5bn people expected to live in urban areas by 2030, raising environmental concerns

By the end of this year a first-time record of 3.3 billion people, more than half of the world’s population, are expected to live in urban areas according to the UN.  This was announced in a documentary entitled “Eco-Cities, Sustainable cities for the Future” launched by IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature – West Asia/Middle East Regional Office and Ministry of Environment during the Eco-Cities of the Mediterranean 2008 conference held in Jordan from 18-20 October, 2008.

The idea about this documentary, funded by the IUCN global Water and Nature Initiative (WANI), came from the pressing need to address the concept of sustainable cities or eco-cities as a solution for all the environmental and economic challenges facing cities in the Middle East and North Africa  T

The film focuses on the environmental challenges, current actions and future plans in Jordan and Egypt. Highlighting the issues of water quality and scarcity, solid waste, urbanization and air pollution the documentary also tackles the solutions and actions to face those environmental challenges such as renewable energy, water treatment and harvesting, solid waste management and recycling and the results of those solutions not only on the environment, but also on the economy and society. 

“I think all of us have responsibilities to look very seriously at the impacts of our actions on the environment. And if we don’t, then the future of our children and grandchildren will be bleak,” HRH Prince Hamza bin Al Hussein of Jordan said in the Eco-Cities documentary.

“The cost of environmental degradation in Jordan and in the Arab World is around 5% of the GDP, so once we reduce that through better environmental management, we improve our economy,” according to HE Khaled Al Irani, Jordanian Minister of Environment.

“I believe eco-cities is a process rather than a product; it is a way of life. It is an approach that people need to change their lives and worldviews in order to make sure that harmony between nature, people and markets is taking place,” says Dr Odeh Al-Jayyousi, IUCN West Asia/Middle East Regional Director.

According to the 25-minute documentary, Jordan’s annual water supply is 900 MCM, while the demand is 1500 MCM.  The majority of the deficit comes from the unsustainable groundwater use. “More than 65% of our water in Jordan is used for irrigation,” says HE Khaled Al Irani, Jordanian Minister of Environment.

 16 million people living in Cairo depend on the Nile. Yet its river basins are subject to untreated sewage and industrial effluence. “We are trying to save the quality of water of the Nile, but our main concern is industrial waste,” says Dr Mawaheb Abul Azm, CEO Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency. Before 2001, 100 MCM of untreated industrial waste were dumped into the Nile each year according to governmental figures. However, inspections and enforcing environmental laws have stopped industries polluting the river.

According to the UNDP, 720 billion tons of urban solid waste are produced every year. Municipalities can spend as much as 30% of their budget on waste disposal. The film showcases the Azhar Park, in Cairo that has taken more than 10 years to transform it from a former rubbish dump into a 30 Hectare park.

The growing population has an insatiable hunger for energy, this leads to more fuel burning, and thus more CO2 emissions. And with the rising cost of fuel and its environmental impacts means alternative sources of energy are becoming more viable and necessary. “We have about 310 mega watts already connected to the national grid and we have a strategy to reach 20% by 2020 from renewable energy,” says Abdel Rahman Salah El Din, Executive Chairman of New Renewable Energy Authority in Egypt.

“We import 96% of our energy from outside Jordan. Last year, the cost was about 2.6 billion USD. Renewable energy should be one of the major contributor for energy, it is going to be about 10% by 2020,” says Malek Kabariti, President of the National Energy Research Center in Jordan.

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