News From Around the Muslim World – September 2010

Algeria: Algeria to Launch First Maize Production

Algeria plans to launch commercial maize production for the first time as part of a drive to reduce grain purchases from abroad, the official APS news agency reported on September 29, 2010.

The world’s fifth-largest grain importer is trying to increase domestic production, which now fluctuates according to rain levels. The country imports nearly all of its maize and uses it primarily for animal feed.

At a meeting with industry officials, Agriculture Minister Rachid Benaissa issued instructions to draw up a plan for commercial maize production, APS reported.

The minister proposed developing irrigation to encourage maize production and suggested that the state animal feed agency, ONAB, provide financial incentives for Algerian farmers who grow the crop, the agency reported.

In Algeria maize is grown only by subsistence farmers, with smallholders sometimes selling surplus crops on roadsides to passing motorists.

The head of the Algerian farmers’ union, Mohamed Alioui, told Reuters earlier in September 2010 the government was considering applications from firms in Europe, the Gulf and Canada to launch the country’s first commercial maize production.

Benaissa gave no indication on September 29, 2010 whether any foreigners would be involved in maize production.

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Algeria: Algeria to Give Up Desertec Project

On September 9, 2010, Algeria has decided not to participate in the European project Desertec, a decision that was a blow to the rest of partner countries that have seen this as a bad news.

Already in June 2010, the Minister of Energy and Mines of Algeria Youcef Yousfi indicated that “Algeria is evaluating the German offer but we have to say that our country aims at giving birth to a bigger project than Desertec.” This happened to the chagrin of the private Algerian group involved in the project, Cevital.

The Desertec Industrial Initiative was formally launched in 2009 by a group of 12 European companies, mostly from Germany. On August 30, 2010,  Paul van Son, the director of the group, said he was now also concerned about declining German government support for the project.

To push the project forward, Desertec was wooing potential investors from the Middle East and north Africa, he said.

“We are in intensive talks with companies in the MENA region, which we are trying to win as new shareholders,” Mr van Son told Reuters, without naming any candidates.

In March 2010, the US company First Solar joined Desertec as its first member from outside Europe.

Earlier that month, Mr. van Son had said five companies from Morocco, Tunisia, Spain, France and Italy had agreed to join the consortium. But no confirmatory announcements have followed.

The group’s other existing partners include Munich Re, Deutsche Bank, RWE, E.ON, HSH Nordbank and Siemens from Germany, the Swiss ABB, Italy’s Enel, Spain’s Red Electrica and the French group Saint-Gobain.

Mr. van Son also said on September 6, 2010, that a planned Moroccan pilot project still lacked investors.

Desertec plans to build a network of solar thermal power plants in the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East with the aim of supplying renewable electricity in Europe.

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Egypt: Fuel Spill Fouls Nile River, Threatening Drinking Water

A spill of around 100 tons of diesel into the Nile River has forced Egyptian authorities to shut down four water purification stations as a precaution to prevent contamination.

The spill resulted from the partial sinking of a barge owned by the state’s Nile Co. for River Transportation that was docking in the city of Aswan, 650 miles south of Cairo, because of low water levels on September 11, 2010. It further degrades an Nile River basin already damaged by overuse, pollution and drought.

“All measures are being taken to clean up the leakage and ensure that drinking water supplies are safe,” Aswan’s governor, Mustafa Sayed, was quoted as saying by Egypt’s official news agency MENA. “Sites along the Nile that feed river water to purification stations have been blocked off as a precautionary measure to prevent polluted water from entering filters.”

The vessel’s captain, who was interrogated right after the incident, blamed low water levels as the main reason for the leakage.

Egyptian prosecutors have ordered the formation of an investigative committee, with the participation of officials from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Environment, to find reasons for the leak.

In addition to Aswan, the governorates of Luxor and Qena, both downriver from Aswan, have announced states of emergency after the spill reached Luxor on the evening of September 12. However, navigation in the river remained open.

Officials insisted that the 70-yard-wide and 1.2-mile-long fuel slick is shrinking and is not expected to affect water supply stations.

“The small slick fragmented as it passed through an area of dense grass,” Luxor Gov. Samir Farag said, adding that samples of water will be tested regularly to ensure its safety.

Provincial official Mohamed Mustafa assured that initial tests carried out after water supplies feeding purification stations have been shut off proved that drinking water in the region of Aswan was not contaminated.

“It is not a big spill. There are small spots of oil and considering the size of the Nile, it will not affect the river environment,” Mustafa said.

Environmental expert professor Mohamed Fouad echoed Mustafa’s quotes, saying that diesel takes some time before it evaporates without leaving any negative effects behind.

“The best and easiest way of dealing with a situation like this would be shutting off purification stations’ tanks for two or three days at most,” Fouad said.

The Nile River is Egypt’s main source of drinking and fresh water.

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Philippines: Christians-Muslims Meet to Address Global Warming

On September 8, 2010, a former Philippine senator and environmental activist revealed plans to organize an interfaith dialogue among religious leaders to address global warming.

Former senator Heherson Alvarez, vice chairman of the government’s Climate Change Commission, said he will enlist the help of different religious organizations in the country in the fight against effects of climate change, reports.

He announced his plan during a press conference held after a roundtable discussion among Muslim leaders and environmental activists in Quezon City.

The Muslim Association for Climate Change Action (MACCA) was also launched during the conference. MACCA, according to organizers, was an offshoot of the Muslim Seven-Year Action Plan on Climate Change crafted in Istanbul, Turkey in June 2009.

Amina Rasul, lead convenor of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy (PCID), said more than 20 Muslim intellectuals, scientists and environmentalists joined the discussion organized by her group in coordination with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Peace and Equity Foundation.

The participants expressed concern over the impact of environmental destruction, particularly in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which is most vulnerable to the rise in sea level.

“The Muslim community is speaking out,” said Rasul. She added that 70 percent of the 1.4 billion Muslims across the globe live in places that are vulnerable to climate change like Pakistan, which is now experiencing the worst floods in years. India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines are other threatened countries where Muslims live.

“When I was still DENR secretary I gave 10 Catholic bishops mountains to protect. They planted trees and improved the environment, and they were successful,” Alvarez told

He mentioned mountains in Agusan province in Mindanao and in Antipolo city east of Manila. “Only Bishop Julio Labayen encountered a problem with people who burned some trees for charcoal. But he was able to solve it.”

Retired Carmelite Bishop Labayen at that time headed Infanta prelature comprising the northern part of Quezon Province, Polillo archipelago, Jomalig Island, Patnanungan town and Aurora Province in northern Philippines.

“Now these Muslims can nurture and protect the watershed of Marawi which is a source of clean water and hydroelectric power,” Alvarez said.

“Because the public sector failed we need the religious sector and the NGOs to protect the environment.”

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Tunisia: Tunisia, Germany Review Environment Co-operation

Mr. Nadhir Hamada, Minister of Environment and Sustained Development, met on September 20 with a delegation of senior town council officials and members from the German city of Cologne, who are currently visiting Tunisia from September 20 to 25, 2010.

On this occasion, the minister stressed the importance of Tunisian-German co-operation in the environment protection sector and decentralized co-operation between the Tunisian cities and governorates and German Lands.

For his part, the Head of the German delegation expressed his admiration for Tunisia’s successful approach to conciliating between the requirements of development and those of environment protection.

He also underlined the need to develop partnership between Tunisian and German enterprises in the environment sector.

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