Lebanese banks, schools shut as protesters push on

Protesters gather outside the central bank of Lebanon to rally against the financial measures adopted by the Banque du Liban. (AFP)
Updated 12 November 2019

Lebanese banks, schools shut as protesters push on

  • Top UN official calls for ‘urgent formation’ of a new government made up of people known for their competence
  • Banks in Lebanon have been imposing restrictions on dollar withdrawals and transfers abroad

BEIRUT: School and university students joined street protests in Beirut and other Lebanese cities as widespread civil disruption in support of a “national salvation government” entered its 27th day.
Protesters blocked the entrance to the Palace of Justice in the capital on Tuesday, waving banners and chanting demands for “a fair judiciary that prosecutes corrupt people.” Clashes between lawyers and protesters erupted after access to the building was halted.
A group of women carrying posters calling for “old-age security” and “fighting poverty and the rule of the bank” staged a silent rally under the Musharrafieh bridge in Beirut’s southern suburbs.
With a date yet to be set for parliamentary consultations to appoint a new prime minister, consultations between President Michel Aoun and caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri have failed to find a formula to establish the next government.
Earlier, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) announced through its parliamentary bloc that it approved a “government of technocrats.” But on Monday the FPM, Hezbollah and Amal appeared to be unanimous in agreeing to include state ministers in the government. Meanwhile, Hariri has insisted on an independent technocratic government that does not include politicians or parties.
Aoun briefed foreign and Arab envoys in two meetings on “the ongoing contacts to form a new government that achieves the reform paper adopted by the outgoing government.” Later the Lebanese president called on Arab countries to “help boost Lebanon’s economy.”
The presidential media office said that “the ambassadors expressed the support of their countries to Lebanon in these circumstances, stressing the importance of forming a new government to cope with the developments.”
A top UN official in Lebanon on Tuesday called for the urgent formation of a new government made up of people known for their competence, according to Reuters.
However, Walid Fakhreddin, a public affairs expert and activist, told Arab News that “what the authority is discussing is far from the demands of the movement in the street.”
“Pressure in the street resulted in the disruption of a parliamentary legislative session that would have passed a general amnesty law preventing the prosecution of corrupt individuals,” he said.
“What government officials are doing now with their debates is a waste of time. No one expects this authority to seriously deal with our demands.”
Fakhreddin said that “Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah told us yesterday that reforms can be carried out without a government. This means that things are going in the direction of more complexity. There is no acceptable approach to the demands of the street.
“The bodies involved in the civil movement have agreed on a single agenda, which is the demand for an independent transitional government to hold parliamentary elections,” he said.
The movement had refused to meet with French envoy Christophe Farno, who arrived in Beirut and is scheduled to meet Lebanese officials on Wednesday. “These forces will not participate in a meeting with the authority or with any external envoy,” Fakhreddin said.
Meanwhile, bank employees went on strike on Tuesday to protest against abuse directed at them by depositors and dealers because of banks’ refusal to hand over large amounts of money to depositors or to issue cash in dollars.


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.”