Climate change and its effects on the Middle East – Palestine Note
Nov, 10 2010 Lana Abu-Hijleh.

The future of the Middle East is a cause for concern – and I am not referring to peace or politics, but to the many environmental challenges that lie ahead. Despite regionally being one of the lowest producers of greenhouse gases and air pollution, the Middle East and North Africa is one of the regions likely to be most affected. By 2020 the urban population is likely to be over 60% of the total population; desert has swallowed up over two-thirds of our region; and only 43% of the scarce surface water resources available to Arab countries originate within those countries.

The message is very clear: something needs to be done urgently – and finally someone is taking notice. On September 22, 2010, at the UN Millennium Development Goals summit, President Barack Obama unveiled his Presidential Policy Directive for Global Development. One of the key points of his vision for long-term sustainable economic development is to undertake initiatives to counter the effects of climate change.

On our end in Palestine, I am so glad to hear similar messages from Palestinian leaders, as Prime Minister Salam Fayyad who, despite the challenging political and security issues faced, maintains a focus on what could be done to counter the effects of climate change on the Middle East region as a whole. This is welcome news. In my twenty-five years of working on humanitarian and development issues in the West Bank and Gaza, challenges of security, politics, economics and peace have been discussed many times and are well known around the world – but climate change has rarely been considered alongside them. These are all vital, pressing issues that the people in Palestine face every day and with an aware visionary leadership with a plan, action in the right direction is underway.

Recent UN Reports have highlighted the effects of climate change: desertification, water shortages, reduced agricultural production and population transfers; environmental refugees straining already limited infrastructure; these are just a few of the effects we could see. The humanitarian implications of climate change are enormous, and the knock on effects – economic, political, security – could be disastrous.

That is why at CHF International, in the West Bank and Gaza, we have begun to adopt green construction techniques in infrastructure projects we build. In the past few years we have been working in partnership with Palestinian communities and specialized institutions to construct green buildings which include women’s centers and youth clubs.  As we continue our infrastructure and institution building work in the region, we are aiming to increasingly focus on institutionalizing the use of construction techniques that minimize the deleterious impact on the environment.

To facilitate this process, on November 8, regional leaders and experts from the construction industry will gather in Ramallah in the West Bank for a one-day conference highlighting the need to raise awareness about, and implement, green building and construction practices. The conference is global in focus and breadth, with support from both the Palestinian National Authority and the US Agency for International Development. The aim of the conference is to seek to exchange information, case studies and ideas among these key stakeholders from international and Palestinian private industry, development organizations, universities and thought leaders from around the world. There are simple techniques to reduce the effects of climate change: reusing gray water for agricultural production; building to maximize the use of natural sunlight; solar, wind and low-energy consumption technologies. From this conference we hope both to inform and inspire the construction industry and all the stakeholders involved, from politicians to civil society, the private sector and all citizens around the world.

Those of us who work in NGOs and are part of the civil society structure bear the responsibility of leading the way, working hand in hand with government and the private sector to demonstrate the benefits of green construction. While there are so many challenges to face, we cannot afford to ignore the issue of climate change today for we will all deal with the consequences tomorrow.