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Blue Skies and Blue Seas in MENA

February 7, 2022



Press the play button above to watch a replay of the livestream.

  • While economic and social indicators in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have improved, the region’s blue natural assets — clean air, healthy seas, and coastlines — have degraded nearly everywhere. The human and economic price of this deterioration of blue assets is immense, costing more than 3% of GDP per year. As MENA countries recover from COVID-19, there is an opportunity to shift to a greener, more resilient, and inclusive development pathway that reverses natural resource degradation and environmental pollution – plus builds resilience to climate change.

    This event marks the launch of a flagship World Bank report, "Blue Skies, Blue Seas: Air Pollution, Marine Plastics and Coastal Erosion in the Middle East and North Africa." After a presentation of the report, you will hear from leading policymakers and the private sector about their vision for a healthier future.

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    Ferid Belhaj, Vice-President, Middle East and North Africa, World Bank

    Opening Remarks

    Ferid Belhaj has been the World Bank Group Vice President for Middle East and North Africa since July 1, 2018. Prior to this, Belhaj served 15 months as the Chief of Staff of the President of the World Bank Group. From 2012 to 2017, Belhaj was World Bank Director for the Middle East, in charge of World Bank work programs in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Iran, based in Beirut, Lebanon. A Tunisian national, Belhaj joined the Bank in 1996 as Senior Counsel in the Legal Department, managing a number of legal and judicial reform projects. He also served as Bank Counsel for countries, including Egypt, Morocco, Iran, Algeria and Thailand.


    Ayat Soliman, Regional Director, Sustainable Development Middle East And North Africa, World Bank


    Ayat Soliman has over 25 years of experience working on global issues of sustainable development in the World Bank, United Nations and private sector, covering water, agriculture, environment, social and urban development, as well as cross cutting issues of climate change. In her current assignment, Soliman is in charge of setting the policy direction, fostering partnerships and ensuring the integrated delivery of country and regional programs of the Sustainable Development Practice Group (PG) in MENA, consistent with the regional/country strategies. She oversees a team of over 100 staff and an active portfolio of $5.2 billion in investments across the region in urban and social development, agriculture, water and environment sectors, as well as analytical work and multi-donor trust funds. Prior to her current assignment, Soliman was the Global Director in the Water Global Practice and has worked in the Latin America and Caribbean and Africa regions of the Bank in different positions of technical and managerial leadership. She holds an MSc and BSc in Environmental and Mechanical Engineering from the American University in Cairo.


    Martin Heger, Senior Environmental Economist, World Bank


    Martin Philipp Heger is a senior environmental economist at the World Bank, where he focuses on environmental and natural resource management, the blue economy, and climate change. He has worked in several geographical regions at the World Bank, including Europe and Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and South Asia. Prior to joining the World Bank, he worked for UNDP, the European Commission, and an NGO in Panama. He holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Economics from the London School of Economics, and Master’s degrees in economics as well as natural resource management.


    Fouzi Lekjaa, Minister Delegate in Charge of Budget, Ministry of Economy and Finance, Morocco


    Fouzi Lekjaa was born on July 23, 1970 in Berkane. In 1989 he joined the Hassan II Agronomic and Veterinary Institute (IAV) in Rabat where he obtained a degree in state engineering. He then joined the ENA of Rabat (National School of Administration) and the ENA of Paris for training in administration management. He began his professional career at the EACCE (Export Coordination Establishment) before joining the Ministry of Economy and Finance. In 1996, he joined MEFRA and held multiple positions there. In October 2021, he was appointed Minister Delegate in charge of the Budget. He is married and has two children.


    Yasmine Fouad, Minister of Environment, Egypt


    Yasmin Fouad was appointed Minister of Environment of the Arab Republic of Egypt on 18 June 2018. She was Assistant Minister of Environment from 2014. As Minister of Environment, Fouad leads transformational change in the environment sector in Egypt by creating a more business-oriented enabling environment, first through leading the processes of developing the Waste Management Law (202/2020); second by leading the development and implementation of a National Solid Waste Strategy; third by developing waste to energy as a new economic instrument; fourth by participating in introducing the first governmental green bonds in Egypt and the Middle East; fifth by co-leading the mainstreaming of environmental sustainability aspects into national investment plans; and finally by improving Greater Cairo air quality and supporting the construction of waste management infrastructure. At the International level, she co-led the climate finance negotiation track during UNFCCC COP 24 and UNFCCC COP26. She holds now the position of Envoy to the UNFCCC COP 27. She has also played a crucial role in advancing the biodiversity Agenda, through her capacity as the President of the 14th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP14) during 2018-2020. Fouad holds an MSc in Environmental Science and PhD in Political Science and Euro Mediterranean Studies. She has more than 20 years’ experience in Environment and International Cooperation, working in Government, UN organizations, NGOs and in Universities.


    Ahmed Yassin, Co-founder and Marketing Strategist, Banlastic Egypt


    Ahmed Yassin is the co-founder and marketing strategist of Banlastic Egypt, a social enterprise that works to address single use plastic in Egypt and in the MENA region. He established a new platform called SOLAREGY, building a network across factories in Alexandria on a special basis to promote the use of clean energy as an alternative to fossil fuels. Yassin graduated with a BSc in Electromechanical Engineering from Alexandria University and is now working as an ambassador for Solar City Co. He is also a part time solar engineer in Egypt. Yassin works extensively in the development field through various programs that support the Sustainable Development Goals.


    Lia Sieghart, Practice Manager for Environment, Natural Resources and the Blue Economy, Middle East and North Africa, World Bank

    Closing Remarks

    Lia Sieghart is Practice Manager for Environment, Natural Resources, and the Blue Economy in the Middle East and North Africa region. She has over 25 years of experience working on environmental issues at the strategic, project, program and policy levels especially in fragile and conflict-affected situations. She has served more than 12 years in the field (Bangladesh, Yemen, Armenia), which allowed her to bring about a profound understanding of clients, communities, civil societies as well as development partners present on the ground. Prior to joining the World Bank, Sieghart worked with the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ/CIM) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, delivering climate change programs across the globe - while also serving as a climate change negotiator to the UNFCCC. She holds a PhD and MSc in Environmental and Earth- Sciences from the University of Salzburg, Austria in collaboration with the University of Queensland, Australia.