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 Cabinet approves new railway law

Updated 13 sec ago
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Saudi Cabinet approves new railway law

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet approved on Tuesday new regulations that govern the railways in the Kingdom.

The decision “supports achieving the goals of the National Transport & Logistics Strategy, and contributes to the governance of the railway sector and regulates the relationship between the infrastructure owner, the operator and the beneficiary,” Minister of Transport and Logistic Services Sales Al-Jasser said.

The new regulations will ensure that railway services providers continue to apply the highest standards and requirements for safety and quality, and will develop policies and legislation that ensure fair competitiveness, the minister added.

In 2023, the number of railways passengers exceeded 11.2 million, a 55% increase compared to 2022. Trains also transported 24.7 million tons of goods and minerals, an increase of 6% during the same year.

Al-Jasser stated that regulations will contribute to encouraging use and ensure the protection of railways, their infrastructure, and facilities in accordance with internationally approved standards. 

The new law also specified penalties to protect railway tracks from violations and damage to the network.

The minister thanked King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for approving the new law.


Best of the East: Saudi artists on show at Riyadh exhibition

Updated 28 February 2024
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Best of the East: Saudi artists on show at Riyadh exhibition

  • Series of ink drawings by veteran Abdulrahman Al-Soliman is a highlight of Art Biennale in Riyadh

RIYADH: Series of ink drawings by veteran Abdulrahman Al-Soliman is a highlight of Art Biennale in Riyadh

Work by several of the best artists from the Kingdom’s Eastern Province is on show at the international Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale in Riyadh.

Among them is Abdulrahman Al-Soliman, who has been a force in the Saudi art world for decades. His series of ink drawings, titled “Palm, Bow and Fragments” (1990-91) is on show for the first time.

Born in 1954 in Al-Ahsa, Al-Soliman told Arab News he created the collection during the Gulf War more than 30 years ago. “I lived with the side effects of the Kuwaiti conflict and its liberation. I started organically, I didn’t know it would become a series,” he said.

“Since 1970, I have been making art. And this series on display at the biennale — some in color, some not — I rolled them up and put them aside. This is the first time anyone has seen them displayed.”

Another Eastern Province artist whose work is on show is Nabila Al-Bassam, who founded the Arab Heritage Gallery in Alkhobar in 1979. Al-Bassam is a mixed-media artist who uses traditional textile-making processes to produce and create multilayered collages. She is delighted to be among the artists on show.

“What stood out to me at the biennale was the works of Saudi women artists, I really was surprised,” she said.

“I’ve seen many beautiful works. The installations, the hangings — very, very interesting, made out of metal and things like this. There’s a lot to be excited about. They were large works and they were new works, completely new, modern and a new way of thinking.”

The younger generation is also exhibiting in Riyadh. Tara Aldugaither, 34, grew up in Dhahran and in 2020 founded Sawtasura — “voice of the image” — a community-based platform that collects and reimagines the musical histories of Arab women.

The biennale is taking place in the city’s JAX district and continues until May 24.


Saudi Cabinet calls for an end to escalation of military operations in Gaza

Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet held a meeting in Riyadh on Tuesday. (SPA)
Updated 27 February 2024
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Saudi Cabinet calls for an end to escalation of military operations in Gaza

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet called for an end to the escalation in military operations in Gaza and the dire humanitarian crisis that it is causing, Saudi Press Agency reported on Tuesday.

The Cabinet also reviewed the outcomes of the Kingdom’s participation in a two-day meeting of G20 foreign ministers in Rio de Janeiro and its vision regarding the group’s role in dealing with existing international tensions and restructuring global governance.

The Cabinet also reiterated the Kingdom’s support for regional and international efforts to ban all types of weapons of mass destruction as was expressed during its participation in the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.

The Cabinet also praised the outcomes of a recent Arab Interior Ministers’ Council held in Tunisia and stressed the Kingdom’s constant keenness to support and enhance joint Arab action in all fields in a way that contributes to establishing the foundations of security, stability, and prosperity in the region.


Saudi artist, 78, presents solo exhibition in Riyadh

Updated 27 February 2024
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Saudi artist, 78, presents solo exhibition in Riyadh

  • For 50 years, Sami Almarzoogi quietly pursued his love for art alongside his medical practice

RIYADH: Saudi artist Dr. Sami Almarzoogi’s solo exhibition at L’Art Pur Foundation in Riyadh “Is This a Gold Bar?” demonstrates the benefits of never giving up on your passion.

Presented in collaboration with Hafez Gallery, the showcase presents Almarzoogi’s diverse body of work, encompassing paintings, drawings and mixed-media pieces, which delve deep into his exploration of materials, techniques and themes. He invites viewers to immerse themselves in the emotions he seeks to capture with each stroke of his brush.

‘Is This A Gold Bar?’ by Sami Almarzoogi (Inset, right) invites viewers to immerse themselves in the emotions the artist seeks to capture with each stroke of his brush. (Supplied)

“The exhibition’s title, arrangement, and presentation serve as windows into my inner world, where shadows give way to the unveiling of my creations in the light of day, beckoning viewers to embark on a captivating artistic odyssey,” the artist explained.

His art — drawing inspiration from nature, human figures, personal experiences, and decorative objects — defies categorization, encouraging viewers to ponder the emotional depth conveyed through color and form.

HIGHLIGHTS

● Sami Almarzoogi’s art draws inspiration from nature, human figures, personal experiences, and objects.

● ‘Is This A Gold Bar?’ is being showcased at L’Art Pur in collaboration with Hafez Gallery in Riyadh.

● Curated by Ayman Yossri Daydban, the exhibition signifies a pivotal moment in Almarzoogi’s artistic journey.

Curated by Ayman Yossri Daydban, the exhibition signifies a pivotal moment in Almarzoogi’s artistic journey. Daydban is a celebrated visual artist based in Saudi Arabia who brings a unique perspective shaped over three decades of artistic practice, ensuring a nuanced and stimulating presentation of the artist’s work.

Sami Almarzoogi invites viewers to immerse themselves in the emotions the artist seeks to capture with each stroke of his brush. (Supplied)

Almarzoogi was born in 1945 and spent over three decades unraveling the transformative potential of color and line. Through an intuitive exploration of motifs straddling the realms of figuration and abstraction, his work radiates with sensitivity, drawing prowess, and a profound understanding of color theory.

Almarzoogi said: “Drawing transcends mere equations of form, color, and ideas, or even complex formulations including feelings. It is, in fact, a sentiment taking shape in form, anchoring itself through colors, and blooming into a tapestry of ideas.”

Qaswra Hafez, Hafez Gallery founder

His creative process, he added, “is a reflection of diverse experiences and emotions, unfolding freely on blank canvases, unbound by symbols and interpretations. This natural approach to artistry transcends the confines of studios, beckoning an existential exploration enriched by observation, travel, and a universal spirit.”

Speaking about the journey captured in his works, he said: “In my artistic journey, the transition from darkness to doubt and ultimately light mirrors my personal growth, culminating in the radiant beauty of radiance.”

Sami Almarzoogi invites viewers to immerse themselves in the emotions the artist seeks to capture with each stroke of his brush. (Supplied)

His creative journey, initially interwoven with a distinguished career in anesthesiology, found its full expression upon his return to Saudi Arabia in the mid-1980s, following an enriching decade-long sojourn in Germany.

Qaswra Hafez, founder of Hafez Gallery, said: “In my 35 years involved in the arts one way or another, producing this exhibition gave me the most confidence measure. It’s not every day that you find a 78-year-old artist who has been working in silence for over 50 years and never had a solo. It was such a joy for me to watch (and) see the exhibition the first time.”

It’s not every day that you find a 78-year-old artist who has been working in silence for over 50 years and never had a solo. It was such a joy for me to watch (and) see the exhibition the first time.

Qaswra Hafez, Hafez Gallery founder

Kenza Zouari, communication manager at Hafez Projects, said: “Sami Almarzoogi’s life is a testament to the courage to embark on new journeys. After years in the medical field, he made the bold decision to pursue his lifelong passion for art and his relentless quest for exploration led him to dive into the world of colors, shapes and forms with the same dedication and precision he once had in the operating room.”

She added: “With brushes replacing medical tools, Dr. Almarzoogi kept on trying new styles and techniques with this insatiable hunger for experimentation. His transition from doctor to artist was not just a career change; it was a profound transformation that allowed him to fully explore and express himself.

Sami Almarzoogi invites viewers to immerse themselves in the emotions the artist seeks to capture with each stroke of his brush. (Supplied)

“Today, as we stand witness to his incredible body of work, we are reminded of the possibility within each of us to pursue our passions. Dr. Almarzoogi’s story is a powerful reminder that it is never too late to chase our dreams.”

Echoing this sentiment, Rania Rizk, director of the arts program at L’Art Pur Foundation, said: “We are thrilled to present the second solo exhibition, offering the Riyadh audience a glimpse into his extensive artistic journey and captivating narrative. Dr. Almarzoogi’s dedication to painting and drawing, quietly and authentically, alongside his medical profession, reflects his unwavering passion for art.

“His close friend, artist Ayman Yossri, as the curator, (ensues) the spiritual essence of the artwork shines through, enriching the exhibition with a deep sense of warmth and meaning.”

The exhibition at L’Art Pur is open to the public until Feb. 29 at 8 p.m.

 


Ardah performer finds strength in traditional Saudi dance

Ali Shaker Al-Ghamdi is a prominent performer of Saudi ardah who notes that the folk dance requires great physical effort.
Updated 27 February 2024
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Ardah performer finds strength in traditional Saudi dance

  • Ali Shaker Al-Ghamdi told Arab News: “I used to attend ardah performances and was obsessed with it, its rhythms, its fast pace. I participated for the first time when I was young, in my uncles’ village, Qarn Dhabi”

MAKKAH: Ali Shaker Al-Ghamdi is one of the most prominent performers of the southern Saudi ardah, a dance he described as showcasing strength while uniting communities.

Performed on special occasions such as Saudi Founding Day, the ardah highlights the Kingdom’s heritage through poetry and dance.

Al-Ghamdi had to undergo surgery after tearing a tendon in his foot while dancing at an Al-Janadriyah festival in Riyadh and feared being unable to perform again.

Ali Shaker Al-Ghamdi is a prominent performer of Saudi ardah who notes that the folk dance requires great physical effort. (Supplied)

He told Arab News: “I used to attend ardah performances and was obsessed with it, its rhythms, its fast pace. I participated for the first time when I was young, in my uncles’ village, Qarn Dhabi.”

While each region has its own distinct style of the folk art, the ardah performances share heritage, culture, and the spirit of heroism. The dance combines poetry to tell the stories of battles, wars, and courage passed down from one generation to another.

On how the ardah had changed over time, Al-Ghamdi said: “In the past, ardah was performed when a tribe felt it was being attacked by another. Whenever they heard the sound of the zir (a type of drum), they gathered and performed the war-related ardah.

FASTFACT

Performed on special occasions such as Saudi Founding Day, the ardah highlights the Kingdom’s heritage through poetry and dance.

“Their steps are synchronized as they raise their right and left arms together. Their movements are synchronized.

“It makes you feel like you are actually on the battlefield. Now it is a performance with a smile on the face and a symbol of manhood,” he added.

Al-Ghamdi, a physical education teacher in the Baha region, noted that the folk performance required great physical effort.

He said: “Thanks to God, I still maintain my fitness. I teach those who want to learn folk arts the Saudi ardah and the southern ardah.

“I still remember very well when I participated in one of Al-Janadriyah festivals in Riyadh and one of the attendees told me that I was fitter than the (Swedish) footballer (Zlatan) Ibrahimovic and that I should leave the show and join one of the big clubs. It was hilarious.”

Al-Ghamdi pointed out that no matter where he was, if he heard instruments, he felt compelled to join in. “It is as if my body and the instrument are in harmony and in a state of communication.”

He highlighted a performance where an elderly man from the audience, who appeared to have physical constraints, got up and joined in. “When he saw me, he stood up, danced, and interacted with me, leaving everyone blown away. I wondered what ardah could have done to him to move his body?”