UN says Mosul airstrikes kill civilians

Buildings destroyed during previous clashes are seen as Iraqi forces battle with Daesh militants in Mosul on Monday. (Reuters)
Updated 25 January 2017

UN says Mosul airstrikes kill civilians

BAGHDAD/GENEVA: Iraqi forces on Tuesday retook the last area of Mosul that was still under the control of the Daesh group east of the Tigris River, the military said in a statement.
“Units from the 9th armoured division... completely liberated Al-Rashidiyah,” a statement from the Joint Operations Command coordinating the fight against Daesh said.
“The Iraqi flag was raised and the left side (east bank) was thus fully liberated,” said the statement, that also mentioned two other rural areas on the northern edge of Mosul.
Commanders from the elite Counter-Terrorism Service that has done most of the fighting and Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi had already declared east Mosul “liberated” last week.
All central Mosul neighborhoods on the east bank of the Tigris River that divides the city had already been retaken from the militants in recent days, marking the end of an important phase in the fighting.
Top commanders and their foreign partners are now devising a strategy to tackle the Daesh-controlled west bank of Mosul, which is home to the narrow streets of the Old City and some of the militants’ traditional bastions.
Killing civilians
Airstrikes targeting Daesh militants in the Iraqi city of Mosul are killing civilians, although facts and casualty numbers are hard to verify, a UN spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
“We have been receiving quite a lot of reports of civilian casualties caused by airstrikes,” Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the UN human rights office, told a regular news briefing in Geneva.
Although the reports were from Daesh-held areas and may be distorted by propaganda, and UN sources on the ground are diminishing as people flee or are killed, Shamdasani said the reports the UN had received “do seem credible.”
“It is clear that civilians are being killed in airstrikes,” she said.
In one case, airstrikes targeted a local Daesh leader in western Mosul on Jan. 14, but the attack caused the collapse of both the targeted house and the adjacent house, reportedly killing 19 people and wounding 11.
“This one we have been able to get some reasonable corroboration for. But we also understand that ISIL (Daesh) had been gathering relatives of combatants in the houses and that would account in part for the high number of civilian casualties caused by this attack.”
The UN has previously said Daesh has used tens of thousands of men, women and children as “human shields” in Mosul.
Iraqi officials say government forces have taken complete control of the east of the city, which is divided by the Tigris river, 100 days after the start of their US-backed campaign, and are preparing to push into the western side.
Shamdasani stopped short of saying there should be a blanket ban on airstrikes on western Mosul, where the UN estimates 750,000 civilians are still holed up, but military commanders should take all possible steps to avoid civilian casualties, including limiting the scope of the attack as much as possible.
“It needs to be weighed up whether the advantage that can be offered by the military attack outweighs the number of civilian casualties that are likely to be caused,” Shamdasani said.
She added that, in the face of “flagrant” violations of the law by Daesh, it was crucial that Iraqi government forces and their allies ensure scrupulous respect for international law and hold wrongdoers to account.
The UN was sharing its information to try to help military authorities reduce casualty numbers, she said.
Daesh militants have continued to kill civilians with shelling, improvised explosive devices, suicide bombs and snipers, she said. There was no estimate of the numbers killed.

Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

Updated 24 August 2019

Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

  • Egyptian social startups are taking alternative approaches to fostering awareness and reducing waste

CAIRO: Global plastics production reached 348 million tons in 2017, rising from 335 million tons in 2016, according to Plastics Europe. 

Critically, most plastic waste is not properly managed: Around 55 percent of it was landfilled or discarded in 2015. These numbers are extremely concerning because plastic products take anything from 450 to 1,000 years to decompose, and the effects on the environment, especially on marine and human life, are catastrophic.

While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively.

“We’re the first website in the Middle East and North Africa that trades waste,” said Alaa Afifi, founder and CEO of Bekia. “People can get rid of any waste at their disposal — plastic, paper and cooking oil — and exchange it for over 65 products on our website.”

Products for trading include rice, tea, pasta, cooking oil, subway tickets and school supplies.

Bekia was launched in Cairo in 2017. Initially, the business model did not prove successful.

“We used to rent a car and go to certain locations every 40 days to collect waste from people,” Afifi, 26, explained. “We then created a website and started encouraging people to use it.”

After the website was launched, people could wait at home for someone to collect the waste. “Instead of 40 days, we now could visit people within a week.”

To use Bekia’s services, people need to log onto the website and specify what they want to discard. They are assigned points based on the waste they are offering, and these points can be used in one of three ways: Donated to people in need, saved for later, or exchanged for products. As for the collected waste, it is given to specialized recycling companies for processing.

“We want to have 50,000 customers over the next two years who regularly use our service to get rid of their waste,” Afifi said.  

Trying to spread environmental awareness has not been easy. “We had a lot of trouble with initial investment at first, and we got through with an investment that was far from enough. The second problem we faced was spreading this culture among people — in the first couple of months, we received no orders,” Afifi said.

The team soldiered on and slowly built a client base, currently serving 7,000 customers. In terms of what lies ahead for Bekia, he said: “We’re expanding from 22 to 30 areas in Cairo this year. We’re launching an app very soon and a new website with better features.”

Go Clean, another Egyptian recycling startup dedicated to raising environmental awareness, works under the patronage of the Ministry of Environment. “We started in 2017 by recycling waste from factories, and then by February 2019 we started expanding,” said founder and CEO Mohammed Hamdy, 30.

The Cairo-based company collects recyclables from virtually all places, including households, schools, universities, restaurants, cafes, companies and embassies. The customers separate the items into categories and then fill out a registration form. Alternatively, they can make contact through WhatsApp or Facebook. A driver is then dispatched to collect the waste, carrying a scale to weigh it. 

“The client can be paid in cash for the weight of their recyclables, or they can make a donation to a special needs school in Cairo,” Hamdy explained. There is also the option of trading the waste for dishwashing soap, with more household products to be added in the future.

Trying to cover a country with 100 million people was never going to be easy, and Go Clean faced some logistical problems. It overcame them by hiring more drivers and getting more trucks. There was another challenge along the way: “We had to figure out a way to train the drivers, from showing them how to use GPS and deal with clients,” said Hamdy.

“We want to spread awareness about the environment everywhere. We go to schools, universities, companies and even factories to give sessions about the importance of recycling and how dangerous plastic is. We’re currently covering 20 locations across Cairo and all of Alexandria. We want to cover all of Egypt in the future,” he added.

With a new app on the way, Hamdy said things are looking positive for the social startup, and people are becoming invested in the initiative. “We started out with seven orders per day, and now we get over 100.”