How one man plans to tow an iceberg to the Arabian Gulf

How one man plans to tow an iceberg to the Arabian Gulf
The amount of freshwater in a transported iceberg could be the equivalent to one year’s worth of output from a typical desalination plant in a region devoid of a permanent water source. (Shutterstock)
Updated 21 August 2019

How one man plans to tow an iceberg to the Arabian Gulf

How one man plans to tow an iceberg to the Arabian Gulf
  • A plan for transporting icebergs to the UAE holds promise for freshwater-starved Gulf countries and the world
  • Water scarcity is a big challenge. Currently, 1.2 billion people around the world don’t have access to clean water.

DUBAI: On the face of it, the idea of tugging an iceberg from Antarctica to replenish the UAE’s freshwater supplies might sound sensational. Abdulla Alshehi, the Emirati businessman who was the subject of recent media reports about such a proposal, probably doesn’t mind the positive publicity. But a plan to transport icebergs to Saudi Arabia was one of the many bold initiatives from the dynamic 1970s that remain etched into the Kingdom’s collective memory.

Utilizing icebergs as a potential new water resource for the arid Gulf region and other parched parts of the world was one of several projects Alshehi, a specialist in saving water, outlined in a book he wrote in 2013 titled “Filling the Empty Quarter.”

He says the idea of using icebergs as a source of water is no longer far-fetched. “What’s currently happening is that many icebergs are disintegrating from Antarctica,” Alshehi said. “Once they do, they float in the ocean and melt, wasting billions of gallons of fresh water. So we thought why not utilize it?”

IN NUMBERS

  • 1.2 BILLION - People worldwide without access to clean drinking water.
  • $80 MILLION - Maximum estimated cost of the iceberg pilot scheme.
  • 70% - Iceberg mass expected to survive journey from Antarctica.
  • 11 BILLION - Tons of ice lost by Greenland on July 31.
  • 80 BILLION - Gallons of water discharged by Pakistan’s Indus River into Arabian Sea annually.

According to a recent National Geographic report, “the towering glaciers” of west Antarctica “are crumbling and melting, the rate speeding up over the decades and imperiling the stability of the entire ice sheet.” Greenland is also reported to be losing its ice sheet at an alarming rate. With Europe’s heatwave reaching the Arctic, 11 billion tons of Greenland’s surface ice was lost to the sea in the biggest melt of the summer.

Alshehi’s hope is that one region’s inevitable loss will be another’s gain. A pilot costing between $60 million (SR225m) and $80 million involving an Antarctic iceberg 1 km long and 500 meters wide will soon run, ending either in Perth, Australia, or Cape Town, South Africa.

“They are the best cities for conducting a trial because of their need for water and their proximity to the project location – around 3,000 to 4,000 km away from where we intend to conduct the operations,” he said. “We need to perfect the operation and ensure all possible safety and environmental issues are taken into consideration.” If all goes to plan and the trials are successful, then an iceberg could be headed to the Gulf coast by the first quarter of 2021. The frozen behemoth will be 2 km long, 500 meters wide and 200 meters deep and will cost up to $200 million to transport, according to preliminary calculations.

He added that it will take about nine months for the iceberg to reach the UAE’s Fujairah coast. “We will start after a year from the successful trial. We have only a short window to work on the project between November and March,” he said. “This will allow for more daylight and calmer seas; we can work safely and in a proper manner. During the rest of the year, the sea and the weather are too rough in the southern hemisphere for this work.”

Alshehi’s first job will be to locate a tabular-shaped iceberg outside the protected zone of Antarctica. Such a shape is considered more stable during transit. “Every year, thousands of icebergs disintegrate from Antarctica, float north and melt,” he said. “We expect the iceberg to lose 30 percent of its mass during the journey, but 70 percent is still great. That’s still billions of gallons of water, so we’d be very lucky.”

Once the iceberg is around 12 nautical miles from the UAE shore, the harvesting process — crushing the ice and filling floating tankers with smaller chunks — will commence. The resulting water will then either be directly added to the national grid or stored in wadis and reservoirs, although in the latter case there would be some loss from evaporation.

Alshehi estimates the amount of freshwater in the iceberg to be the equivalent of one year’s worth of output of a typical desalination plant, in a region devoid of a permanent water source. He intends to approach government authorities once the first trial succeeds. 

The technology was not in place to pull off such an ambitious project in 1975 when Saudi Arabia considered tugging icebergs to the Red Sea coast. “An international water transportation company was established with capital of $100 million,” Alshehi said.

“Unfortunately, after two years of extensive research and scientific studies, the project had to be abandoned due to technical reasons. There was no way to tow an iceberg through the Bab Al-Mandeb Strait, where the sea is in some places as shallow as 70 meters — not deep enough for large ships to tow an iceberg at the time.”

But that was then. Today, Alshehi said, state-of-the-art tugboats operating in the deeper waters along the eastern coast of the UAE and of the Gulf have solved the problem that scuttled the 1975 plan.

Water scarcity is a big challenge. Currently, 1.2 billion people around the world don’t have access to clean water.

Alshehi says his interest in production and conservation of freshwater grew out of his work on one of his inventions, Al-Maa, a technique for harvesting water in different weather conditions.

“During my research and getting the patent, I got involved in water issues,” said Alshehi, whose own company, the Abu Dhabi-based National Advisor Bureau Ltd, specializes in thinking outside the box. “I thought water, along with desertification, is a major challenge for the Gulf. We have to deal with the situation with the available means. You need to combat desertification by finding new sources of water.”

The desire to find a solution to the region’s perennial scarcity of freshwater has drawn Alshehi into a number of astonishing ideas. One of them would require connecting the Indus River in Pakistan to the UAE by using sub-sea pipelines. He has also explored the idea of channelling water from Narmada, an important river in central India. “We can bring water from there to the UAE because both rivers cause flooding every year,” he said.

 Alshehi points out that the Indus pumps 60 billion to 80 billion gallons of water to the Arabian Sea every year and that, in 2010, a third of Pakistan was flooded due to heavy monsoon rains in the Indus River basis. “They got rid of this excess water in the ocean, but we are in need of it and this could help us fight desertification in the region,” he told Arab News.

Another project Alshehi is researching involves the “great green wall of the UAE,” stretching from Al-Sila, a city bordering Saudi Arabia, to Al-Ain. The purpose of the “wall” would be to prevent the Empty Quarter’s sand from entering the UAE. “To make the desert in the UAE ‘green,’ we have to isolate it from the larger desert,” he said.

For now, Alshehi is focused on his venture to replenish the UAE’s supply of drinkable water from icebergs.

“Water scarcity is a big challenge. Currently, 1.2 billion people around the world don’t have access to clean water,” he said.


Egypt, Russia to resume flights between both countries

Egypt, Russia to resume flights between both countries
Updated 23 April 2021

Egypt, Russia to resume flights between both countries

Egypt, Russia to resume flights between both countries
  • Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi welcomed the resumption of flights
  • Putin expressed his country’s keenness to enhance various aspects of the bilateral relations with Egypt

DUBAI: Egypt and Russia have agreed to resume flights between the two countries after a five-year suspension, including Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh, Presidency’s website reported.
The decision comes after Egypt maintained security standards for its air travel and both sides reached agreements on other undisclosed issues.
Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi welcomed the resumption of flights between the two countries in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
From his side, Putin expressed his country’s keenness to enhance various aspects of the bilateral relations with Egypt, praising the extended partnership between the two countries.
He also affirmed that Russia was counting on Egypt’s pivotal role in stabilizing its entire regional environment.
The report added that the call also covered discussions about developments in Libya and the Renaissance Dam file. It also covered issues of bilateral cooperation in investment, especially regarding the economic zone of the Suez Canal Corridor.
Russian aviation and tourism flights to Egypt were suspended after a Russian passenger plane crashed in the Sinai Peninsula on Oct. 31, 2015, with 224 people on board.


Over 120 wounded in east Jerusalem clashes

Over 120 wounded in east Jerusalem clashes
Updated 23 April 2021

Over 120 wounded in east Jerusalem clashes

Over 120 wounded in east Jerusalem clashes
  • The violence flared outside one of the entrances to the walled Old City, after police had barred access to some areas where Palestinians usually gather
  • Tensions were fueled by the arrival of far-right Jews at the end of a march during which they harassed Palestinians and chanted “death to Arabs”

JERUSALEM: Over 100 Palestinians and 20 Israeli police were wounded in overnight clashes in annexed east Jerusalem, authorities said Friday, as tensions mount over a ban on gatherings and videos of attacks on youths.
The violence flared outside one of the entrances to the walled Old City, after police had barred access to some areas where Palestinians usually gather in large numbers during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Tensions were fueled by the arrival of far-right Jews at the end of a march during which they harassed Palestinians and chanted “death to Arabs.”
There have been nightly disturbances in the area since the start of Ramadan on April 13, with Palestinians outraged over police blocking access to the promenade around the walls, a popular gathering place after the end of the daytime Ramadan fast.
Police said that after night prayers at Al-Aqsa mosque in the Old City “hundreds of rioters began disrupting the order violently, including throwing stones and objects at forces.”
Stun grenades were fired and water cannon deployed to disperse the “rioters” and force them toward less central areas of east Jerusalem, police said.
Police said officers attempted to “distinguish between them and those who finished prayers” and were not involved in the events.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said on Friday it had treated at least 105 people, with about 20 of them hospitalized.
Israeli police said 20 officers were injured, three of whom were taken to hospital.
“It was like a war zone; it was dangerous,” a Palestinian who was near the clashes outside the Old City told AFP. “That’s why I left the place.”
Tensions have been high in Jerusalem after a series of videos posted online in recent days showing young Arabs attacking ultra-Orthodox Jews and Jewish extremists taking to the street to bully Arabs in nightly confrontations.
On Thursday night, the Israeli extreme right group Lehava organized a march ending opposite the Old City attended by hundreds to protest the anti-Jewish violence.
Police erected barriers to keep them from entering the mainly Arab location.
The Palestinian presidency meanwhile condemned “the growing incitement by extremist far-right Israeli settler groups advocating for the killing of Arabs, which in recent days manifested in a wave of attacks against Palestinian civilians in the Old City.”
A statement late Thursday on the official Palestinian news agency Wafa urged the international community to protect Palestinians from the “settler” attacks, which it alleged were encouraged by the Israeli government.
Videos on social media also showed Palestinians attacking ultra-Orthodox Jews in the early hours of Friday, with reports of Israeli vehicles being stoned in and near east Jerusalem.
Police reported “a number of incidents overnight in which civilians were attacked, some of whom needed medical treatment.”
Jerusalem mayor Moshe Lion said he tried to cancel the Lehava march, but police told him it was legal, noting that “dozens” of Jews who attacked Arabs had been arrested in the past two weeks.
Speaking with public broadcaster Kan, Lion said he was in talks with leaders of the Palestinian east Jerusalem neighborhoods “to end this pointless violence.”
More than 50 people detained overnight were taken for a remand hearing on Friday morning, a statement from police said.


Houthis abduct three civilians from Yemeni village

Houthis abduct three civilians from Yemeni village
Updated 23 April 2021

Houthis abduct three civilians from Yemeni village

Houthis abduct three civilians from Yemeni village

ADEN: Houthi "terrorists" have abducted three civilians from the Yemeni village of "Beit Al-Jabr" in the governorate of Dhamar, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Friday.

The Houthis took their victims to a detention center in Jabal Al-Sharq district, in the same governorate controlled by the Iran-backed group, the report said.

The raiders claimed they were taking the victims under the pretext of setting up a funeral council, but the official Yemeni News Agency (Saba) quoted a local source as saying there was no such plan to establish a funeral council, SPA said.

According to the Saba source, the storming of the village was consistent with the "systematic policy of harassment" that the Houthi militia follows in dealing with the population in all areas under their control, SPA added.

Houthis earlier abducted Yemeni model and actress Entesar Al-Hammadi and two of her friends on Feb. 20 as they were traveling to shoot a TV drama series.

On Thursday, the captors reportedly placed Al-Hammadi in solitary confinement as punishment for her protest against her initial incarceration and prison conditions.


Credible Palestinian elections crucial for peace and unity, says UN

Credible Palestinian elections crucial for peace and unity, says UN
Updated 23 April 2021

Credible Palestinian elections crucial for peace and unity, says UN

Credible Palestinian elections crucial for peace and unity, says UN
  • Envoy Tor Wennesland said the road will not be easy, and called on all sides to protect voting rights
  • Central Elections Commission praised for “professionalism and integrity” and its efforts to ensure safe voting during pandemic.

NEW YORK: The successful staging of credible Palestinian elections on May 22 is a crucial step toward unity and guaranteeing the legitimacy of national institutions, the UN Security Council heard on Thursday.
Tor Wennesland, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told council members that the elections, along with Israeli efforts to form a coalition government, will have a “significant implication for the prospects for advancing peace in the months ahead,” and called on the international community to provide support.
“Expectations for the holding of elections in Palestine are high and come after a long wait of almost 15 years … a growing number of young people are expected to participate in shaping their political future, and have the opportunity to vote for the first time,” Wennesland said.
“These elections should also pave the way to uniting Gaza and the West Bank under a single, legitimate national authority, which would be an important step toward reconciliation and could advance Middle East peace.”
He praised the Palestinian Central Elections Commission for its “professionalism and integrity, enhancing trust in the electoral process,” singling out in particular the committee’s efforts to create a safe voting environment during the pandemic.
He also underscored the importance of the role of election observers in ensuring that the results of “credible and transparent” elections are respected.
“All sides must work toward protecting the right of Palestinians across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza, to participate in credible and inclusive Palestinian elections, as well as to stand for election free from intimidation,” said Wennesland.
He urged all those involved in the process “to refrain from any arrest, detention or interrogation based on freedom of opinion, expression or association.”
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose “a formidable threat” throughout the occupied Palestinian territories, further exacerbating an already dire social and economic situation, Wennesland said as he called for vaccination efforts to be stepped up and for more vaccine doses to be made available.
The Biden administration this month announced its plans for resuming US funding for the UN Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), which was halted in August 2018 by President Donald Trump. Wennesland welcomed the move by Washington and called on all UN members to recommit to supporting the agency, whose “services are not only a lifeline for millions of Palestine refugees but are also critical for stability throughout the region.”
The envoy repeated his call for Israel to halt the demolition and seizure of Palestinian properties and to allow the Palestinian people “to develop their communities.”
Denouncing the “daily violence” that has resulted in more arrests, injuries and deaths, Wennesland called on all sides “to de-escalate tensions and maintain calm.”
He added: “I underscore that all perpetrators of violence must be held accountable and swiftly brought to justice. I reiterate that Israeli security forces must exercise maximum restraint and may use lethal force only when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.
“Particular care should be taken to protect children from any form of violence. In addition, the indiscriminate launching of rockets toward Israeli population centers violates international law and must stop immediately.”


Iraqi military: 3 rockets strike close to Baghdad airport

Iraqi military: 3 rockets strike close to Baghdad airport
Updated 23 April 2021

Iraqi military: 3 rockets strike close to Baghdad airport

Iraqi military: 3 rockets strike close to Baghdad airport

BAGHDAD: At least three rockets hit near Baghdad international airport late Thursday, the Iraqi military said.
A total of eight missiles were fired and three landed near the airport complex, the statement said. It did not detail whether the attack caused casualties.
The rockets struck areas known to contain Iraqi security forces. One hit close to a central prison, the second near an academy of the elite Counter-Terrorism Service, and a third near the headquarters of the Rapid Response regiment.
No one claimed responsibility for the attacks. US officials have previously blamed Iran-backed militia groups.
It is the latest in a string of rocket attacks that have primarily targeted American installations in Iraq in recent weeks. On Sunday, multiple rockets hit an Iraqi air base just north of Baghdad, wounding two Iraqi security personnel.
Last month, a base in western Iraq housing US-led coalition troops and contractors was hit by 10 rockets. One contractor was killed.
Calls from mainly Shiite leaders have grown to oust US troops from Iraq after a US-directed drone strike killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and an Iraqi militia leader in Baghdad in January 2020.
Strategic talks between the US and Iraq have focused on the future of US troop presence in the country.