Desertification an imminent threat, creating unstable grounds for development

Desertification an imminent threat, creating unstable grounds for development
A total of 45 percent of the food consumed globally comes from the world’s dryland areas — and falling productivity, food shortages and water scarcity in these regions is creating insecurity.
Updated 17 October 2018

Desertification an imminent threat, creating unstable grounds for development

Desertification an imminent threat, creating unstable grounds for development
  • Arable land is turning to desert at an alarming rate, especially in the Middle East — affecting food security, biodiversity, socio-economic stability and economic development
  • With 70-90% of the Arabian Peninsula under threat of desertification, new measures must be attempted to sustain development in the region

DUBAI: More than 3.2 billion people, or two in every five, are affected by land degradation today and up to 143 million could move within their countries by 2050 to escape water scarcity and falling crop productivity caused by climate change.

These are the alarming figures provided this summer by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). And with the report issued this week by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stating that the planet will reach a 1.5C increase in temperatures as early as 2030, leading to extreme drought, food shortage and floods, action must be taken.

“Land is worth so much more than the economic value we attach to it,” said Monique Barbut, UNCCD’s executive secretary. “It defines our way of life and our culture — whether we live in the city or villages. It purifies the water we drink. It feeds us. It surrounds us with beauty. But we cannot meet the needs and wants of a growing population if the amount of healthy and productive land continues to decline so dramatically.”

According to The Global Land Outlook of 2017, 45 percent of the food consumed globally comes from the world’s dryland areas and falling productivity, food shortages and water scarcity in these regions is creating insecurity. It warns that about 20 percent more productive land was degraded from 1983 to 2013, with Africa and Asia facing the greatest threats.

Desertification is the degradation of arable and productive
land, of which the region does not have much to begin with. The added use of intensive agriculture coupled with chemicals, pesticides and salt water, have worsened levels of land productivity.

“We consider desertification a major environmental problem but, in reality, it’s also economic and social in the region mostly,” said Dr. Azaiez Ouled Belgacem, regional coordinator of the Arabian Peninsula Regional Program at the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (Icarda) in Dubai. “We have a very precarious and harsh environment with very high temperatures, low rainfall and high humidity but it’s now worsening because of climate change.”

Belgacem, also a rangeland scientist, pointed the finger at socio-economic changes in the region, where pastural communities sustainably managed natural resources for centuries. Their mobility created a balance in the use of resources — called the hema system — allowing rangeland to rest for some period. “They followed rainfall and there was no intensive farming system — only fishing and date palms,” he said. “The movement is a rotational system and complements the use of resources and water.”

The discovery of oil and rising population wealth led to settlements and sedentarization, adding stress to lands. Subsidies increasing livestock numbers, coupled with herd mobility and overgrazing, led to further land degradation, loss of biodiversity and desertification. To date, a third of the world’s land is considered impacted by the phenomenon, excluding natural deserts. “It’s not a national challenge, it’s regional and global,” Belgacem explained. “Each country must establish its national strategy, which should build on international partnerships, because there are no borders in desertification.”

According to the UN, drought and desertification cause the annual loss of 120,000 sq kilometers of land globally — an area larger than the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain combined. It has become one of the dominant present-day environmental calamities, affecting hundreds of millions of dryland inhabitants and an area estimated between 1,000 to 3,000 million hectares. “This has a severe impact on food security, biodiversity, socio-economic stability and economic development,” said Diana Francis, atmospheric scientist at New York University — Abu Dhabi. “The Arab world contains around one third of the world’s deserts.

Most Arab countries have insufficient water resources, making the region especially vulnerable to desertification and drought. However, even with these risk factors, mismanagement of water resources and unsustainable land practices are rife across the region.”

She used Saudi Arabia as an example of an arid country with no rivers and a daily per capita water use double the European average. Iraq, considered a regional breadbasket in the 1970s, also lost a significant amount of its farmland to wars and neglect. “The effects of drought and desertification across the region are not only environmental, but also come at an extreme human cost,” she said. “Desertification not only causes loss of productivity with serious impacts on food production, future food security and economic development but also causes the release of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, thereby accelerating global warming.”

Decomposition of soil organic matter and biomass during the past 7,800 years caused by land degradation and desertification has resulted in carbon dioxide emissions estimated at 450 to 500 gigatons, equating to more than the total amount of CO2 emitted from fossil fuel combustion so far. “The most vulnerable areas are along the coast of the Mediterranean, including Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Turkey,” she said. “It also affects Iran, Kuwait and the UAE significantly.”

The UN estimates some 50 million people will be displaced over the next decade due to the effects of drought and desertification. Statistics estimate global soil degradation by 1 percent annually. “Desertification in the Middle East is caused mainly by four human actions linked to farming and agriculture,” Francis said. “They include overgrazing, overcultivating, deforestation and poor irrigation. Indirect causes of desertification include poverty, population growth and loss of traditional knowledge so public understanding is important.”

According to Dr. Taoufik Ksiksi, associate professor in biology at the United Arab Emirates University, too many wrong types of animals are overgrazing precious regional land, exposing the soil and increasing erosion by wind or water. “These are all anthropogenic problems,” he said. “The added issue is that we’re in a hyper-arid environment — plants grow very slowly and climate change worsens the situation. We don’t have the option to go beyond 1.5C in the future and we’re very close.”

He suggested acting aggressively in legislation to minimize overgrazing, while raising awareness on land management. Monitoring desertification will also prove key, much like the Long Term Ecological Research Network (LTER) in North America, where decades of data have been collected to monitor ecosystems’ health. “These aren’t present in the region and we need to do more on long-term sites where we monitor land yearly so we know where we’re heading,” he said. “Revegetation of a lot of land with native plants in the UAE, such as the Ghaf tree, and Saudi Arabia, with the Samer tree, local to the Gulf, the Andab, a grass-like species, and the Salam and Sidr trees, are promising practices for the recovery of the ecosystem’s health and we should set up protected areas to bring it back to its original status.”

Countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE have started planting trees. But it could take five to 10 years for them to affect the land. “Sand is invading the land,” said Dr. Muhammad Shahid, geneticist in the Plant Genetic Resources Program at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture. “Trees help stop desertification and sand because they are a stabilizer of soil. They have good long root system, so it helps as a wind breaker, as wind is responsible for sand moving from place to place. But it needs funding and expertise, and it should be more of a priority.”

Abu Dhabi is also playing its part with Masdar City, promoting the mitigation of desertification from an ecological perspective. “As water is a key component within a desert environment, Masdar has recommended the treatment of greywater within private plots and sole use of treated sewage effluent within the public realm for landscape purposes,” said Peter Spellmeyer, landscape manager at Masdar City. “Masdar has endorsed a 70 percent minimum use of native and drought adaptive plant species. This sustainable approach will serve the community and fulfill shading requirements related to outdoor thermal comfort.”

Background:

In the Arabian Peninsula, land threatened by desertification ranges from 70 to 90 percent.

“The situation became more difficult with climate change, as even the resilience of the current ecosystem is threatened,” Belgacem said. “Some desert plants adapt to climate change effects up to a certain degree. But if we continue as is, that could stop by 2050. Science and technology must be used to counter this.”

The Gulf is considered a testbed and a laboratory for extreme weather conditions with a number of institutes working on developing solutions. Such conditions are said to take root in North Africa in the future, should no action be taken. “We are working on a 4C temperature increase, as we’re now expecting 1C to 2C,” he said. “We’re working with farmers in the Middle East and North Africa, and all dry areas of the world, including Sub-Sahara, west, south and east Asia, developing (systems) for agricultural drought and heat-tolerant varieties of wheat, barley and food legumes, as well as technologies to harvest rainfall water.”

The center is also attempting to revive the hema system with local communities and ministries. “We’re looking to establish different distributed water points in rangeland, and to close wells each season to have services in other areas for feed and animal health, and to encourage herders to graze in these areas. This would allow sustainably managed natural vegetation and carbon sequestration. Climate change has started its impact and it will disturb the cycle of plants.”


Israeli officer charged in killing of autistic Palestinian

Israeli officer charged in killing of autistic Palestinian
Updated 11 min 39 sec ago

Israeli officer charged in killing of autistic Palestinian

Israeli officer charged in killing of autistic Palestinian
  • The officer was charged with reckless manslaughter
  • Eyad Hallaq, 32, was fatally shot just inside the Old City’s Lion’s Gate on May 30, 2020

JERUSALEM: Israeli prosecutors on Thursday charged a border police officer with reckless manslaughter in the deadly shooting of an autistic Palestinian man in Jerusalem’s Old City last year.

The indictment came just over a year after the shooting of Eyad Hallaq. Hallaq’s family had previously criticized Israeli authorities' investigation into Eyad's killing, and had called for much tougher charges.

The officer, who remains unidentified in the indictment submitted to the Jerusalem District Court on Thursday, was charged with reckless manslaughter, and if convicted could face up to 12 years in prison.

Hallaq, 32, was fatally shot just inside the Old City’s Lion’s Gate on May 30, 2020, as he was on his way to the special-needs institution that he attended. The officer's commander, who was also present during the incident, was not charged.

The area is a frequent site of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces, and the Old City’s narrow streets are lined with hundreds of security cameras that are monitored by police. But as the investigation proceeded last summer, prosecutors claimed that none of the cameras in the area had worked, and there was no footage of the incident.

Prosecutors from the police internal investigations department said in a statement that the decision to charge the officer “was made after deep examination of the evidence, examination of all the circumstances of the incident and the claims heard during the officer’s hearing.” They said Hallaq's death was a “serious and unfortunate incident” and that the officer shot him “while he took an unreasonable risk that he would cause his death.”

According to accounts at the time, Hallaq was shot after running away and failing to heed calls to stop. Two members of Israel’s paramilitary Border Police then chased Hallaq into a garbage room and shot him as he cowered next to a bin.

The Justice Ministry said in a statement in October, when prosecutors recommended charges against the officer, that the wounded Hallaq pointed to a woman he knew and muttered something. The officer then turned to the woman and asked her in Arabic, “Where is the gun?”

She replied, “What gun?” At that point, the officer under investigation fired again at Hallaq.

The woman mentioned in the statement appears to be Hallaq’s teacher, who was with him that morning. At the time of the shooting, she told an Israeli TV station that she had repeatedly called out to police that he was “disabled.”

In the charges filed Thursday, prosecutors described how the accused shot Hallaq in the stomach when he had his back against a wall in a corner, then shot him a second time in the chest while Hallaq was sprawled on the ground injured.

In a statement Thursday, the family’s attorneys called the indictment an “important step,” but said the charge of reckless manslaughter was “not sufficient to achieve even a small part of justice” for Eyad’s death. They criticized prosecutors for what they called “attempts to circumvent the proper legal procedures in order to protect the criminal policeman.”

In cases of attacks against Israeli security forces, police often quickly release security-camera footage to the public. Palestinians and human rights groups say Israel has a poor record of prosecuting cases of police violence against Palestinians.

Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List of Arab parties in Israel’s parliament, responded on Twitter, calling the indictment for reckless manslaughter "an infuriating and denigrating charge.”

Hallaq's shooting drew comparisons to the death of George Floyd in the U.S. and prompted a series of small demonstrations against police violence. The uproar crossed Israeli-Palestinian lines and drew Jewish protesters as well. Israeli leaders expressed regret over the shooting.


Israel keen to establish ties with southeast Asia’s Muslim nations — envoy

Israel keen to establish ties with southeast Asia’s Muslim nations — envoy
Updated 44 min 21 sec ago

Israel keen to establish ties with southeast Asia’s Muslim nations — envoy

Israel keen to establish ties with southeast Asia’s Muslim nations — envoy
  • Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei sharply criticized the Israeli attacks on Palestine
  • Israel has embassies in Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines and Myanmar, among other countries in Asia

KUALA LUMPUR: Israel is willing to work toward establishing ties with southeast Asia’s Muslim majority nations, its ambassador to Singapore said on Thursday, despite their condemnation in May of Israeli air strikes on Gaza.

The region’s three Muslim-majority states — Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei — sharply criticized the Israeli attacks during 11 days of hostilities in which medics said over 250 Palestinians were killed and 13 people killed in Israel by rockets fired by Hamas and other Islamist militant groups.

Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei had urged the United Nations to step in and stop “the atrocities carried out against the Palestinian people.”

The three countries do not have formal ties with Israel and have repeatedly called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and for a two-state solution based on borders before the 1967 Middle East war.

Sagi Karni, Israel’s ambassador to Singapore, said the criticism from the three nations’ leaders was “not honest” and ignored “the true nature of the conflict,” which he said was between Israel and Hamas and not the Palestinian people.

“Hamas is an anti-Semitic organization ... I’m not sure that many of the people participating in social media debates truly understand the radical and fascist nature of Hamas,” he told Reuters in a video interview. Hamas rejects accusations of anti-Semitism.

Karni said Israel acknowledged there were civilian casualties during the 11-day hostilities, but that the only way for any party to have meaningful influence over what happens in the Middle East was by establishing relations with Israel.

“We are willing to talk, we are willing to meet, and the door is open as far as we are concerned. I don’t think it’s so difficult to find us,” he said.

Israel has embassies in Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines and Myanmar, among other countries in Asia.

Four Arab states — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco — agreed last year to normalize relations with Israel under US-brokered deals.


Turkey: Attack on pro-Kurdish party offices leaves 1 dead

Turkey: Attack on pro-Kurdish party offices leaves 1 dead
Updated 17 June 2021

Turkey: Attack on pro-Kurdish party offices leaves 1 dead

Turkey: Attack on pro-Kurdish party offices leaves 1 dead
  • The Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, said a gunman entered the building in Izmir province

ISTANBUL: A gunman killed one person Thursday during an attack on the office of a pro-Kurdish party in western Turkey, authorities said..
The Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, said a gunman entered the building in Izmir province, fired shots and attempted to set the office on fire.
The provincial governor’s office said one person was killed. The office said a suspect, a former health worker, was detained. HDP confirmed the shooting victim was a party employee.
The HDP, the second-largest opposition party in Turkey's parliament, has faced a widespread government crackdown, with party members being accused of supporting an outlawed Kurdish militant group.
Thousands of pro-Kurdish activists, along with lawmakers and the party’s former leaders, have been imprisoned.
The HDP, in a statement, accused the Turkish government and the country's interior minister of targeting the party and provoking such attacks.


Abu Dhabi receives first shipment of Sotrovimab jabs to treat COVID-19

Abu Dhabi receives first shipment of Sotrovimab jabs to treat COVID-19
Updated 17 June 2021

Abu Dhabi receives first shipment of Sotrovimab jabs to treat COVID-19

Abu Dhabi receives first shipment of Sotrovimab jabs to treat COVID-19
  • The jab uses lab made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful antigens such as viruses like the coronavirus, the FDA said

DUBAI: Abu Dhabi has become the first city in the world to receive a shipment of a new drug to combat COVID-19 infection, Sotrovimab-VIR-783, state news agency WAM reported Wednesday. 

In May, the Ministry of Health and Prevention approved the emergency use of the drug, saying that the “anti-COVID-19 medication has shown to prevent severe illness and death in 85 percent of cases treated early.”

The drug, developed by UK pharmacy giant GlaxoSmithKline (LSE: GSK) and the USA’s Vir Biotechnology, uses an investigational single-dose monoclonal antibody for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 cases. It received FDA approval in May after developers applied for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).

The jab uses lab made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful antigens such as viruses like the coronavirus, the FDA said.

The UAE has seen daily coronavirus cases fluctuate in recent weeks, with the country registering 2,011 new COVID-19 infections alongside four deaths Wednesday, according to the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA). 


Iran nuclear deal hangs in balance as Islamic Republic votes

Iran nuclear deal hangs in balance as Islamic Republic votes
Updated 17 June 2021

Iran nuclear deal hangs in balance as Islamic Republic votes

Iran nuclear deal hangs in balance as Islamic Republic votes
  • Before the deal, Iran had been enriching up to 20 percent and had a stockpile of some 10,000 kilograms
  • The deal collapsed after former US President Donald Trump took office, leading to a series of attacks and confrontations across the wider Middle East

DUBAI: Iran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers hangs in the balance as the country prepares to vote on Friday for a new president and diplomats press on with efforts to get both the US and Tehran to reenter the accord.
The deal represents the signature accomplishment of the relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani’s eight years in office: suspending crushing sanctions in exchange for the strict monitoring and limiting of Iran’s uranium stockpile.
The deal’s collapse with President Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally withdraw America from the agreement in 2018 spiraled into a series of attacks and confrontations across the wider Middle East. It also prompted Tehran to enrich uranium to highest purity levels so far, just shy of weapons-grade levels.
With analysts and polling suggesting that a hard-line candidate already targeted by US sanctions will win Friday’s vote, a return to the deal may be possible but it likely won’t lead to a further detente between Iran and the West.
“It’s certainly not as complex as drafting a deal from scratch, which is what the sides did that resulted in the 2015 deal,” said Henry Rome, a senior analyst focusing on Iran at the Eurasia Group. “But there’s still a lot of details that need to be worked out.”
He added: “I think there’s a lot of domestic politics that go into this and an interest from hard-liners, including the supreme leader, to ensure that their favored candidate wins without any significant disruptions to that process.”
The 2015 deal, which saw Iranians flood into the streets in celebration, marked a major turn after years of tensions between Iran and the West over Iran’s nuclear program. Tehran has long insisted that its program is for peaceful purposes. However, US intelligence agencies and International Atomic Energy Agency say Iran pursued an organized nuclear weapons program up until 2003.
In order to ease the threat seen by the West, Iran agreed under the deal to limit its enrichment of uranium gas to just 3.67 percent purity, which can be used in nuclear power plants but is far below weapons-grade levels of 90 percent. It also put a hard cap on Iran’s uranium stockpile to just 300 kilograms (661 pounds). Tehran also committed to using only 5,060 of its first-generation centrifuges, the devices that spin the uranium gas to enrich it.
Before the deal, Iran had been enriching up to 20 percent and had a stockpile of some 10,000 kilograms (22,046 pounds). That amount at that enrichment level narrowed Iran’s so-called “breakout” time — how long it would take for Tehran to be able to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one atomic bomb.
Prior to the deal, experts estimated Iran needed two to three months to reach that point. Under the deal, officials put that period at around a year. The deal also subjected Iran to some of the most-stringent monitoring ever by the IAEA to monitor its program and ensure its compliance.
What the deal didn’t do, however, was involve Iran’s ballistic missile program or Tehran’s support of militant groups around the region — such as the Lebanese Hezbollah or the Palestinian Hamas — that the West and its allies have designated terrorist organizations. At the time, the Obama administration suggested further negotiations could spring from the deal. However, Trump entered the White House on a promise to “tear up” the accord in part over that, which he ultimately did in 2018.
In the time since, Iran has broken all the limits it agreed to under the deal. It now enriches small amounts of uranium up to 63 percent purity. It spins far-more advanced centrifuges. The IAEA hasn’t been able to access its surveillance cameras at Iranian nuclear sites since late February, nor data from its online enrichment monitors and electronic seals — hobbling the UN nuclear watchdog’s monitoring abilities. Iran also restarted enrichment at a hardened underground facility and is building more centrifuge halls underground, after two attacks suspected to have been carried out by Israel.
If Iran’s nuclear program remains unchecked, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has warned it could shrink Tehran’s “breakout” time down to “a matter of weeks.” That has worried nonproliferation experts.
“I think for the international community — and specifically for the United States — putting the nuclear program back into a box is critical,” said Sanam Vakil, the deputy head of Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa program who studies Iran. “It’s important because beyond the nuclear agreement, the negotiators are ultimately hoping to lengthen and strengthen the deal. And so you can’t even get there until the current deal is stabilized.”
Since President Joe Biden took office, his diplomats have been working with other world powers to come up with a way to return both the US and Iran to the deal in negotiations in Vienna. There have been no direct US-Iran in those negotiations, though separate talks have been underway involving a possible prisoner swap.
In Friday’s presidential election in Iran, hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi appears to be the front-runner. He’s already said he wants to return Iran to the nuclear deal to take advantage of its economic benefits. But given his previous belligerent statements toward the US, further cooperation with the West at the moment appears unlikely.
Meanwhile, it remains unclear when a deal will be reached in Vienna. And while Iran has broken through all the accord’s limits, there’s still more it could do to increase pressure on the West. Those steps could include using more centrifuges, further increasing enrichment, restarting a facility that makes plutonium as a byproduct or abandoning a nuclear nonproliferation treaty.
“It’s a very fine tool,” Rome said. “The Iranian political leadership can decide quite specifically what type of signal it wants to send, whether that’s the type of machines it uses, the speed of the production, the quantity of the production in order to send a message to the West about the degree of pressure it wants to put on.”