Ceasefire Hope In Gaza And Ukraine, Electric Sheepdogs

Children celebrating the open-ended ceasefire in Gaza.
Children celebrating the open-ended ceasefire in Gaza.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

In a report following months of investigation in Syria, the United Nations said there were “reasonable grounds” to believe that Syrian government forces had used chlorine gas, a chemical agent, eight times on civilian areas in April. The UN also denounced crimes committed by radical Islamic rebel group ISIS across the vast northern Syrian territory it now controls. ISIS is accused of forcing civilians, including children, to watch public executions as part of a campaign to terrorize locals. Read more from the BBC.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that Washington is working to “mobilize a broad coalition of allies” that would support military action in Syria against ISIS. The terror group is said to be demanding as much as $6.6 million for the release of a 26-year-old American woman who was kidnapped a year ago in Syria.

The Ukrainian government will prepare a roadmap “in order to achieve, as soon as possible, a ceasefire” with pro-Russian rebels in eastern parts of the country, President Petro Poroshenko announced after a two-hour meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Minsk. Putin said Moscow “will do everything possible for this peace process once it starts,” Ria Novostireports.

Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Arseny Yatseniuk, told a government meeting this morning that Kiev expected “practical help” from NATO, a statement that comes one day after the U.S.-led military alliance’s chief announced plans to deploy new bases on Russia’s borders.

The open-ended ceasefire reached yesterday by Israel and Palestinian groups was holding this morning, indicating that the 50-day conflict which left 2,143 Palestinians and 70 Israelis dead may be drawing to a close. Under the agreement, Israel will open the crossings on its border with the enclave to allow humanitarian aid and construction materials to enter, after whole neighborhoods were destroyed. The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza has warned that displaced residents in shelters are suffering from dangerous skin infections that could become an epidemic as a result of water shortage, Ma’an news agency reports. In Israel, polls suggest the population is deeply unhappy with how the conflict unfolded. According to The Jerusalem Post, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approval ratings fell to 38% from a whopping 82% at the peak of the military operation, while the chairman of his party’s central committee said Israel ended the war “shamed and confused.”

Around 56 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been lifted out of poverty between the years 2000 and 2012, according to a new UN report.

With 40 days to go until the first round of Brazil’s Presidential election, the seven candidates held their first televised debate Tuesday night, with incumbent President Dilma Rousseff under pressure after a poll published in the newspaper Estado de São Paulo showed her coming second in a potential face-off with Marina Silva. A former environment minister and activist, Silva was appointed last week as the Brazilian Socialist Party’s candidate after the death of Eduardo Campos in a plane crash earlier this month. In yesterday’s debate, she accused Rousseff of seeing Brazil through “rose-tinted glasses,” as the country’s economy is showing signs of slowdown.
For more about Brazil’s presidential race, we offer this El Espectador/Worldcrunch piece: Brazil And The Great Electoral Expectation.

Chinese have looked skeptically at charitable organizations, for cultural reasons and a series of scandals. But as China's rich and famous join the ALS challenge, something may be changing, writes Chinese newspaper Caixin: “In the past, when a Chinese public figure donated a lot of money he would be criticized, either for showing off his wealth, or if he gave too little, for being stingy. Now, we see how pouring a bucket of water or donating $100 can also make a difference. Still, even if celebrity participation in the Ice Bucket Challenge is raising people’s awareness of ALS, there's the risk that the fundamental meaning of philanthropy will be lost if the movement remains little more than online comedy.”
Read the full article, The Ice Bucket Challenge, A Lesson For China's Philanthropy.

As many as 1,889 Europe-bound migrants from Africa and the Middle East are believed to have drowned in the Mediterranean this year, including 1,600 since the beginning of June, a spokeswoman for the United Nations Refugee Agency told reporters in Geneva. The organization estimates that more than 124,000 migrants reached Europe alive since January, a large majority of them in Italy, a figure that is already more than double that of 2013. Here’s a La Stampa/Worldcrunch piece on the 100,000th immigrant to arrive on Italy’s shores.

The political crisis in Afghanistan has escalated further after candidate Abdullah Abdullah, who claims the second round of the presidential election in June was rigged, pulled out his observers from a UN-backed vote audit. "We will not join the process today, and maybe we will not re-join the process at all," a spokesman for Abdullah’s campaign told AFP. A member of the other candidate Ashraf Ghani’s team accused Abdullah of “trying to make excuses” to hide his defeat. According to the UN, there is a risk of a new civil war in the country if this crisis is not resolved.


Retired UK judge Mary Jane Mowat has claimed rape conviction statistics will not improve until women "stop getting so drunk."

Humans are not the only ones whose jobs are threatened to be replaced by robots … sheepdogs are next.

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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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