||REGIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL COOPERATION|
The Middle East Environment as an Investment
- Development and growth – In recent years the countries in the region are experiencing rapid development (5/o-6% annual rate of growth), a significant population growth (3.1%), and brisk urban growth (4.4% annually). Most have undertaken extensive development programs. Industry and agriculture have experienced rapid expansion and modernization. This trend is expected to be intensified in the coming years in light of the peace process and the creation of a better business atmosphere and environment. This will cause enormous pressure on the natural resources and ecological assets of the region. Therefore environmental considerations should be taken carefully into account, and measure should be set in order to safeguard and improve the Middle East environment.
- Water shortage – Most of countries in the region may be characterized by their lack of water. All water resources are highly vulnerable to over-exploitation and pollution, and it is important that they be protected and managed in a sustainable manner. The fact that many water resources of the region are shared, transcending national borders, calls for regional cooperation in fulfilling this crucial task.
- Desertification – Countries in the region, in at least parts of their territory, are experiencing some degree of desertification. Each is struggling to reverse this process and to turn desert areas into arable land. Each has developed technologies and gained experience in combating desertification, and they should work together on this crucial issue. This is a regional and global problem which knows no boundaries. To fight desertification, neither huge capital investment nor sophisticated and expensive technology is required. Practices and technologies for desert utilization can rely on local resources and simple techniques.
- Growing environmental awareness – The period following the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, is experiencing growing concern in the region for environmental protection and sustainable development. Over the past years, the environmental administration of the countries in the region has experienced a virtual revolution in environmental awareness, not only among the general public, but also among decision makers and industrialists. Government agencies have been established and strengthened, environmental non- governmental organizations have become active and influential in the decision making process, and new environmental legislation has been enacted.
- Pollution – Pollution knows no political boundaries. Middle Eastern countries share water, land, air and coastlines, making them particularly vulnerable to all forms of @boundary pollution. Regional cooperation is therefore crucial to prevent the spread of pollution throughout the region, and to treat pollutants as soon as they are released into the environment.
Environmental Development Options
The environment has played a significant role in the Middle East peace process, mainly as a confidence building measure and as an end to facilitate regional understanding and cooperation among previously belligerent countries. However, the environment is not only a diplomatic end, it is a vital concern of the peoples of the Middle East. The governments of the region, especially in the wake of the Earth Summit in Rio, are all deeply committed to safeguarding natural resources and the environment for present and future generations.
In the Bahrain Environmental Code of Conduct for the Middle East, the countries of the region committed themselves to protect the environment and natural resources of the region, and to cooperate in achieving sustainable development. The environmental development options presented in this book are aimed at meeting these two main goals. These options can be divided into four groups:
- Regional environmental management frameworks to enable the countries to better manage and protect shared natural resources;
- Development options in the field of nature conservation;
- Development options in the field of improving environmental infrastructures;
- Programs for combating desertification.
The Role of the Private Sector
Development in the environmental field is usually considered as the responsibility of the public sector, central government or local authorities. However, in recent years, there has also been a significant change in the level of environmental awareness amongst the business and industrial sectors. Business persons today are increasingly aware of the affinity between the environment and development, and when reaching decisions tend to take into account environmental considerations. Furthermore, the environment is slowly becoming a viable business option, interesting many entrepreneurs in the development of environmental technologies as well as the installment of various environmental systems.
Increased environmental awareness amongst the general public and decision makers, together with the government’s policy towards privatization and development of the business sector, provide many business opportunities for the establishment of environmental industries and technologies, as well as environmental service projects, from consulting services to the development of solid waste treatment systems .
Regional Environmental Management Frameworks
The basis for sustainable development of a shared resource is that all parties concerned will coordinate amongst themselves their development objectives and environmental policies. A regional framework will enable the parties to do so, and to develop joint guidelines for sustainable development of resources. The primary shared resources of the region are the regional seas, e.g. the Gulf of Aqaba with its valuable ecological features, and the Eastern
Mediterranean, with the enormous burden placed on its environment. It is proposed that integrated management systems be established for both regional seas, shared by all the riparian countries, which will focus on the following main tasks:
- To formulate guidelines for sustainable development and integrated coastal zone management, taking into consideration the promotion of regional tourism, aquaculture, land and sea communication links and other development needs.
- To develop a multilateral program for the prevention of accidental and operational pollution, and for emergency response.
- To identify potential sources of pollution and recommend remedial measures.
As for the establishment of regional contingency plans for oil spills, projects are already underway: The Gulf of Aqaba Oil Spill Contingency Program shared by Jordan, Egypt and Israel; and the Sub-Regional Contingency Plan for the Eastern Mediterranean, shared by Egypt, Cyprus and Israel. These plans should be strengthened and expanded to include all the concerned riparian parties.
It is also proposed that a Middle East Center for Sustainable Development be established which will promote practical strategies and regional guidelines for the application of sustainable development policies by the countries of the region. The Center will also deal with environmental problems of a transboundary nature which require cooperation between two or more parties. In addition, it will serve as a capacity building and training institution.
In light of the expected rapid development in the region, it is imperative that concrete actions be taken to protect sensitive ecosystems, control their utilization and secure sufficient open land, for the enjoyment of the citizens of the region. Cooperative efforts should be directed to the protection and sound management of shared natural and wildlife assets.
One option is the establishment of transboundary parks or nature reserves to protect the transboundary areas which have high ecological value, such as the Upper Jordan River Rehabilitation Program, the Lowest Park on Earth at the Dead Sea or the Gulf of Aqaba Transnational Coral Reef Park. The aim of these parks or nature reserves is to protect the environment on the one hand, and to serve as a tool for development and promotion of tourism in the region on the other.
A second option for the regional parties is to cooperate in flora and fauna conservation, especially concerning endangered and migratory species. The Middle East, located at the junction of three continents, is at the center of the migration path of hundreds of species. Research projects should make use of thermal imaging systems, observer networks, satellite tracking and other modem methods. The program could involve regular exchanges of information and expertise, and form the basis for the development of nature tourism for all of the parties.
Improving environmental infrastructures, mainly the sewage and solid waste facilities in the region, is perhaps the most interesting opportunity for the private sector in the environmental field. The business community could be involved in this field either on the basis of "Own and Operate" or "Turn Key Project".
In the field of wastewater treatment, every visitor to the region is struck by the fact that most the sewage in the area is inadequately treated, if at all. Many of the region’s population centers suffer from insufficient sewage treatment. Sewage treatment has a two-fold purpose, which is of crucial importance in our region – to protect and preserve our fragile water resources against pollution, and to enrich these limited resources with secondary resources which can be reused in agriculture. Most parts of the region may be character by their lack of water resources and their high sensitivity to water overuse. Untreated sewage eventually percolate through to the aquifers or flows into the sea. It is important that we safeguard our vulnerable water resources from overuse, from pollution, and from mismanagement.
The proposed projects include the construction of new sewage treatment systems in areas where they do not exist, mainly for the Palestinian communities in Gaza and the West Bank, and the modernization and upgrading of existing facilities in order to achieve adequate levels of effluent treatment which will permit reuse of the effluent for all types of agriculture.
In the field of solid waste management, the Middle East faces an increasing problem as a result of rapid growth in population, industry and standard of living. However, the composition of municipal solid waste in the region differs from that which is common in the Western countries. It contains large amounts of organic materials with a high moisture content which, due to the hot climate of the region, decompose rapidly. Thus, we should look for new and innovative approaches to solid waste management. The region’s hydrological sensitivity and its particular population distribution complicate waste management, and make the location of solid waste disposal sites a very difficult task.
The fight against desertification is one of the most critical environmental problems facing the Middle East region today. Essentially, Man has exacerbated the natural climatic trend and has brought about severe desertification of semi-arid lands, unaided by nature. It is imperative to fight mismanagement practices and work hand in hand with nature. The proposals in this book in the field of combating desertification call for joint research and joint projects, the sharing of knowledge and experience, and finding practical solutions to specific problems encountered in this struggle. Many countries in the region have been successful in their endeavors in combating desertification and in the sharing and development of such knowledge and experience. Without doubt, cooperative research will benefit the entire region.
A new era awaits us with new challenges concerning the environment of the region, and our shared resources. From the experience gained thus far, it is clear that all the countries of the region attach great importance to safeguarding and improving the region’s environment. The environment is a major issue on the regional agenda, and no-one can or even wants to ignore it. One can look to the future of this region with great optimism and see a future of cooperation and of blossoming economic development in a clean and healthy environment.