THE BLOG

Obesity, Water Scarcity, Unemployment and Why Qatar Needs to Look at Its History for a Solution

17/03/2013 11:43 GMT | Updated 16/05/2013 10:12 BST

In my research article Approaching the Mirage: Innovative responses to Water Scarcity in MENA which I wrote last year I talked about the serious concerns around water scarcity in Qatar with the highest usage of water per capita globally and water consumption growing at more than twice the rate of population growth. Qatar has only a 48-hour emergency water supply and in a bid to resolve this issue is desperately building one desalination plant after another bearing the high economical and environmental costs associated with this.

We discussed why Qatar should consider more innovative solutions, which target the reasons for the serve shortage and remove Qatar from the list of highest usage of water per capita. For example, in agriculture water irrigation consumes 60-65% of total water resources in Qatar. Greater awareness and encouragement of innovation in this sector could result in more efficient systems being created. An additional 30-35% of water is wasted in the distribution system and infrastructure network through leakage etc, again further innovation and attention could be paid here. Water pricing, water conservation, water relocation, economic incentives/disincentives, and social recognition for reducing inefficient water use practices are all real and sustainable alternatives which the government should be engaging on.

But ultimately the greatest solution of all would be for Qatar to take a look at it's rich Islamic history. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the greatest advocate against wastage of water. He encouraged the companions not to be wasteful when if they were next to a flowing river.

This is the real solution that if effected in a cooperative manner by a strong public campaign could have genuine impact. This requires education and commitment. Recent attempts to launch campaigns like Tarsheed Qatar and Dubai's new eco friendly mosque opening this year which is expected reduce water and energy consumption by 15-19 percent are good attempts but unless promoted and supported by the government in the mainstream media will have little effect. Water usage needs to become the responsibility of every individual and entity in Qatar with a realization that their current attitude flies in the face of their very culture.

Water scarcity is not the only example of an area where the rich traditional history of Qatar could provide a real solution. Some 17% of the Qatari population are now diagnosed with diabetes compared to the country considered as the epicenter of the global obesity pandemic - the USA where a relative 8.3% of the population suffer from diabetes. Some 73% of Qatari men and 70% of Qatari women are overweight according to WHO's latest statistics.

Qatar wasn't always this way, in fact the rapid development of these issues in Qatar is what is so interesting. These fundamental problems have developed in a span of years as David L Katz points out in his recent article Qatar's Cultural Crisis: Wealth, Health, Wisdom, and Opportunity he goes on to describe aptly how when native culture and lifestyle prevailed, there was little or no obesity. The foods were simple and close to nature but oil and affluence changed all of this. The life many lived following the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was by following the direction 'It is sufficient to eat a few mouthfuls, to keep him going. If he must do that (fill his stomach), then let him fill one third with food, one third with drink and one third with air" Today Qatari's with the highest per capita income now have access to the world's food and technology. David describes today's Qatar as "what happens when lifestyle runs off its traditional rails".

The solution then is easy - in a country like Qatar where the traditional culture roots from Islamic heritage and where the people are on the whole a conservative and religious population who do live their lives in many ways following the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Understanding this and effecting an educational campaign which re-educates and reminds the population of the dangers of allowing this affluence to distract them from their Islamic tradition, whether in how they eat or how they utilize resources is key. Neither is water scarcity nor obesity alone in the issues that could be resolved with this historical understanding and insight into the deep rooted culture but unemployment and other neighbouring countries need to examine their policies in addressing these dilemmas also.

Understanding the history and the connection the people have with their Islamic heritage and a campaign reminding the very Qatar which is frantically expending resources to promote its culture - what culture is it promoting because the heart of the culture taught them how to run and live in a great civilisation, let them not forget that in this process.