The Latest: Miami Building Collapse, Calling Out Orban, Ancient Shark Attack

Neighbors look at rumble of a 12-story Miami building after its partial collapse
Neighbors look at rumble of a 12-story Miami building after its partial collapse

Welcome to Friday, where dozens are still missing in the Florida building collapse, Dutch and Hungarian prime ministers clash, and tourists are confused about Mexico City. We also turn to Les Echos for an analysis of the Sudan-Egypt tensions generated by Ethiopia's Great Renaissance Dam.

• Dozens missing after Florida building collapse: A 12-story oceanfront residential building collapsed in Surfside, near Miami, Florida, killing at least three people. Rescue missions are underway to find survivors in the rubble, with an estimated 99 people still missing, many of whom are Latin American migrants.

• Belarus journalist Roman Protasevich moved to house arrest: The 26-year-old Belarusian dissident who was captured from a Ryanair jet on May 23 has now been moved to house arrest, alongside with his girlfriend, a Russian citizen. Protasevich was charged with organising mass unrest, and could face up to 15 years in prison. Belarus fighter jets forced the plane Protasevich was on to land in Minsk.

• Chauvin to be sentenced for George Floyd murder: Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis policeman, will be sentenced today for murdering George Floyd in May 2020, with prosecutors seeking a 30-year sentence. The other three police officers involved in Floyd's death will be facing trial next year with the charge of "aiding and abetting murder."

• Outrage after Pakistan prime minister blames rape crisis on women: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is facing criticism after blaming rape victims for wearing "very few clothes." Khan was questioned about the "ongoing rape epidemic" in Pakistan, where most women wear conservative national clothings. Various women's rights groups in the country demanded Khan apologize for a statement that "reinforces the perception that women are ‘knowing" victims and men ‘helpless' aggressors."

• Deadly tornado in Czech Republic: A tornado moving 218 km/h swept across several villages in southeastern Czech, killing four and injuring more than 100 more.

• COVID update: After a rise in COVID cases likely due to the Delta variant, the Israeli health ministry reimposed indoor mask requirement in public places. The country has witnessed four days of more than 100 daily new cases. In Australia, where low rates of COVID transmission has been maintained, Sydney, the country's biggest city, goes into its first lockdown since December, after a cluster of 65 cases.

• Shark bites man (3,000 years ago): Oxford researchers have found the earliest evidence of a shark attack on a human, on a 3,000 year-old-skeleton discovered in Japan that bears no fewer than 790 shark teeth marks.

Canadian daily The Toronto Star reports on the 751 unmarked graves found at the site of a former residential school in southeastern Saskatchewan, just weeks after the remains of 215 children were discovered in a similar school in British Columbia. The Marieval Indian Residential School was one of Canada's compulsory boarding schools funded by the government in the 19th and 20th century, which aimed at assimilating indigenous youth.

Ethiopia's Great Renaissance Dam risks diplomatic blowup

Built by Ethiopia, the massive Dam project is fueling tensions with Sudan and Egypt. The second filling, set to take place next month, risks making the area even more explosive, reports Laura-Maï Gaveriaux in French daily Les Echos.

The dam, built by Ethiopia 45 kilometers south of the border and due to be completed next year, has fueled bitter diplomatic confrontations since construction began in 2011. The tensions come from unsettled historical disputes and recent geopolitical shifts, and from the enormous significance that Nile waters represent for people in all 10 of the countries involved: Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, and especially Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt.

Cairo was the first to sound off on what will be the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa, with a basin of 74 billion cubic meters and generating capacity of 6,000 megawatts that will allow Ethiopia to double its current electricity production. Egypt, with a population of roughly 100 millions, gets a staggering 97% of its water from the Nile, and says it fears a decrease in flow and a loss of sediment necessary for soil fertilization. More specifically, it predicts a drop in annual water consumption from 570 cubic meters per person to 500 cubic meters (one of the lowest rates in the world).

A senior Sudanese official acknowledges that the dam would benefit his country by making flooding less likely during the rainy season and providing more water during dry spells. The problem, rather, is that Ethiopia ignored Sudanese warnings by launching a war in camera in Tigray last November. This raises new questions about the terms of a project that was also supposed to provide Sudan with a new source of electricity. "This prime minister," an advisor with the U.S. government, says in reference to Abiy Ahmed, "is unpredictable and makes worrying decisions."

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Study: 29% of tourists are looking forward to enjoying Mexico City's beaches. (Note: Check your map)

A quick look at a map of Mexico will tell you that its capital, Mexico City, lies pretty much smack dab in the middle of the country. With the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico a five-hour drive in either direction, Mexico City is as landlocked as they come. Unlike many other major cities, it doesn't even have a river.

So this may come as a bit of a surprise that a study on tourism in the Mexican capital, conducted by the city's business association COPARMEX, found that almost 30% of potential foreign visitors to the bustling megalopolis said they were particularly looking forward to enjoying "its beaches."

As daily Publimetro reports, most respondents to the study, hailing from 17 different countries, even named names — citing "Cancún and Acapulco" (respectively 1,600 and 400 km away) as the beaches they couldn't wait to go to.

Alberto de la Fuente, the head of Moratti Strategic Business which compiled this "Macro Study on Reactivating the Tourist Economy" study, said the results were "not a mistake" but actually showed the "potential" of what he called "zero customers': tourists who indeed know very little about Mexico but could be attracted with the right advertising campaigns.

The city of 9 million inhabitants, which recently branded itself as the Cultural Capital of the Americas, was founded by the Aztecs in the 14th century — on water, ironically. But the spread of diseases like cholera and malaria in the then island capital known as Tenochtitlán led to the decision to drain its lake and pave over its rivers (much to sunbathers' chagrin).

Despite Mexico City's outstanding monuments, countless museums, bars, restaurants, markets, parks, and even a zoo, the study also showed that 60% of potential visitors weren't interested in visiting the capital because of its reputation as a polluted and crime-riddled city. Still, half of those who did visit, said they would return — beach or no beach.

$3.61 billion

Panasonic said today that it had sold its stake in Elon Musk's electric car giant Tesla earlier this year for approximately 400 billion yen ($3.61 billion). Reuters reports that Tesla dominates Panasonic's battery business, but the two firms have had a tense relationship. Panasonic bought 1.4 million Tesla shares at $21.15 each in 2010 for about $30 million. That stake was worth $730 million at the end of March 2020, and continued to multiply until the sale was privately finalized in March.

"For me, Hungary has no place in the EU anymore.

— Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was blunt with journalists before entering an European Union summit alongside his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orbán. The Dutch leader stood strongly opposed to Hungary's new legislation, which intends to ban the "promotion" of LGBTQ content in schools, arguing that it goes against EU values. Out of Europe's 27 member countries, 14 have signed onto a joint declaration to express their "deep concern" at the law.

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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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