On China Yangtze river, giant dam’s legacy blocks revival

On China Yangtze river, giant dam’s legacy blocks revival
The Three Gorges Project has affected many communities, including this one on the Yangtze river, forcing several to move as a result of rising waters and increased seismic activity. (Reuters)
Updated 15 November 2019

On China Yangtze river, giant dam’s legacy blocks revival

On China Yangtze river, giant dam’s legacy blocks revival
  • Earthquakes, landslides, changing water levels and damaged ecosystems among the many issues facing Beijing

CHONGQING: The 2,000 residents of Muhe, whose village was moved to higher ground a decade ago to escape the rising Yangtze river, have tried to make the most of their remaining land by planting orchards of oranges and persimmons along its banks.

With just 110 hectares on the edge of Asia’s longest river, Muhe lost half its territory to make way for the colossal Three Gorges Project, a 185-meter dam and 660-kilometer reservoir designed to control flooding, aid navigation and generate electricity.

Beijing has allocated more than 600 billion yuan ($86 billion) since 2011 to alleviate the dam’s long-term impacts on villages like Muhe and bring the region’s deteriorating environment under “effective control.”

But many problems are unresolved, and the government has promised to spend another 600 billion yuan by 2025, said Xie Deti, a member of the Chongqing delegation of the National People’s Congress who lobbied the government to release more funds in March.

Protecting the Yangtze has become a priority for China after President Xi Jinping promised to end big and “destructive” development along the river, which stretches 6,000 kilometers from Tibet to Shanghai, supplies water to 400 million people and irrigates a quarter of the country’s arable land.

Since Xi’s orders in 2016, local governments have dismantled dams, dredged plastic junk from the water, relocated factories, banned waste discharge and restricted farming and construction all along the river.

“You can say we have undergone earth-shattering changes, especially when it comes to increasing our awareness of environmental protection,” said Liu Jiaqi, Communist Party secretary in Muhe.

But the region has been unable to evade the earth-shattering impact of the dam itself, which sits near two fault lines and has been blamed for a surge in earthquakes and the fragmentation of ecosystems, among myriad other problems.

China’s environment ministry said the region saw as many as 776 earthquakes in 2017, up 60 percent compared with a year earlier, with the highest magnitude at 5.

The total number has risen significantly since the project began, with one study from the China Earthquake Administration showing a 30-fold increase between 2003 and 2009, when the reservoir was filled.

Xie, who is also a professor at Chongqing’s Southwest University, said other challenges include algae blooms caused by fertilizer, and wastewater from tributaries polluting the river.

The government has long insisted the benefits of the dam outweigh the costs and disruptions.

But in 2011, Beijing promised to spend 1,238 billion yuan ($177.24 billion) by 2020 to try to fix them. It pledged to raise living standards, heal the environment and create a long-term mechanism to prevent geological disasters.

But less than half of the money had been spent by the end of last year, said Xie, who told Reuters he had received assurances from Beijing that the rest would come between 2020 and 2025.

So far, farmland has been restored by dredging up submerged soil. Riverbanks have been strengthened and reforested to reduce landslide risks, and “ecological barrier zones” have been built along vulnerable parts of the river.

But one government figure, who did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the additional funding might not be enough to solve long-term problems.

Sediment accumulating near the dam threatens to undermine flood controls. A specialist research team has been examining the problem in the Three Gorges region for more than 30 years and China has built two giant dams upstream to block silt.

The massive reservoir, which absorbs more heat than dry land, has also been blamed for increasing regional temperatures. Warmer water and the fragmentation of habitats have wreaked havoc on local fish stocks, with the Yangtze sturgeon close to extinction.

HIGHLIGHT

• China to spend extra $86 billion to fix Three Gorges.

• Giant dam hindering Xi’s Yangtze cleanup goals.

• Earthquakes in region surged 60% in 2017.

• Algae, landslides, silt still posing problems.

The dam has also caused water levels to dwindle at Poyang lake, a habitat for the critically endangered Yangtze finless porpoise.

Since the dam was built in 2006, some leaders have distanced themselves from the project. Wen Jiabao, premier from 2003 to 2012, openly criticized how it was built and castigated officials for failing to take care of more than a million displaced residents. During his visit to the Three Gorges last April, President Xi berated officials for failing to clean up the “grim” environment of the Yangtze, and reiterated his pledge to end “big construction” on the river.

But Xi also described the dam as a testament to China’s talent and self-reliance, saying it made him proud of its staff and his country.

“The issue is obviously very complicated, and it is not black and white,” said Ma Jun, founder of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a non-governmental organization in China that tracks water pollution.

“It does have both flood control and power generation functions, but on the other hand, whether the cost is too high, whether there are alternatives, I think those are what we need to study,” Ma added. “For good or bad, the heyday of dams has passed.” 


Women’s healthcare startup planning Saudi expansion

Women’s healthcare startup planning Saudi expansion
Updated 09 March 2021

Women’s healthcare startup planning Saudi expansion

Women’s healthcare startup planning Saudi expansion
  • The startup is focused on expanding across the Middle East, then Africa and Asia, with Saudi Arabia currently in its sights

JEDDAH: Nabta Health, a UAE-based startup dedicated to supporting women’s health, is planning to expand into Saudi Arabia this year, amid growing demand for its services in the Kingdom. 

The company offers personalized healthcare to women in emerging markets. Its platform allows users to diagnose conditions at home using an Al-powered health assistant.

“We have 225,000 women every month across the MENA who interact with our platform, and Saudi Arabia is the fastest-growing market,” Sophie Smith, CEO and co-founder of Nabta Health, told Arab News.

“Currently, we are speaking to a number of high-profile doctors and scientists for potential collaboration opportunities both in clinical research and piloting our model of care,” she added.

The startup is focused on expanding across the Middle East, then Africa and Asia, with Saudi Arabia currently in its sights.

“Saudi Arabia is a really interesting market for us for many reasons. The healthcare ecosystem is growing very fast, the compound growth rate is said to be at 7 percent by 2024,” Smith said.

She noted that the company has also initiated contact with the Saudi Vision 2030 team to pilot new accountable care organizations.

Saudi Arabia’s healthcare transformation plan seems akin to what NHS England has built, Smith said. “It will look like the next generation NHS without its legacy infrastructure problems… and it is very interesting to see.” Launched in March 2017, the startup spent the first three and half years at the Research and Development phase, before recently beginning to commercialize the platform.

“We first raised a seed-round for $500,000 to develop the platform and now we are raising a seed-plus to commercialize it,” she said. 

“And once we launch in Saudi Arabia, we will raise first a Series A growth round.”


Startup of the Week: Hejar; Reinventing jewelry for men

Startup of the Week: Hejar; Reinventing jewelry for men
Updated 09 March 2021

Startup of the Week: Hejar; Reinventing jewelry for men

Startup of the Week: Hejar; Reinventing jewelry for men
  • Hejar focuses on the quality, simplicity and uniqueness of its designs

JEDDAH: Since time immemorial, men and women have used different grooming methods and accessories to enhance their appearance — whether through clothing, the use of oils and perfumes, or jewelry.

For much time, however, most fashion brands have focused only on products for women, but this is changing. Now, various fashion houses, large and small, are launching a wide range of products to cater to men.

Hejar is one of those brands. It specializes in creating unique jewelry, including rings and bracelets, for men.

Odai Rajeh, owner of the brand, said this has always been his passion. “I myself am fond of wearing bracelets and rings. There are many brands that sell these accessories, so I thought to myself: Why not create and design my own?”

Hejar focuses on the quality, simplicity and uniqueness of its designs.

The products are designed in a few steps. The team seeks inspiration and then experiments with with colors, styles and materials.

“Lastly, we follow our marketing strategy to position the product correctly and sell it through our website,” he said.

Rejah said it can be challenging to find the right product to suit customers’ tastes. “It’s a long story with many ups and downs, but the journey that led us to where we are today is something I could never forget.”

The reactions of people have been heartwarming, Rejah said. Aside from product design and quality, his clients appreciate Hejar’s customer care service and speedy delivery.

Rejah said: “Customer service has been the key distinguishing feature for our business.”

Those interested in Hejar can visit www.hejarofficial.com or follow the brand on Instagram @hejarofficial. 


UAE weighs up investment options in Indonesia

UAE weighs up investment options in Indonesia
Updated 09 March 2021

UAE weighs up investment options in Indonesia

UAE weighs up investment options in Indonesia
  • Projects focus of scrutiny prior to injection of more money through deals

JAKARTA: The UAE has announced it is studying investment options for infrastructure development projects in Indonesia before injecting more financial support through the southeast Asian country’s newly launched sovereign wealth fund.

As part of the recent Indonesia-Emirati Amazing Week tour of four cities, UAE Energy and Infrastructure Minister Suhail Al-Mazrouei and his delegation signed several business deals, including a pledge to develop a $500 million tourism resort on an island in Aceh province and a $1.2 billion port and industrial zone development scheme in Gresik, East Java province.

“When we met two years ago, no one was seeing these projects, now we are signing some of these projects,” said the minister, referring to Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan’s visit to Indonesia in July 2019 — the first by a UAE leader since the crown prince’s father visited the country in 1990.

Some of the other agreements given the green light last week included follow-ups to the $22.9 billion investment deals inked during Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s visit to Abu Dhabi in January last year to develop the energy, infrastructure, and mining sectors, which will be channeled through the sovereign wealth fund.

In a joint press conference with his Indonesian counterpart, coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment, Luhut Pandjaitan, Al-Mazrouei said that the UAE was keen on looking at assets for infrastructure development projects that Indonesia was offering through the new fund agency that the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority helped to establish – where it also serves as an adviser – and evaluate them before securing the investments.

However, he stopped short of revealing a figure, and pointed out that the UAE’s commitment to Indonesia was “more than a number.”

The minister said: The fact that  we work together on the creation of the sovereign wealth fund makes us committed to looking at it. We will continue working with Indonesia and supporting them, and this is the nature of our investments in every country.” Al-Mazrouei added that the UAE had promised Widodo that it would be “a candid and a good adviser.”

“Indonesia is a major economy and the largest Islamic economy. It is a vibrant economy with a very healthy growth rate. I think there are lots of things that can happen in Indonesia, so let’s not limit ourselves to a number,” he said.

The Indonesia Investment Authority was launched in February, with the government pledging to inject up to $5.3 billion in initial capital until the end of the year.

One of its priorities is developing infrastructure projects that offer more access and connectivity in the vast Indonesian archipelago, such as toll roads, airports, and seaports. Pandjaitan said the agency, which had a target to develop an initial $20 billion financing pool, had set up a master fund and thematic funds through which foreign investors could inject capital, adding that it was securing about $9.5 billion from investors since its establishment.

Earlier in January, Indonesia’s chief economic minister, Airlangga Hartarto, said that the US International Development Finance Corporation (IDFC) and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) had expressed an interest to inject $2 billion and $4 billion, respectively, into the master fund, while Canada’s global investment group CDPQ and Dutch investment company APG were also interested in committing up to $2 billion and $1.5 billion each in the thematic funds.

Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund agency GIC had also been in touch, although no figure has yet been revealed.

According to data from the Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board, Singapore ranked first on the list of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Indonesia last year, making up 34.1 percent of the overall FDI, with $9.8 billion worth of projects.

Toto Pranoto, an economist at the University of Indonesia’s school of economics and business, told Arab News on Monday that the establishment of the INA could reduce the gap between the funds required for development projects and Indonesia’s domestic funding capability.

It would also relieve some pressure on state-owned infrastructure development companies, which had been struggling to pump funding into the projects by issuing global bonds due to limitation in securing funds from the state budget, he said.

“The financial capital secured from the sovereign wealth fund would help to improve their cash flows,” Pranoto added. He noted that the INA could serve as a catalyst to attract foreign investors to inject financing into projects that could yield good returns for them.


One in three global destinations shut to tourism: UN

At the start of February, 69 destinations out of 217 worldwide, or 32 percent, were completely closed to international tourism. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
At the start of February, 69 destinations out of 217 worldwide, or 32 percent, were completely closed to international tourism. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
Updated 08 March 2021

One in three global destinations shut to tourism: UN

At the start of February, 69 destinations out of 217 worldwide, or 32 percent, were completely closed to international tourism. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
  • At the start of February, 69 destinations out of 217 worldwide, or 32 percent, were completely closed to international tourism

MADRID: Almost one-third of destinations worldwide are currently completely closed to international tourists because of the pandemic, the United Nations tourism body said on Monday.

Governments initially started easing travel restrictions last year but reversed the trend after new virus strains emerged and because of “the persistent seriousness of the epidemiological situation,” the Madrid-based World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) said in a report.

At the start of February, 69 destinations out of 217 worldwide, or 32 percent, were completely closed to international tourism — including 30 in Asia and the Pacific, 15 in Europe and 11 in Africa.

That is down from the peak in May 2020 when 75 percent of destinations worldwide were completely shut, but up from November when 27 percent were closed.

The UN body said there was a trend towards a “more nuanced, evidence and risk-based approach” to travel restrictions, such as requiring international tourists to provide a negative test on arrival.

About one-third of worldwide destinations now have the presentation of a negative test upon arrival as their main entry requirement, often combined with quarantine.

“Travel restrictions have been widely used to restrict the spread of the virus. Now, as we work to restart tourism, we must recognise that restrictions are just one part of the solution,” UNWTO head Zurab Polilikashvili said in a statement.

International tourist arrivals fell by one billion, or 74 percent, in 2020, according to the UNWTO, which called it the “the worst year in tourism history.”

The pandemic cost the global tourism industry $1.3 trillion in lost revenue last year, more than 11 times the loss recorded during the 2009 global financial crisis.


$240m investment vehicle eying Nasdaq IPO targets Saudi investors

$240m investment vehicle eying Nasdaq IPO targets Saudi investors
Updated 08 March 2021

$240m investment vehicle eying Nasdaq IPO targets Saudi investors

$240m investment vehicle eying Nasdaq IPO targets Saudi investors
  • Dubai’s Arrow Capital has teamed up with Silicon Valley’s Tribe Capital for a tech listing

DUBAI: Arrow Capital, a Dubai-based investment advisory firm, has partnered with a Silicon Valley venture capital firm to set up a $240 million investment vehicle that aims to identify a potential technology partner to list on the Nasdaq New York.

Arrow has teamed up with San Francisco-based Tribe Capital to partner on a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) and, according to its press release it is looking to identify companies in the technology sector that are “showing inflection points in their growth trajectory” and are ready for an initial public offering (IPO).

Often referred to as “blank check companies” in the industry, SPACs are seen as a quick and cheap route to a Nasdaq listing. The Arrow/Tribe SPAC follows in the footsteps of similar recent fundraising deals involving big regional names, such as Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Capital and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.

Rohit Nanani, Arrow Capital’s founder and CEO, told Arab News that he was targeting investors across the Middle East to take part in the SPAC, including those in the Kingdom. “We are excited to offer to Saudi investors the opportunity to access high quality, more diversified deal flow coming right from the heart of Silicon Valley.”

“We plan to extend these unique opportunities and deal access to our full network of investors in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia. We have already seen growing interest and demand from the Kingdom, and going forward we plan to offer Saudi investors greater visibility and opportunity to participate in high-growth technology investments long-term,” he said.

Tribe Partner currently has about $540 million in assets under management and some of its recent technology deals have included names such as Bolt, Carta, Front, Instabase, Momentus, and Relativity Space.

Last week, Arabic music-streaming service Anghami announced that it was set to become the first technology company from the region to list on New York’s Nasdaq stock exchange as part of a SPAC. Set to list in late May or early June, the SPAC was co-sponsored by Singapore’s Vista Media Capital and UAE asset management firm SHUAA Capital.

“The Middle East has fast become an increasingly attractive marketplace. The region’s commitment to technology innovation, rising community of entrepreneurs and infrastructure development has made it a hub for global trade and investment, and a valuable conduit into emerging markets,” Arjun Sethi, co-founder of Tribe Partner, said, adding that “expanding our network into the Gulf has been on our radar for quite some time.”