MSI helps Saudi Arabia create ‘contemporary oasis’

A delegation from the Monash Sustainability Institute (MSI) recently spent two weeks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia at the invitation of the High Committee for the Environment, Arriyadh Development Authority (ADA).

The ADA sought evaluation of their environmental plan for Saudi Arabia’s capital city of Riyadh, following five years of project activity, along with recommendations for their next phase of environmental programs. The scope of the 51 projects evaluated by MSI included air quality, water, waste management, natural resources and open areas, and environmental management.

Delegation leader, Professor Dave Griggs said the rapid growth of Riyadh presented a host of challenges.

“Riyadh has grown rapidly from a small city of a few hundred thousand people to one approaching six million. This, and its desert location, has brought enormous challenges, including water, sanitation, air quality and the general health and well being of Riyadh’s people,” he said.

Saudi Arabia has abundant energy resources, but burgeoning energy demand, including the substantial costs of providing water from desalination plants some 400km away, could present increasing challenges in the near future.

Indeed, the nexus of water and energy is critical for the desert city, which has been traditionally dependent on now mostly depleted ground water. The vision for Riyadh promoted by ADA is for a contemporary oasis city in harmony with the desert environment through wise use of technology and urban planning to create an environmentally responsive model.

MSI Behavior Works Director, Dr Liam Smith, said much has to be done to change the view of water conservation in Riyadh.

“There are few incentives in Saudi Arabia for effective water and energy conservation as both are virtually free to consumers. Non-market based approaches to behaviour change will be necessary to encourage conservation,” he said.

MSI Chief Research Officer, Dr Paul McShane, said the expertise of the MSI will help develop workable solutions for Riyadh.

“MSI’s interdisciplinary approach is well suited to evaluation of ADA’s environmental plan and to presenting a strategic template for sustainable urban planning. Climate change, high density urban population, waste management, energy and water are shared challenges. Solutions will include technology compatible with socio-cultural norms responsive to sustainable development,” he said.

The delegation will return in May to present its preliminary findings.