Arab coalition destroys four explosive-laden boats in Yemeni province

Arab coalition destroys four explosive-laden boats in Yemeni province
The Arab coalition on Saturday said it had destroyed four explosive-laden Houthi boats in Yemen’s western province of Hodeidah. (SPA)
Short Url
Updated 23 October 2021

Arab coalition destroys four explosive-laden boats in Yemeni province

Arab coalition destroys four explosive-laden boats in Yemeni province
  • Houthis target international ships in Red Sea, says official
  • Coalition’s air raids on Houthi targets in Hodeidah came days after it destroyed similar locations in Sanaa

AL-MUKALLA: The Arab coalition on Saturday said it had destroyed four explosive-laden Houthi boats in Yemen’s western province of Hodeidah.

A coalition statement said warplanes targeted Al-Jabanah coastal base, east of Hodeidah city, where the vessels had been prepared to attack international ships sailing through the Red Sea.

“The coalition efforts have contributed to protecting shipping lanes and international trade in the Bab Al-Mandab Strait and south of (the) Red Sea,” it said.

The coalition’s air raids on Houthi targets in Hodeidah came days after it destroyed similar locations in Sanaa, where explosive-laden drones and ballistic missiles had been prepared to attack locations in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

The coalition recently vowed to launch heavier aerial bombardments in Yemen if the Houthis did not stop attacking civilians inside and outside Yemen.

A pro-government officer from Hodeidah said on Saturday that Al-Jabanah had three military sites and was known to Yemeni military officials as a place for making explosive-laden boats and drones.

“The Houthis usually target international ships in the Red Sea from Al-Jabanah since it is the closest area in Hodeidah to international waters,” the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters, told Arab News.

Yemen’s internationally recognized government has accused the Houthis of breaching the Stockholm Agreement by turning coastal areas in Hodeidah under their control into bases for launching attacks against the administration, the coalition, and international maritime navigation in the Red Sea.

The airstrikes in Hodeidah are the first to have taken place in the last few months as most of the coalition’s efforts are focused on supporting government troops battling the militia in the central province of Marib.

Dozens of Houthi fighters and government troops were killed in fighting outside Marib city as the militia pressed ahead with its offensive to capture it along with its gas and oil fields.

Residents and local officials said on Saturday that fierce clashes had erupted in Jabal Murad after hundreds of Houthis attacked troops and allied tribesmen in a bid to make fresh territorial gains that would put them closer to their target.


Sudan women’s activist wins human rights prize

Amira Osman Hamed. (AFP file photo)
Amira Osman Hamed. (AFP file photo)
Updated 9 sec ago

Sudan women’s activist wins human rights prize

Amira Osman Hamed. (AFP file photo)
  • In 2009, she established “No to Women Oppression,” an initiative to advocate against the much-derided Public Order Law

KHARTOUM: Sudanese women’s activist Amira Osman Hamed has won a Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk, the organization announced.
The activist and engineer, now in her forties, has been advocating for Sudanese women for two decades, and was detained this year in a crackdown following the country’s latest coup.
She was among defenders from Afghanistan, Belarus, Zimbabwe and Mexico who also received the 2022 award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk.
Osman “never deterred from her mission,” Dublin-based Front Line Defenders said in its awards announcement, “consistently (advocating) for democracy, human rights, and women’s rights.”
After first being charged for wearing trousers in 2002, she drew international support in 2013 when she was detained and threatened with flogging for refusing to wear a headscarf.
Both charges fell under morality laws during the rule of former President Omar Bashir who took power in a coup. Osman told AFP at the time that the morality laws had “changed Sudanese women from victims to criminals” and targeted “the dignity of Sudanese people.”
In 2009, she established “No to Women Oppression,” an initiative to advocate against the much-derided Public Order Law. It was finally repealed in 2019 after Bashir’s ouster following a mass uprising.
Women were at the forefront of protests that toppled Bashir, and hopes were high for a more liberal Sudan as restrictions were removed that had stifled their actions and public lives.
But many fear for the hard-won liberties gained since his ouster, after the October coup led by army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan derailed a fragile transition to civilian rule.
A crackdown on civilian pro-democracy figures has followed, with at least 96 people killed in protests and hundreds detained.
In late January 2022, Osman’s team told AFP that “30 masked armed men” had stormed into her house in Khartoum in the middle of the night, “taking her to an unknown location.”
The UN mission to Sudan called for her release, tweeting that “Amira’s arrest and pattern of violence against women’s rights activists severely risks reducing their political participation in Sudan.”
She was freed in early February and an AFP correspondent saw her participating in a demonstration, kneeling on crutches due to a prior back injury.
The award has honored human rights defenders annually since 2005.


How artificial rain can make a difference to Saudi Arabia and Gulf region’s water situation

How artificial rain can make a difference to Saudi Arabia and Gulf region’s water situation
Updated 25 min 51 sec ago

How artificial rain can make a difference to Saudi Arabia and Gulf region’s water situation

How artificial rain can make a difference to Saudi Arabia and Gulf region’s water situation
  • Drought-hit nations turning to cloud seeding to supplement their water supplies
  • Saudi Arabia has become the second Gulf country to adopt the advanced technology

JEDDAH: To meet the growing demand for fresh water in Saudi Arabia, authorities have launched a project that will alter the structure of clouds to increase rainfall; a technique known as cloud seeding.

With long-term average rainfall of less than 100mm a year, a rising population and a growing agricultural sector, there is an immense thirst for more fresh water in Saudi Arabia. That is why, in early April, the Kingdom began the first phase of a cloud-seeding program to change the amount and type of precipitation.

Following the approval of the plan by the Saudi government, an aircraft was deployed in the skies over the vast rocky Najd plateau in the Kingdom’s central region, where it released plumes of silver iodide into the clouds. This caused ice crystals to form in the clouds, stimulating precipitation over targeted areas. The process began in the Riyadh region and will soon expand to other sites in Asir, Baha and Taif.

“The Kingdom is considered one of the countries with the least rainfall, with an average of 100mm annually,” Ayman Ghulam, chief executive officer of the National Center of Meteorology, said during a conference in Riyadh in March. “Cloud seeding is one of the most promising solutions in Saudi Arabia.”

The National Artificial Rain program is expected to continue for five years, with the aim of increasing rainfall by up to 20 percent. It is part of the Saudi Green Initiative, launched in March 2021 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to promote sustainable development and environmental preservation and to secure natural water sources in the Kingdom.

Roelof Bruintjes, who leads the weather modification group at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, said the Kingdom is using a well-established method of cloud seeding that is harmless to the environment.

The two seeding agents used in the Saudi operation are hygroscopic (which means substances that tend to absorb moisture from the air) materials such as salts and silver iodide. They are employed in such small concentrations so as to be largely undetectable, and have been used for almost 40 years in cloud-seeding projects in the western US, where droughts are prevalent.

The success of cloud-seeding operations, Bruintjes said, depends to some degree on the characteristics of the clouds themselves.

“No cloud is the same as another cloud and no cloud will ever be the same as another cloud,” he told Arab News.

“In Saudi Arabia, most of your clouds that occur in the central region and southwest are more convective kinds of clouds. In that way, we mostly use hygroscopic cells to create larger droplets so they can more easily collide with each other and hold rain, so you could get more of the water that is processed in the cloud down to the surface.

“You’re basically trying to get more water from the clouds to increase the percentage of water the cloud processes that comes down to the surface.”

Water covers about 71 percent of the Earth’s surface but the Middle East and North Africa region has precious little of the life-giving resource. According to the UN, it is the most water-scarce region in the world, with 17 countries considered to be below the water-poverty line.

The situation is made worse by rapid population growth, poor infrastructure and the overexploitation of limited resources. Agriculture alone accounts for about 80 percent of water usage in the Middle East and North Africa region, according to the World Bank.

INNUMBERS

50 - Countries looking to establish rain-enhancement programs.

20% - Targeted increase in KSA’s rainfall through cloud seeding.

18% - Saudi share of global production of desalinated seawater.

This overuse means the region’s natural groundwater reserves are not replenished fast enough to keep pace with demand. Shortages can have wide-reaching humanitarian consequences, with droughts destroying livelihoods and displacing populations from rural to urban areas.

About 1.1 billion people worldwide lack reliable access to water, and 2.7 billion endure scarcity for at least one month of the year. By 2025, an estimated two-thirds of the global population might face water shortages.

Forecasts suggest water supplies will drop dramatically by 2030 and that rationing could become the new normal unless sustainable solutions are implemented.

The UN has classified Saudi Arabia and most other Gulf nations as water scarce. The exception is Oman, which sits slightly above the severe scarcity threshold of 500 cubic meters of water per capita per year.

Studies have found that the Middle East could be among the regions worst affected by climate change. They warn that the conditions are conducive to a process known as photochemical air pollution, which adds to the increase and high concentration of aerosol particles from sources both natural, such as desert dust, and artificial, such as pollution.

“The Middle East is the crossroads of the world,” said Bruintjes. “You get the pollution from India in the summertime, due to easterly winds, and in the winter you probably get some of the frontal systems from eastern Europe and from the Mediterranean.

“Aerosols don’t know borders, clouds don’t know borders, pollution doesn’t know borders.”

It is because of these man-made and environmental factors that cloud seeding is seen as an especially effective solution for this particular region.

“The influence of biomass smoke from Africa, the Sahara dust penetration in that region, those are the kind of things we will be evaluating as part of any cloud seeding experiment,” said Bruintjes.

“Dust particles only interact with clouds to form ice crystals, not droplets. However, outgassing in the oil industry produces sulfates more than nitrate — smaller particles that can usually inhibit precipitation — and that’s where cloud seeding may come in.”

Saudi Arabia has no permanent natural lakes or rivers, nor does it have areas of abundant natural vegetation, with the exception of its southwestern Asir highlands.

Over the past three decades, the Kingdom has been tapping its underground reserves, known as aquifers, for agricultural purposes. As a result, they have been depleted from 166 cubic meters of renewable internal freshwater resources per capita in 1987 to just 71 cubic meters in 2018.

The country has therefore been forced to rely on imports and the desalination of seawater on a massive scale to meet demand.

A 2018 UN study found that there are 16,000 desalination plants operating in 177 countries producing a volume of freshwater equivalent to almost half the average flow of Niagara Falls. Saudi Arabia is home to one of the world’s largest desalination plants.

However, research has shown that desalination plants are inevitably associated with environmental issues, including air pollution, making their long-term use unsustainable if the world hopes to reduce harmful greenhouse-gas emissions.

Saudi Arabia has decades of experience in water desalination, beginning with the opening of the country’s first facility in the 1950s. As new technologies have been developed to minimize emissions, the Kingdom has adopted solar power and other renewables to power its desalination plants.

Nevertheless, if the country is to meet the ever-growing demand for water and replenish its aquifers, alternatives must be developed at an appropriate scale. Along with ground-based seeding generators, cloud seeding is viewed as one possible way to top up dwindling reserves.

Saudi Arabia is only the second nation in the Gulf region, after the UAE, to launch a cloud-seeding program. However, many other drought-affected nations around the world have embraced the technology to modify the weather and help supplement their supplies of natural water.

The ability to predict the distribution and intensity of rainfall in the Gulf and wider MENA regions could prove critical in the years to come as climate change results in more frequent droughts.

 


Blinken stresses importance of concluding Israeli probe into reporter’s killing

Blinken stresses importance of concluding Israeli probe into reporter’s killing
Updated 52 min 35 sec ago

Blinken stresses importance of concluding Israeli probe into reporter’s killing

Blinken stresses importance of concluding Israeli probe into reporter’s killing
  • Secretary Blinken underscored the importance of concluding the investigations into the death of Palestinian-American Shireen Abu Akleh

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on Friday to Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and stressed the importance of concluding the probes into the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the State Department said.
“Secretary Blinken underscored the importance of concluding the investigations into the death of Palestinian-American Shireen Abu Akleh,” the State Department said in a statement.
The Palestinian Authority said on Thursday its investigation showed that Abu Akleh was shot by an Israeli soldier in a “deliberate murder.” Israel denied the accusation and said it was continuing its own investigations.


Lebanon central bank move shocks black market traders

A view of Lebanon's Central Bank building in Beirut, Lebanon. (REUTERS)
A view of Lebanon's Central Bank building in Beirut, Lebanon. (REUTERS)
Updated 5 min 52 sec ago

Lebanon central bank move shocks black market traders

A view of Lebanon's Central Bank building in Beirut, Lebanon. (REUTERS)
  • The governor’s statement on Friday shook the black market, which brought the dollar exchange rate on Friday to 38,000 pounds

BEIRUT: The dollar exchange rate on Lebanon’s black market was expected to continue its fall in the wake of measures announced by central bank Gov. Riad Salameh on Friday, a senior banker told Arab News.

The banker expects the exchange rate to drop further until it is almost equal to the exchange rate on the central bank’s Sayrafa platform, which on Friday recorded a price of 24,600 pounds against the dollar.

The banker’s comment came as the governor issued a surprise statement late on Friday asking banks to keep their branches and funds open until 6 p.m. for three consecutive days from next Monday in order to meet citizens’ requests to buy dollars at the Sayrafa price.

Central Bank Gov. Riad Salameh’s statement on Friday shook the black market, which brought the dollar exchange rate on Friday to 38,000 pounds. (AFP)

He also issued instructions to pay the salaries of public sector employees in dollars at the Sayrafa rate.

The depreciation of the local currency has created a ripple effect, creating even more economic difficulty for the country, and the central bank had previously asked banks to give part of their dues in dollars at the Sayrafa exchange rate.

However, banks began to limit the amount of dollars given to people, leading to a black market revival in the past week.

The governor’s statement on Friday shook the black market, which brought the dollar exchange rate on Friday to 38,000 pounds.

Confusion mounted in the exchange shops immediately after the governor’s statement, as people rushed to exchange the US currency, with the dollar’s exchange rate dramatically slipping within a few minutes from 37,700 pounds to 29,000 pounds.

Black-market money changers, who are spread out in the main streets of Beirut, especially in the gold markets and near money exchange shops, were stunned and started making calls.

Banking expert Louis Hobeika told Arab News: “What is happening is the result of people’s fear. The problem in Lebanon is not monetary, but rather economic and political.”

He added: “Within a week, the dollar exchange rate rose about 11,000 pounds, but the dramatic drop in the price in less than an hour is certainly for political reasons.”

Hobeika said that the central bank appears to have been subjected to political pressure to force it to do something to reduce the rate, amid fears of social upheaval.

The bank governor resorted to the latest statement, he said. “But it’s like treating a cancer patient with Panadol.”


Patients unable to pay for hospitalization as Lebanon’s exchange rate crisis worsens

A money exchange vendor counts U.S. dollar banknotes next to Lebanese pounds at a currency exchange shop in Beirut, Lebanon.
A money exchange vendor counts U.S. dollar banknotes next to Lebanese pounds at a currency exchange shop in Beirut, Lebanon.
Updated 9 min 25 sec ago

Patients unable to pay for hospitalization as Lebanon’s exchange rate crisis worsens

A money exchange vendor counts U.S. dollar banknotes next to Lebanese pounds at a currency exchange shop in Beirut, Lebanon.
  • Red Cross official issues warning over medicine
  • Protests continue over monetary policy

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s dollar exchange rate crisis is leaving patients unable to pay for hospitalization, as black market rates hit LBP37,000 on Friday.

Doctors, patients, and hospital owners, who protested in the vicinity of government ministries and the central bank in Hamra Street on Thursday, called for the dollar accounts of hospitals and doctors to be liberalized and warned that things were going to get worse.

Red Cross secretary-general, Georges Kettaneh, said it was important to “think more about securing the medications for difficult and chronic diseases because the situation has become very serious.”

He added that Red Cross volunteers sometimes noticed that patients being transported to hospital were in poor condition because they were unable to find the medication they needed.

BACKGROUND

The health coverage available through social security and other insurance institutions now secures a fraction of medical expenses.

The health coverage available through social security and other insurance institutions now secures a fraction of medical expenses. It previously covered between 75 and 100 percent of the cost.

Mohammed Karaki, director-general of the National Social Security Fund, said: “Private hospitals insinuating that they might ask patients to pay for the entire hospital bill and collect the amount by themselves later from insurance companies is an inappropriate intimidation.”

Hospitals are protesting their inability to collect funds from banks and, therefore, their inability to provide medical services to insured patients.

“Insurance tariffs and all the other insurance parties can no longer cope with the reality in the current circumstances,” said Karaki. “However, a range of ideas is being contemplated, including the possibility to halt medication provision to focus on hospitalization to secure the real prices so that hospitals don’t charge patients with any difference except as provided by law.”

The ongoing economic crisis is also changing the scene of neighborhoods in Beirut and its suburbs.

Many shops preferred to be in darkness rather than have a generator subscription because they could not cover its cost from declining sales, said one person.

People are having to buy water from private tankers due to outages. But tank owners are charging their customers in dollars due to the cost of gas.

On Thursday and Friday, there were strikes and protests from people in the medical and healthcare sector, patients, public drivers, owners of bakeries and ovens, and security and military contractors, who were protesting about the monetary policy that had brought Lebanon to breaking point.

Hospitals continued their strikes on Friday and suspended all services except for admitting urgent conditions.

Taxi drivers set up roadblocks on the Ring Bridge in the heart of Beirut, blocking intersections between the east and west of the capital, to protest against surging petrol and diesel prices.

These prices exceed the capacity of the general public, leading to additional power outages in households relying on diesel generator subscriptions to ensure minimal lighting.

The monthly bill is now being charged in dollars and is at least $40.

Bakery owners protested in front of the Economy Ministry to demand that wheat be secured for mills and the price for a bread bundle commensurate with the exchange rate.

A middle-sized bread bundle was LBP15,000 on Friday.

“The pricing of the bread bundle was subjected to the high exchange rate of the dollar,” said Antoine Saif, head of the Bakery Owners’ Syndicate in Mount Lebanon.

Gas stations were closed on Friday and the owners’ syndicate called for a protest to demand a radical solution to the current situation because it could no longer afford the heavy losses.

Georges Brax, a spokesperson for the Gas Station Owners’ Syndicate, said that banks kept delaying the payment of the oil-importing companies’ dollar dues, which represented the price of petrol imported according to the Sayrafa platform.

Brax claimed that banks also kept delaying the advance authorizations from the Central Bank, which would result in the continued rationing of gas delivery to the local market by these companies and a decrease in the availability of gas to the consumer at stations, despite the presence of scarce amounts in Lebanese warehouses.

“This will thus prompt the return of the crisis, which is something that no one wants,” he warned.

Talks are being held at the Economic and Social Council's headquarters to study how to improve the incomes of people in the private sector.

Economic entities and the General Labor Union were discussing the erosion of purchasing capacity and living burdens due to the high exchange rate of the dollar, said Mohammed Choucair, head of the Economic Bodies.

He added: “We are heading toward strengthening these incomes.”

The US credit rating agency Fitch has warned that Lebanon's exit from debt default was still difficult after inconclusive parliamentary elections.

In a report, the agency said the current reality further complicated the country's ability to implement financial and economic reforms.