RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s health ministry on Monday announced 1,114 new cases of the novel coronavirus and 31 new fatalities from the disease.
The new cases reported in the Kingdom increased the total number of people who have contracted the virus to 309,768.
The ministry said that 74 of the newly recorded cases were in Makkah, while there were 56 reported in Jazan and 54 others in Jeddah.
The recent fatalities increased the Kingdom’s COVID-19 death toll to 3,722.
There have been a further 1,044 recoveries from the virus, taking the total number of recoveries to 283,932.
Saudis pack their bags and prepare for bumpy takeoff
Coronavirus restrictions in some countries have restricted Saudi travelers’ options
Updated 16 May 2021
JEDDAH: With summer knocking on our doors, Saudi travelers will head to the Kingdom’s airports for their first international journeys in over a year — but many face challenges ahead.
After more than 14 months of international flight bans, Saudis are ready to don their blue disposable face masks and use up their air miles on May 17.
Almost 11.5 million residents of the Kingdom have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine jab and more than 400,000 recoveries have been reported by the Saudi health ministry, which means almost 12 million Saudis are now allowed to cross borders to neighboring countries or travel further.
While some Saudis have restricted their holiday or business destinations to the safest areas due to COVID-19 protocols, many are undeterred by the challenges ahead and can’t wait to fasten their seatbelts.
Planning a holiday in the coming months will be far from easy — choices are limited and quarantine measures are in place in a number of destinations that are popular for summer holidays. However, many tourists are still willing to travel and face the music.
In the wake of the global pandemic, both countries and individual travelers are wary of restrictions. But even with a massive vaccine rollout in place, and authorities easing travel abroad for those who have been vaccinated and those who have recovered from the illness, many Saudis are opting to head closer to home.
“As soon as we heard that Bahrain is allowing Saudis in without the need to quarantine, we raced to book our hotel and tickets, but they were fully booked for the first week,” said 34-year old Maha Al-Hussain from Riyadh.
“My family and I had the good fortune to visit Jeddah every now and then, but we’d like a holiday for the children to roam free and swim all day, so everyone can just take a break.”
My family and I have been searching for a new and different place to travel to for a few days now and my father was adamant that we do so especially since we’re all vaccinated.
The mother of three told Arab News that although it is hard to book flights for seven people at the moment, the family decided to make the four-hour drive to Bahrain and hope for a smooth entry at the King Fahd Causeway.
“All of the adults are vaccinated and our children know the rules by now,” she said. “We went through hardships as did everyone this year. The trip is important for us all and we’ve been extra careful through it all. We’ll continue being careful until we’re back home again.”
Earlier, Bahrain announced that all GCC visitors who are fully vaccinated or recovered are no longer required to undergo a PCR test on arrival but must show evidence of vaccination or recovery.
For Saudis, a little more care and attention is given, with a welcome back campaign launched by the neighboring island kingdom featuring the slogan “walahna alaikom,” or “we’ve missed you.”
While the state of travel to the 20 countries on the list remains in place, airlines are ready to operate normally to many cities across the world, although a number of countries are limiting arrivals.
Several EU member states have limited arrivals from outside the EU, while others are allowing visitors back but with restrictions.
On Friday, Greek Ambassador to the Kingdom Alexis Konstantoloulos announced that Saudis wishing to travel to Greece will be able to do so with a negative PCR test or vaccination certification and on completion of a passenger location form.
Saudis permitted to travel abroad: • Saudis who have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
• Saudis who have received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine no less than 14 days before the flight.
• Citizens who recovered from COVID-19 at least six months before the flight.
“Welcome back to our Saudi friends, Greece is expecting you,” he tweeted.
Pre-travel PCR tests conducted no more than 72-48 hours before arrival, travel insurance, five to 10 days of quarantine on arrival at the traveler’s expense and post-arrival PCR tests are among the requirements a number EU member states are requesting, but the numbers are limited as many countries are restricting nonessential travel.
The UK, a favorite destination for many Saudis, will require self-isolation on arrival as Saudi Arabia remains in its amber category. The list will be reviewed every three weeks, according to UK officials.
Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Australia, Russia, Spain, Poland, Vietnam, Czech Republic and Belgium are among countries still suspending international tourist arrivals.
Citizens are urged to review travel restrictions for each destination as each country requires a different set of requirements before traveling and on arrival.
“Dubai is next,” said 32-year-old PR director Yousef A. “I’ve visited Dubai many times in the past few years and it has become something of a second home for my family and I,” he told Arab News.
“I did my homework. Saudi Arabia is on the UAE’s safe ‘green list’ and no quarantine is required. As soon as the Saudi authorities allow it, that will be my next destination.”
The search for relaxed COVID-19 restrictions has been continuing for weeks after news was confirmed that the Kingdom’s travel ban would be lifted on May 17, but it is a struggle, as 27-year-old Kholoud Yousef explained to Arab News.
“We initially planned on traveling to Bali during the first week after the ban was lifted, but when we heard we’d have to quarantine for five days and take two PCR tests, we realized it would take a good chunk out of our holiday time and we don’t want to be holed up in our hotel rooms,” she told Arab News.
“My family and I have been searching for a new and different place to travel to for a few days now and my father was adamant that we do so especially since we’re all vaccinated.
We’re putting Bali on hold for now and heading to Morocco next week, and it was an easy choice. All we needed was a confirmed hotel reservation. It feels good to know that we can travel again. Hopefully, this is going to be one great trip.”
Al-Ahsa’s fabled pottery industry stands test of time
Clay is then used to shape a vessel by hand or through molds and pottery wheels
Updated 16 May 2021
AL-AHSA: Al-Ahsa’s pottery markets and factories, which have operated for centuries, see a surge in business during the holy month of Ramadan. Many Saudis buy pottery products to prepare and decorate their Ramadan and Eid tables, as part of local customs and traditions.
Pottery vessels have a range of shapes and uses, including utensil and food containers, pots for preserving and cooling water, and antiques for decorating tables, including incense burners, vases and piggy banks. These are considered part of local heritage and folklore across the Kingdom.
Among the most prominent pottery site in Al-Ahsa is Dogha Al-Gharash, located west of Al-Qarah Mountain. This factory was founded more than 150 years ago and has become one of the main tourist and heritage sites in the region.
The chief craftsman in Al-Ahsa, Wassil Ali Al-Gharash, who supervises the factory, said that the pottery market during Ramadan sees “remarkable activity” in terms of manufacturing and sales.
“This is because of its uses and forms that overlap and suit Ramadan and Eid tables, in addition to the special aesthetic atmosphere that pottery adds, bringing back memories of past decades,” he added.
Al-Gharash said that pottery, a technique that has been honed for millennia in the Arabian Gulf, involves several steps. The first is the choosing of appropriate clay, the main material, which is then cleaned and formed.
Clay is then used to shape a vessel by hand or through molds and pottery wheels. The shaped clay is then left in a suitable place to dry. In the final step, the shaped clay is cooked in special ovens, thus becoming a high-quality product ready for sale and use.
Al-Gharash said that pottery is an art that requires patience, accuracy, skill and an experienced hand with a special touch.
Hassan Ali Al-Shomali, a young pottery maker, said that clay used in pottery vessels is sourced from Al-Qarah Mountain and its surroundings, and is of three types: Red, green and yellow, all of which are mixed in certain proportions with water to form a paste.
He added that pottery has preserved its place in households due to its many advantages, including low costs and its ability to bear heat when used to cook foods.
The pottery industry remains one of the most important parts of Al-Ahsa’s allure. A segment of the local community has managed to maintain a robust handmade pottery market despite modern developments in manufacturing and production.
Pottery producers also receive the attention and care of authorities concerned with preserving heritage, legacies, and social traditions as well as supporting professions and folk crafts.
Saudi minister attends swearing-in ceremony of Djibouti’s president
Updated 16 May 2021
DJIBOUTI: Ahmed Abdul Aziz Kattan, Saudi minister of state for African affairs, has attended on behalf of King Salman the swearing-in ceremony of Ismail Omar Guelleh after he was reelected for a new term as president of Djibouti.
Kattan conveyed to the elected president the congratulations and wishes of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for more progress and prosperity.
Who’s Who: Alanoud Abdullah Al-Showaier, GM at Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology
Updated 16 May 2021
Alanoud Abdullah Al-Showaier has been the general manager of knowledge and digital content at the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology since January 2021.
The knowledge and digital content department seeks to achieve the key objectives of Vision 2030 through eliminating digital illiteracy and building an integrated ecosystem for disseminating digital knowledge and enhancing technical content.
Prior to her new role, Al-Showaier served as the director of production and marketing communication programs at Saudi Customs from July 2019 to December 2020.
Before she joined the government sector, Al-Showaier worked for more than six years in the private sector, from 2013 until 2019. She spent one year at Al-Tayyar Travel Group as a PR and marketing specialist. After that, she worked for five years in communication and marketing agencies as an account and project director and key adviser to the CEO.
Al-Showaier has a track record of leading and overseeing brands of all sectors from private to government and semi-government for more than nine years. She also worked for more than 25 clients in several sectors.
She has been a member of the digital media committee at the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry since October 2020, and a member of the arbitration committee at Pioneer Marketing Award since November 2019.
She was an invited speaker on the Misk Media Forum in 2019 as well as the Second Summit on Women’s Enablement in the Technology Sector.
Al-Showaier was chosen for the Women Leaders 2030 program and graduated from the Leading for Results Programme offered by INSEAD Executive Education.
She received her bachelor’s degree in economics from King Saud University in Riyadh in 2010 and holds a diploma in digital marketing from the DM3 Institute.
Clockwise from left: Sanitation workers collect litter during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Makkah; piles of plastic bottles before they are recycled; circular fields, part of the green oasis of Wadi Al-Dawasir. (AFP/File Photos)
Organic waste offers Saudi Arabia a plentiful and sustainable resource
Most of the 15 million tons of garbage generated every year ends up in giant landfills
With recycling incentives, discarded plastics could be reused in housing, roads and even artwork
Updated 16 May 2021
George Charles Darley
RIYADH: Once upon a time, mankind produced a small amount of waste. Food was not packaged, fruit and vegetable peelings were fed to animals and the dung from horses and camels was used for fertilizer or dried and burned for heating. Most of what came from the earth went directly back into the earth with little or no harm to the environment.
Today, we live in a consumer age in which multitudes of products are purchased and the ensuing trash disposed of with little or no regard for its detrimental impact. Many single-use goods are manufactured and distributed at considerable expense, only to be momentarily used and then thrown away forever.
Saudi Arabia produces no less than 15 million tons of garbage per year — most of which ends up in giant landfills, full of dangerous toxins that seep deep into the ground.
Fortunately, there are now signs of a sea change, both in the Kingdom and around the world. An emerging concept known as “the circular economy” holds that any form of solid waste can be the raw material for a new and more valuable resource.
This is a contemporary answer to alchemy — the medieval quest to turn base matter into gold.
The circular economy involves both upcycling (the process of transforming waste materials into products of greater value) and downcycling (whereby discarded material is used to create something of lower quality and functionality).
Plastic is an obvious starting point. Heralded as a miracle substance almost a century ago, it became ubiquitous in our groceries, clothing, cars and electronic devices.
That initial enthusiasm for plastic has gradually led to a sober realization that it takes up to 500 years to decompose — presenting an environmental calamity that we witness daily on streets littered with plastic bags, cups, bottles and straws.
But did you know that some 50 percent of the plastic waste in Saudi Arabia is collected for recycling?
Once cleaned and processed, this used plastic can be transformed into pellets, which in turn are melted down to form anything from household tiles to benches to roadside curbs. Japan is the leader in this respect, now recycling almost 90 percent of its plastic waste.
In fact, it is normal in Japan for households to have over half a dozen different containers for various kinds of trash, to ease sorting for recycling purposes.
India’s Kerala Highway Research Institute has developed a recycled, plastic-derived road-surfacing material that is more durable than conventional tarmac and able to withstand the heavy monsoon rains.
Household waste can also produce the energy needed to heat homes and charge electric cars of the future.
As organic matter (that is, anything from apple cores to onion skins) decomposes, it produces methane gas — a source of energy. Other solid waste — for example, cardboard and wood — can be incinerated, again to provide energy.
These processes are collectively known as “waste-to-energy” (WtE). Methods also exist for the filtration of the resulting fumes, reducing carbon output from WtE to almost zero.
A 2017 study by King Saud University’s Department of Engineering Sciences concluded that Jeddah alone has the potential to produce 180 megawatts (MW) of electricity from garbage incineration and another 87.3 MW from garbage-sourced synthetic gas (syngas).
Another study by Dr. Abdul-Sattar Nizami, assistant professor at the Centre of Excellence in Environmental Studies at Jeddah’s King Abdul Aziz University, estimates that 3 terawatt-hours per year could be generated if all of Saudi Arabia’s food waste was utilized in syngas plants.
Sewage is another valuable resource, in two ways. First, just like household waste, sewage produces methane, which can be harnessed to produce energy. Second, sewage water can be treated and reused for irrigation and industrial purposes.
The potential gasification of solid waste and sewage is especially pertinent to Saudi Arabia, which derives a large proportion of its freshwater from desalinated seawater, every drop of which is precious.
RECYLING IN SAUDI ARABIA
* 15m - Tonnes of garbage produced by KSA per year.
* 50% - Plastic waste collected for recycling.
* 3TW-hours - Energy potential from food waste per year.
The Saudi government has already realized this and is taking proactive steps to generate at least half of its energy requirements from renewables by 2030. “Waste to energy” will no doubt play a role in this new paradigm.
In the city of Marselisborg in Denmark, sewage-derived methane now generates over 150 percent of the electricity needed to run its water-treatment plant. The surplus power is used to pump drinking water to homes and offices.
Much of Saudi Arabia’s sewage is filtered and repurposed, presenting an opportunity to produce cheap and abundant energy.
A similar philosophy can be applied to land use. Areas currently dismissed as wasteland can be reimagined as beautiful public spaces.
King Salman is a pioneer in this regard. Up until his tenure as governor of Riyadh Province, Wadi Hanifah, the dry riverbed that winds down the western edge of Riyadh, was an unsightly dumping ground for garbage and industrial effluent.
Working with an international team of landscapers, botanists and water-management experts, King Salman transformed the wadi into the exquisite meandering parkland it is today, with its thousands of trees, lush wetlands and charming picnic spots.
Another example of wasteland regeneration is the Highline of Manhattan — an elevated rail track that was abandoned after the Port of New York was largely shut down in the 1960s.
Instead of being demolished at great trouble and expense, this rusty eyesore was turned into a lovely green walkway through the concrete jungle and is today a major tourist attraction.
And just as wastelands can be repurposed to create attractive new spaces, many artists are using discarded materials to create stunning sculptures, while making powerful statements about our abuse of the planet.
The Milan-based artist Maria Cristina Finucci used two tons of plastic bottle caps and thousands of red-net food bags, placed inside recycled plastic containers, to spell out the word “HELP.”
One critic described this work as “a cry from humanity ... to curb the environmental disaster of the pollution of the seas.”
In a similar vein, two Singaporean artists, Von Wong and Joshua Goh, created a work called “Plastikophobia” — an immersive art installation made from 18,000 discarded plastic cups, to raise awareness about single-use plastic pollution.
After decades of short-termism and willful denial of environmental destruction, all-encompassing smart waste-management policies are still in their infancy. The know-how and technology exist. They just need to be put into practice.
The Kingdom is already striking out in the right direction. Its Saudi Green Initiative, launched in March, calls for regional cooperation to tackle environmental challenges, boost the use of renewables and eliminate more than 130 million tons of carbon emissions.
The Middle East Green Initiative likewise sets out to reduce carbon emissions by 60 percent across the region.
There are also plans to plant 10 billion trees in the Kingdom and restore 40 million hectares of degraded land, while across the wider region there are plans for 50 billion trees and the restoration of 200 million hectares of degraded land.
Much will depend upon enlightenment and imagination at a societal and individual level. Do we continue to regard our world as a supposedly infinite source of material for our consumption and as a dumping ground for the resulting junk, or do we aim for a cleaner, more sustainable circular economy?
Young people, in particular, are increasingly concerned for the future of their planet and are highly motivated to protect it. This awakening is already beginning to translate into government policy, in Saudi Arabia and around the world.