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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Science

ISRAEL: A controversial shale project and energy security

The suspension of Egyptian gas supply to Israel has lighted a fire under the feet of Israeli officials, businessmen and shareholders trying to assess how events in Egypt will affect Israel's energy economy.

Initial assessments that it is in Egypt's interests to keep the lucrative gas deals with Israel may prove right when the dust settles. But the shake-up in Egypt is a wake-up call for Israel, too.

Minister of National Infrastructures Uzi Landau urged hastened development of the Tamar gas field Sunday. Meanwhile, Israel can increase quantities from its southern reserve and may have to compensate for the loss of Egyptian gas by using more coal and oil-based fuels to produce electricity.

Israel was hoping to move away from such dirtier energy sources for various reasons, including a pledge to reduce greenhouse emissions. Recently the government approved a national plan to develop technologies to reduce global use of oil in transportation. Global dependence on oil and the countries that produce it is bad for both the environment and economic stability, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

But industries and economies still rely on fossil fuels. Increasing costs and depleting reserves are driving new technologies that, well, scrape the bottom of the barrel to produce energy.

And surprise (OK, maybe not to geologists) -- Israel is sitting on a potential fortune.

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IRAN: Dangerous levels of nitrate in Tehran's drinking water reported

Amid reports that water in parts of Tehran may be tainted with high levels of toxic nitrate, the Ministry of Power has handed out free bottles of water to an underprivileged suburb south of the city.

Parliamentarian Hasan Ta’mini, a member of the Health and Medicare Commission, reported that authorities had hoped to address the water crisis within a week, though no solution has yet been announced.

Water consumption soars as the summer heat rises in densely populated Tehran. For neighborhoods and families struggling with overpopulation, endemic poverty and air pollution in the south, the heat, and dehydration, can be oppressive.

South tehran

The Water and Sewage Waste Organization, an agency of the Ministry of Power, recently dug new wells to expand the water supply. Though most of the drinking water for Tehran typically flowed from the reservoirs of Karaj Amirkabir Dam, one hour west of Tehran, 30% of the water is now coming from these wells.

Earlier this month, Health Minister Dr. Marziyeh Vahid Dasjerdi announced that the amount of nitrate found in the drinking water pipes in parts of Tehran exceeded the appropriate level, posing a serious threat to city-dwellers’ health.

The director-general of the Water and Sewage Waste Organization, Mohammad Parvaresh, denied the claim of a nitrate threat, claiming that all water was uncontaminated and safe to drink.

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EGYPT: New book tells the story of saving the past

Queen Hatshepsut From boat graves to sarcophaguses and from tomb robbers to the temple of a lion goddess, Egypt is a history of epochs tumbling into one another.

Defined by masterpieces such as the pyramids, and by lesser known treasures stretching from the Grecco-Roman period to Napoleonic times, the nation’s art and architecture speak to the distinctive powers and religions that have risen along the Nile for more than 6,000 years. 

Some of it may have been lost if not for nearly $15 million in restorations and excavations done by the American Research Center in Egypt and mostly funded by grants from the United States Agency for International Development. The work -- part cultural reclamation, part exploration of unexpected wonders – includes salvaging the temples at Karnak and Luxor and saving medieval paintings at the Church of St. Anthony. 

A new book, "Preserving Egypt’s Cultural Heritage," offers intriguing glimpses into dozens of projects. A collection of essays edited by Randi Danforth, the book, which includes before and after photographs, is a reminder of the passion and meticulousness that comes with conserving Egypt’s glorious and often troubled past.

The splendor is much diminished these days. The world’s first empire, which the book describes as once spanning “from the fourth cataract of the Nile in the south to the Euphrates River to the northeast,” disappeared centuries ago. Today’s Egypt is a poor, chaotic and dusty offspring, a nation still important but slipping in stature in a changing Middle East.

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