In preparation for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm El-Sheikh, the Nile Ship for Arab Youth set sail on a 10-day voyage from Aswan to Cairo to raise awareness on climate change and water cooperation between Arab and African nations, and Nile Basin countries in particular.
On board were 120 young men and women from 13 Arab countries: Jordan, the UAE, Morocco, Bahrain, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Palestine, Mauritania, Egypt, Iraq and Algeria. The trip, from 4-14 October, was organised by the Ministry of Youth and Sports in collaboration with the Arab League and supervised by the Arab Federation for Youth and Environment.
“The Nile Ship for Arab Youth aimed to raise awareness about the Nile and its most important hydraulic projects, most notably the High Dam, Aswan reservoir, and the series of barrages from Esna and Naga Hammadi to Assiout,” said Magdi Allam, president of the Arab Federation for Youth and Environment. “It also aimed to introduce Arab youth to the various eras of Egyptian heritage and civilisation by visiting major antiquities and historical landmarks along the banks of the Nile. The passengers also took part in lectures and workshops on green culture and its relationship with climate change.”
More generally, Allam said, the programme sought to promote the exchange of expertise and experience in green development, generate a climate conducive to the creation of joint projects and programmes between Egyptian and Arab youth, unify views on common Arab issues and formulate proposals for further cooperation between youths in Egypt and other Arab countries through scientific and cultural dialogues and workshops on climate change and green development.
According to the federation’s Secretary-General Mamdouh Rashwan, participants agreed on several points: the importance of inter-Arab collaboration in disseminating green culture, the need for waste reduction and environmentally sound waste management, the need for a collective drive to limit single-use plastic in Arab countries, and to promote suitable low-cost alternatives. He added that one of the main purposes of launching the Arab Youth Ship ahead of COP27 was to present young adults as change-makers in green culture and to give them a platform and tools to create an Arab youth agenda designed to help participants in COP27 and subsequent activities prioritise the urgent needs of Arab societies and unify ranks to combat the waste crisis, climate change and other global environmental threats.
Noureddin Farag, an expert in integrated waste management and sustainable environmental management, gave an in-depth lecture on his field of specialisation. After a general introduction to green culture and waste management, Farag explained what is involved in the implementation of a waste management strategy that minimises the consumption of resources and puts the principles of environmental sustainability into action. In the process, he discussed such concepts as waste generation reduction, reuse and recycling, energy recovery from waste and the safe disposal of hazardous waste.
Workshops on the subject covered the various uses of plastic and the environmental damage caused by single-use plastic products. Participants were given the opportunity to give presentations on their countries’ experiences in sound waste management, reducing consumption of single-use plastics and other steps towards sustainable green urban spaces in the Arab region.
Internationally reputed antiquities expert Abdel-Aziz Salah of the Faculty of Antiquities at Cairo University, who introduced participants to relics overlooking the Nile, explained how this heritage in conjunction with the Nile Valley’s natural beauty can serve as an instrument to promote collective environmental action among Arab countries and Nile Valley countries in particular. The gathering of Arab youth in this Nilotic setting achieves many aims, Salah said. It unifies ideas and concepts on many national and regional issues, offers a forum for sharing experiences and expertise, and raises awareness among Arab youth on the value of ancient Egyptian civilisation and the importance of the Nile as a crucial artery of life for Egypt.
Abbas Sharaki of the Higher Institute for African Studies at Cairo University drew attention to the fact that the Arab region is situated in the most arid part of the world. It has few rivers, with the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates being the most important. That the sources of these rivers lay outside the Arab region presented challenges, on top of the threats that climate change poses to these essential water resources.
Salah said there were increasing forms of inter-Arab cooperation to increase water resources and defend Arab water rights, especially with regard to riparian sources. In this context, he explained the challenges posed by the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and its potential impact on both Sudan and Egypt. He also discussed the Egyptian drive to overcome its water shortage through the expansion of water treatment and recycling plants, innovative irrigation techniques, lining irrigation canals to prevent seepage and other water conservation techniques.
Participants praised the dual historical-ecological aspect of the educational excursion on the Nile. As Abdel-Qader Al-Khayati, head of the Moroccan delegation, put it, “the field trips to the landmarks in which Egypt abounds were historical explorations deep into ancient Pharaonic civilisation, revealing details of daily life and scenes of heroic deeds. This eternal continuum between the past, present and future will always be linked with the concepts and activities covered by the workshops that were held by experts in environment, water resources, climate change and the carbon emissions, greenhouse gases and rising temperatures, which are currently threatening planet Earth. It is our ship through the continuum of space.”
Abdel-Malek Al-Uweidi from Jordan said that the trip, which enabled him to take part in historical and environmental activities aboard the “green ship” together with friends from other Arab and African nations, was one of the best experiences of his life.
Hamid Al-Raqimi from Yemen was equally enthusiastic about both the activities and the opportunity to meet with Egyptians who “presented their country in a manner fitting their great civilisation and people”. The success of this event was the product of “wise and capable management that was evident from day one and that does credit to Egypt which we look to as the source of inspiration for Arab youth because it takes the lead in so many fields.”
Mustafa, Maysam, Malak and Khamael of the Iraqi delegation praised the professionalism of the presentation of Egypt’s treasures in conjunction with the ways Egypt contends with various local, regional and global environmental concerns. They hoped it could be repeated for other groups of Arab and African youths. Hoda, head of the Somali delegation, seconded their view and expressed her appreciation for the attention that Egypt and its Ministry of Youth and Sports, the Arab League and the Arab Federation for Youth and Environment dedicated to young Arab and African men and women. She looked forward to visiting Egypt again to expand her knowledge and hoped that this “rewarding experience” will be expanded to other Arab and African countries.
At the end of the journey, participants expressed their gratitude to Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi for his dedication to Arab youth and for hosting the Arab and African delegations and supporting joint Arab action. They urged relevant authorities to organise activities and mechanisms that would compound the benefits of their experience, such as an international conference in an Arab country on climate change and environmental conservation, programmes to train young leaders in climate change action and awareness-raising, and an online platform for participants of the Arab youth ship to convey the knowledge they acquired to other Arab youths.
They also called for the creation of an environmental code of honour for Arab youth and an annual climate action award for young Arabs. They also called on Arab ministries of youth to give young people – “the leaders of the future” – a greater role in environmental conservation and climate action. A starting point would be to promote more effective participation of Arab youths in COP28.
A version of this article appears in print in the 3 November, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly