TOLL OF CHINESE SHIPWRECK CLIMBS
Hopes of finding survivors of China’s shipwreck were fading Wednesday, after a total 14 survivors were rescued from the Eastern Star, the cruise ship carrying 456 that sank Monday night in China's Yangtze River after a storm hit. So far, 19 bodies have been recovered, leaving more than 420 people unaccounted for, most of whom are by now feared dead.
Zhang Hui, a rescued 43-year-old tourist guide, told news agency Xinhua: "Just after that I told my colleague: "We are in big trouble, the ship overturned." It all went really fast. I had time only to grab a life jacket and climb out of the window." See the coverage in Beijing Evening News thanks to our Extra! feature here.
GREECE WARNS IT WON’T PAY IMF
Athens has warned the International Monetary Fund that it won’t make a $335 million payment this Friday without a prospect of a deal with international creditors, Reuters reports. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is due to travel to Brussels today where he’ll meet with the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker to discuss a recently proposed cash-for-reform plan, which includes painful concessions. Read more from The Guardian.
ON THIS DAY
Happy birthday Rafael Nadal — and good luck for today’s match! Check out what else happened today thanks to your 57-second shot of history.
IS PLATINI CLEAN ENOUGH TO SUCCEED BLATTER?
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MEXICO ELECTION CANDIDATE KILLED
Mexican congressional candidate Miguel Angel Luna was shot dead by gunmen yesterday at his campaign offices near Mexico City ahead of Sunday’s midterm elections, El Economista reports. Noting that more than 30 people linked to politics in one form or another have been murdered over the past few months, journalist Bibiana Belsasso writes in newspaper La Razón that it appears “impossible that there can be such criminal presence without collaboration from local authorities, from mayors to the police.” She concludes that impunity and corruption are the “common denominator” in this spate of violence.
Writing in Italy’s La Stampa, veteran “Vaticanista” Andrea Tornielli lays out the reasons why no one should expect Pope Francis to back gay marriage rights, despite thoughtful words earlier in his papacy about gay people’s place in the Church. “Viewpoints on the question of gay marriage come in many different shades, but everyone wants to know the thoughts of one person in particular: Pope Francis. After all, he said last summer, "If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and goodwill, who am I to judge?" Ideological interpretations on both sides forget that the pope's welcoming of gay people in line with the Catechism of the Catholic Church is one thing, and that the approval of gay marriage is another.”
Read the full article, Why Pope Francis Will Never Support Gay Marriage.
PATRIOT ACT GIVE WAYS TO “USA FREEDOM ACT”
As expected, the Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of the USA Freedom Act which restores crucial sections of the Patriot Act that expired at midnight Sunday. Most importantly for privacy supporters, the bill also puts an end to the bulk collection of phone data, which is just one of the many spying programs revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden in the last two years. Writing for The Intercept, journalist Dan Froomkin hails the vote but says the USA Freedom Act is “a low bar.”
SAUDI ARABIA TO BOOST DEFENSE SPENDING
Despite the recent fall in oil prices, Saudi Arabia’s defense spending is expected to rise from its current $49 billion per year to $60 billion by 2020, making it the world’s fifth-biggest arms buyer, according to IHS Jane’s estimates. Airstrikes from the Saudi-led Sunni coalition meanwhile continue to hit Yemen, with Reuters reporting that the Yemeni capital Sanaa was targeted early Wednesday.
As candidates are starting to line up for the 2016 White House race, a CBS/New York Times poll found that 84% of Americans believe money has “too much influence” on political campaigns.
NASA’S FLYING SAUCER
Weather permitting, NASA will test today its Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, a somewhat unsexy name for a flying-saucer-like spacecraft.
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
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Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?
BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.
The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.
This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.
Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.
"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.
Can you trust environmental officials?
For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.
This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.
It could have sunk because of the rain.
After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.
The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.
"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.
"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.
Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water
A questionable claim
That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.
"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.
He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."
Living in pollution
The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.
"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.
He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.
The mining work should have been stopped long ago
Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.
The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.
In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.
The mine has affected the landscape around the villages
Resisting lignite mining
The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.
The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.
They were dependent on others' land for work.
Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.
In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.
The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.
"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.