‘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


Saudi Food and Drug Authority seizes 412 tons of shrimp, fake food labels in Jazan

Saudi Food and Drug Authority seizes 412 tons of shrimp, fake food labels in Jazan
Updated 29 July 2021

Saudi Food and Drug Authority seizes 412 tons of shrimp, fake food labels in Jazan

Saudi Food and Drug Authority seizes 412 tons of shrimp, fake food labels in Jazan
  • Inspectors found modifications of data and expiry dates of the shrimps repackaged in new containers

JAZAN: Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) inspectors seized 412 tons of shrimp stocks after detecting fake food labels and product packages inside an illegal warehouse in Jazan region.

SFDA said that during the inspection and investigation operations, inspectors detected modifications of the data and the expiry dates of the product, which was repackaged in new containers.

The shrimp products, and packages and data labels were seized, in addition to another 500,000 labels bearing food data and cartons ready for packing.

As a result of the inspection, the authority closed the unlicensed warehouse and summoned those responsible for the facility to hear statements and complete the application of penalties and regulations against them.

According to food law and its executive regulations, the penalty for such violations can reach up to SR10 million ($2.6 million), in addition to a ban on the violator from practicing any food business for up to 180 days, as well as license suspensions and/or cancellations.

Violations of establishments under the supervision of the SFDA can be reported by calling the unified number (19999), or through its “Tameni” application available on the iOS and Android operating systems.

 

 


35,000 Saudi families benefit from Sakani housing scheme

35,000 Saudi families benefit from Sakani housing scheme
Updated 29 July 2021

35,000 Saudi families benefit from Sakani housing scheme

35,000 Saudi families benefit from Sakani housing scheme
  • Kingdom's Vision 2030 reform plan aims to raise the proportion of residential ownership to 70 percent

RIYADH: A total of 34,891 families benefited from subsidized mortgage loans through the Sakani self-construction program during the first half of this year.

Run by the Ministry of Municipal, Rural Affairs, and Housing and the Real Estate Development Fund (REDF), Sakani offers Saudis access to land and residential housing via financing solutions to help first-time homebuyers.

The Vision 2030 reform plan aims to raise the proportion of residential ownership in the Kingdom to 70 percent.

Sakani provided various residential products and financial solutions for 111,568 families in the first six months of the year, including 87,896 families that have already moved into new homes and its website and app are designed to simplify and speed up the purchasing process for readymade, off-plan, self-construction, and land products.

To qualify for a subsidized loan for self-construction, applicants must be entitled to residential support, own a residential land plot and have a valid building permit, have a fixed income, and must not have previously claimed housing support. Details are available at https://sakani.housing.sa/product/SC.

The scheme also provides an engineering design service with a range of high-quality, competitively priced options in partnership with experienced engineering offices. More than 36 distinctive and modern self-construction designs are available along with an approved contractor service.

The REDF offers more than 43 e-services for citizens as well as a real-estate adviser app and its online team provides around-the-clock support for those seeking subsidized funding.

Beneficiaries can call 199088 or contact the REDF on social media for information on housing and financial solutions, programs, and initiatives.


Saudi aviation authority issues update for citizens’ travel procedures abroad 

Saudi aviation authority issues update for citizens’ travel procedures abroad 
Updated 29 July 2021

Saudi aviation authority issues update for citizens’ travel procedures abroad 

Saudi aviation authority issues update for citizens’ travel procedures abroad 
  • New procedures will come into effect on Aug. 9

RIYADH: The Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) has issued a new circular to all airlines, both public and private, operating from the Kingdom’s airports updating the procedures for citizens’ travel outside Saudi Arabia.

The circular stipulates that airlines can carry citizens on international flights, provided that they have received all doses of one of the anti-coronavirus vaccines approved in the Kingdom, with the exception of passengers under the age of 12.

Travelers under the age of 12 are required to present an insurance document approved by the Saudi Central Bank that covers the risks of COVID-19 infection outside the Kingdom.

In addition, citizens who recovered from the virus less than 6 months ago and those who contracted corona more than 6 months ago and received a single dose of one of the approved vaccines in the Kingdom can travel abroad.

GACA said that these procedures will come into effect on Aug. 9.

The GACA continues to apply all preventive measures at the Kingdom’s airports, with the aim of providing an integrated health environment for travelers at Saudi airports.

The procedures also include obliging all concerned authorities and air transport companies operating at the Kingdom’s airports to comply with health safety requirements and preventive measures.


DGDA, Saudi Botanical Society sign MoU to turn historic Diriyah green

DGDA, Saudi Botanical Society sign MoU to turn historic Diriyah green
Updated 29 July 2021

DGDA, Saudi Botanical Society sign MoU to turn historic Diriyah green

DGDA, Saudi Botanical Society sign MoU to turn historic Diriyah green
  • Partnership between Diriyah Gate Development Authority and Saudi Botanical Society reflects both sides’ concern to protect and preserve local plants
  • First phase of the development project covers the restoration of more than 2 square kilometers of Wadi Hanifa and old farms in the region

RIYADH: The historic city of Diriyah is about to get greener.

The Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Saudi Botanical Society (SBS) to cooperate in private projects in the area of plants and trees in Diriyah.

The MoU also includes spreading awareness about the importance of plants and green spaces and developing the first national garden for local plants in Diriyah, within the projects implemented by the DGDA.

The first phase of the development project covers the restoration of more than two square kilometers of Wadi Hanifa and old farms in the region. It will also establish new hiking trails and parks to make the valley an open space so tourists and visitors can enjoy natural sceneries and outdoor space.

Developing the plants and green space in Diriyah was also addressed in the MoU, along with providing scientific and technical research in the field. The project is in line with the Diriyah Gate Project, Wadi Hanifa Project, and Wadi Safar Project as all associated parties will exchange expertise, information, data, and knowledge sources.

The partnership between DGDA and SBS reflects both sides’ concern to protect and preserve local plants in Diriyah.

SBS, the first nonprofit organization specialized in the protection of wild and local plants in the Middle East, was established after Saudi leadership launched a number of initiatives, such as Green Saudi Arabia, Green Middle East, and a scheme to plant 50 billion trees in the Kingdom.


Ignore false COVID-19 claims and get vaccinated, Saudi health authorities urge public

Ignore false COVID-19 claims and get vaccinated, Saudi health authorities urge public
Updated 29 July 2021

Ignore false COVID-19 claims and get vaccinated, Saudi health authorities urge public

Ignore false COVID-19 claims and get vaccinated, Saudi health authorities urge public
  • Health Ministry reports 1,334 new cases, 1,079 recoveries, 11 deaths

JEDDAH: The Saudi Health Ministry has warned residents against false claims about COVID-19 persistently circulating on social media and for the unvaccinated to get out and get inoculated from the disease.

Dr. Abdullah Asiri, Assistant Deputy Minister for Preventive Medicine, also urged the public to continue following health safety protocols to avoid getting hit by the highly contagious delta variant of the virus.

In a recent message posted on Twitter, he  said that all medications must be taken in accordance with instructions, including antibiotics, but that most do not interfere with COVID-19 vaccinations.

The timing of vaccinations might need to be adjusted for people taking immunosuppressive drugs, such as rheumatism and cancer medications, to ensure the best response to the vaccines, he explained.

As of Wednesday, more than 25.7 million doses of vaccines have been administered in the Kingdom, at a current rate of 326,727 a day. More than 18.4 million people have received at least one dose and more than 7 million have received two, meaning more than 73.8 percent of the population has had at least one jab.

INNUMBERS

522,108 - Total number of COVID-19 cases in the Kingdom

502,528 - Number of recoveries 8,200 Deaths

8,200 - Number of COVID-related deaths

The Ministry of Health repeated its call for all eligible citizens and residents to register for the vaccine given the continuing spread of variants, and reiterated that people who are fully vaccinated are much less likely to become infected, or to suffer severe symptoms if they are.

Authorities reported 1,334 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total in the country to 522,108. The number of active cases has risen to 11,380, and 1,409 patients are receiving critical care, 13 fewer than 24 hours earlier.

The Eastern Province recorded the highest number of new cases, with 271, followed by Riyadh with 260, Makkah with 239, Asir with 127, and Jouf with 12.

An additional 1,079 people have recovered from the disease, raising the total number of recoveries to 502,528, a recovery rate in the Kingdom of 96.2 percent.

An additional 11 people died as a result of conditions related to COVID-19, raising the death toll to 8,200.

Meanwhile, the Saudi Center for Disease Prevention and Control (Weqaya) announced that fully vaccinated travelers are exempt from quarantine requirements upon arrival in the Kingdom. Expatriates returning to the Saudi Arabia are also exempt if their health status is recorded as “recovered” on the Ministry of Health’s approved app, Tawakkalna.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development said it conducted 1,689 field inspections in Tabuk, during which it identified 83 violations of precautionary health measures in workplaces.