UN envoy to discuss peace with Yemen’s president in Riyadh

UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths arrives for a meeting with the president of the Huthi Revolutionary Committee in Sanaa on November 24, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 25 November 2018

UN envoy to discuss peace with Yemen’s president in Riyadh

  • Humanitarian organizations are desperate to see the current peace push translate into a more permanent halt to four-year war
  • Previous talks broke down in 2016, when 108 days of negotiations in Kuwait failed to yield a deal and left rebel delegates stranded in Oman.

SANAA: UN envoy Martin Griffiths met a Yemeni militia leader in insurgent-held Sanaa on Saturday and is to follow up by holding talks in Riyadh with Yemen’s government in a drive to relaunch a peace process.

In a possible breakthrough despite skepticism on the government side, the envoy has said he has opened a dialogue with Houthi militia officials on “how the UN could contribute to keeping the peace” in the key port city of Hodeida.

A UN source said Griffiths will hold talks on Monday in the Saudi capital, where Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and other officials have taken up residence.

He arrived in the capital on Wednesday ahead of planned peace talks in Sweden in December between the Iran-aligned Shiite Houthi rebels and pro-government forces backed by a Saudi-led military coalition.

No date has yet been set for the negotiations.

The UN-recognized government had not yet received “any information from UN envoy Martin Griffiths about the talks in Sweden and what is to be discussed,” Rajeh Badi, a government spokesman, said on Friday.

“We are certain that the Houthi rebels have not yet taken a strategic and serious decision about peace,” he said. 

“They (Houthis) will not let go of their weapons. They would tell us: ‘You’re dreaming if you think we’re going to disarm.’”

Griffiths, however, struck a positive note on Friday during his first visit to Hodeida.

“I am here to tell you today that we have agreed that the UN should now pursue actively and urgently detailed negotiations for a leading UN role in the port,” he said.

Griffiths urged Yemen’s warring parties to “keep the peace” in the rebel-held Red Sea port city, which serves as the entry point of nearly all imports and humanitarian aid into the impoverished country.

Humanitarian organizations are desperate to see the current peace push translate into a more permanent halt to Yemen’s four-year war.

The current peace push is the biggest since 2016. In September, UN-led peace talks faltered when the Houthis refused to travel to Geneva, accusing the world body of failing to guarantee their delegation’s return to Sanaa or secure the evacuation of wounded rebels to Oman.

Previous talks broke down in 2016, when 108 days of negotiations in Kuwait failed to yield a deal and left rebel delegates stranded in Oman for three months. 

The Arab coalition joined the conflict to bolster Hadi a year after the Houthis captured Sanaa.


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.”