WHILE YOU SLEPT

U.S. Debate Day, The World Is Watching

The United States, and much of the rest of the world, will turn its collective attention tonight to the campus of Hofstra University, where Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will hold their first presidential debate. A quick look at the American and international press today shows just how much anticipation there is ahead of what’s shaping up to be a very tight race between two very different choices.


Much of the pre-debate chatter has been about politics, often in the smallest sense of the word. Who’s going to launch the first insult? How many times will they call each other a liar? Will Trump manage to stick to the script? Will Clinton finally go off-script? Can Trump look presidential? Can Clinton be likeable? Will debate moderator Lester Holt check facts or just his watch?


No doubt, at some point, the question of Syria will be raised. The five-year-long civil war there is escalating again, with Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Islamist terrorism making a seemingly intractable situation somehow even more complicated. Just yesterday, after yet another failed ceasefire, dozens of civilians in the city of Aleppo were killed by Russian and Syrian regime bombing raids. What do Clinton and Trump have to say about that? What exactly would they say to Putin right now? Or to the Pentagon brass? Who will win on Nov. 8 is America’s decision. But one way or another, the consequences will be felt worldwide.



WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY



RUSSIA ACCUSED OF WAR CRIMES IN SYRIA

U.S. ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, and her British and French counterparts, accused Russia of committing war crimes in Syria at a UN Security Council meeting yesterday, The Guardian reports. “What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counter-terrorism. It is barbarism,” Power said. Syrian airstrikes resumed in Aleppo, killing scores of people.


VERBATIM

“War is always more costly than peace,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos told the BBC. Santos is scheduled to sign a historic peace deal today with Marxist rebel group FARC to bring to an end a 52-year war that has ravaged Colombia. “The signature of the deal is simply the end of the conflict. Then the hard work starts, reconstructing our country,” he said. See how Colombian daily El Tiempo featured the agreement on its front page.


â€" ON THIS DAY

While we’re waiting for the Trump vs. Clinton debate, take a look back at Nixon vs. Kennedy, in your 57-second shot of history!


TENSIONS HIGH AFTER BOSNIAN SERBS VOTE IN REFERENDUM

Bosnian Serbs voted overwhelmingly in favor of keeping their national holiday yesterday, defying a ruling from the Bosnian high court that said the referendum was illegal. With a turnout close to 60%, almost all voters elected to keep Jan. 9 as a “Statehood Day” holiday to mark the Serbian secession from Bosnia in 1992 that sparked a three-year war. The president of the Serb entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Milorad Dodik, said the vote would go down in history as the "day of Serb determination."


CHINA UNVEILED A GIGANTIC TELESCOPE ...

After more than five years of construction, China switched on the world's largest radio telescope yesterday, which will allow it to search for signals from stars and galaxies far, far away â€" and potentially from extraterrestrial life. Measuring 500 meters (1,640 ft) in diameter, it cost the country $180 million to complete.


… AND FLEXED ITS MUSCLES IN THE PACIFIC

The Chinese air force held drills in the Western Pacific yesterday for the second time this month, sending fighter jets and bombers near Japan’s Okinawa Island, home to several U.S. bases. The South China Morning Post describes the exercise as “sabre-rattling aimed at Tokyo.”


â€" WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Global warming, population booms, rising urbanization and industrialization â€" an explosive mixture that may make water supplies the world's new spark for armed conflict. For French daily Les Echos, Richard Hiault writes: “Some experts no longer hesitate to say that, in the 21st century, the ‘blue gold’ (water) will replace the ‘black gold’ (oil) regarding conflicts between states. Since the dawn of mankind, no two countries have ever gone to war over water, apart from two city-states, Lagash and Umma, in lower Mesopotamia around 2,500 BC. The future, however, could be very different.”

Read the full article, Water Is The New Oil â€" The Rising Threat Of "Blue Gold" Wars.


THIRD PRIEST KILLED IN A WEEK IN MEXICO

A Roman Catholic priest was found dead yesterday in the central Mexican state of Michoacan, days after he was abducted. He was the third priest to be killed in a week. The motive for the killings is unknown, but it could be related to the priests’ stance against drugs. Read more from Reuters.


â€" MY GRAND-PERE’S WORLD

Southeastern Smile â€" Yogyakarta, 1991


“KING” ARNOLD PALMER DIES

Golf legend Arnold Palmer, known as “the King,” died yesterday at a Pittsburgh hospital at the age of 87. He won more than 90 golf tournaments worldwide, including seven majors, and was the first person to make $1 million playing golf.


MORE STORIES, EXCLUSIVELY IN ENGLISH BY WORLDCRUNCH

MEDICINE, SCHMEDICINE

A 61-year-old man in Portugal is learning to walk again after he spent 43 years in a wheelchair because of a wrong diagnosis.

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

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?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

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

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

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

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

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.

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