Wars for Heaven Destroy Earth

NAJIB SAAB 9/9/2014

Reports of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) have repeatedly warned that demand on resources and nature services by Arab countries is double what the region’s natural systems can provide. Key challenges include food security, water and energy. Arab countries today import more than half of their needs of basic foods, while an Arab individual’s share of renewable fresh water is less than one-tenth of the world average. This discrepancy between domestic supplies and demand on resources threatens growth opportunities, let alone the quality of life.

However, the overall situation described by AFED reports in previous years was not fully bleak. Despite critical conditions, it was established that challenges could be tackled with wise management of resources and regional economic cooperation among Arab countries. Since food productivity levels were in most Arab countries very low compared to the world average, and water use for irrigation was characterized by extremely low efficiency, improving food productivity and enhancing water efficiency could lead to quick results. Achieving good quality of life on the long term for people of the region requires working on attaining economic integration and allowing for free trade across the borders of the region, since the free influx of products, capitals and human resources helps improve the conditions in all countries.

The reports also warned against the environmental repercussions of inadequate management of resources. Excessive exploitation of resources, effects of climate change, high population growth aggravate environmental challenges faced by the region. On top of these challenges are water scarcity, land degradation, waste mismanagement, sea and coastal environmental degradation, and air and water pollution. The reports estimated the cost of environmental degradation in the Arab region at about five percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), while funds earmarked by national budgets for environmental management did not exceed one percent of GDP in any country.

When we warned that Arab countries faced a survival crisis because of their mismanagement of limited resources and poor and weak regional cooperation among them, we always under-scored that solutions were at hand and needed daring and quick political decisions.
What would we say today about resource management and regional cooperation? Most Arab countries suffer from internal conflicts that left in the last three years half a million people dead, another 20 million people displaced, and vast areas of productive lands – 10 times Lebanon’s area – devastated. When we published in the past maps to show distribution of natural resources and environmental hot spots in Arab countries, the only problem that brought in official objection was the disputed border between Morocco and the Western Sahara. With self-declared “states” drawing own borders all over the region in recent years, it has become impossible to produce a map without getting into disputes with scores of parties.

Instead of moving towards sound management of resources and regional cooperation, the region fell into absurd wars that are destroying resources, killing people, and deepening fragmentation. Arab political parties that for half a century raised slogans such as “One Arab Nation with an Eternal Message” were eroded by totalitarianism and “eternal” personalistic leaderships, failing to attain any model of regional cooperation similar, for example, to the European Union, instead of myths and slogans. Ironically, racist groups are today trying to impose their dogmatic ideologies and intolerant beliefs under the slogans of liberation and unification. The victims are always human beings and the environment.

Regional economic cooperation among civil states respecting human dignity is the obvious viable choice, not only to end political and military conflicts but also to guarantee balanced management for resources and protection for the environment. Continued fighting to build states in heaven will strip the region’s population from any chance to live on earth.

Food security will be the subject of AFED’s new annual report, which will be published in November 2014. Let us wait and see how many new “states” will come into being by then, the magnitude of additional natural resources that will be destroyed by wars and conflicts, and the millions who might join the victims and refugees. Will estimates and maps that we produce today be good tomorrow? The “holy” struggles in pursuit of a piece in the heaven will only result in losing the earth.

nsaab@afedonline.org • www.najibsaab.com