Recent shipping-related disasters in Beirut and Mauritius are generating calls for the UN to intervene on behalf of a floating oil storage tanker anchored outside Yemen's largest port, Hodeidah. The 44-year-old single-hulled tanker, carrying more than 1 million gallons of crude oil, was effectively abandoned in 2015 during Yemen's civil war when Houthi rebels took control of Hodeidah, on Yemen's Red Sea coast. The Houthis and the government both claim the tanker, carrying perhaps $80 million worth of oil. After the ship's engine room began taking on water earlier this year, a temporary fix was applied, but without further maintenance the ship has been characterized as a "time bomb," at risk of exploding or sinking, either of which would be devastating for Hodeidah and for Yemen, which imports nearly all of its food. www.maritime-executive.com/article/outcry-grows-after-beirut-and-mauritius-for-action-on-yemen-oil-tanker
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently, and unexpectedly, issued notice that satellite imagery of Israel and the Occupied Territories will no longer be blurred out. This article from Foreign Policy looks at the background of the policy change and its implications for human rights, archaeology, science, technology, civil society, and more.
"For the past two decades, there has been a general—and mostly unchallenged—understanding that satellite imagery is restricted over Israel and the Palestinian and Syrian territories it occupies. This was due to a 1996 U.S. regulation known as the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment (KBA) which has limited the quality and availability of high-resolution satellite imagery produced by U.S. companies covering Israel (and by implicit extension, the occupied Palestinian territories and the occupied Golan Heights). The result is that publicly available imagery on platforms such as Google Earth has been deliberately coarse and blurred. On June 25, following two years of sustained pressure from academia and civil society, the 97-word KBA was unexpectedly reformed, making higher-resolution satellite imagery legally accessible and readily available to all. ... Israel, driven by a desire for Cold War secrecy, lobbied Congress for stricter regulation, which led to the passing of the KBA: the U.S. government’s only censorship of imagery of any part of the world. The legislation, implemented under the guise of protecting Israel’s national security, was actually more an act of censorship. After all, high-resolution satellite imagery allows researchers to understand, identify, and document landscape changes. ... For 24 years, the legislation obfuscated the damaging effects of the Israeli occupation by literally hiding them from view. The censorship over Israel and the occupied territories has had negative archeological, geographical, and humanitarian implications. Arguably the most glaring of these has been its effects on monitoring the decades long Israeli occupation—including documenting home demolitions, territorial disputes, and settlement growth. Lower-resolution imagery has forestalled efforts to challenge and verify human rights violations, especially in hard-to-reach areas such as the Gaza Strip...."
Talks have broken down, again, between Ethiopia and Egypt over Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam project. The Blue Nile, which begins in Ethiopia, contributes 80% of the Nile River's water. For Egypt, the waters of the Nile are essential for the economic and literal life of the country. For Ethiopia, the Grand Renaissance Dam and the electricity it will generate are a matter of national pride and economic progress. This article from Al Monitor does a good job laying out the geopolitical issues: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/07/egypt-ethiopia-nile-dam-dispute-diplomacy-africa-union-trump.html#ixzz6ShPs0mSZ
Coral bleaching occurs when unusually warm water temperatures lead to coral polyps' eviction of their symbiotic algae. But some of the world's most spectacular coral reefs are located in the hot, saline waters of the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. Scientists based in the UAE are studying local reef ecology to try to understand how corals and other fauna can withstand the extreme conditions. www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/06/united-arab-emirates-coral-reef-fauna-climate-change.html
COVID-19 has cratered Egypt's tourist industry. But even in good times few tourists stray far from the sites along the Nile River. After all, deserts stretch in both directions from the Nile. The desert landscape is not just sand dunes, though. For example, 6 hours southwest of Cairo in the Western Desert, in Egypt's Farafra Depression, one can visit the other-worldly chalk formations of White Desert National Park featured in this article from Atlas Obscura: www.atlasobscura.com/places/white-desert
Spoken Arabic varies widely across the Arabic-speaking world, with some dialects all but unintelligible to each other. This Reddit map shows the dominant Arabic dialects across North Africa and the Middle East.
The Trump Administration recently suspended visas for citizens from six additional countries: Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tanzania. All of the countries highlighted on this map are now subject to travel "bans" of one kind or another. The countries in green are predominantly Muslim; the countries in yellow are not. (Nigeria has a Muslim majority with a large Christian minority; Tanzania has a Christian majority with a large Muslim minority.)
Desert locusts are endemic to Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia, but after years of drought followed by heavy rains and warmer temperatures in 2019, East Africa is now contending with its worst locust infestation in decades. Billions of the insects, some in swarms "so thick [that people] can barely see through them," are chewing their way through every bit of vegetation in their paths. If they are not checked by aerial spraying before the spring planting season begins in March, they will devastate young crops and could touch off massive food security issues across East Africa later this year. According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which is trying to organize assistance to combat the locusts, Ethiopia and Somalia haven't seen an invasion of this size in 25 years and for other countries in the region it's been longer still: at least 50 years for Uganda and 70 years for Kenya. (The median age in the region is about 19.) www.dw.com/en/locust-plague-east-africa-destructive-food/a-52165354
President Donald Trump's recent threat to target Iranian cultural sites raises the question, "What are Iran's cultural sites?" This interactive site allows users to view and learn about Iran's 22 cultural and two natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including Persepolis, the Golestan Palace, and the Sheikh Lotfollah mosque built by Shah Abbas in Esfahan: whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/ir
For those interested in expanding their understanding of Israel and Palestine, a handful of tour operators are taking tourists beyond Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to harvest olives in a Palestinian village, share a Shabbat meal in an Israeli settlement on the West Bank, meet artists in Ramallah, view the Gaza Strip from Israel, and otherwise meet the people living in the region and see the Israeli-Palestinian issue up close for themselves. "Aziz Abu Sara, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem who founded Mejdi Tours 10 years ago, told Al-Monitor ... 'Tourists want to see more than just the required sites. They also want to learn about real life in the places they visit,' he said. 'It is impossible to understand the challenges of the people living here without talking to them and getting to know them. There used to be no companies that offered things like that. We were the first company to offer tours based on the two narratives. Our groups always have a Palestinian guide and an Israeli guide. People laughed at us at first and said that no one would come. But then we started to work with an large variety of groups, ranging from educational groups to tourists looking for exclusive tours. What they all had in common was a desire to understand what is really happening in Israel and [Palestine].'" www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/10/israel-west-bank-rashida-tlaib-tourism-birth-right-project.html
According to recent data compiled by the OECD, a quarter of doctors practicing in the U.S. received their first medical degree somewhere other than the U.S. This geo-graphic compares the prevalence of foreign-trained doctors across various OECD countries: www.statista.com/chart/3849/the-countries-with-the-most-foreign-trained-doctors/
With Saudi Arabia's state-owned oil company, Saudi Aramco, heading for an initial public offering (IPO) it seemed timely to share this set of maps from Visual Capitalist, detailing the world's biggest oil discoveries since 1868. www.visualcapitalist.com/map-worlds-biggest-oil-discoveries-since-1868/
This map shows regional control of territory within Syria prior to this week's offensive by Turkish forces into the Kurdish-held region in the northeastern part of the country.
Last weekend's attack on a Saudi oil facility sent global oil prices higher, but which countries are most dependent on Saudi oil? This map, based on 2017 OEC data, shows the top four destinations for Saudi petroleum products: China ($29.1B), Japan ($25B), India ($19.4B), and South Korea ($17.7B). China and Japan both import roughly 50% more Saudi oil than does the U.S., which is the 5th biggest importer of Saudi oil ($17.3B).
The yellow dots on this map, which accompanied a recent Reuters (UK) story, show the position of oil and liquified natural gas tankers during the week of June 12-19. The narrow body of water in the boxed area between Oman's Musandam exclave (to the south) and Iran (to the north) is the strategically important Strait of Hormuz. graphics.reuters.com/MIDEAST-ATTACKS-HORMUZ/0100B04806Y/index.html
Why does a Saudi company own land in California, Arizona, and other places around the world? The answer lies in advantageous local water rights and the need to provide fodder for a dairy industry in a desert. www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/mar/25/california-water-drought-scarce-saudi-arabia
This map highlights where Arabic is spoken as the primary or secondary language: www.reddit.com/r/MapPorn/comments/bhim2x/the_arabic_speaking_world_1280772/
After the recent visit of Egyptian President Sisi, the Trump Administration is looking into declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. However, in addition to having been the best-organized political opposition in Egypt prior to being banned by Sisi's government in 2013, the Muslim Brotherhood is a diverse organization operating in many countries and having a variety of political and social goals. This map, from Al Monitor, shows the status of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East. www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/05/trump-allies-push-back-muslim-brotherhood-terror.html
Most modern maps conventionally show north at the top of the map, with east to the right, south at the bottom, and west to the left. This was not always the case. During the Middle Ages, world maps often adopted what is known as the O-T design, with east (Asia) at the top of the map, south (Africa) in the lower right quadrant of the map, and north/west (Europe) in the lower left quadrant of the map, separated by a T of water (the Mediterranean and Red Sea). This was done in order to place Jerusalem at the center of the map. The Hereford (UK) Mappa Mundi ("map of the world") is the largest extant example: www.researchgate.net/profile/Qian_Sun15/publication/319561588/figure/fig1/AS:631640015515651@1527606123196/Hereford-Mappa-Mundi-One-of-the-most-famous-medieval-maps-in-existence-dates-from.png
The oil-rich sultanate of Brunei, on the northern coast of Borneo, was in the news recently for making homosexuality and extramarital sex punishable by stoning to death. This map shows all the countries in the world in which homosexuality may be subject to the death penalty. www.statista.com/chart/17587/countries-where-homosexuality-can-result-in-the-death-penalty/
Libya's low-burner civil war has been back in the news this week with both the upcoming Libyan National Conference and the not-coincidentally-timed advance of Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter on the capital of Tripoli. This article from Al Monitor provides context on Hifter's moves.
"All Arab civil wars are not created equal. Libya has been in a state of civil war for five years now, yet it hasn’t been a civil war full of massacres or famines like the sectarian wars in Yemen and Syria. Libya’s war has certain highly unusual characteristics: low death tolls, high diffusion of arms, two governments (both of whom claim sovereignty but do not actually exercise it), extreme fragmentation of fighting forces, and the same central bank paying the fighters on all sides. From a military perspective, the defining characteristic of Libya’s war relates to how territory is captured. Where there have been protracted pitched battles, usually against jihadists, exchange of territory happens slowly and destructively. Conversely, where there have been huge gains and losses of territory, it usually transpires with groups being bought off to switch their allegiances, or with one force marching its column of technicals across a highway and the other side running away with nary a shot being fired. What does this say for the prospects to resolve Libya’s civil war militarily, as one actor is now trying to do?"
The world seems to have lost interest in Syria. This article from Foreign Policy takes a closer look at what's going on in Syria right now:
"The war that has ravaged Syria over the last half-decade is coming to an end. The caliphate declared by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State organization ... now consists of a few ravaged square meters in Baghouz, in Syria’s Lower Euphrates River Valley, that are on the verge of falling to Kurdish forces. The mainly Sunni Arab rebellion against the Bashar al-Assad regime, meanwhile, is already over. What remains of it is now the military component of a Turkish project to turn a corner of northwest Syria into a Turkish client entity. In place of the old wars, however, three new ones have started. They are taking place in the three de facto independent areas whose boundaries are becoming apparent as the smoke from the previous battle clears: the regime-controlled area, guaranteed by Russia; the area east of the Euphrates River controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces, which are primarily composed of Kurdish fighters protected by the United States and Western air power; and finally the area controlled by the Turks and their Sunni Islamist allies in Idlib province. The regime area consists of about 60 percent of the territory of the country, the SDF has around 30 percent, and the Turkish-Sunni Islamist area is around 10 percent. Each of these areas is now hosting a civil war of its own, supported by neighboring enclaves."
Nearly 250 miles from the conflict raging in mainland Yemen is the Yemeni island of Socotra. Socotra's location in the Indian Ocean is sufficiently isolated from both Africa and the Arabian Peninsula that nearly 40% of its plant life is endemic (native to nowhere else on earth). The most iconic species is the umbrella-shaped dragon blood tree, named for its red sap. The dragon blood tree is featured on Yemeni coinage. www.atlasobscura.com/places/socotra-island
Subsidence is the phenomenon of land sinking. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common has been pumping water out of aquifers, causing the overlying land to sink. Jakarta and Mexico City are both experiencing subsidence. Now you can add Tehran to the list. Decades of overpumping of Tehran's groundwater have caused water tables to drop by as much as 12 meters, and the overlying land to sink by several meters. Subsidence can crack streets and building foundations and rupture underground pipes. geographical.co.uk/places/cities/item/3052-sinking-tehran
Last month the United Nations sponsored talks in Palermo, Sicily, on stabilizing Libya and setting the groundwork for a national conference, and possibly elections, in Libya in early 2019. Politically and militarily, though, the situation on the ground in Libya remains complex and volatile, as this map showing regions of control from earlier this year suggests: www.polgeonow.com/2018/07/libyan-civil-war-map-libya-who-controls-what.html Even the capital of Tripoli is divided by competing factions as this more granular map shows: www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/menasource/tripoli-a-kaleidoscope
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