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On sustainability and environment

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Creative: Dar Al Athar Al Islamiyyah, writer, artist and food columnist

Albert Harvey Pincis

Having achieved a certain level of fame or notoriety for my weekly food column on LivinQ8. com, the most logical subject matter for After Iftar seemed a food article and several recipes suggested themselves. Iftar and Ghabka are, after all a good time to both reflect on food and fasting and also cooking for others and sharing meals.

My great employer, Sheikha Hussa Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah has rightly remarked that food is culture. It is culture. My previous editor-in-chief, Mme Fatma Hussein, is equally, certainly has been, anxious to promote Kuwait and culture as something international.

If we do not understand and do something about how we exist we can go to Hell in a handcart as the forces of nature are rather more powerful than we are and rich or poor we are both affected democratically and have a share in the world. Just before Ramadan, a couple of unrelated events happened to cause me to rethink that my subject matter should be sustainability and the environment.

One such event was a visit by a couple of Latvians who had previously been part of a delegation to Kuwait with the Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The other event was trying unsuccessfully to place my glass bottles in the recycling bin close to the Amricani Cultural Centre and the Evangelical Church. What the two have in common are reflections on sustainability and how many of us misuse, in some cases, finite resources and along with the serious crisis of global warming, further worldwide threats to such things as food security, let alone a clean environment. All quite important issues to reflect on after Iftar, or indeed, at any other time. To start with Latvia; after the 2003 removal of Saddam, Latvia was a coalition partner and as such potentially had a role in the reconstruction of Iraq.

Many Kuwaiti businessmen were naturally keen to play an important part in the process, for logistical reasons as well as having localised knowledge.

For my part, I had knowledge of the capabilities of Latvian firms in their ability to compete in terms of technical expertise, quality and price and some idea of the major political players on the Latvian side who were putting together a consortium to bid for projects.

Of course, some of the major projects involved water desalination plants and the like. So far, so good. Or so bad. You may well ask why so bad? The answer was bad for two reasons, one that despite my efforts, there was no meeting of minds between the project planners in this part of the world and the engineers who were supposed to deliver, but the exercise also exposed a more serious issue, one of the absolute waste of many vital water resources in the Gulf region.

Latvia, like other Baltic and Scandinavian countries that surround it, is rich in water; rain, rivers and lakes make up a rich freshwater landscape that feeds rich and diverse agricultural and forestry based economies, with water to spare. The sales engineers knew what an average human being needs in terms of water and what a town or city needed to support its infrastructure.

The figures we supplied were ‘wrong’, i.e. way too high. I am afraid we are the cause of the ‘wrong’ figures. We water our plants in the middle of the day when the water is hot and will evaporate rather than soak into the soil.

One Emirati I met in Al Ain boasted he had an underground reservoir the size of his rather large lawn and as he was not paying for water it was fine. The fact is, Al Ain has a falling water table and nothing with which to replenish it.

In the last weeks, we had a lot of sand and dust. What I saw, and not just then, were people hosing down the dust instead of sweeping the sand away and then polishing with a damp cloth. This scene is repeated daily and over a period of decades it is hardly surprising water tables, especially in an arid region, are falling.

Some of these issues are governmental, but we, that is, you and me can be responsible. We can be kind to the environment. We can feed our plants with ‘dirty’ water, that is water we have washed our vegetables or rice in. Do we leave our taps running or even dripping when there is no need? It is easy for any of us to turn around and ask what difference we as one person can make.

The answer is that we as human beings are powerful and that together we can make a positive difference. If everyone reading this article becomes more conscious of how we use water, infl uence can spread. The bottles are another example.

The bottle bank near the church is a general garbage dump, as is the bank for plastics and for paper and for metal. Again, it is easy to walk away and suggest it is someone else’s responsibility. However, we are part of society. We are part of the community, the local community and the world community.

In many countries there is an actual market for recycled goods. Many companies, and the number has grown over several decades, boast that their packaging is made from 100% recycled paper or whatever, so what may have seemed like a cranky hobby in the 1970s has become mainstream.

In conclusion, we can all make a difference and what the poet John Donne wrote is as relevant now, if not more so than in 1643. “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were”.


By Albert Harvey Pincis