News From Around the Muslim World – April 2010

Egypt: New Centre to Document Bioethics in the Arab World

Bioethics and the ethics of science and technology are set to receive more prominence in the Arab world following the launch of a regional centre in Egypt to highlight activities in these fields.

The Regional Documentation and Information Centre for Bioethics and Ethics of Science and Technology (RDIC-BEST), the third of its kind in the world, was inaugurated last week (29 March) at the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology (ARST) in Cairo, where the centre will be based.

It has since held its first activity, a workshop on ethics in science and technology in the Arab region, at Cairo’s National Research Center.

Tarek Hussein, president of ARST, told SciDev.Net that RDIC-BEST — set up with support from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) — would help raise awareness about bioethics and science ethics through education and information dissemination.

He added the centre would provide assistance with the developing of ethics databases and establishing ethics committees in the region. It would also promote setting ethics standards in the region.

“The centre is managed by regional and local committees of experts from UNESCO and Arab countries,” Hussein said. “They will be in charge of organising seminars and workshops, and developing university curricula to include [teaching on] ethics.”

“It includes a library of documents collected from UNESCO regional centres across the world. A computer lab with a digital library and databases has been set up and linked with regional nodes to exchange data and information for the benefit of all parties,” Hussein added.

UNESCO has previously established two RDIC-BEST centres — one at Vilnius University, Lithuania, in 2004, and the other at Kenya’s Egeron University in 2007.

The new Cairo centre is “an important further step in promoting and developing activities on bioethics and the ethics of science and technology in the Arab region,” said Henry Silverman, programme director for Middle East Research Ethics Training Initiative, based at the University of Maryland in the United States.

Silverman also said that RDIC‐BEST would enhance the efforts of UNESCO’s existing Global Ethics Observatory (GEObs) in coordinating and sharing the relevant data on ethics from the Arab world.

GEObs collates and stores ethics information from all over the world and makes it publicly accessible through UNESCO’s website. Its data includes information on ethics experts and institutions, teaching programmes, laws and guidelines, codes of conduct and teaching materials.

Hany Sleem, one of the coordinators of the Egyptian Network of Research Ethics Committees said: “I think it is a great idea to document ethics-related activities in the Arab region.”

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Indonesia: The conference on Muslim action on climate change

Muslims should become agents of change to protect the environment with the help of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which should set up a special council to take the lead on climate change issues, a conference said.

The conference on Muslim action on climate change ended on April 10, 2010 and said that the OIC needed to promote climate change policies, including on society’s lifestyle in accordance with the Islamic values.

It said that Muslim communities should start taking action in dealing with climate change through, among others, the establishment of eco-Islamic boarding schools and information dissemination on sustainability messages to the followers through mosques.

The two-day conference, however, failed to set up the proposed Muslim Association on Climate Change Action (MACCA) as an umbrella group to implement the Bogor declaration.

The conference also failed to discuss the implementation of the planned environmentally friendly haj.

“With or without the MACCA, we will go forward to take action against climate change,” head of the steering committee Ismid Hadad told the participants.

The conference would submit the Bogor declaration to the OIC, which consists of 57 Muslim and Muslim-majority countries.

“It is time for the OIC to talk about climate change to put pressure on the international community to deal with global warming,” he said.

The conference also agreed to promote collaboration among Muslim countries by mobilizing scientists to conduct research on climate change.

There are currently more than 1.4 billion Muslims worldwide, making up around one fifth of the world’s population.

Ismid said Muslim and Muslim-majority countries needed to train their religious leaders on knowledge of climate change for them to propagate the values to their congregations.

They also agreed to promote a special curriculum on environmental issues in Islamic schools from elementary school to university level.

“The Islamic boarding school system in Indonesia could be used as model to promote best environmental education practices,” he said.

There are currently 17,000 such schools in Indonesia.

“Some 900 schools have applied eco-friendly practices by managing water, waste and energy and instilling curriculum with environmental subjects,” member of the eco-pesantren team Mardhani Djuhri said.

The director of the Center for Civilization Dialogue at the University of Malaya, Azizan Baharuddin, acknowledged the crucial role of education in achieving sustainable development.

“The education should raise public awareness on sustainable development,” Azizan said.

Mohammad Azmi from Malaysia-based Consumer Association of Penang said that OIC member countries should strengthen their position on international talks on climate change issues.

“This conference on Muslims against climate change should come up with strong stance to back up the UNFCC,” he said.

“All Muslim countries should be part of the *UNFCC* board to prevent rich nations from killing the Kyoto Protocol,” he said.

The UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) hosts annual conferences on climate change to discuss issues including emissions cuts targets to tackle climate change.

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Jordan: Kingdom to Receive Final $45m for Gulf War Environmental Damage

Jordan will receive $45 million plus interest in April 2010 from the UN Compensation Committee (UNCC) for damage incurred during the first Gulf War, a senior government official said on March 31, 2010.

The funds represent the third and final instalment of compensation for damage the Kingdom’s water, environment, wildlife, marine life and agriculture sustained in the aftermath of the first Gulf War.

“The funds will be transferred to the Kingdom in accordance with the Jordan Environmental Compensation Programme’s plan,” Minister of Environment Hazem Malhas said on March 31, 2010.

“The funds are currently deposited in an account especially for Jordan at the United Nations,” he said in a statement released by the ministry.

Malhas and head of the Jordan Environmental Compensations Programme Abdul Nabi Fardous discussed the compensation with representatives of the UNCC in Geneva during a visit scheduled to conclude on April 1, 2010.

In 2005, the UNCC decided to grant Jordan $160 million in compensation for damage to its ecosystems during or after the war, in addition to $1.4 million to tackle the salinity of the country’s underground water basins.

The Kingdom has so far received $115 million of the total amount awarded by the UN, while the remaining funds are expected to be transferred once approved by the UNCC Governing Council later in April 2010, Ministry of Environment Spokesperson Isa Shboul told The Jordan Times on March 31, 2010.

The funds will be used to implement several development projects to revive the country’s Eastern Badia, which witnessed severe environmental degradation following the 1991 Gulf War.

One of the projects seeks to enhance living conditions in the badia, which is home to 6 per cent of the country’s population, by offering veterinary services and fodder to area residents.

Malhas said the project’s economic feasibility study and environmental impact assessment will start within a month, and will later be presented to the UNCC Governing Council for approval.

Once approved, implementation of the project will start before the end of 2010, according to the statement.

The venture, among other initiatives, aims to offset degradation caused mainly by shepherds from neighbouring countries who entered Jordan following the Gulf War with millions of head of cattle that consumed pastures and scarce water resources.

The projects ultimately focus on returning the badia’s ecosystem to its status before 1990 and tackling the negative consequences of random grazing and wildlife deterioration, according to Environment Ministry officials.

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Kuwait: Arab Environment Report to Be Released This Month

A first of its kind report assessing the environment and future expectations of the Arab world will be released later this month. The commission of Arab Environment Ministers and the Arab League asked a number of scientific centers in various Arab countries to carry out the assessment. The announcement was made on April 11, 2010 during a press conference held at the premises of the Kuwait Journalists Association in Shuwaikh. Khaled Al-Hajiri, chairman of the Kuwaiti based Greenline Environmental Group (GEG), said that releasing the report on April 26 in Kuwait will be a great achievement for the whole Arab world.

We didn’t have a complete evaluation of the environmental situation in the Arab world so this report comes at a time when it is most needed,” Al-Hajiri said. The chairman of GEG said that after the release the group will make sure the results are available to as many people as possible. “The public will have a better understanding of the environmental challenges the Arab world is faced with,” he added.

Scientific centers from Kuwait, Syria, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain participated in the study. Statistics were gathered from all Arab countries to compile the possible future environmental challenges this part of the world will face.

The research looks into a number of issues including the atmosphere, water resources, land resources and the possible impact of global warming,” said Thari Al-Ajmi, an expert with the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR) who took part in the study. He added that the report also analyzed the environment’s effect on social and economic trends in the Arab world.

Al-Ajmi shared some of the study’s findings. “The Arab world’s carbon dioxide emissions represent only 4.7 percent of global emissions but would be heavily affected by any increase of sea level as a result of global warming.” He explained that this is because 50 percent of the Arab world’s population lives at sea level.

Al-Ajmi revealed that among the most pressing challenges of the Arab world is its huge population growth and increasing demand on water. He said that 66 percent of the region’s surface water resources come from outside the Arab world. He added that Arab citizens’ annual share of water dropped from 3,500 cubic meters in the year 1960, to 1,000 cubic meters now. “The current population of the Arab world is 334 million and it is expected to reach 586 million by 2050. This increases the urgency to take needed steps toward meeting the future demand of water and electricity, and also to take measures to confront poverty,” he asserted.

According to Al-Ajmi, the research also found that agricultural land in the Arab world dropped from 23 percent in the year 1980 to 5.1 percent today. The study also revealed that the vast majority of Arabs, 90 percent, live in dry or semi-dry areas.

The report released a number of recommendations that the committee of Arab Environment Ministers can adopt in order to confront these environmental challenges.

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Morocco: Morocco to unveil green projects on Earth Day

Rabat will inaugurate 10 major environmental protection projects in April 2010 when it becomes one of six world cities to lead celebrations for Earth Day, a Morocco official said on April 10, 2010.

 The Morocco capital will join Washington, New York, Shanghai, Rome and Mumbai as leading hosts of events on April 17-24 for the 40th anniversary of the event organised by the US-based Earth Day Network.

“To commemorate this day, Rabat will be an example on the world scale by inaugurating 10 long-range projects focused on the protection of the environment in the kingdom,” an official told AFP.

The projects will include pushing environmental education in schools and the establishment of a national observatory for environment and rural development, according a statement by Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi.

They will also aim to fight desertification, preserve ecosystems, treat waste and end the use of plastic bags.

The Moroccan capital has more than 260 hectares (642 acres) of green space as well as a green belt covering around 1,063 hectares.

Morocco is the first African, Muslim and Arab nation to commit to holding national events in honour of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22, according to the Network.

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Tunisia: Zaghouan hosts seminar on environmental upgrading of enterprises

On April 6, 2010, the governorate of Zaghouan hosted an information seminar on the “National Program for environmental upgrading of enterprises”.

Traders of the region and officials from the environmental sector took part in the event.

Chaired by Mr. Nadhir Hamada, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, the event marks the starting point of a series of meetings to be organized in various regions.

The event aims at informing companies in the various governorates of about environmental issue and enhancing its role in improving their competitiveness.

By 2014, the national environmental upgrading program (PMNE) hopes to certify 500 Tunisian companies through the “ISO 14001″certification standard.

Mr. Hamada stressed that the national environmental upgrading program (PMNE) targets more than 2,600 economic offshore enterprises, all the more so that the ISO 14001 is a prerequisite to access to European markets.

The Minister also chaired a signing ceremony of 14 agreements between industrial companies the International Centre for Environmental Technologies of Tunisia (CITET).

These agreements which are the first to be signed at a national level, are related to companies in the industrial zone of Zriba.

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UAE: New Eco-friendly Cleaning System Introduced

A revolutionary new environmentally friendly cleaning system is bringing door-to-door medical-level hygiene to car interiors, houses, buses and schools.

Dubai-based Saniservice, which opened a few months ago, is using non-toxic techniques and technology – more often seen in hospitals – to disinfect air conditioning systems and living areas.

Quick service

Joel Mayor, a Swiss expat who runs the company, said what made his firm different was the unique way an electrical charge is used to stimulate water particles that give it its disinfectant properties.

It costs Dh240 for a car disinfection, which takes around 20 minutes. The cost for home servicing varies, depending on the number of rooms.

He said: “This means we can use the product to almost instantaneously kill any bacteria and fungus it touches, disinfecting totally within minutes but leaving no toxic residue.”

He said: “We are the first company in Dubai to offer the bio-sanitiser for use in private property or buildings outside of the medical profession. A poorly maintained AC system can be a breeding ground for bacteria and cause respiratory problems.”

The company uses dry mist diffusion that seeps into every nook and cranny to coat anything from a bedroom to a classroom, killing bacteria on all surfaces.

It can also be flushed through the entire air conditioning system.

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Yemen: ‘Cleaning-Climbers’ Promote Green Tourism in Yemen

As Yemeni scientists watch with horror, major cities are running out of water, and pollution and erratic weather patterns are destroying farmlands.  And while permanent solutions are nowhere to be found, a new style of tourism offers a small comfort: a “cleaning climb.” Hundreds of tourists, students and professional climbers gathered this morning of April 1, 2010 to rock-climb in the Yemeni mountains, while picking up the trash that pollutes the local water and soil.

In Yemen’s ancient villages, where most of the people in the country live, there is often not a lot- not a lot of money, not a lot of water, and not a lot to do.

There is, however, and abundance of garbage. In this village tucked into a rocky mountainside, piles of household refuse tumble down the winding streets and pollute the otherwise picturesque gardens and terrace farms.

Locals joke that Yemeni trees are actually blue and red, the color of the plastic bags that you get when you buy qat, a mildly narcotic leaf, and the Yemeni national past time. But this morning, for the first time in a long time, a few of the trees were green.

Some of the people rappelling down this mountain have never rock-climbed before and the crowd cheers as they land. They came to the village to clean up the trash, climb the massive rocks atop the mountain, and later have a picnic.

Cleaning and climbing

Addie Byrum, a NGO worker from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania says the idea is to gather adventure/travelers looking for good times, and combine the event with good works. Before hitting the rocks, climbers donned plastic gloves and garbage bags and sent trucks, loaded with about 400 bags to the local dump.

“I think the climbing thing is good to bring people here and get them interested. But the cleaning is probably the most useful part of this whole thing,” said Byrum.

In Yemen, when you finish your soda, it is customary to toss the can onto the street. And while much of the countryside in the remote, largely undeveloped country remains pristine, garbage in the villages piles up almost unchecked.

Environmental awareness

Joshua Maricich, the head of the Yemen Adventure Club, the organization that ran this event, said that by bringing tourists, expats and villagers to clean it up together, he hopes the event will begin to foster a culture of environmental awareness.

“We need education in these villages. They don’t like having their villages being filthy. Someone just needs to give them a little spark,” he said.

More than 50,000 children die each year in Yemen because of diseases caused by water pollution. Malaria, diarrhea, and typhoid- water-related diseases that are not fatal in First World countries- cause half of the child deaths in Yemen.

Pollution, drought and erratic weather patterns caused by climate change have already decimated much of Yemen’s farmlands. And many say the beleaguered nation is soon to have the first capital city without any clean drinking water. Yet despite these pending and ongoing disasters, environmental awareness remains rare in a country where half the people live on less than $2 a day.

Sixteen-year-old Mota, like many of the school children who live in the village, came to help visitors clean. Mota says if the village is clean, more tourists will come, and bring income to the desperately poor area.

When the targeted area was cleaned up Thursday morning and the first truck was loaded, village children suggested they take more bags into other neighborhoods. But the suggestion was lost on the older teenage cleaners, who raced up the mountain to start rock climbing and repelling.

But in their enthusiasm, it became apparent that Yemen’s habit of dropping trash could not be broken with one event. Many of the teens dropped their plastic gloves on the mountainside along the way.

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Yemeni official: Yemen marine environment in danger

Yemen has warned the marine environment in its waters is exposed to wide destruction operations by fishing vessels that are shoveling the bottom of the sea in order to obtain a large amount of fish.

“These practices result in damage and destruction of many coral reefs and marine life alike”, Undersecretary of Water and Environment Ministry Mufeed al-Halimi said on April 3, 2010.

The ministry of water and environment is dealing with this dangerous phenomenon positively, as it directed the General Authority for Environment Protection to take stringent actions to stop these irresponsible acts, he added.

Moreover, al-Halimi stressed the importance of involving the relevant authorities in dealing with such harmful acts to the marine environment, especially the General Authority for Maritime Affairs and Coastguard and other parts in the Yemeni ports.

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