How Saudi Arabia’s green initiatives seek to advance sustainability goals of water-starved Middle East

Special How Saudi Arabia’s green initiatives seek to advance sustainability goals of water-starved Middle East
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced in September this year plans for the Kingdom to establish a global water organization based in Riyadh. (AFP)
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Updated 07 December 2023
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How Saudi Arabia’s green initiatives seek to advance sustainability goals of water-starved Middle East

How Saudi Arabia’s green initiatives seek to advance sustainability goals of water-starved Middle East
  • Up to 83 percent of MENA population found to be experiencing water scarcity owing to impact of climate change
  • Most Saudi consumers consider government leaders more concerned than business counterparts about water shortage and climate change

DUBAI: The global research nonprofit World Resources Institute says approximately 83 percent of the population in the Middle East and North Africa region faces water stress owing to the impact of climate change.

Despite being judged the globe’s richest country in terms of natural resources, Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most water-scarce countries. While the global benchmark for absolute water scarcity is 500 cubic meters per capita annually, Saudi Arabia’s availability is only 89.5 cubic meters.

As long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns cause water bodies to dry up, Saudi Arabia and its neighbors face a common challenge, that of providing their citizens and residents a reasonably good standard of living in the world’s most arid region.

In efforts to drive change, Saudi Arabia is taking a leading role in global forums, leveraging its influence at the G20 intergovernmental forum and the Clean Energy Ministerial to highlight not only environmental concerns but also regional expertise.

Nowhere is that more evident than at the ongoing UN Climate Change Conference, or COP28, in Dubai where Jean-Francois Gagne, head of the secretariat at the Clean Energy Ministerial, stressed the importance of regional coordination in advancing ambitions to address climate change.




About 53 percent of Saudi consumers listed clean and safe water as a significant environmental concern. (AFP)

“Saudi Arabia has the advantage of being at the G20 table, allowing it to play a leadership role in bringing regional knowledge and environmental concerns to the international table. This is crucial because we need all regions of the world to move forward together,” Gagne previously told Arab News.

“When you have regional champions, it really helps making sure that there’s no one that gets left behind in terms of advancing our clean energy goals.”

In parallel, there has been a noticeable change in the Saudi public’s perception of the challenges posed by climate change in recent times.

The Ecolab Watermark Study, a global survey that measures consumers’ perception of water across 15 countries, indicates a high level of awareness by Saudi consumers, and both concern and optimism about overcoming climate challenges.

According to the study, which was launched in 2023, about 53 percent of Saudi consumers listed clean and safe water as a significant environmental concern, while 80 percent agreed that water scarcity can be effectively addressed.




Saudi Arabia currently relies heavily on groundwater and desalination plants to meet its water needs. (AFP)

“Saudi consumers are correct, and with a combination of strategies across government, business and industry, and adoption of smart water technologies, the management, conservation and security of water can be meaningfully addressed,” said Stefan Umiastowski, Ecolab’s senior vice president and market head of India, Middle East, Africa.

Saudi Arabia currently relies heavily on groundwater and desalination plants to meet its water needs, and with its fast-growing population and rapid industrial growth, demand is increasing.

Umiastowski pointed out that with the continued decline in groundwater levels and increased pressure on existing resources, an eventual water crisis cannot be ruled out.

“The good news is that sustainable water management practices and solutions are available and can be implemented quickly and effectively,” he told Arab News.

The Ecolab study found that despite a significant majority of consumers believing that water scarcity can be addressed, around 74 percent of them feel that businesses and manufacturers need clearer guidance and plans.

In fact, approximately three-quarters of Saudi consumers perceive government leaders as more concerned than business and nonprofit leaders about the necessity for water conservation and climate change.

“This insight on water stewardship from a consumer perspective indicates the need for both urgent and more visible action by business and industry to increase sustainability measures,” Umiastowski said.

Batoul Almutab, environmental, social and governance expert, and founder of Incora Consultancy, says there are indications of a change in how Saudi consumers view climate change as the Kingdom actively works to increase awareness and advocate for sustainable behaviors.

Almutab says this commitment is evident in the education system, where children are learning about sustainable practices as part of the nationwide school curriculum. She also believes that the younger generation of Saudis is far more likely to purchase items from brands that prioritize sustainability.

“In fact, 62 percent of Gen Z shoppers opt for sustainable brands, with 73 percent willing to spend more for sustainable products,” she told Arab News.

“While we have yet to have a collective cultural awakening, the generations to come will spearhead this shift.”

Despite the many initiatives aimed at addressing the question of water scarcity in Saudi Arabia, Almutab believes there is room for improvement.




Effective and sustainable water and waste management will be a significant step forward in addressing key environmental issues, said Daymion Jenkins. (AFP)

“The country is one of the most water-scarce countries in the world. It has both limited freshwater resources and high consumption rates,” she said.

She lists the primary causes of water scarcity in the Kingdom as rapid population growth, increased urbanization and extensive agricultural activities, which have all put a strain on available sources.

Fortunately, according to Umiastowski, water consumption can be reduced, reused, made more efficient and better secured.

“From consumer, to business, to industry, to government, actions and solutions are possible. Awareness is certainly increasing, and implementation has started, but needs to be accelerated quickly,” he said.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced in September this year plans for the Kingdom to establish a global water organization based in Riyadh.

This initiative demonstrates the Kingdom’s dedication to worldwide cooperation in addressing water scarcity issues and advocating for responsible management practices.

Saudi Arabia has also made significant commitments to addressing global water supply challenges. The Saudi Authority for Industrial Cities and Technology Zones has launched the Voluntary Commitment to Water Sustainability initiative, which is aligned with the country’s focus on enhancing water security for economic and social progress.

“These initiatives send clear signals that Saudi Arabia is dedicated to tackling domestic water security challenges, and leaning on global lessons learned about how to effectively manage the source and quality of groundwater supplies, to ensure resilience in a period of rapid social and economic growth,” Daymion Jenkins, director of earth and environment at Canadian consulting firm WSP’s Middle East branch, told Arab News.

The Water Act, part of Saudi Vision 2030, also sets out a range of key actions to address challenges. This includes central ownership and licensing for the use and exploitation of water resources, as well as the preparation of a national strategy and emergency management plan for supply.

“As these policies and guidance develop, there will be a coherent plan to managing the risks associated with water integrity and supply. There is significant technical work required to develop these strategies, which are critical to address potential water scarcity in the Kingdom,” said Jenkins.




Saudi Arabia has also made significant commitments to addressing global water supply challenges. (AFP)

He points out that at least 40 percent of Saudi Arabia’s water supply comes from groundwater, and in certain instances the reliability of these sources is critical.

Moreover, excessive extraction of groundwater could diminish their yield, causing problems for regions heavily dependent on this scarce resource to meet the needs of densely populated urban areas, agricultural lands and industrial zones.

“Aquifers, which store and supply these groundwater sources, include shallow water bodies which have the capacity to recharge, and ‘fossil’ water supplies, which are isolated within deep geology and are finite resources,” said Jenkins.

INNUMBERS

• 89.5 cubic meters Saudi Arabia’s water availability per capita annually.

• 53% Saudi consumers see water scarcity as a concern.

• 73% Gen Z shoppers willing to spend more on sustainable brands.

A good case in point is Saudi Arabia’s northeast, he said, where water supply mainly comes from groundwater.

A fuller understanding of these aquifer systems and the implementation of effective management practices will contribute significantly to aligning extraction rates with recharge rates from elevated areas, he said. This alignment would, in turn, sustain their long-term viability and positively impact overall water security, he added.

In this context, Jenkins says it is important to note that waste management forms the foundation of many environmental initiatives.




80 percent of Saudis agreed that water scarcity can be effectively addressed. (AFP)

Programs aimed at reduction, recycling, efficient utilization of waste for green energy generation, and the promotion of a circular economy, where materials are reused beneficially, are crucial components of this agenda.

“Saudi Arabia has stated objectives to divert 82 percent of waste from landfill, with significant recycling, composting and waste-to-energy targets,” he said. Effective and sustainable water and waste management will be a significant step forward in addressing key environmental issues, he added.

All things considered, there is little doubt that Saudi Arabia’s government is actively pursuing multiple measures and unconventional initiatives to combat water scarcity.

These efforts encompass stringent regulations and standards governing usage, the promotion of applicable technologies and practices, and substantial investments in research and development aimed at fostering innovative solutions for water management.

“Saudi Arabia has the right tools to address the water scarcity problem effectively,” Umiastowski said. “And with continued investment in research and innovation, public awareness and education, and collaboration with international expertise, it can become more water secure.”


Saudi Arabia launches project to help citizens find jobs in top global organizations

Saudi Arabia launches project to help citizens find jobs in top global organizations
Updated 5 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia launches project to help citizens find jobs in top global organizations

Saudi Arabia launches project to help citizens find jobs in top global organizations

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has launched a recruitment platform aimed at helping citizens find jobs in top organizations worldwide.

 

The Dawli platform was launched on Monday during the LEAP 2024 technology conference in Riyadh, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

 

Announcing the platform, government official Abdulhadi Al-Mansouri said the aim was to ensure citizens gain international experience.

 

Al-Mansouri thanked King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for initiating and supporting the project.


Saudi Interior Minister meets with Korean Minister of Interior and Safety

Saudi Interior Minister meets with Korean Minister of Interior and Safety
Updated 05 March 2024
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Saudi Interior Minister meets with Korean Minister of Interior and Safety

Saudi Interior Minister meets with Korean Minister of Interior and Safety

RIYADH: Saudi Minister of Interior Abdulaziz bin Abdulaziz received the Korean Minister of Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min in Riyadh on Monday.

The ministers discussed ways to enhance existing security cooperation between the nations, in addition to addressing a number of issues of common interest.


Saudi Shura Council Foreign Affairs Committee meets with British politicians

Saudi Shura Council Foreign Affairs Committee meets with British politicians
Updated 05 March 2024
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Saudi Shura Council Foreign Affairs Committee meets with British politicians

Saudi Shura Council Foreign Affairs Committee meets with British politicians

RIYADH: Shura Council's Foreign Affairs Committee met with a delegation from the Foreign Affairs Select Committee at the United Kingdom (UK) Parliament in Riyadh on Monday.

The committee was chaired by council member Wael Al-Idrisi and the British delegation was headed by select committee chairman Alicia Kearns.

During the meeting, Al-Idrisi reviewed the historical relations between the Kingdom and the UK and stressed the importance of strengthening relations in all fields to achieve common interests.


Reading marathon promotes library culture, greener future

Reading marathon promotes library culture, greener future
Updated 04 March 2024
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Reading marathon promotes library culture, greener future

Reading marathon promotes library culture, greener future
  • Bookworms’ efforts over three days concluded with pledge to plant over 2,500 trees in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco

DHAHRAN: A reading marathon to promote library culture and environmental awareness was recently organized in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Morocco, with over a quarter of a million pages read.

The Arab libraries that participated in the three-day event were King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, also known as Ithra, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt and the National Library of Morocco.

The goal of the marathon was to plant one tree for every 100 pages read, which Ithra estimates would take an average reader one hour. The center said that 326,250 pages were read during the reading marathon, equivalent to 2,504 trees.

The largest reading marathon in Arab libraries was organized ‘to inspire the society to read in public libraries, believing in the library’s role in enriching the scientific and cultural life.’ (Supplied/AN photos)

The printing of physical books consumes a large percentage of trees, so the planting of new ones directly arrests some of that loss.

Upon arrival at the designated library during operating hours, participants registered at the reception and received a QR code which they used throughout the experience. They were gifted a bookmark and a notebook to log their details. Upon completing their reading for the day, they returned to the reception area to declare the number of pages they read, which were then logged.

HIGHLIGHTS

• According to Ithra, 326,250 pages were read during the reading marathon, equivalent to 2,504 trees.

• Ithra will plant the trees on the readers’ behalf in collaboration with the National Center for Vegetation Cover Development and Combating Desertification in Saudi Arabia.

• A token of appreciation was awarded to those who read 100 pages, 200 pages, 500 pages and 1,000 pages.

In an effort to encourage reading in public spaces, all had to read books in-person in order for it to count, participating on one, two or all three days depending on availability.

The largest reading marathon in Arab libraries was organized ‘to inspire the society to read in public libraries, believing in the library’s role in enriching the scientific and cultural life.’ (Supplied/AN photos)

A token of appreciation was awarded to those who read 100 pages, 200 pages, 500 pages and 1,000 pages.

At Ithra, a large screen updated the number of pages completed in real time, as well as showing the updated numbers from Morocco and Egypt.

“This is the largest reading marathon in Arab libraries, held for three days from Feb. 29 to March 2. It seeks to inspire the society to read in public libraries, believing in the library’s role in enriching the scientific and cultural life,” an official statement by Ithra said.

The largest reading marathon in Arab libraries was organized ‘to inspire the society to read in public libraries, believing in the library’s role in enriching the scientific and cultural life.’ (Supplied/AN photos)

Abdulrhman Al-Qahtani was one of the participants at Ithra. An avid reader, he drove a short distance to the center to join in the fun after coming across a post about it on social media. With his cup of black coffee situated on a small round table, he found a comfortable spot in a plush seat in the middle of the plaza and was immediately immersed in a book written by the late, great Egyptian author Taha Hussein.

Speaking to Arab News, Al-Qahtani said: “I have a ritual of reading every afternoon during the weekend, but this time, it’s with an even greater purpose. Normally, people read for their own personal pleasure or growth but this was an opportunity to do what I already do — and the world would also benefit.

Planting trees is going to help make the world more beautiful, but the lasting impact on our planet will be immense.

Abdulrhman Al-Qahtani, Reading marathon participant, Ithra

“Planting trees is going to help make the world more beautiful, but the lasting impact on our planet will be immense. I’m happy to do my part.”

Talking about the experience, he added: “Usually, I read on my own at various places with the sounds of laughter swirling around me. Here, I’m amongst other readers. Ithra did a great job in making this a suitable environment for reading. Instead of reading 100 pages, you’ll read 200.

“This is my first time participating and it has been such a great experience. I brought my own book but once I’m done, I’ll browse the books available here and I’m sure I’ll read pages from those, too,” he concluded.

The largest reading marathon in Arab libraries was organized ‘to inspire the society to read in public libraries, believing in the library’s role in enriching the scientific and cultural life.’ (Supplied/AN photos)

While many of the books on the shelves at Ithra were in Arabic, readers were encouraged to read any book in any language. They could bring their own, like Al-Qahtani, or borrow some from the shelves. The pages could also be from the same book or from multiple books.

The space directly beneath the iconic Ithra library also had seats for people to sit and read on. Ithra added temporary booths with books in the middle of the plaza for easy access.

Ithra will plant the trees on the readers’ behalf at a later date, in collaboration with the National Center for Vegetation Cover Development and Combating Desertification in Saudi Arabia. The other participating countries will also plant trees in their local communities.

 


Exhibition at Saudi creative hub shows anonymous artist’s personality

‘Finally it’s my incomplete exhibition’ is at Huna Takhassusi until march 7. (AN photos by Rahaf Jambi)
‘Finally it’s my incomplete exhibition’ is at Huna Takhassusi until march 7. (AN photos by Rahaf Jambi)
Updated 04 March 2024
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Exhibition at Saudi creative hub shows anonymous artist’s personality

‘Finally it’s my incomplete exhibition’ is at Huna Takhassusi until march 7. (AN photos by Rahaf Jambi)

RIYADH: A collaboration between Saudi creative hub Burble and anonymous artist Mo Lazim Tearef has brought a personality-themed art exhibition to Riyadh.

“Finally it’s my incomplete exhibition” is at Huna Takhassusi until March 7. It features seven blue and red paintings created with acrylics, along with a bare space representing unfinished works. Together, the works tell MLT’s story (whose name translates as “You don’t need to know”) as he confronts two traits that annoy him about his own character — haste and excuses.

Mohammed Al-Kabeer, curator and founder of the exhibition, said this was the third and final episode of MLT’s story, following on from “Grandpa’s Kid” and “My friend is a vampire.”

‘Finally it’s my incomplete exhibition’ is at Huna Takhassusi until march 7. (AN photos by Rahaf Jambi)

“MLT created this exhibition (by) rushing everything with an incomplete vision, which showcases how hasty he is,” he said.

The artist has created square characters to symbolize his excuses. The blue one is “the father of excuses” while the red ones are the small ones who follow.

Al-Kabeer said: “Father of excuses is a character that resides within each of us. He constantly rationalizes our actions, providing excuses that enable us to persist and persuade ourselves of the righteousness of our deeds regardless of their merit. He holds excuses in high regard, treating them as his own offspring.

‘Finally it’s my incomplete exhibition’ is at Huna Takhassusi until march 7. (AN photos by Rahaf Jambi)

“The persona takes inspiration from the (purple) dot on the Burble logo. MLT opted for blue and red (because the) amalgamation results in the color Burble (purple).”     

The exhibition walks viewers through MLT’s perception of excuses in every action he performs, touching their hearts along the way. The abandoned paints, brushes and mop in one corner represent his unfinished work.

“We have collaborated with more than 30 artists, but MLT is the only (one we have) adopted and who we have a lifetime contract with,” Al-Kabeer added.

Burble is a multidisciplinary creative hub that focuses on exhibitions, talks, courses and pop-ups.