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Riyadh association steps up effort to transform mosques to green and sustainable buildings

Riyadh – The initiative launched in 2017 by the Environmental Green Horizons Society to transform one mosque in Riyadh into a sustainable building surrounded by greenery has become a success story. In a relatively short period five mosques were transformed, a new public park was established outside the city and the NGO is almost done transforming its first primary school in the capital.

By Arthur Blok
The Environmental Green Horizons Society is best seen as an association born out of environmental concerns from dedicated Saudi citizens. It envisions a society where volunteers, both male and female, young and old, join forces to create environmental awareness, protect the environment and increase the greenery throughout Riyadh.

The Riyadh-based NGO strongly believes that by planting more plants and trees in the city the concrete jungle becomes a more human place to live in, said Huda al-Ayyaf director of the association. “More greenery is a good thing for everyone. In just a few years’ time our initiative grew from one project to many. It attracted the attention from hundreds of sympathizers and volunteers in the city. There are so many people ready to help us make our capital a more green and sustainable place.”

The Society launches their ideas via their website and uses social media like Twitter to update its followers about achieved success. “For us social media are an ideal tool to mobilize the people. Every single initiative we launched so far was met with a lot of enthusiasm. We currently have a database of more than 800 volunteers who registered themselves via our website”, said Abdulaziz Oqail the vice president and one of the initiators of the association.

Grey water
“In the past two years we succeeded in installing filters in five mosques in Riyadh. We filter the used water and re-use the ‘grey water’ for the irrigation of the new plants and trees that we planted in front of the buildings. A double benefit: on the one hand it becomes a more sustainable place while on the other hand we create a lovely green zone around the mosque which is nice for the people who come and prey”, the vice president added.

The first initiative was so successful that in a period of just two years five mosques in and outside the city were altered. A few months ago the organization started a similar project at a school which will be finalized in March. In 2020 it is expected that 20 more mosques will get water filters and a green zone with a grey water irrigation system.

Local authorities
Their initiative does not go unnoticed by the local authorities as well. “We are now in continuous talks with them about the greenery in the city. We asked them for example to stop planting palm trees everywhere. Do not get me wrong: they are nice trees, but they demand a lot of water and provide almost no benefits like shadow. We have extreme temperatures here in the summer. There are much more suitable trees we can plant that have more benefits for the people”, said vice president Abdulaziz Oqail.

The Environmental Green Horizons Society get its funds from a fast growing number of paying sympathisers and receives at the same time incidental donations from wealthy Saudi’s and environmental associations.

The average donation is around 500 Saudi riyals per annum, which is approximately $135. “After our first successful project more money came in rapidly”, said director Huda al-Ayyaf proudly. “We even received support from the local authorities, that gave us even more strength to continue.”

Since its establishment in 2017 the association has also organized various small-scale awareness campaigns about recycling, and green energy such as the usage of solar panels. At the same time it frequently organizes local meetings to educate people on waste management.

Another milestone was the establishment of Thadeq National park outside Riyadh last year a project under the umbrella of the Ministry of Envirnonment, Water and Agriculture. With the help of hundreds of volunteers more than 50.000 plants and trees were planted in the park. In a recent initiative it mobilized more than a hundred volunteers to clean-up parts of the desert, an initiative in collaboration with the Saudi Arabian Boy Scouts Association.

Arthur Blok is the Executive editor-in-chief of the Levant News

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