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

  • 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 deputy foreign minister offers condolences to Iran over death of president

Updated 22 May 2024
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Saudi deputy foreign minister offers condolences to Iran over death of president

  • Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian died on Sunday when their helicopter crashed in dense fog

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, Waleed Elkhereiji, on Tuesday offered condolences and sympathy to Iran following the deaths of President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in a helicopter crash.

Elkhereiji delivered the message, on behalf of Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, to the Iranian ambassador to the Kingdom, Alireza Enayatiat, at the nation’s embassy in Riyadh, the Saudi foreign ministry said. He was accompanied by Abdulmajeed Al-Samari, the deputy minister for protocol affairs, who similarly expressed his condolences.

The Iranian president, foreign minister and six other people were killed on Sunday when the helicopter they were traveling in crashed amid dense fog in mountainous terrain near the border with Azerbaijan.


Saudi ministry says no truth in circulated information about livestock withdrawal periods and disease in humans

Ministry has emphasized that the withdrawal period for veterinary drugs varies depending on the active ingredient and the method
Updated 21 May 2024
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Saudi ministry says no truth in circulated information about livestock withdrawal periods and disease in humans

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture has said that information in the media on the subject of consumption of meat during the withdrawal period and its possible contribution to liver and kidney diseases in humans — which may include cancerous tumors — is inaccurate.

The ministry has emphasized that the withdrawal period for veterinary drugs varies depending on the active ingredient and the method of administering the dose, whether by injection or topical use. 

The ministry detailed that the scientific analysis in classifying drugs is based on infection-control vaccines which have a globally specified withdrawal period; viral diseases’ antibiotics, which have a precise withdrawal period; and external inflammatory diseases’ mastitis-abscess, which are subject to a temporary withdrawal period.

The ministry and the National Center for the Prevention and Control of Plants and Animal Diseases oversee slaughterhouses across the Kingdom to ensure that animals have not been injected with any veterinary products, by inspecting the animals post-slaughter.

This inspection covers more than 380 slaughterhouses across the Kingdom, supervised by more than 1,050 veterinarians who carefully examine over 22,000 carcasses daily to ensure they are safe and free of disease, injuries, or traces of injections, and confirm their suitability for human consumption.

The ministry has urged citizens and residents to have their animals slaughtered in official slaughterhouses that are subject to the supervision of the ministry and WEQAA.

The ministry has further indicated that, in cooperation with WEQAA, it monitors the use of veterinary products in animal health fields and conducts regulatory inspections at outlets selling veterinary products to ensure establishments abide by the necessary standards and requirements and clarify withdrawal periods to consumers.

Regulatory authorities in the Kingdom also play a meticulous role in approving veterinary drugs, with very high standards.

The ministry carries out field inspections of veterinary pharmacies, following specific requirements, to ensure proper drug storage conditions, expiration dates, and the extent of pharmacies’ commitment to precise prescription of medicines, in addition to providing accurate details to the consumer, including the withdrawal period, dosage, amount of time necessary for withdrawal, and method of administration, to raise awareness among breeders.


New world order must combat money laundering, says French senator Nathalie Goulet

Nathalie Goulet, French senator.
Updated 22 May 2024
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New world order must combat money laundering, says French senator Nathalie Goulet

  • French politician stressed the need for sanctions, regulations to address financial crimes

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia plays an important role in the fight against money laundering, French politician Nathalie Goulet said during a forum this week in Riyadh on global uncertainties and their impact on the Middle East region.

Fighting money laundering would create a much more favorable business climate, Goulet said in an exclusive interview with Arab News.

The forum, held under the patronage of the King Faisal Islamic Studies and Research Center and in collaboration with the UN Alliance of Civilizations  and the Nizami Ganjavi International Center, covered key themes including the new world order, which will have to face up to several challenges that call for restrictive, even draconian, measures to weaken the action of parallel economies undermining development and peace processes around the world.  

The forum held in Riyadh covered key themes including climate change and its impact on the economies of the Middle East. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Goulet, a senator for Orne since 2007 and a member of the Union of Democrats and Independents, said that money laundering was a global issue that impacted the stability of countries.

She said that money laundering represented 3 percent of gross world product, which amounted to more than $2,000 billion. “Not all money laundering is the financing of terrorism, but the financing of terrorism involves money laundering,” she told Arab News.

The issues of sustainable development, human rights and economic development are linked to the “parallel economy with money laundering, drug trafficking, human trafficking, plant trafficking, animal trafficking and, of course, corruption,” she said.

A few years ago, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a campaign called ‘No Money for Terror.’ It was a first step, a very important first step, and one that was widely followed.

Nathalie Goulet, French senator

Stressing the need for regulations and frameworks to address the problem of financial crimes, Goulet said that migrant smuggling, which not only involved human beings but organ trafficking and drug smuggling, “brings in as much money as Finland’s national product.

“You have to put figures on it,” she added. “When you have figures, things take on a different consistency … So, it’s an absolutely necessary policy.

“Migrant smuggling alone is worth $7 billion. And you can see that the issue of migrant smuggling is disrupting our societies in Europe, in Italy, in France … (it) is driving up the extreme right.”

The fight against money laundering involved the intervention of a large number of international organizations, but it must comply with strict rules and the effective involvement of the legislative powers of governments and international organizations.

Speaking about efforts to combat corruption and money laundering, Goulet said: “Saudi Arabia has just taken a huge step forward. A few years ago, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a campaign called ‘No Money for Terror.’ It was a first step, a very important first step, and one that was widely followed.”

Recently, Saudi Arabia entered a much more practical phase in the fight against corruption and money laundering. The Kingdom now fulfils almost all the obligations of international organizations, and the Financial Action Task Force and Egmont Group, which met a few days ago in Saudi Arabia.

Elaborating on practical measures that can be taken by countries and organizations, Goulet said that it was “important to hit traffickers in the wallet” through sanctions.

“So, we have all these sanctions, which are individual sanctions, we have collective sanctions, we obviously have all the United Nations sanctions on these issues, and then we have nations like France, which is now applying much tougher legislation on ill-gotten gains.”

Goulet added that it was important to “weigh up a number of criteria. For example, can we be a magnet, a hub for cryptocurrencies, but without trying to regulate them? Can we be a hub for ill-gotten gains from the misappropriation of resources in Africa and at the same time meet international criteria? Can we accept dirty money from Russia and at the same time fight for the liberation of Ukraine? And all this is ‘realpolitik.’”

The FATF’s grey list contains jurisdictions that have been placed under increased monitoring due to a country’s strategic deficiencies, which can significantly affect its business climate. The UAE, Goulet explained as an example, was recently taken off the list “because it has signed a number of conventions but remains on the European Parliament’s grey list of countries.”

If a country is on the list, which indicates that it does not comply with all the rules on money laundering, companies that have headquarters in that jurisdiction are more closely monitored and controlled and this significantly impacts the climate for doing business in.

The Kingdom became the first Arab nation to gain full membership of the FATF in 2019, in line with its efforts and financial and economic programs to achieve Vision 2030, which contributes to supporting the development of the national economy and enhancing the efficiency of the financial sector, one of the important objectives of the Financial Sector Development Program under the leadership of the Ministry of Finance.

 


Student club brings smiles with charity and community-building

Updated 21 May 2024
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Student club brings smiles with charity and community-building

  • “Our activities have already had a significant impact,” Shata told Arab News

RIYADH: Aya Shata, 13, was on a mission to enhance mental well-being and school spirit when she started the Middle School Happiness Club at the American International School in Jeddah.

Engaging in charitable acts with her family, like distributing food packages or taking part in the Iftar Saem program during Ramadan, has been an important part of her life growing up.

By championing charitable and community growth initiatives within the learning institution, Happiness Club has quickly become an integral part of the school’s fabric to nurture social responsibility and personal development.

The club has organized various projects including delivering essential food items to more than 200 people across Jeddah, as well as Eid clothing drives. (Supplied)

The club was established recently but has quickly grown to include 30 members from various middle school grades. It is open to any student who wants to make a difference in the community. “Our activities have already had a significant impact,” Shata told Arab News.

The club has organized various projects so far, including a Ramadan food drive, where students delivered essential food items to more than 200 people across Jeddah, as well as multiple Eid clothing drives.

Shata, who is an accomplished athlete and an ambassador for the Saudi Gymnastics Federation, said: “Middle school is a time when many teens struggle with the stress of academic classes, making friends and loneliness. The Happiness Club can help us connect through acts of kindness and shared activities.

Aya Shata, American International School student

“I thought this club would be a great way to bring us all together, do good things for our community, and help us to balance school life with personal growth and community service.”

In the first Eid drive, the club organized a clothing collection across the school in partnership with Kiswat Al-Sayida Aisha. The young philanthropists gathered used clothes for all ages, which were then sorted and organized at Kiswat Al-Sayida Aisha’s facility. They also installed a donation bin in partnership with the organization at their school to collect clothes year-round.

Middle school is a time when many teens struggle with the stress of academic classes, making friends and loneliness. The Happiness Club can help us connect through acts of kindness and shared activities.

Aya Shata, American International School student

The club hascollaborated with AlOula, one of the Kingdom’s leading nonprofits, to distribute Eid clothing and iftar meals to orphans and other children in need. This is Shata’s third year working with AlOula and the club’s first. In the third drive, they visited families in Bahra to deliver toys, Eidiyat (or Eid money), and candy to children in need.

Egyptian student Amina Mohamed, 14, said that the club “is engaging in activities that promote positivity … we can put smiles on people’s faces, whether it’s seeing orphans, volunteering to donate clothes, or simply spreading kindness in our daily routine, I saw the Happiness Club as a platform to help make a difference in people’s lives and that’s why I joined it.”

The program has taught students of all ages and backgrounds about the power of community. “If we do this when we’re younger it grants us a better tomorrow and also because you get a good feeling when you’re giving to charity,” said 11-year-old Lebanese Moroccan student Rahaf Ibrahim.

At school, the club organized a Mother’s Day event in March in celebration of the dedicated caretakers of their community, as well as a middle school iftar during Ramadan.

The events brought together students, staff and families of various backgrounds, celebrating diversity as they all gathered around one table to share a meal and their collective experiences.

“It was a perfect example of how our club aims to bring happiness and unity to our community, fostering stronger connections and understanding among all participants,” Shata said.

Mahdiya Elegbede, a 13-year-old American student, said her biggest takeaways from joining the Happiness Club are learning the importance of kindness and creating significant impact on others’ lives.

“I hope to spread more charity and good in this school because I think it is a useful and nice thing to do. In the end, doing something good makes us feel good, as well as others, and that itself is wonderful. I am so grateful to join the MS Happiness Club this year, and I hope others will be inspired and will be more giving and kind, too,” Elegbede told Arab News.

Saudi student Hamza Al-Tayyar, 11, joined the club to give back to “my beautiful city of Jeddah,” while Aseel Al-Horaibi, 13, wanted to show how little things can impact others and spread positivity. “It taught me to be grateful for everything I have and never take anything for granted,” she said.

“I learned so much from all the activities we did, such as event planning and time management. One of the most important things is teamwork, and resolving conflicts as they arise,” 11-year-old Zuhair Al-Marzouki said. But ultimately, the true prize is what they can bring to others: “What is there better to give than happiness?

“I love to be in this group to share my ideas and time, and all resources possible to add one extra smile into this world,” Meral Noor, 12, said.

With immense support from the school administration, the club has many more plans underway to continue making a positive difference both inside and outside the school in Jeddah.

 


Riyadh conference to explore museum innovation

The Saudi Museums Commission will host the International Conference on Education and Innovation in Museums in Riyadh. (SPA)
Updated 21 May 2024
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Riyadh conference to explore museum innovation

  • The winning team will earn a week-long educational trip to London, which will include expert-led museum tours and lectures

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Museums Commission is to host the International Conference on Education and Innovation in Museums, in Riyadh, from June 1 to 3, to help boost the sector in the Kingdom and beyond.

Leading museum professionals and educators will convene for knowledge exchange and collaboration, exploring best practices in museum education; the role of museums in fostering creativity and learning; and opportunities for international collaboration.

The three-day event will feature expert-led sessions, including panel discussions, workshops, and research paper presentations, addressing current museum issues and topics such as collaboration between museums and universities; beyond the textbook for active learning; beyond the museum walls for public engagement; and design thinking and innovation in museum management.

Additionally, the conference will host a competition in which participating teams will develop innovative solutions to enhance visitor engagement and museum experiences.

The winning team will earn a week-long educational trip to London, which will include expert-led museum tours and lectures.

Registration for the competition closes on May 25.