Interview with Prof. Adi Arida, Chair of the Health and Environment track
What do you think makes Innovation Arabia 8 and the Health and Environment track unique?
The main theme of this year’s conference is “Innovate, Collaborate, and Differentiate: Honoring the Past, Treasuring the Present, and Shaping the Future”. The Conference seeks to move beyond incremental changes in research, teaching and partnerships by adopting a life-course approach to facilitate radical and substantial changes that links innovation to inter-sectoral collaboration. The event will also support efforts to utilize evidence-based approaches to identify and utilize best-practice principles, policies, and interventions to promote academic advancement and societal development.
The conference’s Health and Environment track is unique because it aims to synergize healthcare innovation with validation of novel technologies for cost effectiveness, translational research, smart approaches for training, and transitioning the new generation of health and environmental workers into positions of health leadership. Environmental initiatives that support Green Economies – improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities – will be accorded high priority at the gathering. Discussion of value-adding approaches to public health and hospital management practices constitute a major focus of the health and environment track of the conference.
What makes the conference relevant to a global audience?
The Arab world consists of 350 million people residing in 22 Arabic-speaking countries. The region has had mixed fortunes over the past several decades – threats created by terrorism and opportunities created, until recently, by high oil prices and tourism growth. The business management, health and environmental opportunities and threats facing the Arab world have global significance. For example, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome – Coronavirus infection’s epicenter is in Saudi Arabia, but its impact extends throughout most of the Middle East, with isolated cases in Europe and the United States. Through this conference, the global audience can learn from and contribute to efforts to improve scholarship and context-specific approaches to improve practices that benefit the Arab World and the global audience.
How would you finish this sentence “Looking at this year’s agenda, I believe Innovation Arabia 8 will …”
be a real knowledge-sharing event by providing an ideal forum to disseminate knowledge and best practices in the following important areas of scholarship and socio-economic development; quality and business management, e-learning excellence, health and environment, and Islamic banking and finance.
The world is facing a global shortage in healthcare workers. How is Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University (HMBSU), which is organising Innovation Arabia 8, addressing this issue?
In its 2013 report entitled “A universal truth: No health without a workforce”, the World Health Organization estimated the global shortage of health workers at 7.2 million. Upscaling the quantity and quality of skilled health professionals requires innovative training approaches that are able to circumvent the time, cost and geography-related encumbrances of mainstream training schemes. E-learning involves the use of a computer or electronic device (e.g. a mobile phone) in some way to provide training, educational, or learning material. With increasing Internet penetration globally, coupled with the logistical challenges of physical attendance for mature learners enrolled in tertiary education, the “on-demand” nature of e-learning overcomes timing, attendance, and travel difficulties. E-learning has its limitations – it is technology dependent, more linear than face-to-face communication, and may be unsuitable for certain types of learners or topics. To address these limitations, HBMSU has adopted the blended-learning approach, which combines e-learning with 30% physical classes for most of our courses. The HBMSU’s blended-learning approach has a strong potential to accelerate training of health workers globally.
How are hospitals in the region embracing technological innovation?
Medical tourism is facilitating the introduction of the latest technological techniques in the hospitals of the UAE. An example is the planned nationwide Electronic Health Record system.
The World Bank has predicted worsening desertification in the Middle East and North Africa over the next 35 years. What are some examples of green initiatives in the region that seem particularly effective?
Desertification can be considered as the degradation of land in arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting primarily from human activities and influenced by climatic variations. The activities include
• over-drafting of groundwater
• diversion of water from rivers for human consumption and industrial use
• increased fire frequency
• increased soil salinity, and
• global climate change.
It is a common misconception that droughts by themselves cause desertification. While drought is a contributing factor, the root causes are all related to man’s overexploitation of the environment. Droughts are common in arid and semiarid lands, and well-managed lands can recover from drought when the rains return. We can say, however, that continued land abuse during droughts increases land degradation.
The UAE has signed many anti-desertification agreements, adopting a national anti-desertification strategy to organize and lead many of the effective efforts and activities in this field. Greening activities in the UAE are ubiquitous, but there are still concerns about over-extraction of ground water that will encourage even more greening efforts.
We need to differentiate between combating desertification and greening the desert. In the first, you have arable land that is degraded by desertification, so combating desertification means slowing or preventing this deterioration. In contrast, greening the desert means converting desert land to green areas, which is a completely different activity. Let me define greening as converting the natural desert environment into productive agricultural land, conserving its biodiversity and increasing its economic output.
Some UAE greening activities include
• increasing the capacity of efficient wastewater treatment plants and maximizing wastewater reuse. As a result of these efforts, the total agricultural area (cultivated crops and agro forestry in thousands of hectares) increased from 32.5 in 1975 to 546 in 2000. The agro-forestry areas expanded from forty hectares in 1985 to 300 in 2000.
• establishment of several natural reservations on islands and in remote desert areas
• the issuance of groundwater law No. 6 of 2006, which controls and regulates the drilling of water wells in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Its aim is limit the excessive extraction of groundwater in order to preserve it for future generations.
What are some other efforts being made to ensure sustainable water security in the MENA region?
The MENA region is characterised by water scarcity and excessive extraction of water for various developmental endeavours such as industry, agricultural and commercial activities, and municipal infrastructure and expansion.
In fact, there is no single solution to solve the problems related to ensuring water security. Even if we have the largest desalination plant now, in ten years it will not be able to meet the needs of the community as a result of expansion and population growth.
Let us analyze the situation: on average, the Arab world is poor in water resources, except for a few countries that have rivers or receive abundant rainfall. The majority of these rivers emerge from watersheds outside the countries or even the geographical region, e.g. the Nile. When we look to groundwater resources, they are either overstressed by excessive extraction beyond their recharge capacity or exposed to pollution due to industrial and agricultural discharge. The rainfall pattern over the MENA region is generally low, with some areas getting as little as an average annual rainfall of 2-3 mm/day, which is considered exceptionally low. This is aggravated by elevated temperature, which leads to increased evaporation.
Based on this introduction, the key for water security is to find smart, innovative solutions. We need to consume what we need, not what we want. This can only be achieved by a combination of strategies, including maximization of water reuse, conservation of water in agriculture, protecting existing water resources in the form of quality and quantity, and investing in research into low-cost desalination technologies such as solar and hybrid desalination plants.
For more information on Innovation Arabia 8: www.innovationarabia.ae