November 29, 2012
By Olivia Alabaster

BEIRUT: The Arab Forum for Environment and Development annual report, to be launched Thursday, warns that the Middle East is on the brink of ecosystem bankruptcy and that without urgent regional cooperation, the future growth and well-being of the region will be severely threatened.

The report, entitled “Survival Options and Ecological Footprint in Arab Countries,” will be launched at the fifth annual AFED conference, due to be attended by the ministers of environment from Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, Sudan and Palestine.

The two-day conference will be held at the Phoenicia Intercontinental Hotel under the patronage of President Michel Sleiman, who will deliver the opening address.

The AFED report, accompanied with an Arab Footprint and Biocapacity Atlas – which shows the availability of natural resources and the demand on them in each country – will show that over the last 50 years, a rapid population increase and changing lifestyle patterns have both led to higher consumption levels, increasing the average per person ecological footprint from 1.2 hectares in 1961 to 2.1 hectares today.

At the same time, the biocapacity of the region, or available natural resources, has decreased some 60 percent, “due to pollution, habitat destruction, and overall inadequate resource management,” the report will say.

The subsequent deficit in the region’s ecological resources is bridged by imports and an over-exploitation of local resources, a strategy which the report’s authors label unsustainable, “as overuse will lead to an even greater depletion of natural resources and degradation of the environment.”

However, there are vast differences between different Arab countries, with the average Qatari having the highest ecological footprint in the world – at 11.7 global hectares per person, which is nine times larger than that of the average Moroccan.

To put that in perspective, the report shows that were everyone on earth to live like Qataris, “6.6 planets would be required to satisfy their level of consumption and emissions of carbon dioxide.” However if everyone lived like Moroccans, “humans would demand only three-quarters of the planet Earth.”

The report recommends that a policy of growth for the sake of growth at any cost must be abandoned by countries of the region, and also that countries across the Middle East must work together. “No Arab country can survive as an isolated entity,” the report will warn.

“The diversity of natural and human resources in the Arab region offers a foundation for survival and renewal. But this demands regional economic cooperation and Arab trade free of barriers, where the open flow of goods, capital and people would work to the benefit of all countries in the region.”

It adds: “Regional cooperation, resource efficiency, and balanced consumption are the options for survival. Action is needed now.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 29, 2012, on page 4.

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