‘Doomsday’ Arctic seed vault gets boost as efforts to secure food supplies ramp up

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault was launched in 2008 as a backup for the world’s national and regional gene banks that store the genetic code for thousands of plant species. NTB Scanpix via Reuters
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Updated 28 February 2023
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‘Doomsday’ Arctic seed vault gets boost as efforts to secure food supplies ramp up

  • The Svalbard Global Seed Vault will add 19,500 rare seed variety samples from across the world to its collection on Tuesday
  • Its subterranean seed chambers are only opened three times a year to limit the seeds’ exposure to the outside world

LONDON: A ‘doomsday’ Arctic seed vault on Norway’s Spitsbergen island is set to receive its most diverse batch of seed donations yet as efforts to secure the world’s food supplies ramp up amid rising climate concerns.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, built to protect the world’s food stock from disasters ranging from nuclear war to global warming, will add 19,500 rare seed variety samples from across the world to its collection on Tuesday, taking its total stash to more than 1.2 million.
The vault, set in permafrost caves on an arctic mountainside halfway between mainland Europe and the North Pole, was launched in 2008 as a backup for the world’s national and regional gene banks that store the genetic code for thousands of plant species.
It has seed samples from nearly every country in the world, and played an essential role between 2015 and 2019 in rebuilding seed collections damaged during the war in Syria.
“The whole of humanity relies on the genetic diversity of crops maintained in the world’s gene banks, and the Seed Vault is the last line of defense against the loss of that diversity,” said Sandra Borch, Minister of Agriculture and Food for Norway.
Svalbard, which also serves as a backup for plant breeders to develop new crop varieties more resistant to climate change, opened its doors to public at large for the first time on Tuesday by launching a free virtual tour of its subterranean seed chambers.
The chambers, which are only opened three times a year to limit the seeds’ exposure to the outside world, boast temperatures of around -18 degrees Celsius.
The virtual tour launch, as well as the seed deposits from some 20 gene banks, were timed to mark Svalbard’s 15-year anniversary.
“From here in Svalbard, the world looks different. This Seed Vault represents hope, unity and security,” said Stefan Schmitz, executive director of the Crop Trust, an international non profit that operates Svalbard along with the Norwegian authorities.
“In a world where the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, natural catastrophes and conflicts increasingly destabilize our food systems, it has never been more important to prioritize safeguarding these tiny seeds.”
The world used to cultivate over 6,000 different plants but UN experts say we now get about 40 percent of our calories from three main crops — maize, wheat and rice — making food supplies vulnerable if climate change causes harvests to fail.


US VP Harris calls for immediate ceasefire to ease “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza

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US VP Harris calls for immediate ceasefire to ease “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza

  • “The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses”
  • Israel boycotted Gaza ceasefire talks in Cairo on Sunday after Hamas rejected its demand for a complete list naming hostages that are still alive, according to an Israeli newspaper

WASHINGTON: US Vice President Kamala Harris on Sunday called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and forcefully pressed Israel to increase the flow of aid to ease what she called “inhumane” conditions and a “humanitarian catastrophe” among the Palestinian people.
Harris’s comments were among the sharpest yet by a senior leader of the US government calling for Israel to alleviate the conditions in Gaza.
The vice president, who was speaking at an event in Selma, Alabama, to commemorate the anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” when state troopers beat peaceful protesters, urged Hamas to accept a deal to release hostages that would kickstart a 6-week ceasefire and allow more aid to flow.
“People in Gaza are starving. The conditions are inhumane and our common humanity compels us to act,” Harris said. “The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses.”
Israel boycotted Gaza ceasefire talks in Cairo on Sunday after Hamas rejected its demand for a complete list naming hostages that are still alive, according to an Israeli newspaper.
“Hamas claims its wants a ceasefire. Well, there is a deal on the table. And as we have said, Hamas needs to agree to that deal,” Harris said. “Let’s get a ceasefire. Let’s reunite the hostages with their families. And let’s provide immediate relief to the people of Gaza.”

 


Zelensky defiant as Ukraine mourns victims of Odesa drone strike

Updated 59 min 12 sec ago
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Zelensky defiant as Ukraine mourns victims of Odesa drone strike

  • The attack killed five children, including two babies less than a year old, according to statements by Zelensky and the regional governor

KYIV, Ukraine: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday called for the world to help Kyiv defeat “Russian evil” as the death toll from a drone strike on Odesa rose to 12, including five children.
The strike on an apartment block in the southern port city early Saturday morning partially destroyed several floors, leaving more than a dozen people under the rubble.
The attack killed five children, including two babies less than a year old, according to statements by Zelensky and the regional governor.
“Mark, who was not even three years old, Yelyzaveta, eight months old, and Timofey, four months old,” Zelensky said, naming the youngest victims of the strike in a post on Telegram.
“Ukrainian children are Russia’s military targets,” he added.
Rescuers were still pulling bodies from the rubble on Sunday evening, more than 36 hours after the strike, although Zelensky said the search and rescue operation had been called off.
He had pleaded Saturday with Kyiv’s Western allies to supply more air-defense systems as Russia continued to pound Ukraine with drones, missiles and artillery fire in the war’s third year.
Kyiv is currently on the back foot, following recent battlefield gains by Russia.
Zelensky said this latest strike underlined the importance of supporting Ukraine. A stalled $60-billion aid package from the United States has left Kyiv facing ammunition shortages.
“We are waiting for supplies that are vitally necessary, we are waiting, in particular, for an American solution,” Zelensky said later Sunday in his evening address.
Russia had lost 15 military aircraft since the beginning of February, he added. “The more opportunities we have to shoot down Russian aircraft... the more Ukrainian lives will be saved.”
There was no comment on the Odesa attack in Moscow. It denies targeting civilians despite evidence of Russian strikes on residential areas and the United Nations having verified at least 10,000 civilian deaths since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
Ukraine’s emergency services said they had found the bodies of families huddled together as they sifted through the rubble Sunday.
“A mother tried to cover her eight-month-old baby with her body. They were found in a tight embrace,” the agency said on Telegram.
Odesa Governor Oleg Kiper said the bodies of a brother and sister, aged 10 and eight, were also found together in the debris on Sunday evening.
In other incidents, Ukraine’s interior ministry reported one death and three people wounded in the southern Kherson region; and police said an airstrike on a residential quarter of Kurakhove, a town in the eastern Donetsk region, had wounded 16 people.
Russian military bloggers also reported a massive Ukrainian drone attack on the annexed peninsula of Crimea overnight.
Moscow said it shot down 38 Ukrainian drones, while the Rybar Telegram channel, close to Russia’s armed forces, said one had hit a pipeline at an oil depot, the presumed target of the attack.
Kyiv has hit several Russian oil facilities in recent months in what it has called fair retribution for Moscow’s attacks on Ukraine’s power grid.
A senior Ukrainian commander also accused Russian forces of dropping explosives containing an unspecified chemical substance over the battlefield, and said the situation on the front lines was “complicated, but under control.”
Meanwhile, the fallout from a leaked audio recording of German military officials looked set to sink relations between Moscow and Berlin even lower on Sunday.
A 38-minute recording of German officers discussing the possible use of German-made Taurus missiles by Ukraine and their potential impact was posted on Russian social media late Friday.
Russia has demanded an explanation from Berlin.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said Sunday that Moscow was “using this recording to destabilize and unsettle us,” adding that this was part of Putin’s “information war.”


US Supreme Court to issue ruling; Trump ballot case looms

Updated 03 March 2024
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US Supreme Court to issue ruling; Trump ballot case looms

  • The highest court did not specify what ruling it would issue, but the justices on Feb. 8 heard arguments in Trump’s appeal to overturn a lower court ruling that kicked him off the ballot for taking part in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection
WASHINGTON: The US Supreme Court plans to issue at least one ruling on Monday, the day before Colorado holds a presidential primary election in which a lower court kicked Republican frontrunner Donald Trump off the ballot for taking part in an insurrection during the Jan. 6, 2021 US Capitol attack. The Supreme Court, in an unusual Sunday update to its schedule, did not specify what ruling it would issue. But the justices on Feb. 8 heard arguments in Trump’s appeal of the Colorado ruling and are due to issue their own decision. Colorado is one of 15 states and a US territory holding primary elections on “Super Tuesday.” Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 US election. The Republican Party of Colorado has asked the Supreme Court, whose 6-3 conservative majority includes three justices appointed by Trump, to rule before Tuesday in the ballot eligibility case. During arguments, Supreme Court justices signaled sympathy toward Trump’s appeal of a Dec. 19 ruling by Colorado’s top court to disqualify him from the state’s ballot under the US Constitution’s 14th Amendment. Section 3 of the 14th Amendment bars from holding public office any “officer of the United States” who took an oath “to support the Constitution of the United States” and then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.” Trump supporters attacked police and swarmed the Capitol in a bid to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s 2020 election victory. Trump gave an incendiary speech to supporters beforehand, telling them to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell.” He then for hours rebuffed requests that he urge the mob to stop. Anti-Trump forces have sought to disqualify him in more than two dozen other states — a mostly unsuccessful effort — over his actions relating to the Jan. 6 attack. Maine and Illinois also have barred Trump from their ballot, though both those decisions are on hold pending the Supreme Court’s Colorado ruling. During arguments in the Colorado case, Supreme Court justices — conservatives and liberals alike — expressed concern about states taking sweeping actions that could impact a presidential election nationwide. They pondered how states can properly enforce the Section 3 disqualification language against candidates, with several wondering whether Congress must first pass legislation to enable that. In another case with high stakes for the election, the Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to decide Trump’s claim of immunity from prosecution for trying to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden. The court appears likely to reject Trump’s claim of immunity from prosecution, according to legal experts, but its decision to spend months on the matter could aid his quest to regain the presidency by further delaying a monumental criminal trial. Trump’s lawyers have argued that he should be shielded from prosecution for his effort to reverse Biden’s victory because he was president when he took those actions, a sweeping assertion of immunity firmly rejected by lower courts. But the Supreme Court’s decision not to schedule its arguments on the issue until late April reduces the chances that a trial on the election subversion charges brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith could be finished before the presidential election.

Outstanding female achievement recognized at 10th Arab Women of the Year ceremony in London

Updated 03 March 2024
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Outstanding female achievement recognized at 10th Arab Women of the Year ceremony in London

LONDON: Arab women from diverse professional backgrounds were honored for their global achievements at an annual awards ceremony in London, with Saudi Arabia leading the praise for female empowerment.

The 10th Arab Women of the Year Awards, organized by the UK-based London Arabia Organization, this year celebrated eight females for their achievements in business leadership, research and development, creativity, cultural pioneering, social development, cultural exchange, cybersecurity education, and humanitarian aid.

Omar Bdour, chief executive officer of the organization, said: “We don’t set a category, because we want every woman to go to our website for nominations and feel that she’s not pushed away, so it’s open to all fields and anyone can nominate anyone.”

This year saw the entry of new categories in creativity, as well as cybersecurity education, he told Arab News during the ceremony that was hosted at the Carlton Tower Jumeirah on Wednesday. Through the awards, organizers aim to strengthen UK-Arab ties by focusing on empowering Arab women worldwide.

Winners with their award at the 10th Arab Women of the Year Awards. (Supplied)

Princess Noura bint Faisal Al-Saud, founder of Saudi Fashion Week and the Global Culture House, a Saudi boutique consultancy, thanked King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “for their vision and enablement of women with the minister of culture.”

The princess dedicated her award in cultural pioneering to “all the women out there.”

She said: “I was recently in the public sector, so I owe this to the Ministry of Culture for furthering my career, as well as from a personal perspective, my dear parents and siblings, and the other people that have supported my career growth through partnerships and opportunities.”

Princess Noura joined the ministry in 2019 where she headed strategy development for the Kingdom’s fashion sector and helped support and nurture local talent.

Winner of the social development achievement went to Emirati Khuloud Hassan Al-Nuwais, a businesswoman and strategist who has been profiled as one of the UAE’s inspirational leaders in 2014 and played a key role in establishing the Abu Dhabi-based Emirates Foundation, a national charity dedicated to facilitating public-private social development programs and initiatives.

To mark the 10th anniversary of the awards, organizers decided to host the first annual Arab Women’s Summit on Thursday at Lancaster House. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)

“My journey from the private sector to philanthropy was a decision driven by a desire to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others.

“Our leadership’s commitment to empowering women in the UAE has given me the opportunity to grow, to give and to serve as I reflect on this journey,” Al-Nuwais said.

Baria Alamuddin, a member of the organization’s advisory board, said: “(Awards that celebrate) successful women give them a lot of confidence, a lot of things to look forward to.

“I think in the Arab world we need it, because for a long time women in the Arab world have been brought up (to believe) that the brother and the boy can do more things and are more important.”

A writer and journalist, she noted that Arab societies were “reaching some kind of an equilibrium,” but that Arab women still “lacked a bit of self-confidence.”

Bahraini ambassador to UK Fawaz bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa with an award winner. (Supplied)

On the awards’ cybersecurity category, she added: “It is extremely important in our part of the world (and) we need it because, as you know, this is almost the new enemy in the new world, and we cannot live without our internet and our connections.”

Alamuddin also called for equal opportunities for women in computer programming, journalism, the army, parliament, and many other fields.

And she praised the increase in Saudi female participation in the workforce, currently running at 34 percent, which had already surpassed the Vision 2030 target of 30 percent of the labor market.

“What I like about Saudi women is their passion. They really want to arrive, they really want to succeed, they really want to be firm believers, and they’re not only proud of their country, but also to participate in the development of their country and the Arab world at large,” Alamuddin said.

London Arabia annually hosts sessions at the British Parliament and various universities on the sidelines of the awards ceremony, but this year, to mark the 10th anniversary, organizers decided to host the first annual Arab Women’s Summit on Thursday at Lancaster House with former UK Prime Minister Theresa May as headline speaker.

Baria Alamuddin (C), a member of the organization’s advisory board, spoke at the Arab Women’s Summit. (AN Photo/Sarah Glubb)

Kiran Haslam, chief marketing officer for the Diriyah Gate Development Authority, a key sponsor of the event, said: “It’s a very important summit and some of the discussion points that we’ve had, the recipients of the awards from the ceremony, which was absolutely sensational to experience, and to hear their own words of what motivated them and drove them to succeed in the way that they have, was absolutely fantastic.”

He pointed out that the two-day event took seriously the opportunity, vision, and ambition of the Kingdom under the country’s leadership.

“What we have is an extraordinary development in society which sees 85 percent of the workforce in Diriyah being Saudi, 36 percent being female, 16 percent of the female population of employees we have are in senior leadership positions, which is a real testament to the vision and the ambition and sees really delivering the Diriyah project through extremely authentic eyes, hearts, and minds.

“The entire Vision 2030 path that has been laid is unlocking so many very special ways in which society is developing.

“I encounter young Saudi women all across the world who are being recognized and awarded for exceptional things, their exceptional perseverance, their intellect, dedication, and focus on particular subjects and causes,” Haslam added.


Bangkok lab leads ‘halal science’ development as Thailand seeks to become industry hub

Researchers work at the Halal Science Center in Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok on Feb. 22, 2024. (AN photo)
Updated 03 March 2024
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Bangkok lab leads ‘halal science’ development as Thailand seeks to become industry hub

  • Thailand is seeking to become a regional halal hub, increase halal exports
  • Bangkok center in talks with SFDA to establish halal science lab in Saudi Arabia

BANGKOK: For the last two decades, Dr. Winai Dahlan has helmed the development of halal research initiatives in Buddhist-majority Thailand to ensure food safety standards that conform with Islamic laws. 

The country’s start in halal science began as an answer to increasing calls by Thai Muslims for scientific testing in halal food development in the late 1990s after the discovery of beef sausage products for Muslim consumers that were tainted with pork caused an uproar. 

The demands of Muslim consumers in the country, which make up about 5 percent of Thailand’s 66 million population, along with increased awareness of halal standards, led to the establishment of a halal research center at the Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. 

“When the Thailand policymakers realized the significance of the science … Chulalongkorn University (and) myself at that time … established a small laboratory in the Faculty of Allied Health Science,” Dahlan, who is the center’s director, told Arab News. 

That small lab eventually became a full-scale facility, with the government granting a budget for the public university to do so following controversies related to halal food products in the region.

“In that year, 2003, Thailand finally had the first halal laboratory.” 

The center, which operates under the Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, is the only one of its kind in Thailand and has been dubbed the world’s first halal science institution. 

It developed the standardization known as HAL-Q, or the Halal Assurance, Liability-Quality System, which has been adopted to integrate halal standards into food safety and is used by more than 770 factories employing more than 200,000 people across the kingdom. 

Dahlan’s team had worked on the Shariah-compliant ICT Logistics Kontrol system, or SILK, an information technology system developed for the halal supply chain, logistics and traceability management that is also compatible with HAL-Q. 

They also developed the Halal Route app, which will soon be launched in Arabic and functions as a directory and review platform for Muslim travelers to easily find mosques and halal restaurants when visiting Thailand. 

The Halal Science Center’s leading role in the field also provides an economic opportunity for Thailand, at a time when the government is seeking to boost the country’s halal exports. 

“Thailand has great potential for becoming a regional halal hub because of its abundance of raw materials to produce halal food in response to the demands of many countries worldwide,” the Thai government’s public relations department said in a statement issued on Feb. 27. 

“Thailand also has great opportunities to increase its halal exports to both Muslim and non-Muslim countries.” 

Thai exports of halal food products reached around 217 billion baht ($6 billion) in the first 11 months of 2023, growing 2.6 percent compared to the same period in the previous year, with over 15,000 halal food producers in the country, according to official data. 

Many countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines, have set up strategies to tap into the thriving global halal market, which is estimated to be worth more than $7 trillion. 

But in Thailand, there is still a need to educate the private sector on halal-related matters, Dahlan said. 

“I think (this is) very important in order to boost up the total exports to Muslim countries … We still have room for expanding our product to the Middle East.” 

Dahlan has grown more optimistic with recent developments in Saudi-Thai relations, which were officially restored in 2022. 

“After that, it’s like (a) broken dam, water comes (out), big flood of Saudi tourists to Thailand … We have a very high expectation for the relationship, and also for the export,” Dahlan said. 

Since then, the center has taken part in the Thailand Mega Fair 2023 in Riyadh, during which Dahlan gave a lecture on the nation’s halal science development. He said the center is also in talks with the Saudi Food and Drug Authority about establishing a halal science laboratory in Saudi Arabia. 

“From the Thai side, especially for the Muslims in Thailand, they are so excited. We have been waiting for 32 years for the normal relationship between Thailand and Saudi Arabia.”