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Syrian Researcher Focuses on Arab World Climate Change

Climate change will not be felt in equal measures by all parts of the world. Unfortunately, many climate models predict the Arab world will be one of the hardest-hit regions. Many Arab countries already struggle with water and food security. This situation will only get harder, climate scientists say.

From across the Mediterranean Sea at the University of Florence, a Syrian economist called Ahmad Sadiddin is modelling the financial implications of global warming for four Arab countries: Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt.

“We have an in-depth analysis on this by piecing together whatever data is available,” explains Sadiddin. “Rainfall across the MENA region, especially in Mediterranean countries, is going to decrease, and agriculture consumes 80 percent of water in the region.”

Sadiddin is collaborating with Moroccan researcher Aziz Elbehri, a senior economist at the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations in Rome.

The aim of their work is to assess the efficiency of a country’s agriculture by seeing whether they’re producing the best crops based on water availability and what consumers there actually want to eat.

Elbehri, says that working with Sadiddin has meant the project has been a success: “He’s a very good researcher and is a capable individual. He’s good thinker.”

“We hope to then give recommendations for how each country should use its water and also how it can adapt to climate change,” says Sadiddin.

Populations in the MENA region are on the rise, which means demand for food and water can only intensify, making research like that being conducted by Sadiddin and Elbehri especially relevant.

“In the Middle East, for the last few years, water scarcity has become a priority,” says Elbehri. “There are many regions experiencing water scarcity. But no region is as water-poor as the Middle East.”

Countries across the region from Morocco to Qatar have placed a priority on research into novel water supplies—Sadiddin’s work will be of interest to Arab governments throughout the region.

But Sadiddin has not neglected local Italian issues either. Along with his supervisor at the University of Florence, Donato Romano, he collaborates with the Italian Ministry of Agriculture.

They are working to measure the size of Italy’s so-called “food fraud economy.” This refers to products intentionally mislabeled as a higher-quality classification in order to mislead and overcharge the consumer, such as “extra-virgin olive oil” that is just regular olive oil.

Sadiddin and Romano focus on wine and olive oil in their investigation. “It’s a new field and so it’s hard to study because we don’t have first-hand information,” explains Romano. “We have to collaborate with the ministry. It’s important for the Italian economy.”

The researchers are getting close to being able to present their research, which Romano says is important for two reasons.

“Firstly, for the content, because no one in Italy has done something like this,” he says.

“Secondly, it’s a joint venture between the University of Florence and a refugee scholar. That’s important in a time when Europe is not doing what it’s supposed to do, which is give hope,” says Romano. “I think any public institution should be doing what it can to contribute to easing the refugee crisis.”

Four years ago, Ahmad Sadiddin arranged flights for his wife and children to go Egypt. After they had safely landed, he left his post as a drafted lieutenant in the Syrian Army.

He felt he could no longer reconcile his morals with the actions of the military and so he went underground. “I relied on some friends and relatives who helped me hide for a bit,” he remembers. “I didn’t have a valid passport and so I had to enter Turkey as a refugee.”

As soon as he arrived in Turkey he got a document recognizing his new status, but he was intent on finding a place back in academia where he had left off as an agricultural economist before beginning his military service.

That was not easy when the only documentation he had to his name was an expired Syrian passport and Turkish certificate. Meanwhile his family waited for word in Cairo.

Sadiddin had completed his doctorate degree in Italy and so his first instinct was to look for a position there.

After a few months, and with the help of the Scholar Rescue Fund in New York, he was able to secure a place at the University of Florence. Eventually the Italian embassy issued him with a refugee-specific Italian passport for himself and his family to travel internationally.

Romano, has known Sadiddin since 2005, says: “I have to tell you he’s very bright and knows how to manage not just academic issues but also everyday life,” he says. “It’s no wonder he managed to get through the Italian bureaucracy and get his family here.”


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