Monday, May 26, 2008

Kuwait Received a U.S. Environmental Award

On May 24th, Kuwait received the award for "Protection of the Ozone Layer," by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the United States. This award is given annually to member countries of the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol. I wonder how much of a difference Kuwait has made in this effort, and what other countries it beat out for this award. They did mention in the article that Kuwait's National Ozone Committee an intergovernmental agency established in 1986, which I had never heard of prior to this story, was taking part in a workshop on alternatives to a chemical that is damaging to the ozone layer used in the production of dates. this committee was also recognized for successfully implementing an action plan to convert ODS (Ozone Depleting Substances) consumer sectors to ozone-friendly technologies.

According to the statistics in the article,
"the Ozone Depletion Potential or the relative amount of degradation to the ozone layer a chemical compound can cause, decreased from 4,068 in 1986 to 349 in 2002, a rate of 91 percent downfall of Kuwait’s ODS consumption." However, I quoted this because it was hard for me to make sense out of it for some reason.

Kuwait was recognized for its "unique" licencing controls and monitoring of ODS consumption in addition to its supporting awareness campaigns to ensure all stakeholders to effectively carry out their roles to fulfill Montreal Protocol obligations, although it did not elaborate what those campaigns were.
It went further to point out that Kuwait is planning to table a paper on alternative cooling systems. It also stated that Kuwait is one of the first countries to adopt strict controls on importing and licensing of ozone-depleting machines in cooperation with banks and customs. My question is, is this enough? Can Kuwait do much more?


Kuwait and the Environmental Public Authority

To give you the background information about what the Environmental Public Authority is before I discuss about it, here is a statement I drew from the EPA website:
"EPA provides leadership in the nation's environmental science, research, education and assessment efforts. EPA works closely with other federal agencies and local governments, to develop and enforce regulations under existing environmental laws. EPA is responsible for researching and setting national standards for a variety of environmental programs , and monitoring and enforcing compliance. Where national standards are not met, EPA can issue sanctions and take other steps to assist the state in reaching the desired levels of environmental quality. The Authority also works with industries and all levels of government in a wide variety of voluntary pollution prevention programs and energy conservation efforts ("

When I began my study of Kuwait and the environment and my internship with Equilibrium, (, I quickly discovered that in spite of Kuwait's wealth and the great development in Kuwait and throughout the Gulf region, there was a large gap between the problems Kuwait is facing with regards to environmental issues and true steps of action by the government in addressing them. However, I have noticed that recently, the amount of articles related to environmental issues has greatly risen. One article in particular that struck my attention was regarding the governmental body of Kuwait, the Environmental Public Authority.

I agree that the establishment of the authority was a great step taken in the right direction with regards to Kuwaiti policy, however there is still a lot of room for development and improvement. The EPA is limited in what it can do with regards to enforcing action against companies and individuals exploiting the environment. I posted earlier suggesting some steps towards improving the situation, but I also came across another great idea suggested by a senior official of the EPA. It was encouraging to find an article about someone thinking in this way within the leadership of the EPA itself. It unfortunately helped further confirm my concern that the EPA is not yet where it should be. While EPA seems to be doing a lot for the environment if you look at their web site and you read everything they have posted there, there is little concrete information regarding actual changes they have made in addressing the environmental issues in Kuwait, and possibly because of lack of authority because of lack of sufficient environmental legislation among other factors.

One of my suggestions with regards to Kuwaiti Environmental Policy was building more bridges between the public and private sector and finding ways to promote the private sector and sustainable growth in terms of the environment. The General Maanager of the Department for Monitoring Air pollution, Dr. Saud Al-Rashid was the one who proposed that the EPA become privatized and independent of the government so that it can play a "more effective" and complete role. He also suggested similar to what I did earlier that the government create a department such as the "Ministry of Development, Panning and Environment," although I think there should also be a permanent Environmental Affairs Committeee in the National Assembly.

He stated that the problems that he saw with the EPA at present were its "lack of clear organizational structure and lack of regional and strategically located offices for monitoring the situation in Kuwait properly." He also gave a great suggestion with regards to involving youth, and it would be excellent if someone could come up with an actual implementable plan to get more youth to join the efforts of the EPA and even become an active part of it.

Another suggestion he made was to increase the budget so they can buy the equipment and technology the EPA needs to properly monitor and assess the situation of the environment in Kuwait. I think this would be something that could connect with promoting the private sector. I have met a few people who have created innovative tools for waste management that would help to turn the situation around for Kuwait and even all of the Gulf countries. The doctor was also concerned that the EPA lacks a strong foundation with regards to strategy and addressing the environment, and he also stressed that the last time the committee for environmental affairs was last active in 2006 as well as the Higher council for the Environment, which is a great concern in itself.
Al-Sayed, Hamed, Al Watan News, May 25. 2006

Monday, May 19, 2008

Kuwait Parliamentary Elections إنتخابات مجلس الأمة 2008

This semester I decided to take Kuwait Politics & Government so I could learn more about how government works in the gulf region and understand the system in Kuwait in case I plan to do business here someday it is good to know. I also wanted to learn more about Kuwait in general and politics and government was a great place to start, and my experience at American University of Kuwait where I was very active in the community and with Model United Nations also inspired me to learn more about political science in general. I remember when the members of parliament were drilling the Minister of Kuwait and many of us AUK students went to the steps of parliament in support of her. But never did I imagine that this Kuwait politics class would compliment my internship with Equilibrium and my passion for environmental sustainability like it has.
It all began when I was learning in the class about the Legislative Branch of the Kuwaiti government and the Parliament and its committees. It is made up of about 11 permanent committees and about 8 ad-hoc or temporary committees. I noticed that the environmental committee was temporary. I found it strange that it would be a temporary committee, as if the environment is only an issue sometimes. I asked myself why isn't it permanent when there exist so many environmental issues in Kuwait? I knew there was the Environmental Public Authority on the Executive Branch side, but where was the voice for the people in parliament with regards to the environment? I later learned that the last time this committee was active was in 2006! It would seem that it was made just to put out fires, but when it comes to addressing environmental issues, being PRO-ACTIVE is the most efficient (in all senses of the word) way to go. It is true that there are many important aspects of Kuwait that the parliament has failed to address well and that many of the committees have major issues, but as one MP himself commented, "the Environment Committee never convened even once."
Soon after learning about the parliamentary structure in Kuwait, the emir historically dissolved the parliament as is his constitutionally given right to do. This happened for many reasons including that the MPs were not cooperating with the Ministers and as a result many issues were not being resolved. When the emir dissolves parliament, according to the constitution, they must hold elections for new MPs within 3 months. It was very exciting to see the whole process first-hand. I took advantage to do my best to spread awareness about the environment in Kuwait and getting voters to ask their candidates about the environment and to vote for candidates who had knowledge about this and to push for an environmental committee.
For our class project, we had to select a committee and relate a topic from it to Kuwaiti policy and debate about it. My partner and I chose this environmental committee and planned to debate about whether or not the environmental policy in Kuwait needed to be improved. We had to do research for this project but we soon came to realize it is very hard to find any real data on the environment. Few organizations and government agencies are willing to share with others this information, possible for fear it will be later held against them in one way or another. Sadly this is the wrong mentality to have about this information. It should be accessible by all through a common database so change can happen and improvements on the situation can be made. It is hard to make change when the supporting data to show that there really do exist serious issues cannot be accessed.
This became a campaign for us. We spent hours online and going around to various advocacy groups, companies, parliamentary candidates, professors and government organizations trying to piece together some information about Kuwait's environmental situation. After our work, I ended up creating a five step policy proposal for legislation as a part of my presentation for the class. I also included an short video slide show on Kuwait and the environment, which you can view at the top of my blog.
This weekend the elections were held and I hope that some of those who won will work to get some of what I proposed into action, especially making a permanent environmental committee. I met today a young lady whose uncle won the position for head of the Housing Affairs committee in parliament. I told her to tell her uncle to push for more "Green Buildings and Green Real Estate." She is studying engineering at Kuwait University and I told her, if they increase in this area, there will also be an increase in jobs for engineers as new "green" technologies grow in number, and a need for engineers to structure such projects will be more in demand. Check this link to see won of the winners of the parliamentary elections celebrating, Kuwaiti Style! :)
May this new Parliament be the best yet. But it will also depend on how active the people of Kuwait are in holding them accountable and not just in sitting in on the parliament but making sure to keep tabs on the MPs as well. The point of the parliament is a link between the people and government, so the people still play an active role in this and the MPs are merely the representatives of the people, so it is essentially a team effort.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Green Culture

Salam alaikom,
I am back to Kuwait after my quick trip to the USA. It was very therapeutic to spend a few days back in the green paradise of Washington state. The air was so crisp and fresh and the skies were a brilliant blue. It felt so nice to sit in the grass under the trees on my university campus again. here is a pic of my campus.

I never noticed how green my campus or even my city was until I saw it for the first time after spending almost one year in the desert climate of Kuwait.

I also noticed that people really care about the environment. I even noticed this in Europe when I had a 8 hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany, as well as in the capital of the USA, Washington, DC where I spent a day visiting with my good friend.

Everywhere I turned I found a recycling bin or a sign promoting environmentally friendly actions. It was everywhere, from the hundreds of bicyclers and skateboarders on my university campus, to the hybrid electric cars driving down the street, new light rail systems, to benefit concerts to raise awareness about such topics as solar power and debates on CNN about which presidential candidate is more green. It seemed to me that green was everywhere I looked.

I remember a time when people were more conscious about the idea of recycling and saw it as a great alternative to just dumping their waste. But now it has become a part of the culture. It is difficult NOT to find recycle bins around. They are everywhere I look from the Fedex Kinko's to the airport to the school copy room, and even along the streets one can find recycle bins. There are many alternatives to cars with regards to public transportation and not only is it convenient it is less polluting on the environment and produces less traffic.

Green has become so popular that is even a fashion statement now. Everywhere I looked in the malls I could find t-shirts that say "recycle" or "green is the new black" or "i love organic." Even the mannequins in the window of the mall shops were promoting environmental websites.
It is actually "cool" to not ride a car to the university at the University of Washington. Before, only people who could not afford a car and a few green-conscious folk used to ride bikes or skate boards to school. It almost had a stigma attached to it, but now, it is a status thing if you ride your bike or carry your skateboard around campus. People are carrying their skateboards into class decorated with many different styles and stickers, some of which say to recycle or other environmental causes. It has become cool to be a preppy student and have a skateboard in hand at the same time. Who would have thought those categories would have gone together? I remember a time when students were judged on how cool of a ride they had, now this is not as much of a factor anymore and that is a refreshing change.

I don't know if this could happen in Kuwait since it would not be very fun to ride to school on a bike in 130 degree heat. So what would be the alternative for them someday? Maybe electric cars and a solar powered city! I know that Kuwait is planning a new city. Wouldn't it be cool if Kuwait, being one of the world's largest oil exporters, is one of the first countries to switch to electric cars? It would be nice to see as well as innovative and creative. Anything is possible.

I noticed that it is getting harder and harder to see any type of trash laying around. Every photo I took of my campus for example was void even of a candy wrapper or pepsi can.

I was relieved to find recycle bins even in airports. The bins in Germany had them even in multiple languages so passengers getting off their planes could dump their empty plastic containers, wrappers or newspapers into the bins without any confusion.

As for riding on the planes, there was not much waste other than that which was connected with eating. My advice for lowering the amount of waste produced is to pack a lunch. Just be sure to avoid any fresh foods like fruits and vegetables because they could affect the agriculture in other countries in addition to it being prohibited. Try brining nuts and raisins and a peanut butter sandwich or anything that will give you energy and protein. Keep in mind that traveling takes a lot out of you so eat well before you leave the house, something light but at the same time nutritious.

Be sure to hydrate as well because you will have to dump your water bottle as they are not allowed on the flight. I think they allow empty bottles, so you can bring your thermos but be sure to drink whatever is in it before you go through security. Bringing your own lunch in reusable containers will not only be healthier, you will avoid all the waste from the on-flight meals and snacks and the candy bar wrappers from the shops along the way. If you do have any waste, be sure to hold on to it in a bag until you get off the plane where you will most likely find recycle bins in the airport. I definitely saw them in every airport I was in.

Speaking of producing waste, another way to avoid it is to make sure you are not carrying any cosmetics containing liquid in your carry on or make sure they are each smaller than 3 ounces and fit into a ziploc bag. If you don't take care about this, you will end up losing money and producing waste when they ask you to throw away all your products before passing through security. I saw so many trash bins full of peoples' water bottles, cosmetics, creams and hygiene products next to security, so be sure to remember this point.

I hope that someday we can see all this happening in Kuwait and the rest of the Arab world.
If green-consciousness can appear in other countries, it can happen in the Middle East too. I have a lot of faith in the Arab people to adopt more socially and environmentally conscious practices after seeing how it has become a part of the culture in other places, something they now take for granted, just like brushing teeth before going to bed or turning off the faucet after filling a glass of water.

Here are some pics from my travels:

How Can Sustainability and Social Responsibility Contribute to the Future of the Middle East?

With their potential for economic growth and their financial wealth, Kuwait and the rest of the Gulf countries have the potential to become front runners in the Middle East in considering the environment and social responsibility, and I hope to help them to start that foundation.
The Middle East is a fascinating place with so much cultural richness and financial prosperity. People of the region are increasingly growing aware of the changing climate of business and of the world as a result of globalization and as such there is growing potential for development here. We can see already a substantial amount of growth and innovation in a very short period of time through the example of Dubai. Unfortunately, one area that still lacks a greater awareness is the environment and how it is being impacted by the current practices of companies and individuals. This problem affects all aspects of life from physical health to the natural beauty of the region. This problem however can also be viewed as a treasure box of opportunity for those who have vision and initiative and wish to consider sustainable concepts and how they can adopt them in their businesses.

I chose this cause because I love the Middle East. I am originally from Latin America and study in the University of Washington and I am studying abroad in Kuwait. I had so much success here and fell in love with the region so much that I was looking for a way I could give back to a place that had given me so much. I realized quickly that the region overall had great issues with regards to the environment. The beautiful beaches of the gulf were littered with garbage, there were little if any recycling programs, no awareness campaigns and lesson plans for the schools with regards to the environment, all of the landfills were unplanned and unlined and the waste seeping into the soil and polluting the storm water drains. Yet I could not understand how such a wealthy country with the financial means to take care of this issue and with a government committee assigned to the environment was allowing this to be this way. I decided I would try to see how I can help make a change for the better just as many countries have also done with regards to such issues as waste management such as the UK.