How Middle East cities can meet the sustainability challenge

How Middle East cities can meet the sustainability challenge
Vertical planting turns a skyscraper green at One Central Park, built as part of an urban renewal project in inner-city Sydney. Climate change, water shortages and population growth pose a challenge for many global cities. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 14 December 2019

How Middle East cities can meet the sustainability challenge

How Middle East cities can meet the sustainability challenge
  • With a growing population and diminishing water resources, region's cities face a major challenge
  • Despite tech breakthroughs and growing use of renewable energy, many of the world's cities are ailing

DUBAI: As the cities of today grow into those of the future, they will encounter daunting sustainability challenges.

Arguably, the most significant factor that all urban centers will have to take into account is climate change.

With temperatures projected to rise, new infrastructure and operational challenges will have to be tackled by city authorities.

“We need to manage our greenhouse gas emissions while managing our economy,” said Fahed Al-Hammadi, director of climate change at the UAE’s Ministry of Climate Change.

“We must understand future trends in the region and how we will be affected in different sectors. We must engage with the private sector because we can’t work as a government alone,” he added.

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Percentage of its lifetime a car in the US is parked on average.

“We need to attract more ‘green’ investors, and ensure that the capacity of renewable energy we’re transitioning to can cope with the transformation.”

Speaking at a recent summit in Dubai on emerging technologies, Al-Hammadi envisioned cities of the future contributing to a reduction in emissions — transportation currently contributes a third of total emissions — and thus helping governments achieve their emission-reduction targets.




Senseable City Lab at MIT collects data on car movement to improve urban transport. (Supplied)

Cities’ sustainability will prove a major challenge in the Middle East, a region with a growing population and diminishing water resources.

“Climate change is happening and there are future challenges, but it’s very important, with the structure we have in modern cities, to have an understanding of the impacts and the changes we’re going to experience,” Al-Hammadi said.

One tool that is becoming increasingly important for urban authorities planning for future challenges is data.

Carlo Ratti, director of Senseable City Lab at MIT, said that reliable data is essential for a better understanding of the cities we live in.

He is working on collecting data from the movement of cars to understand transport patterns in a city and how it can be improved.

With the average number of car sensors today ranging from 2,000 to 3,000, Ratti told the EmTech MENA conference that the “ambient sensing platform” can be scaled up to include taxis and used for monitoring a city’s “structural health” (bridges and other infrastructure). Pilot projects are currently being conducted in collaboration with Uber in Singapore, he said. 

“You can radically change the way we move in a city,” Ratti added. “In the US today, a car is parked on average 95 percent of the time. It uses valuable space in our cities as well. But a self-driving system can change that.”

Ratti  offered the example of the 1.37 million parking spots in Singapore, 70 percent of which can be cut with autonomous cars. 

His work encompasses traffic lights as well, whereby cars will be able to detect intersections, removing the need for such lights.

Meanwhile, in Amsterdam self-driving boats that can be used as floating platforms for temporary bridges are being deployed to configure the city in an increasingly dynamic way.




Self-driving boats are used as temporary bridges in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Supplied)

“The beauty of technology isn’t about creating new needs. It’s about doing things in a different and better way,” Ratti said.

Experts have jumped to cities’ defense by trying to make them more resilient as they face the twin onslaughts of overpopulation (55 percent of the planet’s 7.4 billion people live in urban areas) and climate change (rising sea levels due to global warming threaten to wipe out many coastal cities).

The health sector will need an overhaul to cater for the evolving needs of the cities of the future. 

A pioneer in this area is BioBot, a US biotech company that measures the concentration of drugs that are excreted in urine and collected in sewerage systems.

“We measure opioids in sewage to estimate consumption in cities, counties and states,” says BioBot’s website. “We map this data, empowering communities to tackle the opioid epidemic in real time.”

By mapping a city’s wastewater network and studying the demographic information associated with that data, more effective public-health policies can be created, said Newsha Ghaeli, the company’s co-founder and president.

“A human health crisis affecting communities, such as measles, polio, obesity or diabetes, is only heard about when the crisis turns into a catastrophe,” Ghaeli said.

“But it doesn’t have to be this way. We imagine a city where every person can contribute to a database about our health and we’re building it, based on a concept called wastewater epidemiology.”

For instance, human urine is an important pathological sample, and so can be regarded as a rich source of information embedded in city sewers.

“You need a lot of different disciplines and industries working together to make sense of this data, like engineers, chemists, biologists, public health, urban planners, water and sewers, elected officials, data scientists and public works,” Ghaeli said. “So we’re the first company in the world to commercialize data from sewage.”

Hardware units are installed inside manholes, hanging a few feet above the sewer flow, with tubes that capture bacteria and study the chemical profile. BioBot’s team of scientists then looks at the human bacteria, viruses and chemicals. 

“There’s so much we can learn from wastewater,” Ghaeli said. “We chose to tackle, first, the opioid epidemic, which is the leading cause of accidental death of Americans under 50.”

However, recent studies have shown that less than 1 percent of those who suffer from  opioid use disorder are dying. 

“So it doesn’t matter how you slice or dice the data, we just don’t have the information,” Ghaeli said. “What’s clear is that we’re measuring the wrong thing, so we are now measuring 30 different drugs and looking at emerging trends in drugs.”

The first town to test the system was Cary in North Carolina, where overdoses decreased by 40 percent last year for the first time in half a decade, Ghaeli said.




Pavegen’s tech captures energy from pedestrian footsteps to power street lighting. (Supplied)

During a six-month pilot program, BioBot was also able to create a heat map to pinpoint areas where overdoses were concentrated.

Despite such technological breakthroughs, and the fact that an estimated 33 percent of the world’s energy is now derived from renewable sources, many of the world’s most densely populated cities are ailing.

“Cities have been built for machines — cars and planes — and some have forgotten about the people,” said Laurence Kemball-Cook, CEO of Pavegen.

The technology company has developed paving slabs to convert energy from citizens’ footsteps into “energy, data and rewards.”

He said: “I’m on a mission to try to make our cities greener. There is a big challenge in urban areas.”

To achieve his goal, Kemball-Cook turned to kinetic energy, capturing the energy from pedestrians’ footsteps to power streetlights.

So far, the kinetic-energy system has been used in Nigeria, London, Abu Dhabi Airport, Thailand and Birmingham, as well as on a running track in Hong Kong.

“We’re excited about the vision of the future city,” he said, adding that he hopes to take Pavegen’s technology to Expo 2020 in Dubai and Neom in Saudi Arabia.

“The potential of using human power in our cities is huge. The technology in a city has to work with the people,” Kemball-Cook said.

“A city isn’t just about finding a new energy solution, it has to be about wellness, smart (practices), fun, sustainable and connecting into the Internet of Things data layout,” he added.


IAEA confirms Iran has started enriching uranium to 60% purity

IAEA confirms Iran has started enriching uranium to 60% purity
Updated 22 min 29 sec ago

IAEA confirms Iran has started enriching uranium to 60% purity

IAEA confirms Iran has started enriching uranium to 60% purity

VIENNA: Iran has started the process of enriching uranium to 60% fissile purity at its above-ground Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz, the UN nuclear watchdog said on Saturday, confirming earlier statements by Iranian officials.
"The Agency today verified that Iran had begun the production of UF6 enriched up to 60% U-235 by feeding UF6 enriched up to 5% U-235 simultaneously into two cascades of IR-4 centrifuges and IR-6 centrifuges at the Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant," the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement.

UF6 is uranium hexafluoride, the form in which uranium is fed into centrifuges for enrichment. 


Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange

Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange
Ghada Aoun. (Photo/Twitter)
Updated 17 April 2021

Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange

Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange
  • Prosecutor’s stand sparks calls for judiciary to ‘rise up against corruption’

BEIRUT: Controversial Lebanese judge and Mount Lebanon state prosecutor Ghada Aoun carried out a second raid on a money exchange in northern Lebanon on Saturday in defiance of a senior judiciary decision dismissing her from an investigation into possible currency export breaches.

Aoun was accompanied by several activists from the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) during the raid on the money exchange in the Awkar district in northern Lebanon.

Less than 24 hours earlier she raided the office with members of the security services.

Aoun remained in the money exchange for several hours on Friday in protest at her dismissal by the the discriminatory Public Prosecutor, Judge Ghassan Oweidat, a decision that caused widespread anger among the Lebanese public.

Caretaker Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm held an emergency meeting on Saturday with Oweidat as well as Supreme Judicial Council head Judge Suhail Abboud and Judicial Inspection Authority head Judge Borkan Saad.

After the meeting Najm voiced her anger at the situation regarding the judiciary, saying that she refuses to be “a false witness to the decay of the judiciary and the fall of the fig leaf in this state.”

Najm said the events involving Aoun are an indication of “the failure of state institutions.”

Lebanon is facing a political and economic crisis amid disputes between state officials, a deadlock that has led to the collapse of the national currency.

However, critics accuse Aoun of a lack of respect for due process.

There are six criminal cases and 28 complaints against her before the Judicial Inspection Authority — the largest number of cases filed against any judge in the history of the Lebanese judiciary.

Aoun was investigating the Mecattaf money exchange company and Societe Generale Bank for allegedly withdrawing dollars from the market and shipping the funds abroad.

The Supreme Judicial Council dismissed Aoun along with two other judges who had previously been suspended by the Disciplinary Council for Judges.

Judge Oweidat on Friday asked the Director-General of State Security, Maj. Gen. Antoine Saliba, to suspend the officers who accompanied Aoun on the exchange office raid.

People in Lebanon on Friday watched on TV as Aoun requested that the money exchange office be sealed because the owner, Michel Mecattaf, refused to provide her with details of currency transfers on behalf of banks.

Earlier, Mecattaf’s agents informed Aoun that she had been dismissed from the case.

Aoun remained alone for hours inside the office after state security personnel left. A medical team checked on her after her blood pressure rose, and she left the premises soon after. Later she stepped on to the balcony of her home to wave to FPM supporters, who gathered outside to offer support.

After Aoun’s second raid on Saturday, the head of the Mecattaf financial company accused her supporters of “breaking into private property by force.”

Mecattaf described the case as “eminently political,” saying that he is “a witness and not a convict.”

Najm described the events as “unacceptable.”

“I am not in a position to please this political party or that team. We want an effective and independent judiciary. The problem is not the laws — oversight and accountability have been absent for years,” she said.

Najm also said that “the judiciary is incapable of fighting corruption,” and called on judges to “rise up against this reality.”

She added: “There is a lack of confidence in the judiciary, and this is a major insult.”

Retired General Prosecutor Hatem Madi told Arab News: “Judge Oweidat’s decision shows that some judges are working independently, but things must be put to rights. Regardless of whether Oweidat’s decision was right or wrong, the public prosecution offices in Lebanon must be an integrated unit.”

The decision to dismiss Aoun revived a political dispute between the FPM and the Future Movement, the two parties in conflict over the formation of the government.

The FPM, headed by MP Gebran Bassil, said that it will “continue to expose every file related to the fight against corruption,” saluting “every judge who rightfully performs their duties despite the injustice to which they are sometimes exposed.”

The Future Movement said that “mourning for judges after encouraging them to violate laws and asking them to open discretionary files for opponents is a matter that no longer fools any of the Lebanese people.”

 


Qatar’s controversial cleric Qardawi contracts coronavirus

Qatar’s controversial cleric Qardawi contracts coronavirus
Updated 17 April 2021

Qatar’s controversial cleric Qardawi contracts coronavirus

Qatar’s controversial cleric Qardawi contracts coronavirus
  • His son Abdul-Rahman Yusuf Al-Qaradawi confirmed that the cleric had coronavirus on Twitter

LONDON: Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric based in Qatar and infamous for his controversial religious edicts, has contracted COVID-19.
“Sheikh Al-Qaradawi has been infected with the coronavirus and he is in good condition, praise be to God. He is receiving health care, reassures his followers, and asks you to pray for his recovery and good health,” his official Twitter account stated.


The news was also reported by Turkish state-run news agency Anadolu.
His son Abdul-Rahman Yusuf Al-Qaradawi confirmed that the cleric had coronavirus on Twitter and said his father had been vaccinated against the virus previously. He also requested prayers for his father.
Al-Qaradawi is 94 years old and is the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, head of the European council for Fatwa and Research and co-founder of IslamOnline.net.

 


NGO says 4,500 Palestinians in Israeli prisons

NGO says 4,500 Palestinians in Israeli prisons
Updated 17 April 2021

NGO says 4,500 Palestinians in Israeli prisons

NGO says 4,500 Palestinians in Israeli prisons
  • Of the thousands behind bars, 430 are administrative detainees held without charge or trial, including 180 children and 41 women and girls
  • There are 550 prisoners suffering from various illnesses, including 11 with cancer, seven with kidney failure, and heart disease

AMMAN: There are 4,500 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including an 82-year-old man who has been behind bars since 2001, according to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club NGO. 
It released the figures to mark Palestinian Prisoner’s Day, which is observed on April 17.
Of the thousands behind bars, 430 are administrative detainees held without charge or trial, including 180 children and 41 women and girls.
There are 550 prisoners suffering from various illnesses, including 11 with cancer, seven with kidney failure, and heart disease. One of the sick prisoners is Foad Shobaki, who is 82.
There are eight prisoners with serious disabilities, said the NGO, adding that 222 prisoners had died in Israeli prisons since 1967.
Prisoner’s Day had become an occasion for paying tribute to the 1 million people jailed since 1967, the Palestine National Council (PNC) said. 
According to the council, 73 prisoners had died as a result of physical torture while 67 died because of medical negligence.
It said that prisoners caught in a war or armed struggle were not destined to remain imprisoned for life, as indicated in the Third Geneva Convention.
The PNC said there were 14 prisoners who had spent more than 30 years in jail, and 47 who had been imprisoned for more than 20 years.
Israel continues to detain 25 prisoners held before the Declaration of Principles between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), in which Israel promised to release them but reneged at the last moment in 2014.
Former PLO Executive Committee member, Hanan Ashrawi, tweeted: “It’s important to understand the grave injustice that the Israeli Occupation inflicts on them and on the whole nation. The legal and political systems, the judiciary, the military and security forces are all in the service of an illegal and oppressive occupation.”
Fatah’s deputy chair Mahmoud Alloul said the prisoners’ cause was part of every Palestinian’s mind and consciousness.
His son Jihad, a Najah University student, was killed by Israeli gunfire during the second intifada. 
Alloul told the Voice of Palestine radio station: “Prisoners have sacrificed a lot having to spend their entire lifetime behind bars for their homeland. We will not carry (out) any political move without ensuring the freedom of the prisoners.”
He emphasized that the Palestinian leadership had resisted persistent pressure to stop support for prisoners and their families, saying that Israel had stolen money earmarked for the Palestinian Authority because of its continued support to prisoners and their families.
Khalil El-Halabi, whose son Mohammed has been held by the Israelis since 2016, made an appeal to world leaders — including Israeli ones.
He called for “building a new life based on peace for all the believers in God, Muslims, Christians, Jews and others.”
El-Halabi said his son was jailed because of false accusations that he diverted charitable funds to an illegal organization.
“The charity my son works for (World Vision) and the Australian government have thoroughly investigated these allegations and found them to be untrue,” he told Arab News. “Yet my son is in jail for five years despite torture that caused him to lose 50 percent of his hearing, simply because he refused to sign a plea bargain deal in which he would have to admit to a crime he did not commit.”
There were many like Mohammed who were tortured and charged with false accusations, he said, urging the Israeli people to seek justice if they wanted peace.
“Holding prisoners indefinitely will not bring peace and security and will not provide justice. I know that millions around the world would like to see peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Releasing innocent prisoners is the first step toward a lasting peace.”


Third coronavirus wave hits Egypt

Third coronavirus wave hits Egypt
Updated 17 April 2021

Third coronavirus wave hits Egypt

Third coronavirus wave hits Egypt
  • Hatem said that the number of cases is directly related to how far citizens follow precautionary measures
  • He said that there was no shortage of medicines in public hospitals, whether in university hospitals or those under the Ministry of Health

CAIRO: Egypt is witnessing a third coronavirus wave, a top official has said. Ashraf Hatem, head of the health affairs committee in the Egyptian Parliament and a member of the supreme committee for respiratory viruses of the Ministry of Higher Education, indicated that the number of coronavirus cases at university hospitals is once again increasing daily.
He said that citizens must adhere to precautionary measures, respect the rules of social distancing and wear their protective face masks, as well as avoiding family visits.
He advised of the need to follow proper nutritional habits and eat foods that contain nutrients that boost the immune system.
Hatem said that the number of coronavirus cases is directly related to how far citizens follow precautionary measures.
He said that there was no shortage of medicines in public hospitals, whether in university hospitals or those under the Ministry of Health.
Egypt has not yet reached the peak of the third wave, he said, and numbers might continue to rise until the last week of Ramadan. He called on citizens to be careful in the coming period to minimize the increase in infection rates.
He praised the decision of Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly to fine those who violate the instructions of the government.
Ashraf Abdel Basset, president of Mansoura University, said that the number of beds allocated for isolation had not been reduced following the earlier decrease in the number of daily recorded cases. He said that the hospitals are highly prepared for any emergency.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi had previously warned of a third coronavirus wave. “We are on the threshold of the third wave … please be careful, especially with the month of Ramadan … We want the matter to end in peace,” he said.