel at home.
“I have totally abandoned my children. I feel all alone even though they’re always at home. I hit them during my panic attacks — I didn’t know what else to do,” she said.
Othman tried to soothe Jamila, telling her: “Hatred is the result of untreated sadness. We take it out on relatives, especially when we feel devalued — men prey on women, and women on children.”
But the trauma is not just an issue for the displaced, specialists warn.
“With the isolation and lack of access to care, children who have lived a genocide develop difficulties as they become adults,” said Lina Villa, the head of the mental health unit at a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in northern Iraq.
“We fear suicide rates will go up in the years to come.”