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Saving Beirut’s destroyed climbing wall | Lebanon



When I first heard of the Beirut blast on August 4 that killed nearly 200 people and injured more than 6,000 others, I immediately messaged climbing friends in Lebanon. “Are you okay?” I asked Charlie Sifri.

“Yes we’re all safe but the climbing gym is destroyed. We’re lucky Flyp was closed or we’d have perished,” Charlie responded.

I had met Charlie and Beirut’s climbing community in January while reporting on anti-government protests. Climbing for me was a respite from long workdays – for them, an escape from a country in turmoil. Making friends is common in the climbing world and I made them at the Flyp gym. 

That week of the blast, the Lebanese government allowed businesses to reopen after months of COVID-19 restrictions. But an electricity blackout and a lack of fuel – on the day of one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in modern history – forced Flyp’s owner Diala Sammakeih to keep the climbing wall closed, a decision that saved many lives. 

Flyp is one of three climbing gyms in Beirut, bringing together like-minded people with a love for the outdoors. “A safe haven,” as one of the climbers called it, away from Lebanon’s political instability and its severe economic crisis.

The gym started with just 20 climbers and now there are 150 [George Emil/Al Jazeera]

Diala’s home, which looks onto the blast site at Beirut’s port, wasn’t spared either. The mother of three spent that day “bringing out dead neighbours until 11pm, including a fellow climber’s brother”. It wasn’t until the next day that she saw the extent of damage caused to her business. Flyp’s neighbourhood, Karantina, was one of the most severely hit by the explosion.

Less than 1.5km from the epicentre, the climbing gym’s roof caved in despite it being structurally unsafe. One hundred climbers volunteered from across the country to clear debris and save what they could.

Interior designer Laura Karam said: “The place is destroyed. The ceiling and walls peeled off. Glass and metal everywhere. We’re lucky we weren’t there when it happened. But it’s been amazing to see the climbing community come together. We had to do something.”

‘Where’s the government?’

Diala, among other climbers, blames corruption for the situation thousands of Lebanese are in. As many as 300,000 people in the capital were made homeless. With no financial help from the government so far, she is unsure what the future holds for the climbing complex that will cost thousands of US dollars to rebuild. She wants to return to business as usual but is doubtful of receiving any form of compensation. 

Her anger like many Lebanese is palpable. “As long as the politicians have roofs over their heads, they don’t think we’re important. Can you imagine the army even asked us to remove the debris on the roads in front of the climbing gym? I told them where’s the government to do it?” 

After 25 years in the corporate world, Diala risked a career change despite unemployment at an all-time high because of the economic crisis. She set up Flyp in 2019 with a friend to create a community for climbers unable to travel often to Lebanon’s mountains. It started with just 20 new climbers and now there are 150. She saw a gap in the Lebanese market as climbing gained popularity worldwide. The sport is being included for the first time in 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

At an emotional and financial loss, the Lebanese climbing community rallied around Diala. First they needed to raise money, so they created a crowdfund  and reached out to climbers globally. Donations flooded in from professional world champion climbers to grassroots gyms in Europe, the United States, and the Middle East.

[George Emil/Al Jazeera] - DO NOT USE A climber scales a rock face at Tannourin El Tahta [George Emil/Al Jazeera] 

Laura Karam, who has experienced several bomb blasts in Lebanon, knew what to do on August 4 but nothing prepared her for the aftermath that would hit her family and climbing friends. She put her social media skills to good use and started contacting people in the climbing world.

“The response has been nothing but positive from the international community,” she said. “It means so much to us. It’s heartwarming. Many may not have heard of us but they still reached out.”

Lebanese climber Jad Khoury shared that sentiment. He explained: “In Lebanon, we don’t have this idea of crowdfunding like other countries. We donate in person but well-known climbers like Sam Elias from the US came on board and it’s helped a lot.”

The rock climber who shared the Flyp appeal with thousands of followers on social media told Al Jazeera he was motivated to do something because of his “deep connection to Lebanon through family and friends and personal experiences”. During a trip to Lebanon in 2015 to meet relatives, he helped bolt a number of tough routes on the limestone cliffs of Tannourine, in northwest Lebanon.

Jad Khoury is among a group of original climbers that put Lebanon on the international climbing map [Al Jazeera]

Jad Khoury is among a group of original climbers that put Lebanon on the international climbing map [Al Jazeera]

‘Expanding sport’

Jad who’s been climbing for more than a decade said outdoor climbing routes have tripled in the last 10 years. He’s part of a group of original climbers that put Lebanon on the international climbing map. Professional climbing athletes such as Nina Caprez, Thomas Berger, Brittany Griffith, Tom Bolger, and Boone Speed have all climbed Lebanon’s crags.

Austrian David Lama sent the first and hardest 9a route in the Levant region. Before his death last year, Lama described the route he and Jad named Avaatara as “blue-and-orange limestone and the intense green of the plants, immediately made me think of the surreal landscape in the movie Avatar”.

The origins of climbing there started when the French army bolted new routes in the 1990s. There are 15 crags and 470 routes to climb, but mostly during the warmer season.

Jad described losing one of the three climbing walls in the country as “a big loss”.

“Yes, it was a business but it added value to an expanding sport here. It helped feed into the bigger climbing community nationwide, in making climbing accessible to people of all ages in Beirut.”

[George Emil/Al Jazeera] - DO NOT USE

The origins of climbing in Lebanon started when the French army bolted new routes in the 1990s [George Emil/Al Jazeera]

‘Being human’

Crowdfunding for Flyp has for the first time brought grassroots communities across the Middle East together. Climbers from countries including Jordan, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates have raised funds and are still spreading the word. Laura Karam highlighted how another climbing gym in Beirut, URock, held a fundraiser for Flyp.

“I haven’t seen it with other communities. It’s always about working as a team without competition. Climbing is about being human, about the mountains and the rocks. It’s the individual journey – you climb and feel drained but your body feels good. I have non-climber friends who have become interested since the pandemic. They see how it’s helped me cope,” she said.

Diala is determined to reopen Flyp and said the climbing gym is needed now more than ever. A happy place for adults, kids, those with special needs, and the 48 university students working for her who have been able to cover their tuition fees as a result.

Defiant, she wants to send a clear message to Lebanon’s ruling elite. Despite facing hyperinflation and a currency that has lost 80 percent of its value, money raised will help build a small climbing space “to send a message of hope that even though everything is destroyed, we are resilient”.

“Tired but we still have to go on,” said Diala. “Lebanon’s climbers have been amazing despite what we’ve been through. This shows you how important this place was for them.” 

Both Jad Khoury and Laura Karam tell me before we end our conversations the crowdfund has introduced global climbers to Lebanon’s natural beauty, for those who want to climb its tufas and stalactites on its limestone mountain walls.

[George Emil/Al Jazeera] - DO NOT USE

Climbers from countries including Jordan, Egypt, and the UAE have raised funds to rebuild Flyp gym [George Emil/Al Jazeera]

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Charles Mbire gains $1.2 million as stake in MTN Uganda rises above $51 million



Ugandan businessman and MTN Uganda Chairman Charles Mbire has seen the market value of his stake in MTN Uganda surge above $51 million in just two days, as the share price in the leading teleco company increased by a single digit.

The single-digit bump in the share price caused the market value of Mbire’s stake to gain UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million) in less than two days.

The million-dollar increase in the value of his stake came after Uganda’s largest telecom company delivered the country’s largest-ever IPO through the listing of 22.4 billion ordinary shares on the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE).

Upon completing the largest IPO in Uganda’s history, MTN Uganda raised a record UGX535 billion ($150.4 million) from the applications that it received for a total of 2.9 billion shares, including incentive shares.

As of press time, Dec. 7, shares in the company were trading at UGX204.95 ($0.0574), down six basis points from their opening price this morning.

Data gathered by Billionaires.Africa revealed that since the telecom company registered its shares on the Ugandan bourse on Mon., Dec. 6, its share price has increased by 2.5 percent from UGX200 ($0.056) to UGX204.95 ($0.0574) as of the time of writing, as retail investors sustained buying interest long after the public offering.

The increase in the company’s share price caused the market value of Mbire’s 3.98-percent stake to rise from UGX178.45 billion ($49.96 million) to UGX182.86 billion ($51.2 million).

In less than two days, his stake gained more than UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million).

In a statement after the successful listing of MTN Uganda’s shares, Mbire said the IPO shows the confidence that Ugandans and other investors have in the company, its brand and strategic intent.

“We commend all the regulators for their support in our work to become a USE-listed company and to comply in a timely manner with the listing provisions of the national telecommunications operators’ license,” he said.

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350 million (debt free).

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350. ( debt free).

He is into communications-revenue assurance-cement-distribution-oil services-real estate-oil exploration and logistics.

Source: Billionaires Africa

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2-year-old dies at Arua hospital as nurse demands Shs 210,000 bribe




A two-year-old child died at Arua Regional Referral hospital after a nurse, Paul Wamala demanded a bribe amounting to Shs 210,000 before carrying out an operation. 

The incident happened on Saturday, after Aron Nabil, a two-year-old child was referred to the hospital for an operation after he was diagnosed with intestinal obstruction, a medical emergency caused by a blockage that keeps food or liquid from passing through the small intestine or large intestine.

According to the relatives of the child, Wamala allegedly asked them to initially give him Shs 30,000 to buy medicines to commence the procedure. He however returned shortly asking for an additional Shs 180,000 from the relatives.

Emily Adiru, a resident of Osu cell, in Bazar Ward, Central Division, and a relative of the child says although they paid money to Wamala, he abandoned the child without carrying out the operation. According to Adiru, Wamala later refunded Shs 200,000 through mobile money, after she threatened to report him to the police.

“They told us this boy needs an operation which was supposed to be done in the morning on Sunday at around 7 am. They took him inside there, some doctor came from the theatre, he called one of us and said, we should pay Shs 70,000 for buying medicine to start the operation. We paid the Shs 30,000 [but] after paying the Shs 30,000, after some minutes, the same man came and opened the door and called us again, and told us we should pay another Shs 100,000. We also paid the Shs 100,000 and we thought it is finished. We were outside there waiting for our patient to come out [but] then this man came back again and said we should pay another Shs 80,000,” said Adiru.

Although the operation was later carried out after a 7-hour delay, the child didn’t make it, and relatives attribute the death to negligence. Miria Ahmed, a concerned resident wonders why such incidents have persisted at the facility which is supposed to service the citizens.

“Is the problem the hospital, is it the management or it is the human resource that is the problem in the hospital? A small child like this you demand Shs 210,000 for the operation? Well, if the money was taken and the operation is done, I would say anything bad but this money was taken and the small boy was abandoned in the theatre,” she said. 

When contacted Wamala refused to comment on the allegations. Dr Gilbert Aniku, the acting hospital director says that the hospital will issue an official statement later since consultations about the matter are ongoing.

Arua City resident district commissioner, Alice Akello has condemned the actions of the nurse saying she has ordered his arrest so as to set an example to the rest. The case has been reported to Arua regional referral hospital police post under SD reference No:05/30/05/2022.

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Mexican president’s Mayan Train dealt new legal setback | Tourism News




Activists say the planned tourist train will harm the wildlife and natural features of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been dealt the latest setback to an ambitious plan to create a tourist train to connect the country’s southern Yucatan Peninsula.

On Monday, a judge indefinitely suspended construction on a portion of the project, known as the Mayan Train, saying the plans currently do not comply “with the proceedings of the environmental impact evaluation”.

The ruling follows a legal challenge by activists who said they were concerned the 60km (37 mile) portion of the train that would connect the resorts of Playa del Carmen and Tulum would adversely affect the area’s wildlife, as well as its caves and water-filled sinkholes known as cenotes.

The original plan for the disputed section was for an overpass over a highway, but the route was modified early this year to go through jungle at ground level.

The federal judge cited the “imminent danger” of causing “irreversible damage” to ecosystems, according to one of the plaintiffs, the non-governmental group Defending the Right to a Healthy Environment. In a statement, the group said that authorities had failed to carry out the necessary environmental impact studies before starting construction of the section.

Lopez Obrador had announced the ambitious project in 2018, with construction beginning in 2020. The roughly 1,500km (930 mile) cargo and passenger rail loop was presented as a cornerstone of a wider plan to develop the poorer states and remote towns throughout the about 181,000sq km (70,000sq mile) Yucatan Peninsula.

The railway is set to connect Caribbean beach resorts with Mayan archaeological ruins, with authorities aiming to complete the project by the end of 2023. The plan is estimated to cost about $16bn.

The project has split communities across the region, with some welcoming the economic development and connectivity it would bring. Others, including some local Indigenous communities, have challenged the project, saying it could not only disrupt the migratory routes of endangered species, including jaguars, tapirs and ocelots, but could also potentially damage centuries-old Mayan archaeological sites.

The National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism, the government agency overseeing the project, has said that it expects to “overcome” the latest challenge and that work should continue after an environmental impact statement is finalised. It said the Environment Ministry was currently reviewing its environmental application for the project.

For his part, Lopez Obrador has insisted the railway will not have a significant environmental effect and has accused activists of being infiltrated by “impostors”.

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