Saudi Arabia, UAE call on Syria to end Ghouta massacre

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People carry the body of Majid Santiha on a stretcher in the besieged eastern Ghouta town of Hamouriyeh near Damascus on Wednesday, February 21. (Reuters)
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A medic described the situation as ‘a systematic slaughtering of the Syrian people in front of the eyes of the international community.’ (AFP)
Updated 23 February 2018

Saudi Arabia, UAE call on Syria to end Ghouta massacre

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia called on the Syrian regime to halt its bombardment of Eastern Ghouta where the death toll on Thursday passed 400 since the devastating assault began.
As international condemnation grew, aid agencies and doctors told Arab News of the dire conditions they are facing and pleaded for access to reach the injured.
But the outcry appeared to be falling on deaf ears as the regime rained rockets and bombs on the opposition-held territory on the edge of Damascus for the fourth consecutive straight day.
“We stress the need for the Syrian regime’s violence to end, and to have humanitarian aid and relief to enter Syria,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry said on Twitter.
“The political path to the crisis solution must be taken seriously, in accordance with the agreed principles of the Geneva Declaration 1 and the UN Security Council Resolution 2254.”
The UAE likewise “expressed its deep concern at the escalation of violence and its repercussions on the humanitarian situation and the safety of civilians.”
Warplanes pounded the last rebel enclave near the Syrian capital for a fifth straight day on Thursday, as the UN pleaded for a halt to one of the fiercest air assaults of the seven-year civil war.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday night that the bombardment had killed 403 civilians, including 95 children.
Forty-six people were killed in strikes and rocket fire on Thursday and the bodies of victims killed earlier in the week were also retrieved from the wreckage of destroyed buildings.Human rights monitors and aid agencies said Russian and Syrian planes have struck hospitals and other civilian targets.
“This is really a systematic slaughtering of the Syrian people in front of the eyes of the international community,” Dr. Ghanem Tayara, chairman of the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations, told Arab News. “There’s no access at all, not even the birds can fly over Ghouta now.”
As the regime intensified its operations, residents huddled in basements as bombs flattened buildings, even hitting hospitals, AFP reported.
Medicins Sans Frontieres said 13 of the facilities it supports in Eastern Ghouta were damaged or destroyed in three days, leaving remaining staff with very little to save the hundreds of wounded brought to them every day.
In the hospital mortuary in Douma, the main town in the enclave where 400,000 people live, bodies wrapped in white shrouds were lined up on the floor, two of them children.
Residents of Douma described plumes of black smoke billowing from residential areas after planes dropped bombs from high altitude.
Searches were under way for bodies amid the rubble in the town of Saqba and elsewhere, said rescuers.
Syrian Army helicopters dropped fliers over Eastern Ghouta districts that included instructions for civilians wanting to leave the enclave safely, according to a media unit run by Assad’s Lebanese Hezbollah ally.
The fliers called on civilians to hand themselves over to the Syrian Army in order to save their own lives, with a passage highlighted on a map for a safe journey out of Eastern Ghouta.
Residents and opposition figures say the Syrian government and its allies are deliberately destroying infrastructure and paralyzing life in what they describe as a “scorched earth policy” to force rebels to surrender.
The Syrian army accuse the rebels of causing deaths by firing mortars on the heavily defended capital.
“They want to break our will and turn Ghouta into another Aleppo but this is their dream,” said Yusef Dughmi, a resident in the devastated eastern Ghouta town of Arbin overnight.
Many residents have been sheltering in basements.
“Why is the regime targeting us we are civilians and the regime and Russia are only targeting civilians?” Khaled Shadid, a resident of Douma told Reuters by telephone as sounds of explosions could be heard.
Basema Abdullah, a widow who was huddled in a basement with her four children in Douma said: “We are in desperate need for your prayers,” before the connection was cut off.
Rescue workers said at least 40 people were killed during Wednesday’s heavy bombing of Kafr Batna, Saqba, Zamalka and Arbin and other towns in the opposition enclave. In the town of Haza, the bombing targeted a field hospital and a bakery, rescuers said.
UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said he hoped the Security Council would agree to a resolution calling for a ceasefire in eastern Ghouta, but warned it would not be easy.
President Bashar Assad’s main ally Russia, which wields a veto on the Security Council, said it could support a 30-day truce, but not one that included the militants it says the onslaught on Eastern Ghouta is meant to target.
The council was considering a resolution, drafted by Kuwait and Sweden, that demands “a cessation of hostilities throughout Syria for all military operations except those directed at Daesh ... Al-Qaeda and Al-Nusra Front” for 30 days to allow aid deliveries and medical evacuations.
Swedish UN Ambassador Olof Skoog said he hoped the council could vote on the resolution on Thursday. But Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said he would propose amendments to the text for “it to be realistic.”
Deputy US Ambassador to the UN Kelley Currie accused Russia of “appearing to be intent on blocking any meaningful effort” to halt the bloodshed in Eastern Ghouta.
“The United States is ready to vote on this resolution right here and right now. There is no reason to delay,” Currie told the council.
“What we need is a sustained cessation of hostilities and we need it desperately,” UN aid chief Mark Lowcock told the gathering. “Millions of battered and beleaguered children, women and men depend on meaningful action by this council.”


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.”