The Arab professionals ushering in a new energy era in the Middle East

Former OFID director general Suleiman Jasir Al-Herbish stands with interns hoping to boost renewable energy in the MENA region.
Updated 03 September 2019

The Arab professionals ushering in a new energy era in the Middle East

  • OPEC-backed internship aims to build a cadre of young Arab energy professionals
  • Six interns have begun work at the Cairo regional headquarters of the RCREEE

DUBAI: “Energy is the backbone of life and economy. With the depletion of energy sources, the best way to preserve it is to rely upon sustainability.”

The words of Nour Khadra, a a young Syrian, arguably sum up the worldview of a generation that does not believe fossil fuels should be the be-all and end-all of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

She is one of six interns who recently began work at the Cairo regional headquarters of the Regional Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (RCREEE) as part of the Arab Program for Sustainable Energy Youth (APSEY).

APSEY is managed by RCREEE with the support of the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID). Launched in 2013, APSEY seeks to boost the technical and operational capacities of the region’s young talents.

The latest batch is composed of engineers from Egypt, Djibouti, Yemen, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon who are interested in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

FAST FACTS

  • The APSEY program is managed by RCREEE with the support of the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID).
  • Three consecutive grants were approved by OFID to support APSEY in building the capacities of young professionals in the region starting from 2014.
  • RCREEE is currently inviting candidates for the 13th round of the program with engineering, environmental, economic, political science and business backgrounds.

“The APSEY internship is the only program in the region which aims to boost technical and operational capacities of the region’s young in the sustainable energy field,” said Khadra, adding that she has gained knowledge about national and regional plans, and also energy-efficiency policies adopted by some countries.

“I can use this information to implement similar plans that are appropriate and customized for my country, Syria,” she said. “I want to develop my knowledge and skills in the field of sustainable energy, including policies and regulations, research and statistics, and work closely with technical experts and learn from their experience.

“Our region contains a large part of the traditional energy sources, which will be depleted one day if the concept of sustainable energy is not applied, while depending on suitable energy sources will have a positive environmental impact on the region.”

Khadra’s views were echoed by Sarah Al-Akbari from Yemen. She said what piqued her interest in the field of renewable and sustainable energy was its relevance and potential.

“I believe that initiation of dialogues, policies and strategies is crucial for the advancement towards a prosperous sustainable growth,” she said. “APSEY aims to develop and build on existing knowledge and skills which, in turn, helps to enrich the experience and benefit gained through this program.”

To date, APSEY has in course of 12 rounds of internships welcomed a total of 65 individuals from Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya and Mauritania, as well as Morocco, Palestine, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.

“I have had the opportunity to work on RCREEE’s flagship program, the Active Turbine Management Project (ATMP), whose function is to optimize the operation time of wind turbines, while ensuring safety and mitigating risk for migratory soaring birds,” Al-Akbari told Arab News.

“This program was useful for putting my academic and technical skills to use, and also for acquiring knowledge of the renewable energy sector.”




Upper row, from left: Sarah Al-Akbari, a Yemeni intern; Souliman Idriss, Djiboutian intern; and  Noha Gamal, RCREEE member states relations and operations director. Lower row, from left: Dr. Ahmed Badr, RCREEE executive director;  Ehab Al-Amleh, Jordanian intern; and Nour Khadrah, Syrian intern. (Supplied photos)

She said she was able to acquire hands-on experience in such activities as report writing, creative problem solving and negotiation techniques.

“In this dynamic environment, I am able to surround myself with and benefit from various specialists and experts in the field, as well as expand my network,” Al-Akbari said. “RCREEE is recognized for its active role in renewable and sustainable energy and its prominent international initiatives.

“I’m confident that my time there as an APSEY intern will help hone my communication and technical skills as well as widen my network.”

Al-Akbari believes renewable and sustainable energy will provide permanent solutions to current and future challenges, with developing countries standing to benefit most.

“Today millions are suffering from a lack of electrification,” she said. “Green energy investments will have a positive impact on the region and assist in its economic revival.”

Ehab Al-Amleh, from Jordan, chose APSEY for its environment, which he said encourages knowledge sharing between young professionals and experts.

“I spent almost two months in RCREEE, which allowed me to upgrade my skills. I am constantly learning about the region’s energy situation and its main challenges and opportunities,” he said.

“I am mainly involved in research and analysis under the private investment promotion unit. I see myself as an active learner in terms of time management and coordination.”

Al-Amleh sees plenty of scope for the expansion of sustainable-energy opportunities in a region in pursuit of energy security. “As a young professional, I have a great passion to be part of this sector because youth are the leaders of tomorrow,” he said. “As a junior intern, I know that I still have much to learn, but APSEY has made me believe there is also a lot for me to do and achieve. This, in my opinion, is the uniqueness of the program.”

Souliman Idriss, originally from Djibouti, thinks APSEY will help to ensure a clean and green future for the region. “Time has shown us that the use of fossil fuels is a threat, not only to human health and quality of life, but also to the ecosystem,” he told Arab News.

“Sustainable energy offers us the means to address all of this, but also to reduce poverty, reinforce social equity and promote economic growth and environmental protection.”

Idriss described the six-month internship as an opportunity to move forward in the fields of renewable energy and energy efficiency in order to participate in the actions undertaken by RCREEE.

“So far, I have learned how to manage and plan a project, using the tools required to carry out a feasibility study such as data relevant to the development of the strategic framework for MENA countries and their current energy situations,” he said.

“I am also learning more about energy efficiency, major international donors and investors. I am becoming more familiar with the Global Atlas for Djibouti, in addition to various projects that RCREEE is working on.”

After completing his internship, Idriss’ hope is to carry out a feasibility study for energy projects, manage a project, and draft proposals to support financing of projects in Djibouti and other countries.

“Through my in-depth research on international and national donors, I want to become familiar with the different procurement and tendering procedures,” he said.

“The concentration of greenhouse gas has increased by 30 percent in a century, which contributes enormously to climate change, causing drought, fires, famine and the melting of ice. Sustainable energy is important for our future and our children’s future, because future generations will not have another planet at their disposal.”

Idriss said regional policymakers should rely on sustainable energy to prepare for that future. “All the measures must be taken to preserve the environment through the development of renewable energies and controlling the use of current resources,” he said.

“All the countries of the region ought to raise awareness about better use of energy and the need for sustainable-energy strategies with socio-economic and environmental objectives.

“Even though a large percentage of the world’s known reserves are in the Middle East, stocks of fossil fuel are limited, not inexhaustible.”

Besides introducing the interns to the wonders of energy technology and management, APSEY acts as a bridge between industry and academia in the Arab world. “APSEY is not a regular internship program where interns are provided with training materials and sessions,” said Noha Gamal, APSEY program manager and RCREEE operations and member states relations director.

“Instead, RCREEE immerses more than 12 interns annually, on two rounds, in its ongoing projects to gain hands-on experience in various fields like research, analysis, policy design, business development and private business promotion.”

As part of a problem-solving exercise, two Yemeni interns came up with a plan for the revival of their country’s electricity sector. It aimed at proposing options for financial intervention in promoting sustainability and growth of decentralized solar energy in different sectors in Yemen against a background of conflict.

The APSEY program is considered, among other things, a community of Arab energy professionals exchanging experiences, knowledge, best practices and culture.

Graduates usually go on to occupy prominent positions in renewable energy and energy efficiency in the MENA region or back home.

“We strongly believe that the future lies in the hands of the region’s youth,” said Dr Ahmed Badr, RCREEE executive director.

“APSEY has enabled RCREEE to equip this generation with the necessary skills, knowledge and expertise to expand the renewable energy and energy efficiency markets, and secure affordable energy sources for their communities.

“This will eventually result in increasing the region’s energy supply, reducing its reliance on fossil fuels, creating more jobs and fulfilling its commitment to combating climate change.”

 

FASTFACTS


Enduring miseries drive exodus of Tunisian youth

Updated 49 min 16 sec ago

Enduring miseries drive exodus of Tunisian youth

  • Despite vote for change in the country, there seems to be no end of frustration among young people

SFAX/TUNISIA: It only took 10 minutes for Fakher Hmidi to slip out of his house, past the cafes where unemployed men spend their days, and reach the creek through the mud flats where a small boat would ferry him to the migrant ship heading from Tunisia to Italy.

He left late at night, and the first his parents knew of it was the panicked, crying phone call from an Italian mobile number: “The boat is sinking. We’re in danger. Ask mum to forgive me.”

Hmidi, 18, was one of several people from his Thina district of the eastern city of Sfax among the dozens still unaccounted for in this month’s capsizing off the Italian island of Lampedusa, as ever more Tunisians join the migrant trail to Europe.

His loss, and the continued desire among many young men in Thina to make the same dangerous journey, vividly demonstrate the economic frustration that also drove voters to reject Tunisia’s political elite in recent elections.

In a parliamentary vote on Oct. 6, the day before Hmidi’s boat sank just short of the Italian coast, no party won even a quarter of seats and many independents were elected instead. On Sunday, the political outsider Kais Saied was elected president.

In the Hmidis’ modest home, whose purchase was subsidized by the government and on which the family is struggling to meet the repayment schedule, his parents sit torn with grief.

“Young people here are so frustrated. There are no jobs. They have nothing to do but sit in cafes and drink coffee or buy drugs,” said Fakher’s father, Mokhtar, 55.

Mokhtar lost his job as a driver two years ago and has not been able to find work since. Fakher’s mother, Zakia, sells brik, a fried Tunisian egg snack, to bring in a little extra money. His two elder sisters, Sondes, 29, and Nahed, 24, work in a clothes shop.

Much of the little they had went to Fakher, the family said, because they knew he was tempted by the idea of going to Europe. At night the family would sit on their roof and see the smuggler boats setting off. The seashore was “like a bus station,” they said.

 

Decline

At a cafe near the Hmidis’ home, a few dozen mostly young men sat at tables, drinking strong coffee and smoking cigarettes.

Mongi Krim, 27, said he would take the next boat to Europe if he could find enough money to pay for the trip even though, he said, he has lost friends at sea.

A survey by the Arab Barometer, a research network, said a third of all Tunisians, and more than half of young people, were considering emigrating, up by 50 percent since the 2011 revolution.

The aid agency Mercy Corps said last year that a new surge of migration from Tunisia began in 2017, a time when the economy was dipping.

Krim is unemployed but occasionally finds a day or week of work as a casual laborer. He points at the potholes on the road and says even town infrastructure has declined.

For this and the lack of jobs, he blames the government. He did not vote in either the parliamentary or the presidential election. “Why would I? It is all the same. There is no change,” he said.

Unemployment is higher among young people than anyone else in Tunisia. In the first round of the presidential election on Sept. 15, and in the parliamentary election, in which voter turnout was low, they also abstained by the highest margin.

When an apparently anti-establishment candidate, Kais Saied, went through to the second round of the presidential election on Sunday, young people backed him overwhelmingly.

But their support for a candidate touting a clear break from normal post-revolutionary politics only underscored their frustration at the direction Tunisia took under past leaders.

At the table next to Krim, Haddaj Fethi, 32, showed the inky finger that proved he had voted on Sunday. “I cannot imagine a young man who would not have voted for Saied,” he said.

On the bare patch of mud by the creek where Fakher Hmidi took the boat, some boys were playing. For them, the migration to Europe is — as it was for Hmidi — a constant background possibility in a country that offers them few other paths.

SPEEDREAD

The continued desire among many young men in Thina to make the dangerous journey, vividly demonstrate the economic frustration that also drove voters to reject Tunisia’s political elite in recent elections.

At the time of Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, they had great hope, Mohkhtar Hmidi said. But economically, things got worse. Fakher found little hope in politics, he said.

Despite the apparent surge of young support for Saied as president, he has been careful to make no promises about what Tunisia’s future holds, only to pledge his personal probity and insist that he will rigidly uphold the law.

The economy is in any case not the president’s responsibility, but that of a government formed by parties in the Parliament, whose fractured nature will make coalition building particularly difficult this year.

Any government that does emerge will face the same dilemmas as its predecessors — tackling high unemployment, high inflation, a lower dinar and the competing demands of powerful unions and foreign lenders.

An improvement would come too late for the Hmidi family, still waiting nearly two weeks later for confirmation that their only son has drowned.

“Fakher told me he wanted to go to France. ‘This is my dream,’ he said to me. ‘There is no future here. You can’t find a job. How can I?’,” Mokhtar said, and his wife started to cry.