Making freekeh with the Druze

Green Prophet - April 28, 2014

I stood in a golden wheat field some five miles north of Acre in Israel. Paul Nirens of the Galileat organization had arranged a demonstration with a local farmer, to show us how the Druze traditionally roast green wheat for freekeh.

To reach the field, we’d driven over a ditch of teeth-rattling bumpiness, part of the foundation for a railroad that will soon divide that field.

Spring lingers in the cool Galilee. There was still enough green wheat to make freekeh worthwhile.

Golden oats, blue chicory and lacy green fennel made colorful spots among yellow mustard flowers in the verges of the field. A breeze rustled the swaying wheat. In the distance, a grove of olive trees completed the perfect picture of a small Druze farm.

Salman Nijim Abu Heissam dragged a pitchfork full of dry thorns to a bare patch of earth, away from danger to the growing crops.

Thorns catch fire easily, make a high flame and plenty of smoke, but it burns out quickly. This is necessary to avoid burning the wheat past the point where it’s edible. It should come out of the fire only somewhat charred.

The green wheat had dried in the sun for several days. Heaping it on top of the thorns, Abu Heissam set it on fire with a cigarette lighter.

I was surprised to know that the Druze also roast green oats, just as they do wheat. “But oats yield less grain than wheat, so we plant less of them,” explained Abu Heissam.

The Druze take their wheat, whether roasted or fresh, to the mill to make – not flour, but bulgur. “Wheat is our basic food,” Abu Heissam said. “We Druze can’t exist without bulgur, and olive oil. Just as King Solomon’s throne was protected by a lion at the right and at the left, so we have bulgur and olive oil. Every Druze family stores enough olive oil and bulgur for two years.”

Make freekeh for the future

Some say that making freekeh is a way to guarantee that at least part of the crop is saved for the future. The fire drives out insects and field pests, and kills insect eggs too. The kernels’ high moisture content prevents them from burning, but the fire dries them. So they’re less likely to rot in long-term storage. According to chef and food historian Moshe Basson, this is how Joseph of the Bible kept seven year’s worth of wheat in good shape for the seven lean years to come after.

Abu Heissam explained that this small demonstration of how to make freekeh is just a sample of the real harvest. “About a month before the wheat matures, we harvest a determined percent of our crop with the combine harvester. Then we set the green wheat in the sun to dry for several days, and it shrinks. We light our bonfire with a gas torch. It’s a big family project, with everyone out in the field.”

The freekeh fire burned down in a few minutes, leaving ashes and the charred wheat stalks.

The stalks cooled down quickly. We picked them out of the ashes with our bare hands and threw them onto a tarp.There were some stalks that had burnt through, and those we left on the ground. The good ones with future freekeh looked like this:

We carried the tarp full of roasted wheat to a field shed where a mulberry and fig sycamore tree provided leafy beauty and more shade over a water point. Abu Heissam washes his hands with his own home-made soap made from olive oil.

In the shade there, Abu Heissam showed us that to become freekeh the wheat gets rubbed through a series of sieves, first the finest sieve and proceeding to the ones with coarser and coarser weaves.

I was surprised again, thinking that it would be the other way around, but understood when I saw how the straw and chaff separate from the kernels as they’re rubbed on the surface of the sieves.

“Freekeh” means “rubbed.” The English word “friction” comes from the Latin fricare, but I wonder if it goes back even further, to the Arabic freekeh. It was a pleasant thing to think of.

But the work of rubbing wheat stalks onto the harsh fabric of the sieves to make freekeh isn’t easy on the hands.

The farmer wore heavy gloves to work the stalks back and forth over the old hand-made sieves.


The freekeh kernels, freed from their stalks, fell through the sieve’s holes. We collected them and turned the sieve over to receive them from the deep side.

I ate some freekeh kernels. They were nutty and chewy, with the expected smoky flavor. The freekeh wheat’s sweetness came through a second later. The occasional charred kernel tasted like popcorn.

The next step was winnowing the freekeh kernels by moving them around a tray while standing downwind. The regular motion of wheat bouncing around made a rough sound, like fine gravel on the tray. It seemed to say, chaff, chaff, chaff.

“I’m not very good at this,” said Abu Heissam. “This is women’s work.”

But I thought he winnowed very well.

The railroad works crosses Abu Heissam’s fields. It will cut off access to the fields from the highway, unless a bridge is built over it. The community has requested a bridge many times, but no one in the government has taken notice, not even the Druze MK. In the meantime, a neighboring farm has two bridges to allow their cows to cross its property. Abu Heissam also needs a second water point for irrigation, but the water company hasn’t responded to his requests.

Just about now, or in a week, the farmer will walk to his field again and taste the ripe wheat to judge if it’s ready for harvest. He’ll sell most of it, but the small amount left for home use, his womenfolk will process for bulgur.

Abbu Heissam is an ex-army officer and besides Arabic speaks fluent Hebrew. Like most Druze men who have served in the Israeli army, he’s well versed in the various cultures of Israel, comfortable in the company of any well-meaning person. But his soul is rooted in the earth, which in the Druze religion is considered holy in and of itself.

“The Druze learned that an army career grants benefits and a pension,” he said. “But we don’t eat from that income. We eat from the money we make selling what we grow in our own fields.”

Need it be said that GMO doesn’t come near the fields of the Druze and their freekeh?

Why is freekeh uncool?

Freekeh, like many traditional Druze foods, is considered uncool by the younger generation. It’s sad, but the art and craft of freekeh is mostly in the hands of old folks these days. I hope that the young ones wake up to the beauty of the seasonal food traditions and love of the earth that their grandparents are keeping alive.

Read more from our archives on freekeh:
The ancient grain freekeh spurs boutique recipes
Freekeh recipes from around the world

More about Druze culture in the Galilee, Israel:

All photos by Miriam Kresh

Categories: Lifestyle

Cyprus starts political party for … animals!

Green Prophet - April 28, 2014

This is no joke: the island nation of Cyprus is now home a political party for animals. It was launched in Nicosia on Sunday. It is called Animal Party Cyprus and follows the lead of Holland – which seems like the first to launch a political party for animals.

We are not sure how the animals will vote but their custodians say that they will take part in the European Parliament elections on May 25.

The animals won’t really vote but those supporting the party will vote in favor of those who don’t have a voice.

Who was at the launch? Olympia Stylianou, the Permanent Secretary of the Environment and Agriculture Development Ministry, the founder and coordinator of APC, Kyriakos Kyriakou, and the leader of the Netherlands Party for Animals, Dutch MP Marianne Thieme.

One of the goals of the party is to improve animal welfare. Something sorely needed in Cyprus, a land that brutally kills millions of wild songbirds for a pickled dish.

APC founder Kyriakou said that the newly formed party “together with our sister parties is dedicated to reducing the cruel suffering that non human animals are forced to endure.”

Factory farming, genetic cloning, and the import of large caged animals are just three of many issues that the Animal Party are trying to solve.

Categories: Lifestyle

Iran’s Hossein Zare captures our wildest dreams in surreal photographs

Green Prophet - April 28, 2014

Iranian photographer Hossein Zare captures in photography what we can only see in our dreams – otherworldly land and cityscapes infused with an sense of eternal longing. A longing to reconnect with the land, with the heavens? Step in to see just a small handful of his incredible work.

It’s always unfair to project any kind of meaning onto an artist’s work, to pretend to know what they are thinking or feeling while composing a particular piece. But in Zare’s case, it’s hard not to sense that he is suspended in a constant state of searching.

A lone man on long winding roads, large empty landscapes, and lonely ladders that reach into the clouds, or sometimes never make it there – all of these images create such a powerful sense of being lost or stranded. But there is no panic, somehow.

Related: Take an astro tour with Iranian photographer Babak Tafreshi

Captured with his Nikon D7000 and tinkered with in photoshop, each composition reveals an incredible attention to detail. They also demonstrate a keen awareness of environmental concerns, which is not surprising given that Zare is based in Iran, where environmental degradation too often goes virtually unchecked.

City skylines are flipped on their head, boats are marooned in the desert, trees survive by a thread as everything around them grows up and out, taking over.

We can’t get enough of these photographs, but rather than extrapolate too much hidden meaning, we’ll let you enjoy his profile for yourself. If you’d like to see more, check out Zare’s profile on 500px and maybe consider purchasing a print of your own.

:: My Modern Met

Categories: Lifestyle

Rooftop garden blooms for Bethlehem refugees

Green Prophet - April 28, 2014

A new project in a Bethlehem-area refugee camp seeks to help reverse a history of forced urbanization and revitalize connections to agriculture, simultaneously increasing Palestinians’ control over their food sources, especially organic vegetables. It’s not the first time we reported on Refutrees, but they project has been blooming over the past year.

Lamya Hussain, the founder of Canadian organization Refutrees, told Green Prophet that the project aims to strengthen food sovereignty by “reconnecting what used to be farming communities to food production techniques, making it sustainable for them to consume organic, green, fresh produce that they’re producing themselves.”

She explained that the project responds specifically to residents’ needs, because it was realized in close partnership with the local community.

   Refutrees is part of the growing movement that seeks refugee-led, sustainable development for displaced peoples. Run by volunteers, the non-profit launched its pilot rooftop garden in late January in Aida camp in collaboration with the local Lajee Center; the result of five years of joint research on how best to deploy urban agricultural systems to improve community health.

Volunteers and local youth have been key players since day one, participating in every step of the process. They prepared the roof surfaces, built planting beds and set out irrigation lines.  They erected a greenhouse and planted onions, lettuce, and radishes.

The pilot will demonstrate how rooftop gardens function so residents can sign up to build their own gardens across the camp. If all goes according to plan, Aida could soon be home to a network of rooftop gardens that could serve as a model for refugee camps across the region.

Shatha Alazzah, Lajee Center environmental coordinator, said that the local community was excited about the project, which she described as, so far, a success.

Food sovereignty and national sovereignty are intrinsically linked, and rooftop gardens could help lessen Palestinian dependence on donor aid, Israeli produce, and Palestinian produce that has been marked up due to restrictions on West Bank farmers.

“There are a lot of things that fuel the occupation, and one of them is its appetite for arable land,” said Hussain,  “There is a forced urbanization that is happening through the occupation, that is also silently being supported by donor projects,” which she argued largely neglect the Palestinian agricultural sector.

“This needs to be challenged and rectified,” she added, highlighting that “agriculture is the backbone of the Palestinian economy, and there needs to be a reinvestment in that sector.”

Refutrees was born after years of research conducted by founder Lamya Hussain in Palestinian refugee camps across the West Bank and Lebanon. Lamya observed the failure of current development and aid programs to end donor-reliance, and her research identified gaps in building local, long-term livelihoods for refugees.

Lajee Center (“lajee” means “refugee” in Arabic) was established in Aida Refugee Camp in 2000 by a group of 11 young camp residents who wanted to serve their community. They set up a creative cultural center to work with new generations of Palestinians as they continue to struggle for justice and rights for Palestine.

Refutrees was created to integrate green innovation with the development of projects fundamentally based on the needs of local communities in collaboration with local resources.

Previously Green Prophet reported on another rooftop project in Bethlehem’s Dheisheh refugee camp (link here) and similar initiatives in Gaza (link here) and Egypt (link here). Fabulous initiatives that could (and should) be replicated on rooftops across the region.

Images from Refutrees website

Categories: Lifestyle

Deadly MERS virus spreading fast out of Saudi Arabia, raising panic before Hajj

Green Prophet - April 28, 2014

Deadly and debilitating viruses are no strangers to the Middle East; especially following the discovery of a SARS-like mystery virus in Saudi Arabia back in 2012.  This virus, which since then has become known as the Corona or MERS virus (see photo above) has been said to be spreading fast in the Arabian Peninsula by bats and camels.

But Saudi doesn’t seem to be able to cope with the problem.

The focus of the MERS virus, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, has until now been centered in Saudi Arabia, where 261 confirmed cases of the virus have resulted in 81 deaths.

The spread of the virus in the Kingdom has raised such concern that the Saudi Health Minister, Abdullah al Rabeeah, was sacked recently by Saudi by King Abdullah after saying in a news conference that he “had no idea why Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus, or MERS, was surging,” in his country.

The outcry and fear in this desert nation over the deadly disease, for which there is presently no vaccine and which kills an estimated one in three who contract the disease, is now causing great concern for the health of the millions of visitors who will come there during the annual Hajj pilgrimage; causing it to spread to developing countries in Africa and Asia.

A number of victims to the disease have been health workers who have had to deal with the increasing cases of the disease, now said to be passed from person to person. This has caused doctors and nurses to  doctors and nurses to express their concerns on Twitter and other social media sites; and accuse the health ministry of trying to minimize the outbreak.

To add to the above fears, the word is out that the MERS virus has now spread to Egypt.

Local reports from Al Jazeera say that the deadly virus was reported recently in Cairo from a person who had returned from visiting Saudi Arabia.  Al Jazeera went on to say that the “virus has been extraordinarily common” in camels for at least 20 years, and may have been passed directly from the animals to humans”.

This factor involving camels transmitting the disease was also reported by Green Prophet.

The SARS virus, which caused great concern almost a decade ago, resulted in 8,273 persons being infected, of which 9 per cent died.

Dr Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and an expert on pandemics and biosecurity, was quoted saying that the Saudi government needs to cooperate more with international health officials, such as those connected with the World Health Organization:

“They really need to bring in the global public health community. A senior WHO-supported team needs to get in there and help out. They need people with expertise,” says Dr. Osterholm.

More articles on the MERS virus, now on  the rise in the Middle East:

Bats blamed for Deady Middle East MERS Respiratory Virus

Deadly Middle East Corona Virus may come from Camels

SARS Like Mystery Virus Appears in Saudi Arabia, Alerting Haj Pilgrims

Photo of actual Corona shaped MERS virus by Reuters/AlJazeera

Categories: Lifestyle

Find the wind in Iran with these handy energy maps

Green Prophet - April 28, 2014

Iran is most known in global news for its nuclear ambitions. But the country has resources for wind energy, the international renewable energy organization IRENA has announced. The NGO which is headquartered in Abu Dhabi has just released wind maps which show where Iranian winds blow.

Wind maps can help potential energy projects get off the ground. The maps explore different regions and their average wind velocity, elevation and closeness to populations and population density. The dataset was provided by the Renewable Energy Organization of Iran.

Iran has a plan to grow its wind energy generation power. It is the only region in the Middle East that produces wind turbines, according to Wikipedia.

By last estimates in 2009, Iran was generating 130 MW of energy via wind power. This energy is produced mainly in Manjil (in the Gilan province) and Binaloud (in the Razavi Khorasan province) which produces 128 megawatts of electricity.

And Iran is a member of the Global Wind Energy Council.

Iran’s urban areas are suffocating from air pollution. Our contact on the ground, Issa (last name withheld for security reasons) says that the country suffers from some major regional and local environmental problems, some that could be solved with renewable energy.

“In major cities specially Tehran, the air pollution is killing people,” says Issa: “There are no sewage system in most cities so the underground waters are polluted. In some parts of Tehran we have sewage systems but not everywhere. Overpopulation in major cities, mostly Tehran, is threatening the environment, cutting trees and destroying gardens to build skyscrapers.”

He also says that large rivers like the Zaayanderood river in Isfaham and Lake Urmia are drying up.

Wild animals like the Iranian cheetah border on extinction.

(Read: Cheetahs on the border of extinction in Iran)
(Read: Ancient Persian leopard roams this park alone)

Issa tells Green Prophet: “In Iran, as far as I know worrying about the environment is still a fancy thing, and few people are interested to do activities to protect the environment.”

This Green Prophet says that pushing for renewable energy in Iran could increase the quality of life for people and the planet.

To learn more about the wind maps of Iran see IRENA’s map here.

Categories: Lifestyle

Reflective white paint on hot roofs could reduce cooling loads by 20%

Green Prophet - April 25, 2014

It can get hot enough in the Middle Eastern sun to fry an egg outside. If you’ve spent even a small amount of time in either Abu Dhabi or any other Gulf countries in summer, you know that it’s stifling hot outside and freezing cold inside just about every building. New paint may be able to reduce cooling loads by 20 percent - at least according to research from Watergy International Group.

Watergy is working with researchers at Masdar Institute just outside of Abu Dhabi to test a new paint that is applied to rooftops.

They applied the paint, which contains titanium dioxide (a material that is used in sunscreen) to a 2, 120 square foot area of roof at the Masdar Field station. Areas of the same roof were painted grey and one area was left uncovered.

At 9:30am, when it’s already blazing hot outside, the researchers found that the areas painted white measured just 76.82 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas the uncovered areas were unbearable to walk on at 116 degrees Fahrenheit.

Peter Armstrong, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Masdar Institute, told The National that white paint makes the most sense, but that grey and black paint containing the same chemicals would also be effective if it is required for stylistic reasons.

“It is best to have white on the roof because no one can see it up there,” he said.

In addition to reducing the heat island effect associated with buildings that have soaked up a great deal of solar energy and then radiate that heat, alongside cars and other energy sources, the paint could reduce the need to cool homes with air-conditioning.

Armstrong says that uninsulated concrete villas would benefit the most from the paint.

“Villas would benefit greatly. In a typical villa the AC unit is up on the roof so when you limit the heat on the roof you improve the performance of the AC because now where the AC is, it is a lower temperature,” he told the paper. “The higher the temperature is where AC is trying to reject the heat the lower the performance.”

A hangar in Sharjah and a supermarket in Italy already benefit from the cooling paint.

The next step in Abu Dhabi, for which Watergy has signed a letter of agreement to the tune of nearly $3 million, is to test two 50,000 square meter areas in the city.

After that, the paint could be applied to a variety of surfaces in order to bring down over all temperatures – even roads.

White cars, likewise, hold more value in hot countries (link). But before you go out and buy cans of white paint, you might want to think about the climate. According to this research we covered in 2011, white paint on roof tops contributes to more global warming. The advice from 2011? Put solar panels on your roofs instead.

Aerial view of Abu Dhabi / Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

Saudi prince slaughters 2,100 nearly extinct birds – for thrills?

Green Prophet - April 24, 2014

Saudi royals seem to be more hazardous to the world bird-life than wind turbines and skyscrapers! A Saudi prince poached thousands of protected birds during a 21-day hunting safari in Pakistan, so claims a new report.

Why would Pakistan allow exemptions from global conservation regulations? The bird meat is considered an aphrodisiac, which may explain why the men hunt.

Prince Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud reportedly killed 1,977 of the nearly-extinct houbara bustards last January, violating his hunting permit by killing so many of the birds. The rest of his party killed an additional 123 of the creatures, raising the final death toll to a staggering 2,100.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources estimates the houbara bustards’ global population to be at 110,000, declining by around 20% annually.

The incident, described in a report dated February 2014, says that during the safari the prince hunted the birds for 15 days in reserved and protected areas, poached birds in other areas for six days and then “took rest” for two days.

The report was prepared by local divisional forest and wildlife department officer Jaffar Baloch, according to Dawn News.

Classified as a vulnerable species due to hunting and habitat degradation, the houbara bustard is globally protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Hunting these birds is banned in Pakistan, but the government issues special permits to Gulf states’ royals allowing them to hunting up to 100 birds in 10 days in the area allocated, excluding reserved and protected areas.

How much money changes hands to obtain special permits remains unspecified.

It’s not known whether the prince will face any punishment. But shouldn’t the Pakistani government be smacked too?

Image of slaughtered birds from Pakistan Defense

Categories: Lifestyle

Arab investors and land grabbers wanted by Egypt

Green Prophet - April 24, 2014

Egypt plans to lease 25,000 hectares of agricultural land to Arab investors. Agriculture minister Ayman Abu Hadid made the announcement in Tunis recently. Egypt is hoping that sustainable farmers will apply. 

The meeting was hosted by the Arab Authority for Agriculture Investment and Development (AAAID); it’s part of a plan to attract foreign investment in sustainably developing the country’s agriculture sector.

Egypt’s agricultural land base measures around 8.4 million feddans (an Egyptian unit of area equal to 1.038 acres) and, as of 2010, the water-starved nation imported 40% of its food.

For the past decade, Arabian Gulf nations have been exploring ways to secure tracts of agricultural land in water-rich countries in Africa and Asia.

Absent sufficient freshwater to grow crops to feed their increasing populations, nearly half a billion acres of land – eight times the area of Great Britain – were sold or leased in transnational deals – and the Middle East is among the busiest land-grabbers.

A 2012 report by the Land Matrix project, a coalition of research centers and civil societies, indicates:

  • Saudi Arabia purchased about 5.5 million acres, the largest being 675,000 acres in the Philippines by Eastern Renewable Fuels Corporation for agriculture.
  • Israel acquired about 5.9 million acres, 4.9 million of them in the Democratic Republic of Congo by an unknown investor for agriculture.

Now Egypt is jumping aboard, according to Mada Masr news, leasing land in nearby Sudan.

Attempts to buy or lease farmland have raised controversy in host countries, leading to accusations of neo-colonialism, demonstrations, and violence. At a minimum, the practice raises questions about fair pricing, implications to local labor and resultant environmental impacts.

Buying into established agricultural firms in food exporting countries such as Serbia, Nigeria and even China sidesteps most obstacles.

The AAAID is comprised of 20 Arab and African member states seeking food security for their populations.

Saudi Arabia is the largest shareholder, contributing over 22% of organizational capital, followed by Kuwait with 19.5%, and the United Emirates, Sudan and Iraq each with a 15% share.  Egypt contributes just 3%.

Hadid did not disclose where the land location or what crops would be grown, but he told Reuters Egypt that he hopes to give the land to a company partnered with AAAID.

Image of cultivated field near Luxor from Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

Raw human sewage murders millions of fish in Iran

Green Prophet - April 23, 2014

This is what millions of dead fish in Iran look like: Raw, human sewage has leaked into a dammed river in the Tehran region of Iran killing millions of fish, a local news report there shows. 

Over this week some 30 tons of fish have died from the raw human sewage that poured into the Fashafuyeh dam. The damage totals an estimated 2 million fish, our source says.

The sewage was leaked by the residential town nearby. Reports say that residential sewage is going right into the dammed water.

Mohsen Shokati, head of Rey City Environmental Protection Office: “Previously the housing complex’s sewage system poured into the lake through a canal, but now it directly goes to the lake,” he noted.

“Vavan housing complex needs a Water treatment facility. The construction work even started, but due to lack of budget the project was halted,” Shokati said.

The fish lived in a dam over an area of about 200 acres. All the water is now heavily polluted and the water can no longer be used by residents or their animals.

Negligence has been cited as the cause. Sadly this is too often the case when it comes to human abuse of our environment.

Images via ISNA; hat tip to our local contact Issa

Categories: Lifestyle

Saharan refugees learn how to spin old plastic bottles into gold

Green Prophet - April 23, 2014

London’s Victoria & Albert Museum just wrapped a stunning show of Arab-influenced artwork from ten contemporary artists selected as finalists for year’s Jameel Prize – 3. The work of French designer Florie Salnot is a standout as it quite literally creates something spectacular from near nothing.

Salnot works in social, service and “user experience” (or UX) design; she uses art as a medium to improve lives, strengthen individual and cultural confidence, and foster independent living. Her Project Gold ticks all three boxes, with direct benefit to Algeria’s Sahrawi refugees.

Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf, Algeria, represent one of the most protracted refugee crises in the world. They live in a collection of camps established as far back as 1975 when they first fled Moroccan forces during the Western Sahara War.

Limited economic opportunities in the harsh desert environment have forced their reliance on international humanitarian aid for survival, but camp life is so mature (many residents were camp-born) that refugees self-manage their communities with little outside interference.

Cognizant of the spartan camp resources, Salnot devised a craft the women could practice using the simplest tools, hot sand and spray paint – transforming old plastic bottles into spectacular jewelry based on their own designs.

Traditionally, Sahrawi craft was the realm of the malemin (artisans) who traveled with nomads to cure animal skins. They made leather bags, cushions, and saddles decorated with border fringe and geometric decorations primarily rendered in green, red and yellow pigment.

Saharawi traditional style inspired the aesthetic of Project Gold.

Salnot made two treks to the camp: first to teach basic production techniques and, second, to collaborate with three Sahrawi women with superior craft abilities to design a collection of more complicated pieces that could be exported for sale.

Aiming to empower the Sahrawis economically and culturally, the plan now is to set up production with the community to enable them to generate an income stream. See the works in progress in the video below:

Click here to view the embedded video.

The Jameel Prize is a biennial award for contemporary design where entrants must demonstrate direct inspiration by sources rooted in Islamic traditions.

Dame Zaha Hadid, one of the world’s most innovative architects, is its primary patron.

All images from Florie Salnot 

Categories: Lifestyle

An urban park that embraces its desert environment

Green Prophet - April 23, 2014

How many times have you seen a big old patch of lawn in the middle of Abu Dhabi and cringed?  Lush green grass does not belong in the desert, and trying to make it so wastes water. That’s why Thomas Heartherwick came up with the idea of covering up an existing park with a shaded canopy, and it looks like a cracked desert landscape.

Abu Dhabi approached Thomas Heatherwick, a well-known and well-respected architect currently based in London, to rethink an existing park in Abu Dhabi.

“The existing public space evoked the style of a european park by covering the desert with a blanket of grass,” writes the studio.

“However, counteracting evaporation caused by the intensity of the sun was requiring a significant amount of purified water to irrigate it, produced industrially from salty sea water using a costly and high energy consuming desalination process.”

In response, the studio came up with the idea of creating a continuous domed canopy lifted about 65 feet off the ground. From above they look like cracks in the earth created by the desert sun, but below, they shelter a rich, cool and well-ventilated urban oasis.

“The idea for the park’s design developed in response to these challenges and as a way of celebrating the beauty of the desert and its distinct surrounding landscape,” the studio writes. “Instead of denying the presence of the desert that the city is built on, we set ourselves the task of making a park out of the desert itself.”

Related: Abu Dhabi is phasing out cars and Siemens wants to help

In addition to improving quality of life for residents of Abu Dhabi, who have to contend with rapid urbanization, thepark provides facilities for both learning and community activities.

Once completed circa 2017, the park will have cafés, play spaces, a library, pools and streams, as well as date palms and community vegetable gardens. There will also be a mosque, an outdoor cinema and indoor and outdoor performance areas.

“By creating partial shade for the planting, the canopy aims to reduce the amount of water lost to evaporation and so will improve the park’s energy efficiency and sustainability,” writes the studio.

Shaded during the day, and illuminated at night, the new and improved Al Fayah Park is bound to be a huge hit among locals.

:: Dezeen

Categories: Lifestyle

Pistachios could power an entire new “eco-city” in Turkey

Green Prophet - April 23, 2014

Turkey is floating plans to build a new “eco-city” in the southeastern corner of the country, near the border of Syria, and green building experts from Gaziantep want to use energy from burning pistachio shells to keep it running.

The new 3,200 hectare city for roughly 200,000 residents would be located roughly six miles outside of Gaziantep in the province of the same name.

This is a historic city, one of the oldest continuously habited communities in the country, that is world renowned for its pistachio production. In fact the word pistachio means “Antep nut,” which refers to Gaziantep’s original name that is still used informally today.

Although the city also produces olives and other crops, Seda Muftuoglu Gulec from the municipality told AFP that it makes sense to look to the most ubiquitous natural resource as a source of energy, and pistachios are certainly that.

Related: Gorgeous green-roofed Ostim Eco Park is a clean tech incubator for Ankara

“If the region was abundant in wind power,” she said, “we would utilise wind energy.”

In 2013, Turkey exported 6,800 tons of pistachios worth roughly $80 million, and more than half of them were produced in Gaziantep.

A French engineering firm, Burgeap first discovered that burning pistachios can be harvested as clean, renewable energy, and that the local variety is the best suited for the job. The firm estimates that up to 60 percent of the region could be powered by renewables.

While local officials and landowners still have to come to an agreement, a 55 hectare area will be set aside as a test bed for the new city. Once agreements are made, Gulec says that the city can be built rather quickly.

In the last three years, Turkey’s energy demand has skyrocketed – it has the fastest growth in energy demand of all countries that belong to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECED), and the government is unable to meet 100 percent of its demand.

Finding alternative energy sources not only reduces this demand, but also slows down greenhouse gas emissions. Last June, Turkey submitted 9GW worth of solar projects within a span of five days – an indicator of its desire to incorporate more renewables into its energy mix.

Image of pistachio tree / Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

IDE Technologies aims for a fleet of floating water desalination plants in three years

Green Prophet - April 21, 2014

Barge-mounted desalination plants aren’t unique – the Saudis first deployed them in 2008 – but Israel’s IDE Technologies Ltd. and Japanese shipbuilders have a plan to take offshore floating desalination to a whole new level.

Fresh water is an unbelievably rare resource across the globe – one in six people lack access to clean water and more than 3.4 million people die each year because of its scarcity.

Even in places where water is plentiful, it may be contaminated, or the existing infrastructure may be ill-equipped to deliver sufficient resources to swelling populations.

Stationary desalination plants are restricted to towns and cities within reach of their pipelines, and they come with a smorgasbord of environmental complications.

Mobile, floating desalination plants can travel from place to place to deliver water to more people on an as-needed basis, but desalination is no panacea.

Related: Masdar tackles solar-powered desalination


If anything, it spreads the problem, disperses it, and allows us to destroy our resources more quickly.

It’s expensive to make salt water fit for drinking as it requires a great deal of energy, and at the moment, most desalination plants are not solar-powered. Eventually this will change, but for now we’re mostly stuck with fossil-fueled desalination.

IDE Technologies recently announced that it is likely to deliver a fleet of custom offshore floating desalination plants within the next three years; each ship would be able to produce up to 120,000 cubic meters of fresh water in a day.

Udi Tirosh, a business development director at IDE, told Bloomberg News “ship-based designs could supply water for a city of 850,000 people and Japan’s shipbuilders are among potential partners.”

“The idea is to develop with our partners a multi-year, multi-vessel plan that would eventually supply significant capacity in various places in the world.”

Good news – getting fresh water to more people, saving lives – but also disturbing. What will our oceans look like in 10, 20, 30 years? Enormous cesspools of briny, trashy water filled with jellyfish and oil sheen?

:: Bloomberg

Image via screenshot of IDE Technologies You Tube demonstration

Categories: Lifestyle

Qatar axes four of 12 solar-powered World Cup 2022 stadiums

Green Prophet - April 21, 2014

Qatar plans to spend roughly $200 billion to prepare for the hundreds of thousands of fans who are expected to show up for the 2022 World Cup – a sum that appears to be four stadiums more than the Emirate can afford.

In its original FIFA bid, Qatar pledged to build nine new stadiums and refurbish an additional three to ensure adequate space for one of the world’s most popular sporting events.

The stadiums, it was said, would be constructed with state-of-the art technology that would incorporate solar power to cool interiors since temperatures are particularly high in the summer.

This has been the cause of ongoing controversy; earlier this year, FIFA’s Secretary General Jerome Valcke said it would be impossible to have a summer World Cup. But he spoke out of turn, and FIFA has left the issue open-ended for now.

And Qatar’s shady human rights record first unveiled by The Guardian brought even more scrutiny. Nepalese workers reported dismal working conditions and poorly ventilated, cramped living quarters and insufficient food and drink.

Last summer, according to The Guardian, roughly one person died every day from heart attacks brought on by extreme heat and exhaustion.

Related: “Comparing Qatar stadium to a vagina is ridiculous,” says Zaha Hadid

What, if anything, either of these two issues has to do with the decision to cut the number of planned stadiums by one third is not exactly clear.

Ghanim Al Kuwari, the organizing committee’s senior manager for projects, announced the plans at a conference in Doha yesterday, according to Bloomberg News, but failed to give a reason for the decision.

But John Sfakianakis, chief investment strategist at MASIC, a Riyadh investment company, told the paper that their decision was motivated by costs.

“It does always make good sense to do necessary cost-cutting and reviews of capex for such huge projects that are front-loaded.”

As it stands, Qatar will spend at least $34 billion on rail and metro facilities, $7 billion on port development, $12 billion on an airport that is behind schedule already, and $4 billion on the stadiums that will most likely fall into disuse once the World Cup is over, though it is very likely the end costs will far exceed early estimates.

Construction of Zaha Hadid’s Al Wakrah stadium, which many claim looks like a vagina, is underway and the Al Rayyan Stadium should be next. Construction on it should start by the end of 2014 or early 2015.

Categories: Lifestyle

The 200 fruitarians who find this country to be their Garden of Eden

Green Prophet - April 21, 2014

Vegetarians criticise meat eaters for giving the world cow farts (greenhouse gases) and for making animals endure unspeakable suffering. Vegawarians criticize both for not seeing the middle ground. Vegans take on all three groups saying that no animal products should be consumed by us humans, but there is another level of food piety: fruitarian.

When you think “Middle East” grilled lamb kebabs might come to mind. Other strange delights dangle on the Middle Eastern menu including sheep testicles.

But in Israel, the land of milk and honey and meat, about 2.5 percent of the population are die-hard vegans, with many restaurants offering vegan options. Among Israelis a new movement is emerging: fruitarianism. These fruitarians are people who eat nothing but fruit, some veggies and maybe some nuts.

They believe that even the vegan processed food industry is harmful and polluting and they are swearing off most every kind of food.

Despite having to eat kilos of fruit a day to sustain oneself, there are upsides: “it’s definitely less expensive than eating animals and animal products,” fruitarian Aviv Bracha, a 34-year-old psychologist from Lod told Haaretz.

Fruitarians also in general believe it’s just a healthier way to eat – with some fruitarians claiming that the size of our human jaw and teeth have been adapted to eating a fruit-only diet.

According to this fruitarian, fruitarianism in Israel is paradise: “I remember of eating the best figs, pomegranates, etc. there, and I suppose I couldn’t eat anything else but fruit, lol. It’s really the Garden Of Eden.”

With dates, figs and so many fresh options every season Israel is definitely a fruitarian paradise, like Thailand.

If you want more on Israel, the Hebrew-speaking community has a website 30 Bananas a Day which you can use to help find fruitarian food ideas when in the Middle East. If you can’t read Hebrew send it through a Google translate. 

Famous fruitarians?

Ashton Kutcher, while rehearsing for his role as Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs
Idi Amin, Uganda’s military dictator while in exile in Saudi Arabia

Image of fruitarian catching some sun from Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

“Driverless” Tesla electric car will test run on Israel’s Better Place grid

Green Prophet - April 21, 2014

In the aftermath of the demise of Shai Agassi’s Better Place electric car network company,  EV car purchasers in Israel feared they might become stranded due to not being able to recharge or exchange their car’s lithium batteries. Will Tesla, who said they wouldn’t, swoop in?

Rumors have circulated that Tesla Motors, manufacturers of high priced electric sports cars, might soon be introducing their cars into Israel to take advantage of the electric car infrastructure already set up by Better Place.

This rumor became ever stronger due to a partnership between California based Tesla Motors and the Israeli Mobileye company to produce the world’s first “driverless” car.

Using robotic technology to program and steer a car while the driver does something else was once a concept only found in science fiction. But due to technology developed by Mobileye, this fiction may soon become at least partial reality. In an interview at the Marker business section, Mobileye’s co-founder Amnon Shashua tried to set matters straight regarding how “driverless” his company’s system will actually be.

He said: “It’s not automatic driving in which the driver puts an address in and goes to sleep. The system permits control to be transferred to it for a limited time. You can read a text message or switch radio stations and temporarily turn over control.”

Tesla Motors was founded by South African entrepreneur Elon Musk; and named after one of the world’s most innovative electronics geniuses, Nikola Tesla.The cars start in price in the USA at nearly $60,000, with a new 2015 Tesla Motors “Falcon Wing” Model X CUV model expected to sell upwards from $70,000.

Some Tesla models are said to have a driving range of up to 425 kilometers. This positive factor is still not enough to sell Tesla cars to the mass market, as these prices put them out of reach of most car buyers, especially in countries like Israel.

As it looks now, the appearance of a Tesla electric sports car in Israel will be for driverless testing purposes only.

More articles on Tesla and other electric cars in the Middle East:

Driverless car partnership emerges between Tesla and Israel’s Mobileye

Will Tesla’s New Model X Crack the Middle Eastern Market?

Interview With a Betterplace EV Car Owner – Not Stranded Yet

Photo of 2015 Tesla Model X, by Plug in Cars


Categories: Lifestyle

Abu Dhabi puts great effort in giving sea turtles their rightful home

Green Prophet - April 21, 2014

Some people make injured sea turtles human-engineered solutions like this turtle that got new flippers but most sea turtles are just getting caught in fishermen’s nets or choking and dying from plastic without us even noticing. World sea turtle populations are steadily declining, but at some amazing sites in Abu Dhabi we still have hope. 

Abu Dhabi has wildlife refuges such as the Bu Tinah Island Atoll, that is home to populations of rare sea turtles. Abu Dhabi is now going one step further to have these sites included in a UN sponsored list of locations which are vital to the preservation and well being of a number of endangered sea turtle species.

Abu Dhabi’s Environment Agency recently submitted a proposal to the Indian Ocean and South East Asia (IOSEA) Secretariat to include the Bu Tinah and Zirku Islands in the Secretariat’s network of locations vital to the survival of endangered sea turtle species.

The Bu Tinah Island Archipelago was particularly singled out due to its favorable conditions.

The Agency has been studying the sea turtle populations at Bu Tinah and Zirku islands since 1999 and has closely monitored the wildlife populations; including critically endangered sea turtle populations such as the hawksbill sea turtle.

Being listed by the IOSEA Secretariat will enable the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi to receive more attention to help preserve their sea turtle populations, which number as many as 5,750 sea turtles inhabiting the waters during winter season and 6,900 during the summer.

Thabit Al Abdessalaam, the EAD’s senior adviser on terrestrial and marine biodiversity, said that being registered in the IOSEA’s network will help insure the island’s long-term conservation; particularly in regards to cleaner coastal waters and protecting these locations as nursery grounds for sea turtles and other wildlife species.

More articles on efforts to preserve sea turtles and other wildlife in the Arabian and Persian Gulf:
Rare Sea Turtles and Other Wildlife Living Happily on Persian Gulf Atoll
Greater flamingos return to Abu Dhabi Wetlands and hopefully to Bu Tinah
Protect the Middle East’s Natural Wonders – vote Today!
Persian Gulf Mermaids Face Man made Environmental Threats

Photo of hawksbill sea turtle by Wikipedia

Categories: Lifestyle

Energy-aware Dubai airports pre-empted Earth Hour – why not all year?

Green Prophet - April 21, 2014

Dubai International Airport (DXB) switched off all non-essential lights across its three terminals for 24 consecutive days to mark this year’s Earth Hour.  It’s sister airport, Dubai World Central – Al Maktoum International, located 20 miles south west of Dubai, did the same. 

Spurred on by the annual Earth Hour campaign, the airports’ action will save an estimated 300,000kw hours of energy and 129 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. A solid contribution by one of the world’s largest carbon-emitting industries!

Earth Hour took place globally on March 29, but the airports’ operator kicked off compliance early stretching the event to over 3 weeks of green behavior. The shutdown didn’t affect services within the buildings, which begs the question why were so many lights installed in the first place?

Blame the designers, and short-sighted airport operators who place aesthetics above the environment.  It’s so easy to do both! (See how Saudi’s Hajj Terminal achieved this over thirty years ago – link here.)

Airports that embrace conservation see an immediate cash payoff. Energy efficiency projects (energy management systems, installing high efficiency lighting and occupancy sensors) have slashed Dubai Airports’ electricity and fuel costs by $4.33 MIL, cut water use by over 130 million gallons, and saved more than 72,000 tons of CO2.  A win-win for operational and maintenance budgets and for the planet.

In the US and EU, stringent governmental regulations demand a minimum level of project environmental performance, and robust environmental assessment is compulsive during project planning and permitting processes which are overseen by national environmental authorities.  Building codes, typically reflecting internationally accepted standards, mandate minimum energy efficiency characteristics for materials and equipment.

Major new airport terminal projects are underway in Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi, with continued airport expansion  in Jordan. But in the Middle East, absent mature environmental agencies with strong governance over large capital building projects, conservation gets fitted into designs only if a designer convinces the client of it’s importance, or if that client is especially savvy to its benefits.

Safe to say it doesn’t happen unless the operator specifically demands it.  And they usually don’t, until well after the project is over and the utility bills start to arrive.

Here’s hoping Dubai Airports sets a new trend that embodies an old UK adage: a penny saved is a penny earned. What’s good for an airport’s pockets turns out to be great for the world.

Image of Dubai Airport at night by Shutterstock.
Categories: Lifestyle

Abu Dhabi’s Masdar appoints new leaders

Green Prophet - April 21, 2014

Masdar CEO Sultan Al Jaber is moving on to “greener” pastures, according to a statement released by Abu Dhabi investment giant Mubadala. The firm has appointed Al Jaber as its chairman; Masdar’s new CEO has been identified as Ahmad Belhoul.

Since its launch in 2006, Masdar has developed large-scale renewable energy projects with a total asset value of $7 billion and created two clean-tech investment funds worth $540 million. The company also established Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, a planned community, designed to be a hub for clean-tech companies, which aims to rely entirely on solar energy and other renewable energy sources and conform to a zero waste ecology policy. 

Its first tenant was the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, a research university operating in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. City development was originally intended to be completed by 2016 but the global financial crisis halted progress; full build-out is now pushed back to 2025. 

Al Jaber wears several hats.  In addition to his new chairman role, he will continue to serve as UAE Minister of State and as the country’s Special Envoy for Energy and Climate Change.

“Masdar has become a globally recognized renewable energy and clean-technology leader with investments and partnerships in Abu Dhabi and internationally,” Khaldoon Khalifa al Mubarak, group CEO and managing director of Mubadala told Gulf Business.

“It has also been pivotal in attracting the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) to Abu Dhabi. As chairman, Al Jaber will remain closely involved with Masdar to support its continued growth and ability to capitalize on high-value opportunities for Abu Dhabi.”

Belhoul had been CEO of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing.  

All eyes on Masdar to see how new leadership will affect performance and expansion of their green vision. 

Image of Sultan Al Jaber (right) and Ahmad Belhoul (left) and from Gulf Business

Categories: Lifestyle
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