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Sustainability is not occasional outbursts 1/6/2013
 
 
 
Sustainability is not occasional outbursts
 
Najib Saab
 
June 2013
 
If you think that our Arab societies have bypassed the complex of “the first”, “the tallest” and “the greatest”, then you are wrong. It seems that the illusionary culture of size rather than content and serious work has wide following. To those, no conference can be important unless it is “first”, no building is an accomplishment if it is not “the tallest”, and any city implanted in the desert is worthless if it is not “the biggest”. Apparently, no consideration is given to the fact that any conference should persist after its first session; every building must be beautiful, comfortable for its occupants and efficient in consuming energy and water; and every new town created amidst the wilderness has to be harmonious with its natural environment and preserving balanced use of resources. It seems we got so used to the fast food lifestyle that we copied it in development. Unfortunately development activities have become like intermittent surges followed by tranquility. This reflects the lack of long-term sustainability planning.
 
During a lecture in an Arab capital, one of the attendees inquired about the availability of any Arabic references about the environment on the internet. I mentioned the portal launched recently by Al-Bia Wal-Tanmia (Environment and Development magazine) which includes a full archive of its contents over 18 years, in addition to the reports issued by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED). The interactive portal allows easy search in over 100,000 pages and features, with daily updates, commentaries and a host of useful links. Another participant objected saying that one Arabic website on environment came one month ahead! It turned out that the said website contains outdated promotional material on the organization which publishes it, and there was no need for dubbing it “first” to justify its existence. Whether it is first, second or even tenth, the critical requirement is to sustain and be reliable.
 
When Al-Bia Wal-Tanmia revealed its plan to expand on social networks, a certain organization hastily created a Facebook page dubbing it “official page”. In spite of the tremendous efforts exerted by the organization’s staff in adding daily items collected at random, the page’s “likers” did not exceed 100 over a period of six months, and in most days the number of visitors did not exceed one. When Al-Bia Wal-Tanmia launched its Facebook page, in March 2013 to attract debate and traffic to its portal, it did not intend to compete with any party. Yet its members surpassed a hundred thousand in 14 weeks only, with average daily visitors of over ten thousand. It is worth noting that one of the characteristics of the virtual “electronic community” is that its figures – and not only its information – are transparent.
 
Speaking of the “official” Facebook page reminds us of a report issued three years ago jointly by a group of regional and international organizations. It was meant to precede the 2008 report of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) about Arab environment. Due to a three year delay, the publishers of the report could not simply classify it as “first”, so they invented the description of “the first official and legitimate report”, as stated on the back cover. However, it is stated on page one of the same document that “it does not reflect the views of the organizations, governments, or authors.” Still, they could achieve a ‘first’ by producing an “official and legitimate report” that expresses nobody’s views!
In a similar context, a certain public servant decided to exclude an expert AFED report from the documents presented to a conference organized by the government department where he works, on the pretext that AFED is a non-governmental organization. The contradiction was that leading public institutions of his government are active observer members of AFED, and ministers from his country had been among many high ranking Arab officials who joined AFED-organized events as panelists and speakers, be it at UNFCC’s COPs, Rio+20, UNEP Global Ministerial Forum, among other high-profile meetings. Unfortunately, some Arab bureaucrats still fail to appreciate the role of a non-governmental think-tank.
 
However, the picture is not totally gloomy. Just recently, Prince Khalid bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia, Honorary President of the Arab Water Council, called upon the Council’s General Assembly meeting in Cairo to “study the AFED reports’ recommendations related to planning, research and implementation of water strategies leading to the reduction of the ecological footprint of Arab countries.” Concurrently, the Environment Public Authority in Kuwait announced a National Ecological Footprint Initiative, in the wake of hosting presentation of AFED’s report on the subject in Kuwait. The UAE was pioneer in launching its own Footprint Initiative earlier.
 
Fortunately, the illusionary habit of fascination over fictitious sizes is not the only prevalent culture in the Arab World. In fact, there are serious initiatives based on real attempts to achieve real results guided by long-term planning.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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