Desert sand may hold key to the next Gulf economic miracle

Desert sand may hold key to the next Gulf economic miracle
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The volume of sand and gravel used in creating the rapidly growing cities of the world increased more than 20 times over the course of the 20th century. (Shutterstock)
Desert sand may hold key to the next Gulf economic miracle
2 / 2
The volume of sand and gravel used in creating the rapidly growing cities of the world increased more than 20 times over the course of the 20th century. (Shutterstock) (Shutterstock image)
Updated 04 August 2019

Desert sand may hold key to the next Gulf economic miracle

Desert sand may hold key to the next Gulf economic miracle
  • Finite, made from desert sand, is reputed to be as strong as concrete, yet has half the carbon footprint
  • Finding an alternative to conventional concrete could relieve environmental pressure around the world

LONDON: For centuries, the vast desert sands of the Arabian Peninsula were, at best, an uncomfortable fact of life, an everyday exercise in extreme survival for the tribes that once clung tenaciously to life in arid, inhospitable areas such as the Empty Quarter.

Now, 80 years after the seemingly barren sands gave up the black gold that would transform the fortunes of all the Gulf states, the deserts may hold the key to the next economic miracle poised to transform the region.

However, unlike the vast oilfields that lay unseen deep beneath the sand in eastern Saudi Arabia until 1938, this bounty has been hiding in plain sight all along: the desert sand itself.

As impossible as it might seem, the world is running out of sand — not desert sand, but the stuff found on beaches and riverbeds and under the sea. Grains of rock or shell eroded over time by the movement of water are perfectly shaped for bonding together to make strong concrete. Smooth, wind-sculpted sand is useless for this purpose.

As the author Vince Beiser explains in his book, The World in a Grain, sand “is to cities what flour is to bread, what cells are to our bodies: the invisible but fundamental ingredient that makes up the bulk of the built environment in which most of us live,” and this unsustainable resource has never been more in demand.




Material Finite

As the single most important vital component in every building and road, to say nothing of its starring role in every pane of window glass and the silicon chips of our phones and computers, the world is using more than 50 billion tonnes of sand every year – and rising.

In 2017, a paper in the journal Science spelled out what the authors called the “looming tragedy of the sand commons,” a reference to the fact that because of the difficulties in regulating exploitation, “common-pool” resources such as sand “are prone to tragedies of the commons, as people may selfishly extract them without considering long-term consequences.”

Over the course of the 20th century, the volume of sand and gravel used in creating the rapidly growing cities of the world increased more than 20 times, and today sand is the single most exploited natural resource.

The amount of sand dredged from the rivers, seas and coastlines of the world to create our expanding conurbations is greater than the amount of fossil fuels extracted from the earth.

Scientists from the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research say that even where sand mining is regulated, “scarcity is an emerging issue with major sociopolitical, economic and environmental implications.”

One has only to gaze up at the evolving skylines of cities such as Dubai to gain a rough idea of how much concrete went into their creation – and then, perhaps, to wonder where all the sand came from that went into making it.


KEY FACTS

• Finite is able to perform many functions and build many intricate forms and finishes.

• Finite opens opportunities to make use of abundant fine powders that traditionally have had no use.

• Structures made of Finite have the same strength as traditional housing bricks and residential concrete.

• Finite can be remolded for multiple lifecycle uses and is biodegradable.

• The inventors are trying to bring Finite to market with exciting initial opportunities.


The answer is: not from the surrounding desert. Trying to make concrete from the round grains of desert sand, says Vince Beiser, is like “trying to build something out of a stack of marbles instead of out of a stack of little bricks.”

Staring out across the desert from the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, sand is pretty much all that the eye can see. But much of the sand that it took to create the 400,000 square meters of concrete used in the construction of the world’s tallest building was imported from Australia, a fantastically costly and inefficient comment on the environmentally profligate times in which we live.

Unsurprisingly, the search is on for an alternative, and a team of four researchers at Imperial College London believe they have found it. Hamza Oza, Matteo Maccario, Carolyn Tam and Saki Maruyama have named their newly developed material Finite. It is, they say, as strong as concrete, yet has half the carbon footprint.

For obvious reasons, the technical details remain a closely guarded secret. But one vitally important feature has emerged: Finite can be made from desert sand.

If they are right, the four young inventors stand to become extremely wealthy and Finite will disrupt a multi-billion-dollar international mining industry that in 2016 was valued at $8.9 billion in the US alone.

The advantages for the Gulf states, and for every other economy with a desert in its backyard, are plain: no more importing sand from halfway around the world at exorbitant prices, which will slash the cost of development and create a new export business worth billions of dollars.

But there is a potential downside and it is one that must be considered and guarded against now, before it is too late.

Much damage has been done to the maritime ecology of the Gulf since the discovery of oil. Inspiring but rampant coastal development has destroyed marine environments vital for diversity, such as the mangrove fish nurseries that once fringed the shores of the Gulf states.

The thirst for fresh water, met by power-hungry desalination plants, not only contributes to the vast carbon footprint of these air-conditioned countries, but is also polluting the Gulf with super-salinated waste water, wiping out whole species of fish and increasing the size of the enormous “dead zone” in the Arabian Sea.

Finding an alternative to conventional concrete sand would relieve environmental pressure around the world and deliver a huge and entirely unexpected natural windfall to all states surrounded by desert.

But it would be a tragedy if the discovery of the usefulness of this readily available commodity led to an unregulated gold rush capable of destroying the fragile, historic environment in which the first chapters of the Arab story were written.

To this day the vast and largely undisturbed deserts of the Arabian Peninsula are home to a surprisingly varied array of plant and animal life.

They also offer welcome refuge to human beings who, weary of city life, feel the need to recharge their batteries by reconnecting, however briefly, with the beauty of the landscape that shaped their forebears.

As such, the wild deserts of Arabia are as much a priceless cultural treasure as an environmental one, that must be protected at all costs. — Syndication Bureau

 


Over 140 Palestinians hurt in clashes with Israel troops: medics

Over 140 Palestinians hurt in clashes with Israel troops: medics
Updated 23 July 2021

Over 140 Palestinians hurt in clashes with Israel troops: medics

Over 140 Palestinians hurt in clashes with Israel troops: medics
  • The Israeli army said two soldiers were also "lightly injured" in the violence
  • Hundreds of Palestinians gathered in Beita to protest against the nearby outpost of Eviatar

BEITA, Palestinian Territories: More than 140 Palestinians were hurt Friday in clashes with Israeli troops in the flashpoint West Bank village of Beita, medics said, during protests against an illegal Israeli settlement outpost.
The Israeli army said two soldiers were also “lightly injured” in the violence.
Hundreds of Palestinians gathered in Beita, located in the north of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, to protest against the nearby outpost of Eviatar, an AFP correspondent said.
The area has seen regular demonstrations against settlement expansion on Palestinian land.
The Israeli army said that “over the last several hours, a riot was instigated in the area of Givat Eviatar outpost, south of Nablus.”
“Hundreds of Palestinians hurled rocks at IDF (army) troops, who responded with riot dispersal means,” it said in a statement, adding that the two “lightly injured” soldiers were taken to hospital.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said 146 Palestinians were hurt during the clashes, including nine by live fire, 34 by rubber-coated bullets and 87 by tear gas.
Jewish settlers set up the Eviatar outpost in early May, building rudimentary concrete homes and shacks in a matter of weeks.
The construction came in defiance of both international and Israeli law, and sparked fierce protests from Palestinians who insisted it was being built on their land.
But following a deal struck with nationalist Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s new government, the settlers left the outpost on July 2, while the structures they had built were to remain under army guard.
Israel’s defense ministry said it would study the area to assess whether it could, under Israeli law, be declared state land.
Should that happen, Israel could then authorize a religious school to be built at Eviatar, with residences for its staff and students.
Around 475,000 Jewish settlers now live in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967.


Abu Dhabi crown prince receives call from Israeli PM

Abu Dhabi crown prince receives call from Israeli PM
Updated 23 July 2021

Abu Dhabi crown prince receives call from Israeli PM

Abu Dhabi crown prince receives call from Israeli PM
  • The crown prince congratulated Bennett on assuming the position of Israeli PM
  • Bennett congratulated Sheikh Mohammed on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha and wished him continued health and happiness

DUBAI: The crown prince of Abu Dhabi received a call from the prime minister of Israel on Friday during which they discussed cooperation between the two countries.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and Naftali Bennett also discussed regional and international issues of common interest and efforts to achieve peace and prosperity regionally and internationally.
Bennett congratulated Sheikh Mohammed on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha and wished him continued health and happiness, and the UAE and its people further progress and prosperity.
Sheikh Mohammed thanked the prime minister and expressed his hopes that peace and prosperity prevail for all of mankind.
The crown prince also congratulated Bennett on assuming the position of Israeli prime minister and expressed his aspiration that the UAE and Israel would work together toward peace, stability and development for the benefit of the region and the world.


Iran’s Khuzestan protests: Water was the trigger, anti-Arab discrimination is the reason

Protesters, rights groups and activists say the water demand by Ahwazi Arabs is part of wider discontent over historic and systematic racial discrimination. (Screenshots/Social Media)
Protesters, rights groups and activists say the water demand by Ahwazi Arabs is part of wider discontent over historic and systematic racial discrimination. (Screenshots/Social Media)
Updated 23 July 2021

Iran’s Khuzestan protests: Water was the trigger, anti-Arab discrimination is the reason

Protesters, rights groups and activists say the water demand by Ahwazi Arabs is part of wider discontent over historic and systematic racial discrimination. (Screenshots/Social Media)
  • ‘There are accumulations of injustice, persecution and racism against Arabs,’ protester tells Arab News
  • Despite being rich in oil, the province’s Arabs are one of the most deprived communities in the country

 

LONDON: Iran’s Arab population has been on the frontline of water-shortage protests across cities in Khuzestan province this week.

Protesters, rights groups and activists say the water demand by Ahwazi Arabs is part of wider discontent over historic and systematic racial discrimination. 

“The reasons for the protests are many. In fact, there are accumulations of injustice, persecution and racism against Arabs,” a protester told Arab News on condition of anonymity. 

Among the reasons are “oil and gas, and now the regime stole the waters of the rivers and dried up their lands,” the protester said, adding that Ahwazi Arabs “face many problems with unemployment and the obliteration of Arab identity.”

The protester said: “The demands are clear and legitimate: Provide agricultural water, restore rivers to their streams, open dams, employ Arabs in oil and gas companies, give freedom of expression and appoint officials from our governorate to feel our pain and concerns.

“Ahwaz hasn’t witnessed an Arab official since 1925. All officials are chosen from the center. They drain the governorate’s money then leave after stealing its wealth.” 

Videos shared on social media show water buffalos and fish lifeless on the ground due to dehydration in Ahwazi-Arab marshlands and villages.

Arabs in these areas rely on raising their cattle to get by, and water supply is essential for them to be able to make a living from agriculture. 

Khuzestan MP Abdollah Izadpanah blamed the water shortages on “mistakes and unjustified decisions,” including the extraction of water from Khuzestan’s rivers to other provinces. 

Among Iran’s Arab community, it is believed that the drying up of marshlands and the diversion of water are part of a state-led effort to displace them and change the province’s demography.

In a viral video released earlier this month, a local Arab sheikh tells officials: “We aren’t going to leave this land. You brought us floods and drought to make us migrate. We won’t leave. This is our ancestral land.”

US-based human rights advocate Rahim Hamid told Arab News: “Many Ahwazi activists have asserted that the state’s ongoing river-damming and diversion projects are part of a demographic change policy intended to force the indigenous Arab people from their lands.”

He added: “Protesters have voiced loud opposition to any such demographic change, chanting ‘no, no to displacement’ and ‘we protect Ahwaz with our blood and soul’.”

In his spring 2021 report, the UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on Iran, Javid Rehman, noted “reports of forced evictions in ethnic minority areas” impacting Ahwazi Arabs.

Amnesty International has so far reported eight people killed by security forces during the protests.

Among them was teenager Hadi Bahmani, reportedly a Bakhtiari, who like others from that community joined the Khuzestan protests in solidarity with Ahwazi Arabs. 

Hamid said Tehran is “maligning the protesters as separatist extremists, with regime officials and media adding insult to injury by using their customary racist anti-Arab language in their desperate efforts to delegitimize the protesters’ calls for fundamental human rights.”

Protesters have constantly assured Tehran that the demonstrations are peaceful and that their demands are not tied to separatism.

Instead, they want the regime to address both the water crisis and the multi-layered discrimination that Arabs in the country face.

Despite the oil-rich province, which is Iran’s largest source of foreign revenue, being Ahwazi Arabs’ home, they are one of the most deprived communities in the country and face abject poverty. 

In January, Mohsen Haidari, a senior cleric representing Khuzestan in the Assembly of Experts — the deliberative body empowered to appoint Iran’s supreme leader — publically spoke of anti-Arab discrimination being rife in employment. 


Lebanon water supply could collapse in a month: UN

Lebanon water supply could collapse in a month: UN
Updated 23 July 2021

Lebanon water supply could collapse in a month: UN

Lebanon water supply could collapse in a month: UN
  • Over 4 million people, including 1 million refugees, are at immediate risk of losing access to safe water in Lebanon, UNICEF said
  • Most water pumping will gradually cease across the country in the next 4 to 6 weeks

BEIRUT: The shortages and currency crunch in Lebanon could lead to a collapse of the mains water supply in Lebanon within a month, the UN’s Children Fund warned Friday.
“More than four million people, including one million refugees, are at immediate risk of losing access to safe water in Lebanon,” UNICEF said.
The UN agency said that maintenance costs incurred in US dollars, funding shortages and the parallel collapse of the power grid were rapidly destroying the water sector.
“UNICEF estimates that most water pumping will gradually cease across the country in the next four to six weeks,” it said.
“A loss of access to the public water supply could force households to make extremely difficult decisions regarding their basic water, sanitation and hygiene needs,” UNICEF Representative in Lebanon Yukie Mokuo said.
Lebanon’s meltdown, which started with a financial crisis caused by state corruption and mismanagement, is fast spreading to every aspect of daily life.
The Lebanese pound, which for years was pegged to the US dollar, has lost more than 90 percent of its value over the past 18 months.
Electricity in most places is barely available an hour a day while the fuel needed to power generators is also in short supply.
Basic medicines have been missing from pharmacy shelves for months and private hospitals warned on Thursday they were “hours away” from losing all power supply.


American Jewish groups support Ben & Jerry’s decision to end sales in Occupied Territories

Ben & Jerry's announced that it will stop selling ice cream in the Israel-occupied Palestinian territories since it was
Ben & Jerry's announced that it will stop selling ice cream in the Israel-occupied Palestinian territories since it was "inconsistent with our values." (AFP)
Updated 23 July 2021

American Jewish groups support Ben & Jerry’s decision to end sales in Occupied Territories

Ben & Jerry's announced that it will stop selling ice cream in the Israel-occupied Palestinian territories since it was "inconsistent with our values." (AFP)
  • The company stressed that its decision only applies to illegal Israeli settlements inside the Occupied Territories, and not to Israel
  • The US government does not officially recognize Israeli settlements built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as part of Israel

ATLANTA: Iconic ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry’s decision to stop selling its products in illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories has reignited the debate over whether international companies should boycott Israeli settlements as part of the effort to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.

Officials from two Republican-controlled states — Texas and Florida — weighed in on the debate on Thursday, issuing statements threatening Ben & Jerry’s parent company Unilever with sanctions if the ice-cream brand does not reverse its decision. Officials also called on their citizens to boycott Ben & Jerry’s.

Texas and Florida are two of the 35 American states to have passed laws, or to have executive orders, that prevent companies from participating in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that is designed to negatively impact Israel’s economy as a way of protesting its actions against Palestine.

Israel’s Ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan sent a letter to the governors of those 35 states demanding they take legal action against Ben & Jerry’s. Israeli officials and pro-Israeli groups in the US have called the company’s decision “anti-Semitic,” “anti-Israel,” and “a new form of terrorism.”

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street — an influential liberal Jewish group based in Washington D.C, issued a statement rejecting those labels, however.  

“When a major ice-cream company founded by two Jewish entrepreneurs decides not to sell its products in occupied Palestinian territory, that isn’t antisemitism. It doesn’t ‘dehumanize Jews.’ It’s not an act of violence or hatred,” he said. “What it does is draw a principled and rational distinction between commercial transactions inside the sovereign State of Israel, and those in the territory it occupies.”

Ben-Ami also decried Erdan for interfering in domestic US politics and for lobbying to pass “constitutionally dubious laws” — a reference to anti-BDS laws — that undermine the First Amendment rights of American citizens, then demanding the use of such laws against Ben & Jerry’s.

Rabbi Les Bronstein, board co-chair of the New York-based Jewish organization T’ruah, which represents more than 2,000 rabbis and their communities in North America, released a similar statement describing the labeling of Ben & Jerry’s decision as anti-Semitic as a “deliberate attempt to distract from the significant human rights violations faced by Palestinians every day.”

Bronstein called on American officials to reject calls to penalize Ben & Jerry’s and also criticized Erdan.

“Asking the US to target the company under unconstitutional anti-BDS laws is political gamesmanship with very real consequences,” he said. “We call on American officials to reject the request to penalize Ben & Jerry’s under anti-BDS laws, which violate the First Amendment and open the door to much broader government control of public discourse.”

Ben & Jerry’s is well-known for its support of various social causes. In a statement early last week, the company said: “We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). We also hear and recognize the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners.”

Vermont-based pro-Palestinian human rights organization Vermonters for Justice in Palestine (VTJP) has, since 2013, called on Ben & Jerry’s to remove its products from illegal Israeli settlements.

The company stressed that its decision only applies to illegal Israeli settlements inside the Occupied Territories, and not to Israel.

The US government does not officially recognize Israeli settlements built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as part of Israel.

Israel occupied the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Syrian Golan Heights during the 1967 war and has since constructed hundreds of settlements for Jewish residents — an action that violates international law, which bans occupying powers from moving their own citizens into occupied territories.