Immediately after the COVID-19 pandemic began to take its toll, businesses and industries came to a halt. As a result, many human activities with a considerable carbon footprint saw a significant decline, said Chandra Dake, Founder, Dake Rechsand, a company offering solutions in water conservation and sustainable farming.
In no more than two weeks, air quality in several Chinese cities improved by 25%. Subsequently, multiple studies across the world attested to the same.
Today, with post-pandemic reopening and resumption of business activity, experts believe that the world may go back to old, high-carbon ways. At the same time, thanks to the visible positives that a brief, low-carbon period manifested, some optimists think that people could be more inclined to be environmentally responsible in the post-COVID world. In the context of the Middle East, the year 2021 issued a clarion call to expedite our efforts to solve pressing issues like food and water scarcity.
Water conservation and food security
Few places in the world have felt the effects of water scarcity more than the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Despite being home to more than 6% of the world’s population, MENA accounts for just 1.4% of the world’s freshwater resources. The most demand placed on an already strained water system comes from the agricultural industry. For example, the UAE produces just 20% of its food and imports the remaining 80%. Yet, the industry still places a big strain on the region’s already limited water supply.
Supply chain disruptions, which began at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and continued well into 2021, highlighted how unsustainable the status quo is. Unfortunately, this challenge cannot be solved through conventional, water-intensive agricultural methods. It is to this effect that solutions like Breathable Sand, which reduces irrigation requirements by 80% compared to conventional practices, are gaining traction in the MENA region. Such fit-for-purpose solutions, positioned uniquely between the intersection of water and food systems, merit greater attention in 2022.
Nearly 9% of the world’s population deals with food insecurity. Many of the nations with the highest levels of food insecurity are located in North Africa and the Middle East. Researchers say that, for many regions, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated food insecurity and reinforced the need for socially, economically, and environmentally viable solutions. Worldwide, an additional 70-161 million people have faced hunger due to the pandemic. If anything, it is an indication of how fragile the food systems are. And, unfortunately, the MENA region has challenges, such as water scarcity, that make redressal a tall order.
Climate change and sustainability
Climate change is nearing the tipping point, and global economies are mostly focused on post-pandemic recovery. In fact, in many countries, the emissions have retracted to pre-pandemic levels. Therefore, it’s in the least bit surprising that 2021 became the fifth-hottest year ever recorded. This underscores the scale and speed at which the world must undergo sustainable and low-carbon transformation.
The UAE has had an impactful year as far as its efforts towards sustainability are concerned. Besides holding the most sustainable World Expo, the nation took concrete actions, such as the net-zero 2050 pledge, won the bid to host COP28, improved SDG scores, to align with the larger global priorities. In the year 2022, the onus is on all stakeholders – the government, private institutions, and individuals – to incorporate the lessons from 2021 and ensure that the UAE, and the MENA region at large, make headway with sustainable transformation.