US helps power-starved Lebanese businesses switch to solar

Considering Lebanon’s long history of power outages, it is perhaps surprising that many Lebanese are only now beginning to view solar power as an ideal solution to their energy issues. (Social Media/File Photo)
Considering Lebanon’s long history of power outages, it is perhaps surprising that many Lebanese are only now beginning to view solar power as an ideal solution to their energy issues. (Social media/File Photo)
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Updated 17 March 2023
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US helps power-starved Lebanese businesses switch to solar

US helps power-starved Lebanese businesses switch to solar
  • US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea launched the Solar & Renewable Energy Fund

BEIRUT: The US has launched a $20 million fund to help Lebanese businesses install solar energy systems as owners struggle to stay afloat amid the collapse of the country’s electricity sector.

US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea launched the Solar & Renewable Energy Fund on Friday, saying it will help local businesses reduce operating costs, sustain their operations and maintain employment levels.

“This fund will support the purchase and installation of solar power generation systems for at least 25 businesses,” she said.

Lebanon’s crumbling power sector has forced businesses and households to rely largely on private diesel generators.

Power now is available for only four hours a day, thanks to a $60 million advance approved by the Cabinet in favor of the Electricite du Liban to supply fuel to operate the Deir Ammar and Zahrani plants.

However, few trust the state’s sudden generosity. Jamal, a lawyer, said: “Increasing feeding hours to four hours may be a temporary trap to impose the new price on taxpayers, after which we will fall back into darkness.”

Shea said: “Lebanese businesses are struggling in this current economic crisis. They have limited access to financing and their capital accounts, like those of all depositors, are trapped in Lebanese banks. For years, Lebanese enterprises relied on unsustainable and costly energy sources harmful to the environment.

“The US Agency for International Development contributed $4 million in seed capital to the Solar & Renewable Energy Fund, and we are working to secure an additional $16 million from private investors and other donors.”

She added: “The fund will lend capital to enterprises at commercial rates, anticipating that the loans will be repaid within two to three years. This will come from savings on reduced reliance on diesel generators.

“We expect that these businesses will cut their operating costs by at least 20 percent, reducing their expenditures on electricity, and thereby boosting productivity and protecting Lebanese jobs.”

Lebanon has failed for decades to reform the electricity sector, which has cost the state billions of dollars without reaching effective solutions.

The state treasury covers EDL’s losses, which amount to about $2.5 billion annually. The deficit created by the Lebanese electricity sector is about 45 percent of the country’s total.

Protesters staged sit-ins at the EDL headquarters in 2019 over the reduced power supply. Before the crisis, the Lebanese received 12 hours of state electricity per day. However, the feeding hours gradually dropped to eight, then four, before power plants were temporarily shut down.

Farid Belhaj, World Bank vice president for the Middle East and North Africa, met Najib Mikati, Lebanon’s caretaker premier, earlier this week and expressed the bank’s dismay at the government’s failure to reform the electricity sector, a condition for implementing a plan to draw energy from Jordan via Syria, funded by the bank.

A decision by Lebanon’s energy ministry to raise subscription fees for access to electricity, based on the constantly changing exchange rate, has added to the burden facing many Lebanese.

With monthly bills amounting to millions of Lebanese pounds, many are cancelling their subscription, saying they can no longer afford to pay state electricity and private generator fees, especially since the latter are priced in dollars.

As the value of the Lebanese pound continues to fall and the price of diesel to operate private generators rises, many have opted for solar energy.

Thousands of solar panels have been installed on residential buildings and on rural land in the countryside to power factories producing local commodities.

Lebanese citizen Ahmed Al-Rabih said: “I decided to cancel my electricity subscription because I cannot bear all these burdens. The consumption value is 10 cents for under 100 kilowatts, and 27 cents for over 100 kilowatts, which means that the bill will at least amount to 1,500,000 Lebanese pounds.”

An EDL employee told Arab News: “Many citizens who emigrated from Lebanon have asked their relatives to submit requests to cancel their electricity subscription because they would be pointlessly paying fees without benefiting from electricity. Others are canceling their subscription because they have private generators or solar energy for their buildings and there is no need for them to pay additional fees.”

The employee said noted that a third category of people are canceling their subscriptions without having other alternatives, but they can simply no longer afford it.

Activists launched an online campaign under the slogan “We will not pay” in objection to the new tariff for state electricity and to boycott the payment of EDL bills.


Syria armed forces down seven drones around Hama, Idlib

Syria armed forces down seven drones around Hama, Idlib
Updated 9 sec ago
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Syria armed forces down seven drones around Hama, Idlib

Syria armed forces down seven drones around Hama, Idlib
DAMASCUS: Syrian armed forces shot down seven drones aimed at military positions and villages in the countryside of Hama and Idlib, Syrian state media said on Sunday, citing the defense ministry.
The ministry said the drones had been launched by “terrorists,” state media reported.

Lebanese doctor saves Japanese boy’s life

Lebanese doctor saves Japanese boy’s life
Updated 7 min 46 sec ago
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Lebanese doctor saves Japanese boy’s life

Lebanese doctor saves Japanese boy’s life
  • The boy was quadriplegic, or paralyzed below the neck, when he visited the Okayama University Hospital

DUBAI: Lebanese doctor Abd El Kader Al-Askar, a consultant in orthopedic and spine surgery, successfully treated a 15-year-old Japanese boy who suffered from a rare condition known as basilar invagination.

The boy was quadriplegic, or paralyzed below the neck, when he visited the Okayama University Hospital.

Doctors concluded that he had dislocated the second cervical vertebra, known as C2, which plays an important role in rotating the head. The C2 was displaced toward the opening of the spinal cord and the bottom area of the brain in a condition known as basilar invagination.

Basilar invagination can be present at birth or develop as a result of injury. If not treated, it can lead to death or serious complications, such as hydrocephalus.

In collaboration with the integrated medical team, Al-Askar performed an emergency surgery that lasted over four hours and involved an innovative technique that repositioned the bottom of the skull and the spinal cord.

The boy fully recovered and regained the use of all four of his limbs following the surgery.

Al-Askar is currently in Japan for a medical mission in advanced spine surgery and the treatment of back pain.


Israel discusses next steps in truce talks as Gaza desperation deepens

Israel discusses next steps in truce talks as Gaza desperation deepens
Updated 25 February 2024
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Israel discusses next steps in truce talks as Gaza desperation deepens

Israel discusses next steps in truce talks as Gaza desperation deepens
  • Israeli delegation that went to Paris for talks on hostage deal returned on Saturday night
  • Qatar, Egypt and the United States have been spearheading efforts to secure a deal

JERUSALEM: -Israel’s war cabinet has discussed the next steps for negotiations toward a hostage deal and ceasefire in its war with Hamas, as concern deepens over the increasingly desperate situation faced by civilians in the devastated Gaza Strip.
An Israeli delegation that had traveled to Paris for fresh talks on a hostage deal returned to brief the country’s war cabinet on Saturday night, according to an official and local media reports.
National security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said in a televised interview shortly before the meeting that the “delegation has returned from Paris — there is probably room to move toward an agreement.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the meeting would discuss the “next steps in the negotiations.”
Local media later reported that the meeting had concluded with the cabinet agreeing to send a delegation to Qatar in the coming days to continue the talks.
As with a previous week-long truce in November that saw more than 100 hostages freed, Qatar, Egypt and the United States have been spearheading efforts to secure a deal.
Domestic pressure on the government to bring the captives home has also steadily mounted, with thousands gathering in Tel Aviv Saturday night at what has come to be known as “Hostages Square” to demand swifter action.
“We keep telling you: bring them back to us! And no matter how,” said Avivit Yablonka, 45, whose sister Hanan was kidnapped on October 7.
Anti-government protesters were also out in Tel Aviv, blocking streets and calling for Netanyahu’s government to step down as authorities deployed water cannon and mounted officers in a bid to disperse them.
“They are not choosing the right path for us. Whether it’s (the) economy, whether it’s peace with our neighbors,” 54-year-old software company CEO Moti Kushner said of the government, adding “it looks like they never want to end the war.”

After more than four months of shortages inside the besieged Gaza Strip, the World Food Programme said this week its teams had reported “unprecedented levels of desperation,” while the United Nations warned that 2.2 million people were on the brink of famine.
In northern Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp, bedraggled children held out plastic containers and battered cooking pots for what little food was available.
Supplies are running out, with aid agencies unable to get into the area because of the bombing, while the trucks that do try to get through face frenzied looting.
“We the grown-ups can still make it, but these children who are four and five years old, what did they do wrong to sleep hungry and wake up hungry?” one man said angrily.
Residents have resorted to eating scavenged scraps of rotten corn, animal fodder unfit for human consumption and even leaves.
The health ministry said on Saturday that a two-month-old baby identified as Mahmud Fatuh had died of “malnutrition” in Gaza City.
Save the Children said the risk of famine would continue to “increase as long as the government of Israel continues to impede the entry of aid into Gaza.”
Israel has defended its track record on allowing aid into Gaza, saying that 13,000 trucks carrying relief supplies had entered the territory since the start of the war.
The war began after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.
Hamas militants also took hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 29,606 people, mostly women and children, according to a Saturday tally from Gaza’s health ministry.
The ministry said early Sunday that another 98 people had been killed overnight, with the Hamas media office reporting strikes along the length of the territory, from Beit Lahia in the north to Rafah in the south.

An AFP reporter said there had been a number of air strikes on Saturday evening in Rafah, a city along the territory’s southern border with Egypt where hundreds of thousands of Gazans have fled to escape fighting elsewhere.
The presence of so many civilians packed into the area has sparked concerns over Israeli plans for troops to finally push into the city, the last major urban center they have yet to enter.
Despite the concerns, including from key ally the United States, Netanyahu signalled Saturday night that the expected push had not been abandoned, adding that “at the beginning of the week, I will convene the cabinet to approve the operational plans for action in Rafah, including the evacuation of the civilian population from there.”
“Only a combination of military pressure and firm negotiations will lead to the release of our hostages, the elimination of Hamas and the achievement of all the war’s goals,” he added.
Netanyahu this week unveiled a plan for post-war Gaza that envisages civil affairs being run by Palestinian officials without links to Hamas.
It also says Israel will continue with the establishment of a security buffer zone inside Gaza along the territory’s border.
The plan has been rejected by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and drawn criticism from Washington.


Israel discusses next steps in truce talks as Gaza desperation deepens

Israel discusses next steps in truce talks as Gaza desperation deepens
Updated 40 min 3 sec ago
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Israel discusses next steps in truce talks as Gaza desperation deepens

Israel discusses next steps in truce talks as Gaza desperation deepens
  • Several Israeli media outlets said Israel tacitly approved a deal and that Israel would send a delegation to Qatar for further discussions
  • Hamas says it has not yet been involved in the latest proposal developed by the US, Egypt and Qatar

JERUSALEM: Israel’s war cabinet has discussed the next steps for negotiations toward a hostage deal and ceasefire in its war with Hamas, as concern deepens over the increasingly desperate situation faced by civilians in the devastated Gaza Strip.

Mediators made progress on an agreement for a weekslong cease-fire between Israel and Hamas and the release of dozens of hostages held in Gaza as well as Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, Israeli media reported Sunday.

Several Israeli media outlets, citing unnamed officials, said it tacitly approved the deal and that Israel would send a delegation to Qatar for further discussions.
Hamas says it has not yet been involved in the latest proposal developed by the United States, Egypt and Qatar, but the reported outline largely matches its earlier demands for the first phase of a truce. 

Meanwhile, an Israeli delegation that had traveled to Paris for fresh talks on a hostage deal returned to brief the country’s war cabinet on Saturday night, according to an official and local media reports.
National security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said in a televised interview shortly before the meeting that the “delegation has returned from Paris — there is probably room to move toward an agreement.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the meeting would discuss the “next steps in the negotiations.”
Local media later reported that the meeting had concluded with the cabinet agreeing to send a delegation to Qatar in the coming days to continue the talks.
As with a previous week-long truce in November that saw more than 100 hostages freed, Qatar, Egypt and the United States have been spearheading efforts to secure a deal.
Domestic pressure on the government to bring the captives home has also steadily mounted, with thousands gathering in Tel Aviv Saturday night at what has come to be known as “Hostages Square” to demand swifter action.
“We keep telling you: bring them back to us! And no matter how,” said Avivit Yablonka, 45, whose sister Hanan was kidnapped on October 7.
Anti-government protesters were also out in Tel Aviv, blocking streets and calling for Netanyahu’s government to step down as authorities deployed water cannon and mounted officers in a bid to disperse them.
“They are not choosing the right path for us. Whether it’s (the) economy, whether it’s peace with our neighbors,” 54-year-old software company CEO Moti Kushner said of the government, adding “it looks like they never want to end the war.”
After more than four months of shortages inside the besieged Gaza Strip, the World Food Programme said this week its teams had reported “unprecedented levels of desperation,” while the United Nations warned that 2.2 million people were on the brink of famine.
In northern Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp, bedraggled children held out plastic containers and battered cooking pots for what little food was available.
Supplies are running out, with aid agencies unable to get into the area because of the bombing, while the trucks that do try to get through face frenzied looting.
“We the grown-ups can still make it, but these children who are four and five years old, what did they do wrong to sleep hungry and wake up hungry?” one man said angrily.
Residents have resorted to eating scavenged scraps of rotten corn, animal fodder unfit for human consumption and even leaves.
The health ministry said on Saturday that a two-month-old baby identified as Mahmud Fatuh had died of “malnutrition” in Gaza City.
Save the Children said the risk of famine would continue to “increase as long as the government of Israel continues to impede the entry of aid into Gaza.”
Israel has defended its track record on allowing aid into Gaza, saying that 13,000 trucks carrying relief supplies had entered the territory since the start of the war.
The war began after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.
Hamas militants also took hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 29,606 people, mostly women and children, according to a Saturday tally from Gaza’s health ministry.
The ministry said early Sunday that another 98 people had been killed overnight, with the Hamas media office reporting strikes along the length of the territory, from Beit Lahia in the north to Rafah in the south.
An AFP reporter said there had been a number of air strikes on Saturday evening in Rafah, a city along the territory’s southern border with Egypt where hundreds of thousands of Gazans have fled to escape fighting elsewhere.
The presence of so many civilians packed into the area has sparked concerns over Israeli plans for troops to finally push into the city, the last major urban center they have yet to enter.
Despite the concerns, including from key ally the United States, Netanyahu signalled Saturday night that the expected push had not been abandoned, adding that “at the beginning of the week, I will convene the cabinet to approve the operational plans for action in Rafah, including the evacuation of the civilian population from there.”
“Only a combination of military pressure and firm negotiations will lead to the release of our hostages, the elimination of Hamas and the achievement of all the war’s goals,” he added.
Netanyahu this week unveiled a plan for post-war Gaza that envisages civil affairs being run by Palestinian officials without links to Hamas.
It also says Israel will continue with the establishment of a security buffer zone inside Gaza along the territory’s border.
The plan has been rejected by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and drawn criticism from Washington.


Economy another victim of war in impoverished Sudan

Economy another victim of war in impoverished Sudan
Updated 25 February 2024
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Economy another victim of war in impoverished Sudan

Economy another victim of war in impoverished Sudan
  • With most banks out of service, the only exchange rate that matters to ordinary Sudanese is on the black market, where the dollar currently goes for around 1,200 Sudanese pounds

PORT SUDAN, Sudan: Before the Sudanese army and paramilitary fighters turned their guns on each other last year, Ahmed used to sell one of Sudan’s main exports: gum arabic, a vital ingredient for global industry.
Now he’s out of business, and his story encapsulates the broader economic collapse of Sudan during 10 months of war.
Since combat between two rival generals began on April 15, Ahmed has been at the fighters’ mercy.
“When the war began, I had a stock of gum arabic in a warehouse south of Khartoum that was intended for export,” Ahmed told AFP, asking to use only his first name for fear of retaliation.
“To get it out I had to pay huge sums to the Rapid Support Forces,” the paramilitaries commanded by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo who are at war with the Sudanese Armed Forces led by Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan.
“I had to pay multiple times in areas under their control, before my cargo got to areas controlled by the government,” Ahmed said.
But the government — loyal to the army — “then demanded I pay taxes” on the product, an emulsifying agent used in everything from soft drinks to chewing gum.
When the trucks finally made it to Port Sudan for export on the Red Sea, “authorities again asked for new taxes, and I had to pay storage fees six times more than before the war,” Ahmed said.
His gum arabic — like many other Sudanese products — never made it onto a ship. According to Sudan’s port authorities, international trade fell 23 percent last year.
The finance ministry, which didn’t set a national budget for 2023 or 2024 and has foregone quarterly reports, recently raised the exchange rate for imports and exports from 650 Sudanese pounds to 950.
But that is still far below the currency’s real value.
With most banks out of service, the only exchange rate that matters to ordinary Sudanese is on the black market, where the dollar currently goes for around 1,200 Sudanese pounds.
“It’s a sign of the destruction of the Sudanese economy,” former Sudanese Chamber of Commerce head Al-Sadiq Jalal told AFP.
To make matters worse, a communications blackout since early February has hampered online transactions — which Sudanese relied on to survive.
The war has led industries to cease production. Others were destroyed. Businesses and food stocks have been looted.
The World Bank in September said “widespread destruction of Sudan’s economic foundations has set the country’s development back by several decades.”
The International Monetary Fund has predicted that even after the fighting ends, “years of reconstruction” await the northeast African country.
Sudan suffered under a crippled economy for decades and was already one of the world’s poorest countries before the war.
Under the Islamist-backed regime of strongman Omar Al-Bashir, international sanctions throttled development, corruption was rampant, and South Sudan split in 2011 with most of the country’s oil production.
Bashir’s ouster by the military in 2019 following mass protests led to a fragile transition to civilian rule accompanied by signs of economic renewal and international acceptance.
A 2021 coup by Burhan and Dagalo, before they turned on each other, began a new economic collapse when the World Bank and the United States suspended vital international aid.
More than six million of Sudan’s 48 million people have been internally displaced by the war, and more than half the population needs humanitarian aid to survive, according to the United Nations.
Thousands of people have been killed, including between 10,000 and 15,000 in a single city in the western Darfur region, according to UN experts.
Now the indirect death toll is also rising.
Aid agencies have long warned of impending famine, and the UN’s World Food Programme is “already receiving reports of people dying of starvation,” the agency’s Sudan director Eddie Rowe said in early February.
The Sudanese state “is completely absent from the scene” in all sectors, economist Haitham Fathy told AFP.
Chief among those is agriculture, which could have helped stave off hunger.
Before the war, agriculture generated 35-40 percent of Sudan’s gross domestic product, according to the World Bank, and employed 70-80 percent of the workforce in rural areas, the International Fund for Agricultural Development said.
But the war has left more than 60 percent of the nation’s agricultural land out of commission, according to Sudanese research organization Fikra for Studies and Development.
In the wheat-growing state of Al-Jazira, where RSF fighters took over swathes of farmland south of Khartoum, farmers have been unable to tend their crops. They saw their livelihoods wither away.
From the wheat fields to Ahmed’s gum arabic warehouse, the story is the same.
His savings spent, his stock gone and his future bleak, Ahmed — like much of Sudan’s business class — has closed up shop.