NEWS FROM THE UAE
SOURCE : THE NATIONAL
In new cleaner Dubai, betel watch out
DUBAI - OCT - 09: People caught selling or preparing betel leaves and other products that are chewed and spat out may be deported, the municipality announced yesterday.
The sanction is included in the potential consequences of antisocial behaviour in a campaign to restore the “old charm” of the city.
At the launch of the “Say Yes to a Clean Naif” campaign, Hussain Nasser Lootah, the municipality’s acting director general, said: “People caught selling paan [betel leaves] would be liable to legal action amounting to deportation.
“There will be no more warnings and their shops would also be shut down immediately.”
He added that rewards of up to Dh5,000 (US$1,360) would be given to people who reported the sale or manufacture of betel leaves and similar products in Dubai.
People found spitting betel juice would also be fined Dh500, officials said. Betel, known locally by its Hindi name paan, is usually chewed after meals. The juice from the leaves, which is red in colour, is spat out, and easily stains pavements and buildings. Despite its sale being illegal in Dubai, paan is widely available in cafeterias and shops in Karama, Deira, Bur Dubai and other areas.
The cleanliness drive was launched in the streets of Al Sabkha yesterday. Municipal officials, accompanied by stilt walkers and volunteers playing drums and holding placards, distributed brochures to shops in the district.
Apart from spitting, littering and hanging clothes out to dry on balconies are also being targeted by the campaign. Officials said hanging clothes spoilt the beauty of the city, while littering was a source of disease.
The initiative begins in earnest today and will continue until Nov 13. It will be extended to other areas of Dubai such as Al Ghubaibah, Al Sabkha, Al Fuhaidi, Al Karama, Al Qusais and Al Quoz at a later stage.
Campaign managers will also spread their message through brochures and advertisements in newspapers and on buildings.
Road shows, stage shows and contests for the cleanest buildings and shops will be organised to encourage the involvement of residents.
Clean shops that prohibit eating, drinking and smoking indoors and do not leave goods outside will be rewarded.
Shopkeepers and residents in Al Sabkha complain that there is a need for more dustbins if the campaign is to succeed.
“There are very few bins – just one at the end of the street,” a resident said.
“If every shop provides a bin, then people will be encouraged to use it. Besides, cigarette butts are a big problem because there are no places to throw them.”
Once upon a time in Abu Dhabi
ABU DHABI - OCT 09: Stressing his “tremendous respect” for Muslims and the Arab world, the actor Antonio Banderas told budding film-makers here last night that they needed to help address prejudices in the media.
“First, it is a social and political issue. Once we understand that we can come together and live in peace and tolerance, it becomes about art, about telling stories,” he said while giving a masterclass last night at the 2008 Circle Conference at the Shangri-La hotel.
Banderas, 48, said being born in an Andalusian town in southern Spain across from Morocco steeped in Moorish culture had a lasting impact on him. “The Arabs were in Spain for eight centuries, and that is a part of me,” he said to the audience of film students and film industry professionals from all around the Middle East and North Africa, including Jordan, Syria, Morocco, the Palestinian Territories, Iran and Iraq.
Banderas, who has starred in such high-profile Hollywood films as Desperado, Interview with the Vampire, Philadelphia and The Mask of Zorro, added that he was now working on a historical film that he hoped would illustrate the West’s debt to Arab culture. He is also expected to attend the Middle East International Film Festival which opens on Friday.
After wrapping up his discussion, Banderas awarded the Sasha Grant, a US$100,000 (Dh367,000) screenwriting prize endowed by conference organisers The Circle, to Hicham Ayouch, a 32-year-old Moroccan, to help him produce his film Sambo do Maazooz.
Other keynote speakers at the conference have included James Gianopoulos, the chief executive officer and chairman of 20th Century Fox Films.
The Circle Conference, which opened on Monday and runs until Saturday, is a yearly event showcasing regional film industry talent.
It is organised by The Circle, an initiative established by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage.
Local species 'face extinction'
Abu Dhabi - OCT 09: Native species including the Arabian leopard, tahr and houbara bustard are under threat of extinction, according to an updated list of the world’s most endangered plants and animals.
The Arabian leopard is among 188 mammals deemed critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The group’s “Red List”, which is considered the most respected inventory of biodiversity, also says the tahr, a mountain goat found only in northern Oman and the UAE, is endangered, while the houbara bustard is vulnerable to extinction. The report, which covers more than 44,000 animal and plant species, warns that a quarter of all the world’s known mammals face extinction and many animals will vanish before they are ever known to science.
According to the IUCN, there are now fewer than 200 Arabian leopards in the wild. Once a common sight in the mountains of Oman, Yemen and Saudia Arabia, there have been no officials sightings of the big cats in the UAE for more than a decade.
Habitat depletion, hunting and the loss of natural prey, such as the tahr, have all contributed to its decline.
There are thought to be fewer than 5,000 tahr left and sightings of the goat, which has a long, reddish-brown coat and a dark stripe running down its back, are rare. While some populations have increased through protection, the group says the species likely continues to decline overall.
The numbers of houbara bustard, a sandy, speckled bird, have slipped dramatically due to falconry.
“The principal threat is from over-hunting by Middle East falconers, largely but not exclusively on the species’ wintering grounds. Habitat loss and degradation compound this problem,” the report says.
The UAE has launched a number of conservation programmes focusing on the three species. The Sharjah Breeding Center for Endangered Arabian Wildlife, located 30km south of Sharjah city, is one of the few places in the world that breeds Arabian leopards.
The Wadi Wurayah area of Fujairah, where the leopards are believed to survive, is also being turned into the country’s first mountainous national park under an expansion of the protected areas programme.
The Hajar Mountains, the location of the country’s only year-round waterfall and one of the three remaining areas in the UAE where the tahr survives, is expected to be designated a protected zone by the end of the year.
The National Avian Research Center has bred and released some 200 houbara bustard since 2004, and hopes to raise that number to 5,000 by 2013.
The authors of the report, which was published in the journal Science this week, say they have insufficient evidence to classify more than 800 other species of mammals around the globe, meaning the number of those under threat could be much higher.
But there is a glimmer of hope among the bleak assessments. The populations of at least five per cent of species on the list are on the rise.
The Arabian oryx, one of the largest of the antelope family and an ancient inhabitant of the peninsula’s desert, was rated as endangered but is on the verge of being reclassified as vulnerable from 2011 as long as populations remain stable or improve.
There are fewer than 1,000 of the black and white animals in the wild, the report says. In March 2007, the first phase of the UAE’s oryx reintroduction plan got under way, and 100 of the animals were released into a desert reserve in Abu Dhabi. The programme aims to re-establish a self-sustaining wild population. The IUCN did not classify the UAE’s oryx population as wild because, although they have been released into the desert, supplementary forage and other management measures are taken.
Jan Schipper, the lead author of the mammal survey, called for an international coalition to save species, saying countries should be held responsible for the survival of animals within their borders.
“For mammals there is no bailout plan. There is no long-term conservation strategy that is going to prevent species extinction in the future. As human beings, we should be ensuring that we don’t cause other species to go extinct.”
Survival rates of dugong improving
ABU DHABI - OCT 09: A sudden dip in recorded deaths among the emirate’s threatened dugong population has sparked hope the gentle marine creature may be recovering from intensive building work along the coastline.
Conservationists have long warned that the dredging, land reclamation and increased boat traffic associated with a boom in the development of marinas and hotels was taking a devastating toll on the rare mammals.
But after two years of record numbers of dugong deaths, scientists at Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD) have noticed a drop in the rate.
In 2007, there were 12 deaths recorded, but so far this year the number is only six, said Dr Thabit Zahran al Abdessalam, director of marine biodiversity management sector at EAD. There were 11 deaths of recorded during 2006.
Dugongs are listed as a species vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which has updated its “Red List” of threatened plants and animals.
The lugubrious creatures grow to between two and three metres in length, can weigh of up to 400 kg and live up to 70 years. Their skin is deep grey and they have a flat, two-pointed tail that propels them through the water. Instead of front limbs, they have flippers that they use to steer. They are herbivores and their diet consists mainly of seagrass. Their ability to eat the equivalent of 15 per cent of their body weight has gained them their other name: the sea cow.
Although protected by federal law, they have faced growing threats from coastal development, seismic activity by the oil industry and oil pollution.
The number of recorded deaths is relatively small and the reduction only recent, but Mr Abdessalam is hopeful a trend has emerged.
Two reasons could explain the reduction.
“My perception is that the extent of land reclamation was much greater in 2006 and 2007 and also mitigation measures had not been implemented then,” he said.
Land reclamation usually involves dredging, an operation which disturbs the seabed as sand, rocks or clay are removed. This changes the physical and chemical composition of the water, which can in turn threaten the health of coral reefs and seagrass beds, which are very sensitive to such changes.
Dredging increases the murkiness of water, making it harder for seagrass, the dugong’s principal source of food, to grow. Dredging also stirs up a lot of nutrients in the water which encourage algae. If these organisms multiply too quickly, they can use up all the oxygen in sea water, killing large numbers of fish.
One way of reducing the problem is to use sediment curtains, vast swathes of material that surround the dredging area and contain the murkiness by filtering the water.
Increased boat traffic linked to the building activity is another problem. Mr Abdessalam said that a number of dugong died after being hit by boats. The only way to stop this was to ask boat owners to avoid dugong-dense areas and observe speed limits. “We have been trying to implement these measures since 2006,” he said.
Seismic surveys carried out during oil exploration can also have devastating effects. Mr Abdessalam described how scientists had found a dead dugong with signs from bleeding from its nose and ears: “That means that there was some kind of acoustic disturbance.”
Seismic surveys explore the geology beneath the seabed by releasing low-frequency pulses that work in the same way as sonar or radar devices. The pulse penetrates the layers beneath the seabed and its echo is recorded and analysed as it bounces back. While these sounds might not disturb humans, they bother dugongs and other marine animals, which can hear sounds in the lower range of the spectrum.