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Water, Agriculture and Renewable Energy

How could we save Europe, help refugees and fight climate change at the same time? It would be hard to deny that the refugee crisis – caused by wars in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan – has put a terrible strain on Europe, as millions of people from these war torn regions have sought refuge within the member states of the European Union.

If populist politicians have exploited the refugee crisis – by using fear of mass immigration and terrorism to gain support – then it should be recognised that the refugee crisis is also being used to divide Europe. Images of crowds of refugees were used by those campaigning for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union in June 2016. Perhaps the vote for Brexit would not have happened if the refugee crisis had not occured.

It is very probable that Angela Merkel will pay the price at the ballot box in 2017 for allowing over one million refugees into Germany in 2015. Likewise the refugee crisis will be used by Marine Le Pen, as an excuse to close France’s borders and pull France out of the EU if she wins the french presidential election this year. The refugee crisis is the excuse for nationalist politicians to gain power, recreate borders and put up new fences across the Schengen area.

Europe has been unable to show a united response to the refugee crisis which is both humanitarian and practical. The best way to stop the flow of refugees into Europe would be to stop the wars in the Middle East and Africa, but there are no simple ways to achieve peace in these regions. If a safe place could be found to resettle refugees until peace is restored, then the numbers of people seeking asylum in Europe could be reduced, thus easing the presure on member states of the European Union.

There is no shortage of space in a North African country such as Libya, but the problem is that Libya itself has been disrupted by war and most of the land of the country is uninhabitable desert. If new technology could bring water, agriculture, and renewable energy to new settlements in the desert then the refugees themselves could maintain these communities.

An example of cooperation between different communities to bring water to a dry region can be seen at Auja in the West Bank of the Jordan near to the Dead Sea. On 20th May 2016 an article published in the New York Times International entitled “Muslims and Jews Cooperate on Solar Project”, describes how a solar array was providing electricity to pump water to 45 Palestinian farms around Auja.

If the Sahara desert were to become fertile and habitable then solar energy could be used to provide power for desalination plants on the North African coast, and water could be brought inland by pipes to the new communities that were reclaiming the desert. First of all a pilot project of a few towns and villages could be seen as helping Libya’s economic development and providing employment for local people as well as providing acommodation and employment for refugees. The first industry of these communities would be water, the second industry would be agriculture, and the third industry would be solar energy. The pilot projects would all have to start in a small way and would need military protection against attack from terrorist groups such as Isis.

The German development bank KFW has invested in one of the world’s largest solar energy power generation projects in Morocco. In Febuary 2016 Noor I, the first of four power power plants was connected to the grid, which has the capacity to generate 160 megawatts providing electricity for 350,000 people. This is part of a plan to install four power plants close to the town of Ouarzazate in southern Morocco with an overall capacity of 580 megawatts, which according to KFW’s website will supply “power for around 1.3 million people”.

Similar schemes could be set up for building solar power plants in Libya, which would provide the electricity to power the desalination plants and pump the water to the new communities on the edge of the desert. Any scheme to resettle people would not work unless the infrastructure to support human life was put in place before people arrived. Therefore the first priority before any settlement could be built, would be water supply to the site of a planned settlement. Likewise the irrigation of agricultural land would be a priority.

Another problem would be dealing with the extreme heat of the Sahara desert, people cannot work outside during the day under these conditions. Tent like structures would be needed to protect workers from the sun and working hours would have to be reduced, to help those involved cope with the difficult and dangerous conditions. Progress would be slow but bringing water to the desert could be a sustainable way of fighting climate change, increasing agricultural yields for a growing world population, and dealing with the consequences of war. These projects would require the cooperation of many individuals from different countries including scientists and engineers from Europes’ universities and technical colleges.


James Glanz and Rami Nazzal, (20th May 2016) ‘Muslims and Jews Cooperate on Solar Project’, The New York Times International Weekly.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2017

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