Egypt and the U.S. unveil new groundwater system

Egypt and the U.S. unveil new groundwater system

Per Wikipedia, the U.S. had minimal dealings with Egypt when it was controlled by the Ottoman Empire (before 1882) and Britain (1882–1945).

President G A Nasser (1956–70) antagonized the U.S. by his pro-Soviet policies and anti-Israeli rhetoric, but the U.S. helped keep him in power by forcing Britain and France to immediately end their invasion in 1956. American policy has been to provide strong support to governments that supported U.S. and Israeli interests in the region, especially presidents Anwar Sadat (1970–81) and Hosni Mubarak (1981–2011).

Fast forward to Tuesday, March 5, 2019, and to this story of Egypt Today.

President Donald Trump and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi In White House (FNN) – photo from Youtube

Egypt, U.S. unveil new groundwater system in Alexandria

CAIRO – 5 March 2019: Egypt and the United States ‘governments unveiled Sunday finalizing the new groundwater lowering system at the Catacombs of Kom El-Shuqafa, Alexandria. 

In a Monday statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, it was stated that in support of Egypt’s vital tourism industry, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Thomas Goldberger joined Minister of Antiquities Khaledal-Anany and Alexandria Governor Abdul Aziz Qansua to celebrate the completion of a groundwater lowering system at the Catacombs of Kom El-Shuqafa on Sunday, March 3. 

“This site has rich cultural significance and has the potential to attract tourists and generate revenue,” Goldberger said, adding that the United States is committed to continuing the partnership with the Government of Egypt to conserve Egypt’s cultural heritage and increase tourism. 

The U.S. Government, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), contributed $5.7 million for a system to lower the groundwater level in partnership with the Ministry of Antiquities and the National Organization for Potable Water and Sanitary Drainage. The system preserves the site from erosion and enables tourists to access the lowest level of the Catacombs. 

Since 1995, the American people, through USAID, have provided $100 million in assistance to conserve monuments and masterpieces spanning over the full range of Egypt’s long cultural heritage – from Pharaonic times to the late Ottoman period. USAID-financed restoration and training programs helped ensure that Egypt can capitalize on the sector’s traditional role as an engine of economic growth and employment. 

Since 1978, the American people have invested $30 billion to further Egypt’s human and economic development. 

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Bahrain’s non-oil economy expanded in 2018

Bahrain’s non-oil economy expanded in 2018

Non-oil growth is on the up in Bahrain, where economic diversification efforts are under way.

The picture above is that of Manama sea front © Shutterstock

Construction, infrastructure fuel Bahrain’s 2.4% non-oil growth

by Oscar Rousseau 06 Feb 2019

Both sectors led the kingdom’s economy to diversified growth in Q3 2018, new government data shows

Bahrain’s non-oil economy expanded by 2.4% during Q3 2018, according to data from Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB).

Construction and infrastructure expansion played a prominent role in driving growth for the smallest economy in the GCC.

Bahrain is in the midst of a modernisation and economic diversification drive, as Gulf nations wean their economies off oil. The latest statistics from government agency EDB indicate efforts to create a diversified economy are showing signs of promise.

New project infrastructure spending increased by 16.3% year-on-year during the quarter, while exports surged 9% during the first nine months of 2018. Bahrain’s construction sector expanded by 6.2% between January and November 2018, with manufacturing up by 3.8%, and real estate and business deals rising by 3.2%.

EDB’s research was published in Bahrain Economic Quarterly, which stated that modest GDP growth was underpinned by construction, infrastructure, and manufacturing in the kingdom.

Megaprojects have played a major role as well in the last 12 months, with one such prominent scheme being Aluminium Bahrain’s (Alba) Line 6 Smelter, which was fired up in December 2018.

Alba has become the world’s largest aluminium smelter as a result of the Line 6 expansion.

Alba’s Line 6 expansion is one of Bahrain’s megaprojects.

Bahrain Petroleum Company’s modernisation drive, which includes expansion of Bahrain Refinery, is another scheme hailed for its positive impact.

These projects are known to create jobs and drive up investment during construction, and are expected to lead to long-term social and economic benefits. Bahrain is also seeing greater investment in technological modernisation and innovation, which is supporting productivity in the kingdom, according to the government agency’s research. 

Chief economist at EDB, Dr Jarmo Kotilaine, said fiscal rebalancing would boost investor confidence and continue to support the growth of Bahrain’s economy in the future.

“With increased economic uncertainty around the world and lower growth trends in the Middle East overall, Bahrain can expect to see resilient growth thanks to its commitment to diversification and sustainability,” he said.

“As the gateway to the Gulf region, it is unsurprising that investment is flowing into sectors such as construction, [information communications tech], and fintech, thanks to Bahrain’s strategically important location, its economic benefits, and ease of doing business.”

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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How climate change caused the world’s first ever empire to collapse

How climate change caused the world’s first ever empire to collapse

How climate change caused the world’s first ever empire to collapse by Vasile Ersek, Northumbria University, Newcastle is another story of scientists saying yet again that in the past, shifts in climate impacted one way or another  life on earth.

The picture above is that of the author while researching data from a cave in Romania to document the effects of climate change on humankind evolution.

File 20190102 32121 1d7jyfa.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
King Naram-Sin of Akkad, grandson of Sargon, leading his army to victory.
Rama / Louvre, CC BY-SA

 

Gol-e-Zard Cave lies in the shadow of Mount Damavand, which at more than 5,000 metres dominates the landscape of northern Iran. In this cave, stalagmites and stalactites are growing slowly over millennia and preserve in them clues about past climate events. Changes in stalagmite chemistry from this cave have now linked the collapse of the Akkadian Empire to climate changes more than 4,000 years ago.

Akkadia was the world’s first empire. It was established in Mesopotamia around 4,300 years ago after its ruler, Sargon of Akkad, united a series of independent city states. Akkadian influence spanned along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers from what is now southern Iraq, through to Syria and Turkey. The north-south extent of the empire meant that it covered regions with different climates, ranging from fertile lands in the north which were highly dependent on rainfall (one of Asia’s “bread baskets”), to the irrigation-fed alluvial plains to the south.

 

 

The Akkad empire during the reign of Narâm-Sîn (2254-2218 BC). Mount Damavand is labelled in blue.
Zunkir / Semhir / wiki, CC BY-SA

It appears that the empire became increasingly dependent on the productivity of the northern lands and used the grains sourced from this region to feed the army and redistribute the food supplies to key supporters. Then, about a century after its formation, the Akkadian Empire suddenly collapsed, followed by mass migration and conflicts. The anguish of the era is perfectly captured in the ancient Curse of Akkad text, which describes a period of turmoil with water and food shortages:

… the large arable tracts yielded no grain, the inundated fields yielded no fish, the irrigated orchards yielded no syrup or wine, the thick clouds did not rain.

Drought and dust

The reason for this collapse is still debated by historians, archaeologists and scientists. One of the most prominent views, championed by Yale archaeologist Harvey Weiss (who built on earlier ideas by Ellsworth Huntington), is that it was caused by an abrupt onset of drought conditions which severely affected the productive northern regions of the empire.

 

 

Sargon of Akkad – or maybe his son, Naram-Sin.
Iraqi Directorate General of Antiquities / wiki

Weiss and his colleagues discovered evidence in northern Syria that this once prosperous region was suddenly abandoned around 4,200 years ago, as indicated by a lack of pottery and other archaeological remains. Instead, the rich soils of earlier periods were replaced by large amounts of wind-blown dust and sand, suggesting the onset of drought conditions. Subsequently, marine cores from the Gulf of Oman and the Red Sea which linked the input of dust into the sea to distant sources in Mesopotamia, provided further evidence of a regional drought at the time.

Many other researchers viewed Weiss’s interpretation with scepticism, however. Some argued, for example, that the archaeological and marine evidence was not accurate enough to demonstrate a robust correlation between drought and societal change in Mesopotamia.

A new detailed climate record

Now, stalagmite data from Iran sheds new light on the controversy. In a study published in the journal PNAS, led by Oxford palaeoclimatologist Stacy Carolin, colleagues and I provide a very well dated and high resolution record of dust activity between 5,200 and 3,700 years ago. And cave dust from Iran can tell us a surprising amount about climate history elsewhere.

Gol-e-Zard Cave might be several hundred miles to the east of the former Akkadian Empire, but it is directly downwind. As a result, around 90% of the region’s dust originates in the deserts of Syria and Iraq.

 

 

Mount Damavand is a ‘potentially active’ volcano, and the highest peak in Iran. Gol-e-Zard Cave is nearby.
Vasile Ersek, Author provided

That desert dust has a higher concentration of magnesium than the local limestone which forms most of Gol-e-Zard’s stalagmites (the ones which grow upwards from the cave floor). Therefore, the amount of magnesium in the Gol-e-Zard stalagmites can be used as an indicator of dustiness at the surface, with higher magnesium concentrations indicating dustier periods, and by extension drier conditions.

The stalagmites have the additional advantage that they can be dated very precisely using uranium-thorium chronology. Combining these methods, our new study provides a detailed history of dustiness in the area, and identifies two major drought periods which started 4,510 and 4,260 years ago, and lasted 110 and 290 years respectively. The latter event occurs precisely at the time of the Akkadian Empire’s collapse and provides a strong argument that climate change was at least in part responsible.

The collapse was followed by mass migration from north to south which was met with resistance by the local populations. A 180km wall – the “Repeller of the Amorites” – was even built between the Tigris and Euphrates in an effort to control immigration, not unlike some strategies proposed today. The stories of abrupt climate change in the Middle East therefore echo over millennia to the present day.The Conversation

Vasile Ersek, Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography, Northumbria University, Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Expatriate workers continue increasing in the Arabian Gulf

Expatriate workers continue increasing in the Arabian Gulf

Migrant or expatriate workers continue adding to the labour force of oil-rich Gulf due to mega-construction projects, UN data shows.  Al Jazeera posted this article dated 20 Dec 2018 elaborating on a situation known to all since the advent of oil.

Gulf Arab blue-collar workforce continues to grow: UN

by James Reinl

Blue-collar migrant workers continue adding to the labour force of the oil-rich Gulf, skewing long-standing efforts by its leaders to increase the percentage of its own citizens in the workforce, data of the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) shows.

Figures released this month in a 78-page study, ILO Global Estimates on National Migrant Workers, showed that the proportion of migrants in the eastern Arab region’s workforce ballooned by 5.2 percent from 2013 to 2017, mostly in the construction sector.

Migrants now make up 40.8 percent of the workforce across a 12-nation region that includes the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) bloc of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman.

This is a much higher proportion than other rich regions that attract some of the world’s estimated 164 million migrant workers. In comparison, migrants make up only 20.6 percent of the labour force in North America, and 17.8 percent in Europe.

In Dubai, Doha and other Gulf boomtowns, foreigners make up as much as 90 percent of workers, according to older figures. The ILO did not have data on separate countries for this month’s report; Ryszard Cholewinski, the ILO’s Beirut-based expert on migrant workers, said that figures provided by Gulf governments are often incomplete.

Blue collar jobs

The increase in labour flows to Gulf states these past five years was driven mainly by mega-construction projects, including pavilions for Expo 2020 Dubai and the FIFA World Cup 2022 stadiums being built across Qatar, said Cholewinski.

Demand has also grown for maids, gardeners, drivers and other domestic staff, he added. In particular, more foreign carers are being hired to look after a growing number of elderly folks in their homes, as the Gulf population ages.

“The demand for male workers in the Arab states explains the sharp increase in the share of migrant workers in this region. Many of these workers are manual labourers, located mostly in the construction sector,” Natalia Popova, an ILO labour economist, told Al Jazeera.

“Possible other reasons for the increase in the high share of migrant workers may include the increasing demand for domestic workers, both male and female, as well as for migrant workers in the hospitality sector.”

Nationalisation efforts

While data on nationalisation efforts is skewed due to the sheer amount of blue-collar migrants, Gulf leaders have long sought to boost the numbers of their working citizens, mainly in the white-collar workforce.

However, state-led hiring drives, with such names as Qatarisation, Emiratisation and Saudisation, have had only limited success, particularly in the private sector, according to the ILO.

“Many of these nationalisation policies are not really having any impact. It’s one of the region’s big challenges,” Cholewinski told Al Jazeera.

“There’s a lot of rhetoric on nationalisation in for example Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 agenda. But in practice, this is going extremely slowly.”

Al Jazeera contacted the UN missions of all six Gulf states by email and telephone over the course of several days, but was not able to get a comment on this issue.

While each Gulf nation faces different challenges when it comes to nationalisation, many Gulf citizens loathe taking jobs in private companies, which cannot compete with the pension plans, generous holidays and shorter working hours in the cushy jobs-for-life enjoyed by civil servants.

This can lead to odd distortions. A visitor to Dubai, the UAE’s tourism hub, can spend their whole week-long vacation being served by migrant workers in shops, taxis and eateries, and the only Emirati they meet is a passport-stamping immigration clerk at the airport.

Last month, the UAE launched it’s so-called Citizen Redistribution Policy to temporarily shift civil servants into private sector jobs. It also rolled out training schemes for Emiratis and online recruitment tools.

In recent months, Riyadh has introduced rules requiring shops to have Saudis in at least 70 percent of sales jobs. Expat workers pay monthly fees for their spouses and children, employers pay similar penalties for foreign employees.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitious Vision 2030 agenda aims to overhaul the Saudi economy by massively expanding the healthcare, education, recreation and tourism sectors and slash the high unemployment rates for young Saudis.

John Shenton, chairman of the Chartered Institute of Building’s Novus initiative, which supports construction jobs in Dubai, told Al Jazeera that Gulf nationalisation schemes were bearing fruit.

In some state-regulated sectors, such as banking, legal and financial services, the number of local staff has grown, Shenton said. “If the goal is to get more Emiratis in the workforce then it’s having some effect,” said Shenton. “However there are other factors that will mean that those efforts may not be reflected in the data.”

These gains are dwarfed by the mass-recruitment of foreign construction workers to build the skyscrapers, malls and artificial islands for which the region is famous, he added.

“At a site level, the chaps in safety boots and hard hats will always be from the subcontinent or South Asia,” Shenton said.

“At the engineering and supervisory level, the skill set required can’t be satisfied by the number of local graduates. The volume of work being undertaken and the discreet programme dates associated with projects like Qatar 2022 necessitate our hosts resourcing from overseas.”

Melissa Roza, a headhunter at a Dubai-based recruitment firm, said nationalisation schemes had made gains in some white-collar jobs, but that state-set hiring quotas and penalty fees were also hurting these sectors.

Banks in the UAE often prefer to pay fines for hiring foreigners than to cover the recruitment costs involved in hiring an Emirati, training them up and meeting their high salary expectations, she said.

Executives have also found workarounds by hiring migrants via outsourcing firms, which do not affect the quota count, added Roza, whose name was changed so she could talk frankly on a hot-button issue. 

Follow James Reinl on Twitter: @jamesreinl

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Remarkable discovery about the Great Pyramid

Remarkable discovery about the Great Pyramid

What began as an expedition to record the inscriptions of ancient Egyptian quarry workers produced a remarkable discovery about the Great Pyramid at Giza. My colleagues and I in the Anglo-French joint archaeological mission to the ancient quarry site of Hatnub recently revealed the existence of a well-preserved haulage ramp dating to the time of the Great Pyramid, roughly 4,500 years ago.

The story is told by Roland Enmarch, University of Liverpool.

Great Pyramid: how my research on ancient Egyptian poetry led to an amazing discovery

File 20181107 74757 1nzaxpf.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Shutterstock

 

We think this could significantly change the theories about how the workers who built the monument were able to transport such large blocks of stone to great heights. It could even provide evidence that pulleys were invented hundreds of years earlier than previously documented.

The rock-cut ramp is flanked by two flights of rock-cut stairs, into which are cut post holes that would originally have held wooden posts, now long perished. The pattern of post holes is well enough preserved that we can begin to reconstruct a pulley system that would have been used to lift large blocks of alabaster out of the open-cast quarry.

The ancient ramp.
Roland Enmarch, Author provided

While some quarrymen would have been stationed above the blocks, hauling them upwards directly, others would have stood below the blocks, pulling downwards. Their ropes would have been lashed round the post holes and attached to the alabaster blocks, so that both groups were exerting force to pull the blocks up out of the quarry.

This stone haulage system makes efficient use of the limited available space on the ramp, and it is reasonable to speculate that this same pulley technology would also have been used in the construction of the Great Pyramid. While pulley systems are well known from Greek civilisation in the first millennium BC, the evidence from Hatnub pushes their use much further back in time, as it pre-dates the Greek evidence by some 2,000 years.

Steep incline.
Roland Enmarch, Author provided

The Hatnub haulage ramp is also much steeper than most previous reconstructions of Egyptian haulage ramps. This is significant because one of the long-standing objections to the theory that the Great Pyramid was build using a single large ramp was the enormous volume of such a ramp (which would have had a greater volume than the Great Pyramid itself). With a much steeper gradient, the length and volume of such a haulage ramp would be much smaller, suggesting that this old theory needs to be re-evaluated more seriously.

Many other theories have previously been proposed for how the Great Pyramid was constructed. For example, a ramp might have coiled around the sides of the pyramid. There are also many suggestions involving levers and similar mechanisms. (And, of course, there are always those lacking in imagination who cannot accept a human explanation, and instead groundlessly evoke aliens or Atlanteans). The merit of our recent discoveries is that they give us solid archaeological evidence we can use to test previous theories.

Ancient graffiti

These discoveries have emerged from the work of the University of Liverpool’s joint expedition with the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology in Cairo to Hatnub, which is some 20km from the Nile in the eastern desert of Middle Egypt. This quarry was the most prestigious ancient source of Egyptian alabaster, the milky white banded translucent stone that was used by the Egyptians to make vessels, statues, and architectural items.

Our original aim was purely to record the surviving inscriptions left by quarrymen 4,500 to 4,000 years ago. I began my career studying Egyptian poetry, but it turns out quarrymen could on occasion get quite poetic when writing their graffiti in the quarry. And so I now study these texts, written in a cursive version of the Egyptian script known as hieratic.

We have so far identified more than 100 previously unrecorded texts, offering a wealth of information about the organisation and logistics of the expeditions that came to the quarry to extract alabaster. They mention royal patronage, the hundreds (and, on occasion, thousands) of expedition personnel, the numbers of blocks mined, and the time taken to ferry them to their ultimate destinations.

Stone inscriptions.
Roland Enmarch, Author provided

Some of the inscriptions take a more long-term point of view, and seek to convince future visitors to the quarry that their predecessors were good people, and deserve to be treated with respect (and offerings) after their death. In the 21st century, we are accustomed to talk of “posting” to “walls”. But at Hatnub we have an actual Bronze Age wall whose texts speak across the years, and create a solidarity among those who came to work in the quarry, generation after generation.

More recently we have expanded our work (and our team) to record the wider archaeological features of the extremely well-preserved Bronze Age industrial landscape around the quarry. We are collecting and analysing the stone tools that litter the site, offering insights into the process of extracting blocks from the bedrock. Through experimental archaeology we are learning just how rapidly alabaster needed to be worked before it dried and hardened after extraction.

We are also studying the ancient road connecting the quarry to the Nile Valley, which is flanked by hundreds of simple dry-stone shelters used by workmen for accommodation and stoneworking. We have simple dry-stone religious cairns and other structures of possible ritual function. The recent clearance of debris from the haulage ramp leading out of the quarry has been part of our study of this wider context.

Our ultimate goal is to study all aspects of stone extraction and transport at Hatnub, integrating the rich textual and archaeological evidence to provide a more holistic understanding of quarrying in ancient Egypt. Few sites offer the range and diversity of evidence that survives at Hatnub. We have many years of work ahead of us; the potential for further exciting discoveries is huge.The Conversation

Roland Enmarch, Senior Lecturer in Egyptology, University of Liverpool

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.