Zayed Sustainability Prize: celebrating the people who protect the planet

Ten victors from across the world are showing how hard work and creativity can boost sustainability

President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed presents the 2023 Zayed Sustainability Prize. UAE Presidential Court
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According to Google's Ngram Viewer, a tool that tracks the frequency of a word's use over time, the appearance of "sustainability" started to increase sharply in the early 1970s. In recent decades, it has increased exponentially.

While it may be bandied about a lot, the concept of sustainability is far from simple. For a global environmental crisis that extends into so many issues, boosting what we know of as sustainability is complex.

However difficult, there is no time to delay. In 2022, a number of countries experienced their hottest days on record and threats to biodiversity only increased.

Fortunately, many are committing to tackle the looming crisis. This year sees a number of major international efforts that address the issue, none as prominent as Cop28, which will be held in the UAE in November.

It continues the country's growing work on the issue. Another Emirati endeavour in this regard happened during the ongoing Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, the Zayed Sustainability Prize. Ten of the record 4,538 applications have been declared victors. They will get a share of $3 million in prize money.

Categories include health, food and water, and a separate one for high schools across the globe, a reflection of the important role that young people play in building a sustainable future. Crucially, they are not government bodies but often small-scale enterprises built by local communities. They show that sustainability is something that anyone can contribute to.

Winners this year include the Associacao Expedicionarios da Saude, set up Dr Ricardo Ferreira. It is a Brazilian non-profit organisation that provides medical care for indigenous people. About 500,000 of them lack access to essential health services due to their remoteness. Thanks to Mr Ferreira's work and that of 90 volunteer doctors, 10,000 people have had operations.

A team of three Iraqi pupils and three teachers from Mosul's Gifted Students School Niniveh were a particularly heart-lifting group of winners from the Middle East. They won for their plans to develop a hydroponic greenhouse that grows food all year round. It will save 532,000 litres of water and cut 255 tonnes in emissions over three years. Saving water is a particularly important achievement. Iraq is one of the most water-stressed countries around.

These might be great scientific achievements, but the prize is also hopeful for its human stories. The Iraqi students spoke of the effect of the war against ISIS in their determination to build a sustainable future. Abdulrahman Neshat and Mohammed Ali, both 16, said: "The war we saw in Mosul was a nightmare – it was unimaginable and has made many people lose hope but it gave us the incentive. This is the sense of hope that we wanted to give Iraq and many of the countries that have gone through and are going through war."

Every winner of 2023's Zayed Sustainability Prize had a remarkable set of people and an emotive story behind them. It might be Ledars a Bangladeshi non-profit organisation that is safeguarding the water supply of 15,880, or the 26-year-old recipient of a cataract operation carried out by Associacao Expedicionarios da Saude, which allowed her to see her children for the first time. The diversity, achievement and life-saving importance of their work is the true meaning of sustainability.

Published: January 18, 2023, 3:00 AM