5 unusual and environmental places to stay in Dubai

Green Prophet - February 25, 2014

It’s no trouble to find a place to stay overnight in Dubai. Hotels and luxury is begging and calling. But what if you are the green and eco persuasion? You’ve promised to replace your polluting air miles with a softer landing. Green Prophet gives you 5 earth friendly hotel alternatives in Dubai.

1. Surf couches in Dubai. Yes it’s possible. Not all Dubai couches are lined with gold. Well, maybe faux gold (not like the white gold Mercedes here). Read our backgrounder on couch surfing in the Middle East and surf away. Who knows maybe you’ll meet a Middle Eastern prince. Tafline shows you how it’s done.

2. Camp in Dubai. Pack your tent on the plane and get set to camp in Dubai. You might feel out of place running into the jet set with sand under your fingernails, but you will feel what it’s like to be a desert nomad, for a least a couple of days. For the spoiled ones, this list even suggests some place where you can do 5 star camping. Our fearless traveller Tafline has even spent nights out in her car, while travelling in the United Arab Emirates.

3. Rent a house, apartment, yacht, cave, caravan… you name it, on AirBnB. In the real world, most of the actual listings in Dubai are for rooms with views (like of Burj Dubai) in luxury buildings, but it’s certainly softer to tread on the planet this way.

4. Hostel it. Some of the rooms offered are at a school campus in Ajman for about $15 a night. Other rooms in small hostels are from $50 to about $100 a night. My experience with youth hostels in the Middle East is that they are not only used by youth but also by foreign workers and male travellers from other Middle East countries. If you are comfortable with the clash of cultures, go for it.

5. Like Green Prophet’s Tafline who has been on a sailing journey for months, it is possible to sail or boat into Dubai on a modest sailboat or a luxury cruise ship. We prefer the modest options, obviously, but we’d be okay with your ship if it were powered by renewable energy like this one.

Image of Dubai guy chilling out from Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

Ski the Middle East with a natural born skier

Green Prophet - February 25, 2014

The Middle East, in spite of unusual indoor places like Ski Dubai is not exactly on the main track of international ski sites and resorts like Cortina in Italy or Aspen.  But the Middle East has some stunning and relatively unknown locations worth hitting. Ever think about skiing Iran? Or sliding down slopes in Lebanon? 

Historically, however, ski resorts in countries like Iran, Mzaar Kfardebian in the mountains of Lebanon; and numerous sites in Turkey and Iran are great locations for skiing.  One new website brings it all together.

Up to now, no one platform information site has been available for comprehensive data on ski resorts, weather and snow forecast and snow- cover information; as well as information on ski professionals (ski / snowboard instructors, mountain guides) ski schools, restaurants, hotels and other businesses connected with skiing.

Meet David Bloch and his Natural Born Skier ski resort website.

Bloch, 40, was literally born on skis:  ”My parents met on the ski slopes of the Alps, and I wore my first set of skis at age one,” says Bloch, who has competed in Alpine and Telemark or “free heel” skiing  for over 10 years on the World Cup circuit.

A passionate lover of the outdoors and its environment, with a MSc Degree in Environmental Studies, Bloch decided to put together a comprehensive skiing information web site in 2007: and established his company, Natural Born Skier, in Sion, Valais in the heart of the Swiss Alps.

“Natural Born skier bares the fruit of over five years of ideas, implementations, programming, research and development on all aspects involving skiing” says Bloch.

The website was officially launched during a trade-show in Munich, Germany, on January 26, 2014. Although still a “work in progress” already has data on more than 4,400 ski resorts worldwide. This includes ski slopes and resorts in the Middle East and nearby locations like Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan.

“Azerbaijan is very interested in developing its ski resorts, located in the Caucasus Mountains north of the capital, Baku,” he tells Green Prophet: “They have mountain summits as high as 4,480 meters there,” says Bloch.

In addition, nearby Iran (would you know!) has about 20 ski resorts scattered over its mountain ranges; including several near the capital, Teheran. Bloch hopes to have the website completed by mid Spring.

For people with special needs Born skier gives data on locations and ski instructors most suited for those suffering from various physical impairments, including the blind, hemophilia, the obese, cancer patients and other serious diseases, as well as physical and mental handicaps: “It’s most important to match a ski instructor to suit a person’s disability, as well as having medical facilities available to deal with these people,” Bloch says.

The environmental aspect of skiing is very important to Bloch as natural ski slopes are often situated in very picturesque mountain locations: “The situation of ski lifts can greatly affect the natural beauty of a mountain location.

“I have skied in places like New Zealand where skiers are taken to the top of the ski slopes in helicopters so as  to disturb the environment as little as possible,”  Bloch adds.

The use of mechanical snow machines is also an issue, as more and more ski resorts use them due to global warming. “Mechanical snow machines create a different snow mixture than occurs naturally. This often results in increased soil erosion,” he adds.

Read more on skiing issues in the Middle East:

Indoor Ski Slopes From Ski Dubai goes Carbon Neutral in Spain

5 Top Ski Holidays in the Middle East

Al Qaeda Terrorist Drop-Out, And Champion Skier, Builds “Green” Ski Slopes on Sand Dunes in Qatar

Ski slope photos courtesy of Natural Born Skier

Categories: Lifestyle

How pesticides can ruin your future

Green Prophet - February 25, 2014

The tragedy of two little girls dying from pesticide poisoning in Jerusalem, while their older brothers fight for their lives highlights the immediate dangers of pesticides.  This graphic incident has finally succeeded in bringing to the forefront the seriousness of overuse of pesticides in a country whose best loved vegetables carry heavy pesticide loads.

Health issues involving use of pesticides on crops and in the home is nothing new. Whether or not these toxic chemicals are directly sprayed on food, they eventually reach our underground water supplies and are present in the air we breathe as well.

The end result of exposure to various types of pesticides, especially DDT,  is now being ascertained in studies made by medical authorities in the USA which found correlations between people who had been exposed to the pesticide DDT having greater chance to be afflicted with neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia later in life.

Studies carried out by Jason Richardson, from the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, New Jersey found that although the debilitating mental condition known as Alzheimer’s disease is linked genealogical and lifestyle factors, being exposed to pesticides like DDT may also be contributing to mental deterioration later in life.

The studies found that those people who were exposed to DDT and related pesticides had much higher levels of a substance called DDE, which is a broken down form of DDT.

“More than likely you’re looking at complex gene-environment interactions. What we found really gives us a starting off point. Now we can use that information to try to understand who is at risk, when and ultimately, why,” said Richardson.

Another researcher, Kathleen Hayden of North Carolina’s Duke University says that researchers would want to follow people prospectively to see whether or not they later  become afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

“DDT exposure is not destiny that you’re definitely going to get Alzheimer’s disease. These are things that might increase your risk,” Hayden adds.

The use of DDT was banned in the USA during the 1970′s; but is still in use today in many parts of the world.

People known as “baby boomers” in the USA who were exposed in their youth to DDT and other strong pesticides are now reaching their 70′s and this may account for the rise in mind related illnesses.

In Israel, many immigrants during the 1950′s were literally hosed down with DDT by health works when arriving, due to fears that these people carried lice and other forms of vermin in their hair and on their bodies.

By far, the heavy use of pesticides like DDT being sprayed on crops in some countries is an issue that requires public attention as to what affect these pesticides have on humans.

From the tragedy of the deaths of two little girls, aged 1 1/2 and 4 from pesticide poisoning, the effects on humans of pesticides can be very sad indeed.

Read more on pesticides, including those in food:

Pesticide Poisoning Kills Two Kids in Jerusalem

Sustainable Table Film Shows what’s on Your Plate

Israel’s Best-Loved Vegetables Carry Heavy Pesticide Loads

Pesticides in Pregnant Jerusalemites Higher Than NYC Counterparts

Categories: Lifestyle

Iraq’s leaning Hadba Tower is dangerously close to collapse

Green Prophet - February 25, 2014

Wait a minute, there, Pisa, you’re not the only contortionist building on the block! A beloved old minaret in a Mosul mosque that leans 8 feet off its perpendicular axis may soon topple; an unusual casualty of ongoing unrest in one of Iraq’s most dangerous cities.

Built in 1172, the 150-foot tall Hadba Tower is part of the Great Nuris Mosque. According to Iraq’s UNESCO office, the minaret has been bowing since the 14th century.

Attempts to shore up the structure were made in the 1970s, but cracks have continued to appear along its base. Like its Italian cousin, Hadba’s tilt is partly due to poor ground conditions; the minaret sits on swampy land.

In 2012, Ninawa Province authorities signed a memorandum of understanding with UNESCO that would allow for a study on how best to preserve and protect the leaning minaret. But international experts in restoration and geology are prevented from visiting the site due to uncertain security in Mosul.

The city, an epicenter of Sunni extremism, is a flashpoint for sectarian and ethnic clashes.

“Security conditions in Ninawa today – and probably in the near future too – simply don’t encourage any investment in this area,” a local engineer told Middle East Online.

The minaret (called “the hunchback” by locals) could be saved by removing its ancient interior and replacing it with stronger materials. Alternatively, the whole minaret could be disassembled, its base reinforced, then reconstructed in its original position.

The people of Mosul love their leaning tower. Al Hadba is featured on the ten dinar bank note, and on stamps and coins and frequently appears in the names of  local businesses and sports teams. Local legend has it that the minaret bowed when the Prophet Mohammed (MPBOH) passed by and has remained prostrate ever since.

When the world misbehaves, of course we turn to the human impacts.  But it’s a heart-breaker when our violence also fails to protect cultural heritage, history, and natural environment.

Images of Al Hadba from SkycraperCity and SFGate

Categories: Lifestyle

Provocative Israeli art explores the fake and fraudulent – but why?

Green Prophet - February 24, 2014

Israeli photographic duo Wyse + Gabriely concluded their first European exhibition at London’s Neu Gallery this month; an attention-grabbing presentation that purportedly explores “the fake and the fraudulent”. 

The artists depict female subjects with “an impassive force that curdles the blood”, according to reviews. But this exhibition of exhibitionism could instead set blood boiling.

With cultural funding so difficult to come by, it really aggravates to see shock schlock served up as Art.  Take a gander of these images and suffer through the video performance entitled “Spitting” where the women take turns spitting and licking up the spit. Then, dear reader, weigh in with your views.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Photographers Aviya Wyse and Yaeli Gabriely are recent graduates from Israel’s WIZO Academy. Named as American Israel Foundation Scholars of 2013, their work is both individual and connected.

Wyse serves her message straight up, using traditional darkroom techniques to produce stark black and white photos. Her subjects are strangers she encounters who agree to pose, often in contorted poses or states of undress (images above and below).

She told Hunger TV, “I approach women, most of them unfamiliar to me, wherever they meet my eye; on the bus, on the street, in a cafe. Then, I ask them if they would be willing to model for me, usually they agree. Next, I come over to their homes and the encounter begins.”

Gabriely elects to be her own model in startling images (lead picture and below) that are reminiscent of fashion and advertising photography, but then jolt the viewer on closer inspection.

She conducts experiments with her own body, with results ranging from comical to horrific. The artist uses a complex digital technique, taking a series of pictures which she then grafts together to form a singular portrait.

“During a photo session I never shoot the final image as it is; I take lots of frames, each is only a fragment to be used later as a part of the final image. The characters appearing in my work are a wild combination of different body parts: a head from one frame is joined to a leg and a hand from another, a body posture of one to a gaze of another. This process intensifies the de-familiarization of the final image, which becomes even more artificial and fake”, she told Hunger TV.

The duo says that the world does not really “exist” in the way we are used to thinking about it. They believe that when the world was created “it was a pure act of what quantum mechanics teaches us – the observer. A conscious watchfulness, not a real world.”

“This dream, or this matrix, we believe exists only in the mind. So in that sense it is fake and it is real at the same time, in the same way like waking up from a dream and saying – what was that?! We can’t say it happened and we can’t say it didn’t,” they said, again in a Hunger TV interview.

What are they talking about?

“Something happens before the camera shoots. Working with myself is an act where only I am present. Only I experience. When the camera captures what it captures it becomes something else. The photo is almost like a byproduct,” said Gabriely, “I see myself a bit like a performance artist whose performances take place with no audience, and only the camera as witness.”

Creating these “byproducts” may be interesting exercises for the pair, but perhaps best exhibited where only the artists are present, with no audience beyond themselves. The same can be said for much of what’s uploaded on YouTube or Instagram.

Ironically, I broadcast their works to you here.

Weigh in – is this art? Or is everything that incites public curiosity worthy of a gallery stint?

All images from Wyse + Gabriely, Neu Gallery

Categories: Lifestyle

Masdar sues Spain over solar energy subsidy cuts

Green Prophet - February 24, 2014

Masdar has sued the Spanish government.  The multi-pronged company funded in part by the government of Abu Dhabi helped build the world’s first 24/7 solar power plant in Spain, a feat made possible in part with subsidies. But Spain has now cut incentives for renewable energy, which eats into Masdar’s investment.

In order to bridge the divide between electricity prices and costs and recoup an estimated loss of nearly $2.39 billion, Spain has slashed and in some cases completely eliminated the subsidies that first made renewable energy projects competitive against fossil fuels.

Masdar took advantage of these subsidies in 2008, when Torresol Energy was established. The Spanish engineering group SENER has a 60 percent controlling interest in the company, while Masdar has a 40 percent interest.

Through Torresol, Masdar helped to established the 20 MW Gemasolar power plant, which produces renewable energy around the clock thanks to groundbreaking solar storage technology, and the Valle 1 and Valle 2 plants with a capacity of 50MW each are still in progress.

Gemasolar alone diverts roughly 30,000 tons of CO2 emissions from the atmosphere each year.

Related: Super green Masdar Headquarters design awarded to Brookfield Complex

But Spain’s decision to cut tariffs jeopardizes Masdar’s investment in the country, so the company filed their complaint through the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) on February 11, 2014.

“As a result of the Spanish government’s unwillingness to overturn the regulatory changes, we are pursuing legal action to protect our investments,” a spokesman for a Dutch subsidiary of Masdar, Solar & Wind Cooperatief UA told Reuters.

The paper adds that foreign funds RREEF Infrastructure and Antin Infrastructure have also filed suits over the new energy laws.

:: Reuters

Categories: Lifestyle

Arab Gulf recycles paper, plastic, and cars!

Green Prophet - February 23, 2014

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) does everything big, including recycling, and this week they’ve officially opened their first plant dedicated to recycling cars! An estimated 11,000 UAE vehicles get scrapped every month.

Some simply reach their shelf-life, others are abandoned at airport parking lots and city back streets by debt-ridden expatriates and native boys who no longer can pay for their luxury toys.

Now all that automotive litter will be put to better use: “This is the only facility today that can deal with end-of-life vehicles in the country. We encourage insurance companies, dealers and government departments to use this service,” said Najib Faris, chief commercial officer of Bee’ah, the plant operator.

Dumped cars will be manually dismantled, then sliced and diced to allow valuable metals to be salvaged, and plastics, tires, upholstery, cables and mechanical parts to be recycled or refurbished within the Bee’ah compound.  Previously, old clunkers were sold to scrap dealers, who stripped off spare parts and sold the car carcasses on the international market.

Workers separate cables, which are sent to electronic waste traders, and foam cushions that can be recycled locally. Window glass is pulverized and used for landfill cover. The company aims to sell engines and transmissions to international companies that refurbish them.

The facility began trial operations in October and has already processed about 350 old cars.  Its capacity is much greater;  Darker El Rabaya, director of waste processing at Bee’ah, told The National that its “shredder” (the equipment for processing car bodies) has a capacity of 60 vehicles an hour.

“Recycling consumes a lot less energy and a lot less water than producing virgin materials,” said Faris. It also diverts waste from landfills.

While the facility is now technically ready, a key issue for the next few months is to ensure a steady supply. As long as car dumping remains an Emirati epidemic, that ought not be a problem.

We’ve heard that some Emiratis prefer to just abandon unwanted cars, even Mercedes, Jags and BMWs at the airport, rather than get them scrapped. This initiative could change that.

Image of the Bee’ah “shredder” from The National

Categories: Lifestyle

“Pop Arak” Arakino raises eyebrows and elbows in Israel

Green Prophet - February 23, 2014

There are usually no great surprises at the major wine festivals, which are held in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. You tend to bump into the same winemakers over and over again. Some stands represent not wineries, but fruit-based liqueurs, or beer. At the Wine Jerusalem festival held last week, I was surprised to find a new twist on the classic Middle Eastern tipple, arak. 

Wine was made in Israel in ancient times, as a 3000-year-old pottery shard suggests. And for such a small country, modern Israel has a surprising number of wineries. After centuries of small or no production, the industry took off, winning medals at international wine competitions and creating a knowledgeable wine-drinking public .

It’s a pleasure to taste vintages from familiar wineries, but when a new winery gets big or confident enough to set up a display stand, tasters are more than happy to find out what the newcomer’s all about. Read all about arak here.

It’s called Arakino, a fizzy, fruit-flavored arak bottled with a champagne stopper. Two gentlemen with the earlocks and long black coats of hassidim were enthusiastically knocking back glassfuls of the stuff. The owner poured out more, with a smirk. Arakino has 18.5% alcohol; not a drink for children, although the pineapple, lime, and grapefruit flavors disguise its power.

Arak is considered a man’s drink. It’s what guys order when they get together for a lunch of varied mezze dishes. A nibble of pita dipped into humus; a sip of arak. Sports, politics, and the incompetence of everybody are thoroughly gone into and relished. Another nibble of this salad or that fried delicacy, another sip. I don’t know what wives think when their men come home from an afternoon of noshing, arak, and male bonding, but I can imagine.

While I saw other women savoring wines, not one but myself approached the Arakino stand. I considered tasting, although I dislike anything anise- or liquorice- flavored. The owner waved a clean glass at me. “Try some Arakino, Mrs.?”  I only leaned over the bottle and inhaled. The fragrance of arak mixed with pineapple was actually quite pleasant. But the stand was attracting the less serious tasters; the ones looking for a quick alcohol rush. I moved on to one of the winery displays. Pop arak, I thought. At NIS40 a bottle, it’s the new poor folk’s champagne.

Like the taste of arak? You’ll like our arak recipes here:

Arak and Pomelo Cocktail

Grilled Arak Oranges

Chilled Figs Drizzled With Frozen Arak

Almond-Blossom Liqueur

Arakino is kosher for Passover and all year, and can be ordered locally at 08-8531524.

Photo of Arakino at Wine Jerusalem Festival 2014 by Miriam Kresh.

Categories: Lifestyle

Dubai, Abu Dhabi ban high energy incandescent light bulbs

Green Prophet - February 21, 2014

After July, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), one of the world’s largest oil producers, will no longer import high energy incandescent light bulbs. And by the end of the year, it will be impossible to buy them. Hit the jump to find out what this means for you.

Albeit somewhat late ( the UK first announced its ban of incandescent light bulbs in 2007), the UAE’s ban is a progressive move that is expected to save up to 500 megawatts a year.

To put that into perspective, that is about five times as much energy produced annually by the Shams 1 concentrated solar power plant (CSP) located outside of Abu Dhabi.

That equates to enough energy to power 100,000 homes and divert nearly one million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere every year.

In addition to the environmental benefits of phasing out the incandescent bulb, the UAE is also expecting to save roughly $182 million a year.

“This standard will ensure that the market carries only high-quality indoor lighting products that meet requirements,” Mohammed Badri, acting director general of Esma, the Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology, told The National. 

“These include electrical safety, energy efficiency, functionality and a limit to the content of hazardous chemicals.” 

Related: LED lights health hazard

For the longest time, as incandescent bulbs have become increasingly embarrassing given their high energy use, especially when compared to Light Emitting Diodes (LED) bulbs (Earth Easy has a chart which shows that an LED bulb will use just 500KWh of energy over 50,000 hours compared to an incandescent bulb’s 3,000 KWh. Plus, an LED bulb lasts for 10,000 hours compared to the incandescent’s short lifespan of just 1,200 hours), people have complained about the cost.

This will be especially problematic in the UAE, where Emiratis still pay a fraction of what energy really costs because of government subsidies, which means there is little incentive to buy the more efficient bulbs that are also more expensive.

But the cost of LEDs, which are the most efficient alternative, has dropped considerably in the last few years. It used to be that you couldn’t get a bulb for less than $30, but now some companies are hitting the $10 mark – though it remains to be seen what costs will look like in the UAE.

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs), which are roughly one third more efficient than incandescents, have always been cheaper than LEDs, but they don’t last nearly as long.

Now prices are beginning to level out, and eventually, as the quality of LED lights improve with new innovations, they are likely to be phased out in the long term as well.

Categories: Lifestyle

5 reasons to go “no poo” and ditch shampoo

Green Prophet - February 20, 2014

A new trend is sweeping across America: scores of people are ditching shampoo for more earth and hair-friendly alternatives – including nothing at all. But would this work in the Middle East? Would the lovely ladies of Lebanon ever give up their luscious shiny locks? Turns out, they wouldn’t have to. Check out five reasons to embrace “No poo.”

Before I proceed, full disclosure: I use shampoo (though I only buy the organic, paraben and sulfate-free variety), and probably to my own detriment. I have to wash my hair every second day or it looks like an oil rag. So the reasons I’m listing here come from other sources rather than from any personal experience.

Alternative methods for going “no poo” include dissolved baking soda with diluted vinegar,  or honey with various oils like coconut oil.

That said, here are five most common arguments listed for ditching shampoo:

1. Shampoo strips hair of natural oils: we haven’t always had commercial shampoo products, but now we think we can’t live without it. But we can, and if we did, our sebaceous glands that control how much oil our scalp produces would be a lot happier. Most shampoos are said to stunt natural oil production, which dries out our hair. Then our glands produce too much oil to compensate. Most people believe it takes anywhere from two to six weeks to break this cycle without shampoo.

2. Many shampoos contain nasty chemicals: last year the Environmental Working Group released a report that showed that 98 popular shampoo and cosmetic brands contain chemicals that are known carcinogens or neurotoxins. They claim that the concentrations present are insufficient to cause real harm, but is it really worth the risk?

3. Many shampoos contain silicone derivatives: Dimethicone is used to coat the hair, which is supposedly designed to make hair more manageable. Instead it contributes to further damage since it prevents moisture from reaching the hair, which then dries out. Also, Triclosan, an antibacterial agent, is said to affect hormone levels.

(Related: dye your hair naturally with henna)

4. Plastic shampoo bottles pollute our environment: we don’t know about you, but we are so sick and tired of seeing plastic destroy our wild and beautiful places, killing both land and marine based animals. As people shampoo their hair more frequently than we ever have needed to in human history, we produce an extraordinary amount of waste that is particularly poorly treated in the MENA region. Not to mention chemical pollution, which most waste water management facilities are poorly equipped to handle.

5. Shampooing hair costs a lot of money: shampoos, especially the more decent brands, costs a lot of money. Considering that most proponents of No Poo recommend washing with baking soda and then rinsing with vinegar to restore the hair’s pH, keeping hair shiny and healthy need not eat into your monthly budget.

If you decide to experiment with a shampoo-free life, most people recommend washing your hair with baking soda, but there are other alternatives that may be more effective depending on hair types. Let us know how it goes.

Woman shampooing hair / Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

In Jordan, 33 percent standing can’t see their feet

Green Prophet - February 19, 2014

Jordan is becoming a heavyweight on the global stage, but this is nothing to puff up about.  The kingdom is among the world’s worst countries for obesity according to Oxfam’s World Food Index 2013, with 33% of standing Jordanians unable to see their feet. Over 14% of the population is also diabetic.

Nearly 18% of Saudis suffer from that disease. Saudi also lumbered away with the trophy for “worst in the unhealthy eating index”, perfectly understandable for a nation whose fast food market is expected to reach $4.5 billion in gross sales by 2015, driven by growing demand from its young, western-influenced population, and higher disposable incomes.

The just-released report named Kuwait as the hub of chub, with 42% of its people obese. Saudi Arabia came in second, tied with America and Egypt, where almost one in every three citizens is obese.

Nations were ranked on the availability, quality and affordability of food and dietary health. The percentage of underweight children, diabetes incidence, food diversity and access to clean water also weighed into the scores.

European countries emerged as top performers with African nations predominant in the bottom thirty.  Yemen (ranked 121 of 125) has one of the worst nutrition rates and the most underweight children.

Oxfam figures show 840 million people go hungry every day, partly due to the way food is produced and distributed. They blame food shortages on prohibitive trading agreements and underinvestment in infrastructure in developing nations. Biofuel targets that divert crops from food markets and the impact of climate change also have significant impact; research suggests that climate change could raise the number of people at risk of hunger by 20% to 50% by 2050.

Oxfam compiled the data between October and December 2013 using information from the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Foundation, and the International Labour Organization to provide a snapshot of the relative differences in 125 countries.

“Over-consumption, misuse of resources and waste are common elements of a system that leaves hundreds of millions without enough to eat,” the organization said in a statement posted on its website.

Top-ranked Netherlands was said to have “the most plentiful, nutritious, healthy and affordable diet, beating France and Switzerland into second place”.  Chad is last place, behind Ethiopia and Angola.

Globally, obesity is deadlier than hunger.  Chew on that.

Image of large belly from Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

Dubai’s Burj Al Arab earns green globe certification

Green Prophet - February 19, 2014

Dubai’s iconic Burj Al Arab hotel has earned an international Green Globe Certification.  Not as news-worthy as when Tiger Woods teed off its rooftop, or when it served as cloud-touching tennis court for Andre Agassi and Roger Federer, but this nod from a recognized green rating system is making headlines for sustainable urban tourism.

“For over a decade the stunning sail-shaped hotel has been an iconic symbol of modern Dubai and its flourishing hospitality industry. Now, with the Green Globe award, the Burj Al Arab has been recognized for its seven-star sustainability,” said Sandrine Le Biavant director of Dubai-based consultancy Farnek that performed the audit.

The hotel with its disputed “7-star” rating offers guests duplex suites with personal butler service, a fleet of chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce and airport transfers via private helicopter.

But Farnek wasn’t swayed by swank.

The sustainability audit assessed all areas of operations confirming that the hotel reduced water usage, recycled grey water, and managed energy consumption by regulating room temperatures.  Health and safety, procurement and waste management strategies were also audited. Hotel management encourages employee participation in local community initiatives such as breast cancer awareness, beach clean-ups and mobile phone collections.

The hotel’s environmental efforts were also praised.  Its Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project, launched in 2004 in collaboration with the Dubai Wildlife Protection Office and a team of specialized veterinarians, has returned hundreds of sea turtles back into the wild.  The animals are fitted with satellite tags allowing follow-on study of their migratory patterns.

“We are delighted to receive this prestigious recognition that reinforces our commitment to sustainable practices”, said Heinrich Morio, general manager at Burj Al Arab.

“The certificate is a testament to Burj Al Arab’s dedication to ensuring that green policies are at the heart of our business and that they are an essential part of our long-term business strategy.”

Green Globe Certification is the worldwide sustainability system based on internationally-accepted criteria for sustainable operation and management of travel and tourism businesses.

Images taken from Burj Al Arab Facebook page.

Categories: Lifestyle

Desert Breath spirals on Red Sea remind us of troubled Egypt’s immense beauty

Green Prophet - February 19, 2014

To many Egyptians, the desert is a hostile place: water is scarce, terror cells hide in its vast expanse, or land mines make crossing them a death trap. But the Desert Breath land art project near Hurghada on the Red Sea coast reminds us that Egypt, despite its many troubles, is a place of extraordinary beauty.

Danae Stratou, an installation artist, Alexandra Stratou, an industrial designer and architect, and architect Stella Constantinides formed the D.A.ST. Arteam in 1995 with the purpose of working together in the desert – a dream that the trio shared.

Two years later, they created Desert Breath, a series of conical sand mounds that form two spirals around a pool of water.

“In our mind’s eye the desert was a place where one experiences infinity,” they wrote on their project website.

“We were addressing the desert as a state of mind, a landscape of the mind. The point of departure was the conical form, the natural formation of the sand as a material.”

A site-specific work located in the eastern Sahara desert near the Red Sea in El Gouna (said to be MENA’s first carbon neutral city), the project comprises an area of 100,000 square meters.

The group used 8,000 cubic meters of sand to form both positive and negative “conical volumes,” which are precise – no easy feat in a dynamic desert where the winds are constantly shifting the sands.

Two interlocking spirals composed of these giant sand cones move out from a common center with a phase difference of 180 degrees, according to the group, surrounding a vessel with a 30 meter diameter that is filled to the brim with water.

“Located between the sea and a body of mountains at the point where the immensity of the sea meets the immensity of the desert, the work functions on two different levels in terms of viewpoint: from above as a visual image, and from the ground, walking the spiral pathway, a physical experience.”

It took two years for the D.A.ST. Arteam to complete this project, a time frame that is appropriate for a desert environment – so unforgiving, so taxing, and yet worthy of such deep reverence and respect.

:: My Modern Met

Categories: Lifestyle

Masafer Yatta: the Palestinian cave dwellers of Firing Zone 918 (photos)

Green Prophet - February 18, 2014

Many environmentally aware people from the global middle and upper class choose off-grid living, though that lifestyle is usually supplemented with solar panels and other accoutrements. But for the 1,300 Palestinians who call Masafer Yatta home, living with almost nothing is no longer a choice.

Argentinian photographer Eduardo Soteras compiled Interstice, a beautiful series of black and white photographs that chronicles the lives of the Palestinian cave-dwellers caught in “the space between” – an unforgiving land in the south hills of Hebron cut off from the rest of the West Bank by a string of illegal Israeli settlements.

The people eek out a meager living raising goats and sheep, and coaxing vegetables and fruit from the ground. But they have no running water, no electricity, and no roads, which makes day-to-day life exceedingly difficult – a lifestyle they would happily leave behind, according to Soteras.

Granted, Masafer, which means either “traveling” or “nothing” dates back to the Ottoman era, when debt collectors would find a vast strand of emptiness as the locals fled to the caves that they had carved into area rocks, caves which still shelter the people who live in a string of villages just outside of the city Yatta, to avoid paying taxes.

But today the people of Masafer Yatta have little control over their own fate.

Albeit officially administered by a committee appointed by the Palestinian National Authority’s Ministry of Local Affairs, the cluster of villages part of “Area C” is under Israeli civil and military control. What’s more, in the 1980s, the region was designated a military training zone called Firing Zone 918.

Forced deportation to clear the area for Israeli soldiers is on the cards, though it is uncertain if or when it will actually take place.

And while this may sound like a blessing, people who have nothing will struggle to build new lives elsewhere. Yet the people of Masafer Yatta remain mostly forgotten – not only by the greater community, but even by their own people.

“Some say that the days of this lifestyle are counted,” writes Soteras in his poetic introduction to his photographic series. “Others say that everything will remain as it is.”

:: Eduardo Soteras, Interstice

Categories: Lifestyle

Msemmen, Moroccan multi-layered pancake recipe

Green Prophet - February 17, 2014

It’s still chilly in the Middle East – still the season for comfort food. Try driving the cold away with msemmen, a flexible, square-shaped skillet cake, easily pulled apart into layers so you can stuff it.

Msemmen is similar to the Emirati Khameer bread (recipe here), which isn’t surprising, as they are both Berber in origin.

Msemmen is hard to pronounce, but delicious to eat. This is how you say it: Miss-i-men.  It means greased, or oiled. And this is how you eat it: hot, with honey, between sips of mint tea.

Alia of the Cooking with Alia blog offers this recipe, with a YouTube video (below). It does take a bit of work, which reflects the old-fashioned tradition of hand-made food. Manipulating the dough with oiled hands, and layering it with a mixture of oil and butter, makes a unique skillet bread that’s a cross between rough puff pastry and a pancake.

The video below is less than six minutes long. It’s worth watching how Alia kneads the dough and then stretches it out by hand. It’s the sort of thing that takes practice, but once you know how to do it, you never forget. I was surprised at how little extra flour is needed to keep the dough from sticking – it’s the oil/butter mixture, which is incorporated at the last, unlike in Western bread recipes where all liquid ingredients are added at the beginning.

Below is Alia’s recipe. Comments in italics and edits are Green Prophet’s.

Msemmen, Berber Pancake


2 cups of flour
1 cup of semolina
3/4 cup of oil
3 tablespoons of butter
1 tablespoon of salt
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of dry yeast
1-2 cups of warm water (depending on the quality of absorption of your flour)

Mix all the dry ingredients.
Slowly add water and work the dough until you are able to create a ball with the dough.
If you are kneading the dough by hand, use energetic and quick strokes. Knead for 20 minutes while adding water until you get an elastic dough.
You can use a kneading machine (mixer or food processor)  to speed up the process. Put the dough ball in the machine and automatically knead for the next 10 minutes while adding water.
Make small balls with the dough (the size of golf balls) and let the dough rest for 20 minutes. The resting period is important; don’t skip it.

Note: the amount of water needed depends on the quality of absorption of the flour you are using. The goal is to obtain an elastic and malleable dough. if your dough is too sticky add some flour; if it is too hard add some water and continue kneading it.

Steps for folding the Msemmen:
Mix the melted butter with the oil.
Spread some of the oil/butter mixture on a flat surface. Take one dough ball and flatten it with your hands. Gently keep stretching the dough until you get a thin circle of dough. Fold the circle into a square as shown in the video.

Steps for cooking the Msemmen:
Gently spread the dough square with your fingertips until you get a thin dough square.
On low heat (in a skillet), cook the Msemmen 5-10 minutes in each side.

Notice how Alia gently pushes the pancake down to break up any bubbles created when the first side was cooked.

Click here to view the embedded video.

More flavorsome Middle-Eastern breads on Green Prophet:

Image of msemmen via Shutterstock.

Categories: Lifestyle

Retro biker chicks from Morocco in photos

Green Prophet - February 17, 2014

If you thought that women from the Middle East and North Africa all wear drab black blankets over the head and stay home to cook dinner, these colorful photos by Moroccan-born artist Hassan Hajjaj might challenge that notion.

Based in London but heavily influenced by his roots and the reggae scene in his adopted country, Hassan Hajjaj created a series of images that show a side to Muslim women and North African culture that rarely makes mainstream news.

Kesh Angels, a collection that is currently on show at the Taymour Grahne Gallery in Tribeca, shows Marrakech “biker chicks” wearing bootleg Chanel and Louis Vuitton Abayas.

Contrary to the depressing images most commonly associated with (oppressed) Muslim women, these photos show women sporting polka dots, funky shoes, a lot of makeup, heart-shaped sunglasses, and all kinds of good-natured attitude.

(Related post: ‘Eco-Hijabs’ on the rise)

Many of the women depicted in Kesh Angels are friends of Hajjaj, a master photographer who frequently designs the clothing that his models wear in shoots.

Hajjaj is a versatile artist whose repertoire includes portraiture, installation, interior designed (including recycled furniture made from recycled Coca-Cola crates and aluminum cans), but this is the first time that he has had a solo show in New York.

Founded by the same art collector behind the blog Art of the Middle East, which celebrates the unique creative talent bursting from the MENA region, the Taymour Grahne Gallery will showcase this fantastic series through 8 March, 2014.

:: The Guardian

Categories: Lifestyle

Moving Red Sea fish farm cages shows positive eco results: new study

Green Prophet - February 17, 2014

Aquaculture, or fish farming at sea and in land based ponds, has been practiced successfully by Israelis for many years. While most fish farming produces freshwater fish like carp, tilapia and trout in fresh water ponds, salt water aquaculture has also been “successfully” practiced in the Mediterranean Sea.

A new study looks at what happened to the Red Sea marine environment when fish cages were moved to the Mediterranean Sea.

The ecological viability of raising sea bream in underwater fish cages in the Gulf of Aqaba-Eilat at the Red Sea has been a controversial one that ended in the fish farms being removed and relocated to the Mediterranean in 2008.

The Eilat fish farms were located offshore there for more than 20 years, and their removal came after they caused severe damage to natural marine life in the areas where the fish cages had been placed. See the photo above.

In order to determine the long-lasting affects of the Eilat fish farms studies were made by research teams led by Dror Angel, a marine researcher at the Leon H. Charney School of Marine Sciences at the University of Haifa.

In an interview with Green Prophet, Beverly Goodman, a marine life researcher who also lectures at the Leon Charney School of marine Sciences, gave Green Prophet an indication of what has happened to the Red Sea region after the fish cages were removed in 2008.

One of the research project’s tasks involved taking core sediment samples of the sea bed directly underneath the areas where the fish cages were located.

On the subject of “nutrification”  from excrement and fish food from the farm the having a greater impact on the marine environment, she said that the presence of the cages was “causing significant changes to the marine environment in the Gulf of Aqaba-Eilat. A marine biology agreement for a monitoring program with data just didn’t exist for two decades while the fish cages were in place,” says Goodman, an underwater archeologist and climate change specialist for the marine environment.

The marine environment of the area where the fish cages had been for so long has been monitored for the past several years since the cages were removed.

The initial studies in which Goodman was involved (she came to Eilat after the decision was been made to relocate the fish farms to Ashdod, she says:  ”very few life forms were found where the cages had been.”

Initial sediment samples from the fish cage areas found that the sea bottom was “dead” with little life remaining. What life forms there were, were “hanging from above the seabed,” she tells us.

Later studies found that marine life has slowly returned to the area; including species of sea grasses that are important to a number of marine life species. The studies are trying to determine if the area will eventually return to what it was prior to the introduction of the fish farms.

A national monitoring program concluded that a “positive recovery trend” was being made in the area of the fish cages.

Another factor affecting marine life in the Gulf of Aqaba-Eilat was the dumping of raw sewage into the sea, which occurred regularly until the 1990s.

As for the fish farms now located in the Mediterranean near Ashdod Port, Beverly Goodman told Green Prophet that the Mediterranean marine environment is much different as it is a larger body of water with various currents not found in the Gulf of Aqaba-Eilat.

There are also additional environmental factors though, including pollution from Ashdod Port and pollution from very polluted nearby streams that flow into the Mediterranean. She added that as far as she knows, no studies have yet been made on the situation concerning the fish farms near Ashdod.

“We simply need more information on these  new fish farms,” she says.

More on fish farming issues affecting Israel and Palestinian Gaza:
Aquaponics is Farming With a Fishing Rod in Israel
Israel eases Distane Limit for Gaza Fishermen; But Need for Fish Farming is Evident
Eilat Fish Cages; Out of the Frying Pan and Into Ashdod Harbor

Fish farming in Eilat by Prof. Yosi Loya; fish cages at sea from Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

Walking architecture envisions a built environment based on human motion

Green Prophet - February 16, 2014

Daydreams can catalyze real change. Look to the far-reaching influence of designers who choose to work in the hypothetical, where unrestricted creativity is unfettered by cost, resources, and environmental impact.  If only most of the Middle East’s fantastical architecture stayed imaginary. 

Digital animation “Walking Architecture” (clip above) pays homage to a 1960′s design group while pushing the boundaries of their conjectural vision.

UK-based multimedia studio Universal Everything developed a slowly evolving “video sculpture” that changes form, gradually morphing through an array of architectural structures that include geodesic domes, perforated lattices and pixilated building blocks.  Meanwhile, its core motion, the act of walking, remains constant.

Matt Pyke of Universal Everything based the animation, entitled Walking Architecture, on the futuristic imaginings of 1960s architectural group Archigram; they envisioned a city as a living organism whose purposely stride is undeterred by its changing size and form. The title of the video is a reference to Archigram’s “Walking City”.

The original project, conceived by British architect Ron Herron, imagined massive robotic structures, each with its own intelligence, freely walking to wherever their owners wanted or wherever their resources or manufacturing capabilities were needed.

Archigram envisioned an entire series of walking cities, interconnecting when need arose to form enormous walking metropolises, and then dispersing when their concentrated power had served its purpose. Individual buildings could also be mobile.

“The language of materials and patterns seen in radical architecture transform as the nomadic city walks endlessly, adapting to the environments she encounters,” said Pyke. (Note that he recognizes Architecture as female.)

This movie starts with a structure whose massing and proportions are similar to those of a human body.  Over the next seven minutes, it gradually abstracts, transforming into varied shapes that include a cluster of pixilated cubes and a striated mound.

The figure ultimately returns to its original form, poised to begin the transformation anew.

Unlike their contemporary Buckminster Fuller, who worked to build more with less material (recognizing that most matter is finite), Archigram’s fantastical designs assumed a future of limitless resources. Never constructed, their schemes stimulated others to incorporate aspects of their designs into real bricks-and-mortar structures.

Often, hypothetical architecture sparks innovation that catapults significant developments in building materials and technologies. Dream on.

All images from Universal Everything

Categories: Lifestyle

This is what Jesus Christ’s “selfie” would look like

Green Prophet - February 16, 2014

If Jesus had a Facebook account, this could be his profile picture.  So says Richard Neave, a medical artist famed for reconstructing legendary faces from antiquity.

With a team of Israeli archeologists and British scientists, he recreated what they claim is the most accurate image of Jesus.

For Christ’s sake, is this for real?  Short, black, kinky hair wrapped around thick features? A swarthy man looking awfully well fed?

Western culture paints a far different picture of a tall, slim man with flowing locks threaded with golden highlights.  He has light-colored eyes set in a pale face that sprouts wispy facial hair. It’s a look rocked by 1970′s musicians, think Neil Young, George Harrison, even Frank Zappa.

And he’s scrawny like Russell Brand, not brawny like Russell Crowe.

That’s not only an industrial-age Western view – the mosaic portrait below is from Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia.


“The fact that he probably looked a great deal more like a darker-skinned Semite than westerners are used to seeing him pictured is a reminder of his universality,” Charles D. Hackett, director of Episcopal studies at the Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, told Popular Mechanics, “And [it is] a reminder of our tendency to sinfully appropriate him in the service of our cultural values.”

The New Testament doesn’t describe Christ’s appearance, no contemporary drawings of him have ever been found. But there are clues.

Recall the Gospel of Matthew: when Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, Judas Iscariot had to point him out because the soldiers couldn’t tell him from his disciples. It’s logical that he would have looked like the Galilean Semites of his era, and not a white-boy rock and roller.

Neave and his research team started with Semite skulls from near Jerusalem, where Jesus lived and preached. Tapping into forensic anthropology – the same scientific toolkit used to solve crimes – Neave used special software to determine the thickness of soft tissue at key areas of the face, making it possible to re-create the muscles and skin overlying a representative Semite skull.

Results, verified against anthropological data, were used to digitally reconstruct the face. Next, researchers cast a skull, applying layers of clay matching computer-specified facial tissue, topped with simulated skin. The nose, lips and eyelids were modeled in accordance with underlying muscles.

Neave’s team turned to drawings found at archeological sites dated to the first century to determine Christ’s hair and coloration.  Clues indicated that Jesus had dark eyes and hair, and that, in line with Jewish tradition, he was bearded.

Analyzing skeletal remains, archeologists established that Christ’s contemporaries averaged a smidge taller than 5 feet and weighed about 110 pounds. They theorize that after years of outdoor work, this most famous carpenter would have been muscular with a weather-beaten face.

Neave emphasizes that his re-creation is simply that of an adult man who lived in the same place and at the same time as Jesus. Alison Galloway, professor of anthropology at the University of California in Santa Cruz, told Popular Mechanics, “This is probably a lot closer to the truth than the work of many great masters.”

Images of Christ in order of appearance from Popular Mechanics; Christ from Hagia Sophia mosaic; Wikipedia; Catholic Tradition; and Wikimedia Commons

Categories: Lifestyle

Will burning birds shut down Brightsource, world’s largest solar thermal power plant?

Green Prophet - February 16, 2014

The switch was flipped this week as California’s Ivanpah solar thermal power plant went live. The 392 megawatt concentrating solar plant (CSP) is now delivering renewables to power the equivalent of 140,000 homes in California. After a long journey lasting decades of development, fighting regulations, manoeuvring around turtle conservationists, burning birds may be the latest problem.

According to environmentalists, the heat focused from the 350,000 garage-door sized mirrors is incinerating birds that fly in the pathway of the sun’s concentrated rays. State energy officials have put out photos of birds with singed feathers from flying into what is being called the hot ‘thermal flux’ around the towers, with temperatures that can reach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Like the solar death rays in London.

The plant is located on five square miles of the Mojave Desert, near the California / Nevada border, and is the largest CSP plant of its kind in the world. According to news reports some dozens of birds have died since the plant was turned on. I am yet to substantiate these findings with a source. But I have something to say about it. Listen up bird lovers.

Maintaining animal habitats is important for renewable energy projects but it shouldn’t be the only concern. If that same area of land were turned into homes, I can guarantee you that multiples more of songbirds would be dying from neighbourhood cats who prey on them for play.

Or if that same amount of energy was produced by the oil industry, the effects of a spill or the consequences of the industry (with leaks, fumes, greenhouse gas) would be much worse. I am not saying that we can’t learn something from this renewable energy advance, I think it’s time that we understand that there is no perpetual motion machine that is going to supply endlessly clean energy. Everything we do to feed our power needs will have a consequence and we have to weigh the pros (clean energy with the cons (singed birds).

If you want to follow the story, start here with compliance documents that Brightsource submitted last year (links to PDF).  If you jump down to the wildlife section you’ll find some quite remarkable considerations for wildlife, certainly care and regard you would NEVER EVER find in the Middle East.


::Brightsource (hat tip Nicky Blackburn)

Categories: Lifestyle
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