‘We are protecting nature, improving quality of life’: Head of Saudi Arabia’s new environmental security force

‘We are protecting nature, improving quality of life’: Head of Saudi Arabia’s new environmental security force
Brig. Gen. Saher Al-Harbi, head of the Saudi Special Forces for Environmental Security (SFES). (Supplied)
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Updated 27 December 2020

‘We are protecting nature, improving quality of life’: Head of Saudi Arabia’s new environmental security force

‘We are protecting nature, improving quality of life’: Head of Saudi Arabia’s new environmental security force
  • The commander of the Special Forces for Environmental Security gave an exclusive interview to Arab News
  • Brig. Gen. Saher Al-Harbi explained how the SFES is protecting the Kingdom’s environment, wildlife and biodiversity

JEDDAH: In a speech on Nov. 12, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced that the proportion of Saudi Arabia’s protected areas and nature reserves has increased from 4 percent in 2016 to about 14 percent today. The crown prince’s address to the Shoura Council touched on the issue of conservation, the projects that the Kingdom was implementing for environmental protection and the role of the new dedicated unit, the Special Forces for Environmental Security (SFES).

The SFES currently has 1,100 employees, but this number will grow to 10,000 in the course of the next four years to enable it to protect the environment, wildlife and biodiversity across the Kingdom and to enforce laws and regulations in conservation areas.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, SFES Commander Brig. Gen. Saher bin Muhammad Al-Harbi confirmed that the force was already operating in several natural reserves. He made it clear that the SFES’s role is not limited to protecting wildlife and biodiversity, but goes beyond that. It penalizes activities that harm the environment such as illegal poaching and logging; prevents air, water and soil pollution; and prevents activities that could harm the natural ecosystems of mountainous, land and coastal areas.

Q: How many nature reserves fall within the ambit of the SFES?

A: The SFES has been entrusted with the protection of several natural reserves. They are Imam Saud bin Abdul Aziz Royal Reserve, Imam Turki bin Abdullah Royal Reserve, King Abdul Aziz Royal Reserve, King Khalid Royal Reserve, King Salman Royal Reserve and Prince Mohammed bin Salman Royal Reserve. The SFES uses modern technologies and advanced techniques for control, protection and monitoring of the areas where it is operating.

 

 

Q. How is the SFES working to achieve the objective aimed at improving the quality of life, a key objective of the Kingdom’s 2030 Vision strategy?

A. Environmental safety is one of the indicators of sustainable development and an important element of the quality of life as stipulated in the Kingdom’s 2030 Vision. It will contribute to the enforcement of environmental regulations in the Kingdom in order to reduce the pressure of violations that ecological systems are facing, restore their balance, achieve their sustainability and contribute to the improvement of quality of life and establishment of a society where all its members benefit from healthy lifestyles and surroundings that allow them to live in a positive, attractive environment.

The SFES was established to take on comprehensive tasks and responsibilities and enforce environmental regulations in all the protected regions across the Kingdom. Its duties include environmental security monitoring; environmental security investigation; detaining and arresting offenders; seizing objects used for committing offenses and issuing violation tickets; referring violators to competent authorities; and providing security back-up and support.

Its duties also cover receiving and following up on complaints, taking part in environmental emergencies, and participating in environmental awareness-raising efforts in cooperation with relevant bodies. The force also contributes to the development of policies, strategies and plans related to environmental enforcement, again in partnership with the relevant bodies.




The SFES' function includes preventing activities that alter topographical features in conservation areas. (Supplied)

Q. Do you have a role in protecting conservation areas from activities such as alteration of topographical features, leveling of mountains or arbitrary dredging of sand for use in construction?

A. The SFES works for the protection of conservation areas against all harmful influences such as illegal poaching and logging; air, water and soil pollution; and activities that could harm the ecosystems of mountainous, land and coastal areas.

It also works to prevent any tampering with the vegetation in Makkah and Madinah regions, limit the spread of such activities, and enforce regulations against violators, while also cooperating with Public Security and other relevant bodies that have jurisdiction over these areas, to prevent their occurrence.




The SFES’s role is not limited to protecting wildlife and biodiversity but goes beyond that. (Supplied)

Q. The Kingdom’s land area is vast, with diverse terrain that is home to many species. How do you intend to cover a country of this size?

A. As part of its deployment plan, the SFES intends to focus on those parts of the country that hold special significance from an environmental standpoint. It will make use of the latest modern equipment and advanced technologies to cover the vast land area that falls within its scope, including regions that have rough terrain. The SFES cooperates with other security and environmental bodies and benefits from their support in doing its job.

The SFES has responsibility for all the environmentally significant areas of the Kingdom. They include royal reserves, forests, grasslands, parks, coastal stretches, bird sanctuaries, urban areas, suburbs, industrial zones, water resources, roads and their surrounding areas, land-border areas and marine protected areas.




In addition to the SFES, allied groups are also watching over nature reserves such as the Sharaan Nature Reserve near the town of al-Ula in northwestern province of Tabuk (Photo by Fayez Nureldine / AFP)

This means that it covers a geographical area of almost 800,000 square kilometers across the Kingdom through a main center located in Riyadh, six headquarters in the regions and 21 departments in cities and provinces, encompassing all the environmentally significant regions.

Work will also be initiated to establish additional departments in the provinces in a way that ensures that all the environmentally significant regions of the Kingdom are covered. The forces will be deployed geographically in stages over a period of four years.

Q. Poaching, which has led to the extinction to many wildlife species, is a problem in the Kingdom. What are you doing to bring it under control?

A. In its areas of operations, the SFES monitors all hunting activities and areas of importance for birds, arrests poachers, issues violation tickets against them and refers them to the competent authorities for the remaining procedures to be completed. We have noticed a significant decrease in hunting in the areas where the SFES has a presence. Wild animals and birds will hopefully find safe havens, leading to the recovery and flourishing of the Kingdom’s wildlife.




SFES patrols routinely check the cargo of passing motorists to ensure against violations of the Kingdom's environmental laws. (Supplied)

Q. What are the penalties for hunting with firearms? Will new environmental security violation regulations be issued?

A. Those who hunt without a license using any method are arrested and referred to the competent authorities to be meted out punishment in accordance with the relevant regulations, keeping in mind that hunting with firearms is prohibited in any situation.

As for poaching penalties, they consist of a fine of up to SR 50,000 ($13,333) or imprisonment for a period of up to 30 days, along with the confiscation of any vehicles or equipment used to commit the violation.

Regarding protection of wildlife, there exist regulations and penalties for violations, and new regulations will be issued in the near future in accordance with the environmental protection regime stipulated in Royal Decree no. m/165.




Hunting of certain wildlife may be allowed during specific seasons but the use of firearms is forbidden. (Supplied)
 

Q. There are specific hunting seasons, but what are they? How will you prevent hunting beyond these seasons?

A. The specific hunting seasons are identified by the relevant authorities of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, while licenses are issued to those interested in hunting activities in accordance with the regulations.

The Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, represented by the National Center for Wildlife Development, recently announced that hunting will be allowed between Nov. 1, 2020, and Jan. 15, 2021. It will be permitted subject to clear controls and regulations as announced by the ministry, which cover the species that can be hunted, the equipment that can be used, and the areas where hunting can happen.

The SFES will be in charge of arresting all those who violate the regulations. All forms of hunting are prohibited outside these seasons. The SFES will enforce regulations in its areas of operations through environmental security monitoring and investigation.




Part of the SFES' responsibility is to fight illegal logging across the Kingdom. (Supplied)

Q. Environmental awareness is of vital importance. What are your most plans for advancing this objective?

A. Taking part in environmental awareness-raising campaigns in cooperation with the relevant authorities is one of the most important tasks of the SFES.

It uses its media division and communication channels to increase awareness and to educate society on the importance of environmental conservation, community involvement through cooperation with the relevant public and private sectors; and participation in local and international events that promote environmental protection.

We believe that citizens and residents are partners when it comes to raising environmental awareness.

The SFES has developed programs to encourage community participation by partnering with civil society institutions and environmental associations and reaching out to the largest number of people possible. The SFES is also keen to take part in local and international festivals, exhibitions, conferences and activities related to environment and environmental security.

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Twitter: @md_sulami


Saudia airline getting ready to operate on May 17

Saudia airline getting ready to operate on May 17
Saudi Arabia’s flagship carrier is getting ready to fly on May 17. (SPA)
Updated 12 April 2021

Saudia airline getting ready to operate on May 17

Saudia airline getting ready to operate on May 17
  • Saudia was ranked among the top 10 airlines worldwide for its health and safety measures and received the highest certification by APEX Health Safety in January

JEDDAH: The Kingdom’s flagship carrier is preparing for full-capacity operations ahead of the lift of the travel ban next month, with Saudis eager to safely return to traveling during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Saudi Minister of Transport Saleh Al-Jasser chaired a meeting with the Saudia airline board of directors to discuss preparations for the return of international flights on May 17.
The date will mark the end of the suspension of international travel for Saudi citizens by land, air, and sea.
The minister expressed his thanks for the efforts made to safely continue domestic flights by limiting the spread of COVID-19.
Saudia was ranked among the top 10 airlines worldwide for its health and safety measures and received the highest certification by APEX Health Safety in January.
Saudis are feeling more comfortable with the idea of traveling abroad again.
Ismail Ayoub, 30, said he will travel as soon as the opportunity strikes, with Dubai being his first choice due to their high safety standards. “Safety is one factor, another reason is I have good contacts in Dubai and in the region, so this is an opportunity to reconnect with them,” Ayoub told Arab News.
“The closeness of Dubai to the Kingdom makes it very convenient as well,” he added.
Ayoub said he will travel to countries where tourism offerings follow the strict COVID-19 safety guidelines. “I would avoid countries with unmanaged crowds. I want to enjoy my trip while staying safe.”

Saudis are feeling more comfortable with the idea of traveling abroad again. (SPA)

Software engineer Alia Al-Sadat, 27, said she is glad to have the option to travel but would rather postpone her international flight plans until the global cases drop.
“I feel very safe in the Kingdom. I’m happy to simply travel between Jeddah and Riyadh, or even go and explore AlUla,” Al-Sadat told Arab News.
She highlighted that the travel restrictions were a good opportunity to explore the Kingdom.
“Many people do not know it, but Saudi Arabia has some spectacular destinations. This year made me want to explore places like Abha, Taif and of course Umluj,” she added.


Saudi authorities urge public to follow precautions to ensure safe Ramadan

Saudi authorities urge public to follow precautions to ensure safe Ramadan
Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly. (SPA)
Updated 12 April 2021

Saudi authorities urge public to follow precautions to ensure safe Ramadan

Saudi authorities urge public to follow precautions to ensure safe Ramadan
  • There are 8,360 active cases, 915 of them are critical

JEDDAH: With a few days to go before the start of Ramadan, Saudi health authorities are warning the Kingdom’s residents to remain vigilant and stick to safety precautions put in place to reduce the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
During a press conference on Sunday, Ministry of Health (MoH) spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly reminded residents of the importance of following the precautions.
“Last year’s Ramadan was unlike any other Ramadan that we have experienced,” he said, adding that visitors to mosques would need to follow set guidelines, such as bringing their own prayer mats, attending prayer on time, socially distancing and staying clear of overcrowding.
He also highlighted the importance of following precautions during family gatherings. “We are used to family gatherings during Ramadan — they are special and bring the family together — but we must limit the number of visitors in gatherings.”
On Saturday, the MoH announced it would be postponing second doses of COVID-19 vaccines in order to ensure more people receive their first dose.
“The challenges are a race against time. We want to ensure that the most vulnerable are prioritized and receive their first vaccine to gain immunity,” Al-Abd Al-Aly said, adding that cancelled slots would be rearranged automatically.
“The second dose acts as a booster to the immunity one develops after the first dose,” he said.

INNUMBERS

398,435 Total cases

383,321 Recoveries

6,754 Deaths

8,360 Active cases

A total of 799 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded in the Kingdom on Sunday, meaning 398,435 people in Saudi Arabia have now contracted the disease.
There are 8,360 active cases, 915 of them are critical.
In addition, 548 new recovered cases were announced, taking the total number of recoveries to 383,321. The Kingdom’s recovery rate is holding steady at 96.2 percent.
Seven new COVID-19 related deaths were reported, raising the death toll to 6,754.
Saudi Arabia has administered more than 6.25 million COVID-19 vaccine doses so far. A total of 58,897 PCR tests were conducted in the past 24 hours, raising the total number of tests conducted in the Kingdom to 15,797,442.
Elsewhere, 30,054 violations of precautionary and preventive measures were reported over the past week. The highest numbers of violations were in Riyadh (11,162), Makkah (5,883), and the Eastern Province (4,183). Jazan (155) and Najran (132) had the lowest number of reported violations.
The Ministry of Interior stressed that citizens and residents must continue to adhere to the preventive measures and instructions issued by the authorities for their own safety and the safety of fellow citizens and residents.


Hajj Ministry announce Ramadan guidelines for Umrah and prayers

Hajj Ministry announce Ramadan guidelines for Umrah and prayers
The ministry reminded people for the need to follow the preventive measures to ensure the safety, health and security of those visiting the two holy mosques. (SPA)
Updated 12 April 2021

Hajj Ministry announce Ramadan guidelines for Umrah and prayers

Hajj Ministry announce Ramadan guidelines for Umrah and prayers
  • Taraweeh, Qiyam prayers should not exceed 30 minutes in all mosques

JEDDAH: The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has set guidelines and protocols for issuing Umrah and prayer permits for the month of Ramadan. 
Vaccinations are at the top of the priority list as no worshippers are allowed into either Makkah’s Grand Mosque or Madinah’s Prophet’s Mosque without having received at least one dose of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine.
Permits will only be allowed through the Tawakkalna and Eatmarna apps, and will not be provided for unvaccinated individuals, as the latest Tawkkalna update has designated each category with a color code and barcode specific to their health status.
Unauthorized vehicles will not be allowed in the central region around Makkah, and visitors must arrive on time or risk losing their time slot.
Children will not be allowed to enter either mosques, nor the courtyards around the mosques.

HIGHLIGHT

Permits will only be allowed through the Tawakkalna and Eatmarna apps, and will not be provided for unvaccinated individuals, as the latest Tawkkalna update has designated each category with a color code and barcode specific to their health status.

The Ministry of Interior issued a warning that a SR10,000 ($26,671) fine will be issued to pilgrims wishing to perform Umrah without permits, and a SR1,000 fine for worshippers trying to enter the mosques without one.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance issued a statement saying that Taraweeh and Qiyam prayers should not exceed 30 minutes in all mosques in the Kingdom. This comes after King Salman issued a decision to permit Taraweeh prayers in the two holy mosques and reduce them to five tasleemat.
The ministry reminded people for the need to follow the preventive measures to ensure the safety, health and security of those visiting the two holy mosques.


Saudi rights body to support sexual harassment victims

Saudi rights body to support sexual harassment victims
Dr. Awwad bin Saleh Al-Awwad. (SPA)
Updated 11 April 2021

Saudi rights body to support sexual harassment victims

Saudi rights body to support sexual harassment victims
  • Psychological, educational, and legal consultations are provided to the beneficiaries in cooperation with a number of specialists at the HRC

JEDDAH: Dr. Awwad bin Saleh Al-Awwad, president of the Saudi Human Rights Commission (HRC), has launched a specialized group to support victims of sexual harassment and their families with psychological counseling and educational, social, and legal guidance with strict confidentiality.
The group will enhance protection for victims of harassment and raise awareness about its impact on individuals and society.
Al-Awwad said the launch is part of the measures and regulations that the Kingdom has adopted to protect and support victims of harassment, including the anti-harassment law, child protection system, and law on protection from abuse.
The group will address these effects to help victims overcome trauma, to ensure it does not occur again, and to inform families and the relevant authorities in the event of a new exposure to harassment.
The group is supervised by HRC board member Dr. Sarah bint Omar Al-Abdulkarim, in cooperation with consultant psychiatrist Dr. Meshal Al-Aqeel and Dr. Amal Bannunah, a professional adviser in protection and sex education expert. Psychological, educational, and legal consultations are provided to the beneficiaries in cooperation with a number of specialists at the HRC. 


Saudi Supreme Court: No evidence of Ramadan moon sighting

Saudi Supreme Court: No evidence of Ramadan moon sighting
Updated 12 April 2021

Saudi Supreme Court: No evidence of Ramadan moon sighting

Saudi Supreme Court: No evidence of Ramadan moon sighting
  • Supreme Court says it will hold another session on Monday evening

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s moon sighting committee said on Sunday that the crescent for the month of Ramadan could not be seen from the Tamir and Hawtat observatories in Sudair, due to the weather conditions. 
Following a meeting on Sunday, corresponding to Shaban 29, according to the Umm Al-Qura lunar calendar, the Supreme Court said that it had not received any evidence of the crescent sighting in the evening.
The Supreme Court said it would hold another session on Monday evening, and issue a decision on the start of Muslim fasting month.