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Complacency: The scourge of sustainability

Led by HRH Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan of Jordan, a host of decision makers, budding entrepreneurs and private sector representatives convened in Amman for AMWAJ 2016, an international forum that sought to draw attention to the water crisis in the MENA region, which they said has worrying implications for a variety of sectors and industries, including energy and cooling.

| | Feb 27, 2017 | 10:07 am
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Sustainability has ceased to be an abstract concept for the Middle East. Delivering a speech at AMWAJ 2016, an international forum on sustainability and entrepreneurship that took place from 28 to 29 November 2016, in Jordan’s capital, Amman, HRH Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan of Jordan stressed her point by noting that sustainability is no longer “about things that might be a problem in some vague, far-off future” but has become about “things that are happening now”.

HRH Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan

She added: “Here, in the Levant, we are facing – according to NASA – what is probably the worst drought in 900 years.”

By bringing up the issue of drought, Princess Sumaya established what was to be the focus of the event that PepsiCo organised together with Revolve Media, Ahead of the Curve and WAMDA. Held under the patronage of HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, the two-day forum – while also addressing topics like youth unemployment, impact-driven entrepreneurship and women as agents of social change – brought in speakers from different sectors to spotlight the worsening water crisis in the region and served as the platform for the unveiling of Revolve Media’s Water Around the Mediterranean 2016 report.

Revolve Water Director, Francesca de Châtel, in the editorial she penned for the report, described MENA and the Mediterranean as the most water-scarce regions in the world, where “water availability per person per year has declined sharply over the last 50 years” and is presently only a tenth of the global average.¹

Francesca de Châtel

Further highlighting how dire the situation has become, she cited Jordan as an example, sharing that water availability in the country has dropped from 3,600 cubic metres per person per year in 1946 to 123 cubic metres in 2014. She went on to note that despite how alarming the situation has become, many in the region “remain unaware of the water crisis – of its causes, its long-term impacts…”.²

THE WATER-ENERGY NEXUS
Speaking exclusively with Climate Control Middle East on the sidelines of the forum, Nuno Fragoso, Director of the Water and Environment Division at Eptisa, expressed his agreement that lack of awareness continues to be a problem, even in present times, when the region and the world, in general, have started paying attention to energy security and other sustainability-related issues.

Naming one factor contributing to the problem, Fragoso said that people and industries don’t fully grasp the link between the water and energy sectors; that while energy efficiency is now being talked about, water efficiency is either forgotten or doesn’t get the same amount of attention.

“Water is used in many applications,” he said, “but people generally don’t realise that. For example, thermal power stations that produce electricity need to cool their equipment using water. Not many are aware of that, though.”

Nuno Fragoso

In the presentation he gave at the forum, Fragoso elaborated on the connection between the two sectors, saying: “Water and energy are resources that are reciprocally and mutually linked. Energy demand requires water, often in large quantities, for mining, fuel production, hydropower and power plant cooling.”

Sharing a snippet from a World Bank January 2014 paper, titled “Will Water Constrain Our Energy Future?” to drive home his point, he quoted: “Energy systems are becoming more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. As temperatures get warmer, so do the rivers and lakes that power plants draw their cooling water from – which makes it harder to generate electricity in the coming decades.”³

Princess Sumaya, having acknowledged how water scarcity affects farmers, threw the food sector into the mix when she touched on the nexus between water and energy. She said: “We must remain constant in reminding all concerned that the current status quo will ultimately benefit no one. The three interlinked and immutable challenges of energy, food and water pose unprecedented existential threats to all our people.”

THE NEED FOR PARTNERSHIP
Despite painting such a grim picture, however, she stressed that no matter how bad the current problems are, the region has never been in a better position to address them, primarily because of the wealth of scientific knowledge available. To support her claim, she pointed out that in Jordan alone, there are over 130,000 registered engineers.

Ahmed El Sheikh

“If we can connect the region’s spirit and will to work with its knowledge and know-how, we can solve these problems, no matter how great,” she said, before commenting on the significance of events like AMWAJ, which means “waves” in Arabic: “Meetings such as this pave the way for greater cooperation between all those different members of our society – public sector, private sector, academia, civil society and industry. The cross-fertilisation of ideas can be second to none.”

Ahmed El Sheikh, PepsiCo’s Vice President and General Manager for Egypt and Jordan, proffered a similar observation about how gatherings like AMWAJ can foster cooperation among stakeholders, while underscoring the critical role that businesses play in bringing about the success of sustainability initiatives.

“We have a fundamental belief that business success is inextricably linked to the sustainability of the world we share,” said El Sheikh. “In MENA, sustainable development and transformative solutions can only be achieved when companies become model development partners for governments and communities.”


References:

1,2. de Châtel, Francesca. “Addressing the Mediterranean Water Crisis” Water Around the Mediterranean. 2016. www.revolve-water.com

3. http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2014/01/16/will-water-constrain-ourenergy-future


(Photos courtesy AMWAJ 2016)


[The writer is the Assistant Editor of Climate Control Middle East.]


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