With green mosques and schools, Amman pushes for zero emissions

With green mosques and schools, Amman pushes for zero emissions
The Hamdan Al-Qara mosque in southern Amman is equipped with 140 solar panels on its roof. (AFP)
Updated 30 October 2018

With green mosques and schools, Amman pushes for zero emissions

With green mosques and schools, Amman pushes for zero emissions
  • Almost all the mosques in Jordan now cover 100 percent of their energy needs
  • The country aims to generate 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2022

AMMAN: Poking above the bright pink bougainvillea that spills into the street, the lone minaret of the Ta’la Al-Ali mosque towers over the Khalda neighborhood of Amman.
Aside from its colorful stain-glassed windows and ornate calligraphy, this mosque stands out for another reason: its roof is covered with shining solar panels that make the building’s carbon emissions close to zero.
The structure is part of a wider effort by mosques — and many other buildings in the city — to capitalize on Jordan’s plentiful sunshine and shift toward renewable energy, in a bid to achieve Amman’s goal of becoming a carbon neutral city by 2050.
“Almost all the mosques here in Jordan now cover 100 percent of their energy needs” with renewable power, said Yazan Ismail, an energy auditor at ETA-max Energy and Environmental Solutions, a green consultancy in Jordan.
Amman is one of more than 70 cities worldwide that are aiming to become “carbon neutral” by 2050, meaning they will produce no more climate-changing emissions than they can offset, such as by planting carbon-absorbing trees.
Each is going about achieving the goal in its own way. But because cities account for about three-quarters of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the United Nations, and consume more than two-thirds of the world’s energy, whether they succeed or fail will have a huge impact on if the world’s climate goals are met.
In Amman, the push to make mosques greener — which began in 2014, with backing from the Ministry of Religious Affairs — has been so successful that many are now selling excess energy back to the national grid, Ismail said.
For the Ta’la Al-Ali mosque’s imam, who speaks to the faithful in his Friday sermons about protecting the climate, the decision to adopt clean energy coincides with wider religious values.
“The main reason for the use of solar energy is religious duty,” said Ahmad Al-Rawashdeh. Islam urges conservation of nature’s resources, he said, and “warns against extravagance.”
But the use of solar energy, and power-saving LED lightbulbs, also is helping the mosque financially, he admitted.
Amman, where temperatures already soar above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in the summer, has clear incentives to try to hold the line on global warming.
But renewables are far from the norm in most of the country. Jordan still imports close to 96 percent of its energy, most of it polluting fossil fuels, from its Middle Eastern neighbors, according to the World Bank.
Government officials say they are going to change that.
“We are committed to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030,” Minister of Environment Nayef Hmeidi Al-Fayez said.
The country aims to generate 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2022, Al-Fayez said. It’s a target he thinks will be met early, in part as solar panels go up on the city’s homes, businesses and government buildings.
Earlier this year the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) put in place $188 million in financing to develop Jordan’s largest solar power plant for the state National Electric Power Company.
The project is scheduled to go online in the first half of 2020, and will supply power to about 110,000 homes while displacing 360,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually, a statement from Masdar said.
On the other side of the city, the Al-Hoffaz international academy — one of the first schools to go solar in Amman, in 2013 — now gets almost 95 percent of its energy from renewable sources, said Khaled Al-Salaymah, assistant general manager of the school.
At Al-Hoffaz, children in orange and black uniforms chant their times-tables as they file down the stairs of the academy, one of about 100 schools in Amman seeking to lower carbon emissions.
“Based on our community and public responsibilities we want to reduce our emissions and carbon contribution urgently,” said Al-Salaymah.
“Also, there’s an economic dimension: we’ve reduced our energy consumption costs too,” he said.
Along with glimmering solar electrical panels covering the basketball court, the teachers’ car park and much of the roof, the school uses solar water heaters and recycles its waste while also prioritizing environmental education, he said.
“We hold awareness sessions for students, parents and teachers here to ensure they know the benefits of going green and using renewable energy,” Al-Salaymah told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“It’s not just installing solar panels. We want to be green in every way.”
He said he had noticed a rise in social awareness of the risks of climate change, particularly among young Jordanians.
“The mentality has changed,” he said.
Jordan is also trying to cut emissions from tourism. The country hopes to market itself as a haven for ecotourists keen to stay in zero-carbon resorts along the salty Dead Sea or near the UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra.
The Feynan Ecolodge sits on the edge of the Dana Biosphere Reserve, on the road to the ancient crimson carved city of Petra.
With solar appliances serving its 26 rooms and candle-lit corridors, the lodge is entirely off grid, and offers visitors the chance to feast on vegetarian food, stargaze or learn to bake bread beneath the hot sand.
Manager Nabil Tarazi said the lodge’s daily energy consumption was less than that of a two-bedroom apartment in Amman.
The lodge is part of a string of buildings backed by Jordan’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN), including a similar resort north of Amman in the protected forest reserve of Ajloun.
Nestled among evergreen oaks, that lodge harvests rainwater and uses geothermal heating and cooling to keep its emissions at net zero.
Despite Jordan’s efforts to cut carbon emissions, Amman faces big challenges, including a booming population, swollen by the arrival of more than half a million refugees fleeing conflict in neighboring Syria.
Arid Amman is also among the most water-stressed cities in the world — enough that Jordan is now looking into desalination plants to keep the taps running.
But the push for solar power may also help.
A May report by the World Resources Institute found that thirsty Middle Eastern and North African countries, including Jordan, could cut water demand by switching to solar power, which uses less water to produce than fossil fuel electricity generation.
Jordan’s Environment Minister Al-Fayez said he has confidence Amman — and the country — will continue pushing to meet their ambitious carbon-cutting goals.
“We’re always optimistic in Jordan. That’s the way that we survive,” he said.


UAE allows Pfizer COVID-19 dose for emergency use in 12-15 year olds

UAE allows Pfizer COVID-19 dose for emergency use in 12-15 year olds
Updated 11 min 43 sec ago

UAE allows Pfizer COVID-19 dose for emergency use in 12-15 year olds

UAE allows Pfizer COVID-19 dose for emergency use in 12-15 year olds

The UAE has approved the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in children aged 12-15, the government said on Thursday, having already permitted its use for 16 years and above.
The UAE's health ministry approved its use, the government's Twitter account said. The US Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday approved the use of the vaccine in children as young as 12.


Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan

Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan
Updated 40 min 43 sec ago

Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan

Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan
  • Violence lay heavy on hearts of parents of children dressed in new clothes and clutching balloons reveling to celebrate Eid al-Fitr in Jerusalem’s Old City
  • As sun began to break over al-Aqsa mosque crowds of Palestinians gathered for the first prayers to mark Ramadan’s end

JERUSALEM: Dressed in sparkly new clothes and clutching balloons, excited children Thursday revelled in the Muslim Eid Al-Fitr celebrations in Jerusalem’s Old City.
But days of violence lay heavy on their parents’ hearts.
As the first rays of sun began to break over the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site of Islam, crowds of Palestinians gathered for the first prayers to mark the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
The three-day festival is traditionally celebrated with mosque prayers, family feasts and shopping for new clothes, gifts and sweets.
Stalls stacked high with colorful plastic toys, or tasty sesame-dipped snacks that are a Jerusalem specialty, tempted the crowds snaking along the Old City’s narrow stone streets.
At the centuries-old Damascus Gate, scene of violent clashes between Israeli Arabs and police at the start of Ramadan, two huge bundles of helium-filled balloons fluttered in the spring breeze. Mickey Mouse and Spiderman could be spotted bobbing among them.
Just three days ago, Israeli police deployed so-called skunk water there — a putrid mixture of sewage water — to disperse the crowds after a weekend of unrest in different parts of Israeli-occupied east Jerusalem.
Hundreds of Palestinians were injured as well as dozens of Israeli police in the clashes which also erupted on the Temple Mount, the most sacred site in Judaism, on which the Al-Aqsa mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock shrine also stand.
The convulsion of violence has since spread, engulfing the Gaza Strip run by the Islamic militant Hamas movement, the Palestinian territory of the West Bank and Israeli cities which have seen unprecedented mob clashes between Jewish and Arab residents.
On Thursday the boom of rocket fire could be periodically heard in Jerusalem, where calm has mainly returned to the streets. But many believe it may just be the calm before a further storm.
“Do you see any problems, there, right now? No,” said Jabbar, who is in his 60s, pointing at crowds of Palestinians being carefully watched by heavily-armed Israeli police at Damascus gate.
“But it could flare up again at any minute,” he warned grimly.
“Everything will return to normal if God so wishes it,” said Fefka, who lives in the east Jerusalem quarter of Issawiya.
“The violence has to stop, but everything is only done for the settlers here,” she added angrily.
“Jerusalem is also ours,” she insisted, denouncing Israeli settlers who have moved into the east of the city since it was seized in the 1967 war.
According to the United Nations, east Jerusalem has been illegally occupied and annexed by Israel since then.
Hiba, 26, and Soujoud, 21, have been visiting the Al-Aqsa compound since Friday, the day the troubles erupted, triggered by the threat of evicting Palestinian families from their east Jerusalem homes to allow settlers to move in.
“Morning and evening, we stayed at Al-Aqsa,” said Soujoud, a secretarial student. “We don’t want any problems (with the police), but the mosque is ours and we have to defend it,” she added.
On the site, which overlooks the sprawling Old City below, children were entertained by a clown, while adults brandished Hamas flags and rolled out banners praising the Islamist movement.
“Jerusalem is a red line,” read one of the banners.
On Al-Wad Street which crosses the Old City, some passers-by were wearing shirts decorated with Palestinian flags, others had painted them on the cheeks.
Many were wearing the black-and-white chequered keffiyah scarf which has become a symbol of the Palestinian cause.
“We feel very sad for the Eid today, because of the situation and the violence,” said Hiba.
“We can’t be happy when we see what is happening in Gaza and elsewhere.”


Watchdog slams Iran’s treatment of Kurdish journalists

Security forces have detained at least eight Kurdish-Iranian journalists since mid-2020, including at least three who remain in detention. (Reuters via WANA/File Photo)
Security forces have detained at least eight Kurdish-Iranian journalists since mid-2020, including at least three who remain in detention. (Reuters via WANA/File Photo)
Updated 13 May 2021

Watchdog slams Iran’s treatment of Kurdish journalists

Security forces have detained at least eight Kurdish-Iranian journalists since mid-2020, including at least three who remain in detention. (Reuters via WANA/File Photo)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists: Tehran should ‘release all jailed journalists immediately’
  • Minority activists and journalists in Iran regularly face arbitrary detention and torture 

LONDON: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has spoken out against Iran’s use of “vague, trumped-up” charges to crack down on Kurdish journalists, and urged authorities to release three who remain in detention.

Since May 2020, Tehran’s security forces have arrested dozens of activists and students in a crackdown on perceived pro-Kurdish movements in the country, according to reports cited by the CPJ.

They have arrested at least eight Kurdish journalists, three of whom remain behind bars.

“Iranian authorities’ targeting of Kurdish journalists adds a dimension of ethnic discrimination to the country’s already dire campaign to imprison members of the press,” said the CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa researcher Justin Shilad. 

“Authorities should drop all vague, trumped-up charges filed against Iranian-Kurdish journalists, and release all jailed journalists immediately,” he added.

On condition of anonymity, a lawyer representing several detained journalists told the CPJ that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are “very sensitive about Kurdish journalists and the topics they write about, especially if they write about the unity of Iranian, Iraqi and Turkish Kurds, and other regional issues of Kurds.”

Iran’s ethnically diverse population — including Kurds, Arabs, Azerbaijanis and other minorities — has long been a source of insecurity for the regime, which at various times in its history has been confronted with secessionist movements.

For this reason, the lawyer explained, Tehran is “sensitive every time Kurdish journalists travel to Kurdish areas of Iraq such as Erbil. They closely monitor all movements across the border and any journalists’ assembly.”

Jafar Osafi, who is one of three journalists who remain in detention after the 2020 crackdown, ran a religious commentary and discussion channel on Telegram called “QandA with Sunnis.” He was arrested in his own home in June 2020, and has since been moved to Urmia prison, where the CPJ said he remains.

The committee said: “Iranian authorities must stop imprisoning and harassing Kurdish and other minority journalists, and should allow all members of the press to cover the news freely.”

According to Amnesty International, Iran’s ethnic minorities face “entrenched discrimination, curtailing their access to education, employment, adequate housing and political office.

“Members of minorities who spoke out against violations or demanded a degree of regional self-government were subjected to arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment. The authorities criminalized peaceful advocacy of separatism or federalism and accused minority rights activists of threatening Iran’s territorial integrity.”


Egypt delegation in Tel Aviv for cease-fire talks

Egypt delegation in Tel Aviv for cease-fire talks
Updated 13 May 2021

Egypt delegation in Tel Aviv for cease-fire talks

Egypt delegation in Tel Aviv for cease-fire talks
  • An Egyptian delegation is negotiating a cease-fire with Israeli and Hamas officials
  • Egypt has played a mediating role in the past between the sides

CAIRO: An Egyptian delegation is in Tel Aviv for talks with Israeli officials as part of efforts to negotiate a cease-fire in the escalating conflict with Gaza, Egyptian intelligence officials said Thursday.
The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to brief the media. The same delegation met with Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip first, they said, and crossed into Israel by land. Egypt has played a mediating role in the past between the sides.
Late Wednesday, Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shukry, condemned Israeli attacks on Palestinian territory in a phone call with his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi. He said it was important for both sides to avoid escalation and resorting to military means, according to a readout of the call.


Oman to end COVID-19 curfew for individuals and vehicles

Oman to end COVID-19 curfew for individuals and vehicles
Updated 13 May 2021

Oman to end COVID-19 curfew for individuals and vehicles

Oman to end COVID-19 curfew for individuals and vehicles

DUBAI: Individuals and vehicles will no longer be subject to curfews starting on Saturday, after Oman’s COVID-19 Supreme Committee issued on Thursday a list of changes in restrictions.

The Committee also issued a ban on hosting any commercial activities inside stores between 8pm and 4am daily limiting the service to delivery. Groceries and supermarkets are exempt.

Moreover, the Supreme Committee maintained that within the hours of operation, stores, outlets, malls, restaurants and cafes will be permitted to accommodate up to 50 percent only.

The Committee also re-activated its decision to have only half of public sector employees reporting to work meanwhile the remaining will work remotely.