In The News

Biden Defends Pullout, COVID’s New “Mu” Variant, Paralympics Late Arrival

Welcome to Wednesday, where Joe Biden defends his decision to pull out troops from Afghanistan, a new COVID variant of interest has emerged in South America and the Paralympics gets a dramatic late arrival. We also feature a Le Monde report from Jordan's sputtering economy, where women are finally breaking into professions barred in the past by a "culture of shame."

Biden Defends Pullout, COVID’s New “Mu” Variant, Paralympics Late Arrival

A pupil disinfects her hands at an elementary school in Shanghai, China, on the first day of a new school year

Liu Ying/Xinhua/ZUMA
Meike Eijsberg, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Bertrand Hauger



• Biden defends decision to pull out troops:
President Joe Biden has defended his decision to pull out American troops from Afghanistan, in an address to the nation a day after the end of a 20-year U.S. presence in the war-torn country. Biden declared: "The war in Afghanistan is now over," while the Taliban Islamist group used the occasion to reaffirm their victory in taking back control of virtually all of Afghanistan.

• New COVID-19 variant to watch: A new coronavirus variant named Mu has been designated a variant of interest by the World Health Organization. Although its global prevalence is still low, it already accounts for about 39% in its country of origin, Colombia. A full 70% of all adults, or 250 million people, in the European Union are now fully vaccinated against COVID, according to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

• Hong Kong activists jailed: Seven democracy activists from Hong Kong were sentenced to up to 16 months in jail for their role in an unauthorized assembly at the height of anti-government protests in 2019. They plead guilty to the charges.

• Air pollution is cutting short the lives of billions: According to a new report, dirty air is a far greater killer than smoking, car crashes or HIV/Aids. Coal burning is the main culprit, the researchers say, and India is worst affected with the average citizen dying six years early.

• Concern for global coffee shortage: Coffee traders are struggling to get coffee beans to ports for exports due to tough coronavirus travel restrictions imposed in Vietnam, the world's second biggest exporter of coffee. The latest delta variant outbreak has disrupted several supply chains in the country as big brands like Samsung, Nike and Adidas have also been affected.

• Britney Spears' father accused of extortion: Britney Spears' attorney has accused the 39-year-old singer's father, Jamie Spears, of trying to extort $2 million in exchange for stepping down from her conservatorship that controls her finances and other parts of her life.

• Rescued Afghan athlete belatedly competes in Paralympics: Hossain Rasouli, one of the two Paralympic athletes evacuated from Afghanistan last week, has been able to take part in the competition. The 26-year-old track and field competitor wound up last in the T47 long jump, but beat his personal best.




"Electricity bill skyrockets," titles Brazilian daily Extra, as the country faces an unprecedented energy crisis: a record drought hampers hydropower generation and drives electricity prices up by more than 6%. Brazil's Energy minister has asked the population to reduce its consumption and announced a program of incentives for consumers. "But the bonus money comes from the taxpayers themselves," writes the daily.

Jordanian women break workplace barriers to gain independence

In a country plagued by economic crisis, women are entering professions usually reserved for men. Against societal expectations, they are striving for independence, reports Laure Stephan in French daily Le Monde.

👩💼 The low employment rate of women in Jordan has been the subject of countless studies: The percentage of working women is less than 15%, a figure lower than in neighboring Arab countries. And it's not for lack of education. Enrolment in girls' schools has been steadily increasing, and more female students are attending university than their male peers. But traditions are strong. For one, there's the persistent association between women and the home.

👉 One of the obstacles to women's employment is what's called the "culture of shame." Nivine Madi and Inas Shenawi explain that this represents the stigma associated with manual labor and the scorn cast on women who practice "unconventional" jobs. While working as a butcher, Madi had to deal with the harsh remarks of customers who felt that a woman didn't belong behind the counter, or even refused to let her serve them.

⚖️ To help these women, some employers are looking for solutions. Before the pandemic, Mouaffaq sought to identify a place to open a daycare center, perhaps to share with other nearby factories. An amendment to the labor law expanded the requirements for companies to provide this service, a move considered essential by women's employment advocates. Another revision is that equal pay for men and women is now enshrined in law.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


Jararacussu

A study by Brazilian researchers, published in the scientific journal Molecules finds that the venom of the Bothrops jararacussu pit viper, a snake endemic to South America, may be used in drugs to combat COVID-19 at an early stage.


Magnet fisherman finds Cartier and Bulgari watches at bottom of French canal

Magnet fishing isn't what it sounds like. The pastime has nothing to do with pulling in big fish, but treasures, thanks to a long rope and a strong neodymium magnet that you cast into your local (polluted) body of water.

The usual catches are hardly shiny trophies: discarded bicycles, shopping carts, tools, old boots, nuts and bolts, and other debris that have been rusting at the bottom of a pond, river or lake for years. (Yes, the hobby is also ecological!)

But last month, a Frenchman was lucky enough to find the holy grail of magnet fishers in the canal of the northern town of Neuville-sur-Escaut: two small safes. And while one was empty, the other contained an actual treasure, reports local daily La Voix du Nord. And inside? Mud, rocks … and a 1982 Cartier watch and a Bulgari one that he later authenticated. There were also coins from the 1960s and a magnifying glass made out of "9 or 18 carats gold" that transforms into theater glasses.

The lucky magnet fisherman isn't interested in selling his treasure but instead plans on "conducting a search to find the owner" of the safes. The question for him or her will be the same for the owners of the various bicycles and shopping carts that are usually pulled out of the local river: Why?

➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com


"We have thrown everything at this, but it is now clear to us that we are not going to drive these numbers down."

— says Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews as the authorities extended the COVID-19 lockdown in Melbourne for another three weeks. The focus is now shifting towards rapid vaccination, in order to reach the goal of 70% of all adults receiving at least one dose by September 23. Reaching this milestone will allow an easing of the toughest restrictions.

✍️ Newsletter by Meike Eijsberg, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet





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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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