Iraq targets 90% self-sufficiency in natural gas by 2025

Iraq targets 90% self-sufficiency in natural gas by 2025
Iraq plans to end gas flaring by 2025. (AP)
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Updated 25 June 2021

Iraq targets 90% self-sufficiency in natural gas by 2025

Iraq targets 90% self-sufficiency in natural gas by 2025
  • Iraq currently consumers 3,5000 cubic feet of gas, produces 1,300 cubic feet
  • Iraq imports the rest of its gas from Iran

RIYADH: The Iraqi Ministry of Oil plans to attract a contractor to invest in Akkas gas field, to produce 4,000 million cubic feet of gas by 2025, which represents 90 percent of Iraq’s need for electric power production, said Minister Ihsan Abdul Jabbar.

Iraq will need more gas for electric power by 2030 to keep pace with the rise in the population, which is expected to increase by 10 million people to 50 million by then, he told Asharq.

Iraq will still need to import 15 percent of the gas fuel it needs, he said. Infrastructure is being built in the south to open new outlets to import gas from other countries such as Qatar when needed, he said.

There are currently new projects in the governorates of Dhi Qar and Maysan, Abdul Jabbar said.

Iraq currently consumes about 3,500 million standard cubic feet of natural gas, of which 1,300 cubic feet is produced in Iraq and the rest imported from Iran, while the actual need for Iraq amounts to 4,500 million cubic feet, he said.

Iraq is planning to build a number of power plants in the coming years in partnership with international and Arab companies. Some will use solar energy, while others will run on fossil fuels, including gas that is produced during the extraction of oil, by introducing it into the electricity production system, Abdul Jabbar said.

Iraq plans to end gas flaring altogether by 2025, he said.


Gulf capitals dominate world’s fastest 5G cities in 2021

Gulf capitals dominate world’s fastest 5G cities in 2021
Updated 31 July 2021

Gulf capitals dominate world’s fastest 5G cities in 2021

Gulf capitals dominate world’s fastest 5G cities in 2021
  • Oslo has the fastest media 5G download speed globally
  • Riyadh has the sixth fastest 5G speed in the world

RIYADH: Capital cities in the Gulf made up five of the top 10 fastest globally for 5G connectivity in the first half of 2021, according to a new report.

Oslo had the fastest commercially available 5G speeds with a median download speed of 526.74 Mbps, while Seoul was second at 467.84 Mbps, Internet metrics provider Ookla said in a report.

Abu Dhabi was the fastest Gulf capital and the third globally at 421.26 Mbps, followed by Doha at 413.40 Mbps. Riyadh was sixth fastest globally at 384.66 Mbps, Kuwait City was seventh and Muscat eighth. Manama was 15th with a speed of 249.71 Mbps.

The slowest global capital for 5G speeds was Capetown at 53.33 Mbps. Other notable capitals include London at 167.50 Mbps, Tokyo at 167.02 Mbps and Jerusalem at 145.17 Mbps.

A report from Ookla in April showed Saudi Arabia had the highest adoption of 5G in the Gulf as measured by the ratio of samples from devices connected to 5G to the number of samples from all 5G-capable devices, which the firm said is an indicator of the maturity of a country’s 5G market.

Qatar came second, followed by the UAE. Oman, which only launched 5G early this year, was at the bottom of the list.

The Saudi Telecom Company emerged as the fastest operator in the Kingdom, but Mobily recorded the highest rating from customers.


Super cruise ship sets sail from Saudi for first time

Super cruise ship sets sail from Saudi for first time
Updated 31 July 2021

Super cruise ship sets sail from Saudi for first time

Super cruise ship sets sail from Saudi for first time
  • Cruise headed to Aqaba in Jordan and Safaga in Egypt
  • Ship has a capacity of 4,500 passengers, one of the world's largest

RIYADH: A super cruise ship has departed Saudi Arabia for the first time, setting sail for regional waters as the Kingdom seeks to expand its tourism industry and diversify its oil-dependant economy.
The MSC Bellissima, a vessel longer than three football fields, departed for the first in a series of voyages from Jeddah Islamic Port to Aqaba in Jordan and Safaga in Egypt.
The launch of the service on Friday comes two days after Saudi Arabia opened its first cruise ship terminal at the port in Jeddah, on the kingdom’s west coast.
“The inauguration of the first cruise ship port represents an important step... to support the growth of the tourism sector in the kingdom,” Cruise Saudi managing director Fawaz Farooqi said, quoted by Saudi Press Agency.
Developing the tourism and leisure sector is one of the foundations of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 plan to prepare the Arab world’s largest economy for the post-oil era.
The Gulf country enacted a landmark decision in 2019 to offer tourist visas, relaxing rules that had largely restricted visits to business travelers and Muslim pilgrims.
Citizens from 49 countries — mostly European — had become eligible to apply to visit the kingdom, which has a population of around 35 million.
Constructed in France, the MSC Bellissima is 315 meters (345 yards) long and has a capacity of 4,500 passengers, making it one of the world’s largest cruise ships.
First launched in 2019 and operated by Swiss-based MSC Cruises, it will embark on 21 trips up until October 30.

GYMS, SWIMMING POOLS
The mammoth vessel has an array of amenities, including swimming pools, gyms, restaurants, cafes and ballrooms.
The price of journeys start at 2,195 riyals ($585), according to travel agencies, with some itineraries including Luxor in Egypt and Petra in Jordan.
Cruise Saudi, owned by the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund, also struck a deal in April with MSC Cruises to launch winter voyages between November 2021 and March 2022.
These cruises will start out from Jeddah and Dammam on the eastern Gulf coast of Saudi Arabia in the hope of attracting 170,000 guests.
The global cruise industry has taken a severe hit as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has so far resulted in the death of more than four million people worldwide.
Saudi Arabia is accelerating a nationwide Covid-19 vaccination drive as it moves to revive tourism and host sports and entertainment events.
On Thursday the Kingdom announced that it will open its doors to fully-inoculated visitors.
MSC Bellissima’s crew stayed in quarantine for 14 days before the trip on Friday, according to Saudi state television.
Since becoming de facto leader in 2017, Prince Mohammed has introduced sweeping economic and social changes, including allowing women to drive, the reopening of cinemas, and allowing mixed-gender music concerts and other entertainment options.


Mining in the dark: how Lebanese crypto miners are dealing with the electricity crisis

Mining in the dark: how Lebanese crypto miners are dealing with the electricity crisis
Updated 31 July 2021

Mining in the dark: how Lebanese crypto miners are dealing with the electricity crisis

Mining in the dark: how Lebanese crypto miners are dealing with the electricity crisis
  • GPUs now mine $1-$5 of bitcoin every 4 hours vs. $10-$20 before power crisis
  • Mining rigs now powered by diesel

BEIRUT: Lebanese crypto miners are in trouble. Lebanon has plunged into near total darkness because of its recent electricity shortage crisis, leaving mining machines suspended mid-way in their operations and their owners writhing over their financial losses.

In the last two years, a growing number of Lebanese youths have turned to trading and mining cryptocurrency in a desperate attempt to gain financial freedom and secure the much-needed remittances of USD cash. This movement was spurred by distrust of the Lebanese banking sector, which has all but swallowed up people’s life savings.

Today, the electricity crisis constitutes a thorny problem for crypto miners who have invested a fortune in buying mining machines that were supposed to function 24/7, mining as many cryptocurrencies as possible.

“Before the electricity crisis, each GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) used to mine $10-$20 worth of bitcoin every four hours,” 34-year-old electrician Alaa Ayash, who is the co-owner of a gaming-turned-mining lounge in Mar Elias, Beirut, told Arab News. “Now they mine about $1-$5, almost a quarter of what they used to.”

What exactly happens when a mining machine is turned off due to an electricity shortage?

Put simply, mining is the process of getting rewarded for solving complex computational math problems with chosen cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. The miners are actually being rewarded for completing a secure transaction using the blockchain. There is value to solving these problems because otherwise, there would be no way to securely exchange bitcoins. The transaction, however, stops when the electricity is cut off and there is a huge chance that the miners will not be rewarded with their bitcoins.

How are miners in Lebanon dealing with the electricity shortage?

Their first option is to rely on generators that run on diesel. These generators are effective in supplying the GPUs with electricity- until the diesel runs out, another thorny problem.

This comes after Lebanon has recently agreed to partially lift government subsidies on all kinds of fuel in a bid to ease their shortage. This also meant a significant increase in cost to the consumers who can no longer obtain fuel at the official exchange rate of 1,500 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, but instead must resort to the black market and bargain with fuel importers.

“One gallon of diesel used to cost around 30,000 Lebanese pounds,” said Ali Mortada, a Syrian janitor who is responsible for securing diesel to the building he works for. “Now it costs somewhere between 100,000 pounds and 150,000 pounds in the black market, if not more.”

“We used to pay 1,000,000 pounds monthly for the generator for our gaming lounge, with 12 GPUs included,” Ayash said. “Now we pay 3,000,000 pounds, sometimes more, because diesel is so expensive.”

Another issue that cannot be overlooked is the fact that crypto-mining is an overwhelmingly energy-hungry process that often consumes much more electricity than a generator can cover. In May, Iran blamed major power outages on illegal bitcoin mining and banned the latter after it was confirmed that 4.5 percent of all bitcoin mining this year has taken place in the Persian country. One wonders if Lebanese miners would share a similar fate.

Are there any substitutes for diesel when the fuel runs out?

There are two substitutes: UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) and computer batteries. The former device allows a computer to keep running for a short time when its primary power source is lost while providing protection from power surges. Meanwhile the batteries supply energy for two-to-three hours. Both devices can be purchased from local and international manufacturers (mainly China), but because of skyrocketing demand on behalf of crypto miners and dealers, they are constantly in short supply.

“Demand for UPS and batteries have certainly soared at our company,” said an employee who works at a Lebanese hardware manufacturing company. The employee wished to remain anonymous.

“We used to have orders of about three containers of UPSs per week, and now our orders are up to 12 containers a week. We can’t keep up with all that supply.” The employee added that she was worried that very high demand may translate to an increase in hardware prices, as was the case with GPUs in the last two years.

“Customers used to be able to import GPUs from the US for $300 in 2019. Now the prices are bordering $1,200 per GPU,” she said. “Everything is getting more expensive for mining. I wonder if it’s worth it.”

Indeed, if one were to add up the many costs of mining mentioned in this article and compare them to the meager income of $5 every four hours (as mentioned above), the numbers certainly don’t add up.

“I wish I wasn’t so hasty in my insistence to risk everything I have and give mining a shot,” said 28-year-old Sary Mohsen. Mohsen had sold two iPhones in order to buy two GPUs. “I joined a mining pool three months ago, right before bitcoin crashed, and things have been downhill ever since.”

Indeed, bitcoin’s decline in the past few months saw its value more than halve since its April peak of $63,745, falling below $30,000 on July 21. Bitcoin has since rebounded and was trading at $41,695 on July 31.

Another source of worry for miners who want to cash out but fear they will be missing out if bitcoin’s value rises again.

“I’m glad I cashed out my bitcoin when it was at its peak in [April],” a miner who goes by the gaming nickname Commando1 told The New Arab. “Today all bitcoin owners have no choice but to wait and hope bitcoin’s value rises again. I don’t envy their situation.”

If anything is keeping the youth in Lebanon hopeful about mining, it’s desperation and fear from the looming specter of unemployment and financial crisis. Whether all their efforts to keep their mining boat afloat turns out to be worth it, however, remains to be seen.


Global fashion’s workshop returns as Bangladesh factories reopen despite virus surge

Global fashion’s workshop returns as Bangladesh factories reopen despite virus surge
Updated 31 July 2021

Global fashion’s workshop returns as Bangladesh factories reopen despite virus surge

Global fashion’s workshop returns as Bangladesh factories reopen despite virus surge
  • Country’s 4,500 garment factories employ more than four million people
  • Nation suffered 80,000 pandemic deaths, experts predict

SHIMULIA, BANGLADESH: Hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi garment workers rushed back to major cities Saturday, besieging train and bus stations, after the government said export factories could reopen despite a deadly coronavirus wave.
With the economy badly hit by the pandemic, the government excluded the factories that supply top brands in Europe and North America from a nationwide lockdown order.
Authorities had ordered factories, offices, transport and shops to close from July 23 to August 5 as daily coronavirus infections and deaths hit record levels.
Officially, Bangladesh has reported 1.2 million cases and more than 20,000 deaths. Experts say the real figures are at least four times higher.
The government said however that the country’s 4,500 garment factories, which employ more than four million people, can reopen from Sunday, sparking a rush back to industrial cities.
The influential garment factory owners had warned of “catastrophic” consequences if orders for foreign brands were not completed on time.
Hundreds of thousands who had gone back to their villages to celebrate the Eid al Adha Muslim festival and sit out the lockdown, headed to Dhaka in any available transport — some just walking in the monsoon rain.
At the Shimulia ferry station, 70 kilometers (45 miles) south of Dhaka, tens of thousands of workers waited hours for boats to take them to the capital.
Garment factory worker Mohammad Masum, 25, said he left his village before dawn, walked more than 30 kilometers (20 miles) and took rickshaws to get to the ferry port.
“Police stopped us at many checkpoints and the ferry was packed,” he said.
“It was a mad rush to get home when the lockdown was imposed and now we are in trouble again getting back to work,” Jubayer Ahmad, another worker, told AFP.
Bangladesh is the world’s second largest garment exporter after China and the industry has become the foundation of the economy for the country of 169 million people.
Mohammad Hatem, vice president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said up to $3 billion worth of export orders were at risk if factories had stayed closed.
“The brands would have diverted their orders to other countries,” Hatem told AFP.


How Islamic finance can help build a better future for all

Islamic finance products ‘aim to reduce the risk of asymmetric information and are contract-based, making them a natural fit for investors.’ (Shutterstock)
Islamic finance products ‘aim to reduce the risk of asymmetric information and are contract-based, making them a natural fit for investors.’ (Shutterstock)
Updated 31 July 2021

How Islamic finance can help build a better future for all

Islamic finance products ‘aim to reduce the risk of asymmetric information and are contract-based, making them a natural fit for investors.’ (Shutterstock)
  • Shariah-compliant finance is a rapidly growing industry that prioritizes sustainable expansion

LONDON: The Islamic finance investment model is a natural fit for investors looking to use their money ethically and sustainably, and could be a key industry in helping the world to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), experts have told Arab News.

Islamic finance takes a different approach from today’s profit-above-all investment orthodoxy.
It prioritizes low-risk investments, and avoids markets such as pork, alcohol and gambling — as well as barring the payment of interest and ensuring ethical governance.
Far from impeding growth, however, this alternative approach to investing is rapidly evolving into a booming industry, Martina Macpherson, senior vice president of partnerships and engagement at Moody’s ESG Solutions Group, told Arab News.
She and her team expect the industry to hold over $4 trillion in assets by 2030.
“Islamic finance (will) continue to expand in the next decade across regions and asset classes, and there is an opportunity for Islamic Finance and Shariah-compliant investments to align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” she said.
Aligned with Saudi Arabia’s own Vision 2030, the SDGs lay out a vision of a just, fair and prosperous world by 2030, codified into 17 interlinked goals designed by the UN as a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.”
The growth of Islamic finance as an alternative investment model will help to meet these goals in two ways: By uncovering sustainable and ethical opportunities and by reducing risk, she said.
The “SDGs and Islamic finance share joint values and fundamentals,” she said. “They are ethically linked, asset-backed, focused on risk and opportunity management, and centered on good governance as well as stakeholder impact.”

FASTFACTS

• Islamic finance products a ‘natural fit’ for meeting the UN sustainable development goals — Moody’s.

• The growth of Islamic finance as an alternative investment model will help to meet these goals through uncovering sustainable and ethical opportunities and by reducing risk, says expert.

“Islamic finance products aim to reduce the risk of asymmetric information and are contract-based, making them a natural fit for institutional investors committed to positive impact.”
Much like the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, one of the central goals of the SDGs is to tackle climate change, and this is “one of the key areas for Islamic finance to synchronize with the SDGs,” Macpherson said.
Stella Cox, managing director of Islamic finance intermediary firm DDCAP Group, speaking with Arab News, echoed Macpherson’s views on the role that Islamic finance can play in addressing issues like climate change. She emphasized, however, the importance of developing “a set of common standards, laws and regulations that will ensure shared best practice” moving toward 2030.
This cooperation, she said, “should be perceived as opportunity, rather than challenge, and that opportunity will enable Shariah compliant firms to work more closely with others in addressing and providing solutions for the biggest environmental and social challenges that the world has ever faced.”
Samina Akram, managing director of Samak Ethical Finance, told Arab News that the importance of ethical investing has only grown as the millennial generation have been “exposed to the harsh realities of the conventional financial system” in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
They have been turned off conventional investing by “bad governance, bad leadership, casino type banking, and a lack of transparency,” Akram said.
And critically, she added, “they want no part to play in damaging the environment.”