I love Doha’s green spaces – the wide open lawns, playing fields and all the different trees at Aspire Park, the playgrounds along the Corniche, the Doha Golf Club. They are all a respite from the traffic and building works that are part and parcel of living in Qatar, a desert country with a rocky north and sand dunes in the south. As for water, Qatar is surrounded by the Arabian Gulf, so plenty of salt water, but no fresh water rivers or lakes.
Recently I saw a billboard in a newly opened shopping mall that got me thinking. It proposed a target of 22 million trees by 2022.
Now there are lots of targets for 2022, the year Qatar will be hosting the FIFA World Cup. There are roads, public transport, hotels and stadiums to be built all with the aim of a carbon neutral games. And Qatar has developed QSAS – a sustainability assessment system that is to be applied to new building programmes.
But remember, Qatar is a small country. Its total landmass is around 11,400 km2. If there really was an attempt to plant 22 million trees – that would mean roughly 8 trees per acre which wouldn’t leave a lot of room for much else. And given the vast majority of Qatar’s water supply comes from desalination, imagine the water required to irrigate 22 million trees. There are not many tree types that survive in Qatar’s climate without irrigation.
So how do you “green” a country responsibly?
Australian’s have been learning a lot about this in the last decades. Settled by the English, who had a desire to recreate their home environment, they planted rose gardens, and introduced sheep and cattle to farm. Dams were built, irrigation schemes enacted and much of the land was transformed. But recent years of drought have forced many policy changes. New regulations for urban areas with strict enforcement meant homeowners could no longer water their lawns and gardens the way they used to and over time there has been a transition to planting native fauna that sustain themselves without extra irrigation.
Doha residents and development companies need to find a balance. With a population that continues to grow exponentially, there will be more and more demand on water supplies for basic survival needs. Green spaces are a blessing for many, but they need to be planned in a water smart manner. There are lots of companies designing smarter irrigation products that channel water to plant roots so there is less surface evaporation, some claiming to require only 10% of normal water usage to sustain the plants.
Here’s hoping these companies and their products make inroads into Qatar’s green boom, and that Qatar’s definition of going green switches from planting 22 million trees to energy conservation, better building and garden design and wiser energy use.