Ebola Hits NYC, Japan Minister Scandal, Farting Cows

he sun sets over the Gulf of Mexico Thursday, during a partial solar eclipse.
he sun sets over the Gulf of Mexico Thursday, during a partial solar eclipse.

Friday, October 24, 2014

There is a new accusation that ISIS fighters launched a chemical attack, this time against Iraqi security forces north of Baghdad, The Washington Post reports just hours after unconfirmed details emerged of a similar attack against Kurdish fighters in Syria. U.S. officials are investigating. A senior administration official also said that Washington was considering bombing oil pipelines in an effort to deprive ISIS of its primary revenue source. It makes millions of dollars by reportedly selling smuggled oil even to U.S. allies such as Turkey and the autonomous Kurdish government in Iraq. Read more from the Financial Times.

Lebanon has announced it would not accept anymore Syrian refugees, except in “exceptional cases,” instead encouraging them to “return to their countries, or go to other countries,” AP reports. Officially, 1.1 million Syrian refugees have been registered in Lebanon, which has a population of 5 million. The decision will likely put pressure on other countries to welcome the refugees, including European nations, which have been reluctant to do so.

The sun set over the Gulf of Mexico off Sand Key last night, during a partial solar eclipse.

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the 32-year-old gunman who killed a Canadian soldier during a Wednesday shooting spree, was “certainly radicalized,” but no evidence so far has linked him to the ISIS terrorist group, Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird told the BBC. The Canadian police also said that the man, believed to have acted alone, had in fact not been identified as a “high-risk traveler” despite his intention to travel to Syria. In an extensive report, The Globe And Mail portrays him as a “deeply troubled man” trapped in a “sewer of petty crime and drugs.”

“I swear I didn’t go there!” Japan's newly appointed trade and industry minister Yoichi Miyazawa has come under fire after it was revealed his cabinet billed 18,230 yen ($171) as a political expense for a 2010 visit to an S&M bar in Hiroshima.

Craig Spencer, a New York doctor who recently returned from treating Ebola patients in Guinea, tested positive for the virus yesterday, becoming the fourth person diagnosed with the disease in the United States and the first in New York, The New York Times reports. He has been placed in isolation, along with at least three people who have been in contact with him in recent days. The Mali government also announced its first case of Ebola after a 2-year-old girl tested positive. Her mother died from the disease in Guinea a few weeks ago, and relatives took the baby to Mali, the BBC reports. The World Health Organization said it would send experts to the West African country to reinforce its “preparedness” against the virus, which has already killed nearly 4,900 people.

Experts from Yale University and Liberia’s Health Ministry have found that each patient around Liberia's capital of Monrovia are infecting on average 2.5 people.

European Union leaders have agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40%, compared with 1990 levels, by 2030, The Guardian reports. The 20-country bloc also set up a 27% target for renewable energy market share and pledged a 27% increase in energy efficiency improvement. Outgoing European Commission president José Manuel Barroso hailed the package as “very good news” and said that “no player in the world is as ambitious as the EU.” The deal will also be used a working platform for a global summit in Paris next year, but it includes a clause that allows the EU to review these targets if other countries do not meet these ambitious plans.
For more, check out this morning’s Zoo’d blog dispatch that deals with the Emerald Isle’s unique greenhouse gas problem, Good News For Ireland’s Farting Cows.

Islamist group Boko Haram abducted about 60 more women and young girls last weekend in northern Nigeria despite government claims last Friday that it had achieved a truce with the militants, The New York Times reports. Nigerian newspaper Vanguard reports, however, that the elderly kidnapped women were later released while the young girls were married off to Islamist militants or made to be cooks. The Guardian explains that skepticism about government information is growing, especially in the northern Nigerian town of Chibok, where more than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped in April. Despite claims that Boko Haram had agreed to release the girls earlier this week, families are still waiting for their return.



Protest leaders in Hong Kong have announced plans to poll their supporters Sunday about whether to accept government proposals put forward during Tuesday talks, the South China Morning Post reports. The government offered to send a report to Beijing reflecting the protesters’ views and to set up a platform for dialogue on future constitutional changes. Student leaders have already rejected these proposals but are hoping that a strong backing for their stance would strengthen their position in the negotiations for a fully democratic 2017 election. The protesters received support from the United Nations Human Rights Committee yesterday, which called on China to “ensure universal suffrage, which means both the right to be elected as well as the right to vote.”

As Philippe Arnaud writes in Le Monde, two new books and a docudrama are asking hard questions about how so many people can still go hungry in a world of technological advancement and economic growth. “Though the situation is slightly less critical than in 2008, a year that saw food prices soar, hunger still affects 850 million people around the world,” the journalist writes. “Bruno Parmentier, author of Zero Hunger, Ending Hunger In The World, connects that number with another one, the 1.46 billion people who are overweight. To this expert on agricultural affairs, hunger is neither a technical nor an economic problem, in the strict sense of the term. ‘Hunger is first of all political,’ he writes. ‘It has always been the consequence of ignorance, war and the absence of state, of conflicts to gain control of natural resources. And now it's also a byproduct of globalization and the absence of public control over multinational companies.’”
Read the full article, Why World Hunger Won't Go Away.

Madonna fans will have the chance to bid on some of the singer’s memorabilia in a Bevery Hills auction next month. Among the more than 140 items are the dress from her 1985 wedding to Sean Penn (bids start at $20,000), latex underwear (for a minimum $1,000), and a signed cheque (bids start at $300).

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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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