Gaza gravediggers and medics stretched as COVID-19 spikes

Gaza gravediggers and medics stretched as COVID-19 spikes
Children study outside their home in Rafah camp for Palestinian refugees in the southern Gaza Strip amid a lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. (AFP/File)
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Updated 23 April 2021

Gaza gravediggers and medics stretched as COVID-19 spikes

Gaza gravediggers and medics stretched as COVID-19 spikes

GAZA: The sick and dying are rapidly pushing Gaza’s hospitals close to capacity amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in the impoverished Palestinian territory, health officials said.
Palestinians fear a combination of poverty, medical shortages, vaccine skepticism, poor COVID-19 data and mass gatherings during Ramadan could accelerate the increase, which began before the start of the holy month on April 13.
Gaza health officials said around 70 percent of intensive care unit beds were occupied, up from 37 percent at the end of March. There were 86 deaths over the past six days, an increase of 43 percent over the week before.
“The hospitals are almost at full capacity. They’re not quite there yet, but severe and critical cases have increased significantly in the last three weeks, which is a concern,” said Dr. Ayadil Saparbekov, head of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Team in the Palestinian Territories.
Gaza’s daily positivity rate reached as high as 43 percent this week, although Saparbekov said that number could be inflated because a shortage of tests meant they were mostly given to people already showing symptoms.
Saparbekov also said Gaza does not have the capacity to identify highly infectious COVID-19 variants when testing, meaning there is little data on them.
Graveyards are also feeling the strain. In Gaza City, gravedigger Mohammed Al-Haresh said he had been burying up to 10 COVID-19 victims per day, up from one or two a month ago.
“Wartime was difficult, but the coronavirus has been much harder for us,” said Haresh, who dug graves throughout the 2014 Israel-Gaza war.
“In war, we would dig graves or bury the dead during a truce or ceasefire. With the coronavirus, there is no truce.”
Densely populated and home to 2 million Palestinians, Gaza has for years had limited access to the outside world because of a blockade led by Israel and supported by Egypt.
Both countries cite security concerns over Hamas, saying they want to stop money and weapons entering.
Palestinians say the blockade amounts to collective punishment and that it has crippled Gaza’s economy and medical infrastructure, with shortages of critical supplies and equipment hampering their ability to tackle the pandemic.
The situation in Gaza is a stark contrast to Israel, where a world-beating vaccination rollout has led to more than 53 percent of Israelis being fully vaccinated.
Amid growing concern, Hamas was set to begin a week of nightly curfews, shutting down mosques that host hundreds of worshippers for Ramadan evening prayers.
But with around 49 percent of Gazans unemployed and parliamentary elections slated for May 22, Hamas has held back from more drastic measures that could further damage the economy.
“We may impose additional measures, but we do not expect at this phase to go into a full lockdown,” Hamas spokesman Eyad Al-Bozom said.
Health officials say the factors that led to the current spike include the flouting of guidelines for mask-wearing and social distancing and the opening in February of Gaza’s border with Egypt, which may have allowed in new variants.
Suspicion of vaccines also runs deep. A majority of Gazans — 54.2 percent — said they would not take the vaccine, against 30.5 percent who said they would and 15.3 percent who were undecided, according to an April 21 survey by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.
Just 34,287 people have been vaccinated, even though the enclave has received 109,600 doses since February donated by Russia, the UAE and the global COVAX program.
“(The) reluctance of many, including medical staff, to be vaccinated remains a key concern,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in an April 12 report.
One Palestinian eligible for Gaza’s initial round of vaccines, Qasem Abdul Ghafoor, said he decided to get the jab to protect himself and his family.
“The situation here is horrific. We took it lightly before, but I assure you, it should not be taken lightly,” he said.

Libyan leader to hold international conference on country’s security, stability

Libyan leader to hold international conference on country’s security, stability
Updated 24 September 2021

Libyan leader to hold international conference on country’s security, stability

Libyan leader to hold international conference on country’s security, stability
  • Mohammed Al-Menfi revealed that security, military, and economic issues would top the agenda of the meeting that would also shore up support for the upcoming national elections

WASHINGTON: The chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya on Thursday said he would be staging an international conference next month to gain backing for efforts to bring stability and security to the country.

Mohammed Al-Menfi revealed that security, military, and economic issues would top the agenda of the meeting that would also shore up support for the upcoming national elections.

Al-Menfi, who is attending the 76th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, added that the conference would host Libyan groups eager for reconciliation along with regional and international parties to push for the stability and security that has eluded Libya since the 2011 fall of Muammar Qaddafi who ruled the country for 40 years.

The Libyan leader said despite working on reconciliation efforts among Libyan groups, challenges still lay ahead on the road to achieving democracy.

He noted that Libya had made “significant strides” in implementing solutions that were mandated through agreements between the different Libyan groups and UN resolutions.

However, despite the progress, Al-Menfi pointed out that the country was still “faced with serious challenges and fast-paced developments” that could stall the ongoing political process.

On the ground, Libya remains confronted by many daunting challenges toward achieving political unity among its entrenched warring parties. Conflict still persists between the Tripoli-based Presidential Council and Gen. Khalifa Haftar who controls the eastern half of the country as well as the Libyan armed forces.

A transitional government was formed earlier this year to move the country forward toward elections on Dec. 24.

“Libya has the choice to either succeed toward becoming a democracy through free and transparent elections or go back to square one of infighting and military conflict,” Al-Menfi said.

He called on the international community to assist Libya in removing foreign militaries and mercenaries from the country as a way to build a “conducive environment for safe and transparent elections.”

Al-Menfi also demanded that European countries share their responsibilities in addressing the issue of illegal African migrants who pass through Libya on the way north to Europe, adding that his country had carried the burden alone and deserved support from the international community.

On the issues of human rights abuses that plagued Libya during its decade-long civil war, and the presence of terrorist groups on Libyan soil, he said his government was committed to safeguarding the human rights of the Libyan people and had worked toward bringing meaningful reconciliation through detainees and prisoners exchange, reparation, and addressing the fate of missing people.

Al-Menfi reiterated Libyan support for the Palestinian people and said his country was committed to the establishment of the Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

Oman resumes Friday prayers in mosques following more than yearlong closure

Oman resumes Friday prayers in mosques following more than yearlong closure
Updated 24 September 2021

Oman resumes Friday prayers in mosques following more than yearlong closure

Oman resumes Friday prayers in mosques following more than yearlong closure

Oman’s mosques reopen for Friday prayers today, after a closure that lasted more than a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, national daily Times of Oman reported.

The decision came after a “noticeable decrease in the curve of COVID-19 cases,” the report added.

Oman’s coronavirus supreme committee issued the decision on Sept. 19 to reopen mosques for Friday prayers from Sept. 24 for those who have been vaccinated.

The committee has requested a commitment to social distancing, the use of special carpets in mosques, the wearing of masks, and permitting only 50 percent of the mosque's capacity to enter.

Meanwhile, wedding halls and hotels have been requested by Oman’s Government Communication Centre to notify concerned municipalities at least 72 hours before an event.

Venues will only be allowed to operate at a 50 percent capacity and non-vaccinated employees and visitors will not be permitted to enter.

Venues will also be required to keep a record of employees’ entry and exit time and document the cleaning and disinfection operations.

How circular carbon economy provides a framework for a sustainable future

How circular carbon economy provides a framework for a sustainable future
Updated 24 September 2021

How circular carbon economy provides a framework for a sustainable future

How circular carbon economy provides a framework for a sustainable future
  • CCE is a closed-loop system designed to promote the reuse of resources instead of wasting them
  • Governments urged to consider adopting inclusive, flexible pathways offered by the CCE platform

DUBAI: Floods, storms and other extreme weather events have grown in frequency and intensity in many parts of the world over the past two decades, primarily as a result of global warming. To prevent temperatures rising any further, scientists are urging nations to drastically reduce their carbon emissions.

Governments in the Middle East have accelerated action toward reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the lead-up to the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow this November, including the adoption of renewables and methods for the removal of carbon from the atmosphere.

One innovative strategy embraced by Saudi Arabia is the circular carbon economy (CCE), a closed-loop system designed to promote the reuse of resources that would otherwise have been wasted or discarded.

The Middle East region is particularly vulnerable to the effects of global warming. Several of its nations regularly experience temperatures in excess of 50C, leading to droughts, the destruction of delicate ecosystems and the loss of livelihoods, particularly among poor farming communities.

In Iraq, Syria and Turkey, for instance, once mighty rivers are beginning to run dry, destroying fragile fishing communities along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates and allowing the desert to consume lands once considered a breadbasket.

The knock-on effects of climate change have resulted in the mass displacement of rural populations and the exacerbation of conflicts — trends that experts warn will only get worse if immediate and radical action is not taken at a global level.

“These events have not been directly caused by climate change, but they will be exacerbating the more frequent occurrence in the coming decades if action on climate is not taken,” said Saudi Arabia’s Princess Noura bint Turki Al-Saud, speaking virtually at the 9th World Sustainability Forum (WSF 2021) earlier this month.

Princess Noura is a founding partner at AEON Strategy and an advisory board member of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology Circular Carbon Initiative.

Reducing the world's reliance on fossil fuels is at the core of international strategies to prevent catastrophic climate change. (AFP/File Photo)

CCE is an energy strategy that advocates the reduction, reuse and recycling of carbon products and their removal in an effort to eliminate harmful pollutants from the atmosphere.

Energy ministers from the G20 group of leading economies endorsed Saudi Arabia’s CCE approach to managing greenhouse-gas emissions last year when the Kingdom held the G20 presidency.

In partnership with Saudi Aramco, the Kingdom has made energy efficiency and the minimization of flaring at its oilfields top priorities in mitigating climate change, alongside fossil-fuel reduction through substitution with low-carbon energy sources such as renewables, hydropower, nuclear and bioenergy.

Using innovative technologies, carbon dioxide can be captured from the air and reused for useful products, such as fuels, bioenergy, chemicals, building materials, food and beverages. It can also be chemically transformed into new products such as fertilizer and cement, or other forms of energy such as synthetic fuels.

Technologies can also be used to capture and store CO2 to achieve a large-scale reduction of emissions. Countries can also increase the process of photosynthesis by planting more trees — a strategy that is key to the Kingdom’s Saudi Green initiative.

Although the need to cut carbon emissions to halt global warming is now widely accepted, Princess Noura cautioned that the reduction is currently happening too slowly to prevent global temperatures climbing 1.5 to 2 C above pre-industrial levels.

“Despite three decades of continued efforts in climate diplomacy and policy making, there has been little impact on curbing emissions,” she told the WSF panel. “Five years into the Paris Agreement, global CO2 concentrations continue to increase in the atmosphere, driven by unabated global emissions.”

In fact, by the end of 2020, CO2 emissions were 2 percent higher than they were at the same time the previous year. Now global CO2 emissions are creeping ever closer to their pre-pandemic peak due to an increasing demand for coal, oil and gas as economic life resumes.

An innovative strategy embraced by Saudi Arabia is the circular carbon economy (CCE), a closed-loop system designed to promote the reuse of resources. (Supplied)

The International Energy Agency estimates that in the absence of further policy changes, global oil demand could reach 100.6 million barrels a day by the end of 2020. “This recent and historic trend underscores the challenge of curbing emissions and decarbonizing the global energy system,” Princess Noura said.

In a world that remains heavily reliant on fossil fuels — both as a source of energy and, for many countries, a source of revenue — Princess Noura says there is a critical need to scale up adaptation and mitigation efforts globally and to focus on the humanitarian response in those countries most vulnerable to the physical impacts of climate change.

She urged governments to consider adopting the inclusive and flexible pathways offered by the CCE platform, which aggregates all mitigation and carbon management options into a single framework.

“It is allowing nations to collaborate in mutual areas of benefit and collectively address emissions in a coordinated manner,” she said.

Ambitious action can avoid the most devastating effects of climate change, but only if all nations act together, says Alok Sharma (pictured), the president of UN Climate Change Conference COP26. (AFP/File Photo)

“The CCE framework highlights the importance of renewable energy technologies and enhanced energy efficiency, which will be crucial to decarbonizing our energy system, but it also stresses the value of the best carbon management technologies.

“These remove carbon already in the atmosphere or from a point source before it enters the atmosphere, to either store or to utilize through recycling into other products, or using directly for specific purposes.”

The CCE platform also emphasizes nature-based solutions, requiring a whole ecosystem for innovation, deployment and scale, underpinned by strong commitment from governments, Princess Noura said.

“(There is a) need to scale up solutions and drive innovation at a rate that is faster than the rates of changing climates. Much of the policies, regulations and support that brought modern renewables to the market over the past decades are necessary to deploy the technologies that are needed today to reduce carbon emissions.”

An employee connects a Volkswagen (VW) ID.3 electric car to a loading station of German carmaker Volkswagen, at the 'Glassy Manufactory' (Glaeserne Manufaktur) production site in Dresden. (AFP/File Photo)

In its latest report published in August this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that without the widespread adoption of carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) technologies, long-term global climate goals may be unobtainable.

According to the IEA, annual clean energy investment worldwide will need to more than triple by 2030 to about $4 trillion to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

“CCUS is one of the few technologies available that can decarbonize both power generation and heavy industries, such as cement, steel and chemical production with verifiable emissions reductions,” it said.

Although the international community has been discussing the adoption of such technologies for some time, implementation has been slow.

“Any further delay in CCUS implementation will make it even harder to achieve the climate goals,” said Aqil Jamal, chief technologist leading the carbon management research division of Aramco’s R&D Center in Dhahran, speaking on the same WSF 2021 panel.

Palestinians work at Al-Hattab charcoal production facility, east of Gaza City, on January 28, 2021, the largest producer in the Gaza Strip. (AFP/File Photo)

Trouble is, CCUS technologies are more readily available to rich countries, and energy access remains a problem for many developing countries.

“There is a huge portion of the global population that doesn’t have electricity nor clean cooking fuels,” Adam Sieminski, senior adviser to the board of trustees of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, told the panel.

“We have to find a way to do that — cleanly. The idea is gaining political traction, which means the ability to craft policies to put real pragmatic approaches in place is increasing.”

Sieminski added: “The CCE framework is something that’s being taken very seriously in Saudi Arabia.

“Many people seem to look at the whole concept of managing carbon as (costly), and the most important thing is that we have to move toward looking at this as value creation and how carbon can create value in the global economy.”

Iraqi leader Barham Salih tells UNGA: ‘Corruption and terrorism work in tandem’

Iraqi leader Barham Salih tells UNGA: ‘Corruption and terrorism work in tandem’
Updated 24 September 2021

Iraqi leader Barham Salih tells UNGA: ‘Corruption and terrorism work in tandem’

Iraqi leader Barham Salih tells UNGA: ‘Corruption and terrorism work in tandem’
  • Mideast peace efforts rely on an Iraq that ‘is safe, stable and fully sovereign’
  • Plea for international funding to rebuild regions ‘freed from yoke of terror’

NEW YORK: Cooperation and solidarity is the world’s “only choice” in the fight against global terrorism, Iraqi President Barham Salih said.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly, Salih told fellow world leaders that his country had been dogged by wars and genocides over the past 40 years.

“We have known mass graves, the use of chemical weapons and terrorism all over our cities.”

The Iraqi leader said that victory over “the evil forces of Daesh” would not have been possible without the joint efforts of Iraqi army and police, the Peshmerga on the one hand, and their regional and international allies, on the other.

Salih reiterated his call for the international community to combat funding for terrorism, provide reparations to victims and help rebuild destroyed regions that have been freed from “the yoke of terrorism.”

This will ensure that such tragedies are not repeated, he said.

“Our obligation today is to rebuild the cities that have been liberated and ensure that the displaced go back home.”

The Iraqi president spoke at length about the link between terrorism and corruption, warning that it threatens not only Iraq’s security but the stability of the whole world.

“Our country is facing corruption because of the heavy burden left behind by wars and conflicts that have squandered a huge part of the resources of the country, depriving Iraqis of the riches of their land,” Salih said.

“For Iraq, fighting corruption is a genuine national battle. The situation will not normalize unless we manage to beat corruption.”

Salih renewed his call for an international alliance against corruption, similar to that against terrorism.

He urged member states to tackle the roots of corruption and help Iraq to restore the funds that had been plundered.

“We cannot eliminate terrorism unless we eliminate corruption, which itself constitutes a political economy of violence and terrorism,” Salih said.

“Corruption and terrorism are linked, mutually reinforcing and work steadfastly in tandem.”

Referring to regional conflicts, Salih told UNGA participants that “the absence of Iraq in its natural role for the past 40 years” has exacerbated instability, which is the result of wars and the breakdown of security and political systems in the area.

The Syrian conflict and the prolonged Yemeni war are “unacceptable,” he said. Ending these wars “should be a priority.”

The Iraqi leader added: “Neither will there be peace without granting Palestinians their legitimate rights to a state,” reiterating Iraq’s call for a global and fair solution to the issue.

Salih said that the success of peace efforts relied on an Iraq that “is safe, stable and fully sovereign.”

He added: “This requires regional and international support as well as (putting) a stop to competitive behavior and the conflicts of others being played out on our land.”

The Iraqi president called for further regional cooperation — in the form of a new organization — over shared issues, including terrorism, extremism, climate change, unstable economic conditions and the “inability to provide work to a greater number of young people.”

He said that the recent Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership underscored that “Iraq, which was a synonym for conflict, is now a meeting point for the interests of people and states in the region.”

Iraq is gearing up for national elections next month, which Salih said will be “decisive” and “have an effect on the entire region.”

He stressed the importance of restoring trust to an Iraqi electorate that has lost confidence due to “the failings of the previous system.”

To that end, a new electoral law has been adopted that is “more just and representative,” and a new electoral commission formed to ensure proper organization of the elections.

Salih said that a new electoral code of conduct will “guarantee the success of the elections so they can pave the way for peaceful reforms through parliament and government that genuinely respect the will of the people without maneuvers and manipulations.”

US joins UAE to ‘spearhead’ global drive for agricultural innovation

US joins UAE to ‘spearhead’ global drive for agricultural innovation
Updated 24 September 2021

US joins UAE to ‘spearhead’ global drive for agricultural innovation

US joins UAE to ‘spearhead’ global drive for agricultural innovation
  • US climate envoy John Kerry hails UAE’s ‘innovation and ingenuity’ in food and climate challenges
  • Agriculture is a major contributor to global warming, World Bank report warns

NEW YORK: The UAE and US will collaborate to “dramatically” increase global investments in food system innovation, a top US government official said Thursday.

US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said: “We must use the power of ingenuity to improve our food systems so they provide safe, nutritious, affordable and accessible food for all, while conserving natural resources and combating the climate crisis.”

Vilsack was speaking on the first day of the UN Food Systems Summit 2021, attended by Arab News.

He said: “The US and UAE are spearheading a global initiative, the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate, with the goal of dramatically increasing public and private investing in climate-smart agriculture and food system innovation.”

Political leaders and scientists from across the world are collaborating at the summit to examine the future of global food security, with a major part of the discussion centering on the balance of ensuring an efficient agricultural system without destroying the planet.

According to the World Bank, agriculture is a “major part of the climate problem,” with farming activities accounting for 19 to 29 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The AIM project, endorsed by the UK, Singapore, Australia, Brazil and others, will “serve as a unique platform for cooperation among many countries on these shared challenges,” US climate envoy John Kerry said earlier in the year when the AID initiative was announced.

The US and UAE said they will use the UN Food Systems Summit 2021 — taking place in New York as world leaders also gather for the General Assembly — to advance the program before launching it at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow later this year.

Kerry said that the US chose to partner with the UAE because of “the ingenuity being applied to food and climate challenges” that he witnessed on his visit there.

The need for this type of collaboration to fight climate change cannot come at a more urgent time.

In July, the UN World Food Programme said that acute food insecurity rose by 74 percent this year because of climate change and the coronavirus pandemic, while in the General Assembly on Thursday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the pandemic has “plunged millions into extreme poverty and raised the specter of famine in a growing number of countries.”

At the same time, Guterres added, “we are waging a war against nature, and reaping the bitter harvest of ruined crops, dwindling incomes and failing food systems.”

On Tuesday, US President Joe Biden announced that his administration will make $10 billion available for the global fight against food insecurity.

However, according to Samantha Power, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, half of that amount will be spent in the US.

She said that this acknowledges that “all countries, even those that produce a surplus of food, must adapt and take steps to improve nutrition and adapt their food systems to a changing climate.”

Power added: “The other half will be spent fighting global food insecurity, helping smallholder farmers and their families escape poverty.”

This is “a recognition that the well-fed have an obligation to care for the hunger of others.”