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


Italy and UNESCO sign €1 million agreement to restore Beirut’s Sursock museum damaged in port blasts

Italy and UNESCO sign €1 million agreement to restore Beirut’s Sursock museum damaged in port blasts
Updated 12 min 18 sec ago

Italy and UNESCO sign €1 million agreement to restore Beirut’s Sursock museum damaged in port blasts

Italy and UNESCO sign €1 million agreement to restore Beirut’s Sursock museum damaged in port blasts
  • Cost of restoring the museum has been estimated at nearly €2.5 million
  • Historic villa suffered severe damage during the explosion in August

RIYADH: Italy and the UN’s cultural arm have signed a €1 million ($1.21 million) funding agreement to renovate one of  Beirut’s most famous museums.

Located in a historic villa in Achrafieh, the Sursock Museum was severely damaged in the Beirut port blasts last August.

The building houses more than 1,500 works of art along with other valuable collections.

The memorandum of understanding was signed by the Italian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Marina Sereni and the director of UNESCO’s Beirut office, Costanza Farina, in the presence of the chairman of the museum’s board of trustees, Dr. Tarek Mitri.

The Sursock Museum suffered severe damage during the Beirut Port blast. (AFP/File) 

“We firmly believe that culture and the protection of heritage are needed in times of crisis, more than ever,” Sereni said. “To this end, the Lebanese population can continue counting on the support and the partnership of the Italian Government and its people.”

The cost of restoring the museum has been estimated at nearly €2.5 million with France already giving €500,000 to replace the smashed stained-glass windows and wood-lined Arab salon.

The new funding will come through the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS) and be used under UNESCO’s Li Beirut initiative, which aims to repair schools, heritage buildings, museums and galleries damaged in the Beirut blasts. 

“The Italian Cooperation and UNESCO’s support for the reconstruction of the museum is invaluable,” Zeina Arida, director of the Sursock Museum, said. “It will allow Beirut and its citizens to reclaim a space that has become a second home for so many people in the cultural sector and the local community at large, a space which aims to promote openness and support knowledge production.”

Farina said the funding was the largest contribution so far to the Li Beirut initiative.

“I salute Italy for its positive response to our call that will support the rehabilitation and revitalization of the museum as a heritage building as well as a promoter of cultural life,” she said.

Sursock Museum was set up in the 1912 villa donated by Lebanese collector Nicolas Sursock. It opened in 1961 and became a major hub for Lebanese artists, while hosting exhibitions from around the world.
It stayed open during much of the Lebanese Civil War and underwent a major renovation in 2008.

Located just 800 meters from the center of the port blast, the museum suffered severe structural damage.


Why Iran absorbs Israeli-inflicted blows on its militant proxies in Syria

Why Iran absorbs Israeli-inflicted blows on its militant proxies in Syria
Updated 4 min 41 sec ago

Why Iran absorbs Israeli-inflicted blows on its militant proxies in Syria

Why Iran absorbs Israeli-inflicted blows on its militant proxies in Syria
  • Despite losing hundreds of fighters to Israeli bombardment, Iran and its proxies remain committed to their presence in Syria
  • Experts warn sanctions relief for Iran under revived nuclear talks could ignite an already volatile situation in the war-torn country

LONDON: Israel has launched hundreds of strikes against Iran and its allied proxies inside Syria since the country’s descent into civil war over a decade ago, with officials in Tel Aviv making it clear they will refuse to tolerate any Iranian entrenchment along their northern border.

Israeli warplanes have repeatedly attacked Iran-linked facilities and weapons convoys destined for Tehran’s Hezbollah proxies in Lebanon. On May 5, Israeli strikes in the Syrian provinces of Latakia and Hama claimed the lives of at least eight individuals on the payroll of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Despite the persistent bombardment and loss of personnel, experts say the IRGC is unlikely to strike back directly or relinquish its military presence any time soon. The reason: Syria is simply too precious a strategic prize for Tehran to give up.

A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on Feb. 24, 2020, reportedly shows Syrian air defende intercepting an Israeli missile in the sky over Damascus. (AFP)

“Both Israel and Iran believe that they have vital national security interests at stake in Syria,” Chris Bolan, professor of Middle East Security Studies at the US Army War College, told Arab News.

The Iran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah, which intervened early in the Syrian civil war in support of the Assad regime, is the crux of Israel’s national security headache in Syria, said Bolan.

“Israeli concerns with Iran’s support to Hezbollah are enduring and will continue regardless of the outcome of (nuclear) negotiations in Vienna. These concerns have only been exacerbated with Iran’s growing military presence and intervention on behalf of Syrian President Assad since the onset of the civil war,” he said.

“Israel will continue to take whatever actions are necessary — including airstrikes — to both minimize the threat posed by Hezbollah’s growing, sophisticated arsenal of missiles and ensure that Iran’s military presence in Syria does not pose an immediate threat to Israel.

“Similarly, Iranian leaders view their support to Hezbollah as an essential element of Iran’s national security strategy of forward defense. A well-equipped Hezbollah that poses a significant threat to Israel serves as Tehran’s most potent deterrent against large-scale Israeli or Western strikes.”

Members of Hashed al-Shaabi, an Iran-allied paramilitary force in Iraq, holding a funeral procession in Baghdad for fellow comrades on December 31, 2019. (AFP file photo)

Alongside Hezbollah, the IRGC has nurtured, trained and armed a host of other militia groups across Syria. By shipping in fighters from Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and even Pakistan, Tehran has created its own army of Shiite mercenaries in Syria.

Still, on Syria’s front lines and at the mercy of Israeli warplanes, these foreign fighters have paid a heavy price for their allegiance to Tehran.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), between January 2018, when Israel’s involvement in Syria first escalated, and January 2020, almost 500 Iran-backed fighters were directly killed by Israeli airstrikes.

That figure includes “228 militiamen of the Lebanese Hezbollah and Iranian-backed militias” and “171 members of the Iranian forces and Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps,” as well as nearly 100 Syrian pro-government militiamen.

Hezbollah supporters carry coffins of their fighters killed in Syria, during their funeral procession in Lebanon on March 1, 2020. (AFP)

Thousands more have died on the front lines in direct clashes with rebels and Daesh militants.

According to SOHR, the May 5 strikes alone claimed eight lives: Five Iranians and Afghans, a Syrian and two others of “non-Syrian” nationality.

“The death toll is expected to rise further as the attack left many members injured, some seriously, including Lebanese militiamen and officers,” it said. It is not yet clear whether any members of Hezbollah were killed or injured.

IN NUMBER

500+

Fighters killed in Israeli strikes in Syria in Jan. 2018-Jan. 2020.

According to Matthew Levitt, director of the Washington Institute’s program on counterterrorism and intelligence, Hezbollah is unlikely to risk striking back against Israel in spite of these heavy losses.

“Hezbollah has a clear track record over the past few years of only responding to Israeli strikes in Syria when those strikes kill Hezbollah operatives,” Levitt told Arab News.

“So long as Israeli strikes only hit Hezbollah weapons shipments or infrastructure, the group is unlikely to respond against Israel directly for fear of igniting a cross-border conflict that it currently wants to avoid.

“Hezbollah prefers to avoid fighting wars on two different fronts at once (Syria and Israel), and is also sensitive about dragging Lebanon into a war with Israel that the vast majority of Lebanese don’t want, at a time when Lebanon is experiencing severe economic and political instability.”

Instead, in the face of escalating losses, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has resorted to fiery rhetoric and lofty promises.

Just days after the latest strikes, Iranian state-backed media quoted Nasrallah as saying: “The ‘Israelis’ are concerned today due to the growing capabilities of the Axis of Resistance. The ‘Israeli’ entity is in trouble and its wall is cracking; there is a leadership crisis and this is a sign of collapse and weakness.”

However Hezbollah chooses to dress things up, Israel’s air campaign has not only caused hundreds of casualties but also succeeded in its stated objective of preventing widespread Iranian entrenchment in Syria, particularly in the country’s south.

Syrian protesters rally in front of a poster of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Syrian President Bashar Assad and the late military commander Qassem Soleimani. (AFP)

“The Israeli airstrikes against Iranian-backed groups have been quite effective in destroying and disrupting key targets in Syria,” said Johan Obdola, founder of the International Organization for Security and Intelligence.

In the course of the Syrian war, Israel has bombed secret weapons depots in major cities, key infrastructure including highways, as well as hundreds of shipments of missiles and other arms earmarked for Iran’s allies.

A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on April 27, 2020 shows a damaged building in Damascus after reported Israeli air strikes. (AFP)

“These constant airstrikes have been severely hitting Iran’s smuggling operations of advanced weapons, including missiles to Hezbollah in Syria, and also including warehouses and pre-existing underground compounds that serve as pipelines for military components,” Obdola said.

That said, Israel cannot afford to rest on its laurels, according to experts. If the talks should falter between Washington and Tehran over Iran’s nuclear program, Bolan warns, the standoff in Syria between Iran and Israel could become even more volatile.

Chris Bolan

“The outcome of negotiations is not likely to significantly alter the basic calculations of entrenched Israeli or Iranian interests in Syria,” said Bolan.

“Nevertheless, failed negotiations in Vienna will likely add to the already mounting tensions between Israel and Iran inside Syria and thereby increase the prospect of intended or unintended escalation.”

Obdola, for his part, says Iran and its allies are likely to capitalize on the talks and any sanctions relief achieved as an opportunity to strengthen their position against Israel.

“The nuclear talks represent to Iran an opportunity to move forward with its plan against Israel,” he said.

An end to sanctions on Iran “would facilitate Iran and Hezbollah in its expansion not only in Syria, but in other countries around the world where they have been implementing an aggressive military, militia and terrorist network.”

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Twitter: @CHamillStewart


Gaza bombardment causes widespread death, destruction

Gaza bombardment causes widespread death, destruction
Updated 16 May 2021

Gaza bombardment causes widespread death, destruction

Gaza bombardment causes widespread death, destruction
  • Israeli missiles completely destroyed three homes — two of them belonging to the Al-Kulak family and the other to the Abu Al-Auf family

GAZA CITY: For the seventh day in a row, Israeli warplanes on Sunday bombed various parts of the Gaza Strip, causing widespread destruction and killing dozens of Palestinians, many of them women and children.

In the fiercest wave of bombing, warplanes targeted Al-Wehda Street in the center of Gaza City after midnight, killing 42 Palestinians, including 16 women and 10 children, and wounding about 50 others.

Israeli missiles completely destroyed three homes — two of them belonging to the Al-Kulak family and the other to the Abu Al-Auf family.

Dalal Al-Kulk, 33, and her 2-year-old son were among the survivors of the bombardment. She could not talk after her husband Mohammed and three of her daughters were killed.

Her father Ahmed Al-Maghribi waited outside the destroyed house for the bodies of the three daughters to be removed.

They had remained under the rubble for about 15 hours before they were removed by the Palestinian Civil Defense.

“I can’t describe my feelings of sadness, fear and anger. My daughter is now in shock. Her husband and three of grandchildren are martyrs,” Al-Maghribi said.

“I don’t know how they’ll live the rest of their lives. Our life in Gaza is full of fear, terror. There’s no safety anywhere. Every person here on the street carries his own story, all of them pain and exhaustion.”

The Palestinian Ministry of Health on Sunday evening said 192 Palestinians had been killed since the start of the Israeli bombardment, including 58 children and 34 women.

Israeli warplanes targeted a building hundreds of meters from Al-Wehda Street, causing partial destruction and killing at least one of its residents.

Ayah Aloul, 25, was lying in hospital next to her mother. They were injured by the bombing after the death of Aloul’s father.

“I’m very afraid … The bombing began violently in the area where I live. Suddenly I found myself in the street with my mother, and above us was a lot of rubble,” Aloul told Arab News.

“I started with all my strength to lift the rubble off me. I don’t know where all this strength came from,” she added.

“I started running until I found a street with lights on. I started screaming loudly until the neighbors came, and I told them I want to get my mother out from under the rubble, but they insisted that they take me by ambulance to the hospital. I saw my mother in the hospital shortly after.” Referring to her wounds, Aloul said: “I don’t know how I’ll live with my face like this.”


Israeli paramedics: 2 dead in synagogue bleacher collapse

Israeli medics and an ultra-Orthodox Jewish youth evacuate an injured man after the collapse of grandstand seating at a synagogue in the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev in the occupied West Bank outside Jerusalem, on May 16, 2021. (AFP)
Israeli medics and an ultra-Orthodox Jewish youth evacuate an injured man after the collapse of grandstand seating at a synagogue in the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev in the occupied West Bank outside Jerusalem, on May 16, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 16 May 2021

Israeli paramedics: 2 dead in synagogue bleacher collapse

Israeli medics and an ultra-Orthodox Jewish youth evacuate an injured man after the collapse of grandstand seating at a synagogue in the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev in the occupied West Bank outside Jerusalem, on May 16, 2021. (AFP)
  • A bleacher collapsed during prayers Sunday evening in Givat Zeev
  • Rescue workers are on the scene, treating the injured and taking people to the hospital

JERUSALEM: Israeli medics say two people are dead and more than 150 injured in a bleacher collapse at a West Bank synagogue.
The bleacher was packed with ultra-Orthodox worshippers and collapsed during prayers at the beginning of a major Jewish holiday.
A spokesman for Magen David Adom told Channel 13 that paramedics had treated over 157 people for injuries and pronounced two dead, a man in his 50s and a 12-year-old boy.
Rescue workers are on the scene, treating the injured and taking people to the hospital. The collapse comes weeks after 45 ultra-Orthodox Jews were killed in a stampede at a religious festival in northern Israel.
Amateur footage showed the collapse occurring during prayers Sunday evening in Givat Zeev, just outside Jerusalem, at the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. The ultra-Orthodox synagogue was packed with hundreds of people.
The Israeli military said in a statement that it dispatched medics and other search and rescue troops to assist at the scene. Army helicopters were airlifting the injured.
Israeli authorities traded blame at the scene of the disaster.
The mayor of Givat Zeev said the building was unfinished and dangerous, and that the police had ignored previous calls to take action. Jerusalem police chief Doron Turgeman said the disaster was a case of “negligence” and that there would likely be arrests.
Deddi Simhi, head of the Israel Fire and Rescue service, told Israel’s Channel 12 that “this building is not finished. It doesn’t even have a permit for occupancy, and therefore let alone holding events in it.”
Television footage from the scene showed the building was incomplete, with exposed concrete and boards visible.
The accident comes weeks after a stampede at a religious festival in northern Israel that killed 45 ultra-Orthodox Jews.
The stampede triggered renewed criticism over the broad autonomy granted to the country’s politically powerful ultra-Orthodox minority.
Last year, many ultra-Orthodox communities flouted coronavirus safety restrictions, contributing to high outbreak rates in their communities and angering the broader secular public.


Jordan’s king says diplomatic efforts under way to halt Israel’s military campaign

Jordan’s king says diplomatic efforts under way to halt Israel’s military campaign
Updated 16 May 2021

Jordan’s king says diplomatic efforts under way to halt Israel’s military campaign

Jordan’s king says diplomatic efforts under way to halt Israel’s military campaign
  • The king reaffirmed “that no country is more supportive of the Palestinians than Jordan”
  • Jordan has custodianship of Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem

AMMAN: Jordan's king said his country was involved in intensive diplomacy to halt what he described as Israeli military escalation that has led to the worst eruption of violence in years.

King Abdullah II “affirms that there are intensive efforts and contacts with all international actors to stop the dangerous Israeli escalation and protect the lives and property of the Palestinian brothers,” a statement from the Royal Court said. 

The king reaffirmed “that no country is more supportive of the Palestinians than Jordan,” and stressed the “unwavering position” of the Jordanians.

The monarch, whose ruling family has custodianship of Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem, has in recent days warned that Israel’s military campaign was risking major instability in the region.

At the UN Security Council meeting convened today, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said that “Israel, as the existing occupation force, carries responsibility for the dangerous situation in occupied Palestinian land and what it is causing in violence, killings, destruction and suffering.”