ACT Alliance is a Global alliance of more than 145 churches and related organisations and in its Countdown to COP28: ACT in the Middle East and North Africa reiterates what is felt more and more throughout the region.
The above image is for illustration and is credit to Dubai92.com
Rachel Luce, ACT Regional Representative, MENA.
George Majaj, ACT Humanitarian Programme Advisor, MENA. PHOTO: Simon Chambers.
As the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region prepares to host COP28, we reproduce here our 2022 Annual Report interview with Rachel Luce, ACT Alliance Regional Representative for the MENA region and George Majaj, ACT’s MENA Humanitarian Programme Advisor. The interview will give you some insight into MENA issues and how ACT and its members address these issues during peacetime.
What are some of the key issues facing the region?
Rachel: There are several protracted crises in the region. Linked to that is mass migration. Educated people are leaving, as is the Christian minority. The Christian migration is really on the hearts and minds of our local members, as this is where the historic churches are located. We also see big changes in the social fabric, and you lose the value of diversity. Migration is a big concern for all the members, along with the conflicts and ongoing wars.
George: Most of the crises are becoming protracted. There are fewer political ways to end these issues – for example in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Palestine. There’s a lack of interest from funders and media. The political will at home and abroad is not there to solve the protracted crises in most of the countries in MENA, and that has a negative effect on communities.
How do members in the region work together?
In the Middle East, national forums meet monthly to discuss what they’re working on, joint areas of action such as training, what they’re hearing from other platforms they’re involved in, and how they might coordinate advocacy. The forums consist of country directors or their deputies. Iraq and Jerusalem have extended their forums so that faith-based agencies can join.
The MENA Communities of Practice (CoPs), such as Gender Justice and Climate Justice, are connected to the forums. Each national forum sends at least one delegate to a MENA CoP. These are usually the thematic experts. MENA CoPs meet monthly and discuss aspects of the work they want to do together. They go to in-person events, such as trainings, and then report back to their Forum.
What are the opportunities you see in the region?
The MENA Gender Justice CoP wants to influence change in Christian family law in the Middle East. For Christians, family law is governed by their church, and it covers inheritances, marriage, divorce, custody, and similar issues. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) changed their church’s family law a few years ago. The MENA Gender Justice CoP wants to see similar change across the region. They started with a study on Jordan’s church family laws. After hearing the consultant’s questions, the churches they interviewed decided to look into changing their laws. No one knew their own laws until they went to court to find out.
One of the MENA Gender Justice CoP’s goals is to ensure family inheritances are divided equally between men and women and that women aren’t pressured into signing away their inheritance rights. They also want family laws to be transparent and accessible. Changing these laws makes real, true change in the lives of people.
MENA’s Climate Justice CoP is growing every year. Season of Creation is on fire in the Middle East right now, which is amazing. ACT MENA members also invested a lot in Egypt’s COP27. Now they’re talking about how to engage after Dubai’s COP28 in 2023. They’re showing a commitment to global negotiations in the long term.
In MENA, we started by training members in country-specific multi-stakeholder dialogues where specialists reviewed adaptation, climate financing and mitigation. Once they understood climate justice at a country level, members engaged regionally because they could see the intersections. Now they’re making the link to the global level. They see how the fight at one UN COP can lead to additional financing and how they can push for climate ambition.
The above-featured image is one of the author’s selections and is “Flames and smoke rise from the site of twin bombings at al-Khodhary Street in Karm al-Loz neighborhood, Homs, Syria, April 2014.EPA/stringer”
The Israeli bombardment of Gaza following the Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7 has forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians out of their homes. At least 43% of all housing units in the Gaza Strip have been either destroyed or damaged since the start of the hostilities, according to the Ministry of Public Works and Housing in Gaza.
Israel says that 1,400 people were killed in the Hamas attack on Israel and more than 220 taken hostage. Meanwhile, according to the health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza, more than 6,500 people have been killed in Israeli air strikes and more than 17,400 injured.
There is a modern term for what’s happening in Gaza. Domicide refers to the deliberate destruction of home, or the killing of the city or home. It comes from the Latin word domus which means home and cide, which is deliberate killing.
But, home here doesn’t only mean the physical, tangible built environment of people’s homes and properties, it also refers to people’s sense of belonging and identity. We are seeing in many conflicts and wars across the world that alongside the destruction of architecture, people’s sense of dignity and belonging is also being targeted.
There is a link between genocide and domicide: genocide refers to the killing of people and domicide to the erasure of their presence and their material culture. In 2022, a UN expert on housing argued that domicide should be recognised as an international crime.
When people are continuously displaced from their homes, sometimes for decades, or even a lifetime, there’s a sense of grief and sorrow that their history is being erased.
The destruction of Homs
My home city of Homs, Syria, which I focus on in my research, has been completely transformed since the 2011 uprising against the government of Bashar al Assad.
Over 50% of the neighbourhoods have been heavily destroyed, and over a quarter partially destroyed. Across the country, more than 12 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes. Of these, 6.8 million people are displaced inside the country, and 5.4 million people live as refugees in neighbouring countries and beyond.
Domicidal campaigns like this also work to erase evidence that a community actually existed in a particular place and that it had a history and culture there. This is an attempt to write people out of history through destroying their homes and heritage in a way that’s systematic and deliberate. In Homs, for example, whole neighbourhoods that opposed the Assad regime were targeted and razed to the ground. In other cities, such as Damascus and Hama, entire neighbourhoods were wiped out through new land and property laws which designate these neighbourhoods as “informal”.
There is no need to compare Homs and Gaza, as each place has its own context and struggle. But I’ve been following the news continuously since the Hamas attack on Israel, and I can’t stop looking at the updates about the heavy Israeli bombing. The scale of destruction, the level of mass displacement is just so heartbreaking. Gaza has been described as an open prison and people in that open prison have been pushed away from their homes.
Israel says it has the right to defend itself, and is targeting Hamas positions, but the scale to which ordinary people’s homes, hospitals and “safe areas” have been hit means what’s happening in Gaza is absolutely domicidal. People living in the north of the Gaza Strip were told by Israeli authorities to move to the south of the territory to the supposed “safe areas”, but the southern areas continue to be bombed too. The bombardment is killing civilians, killing their everyday lives and causing the mass destruction of neighbourhoods. As we have seen in videos, entire buildings have been levelled.
It’s not the first time that Palestinians in Gaza have had their homes destroyed. Many of the Palestinians who live in Gaza are people who have been displaced before. This is why many academics, activists, journalists and even Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, call for context, for situating the Palestinian struggle within a history of suffering, dispossession and forced displacement since the Nakba (catastrophe) in 1948.
When one million people are ordered to leave their homes it’s important to understand that these people have attachment to their places, to their neighbourhoods, to their streets. The impact of displacement and loss of home can live with people for their lifetime.
In my interviews with people from the city of Homs, I’ve heard many people say that even if they are still living in Homs, they feel like strangers in their own city, or they feel exiled inside their own city. For people such as the Palestinian diaspora or the Iraqi diaspora or the Syrian diaspora who are unable to return to their home countries, that suffering and pain and trauma of displacement continues.
I imagine people have different mechanisms to cope with these traumatic events, but that’s why it’s so important to have memory projects where people at least can reflect on what happened to heal and grieve, even when, sadly, many are unable to return and some spend their lifetime in exile.
After researching conflicts, wars, dictatorships and occupations for several years, I always say that the pain of people start as a headline in the news media, and turns into a footnote in history. Let us resist that, let us remember the life of every human being and keep the struggle for a free and just world for everyone.
…Says MENA categorization makes it difficult to see Africa as one continent
A peacebuilding think tank in Nigeria on the aegis of ‘Foundation for Peace Professionals’ also known as PeacePro has urged global bodies, academic institutions and research groups to stop categorizing North African countries with the Middle East under the acronym of MENA Middle East and North Africa).
PeacePro noted that such conflicting categorization by global bodies such as the World Bank, World Health Organization and others was creating none existing barrier between North African countries and the rest of Africa, thereby making it difficult to see Africa as one and to create social, economic and psychological integration in the continent.
Executive Director of PeacePro, Mr Abdulrazaq Hamzat, who stated these while engaging Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP), the producer of global peace index on popular social media platform Twitter, questioned the rationale for using such categorization in the global peace index report.
Hamzat said; “Why is Africa usually divided into 2 on the global peace index report? This division has consistently raised questions in our sessions at Foundation for Peace Professionals (PeacePro)”.
The IEP ambassador also said that his organization is currently working on an African based enlightenment report, which is an extract from the global peace index, to create further awareness on GPI report and the extraction of North Africa to Middle East in the Global Peace Index report has been a major point of contention, making it difficult to visualize Africa as one continent, with its data scattered across different regions.
Responding to Hamzat’s inquiry on Twitter, IEP Global Peace Index noted that, for regional analysis, IEP splits Africa into sub-Saharan Africa and MENA, adding that it was consistent with the World Bank grouping.
However, Hamzat stressed that even though, it was consistent with other categorization including that of the World Bank, Peacepro was yet to understand the rationale for such categorization thus, open for enlightenment on the subject.
Hamzat further said that it was important to note that, in politics and academia, North African countries are commonly grouped with the Middle East under the umbrella of MENA, a development which has been questioned by many people, including in North Africa.
As a regional identifier, MENA is often used in academia, military planning, disaster relief, media planning (as a broadcast region) and business writing.
However, Hamzat noted that there was no MENA region amongst the United Nations Regional Groups, nor in the United Nations geoscheme used by the UNSD.
Earthquake and Wind Programs Branch Civil Engineer Pataya Scott, PhD shares more about the work FEMA does to improve building codes and standards. The Role We (FEMA) Play in Earthquake Preparedness is inspiringly here for all those in the MENA region concerned by a possible repeat of the same recent disastrous events.
The Role We Play in Earthquake Preparedness
After the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria last month, you may have wondered: in a similar event, what would have happened to buildings in the United States?
For more than 40 years, FEMA has worked with our partners to improve building codes and standards, as well as advance their adoption and enforcement across the nation. While these improvements are significant, there are still older buildings in our country that are at risk of collapse during an earthquake.
More work is needed to avoid the kind of regional disaster Turkey and Syria are experiencing after the magnitude 7.8 and 7.5 earthquakes. Many existing buildings in the United States are likely to perform poorly in earthquakes because they are built to outdated standards or, in some cases, no standards at all. These buildings remain vulnerable to collapse in seismic regions like Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, California, Hawaii, the Rocky Mountains, the New Madrid region, South Carolina, the Eastern United States, Puerto Rico and Oklahoma.
To explore how these areas would be affected during a major earthquake event, you can use FEMA’s Hazus Loss Library. This tool demonstrates the cost of life and severity of damage that would happen in earthquake events similar to those in Turkey and Syria. While the numbers presented in these scenarios might be less than what those regions endured, they still represent a significant risk and enforce the need for the nation to improve its built environment.
Modern codes and standards are only effective if they are properly enforced. Turkey is known for having a current building code, similar to many parts of the United States, but implementation has historically been an issue. Regional differences in code adoption and enforcement mean that some communities may not benefit from the protection offered by stronger codes. Ongoing advocacy for both code adoption and enforcement is still needed.
FEMA is always focused on improvements. We look at the latest lessons-learned information, new science and technology. We also collaborate with many government sectors to address and mitigate a community’s risk with existing buildings. This work includes improved methods for risk assessment, prioritization and retrofit, as well as support for developing and adopting effective mitigation policies and practices, which could include replacing with new buildings.
New attention on post-disaster response and recovery has suggested that emphasis on building collapse prevention may not be enough. Disaster-resilient communities need buildings that can be occupied following a hazard event and provide functions and services necessary for meeting essential community needs and maintaining economic vitality. This means buildings that not only stand strong after an earthquake but still allow residents to safely use things like running water and electricity.
There are many actions you can take on a personal level to improve your own community’s earthquake resilience.
Practice Safety Drills. Since earthquakes can happen without notice or warning, be prepared by practicing Drop, Cover, and Hold On with family and coworkers.
Make an Emergency Plan.Create a family emergency communications plan that has an out-of-state contact. Plan where to meet if you get separated. Make a supply kit that includes enough non-perishable food, water and medications for several days, a flashlight, a fire extinguisher and a whistle. Prepare for pets and service animals, too.
Protect Your Home. Secure heavy items in your home like bookcases, refrigerators, water heaters, televisions and objects that hang on walls. Also consider obtaining an earthquake insurance policy since a standard homeowner’s insurance policy does not cover earthquake damage.
to celebrate its independence and setting up, the United Arab Emirates is toying with expediting a vehicle From the dunes of Dubai to the soil of the Moon. Why not? Let us read this story from Gulf News of today.
UAE@51: From the dunes of Dubai to the soil of the Moon, Rashid Rover all set to make history
All you need to know about the UAE’s lunar mission that will take off on November 30
Dubai: In what is a huge feat ahead of the 51st UAE National Day, Emirati-made Rashid Rover will shoot to the Moon on Wednesday, November 30, at 12.39pm (Gulf Standard Time), carrying with it the pride and dreams of the UAE — and the entire Arab world.
From the desert dunes of the UAE to the soil of the Moon, the lunar rover — named after the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, builder of modern Dubai — will give mankind and the global scientific community more knowledge about Earth’s closest celestial neighbour.
It will land on Atlas Crater, located at 47.5°N, 44.4°E on the Moon’s southeastern outer edge of Mare Frigoris (Sea of Cold), and from there capture photos and collect information of the unexplored crater area and the vast basins on Moon’s surface that were formed billions of years ago.
The UAE’s moonshot has lofty goals. According to Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC),“Rashid Rover will provide about 10 gigabytes of recorded material, scientific data and new images to the global scientific community to study the Moon.”
In particular, Rashid Rover will study the characteristics of lunar soil, the petrography (composition and properties of lunar rocks) and geology of the Moon. It will also take photos of the moon’s dust movement, surface plasma conditions, and the lunar regolith (blanket of superficial deposits covering solid rocks).
Rashid Rover will help scientists better understand how lunar dust and rocks vary across the Moon. It will also provide fresh data for the development of new technologies that can be used to unravel the origins of the Earth and our solar system.
The success of the first Emirates Lunar Mission (ELM) will make the UAE the first Arab country and among the first countries in the world to land a spacecraft on the Moon, after the United States, former Soviet Union and China.
MBRSC underlined: “The mission embodies the aspirations of the UAE. Rashid Rover will collect images and information that will allow the UAE to conduct comprehensive and integrated studies on how to build human settlement on the Moon, prepare for future missions to study Mars and provide the scientific community with answers about the solar system and other planets.”
Before lift-off, let us look back at the timeline, technical specifications, instruments, functionalities and other important details of the Emirati-made Rashid Rover.
Two years ahead
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, first announced Rashid Rover in September 2020, and the original goal was to land it on the Moon by 2024.
In April 2021, MBRSC signed a contract with ispace, inc., a Japanese private lunar robotic exploration company, to transport Rashid Rover to the Moon aboard Hakuto-R M1 (mission 1) lander. Under the terms of the agreement, ispace will also provide wired communication and power during the cruise phase and engage in wireless communication on the lunar surface.
Lift-off is on Wednesday, November 30, at 12.39pm (Gulf Standard Time) from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, USA, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. But the date and time are subject to change, depending on weather and other conditions at launch, according to MBRSC.
Hakuto-R M1, which means ‘white rabbit’ in Japanese (it is said a white rabbit lives on the Moon, according to Japanese folklore), will also carry other payloads, including a transformable lunar robot from Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency; a test module for a solid-state battery from NGK Spark Plug Co., Ltd., an artificial intelligence (AI) flight computer from Mission Control Space Services Inc., a multiple 360-degree camera from Canadensys Aerospace, a panel engraved with the names of Hakuto crowdfunding supporters, and a music disc containing the song ‘Sorato’ played by Japanese rock band Sakanaction.
Once launched, the integrated spacecraft Hakuto-R M1 that will carry Rashid Rover and other payload to the Moon will take a low-energy route to the Moon rather than a direct approach. This means the landing on the Moon will take about five months after launch, in April 2023.
Dr Hamad Al Marzooqi, project manager of Emirates Lunar Mission at MBRSC, told Gulf News the rationale for the fuel-saving but long route. He said: “The main factor is the cost of the mission. The cost comes from the volume and mass of the spacecraft. In order to reach to the moon within six days – which is the shortest path – you would need to burn a lot of fuel which means that you need a big tank and a big propulsion system to do that.”
“But it will have a huge impact in cost so, in order to reduce the cost of the mission, ispace (our partner) has selected their approach that they can reach to the lunar surface within five months but it will be less costly because it will burn much less fuel. They will use a smaller tank and propulsion system, therefore the launch cost and the cost of developing the developing system will be lower,” he further explained.
Dimitra Atri, astrophysicist at New York University in Abu Dhabi, added: “In order to keep the prices of payload delivery attractive to customers, private companies reduce their expenses by choosing the lower cost option, which consumes less energy but takes much longer.”
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will take Hakuto-R M1 into the Moon’s orbit, and following its successful separation from the launch vehicle (rocket), Hakuto-R M1 will use the gravitational pull of the Earth and sun to guide it to the moon.
As it gets closer to the lunar surface, the Japanese-made lander will first orbit the moon with an increasingly elliptical trajectory, before angling itself vertically to softly land on the moon and perform a fully-automated landing.
Hakuto-R M1 will then establish a steady telecommunication and power supply on the lunar surface after landing to support customer payload’s surface operations, including that of the UAE’s Rashid Rover.
MBRSC confirmed Atlas Crater, located at 47.5°N, 44.4°E on the moon’s southeastern outer edge of Mare Frigoris (“Sea of Cold”), as Rashid Rover’s landing site.
MBRSC explained: “It was chosen to maintain flexibility during operations. Mare Frigoris lies in the far lunar north. The primary landing site was chosen along with multiple contingencies, which may be used depending on variables that occur during transit. The site meets the technical specifications of the lander technology demonstration mission and the scientific exploration objectives for the ELM mission.”
Atlas Crater has a diameter of 88 kilometres, and believer to have been formed between 3.2 to 3.8 billion years ago. It is circular in shape and bounded by an intricately terraced rim wall. The crater is 2km deep and has a complex floor covered in hills and cracks.
Aside from Atlas Crater, alternative landing targets – according to ispace – include Lacus Somniorum, Sinus Iridium and Oceanus Procellarum, among others.
Designed and developed fully by an Emirati team, Rashid Rover is touted as the world’s most compact rover that could land on the Moon. Its height is 70cm, length is 50cm and width is 50cm. Its weight is approximately 10kg with payload, but it can climb over an obstacle up to 10cm tall and descend a 20-degree slope.
Because Rashid Rover has been delivered well ahead of the original 2024 deadline, building it required rapid prototyping. According to Al Marqoozi, engineers at MBRSC “went through five modules until they reached with the one” that will be launched on November 30.
The four-wheeled Rashid Rover has 3D cameras, advanced motion system, sensors, and communication system that are powered by solar panels. There are four cameras that move vertically and horizontally, including two main cameras, which are Caspex (camera for space exploration) that can withstand vibrations during launch and landing
MBRSC has partnered with French space agency CNES (National Centre for Space Studies) for the two Caspex that will be used analyse the properties of lunar soil, dust, radioactivity, electrical activities, as well as the rocks on the moon surface. One Caspex is installed on top of the rover’s mast to provide panoramic visibility of its surroundings while the rear-mounted CASPEX camera will deliver images of the lunar soil with high spatial resolution.
“Rashid Rover’s drive tracks will be analysed to determine wheel sinkage and to investigate the detailed wheel-soil interaction. Such data will be important to design the mobility systems of future rovers,” MBRSC noted.
Rashid Rover will study the Moon’s surroundings for one lunar day, which is equivalent to 14 days on Earth. But there is a chance Rashid Rover’s mission can be extended to another lunar day. Al Marzooqi earlier explained: “After the first lunar day the rover will go into a hibernation or mode sleep during the (lunar) night (which is also equivalent to 14 Earth nights) until the sun rises again and the temperature on the rover surface starts to rise again. And by that time, the team will try to “wake up” Rashid Rover to see if its systems were able to survive the low temperatures and ready for the second lunar day.
The Moon’s environment, however, is very harsh. The temperature drops to as low as negative 173 degrees Celsius, from as high as 127 degrees Celsius, when sunlight hits the Moon’s surface. But Rashid Rover is equipped with the latest technologies that can resist the lunar surface temperature.
To the Moon and back
Rashid Rover will not return to Earth. It’s a one-way flight and there is no transport that will bring back Rashid Rover and Hakuto-R. What Rashid Rover will bring back to Earth are multiple images – around 10 gigabytes of recorded material and scientific data. The ELM team at MBRSC will use these to test new technologies in material science, robotics, mobility, navigation and communications. The findings will also help in the design of future missions to survive and function in harsh space environment.
Rashid Rover is just the first of the UAE’s multiple missions to the Moon. A couple of months ago, in September, MBRSC signed an agreement with China National Space Administration (CNSA) to kickstart joint space projects and future lunar exploration, including sending the next UAE rover aboard Chang’e 7, a robotic Chinese lunar exploration mission expected to be launched in 2026 to target the Moon’s south pole.
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Earth has been used as a building material for at least the last 12,000 years. Ethnographic research into earth being used as an element of Aboriginal architecture in Australia suggests its use probably goes back much further.
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