Can tech advances solve arid Middle East’s water scarcity problem?

Dar Si Hmad set up CloudFisher fog-harvesters, developed by the German WaterFoundation, on Morocco’s Mount Boutmezguida. (Supplied)
Dar Si Hmad set up CloudFisher fog-harvesters, developed by the German WaterFoundation, on Morocco’s Mount Boutmezguida. (Supplied)
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Updated 16 April 2021

Can tech advances solve arid Middle East’s water scarcity problem?

Dar Si Hmad set up CloudFisher fog-harvesters, developed by the German WaterFoundation, on Morocco’s Mount Boutmezguida. (Supplied)
  • Overuse of natural groundwater means reserves are not replenishing fast enough to keep pace with demand
  • Science, research and education could work hand in hand to address water treatment and protection

DUBAI: Earth’s surface is 71 percent water, but the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region sees precious little of this life-giving resource.

According to the UN, it is the world’s most water-scarce region, with 17 countries considered below the water poverty line.

Matters are made worse by booming population growth, poor infrastructure and overexploitation.

Agriculture alone accounts for around 80 percent of water usage in MENA region, according to the World Bank.

This overuse means the region’s natural groundwater reserves are not replenishing fast enough to keep pace with demand.

Desalination of seawater and major dam projects have been the favored solutions, but these come with their own environmental downsides.

Now researchers are looking for new ways to protect water supplies and encourage good conservation habits among communities, farmers and industries.




Agriculture alone accounts for around 80 percent of water usage in MENA region, according to the World Bank. (Supplied)

“There are many steps to protecting this very important vital resource, without which there’s no life,” Jamila Bargach, executive director at Moroccan NGO Dar Si Hmad for Development, Education and Culture, told Arab News.

“It’s always important to remind people of the importance of water. Some of the ways are education, reminding individual consumers that they need to protect water, and encouraging scientific research to find ways of cutting back in industry and in agriculture.”

Speaking ahead of a recent pre-Expo 2020 Dubai Thematic Week session on water, Bargach said science, research and education must work hand in hand to address water treatment and protection.

In Morocco, for instance, agricultural communities have been saving water by employing fog-harvesting techniques and by recycling brackish water.




Dar Si Hmad set up CloudFisher fog-harvesters, developed by the German WaterFoundation, on Morocco’s Mount Boutmezguida. (Supplied)

“But one of the things that’s a barrier to water security is unfortunately the excessive use of water in industries,” said Bargach.

“Agriculture is a huge issue here, especially in the region where I’m in — the southern part of Morocco — which exports massive amounts of citrus fruit to Europe, and which creates a lot of labor, job and food security for populations here.”

That water levels in Morocco’s deep aquifers and man-made reservoirs were running low until the rains came a few months ago suggests that its water reserves are stretched to their absolute limit.

Bargach identified the demands of international trade as the culprit, whereby water is consumed for the cultivation of fruits for export by Morocco at a much faster rate than it can be replenished, creating a huge imbalance.

To address this, her NGO promotes the use of fog-harvested water. To date it has worked with 16 villages in rural Morocco to foster the technique, and is already working with eight more. The research was on display at the Expo’s Sustainability Pavilion.




First tested on Morocco’s fog-wrapped Mount Boutmezguida, the nets use no energy whatsoever and can collect over 600 liters of drinking water per day per net. (Supplied)

Dar Si Hmad is responsible for the largest functioning fog-harvesting project in the world. The CloudFisher, developed by the German Water Foundation, harvests atmospheric water vapor from the air with synthetic fabric nets.

First tested on Morocco’s fog-wrapped Mount Boutmezguida, the nets use no energy whatsoever and can collect over 600 liters of drinking water per day per net.

“There are possibilities,” Bargach said. “But the scale at which we work is very important. The larger the scale, the more the demand and the greater the possibilities of waste embedded in the system.”

As a result, scaling down usage could be one way of conserving water. Forecasts suggest water supplies would drop dramatically by 2030 and, therefore, rationing could become the new normal.

In Morocco, this has already begun. In January, the city of Agadir, along the country’s southern Atlantic coast, saw its water cut off from 10 p.m. every night to help limit consumption.




Researchers are looking for new ways to protect water supplies and encourage good conservation habits among communities, farmers and industries. (Supplied)

“This is the reality of the future that we have to live with, that water is scarce, and that scarcity is increasing,” Bargach said.

“The planet’s patterns are changing; rainfall amount and frequency are changing; and in a lot of countries in North Africa and the Middle East, we’re using mostly rain as a way of getting water.”

Shortages could have wide-reaching humanitarian consequences. Droughts destroy livelihoods, displace populations from rural areas into cities, and in the worst-case scenario, result in conflict and unrest.

For Reem Al-Hashimy, UAE minister of state for international cooperation and managing director of the Expo 2020 Dubai bid committee, water is the lifeblood of civilizations that shapes economies, cultures and religious beliefs.

“Water is at the very core of who we are, what we do, our hopes and dreams for ourselves and for our children,” she said.

“Yet today, we face a challenge familiar to countries all across the world: Soaring demand and slowing supply.”




From Chennai to Cape Town and even California, many communities are increasingly feeling the effects of shortages of, and poor access to, water. (Supplied)

She warned of a looming global water crisis, with around 1.1 billion people already lacking reliable access to water, and 2.7 billion enduring scarcity for at least one month of the year. By 2025, an estimated two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages.

“This isn’t only an economic challenge but a question of justice, fairness and equity,” Al-Hashimy said. “How will we guarantee access to this life-sustaining resource we all need?”

From Chennai to Cape Town and even California, many communities are increasingly feeling the effects of shortages of, and poor access to, water. “Water futures are traded on Wall Street, such is the certainty of future scarcity,” said Al-Hashimy.

“The export of so-called blue gold is growing, with maritime experts foreseeing a world in which our oceans are traversed by supertankers laden not with oil, but with freshwater for countries lacking essential supplies.”




For Reem Al-Hashimy, UAE minister of state for international cooperation and managing director of the Expo 2020 Dubai bid committee, water is the lifeblood of civilizations that shapes economies. (AFP/File Photo)

She spoke of a shifting global economic center, with water at the core of ever-evolving civilizations.

The Indian Ocean, for instance, holds almost 20 percent of the water on the planet’s surface. Almost 2.7 billion people live in countries along its coast.

Its sea lanes carry half of the world’s container ships, a third of its bulk cargo traffic, and two-thirds of all oil shipments.

Its coastlines and ports are of increasing geostrategic significance, with countries jostling for influence and infrastructure development.

“The oceans are too vast, deep and untameable for any one nation or bloc to lay sole claim,” Al-Hashimy said. “Just as all the waterways of the world are interconnected, so are our own responsibilities toward the management and preservation of this priceless resource.”

She added: “We take seriously our shared commitment to the global responsibility for all open oceans, for that which belongs to no one and to everyone.”




The use of fog-harvested water has been implemented in 16 villages in rural Morocco to foster the technique to date, and will be utilized in eight more. (Supplied)

Protecting water is a shared responsibility, she said, impacting everything from climate to biodiversity, inclusivity, knowledge and learning, travel, connectivity, health and wellness.

“Each is distinct in its own way, yet deeply interconnected and impactful on every human life,” she said. “No matter your place in the world, communities are increasingly afflicted by such shortages.”

Seen against this background, Expo 2020 offers governments, companies and communities the opportunity to share new technologies and approaches to resolve humankind’s shared challenges, Al-Hashimy said.

“With more than 200 nations and international organizations coming together, with millions of visitors from around the world granted a once-in-a-lifetime experience that empowers their active participation in meaningful change, this is a unique opportunity for positive impact that will last for generations to come.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


US, EU voice frustration at Iran’s dithering on nuclear deal

US, EU voice frustration at Iran’s dithering on nuclear deal
Updated 25 September 2021

US, EU voice frustration at Iran’s dithering on nuclear deal

US, EU voice frustration at Iran’s dithering on nuclear deal
  • Window of opportunity won’t be open forever, Tehran regime told

JEDDAH: The US and EU have voiced frustration at the UN over the slow pace with Iran, saying its new government showed no indication it was ready to revive a nuclear accord.
“The window of opportunity is open and won’t be open forever,” a senior US official said after days of consultations with allies at the UN General Assembly.
Iran’s new President, Ebrahim Raisi, indicated he backed a return to compliance with the 2015 accord as a way to lift sweeping sanctions imposed by former US President Donald Trump when he withdrew the US. But European nations said they heard nothing concrete as they met with Iran’s new Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who came to New York for the annual General Assembly.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and a senior administration official said that US patience is wearing thin and that further delays while Iran continues to expand its atomic capabilities could lead Washington and its partners to conclude a return to the deal is no longer worthwhile.
“We don’t have yet an agreement by Iran to return to the talks in Vienna,” Blinken said. “We are very much prepared to return to Vienna and continue the talks. The question is whether, and if so when, Iran is prepared to do that.”
If the talks don’t resume, the officials said the US would at some point determine that Iran was no longer interested in the benefits that the accord offered or that its recent technological advances could not be undone by the limits it imposed.
“The possibility of getting back to mutual compliance is not indefinite,” Blinken said.
“And the challenge right now is that with every passing day, as Iran continues to take actions that are not in compliance with the agreement ... we will get to a point at some point in the future at which simply returning to mutual compliance with the JCPOA will not recapture the benefits.”
The UN’s atomic watchdog has said Iran is increasingly in violation of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned: “The clock is ticking. We’re not going to wait two or three months for the Iranian delegation to come back to the table in Vienna,” Maas said.
“It has to happen more quickly,” he said.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that Amir-Abdollahian told him that Iran was ready to restart talks “at an early date” but gave no more precise time.
Barbara Slavin, an expert on Iran at the Atlantic Council, said that Tehran ultimately had an interest in returning to talks for the sake of the relief of sanctions which have taken a heavy economic toll.
“They’re taking their sweet time,” Slavin said. “I still think they have to come back to the talks. I think they need it,” she added.


A Palestinian wedding in Israel stirs memories of 1948 expulsion of Arab inhabitants of Biram and Iqrit

A Palestinian wedding in Israel stirs memories of 1948 expulsion of Arab inhabitants of Biram and Iqrit
Updated 25 September 2021

A Palestinian wedding in Israel stirs memories of 1948 expulsion of Arab inhabitants of Biram and Iqrit

A Palestinian wedding in Israel stirs memories of 1948 expulsion of Arab inhabitants of Biram and Iqrit
  • Descendants of inhabitants of the two villages view ceremonies in local churches as acts of remembrance
  • George Ghantous and Lauren Donahue recently tied the knot in an abandoned Maronite church in Biram

AMMAN/NAZARETH: When George Ghantous, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, and Lauren Donahue, his American fiancee, were planning their wedding, there were lots of details that needed to be agreed upon. But the couple settled on one important decision from the outset: The wedding would take place in an abandoned church in the village of Biram, George’s ancestral home.

In 1948, during the war that resulted in the creation of the state of Israel, the people of Biram — a mainly Christian village high in the mountains of Galilee above Safed, not far from the Lebanese border — found themselves caught up in the fighting.

It was occupied by Israeli forces who, seven months later in a well-documented incident, expelled the residents of Biram and of Iqrit, a village about 21 kilometers away.

Caught in the crossfire of a conflict between the Israeli army and Arab guerrillas operating from bases in Lebanon, the inhabitants of the two villages, who mostly made a living from cultivating fruit trees, were ordered to leave their homes for two weeks until the situation stabilized.

Seventy-three years later, the villagers and their descendants — now citizens of Israel, whose properties are supposed to be protected by Israeli law — still have not been allowed to return.

The couple seal their marriage vows with a kiss. (Supplied)

Worse still, despite an Israeli High Court decision in the 1950s upholding the villagers’ property rights, the Israeli army demolished, presumably as a deterrent to any future return, all the buildings in both villages except for a Melkite church in Iqrit and a Maronite church in Biram.

Maronites, who now live mostly in Lebanon, are a branch of the Syriac Church, which split from the Greek Orthodox faith in the seventh century. Melkites are another Syriac branch who adhere to old Byzantine rites.

In addition to having their wedding service at the church in Biram, Ghantous and Donahue visited the ruins of the house in the village where the groom’s grandparents once lived. There, they performed a traditional ritual that normally takes place at the home of the newlyweds.

The bride, dressed in white, and the groom, in black, stuck unbaked bread dough, decorated with flowers and coins as symbols of prosperity and happiness, to a lintel above the main entrance to what remains of the building.

“If, God forbid, the dough does not stick, then a shout of dismay is heard by the guests as this is bad luck and the marriage may be doomed,” Michael Oun, an authority on Middle East history and a relative of the groom, told Arab News. “When they make the dough, the groom’s family takes good care to make sure that it really sticks.”

Fortunately for the happy couple, the dough did stick. But in addition to marking the start of their married life together, the ritual also served as a political statement making it clear that even members of this third generation of Palestinian Christians have not forgotten the villages their families were forced to leave, and to which they one day hope to return.

The abandoned Maronite church in Biram, George Ghantous’s ancestral home. (Supplied)

Ghantous said that he was made aware of his grandparents’ original home from an early age and has visited it on many occasions, at Christmas and Easter and to attend baptisms and weddings.

“We were raised in this beautiful place, under its sky and among the trees and the refreshing breeze,” he told Arab News. “Our spirit and our parents’ and grandparents’ spirits are here among the houses and among ourselves. It is natural that this would be the place where our joy is realized.”

Over the years, Israeli leaders of all parties have promised to help the villagers of Biram and Iqrit to return to their homes, only for the promises to be broken amid fears that it might encourage other Palestinians to demand the return of their ancestral lands and homes.

Rejecting the demand, Lior Haiat, spokesperson of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Arab News that the official position on the issue remains unchanged.

Ayman Odeh, a member of Knesset and head of the Joint List, the main Arab bloc in the parliament, accuses Israeli authorities of paying lip service to the demands of the people from the villages, instead of taking corrective steps.

“Not only do they not have the will but they are unable to go beyond the security blockade,” he told Arab News.

Odeh claimed Reuven Rivlin, who served seven years in the mainly ceremonial role of president of Israel, once made a promise that he would not allow his term in office to end without the people of Biram and Iqrit being allowed to return.

“Rivlin’s term ended (in July this year) and his promise has not materialized, even though he was the highest authority in Israel, albeit a symbolic one,” Odeh said. “He clearly couldn’t bypass the instructions of the security agencies that form the deep state.”

Odeh said he also received assurances from Yitzhak Herzog, Rivlin’s successor as president, but these have yet to translate into action.

“I asked him to send a letter of support to the people of these two villages and he did,” Odeh said. “Now he is president and his first visit was to a Jewish settlement in the occupied territories.”

Ibrahim Issa was 14 years old when Biram was occupied and destroyed. He is now 87. When Arab News spoke to him on Sept. 10, he had just left church after the regular morning mass for older former residents of the village. He said he visits the village with his wife at least twice a week.

“I was raised in Biram and have eaten its figs and grapes, and played in its roads,” he said. “That is why I love it and cling to the hope of returning some time. I have been coming to Biram and stayed in the area after its demolition, even during military rule. I have followed the whole struggle for 73 years.”

Bishop Elias Chacour of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. (Supplied)

Bishop Elias Chacour of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, perhaps the most famous former resident of Biram, is the author of “Blood Brothers,” a best-selling memoir of life as an Arab citizen of Israel.

Now retired, he was eight when the village was taken over by the military. He lobbied Shimon Peres, the Israeli former president and prime minister, to allow the residents to return.

“I told him: ‘I come to you as a son of Biram. Biramites are still alive,’” Chacour told Arab News. “Peres replied: ‘That was a long time ago.’ I told him: ‘You kept remembering Palestine for 2,000 years and then you traveled to Palestine and caused us damage and you want us Biram people to forget?’”

Chacour sees little hope of progress under the new Israeli government, but considers Mansour Abbas, an Arab citizen of Israel who leads the United Arab List in the Knesset, as the only politician capable of moving things forward. Still, he thinks Biram will endure.

“As long as the people of Biram and their descendants live and remember the village,” Chacour told Arab News, “Biram will not die.”


Iqrit and Biram: A history of expulsions

As fighting raged between Arabs and Jews in 1948, Israeli troops occupied Iqrit, a village of 616 residents. The leaders of the village signed a surrender document. The local priest reportedly even greeted the troops with a Bible in his hand while chanting in Hebrew, “Welcome, Oh children of Israel.”

A week later, the commander of the Israeli troops ordered the inhabitants of Iqrit to leave and travel southeast to the Arab village of Rameh “for two weeks until the security situation will allow them to return,” according to historical records. The villagers did as they were told, leaving most of their belongings behind.

The same fate befell Biram, a village with a population of 1,050. Its people also were ordered to leave for two weeks and given a promise that they would be allowed to return soon. They went to the nearby village of Jish, about 5 kilometers to the east, and moved into the homes of Muslims who had fled the fighting during the war.

An old picture of the village of Biram before it was destroyed by Israeli forces. (Supplied)

The ruins of both villages are located a few miles from the border with Lebanon. Iqrit is about 21 kilometers to the west of Biram. The residents of the former were Melkite Greek Catholics and the latter were mostly members of the Maronite church. Both are eastern sects of the Catholic church.

When the residents of Iqrit failed in their efforts to ensure the authorities would keep their promise and allow them to return to their homes, they appealed to the Supreme Court of Israel. In July 1951, the court ruled that they should be allowed to return. The Israeli army ignored the decision and demolished the village on Christmas Eve, 1951, leaving only the church standing.

Biram fared no better. Its appeal to the High Court failed on a technicality and Israeli fighter jets demolished the village in July 1953. Former residents watched its destruction from a place that later became known as “Wailing Hill.” Again, only its church was spared.

Soon after, large sections of land near Biram were designated public parks. Other areas were incorporated into new Jewish settlements. In 1968, with the end of military rule in Israel, former residents and their families were granted the right to be buried or get married in Biram.

_________________

Daoud Kuttab in Amman and Botrus Mansour in Nazareth


93 Houthis among 140 dead in battle for Marib

93 Houthis among 140 dead in battle for Marib
Updated 24 September 2021

93 Houthis among 140 dead in battle for Marib

93 Houthis among 140 dead in battle for Marib
  • The rebels died in the fighting and from airstrikes by the military coalition backing the government
  • The Houthis in February escalated their efforts to seize Marib

DUBAI: More than 140 rebels and pro-government troops have been killed this week as fighting intensifies for Yemen’s strategic northern city of Marib, military and medical sources told AFP Friday.
At least 51 loyalists were killed in the past four days, most of them in clashes in the province of Shabwa and the neighboring governorate of Marib, multiple military sources said.
They added that at least 93 Iran-backed Houthi rebels also died in the fighting and from airstrikes by the military coalition backing the government.
The Houthis rarely report casualty numbers, but figures were confirmed by medical sources.
The Houthis in February escalated their efforts to seize Marib, the government’s last northern stronghold, and the fighting has killed hundreds on both sides.
According to the military sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Houthis have made advances and seized four districts — one in Marib and three in Shabwa.
Yemen’s conflict flared in 2014 when the Houthis seized the capital Sanaa, prompting intervention to prop up the internationally recognized government the following year.
Earlier this week, Swedish diplomat Hans Grundberg, the UN’s new envoy for Yemen, was in Oman, which has played a mediating role in the Yemen conflict.
He met with Omani and Houthi officials, including top rebel negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam.
“Sustainable peace can only be achieved through a peacefully negotiated settlement,” said Grundberg, according to a statement on Tuesday. “It is imperative that all efforts are directed toward revitalizing a political process that can produce lasting solutions that meet the aspirations of Yemeni women and men.”
While the UN and Washington are pushing for an end to the war, the Houthis have demanded the reopening of Sanaa airport, closed under a Saudi blockade since 2016, before any ceasefire or negotiations.
The last talks took place in Sweden in 2018, when the opposing sides agreed to a mass prisoner swap and to spare the city of Hodeidah, where the port serves as the country’s lifeline.
But despite agreeing to a cease-fire in Hodeidah, violent clashes have since broken out between the rebels and pro-government troops around the strategic city.
On Wednesday, donors pledged an additional $600 million to tackle Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, as the UN and other aid agencies warned that vital aid programs would be cut this year without more funding.
This year’s $3.85 billion aid response plan to what the UN describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis had been only half funded before Wednesday’s high-level UN meeting co-hosted by Sweden, Switzerland and the EU.
A significant gap in funding for the aid response in Yemen, which has been divided by seven years of war, opened up last year, forcing some aid programs to close and the UN to warn of increasing risk of famine.


Palestinian-Armenian dispute over Jerusalem land deal intensifies

Palestinian-Armenian dispute over Jerusalem land deal intensifies
Updated 24 September 2021

Palestinian-Armenian dispute over Jerusalem land deal intensifies

Palestinian-Armenian dispute over Jerusalem land deal intensifies
  • Israeli municipality and Armenians agreed to turn a piece of sensitive land in the old city into a parking lot, but ‘one could smell a rat’

AMMAN: A land row between Palestinians and an Armenian church in Jerusalem has intensified with the head of the Higher Presidential Committee of Church Affairs in Palestine appealing for peace to the religious and political leadership in Armenia.
An agreement between the Armenians and Israeli Jerusalem municipality to turn a piece of sensitive land in the old city of Jerusalem into a parking lot took effect on Jan. 1. Jewish residents of the Old City have had exclusive use of the parking lot, which has caused concern among the Palestinian leadership and members of the tiny Armenian community.
Officials of the Armenian Patriarchate insisted that the contract with the Israeli Jerusalem municipality and the Jewish-centric Jerusalem Development Authority does not constitute selling or leasing land but is simply a financial operation.
The Higher Presidential Committee of Church Affairs in Palestine wrote to Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manoogian reminding him that the Armenian quarter is part of occupied Palestinian territories where UN resolutions, including the 2017 UNSC Resolution 2334, apply.
Letters by senior Palestinian officials were also sent to the Catholicos of All Armenians Patriarch Karekin II, calling land transactions in the Armenian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem a violation of international law since the area inside the Old City of Jerusalem is an “integral part of the Palestinian occupied territories” governed by relevant international resolutions.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry has also been “urged to intervene,” a statement by the Higher Presidential Committee stated.
The dispute follows the secrecy over land deals in the Old City of Jerusalem organized by the Armenian patriarchate in Jerusalem in cooperation with the Israeli institution.
Ramzi Khoury, the president of the Higher Presidential Committee of Churches in Palestine, told Arab News that the aim of the letters sent to Armenian officials is to force the church in Jerusalem to open up and coordinate with us: “Our main goal is to uncover what is hidden.”
The letters were sent twice, but there was no response.
While Khoury focused on a 10-year lease to the Israeli municipality of an empty plot to be turned into a parking lot, he did not specify a much more serious deal with a Jewish Austrian investor to lease the same land for 99 years to build a large hotel in a sensitive area between the Armenian and Jewish quarters.
Sources in the Armenian Patriarchate say that the hotel deal is opposed by the majority of the Armenian St. James Synod which has not met in more than three years.
A senior Armenian leader from Jerusalem told Arab News on condition of anonymity that he has always suspected a much bigger deal than the parking lot one: “From when the patriarch and his director of real estate began their effort, one could smell a rat.”
The Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem Archbishop Sevan Gharibian and the head of the real estate department Rev. Baret Yeretsian are accused of going against the wishes of their own synod and that of the nearly 1,000 Armenian Christians who live in the occupied city of Jerusalem.
In a statement issued on Sept. 22 by the chair of the Armenian Patriarchate Synod, the church said that they had ratified the agreement and noted that the lease provides “a steady income of hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to support the Armenian patriarchate.”
The statement signed by Father Samuel Aghazian admitted that a “luxurious hotel structure” would be built based on a long-term lease without imposing any risk to the full and exclusive ownership of this land.
An Armenian website Keghart called what is happening in Jerusalem a scandal. In an editorial on Aug. 31, the publication reminded the Armenian patriarch that the Armenian Quarter and other “Patriarchate-owned” real estate does not even belong to the Armenian Church or to the St. James Brotherhood.
“They are the possessions of the Armenian nation. Every last inch of holy land Armenian property was purchased through the donations of Armenian pilgrims, nobility, kings, and charitable organizations over a millennium. Twice in recent centuries, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem was bankrupt and was close to losing all its real estate. It was rescued by Armenian merchants and regular Armenian patriots.”
The Keghart editorial supported Palestinian and international law by concluding that “every inch of the holy land falls under strict local and international laws hence no one has the right to split up that one entity into different trading parts.”


Health alert as Lebanon’s stray dog problem fuels rabies fears

Health alert as Lebanon’s stray dog problem fuels rabies fears
Updated 25 September 2021

Health alert as Lebanon’s stray dog problem fuels rabies fears

Health alert as Lebanon’s stray dog problem fuels rabies fears
  • Students demand answers after abandoned pets found shot and poisoned on Beirut campus

BEIRUT: Video images showing the remains of stray dogs shot and buried on the state-funded Lebanese University’s Hadath campus in suburban Beirut have highlighted the growing problem of animals abandoned by their owners as the country’s economic crisis worsens.

Up to 50,000 stray dogs are estimated to be roaming the streets of Lebanon, according to welfare activists, with most unneutered and unvaccinated, posing a public health risk as the animals become increasingly aggressive and stocks of vaccines to combat rabies run low.

Images of five dogs found buried on the university campus sparked widespread anger this week after it was revealed the animals were being fed and cared for by students after having been abandoned.

Lebanese University’s 75 hectare campus is unfenced, and houses a large number of faculties as well accommodation for students, deans and visiting professors, and sports and health facilities.

Animal welfare activist Ghina Nahfawi told Arab News that the stray dogs were given names by students and would respond when offered food.

“We noticed one of the dogs became their leader and would tell the rest that it was OK to approach us,” she said.

“Last Friday, we could not find any trace of the dogs. Some were saying that the university administration and security guards wanted to get rid of them.”

Nahfawi said that students’ fears grew after another dog was found alive but in pain with symptoms suggesting it had been poisoned with Lannate, an insecticide that is highly toxic to livestock and wildlife.

“We saw blood and found some dogs that had been shot. We were told others were buried on the campus, but we did not believe it until we came across a foul smell and started digging with our hands, only to discover the bodies of five dogs.”

She said that students were told that other dogs, including pups, had been taken to mountainous areas and left to fend for themselves, and may have been killed by other animals.

Roger Akkawi, vice president of the animal charity Paw, told Arab News that up 50,000 pet dogs in Lebanon have been abandoned by their owners amid the pandemic and the devastating devaluation of the Lebanese pound.

“Most of the dogs left on the street are unneutered and unvaccinated. People think dogs are good hunters, but that’s not true — they depend on humans to survive,” he said.

“What people do not realize is the mating of two dogs may lead to the birth of an additional 400 dogs within two years, and that goes along with diseases resulting from the failure to vaccinate against rabies.”

Akkawi warned that Lebanon is “heading toward a catastrophe” because authorities have ignored the problem.

“People will encounter dogs on their doorsteps; many will die and no one will dare touch the bodies and bury them for fear of disease. Although the rabies vaccine is subsidized by the state, it is not available because suppliers do not care about importing it. The vaccine is only available in small quantities and for emergency cases.”

Amid the social media uproar over the killing of the stray dogs, students demanded an explanation from the university’s administration, calling for those responsible for the “massacre” to be held accountable.

In response, university authorities released a statement expressing regret for “the way in which the issue of stray dogs was addressed on and around the campus.”

The statement added: “A serious investigation has been opened. The administration had reached out to an animal welfare association and the Hadath municipality several times, but no radical solution was reached.”

The administration said that several students had been bitten by two dogs, adding that the strays are a threat to public safety in light of the lack of medicines and vaccines against rabies.

However, Nahfawi said that there is no evidence of students being attacked by dogs at the university. “The campus has been turned into a burial ground for dogs; that’s what really happened. They disregard all laws and accuse us of exaggerating the issue. This is shameful.”

She added: “The municipalities are responsible for addressing such issues, but they do not consider this a priority at the moment. Do they realize that unneutered and unvaccinated dogs pose a threat to people because we lack vaccines against rabies?”

According to Akkawi, the answer is to “trap, neuter and return dogs to nature.”

He said that the charity is training volunteers to handle stray dogs, but lacks funds to buy equipment and vaccines. “Municipal budgets do not take this matter into account, especially during the economic crisis we are experiencing.”

Akkawi said that the government does not consider the issue of stray animals a priority.

“We met the interior minister and warned that imposing lockdowns and keeping people at home during the pandemic would lead to massacres of stray dogs, which depend on restaurant waste to survive. We asked to be allowed out at night after curfew to feed dogs with the food we bought, but our request was rejected.”

Nahfawi said that while some may consider anger over the dog’s deaths as absurd compared with the suffering of people in Lebanon, “society will not become more peaceful and tolerant if it does not learn to properly deal with the most vulnerable beings.”

In August 2017, President Michel Aoun signed animal protection and welfare laws that include rules for treatment of stray dogs by municipalities.

In August 2018, the Ethical Treatment of Animals group won a ruling from the Lebanese judiciary jailing a man for 10 days and fining him $2,650 for mistreating dogs. The ruling was the first of its kind issued by a judicial authority in Lebanon, criminalizing the harming of animals.