News From Around the Muslim World – August 2010

Algeria: Algeria and the US Combine Forces in S&T

On August 14, 2010, Algeria and the United States ratified a second agreement to cooperate in science and technology.

The agreement — extending over the next five years — is intended to pave the way toward scientific cooperation in several areas between US and Algerian institutes and scientists.

The fields targeted are seismology and applied research into earthquake-resistant engineering, industrial research, agriculture, energy, space, health, Internet communication technology, environment and biodiversity protection, water resources management and marine research.

The two countries will exchange expertise and training sessions, as well as organise scientific forums and joint research projects between the public and private sectors in both the Algeria and the United States.

The agreement also calls for enhanced cooperation between Maghreb countries — Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia — though experts from other countries are invited to participate.

This is the second agreement in the ‘Algeria-US Science and Technology Cooperation Convention’, signed in January 2006 by Algerian higher education and scientific research minister Rachid Hraoubia, and Paula Dobriansky, US under secretary of state for democracy and global affairs.

The first result of the convention occurred in June 2010: an agreement to cooperate in the civil use of nuclear energy and nuclear waste management, as well as environment control and electricity generation.

Algerian energy and mines minister, Chakib Khelil, described the June agreement as a “historical moment” and a good start for permanent bilateral cooperation between Algeria and the United States in the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, reported the Algerian Press Service.

Abdel-Karim Allan, an environmental science expert at the Algerian Environment Ministry, told SciDev.Net that the agreements would contribute to the development of technologies to preserve Algeria’s environment.

“We expect that Algeria will acquire considerable experience in the field of waste recycling to protect our environment from pollution and preserve the rich biodiversity that Algeria enjoys,” he said.

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Bangladesh: Two Factories Fined for River Pollution

On August 22, 2010, the Department of Environment in a drive fined two factories Tk 77 lakh for discharging untreated liquid waste in canals flowing to the Meghna river.

Sycotex Dyeing, an export-oriented textile mill, had set up an effluent treatment plant but never used it. The mill continued discharging untreated liquid waste in a nearby canal that flows to the Meghna river.

The mill has so far emptied nearly 250,000 cubic metres of untreated liquid waste in the river, according to an estimation of a mobile team of the department.

Adhunik Paper Mill in the same area released liquid waste in a nearby canal and had not constructed a waste water tank in violation of the conditions of the environmental clearance certificate.

Moreover, the mill set up another unit without permission from the Department of Environment.

Both the factories had been warned that their gas, electricity and water supply would be disconnected unless they stop polluting immediately and comply with the environmental rules and regulations.

Sycotex Dyeing was fined Tk 67 lakh and Adhunik Paper Mill Tk 10 lakh during the drive led by Mohammed Munir Chowdhury, director of enforcement and monitoring unit of the department.

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Brunei: Brunei Future Tied to Forest

With some of the most unspoiled rainforests on Earth and a firm commitment by the government to keep them that way, Brunei’s pristine ecosphere has great potential to boost its tourism sector, the Oxford Business Group (OBG) said in August 2010.

It also presents a range of scientific research and development opportunities that could generate spin-offs in a number of industries, the think tank said in a paper published online.

OBG noted government efforts to explore and study the Sg Ingei Protection Forest in the western Belait district, which illustrate that Brunei sees its economic future tied to its forest resources.

Indeed, the Brunei Tourism Board had said it intends to promote Sg Ingei forest as a premium eco-tourism destination.

The board’s chief executive, Sheikh Jamaluddin Sheikh Mohamed, said that listing the forest as a national park would maintain and safeguard the forest’s pristine nature, noting that eco-tourism was one of the key strengths of the sultanate’s tourism industry.

Brunei possesses more than 70 percent forest cover.

The Sg Ingei region covers 18,491 hectares of the Labi Hills Forest Reserve, near Sarawak’s Gunung Mulu National Park, a Unesco World Heritage site.

Deep in Sg Ingei, teams of researchers from the Universiti Brunei Darussalam, backed by the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources and supported by the Heart of Borneo Council and WWF, are conducting Brunei’s first-ever biodiversity study.

The two-year study aims to garner the scientific data necessary to protect Sg Ingei, since there are plans for it to be designated as a national park, as well as improve the understanding of its ecosystem.

The Oxford Business Group noted that there is much talk of the forest’s potential as an eco-tourism destination, amid hope that it could follow in the footsteps of Ulu-ulu Temburong National Park in the southeast.

Ulu-ulu Temburong pioneered eco-tourism in Brunei over the last decade and has since become one of the country’s major tourism draws, it said.

OBG said potential for growth also exists in the area of scientific research and product development, noting Ulu-ulu is already the location of a Universiti Brunei Darussalam field study complex, and it received a major boost recently when a new research centre into climate change was established with help from America’s Smithsonian Institute.

“The Brunei Tourism Board is waiting for Sungai Ingei to receive its full designation as a national park. Once that happens, it will set up facilities and open up access to visitors,” OBG said.

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Caspian Sea: A Sea of Celebrations to Protect the Caspian

Renowned for its caviar among the world’s epicureans, the Caspian Sea boasts much more wildlife than its famous sturgeon fish. The world’s largest enclosed body of water is a unique ecosystem and home to over 400 endemic species. But for the last two decades, the Caspian Sea is increasingly exposed to the threat of pollution from agricultural run-off, oil and gas exploitation and industrial waste.

On August 12, 2010, five countries are celebrating “Caspian Day” to highlight the environmental risks faced by the sea and their effect on the wider region.

Beach-cleaning activities, conferences, thematic workshops, and concerts will be held throughout the day in Azerbaijan, Islamic Republic of Iran, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation and Turkmenistan. The events aim to show that protecting the marine environment of the Caspian Sea is essential for improving the living conditions of the 15 million people living in the region.

The celebrations will also mark the contribution made by the protection of the Caspian Sea environment to peace and stability in a region of global importance for oil and gas exploration, exploitation and transport.

Caspian Day marks the entry into force of the Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea. Known as the Tehran Convention, the agreement was concluded on 4 November 2003 and is still the only legally binding agreement between the five states.

The first two protocols of the Tehran Convention have already been negotiated and are ready for adoption. They will introduce cooperation on preparation and response measures for oil spills, as well as common rules for dealing with the environmental impact of activities with potential trans-boundary effects.

It is expected that the protocols will be ready for signature when the Contracting Parties to the Tehran Convention meet for the third time in Kazakhstan in November 2010.

Caspian Day is also meant to raise awareness and solicit public engagement in conserving biodiversity and reducing pollution from land based sources. Binding protocols on these issues are in the process of being finalised.

In addition, cooperation between the environment community and the fisheries sector will address declining fish stocks and promote ecosystem resilience as a way to sustain the 140 species of fish living in the sea, sturgeon being one of the most important.

UNEP is proud to provide the secretariat services of the Tehran Convention pending the decision of the Contracting Parties on the location and arrangements for these services in the region. Such a decision was already called for by the presidents of the Caspian countries when they met in Tehran in October 2007 and is now urgently needed, in order to seal the ownership of the Convention process by the Caspian States. The issue will be high on the agenda of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention when it convenes for the third time on 24 – 26 November 2010, in Astana, Kazakhstan.

“Increased oil and gas production and transport, decline in fisheries and biodiversity, impacts of climate change – all these environmental threats that the Caspian Sea is facing have a strong impact on the daily lives of the people around the Sea”, said United Nations Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. “UNEP is proud and honoured to provide the secretariat services to the Framework Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea, the Tehran Convention, which aims to assist the Caspian States to counter these threats and promote sustainable development. Sustainable development, however, is a matter for everyone. Caspian Day is held to inform the public of the unique and sensitive environment of the biggest inland water body on Earth. It is only when all stakeholders take responsibility and when they are involved in decision-making and environmental protection efforts, that the Caspian region can prosper in a truly sustainable manner”.

At 1000km long, the Caspian Sea is the largest enclosed body of water on Earth. It is a remnant of the ancient ocean Tethis, which connected the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans around 50 million years ago. Around 130 rivers feed into the Caspian Sea, the largest being the Volga.

The August 12, 2010’s celebrations will mark both the achievements and the challenges of an ongoing process which should keep the Caspian environment safe for generations to come.

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Indonesia: Indonesia and US Launch Biodiversity Centre in Bali

On August 10, 2010, Indonesia and the US launched a biodiversity research centre on the holiday island of Bali to further studies of the archipelago’s rich and diverse species.

 The Indonesian Biodiversity Research Center (IBRC), funded by USAID, is a collaboration between three local universities and Old Dominion University in Virginia and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

IBRC chief researcher from UCLA Paul Barber said it was a strategic move because Indonesia was still behind on the number of researchers and biodiversity studies despite its abundance of potential research material.

“The centre will significantly enhance Indonesia’s capacity to study its own biodiversity,” Barber said.

One of IBRC initiators I Gusti Ngurah Mahardika said the centre would serve as a focal point for biodiversity research, training and species collection.

“IBRC is the magnet that will attract Indonesian and international scientists to carry out researches focusing on biodiversity,” Mahardika said.

“These researchers will employ the latest technology and methods in molecular genetics to gain understanding on the intricate nature and formation of Indonesia’s biodiversity.” he said.

The centre is based in Udayana University’s Biomedic Lab in Denpasar where 60 Indonesian and US scientists make up the core researchers.

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Jordan: The Ministry of Environment Establishes A Center of Excellence for Sustainable Development

On August 5, 2010, the Ministry of Environment (MoEnv) together with Amman Institute for Urban Development (Ai) signed in Amman “A Memorandum of Understanding  on Establishing a Center of Excellence for Sustainable Development”. 

On September 2000, the UN General Assembly held the Millennium Summit for development in the presence of 189 state leaders who adopted at the summit’s final address “the Millennium Declaration”.  Based on the Declaration eight main goals were identified as the Millennium Development Goals.  Each of the eight goals has measurable targets that are essential elements for achieving the sustainable development for all.  They comprise of eradicating poverty, provision of education and health to everyone, empowering women and concern for the environment. 

The Hon. Hazem  Malhas, Minister of Environment stated that ‘…Jordan and the Ministry of Environment wants to ensure that the Green Economy initiatives are embedded into the development of Jordan and that the Amman Institute, as an independent think-tank with its considerable talent, can help fast-track this objective”.  The Institute is a not-for-profit organization that was established in 2008 to institutionalize and share the knowledge gained from the international award winning Amman Plan.  The Ai has become one of the largest regional knowledge hubs in community planning, urban governance and sustainable development and has attracted Jordanian talent back to the region to help in its mission.  The Ai is active throughout Jordan and is now providing services to other Arab countries.

The Hon. Omar Maani, Mayor of Amman and Chairman of Ai explained that ‘…we are very pleased to cooperate with the Ministry because our objectives are completely aligned and the Institute’s strong presence in the planning and development sector dovetails nicely with the mission to achieve and advance the Millennium goals in Jordan.  With this partnership we hope to excel and perhaps set an example for others to follow within the region’.

The objective of the MOU is to establish a Jordan Center of Excellence on Sustainable Development and take advantage of the talent and institutional infrastructure already present within the Amman Institute.  The Center aims to create a conducive, enabling environment for Jordanians to pursue sustainability goals.  It will focus on research, training/capacity development, community outreach and provide technical assistance and advisory services.  It is a non-exclusive agreement that enable both parties to pursue related opportunities independently and with other third parties. 

A pioneering effort by Ai, the Centre will be the fountainhead of ideas and practices to promote Environmental Sustainability.  It will enable Jordanians transform themselves by embedding the concerns of sustainable development into their own strategies and processes.  In the process, the Center will play the environment mediation role between the Government and the private sector, the research/academia sector and the none-governmental sector. 

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Mali: Mali to Rear Malaria-Resistant GM Mosquitoes

A laboratory in Mali will soon be rearing Africa’s first mosquitoes genetically modified to resist malaria.

The laboratory, at the Malaria Research and Training Centre, University of Bamako, was officially opened on August 3, 2010.

Its research is part of a partnership, between the University of Bamako and Keele University in the United Kingdom, which aims to develop GM mosquitoes to fight malaria.

The researchers hope that resistant mosquitoes will one day take over wild populations, eventually wiping malaria out.

Funded for three years by an £800,000 (around US$1.8 million) grant from the Wellcome Trust, the partnership has trained three Malian scientists at Keele University, and established a biosafety category 3 security laboratory at the Centre.

Mamadou Coulibaly, head of the Centre’s Genomics and Proteomics Laboratory and principal investigator on the project in Mali, said the laboratory, which was finished in mid-July 2010, should be producing GM mosquitoes by 2011.

Paul Eggleston, professor of molecular entomology at the Centre for Applied Entomology and Parasitology at the University of Keele and head of the project in the UK, said:  “We wanted to take this technology out to Africa to get local scientists involved in what we were doing, to fully understand it, and become part of it. Ultimately, it’s [those countries] that take the final decision about whether they want to use [GM mosquitoes] or not,” he told SciDev.Net.

The production of GM mosquitoes has received approval from the University of Bamako’s Faculty of Medicine, Pharmacy and Dentistry ethics committee, said Coulibaly. Mali is also working on developing its own biosafety legislation regarding GM insects with the support of the WHO, said Eggleston.

Eggleston said they hope to test their GM mosquitoes in large outdoor field cages within three years. This will be at a field station in one of the villages outside Bamako that have a long history of working with the university, he said.

There are several projects worldwide that aim to use genetic modification to prevent mosquitoes transmitting diseases such as malaria or dengue.

Ricarda Steinbrecher, co-director of EcoNexus, a non-profit organisation that analyses developments in science and technology, and participant in the ad hoc technical expert group to the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol (AHTEG) which over the last two years has developed guidelines on the risk assessment of GM mosquitoes, said: “With GM insects — and in particular GM mosquitoes — we are faced with a number of problems that we have very little or no experience or knowledge of how to assess or deal with.

“We don’t even know, or have sufficient scientific data on, what the potential harm or negative impacts might be.

“GM insects are crucially different from GM crops. GM insects are designed to spread their engineered genes far and wide and to interact with wild populations … they will not stay put at specific locations but move into wild habitats and across national borders.

“Releases and risk assessments — and risk decisions — have thus to be a multi-national or regional concern.

“No clear or specific regulations or guidelines are yet in place for the environmental release of GM mosquitoes within any country or region. Guidelines are being worked on at international level, but concerns and uncertainties are high.

Eggleston said the team is conscious that creating GM mosquitoes in Africa was a major step and that it was important to tread cautiously.

“The risks we’re talking about [in setting up the lab] are negligible but because this is the first time this is happening in Africa we feel we need to take a ‘belt and braces’ approach,” he said.

Coulibaly added: “Ordinary Malian people think [GM mosquitoes for malaria control] are a good idea. They understand the need to control malaria. However, they do have some reservations on the possible outcomes. They need to be reassured that the laboratory will not produce mosquitoes that are more dangerous.”

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Mauritania: Mauritania Plants Trees to Hold Back Desert

Mauritania has launched a tree-planting program aimed at protecting its capital from the advancing desert and coastal erosion, a project that could eventually extend thousands of kilometers across Africa.

On August 21, 2010, President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz planted the first of some 2 million trees that are meant to form a “green belt” around the capital, Nouakchott, and curb erosion elsewhere in the desert nation that straddles black and Arab Africa.

“The aim of this green belt is to stop the advancing desert and stop encroachment by the sea, which is threatening the town with floods,” Ba Housseynou Hammadi, minister for the environment and sustainable development, said.

“This belt will also play an economic role. Some of the trees that have been chosen can be used for firewood. Others will produce gum acacia, which is (a natural gum) sought after for pharmaceutical products,” Hammadi added.

It will take four years to plant the trees in Mauritania.

The project is part of a broader ant-desertification plan, the “Great Green Wall,” launched by the African Union in 2005 to try to create a 15 km-wide wall of greenery stretching 7,000 km between Africa’s east and west coasts.

The plan is to plant a number of desert-resistant species of tree across 11 nations in Africa’s Sahel region, to the south of the Sahara, to ease erosion and improve the quality of the soil for farmers in a region prone to drought and food shortages.

African leaders met in June 2010 to try to seek progress for the idea, but it has so far failed to take off due to a lack of funding and some skepticism over how effective it would be and whether the trees would be looked after.

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