x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Abu Dhabi Environmental Film Festival's tales of eco horror

Experts hope screenings will encourage residents to preserve water and prevent climate change.

Dr Iyad Abumoghli, director of the UN Environment Programme for West Asia, who is in Abu Dhabi for the International Environmental Film Festival, urged Emiratis to be more environmentally aware. Pawan Singh / The National
Dr Iyad Abumoghli, director of the UN Environment Programme for West Asia, who is in Abu Dhabi for the International Environmental Film Festival, urged Emiratis to be more environmentally aware. Pawan Singh / The National

ABU DHABI // The Arab world has adopted poor environmental habits and residents need to help effect change.

Dr Iyad Abumoghli, director of the United Nations Environment Programme for West Asia, made the plea yesterday ahead of the opening ceremony of the Abu Dhabi International Environmental Film Festival.

"There is a huge number of environmental issues and films are like indirect public awareness campaigns because [people] are affected by what they see in front of them," he said. "We all notice that when we go watch a film, we leave fully emotional and there's a strong impact, so we need to introduce environmental concepts indirectly into the filmmaking industry."

The Middle Eastern region is overburdened with environmental issues, including climate change.

"It's not a result of the region's environmental degradation, it's a global issue that will affect the region," Dr Abumoghli said. "According to science, this region especially is prone to the highest impact because of its geographical location, and because 90 per cent of citizens in the Arab region are situated on coastal zones, any rise in sea level will impact them."

A lot of mitigation and adaption to climate change needed to be taken into consideration, he added.

Other issues raised related to managing water resources - with up to 12 regional countries ranked as the highest water-scarce nations in the Middle East - and integrated land management.

"Our land is getting degraded because of a lack of proper agricultural use and irrigation as well as encroaching into agricultural land to build more," Dr Abumoghli said. "Rather than going into the desert and greening it, we're destroying green areas to build."

Waste was another issue high on the agenda.

"The western world is wasting more than other regions, especially as they started fast food earlier than us," said Dr Abumoghli. "But we're following suit, unfortunately. There are 800 billion tonnes [of food] wasted every year globally and only half is enough to feed all the African continent, so there's something wrong in the behaviour and ethics that we have."

The festival offers a glimmer of hope for those hoping for change.

"Whether we're talking about drama, romance or a comedy, we want to inject those positive environmental messages into the words, actions and activities of the actors and actresses," Dr Abumoghli said.

"This is how we convey the message and how we change the culture and behaviour of the people."

Experts believe the festival will inform residents of how they can help save the environment.

"It's great because we need to bring the news and focus towards issues that the general public can really help with simple things," said Stanley Hartmann, a fisheries scientist at the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi for the past nine years.

"This is one of the ways to bring a good message to the people because it's so important."

And the public are slowly starting to show interest.

"I majored in documentary film and I'm curious to see how Abu Dhabi has changed, environmentally, from being a desert to now," said Hayeseul Son, a 25-year-old South Korean visitor at the festival.

The free entry to the festival should entice more people to attend.

"Films raise awareness and the fact that it's free here gives people more of an incentive to go watch them," said Gordon Higgs, a librarian at the Higher Colleges of Technology and former environmental scientist in the UK.

"I like films and especially the environment. This festival combines both, there are a lot of positive stories out there and they're tackling new issues, too."

The festival will run until April 25 with 35 film screenings, free workshops and public screenings on the Corniche from 6pm each day.

cmalek@thenational.ae