Green Building Blocks for a Future Palestinian State

By Lana Abu-Hijleh

While it is widely accepted that economic security plays a critical role in the stability and security of the Middle East, what is less understood is the critical link between our economic and environmental security. 

Despite being one of the smallest contributors to greenhouse gases, the Middle East is one of the regions of the world most affected by climate change. More than one billion people in the region are affected by water shortages, according to the UN Development Programme, and desertification threatens approximately one fifth of the total area of the Arab countries. These problems have an enormous impact on the region’s economies and its stability, and will only continue to worsen. Today’s arguments over oil will be overshadowed by tomorrow’s conflicts over water. It is vital, therefore, that we address these pressing environmental issues now.

Earlier this summer, at the same time President Obama launched his new climate policies for the U.S., in Al-Bireh, West Bank, we gathered 300 community leaders, investors, engineering professionals, academics and representatives of the Palestinian Authority to do something extraordinary: we rolled out the first green building guidelines for the West Bank. This achievement grew out of a partnership between the Palestinian Engineers Association and the Palestinian Higher Green Building Council, originally funded by UNDP, and now supported by Global Communities and USAID.

The guidelines represent the culmination of many years of partnership and three years of our involvement engaging engineers, government, civil society organizations, and academics in promoting green building in Palestinian communities. The first of this series of Green Building Conferences was endorsed by former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as a means of ensuring that our “economic vitality and environmental responsibility go hand in hand.”  At this milestone, we are so proud of how far we have come and so hopeful for what we aim to achieve.

Safeer Center
The Safeer Children’s Center built in the West Bank has 50% less power needs than similarly sized buildings nearby due to the use of green building techniques such as a grey water treatment system and low-cost sun-shades.

Globally, buildings account for 40 percent of carbon emissions, making them a major polluter. On the contrary, green buildings embody the principles of sustainable development, and translate to reduced water consumption, as well as reduced energy costs from heating, cooling, lighting and ventilation.  It is estimated that green buildings use 25 – 50 percent less energy compared to conventional buildings, and nearly 40 percent less in water consumption, let alone their ability to substantially reduce waste. Green building is affordable, even in the Middle East, generally costing less than 10 percent in additional expenses. These costs are offset, in turn, by the reduction in ongoing costs and the increase in productivity and health of inhabitants. We have seen these reductions firsthand in the region as a direct result of such practices as collecting rainwater for cleaning and other non-drinking purposes at schools.

In 2010, Global Communities, with USAID funding, helped construct the first building with major green elements in the West Bank – the Safeer Center – which provides children in the region a safe place to play. In the years since, we have included green building elements in more projects, and we continue to work closely with our partners in the private sector and at USAID to educate others about green building’s economic and environmental potential. Together, we aim to demonstrate the significant benefits of this approach throughout the region.

The challenges we face in the Palestinian communities are many and are well known. That is why I call upon donors worldwide, the private sector and our own government to keep the importance of investing in tomorrow at the forefront of our development agenda. Green building is but one piece of the jigsaw of approaches needed to ensure that we are environmentally secure, and that we have the economic security and stability necessary for the Palestinian people, and more broadly throughout the Middle East.

Lana Abu-HijlehLana Abu-Hijleh serves as Country Director for the West Bank and Gaza for Global Communities (formerly CHF International) and as Vice-Chair of the Palestine branch of Partners for a New Beginning.

Read more about Global Communities work in green construction here.