The Middle East region qualifies as one of the driest and most water-scarce parts of the planet. It also has low internal resources and an increasing demand for water as its population grows. The internal renewable water resources of the area are estimated at 609 m3 per year per capita compared to a world figure of 6080 m3. Due to the fact its water supplies are about ten times lower than the rest of the world’s, the Middle East currently faces severe challenges posed by both climate change and lack of water. (1)
Drought of drying up?
Not only is the Middle East hot and dry at the present day – evidence suggests that the global warming trend in the Middle East is occurring at a rate one-and-a-half times faster than the global warming average. This pervasive trend shows no signs of stopping. In recent decades, the climate in the Middle East has become warmer and drier, and temperatures have increased about 3- 4 % each decade. (2)
It appears the drought is not temporary, it will probably continue for at least several decades, and that some of its effects will be irreversible. This is why some argue that the Middle East is “drying up” – signalling that the current condition is not a long-term drought event, but rather a new normality that needs to be taken into account in future planning. This assumption could change the nature of the governance structure and development targets and policies in the region. (2)
How to act?
The traditional methods of desalination – harvesting seawater and removing the salt - are costly and therefore inefficient in a time of increasing water shortages and rising consumption. This also effects the carbon footprint, which is a problem since Middle Eastern countries are already at the top of the list of largest per capita ecological footprints. Data shows that Qatar has the highest per capita level of carbon dioxide emissions, at 44 metric tons per person annually. Kuwait is second with 30.3 tons, followed by the UAE with 22.6. Therefore, energy efficiency in water resource managing in this area is critical. (3)
The technology that can clearly mitigate many of the drying effects of climate change is green infrastructure. Landscaping solutions and green building elements can prove essential in both water conservation and cooling efforts while also lowering energy costs, reducing emissions and waste. (1)
Photo: Urbanscape® Landscaping Applications
Urban landscaping as Green Infrastructure
Urban green infrastructure planning can make a major contribution improving environmental quality and reducing the ecological footprint, adapting cities to climate change, and promoting social cohesion. (4) Several green infrastructure techniques can be employed by both urban planners and individuals to help combat the local rise in temperatures and conserve precious water. As cities are usually made of darker materials like concrete and asphalt, they absorb more energy from the sun and therefore heat up more quickly than the surrounding vegetated countryside. By incorporating gardens, green roofs and green walls, solar radiation is reflected rather than absorbed. By including shade producing street trees into the streetscape, sidewalks and buildings can be shaded from the sun. Green infrastructure also encourages evaporative cooling at the street level. These methods help reduce the ambient temperature of the local microclimate and mitigate the overall urban heat island effect, providing an overall healthier climate. (5)
Water saving techniques in landscaping
Landscape irrigation consumes huge amount of potable water, but the consumption can be reduced significantly through innovative solutions. This includes employing combination of water-efficient irrigation technology, reduced turf or no turf grasses, using non-potable or recycled water, installing sub-meters to track and log irrigation trend and choosing native and adapted plant species in landscape design. High performance water efficient irrigation systems such as drip irrigation, bubbler distribution systems, scheduled irrigation and weather-based irrigation systems increase the water efficiency. (6)
How much water can be saved using Urbanscape® solutions?
Green infrastructure landscaping solutions have many benefits for hot and arid environments, but the need for irrigation can quickly defeat the purpose of water saving efforts. This is why Urbanscape® has undertaken case studies in Kuwait and in Abu Dhabi to determine the best and most efficient way of designing landscaping solutions for the region. (7)
Photo: Case Study Kuwait
The first of many challenges was maintaining the needed water pressure for irrigation. This pressure variation can be damaging to the performance of plants. The terrain in question was also sloped and very porous, which means the water quickly trickles deep in to the ground, making it unavailable to the plants. Due to high temperatures and dry climate, evaporation levels are also extremely high in the area. (7)
Nevertheless, through careful and informed design, we were able to obtain potential water savings up to 40 %, with the average for an Urbanscape® Green Roll only 2 cm thick between 20 % and 30 %. In short – we managed to reduce water consumption for irrigation by about a third! This was achieved by using our innovative materials – our solutions use a high quality mineral substrate with superior water retention properties. Water can thus be stored in the substrate layer and afterwards plants can access it as needed. (7)
Photos: Dubai Opera Garden
Another challenging project was designing a massive green roof - the Dubai Opera Garden. We were dealing with a limited soil profile to avoid putting stress on the lightweight construction below. Due to high evaporation rates in the area, plants would struggle with irrigation only 2 times a day. This in turn spurred the exploration of low evaporation solutions. The entire roof also had to be designed as a walkable park with steps and terraces that lead from ground to the top of the roof. It had to be taken into account that foot-traffic could damage the vegetation. Additionally, only 20 cm of growing media was available. (7)
The resulting project was realized with an astonishingly thin 10 cm profile using 4 cm of our mineral wool and 6 cm of the local „sweet soil“. The edging effect due to narrow planting spaces has also been minimized. Irrigation needs were successfully reduced to 8 l/m2 per day instead of the proposed 13-15 l/m2 per day, and to demonstrate the area was perfectly walkable and resilient to damage, a promotional football game was played on the roof with participation of famous football players like Pele and Desailly! (Read about the event: https://bit.ly/33Qpg2f) (7)
In order to obtain more information about the implementation of Urbanscape® products in various different climates, you are welcome to visit our projects page: https://www.urbanscape-architecture.com/projects/.
Blog written by: Ana Belčič, Studio Miao
(1) New estimates of water footprint for animal products in fifteen countries of the Middle East and North Africa (2010–2016): Roya Mourad (a), Hadi H. Jaafar (a,∗), Nuhad Daghir (b) / (a) Department of Agriculture, Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences, American University of Beirut, Bliss St., Beirut, 2020-1100, Lebanon / (b) Agricultural and Food Sciences, American University of Beirut, Bliss St., Beirut, 2020-1100, Lebanon
(3) The Modality of Climate Change in the Middle East: Drought or Drying up? - Nasser Karami Department of Geography, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim
(4) Urban Landscapes and Green Infrastructure - Stephan Pauleit, Rieke Hansen, Emily Lorance Rall, Teresa Zölch, Erik Andersson, Ana Catarina Luz, Luca Szaraz, Ivan Tosics, and Kati Vierikko Subject: Environment and Human Health, Management and Planning, Online Publication Date: Jun 2017 DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780199389414.013.23
(6) Water Conservation Strategies for Middle East - Sunanda Swain | December 7, 2018 - https://www.ecomena.org/water-conservation-middle-east/
(7) Urbanscape® Green Solutions - Products, Systems and Concepts for 100% Green city – presentation, December 2018