OpinionMiddle East

Five lessons Israel can learn from the UAE on water conservation

While many Middle Eastern countries face states of emergency due to severe water shortages, the UAE is coping rather well.

The Dead Sea, Nov. 5, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
The Dead Sea, Nov. 5, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Noam Bedein
Noam Bedein

The signing of the Abraham Accords agreement on Sept. 15, 2020, has created an extraordinary opportunity for the State of Israel to develop its regional relations, especially with the Gulf States. The opportunities that the agreements have opened up have led to ongoing curiosity and excitement among all involved, and in particular among Israelis and Emiratis.

In the past year, I have come to learn the steps that the United Arab Emirates has taken in the fight against the climate crisis, and about its vision for a modern, progressive, water-sustainable country. Israelis can learn much from the UAE with regard to their efforts to save their own extraordinary natural wonder: the Dead Sea.

In many countries of the Middle East, water crises constitute a dire state of emergency. Arab countries are facing a water crisis that threatens their ability to meet the needs of their citizens. Since 2014, 13 countries in the Middle East and North Africa have been in a state of water shortage. The UAE, on the other hand, has an advanced water economy based on advanced technology and is coping very well with its water challenges.

In fact, the Dubai Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure recently formulated a water strategy for 2036, designed to ensure continuous and equal access to water under normal and extreme conditions and at affordable prices.

Following the Abraham Accords, I established the Middle East Ecotourism Department of the Dead Sea Revival Project (DSRP), which aims to promote regional environmental tourism between the countries, focused on the issue of water sustainability.

Thanks to companies such as Gulf Red Med, a flagship in regional collaboration, I was given the opportunity to visit the UAE to research and explore their solutions for access to clean and sustainable water.

Areas in which Israel can learn from the UAE for the purpose of saving and preserving the Dead Sea include:

1. Education

The UAE has a large youth population, even boasting an official Youth Ministry. Sustainability and environmental education in the UAE are highly advanced. Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City is a global pioneer in sustainable development and a leader in the field of Sustainability Education for students from the UAE, Middle East and the world.

In Dubai, I was hosted by Ben Hren, environmental education adviser to the ecological Arbor School, to explore the school’s unique approach to eco-literacy. The school’s innovative facilities were impressive. Students spend time outside the classroom learning about the school’s collection of rescued animals and tropical plants, while actively partaking in building a sustainable future for all.

Due to the success of these visits, the DSRP is currently working on a Middle East student leadership program on water sustainability in Israel. The Dead Sea will be the main case study, a microcosm of water crises in the region.

2. Mangrove forestation

While the emirates are each culturally distinct, they share one common feature: mangroves. Each emirate has its own conservation project for its mangrove trees.

These trees absorb up to five times more carbon than those found in traditional rainforests. Mangroves make for wonderfully productive ecosystems. They are key contributors to nature-based solutions for water filtration, beach stabilization and protection, as well as being good sources for building materials and energy.

The DSRP is examining a research climate study for planting mangrove forests on the shores of the Dead Sea, and the effect it might have on the sinkhole phenomenon and the formation of precipitation over the Dead Sea area.

3. Environmental art

The billion-dollar Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum, which gives the illusion of floating on water, is reminiscent of the Dead Sea’s Virtual Art Museum that showcases that the Dead Sea Wonder belongs to the world. This museum, the largest in the Arabian Peninsula, inspired myself and DSRP co-founder Ari Fruchter to continue to promote an architecturally iconic design for the physical Dead Sea Art Museum in Arad, which will overlook the Dead Sea.

4. Environmental tourism and ‘glamping’

One of the highlights of my time in the UAE was a visit to the Mysk Kingfisher Retreat, one of the region’s leading tourist destinations.

The 20 modern lodges were constructed in compliance with the highest global standards of green and sustainable building, minimizing the impact on the surrounding environment, which features turtle nesting sites, gazelles and rare bird species found only in this part of the world.

With an ambiance of luxury and convenience, the Kingfisher Lodge was built within the Mangrove Nature Reserve in the heart of Kalba, overlooking the Indian Ocean and the forest of mangroves that surrounds the lodge.

This environmental tourism project, located in the Emirate of Sharjah, sets the standard for sustainable development that the DSRP must promote for the northern Dead Sea, which suffers from declining sea levels, as well as sinkholes.

5. Culture as a bridge to promote water diplomacy

Recently, I received an invitation from the founder of the Crossroads of Civilizations Museum in Dubai to present a photo-art exhibition on the Dead Sea in honor of World Water Day, to be held in March 2022. This museum is the only one in the Middle East to display a Holocaust pavilion and historical items belonging to Jews from Arab countries.

Besides the Dead Sea exhibition, I was asked to organize a special event emphasizing water conservation in the Middle East, in an attempt to connect the story of the Dead Sea to other water treasures of the region.

Israel and the UAE are both considered regional (and even global) leaders when it comes to water solutions. The Abraham Accords have created a mutual opportunity for both countries. The time has come for us to learn from our new regional friends, and apply those lessons, firstly to the Dead Sea and later also to other natural water resources, in Israel and throughout the Middle East, that are in desperate need of sustainable rehabilitation and management.

Noam Bedein is an Israeli photojournalist, international speaker and environmental artist. In 2016, he founded the Dead Sea Revival Project.

This is an edited version of an article first published by “The Khaleej Times.”

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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