The Global Seed Vault in Svalbard in Norway
This is quite an incredible story. Apparently things have become so bad in Syria that the Svalbard Global Seed Vault has sounded the doomsday alarm and made an extraordinary request in early September to remove thousands of samples and transfer them to a vault in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley. The aim is to preserve Syria’s unique agricultural heritage after ICARDA’s gene bank in Aleppo, which includes more than 135,000 varieties of wheat, fava bean, lentil and chickpea crops, as well as the world’s most valuable barley collection, has been damaged by the war.
What is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault?
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in northern Norway, something of an agricultural Noah’s Ark, was set up as a guarantee against mass starvation. The world’s governments poured in their countries’ seed samples – unique strains of every crop – and the doors were closed in 2008, when no one expected them to be opened for many generations. It has more than 860,000 samples, from almost all nations. Even if the power were to fail, the vault would stay frozen and sealed for at least 200 years. The vault is meant to be opened only in the event of a catastrophic event, like flooding or drought, that would threaten a crop with extinction, according to Brian Lainoff, a spokesman for the Crop Trust, one of the vault’s international stewards.
ICARDA’s gene bank in Aleppo, Syria, includes more than 135,000 varieties of wheat, fava bean, lentil and chickpea crops, as well as the world’s most valuable barley collection.
Let’s just hope things will remain calm in the Bekaa.
Sources: [CNN] [Independent] [Jazeera]
The Sharjah Art Museum in collaboration with the Gibran National Committee is hosting an exhibition entitled Drawings of Gibran: A Humane Perspective that will showcase artworks by the Lebanese-American artist, poet, and writer. More than 50 works and manuscripts will be displayed, making it the largest collection of Gibran’s work ever to go on display in the UAE. Some of the works displayed will include his 1916 face of a Veiled Woman, a charcoal self-portrait from 1908 and an oil painting from 1910 called The Sad Mona Lisa. The original Gibran museum is located in Bcharreh of course and includes 440 original paintings.
Admission is free and the exhibition will run from October 7th until December 10th. Gibran Khalil Gibran is considered one of the most influential figures of the modern age. His most popular work is The Prophet, which was turned into an animated movie this year by Salma Hayek.
I am sure a lot of Lebanese here and in Dubai never visited Gibran’s museum in Bcharreh so here’s a chance to check out some of his artwork.
According to Ogero’s July 2015 report, there are 3,638,051 internet users in Lebanon as of December 2014, out of which 2,505,875 mobile internet users. The internet penetration is 86% which puts Lebanon in 4th position regionally after Bahrain, UAE and Qatar. Unfortunately, the speeds and quotas are still lousy but things are moving in the right way hopefully especially after the fiber optics joint announcement done by the Telecom Ministry and Ogero.
About the BB Commission:
The Broadband Commission for Digital Development was launched by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in response to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s call to step up efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Established in May 2010, the Commission unites government leaders, top industry executives, thought leaders, policy pioneers, international agencies and organizations concerned with development.
As far as broadband is concerned, the 2015 State of Broadband report was released few days ago and Lebanon’s indicators were relatively good when compared to other Arab countries. Broadband is seen as foundation for sustainable development by the UN and an “affordable and effective broadband connectivity is a vital enabler of economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection”.
Where does Lebanon stand in the Arab World?
– Lebanon ranked first (47th globally) in terms of fixed-broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants with an average of 22.8 over 100.
– Lebanon ranked 8th (57th globally) in terms of mobile broadband per 100 inhabitants with an average of 53.5 over 100. Kuwait ranked first regionally and third globally with 139.8 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants.
– 68.4% of households in Lebanon have internet (vs 98% in Qatar, 94% in KSA and 90.1% in UAE)
– 74.4% of Lebanese have used the internet in 2014 (vs 91.5% in Qatar, 91% in Bahrain and 90.4% in UAE).
Check out the full report [here].
While Lebanon’s indicators are promising, it is still important to get cheap, fast and abundant internet to all the Lebanese. Telecom Minister Boutros Harb was tweeting yesterday about the latest fiber optics updates and promised a monthly report to highlight the progress. Of course I’m not expecting fiber optics before 2-3 years but I’m still waiting for DSL services to be upgraded to VDSL2+ because we desperately need those especially in regions outside Beirut. I just applied for a DSL connection last week for my new house and I’m still waiting to see if I can get more than 1 MBPS.
The innocent victims of the civil war in Syria – Picture From TheGuardian
Ever since Europe and more specifically Germany agreed to receive Syrian refugees, we’ve been hearing all sorts of heartwarming stories on the overwhelming welcome refugees received in German towns and villages, yet everyone seems to forget that the only country that unconditionally welcomed Syrian refugees (willingly or unwillingly) is Lebanon and our country, which is 400 times smaller than the European Union yet has the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the world with 257 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants. The numbers reaching Europe are a drop in the ocean when compared to the refugee crisis facing Lebanon yet EU is struggling with migrants and asylum.
To be honest, I’m not really sure how we managed to cope so far with over 1.2 Million Syrian Refugees and a worsening economic situation and I think it’s about time western countries and Arab states consider offering some serious help to the Syrian population residing in camps and tents in Lebanon. Offering money to the Lebanese authorities is pretty much useless because they will end up stealing most if not all of it, and getting more funds to the UN won’t help. What the international community needs to do is support small NGOs that are working closely with the refugees and offer help on a case-by-case basis. Take for example Ketermaya, which is a small village in the Chouf area “that is hosting more Syrian refugees than all 50 U.S. states combined”. A good plan would be to help out this town’s municipality directly or through specific NGOs by building bigger and better schools and kicking off social initiatives. There’s so much that can be done with little money to assist all these refugees, all these children begging on the street and of course the Lebanese families hosting them.
Last week, we were able to move an 8-month old baby and his grandpa from the street to a new shelter within 48 hours and with the help of few people and a couple of NGOs. The whole thing barely cost us anything but there are hundreds if not thousands of families who still need help and need to be identified. It is unfair for one family to get a new life while others continue to suffer and it’s unacceptable to have over 1000 children in Beirut roaming the street begging for food.
I wasn’t expecting to collect $7500 in one week for Baby Ali but we cannot crowdfund every time as people tend to lose interest, which is why we need to figure out a way to let people help families in the way they see fit. There are people who don’t like to donate money and like to volunteer, while others would rather stay anonymous and help financially. I’m brainstorming this idea with a couple of friends but I’d like to hear your feedback on this idea and see if we can work something out to make our lives and the refugees’ lives better.
Until then, enjoy this nice collection of pictures of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Standard & Poor’s has revised the outlook for Lebanon on the long-term ratings from “stable” to “negative”. We used to blame regional instability on the economic situation in Lebanon and it definitely has impacted us negatively but I believe our biggest problems right now are domestic instability and corruption.
We haven’t had a Lebanese president since May 2014, elections since 2009, the parliament has failed to pass a budget since 2005 and garbage is all over our streets! It’s a good thing we still have a solid financial system backed by the Central Bank.
My favorite quote from the article is the below:
The agency did not expect the government to use the lower oil price environment, and the resulting fiscal space, to implement the structural reforms that would reduce fiscal vulnerabilities and promote longer-term economic growth. It added that public finances and fiscal flexibility would remain constrained by structural expenditures that include transfers to EDL and high debt servicing.
I guess this is the S&P’s way of telling the Lebanese authorites: #YouStink!
NASA Worldview image of the sandstorm in the Middle East
The sandstorm sweeping the Middle East is so large it can be seen from space. You can see above an image shared by NASA. We usually get sandstorms during the summer in Lebanon but this one is by far the most intense one we had in years.
Unlike Germany and Sweden, Denmark does not want to be part of a common European asylum policy and has made its intentions clear by placing ads (English And Arabic) in different Lebanese newspapers “announcing tighter regulations and cuts in provisions for asylum seekers.”
The ads state that:
– Social assistance for newly arrived refugees will be reduced by 50 percent.
– New refugees will have to be able to speak and understand Danish in order to obtain a permanent residency.
– Those granted a temporary residence permit will not have the right to family reunification for the first year of their residence.
– And that rejected asylum seekers will have to leave Denmark as quick as possible.
The Syrian war is by far the worst humanitarian disaster of our time and has resulted in the the greatest refugee crisis of the 21st century with over 4 million Syrians refugees hosted in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt and another 7.6 million Syrians displaced internally. While European countries are being pressured to open their doors to refugees, and Denmark is now being criticized for tightening regulations, I believe the Arab World’s wealthiest nations, mainly the Gulf States, should do more and “realize that now is the time to change their policy regarding accepting refugees from the Syria crisis. It is the moral, ethical and responsible step to take”.
They have the money, the infrastructure and some of the largest military budgets in the world. They are more prepared and equipped than anyone else to welcome refugees. Lebanon has been going through an economic and political crisis for the past 10 years yet has managed to host over a million Syrian refugees. Turkey is the only country to have taken more.
via Al Jazeera
Abdul Halim Attar is a Palestinian-Syrian who fled to Lebanon three years ago with his two children and has been selling pens in the streets of Beirut to make ends meet. Attar was photographed by an Icelandic journalist and activist called Gissur Simonarson who shared on Twitter two pictures of the Syrian refugee selling pens while holding his sleeping daughter. After receiving tons of requests to help the man, Gissi was able to locate the man and start a fundraising campaign with the help of CaptainMaj, Jessy El Murr from Sky News Arabia annd Carol Malouf who runs an aid organization Lebanese4Refugees.
The campaign went viral and the 35-year-old single father of two from Syria received almost $175,000 in donations in only 6 days. The original goal set for the crowdfunding campaign was only $5000 so this is quite amazing especially that there are still 9 days left. Attar used to earn $35 on a good day but now his life has changed dramatically.
When asked what he wants to do with the money, Abdul said:
“I want to use the money to help Syrians. I don’t want to be the only one being helped; there are thousands of children on the streets. There are people who are worse off than I am,” he said passionately. “Syria is my country; these are my people. In Syria, we used to welcome everyone and help them.
“I am lucky because at least I have a roof over my head and somewhere to sleep,” he added. “There are many who are barely living. I hope this campaign grows to help all Syrians. I hope other Syrians get a campaign the way I got a campaign, and people can see the conditions they are in.”
Until Attar gets his money, Carol Malouf has been helping him get food, paid for his rent this month and has been working on getting his paperwork in order to establish him in Lebanon.
All in all, if this story proves anything, it’s that people are more than willing to help when they are given the opportunity and that small initiatives like this one can help change someone’s life positively.
Someone crunched the numbers from Forbes’ 2015 billionaire list and came up with a a list of the most billionaire-dense countries. Lebanon made the list with 7 billionaires for a population of 4,104,000, which equals one billionaire per 586,286 Lebanese. The Mikati (Najib & Taha) and Hariri (Saad, Ayman, Bahaa, Fahad) families are basically Lebanon’s billionaires in addition to Robert Mouawad. It is worth noting that the Hariri and Mikati families are originally from Saida and Tripoli, two of the poorest areas in Lebanon.
The only other Arab country that made the list is Kuwait with 5 billionaires. I expected to see the UAE on the list but they only have 4 billionaires according to Forbes.
Check out the full list [here].
The World Economic Forum’s 2014-2015 Annual Global Competitiveness Report is out and it placed Lebanon among the 10 least efficient governments in the world. Lebanon is in fourth position behind Venezuela, Italy and Argentina. The report “evaluates the efficiency of 144 of the world’s governments on measures including the wastefulness of government spending, burden of regulation and transparency of policymaking, to produce an overall global ranking”. I’m quite surprised we are not in the top rank but I am sure we can pull it off next year so let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope that our government will make things even worse for all of us next year.
If you look more closely at the report, you will notice we ranked before last or last in the following categories:
– Quality of electricity supply.
– Ethics and Corruption.
– Public trust in politicians.
– Wastefulness of government spending.
– 3rd pillar: Macroeconomic environment
Mabrouk la Lebnen 😀
On the other hand, Qatar & the UAE were ranked among the top 10 most efficient governments in the world. You can check out the full report [here].