Nature Middle East | House of Wisdom

Did a Saudi Arabian scientist really win UN water award?

<img alt=“water for life.jpg” align=right src=“” width=“200” height=“235” />

This blog post started very differently from what it is right now.

A few weeks ago I was very pleasantly surprised to read on the website Arab News about a Saudi Arabian female scientist winning the United Nations’ Water for Life, Best Practice Award.

I quickly found the same story on nearly every other Saudi Arabian English-language news outlet – in the exact same wordings. In short, the news piece is claiming that the researcher, Mashael bint Mohammed Saud Abdurrahman from the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), received the “Water for Life” Best Practices Award for her use of modern techniques in environment, water and desertification in her researches.

The information is then attributed to the Global Institute for Water Environment and Health (GIWEH).

Now this is where the story gets very peculiar on many levels.

1) A quick visit to the GIWEH website will find absolutely nothing on this story. I did an extensive search and there is nothing about Mashael winning that award. So the source of the news that all those news outlets have been picking up is probably wrong, and none of them have bother to check this very simple fact.

2) A second visit to the UN’s “Water for Life” website will find there is no mention at all of Mashael. In fact, the webpage announces the two winners of the “Best Practices” awards. The first is a programme in the Philippines, and the other in South Africa. None in KACST. Saudi Arabia is not even mentioned on the website. This leaves another glaring hole in the story reported and carried by dozens of media outlets.

3) The funniest part is the fact that there is no mention of the award at all on KACST’s own website. You’d think that if one of their researchers won such a prestigious award it would be over the front page of the website right away. Well it is not. It’s not even mentioned anywhere on all the website.

So did Mashael really win this award? I strongly doubt it – but if anyone can confirm this please do leave a comment. But if this is indeed a fabricated story then it brings up very important issues with regards to the quality of science journalism in the Arab world. It is a story with glaring problems that should have never appeared online without verification (and that would have been very easy).

Sadly, it was carried along through dozens of websites without a single one of them trying to check the facts of the story – which a quick, few minutes search would quickly discredit.

But if I am wrong, then I really look forward to someone pointing it out below because, right now, I am very disappointed this happened.


  1. Report this comment

    M. Binjonaid said:

    Check out this video, which was mentioned in the UN’s website as the “finalist candidates”

    There’s nothing about this story.

    Could be a misunderstanding or a case of bad science journalism as you stated!!

  2. Report this comment

    Mohammed Yahia said:

    Interesting! Thanks for the link Binjonaid.

    I definitely want to follow up on this issue and find where did things go wrong exactly!

  3. Report this comment

    Mohammed Yahia said:

    Thanks for that link Will

    Interesting find!

    So Mashael did actually win an award, but it was from GIWEH rather than from the UN.

    I guess that is where the misunderstanding in the reporting started. Somehow, a report must have linked GIWEH to the UN for some reason…