Category Archives: Development

Mapping Palestine’s Environmental Civil Society – The Good, the Bad and the Uncooperative

Palestine

A study mapping the environmental actors in Palestine shows a desperate lack of co-operation between organisations and donors keen to play it safe with ‘practical projects’

The lovely people at Heinrich Böll Stiftung had done something that I have been procrastinating about for almost lifetime (well, not quite a lifetime but a good couple of years at least). They have mapped out the important actors and organisations on the environmental scene in Palestine. Exciting, right!? They have painstakingly gone through all those websites, NGOs and institutes with an environmental focus to bring us a clear image of the state of the environmental movement in Palestine. They found that out of 2,245 NGOs registered in the oPt only 104 were environmentally-focused and of these, just 56 were actually still active. More juicy details after the jump.

The Facts on Green Palestine

- 104 registered environmental civil society organisation in the West Bank and Gaza

56 civil society organisations are actually still active

- Over 70% of environmental civil society organisations feel that their relationship with other organisations is competitive rather than co-operative

Limited funding and efforts to raise their grassroots presence are two main reasons for the competitiveness between organisations

8 key organisations in Palestine based on their size, the variety of programmes implemented and geographic range:

Most organisations complained that international donors attempted to remain neutral by focusing in practical action and lacked the political will to enforce real changes by addressing Palestinians’ rights to natural resources. As such many organisations felt their projects were simply ‘coping mechanisms’. Even so, the relationship between NGOs and funders was generally described as co-operative if highly dependent.

: For the full article and to find out the top 9 key green organisations in Palestine go to GreenProphet.com

: Palestine (Photo credit: Squirmelia)

Interview with Masdar’s Director of Sustainability – Nawal Al-Hosany

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In 2010, after eight days of hiking in freezing temperatures Nawal Al-Hosany reached the Uhuru Peak of Kilimanjaro Mountain. She explains that she underwent the challenging climb to highlight the impact of climate change which is melting the mountain’s snow and to encourage greater action in the Middle East. Al-Hosany who joined Masdar in 2008 as the sustainability associate director is now its director of sustainability. She also director of the influential Zayed Future Energy Prize. I caught up with her to talk about Masdar and how you incentivise renewables in a rich, oil-producing country.

Here’s a snippet of the interview which you can read in full at GreenProphet.com.

GreenProphet: A recent report titled “Prospects for Energy Technology Advancements in the Energy Sector,” written by yourself and IRENA highlights the opportunities available to MENA if they embrace renewables. Why is now such a good time to adopt renewable technologies?

Nawal Al-Hosany: The MENA region, and especially the Gulf States, has an opportunity to leverage its expertise in energy and move into new sectors, including wind and solar power. The future energy mix will include renewables, and we should embrace this transition. In addition, the region also has an abundant solar resource – an energy we should tap into to address energy security and our rising demands. Although the region’s renewable resources have been underexploited, technology advances and increased deployment are now making certain forms of clean energy economically viable across the region.

Who are some of the women working in the environmental sector that inspire you?

The lack of women working in the environmental sector, and the opportunity to do more, is what ultimately inspires and motivates me. We only have a handful of women across the globe that are participating in the discussion on renewable energy, sustainability and addressing climate change. These are global issues that impact us all, irrespective of the roles we play or that have been defined [for us] by society.

SISTERS: Muslimahs Dig Into Fresh Food

arwa aburawa green muslims sisters muslimah food growing green eco environmental

arwa aburawa green muslims sisters muslimah food growing green eco environmental

E-IR: How Can Islam Help Us Tackle Climate Change?

With the latest scientific findings predicting even more drastic changes to the earth’s climate[1] and the complete failure of the UN climate summits to agree a fair and decent deal on cutting the world’s emissions,[2] it is clear that we are running out of time to tackle climate change.[3] Rather than a steady increase in attention and action, it seems the world’s government are slowly going quiet on climate change, distracted by more pressing concerns such as unemployment and the economic recession.[4] The most recent UN COP17 conference in 2011 at Durban, South Africa, failed to put climate change back on the world agenda and big players such as the US and China don’t appear to be taking their responsibilities seriously.[5]

One topic that has been given a recent boost by this desperate state of affairs is geo-engineering which is defined as ‘the deliberate manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic climate change’.[6] Indeed, a field experiment which consists of spraying sun-reflecting chemical particles from a balloon into the atmosphere over Fort Sumner in New Mexico to artificially cool the planet has just been given the all clear.[7]

However, embracing geo-engineering as ‘Plan B’ is not only dangerous as the outcomes of planetary-scale experiments are highly uncertain; it is undemocratic, irresponsible and ignores the fact that we have a perfectly good ‘Plan A’ – to cut our emissions. We just need better ways of convincing people to do that. One area that is commonly overlooked when exploring ways to encourage greater climate awareness and action is faith and religion. Islam, in particularly, which is perceived as the faith of oil-rich sheikhs is sidelined with sparse academic research highlighting the insights Islam has to offer an environmentally vulnerable planet. Continue reading

Aquila Magazine: Women and Climate Change

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Women and Climate Change originally appeared at Aquila Style April 2012

SISTERS Magazine: Ethical Banking For A New Generation Of Muslims

The Rise (and Fall?) of Consumer Society In the Middle East

consumer-society-middle-east-oil-relli-shechterI speak to historian Relli Shechter about smoking in Egypt, consumerism and why the Middle East still has a long way to go before it embraces sustainability

When we think of consumerism and the consumer society, the Middle East is not the first thing to come to mind. Wall St, Las Vegas, London, China – maybe. The Middle East? Not so much. Even so, over the last half a century the region has been transformed into a consumer society. It may not be at the scale witnessed in the Western world but nonetheless it has happened. Relli Shechter, a lecturer from Ben-Gurion University, has been studying this transition to consumerism in countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia for some time now. I caught up with him to talk about the influence of the oil boom of the 70s and 80s and whether the Arab world is ready to explore a more sustainable path.

Why does consumerism interest you and why did you decide to the explore the topic in the Middle East- a region not traditionally associated with consumerism (although the Gulf nations are giving the world a run for its money!)?

Well for my Phd I want to Harvard in the US and whilst I was there I noticed a huge difference in the US consumer world compared to the Middle East and even Israel. You’d go to any supermarket and there would be the choice of 15 cheeses or 15 types of bread and that really caught my attention. The reason I chose to focus on the example of tobacco later on was a bit of a surprise.

I went to Egypt to look at the advertising business and I quickly found out that it was a highly politicised sector because there are links to government funding. So I was looking for an alternative and I stumbled across the cigarette. It was the perfect example as it cut across various social classes and so it was a great example of the way that consumerism entered into Egyptian society.

You also explore the same issue in Saudi Arabia and the impact the oil boom had on the kind of consumer society that emerged across the Middle East? But are they the same?

I realise that there are great difference between Saudi Arabia and Egypt and I am not trying to level them but there are some distinct structural similarities. An age of mass consumption triggers issues and questions and opportunities and these play out differently in these different contexts… There are lots of difference between them. Although the oil affected Saudi Arabia more directly (think concrete villas, foreign maids, drivers and mega-malls), it did have a real impact on countries such as Egypt.

The oil boom is where it all started. Of course, it looks different now as we have moved on since then but socio-cultural perceptions of consumption and what it all means to be a consumer- such notions, especially on the mass level – I would argue developed during the oil boom period. Egyptian peasants going to work in Saudi Arabia and Iraq later on, came back with consumer goods, new aspirations, new ideas about how they want to build their homes and what they need to have a family. These were developed during the oil boom which was a linchpin of the consumer society. This commercialisation expressed itself in everything from cheap housing, the suburbanisation of the village to the commercialisation of religious holidays such as Ramadan. Continue reading

Mario Cucinella: Interview With Gaza’s Green School Architect

I speak to Mario Cucinella the architect behind Gaza’s eco schools about building under conflict, water, education and bringing hope to a desperate region

Early 2013 will see the launch of a green school which will collect rainwater and regulate internal temperature using thermal technologies. Whilst such a project would not be noteworthy in Europe, this project is coming to the energy-scarce, water-poor and conflict-ridden region of the Gaza Strip. Constructing a green building in such a region definitely comes with a whole cache of problems- it also comes with a whole load of benefits. Building green schools that save water and reduce the amount of energy needed offers huge benefits to the people of Gaza. I caught up with Mario Cucincella, the architect behind the project to find out more.

Aburawa: Looking back at the profile of your work, most of the projects you are involved in are based in Italy. How did you get involved in the scheme to bring eco schools to Gaza?

Cucinella: I got involved in this project as I was invited to a conference by the Italian government which was about the future of Palestine and how a green economy could help Palestine’s economy and encourage development. At that meeting I met with UNRWA which is the UN organisation for Palestinian refugees and we talked about presenting a project about the green buildings I had worked on in the last couple of years as they were interested in the integration between green issues and architecture.

They took me to visit refugee camps and we went to Gaza to see the schools and so I proposed to them an idea of building a different quality of school. I mean, UNRWA builds a lot of schools as they are in charge of education and health and social problems- so they build schools, hospitals and lots of other things- and there was a big programme to build one hundred schools in Gaza and they were really interested in a new style or standard of building. Well, these things grow very fast and they were excited about my proposals and I guess, here we are.

Aburawa: There has been lots of press attention around the concept of green schools- could you tell us about some of the green features of the Gaza schools?

Cucinella: Well as you know, Gaza has a real issue with access to lots of resources. So for example, water is really polluted and 40% of the population still don’t have access to potable water. There’s also significant energy blackout and so that does affect how you can run schools and hospitals. The first idea was to collect rainwater as they don’t collect rainwater and in Gaza there are between 100-600mm of water a square a year- which is not lot but it’s still free water. They also don’t recycle water so the principle is to be able to collect maximum water for the school.

The other issue is that the schools are very low quality and they are not suited to their environment. In the summer the buildings are very hot and it’s hard for children to focus on their studies when it’s 38 degrees in the classroom. So another important feature is creating a sufficient thermal mass so that energy is stored and temperature can be better regulated. These two are not very complex principles but when you put them together you get something quite special which can really improve the people’s quality of life. And that was the agenda behind these buildings.

In Gaza it is notoriously difficult to construct buildings as there are issues around the ability to bring in materials due to the blockade. How will you be working around these restrictions to make sure the schools are built? Continue reading

Green Prophet: The Place of Politics in the Middle East’s Environment

I write about  the never-ending battle I have with myself when I’m writing on environmental issues in the Middle East about whether politics should be at the centre of my reporting or not…

A couple of weeks ago, Green Prophet reported on the news that Israelis and Palestinians were working together to build a restorative eco-park. It was a relatively feel-good piece showing that despite the political conflict, joint projects could be useful in building bridges between the two nations. One commentator, however, felt that our coverage was politically naïve.

H.Shaka remarked: “I appreciate that GP is trying to report on ‘green’ in the whole Middle East, including both Israel and the Arab world, and I have come to see this as a step in the right direction. However, given the strong political drivers in the region, I think GP should aim to be much more politically informed and balanced if it wishes to gain the respect of its readers, at least in the Arab world.”

From me personally, the comment struck a chord. I can see why the commentator would prefer that politics play a bigger role in the way we see green initiatives in the region. I am the first to admit that green campaigners can be a little idealistic about joint Israeli and Palestinian projects, and tend to ignore their political downsides. Continue reading

Ethical Consumer Magazine: Is Islamic Banking an Ethical Alternative?

Arwa Aburawa explores whether a religious take on banking offers any alternative for ethical consumers.

In 2008, as the world slid into what is now known as the ‘Great Recession’, Islamic finance was witnessing something of a resurgence. This faith-based banking hit the headlines as an ethical and sustainable alternative to the conventional, profit-driven banking system. If the financial crisis was caused by irresponsible banking, then Islamic finance – which is risk-averse and anti-speculation – could be the solution went the logic.

But is Islamic finance really the answer to our banking prayers?

In some aspects, Islamic banking does follow more ethical guidelines. It forbids what it calls effortless profit (interest) and generally prohibits investment in activities such as gambling, tobacco, pornography, pork, alcohol, military armament and speculation. It is asset-based which means that wealth can only be generated through legitimate trade and investment in assets. Making money from money is forbidden and it is this principle which has been highlighted by Islamic financial experts as creating a more stable and transparent system of banking. Continue reading