How the Saudi Green Initiative seeks to turn the desert green

Special Thee Ain, top left, in the Kingdom’s south features native flora of the region. (Shutterstock)
Thee Ain, top left, in the Kingdom’s south features native flora of the region. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 14 November 2022

How the Saudi Green Initiative seeks to turn the desert green

How the Saudi Green Initiative seeks to turn the desert green
  • The plan unveiled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in March 2021 seeks to plant 450 million trees by 2030 
  • The initiative seeks to halt desertification, preserve biodiversity and preserve limited water resources

JEDDAH: Although the majority of Saudi Arabia’s terrain is covered by desert, a surprisingly large number of indigenous plant species are able to withstand the harsh climate. Now, under the umbrella of the Saudi Green Initiative, efforts are underway to preserve, and even increase, the amount of vegetation across the Kingdom.

From its desert vistas in the north to the southern region of Asir, the Kingdom is home to an abundance of vegetation, including more than 2,000 wild plant species belonging to 142 families. According to the Saudi National Center for Wildlife, however, about 600 of thee species are classified as endangered and 21 are already thought to be extinct.

The SGI, announced in March 2021, is the largest afforestation project the country has ever seen, with a target of planting 450 million trees by 2030. By the end of 2021, about 10 million trees had already been planted across all of the Kingdom’s 13 regions.

When one thinks of Saudi Arabia, forests might not be the first type of ecosystem that springs to mind. However, the Kingdom has about 2.7 million hectares of woodland, primarily in the remote southwestern highlands of Abha and Asir.

On the face of it, the goal of planting 450 million trees may sound ambitious, to say nothing of the planned greening of the desert, especially given the frenetic urban expansion the Kingdom is witnessing.

But in fact, to counter the potential harm of urban sprawl, the Saudi government has set specific SGI goals to incorporate green spaces harmoniously into urban expansion, including parkland and afforestation within the limits of the Kingdom’s desert cities.




Wild plants, such as the blood lily, contribute to protection of Saudi Arabia’s unique biodiversity. (Supplied)

The greening of unmanaged surfaces within these cities will not only help to curb rising temperatures but also cut carbon dioxide emissions, improve air quality, provide opportunities for more active lifestyles, and beautify cities in a sustainable way.

In more rural climes, meanwhile, the greening efforts have to work against encroaching desertification, limited water resources and record-high temperatures, all of which are thought to be the result of climate change caused by humans.

The SGI road map sets out to halt and reverse desertification and soil degradation, preserve the Kingdom’s unique biodiversity, and maintain limited water resources in a nation where rainfall in scarce and groundwater is being depleted.

Currently, Saudi Arabia has 15 areas that are protected because of their biodiversity; 12 are on land and three of them are marine. The National Center for Wildlife proposes to increase that number to 75, 62 on land and 13 in coastal and marine areas.

The King Salman Royal Nature Reserve in northern Saudi Arabia covers about 6 percent of the Kingdom’s landmass. It includes mountain terrain, vast plains and high plateaus, and is home to about 300 animal species along with rare archaeological heritage sites, some dating back as far as 8,000 BC.

The reserve’s management has recently planted 100,000 seedings with the help and participation of volunteers in partnership with Maaden, a joint effort by the reserve’s authority and partners to contribute to SGI’s goals.​

FASTFACTS

* 2,000 wild plant species are native to Saudi Arabia, belonging to 142 families. However, about 600 are classified as endangered and 21 are already extinct.

* 15 areas are protected in the Kingdom because of their biodiversity, 12 on land and 3 marine. The National Center for Wildlife plans to increase the number to 75.

“We are committed to increasing the vegetation cover, as we have already achieved in planting 600,000 plants as well as having many seed-sowing campaigns to increase the vegetation in the reserve,” a KSRNR spokesperson told Arab News.

“The trees and shrubs are perennial plants that restore the desert-degraded habitats. These plants are native species to the desert habitats and are adapted to the desert’s harsh conditions, such as drought and high temperatures, and do not require excessive water for irrigation.

“The reserve’s strategic objective is to establish a seedling program that includes many projects, such as installing the main nursery.”

Nevertheless, water remains a major challenge for conservation work and greening schemes in the Kingdom. Over the centuries, inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula found ways to sustain life and survive droughts by digging freshwater wells. Over time, and in the wake of the Kingdom’s economic boom in the 1970s, Saudis turned to modern farming methods, increasingly tapping groundwater reserves.




Saudi Arabia and its journey to 10 billion trees - SGI is aiming to contribute to the largest afforestation project in the world.

With no rivers or natural lakes, and very little annual rainfall to replenish sources, Saudi Arabia established seawater desalination plants in its eastern and western coastal areas to support inland cities. Nevertheless, the demand for freshwater is growing and natural aquifers are fast depleting.

The Saudi government is therefore exploring ways to preserve its water resources and use them more efficiently so that they can continue to meet the demands of a growing economy while also keeping green spaces well watered.

Maria Nava, a scientific consultant for Greening Arabia at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology Center for Desert Agriculture, told Arab News that the SGI’s strategic team is likely to tap into treated wastewater to irrigate newly planted vegetation.

Another goal, she said, is “to reduce rainfall loss to the sea or through sand infiltration by the implementation and improvement of water harvesting in the Kingdom and remediation of soil for water retention where needed.”

Plants in urban areas tend to need much more water and canopy cover to provide shade than those growing in mountain, wadi and desert climates, Nava said.

“This vegetation requires more water compared with desert trees, which are drought-resistant and have fewer leaves,” she added.




Under the Saudi Green Initiative, efforts are underway to preserve and increase plant life as well as tree cover across the Kingdom. (Supplied)

Given the Kingdom’s diverse topography, much will need to be done to restore arid or semi-arid lands, prevent soil erosion, retain water, farm using permaculture techniques, and plant vegetation that is tolerant of local conditions, including the growing threat of dust storms.

“All areas in the Kingdom are important and are treated as such,” said Nava. “Each action zone has been deeply studied and analyzed for its potential for tree growth, water availability and aftercare of the vegetation.

“Within the scope of each zone, the propositions are based on being sustainable and that the vegetation can be kept and enhanced in the future. It is not that some have more attention than others; it is more that some, because of weather, water availability, soil, topography, etc., have a higher potential to ‘host’ vegetation than others.

“Nevertheless, all ecosystem changes will affect others, which has also been considered. Each strategy has been thought out in order to be sustainable.”

Driven by necessity, Saudi Arabia is rethinking its water-conservation strategy. Given the ambitious goals of the SGI, a shift from irrigation with desalinated water to the use of treated water was recommended because of the energy demands.




A bitter apple. (Shutterstock)

“Desalination is more energy-intensive than wastewater treatment,” said Nava. “It is possible to reuse all the wastewater for irrigation since the water quality is good for it and there are already plans for this to happen in the Kingdom.

“Currently there is already some reuse of treated wastewater, and as part of the national water strategy the reuse of treated wastewater will reach 70 percent by 2030, with plans to increase this percentage in the near future.”

As the nation becomes more aware of its natural bounties, communities across the Kingdom are also beginning to more actively participate in efforts to achieve the goals of the SGI and achieve a greener future.

“The communities are the base for all the initiatives to become real and succeed,” said Nava. “It is highly important to engage and involve the people, hear their needs, understand their traditions and make them part of the decisions.

“The implementation of the SGI has to be based on three main pillars: social, economic and sustainable.”


Saudi Arabia, Oman to support digital economy growth, invest in underwater cables

Saudi Arabia, Oman to support digital economy growth, invest in underwater cables
Updated 05 February 2023

Saudi Arabia, Oman to support digital economy growth, invest in underwater cables

Saudi Arabia, Oman to support digital economy growth, invest in underwater cables

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and Oman on Saturday signed an executive program in the field of communications, information technology infrastructure and undersea cable investments.

The agreement was signed between the Kingdom’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and the sultanate’s Ministry of Transport, Communications and Information Technology, in the presence of Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah Al-Swaha, and Oman’s Saeed bin Hamoud Al-Ma’awali.

“The program aims to exploit the geographical location of the two countries and promote investment in the submarine and terrestrial cables that pass through them,” the Saudi press Agency reported.

It would create a common work environment to enhance cooperation in the field of infrastructure for communications and information technology services, and high-speed digital interconnection for data exchange.

The executive program also aims to develop options for implementing regional digital connectivity through investment entities and licensed companies, and to expand investment in global data centers and cloud services that target regional presence to maximize benefit for the region. 


Harsh climates make the kindest people, says Heart of Arabia expedition leader from UK

Harsh climates make the kindest people, says Heart of Arabia expedition leader from UK
Updated 04 February 2023

Harsh climates make the kindest people, says Heart of Arabia expedition leader from UK

Harsh climates make the kindest people, says Heart of Arabia expedition leader from UK
  • Evans has lived in the region for over 25 years, and is head of Outward Bound Oman, an experiential learning organization dedicated to developing outdoor skills, the first of its kind in the Arab region

RIYADH: At first thought the freezing Arctic and scorching Arabian desert would seem to have little in common, but according to British explorer Mark Evans, their similarities lie in the people who live there.

It has been only a few days since Evans completed the Heart of Arabia expedition across the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia, a journey taken by the great explorer and writer Harry St. John Philby in 1917. Philby greatly contributed to the documentation of the region and felt so at home that he converted to Islam and named himself Abdullah.

The team of four, including Philby’s granddaughter Reem Philby, photographer Ana-Maria Pavalache, and regional expert Alan Morrissey, was led by Evans from the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia to the west in a 1,300 km journey that ended on Jan. 30.

Mark Evans and Saudi explorer Reem Philby on the second leg of the Heart of Arabia expedition following in Abdullah Philby's footsteps from 1917. (Photo/Ana-Maria Pavalache)

Every day, Evans and Reem would set off at sunrise, walking or sometimes mounted on camels, leaving the vehicles to catch up later in the day as they followed Philby’s route. Through Philby’s photographic documentation and detailed journals in the early 1900s, the group was able to pinpoint the exact locations almost 105 years later.

Evans has lived in the region for over 25 years, and is head of Outward Bound Oman, an experiential learning organization dedicated to developing outdoor skills, the first of its kind in the Arab region.

Before traveling around the Middle East, he lived a neo-nomadic lifestyle, honoring the beauty of uninhabited places through his travels, which included crossing Greenland’s ice sheet, and hunting for evidence of William Edward Parry’s 1820 Artic expedition on Melville Island.

A resting point for the Heart of Arabia expedition team between the Saudi desert sand dunes during the second leg of the journey, which kicked off from Diriyah in January. (Photo/Ana-Maria Pavalache)

Most journeys are spent in isolation, far away from the chaos and daily demands of the world, giving explorers a great opportunity for reflection and a chance to focus on the research at hand. These meaningful expeditions have allowed Evans to reframe the notion of isolation.

“I really like the word serenity because I find great peace and contentment in the desert. One of the best parts of the day is the first half an hour when I get into my sleeping bag and I just put my head on my pillow and look at the stars above that are just unbelievable,” he said. He said that he prefers to sleep on the sand rather than in a tent.

Having spent a whole year in the Arctic, including four months of total darkness with temperatures as low as minus 37 C, two weeks in the Saudi desert are relatively straightforward for Evans.

Much of British explorer Mark Evans' expeditions are spent in isolation from the chaos and happenings of the world, which provide great opportunity for reflection and focus. (Photo/Ana-Maria Pavalache)

Growing up in the British countryside, Evans’ exploring instincts were honed at an early age.

“I grew up in a time where you had to create your own entertainment. I was already very content in silent places and quiet places close to nature. That was my childhood. I was less comfortable going into noisy restaurants and discotheques,” he said.

I feel that my role in life is to try to inspire others and to give other people the opportunity that I had when I was a young person, to shape their own lives and make a positive difference to society.

Mark Evans, British explorer

Aged 17, he had the chance to join a six-week expedition to northern Norway through an educational charity in London. He shared a tent with two strangers in a place where the sun never set.

“I just fell in love with a life that was outside of my small rural life back in Britain,” Evans said.

That period set him off on a flurry of expeditions in the years to come. He spent 10 years in the Arctic, giving back to the youth and future generations in the same way the charity invested in him at an early age.

“It was a chance for me to step up and invest a bit of my time to support society,” he said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The Heart of Arabia expedition that follows in Abdullah Philby’s footsteps included his granddaughter Reem Philby, photographer Ana-Maria Pavalache, regional expert Alan Morrissey, and seasoned explorer Mark Evans who led the group from the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia to the west in a 1,300 km journey that ended on Jan. 30.

• Since the Heart of Arabia expedition began, the expedition’s official podcast has garnered nearly 3,000 downloads in 53 countries around the world, along with steady growth in followers across social media platforms. Listeners can follow the group’s documentation of everyday life in the Kingdom’s deserts.

But while his travels and philanthropic ventures were a great way to see the world, they paid far from a livable wage, which led him to become an educator.

Although Evans claims he went into teaching “for the wrong reasons,” it brought him to the Middle East, initially to Bahrain, then for four years at the British School in Riyadh, and later Oman.

Initially, he thought he would not particularly enjoy the region, but he quickly fell in love with the culture, heritage, and hospitality of the people.  

“There’s a real connection between those two places in my life. Arctic and Arabia both start with a letter ‘A,’ and the one thing they have in common is that people who live in the Arctic and who live in Arabia live on the extremes of human comfort.

“One lives in extreme cold, one lives in extreme heat. As (explorer and writer) Wilfred ‘Mubarak bin Landan’ Thesiger said: ‘The harder the life, the finer the person.’”

During winter nights, the Arctic sky would come alive with the electrifying energy of the aurora borealis. The sunlight, however, came in waves: From total darkness in early February to slivers of sunshine on the horizon, the season eventually turns to unbroken daylight.

“I hadn’t seen the sun for three months. I remember breaking down and crying because I knew that winter was coming to an end and summer was coming. And that was quite emotional,” Evans said.

Moments such as these are what keep the traveler curious for more. At the age of 61, he continues his quest to experience the glorious offerings of nature and serenity.

“​​Being here, I find total contentment. I wouldn’t find it working in a busy office in a noisy city,” he said.

As Evans grows older, his legacy is becoming a prime motivator. He continues to find ways to secure sustainable outcomes that influence the behavior and thinking of others, much like Abdullah Philby did.

Since the Heart of Arabia expedition began, their podcast has garnered nearly 3,000 downloads in 53 countries around the world, along with steady growth in followers across social media platforms. Listeners can follow the group’s documentation of everyday life in the Kingdom’s deserts.

The team has also launched the Philby Arabia Fund, which is dedicated to researchers looking to initiate projects in Saudi Arabia.

“Funding can be a real challenge,” Evans said. “You have an idea, but you just don’t know where to start. I feel that my role in life is to try to inspire others and to give other people the opportunity that I had when I was a young person, to shape their own lives and make a positive difference to society.”


Saudi artist exhibits an organic journey of color, emotions

Saudi artist exhibits an organic journey of color, emotions
Updated 04 February 2023

Saudi artist exhibits an organic journey of color, emotions

Saudi artist exhibits an organic journey of color, emotions
  • Over 150 drawings, paintings produced by Sami Al-Marzoogi between 1986-2022

JEDDAH: A solo exhibition called “What lies beneath color” is the first large-scale retrospective of the work of Saudi artist Sami Al-Marzoogi.

The exhibition, which is being hosted at Hafez Gallery and runs until March 3, focuses on the artist’s intuitive exploration of color, realistic and abstract-looking landscape views, deconstructed human figures, intricate geometric patterns, organic motifs, and fluid explorations rendered in ink, watercolors, acrylics, pastels, pencils, and polychromes.

Al-Marzoogi's work highlights his keen sensibility, exceptional drawing skills, and ability to create abstractions of his environment.

The exhibition brings together more than 150 drawings and paintings of the self-taught artist produced between 1986 and 2022.

He said: “I have always been interested in capturing impressions of anything that’s around me and painting on concepts that come from many hours of contemplation.

“Specifically, it’s the contrast of shapes, colors and light that had me intrigued. While I’m painting or drawing, the harmonious unity of my moods and sensations reflects in it.”

This opportunity will allow me to share the true art passion that I have built over 30 years to motivate the younger generation that are interested in art to take a leap into it and embrace it.

Sami Al-Marzoogi, Saudi artist

Al-Marzoogi, who previously pursued a successful career in medicine, added: “In the past I have exhibited my work alongside other artists but never had a solo show.

“This opportunity will allow me to share the true art passion that I have built over the 30 years to motivate the younger generation that are interested in art to take a leap into it and embrace it.”

He began to incorporate art into his daily routine in the 1980s, when he returned to the Kingdom after a decade-long stay in Germany. He dived deeper into his creative process each time, producing a cohesive body of paintings and drawings.

He started with watercolors mostly inspired by the sophisticated geometric arrangements present in Islamic decorative objects, such as rugs or mosaics.

He then shifted to polychromes, taking a more experimental road into sinuous shapes often constructed with creative adaptations of Arabic letters, which constitute the tradition of calligraphy.

Al-Marzoogi said that he always carries his ball pens or pencils, drawing more than one abstract each day. This refreshes his train of thought from a busy life routine and connects his artistic instincts to guide him to be more creative in his work.

He added: “I always follow and allow intuition and my perception to guide art making. Art needs a technique and a process, but I believe my instincts or emotions guide me in the way I approach things and what I am going to make next.

“When it comes to my work, I don’t like to think in terms of categories or definitions: My work stems from emotions.

“At the end of the day, you could argue that it has a deeper meaning or does not. That is up to the viewer.”

Commenting on the art scene in Saudi Arabia, Al-Marzoogi added: “The tradition of producing and understanding the different kinds of art has always been there in the Kingdom.

“The only difference now is that there are many platforms, cultural organizations, galleries, and events allowing the artists an unprecedented opportunity to showcase their artworks and get inspired by more established artists.”


Saudi Arabia launches aid project for people affected by Pakistan’s floods

Saudi Arabia launches aid project for people affected by Pakistan’s floods
Updated 04 February 2023

Saudi Arabia launches aid project for people affected by Pakistan’s floods

Saudi Arabia launches aid project for people affected by Pakistan’s floods
  • Al-Malki said that the project came under the implementation of the directives of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and continued support provided by the Kingdom to Pakistan since the start of the flood disaster last year

RIYADH: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center has started a project to provide shelter materials in winter aid bags for the most vulnerable families affected by the floods in Pakistan.

The launch of the initiative was attended by Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki, the Kingdom’s ambassador to Pakistan; Lt. Gen. Inam Haider Malik, the head of Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority; and other officials, at Saudi Arabia’s Embassy in Islamabad.

The project will supply 15,000 bags, weighing 190 tons. These will contain basic shelter materials to be distributed in eight affected areas. Some 175,000 people, or 15,000 families, will benefit from the aid.

Al-Malki said that the project came under the implementation of the directives of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and continued support provided by the Kingdom to Pakistan since the start of the flood disaster last year.

He added that the aid showed the keenness of the Saudi leadership to stand with the Pakistani people in times of crisis.

Malik thanked the Kingdom’s leadership and government for the humanitarian support, indicating that the aid was timely as authorities continue the process of rehabilitation and reconstruction in Pakistan’s flood-affected areas.

 

 


Saudi foreign minister arrives in Kuwait on official visit

Saudi foreign minister arrives in Kuwait on official visit
Updated 04 February 2023

Saudi foreign minister arrives in Kuwait on official visit

Saudi foreign minister arrives in Kuwait on official visit

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan arrived in Kuwait on an official visit, the Kingdom’s foreign ministry announced on Saturday.

Prince Faisal was received by his Kuwaiti counterpart Sheikh Salem Abdullah Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, upon his arrival at Kuwait International Airport,.

The Saudi minister was also greeted by Saudi Ambassador to Kuwait Prince Sultan bin Saad bin Khalid.