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Oman is the most improved nation in MENA

Oman is the most improved nation in MENA

Oman is the most improved nation in MENA, moving up eight places to 58th, in the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI) 2019 prepared by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Oman most improved nation in MENA in WEF’s Travel and Tourism Survey is an article of the Muscat Daily of September 7, 2019.

Oman is the most improved nation in MENA

Conducted biennially, the survey found that Oman is MENA’s safest country and overall third in the world. Oman ranks third in safety and security due to lower homicides rates (19th in the world), a reliable police force (5th), and low costs of terrorism (7th) and crime (3rd).

Oman also recorded the region’s fastest improvement for its human resources and labour markets (103rd to 65th) and is among the most improved in international openness (116th to 97th), environmental sustainability (109th to 57th) and overall infrastructure (60th to 52nd).

The top 10 countries this year are Spain, France, Germany, Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Italy, Canada and Switzerland. India (40th to 34th) had the greatest improvement over 2017 among the top 25 per cent of all countries ranked in the report.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region significantly improved its T&T competitiveness since the last edition of the TTCI. ‘With 12 of the 15 MENA economies covered by this year’s index increasing their score compared to 2017, the region was able to slightly outpace the global average in competitiveness growth. This is particularly important given that, in the aggregate, T&T accounts for a greater share of regional GDP than in any of the other four regions,’ stated the report.

Consequently, it is no surprise that the Middle East scores above the global and regional averages on indicators related to enabling environment and infrastructure, with particularly high ranks on ICT readiness and business environment. Nevertheless, the subregion does trail the world and North Africa on T&T prioritisation and policy and natural and cultural resources.

This year, eight out of the Middle East’s 11 members improved their TTCI score since 2017. In contrast, the UAE had the Middle East’s largest decline, falling from 29th to 33rd, including the biggest percentage decline in score on the Safety and Security pillar (falling from 2nd to 7th) and Ground and Port Infrastructure (19th to 31st) and the subregion’s only decline on Environmental Sustainability (40th to 41st).

Nevertheless, the country remains in the lead in the Middle East and is MENA’s top TTCI scorer, leading on ICT readiness (4th), air transport (4th) and tourist service infrastructure (22nd).

Each country receives a score in categories from business environment, safety and security, health and hygiene, human resources and labour market and ICT readiness.

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Desert Locust outbreak in northeast Africa and Saudi Arabia

Desert Locust outbreak in northeast Africa and Saudi Arabia

Locusts have formed plagues since prehistory. The ancient Egyptians carved them on their tombs and the insects are mentioned in the Iliad, the Bible and the Quran. Swarms have devastated crops and been a contributory cause of famines and human migrations. More recently, changes in agricultural practices and better surveillance of locations where swarms tend to originate, have meant that control measures can be used at an early stage. The traditional means of control are based on the use of insecticides from the ground or the air, but other methods using biological control are proving effective.

Swarming behaviour decreased in the 20th century, but despite modern surveillance and control methods, the potential for swarms to form is still present, and when suitable climatic conditions occur and vigilance lapses, plagues can still occur.

FAO sounds alarm on Desert Locust outbreak in northeast Africa and Saudi Arabia triggered by heavy rains

Increased vigilance, strict monitoring and early control needed to prevent further swarms forming and spread along both sides of the Red Sea

The desert locust is the world’s most dangerous migratory pest capable of flying up to 150 km a day with the wind.

15 February 2019, Rome – Heavy rains and cyclones have triggered a recent surge in Desert Locust populations, causing an outbreak to develop in Sudan and Eritrea that is rapidly spreading along both sides of the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, FAO warned today.

The UN agency called on all the affected countries to step up vigilance and control measures to contain the destructive infestations and protect crops from the world’s most dangerous migratory pest.  

Moving fast

Good rains along the Red Sea coastal plains in Eritrea and Sudan have allowed two generations of breeding since October, leading to a substantial increase in locust populations and the formation of highly mobile swarms. At least one swarm crossed the Red Sea to the northern coast of Saudi Arabia in mid-January, followed by additional migrations about one week later. Groups of mature winged adults and a few swarms also moved north along the coast to southeast Egypt at the end of the month.

In the interior of Saudi Arabia, two generations of breeding also occurred in the southeastern Empty Quarter region near the Yemen-Oman border after unusually good rains from cyclones Mekunu and Luban in May and October 2018 respectively. A few of these swarms have already reached the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and southern Iran with a potential risk of spreading further towards the India-Pakistan border.

Stepping up efforts

Aerial spraying operations were mounted in Sudan and Saudi Arabia supplemented by ground control measures in both countries, as well as in Eritrea and Egypt, treating more than 80,000 ha since December.

“The next three months will be critical to bring the locust situation under control before the summer breeding starts,” said Keith Cressman, FAO’s Senior Locust Forecasting Officer. “The further spread of the current outbreak depends on two major factors – effective control and monitoring measures in locust breeding areas of Sudan, Eritrea and Saudi Arabia and the surrounding countries, and rainfall intensity between March and May along both sides of the Red Sea and in the interior of the Arabian Peninsula.”

FAO is convening a meeting next week in Jordan (17- 21 February) with affected countries to review the current situation with the aim of intensifying survey and control operations. 

February forecast

Breeding will continue in February on the Red Sea coast in Sudan and Eritrea, causing a further increase in hopper and adult groups, hopper bands and adult swarms. As vegetation dries out, adult groups and a few swarms are likely to move north along the Red Sea coast in Eritrea to Sudan, and from the Red Sea coast of Sudan to the Nile Valley in northern Sudan. There is a moderate risk that some swarms will continue crossing the Red Sea to the coastal and interior areas of Saudi Arabia.

Major threat to crop production

Desert Locusts are short-horned grasshoppers that can form large swarms and pose a major threat to agricultural production, livelihoods, food security and the environment and economic development.

Adult locust swarms can fly up to 150 km a day with the wind. Female locusts can lay 300 eggs within their lifetime while an adult insect can consume roughly its own weight in fresh food per day – about two grams every day. A very small swarm eats the same amount of food in one day as about 35,000 people and the devastating impact locusts can have on crops poses a major threat to food security, especially in already vulnerable areas.

FAO’s work on preventing locust plagues

The Desert Locust Information Service (DLIS) at FAO Headquarters in Rome has been operating a global monitoring and early warning system since the 1970s as part of the preventive control strategy. More than two dozen frontline countries in Africa, the Near East and southwest Asia contribute to this system by undertaking regular surveys in the desert to look for green vegetation and Desert Locust.

The field teams use an innovative tool developed by FAO called eLocust3, which is a handheld tablet for recording observations and sending data in real time via satellite to the national locust centres and to DLIS. This information is regularly analysed together with weather and habitat data and satellite imagery in order to assess the current locust situation, provide forecasts up to six weeks in advance, and issue warnings and alerts when necessary.

More information about the current situation and eLocust3 are available on Locust Watch.

Art has the power to change the world

Art has the power to change the world

Art has the power to change the world, says this renowned Iranian muralist


Mehdi Ghadyanloo’s mural on display at this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
Image: Mehdi Ghadyanloo

22 Jan 2019

This article is part of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

Mehdi was born and raised in Iran. Coming from a farming family, he was by all expectations supposed to be a shepherd. However, going to University in Tehran to study fine art and film changed this path. Today he is a world-renowned muralist and the artist chosen to present his large-scale artwork at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2019 in Davos.

Here we discuss his work for the Congress Centre, the role of the artist in society and how art can be a catalyst for change in today’s fast-moving world.

Do you think artists have a duty to society?

Most definitely. I feel our duty is double that of an average citizen because we have the ability to grab people’s attention and point it towards specific objectives. We have the skill to magnify problems, incite feelings (both negative and positive) and really make a point. This puts us in a privileged position, but it also comes with responsibility. Propaganda is messaging created by artists, after all.

What is art for?

The role of art has changed. Artists no longer just make art in the pursuit of beauty or to assist those in positions of power, such as monarchs or the Church. Today art is very much mixed with activism. For me, art is a reaction to what goes on around us and is there to reflect what is happening in the world. For example, we have seen many artists recently focus on the migration crisis, bringing specific attention to this issue. Already during the Vietnam war, the work of photographers was instrumental in raising awareness and galvanising the movements needed to bring the war to an end.

An artwork the size of yours has never been presented at Davos. It will be seen by many important influencers and politicians. How has this influenced the work you will show?

I have never produced work for this kind of audience. Usually my work is shown in public places, intended to be viewed by everyday individuals. Thinking about the audience made me feel a heavy burden of responsibility. I felt challenged to produce work with a lasting effect. Work of this type and scale is hard to miss. It leaves an impression on people – whether they like it or not. I knew narrative art would not work in this context, so I rather focused on creating a thought-provoking atmosphere that will hopefully affect the context in which discussions take place in Davos.

Some of the people that may see your work at Davos may look at your home country primarily through a geopolitical lens. How does that make you feel?

Generally, I am an artist that strives to go beyond my own geography and this work is no exception. I have thus far managed to reach out to different people with different nationalities in part by distancing myself from country-specific icons and visuals. I try very hard to use visuals that are globally recognisable. For example, balloons are used in celebrations throughout the world. I very deliberately attempted to connect with my audience through a universal language rooted in “feeling”, and that is something common to us all.

What do you hope to achieve with your art at Davos?

I feel that currently the health of planet earth and climate change are at the forefront of all our minds. For example, water scarcity is a real issue here in Iran. While some still say that this has not been caused by humans, I feel we are all responsible for the fate of our planet. Be it those in positions of power or simple individuals, we are all interconnected. For me, the future of our children is a central concern, and I hope it will be also for those who see my work at the Davos meeting.

Recently you became a father for the second time. How does fatherhood affect your work?

I feel a great responsibility towards my children and towards all the other little ones on this planet. Parenthood makes one a more responsible, interconnected person with a sharper sense of urgency for the duty we have to ensure our collective future. My first-born is a girl and having her showed me the real gender divide that exists in our world today. I learned to appreciate the importance of feminist movements and the regrettable endurance of “glass ceilings”. That is why I have chosen a female figure to be the centre of my work for the Congress Centre. The closed doors in my work are not accidental. I feel there is really still a long way to go. Nonetheless, the piece has an atmosphere and message of hope.

Can art change the world?

As I already mentioned, artists possess a powerful tool. We have a unique and special vantage point – that of an outsider. Documentary makers, painters, photographers and performers can all present an “outsider” point of view. This change of perspectives is a catalyst for change and that’s what I try to achieve with my murals.

Mehdi Ghadyanloo was interviewed by Mahsa Shamsaei, founder of youngpersianartists.com, an online community dedicated to young contemporary artists from Iran. Further background on Mehdi’s work: Facelifting Tehran, One Wall at a Time

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Read more of this article written by Mahsa Shamsaei, Founder, Young Persian Artists on WEF n

A seemingly endless resource like Sand

A seemingly endless resource like Sand

The search for sustainable sand extraction is beginning

While most of us are not aware of it, sand is – after air and water – the third most used resource on the planet. Every house, dam, road, wine glass and cell phone contains it. Even a seemingly endless resource like sand cannot keep up with current demand.

“Sand is not infinite,” says Kiran Pereira, founder and chief storyteller at SandStories.org and one of the experts participating in the very first round-table focusing on sand, organized by UN Environment, GRID (Global Resources Information Database )-Geneva and the University of Geneva in mid-October.

Various stakeholders from the industrial, environmental and academic sector came together in Geneva on 11 October 2018 to discuss the emerging issue of sand extraction and solutions to address potential environmental impact. “It is extraordinary that so little attention has been given to this problem,” says Bart Geenen, head of the freshwater programme at the World Wildlife Fund – Netherlands.

Fifty billion tons of sand and gravel are used around the world every year. This is the equivalent to a 35-metre-high by 35-metre-wide wall around the equator. Most sand goes into the production of cement for concrete (which is made of cement, water, sand and gravel). Cement, a key input into concrete, the most widely used construction material in the world, is a major source of greenhouse gases, and accounts for about eight per cent of carbon dioxide emissions, according to a recent Chatham House report.

Sand is, essentially tiny grains of rock, is also used to replenish retreating beaches and extending territories through, for example, constructing artificial islands (think Palm Islands and The World, in Dubai) or infilling on the coast (Singapore). It is taken from rivers, beaches and the ocean floor. Desert sand, due to its smoothness, cannot be used for concrete.

If not managed correctly, sand extraction from places with fragile ecosystems can have a huge environmental impact. Extraction on a beach may, for example, not only lead to the destruction of local biodiversity but can also reduce the scope for tourism.

Furthermore, huge demand for sand may lead to illegal sand extraction, which is becoming an issue in many places. “Sand mafias” in India, for example, threaten local communities and their livelihoods as well as the environment.

“Sand is used by everybody. We are not here to halt the sector, but work together with all stakeholders on sustainable solutions,” notes Pascal Peduzzi, director of GRID-Geneva at UN Environment, who first raised the sand issue in a 2014 report titled Sand, rarer than one thinks.

Innovative solutions being tested

However, innovative solutions are being tested to replace sand in the construction of roads and buildings. Recycled plastic, earth, bamboo, wood, straw and other materials can be used as alternative building materials. The key seems to be to blend other materials with the all-encompassing concrete to give the mixture the necessary stability for a building.

Several countries have already been experimenting with plastic composite roads. The first ever cycle path made completely out of recycled plastic was opened in Zwolle, Netherlands, in September 2018.

Recycled plastic has the potential to become a serious alternative to sand in road-building. Plastic roads are estimated to be three times more durable than traditional asphalt roads. However, they are still in their testing phase as their longevity as well as their environmental impact need to be studied further: small particles of the plastic could eventually find their way into the soil and water through heat, wear and tear, and run-off.

While there is no magic bullet, the Geneva meeting agreed that it is important to raise awareness of the fact that sand is not a limitless resource and that there are possible negative effects of sand extraction. Good practices must be shared and the communication gap between policymakers and consumers overcome.

UNEP-GRID (United Nations Environment Programme-Global Resources Information Database) is working with the University of Geneva to raise awareness. “We are working on finding innovative solutions for sustainable resource consumption and connecting them to impactful awareness-raising at multiple levels,” says Anna Cinelli from the University of Geneva. Her fellow student Rebecca Jimenez adds: “At the end of the day it’s about finding sustainable solutions that are workable and are accepted by society at large.”


Brainstorming session at the University of Geneva: Working with the leaders of tomorrow on searching for innovative solutions. Photo by Davide Fornacca.

The Geneva meeting concluded that the way forward is to collect more data, and to work on implementing policies and standards to protect delicate ecosystems from illegal and environmentally harmful sand extraction. The search for sustainable solutions should start now, the meeting concluded.

For further information, please contact Janyl Moldalieva: zhanyl.moldalieva[at]un.org

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Climate strongly influences global wildfire activity

Climate strongly influences global wildfire activity

People of the Mediterranean countries know only too well that every summer coincides with mighty forests fires that sometime take days to put out. These peoples have always lived within the Mediterranean Woodland and Forest ecoregion stretches from the coastal plains to the hills of northern Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, and eventually surrounds of the Atlas Mountains. The variety of substrates and climates leads to a diverse mix of vegetation including holm oak forests, cork oak forests, wild olive and carob woodlands, as well as extensive Berber ‘thuya’ forest. This old, endemic North African conifer species is representative of the great diversity and endemism of both flora and fauna in this ecoregion. This article of Fabrizio Manco, Anglia Ruskin University is about the same phenomenon occurring in the United Kingdom where it is customarily unheard of for Millenia. What is it then? Would it be as put by nature communications, Climate strongly influences global wildfire activity, and recent wildfire surges may signal fire weather-induced pyro geographic shifts. 

How climate change is increasing the risk of wildfires

Fabrizio Manco, Anglia Ruskin University

The army has been called in to help firefighters deal with a huge wildfire on Saddleworth Moor, Greater Manchester, where residents have been forced to evacuate. Wildfires are also blazing across Northern California while the issue of bushfires in Australia calls for constant vigilance from the emergency services there. These fires are becoming more common and one of the reasons for this is climate change.

Warmer temperatures in the summer and associated drier conditions desiccate plant materials and create more vegetation litter, providing more fuel for these fires. Several studies have linked the increase of wildfires with climate change in various parts of the world, such as North America and Southern Europe.

For example, a study in California from 2004 found that the warmer and windier weather (brought about by an atmosphere with higher levels of CO2) produced fires that burned more intensely and spread faster in most locations. Despite enhanced firefighting efforts, the number of escaped fires (those exceeding initial containment limits) increased by 51% in the south San Francisco Bay area, 125% in the Sierra Nevada.

This image, captured by NASA’s Terra satellite, demonstrates the scale of the Saddleworth fire.
University of Dundee

It has also been demonstrated that increases in rainfall during winter and spring – which are also known consequences of climate change – provide more favourable conditions for plant growth and therefore more potential fuel for the fires later in the summer.

Even though climate change increases the vulnerability of dry environments to wildfires, a source of ignition is still required. In the UK, it can be natural (such as bolts of lightning) or caused by man either deliberately or accidentally. Various studies have shown that the number of recreational visits to “risky” sites, such as the English Peak District, increase the occurrence of wildfire.

Human activities have shaped heathlands and moorlands in the UK over the centuries, keeping them open and slowing down the natural succession towards more closed forest habitats. Despite the human impact on their origin, moorlands represent important ecosystems for numerous endangered species including reptiles, insects and birds.

Moorland management

But historic poor management has caused a lot of damage in moorland habitats. The introduction of non-native species for the moor, such as Rhododendron or planted conifers, has affected biodiversity. Overgrazing and drainage has increased the risks of erosion and flooding by reducing vegetation cover and limiting the ability for the soil to absorb precipitations. This, in turn, as lead to an increase in aridity of the habitat – which is the perfect environment for wildfires.

Nowadays, most of the UK’s moorlands are associated with red grouse shooting and are managed in relation to that activity. Procedures include rotational burning and control of predators. Some of these processes are controversial with some environmentalists claiming it can turn the moorland into a “monoculture” of low heather which can be highly susceptible to wildfires. But the evidence on this is not clear and a report by the RSPB found little proof of the negative effect of grouse moor management on biodiversity, flooding and wildfires.

The ecological role of fire

Landscapes and their plant and animal communities are not fixed in time. They are under the influence of dynamic processes that can be recurrent (such as marine tides and seasonal flooding) or catastrophic (volcanic eruptions or storms). Fire – whether natural or man-made – is an important factor that will drive the structure and wildlife composition of ecosystems.

Some areas, such as the Mediterranean region or the African savannah, have been shaped by fire for thousands of years. Plants and animals have evolved to cope with the periodic perturbations due to it. For example, some seeds can only germinate after they have been burnt.

There are even some plants and animals that are contributing in the propagation of wildfires. In Australia, some raptor birds have been observed picking up burning sticks and dropping them in unburned areas to force potential prey out of their burrows.

Despite its destructive power, fire is an important ecological process that can benefit several endangered species by maintaining their habitat. It is an important tool in the management and preservation of heathlands and moorlands in the UK when used appropriately and in a controlled way.

The ConversationBut climate change and human activities increase the vulnerability of those habitats to uncontrolled wildfires and higher population densities near these areas will potentially put more people and houses at risk. In addition to the global battle against climate change, appropriate management procedures are necessary to maintain those habitats and ensure the risks of uncontrolled fires are minimised and the potential spread of them reduced.

Fabrizio Manco, Senior Lecturer in GIS and Ecology, Anglia Ruskin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

 

Small Variations in Earth’s Orbit . . .

Small Variations in Earth’s Orbit . . .

As rightly elaborated on by NASA, “The Earth’s climate has changed throughout history. Just in the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era — and of human civilization.  Most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives.”  Or, is it only Small Variations in Earth’s Orbit, could it be something else like say, the Brexit referendum outcome ? 

The Guardian of 28 June 2016 published an article on the consequences of the EU out vote that put UK commitment to the Paris climate agreement in doubt.  Excerpts of the article are proposed herewith.  We are tempted to ask this question that derives from the proposed article below.

Would we let politics and / or economics play fool with our common future that is best represented by our common goal of mastering our impact on the earth climate change.

Brexit is not a vote against climate change says UN’s climate chief

Britain’s decision to leave the European Union was not a vote against climate change, nor was it a vote against the innovation key to fighting climate change, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres told an audience of business and policymakers at the annual Business & Climate summit in London today.

Leave victory risks delaying EU ratification of the Paris deal, leaving the door open for Obama’s successor to unpick the pact

In her last speech as the head of UN’s climate change body the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Figueres said, “It’s absolutely clear that should article 50 be triggered, the UK would have to reconfigure trading relations with the EU … there’s going to be quite a bit of volatility and uncertainty for at least about two years.” But, she added, “there’s no reason to upset the apple cart on this,” she urged the UK to “stay calm and transform on.”

The second annual Business & Climate Change summit, convened by The Climate Group, focuses on businesses’ role in implementing the targets set out in the Paris climate agreement, the first legally binding commitment to curb carbon emissions to keep global temperature rises below 2C.

. . .

During an earlier press conference, Figueres, who steps down from the IPCCC in July, did not deny rumours that she is gearing up for a bid to become the next UN secretary general to replace Ban Ki-moon. She maintained she was keeping her “full focus” on her current role until her term ends.

Read more on The Guardian of June 28th, 2016