Arab world’s hackathons discover a coronavirus-era purpose

Arab world’s hackathons discover a coronavirus-era purpose
Participants including Saudi women attend a hackathon in Jeddah on August 1, 2018, prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 29 August 2020

Arab world’s hackathons discover a coronavirus-era purpose

Arab world’s hackathons discover a coronavirus-era purpose
  • Programming competitions generating innovative products aimed at solving public-health challenges
  • Organizers say investment sorely needed for concepts produced during hackathons to become reality

DUBAI: Among its other effects, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the shortage of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals worldwide.
Aggravating the problem is the fact that identifying and meeting staff needs can be a complex and time-consuming process.
Enter Health Hero Match, a website designed to connect medical workers with hospitals facing real-time personnel shortages.
Created by a team of students from seven universities across the UAE, Jordan and the US, the project was the winner of this year’s Annual NYUAD (New York University Abu Dhabi) International Hackathon for Social Good in the Arab World.




‘Hacking a way out of the coronavirus’ - NYUAD Hackathon group photo. (Supplied)

“We earnestly believe Health Hero Match can make a positive change in the world. This pandemic showed that the problem we address is a very real one, and there will always be a need for the most effective utilization of our frontline heroes,” said Mate Hekfusz, development team member and NYUAD student.
“Our task now is to take it from hackathon lightning-in-a-bottle to a fully realized application which can be deployed to health care sectors around the world.”
The NYUAD project is just one example of how COVID-19 hackathons have been leveraged to find desperately needed solutions across the medical, business and lifestyle sectors in the new normal.
These sprint-like events were first popularized by the software community as round-the-clock crowdsourcing sessions to solve specific technical problems.
The biggest hackathons can draw thousands of participants from different countries and age groups.




More than 3,000 software developers and 18,000 computer and information-technology enthusiasts from more than 100 countries take part in Hajj hackathon in Jeddah. (AFP/File Photo)

In April, over 15,000 coders, engineers and designers joined The Global Hack, an initiative supported by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and former Y-Combinator President Sam Altman.
The EU, the World Health Organization and UNESCO have all announced or held similar events.
In the Gulf, Dubai launched its One Million Arab Coders COVID-19 Hackathon, with a total of $50,000 in prize money available to software developers who produce innovative solutions linked to the coronavirus outbreak.
Saudi Arabia recently announced cash prizes of $250,000 for its Hope Hackathon, which focused on digital health, home entertainment and e-sports.

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READ MORE: Seeds of hope as Saudi hackathon harnesses artificial intelligence

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In May, nearly 500 people participated in the #MBRUHacksCOVID19 hackathon organized by the Mohammed bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences and the American University of Sharjah, among others.
The winning solution, Bounceback, used machine learning algorithms and tokenization to identify, verify and provide immediate subsidy relief to vulnerable communities and individuals affected financially by the health crisis.
Hundreds of new ideas have already emerged from such events. In India, women in tech have shown how blockchain can help check counterfeit prescription drugs.




Participants including Saudi women attend a hackathon in Jeddah on August 1, 2018. (AFP/File Photo)

The Jordan Pandemic Hackathon produced Healthtech, which helps epidemiological teams track infection locations using crowdsourced data.
Netsahem, a payment solutions designer that enables Egyptian NGOs to manage their finances online, came first in Cairo’s SeekNotHide Hackathon this April, while UAE fintech startup PointCheckout won the EUvsVirus Hackathon.
What happens to the winners of a hackathon? For Hekfusz and his team, the publicity was enough — they were approached by several startup incubators and accelerators, and took one of the opportunities offered.
For those not as fortunate, a matchathon is the next logical step forward. At these pitch events, innovators get together with investors, corporations, public authorities, academia and other backers to scale up and commercialize their products.




NYUAD’s project is just one example of how COVID-19 hackathons have been leveraged to find desperately needed solutions across the medical, business and lifestyle sectors in the new normal. (AFP/File Photo)

“COVID-19 is providing us with this incredible reset opportunity with the rapid acceleration of trends like video conferencing, online commerce, and an opportunity to inspire and mobilize humanity as one race to work toward restoring our planet — things we waited for years to happen,” said Dhruv Boruah, founder of CommonVC.
The London-based impact sustainability incubator and angel syndicate is behind a recent environment-focused hackathon and a follow-up pitch day at the end of June.
The contest drew 70 teams of 900 participants from 79 countries. The matchathon saw those whittled down to 12. Investment details are yet to be made public.
According to Boruah, investment is sorely needed for hackathon concepts to become reality. “Let us invest in innovation since (it) is the only way out of this crisis. This is going to be hard, but so was going to the moon,” he said.

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This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.

 


Abu Dhabi removes UK, Tajikistan from COVID-19 Green List, adds Malta

Abu Dhabi removes UK, Tajikistan from COVID-19 Green List, adds Malta
Updated 44 min 51 sec ago

Abu Dhabi removes UK, Tajikistan from COVID-19 Green List, adds Malta

Abu Dhabi removes UK, Tajikistan from COVID-19 Green List, adds Malta
  • Passengers arriving from Green List countries will only be required to undergo a PCR test at Abu Dhabi Airport
  • The UK has placed the UAE on its red list where passengers arriving from the country must isolate in hotels after their arrival

DUBAI: Abu Dhabi has removed the UK and Tajikistan from its Green List of countries exempting travelers from quarantine requirements upon arrival in the emirate.
Passengers arriving from Green List countries will only be required to undergo a PCR test at Abu Dhabi Airport, the emirate’s Department of Culture and Tourism tweeted.
Both the UK and Tajikistan have been included in the list since April, while Malta was recently added to it.
The UK has placed the UAE on its red list where passengers arriving from the country must isolate in hotels after their arrival.
“Countries, regions, and territories included within the Green List will be regularly updated based on international developments,” the department said.
It added that the list only applies to countries passengers are arriving from rather than citizenship.

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Egypt sends letter to UN Security Council about Renaissance Dam

Egypt sends letter to UN Security Council about Renaissance Dam
Ethiopia began work on the dam in 2011. Egypt and Sudan are calling for a binding and comprehensive deal with Ethiopia that guarantees the rights and interests of all three countries. (AFP/File)
Updated 14 June 2021

Egypt sends letter to UN Security Council about Renaissance Dam

Egypt sends letter to UN Security Council about Renaissance Dam
  • Cairo fears the GERD will threaten its water supply from the Nile

CAIRO: Egypt has sent a letter to the head of the UN Security Council to highlight developments in the Grand Ethopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) dispute, as it and Sudan drafted a resolution about the dam to be presented to Arab foreign ministers next week.

Ethiopia began work on the dam in 2011. Egypt fears the GERD will threaten its water supply from the Nile, while Sudan is concerned about the dam’s safety and its own water flow.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry’s letter to the UN Security Council included the country’s objection to Ethiopia’s intention to continue filling the dam during the upcoming flood season. It also expressed the government’s rejection of Ethiopia seeking to impose a fait accompli on the downstream countries through unilateral measures.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Hafez said the letter aimed to reveal the truth about the intransigent positions Ethiopia was taking as these were stalling the efforts made over the past months to reach a fair, balanced and legally binding agreement on the issue.

HIGHLIGHT

The Council of Arab States, at the level of foreign ministers, is scheduled to hold an extraordinary session in Doha on Tuesday at the request of Egypt and Sudan to discuss developments regarding the dam issue.

Hafez said that an integrated file was also deposited with the UN Security Council to serve as a reference for the international community on the issue, as well as to document the constructive and responsible positions taken by Egypt.
Hossam Zaki, assistant secretary-general of the League of Arab States, said there was an Arab consensus supporting Egypt and Sudan’s rights in the Nile waters and that there was not a single country outside this consensus.
He indicated that Ethiopia’s attempt to “drive a wedge” between Arab and African countries on the Renaissance Dam issue would not succeed.
The Council of Arab States, at the level of foreign ministers, is scheduled to hold an extraordinary session in Doha on Tuesday at the request of Egypt and Sudan to discuss developments regarding the dam issue, he added.
Zaki said the session would be held on the sidelines of the consultative meeting of Arab foreign ministers that was being held in Doha.
Egypt and Sudan are calling for a binding and comprehensive deal that guarantees the rights and interests of all three countries.


Greece says Turkish patrol boat damaged coast guard vessel

Greece says Turkish patrol boat damaged coast guard vessel
This handout picture released on January 29, 2020, by the Turkish Defence Ministry Press Service shows migrants in a rubber boat rescued by Turkish navy soldiers on January 28, 2020, off the Libyan coast. (AFP)
Updated 14 June 2021

Greece says Turkish patrol boat damaged coast guard vessel

Greece says Turkish patrol boat damaged coast guard vessel
  • Greece in April had accused Turkey of seeking to “provoke an escalation” in the Aegean with “dangerous” maneuvers and illegal assistance to migrants

ATHENS: The Greek coast guard said that one of its patrol vessels was “harassed” by a Turkish patrol boat on Sunday, causing minor damage, a day before the Greek and Turkish leaders hold talks in Brussels.
There were no injuries in the incident, which occurred east of the Aegean island of Lesbos, the coast guard said in a statement.
It said “a patrol vessel of the Turkish coast guard harassed a patrol boat of the Lesbos coast guard, causing minor damage.”
Such incidents are common in the Aegean Sea during patrols for boats carrying migrants from Turkey to Greece.

SPEEDREAD

• A patrol vessel of the Turkish coast guard ‘harassed a patrol boat of the Lesbos coast guard, causing minor damage.’

• Such incidents are common in the Aegean Sea during patrols for boats carrying migrants from Turkey to Greece.

• Greece had accused Turkey of seeking to ‘provoke an escalation’ in the Aegean with ‘dangerous’ maneuvers and illegal assistance to migrants.

Greece in April had accused Turkey of seeking to “provoke an escalation” in the Aegean with “dangerous” maneuvers and illegal assistance to migrants.
Athens wants Ankara to better police migration routes and take back hundreds of asylum seekers found ineligible for refugee protection.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is to hold talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels.
Mitsotakis said on Friday that good bilateral relations will depend on de-escalation efforts and on whether “Turkey participates constructively in the dialogue and respects the conditions set by the EU” in accordance with international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.


Algeria awaits results after voters snub elections

Algeria awaits results after voters snub elections
Algerian elections staff count ballots for parliamentary elections at a polling station in Bouchaoui, on the western outskirts of the capital Algiers, on June 12, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 14 June 2021

Algeria awaits results after voters snub elections

Algeria awaits results after voters snub elections
  • The movement has urged boycotts of all national polls since it mobilized hundreds of thousands of people in early 2019 to force longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his cronies from power

Algeria on Sunday awaited the results of a parliamentary election boycotted by the long-running Hirak protest movement and marked by widespread abstention.
Turnout was just 30.2 percent, electoral commission chief Mohamed Chorfi announced after Saturday’s vote — the lowest in a legislative poll at least 20 years.
He said it would be “96 hours” before official results are announced.
Fewer than 1 percent of registered voters cast their ballots in Kabylie, a mainly Berber region east of Algiers, and the cities of Bejaia and Tizi Ouzou.
“As expected, the majority of Algerians snubbed the ballot boxes. The low turnout confirms the strong trend toward rejecting the vote,” read the front page of French-language daily Liberte.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, himself elected on an official turnout of less than 40 percent in late 2019, put a brave face on the figures.
“For me, the turnout isn’t important. What’s important is whether the lawmakers that the people elect have enough legitimacy,” the president said.
The Hirak protest movement, which apart from a hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic had held twice-weekly demonstrations for reform until they were effectively banned last month, rejected the polls as a “sham.”
The movement has urged boycotts of all national polls since it mobilized hundreds of thousands of people in early 2019 to force longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his cronies from power.
But voting day was mainly calm, except in Kabylie, where ballot boxes were ransacked and security forces detained dozens of people, rights groups said.
Two prominent journalists detained on the eve of the election and released Saturday, Khaled Drareni and Ihsane El Kadi, condemned their “arbitrary” arrests.
“I believe you have the right to know that two journalists ... were subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention for no apparent reason,” Drareni wrote on his Facebook page.


IRC denounces deadly attack on Syria hospital

IRC denounces deadly attack on Syria hospital
A member of Syria’s Civil Defence service inspects the damage caused by the shelling at Al-Shifaa hospital in Afrin, Syria. (AFP)
Updated 14 June 2021

IRC denounces deadly attack on Syria hospital

IRC denounces deadly attack on Syria hospital
  • Saturday’s attack on the opposition-held northern town of Afrin killed at 21 people

BEIRUT: The International Rescue Committee on Sunday condemned the shelling on the Syrian city of Afrin that put a hospital out of service and killed civilians and medical staff.

Saturday’s attack on the opposition-held northern town killed at least 21 people, mostly in shelling on the hospital, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.
“We utterly condemn this deadly attack on Al-Shifaa Hospital, one of the largest medical facilities in northern Syria,” said IRC’s Syria director Wolfgang Gressmann.
“This is the 11th attack on healthcare that has been recorded so far this year, and brings the total number of verified attacks on healthcare since January 2019 to 124.”
Of the 21 killed, 17 were civilians, including at least 4 hospital staff members, the Observatory said, adding that 23 people were also wounded.
The IRC said the attack completely destroyed the emergency room and the labor and delivery room.

This is the 11th attack on healthcare that has been recorded so far this year.

Wolfgang Gressmann, Syria director of IRC

“The hospital is now out of service,” the statement said. “It is vital that these attacks stop.”
According to the Observatory, Saturday’s artillery fire originated from northern Aleppo province where militias backing Iran and the Syrian regime are deployed near a region run by Kurdish forces. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) issued a statement denying any involvement in the shelling.
The Afrin region, like all areas held by pro-Turkish rebels, regularly witnesses targeted killings, bombings and shootings.
The conflict in Syria has killed nearly 500,000 people since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of peaceful demonstrations.
Separately, the Lebanese army on Sunday said it intercepted a small boat carrying 11 people, mostly Syrians, attempting an illegal sea crossing out of the crisis-hit country. A statement said a naval force spotted the boat off the northern port city of Tripoli and that its passengers were all detained and referred for investigation, the army added.
The boat was carrying “10 people of Syrian nationality and a Lebanese national,” it said.
Their journey’s end was not specified but neighboring Cyprus, a member of the European Union, has been a popular sea smuggling destination in recent months.
In May, the Lebanese army intercepted a boat near Tripoli carrying 60 people, including 59 Syrians.
Lebanon, home to more than 6 million people, says it hosts more than a million Syrian refugees.
They have been hit hard by widening poverty rates and growing food insecurity brought on by the country’s economic crisis.