Al-Ahsa oasis’ riddle of the sands

Al-Ahsa oasis’ riddle of the sands
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Traditional farming techniques stretching back centuries helped preserve one of the region’s green gems, scientists say. These methods are still practiced today, but with a modern twist. (Supplied)
Al-Ahsa oasis’ riddle of the sands
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Traditional farming techniques stretching back centuries helped preserve one of the region’s green gems, scientists say. These methods are still practiced today, but with a modern twist. (Supplied)
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Updated 04 October 2021

Al-Ahsa oasis’ riddle of the sands

Al-Ahsa oasis’ riddle of the sands
  • Researchers dig deep to unravel age-old mystery behind Saudi Arabia’s ‘green gem’

MAKKAH: Widely acknowledged as one of the world’s natural treasures, Al-Ahsa oasis in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province is home to shady palm groves, crystal clear springs — and a centuries-old secret.

Scientists have long puzzled over how the ancient watercourse, the largest self-contained oasis in the world, managed to survive the passage of time, providing its lush, fertile surrounds with the gift of life.

Now researchers have their answer.

Traditional farming techniques stretching back centuries helped preserve one of the region’s green gems, scientists say. These methods are still practiced today, but with a modern twist.

Agriculture specialist Saeed Al-Hulaibi, an Al-Ahsa native, has spent years studying the oasis in a bid to understand how the area has kept its fertility.

The secret to the oasis’ long life is in the different irrigation methods used by farmers, he told Arab News.

Vast underground aquifers deliver an immense volume of groundwater, allowing for a range of irrigation methods that keep the oasis and its “enchanting richness” alive, Al-Hulaibi said.

“From ancient times to the present day, Al-Ahsa farmers resorted to conventional irrigation methods. Al-Ahsa sits on top of a sand layer mixed with mud or fertile clay soil and its altitude is low compared with other areas in Saudi Arabia, so water was always available in the region,” he said.

Al-Hulaibi said that rainwater eventually fills the space between sedimentary layers in a saturated zone below Al-Ahsa Mountains.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Agriculture specialist Saeed Al-Hulaibi, an Al-Ahsa native, has spent years studying the oasis in a bid to understand how the area has kept its fertility.

• The secret to the oasis’ long life is in the different irrigation methods used by farmers, he says.

• Vast underground aquifers deliver an immense volume of groundwater, allowing for a range of irrigation methods that keep the oasis and its ‘enchanting richness’ alive.

“Until recently, the water had a strong gushing flow, and because it is compressed under the mountain, it is released in the form of springs. Farmers need to water their palm trees only once every week or two,” he added.

Al-Hulaibi said that farmers transformed these springs into long channels running above ground to irrigate their crops.

“The more we head east in the Arabian Peninsula toward the sea, the more we find that there is a geological gradient, meaning that water flows naturally from the high region to the lowest area, which is Al-Ahsa.”

Skilled farmers were able to change the course of local Al-Khudood, Al-Dughani, Kulaibwa, Sulaisel, Duraiq and Baraber rivers, turning the region into an agricultural hub due to the abundance of water for irrigation and drinking. 

The rivers pass through the lush palm groves, with new water channels occasionally created to provide improved irrigation. This crisscrossing of water springs has continued for centuries.

Al-Hulaibi said that in the 1960s, after the number of rivers fell significantly, the Wakuti company was commissioned to conduct a study into the oasis, especially since Al-Ahsa at the time was an essential source of dates for domestic consumption and export.

“The company submitted its recommendations to King Faisal, who ordered a rescue of Al-Ahsa oasis as part of Al-Ahsa irrigation and drainage project. The government intelligently established the same rivers, but using specialized pumps, pumping water from the aquifers to concrete rivers that still exist today. These rivers went east and north, and their freshwater reached all the farms,” he said.

“The big river divided into a small river, known as Al-Abu, and then into the canal passing through the last stage, Fahl, a specialized channel directly linked to the farm and palm trees.” 

Later, a German company, Holzmann, completed the upgrading, providing high-quality components, as well as superb engineering that still works perfectly today.

In the past, Al-Ahsa farmers irrigated their farms through immersion — flooding the earth with water, an ancient and well-documented method sometimes referred to as “runoff,” meaning the water is “running off” the land surface.

The German company used the same approach, submerging the “hose,” a 3-meter-long movable plastic water pipe, in the palm canal and then pulling it down through the Fahl channel to connect the water to the palm.

The channel is 1.5 meters higher than the Fahl, making the downward suction power highly effective. Hoses are installed in the canal to pass through the pond, which Al-Ahsa residents call Mijassahm, with water flowing out of the pond in a waterfall due to the pressure, passing through the inner channels before finally reaching the water strips. The color of the earth turns silver after being immersed in water.

Al-Hulaibi said that Al-Ahsa’s traditional farmers developed their agricultural and engineering skills without any formal study, but simply by daily work and experience handed down through generations.

“The farmer deals with the sapling that he has snipped from a large palm tree and that weighs around 30 kg with tenderness, as if he is handling a baby who has just come out of its mother’s womb. The sapling is carefully removed and kept it in a mulch.”

Farmers also relied on palm clusters before the advent of plastic bags.

“After the harvest, the clusters used to be placed in water to form a strong rope used to preserve the sapling while in the mulch. When the sapling grows and expands, it automatically cuts off, and the sapling continues to grow. Every part of a palm is fully utilized, and nothing is thrown away.”

Another skill inherited from their ancestors was spreading bean seeds around the sapling. The bean is a climbing plant that protects the young palm from high temperatures and drought. The sapling also benefits from the extra humidity provided by the bean plant.

Al-Ahsa is known for its palm trees, but watermelons, pumpkins and squash are also grown in the area, with farmers using palm leaves to create domes on top of the crops to keep marauding birds away.

Al-Hulaibi said that Al-Ahsa farmers use what is known as “regular irrigation,” explaining that it is poor practice to irrigate a plant that has just been sown, especially in the clay environment and during flowering time.

“It is better to give the plant time to extend its roots and search for water in the soil, encouraging it to grow,” he said.


Rebranded mentoring platform for Saudi designers Adhlal unveils new identity

A corner of the warehouse was transformed into a children’s design thinking workshop. (AN photo Huda Bashatah)
A corner of the warehouse was transformed into a children’s design thinking workshop. (AN photo Huda Bashatah)
Updated 12 sec ago

Rebranded mentoring platform for Saudi designers Adhlal unveils new identity

A corner of the warehouse was transformed into a children’s design thinking workshop. (AN photo Huda Bashatah)
  • The research-based consultancy launched its new direction and strategies during a special event at the Saudi Design Festival in Diriyah
  • ‘I want to see designers who are more empowered … and have no fear in expressing their creative ideas,’ said founder Princess Nourah Al-Faisal

RIYADH: Adhlal, a platform that aims to help Saudi designers develop their skills and give them a leg up in the industry, unveiled its new, rebranded identity during a ceremony at the Saudi Design Festival in Jax District in Diriyah on Monday.

“Today we are launching the new identity and the new brand of Adhlal which we hope will reflect our hopes and dreams for the future and everything that we hope to achieve,” said Princess Nourah Al-Faisal, the founder of Adhlal.

“I want to see designers who are more empowered, who have a true understanding of their identity and have no fear in expressing their creative ideas and no fear in really pushing forward.”

Adhlal is a research-based consultancy that aims to equip future generations of Saudi designers with the tools they need to succeed and build on the aims of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 national development plan. The rebranding aims to create an enhanced forum for discussion where designers can gather, share knowledge and help each other excel.

“That is the whole point of Adhlal: the community and that ability to bring people together and strengthen themselves, to share knowledge,” Princess Nourah said.

By doing this, she added, Adhlal aims to create an environment in which designers can grow together. The process of rethinking the identity of Adhlal raised many questions that helped the founder and her team to understand the strategies required to better help the Saudi design community to develop and grow.

“We were taking a deep dive into who we are and what we are trying to achieve, to see what our goals are,” Princess Nourah said.

What emerged at the heart of the process was a realization that to strengthen and support the design community there was a need to redefine the very idea of what design truly is and what it can achieve. We all utilize design concepts in every aspect of our daily lives, Princess Nourah pointed out, whether we realize it or not.

“Design is everything,” she said. “It’s the strategies; you design your future, you design your life and you design your day.”

She also highlighted the importance of design and its contribution to the future of the Kingdom.

“We really need to accelerate the development of design,” she said. “Design is the only tool that will get us to Vision 2030 and beyond. There is nothing else in this world that will allow us to achieve that.”

However there is a gap between where things stand and where the country aspires to be in terms of accelerating design, according to the princess.

“In Saudi Arabia, and a lot of parts of the world, we tend to focus on the product more than anything else — we think of the product, merchandising, manufacturing — but design is really much bigger than that,” she said, adding that a better understanding of design will aid the development of the Kingdom.

“If we really learn to utilize design thinking, it is really something that will help us in the future.”

Through the rebranding, Adhlal has developed new strategies it says can tackle the obstacles designers face. These strategies will be shared among the design community to enhance design thinking and awareness of its importance to all aspects of daily life.

“Definitely, the core of what we do is always research and consulting, and we really believe in working with all sectors of different fields,” Princess Nourah said.

It is also important to educate people about design thinking and design research, and one of the ways in which this can be achieved is by supporting creativity from a young age, she added.

During the rebranding launch event, part of the venue was transformed into a design workshop for children in partnership with NExAR, a design-consultancy initiative that aims to build bridges between the Netherlands and the Arab world through education and shared insights.

“We are teaching children the importance of design thinking as a tool in life to (aid) their imagination and understanding,” said Princess Nourah.

The Saudi Design Festival, which began on Jan. 10, is a three-week event hosted by the Architecture and Design Commission as a hub for creative dialogue that brings together design communities to share knowledge and insights.

 


Program launched to tackle baboon menace in Saudi Arabia

Baboons are believed to be natives of the western region’s Sarawat Mountains, mostly in the southwestern areas from Taif to Asir and beyond. (Shutterstock)
Baboons are believed to be natives of the western region’s Sarawat Mountains, mostly in the southwestern areas from Taif to Asir and beyond. (Shutterstock)
Updated 54 min 12 sec ago

Program launched to tackle baboon menace in Saudi Arabia

Baboons are believed to be natives of the western region’s Sarawat Mountains, mostly in the southwestern areas from Taif to Asir and beyond. (Shutterstock)
  • According to the center, baboon troops are terrorizing children and parents and damaging agricultural crops

MAKKAH: The National Center for Wildlife has launched a program to assess the damage caused by increasing numbers of baboons in residential and agricultural sites and find appropriate solutions.

NCW is conducting studies to contain the increased number of baboons that are causing severe damage in some areas, particularly in tourist destinations. The center is putting in place integrated plans and awareness campaigns to address the problem of baboons, which threaten highway goers, residential neighborhoods, parks and agricultural terraces.

It said that a balanced presence of baboons in the environment was healthy. The center said that it is not looking to get rid of them at all, as it aims through its program to create an environmental and natural balance.

According to the center, baboon troops are terrorizing children and parents and damaging agricultural crops. Studies confirm that one of the reasons for the increase in their numbers is that passers-by feed them. This phenomenon also causes accumulated waste.

It called on the community to cooperate with the campaign by refraining from feeding the baboons, disposing of waste in their designated areas and not acquiring and raising baboons at home or adopting them in a non-natural environment.

“The monkeys are the number one enemy of all farmers in the region, especially for mango, cocoa, bananas, coffee, corn and fruit trees”, Yahya Masdaf, the owner of a farm in Baish province in southern Saudi Arabia, said.

He said that the number of monkeys is increasing, possibly due to the small number of predators. There are more than 5,000 baboon monkeys in the area.

Baboons attacked the whole of his farm in half an hour while he performed Friday prayers several weeks ago, resulting in damage to all crops without exception.

He explained that this phenomenon has become very harmful and dangerous to people, farms and the livelihood of farmers whose only source of income is crops.

Hamza Al-Ghamdi, spokesman for Rahmah Animal Welfare Association, said there are more than 400,000 baboons in the Kingdom. According to the association’s studies, 65 percent of these baboons do not approach residential areas.

He said that 35 percent of these baboons are accustomed to being fed by humans, which changed their behavior and made them bolder to break into farms on the outskirts of cities and provinces. Al-Ghamdi added that the number of baboons feeding naturally ranges from 10 to 150 per troop.

He called for the education of individuals not to provide food to monkeys and said anyone who feeds monkeys in streets, public places, and parks should be fined.

One possible solution was for farmers to acquire trained guard dogs and to erect a low-volt electric fence at the top of the normal fence to prevent monkeys from breaking into farms. This solution could keep monkeys away without having to kill them.


Thailand seeks to foster ties with Saudi Arabia during PM’s Riyadh visit

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. (REUTERS file photo)
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 50 min 34 sec ago

Thailand seeks to foster ties with Saudi Arabia during PM’s Riyadh visit

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. (REUTERS file photo)
  • Thai prime minister is scheduled to arrive in Riyadh for a two-day visit on Tuesday
  • He will be accompanied by the deputy prime minister, foreign minister, energy minister and labor minister

BANGKOK: Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s trip to Saudi Arabia — Thailand’s first top leadership visit to the Kingdom in three decades — is expected to promote bilateral relations, the Thai government said on Monday.
The Thai prime minister is scheduled to arrive in Riyadh for a two-day visit on Tuesday, at the invitation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“The prime minister is scheduled to have an audience and discuss with the crown prince (ways) to strengthen and promote bilateral relations,” Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, spokesperson for the Thai government, said during a media briefing.
“This visit is the (first) government leader-level visit of the two countries … in more than 30 years.”
He added that on his Saudi Arabia trip, the prime minister will be accompanied by the deputy prime minister, foreign minister, energy minister and labor minister.
The Saudi foreign ministry said on Sunday the visit follows “consultations that resulted in convergence of views on various issues of common concern.”
Dr. Sarawut Aree, director of the Muslim Studies Center at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, told Arab News that normalization of bilateral ties would allow Thailand to again send workers to the Gulf state.
“Thailand definitely wants to normalize the diplomatic relation,” he said. “Thailand sent more than 200,000 laborers to Saudi Arabia each year when they had good relations, and now Saudi Arabia is driving Vision 2030 that focuses on economic (development) and infrastructure with less reliance on oil. So, Thailand can see the opportunity for laborers in Saudi Arabia.”
Aree added that the prime minister’s trip was “like a signal or a formal protocol that will make the improvement of the relationship more concrete.”


Saudi king receives letter from South Sudanese president

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets his South Sudanese counterpart Mayiik Ayii Deng in Riyadh. (SPA)
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets his South Sudanese counterpart Mayiik Ayii Deng in Riyadh. (SPA)
Updated 24 January 2022

Saudi king receives letter from South Sudanese president

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets his South Sudanese counterpart Mayiik Ayii Deng in Riyadh. (SPA)
  • The letter delat with ways to support and develop bilateral relations in all fields
  • Saudi and South Sudanese foreign ministers sign a framework agreement to develop ties

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman received a written message from Salva Kiir Mayardit, president of South Sudan, regarding bilateral relations and ways to support and develop them in all fields, the Kingdom’s foreign ministry said on Monday.
The message was received by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, during a meeting with his South Sudanese counterpart Mayiik Ayii Deng in the capital, Riyadh.
At the beginning of the meeting, Prince Faisal praised the support of the South Sudanese government for the Kingdom’s request to host the Expo 2030 in Riyadh, under the slogan “The era of change: moving our planet toward the future.”
During the meeting, the two sides signed a framework agreement between their governments to develop bilateral relations. 
They also discussed ways to strengthen and develop joint relations in various fields, in addition to exchanging views on regional and international issues of common interest.


KSrelief and UN officials discuss humanitarian efforts in Yemen and Syria

KSrelief and UN officials discuss humanitarian efforts in Yemen and Syria
Updated 24 January 2022

KSrelief and UN officials discuss humanitarian efforts in Yemen and Syria

KSrelief and UN officials discuss humanitarian efforts in Yemen and Syria

RIYADH: The General Supervisor of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, met with Khaled Al-Khiari, the UN assistant secretary-general for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, in Riyadh on Monday, Saudi Press Agency reported.
During the meeting, they discussed matters of common interest related to humanitarian and relief affairs, especially in Yemen, Syria and other Asian countries, and prospects for cooperation between the two sides.
Al-Khiari said that Saudi Arabia is one of the largest contributors in the field of humanitarian work, praising its generous support to the UN in several areas and the projects and programs carried out by KSrelief for needy people around the world.
He added that these efforts were important in supporting development work and other projects in the beneficiary countries. 
Meanwhile, Ahmed bin Ali Al-Baiz, assistant general supervisor for operations and programs at KSrelief, held talks with Philippe Duamelle, representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Yemen, in the Saudi capital.
Al-Baiz reviewed the humanitarian and relief projects implemented by the center in cooperation with UNICEF to contribute to the care of children and women in Yemen and to provide them with various educational, health, nutritional and accommodation services.
During the meeting, the two sides discussed ways to enhance joint cooperation between them to serve the most vulnerable groups in Yemen and improve their living conditions, in light of the current humanitarian crisis.
Duamelle praised the Kingdom’s humanitarian efforts and the important role it plays in partnership with UNICEF, stressing that this partnership has contributed to alleviating the suffering of many affected peoples around the world.