‘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


Why this retired engineer is a ‘model’ Saudi citizen

The models include typical houses and traditional shops that served fava beans, barbecued meat, kebabs and mabshoor, a traditional Arab dish of bread in a meat or vegetable broth. (Photos/Huda Bashatah)
The models include typical houses and traditional shops that served fava beans, barbecued meat, kebabs and mabshoor, a traditional Arab dish of bread in a meat or vegetable broth. (Photos/Huda Bashatah)
Updated 04 August 2021

Why this retired engineer is a ‘model’ Saudi citizen

The models include typical houses and traditional shops that served fava beans, barbecued meat, kebabs and mabshoor, a traditional Arab dish of bread in a meat or vegetable broth. (Photos/Huda Bashatah)
  • Abdul Aziz Taher Al-Hebshi aims to preserve the history of social and cultural life in Saudi Arabia
  • Makkah in those days was a beacon for writers, poets and scientists

MAKKAH: A Saudi agricultural engineer is spending his retirement years helping to preserve the Kingdom’s architectural and cultural history — in the form of extremely accurate models of important buildings and sites in Jeddah and Makkah.

Now Abdul Aziz Taher Al-Hebshi has turned his house in Jeddah’s Al-Rawdah neighborhood into an exhibition space to showcase his models, which represent a fascinating record of daily social and cultural life in the cities in the early-to-mid 20th century.
A good example of this is his model of a “writer’s cafe” in the Misfalah neighborhood of Makkah that was once popular with writers, intellectuals and poets. Through it, he said, he aims to immortalize the role these figures played in the development of literature in Saudi Arabia and the country’s cultural history.
“Knowledgeable people told me that the cafe where Makkah’s writers, poets and intellectuals used to go to was Saleh Abdulhay Cafe, located next to Bajrad Cafe,” 72-year-old Al-Hebshi told Arab News. “Similar cafes were found throughout Makkah’s Misfalah neighborhood in the past.”
He said culture and literature thrived in Makkah in those days, along with the study of science and the quest for knowledge. The city was therefore a beacon for writers, poets and scientists, and the Saleh Abdulhay Cafe was one of the places where they could gather for intellectual and cultural discussions.
“Among the cultural and intellectual figures that used to go to the writer’s cafe … was the Saudi Minister of Culture Mohammed Abdu Yamani,” he said, adding that such venues were the country’s first literary and cultural forums, where people could gather to discuss literary and intellectual issues.
With his models and exhibition, Al-Hebshi said he wants to depict and preserve this history of day-to-day life and culture in Makkah and Jeddah in days gone by. In addition to the cafe, his models include typical houses and traditional shops that served fava beans, barbecued meat, kebabs and mabshoor, a traditional Arab dish of bread in a meat or vegetable broth.
In particular, he said he wants to immortalize the lives of the intellectuals and writers of the era by documenting their daily lives, the ways in which people interacted with them and how neighborhoods such as Misfalah developed as important cultural centers.
So far he has spent three years building his models of cafes, shops, houses and public squares. He has completed four and is working on a fifth. The task requires hard work and patience, he said. For example, it requires great effort to accurately recreate in miniature the rawasheen, the elaborately patterned wooden window frames found in old buildings in Makkah and Jeddah that maximize natural light and air flow. Great accuracy is required throughout the model making process when it comes to the sizes, dimensions and scale.
“One meter in real life is 10 centimeters in the models,” Al-Hebshi said, which represents a scale of one-to-10. “This measure seeks to maintain, as much as possible, the space’s real dimensions.”
The contents of rooms must also be in scale with the building and each other, he explained: “A bottle of Coca-Cola cannot be bigger than a watermelon and so on.” These are all important details in his models, he added, which ensure they are accurate and consistent.
Given the incredible detail and quality of the models, you would be forgiven for thinking Al-Hebshi is a trained carpenter; in fact he is an enthusiastic amateur with a true passion for the craft. Such is his dedication that even hand injuries — and the need for surgery after damaging a finger with a drill — have not kept him from his work for long.

HIGHLIGHT

Abdul Aziz Taher Al-Hebshi says he was inspired by Jeddah’s Old Town and its magnificent Hijazi buildings with rawasheen, beautifully crafted doors, ornate engravings and delicate details, along with the beauty of its landscape and old streets.

He said his model making began after he found some tools that had been abandoned in a carpentry shop, and for materials he used wood and discarded kaftans he found in stores he shopped at. Wood cutting requires great skill, he added, and while he makes most parts of his models, he said he imports some items from abroad to ensure the highest levels of accuracy. For example he buys miniature signs advertising popular international brands such as Pepsi, Miranda and 7-Up, which are difficult to recreate through woodworking.
Al-Hebshi was director of the Agricultural Bank in Jeddah when he was forced to retire in 2006 as a result of a back injury, and he found himself wondering what he could do with his time. A few years earlier he had developed an interest in woodworking but the demands of his job left him with little time to pursue it. A friend who was aware of this suggested he do something with the wood from a large felled neem tree that had been dumped in Jeddah.
“That tree turned out to be the start of me professionally building models,” he said. He added that he was inspired by Jeddah’s Old Town and its magnificent Hijazi buildings with rawasheen, beautifully crafted doors, ornate engravings and delicate details, along with the beauty of its landscape and old streets. The Saudi leadership has put a special focus on the area to showcase its history and splendor and Al-Hebshi said that this has helped him research his detailed designs.
He added that he welcomes all those who wish to visit his house, in Al-Rawdah neighborhood 3, to see his models. He plans to build more to add to his incredible picture of past life in the Kingdom, and the people who helped the country become the nation it is.


Saudi anti-extremism initiative leads the world, says UN expert

Saudi anti-extremism initiative leads the world, says UN expert
Updated 04 August 2021

Saudi anti-extremism initiative leads the world, says UN expert

Saudi anti-extremism initiative leads the world, says UN expert
  • Head of UN Center for Counter-Terrorism ‘impressed by the pioneering research work’ carried out by Kingdom’s Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology
  • Center’s Gether2 initiative, which aims to raise awareness of the risks of extremism among people with hearing disabilities, singled out for particular praise

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology (Etidal) is a “world leader” in pioneering work to prevent and counter violent extremism, according to Jehangir Khan, director of the UN Center for Counter-Terrorism (UNCCT).

“Etidal is a world leader in this field and we are proud of it,” he said during a visit by a UNCCT delegation to Etidal’s headquarters in Riyadh on Tuesday. “We are very pleased … to be able to work closely with the center.

“We are impressed by the pioneering research work you are doing in this field. We have to follow your example on matters in which we need to cooperate.”

Khan in particular highlighted Eitdal’s Gether2 initiative, which aims to raise awareness among people with hearing disabilities of the risks of extremism, saying he had never seen any other initiatives designed to reach people with disabilities in this way.

“I congratulate you on this project and we would like to know more about it,” he said. “As you know, we in the United Nations have specific agencies that deal with matters of concern to people with disabilities from a humanitarian side only, unlike your side, where I think we should see the whole picture.”

The UN delegation was welcomed to the center by Etidal’s secretary-general, Mansour Al-Shammari. During the visit the two sides discussed ways to enhance cooperation in their efforts to prevent and combat terrorism and violent extremism.

The delegation also learned about the center’s monitoring and analysis mechanisms, the techniques it use and the models it is creating and developing, as well as the most prominent advanced technologies in the field.


Saudi Arabia to take part in G20 digital economy event

Photo/Shutterstock
Photo/Shutterstock
Updated 04 August 2021

Saudi Arabia to take part in G20 digital economy event

Photo/Shutterstock
  • Saudi Arabia has realized qualitative achievements in this regard, mainly the unanimous approval of countries on a roadmap to measure and define the digital economy

TRIESTE: Saudi Arabia is taking part in a G20 digital economy event on Aug. 5.
The G20 Digital Economy Ministers Meeting will discuss key issues related to digital transformation ahead of a final communique that will be endorsed by heads of states and governments at the Rome Summit.
It is an extension of the role played by Saudi Arabia during its G20 presidency last year. The Kingdom aims to focus on empowering people, protecting the planet and forming new horizons.
Saudi Arabia has realized qualitative achievements in this regard, mainly the unanimous approval of countries on a roadmap to measure and define the digital economy, in addition to adopting artificial intelligence principles.
Communication and Information Minister Abdullah Al-Swaha is scheduled to take part in the event.
The G20 aims to take the lead in ensuring a swift international response to the COVID-19 pandemic – able to provide equitable, worldwide access to diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines – while building up resilience to future health-related shocks.
Each G20 presidency includes the organization of ministerial meetings on each of the main focus areas of the forum. These meetings are important opportunities to discuss and further develop issues of international relevance.


Students in Saudi Arabia urged to book COVID-19 vaccine appointments

Students can access the vaccine appointment service via the Sehhaty or Tawakkalna apps. (SPA)
Students can access the vaccine appointment service via the Sehhaty or Tawakkalna apps. (SPA)
Updated 04 August 2021

Students in Saudi Arabia urged to book COVID-19 vaccine appointments

Students can access the vaccine appointment service via the Sehhaty or Tawakkalna apps. (SPA)
  • Only fully jabbed pupils allowed to return to the classroom

JEDDAH: Students aged 12-18 are being urged to book their first COVID-19 jab, with the Ministry of Health saying that appointments were available for them.

The appointment allocation follows the Kingdom’s announcement that only fully jabbed pupils could return to the classroom when the new school year begins.
Students must receive the first shot before Aug. 8 in order to have the second before the first semester of the new academic year. The specified period between the two doses is three weeks.
They can access the appointment service through the Sehhaty or Tawakkalna apps.
The ministry also said that a quarter of the Kingdom’s population was fully vaccinated. The total number of people who have been jabbed in the country is 28,033,852, including 1,488,193 who are elderly.

FASTFACTS

• Saudi Arabia reported 1,075 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday.

• The death toll has risen to 8,270 following 11 more virus-related fatalities.

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday reported 11 more COVID-19-related deaths, taking the death toll to 8,270. There were 1,075 new cases reported, increasing the total number of infections to 528,952. There are 10,575 active cases, of which 1,433 are critical.
Of the newly recorded cases, 209 were in Makkah, 188 were in the Eastern Province, 184 were in Riyadh, and 70 were in Madinah. There have been a further 1,113 recoveries, bringing this total to 510,107.
Saudi Arabia has so far conducted more 25.33 million PCR tests, with 110,254 carried out in the past 24 hours.
Testing hubs and treatment centers throughout the country have dealt with hundreds of thousands of people since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.
Taakad centers provide COVID-19 testing for those who show no or only mild symptoms or believe they have come into contact with an infected individual. Tetamman clinics offer treatment and advice to those with virus symptoms such as fever, loss of taste and smell, and breathing difficulties.
Appointments for both services can be made on Sehhaty.
In Hafr Al-Batin governorate, Tetamman clinics have provided services to 75,310 people so far through three clinics: Hafr Al-Batin Central Hospital, Qaisumah General Hospital, and the Abu Mousa Alashari Health Center.


Efforts to fight global terrorism discussed

Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council Nayef Falah al-Hajraf gestures during a news conference at the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) 41st Summit in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia January 5, 2021. (REUTERS)
Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council Nayef Falah al-Hajraf gestures during a news conference at the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) 41st Summit in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia January 5, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 04 August 2021

Efforts to fight global terrorism discussed

Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council Nayef Falah al-Hajraf gestures during a news conference at the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) 41st Summit in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia January 5, 2021. (REUTERS)
  • The council focuses on enhancing capacities of member states and private organizations in preventing and mitigating the misuse of technological developments by terrorists and extremists

RIYADH: Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajjraf, secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), met with Jehangir Khan, director of the UN Counter-Terrorism Center (UNCCT).
During the meeting, they reviewed the efforts of the GCC in combating terrorism.
Al-Hajjraf affirmed the council’s continuous support for the UN in combating crimes of terrorism and extremism, in addition to strengthening their cooperation while achieving security and peace in the world.
A day earlier, Khan met with Dr. Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al-Rabeeah, adviser at the Royal Court and supervisor general of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief).
The UN Security Council has adopted additional resolutions, often under Chapter VII, to address new avenues of terrorist financing, including by targeting the nexus between terrorists and organized crime groups and tackling fundraising through kidnapping for ransom.
The council focuses on enhancing capacities of member states and private organizations in preventing and mitigating the misuse of technological developments by terrorists and extremists.