Policies to Buildings: The UAE’s Emergence as the GCC’s Sustainability Leader

UAE Map

Karim Elgendy

Settling along the shores of the gulf

In the barren deserts of the Arabian Peninsula, people have always settled in locations that provided freshwater and enough natural resources to enable trade and economic development. Human settlements in the southern shores of the Gulf, in what we now know as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), are no exceptions to this.

For the last four centuries, the Bedouins of the Banu Yas tribes have settled a strip of land along the northern edge of the dune fields of the Arabian Peninsula’s Empty Quarter. Drawn to its plentiful ground water resources they established what is now known as the Liwa Oasis and developed date plantations which provided subsistence. But when fresh water was discovered on the Abu Dhabi Island in the late 18th century, Al Bu Falah branch of Banu Yas moved to the coastal location which – in addition to providing fresh water- also allowed them to develop pearling industry and trade.

In the early 19th century, another branch of the Banu Yas, known as Al Bu Falasa, moved from the Abu Dhabi Island to settle near a natural creek 90 miles east of the Abu Dhabi Island. In addition to ground water and pearling, the creek – now known as the Dubai  Creek- allowed the establishment of a port which facilitated trade with neighbors across the gulf and beyond. They quickly established a settlement on the western shore the creek – known later as Bur Dubai – but had to abandon it two decades later and move to the eastern shore after a smallpox outbreak. By the end of the 19th century, the combined advantages of fresh water availability, the natural port, the pearling industry, and the good geographic location, were sufficient for the new settlement to endure a sweeping fire that burnt through most of it dwellings. The Bedouins that have settled in Dubai sought no other location and simply rebuilt their settlement.

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How Sustainable is Your Oasis?: A Review of Water Resources in Middle East Cities

Karim Elgendy

Liwa Date Farm, UAE. Copyrights: Google

Liwa date farms benefit from some of the freshest ground water in the UAE. Copyrights: Google

Those who visit the Middle East and North Africa from more temperate climates are often struck with how hot and dry the region is, and how scarce its rainfall. Some wonder why cities became established here, and how they continue to exist despite the lack of renewable freshwater.

These concerns are not entirely groundless. Yet these cities’ existence is not in any way miraculous: it’s merely an example of what can happen if cities fail to strike a sustainable balance between growth and limited resources.

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Two Unsustainable Urbanisms: Dubai and Gaza

Karim Elgendy and Joumana al Jabri

An infographic comparing the two extreme urbanisms of Dubai and the Gaza Strip. While the two urban regions demonstrate surprising similarities when their geographic and demographic data are compared, their political and socio-economic conditions have produced urbanisms that are radically different and equally unsustainable.

A  version of this infographic was first published by Portal 9 Magazine under “Reading Gaza Through Dubai”. Copyrights for the infographic are reserved for the Authors above. No reproduction or republishing of theinfographic or any part thereof is permitted without prior written consent from the authors. To discuss this infographic, please join Carboun’s  discussion group on Linkedin. For news and updates on sustainability in cities around the region, join Carboun’s Facebook page or follow its Twitter feed. Continue reading Two Unsustainable Urbanisms: Dubai and Gaza

A Visual Guide to Energy Use in Buildings in the Middle East

Karim Elgendy

In celebrating this year’s World Green Building Week, Carboun has released a visual guide to energy use in buildings with the goal of explaining the overall state of energy use in the region and the significance of buildings as a major sector in energy consumption. It also aims to comparatively explain the nuances of the major trends of energy use in buildings as a baseline analysis for further research.  The visual guide, which was researched and designed by Karim Elgendy with additional contributions from a small research team, was based on raw data obtained from the International Energy Agency and the World Bank. Copyrights for all infographics are reserved for Carboun. No reproduction or republishing of any infographic or part thereof is permitted without prior written consent from the author.

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Sustainable Transportation in the Middle East

Karim Elgendy and Wissam Yassine

Developing transportation networks and facilitating access and mobility are major constituents of the economic development of any country or region. Yet transportation also poses great economic and environmental challenges as a major energy consumer and a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.

In the Middle East, the transportation sector is challenged on both fronts. On one hand, its underdeveloped and inefficient networks continue to hinder economic development. In addition, the transportation sector represents a major consumer of energy in the region and a primary contributor to carbon emissions. In 2008, the transportation sector was estimated to be responsible for 31% of the region’s total energy use – a relatively high proportion compared to the global average of 27% – while the road sub-sector alone was responsible for 18% of energy use – compared to 14% globally.

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The State of Egypt’s Sustainability Agenda

Karim Elgendy

Two weeks ago, The English version of a leading Egyptian daily published an opinion piece on entitled “Our local ‘green’ agenda.” In his article, the author made a number of intriguing arguments that suggest that Egypt has a unique environmental agenda and a set of sustainability priorities that are different from the predominant global ones.  He also suggests that imported ‘green’ concepts fail to take into consideration ingrained conservationist behaviors that already exist in Egypt.

While I agree that each country must develop a local approach to sustainability which responds to its specific socio-economic and environmental needs, I found many of the author’s arguments to lack sufficient context, and was therefore concerned that the article could potentially result in an inaccurate representation of the state of sustainability in Egypt.

Cairo's Old City. Copyrights: Karim Elgendy

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Masdar City Masterplan Reviewed

Masdar City Masterplan. Copyright Masdar, Foster+Partners

When Masdar City was first announced in 2007 by the Masdar Initiative, it claims that, when completed, it will become the world’s first zero carbon, zero waste development, while maintaining the highest quality of living. Foster + Partners and a team of environmental consultants including WSP and Transsolar have been appointed by Masdar to design the masterplan and the first stage of the project which broke ground in February 2008.

Masdar City’s Master plan is claimed to “meet and exceed” the principals of One Planet Living (OPL), a set of ten guiding principles of sustainability, proposed in a joint initiative by WWF, the global conservation organization and Bioregional Development, whereby everyone lives within their fair share of the Earth’s resources. The principles include Zero Carbon, Zero Waste, Sustainable transport, Sustainable materials, Sustainable water, and Sustainable culture and heritage.

The project also comes in the context of a rapidly increasing population and an economic boom in Abu Dhabi which -, together with new laws opening the emirate’s real estate to the free market- led to speculation  and a housing shortage estimated in 2008 to between 35,000 and 50,000 dwelling units. This shortage has prompted the state to allocate billions for the construction of residential buildings, especially for foreign workers and western expatriates. This housing shortage has also resulted in rising house prices, which led to discussion of legislations that would introduce a 20 per cent quota for low-income housing in future developments.

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