Finnish runner to cross Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter, the world’s largest sand desert

The Empty Quarter is the world’s largest uninterrupted sand mass, covering most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula. (Shutterstock)
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The Empty Quarter is the world’s largest uninterrupted sand mass, covering most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula. (Shutterstock)
Finnish runner to cross Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter, the world’s largest sand desert
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Finnish adventure runner Jukka Viljanen on the cover of info brochure released by Delta Adventure. (Supplied)
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Updated 06 December 2021

Finnish runner to cross Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter, the world’s largest sand desert

The Empty Quarter is the world’s largest uninterrupted sand mass, covering most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula. (Shutterstock)
  • Jukka Viljanen will set off on Dec. 6 on a 25-day journey through 1,300 km of desert terrain, with the aim of becoming the first person to run across the massive desert
  • "This dream to run across the Empty Quarter has been my passion. I am very passionate about it because Rub Al-Khali is the biggest and the most beautiful sand desert in the world, it inspires me. My passion keeps me motivated to run for adventure"

RIYADH: A Finnish adventurer has set himself the challenge of joining the ranks of record-breaking pioneers who have made the grueling journey across Rub Al-Khali, Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter. Adventure runner Jukka Viljanen will set off on Dec. 6 on a 25-day journey through 1,300 km of desert terrain, with the aim of becoming the first person to run across the massive desert.

The Empty Quarter is the world’s largest uninterrupted sand mass, covering most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula. The vast landscape of ever-shifting dunes was explored between the early 1930s and the 1950s by the likes of Bertram Thomas, the first recorded Westerner to cross the desert, and Wilfred Thesiger, and their Arab companions.

More recently, photographer Anna Aiko crossed Rub Al-Khali on camel in 2019, and Italian explorer Max Calderan, a long-time resident of Dubai, completed the first solo crossing of the Empty Quarter in 2020. Previous explorers have crossed shorter sections of Rub Al-Khali on camels or in off-road vehicles.

Given the inhospitable terrain and testing conditions, the journey is a test of endurance however it is undertaken but Viljanen aims to take the challenge to another level by running the whole way, covering about 50 kilometers a day. His challenge has been organized by Delta Adventures, a leader in desert journeys and adventures in Saudi Arabia.




Finnish adventure runner Jukka Viljanen (file photo)

“I started as an adventure runner 15 years ago,” Viljanen said during an exclusive interview with Arab News. “I am very passionate about the sand dunes; they energize me. I love the desert.

“It has become a challenge for me as the Empty Quarter has not been crossed fully yet. I want to make it with my team. I am very passionate about creating history by crossing it successfully.

HIGHLIGHT

Given the inhospitable terrain and testing conditions, the journey is a test of endurance however it is undertaken but Jukka Viljanen aims to take the challenge to another level by running the whole way, covering about 50 kilometers a day. His challenge has been organized by Delta Adventures, a leader in desert journeys and adventures in Saudi Arabia.

“This dream to run across the Empty Quarter has been my passion. I am very passionate about it because Rub Al-Khali is the biggest and the most beautiful sand desert in the world, it inspires me. My passion keeps me motivated to run for adventure. It’s my passion that brought me here.”

Viljanen said he chose Dec. 6 as the start date for his adventure for a special reason: “It’s the Finnish National Day.”

The expedition will be his first experience of running in the Empty Quarter, though has run in other Saudi deserts. In fact he has run in a number of challenging environments around the world.

“In 2007, I went to the North Pole where I participated in a marathon with snowshoes,” he said. “Then I did another marathon with a mountain bike.

“After the North Pole I decided to challenge myself more so I entered another race, which was in the Libyan Sahara in 2008. I did a 200km race over there. Then I went to Antarctica, the southernmost continent and site of the South Pole

"Some years later, I decided to run across (more) deserts. My first event was at the Kalahari Desert in 2010.”




I am very passionate about the sand dunes; they energize me. I love the desert. Jukka Viljanen

Viljanen ran across more than 1,000 km of the Kalahari in 20 days, including some of the most remote wilderness areas in Botswana.

“A few years later I was the first one to run across the Sahara Desert, which was 1,628 km in 31 days,” he added. “Two years ago I was able to run across the second-biggest ice sheet in the world … across the icecap of Greenland. That was approximately 600 km.”

His experiences and achievements are remarkable but he has no intention of stopping any time soon — quite the opposite.

“I want to go further and out of my comfort zone,” Viljanen said. “I want to raise the bar for myself, and that’s the reason I am here in Saudi Arabia: I want to be the first person to run across the Empty Quarter.”

He will run alone but will be accompanied by a backup team consisting of Saudis and a friend from Finland. The team leaders are Mohammed Al-Khamis and Ady Al-Khamis, the owners of Delta Adventures.

“I have known them since 2014, when I was here in Riyadh for the first time,” said Viljanen “They have been to the Empty Quarter before. I consider them my extended family.”

The climate in Saudi Arabia is a lot different to his native Finland but Viljanen is taking it all in his stride.

“Yes, it’s a lot warmer but I am quite used to it because of my experiences in the Sahara and Kalahari deserts,” he said. “I like that it’s warm, I take that as a bonus.”

He said he hopes he will have a chance to talk to young people in Saudi Arabia to share his experiences and help inspire them in their own lives and ambitions.

“I would like to speak to the Saudi people after the voyage,” Viljanen said. “I will be back here to share my story. People should raise their bar and they should have new goals in their lives, coming out of their comfort zone. It cannot be achieved sitting in their comfort zone. People have lots of potential but they don’t know it; we should motivate them to become role models for others.

“The main message is ‘challenge yourself.’ I am a motivational speaker and will give motivational talks to Saudi students and people to inspire them to accept the challenge and get out of their comfort zone, because the magic happens outside of the comfort zone. The Empty Quarter is not a comfort zone; the magic will happen there.”

This visit is Viljanen’s fifth to Saudi Arabia, and he said he is always impressed by Saudi traditions and the reception he receives.

“Besides my passion to run, I want to learn about new cultures,” he added. “I am amazed by the warm hospitality of the Saudi people. I attended a Saudi wedding ceremony on Wednesday. It was a blessing. I joined them in traditional dance and enjoyed it.”

It remains to be seen how his Empty Quarter challenge will compare to previous tests, but he is clear about what has been his most difficult undertaking so far.

“It was Greenland,” Viljanen said. “Crossing the ice sheet in 2019 was very difficult. It was full of snow and very cold. The terrain was really very difficult but it was very rewarding. I realized that I have potential, and here I am because of my North Pole experience.”

If running across the ice was his most challenging test, deserts present their own challenges.

“Sand makes it tough,” he explained. “It can ruin your legs so you really need to focus on taking care. Hot weather is another challenge but I keep myself very much hydrated. I drink every 20-30 minutes. I keep myself energized by eating every hour so my sugar level does not drop.”


Empowerment of women in Saudi museums sector in spotlight at open discussion forum

Empowerment of women in Saudi museums sector in spotlight at open discussion forum
Updated 27 January 2022

Empowerment of women in Saudi museums sector in spotlight at open discussion forum

Empowerment of women in Saudi museums sector in spotlight at open discussion forum
  • The event, hosted by the Kingdom’s Museum Commission, explored ways in which the role of women could be enhanced in the sector

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Museum Commission hosted an open discussion on Wednesday about the empowerment women in the museums sector.

The event, at the National Museum in Riyadh, was moderated by Maha bint Amer Al-Shukhil, a faculty member at Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University, and the participants included Stefano Carboni, the CEO of the commission.

The topics addressed during the discussion included the roles and work of Saudi women, creating change in the Museums Commission, and the need to develop job opportunities for women in the museums field.

Participants also discussed how to foster cooperation between universities and the Museums Commission, the role and importance of museums in society, encouraging and highlighting efforts by women in the field, providing training and volunteering opportunities in the commission, and giving women more opportunities to work in the museums sector.

Carboni said that the objectives of the commission include providing advisory services, providing specialized courses and programs on museum management, offering opportunities to learn about specialized establishments in the sector, and working to develop communication skills between museums and visitors.

On the sidelines of the session, Hind Al-Turki, the head of the history department at Princess Nourah University, spoke about the necessity of offering field-training opportunities for female students specializing in the museums sector, to improve their knowledge and provide practical experience, and to present programs and workshops.

The commission said that the session was part of its efforts to communicate with the public and promote dialogue with workers in the sector to identify their needs and aspirations, and work to achieve them, based on the authority’s responsibility for developing and enhancing the museums sector in the Kingdom, and supporting and empowering its employees.
 


KSrelief, UNICEF sign agreement to provide basic health services for mothers and children in Yemen

KSrelief, UNICEF sign agreement to provide basic health services for mothers and children in Yemen
Updated 27 January 2022

KSrelief, UNICEF sign agreement to provide basic health services for mothers and children in Yemen

KSrelief, UNICEF sign agreement to provide basic health services for mothers and children in Yemen

RIYADH: The Saudi-based King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center signed a cooperation agreement with UNICEF to provide basic health services for mothers and newborns, according to the humanitarian response plan for Yemen, with a value of $10 million.
KSrelief supervisor general Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah and UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore signed the agreement, Saudi Press Agency reported on Wednesday.

The agreement stipulates providing free basic health services for obstetrics and gynaecology emergency and care services, increasing the preparedness of the Yemeni health sector with medical equipment for newborns, localizing the sustainability of providing health services for mothers and children, and training 156 midwives for emergency cases to obstetric care and emergency care for newborns. The agreement is expected to benefit 43,533 individuals in several Yemeni governorates.
It is part of the humanitarian and aid projects implemented by Saudi Arabia, through KSrelief, in partnership with UNICEF to develop the Yemeni health sector and increase care services offered to children and mothers in all Yemeni governorates.

 


DiplomaticQuarter: Indian Embassy in Riyadh celebrates 73rd Republic Day

DiplomaticQuarter: Indian Embassy in Riyadh celebrates 73rd Republic Day
Updated 27 January 2022

DiplomaticQuarter: Indian Embassy in Riyadh celebrates 73rd Republic Day

DiplomaticQuarter: Indian Embassy in Riyadh celebrates 73rd Republic Day

RIYADH: The Embassy of India in Riyadh celebrated the 73rd Republic Day with great fervor to honor the historic date of Jan. 26, 1950, when India’s constitution came into effect and the country became a republic.

The celebration began in the morning with a flag-hoisting ceremony on the embassy premises, where Ambassador of India to Saudi Arabia Dr. Ausaf Sayeed unfurled the national flag of India.

Sayeed extended greetings to all the attendees at the function and to all Indians residing in Saudi Arabia.

“On this joyous occasion of the 73rd Republic Day of India, I would like to extend my warm greetings and felicitations to all Indian nationals, persons of Indian origin, and friends of India in the Kingdom,” envoy tweeted.

He also talked of the growing ties of India and Saudi Arabia. He said that since independence, India’s relationship with the Kingdom has evolved into a multifaceted and mutually beneficial strategic partnership encompassing several key areas, including defense and security cooperation, investment, healthcare, technology, energy and food security.

The envoy also read out the message of the President of India, Ramnath Kovind, on the occasion, which read: “My heartiest greetings to all of you, in India and abroad, on the 73rd Republic Day! It is an occasion to celebrate what is common to us all, our Indian-ness. It was on this day in 1950 that this sacred essence of us all assumed a formal shape. That day, India was established as the largest democratic republic and ‘we the people’ put into effect a constitution that is an inspired document of our collective vision. It is this spirit of unity and of being one nation which is celebrated every year as Republic Day.”

This was followed by cultural performances given by the students of Indian schools in Riyadh.

The event was attended by members of the Indian community based in the Kingdom.

The celebration holds greater significance for Indians across the world as India is celebrating its 75th year of independence. India gained its independence on Aug. 15, 1947. This celebration also coincides with 75 years of diplomatic relations between India and Saudi Arabia.


King Salman appoints new board to help SAIP become regional IP hub

King Salman appoints new board to help SAIP become regional IP hub
Updated 27 January 2022

King Salman appoints new board to help SAIP become regional IP hub

King Salman appoints new board to help SAIP become regional IP hub

RIYADH: King Salman has appointed several executives and government vice ministers to the board of the Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property to help it become a globally recognized IP hub for the Middle East and North Africa.

The appointments include Osama bin Abdulaziz Al-Zamil, deputy minister of industry and mineral resources; Haitham Abdulrahman Al-Ohali, vice minister of communications and information technology; Hamed bin Mohammed Fayez, deputy minister of culture; Deemah bint Yahya Al-Yahya, secretary-general of the Digital Cooperation Organization; and Abdulrahman bin Abdullah Al-Samari, CEO of the Local Content and Government Procurement Authority.

Board Chairman Mohammed bin Abdulmalik Al-Sheikh and CEO Abdulaziz Al-Suwailem expressed their gratitude and appreciation to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for their support.

They also wished success to the board members as the authority seeks to establish itself as a focal point for intellectual property in the MENA region by the time the Saudi Vision 2030 is wholly implemented.

Al-Sheikh is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Saudi Arabia’s representative to the World Bank in Washington. In 2013 he was appointed chairman of the Saudi Capital Market Authority and two years later named as a state minister.

HIGHLIGHT

The main tasks of SAIP include developing a national IP strategy, proposing and developing relevant regulations and laws, and registering, granting and protecting IP rights. It also raises awareness of intellectual property, provides information to the public, represents Saudi Arabia at international and regional IP organizations, grants licenses for IP activities, and comments on relevant international agreements.

Al-Suwailem, who has served as an adviser to the World Intellectual Property Organization and UNESCO, is experienced in IP rights at the local and international level. He is also a former vice president of King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology.

The main tasks of SAIP include developing a national IP strategy, proposing and developing relevant regulations and laws, and registering, granting and protecting IP rights. It also raises awareness of intellectual property, provides information to the public, represents Saudi Arabia at international and regional IP organizations, grants licenses for IP activities, and comments on relevant international agreements.

Recently, SAIP signed a memorandum of understanding with the Korean Intellectual Property Office, in the presence of the Korean President Moon Jae-in on the sidelines of the Saudi-Korean Investment Forum in Riyadh.

The agreement enhances the strategic partnership between South Korea and Saudi Arabia, and will involve the secondment of Korean IP experts to Riyadh.

SAIP spokesman Yasser Hakami told Arab News that the MoU laid out the framework, projects, timeline and procedures for the cooperative activities.


King Salman Royal Reserve unveils digital identity

King Salman Royal Reserve unveils digital identity
Updated 27 January 2022

King Salman Royal Reserve unveils digital identity

King Salman Royal Reserve unveils digital identity
  • Campaign aims to boost awareness, outreach ahead of Vision 2030 goal

RIYADH: King Salman bin Abdulaziz Royal Natural Reserve, the largest reserve in the Middle East and North Africa, unveiled its digital identity on its website and Twitter account to foster awareness and boost its outreach.

The campaign showcased the vision, mission and goals of the reserve, along with more than 235 plant species, such as tamarisk, calligonum and common poppy.

Besides historical treasures dating back more than 12,000 years from the ancient period to the Islamic age, the sites of Jubbah and Kalwa within KSRNR are full of old stories and legends, which the KSRNR hopes to preserve.

The reserve is characterized by its enormous size, and serves as a resting site for migrating birds.

The new digital campaign pointed to the future vision for KSRNR, as well as its ecotourism and recreational goals in line with Saudi Vision 2030.

Spelling out the plans, a senior official at the reserve said that the KSRNR “seeks to reintroduce species, resettle wildlife, restore natural wealth, increase vegetation cover, maintain cultural heritage and provide job opportunities for the local community.”

As part of the digital reveal, Abdullah bin Qadhan, director of partnerships and external communication at KSRNR, discussed the reserve’s strategic objectives and its latest initiative to develop vegetation cover.

HIGHLIGHT

Established in 2018, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Royal Natural Reserve is spread across 130,700 square kilometers of land, stretching toward the Northern Borders region. It incorporates three existing natural reserves: Harrat Al-Harrah Conservation, Al-Tubaiq Natural Reserve and Al-Khanfah Wildlife Sanctuary.

“Qadhan shared details of the ‘We Spread It for a Green Tomorrow’ campaign in the Tabuk region, in which drones were used,” the reserve tweeted.

“There is an activation of the career opportunities in the region by employing young Saudi cadres, and we are working with universities to qualify final year students. There are training programs that end with employment for them,” Qadhan said.

“We signed a cooperation agreement with the Ministry of Investment to develop feasibility studies for attractions and market them to local and international investors,” he added.

“Our goal is to be a distinguished tourist destination in the Arabian Peninsula, and we seek to enable the private sector to invest in the natural reserve.”

KSRNR was established in 2018 as a result of a royal decree to create a Council of Royal Reserves, which is headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The reserve is spread across 130,700 square kilometers of land, stretching toward the Northern Borders region. It incorporates three existing natural reserves: Harrat Al-Harrah Conservation, Al-Tubaiq Natural Reserve and Al-Khanfah Wildlife Sanctuary.