Morocco king rejects independence for Western Sahara

Moroccan King, Mohammed VI, center, arrives at the Great Hall of People for a meeting with China’s Premier Li Keqiang (not in picture) in Beijing, China on May 12, 2016. (File photo by Reuters)
Updated 07 November 2017

Morocco king rejects independence for Western Sahara

RABAT: Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has ruled out any peace deal that allows for the independence of the Western Sahara as the United Nations renews efforts to resolve the decades-old dispute.
A UN peacekeeping force has been deployed in the former Spanish colony since 1991 with a mandate to organize a referendum on its independence or integration with Morocco.
Morocco agreed to the vote in a 1988 agreement with the pro-independence Polisario Front that ended 13 years of conflict but has since blocked it being held, saying it will accept only autonomy for the territory.
“No settlement of the Sahara affair is possible outside the framework of the full sovereignty of Morocco over its Sahara and the autonomy initiative, whose seriousness and credibility the international community has recognized,” the king said in a televised address on Monday.
His speech marked 42 years since hundreds of thousands of Moroccan civilians marched across the border to lay claim to the mineral-rich territory.
The “Green March” triggered war with the Algerian-backed Polisario Front which had been campaigning for independence for the territory since 1973.
The UN Security Council adopted a resolution in April that called for a new push for talks between Morocco and the Polisario.
The new UN envoy, former German president Horst Kohler, held talks with both sides last month.
The king said Morocco was committed to contributing to the “new momentum” desired by the United Nations and to cooperating with the new envoy.
But he said it would categorically reject “any overreach, any attempt to undermine the legitimate rights of Morocco.”
The king said Morocco would press ahead with its own plans for the development of the Western Sahara, regardless of the progress of the new peace push.
“We are not going to sit idly by waiting for the solution to be found,” he said.
“We will continue to stimulate the development of our southern provinces and provide their people with the conditions for a free and dignified life.”
Tens of thousands of Sahrawi refugees have lived for decades in desert camps run by the Polisario in neighboring Algeria.
Spread over 266,000 square kilometers (103,000 square miles) where the desert meets the Atlantic Ocean, the Western Sahara is the last territory on the African continent whose post-colonial status has yet to resolved.
Morocco controls all of the territory’s main towns. The Polisario controls parts of the desert interior.
The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic declared by the Polisario is a member of the African Union and recognized by many African governments.
Morocco’s claim to the territory is supported by the Arab League.
The conflict has poisoned relations between Morocco and Algeria for decades. The land border between the North African neighbors has been closed since 1994.


Water-scarce Gulf states bank on desalination, at a cost

Updated 12 December 2019

Water-scarce Gulf states bank on desalination, at a cost

  • For Oman and other Gulf states dominated by vast deserts, obtaining fresh water from the sea comes at a high cost
  • In Sur, water for residents and businesses comes from a large desalination plant

SUR, OMAN: “We have water, and it’s the most important thing in a house,” says Abdullah Al-Harthi from the port city of Sur in Oman, a country that relies on desalination plants.
But for Oman and the other Gulf countries dominated by vast and scorching deserts, obtaining fresh water from the sea comes at a high financial and environmental cost.
In Sur, south of the capital Muscat, water for residents and businesses comes from a large desalination plant that serves some 600,000 people.
“Before, life was very difficult. We had wells, and water was delivered by trucks,” the 58-year-old told AFP. “Since the 1990s, water has come through pipes and we’ve had no cuts.”
But these benefits — relying on energy intensive processes that produce carbon emissions — do not come without a cost, particularly as global temperatures rise.
The United Nations says 2019 is on course to be one of the hottest three years on record.
And there is another impact: the desalination plants produce highly concentrated salt water, or brine, that is often dumped back into the ocean.
Researchers say more than 16,000 desalination plants around the globe produce more toxic sludge than freshwater.
For every liter of freshwater extracted from the sea or brackish water, a liter-and-a-half of salty slurry is deposed at sea or on land, according to a 2019 study in the journal Science.
All that extra salt raises the temperature of coastal waters and decreases the level of oxygen, which can conspire to create biological “dead zones.”
The super-salty substance is made even more toxic by the chemicals used in the desalination process.
Oman’s bigger neighbors produce the bulk of the brine.
More than half comes from just four countries — Saudi Arabia, at 22 percent, United Arab Emirates with 20 percent, and smaller shares by Kuwait and Qatar, according to UN data.
“Brine production in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar accounts for 55 percent of the total global share,” according to the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health.
It said new strategies are needed “to limit the negative environmental impacts and reduce the economic cost of disposal.”
This would help “to safeguard water supplies for current and future generations.”
At the Sur plant, “almost no chemicals” are used during the pre-treatment phase, as the water is naturally filtered through the cracks of karst rocks, said Mahendran Senapathy, operations manager at French company Veolia which runs the plant along with an Omani firm.
There are other ways to safeguard freshwater supplies, from encouraging savings and efficiently to recycling wastewater.
Antoine Frerot, chief executive of Veolia, said wastewater recycling will help resolve the problem of water scarcity.
He also pointed out that “reused water is less costly,” nearly one third less than that won through desalination.
Omani authorities continue to mount campaigns urging people to use water wisely, mindful that other demands — especially the energy sector — also guzzle up large amounts.
Across the Gulf, huge amounts of water are used not just for homes, gardens and golf courses, but also for the energy sector that is the source of the region’s often spectacular wealth.
On the edge of the Arabian peninsula’s “Empty Quarter,” the world’s largest expanse of sand, lies the Khazzan gas field, operated by BP and the Oman Oil Company.
The method used to extract the gas here is hydraulic fracturing — more commonly known as fracking — said Stewart Robertson, operations manager at the site.
The method requires huge amounts of water. The site is supplied by a facility that provides 6,000 cubic meters of water a day, extracted from an underground aquifer 50 kilometers (30 miles) away.
Fracking involves directional drilling and then pumping water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to fracture rock and release the hydrocarbons.
The rock formations that hold the gas are “like a big sponge with lots of little holes in it,” said Robertson, explaining that fracking is the process “to open those holes slightly to take the gas out.”
So the more the region extracts oil and natural or shale gas, “the more they need water,” said Charles Iceland of the World Resources Institute.
“The Middle East is projected to need more and more energy,” he said. “So that means the situation is going to get worse.”
“On the other hand,” he said, “if they can produce power using solar photovoltaic technologies, which are getting reasonably priced in the Middle East, that would take care of a lot of the problem because solar PV doesn’t need much water.
“You need just some water to clean the solar panels.”