Port Ghalib and Hussan Fathyt

Port Ghalib and Hussan Fathyt

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blog_port_ghalibBy Rajendra Shende, rmshende@unep.org
9 December 2009

Nothing grows there, on the south-west beach of the Red sea, except fish and colourful corals. The place is designed to be a beach resort in the desert with its clean lonely beaches, white sands, bottle-green seawater, soft refreshing and cold wind sweeping across, riding on the waves of white surf.

My two weeks stay at Port Ghalib, Egypt, attending the international meeting to discuss the future of the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the Ozone Layer was an experience short of staying in the monastery. The place is remote, distant, arid, barren, parched dry, and does not even resemble an oasis, because it does not have a natural source of freshwater of its own. The fresh water is produced by desalination of sea water, electricity is produced by diesel generator, and partly as sequel of the desalination plant, waste water is treated and recycled to water the small shrubs and replanted palm trees. Why was this place selected at all for holding such an international meeting when it is best suited for reflections, writing memoire or just spend time doing nothing? I mused.

One would have thought of holding such a meeting of “one of the most successful MEAs” in a European or American city with rows of cozy restos and lots of entertainment. Recognizing that it is the first occasion that the Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol is being held after each and every country has now joined and ratified this global accord, it was time for a party, a time to celebrate. So why hold a party in the desert?

To me it was not just a coincidence. Of course the Government of Egypt was gracious to host this meeting. But I thought, in a true sense, it is symbolic a location.

Port Ghalib – name of this desert resort – is a symbol of human ingenuity. A complete township self sufficient in basic necessity has been raised in that land of ‘nothing’. It was replete with clean, quiet, roads and modestly built hotels, rising from ‘nowhere’. The Montreal Protocol is also a symbol of human ingenuity. Someone said that human stupidity knows no boundaries. I could say the same thing about human ingenuity. It is boundless. Indeed, due to human stupidity the world deployed man-made CFCs in the 1940s. That brought the world to the brink of disaster, but it was collective human ingenuity that has prevented this disaster by deploying alternatives of ozone-friendly technologies. What more, this human ingenuity has also crossed the boundaries further to provide unexpected and significant climate benefits.

Not far from Port Ghalib, about 200 km to the west, across the Nile, there is a small village called Kharga, another desert town, but a living example of non-in-kind technology as alternatives to CFCs. There stand the houses, the community halls, a mosque and other buildings designed by one of Egypt’s most ingenious architects, Hassan Fathyt, who used the local natural material for the buildings. He designed those mud houses in such a way that they do not require air conditioning, leave alone refrigerants. They are warm in winter and cool in summer. Most of human history does not know air conditioning produced with refrigerants. Air conditioning was practiced but without man made refrigerants.The best period in the history was in the houses built by architects like Hassan Fathyt.

Port Ghalib and the surrounding area represent not only the past but also the future direction for humanity. Nature has provided us with solutions which do not result in global problems. It is for us to use our ingenuity to search for them and deploy them.

Port Ghalib is an example of boundless human ingenuity . Let us see if Copenhagen also turns out to be the similar example. We certainly do not want to be an example of unlimited human stupidity.

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