European and North African countries face a Mediterranean plastic pollution disaster

European and North African countries face a Mediterranean plastic pollution disaster
Tourist-sensitive countries, including France, Italy, Greece and Cyprus, are making efforts to combat the problem. (AFP)
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Updated 22 November 2021

European and North African countries face a Mediterranean plastic pollution disaster

European and North African countries face a Mediterranean plastic pollution disaster
  • Plastic waste is a growing problem for the 21 countries that share the 28,000 km Mediterranean coastline
  • Tourist-sensitive countries, including France, Italy, Greece and Cyprus, are making efforts to combat the problem

LONDON: For millions of people around the world, the Mediterranean conjures images of the perfect holiday destination — pretty waterfront villages, great food, beautiful beaches and, above all, clear blue waters. Beneath this picture-postcard surface, however, the Mediterranean Sea is in the throes of a man-made environmental crisis.

At the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille, France, in September, the Mediterranean plastic crisis was firmly on the agenda. Representatives from tourist-sensitive countries, including France, Italy, Greece and Cyprus, lined up to bemoan the level of plastic pollution and to highlight their own efforts to combat the problem.

According to a report last year by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the total volume of plastic waste in the Mediterranean, found mostly beneath the waves, could be as much as 3.5 million tons, with anything between 150,000 and 610,000 additional tons finding its way into the sea every year.

For the 21 countries that share the 28,000 km Mediterranean coastline, the half a billion people who live on the sea or along the 1,693 watersheds that feed it, and the 340 million tourists who typically visit in a normal year, this is a growing problem.




The Mediterranean Sea is in the throes of a man-made environmental crisis. (AFP)

But of all those countries, just one has been singled out as the biggest single source of the problem. The finger of blame is pointing squarely at Egypt, which the IUCN says is responsible for releasing more plastic into the sea than any other nation, and twice as much as the second-worst offender.

According to the IUCN report “The Mediterranean: Mare Plasticum” — Latin for “the plastic sea” — is “widely regarded as one of the most threatened environments in the world” and “is subject to a now ubiquitous, man-made disaster: Plastic pollution.”

The worst offender, says the IUCN, is Egypt, responsible each year for the “leakage” of over 74,000 tons of macroplastics — pieces with a diameter greater than 5 mm — followed by Italy (34,000 tons) and Turkey (24,000 tons).

Together, these three “hotspot” countries contribute more than 50 percent of the 216,269 tons of macroplastics that end up in the Mediterranean Sea each year, overwhelmingly as a result of “mismanaged waste.”

When it comes to microplastics — over 13,000 tons of which finds its way into the sea — Egypt fares little better, ranking second only to Italy (3,000 tons a year), with 1,200 tons. Tyre dust accounts for more than half of the total of microplastics, followed by textiles (33 percent) and the plastic microbeads used in cosmetics (12 percent).

Although bottles and other plastic waste is omnipresent on Mediterranean beaches, most of the polluting plastic is beneath the surface, fouling sediment and disrupting the life cycles of multiple species of fish and aquatic plants.

Perhaps the most shocking statistic is that of the top 100 locations in the Mediterranean basin contributing to the annual leakage of macroplastics, no fewer than 75 are in Egypt, but what is not clear is exactly how much Egypt is actually to blame for the statistics laid at its door.

After all, the Nile watershed, which alone contributes an astonishing 25 percent of the total leakage of plastics into the Mediterranean, is shared by Egypt with 10 other upstream countries, all doing their bit to pollute the mighty river system on its way to the sea.

Marine Moulin, a spokesperson for the Union for the Mediterranean — of which Egypt is a member and whose secretary-general, Nasser Kamel, is a former Egyptian diplomat — said: “Many coastlines have been identified as places in the Mediterranean most polluted with plastic, but as we know the plastic, once in the sea, doesn’t know any borders.”

A spokesperson for the ecological action charity WWF added that “as the Mediterranean is a semi-closed basin, it’s crucial that all countries put in place strong policies to reduce plastic consumption, ensure 100 percent collection of waste and increase recycling and reuse systems.”

Furthermore, “EU countries should support southern Mediterranean countries to increase investments aimed at increasing collection and recycling facilities. At the same time, EU countries should ensure that the countries importing their waste have enough facilities to effectively manage all their waste, internal as well as imported.”




Greenish has organized a number of beach cleanups targeting plastic waste. (Supplied)

It was hardly realistic, added the Union for the Mediterranean, to expect Egypt to deal with the problem singlehandedly, and there is a strong case for wealthier European Mediterranean states, with so much to lose in terms of tourism, to help out their poorer southern neighbors.

“Governments, the private sector, research and financial institutions all need to work collaboratively to redesign processes and supply chains, invest in innovation and adopt sustainable consumption patterns and improved waste management practices to close the plastic tap.”

Egypt is keenly aware of the plastic-pollution problem. Last year, the country’s environment agency said that Egyptians use about 12 billion plastic bags a year, causing “severe problems” in the Nile, the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

Greenish, a social enterprise running educational activities aimed at achieving sustainable development, has organized a number of beach cleanups targeting plastic waste. Co-founder Shady Khalil said that “Egyptians are becoming more aware of the plastic that we use, and also the littering on the beaches and in the resorts around Egypt.”

Nevertheless, he said, “waste management in Egypt is a work in progress.” He, too, believes northern Mediterranean countries should help Egypt with funding and, equally importantly, should be putting pressure on European companies, such as Nestle and L’Oreal, to reduce the use of plastics in their products.

“During our cleanups we find a lot of these companies’ products, in the Nile and also on the Mediterranean,” Khalil said. “Much of the plastic waste in Egypt belongs to companies from a northern country.”




Mediterranean  is “widely regarded as one of the most threatened environments in the world.” (AFP)

In April 2019, Egypt’s Red Sea province, home to some of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, such as the popular diving center Hurghada, announced it was imposing a ban on the use of disposable plastic items, such as straws, plastic bags and cutlery.

And, in a little-publicized side event at last month’s World Conservation Congress, Egypt was one of seven nations (along with France, Greece, Algeria, Morocco, Italy and Monaco) behind a new initiative, “The Mediterranean: A model sea by 2030,” which aims to “end overfishing, limit plastic pollution and develop sustainable maritime transport by 2030.”

But the crisis in plastics is not Egypt’s only environmental problem, and far from its most pressing. The environmental challenges facing the country are legion, with many demanding urgent action and at least one posing an existential threat.




Plastic waste is a growing problem for the 21 countries that share the 28,000 km Mediterranean coastline. (AFP)

Top of the crisis list is Egypt’s chronic water shortage, a worsening problem as populations in the 10 rapidly developing upstream nations along the Nile multiply, placing increasing demands on the finite flow of the river.

Egypt is rapidly heading toward what the UN defines as “absolute water scarcity,” the point at which the annual water supply for each person drops below 500 cubic meters. With only 20 cubic meters of water available from internal resources, Egypt’s population and all-important agricultural industry is utterly dependent on the Nile for its freshwater and, says the UN, the country is on course to hit absolute water scarcity by 2024.

Coastal erosion and the gradual sinking of the Nile delta is another problem, closely related to the increasingly impossible demands being placed on the river.

Part of the problem is the rising level of the Mediterranean, predicted to only accelerate as a consequence of climate change. But scientists have also found that the Nile delta, which on average is only one meter above sea level, is slowly sinking, thanks in large part to the reduction in the amount of sediment deposited in the delta as a consequence of the reduced flow of Nile water.

Other environmental problems are clamoring for the government’s attention. In August, the country was hit by an unusually fierce heatwave, which the Egyptian Meteorological Authority attributed to climate change, and the country continues to struggle with the seasonal curse of the “Black Clouds,” the recurring annual smog that gathers over its cities between September and November.




Most of the polluting plastic is beneath the surface, fouling sediment and disrupting the life cycles of multiple species of fish and aquatic plants. (AFP)

A breakdown by the Environment Ministry of the causes of the phenomenon gives an idea of the multiple issues the government must tackle if it is to make progress toward its climate goals. The burning of farming waste accounts for 42 percent of the problem, factory emissions 23 percent, vehicle exhaust fumes 23 percent and the municipal burning of waste 12 percent.

Climate change is, of course, at the top of everyone’s agenda, but even for this there is only so much money to go round.

When the 42 member countries of the Union for the Mediterranean met to discuss environmental issues and climate action in Cairo on Oct. 5, the main focus was on the failure of developed nations to make good on the pledge they made back in 2009 to allocate $100 billion a year, up to 2020, to help developing countries tackle the climate crisis.

Regardless, at that same meeting Egypt’s environment minister committed her government to “greening” half of its programs by 2024. This is an enormous task, given the current volume of Egypt’s CO2 emissions and general levels of pollution.

It was announced in October that Egypt wants to host next year’s COP27 session of the UN Climate Change Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh — great news for the hotels and restaurants of the Red Sea resort town, which were hard hit by the loss of tourism to the global pandemic.

But hosting the world’s leading climate-change event will cast a harsh light on the multiple environmental challenges facing Egypt. As Cairo intensifies its focus on these ahead of COP27, the hope is that the plastic-pollution crisis lurking beneath the surface of the Mediterranean will rise to the top of the government’s green agenda.

Twitter: @JonathanGornall


Nigeria added to Bahrain’s travel ‘red list’

Nigeria added to Bahrain’s travel ‘red list’
Updated 06 December 2021

Nigeria added to Bahrain’s travel ‘red list’

Nigeria added to Bahrain’s travel ‘red list’
  • The recent directive comes amid an increase in the number of diagnosed COVID-19 omicron cases around the world

MANAMA: Nigeria has been added to Bahrain’s travel ‘red list’ as part of a new update announced on Sunday by the National Taskforce for Combating the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the country’s Civil Aviation Affairs. 
According to Bahraini authorities, the list also includes South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, Malawi, Mozambique, Angola and Zambia.
Passengers from red list countries are prohibited from entering Bahrain, including those who have transited through the mentioned countries; however, this does not apply to citizens and residents of Bahrain.

The recent directive comes amid an increase in the number of diagnosed COVID-19 omicron cases around the world, which was first detected in southern African nations. 

Several countries have already imposed travel restrictions on southern Africa, including the UAE, US, Britain, Brazil, Indonesia, Kuwait and the Netherlands.


Lebanese president, PM and parliament speaker express satisfaction with Saudi-French agreement

Lebanese president, PM and parliament speaker express satisfaction with Saudi-French agreement
Updated 06 December 2021

Lebanese president, PM and parliament speaker express satisfaction with Saudi-French agreement

Lebanese president, PM and parliament speaker express satisfaction with Saudi-French agreement
  • MP Ali Darwish, from Mikati’s parliamentary bloc, hopes 'positive signs to emerge in coming days’

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati has affirmed his government’s commitment to honoring its undertakings for reform.

Mikati said that his joint phone call on Saturday with Saudi and French leaders was “an important step toward restoring historic brotherly relations with Riyadh.”

A joint Saudi-French statement, following the joint phone call between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and French President Macron with Mikati, linked “economic aid to Lebanon with the implementation of the required reforms.”

The statement reiterated demands that Lebanon should “implement comprehensive reforms, monitor borders, abide by the Taif Agreement, limit arms to the legitimate state institutions and not be a launching pad for any terrorist acts that destabilize the region (nor) a source of drug trafficking.”

Mikati also said: “I thank President Macron and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for their keenness in maintaining the friendship toward Lebanon.”

Mikati called both President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and briefed them on the phone call.

Mikati’s media office said that Aoun and Berri “expressed their satisfaction and stressed their adherence to the best relations with Saudi Arabia and all brotherly Arab countries, especially the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.”

Mikati called “all parties in Lebanon to appreciate the sensitivity of the situation and circumstances and not to take any action or interfere in any matter that offends the Arab brothers and harms the Lebanese.”

He added: “It is time to commit again to the policy of disassociation and not to involve ourselves and our country in what has nothing to do with us.”

The Saudi position toward Lebanon left the Lebanese anxiously relieved about the extent of the seriousness of the ruling authority in implementing what was agreed on in Jeddah between French President Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Although Macron succeeded in opening the door to a solution to Lebanon’s diplomatic and economic crisis with Saudi Arabia, and thus the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, after the resignation of Information Minister George Kordahi from the government following his statements about the Kingdom, there is a fear that Hezbollah will continue to embroil Lebanon in regional politics.

However, MP Ali Darwish, who is from Prime Minister Mikati’s parliamentary bloc, expects “positive signs to emerge in the coming days.”

Darwish said that appointing a parliamentary committee to try presidents, ministers and MPs in return for allowing Cabinet sessions to take place was “one of the proposals.”

Darwish told Arab News that “the Saudi-French move has undoubtedly breached the wall of stalemate in Lebanon’s relationship with the Gulf, which Lebanon is keen to be extremely good in the midst of the conflict in the region.”

On the implementation of the French-Saudi statement, Darwish said: “The reforms are contained in the ministerial statement of Prime Minister Mikati’s government, and they are his government’s agenda, and he is striving to achieve them.”

Darwish added: “The most important thing now is to restore the connection that was cut off, to return the ambassadors to Saudi Arabia and some Gulf countries, and to return the Arab ambassadors to Lebanon.”

Darwish said that the Mikati government would “never interfere in the judicial matter, as there is a separation of powers.”

However, he indicated that activating the Parliamentary Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers was possible but it required steps to be taken by parliament.

Darwish added: “However, the trade-off between this matter and any other matter, especially the dismissal of the governor of the Banque du Liban, is not on the table.”

Darwish said that Mikati’s concern “is securing the livelihood of the Lebanese people in light of the current severe economic crisis.”

He said work was “now focused on rounding the corners and bringing the views closer.”


Hoping virus won’t wreck Christmas, Bethlehem lights up giant tree

Hoping virus won’t wreck Christmas, Bethlehem lights up giant tree
Updated 06 December 2021

Hoping virus won’t wreck Christmas, Bethlehem lights up giant tree

Hoping virus won’t wreck Christmas, Bethlehem lights up giant tree
  • It is very joyful, a very nice evening. The air is full of hope, full of joy, full of expectation

BETHLEHEM: Residents lit up a giant Christmas tree outside Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, hoping that a new coronavirus variant does not ruin another holiday season in the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

The Palestinian city in the Israeli-occupied West Bank was all but closed last Christmas, losing its peak tourist season to the pandemic.

This December has seen Israel shut out foreign travelers for 14 days to try to prevent the omicron variant taking hold, and the hope is that the ban will end as scheduled, in time for Christmas travel. In its last pre-pandemic winter, in 2019/20, Bethlehem hosted 3.5 million visitors.

The giant tree, topped with a bright red star, was lit up with hundreds of colored lights as red, white and green fireworks illuminated the night sky.

Mayor Anton Salman said the travel ban had prevented several foreign delegations attending.

Nonetheless, the audience in Manger Square in front of the church was far bigger than last year, when coronavirus restrictions kept even local spectators away.

"It is very joyful, a very nice evening. The air is full of hope, full of joy, full of expectation," said Maria, a tourist from Finland who did not provide her full name.


Abu Dhabi crown prince, Blinken discuss regional issues

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed held a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (File/Wikipedia)
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed held a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (File/Wikipedia)
Updated 05 December 2021

Abu Dhabi crown prince, Blinken discuss regional issues

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed held a phone call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (File/Wikipedia)
  • Blinken thanked the UAE for hosting and facilitating the safe transit of US citizens, embassy personnel, and foreign nationals from Afghanistan
  • UAE foreign minister held separate talks with his counterparts from Oman, India and Sri Lanka

LONDON: Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed spoke with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday to discuss “important regional matters,” the US State Department said.
Sheikh Mohammed and Blinken “reaffirmed their countries’ strong partnership and discussed ways to broaden and deepen their wide-ranging cooperation,” spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
“Blinken also thanked the crown prince for the UAE’s generous support in hosting and facilitating the safe transit of US citizens, embassy personnel, and foreign nationals from Afghanistan to third countries, and commended the UAE for providing humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan,” Price added.
Meanwhile, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed held separate talks with his counterparts from Oman, India and Sri Lanka on the sidelines of the two-day 5th Indian Ocean Conference, which kicked off on Saturday in Abu Dhabi.
During the meetings, Sheikh Abdullah discussed strategic relations and ways to enhance prospects for joint cooperation in all fields, as well as the latest regional and international developments.
Sheikh Abdullah welcomed Oman’s Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr Al-Busaidi, and stressed the depth of the relations between the UAE and the sultanate.
India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar praised the strong friendship between the UAE and his country, and their strategic partnership which is witnessing continuous growth and development.
Sheikh Abdullah also welcomed Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Gamini Lakshman Pierce to Abu Dhabi and the two sides discussed bilateral relations and ways to support them in various fields, including tourism.


Jordan’s FM, US climate envoy discuss environmental protection

Jordan’s FM, US climate envoy discuss environmental protection
Updated 05 December 2021

Jordan’s FM, US climate envoy discuss environmental protection

Jordan’s FM, US climate envoy discuss environmental protection
  • Safadi and Kerry stressed the importance of the strategic partnership between Jordan and the US

LONDON: Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi held talks with US special envoy for climate, John Kerry, on Sunday to discuss environmental protection and confronting climate change.
“Safadi and Kerry stressed the importance of the strategic partnership between the kingdom and the US, and reviewed ways to enhance cooperation between the two countries,” Jordanian state news agency Petra reported.
Safadi praised the aid provided by the US to the Kingdom and its support for economic development, stressing the importance of its leading role in efforts to resolving regional crises and achieve peace and stability.
Kerry said that Jordan was a strong and essential ally of the US, and that his country appreciated the key role and efforts led by King Abdullah II to overcome regional challenges and achieve security, stability and peace.
Kerry reiterated Washington’s support for Jordan, including in the areas of environmental protection, facing the challenges of climate change, and developing clean energy and water sources.
“This engagement with government counterparts aims to accelerate global climate action following the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November,” the US State Department said in a statement.
It added that Kerry would discuss how the region could collaborate to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.