This article republished from The Conversation is about Sudan’s ‘forgotten’ pyramids that risk being buried by shifting sand dunes and take with them all related history.
Rampant desertification expansion towards the north does not meet any counter-movement. But, conversely, in the south, one ambitious African-led reforestation project is leading the way. To combat sand movement and desertification by increasing the vegetation cover along the southern edge of the Saharan desert, a Green Wall is proposed. It is being implemented throughout the continent from ocean to ocean. In the southern edge of the MENA region, we sadly do not share the same concern and do not consecrate to date more than little attention paid to it. Is it the force of habit or what else?
Sudan’s ‘forgotten’ pyramids risk being buried by shifting sand dunes
The word “pyramid” is synonymous with Egypt, but it is actually neighbouring Sudan that is home to the world’s largest collection of these spectacular ancient structures.
Beginning around 2500BC, Sudan’s ancient Nubian civilisation left behind more than 200 pyramids that rise out of the desert across three archaeological sites: El Kurru, Jebel Barkal and Meroe, in addition to temples, tombs and royal burial chambers.
Despite being smaller than the famous Egyptian pyramids of Giza, Nubian pyramids are just as magnificent and culturally valuable. They even offer a crowd-free experience for intrepid tourists.
Built of sandstone and granite, the steeply-sloping pyramids contain chapels and burial chambers decorated with illustrations and inscriptions carved in hieroglyphs and Meroitic script celebrating the rulers’ lives in Meroe – a wealthy Nile city and the seat of power of Kush, an ancient kingdom and rival to Egypt.
Located about 220km north of the capital Khartoum, the cultural gem of Meroe is now one of Sudan’s most significant Unesco world heritage sites. However a lack of preservation, severe weather conditions and negligent visitors have all taken their toll on its monuments. Back in the 1880s, for instance, the Italian explorer Giuseppe Ferlini blew up several pyramids in his search for Kushite treasure, leaving many of the tombs missing their pointy tops. Many more of Sudan’s other pyramids were subsequently plundered and destroyed by looters.
These days sandstorms and shifting sand dunes pose the biggest threat to Sudan’s ancient heritage sites. This phenomenon is nothing new, and was even chronicled thousands of years ago. An inscription found in a temple from the 5th century BC describes a Kushite king giving an order to clear out sand from the pathway:
His Majesty brought a multitude of hands, to wit, men and women as well as royal children and chiefs to carry away the sand; and his Majesty was carrying away sand with his hand(s) himself, at the forefront of the multitude for many days.
But today the threat has been exacerbated by climate change, which has made the land more arid and sandstorms more frequent. Moving sands can engulf entire houses in rural Sudan, and cover fields, irrigation canals and riverbanks.
The best way to combat sand movement and desertification is to increase the vegetation cover, and one ambitious African-led reforestation project is leading the way.
Bringing together more than 20 nations, the Great Green Wall is a multi-billion dollar movement to stop the spread of the Sahara Desert by restoring 100 million hectares of land across the continent from Senegal in west Africa to Djibouti in the east. The intention is to cultivate the largest living barrier of trees and plants on the planet, with Sudan having the longest stretch of the “wall”.
Only 4% of the target area has been covered so far, with big variations from country to country. When it is more complete, this experimental project will hopefully limit the frequency of dust storms and slow the movement of sand onto fertile lands and Unesco sites in northern Sudan. It will also contribute to tackling the extreme heatwaves in semi-arid areas such as the capital Khartoum, where the temperature goes well above 40°C during summer.
However, monitoring the impact of the project, which spans 5,000 miles across Africa, requires “big picture” data. This comes from the latest satellites and remote sensing technologies.
Satellite imagery can provide valuable information about sand movement. For instance satellites are used to monitor the dust storms that transport sand from the Sahara across the Atlantic Ocean to supply the Amazon rainforest with essential fertilising nutrients.
But what about on a smaller scale? How do you predict if and when sand will submerge a field, a watering hole – or a pyramid?
In my own research I have previously used multiple overlapping images taken from aeroplanes to generate digital elevation models for sand dunes in northern Sudan. That led to my current PhD research which focuses on monitoring the movement of sand dunes using satellite optical and radar images, airborne laser imagery and other techniques. My research also investigates the influence of factors such as wind speed and direction, presence of vegetation and topography.
Colleagues and I ultimately want to develop our understanding of how sand dunes grow in size and how they migrate across the desert. This will enable us to monitor the effectiveness of interventions such as vegetation barriers, helping to combat desertification and climate change and to ensure people in Sudan are able to grow enough food. And we may even be able to predict when and where those pyramids will be buried – and what we can do to prevent it.
If emissions continue unchecked, summers in the Northern Hemisphere could last nearly six months by 2100, according to a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Scientists say the shift in seasons will likely have significant impacts on agriculture, the environment, human health, and the timing of species’ activities such as breeding, feeding, and migration.
The research, led by scientists at the State Key Laboratory of Tropical Oceanography in China, analyzed six decades of historical daily climate records, and used climate models to project future trends. It defined summer as the “onset of temperatures in the hottest 25 percent during that time period, while winter began with temperatures in the coldest 25 percent.”
On average, the study found, the number of summer days in the Northern Hemisphere jumped from 78 to 95 between 1952 and 2011. Winter, meanwhile, shrank from 76 to 73 days over the same period. Spring contracted from 124 to 115 days, and autumn from 87 to 82 days.
The scientists projected that if these trends continue, summer will last almost six months out of the year, winter will shrink by two months, and spring and autumn will shrink as well. With the extension of summer comes more intense heat waves and extreme weather events like droughts and wildfires.
“Summers are getting longer and hotter while winters shorter and warmer due to global warming,” Yuping Guan, a physical oceanographer at the State Key Laboratory of Tropical Oceanography and lead author of the new study, said in a statement. “Numerous studies have already shown that the changing seasons cause significant environmental and health risks.”
As the world struggles with COVID-19, the challenges of climate change and wider environmental problems loom large. It is clear that the economic response to the impact of COVID-19 must benefit the environment while plans to address climate change and environmental issues must benefit the economy and society. The only way these twin imperatives can be met is through a green revolution that transcends our economy and society.
This was our task when we both chaired the first Intelligent Planning Consultative Forum that was established by Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia. The aim of the forum was to bring together all stakeholders involved in the planning and construction sectors to start coming up with ways in which we can transform and transition planning and construction which is smart, green and sustainable.
The result of this forum and the discussions we led is the green policy document on green walls and roofs together with the recently-launched scheme by the government to incentivise such improvements.
This incentive scheme should be seen as the first step towards having greener and more sustainable buildings. The benefits of such interventions are major given that they result in low energy consumption and decreased carbon emissions while mitigating the effects of roof flooding. This happens as the green infrastructure, walls or roofs, acts as a protective layer for buildings, absorbing heat and excess water.
Additionally, the utilisation of local fauna in such projects would create various pollination havens across the island, helping to restore natural biodiversity – a key aim of the EU’s 2030 biodiversity strategy. The utilisation of Maltese fauna could have the additional benefit of requiring minimal maintenance and reduce the consumption of water.
Such initiatives also have macro effects including the creation of additional value-adding activities and green jobs. Together with other initiatives and incentives, the demand for such products could even help kickstart a whole new industry focused on green construction.One of Malta’s biggest opportunities in the Green Deal is greening the construction sector
In fact, one of Malta’s biggest opportunities in the Green Deal is greening the construction sector which remains a significant contributor to economic growth. The EU recently launched the New European Bauhaus and, in a statement, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said that “the New European Bauhaus is about how we live better together after the pandemic while respecting the planet and protecting our environment. It is about empowering those who have the solutions to the climate crisis, matching sustainability with style”.
This is something we believe can truly support the country in its next phase of design, planning and construction. Malta and Europe have a number of common challenges. Whereas the original Bauhaus was focused on new designs, the biggest challenge we face is of renovation, regeneration and retrofitting.
We are surrounded by buildings and infrastructures, home to both embodied carbon and embedded histories. A design and architecture for this problem requires a quite different sensibility. It implies a refining in place, understanding repair and retrofit cultures and developing new logics predicated on care and maintenance.
These approaches, in line with the EU Recovery Strategy, necessitate new ways of unleashing the societal value latent in people and place. Producing anew in this way is far more challenging than simply making new things –although new things will emerge.
Malta has a unique potential in this and, if leveraged properly, we can truly kick-start a green revolution in our planning and building industries. We are confident that the new phase of the Intelligent Planning Consultative Forum will look into this and, together with the environment minister, a new era of Malta’s planning and construction industry can commence, one that is smart, green and sustainable.
The green wall and roof initiative and support scheme is a step in the right direction.
Cyrus Engerer is a Labour MEP and Stephanie Fabri is an economist and a lecturer at the University of Malta.
Qatar University investing in Harvesting sustainable bioresearch demonstrate that it pays to go down this road regardless of the country’s physical attributes to its contrary. So here is how it is being implemented.
Harvesting sustainable bioresearch
The innovative cultivation of important crops has reduced the impact of food production on Qatar’s environment
It’s essential to Qatar University’s vision and mission to be a catalyst for sustainable development, helping the country to diversify away from its roots in oil and gas. Research into bioresources plays an important role in achieving that goal, whether that is by investigating alternative sources of fuel or ensuring that the population has a secure supply of food in the long term.
The university’s Centre of Sustainable Development aims to ensure that Qatar makes the most of its natural resources in a sustainable way. The centre performs research into food and water security, renewable energy, the governance of natural resources and waste management. Because of water scarcity, limited arable land and high temperatures in Qatar, securing a sustainable food production pipeline is challenging. Consequently, this is a high priority for the centre, and a new plant is currently under construction in the north of Qatar for the production of food, fuel and health products.
One of the most important research initiatives is the Algal Technologies Programme (ATP), led by Dr Hareb Mohammad Al-Jabri and his team. Qatar’s environment offers a unique biodiversity in terms of the presence of microalgae and cyanobacteria – a type of microorganism that thrives on sunlight and CO2 – and ideal year-round growing conditions due to its hot and dry climate. “We want to take advantage of the high temperatures, abundant sunlight and saline water we have here in Qatar,” explains Dr Al-Jabri. “All these conditions make cultivation of traditional crops challenging, but microalgae can thrive under our conditions, and can be a great alternative source of food and feed.”
The ATP covers five key areas of research: culture collection (comparing different algae species); biofuel (converting biomass into carbon neutral fuel); environment and bioremediation (carbon capture and wastewater treatment); health (utilisation of algae in health foods or supplements) and animal feed. Microalgae are being investigated as a source of feed for both poultry and fish (aquaculture), because researchers believe that they have the nutritional potential to provide necessary proteins, lipids and carbohydrates without requiring arable land or fresh water to grow.
In 2011, researchers at the centre began investigating different strains of algae from the local environment – their growth patterns, biochemical composition, the types of conditions in which they grew best. The ATP now houses more than 200 different algae isolates sourced from the Qatar environment in its Culture Collection for Cyanobacteria and Microalgae. Among its discoveries are “super strains” that contain higher levels of protein, fatty acids and carbohydrates, as well as secondary metabolites such as omega-3 fatty acids, beta carotene, and phycobiliproteins, which carry a higher market value. “To grow these, we need lots of sun, seawater, carbon dioxide, and any type of land,” he adds. “We can also recycle certain compounds from industry, such as urea, which is typically regarded as waste and so can’t be sold on, but can be used as a source of nitrogen.” Urea can be supplemented to algae as a fertiliser, and is necessary to support its growth.
“This type of project is good for the diversification of the economy in Qatar because it’s not dependent on oil and gas, and mitigates carbon emissions,” says Dr Al-Jabri. “We help the environment by recycling damaging chemicals, and we’re using seawater so as not to impact the scarce fresh water supply.” The department has previously looked at producing affordable and sustainable biofuels that could be used by the airline industry to reduce its carbon footprint – however this became less feasible economically because of a fall in oil prices. “Our research outcomes were good, so when this does become feasible again, we’ll be ready. But at the moment our focus is on food security for Qatar rather than fuel,” he adds.
Qatar University has been working with students and research departments in universities globally, including Murdoch University in Australia, the University of Liege in Belgium, University of Nantes in France, Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and the University of Texas in Austin. International students can visit the campus in Doha to get to know the desert environment at first hand. “Students are the main wheel of our research, they make it active,” says Dr Al-Jabri, “this is so important for knowledge exchange and to spread our networks and collaborate on different projects.”
The university has also garnered financial and research support from both the private and public sector in Qatar. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has helped the centre fund a number of start-ups focused on algae-based products, and there are numerous corporate partnerships with companies such as Total and Qatar Airways. Total is working with the university on research into biofuel made from microalgae as well as carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS). Such partnerships are not only financial sponsorships, but also explore intellectual property sharing and will help the corporations involved reach their own sustainability goals.
Another key partnership is with Japanese company Chiyoda, a specialist in agricultural and vegetable production technology. Working with Chiyoda, the university has designed and constructed a designated vegetable factory plant located on campus. The aim is to build a facility where the conditions can be controlled easily with LED lighting so that leafy crops can be produced at any time of the year. This means that the harsh desert environment in Qatar does not have to influence production, so there is continuity and consistency in how the products are grown.
The plan for the ATP is to scale up the production of microalgae and cyanobacteria as part of the university’s forward strategy. This year the cultivation will increase to two hectares of land, and by 2025 it’s hoped that production will cover as much as 100 hectares. “We have a concrete strategy to start producing this on a commercial scale, and we’re moving in the right direction,” says Dr Al-Jabri. Together with a new food production plant in the north of Qatar, this research has the potential to harness sustainable food production for years to come.
On the occasion of the World Soil Day on 5 December, we are reminded of the Soil pollution a risk to our health and food security is no more a subject for specialists only but one that should be a concern for us all.
Each year, the world marks World Soil Day on 5 December to raise awareness about the growing challenges in soil management and soil biodiversity loss, and encourage governments, communities and individuals around the world to commit to improving soil health.
“We depend, and will continue to depend, on the ecosystem services provided by soils,” explains United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) soil expert Abdelkader Bensada.
While soil pollution traditionally has not received the same attention as issues like tree-planting, global momentum picked up in 2018, when the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) published a ground-breaking study: Soil Pollution: A Hidden Reality.
The report found that the main anthropogenic sources of soil pollution are the chemicals used in or produced as byproducts of industrial activities; domestic, livestock and municipal wastes (including wastewater); agrochemicals; and petroleum-derived products.
These chemicals are released to the environment accidentally, for example from oil spills or leaching from landfills, or intentionally, through use of fertilizers and pesticides, irrigation with untreated wastewater, or land application of sewage sludge.RELATED
The report found that soil pollution has an adverse impact on food security in two ways –it can reduce crop yields due to toxic levels of contaminants, and crops grown in polluted soils are unsafe for consumption by animals and humans. It urged governments to help reverse the damage and encouraged better soil management practices to limit agricultural pollution.
In follow up to the 2018 study, UNEP, the Global Soils Partnership, the Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils, the World Health Organization and the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions Secretariat are working on another report on the extent and future trends of soil pollution, including risks and impacts on health, the environment and food security. Scheduled to be released in February 2021, it builds on another UNEP report – Towards a pollution-free planet.
“Soil pollution can lead to the emergence of new pests and diseases by changing the balance of ecosystems and causing the disappearance of predators or competing species that regulate their biomass. It also contributes to the spreading of antimicrobial resistant bacteria and genes, limiting humanity’s ability to cope with pathogens,” says Bensada.
Pollution can also cause the quality of soil to dwindle over time, making it harder to grow crops. Currently, the degradation of land and soils is affecting at least 3.2 billion people – 40 per cent of the world’s population.
FAO’s Revised World Soil Charter recommends that national governments implement regulations on soil pollution and limit the accumulation of contaminants beyond established levels in order to guarantee human health and wellbeing, a healthy environment and safe food.
Contaminated soil is also a major cause of land degradation – an issue that is at the heart of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030. Led by UNEP, FAO and partners, the initiative is a global call to action to scale up restoration of terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems over the next 10 years. This includes promoting sustainable practices to improve soil management.
“Soil has a key role to play in the UN Decade through its ecosystem functions as it affects water regulation, nutrient recycling, food production, climate change and the biodiversity of terrestrial ecosystems,” says Bensada. “Transitioning from soil degradation to practices that restore soil is critical to ensure the food security and wellbeing of generations to come.”
Originally posted on Gharamophone: In May 2020, I posted Sariza Cohen’s stunning recording of “أَشْكُوا الْغَـرَامَ”(Ashku al-gharam), released on Polydor in 1938. This is the other side of that record. It is no less remarkable. Here the pianist and vocalist from Oran performs a composition by Algerian Jewish impresario Edmond Nathan Yafil. The title of…
It’s a truism that Europe is unstable if its North African neighbours are unstable. That being so, it should be of some concern to EU leaders that, on the bloc’s south Mediterranean border, Tunisia’s 10-year-old democracy appears to be on life support.
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