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

Sustainable Development and the Built Environment in the Middle East: Challenges and Opportunities

Karim Elgendy

In the western context, notions of sustainable development often refer to the need to adjust existing economic models in order to maintain better balances between economic growth and social needs, while protecting local ecologies and reducing the negative impact of growth on the global environment.

In the developing world, however, sustainable development takes on a rather different meaning. With the agendas of developing nations focused on addressing basic developmental challenges such as economic growth, water scarcity, food security, and health, other environmental and social aspects are considered secondary at best and for the most part a luxury that a developing nation cannot afford.

The Environment and the Middle East – Pathways to Sustainability – Volume 1.

In the absence of functioning economic models in the developing world, sustainable development here is not about adjustments to maintain balances. Instead, it is about using this economical tabula rasa to build the foundations of a new economic model in which sustainability and the environment are integral. One of these economical foundations is the built environment.

The built environment of our cities plays a major role in shaping the way we live and work, and given its relatively long lifespan its impact is long lasting. Our buildings determine how much energy we use to maintain thermal comfort while our infrastructures determine how much energy we need for transportation. It is estimated that 40% of carbon emissions worldwide is produced from the occupation of buildings with at least a portion of transportation’s 20% share being a consequence of the way our cities are planned.

Our built environment also influences our impact on the local environment as well as our collective health and wellbeing. Thus, as the cities of the developing world continue to grow, they continue to make decisions about the direction their development takes.

In the Middle East, the role of the built environment is becoming more pronounced as the region continues to experience rapid population increases and urbanization. Increased urban densities together with the rise of consumerism, have not only led to an increase in environmental degradation locally, but they have also meant that the region’s traditionally low energy use — and consequently carbon emissions– are set to rise and to play a larger role in global climate change.

But embracing sustainable development in the Middle East faces many challenges which prevent it from becoming part of the region’s development framework and its building industry practices.

Continue reading Sustainable Development and the Built Environment in the Middle East: Challenges and Opportunities