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National Rail Network to ‘transform the economy’

National Rail Network to ‘transform the economy’

WTX News‘ post on the UAE first national rail network to ‘transform the economy’ and to have a key role in reducing carbon footprint is a good lesson to inspire all countries of the MENA region.

November 23, 2020

UAE FIRST NATIONAL RAIL NETWORK TO ‘TRANSFORM THE ECONOMY’ AND KEY ROLE IN REDUCING CARBON FOOTPRINT

Engineers in the Hajar Mountains between Dubai and Fujairah are making way for 16 Kilometers of tunnel, which will one day see trains shooting through it on a journey that stretches from coast to coast, and even possibly further afield. 

The UAE is known for its love of cars as well as its strategic ports and airports, but now is betting big on its first national rail network. The 1,2000-kilometre artery will connect the Gulf of Oman to the Persian Gulf, down through the emirates, into Abu Dhabi’s interior and to Ghuweifat on the border of Saudi Arabia, a key step in a long-mooted rail network crossing the Arabia peninsula. 

“The top line implication … is that it has the potential to transform the UAE economy — and not just the UAE, but potentially the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council],” says Richard Thompson, editorial director of the Middle East Economic Digest.

GOING GREEN WITH SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORT

But the move also signals the country’s green ambitions. The UAE has one of the world’s largest footprints per capita, according to the World Bank, and sustainable transport is one way the government plans to reduce it. 

The diesel rail line could save 2.2 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year through its freight capacity alone, says the developer. That’s equivalent to taking 375,000 vehicles off the road and even has the potential to electrify in the future, which would massively benefit the environment by cutting emissions further by using renewable energy. 

“I think rail has a huge role to play in helping the UAE reduce its carbon footprint,” says Thompson. “Rail can provide a much more efficient mode of transport for goods and people movement around cities; it can help your cities function better.”

Led by Etihad Rail and funded by the UAE Ministry of Finance and the Abu Dhabi Department of Finance, it has been designed first for freight, and passenger capacity to follow. There is no completion date announced just yet, through “the network is growing as planned” with all contracts awarded, Etihad Rail told CNN.

National Rail Network to ‘transform the economy’
For every two Dubai residents, there is one car

The network will include links to Jebel Ali Port, Khalifa Port and the Port of Fujairah and industrial hubs in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah. The route across the UAE, according to Thompson, when connected to an in-progress Saudi network could create a direct link from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea across the peninsula, bypassing the Straits of Hormuz to the north and the Horn of Africa to the south, with big repercussions for the movement of international cargo. 

“You have a more efficient mode of transport, linking ports with each other and removing congestion on the roads and contributing to decarbonization,” he explains.

The executive director of commercial at Etihad Rail, Ahmed Al Musawa, expects 60 million metric tons of freight will move from road and sea to the rail network annually. 

Beyond consolidating the UAE’s position as an international transport hub, there will be benefits at a national level too, Al Musawa says. Stage one of the network in Abu Dhabi has transported 33 million metric tons of sulfur since 2016 and has turned the UAE into the world’s largest exporter of the element, he says. Sulfur is used in the manufacturer of everything from fertiliser to paper. 

Stage two, which stretches 367 miles began constructions earlier this year, could have even wider benefits. 

Kevin Smith, the editor in chief of the International Railway Journal, identifies the railway as a “key strategy … to diversify (the UAE’s) economy slightly away from oil and gas.”

“I think the steel industry, oil and gas industry, then the mining and quarrying industry, should be the main beneficiaries,” says Thompson. “(The network) has the potential to integrate the northern emirate economies much closer into the national economy and accelerate growth and investment in those places.”

OFF THE ROADS TO THE RAILS? 

It’s still unknown how the rail line will change the daily lives of the population. Passenger trains running at 124 miles per hour are touted by Etihad Rail – but no date has been announced. If the network follows through, it could change commuting forever. 

“When you have direct, fast access, naturally that does change the way we perceive (distance), or we select where we live or work or study,” Al Musawa says. “The access to materials, services and markets can evolve around such a network.”

But will it convince Emiratis to swap their cars for trains? Thompson says there are some obstacles, including the “last mile problem” — getting people from their homes to train stations.

Walking in the summer sun isn’t an attractive option, but Al Musawa says ride-sharing and “other micro-mobility solutions” may be the answer, adding Etihad Rail is learning from other countries’ experiences.

“I think there’ll be great demand,” Smith argues. “Their whole cities are built around the car, but I think the popularity of the metro (in Dubai) has shown that people will use it if it’s there.”

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8,000 buildings damaged by Beirut port blast

8,000 buildings damaged by Beirut port blast

The damaged buildings include 50 ancient buildings reports Hassan Darwish of Anadolu as 8,000 buildings damaged by Beirut port blast last week are increasingly showing that it is merely the result of a degree of negligence never attained anywhere else in the world.

8,000 buildings damaged by Beirut port blast

11 August 2020

By Hassan Darwish | Anadolu

BEIRUT: At least 8,000 buildings, including 50 ancient structures, were damaged by last week’s massive explosion at the Beirut port, according to the High Relief Commission in Lebanon (HRC) on Tuesday.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, HRC Secretary-General Mohammed Khair said the calculation of all damage from the blast will be concluded on Wednesday.

According to Anadolu Agency reporter, the scale of damage differs from one area to another.

The HRC is affiliated with the Cabinet and its functions include aid distribution and disaster management.

The government has blamed a neglected stockpile of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse for the explosion, which killed at least 160 people, injured thousands and left a vast trail of destruction across the capital.

Last Tuesday’s port blast, which rocked Beirut to its core, came at a time when Lebanon was already dealing with a severe financial crisis, and the coronavirus pandemic.

Protesters have taken to the streets with violent anti-government demonstrations for the past two days, storming official buildings and clashing with police.

*Bassel Barakat contributed to this report from Ankara

8,000 buildings damaged by Beirut port blast
Locals look at a destroyed house where the wife and two of the daughters of Syrian refugee Ahmed Staifi were killed following a massive explosion, in Beirut, Lebanon, August 11, 2020. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
30MW Sidi Mansour wind farm in Tunisia

30MW Sidi Mansour wind farm in Tunisia

Climate Fund Managers (CFM) and UPC Renewables (UPC) will develop a 30MW Sidi Mansour wind farm in Tunisia. It is reported on African Review of 24 July 2020.

This Sidi Mansour Project is meant to help Tunisia reduce its imports of fossil fuels. It announced earlier on in 2016 the launch of its solar energy plan, to make its electricity generation mix through renewables ten-fold to 30%.

Tunisia boosting renewable energy drive

30MW Sidi Mansour wind farm in Tunisia
The Sidi Mansour Wind Project is set to assist Tunisia in meeting its renewable energy goals. (Image source: Free-Photos/Pixabay)

The project will be one of the first wind independent power producers (IPP) in the country. Climate Fund Managers is participating as co-developer, sponsor, financial advisor and E&S advisor to the project, through the development and construction financing facility under its management, Climate Investor One (CI1). 

UPC will lead the development of the project with its local team that will lead land securitisation, permitting, grid connection, wind resource assessment and engineering and procurement contracts.

“We can start the construction of the Sidi Mansour wind farm in 2020, helping stimulate the Tunisian economy, create local jobs and a social plan for local communities while respecting international environmental protection guidelines,” said Brian Caffyn, chairman of the UPC Group.

The Sidi Mansour Wind Project is set to assist Tunisia in meeting its renewable energy goals. “As potentially the first Wind IPP in Tunisia, this project will be a testament to how CI1’s full lifecycle financing solution can unlock investment in renewable energy in new markets,” according to Sebastian Surie, regional head of Africa for CFM.

In January 2019, UPC was selected as one of the four awarded companies under the “Authorisation Scheme” tender for its 30MW Sidi Mansour project in Northern Tunisia and subsequently signed a PPA with Société Tunisienne d’Electricité et du Gaz. Over its lifespan, the Sidi Mansour Project is expected to lead to a reduction of 56,645 tonnes equivalent of carbon and create more than 100 jobs. The total investment size of the project is expected to be approximately US$40mn.

Can Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan find a way forward?

Can Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan find a way forward?

The Nile and the dam: Can Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan find a way forward? Wondered Daniel C. Stoll in Middle East Eye of 2 July 2020 before adding: Since it began construction in 2011, Ethiopia has been at odds with its downstream neighbours, especially Egypt, over the Renaissance Dam’s very existence.

The image above is of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam as pictured on 26 December (AFP).

As Ethiopia moves closer to filling the reservoir behind the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), parties are frantically searching for a way to decrease tensions and ensure that negotiations – not sabre-rattling – help Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan find a way forward. 

The window for finding a resolution, however, appears to be closing quickly.

Ethiopia has long said that it would use the onset of its rainy season in July to begin filling the dam’s reservoir. Since it began construction in 2011, Ethiopia has been at odds with its downstream neighbours, especially Egypt, over the dam’s very existence. 

Existential threat

While Ethiopia touts the $4.6bn GERD as a key to the country’s development and a source of cheap electricity for Ethiopia and its neighbours, Egypt claims the dam represents an existential threat that will choke off the Nile’s flow into Egypt and imperil its citizens.

Despite the bellicose rhetoric from the two countries and the constant exchange of threats and counter-threats, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have managed over the years to talk through their differences and agree on many key issues. In 2015, they inked a Declaration of Principles, committing all three countries to cooperation on the dam’s construction and to the peaceful resolution of any disagreements that might arise.

Each has too much to lose to let conditions within the Nile River Valley reach a point of outright conflict

While relations among the three riparian states in subsequent years have been marked more by acrimony than agreement, they did come together for talks coordinated by the US Department of Treasury and the World Bank in late 2019 and early 2020. These talks produced a draft agreement containing a number of key points related to the dam and its reservoir (estimated to hold more than 74 billion cubic metres of water).  

Sudan’s foreign minister, Asmaa Mohamed Abdalla, said in a letter to the UN Security Council on 2 June that the talks had produced 90 percent of an agreement. Just before the three countries were scheduled to initial the draft agreement in late February, however, Ethiopia refused to accept it, and the threats and recriminations resumed.

Unresolved issues

Left unresolved are two key issues: the current lack of any drought mitigation protocols and the absence of any dispute resolution process.

Since Egypt receives almost 98 percent of its freshwater for agricultural, industrial and municipal uses from the Nile, the country insists that Ethiopia must commit to releasing a specific amount of water during periods of prolonged drought to ensure a consistent and predictable flow into Egypt. Both Sudan and Egypt also insist on a clear process for resolving disputes over the operation of the dam.

Workers move iron girders from a crane at the GERD on 26 December (AFP)
Workers move iron girders from a crane at the GERD on 26 December (AFP)

For its part, Ethiopia insists that committing a specified volume of water during periods of drought will ultimately drain the reservoir, thereby impeding Ethiopia’s ability to generate the electricity it badly needs. It also believes that Egypt is trying to perpetuate what it regards as Egypt’s unfair claim to substantial amounts of the Nile’s waters.

Since February, several outside players – including the EU, US and South Africa (as head of the African Union) – have tried to bring the riparian states back to the negotiating table, but with little success.  

In early April, Ethiopia proposed a two-year interim agreement, arguing it would help reduce tensions and rebuild trust. Egypt rejected the proposal, however, asserting that an incremental approach would allow Ethiopia to avoid agreeing to a more comprehensive approach. Sudan also insists on a comprehensive agreement.

Diplomatic solution

In a further attempt to pursue a diplomatic solution, both Sudan and Egypt have asked the UN Security Council to take up the issue under Article 35 of the UN Charter. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said that the UN stands ready to help the parties come to an agreement

While a Security Council debate may eventually identify a way forward, the council’s deliberate modus operandi is unlikely to produce any dramatic breakthrough in the short term. Both Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi are facing considerable pressure within their respective countries to “hang tough” and not be seen as compromising on issues of such vital national interest. Why the US wants to avert conflict over the NileRead More »

It is unclear how the council would create conditions for compromise, and yet compromise the three states must do. Each has too much to lose to let conditions within the Nile River Valley reach a point of outright conflict.

Sudan could benefit greatly from access to the cheap and abundant electricity that the GERD is expected to provide. It also needs assurances that nothing will affect the Nile’s flow into Sudan and impede the operation of its Roseires Dam.

While Ethiopia appears to have the upper hand in this situation – given its growing economy and the strategically important position it occupies along the river – it, too, needs some kind of negotiated solution. A diplomatic solution would deepen its already growing influence in the basin and enhance its credentials as the dominant power in the region – a consideration that appears at the forefront of Abiy Ahmed’s strategic calculus. It would help reassure potential buyers of GERD’s electricity that Ethiopia is a trusted and reliable partner.

Difficult compromise

For Egypt, the stakes are obvious: other than a modest amount of groundwater, Egypt has no other ready source of water for its rapidly expanding population (currently 102 million and estimated to be growing at a rate of 1.94 percent a year).  

A negotiated agreement would also most likely give Egypt, and Sudan as well, access to important technical and environmental data related to the Nile’s flow and conditions in the basin upstream, information crucial for making informed decisions on water policy.

All countries would benefit from a less bellicose geopolitical environment within the basin, but compromise will be difficult

Finally, achieving some kind of resolution to this particularly thorny issue would allow the Sisi government to focus on an expanding number of domestic and foreign policy challenges, including increasingly tense relations with Libya, as well as growing domestic political and social unrest.

All countries would benefit from a less bellicose geopolitical environment within the basin, but compromise will be difficult. Egypt will need to recognise that Ethiopia has a right to pursue its ambitious development schemes, while acknowledging Ethiopia’s growing influence in the basin specifically and the Red Sea region more generally – influence that will come at the expense of Egypt’s long-held dominance in the region.

For its part, Ethiopia will need to recognise the precarious position of its downstream neighbours, particularly Egypt, and provide credible reassurances that it will release sufficient amounts of water during periods of drought.

Senior leadership

While Ethiopia has long resisted bringing in third parties to help facilitate negotiations, it is possible that the African Union could play a constructive role in this regard. Egypt would have to overcome its reluctance to giving the AU a more dominant role, but having the AU involved in negotiations would be in keeping with Egypt’s long-held demand for outside intervention.

Ultimately, the time might have come for negotiations to go beyond the ministerial level and involve instead the heads of government. To date, negotiations have generally involved the respective ministers of irrigation or water. Achieving a resolution to these final, contentious issues may well require the direct participation of the senior political leadership of each country.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Daniel C. StollDaniel C Stoll is Associate Dean for Global Affairs at St Norbert College in the US. He is the co-author most recently of International Conflict Over Water Resources in Himalayan Asia (Palgrave Macmillan) and has written extensively on issues of water resources management in Africa and the Middle East.

“Diamond in the Desert” finished in good time

“Diamond in the Desert” finished in good time

GLOBAL CONSTRUCTION REVIEW News published this article on Doha’s “Diamond in the Desert” finished in good time for Qatar’s 2022 World Cup.


18 June 2020 | By GCR Staff


Education City Stadium, the 40,000-capacity venue nicknamed the Diamond in the Desert, has been completed in good time for Qatar’s 2022 World Cup Finals.

Located in Education City, a 12km development in Al Rayyan, in the centre of the country, the stadium is the third to be finished, following the Khalifa Stadium in May 2017, and the Al Janoub Stadium in June 2019.

The modular upper tier, which contains half of Education City Stadium’s seats, will be donated to developing countries after the World Cup is over.

The stadium’s facade forms a diamond lattice that appears to change colour as the sun moves across the sky and sunlight strikes it from different angles. Another feature is a possible five-star Global Sustainability Assessment rating – helped by the use of recycled materials for 29% of the structure.

Hassan Al Thawadi, the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy’s secretary general, said: “Launching the stadium now – while the world is overcoming the coronavirus pandemic – shows everyone that there is light at the end of the tunnel and brighter days ahead.

“We are proud to pay tribute to the frontline workers who remain at the forefront in the battle against Covid-19 and look forward to bringing the world together – at this stadium and others – using the unifying power of football in 2022.”

The Al Rayyan Stadium and Al Bayt Stadium are both due to be completed by the end of 2020.

Qatar had originally planned to build 12 stadiums for the World Cup but the number has since been cut to eight. It plans up to install 16 floating hotels to accommodate football fans during the tournament.

Images courtesy of Qatar2022.com