NEW YORK CITY: The UN on Thursday announced it has signed an agreement with Belgian shipping company Euronav for the purchase of a Very Large Crude Carrier to use in its salvage operation to remove more than a million barrels of oil from the Safer, a derelict storage vessel moored in the Red Sea off the Yemeni coast, and avoid a massive environmental disaster.
The 47-year-old Safer has had little or no maintenance since the war in Yemen began in 2015 and has deteriorated to the point where experts warn it is in danger of springing a leak, exploding or catching fire.
It contains about 48 million gallons of oil, and the UN has warned that a spill could be four times bigger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off the coast of Alaska, which is considered the world’s worst oil spill in terms of environmental damage.
Achim Steiner, administrator of the UN Development Program, told Arab News that the vessel purchased by the UN cost “a painful $55 million,” after the agency searched in vain for a donated vessel or one that could be leased.
“The market clearly is so hot that, in the end, we had to conclude that the only way that we could advance rather than wait for someone’s generosity was to take the decision to not just charter the vessel but actually purchase it,” he said.
Experts estimate a major leak from the Safer could severely damage Red Sea ecosystems upon which about 30 million people depend for a living, including 1.6 million Yemenis, according to the UN. It would, for example, devastate fisheries along Yemen’s west coast and destroy livelihoods in fishing communities, many of which are already dependent on humanitarian aid to survive because of the war. If a fire broke out, more than 8.4 million people could be exposed to toxic pollutants.
A spill could also disrupt commercial shipping on the Red Sea, one of the world’s busiest waterways, which accounts for 10 percent of all global trade. It could also adversely affect littoral countries such as Saudi Arabia, Djibouti and Eritrea.
Steiner said the 15-year-old vessel purchased by the UN is in dry dock for regular maintenance and will sail within the next month to Yemen. Ship-to-ship transfer of oil could begin as soon as May.
The UNDP, which is organizing the operation as part of a UN-coordinated initiative, has contracted marine salvage company Smit to safely remove the oil and prepare the Safer for towing to a green salvage yard.
The salvage operation has been split into two phases: The oil will be transferred to the new vessel and then moved to a permanent storage facility until the political situation in Yemen allows for it to be sold or moved elsewhere.
David Gressly, the UN’s resident coordinator for Yemen, told Arab News that the original plan was to lease a salvage vessel but no supplier was willing to venture into an area that is “still in the midst of a civil war, even though the situation has calmed down considerably over the last year. That’s the primary reason. We had no choice, frankly, but to buy a vessel.”
The estimated cost of the salvage operation is $129 million, of which $75million has been secured so far.
Gressly made an urgent appeal for donors to provide the remaining cash.
“We’ve got almost all of the pieces together,” he said. “Let us have the last bit of funding and save hundreds of thousands of communities from the harm that this vessel could ultimately cause us.”
UAE to tighten insurance cover for ships flying its flag
Updated 3 min 53 sec ago
DUBAI: The UAE is tightening insurance requirements for vessels registered under its flag, according to a government advisory, amid growing concerns over ships sailing without top tier cover in the event of an oil spill.
Ships typically have protection and indemnity insurance which covers liability claims including environmental damage and injury. Separate hull and machinery policies cover vessels against physical damage.
About 90 percent of the world’s ocean going tonnage is covered by the 12 ship insurers that make up the International Group.
P&I insurers outside of the IG that cover UAE flagged ships will need to meet a number of requirements including providing evidence of membership of a recognized maritime related professional agency or regulatory body, the UAE’s Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure said in a June 2 advisory posted on its website.
Other requirements include providing details of the five largest settled claims or details of claims over $10 million, the advisory said, adding that applications needed to be submitted before June 30.
The advisory, which was also addressed to ship owners, said evidence would need to be shown about so-called blue cards, which cover pollution damage.
The UAE flagged fleet includes dozens of oil tankers — many of which are old — and over 200 offshore vessels typically used in oil related trading, according to shipping data on public database Equasis.
Hundreds of “ghost” tankers, which are not fully regulated, have joined an opaque parallel shipping trade over the past few years, carrying oil from countries hit by Western sanctions and restrictions, including Russia and Iran.
The number of incidents last year, including groundings, collisions and near misses involving these ships reached the highest in years, a Reuters investigation showed.
Ports in China’s Shandong province are demanding more detailed information about oil tankers that are more than 15 years old that call at their terminals, sources with knowledge of the matter said this week.
Residents of Tuti island in the Nile reported being “under siege” amid desperate shortages
Updated 10 min 6 sec ago
KHARTOUM: Battles raged in Sudan’s war-torn capital of Khartoum on Tuesday, witnesses said, and the residents of an island in the Nile reported being “under siege” amid desperate shortages.
Eight weeks of fighting have pitted army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan against his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who commands the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.
A number of broken ceasefires have offered brief lulls but no respite for residents of the city, where witnesses again reported “the sound of heavy artillery fire” in northern Khartoum.
Witnesses also said there were “clashes with various types of weapons” in south Khartoum, where “the sound of explosions shook our walls.”
In the city center, at the confluence of the White Nile and Blue Nile rivers, the island of Tuti is “under total siege” by RSF forces, resident Mohammed Youssef said.
Paramilitaries have blocked the only bridge to the island and prevented residents from going by boat to other parts of the capital.
“We can’t move anyone who’s sick to hospitals off the island,” Youssef said. “If this continues for days, stores will run out of food.”
Since the fighting began on April 15, more than 1,800 people have been killed, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.
Al Arabiya channel reported that the warring parties had resumed indirect ceasefire talks in Jeddah on Tuesday.
The UN says that more than a million and a half people have been displaced, both within the country and across its borders.
For those still in Khartoum and the western region of Darfur — which together have seen the worst of the fighting — the situation is growing increasingly dire.
“We face a massive humanitarian crisis that is only going to get worse with the collapse of the economy, collapse of the health care system,” the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warned.
The danger will increase with “the flood season fast approaching and the looming hunger crisis and disease outbreaks that now are becoming more inevitable.”
Sudan’s annual rainy season begins in June, and medics have repeatedly warned that it threatens to make parts of country inaccessible, raising the risks of malaria, cholera and water-borne diseases.
How neglect of health and hygiene issues deepens gender inequality in Middle East displacement camps
Poor access to hygiene products impacts the lives of millions in the world’s conflict and crisis zones
Camp overcrowding “can lead to a lack of dignity and privacy, which can also impact mental health”
Updated 45 min 59 sec ago
LONDON: Every month, women and girls living in camps for displaced people face a common challenge — one that, despite being a natural occurrence, disrupts their daily lives in everything from queuing for meals to participating in social life.
Long a relatively neglected health issue, aid agencies say that poor access to menstrual hygiene management products impacts the lives of millions in the world’s crisis-hit regions, deepening gender inequality.
“The lack of access to menstrual hygiene products and facilities can be a significant barrier to the participation of displaced women and girls in training programs and other activities,” said Samara Atassi, CEO and co-founder of Souriyat Across Borders, a women-led charity that supports refugees and internally displaced people in Jordan, Syria and the UK.
Insufficient access to such products and facilities often forces women and girls to resort to “unhygienic practices, such as using dirty rags, leaves or even sand to manage their periods,” Atassi told Arab News.
Social stigma and embarrassment often pose an additional challenge, leading to “isolation and a sense of shame,” taking a toll on their mental wellbeing, she said. Overcrowding in camps in particular “can lead to a lack of dignity and privacy, which can also impact their mental health.”
Further exacerbating the problem are issues such as inadequate access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.
These conditions “can make it difficult to manage menstrual hygiene, further increasing the risk of infections and other health problems,” Sahar Yassin, Oxfam MENA regional gender advocacy adviser, told Arab News.
“Period poverty” is defined as a lack of access to menstrual products, education, hygiene facilities, waste management, or a combination of these.
In 2019, experts from academic institutions, NGOs, governments, UN organizations and elsewhere came together to form the Global Menstrual Collective to research the issue. It defined menstrual health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in relation to the menstrual cycle.”
It noted that people should have access to information about menstruation, life changes and hygiene practices, the ability to care for themselves during menstruation, as well as access to water, sanitation and hygiene services.
It also highlighted the importance of the ability to receive a diagnosis for menstrual cycle disorders and access to health care, a positive, supportive environment in which to make informed decisions, and the ability to participate in all aspects of life, such as going to work and school.
Period poverty affects an estimated 500 million people worldwide — but is perhaps more keenly felt by those who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, or those reaching puberty while living in overcrowded and poorly equipped camp settings.
The UN Refugee Agency estimates that women and girls account for about 50 percent of any displaced or stateless population.
At the end of 2021, the Middle East and North Africa accounted for about 16 million forcibly displaced and stateless people, with the largest numbers fleeing conflict in Syria and Yemen, according to the UNHCR figures.
However, the reproductive health of women and girls in refugee and internal displacement camps continues to face neglect by donors. A 2019 survey by UNHCR found that just 55 percent of women’s needs were met with regard to menstruation products.
Nicola Banks, advocacy manager at the UK-based charity Action for Humanity, told Arab News that the UK had recently reduced “funding for its flagship program on sexual and reproductive health, Women’s Integrated Sexual Health,” which supports marginalized populations in Asia and Africa.
“Cuts to SRHR (sexual and reproductive health and rights) programs ... could result in reduced access to menstrual hygiene products, education and reproductive health services, potentially exacerbating period poverty,” Banks said.
During humanitarian crises, relief and aid efforts are chiefly focused on what are considered the most immediate needs — food, shelter and medicine — while menstrual hygiene products are often ignored, according to a report published in September 2022 by the UN sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA.
Another critical challenge to menstrual hygiene management is a lack of education, which can lead to misconceptions about menstruation, further perpetuating stigma and shame, said Atassi of Souriyat Across Borders.
Owing to this pervasive sense of stigma and shame, many girls aged 10-18 in refugee camps in Turkiye continue to have limited access to accurate information about menstruation, meaning few are fully informed before reaching menarche, or the first menstrual cycle, according to the UNFPA report.
The study, “Menstrual hygiene management among refugee women and girls in Turkiye,” emphasized that this important yet vulnerable population lacked a complete and accurate conception of menstruation, with the main source of information being the mother or another female family member.
A 2019 UNHCR study found that only 55 percent of women’s needs were met in regard to menstruation products.
Oxfam’s Yassin says that this lack of education, combined with period poverty, “is closely linked to gender-based violence in the MENA region, where the cultural taboo surrounding menstruation precludes women and girls from discussing it openly, leading to misinformation and/or lack of information.”
Forms of gender-based violence, or GBV, linked to menstruation include “early marriage, lack of privacy, safety, and sexual harassment,” she said.
To conceal evidence of their menstruation, women in displacement and refugee camps often find themselves forced to venture alone to secluded areas, which exposes them to the potential for sexual violence. But the threat is also present in toilet spaces inside the camps.
A 2021 statement by Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, revealed that “one in five refugees or internally displaced women have faced sexual violence,” adding that the COVID-19 pandemic aggravated the issue.
“In many cases, GBV is a result of violations of SRHR, such as female genital mutilation/cutting, child marriage, intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence,” said Banks of Action for Humanity.
“While education, empowerment, and ending violence are critical components of gender equality, they cannot be addressed in isolation from SRHR.”
For Oxfam’s Yassin, “by addressing period poverty and providing better menstrual hygiene management infrastructure and accessible facilities, we can not only promote gender equality and prevent gender-based violence but also support women’s and girls’ health, economic empowerment and well-being.”
Despite efforts by several NGOs and UN agencies to alleviate the burdens caused by period stigma and poverty, menstrual hygiene management remains a largely unaddressed issue in refugee and displacement camps.
“As an organization that is committed to empowering women, we recognize the importance of providing comprehensive sexual education,” said Atassi of Souriyat Across Borders. “Unfortunately, we currently do not have an education project inside the IDPs camps.
“However, we strive to support women’s health and hygiene needs through all our relief campaigns.
“Even in the emergency response situations, such as during the (Feb. 6 Syria-Turkiye) earthquakes ... we prioritized the inclusion of women’s hygiene baskets in our relief efforts.
“We believe that by addressing women’s basic needs, we can help them feel supported, safe and empowered.”
Lebanese party seeks Damascus’s approval after rejecting Hezbollah presidential candidate
Aoun’s presidential term ended on October 31 of last year, and the presidency has remained vacant since then due to political jostling that led to the FPM abandoning its alliance with Hezbollah over Frangieh’s nomination
Updated 06 June 2023
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s former president Michel Aoun has traveled to Syria to shore up relations with Damascus after his party rejected Hezbollah’s preferred presidential candidate.
The Free Patriotic Movement said Aoun, its leader, “traveled on Tuesday to Damascus on a visit during which he will meet with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.”
It came days after the FPM announced it backed opposition candidate Jihad Azour for the Lebanese presidency and rejected Hezbollah’s preference Suleiman Frangieh, who is a close friend of Assad.
Aoun was accompanied by former minister Pierre Raffoul. A source close to the FPM stated that Aoun’s goal was “to confirm the continuation of the relationship and the strategic positioning of the FPM.
“In return, Aoun will explain to Assad that the FPM’s rejection of Frangieh has nothing to do with this positioning, and he will warn that clinging to Frangieh would pose a danger to Christian consensus.”
Aoun’s presidential term ended on October 31 of last year, and the presidency has remained vacant since then due to political jostling that led to the FPM abandoning its alliance with Hezbollah over Frangieh’s nomination.
Aoun was quoted during a meeting of the FPM parliamentary bloc on Monday evening as saying that Azour, who previously held the position of finance minister, “is a technocrat and works at the IMF (as Director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department), which is what Lebanon needs, while the head of the Marada Movement, Suleiman Frangieh, is an integral part of the ruling system that has brought Lebanon to where it is."
Political parties are scrambling to secure the votes of MPs for the forthcoming presidential contest, set down by the Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, for June 14.
So far, more than 30 out of 128 MPs have not yet decided on their position regarding supporting Azour. Some independent and undecided MPs say they are yet to make a decision while others will not disclose their choice.
The parliamentary bloc of the Democratic Gathering (the Progressive Socialist Party) will meet on Thursday to discuss its choice.
Others yet to make their choice public are the National Consensus (Faisal Karami and his allies), National Moderation (North), and the Independent Parliamentary Gathering which includes MPs Imad Hawat, Bilal al-Hashimi, Nabil Badr, Neeemat Ferm, and Jamil Abboud.
Armenian MPs, the three MPs of Sidon-Jezzine and about 10 MPs from the Change bloc plus some other unaffiliated independents, make up the list of those undecided.
MP Hassan Fadlallah from Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc said it would “exercise its constitutional and legal rights in full, and we are now in a stage of discussion. We have time until the session date, and we will take a common position and proceed to implement it at the designated time.”
“We have not imposed our opinion on anyone, nor have we imposed a candidate on anyone. Instead, we said that there is a candidate, and let’s come to the discussion. The natural outcome is dialogue.”
It is all but guaranteed that 86 or more MPs will vote in the first round, meaning it will meet the legal threshold for legitimacy. However, neither candidate is expected to win two-thirds of all MPs’ votes, meaning a second round will be required where the threshold is reduced to 65 votes.
Supporters of Azour claim that he has secured between 65 and 70 votes. However, the second round of voting remains subject to the possibility of not reaching the quorum.
Previously, a joint-veto was placed on Frangieh by the Christian parliamentary blocs. There is concern that a joint-Shia veto will now be placed on Azour, who as yet has no declared support from that bloc.
The Amal Movement, Hezbollah and their allies previously resorted to obstructing the quorum of the second round of voting, as happened in the 11 sessions that were held during the nomination phase of MP Michel Moawad.
“The second round of voting will be an opportunity to reveal the limitations of everyone and to move from this stage to a more serious stage in the search for a moderate presidential candidate,” said the political observer.
Razi El Hage, a member of the parliamentary bloc of the Lebanese Forces which supports Azour, said that the campaign against him by opponents “does not indicate a positive approach to dealing with the election.
“Azour was not previously a candidate of any of the blocs that now support him, and he is not a candidate of challenge or maneuvering. Everyone converged around him to achieve the presidential mandate.
“They must respect the choice of the MPs, and let them apply the provisions of the Constitution and allow the successive rounds of voting, and they will see that the MPs are capable of electing Azour with an absolute majority.”