Environment Week events put Saudi Arabia’s leadership role in the limelight

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Updated 04 May 2024
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Environment Week events put Saudi Arabia’s leadership role in the limelight

Environment Week events put Saudi Arabia’s leadership role in the limelight
  • Riyadh hosts series of discussions focused on the challenges posted by drought, desertification and land degradation
  • Unsustainable agricultural practices, overgrazing, deforestation and soil erosion seen contributing to desertification

RIYADH: The region of Middle East and North Africa is known for its hot, dry climate and scarce water resources. The harsh climatic conditions are a contributing factor to the region’s perennial scourge of drought, desertification and land degradation.

These challenges result in imbalances in different ecosystems, harming especially the agriculture sector and imposing economic hardship on local populations. The growing importance of this regional issue has been a motivating factor for Saudi Arabia to host regular discussions.

This week, Environment Week, has been an opportunity to take stock of the challenges ahead and the progress made so far. Events organized during Environment Week highlighted Saudi Arabia’s leadership role in environmental preservation and sustainable development.




Desertification, the process by which fertile land transforms into arid desert, is a significant challenge confronting countries of the Middle East and North Africa. (Shutterstock)

Environmentalists were given a forum to exchange on a range of subjects, with the emphasis naturally on drought, desertification and land degradation. For this occasion, Arab News interviewed Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Riyadh.

“It has become extremely difficult for humanity to cope with the frequency of challenges,” he said. “Saudi Arabia is playing a very important role of course. It is not a small economy, therefore the demand for support from Saudi Arabia is also growing.”




Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. AN photo by AN Abdulrahman Alnajim

Thiaw spoke of some of the outcomes of land degradation and drought such as the increase of irregular migration due to land degradation and drought. “You will likely see more competition of land and water, and therefore, more conflict,” he said.

Drought, a major problem in many Middle East countries, has put water resources under stress in tandem with rising temperatures. Both surface water and groundwater reserves are failing owing to declining precipitation and rising evaporation rates.




A picture shows a view of the dried-up bed of the al-Kalal River in the city of Badrah, near the Iran border, on August 28, 2023. Iraq's drought reflects a decline in the level of waterways due to the lack of rain and lower flows from upstream neighboring countries Iran and Turkey. (AFP)

As a result, rivers and lakes are drying up and water shortages have become a serious problem. Moreover, because of multiple environmental reasons, including drought, the region has been experiencing frequent sandstorms.

“There are around 50 countries that are sources of dust storms, but there are 150 countries that are affected by this phenomenon. Therefore, it has become a global issue,” Thiaw said, speaking about the impact of dust storms in one nation on another.

“You may use one country to shine a spotlight on dust storms, but these constitute a global phenomenon that we all need to address. To do that, you need global treaties like the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, which at the moment has 197 parties. So, it is a universal body and has a summit, a meeting every two years.




Infographic from the Global Drought Snapshot 2023 report of the International Dought Resilience Alliance and the UN Convention to combat Desertification. 

“The next meeting will be held here in Riyadh in December 2024, where the 197 countries will come together at the level of heads of state, at the level of ministers and the level of experts, communities and NGOs and civil society organizations, to discuss just that, namely the consequences of land degradation and drought on the lives and livelihoods of communities.”

Furthermore, experts point out that drought and desertification influence each other. Desertification, the process by which fertile land transforms into arid desert, is another significant challenge confronting countries of the Middle East and North Africa. Unsustainable agricultural practices, overgrazing, deforestation and soil erosion all contribute to the problem.




Infographic from the Global Drought Snapshot 2023 report of the International Dought Resilience Alliance and the UN Convention to combat Desertification. 

Consequently, arable land is lost and food production decreases, exacerbating the problem of food insecurity. Desertification also leads to the displacement of communities, according to Thaiaw, as people are forced to migrate in search of more habitable areas.

Speaking to Arab News on the occasion of Environment Week in Riyadh, Elizabeth Mrema, deputy executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, offered her views on the crisis of desertification.




United Nations Environment program’s deputy executive director, Elizabeth Mrema. (Supplied) 

“As far as Saudi Arabia is concerned, the country has clearly seen its impact and treated it as a priority for this year. I am saying ‘this year’ because at the UN Environmental Assembly at the end of February, Saudi Arabia took the lead on an initiative to combat degradation. It went through and was adopted, and that was on a global level,” said Mrema.

“Beyond that, this country next month, on June 5, will host World Environment Day. This day is celebrated every year. It is global because it was adopted by the UN General Assembly. This year, it is being hosted by Saudi Arabia.

“This year Saudi Arabia will host the UN Conference to Combat Desertification. It will be hosted here with the theme ‘Our land, our future’ again, Land is the focus.”




Infographic from the Global Drought Snapshot 2023 report of the International Dought Resilience Alliance and the UN Convention to combat Desertification. 

Additionally, the combination of drought and desertification in one area leads to land degradation, further compounding the Middle East's environmental crisis. Soil erosion, salinization, and depletion of soil nutrients are some of the results of land degradation.

As agricultural productivity declines worldwide, farmers face key challenges in securing their livelihoods, in addition to the fact that the environmental problems heighten ecosystem vulnerability, which also leads to biodiversity loss and ecosystem imbalance.

“Saudi Arabia is showing the world that this is a global issue. The initiatives which have been taken by the government in recent years demonstrate the commitment in dealing with these issues,” said Mrema.




The Saudi Green Initiative Day reflects Saudi Arabia’s vision and dedication to fostering a culture of sustainability (SPA)

“I look at the Saudi Vision 2030, I look at the environmental strategies of 2018, I look at the Saudi Green Initiative. I look at the Middle East Green Initiative with a commitment to reach a regional level to plant 50 billion trees, 10 of which Saudi Arabia has committed to plant in this country. And not in committed in words, but put an institution to lead the road, to make sure that this is happening.”

Addressing the three challenges of drought, desertification and land degradation in the Middle East requires a multifaceted approach. Thiaw and Mrema were of the view that governments, international organizations and local communities need to work together to implement sustainable water management strategies, promote efficient irrigation technologies and invest in renewable energy sources.

Additionally, they said, reforestation efforts and the protection of natural habitats can help reduce desertification and land degradation.

Raising awareness about the importance of sustainable land use practices and supporting affected communities is an important step toward long-term solutions for both the Middle East and North Africa region and the world.

To sum up, countries of the Middle East and North Africa are suffering from effects of intensifying drought, desertification and land degradation. Urgent action is required to reverse this trend and ensure regional environmental sustainability.

By adopting sustainable methods, investing in water management, and promoting conservation actions, communities of the region will be able to reduce the severity of these challenges and assure themselves of a more resilient future.
 


Saudi authorities thwart drug smuggling operations

Saudi authorities thwart drug smuggling operations
Updated 21 June 2024
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Saudi authorities thwart drug smuggling operations

Saudi authorities thwart drug smuggling operations

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s drug control authority seized large quantities of narcotics and arrested several people following a number of operations across the Kingdom, reported Saudi Press Agency.

Border guards in Asir province thwarted an attempt to smuggle 52 kg of hashish into the kingdom, while in Jazan the authorities foiled the trafficking of 243 kg of qat.

Saudi’s security authorities are urging people to report any activities related to drug smuggling or promotion by calling 911 in the Makkah, Riyadh and Eastern Province regions, and 999 in the rest of the Kingdom.

Alternatively, information can be emailed to [email protected]. All reports are treated in confidence.


Saudi Arabia reaffirms humanitarian efforts for needy, displaced and refugees

Saudi Arabia reaffirms humanitarian efforts for needy, displaced and refugees
Updated 21 June 2024
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Saudi Arabia reaffirms humanitarian efforts for needy, displaced and refugees

Saudi Arabia reaffirms humanitarian efforts for needy, displaced and refugees
  • Support ‘includes all countries of the world without discrimination,’ says KSrelief
  • Kingdom has spent $115 billion on aid in 90 countries over past 4 decades

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia reaffirmed its commitment to strengthen its support for refugees and displaced persons around the world on World Refugee Day, reported Saudi Press Agency.

Saudi aid agency KSrelief said its humanitarian support “includes all countries of the world without discrimination.”

Since it was founded in May 2025, the organization has so far carried out 2,984 projects in 99 countries as it continues to expand its work for the needy and people affected by wars and disasters.

Support for refugees and displaced people in Syria, Palestine, Myanmar and Yemen alone was delivered through 424 humanitarian projects with a value of over $1.18 billion. The schemes have included food and agricultural security, protection and health services, shelter, early recovery and education.

Infographic courtesy of Salam.org

KSrelief also supported those displaced in other countries by implementing 304 projects worth more than $2.19 billion,

The Kingdom hosts a large number of people from countries affected by war, with refugees from Yemen, Syria, and Myanmar alone constituting 5.5 percent of its population. With the latest General Authority for Statistics census citing a total population of 32,175 million, that places the number of refugees at over 1.76 million.

The visitors are provided with “the opportunity for free treatment and education,” said the SPA report, and the Kingdom is keen they are integrated into society.

Saudi’s humanitarian aid and relief efforts go back decades. Non-profit organization Salam records total spending over the past four decades as more than $115 billion in over 90 countries.

“Saudi Arabia has been providing aid to different countries, solving humanitarian crises, and relieving people suffering after wars or natural disasters. These aids are granted without any bias or prejudice to religion or ethnicity,” says Salam on its website, salam4cc.org.


How Saudi startup Braincell is optimizing decision-making and automation through AI

How Saudi startup Braincell is optimizing decision-making and automation through AI
Updated 21 June 2024
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How Saudi startup Braincell is optimizing decision-making and automation through AI

How Saudi startup Braincell is optimizing decision-making and automation through AI
  • AI solutions designed to solve specific business problems are having a profound impact on how firms operate
  • Braincell leverages AI to enhance processes, from logistics and healthcare to banking and smart cities

RIYADH: Automated decision-making allows businesses to make faster, more accurate and more consistent decisions by analyzing large datasets without the risk of human error. That is why, as Saudi Arabia expands its digital economy, such tools are becoming more widely used in the Kingdom.

One firm that is leading the charge in this area is the Saudi startup Braincell, which helps businesses streamline processes and enhance decision-making through automation and artificial intelligence integration.

“Braincell has created a data governance platform and data workflow platform that enables AI solutions to be connected at ease, making it a one-stop shop for data needs,” Abdulhameed Khairaldeen, Braincell’s business development director, told Arab News.

AI solutions, which leverage AI techniques and technologies to solve specific business problems, are poised to have a profound impact on how firms operate. Already, large language models like ChatGPT are taking on rudimentary tasks in a range of industries.

“Braincell clients can choose to work on their own LLMs and on-premises models or even connect to the likes of OpenAI’s ChatGPT,” said Khairaldeen.

Braincell is just one of the many new Saudi companies utilizing AI to optimize technologies. (Supplied)

With the Kingdom’s mission to become a global leader among data-driven economies, new AI startups are emerging every day with the goal of contributing to the fast-growing sector. Braincell is just one of the many new Saudi companies utilizing AI to optimize technologies.

Since its establishment, Braincell has focused on empowering businesses through technology, data and interconnected systems with the mission of enhancing efficiency in business flow regardless of the sector.

In particular, Braincell is connecting leaders, executives, organizations and governments to systems that will allow faster and more effective decision-making.

Braincell leverages AI-powered decision-making to enhance operations. (Supplied)

Asked how Braincell helps firms improve their employee productivity, the company’s senior data consultant, Shatha bin Shaalan, said: “We use AI and automation in our platform to automate the repetitive tasks that we do every day, ensuring that our clients get the benefit of maximum efficiency while reducing human errors and manual efforts.”

Braincell is leveraging AI-powered decision-making to enhance operations across sectors including healthcare, data, banking, supply chains, manufacturing, and smart buildings and cities.

In healthcare, Braincell’s technology fosters an environment for improved patient outcomes by working with clients to build metric-driven healthcare systems, creating scalable digital health ecosystems that reduce errors through automation.

DID YOUKNOW?

• In healthcare, Braincell improves patient outcomes through metric-driven systems that reduce errors.

• In banking, it performs real-time monitoring, streamlines processes, detects fraud, and monitors risk.

• In smart buildings, it collects data on energy consumption, air quality, and occupancy to improve efficiency.

Some of its services include comprehensive insights into personalized care and streamlined clinical processes.

In banking, Braincell is utilizing AI to enhance the customer experience by streamlining and organizing processes that in turn will reduce manual errors.

Shutterstock illustration image

Through Braincell’s banking command center, real-time monitoring also detects fraud, monitors risk management and enhances strategic decision-making.

Applied to smart buildings and cities, Braincell offers new ways to improve the experience of residents. One example is the firm’s data integration and sensor deployment that collects data on energy consumption, air quality, occupancy levels and other relevant parameters.

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This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Braincell’s use of automation in smart buildings and cities also improves energy efficiency by using advanced AI algorithms to control smart lighting and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems that adjust settings based on occupancy and environmental conditions.

The company has more than 100 active users, and boasts the ability to process 120 billion records in a matter of seconds using AI.

It aims to help businesses make reliable decisions by connecting data sources and consolidating them in a comprehensive way that is easier for clients to access, resulting in higher quality, accuracy and consistency through the use of AI automation.

“The data platform is highly customizable with a very simple setup,” said Bin Shaalan, the firm’s senior data consultant. “It’s dynamic and fits all needs as it integrates with many systems adopted here in the Kingdom.”

Braincell has signed memorandums of understanding with multiple partners including the Ministry of Health, the Public Investment Fund, the National Unified Procurement Company and supply chain specialist XPL Solutions.

The firm has also created a data governance and data workflow platform to help companies comply with National Data Management Office regulations in the Kingdom.
 

 


No normalization with Israel without Palestinian state, Saudi ambassador to UK says

No normalization with Israel without Palestinian state, Saudi ambassador to UK says
Updated 21 June 2024
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No normalization with Israel without Palestinian state, Saudi ambassador to UK says

No normalization with Israel without Palestinian state, Saudi ambassador to UK says
  • Prince Khalid bin Bandar was speaking at Chatham House’s London Conference
  • Said Kingdom’s position on Arab-Israeli conflict has never changed

LONDON: Saudi Arabia will not normalize ties with Israel at the expense of Palestinian statehood, the Kingdom’s ambassador to the UK said on Thursday.

Speaking at Chatham House’s London Conference, Prince Khalid bin Bandar said that normalization remained important to Saudi Arabia and other nations in the region because it would ensure peace, stability and security.
He admitted that “compromises would have to be made” to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, which he said affected the world in a way other conflicts did not.

“If what is happening (in Gaza) keeps happening, we are going to go down a path that is irreversible,” Prince Khalid said. 



“The further we get away from finding a solution, the more people lose hope, the more we’re at that point, it’s going to spread to a regional conflict. It’s important for everyone to recognisze the danger of what lies ahead. The conflict will not remain regional, it will become international very quickly,” he said.

But Prince Khalid said that normalization would be “irrelevant” until the plight of Palestinians was resolved.

“We believe in the creation of a Palestinian state and a solution to the conflict,” he said. “If it was easy, we’d have done it by now but without that, normalization is irrelevant. There is no point having normalization because we would still have conflict and conflict is the problem, not normalization.

“There is no point in discussing everything else until we find a solution. Once we do that, everything is on the table.”

Prince Khalid said that the Kingdom was “one of the most important countries in the region,” which had “leverage” in opening up the Arab and Muslim world to Israel and for it not to play a role in brokering a solution would be “silly.” 



But he added for that to happen, Israel “needs to play ball as well,” adding that the price for finding a solution was an independent Palestinian state.

The ambassador bemoaned how little global coverage the Saudi position on the crisis received, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recent Hajj address, in which he reiterated calls for an immediate halt to attacks in Gaza.

“It’s important to recognize our position, which has never changed, despite people never listening to us,” Prince Khalid said.

“The crown prince’s positon, Saudi Arabia’s position, his majesty (King Salman)’s position, the government’s position and the will of almost every Saudi I know is we need a Palestinian state.



“The offer was made in the Arab Peace Initiative; on 1967 borders, a Palestinian state, a two-state solution and everyone lives happily ever after. It goes back to 1982, King Fahd presented the same offer, it has not been taken up, I find it mystifying.

“The crown prince stated very clearly, we need a ceasefire, an irreversible solution for the Palestinians and then there’s peace everywhere, it wasn’t even reported.

“It’s annoying and frustrating for us because the world assumes something totally different and that’s not helping the situation,” he said.


Specialist hospital organizes Advanced Therapies Forum

Specialist hospital organizes Advanced Therapies Forum
Updated 20 June 2024
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Specialist hospital organizes Advanced Therapies Forum

Specialist hospital organizes Advanced Therapies Forum
  • Event in Riyadh will bring together 30 representatives from various government organizations and academic institutions alongside advanced therapy manufacturing companies
  • Forum’s agenda seeks to build bridges between academic healthcare institutions, industry stakeholders, funding agencies, investors, regulators, and government agencies

RIYADH: The King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center is set to host the Advanced Therapies Forum which will take place from June 23-24, Saudi Press Agency reported.

The event in Riyadh will bring together 30 representatives from various government organizations and academic institutions alongside advanced therapy manufacturing companies. It will aim to foster a collaborative environment where industrial partners can showcase their research and forge strategic alliances with healthcare institutions.

The forum’s agenda seeks to build bridges between academic healthcare institutions, industry stakeholders, funding agencies, investors, regulators, and government agencies. It also strives to increase the number of clinical research studies in the fields of T-cell therapy and gene therapy.

Industrial partners, including pharmaceutical companies of all sizes, will have the opportunity to explore avenues for launching clinical research initiatives at KFSH&RC.

The forum will feature 15 keynote speeches, over 30 presentations on ongoing projects by industry leaders, five panel discussions, and numerous other sessions. The goal is to cultivate a shared vision for the future of advanced therapies in the Kingdom and to localize manufacturing technology for cellular and gene therapies.

In recent years, KFSH&RC has emerged as a beacon of hope for patients who faced limited treatment options, using genetically modified immune cells to successfully treat more than 120 individuals.

The journey began with a positive outcome for the first child from the region to be treated using T-cells. More recently, the hospital successfully applied advanced gene therapy to eight patients with hereditary hemophilia. The single-dose therapy effectively elevated levels of the missing clotting factor, empowering patients to reclaim their lives.

KFSH&RC has been ranked 20th among the top 250 academic healthcare institutions worldwide, according to SPA, and has held the top spot in the Middle East and Africa region for two consecutive years.

Currently, more than 30 gene and genetically modified cell therapies have been officially approved for clinical use. Experts predict that the global cell and gene therapy market is poised for exponential growth, outpacing the traditional pharmaceutical industry to surpass a staggering $50 billion annually by 2027.

It is estimated that more than 2 million patients will benefit from T-cell therapy within the next decade, with more than a thousand clinical research studies actively underway across the globe.