“Let’s not forget that poor countries in many cases suffer the consequences of actions taken by rich countries”
Mohamed Al-Hamdi is First Economic Affairs Officer in the Water Resources Section of the Sustainable Development and Productivity Division of ESCWA.
Which change is essential for the transition to a green economy, especially in the ESCWA region?
The ESCWA region, like other regions of the world, will need to make many changes in order to move towards a green economy. The most important change in my opinion is the change of the frame of mind. In other words, decision makers need to be convinced of the benefits, not only to the environment, but also to the long term economic development of their countries. Having said that, the ESCWA region has some particular characteristics that distinguishes it from other regions of the world. The ESCWA region suffers from severe water scarcity, with most countries below the water poverty threshold of 1000 m3 per capita share of renewable water annually. With growing water demand from rapid population growth (a second feature of the region), sustainability of water resources, an element that has a direct impact on sustainable development, is threatened. In fact, many countries of the region are already mining fossil groundwater and abstracting renewable groundwater at unsustainable rates. In this regard, management of water resources in accordance to the principles of IWRM is no longer an option for the region; it is a necessity.
Another feature of the region is the orientation of food security policies towards internal agricultural production. Coupled with water inefficient use in agriculture, water scarcity and integrated water management should become a decisive factor in reshaping the national and regional food security policies. Food security needs to be developed with a wider angle to incorporate trade and economic development. More efficient water use and reallocation of water resources to optimize their social and economic returns is urgently needed for sustainable development.
A third issue that the region needs to carefully address its access to water and sanitation. The ESCWA region is diverse; it includes the oil-rich GCC countries in addition to LDCs and countries in conflict. Although some countries have already achieved the water and sanitation MDGs, other countries are not expected to achieve them by the target date of 2015. Access to safe water and sanitation services has multiple impacts; while it helps to protect the environment (better sanitation and waste management), it reduces the burden on the poor by reducing their reliance on the expensive informal water suppliers (water venders). Better water quality reduces the chances of water related diseases and as such improves the public health which normally leads to higher productivity. Moreover, with access to reliable water supplies, children of poor households have a higher chance to enroll in schools. Given the direct link between access to water and sanitation services and poverty alleviation, some countries (particularly the LDC) of the region will have to exert more efforts into achieving the water and sanitation MDGs.
Which tools can be useful to realise this change?
Some of the useful tools that can be used by countries of the region relate to education and awareness raising, capacity building and technology. Taking water scarcity as an example, we can see that all three tool categories are very relevant. To achieve sustainability of water resources, a strong element of green economy, there is a need for behavioral change of water users (and sometime of water managers and decision makers as well). In order to achieve the desired behavioral change, education and awareness programs needs to be developed and implemented in a participatory approach involving all stakeholders. Similarly the institutional setup and the legal framework need to be adopted as to direct and guide the transformation towards a more favorable enabling environment that promotes the shift towards green economy. Technology can also play an important role in the shift towards green economy. In the example of water scarcity, technology advances in desalination and treatment of wastewater have played a profound role in satisfying the growing water demand (as is the case in the GCC countries) and also in protecting the environment through the collection and treatment of domestic and industrial wastewater and the provision of treated water for reuse in agriculture.
What are your expectations for the Zaragoza conference?
It seems to me that the conference is designed to maximize the exchange of experiences and as such looks at the shift towards green economy from the practical angle (what is taking place? and how to improve?) and not from the theoretical angle (what should be done?). This approach seems to me to be more productive. I think that the conference will be an eye opener for many participants to the different approaches, tools and lessons that can be utilised for the shift towards green economy. I believe that the approach adopted by the conference will add value to the preparations for Rio+20. As for my expectations on the actual shift towards green economy, I believe it will take a long time before tangible outcomes are realised.
Which message would you like to deliver for the Rio+20 conference?
I am sure that there are many good messages that have been raised during the preparatory process towards Rio+20, but I believe that a message of equity is one that many will support. Equity in the sense of empowering the poor in the deliberation and decision making process that affect all mankind. Let’s not forget that poor countries in many cases suffer the consequences of actions taken by rich countries. In this regard climate change is a good example.