The five Brics nations are open to expanding the club to new members, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said yesterday, as it pursues greater clout in shaping the world order.Calls to enlarge the Brics – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – has dominated the agenda at its three-day summit in Johannesburg and exposed rifts between its members. China is seeking to rapidly grow the Brics amid rising competition with the United States but the bloc’s other major power, India, is wary of the intentions of its geopolitical rival.Nearly two dozen countries have formally applied to join the Brics, officials say, which accounts for 40% of the world’s population and a quarter of the global economy.Some 50 heads of state and government have joined Brics leaders in Johannesburg.The Brics are a disparate mix of big and small economies, democratic and authoritarian states, but share a collective desire to challenge the Western-led global order they say does not serve their interests or rising clout.The group operates on consensus and officials said the Brics leaders were deliberating criteria for admitting new members. On Wednesday, Ramaphosa told the summit that support for expansion “has been articulated by all Brics members”.Earlier, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he supported opening the door to new members and “welcomes moving forward with consensus”. “We stand at the cusp of expanding the Brics family,” said Ramaphosa, who added that he hoped for a “clear solution to this matter” by the summit’s close today.Chinese President Xi Jinping, on just his second trip abroad this year, said expanding the bloc would “pool our strength (and) pool our wisdom to make global governance more just and equitable.” “We gather at a time when the world is undergoing major shifts, divisions, and regrouping. It has entered a new period of turbulence and transformation,” said Xi, whose nation represents about 70% of the Brics total GDP.US officials have played down the likelihood of Brics emerging as a geopolitical rival, describing the bloc as a “very diverse collection of countries” containing both friends and rivals.The summit has underlined divisions with the West over the war in Ukraine, and the support Russia enjoys from its other Brics partners at a time of global isolation.South Africa, China and India have not condemned Russia’s invasion while Brazil has refused to join Western nations in sending arms to Ukraine or imposing sanctions on Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who faces an international arrest warrant over alleged war crimes in Ukraine, was the only Brics leader not to attend in person, and addressed the summit via video link where he railed against sanctions.Russia was “desperate for friends and partners so it’s not surprising that they are so keen to have an expansion,” said Gustavo de Carvalho, senior researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs.Analysts said that in considering new members, Brazil, South Africa and India would have to balance a desire for good ties with China and Russia against the risk of estranging the United States, a major trading partner.Like the Brics themselves, the countries applying vary greatly, from G20 giants like Indonesia and Saudi Arabia to states like Iran that are openly hostile to the United States and its allies. Brics leaders say the level of interest was proof its message resonated deeply in the “Global South” – a broad term referring to nations outside the West.Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has championed the Brics development bank as an alternative to the Washington DC-based lending institutions, said he supported the entry of Argentina. But the South American powerhouse feared “diluting” the influence of Brics should it expand too quickly, said Carvalho. “There is definitely a divide on Brics members at the moment,” he said.
Eighteen burned bodies, possibly migrants, were found yesterday in a rural area in northern Greece where wildfires were burning out of control for a fourth day, authorities said, as gale force winds fanned blazes across the country.In the nearby port town of Alexandroupolis, dozens of hospital patients were evacuated onto a ferry earlier yesterday, while a blaze on the foothills of Mount Parnitha on the outskirts of Athens sent thick clouds of smoke over the capital.The bodies were found near the sprawling Dadia forest in the northeastern Evros region, a popular route for migrants from the Middle East and Asia crossing the river from Turkiye into the European Union. An uptick in crossings was reported this month.The fire brigade said authorities were investigating the possibility that the bodies were of migrants who entered the country illegally because no residents in the area had been reported missing.The government expressed its “deepest sorrow” over the deaths, its spokesman Pavlos Marinakis said. “Unfortunately, their stay in the forest of Dadia proved fatal,” he said.Another body thought to belong to a migrant was found on Monday in a rural area some 40km away.In the nearby village of Avantas, fires swept through a number of homes overnight.“It has reached the entire village,” said Alexandros Chrisoulidis, a 19-year-old Avantas resident. “Our own house up there, where the fire started, has completely burned down. There is nothing.”A 23-year-old resident who gave his name as Nikos said: “The situation is tragic. All that is needed right now are prayers and rain.”A satellite image shown on state television showed that smoke from the Evros fires had drifted across the country to the Ionian islands in the northwest, not far from Italy.Fires near Athens in the southeast burned homes and cars on Tuesday and forced residents to flee on foot, some covering their faces with their clothes as smoke thickened the air.Volunteers loaded sheep in the trunks of cars to save them from the flames, while another man tried to rescue a horse.“The winds are very strong ... It is a very difficult firefighting task. God help us,” said Sotiris Masouris, a 50-year-old resident of Hasia, west of Athens.In the industrial town of Aspropyrgos near Athens, factories were destroyed as a blaze that broke out early yesterday continued to burn unabated.The wildfires come as Southern Europe has been hit by a new heatwave with temperatures reaching or exceeding 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in some parts. Fires were also burning in Spain, Italy and Portugal.Summer wildfires in Greece are common but have been made worse in recent years by unusually hot, dry and windy conditions that scientists have linked to climate change.More than 20,000 foreign tourists had to be evacuated from resorts on the Aegean holiday island of Rhodes in July as wildfires burned for a week, destroying homes and hotels.Earlier yesterday, dozens of hospital patients, including newborn babies, were evacuated onto a ferry as hundreds of firefighters struggled to contain the blaze that broke out on Saturday near Alexandroupolis.It spread quickly, fanned by high winds, sending plumes of smoke above the port city and turning the night sky red.By early yesterday, authorities said 65 patients at the University Hospital of Alexandroupolis had been evacuated as a precaution onto a ferry in the port.The ferry was turned into a makeshift hospital. Elderly patients lay on mattresses on the cafeteria floor, paramedics attended to others on stretchers and a woman held a man resting on a sofa, an IV drip attached to his hand.“I’ve been working for 27 years, I’ve never seen anything like this,” said nurse Nikos Gioktsidis. “Stretchers everywhere, patients here, IV drips there ... it was like a war, like a bomb had exploded.”The ferry later sailed to the nearby port of Kavala, state broadcaster ERT said.Overnight, as flames approached another clinic at the premises of the Alexandroupolis Metropolitan Church Foundation, staff carried a man on a wheelchair to an ambulance, while others were evacuated on stretchers.Father Christodoulos Karathanasis, director of the Holy Metropolis of Alexandroupolis, said 200 patients from both facilities had been evacuated in just over four hours.Fire brigade spokesperson Ioanis Artopios said the risk of fire remained high in the coming days.Fifty-six firefighters arrived in Greece from Romania yesterday and Athens was expecting further assistance from the Czech Republic, Croatia, Germany and Sweden with 64 more firefighters, 19 fire engines, seven planes and one helicopter, the fire brigade said.
Ecuadoreans were voting on Sunday to choose a president and legislature they hope will lead the country out of a spiral of violence and economic troubles after a campaign darkened by bloodshed.Candidates have pledged to fight sharp increases in crime, which the current government blames on drug gangs, and improve the struggling economy, whose woes have caused an uptick in unemployment and migration.Security has taken centre stage in the contest since the August 9 murder of anti-corruption candidate Fernando Villavicencio, a former investigative journalist and lawmaker who was gunned down while leaving a campaign event.Six suspects, all Colombians police say belong to criminal gangs, were charged with Villavicencio’s murder and are being held.Another suspect died from wounds sustained in a shootout with authorities.Other candidates have reported attacks against them, although in several cases police have said that the violence was not directed at the hopefuls themselves.Voters at the polls in Quito and Guayaquil said security is their major focus.“First is security, and then the economy and jobs. Without security there isn’t investment, there aren’t companies, there aren’t jobs,” said public employee Patricia Simbaña, who voted at an elementary school in the capital where Cristian Zurita, Villavicencio’s replacement, cast his ballot amid a scrum of journalists and heavily armed soldiers.Simbaña said she was voting for pro-market candidate Otto Sonnenholzner, who has hardened his discourse since the murder, repeatedly promising that criminals who use violence will be shot by police under his government.“It’s time now to act with a firm hand,” she said.In coastal Guayaquil, where crime has spiked in recent years, hometown law-and-order candidate Jan Topic – who says that he was a member of the French Foreign Legion and has pledged to solve security problems first – was attracting support.“Without security we can’t live, we can’t do anything at all,” said 24-year-old psychology student Maria Jose Cabrera, who also cited the need for jobs for young people and a fight against corruption.Luisa Gonzalez, a protégé of former president Rafael Correa, led polling before Villavicencio’s killing with about 30% of voting intention.She voted in Manabi province and predicted that the contest would not go to a second round.A candidate needs 50% of the vote, or 40% if they are 10 points ahead of their nearest rival, to win in a first round. Otherwise, a second round is held, which would occur on October 15.Gonzalez has promised to free up $2.5bn from international reserves to bolster Ecuador’s economy as well as bring back social programmes implemented by Correa – who has since been convicted of corruption – during his decade in power.Her Citizens’ Revolution party said on X, the social network previously known as Twitter, that Ecuadoreans voting from abroad were having trouble with the online system set up for them.Zurita, Villavicencio’s replacement for the Construye party, has promised to better equip the police and enshrine intelligence protocols to fight crime, using international loans to shore up social programmes.Villavicencio’s name and photo will appear on the ballots, which were printed before his murder.Environmentalist Indigenous candidate Yaku Perez has said he would revise mining concessions that do not comply with environmental and social rules and ask creditors for breathing room, while Daniel Noboa, son of prominent banana businessman and former candidate Alvaro Noboa, has centred his campaign on job creation.Also on Sunday’s ballot are two environmental referendums – both expected to pass – that could block mining in a forest near Quito and development of an oil block in the Amazon.The 13mn-strong electorate will also choose 137 members of the national assembly.
Chocolate makers like Hershey and Mondelez face tougher trading conditions over the next year as they attempt to pass on soaring cocoa costs to cash-strapped consumers who are cutting back.The industry has enjoyed bumper profits over the past couple of years as demand for chocolate held up despite price hikes, but data seen by Reuters shows this trend may be breaking just as prices for cocoa hit 46-year-highs and sugar prices are near their highest in more than a decade.Consumers in Europe and North America have already seen price increases of about 20% over the past two years and are starting to cut back on the amount of chocolate they buy, data pulled for Reuters by market researchers Nielsen shows.Consumers are “shopping around more, hoping to find deals,” Mondelez CEO Dirk Van de Put said last month.Cadbury-maker Mondelez expects inflation in cocoa and sugar to continue. In response, the company said it is ensuring it is significantly hedged and continuing to drive productivity.“The increase in sugar and cocoa specifically is material,” Mondelez CFO Luca Zaramella said in July. “We are talking about most likely a 30-plus percent (increase) if you look at the last 12 months, or even more, particularly in cocoa.”But after more than two years of higher prices, retailers are pushing back, analysts said, resulting in a battle that puts chocolatiers’ margins and profitability at risk.One such battle resulted in Mondelez previously pulling Cadbury and Milka bars from Belgian supermarket chain Colruyt’s shelves after failing to agree on prices.“I don’t know if it’s going to be as clear cut as being able to take pricing wherever they want,” Barclays analyst Patrick Folan said.Chocolate makers are banking on the traditional resilience of their product to price increases. Mondelez raised its annual revenue growth forecasts last month while Hershey hiked its profit forecast.“Now that pricing is 100% secured, we expect volume and revenue growth, as well as margin improvement for Europe,” Zaramella said, after Mondelez resolved its spat with Colruyt.However, Mondelez’ chocolate sales volume growth has weakened substantially this year — from 14.8% in the 4 weeks to February 25 to 3.2% in the 4 weeks to July 15 year-on-year — even as it kept its price rises in the low double digits, according to a Bernstein analysis of Nielsen data seen by Reuters.The data showed Hershey’s sales volumes increasingly declined during the period as the company hiked prices.“We are seeing consumers starting to react more than before, I’d be very cautious with price increases,” said Dan Sadler, a candy expert at US-based market researcher IRI. “We’re seeing consumers starting to trade down.”Barry Callebaut, the world’s biggest chocolate maker supplying most major brands including Nestle, doesn’t expect any growth in sales volumes this year. It reported last month that volumes fell 2.7% in the nine months ended May 31.Meanwhile, lower priced ‘private label’ chocolate continues to pick up market share.In the US, private label sales volumes grew nearly 9% in the year to mid-June despite near double-digit price rises, IRI data shows.Hershey’s already-announced price hikes for the rest of 2023 are in the “high single digits,” while those for next year are “low single digits,” CEO Michele Buck said in July.Pennsylvania-based Hershey, is hoping that as it eases off the rate of price hikes, its sales volumes will reverse their current downtrend. It is planning to lean on automation to keep its costs of production down, it said.Rabobank says those cost pressures could continue into next year due to the El Nino weather event in West Africa and the lack of alternate producers who can ramp up output quickly.Top cocoa producers Ivory Coast and Ghana have faced drought, excess rains and disease for the past two years. They produce two thirds of the world’s cocoa and officials are struggling to help farmers cope with climate conditions. A 2019 ‘living income’ scheme has been largely ineffective. — Reuters
Russia launched its first moon-landing spacecraft in 47 years yesterday in a bid to be the first nation to make a soft landing on the lunar south pole, a region believed to hold coveted pockets of water ice.The Russian lunar mission, the first since 1976, is racing against India, which launched its Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander last month, and more broadly with the United States and China, both of which have advanced lunar exploration programmes targeting the lunar south pole.A Soyuz 2.1 rocket carrying the Luna-25 craft blasted off from the Vostochny cosmodrome, 3,450 miles (5,550km) east of Moscow, at 2.11am yesterday Moscow time (1111 GMT on Thursday).The lander was boosted out of Earth’s orbit toward the moon over an hour later, at which point mission control took command of the craft, Russia’s space agency Roscosmos said.Following the launch, the rocket’s boosters fell as expected 28km from the village of Shakhtinsky in the far-eastern region of Khabarovsk, regional governor Mikhail Degtiariov said on Telegram.Residents of the village had been evacuated in advance of the launch and Degtiariov said they had since been able to return.The lander is expected to touch down on the moon on August 21, Russia’s space chief Yuri Borisov told state television, though the space agency previously pegged August 23 as the landing date.“Now we will wait for the 21st. I hope that a highly precise soft landing on the moon will take place,” Borisov told workers at the Vostochny cosmodrome after the launch. “We hope to be first.”Luna-25, roughly the size of a small car, will aim to operate for a year on the moon’s south pole, where scientists at the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) and other space agencies in recent years have detected traces of water ice in the region’s shadowed craters.There is much riding on the Luna-25 mission, as the Kremlin says the West’s sanctions over the Ukraine war, many of which have targeted Moscow’s aerospace sector, have failed to cripple the Russian economy.The moonshot, which Russia has been planning for decades, will also test the nation’s growing independence in space after its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine severed nearly all of Moscow’s space ties with the West, besides its role on the International Space Station.The European Space Agency (ESA) had planned to test its Pilot-D navigation camera by attaching it to Luna-25, but severed its ties to the project after Russia invaded Ukraine.“Russia’s aspirations towards the moon are mixed up in a lot of different things. I think first and foremost, it’s an expression of national power on the global stage,” Asif Siddiqi, professor of history at Fordham University, told Reuters.US astronaut Neil Armstrong gained renown in 1969 for being the first person to walk on the moon, but the Soviet Union’s Luna-2 mission was the first spacecraft to reach the moon’s surface in 1959, and the Luna-9 mission in 1966 was the first to make a soft landing there.Moscow then focused on exploring Mars and since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has not sent scientific probes beyond earth orbit.For centuries, astronomers have wondered about water on the moon, which is 100 times drier than the Sahara. Nasa maps in 2018 showed water ice in shadowed parts of the moon, and in 2020 Nasa confirmed water also existed in sunlit areas.Major powers such as the United States, China, India, Japan and the European Union have all been probing the moon in recent years. A Japanese lunar landing failed last year and an Israeli mission failed in 2019.No country has made a soft landing on the south pole: an Indian mission, Chandrayaan-2, failed in 2019.Rough terrain makes a landing there difficult, but the prize of discovering water ice could be historic. It could be used for fuel and oxygen, as well as for drinking water.Maxim Litvak, head of the planning group for the Luna-25 scientific equipment, said the most important task is to land where no one else had landed – and to find water.“There are signs of ice in the soil of the Luna-25 landing area,” he said, adding that Luna-25 would work on the moon for at least an earth year, taking samples.Roscosmos said that it would take five days to fly to the moon. The craft will spend 5-7 days in lunar orbit before descending to one of three possible landing sites near the pole – a timetable that implies it could match or narrowly beat its Indian rival to the moon’s surface.Chandrayaan-3 is due to run experiments for two weeks.With a mass of 1.8 tonnes and carrying 31kg (68 pounds) of scientific equipment, Luna-25 will use a scoop to take rock samples from a depth of up to 15cm (6”) to test for the presence of frozen waterAccording to Russian space expert Vitali Iegorov, the mission is the first time that post-Soviet Russia has attempted to place a device on a celestial body.“The biggest question will be: can it land?” he told AFP, stressing that this mission is “of great importance” for Russia.
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has escalated its investigation into President Joe Biden’s son Hunter, naming a special counsel amid allegations that he engaged in illicit business deals overseas.Attorney-General Merrick Garland appointed Delaware federal prosecutor David Weiss, who recently investigated Hunter Biden on tax and gun charges in a case that remains open.Weiss, who opened his probe in 2019, recently revealed that he was investigating Biden along other lines, and Garland said Weiss had requested special counsel status to be able to pursue his probe more widely.“Upon considering his request, as well as the extraordinary circumstances relating to this matter, I have concluded that it is in the public interest to appoint him as special counsel,” Garland said.Weiss was originally appointed to his position as US Attorney for Delaware by then-president Donald Trump. He was allowed to stay on during the Biden administration.Hunter Biden has come under investigation in Congress over business deals he did in China, Ukraine and elsewhere during and after his father’s 2009-2017 term as vice-president.A former business associate told Congress recently that Hunter had gotten his father involved in telephone calls with his foreign partners several times.Republicans allege Joe Biden used his political position to help his son – a claim the president denies – and have threatened an impeachment inquiry into unproven claims that Biden benefited from his son’s business ventures.The move comes as Joe Biden is running for re-election, possibly in a rematch with Trump, himself accused of felony crimes in the investigation by another Justice Department special counsel, Jack Smith.Garland gave no hint on the subject matter of Weiss’s expanded probe, saying that his elevation to special counsel “reaffirms” the independence and authority of his investigation.Weiss will produce a report when his work is done, Garland said, and the Justice Department will make as much of it public as is possible.“The appointment of Mr. Weiss reinforces for the American people the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters,” Garland said.He did not take questions at the press conference.Last month, the 53-year-old Hunter aborted a plea deal with Weiss over gun and tax charges after a judge pointed out inconsistencies in the agreement.The deal would have seen Biden avoid prison: he would have been sentenced to probation on two tax avoidance counts, and be forced into a counselling and rehabilitation programme for the firearms charge.However, the deal fell apart after Judge Maryellen Noreika queried why the gun charge was included in a tax case, and whether the agreement protected Biden from charges that might arise from a wider investigation of his business dealings.Biden then entered a not guilty plea, and the two sides were expected to work out a new agreement.However, in a filing in Delaware court yesterday, Weiss said those talks had reached an impasse and withdrew the offer of a plea deal.Instead, he indicated that the tax charges could be expanded to other venues.There was no comment from the White House on Weiss’s elevation to special counsel.In a social media post, a Trump spokesperson alleged that the Biden family had been “protected by the Justice Department for decades”.“There is overwhelming evidence and credible testimony detailing their wrongdoing of lying to the American people and selling out the country to foreign enemies for the Biden Cartel’s own financial gain,” the spokesperson said, without offering evidence.Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy indicated that the Congressional probe of Hunter Biden will continue.“This action by Biden’s DOJ cannot be used to obstruct congressional investigations or whitewash the Biden family corruption,” he said on social media.A June Reuters/Ipsos poll found half of Americans – 75% of Republicans and 33% of Democrats – believed the younger Biden received preferential treatment from Weiss.However, most said that would not affect their vote next year.
Floods and landslides caused by monsoon rains have killed five people and forced the evacuation of around 40,000 others in Myanmar, officials said on Friday.Footage from Rakhine state, which was ravaged in May by cyclone Mocha, showed large areas of villages and farmland submerged by murky, yellow-brown waters.Myanmar is hit by heavy rains every year around this time, but extreme weather events have struck around the globe in recent weeks, events scientists say are made worse by climate change.In Bago, northeast of Yangon, some residents evacuated early while others were caught off guard by the rapidly rising water.“There are floods every year in Bago but this one is the worst. Normally, the water is around knee- or thigh-deep during the rainy season,” Bago resident Soe Min Aung, 23, said, adding that his family had scrambled to buy a boat. “Some families moved to a monastery but others stayed because they didn’t think the water would be too high. In some quarters, the water level is higher than two times my height.”More than 870 people were crammed into a Bago monastery on Friday night and were receiving food from monks and donated supplies.“We arranged spaces for them to stay,” said local official Khin Maung.Min Thaw, 66, said the ground floor of his two-storey house was inundated with water and the family had chosen to stay upstairs.
Lebanese army vehicles deployed in a Christian village that was the scene of a deadly shootout between members of the Hezbollah and residents, as the military sought to contain tensions yesterday. A Hezbollah member and a Christian resident were killed in Wednesday’s exchange of fire in the village of Kahaleh, near Beirut, in an incident that began when a Hezbollah truck carrying ammunition turned over while driving through the area. It was the deadliest confrontation between the Hezbollah and Lebanese who oppose it since clashes in Beirut two years ago, further weighing on the stability of a country already suffering deep political and economic crises. On Thursday, around 10 army vehicles were deployed around Kahaleh, including at the town’s main roundabout near a large church whose bell had been tolling through the night after the clash. The army was leading efforts to calm the situation, according to representatives of Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces (LF), a Christian faction that is staunchly opposed to Hezbollah and has a political presence in Kahaleh area. “Tensions were very high last night and they’re still high today,” said Nazih Matta, an LF lawmaker for the Aley region. “The army leadership in particular has been leading efforts to calm things down. “Residents aren’t scrambling to have an armed reaction to what happened – but... you start to think: how many trucks like that passed on that same road on the same day? Or the previous day? Or the week before? We’re sitting on a ticking time bomb.” In recent years, Lebanon has been living through a financial collapse that has marked its most destabilising episode since a 1975-90 civil war. It was caused by decades of corruption and profligate spending by ruling politicians. Hezbollah is Lebanon’s most powerful group. Its arsenal has long been a point of conflict in Lebanon, where its opponents accuse the group of undermining the state. The sides have accused each other of starting Wednesday’s shootout, which erupted after people gathered around the truck which turned over on a tight bend on a major highway linking Beirut to the Bekaa Valley and Syria. Hezbollah accused “militias” in the area of attacking the truck’s crew, prompting an exchange of fire. It said a man protecting the vehicle was wounded and later died. The local office of the LF accused gunmen who were accompanying the vehicle of firing at civilians, leading to the death of the local man. Mohamed Afif, head of Hezbollah’s media office, said the army “played a big role in calming things down”. The army, which recruits from across Lebanon’s sectarian divides, said in a statement the truck was carrying ammunition that had been transferred to a military site. Hezbollah’s Afif said the ammunition was in army custody.
When war in Sudan’s capital forced Sarah al-Sharif and her family to flee, the 19-year-old information technology student left her books and computer behind. Now in Sennar, 30km southeast of Khartoum, she lacks a stable Internet connection or passport to travel abroad and like many others sees no way of continuing her studies while fighting between rival military factions rages. The conflict, which began in mid-April, has pushed Sudan’s faltering education system into a state of collapse, with many schools shut down or repurposed to host displaced people, and most national end-of-year exams cancelled. “This war has spelled the end of education in Sudan, and things have turned from bad to impossible,” said Sharif. The conflict has brought daily battles to the streets of Khartoum, a revival of ethnically-targeted attacks in Darfur, and the displacement of more than 4mn people within Sudan and across its borders. According to Simone Vis of Unicef in Sudan, there are “an alarming number of reports that both boys and girls are being recruited by armed groups”. At least 89 schools across seven states are being used as shelters for the displaced, according the United Nations, raising fears that many children will have no access to schools in the new academic year and could be exposed to child labour and abuse. On Wednesday, the education minister cancelled most end of year school exams in war-affected areas. “In the current circumstances, anyone would see that it is impossible to have a new academic year,” said Sahar Abdullah, a displaced teacher from Khartoum also seeking refuge in Sennar. Even before the war between Sudan’s army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Save The Children ranked Sudan as one of the top four countries globally where education was at extreme risk. Now the number of children out of school has risen to 9mn from 6.9mn, more than one million school-aged children have been displaced and at least 10,400 schools have been closed since fighting started, according to the charity. While Khartoum has a proud intellectual tradition, the schooling system had been run down by underinvestment, political interference and a grinding economic crisis. It was then disrupted by street protests before and after the 2019 ousting of former leader Omar al-Bashir, by unusually heavy floods in 2020 and by the coronavirus pandemic. Due to overcrowded school classrooms, “some of the students would bring chairs with them to class. There weren’t enough textbooks to help teachers do their job,” said Abdullah, the displaced teacher. State-employed teachers staged a three-month strike over pay and working conditions just before the war broke out. As many as 300,000 teachers have not been paid since March, a senior member of the Sudanese Teachers’ Committee said. “I haven’t been paid a salary in four months, and I have no idea when I’ll return to work,” said Fatima Mohamed, a displaced teacher who fled Khartoum to Gedaraf state after her school was overtaken by the RSF. Despite the interruptions in recent years, Rabab Nasreldeen had managed to get to the third year of law studies at the University of Khartoum when the war broke out. Then she too had to flee, abandoning educational certificates and papers that might allow her to continue studying elsewhere. “The only option we have is to wait and hope for the best,” she said. Aid workers are trying to help alleviate the crisis, setting up safe learning spaces and providing children with psychosocial support. Education Cannot Wait, the UN global fund dedicated to education in emergencies, has raised $12.5mn and aims to provide educational services for 120,000 children in Sudan and neighbouring countries. During the Covid-19 pandemic, parents in wealthy countries “didn’t want the children to wait a year or a month for their education,” said Yasmine Sherif, the fund’s executive director. “So why should we expect them (in Sudan) to wait for education until the conflict is over?” Some of those who have fled Sudan are seeking entry to schools and universities outside its borders, including in Egypt. But in Chad, where more than 377,000 refugees have arrived, there are no such options. “I cannot go back to continue my education and I lost contact with my family,” Khalifa Adam, a displaced student who escaped to Adre, Chad from Darfur, told Reuters. “I was told I can continue studying online but the internet connection here in Adre is very bad.”
Qatar Museums (QM) will celebrate the International Youth Day on August 12. This year, it is being held under the slogan “The importance of developing youth skills suitable for the green economy in achieving a sustainable world.”The Museum of Islamic Art library will host the event, which will be titled 'Library Games and Puzzles'. Through this initiative, young people will enhance their knowledge and refine their culture, reported local Arabic daily 'Arrayah'.In this context, Qatar Museums has worked to make the event attractive to young people in the best way. Registration is not required to attend this event, which will be held free of charge. It will be an opportunity for young people to play an active role in building the artistic and cultural scene in the country.Accordingly, the museum had previously announced its launch at the Youth Council. Qatar Museums invited young people between the ages of 12 and 18 to prepare youth-led activities by themselves. This program provides an opportunity for exclusive access to events organized by Qatar Museums (opening nights, visits to artist exhibitions, panel discussions, etc.).As well as for young people the platform will provide the opportunity to present new ideas and advice on upcoming artists and exhibitions. Knowing that this council has been prepared to play a fundamental role in building and shaping society, and to communicate the voices of youth throughout Qatar.In general, the State of Qatar works to empower youth and prepare them to make a full contribution to society, development and peace in order to achieve sustainable human development, and urge them to innovate and achieve leadership.Since youth are the future, and they are the hope and basis for building a human society in which everyone lives happily and safely. Qatar also encourages young people to participate in decision-making and motivate their role in achieving human development and presenting challenges, in addition to reducing the gap between young people and officials by expanding the scope of dialogue and spaces of mutual understanding.On International Youth Day, the world remembers what has been achieved and what has not in the youth’s march to obtain their rights in education, health, economy, politics, decision-making and public life.The green economy will create about 8.4mn jobs for youth by 2030. Youth need to develop appropriate skills and adapt to this changing environment.
July was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth, the European Union’s climate observatory confirmed yesterday, warning of dire consequences.Marked by heatwaves and fires all around the world, the previous month was 0.33 degrees Celsius higher than the record set in July 2019 when the average temperature was 16.63C (32 Fahrenheit), it said.“It has not been this warm, combining observational records and paleoclimate records, for the last 120,000 years,” said Samantha Burgess, Deputy Director of the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.“The global average temperature for July 2023 is confirmed to be the highest on record for any month — the month is estimated to have been around 1.5 degrees warmer than the average for 1850 to 1900,” said Burgess.The service stated that this July was 0.72C warmer than the 1991-2020 average for the month.About 1.2 degrees Celsius of global warming since the late 1800s, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, has made heatwaves hotter, longer and more frequent, as well as intensifying other weather extremes like storms and floods.“Heatwaves were experienced in multiple regions of the Northern Hemisphere, including southern Europe. Well-above average temperatures occurred over several South American countries and around much of Antarctica,” according to the observatory.“The global mean for 2023 is the third highest on record, at 0.43C relative to 1991-2020, compared with 0.49C for 2016 and 0.48C for 2020. The gap between 2023 and 2016 is expected to narrow in the coming months, as the latter months of 2016 were relatively cool... while the remainder of 2023 is expected to be relatively warm as the current El Nino event develops.”Scientists had warned that July could hit a new record.The world’s oceans also set a new temperature record, raising concerns about knock-on effects on the planet’s climate, marine life and coastal communities.The temperature of the oceans’ surface rose to 20.96 degrees Celsius (69.7 degrees Fahrenheit) on July 30, according to European Union climate observatory data.The previous record was 20.95C in March 2016, a spokeswoman for Copernicus Climate Change Service earlier told AFP.The samples tested excluded polar regions.“We just witnessed global air temperatures and global ocean surface temperatures set new all-time records in July. These records have dire consequences for both people and the planet exposed to ever more frequent and intense extreme events,” said Burgess.“2023 is currently the third warmest year to date at 0.43C above the recent average, with the average global temperature in July at 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.“Even if this is only temporary, it shows the urgency for ambitious efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, which are the main driver behind these records,” she said.Forest fires have ravaged swathes of Greece and burnt 30mn acres in Canada, while southern Europe, parts of North Africa, southern United States and pockets of China have been reeling under a punishing heatwave.Deadly rains that pummelled China’s capital Beijing in recent days were the heaviest since records began 140 years ago.Carlo Buontempo, Director of Copernicus, had earlier said the temperatures in the period had been “remarkable”.Beyond these official records, he said proxy data for the climate going back further — like tree rings or ice cores — suggests the temperatures seen in the period could be “unprecedented in our history in the last few thousand years”.Possibly even longer “on the order of 100,000 years” he said.“This extreme heat shouldn’t come as a surprise,” said Chris Hewitt, World Meteorological Organisation Director of Climate Services.(“It) really is consistent with what scientists have been predicting for years,” said Hewitt, saying the coming year would unlikely bring any respite.UN chief Antonio Guterres recently put out an SOS call.“Climate change is here. It is terrifying. And it is just the beginning,” said Guterres, urging immediate and bold action to cut planet-heating emissions.“The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived.”
Russia carried out several waves of attacks on Ukraine overnight, while Kyiv hit bridges in occupied territories yesterday.The Ukrainian air force said yesterday that it shot down 30 out of the 40 cruise missiles and all Shahed drones launched by Russia.“In total, the enemy used 70 air attack weapons in several waves” in the night from Saturday to yesterday.It added that Russia launched three Kinzhal hypersonic missiles but did not say if they had been destroyed.The Ukrainian armed forces did not specify which sites were hit by the missiles that got through air defences.The Russian army however said it struck “Ukrainian armed forces airbases around the settlements of Starokostiantyniv in the Khmelnytskyi region and Dubno in the Rivne region”.Home to a major airbase, the western Khmelnytskyi region, located hundreds of kilometres from the front lines of the fighting, has been repeatedly targeted during the war.“Since yesterday evening, the Khmelnytskyi region has been attacked three times... most missiles were shot down,” said local official Sergiy Tyurin.Several buildings and the bus station were damaged, he said on Telegram.He also posted pictures of a crumbling building engulfed in flames, saying a corn waste warehouse had caught fire.Meanwhile in the Rivne region that Russia said it hit, “only a few private households were damaged”, according to regional head Vitaliy Koval.
Pope Francis closed an international festival of Catholic youth yesterday with a huge outdoor Mass and his own “I have a dream” speech, saying he longed for world peace, especially for Ukraine.About 1.5mn people attended his closing Mass at a riverside park in the Portuguese capital, the Vatican said, quoting local authorities. Many of the faithful slept outdoors, having attending a vigil there on Saturday night, and they gathered in sweltering heat.Speaking after the Mass, the 86-year-old Francis urged the young people to take the fraternal experiences of the six-day jamboree back home and apply them to their daily lives.“Dear friends, allow me, this old man, to share with you young people a dream that I carry within me: it is the dream of peace, the dream of young people praying for peace, living in peace and building a peaceful future,” Francis said.“As you return home, please continue to pray for peace. What is more, you are a sign of peace for the world, showing how different nationalities, languages and histories can unite instead of divide. You are the hope of a different world,” he said.He asked them to think of the young people who could not come to the event because of the world’s many armed conflicts and wars, adding: “In thinking of this continent, I feel great sorrow for beloved Ukraine, which continues to suffer greatly”.Francis, who returned to Rome last evening after an event to thank and pray with 25,000 volunteers at the World Youth Day festival, met a delegation of 15 young people from Ukraine during his trip.In his speech to volunteers, Francis referred to the Portuguese seaside town of Nazare, which has some of the biggest waves in the world, and described them as “surfers of love”.
Pressure mounted yesterday on the leaders of a coup in Niger on the eve of a deadline set by West African regional bloc ECOWAS for the military to relinquish control or face possible armed intervention.Former colonial power France, with which the junta broke military ties shortly after taking power on July 26, said it would “firmly” back whatever course of action the ECOWAS bloc took after the Sunday deadline expired.“The future of Niger and the stability of the entire region are at stake,” the office of French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said, after she met Niger’s prime minister, Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou, in Paris. ECOWAS military chiefs of staff have agreed a plan for a possible intervention to respond to the crisis, the latest of several coups to hit Africa’s Sahel region since 2020.“All the elements that will go into any eventual intervention have been worked out,” ECOWAS commissioner Abdel-Fatau Musah said on Friday.These included “the resources needed, and including the how and when we are going to deploy the force”, he added.“We want diplomacy to work, and we want this message clearly transmitted to them [the junta] that we are giving them every opportunity to reverse what they have done,” Musah said.Niger has played a key part in Western strategies to combat insurgencies that have plagued the Sahel since 2012, with France and the United States stationing around 1,500 and 1,000 troops in the country, respectively. Yet anti-French sentiment in the region is on the rise, while Russian activity, often through the Wagner mercenary group, has grown. Russia has warned against armed intervention from outside Niger.The coup “is an error of judgement that goes totally against the interests of the country”, French Armed Forces Minister Sebastien Lecornu told AFP in an interview yesterday. He noted that Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, relied heavily on foreign aid that risked being pulled if President Mohamed Bazoum is not reinstated as chief of state.The junta has warned it will meet force with force.Mali and Burkina Faso, where military juntas have taken power since 2020, have also warned that any regional intervention would be tantamount to a “declaration of war” against them. Bazoum, 63, has been held by the coup plotters with his family in his official Niamey residence since July 26.In a column in The Washington Post on Thursday - his first lengthy statement since his detention - Bazoum said a successful putsch would “have devastating consequences for our country, our region and the entire world”. Bazoum, who in 2021 won an election that ushered in Niger’s first-ever transfer of power from one civilian government to another, urged “the US government and the entire international community to help us restore our constitutional order”.Nigeria has cut electricity supplies to its neighbour Niger, raising fears for the humanitarian situation in the country, while Niamey has closed the vast Sahel country’s borders, complicating food deliveries. Washington said that it had suspended some aid programmes but pledged that “life-saving humanitarian and food assistance will continue”.An ECOWAS delegation arrived in Niger’s capital Niamey on Thursday but did not stay overnight as scheduled. It did not meet with Bazoum or coup leader Abdourahamane Tiani, a delegation member said on Friday.
Jailed Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny had an extra 19 years added to his jail term yesterday in a criminal case that he and his supporters said had been trumped up to keep him behind bars and out of politics for even longer.Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest domestic critic, is already serving sentences totalling 11-1/2 years on fraud and other charges that he says are also bogus.His political movement has been outlawed and declared “extremist”.A court at his IK-6 penal colony in Melekhovo, about 235km (145 miles) east of Moscow, brought to a close yesterday his trial on six separate charges, including inciting and financing extremist activity and creating an extremist organisation.The audio feed from the court, where the trial had been held behind closed doors in the prison’s sports hall, was so poor that it was practically impossible to make out what the judge, Andrei Suvorov, was saying.Journalists were not let into the courtroom but able to watch proceedings on CCTV from a special media room nearby, although the feed was cut almost as soon as the sentence was pronounced.Navalny’s team said the judge had added 19 years to his existing terms. State prosecutors had asked for 20.Unconfirmed Russian media reports said that Navalny, now 47, would be 74 years old by the time he got out of prison in 2050.Dressed in dark prison uniform and flanked by his lawyers, Navalny smiled occasionally as he listened to the judge.The former blogger, lawyer and corruption investigator has cast himself as a political martyr whose aim is to demonstrate to Russians that it is possible to resist Putin, albeit at great cost.“For a new, free, rich country to be born, it must have parents. Those who want it. Who expect it and who are willing to make sacrifices for its birth,” Navalny said in his closing statement last month.In a message posted on social media on Thursday, Navalny had predicted that he would get a long jail term, but said it hardly mattered because he was also threatened with separate terrorism charges that could bring another decade.Navalny said the purpose of giving him extra jail time was to frighten Russians, but urged them not to be cowed and to think hard about how best to resist what he called the “villains and thieves in the Kremlin”.“Please consider and realise that by jailing hundreds, Putin is trying to intimidate millions,” he said.The charges relate to his role in his now-defunct movement inside Russia, which the authorities accused of trying to foment a revolution by seeking to destabilise the socio-political situation.The US State Department called the verdict “an unjust conclusion to an unjust trial”, while the European Union condemned what it called another politically motivated ruling and called for Navalny’s immediate release.UN Human Rights Chief Volker Türk said the sentence raised renewed serious concerns about judicial harassment and the use of the court system for political purposes in Russia.German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called it “sheer injustice”.A small group of Navalny supporters had gathered outside the penal colony but were not let in to hear the verdict.Putin, in power since 1999, is expected to run for another six-year presidential term in 2024.With Russia waging what he calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine and locked in what he describes as an existential battle with the West, Putin says it is vital for the country to remain united.In February, Putin ordered the FSB security service to raise its game to “identify and stop the illegal activities of those who are trying to divide and weaken our society”.Sergei Markov, a former Kremlin adviser, questioned whether Navalny’s treatment was too harsh.“Isn’t this a bit much? Why such cruelties?” Markov wrote on the Telegram app. “He’s not a murderer.”Navalny, who in the 2010s brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets to oppose Putin’s rule, was detained in January 2021 after returning to Moscow from Germany, where he had been treated for what Western experts said was poisoning by a Soviet-era nerve agent.The Kremlin, which at one point accused him of working with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to undermine Russia, denied involvement and denies persecuting Navalny.It has portrayed him as an agent of disruption and says he never represented serious political competition, and that his case is purely a matter for the courts.Navalny’s supporters cast him as a Russian version of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela who will one day be freed from prison to govern the country.Navalny’s last days before the verdict were spent in a punishment cell where he has been regularly sent over minor infringements of prison rules, according to his team.In all, he has spent almost 200 days in the cell, according to his team, which has repeatedly accused prison authorities of harassing him.Navalny said prison officials forced him to share a cell with a sickly inmate and subjected him and other prisoners to “torture by Putin”, making them listen to the Russian president’s speeches.He has also complained of health problems and major weight loss since being jailed in a strict regime penal colony.The judge said he would serve his additional sentence in an even more restrictive special prison.
South Korea's presidential office yesterday called an emergency cabinet meeting and ordered the deployment of air-conditioned buses and freezer trucks after hundreds of scouts at a massive jamboree suffered heat-related illnesses.The situation even prompted scouts from the United Kingdom - reportedly the largest attendance group at around 4,000 - to leave the campsite early.The Korean peninsula is currently in the midst of a heatwave, with average daily temperatures hovering around 35 degrees Celsius and the government issuing its highest-possible heat warning as temperatures soar.About 43,000 people from across the world are currently taking part in the World Scout Jamboree - known as the world's largest youth camp - in Korea's North Jeolla province.Local authorities and organisers said around 600 participants had suffered heat-related illnesses, prompting Seoul officials to order the deployment of military doctors and nurses.Local media outlets have described the situation as a "national disgrace", given the time the country had to prepare for the event.South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol ordered an unlimited number of air-conditioned buses that scouts can use for brief refuge and refrigerator trucks to provide cold water, presidential spokeswoman Kim Eun-hye said yesterday.Yoon's office added that the emergency meeting would make a decision "regarding the allocation of approximately 6bn won ($4.59mn) in contingency funds".Later yesterday, the World Organisation of the Scout Movement said scouts from the UK are set to leave the site early and travel to the South Korean capital Seoul instead."We have been informed that the contingent from the United Kingdom has decided to depart from the Jamboree campsite early, allowing Scouts to continue their Jamboree experience in Seoul until they are scheduled to travel home," it said in a statement.The United States Forces Korea said about 600 American jamboree participants had been offered the chance to stay at Camp Humphreys, a US army garrison in Pyeongtaek, to avoid the heat.Local broadcasters reported some scouts were "stuck" at the remote campsite despite the heat, citing anonymous staff members."It's hard to even arrange bus rides on your own," one staffer said.Some people online compared the situation to the deadly survival game featured in South Korea's mega-hit Netflix series "Squid Game"."Greetings to Scouts from all around the globe, as you arrive at the K-Survival Game," one quipped on X, above an image of pink Squid Game-style costumes.
An increasing number of people are sleeping rough on the streets of London with campaigners calling on the government to tackle the “root causes” of the problem. UK mortgage rates and rents have been soaring since decades-high inflation fuelled the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation.Figures released this week by the London Assembly recorded 3,272 people sleeping rough in London between April and June 2023. This marks a nine percent increase compared to the same period last year.Just under half (49%) of the people sleeping rough in London in April-June 2023 were on the streets for the first time, according to the report. The UK government has set a target of ending rough sleeping in England by 2024. But Rick Henderson, chief executive at Homeless Link, said this target is “now looking completely out of reach”.“The government must prioritise prevention, including raising the local housing allowance to include at least the lower third of rents, and finally enacting the Renters Reform Bill so renters have more security,” Henderson said. “We need the government to target the root causes rather than just simply alleviating the symptoms,” said Francesca Albanese, director of policy and social change at Crisis, a homelessness charity.
Russia’s defence minister accompanied North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to a defence exhibition that featured the North’s banned ballistic missiles as the neighbours pledged to boost ties, North Korean state media reported yesterday.The Russian minister, Sergei Shoigu, and a Chinese delegation led by a Communist Party Politburo member arrived in North Korea this week for the 70th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, celebrated in North Korea as “Victory Day”.The nuclear-capable missiles were banned under UN Security Council resolutions adopted with Russian and Chinese support. But this week they provided a striking backdrop for a show of solidarity by three countries united by their rivalry with the US and a revival of what some analysts see as their Cold War-era coalition.Shoigu’s visit was the first by a Russian defence minister to North Korea since the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union.For North Korea, the arrival of the Russian and Chinese delegations marks its first major opening up to the world since the Covid pandemic. Shoigu gave Kim a letter from Russian President Vladimir Putin, North Korean media reported. “(Kim) expressed his views on the issues of mutual concern in the struggle to safeguard the sovereignty, development and interests of the two countries from the high-handed and arbitrary practices of the imperialists and to realise international justice and peace,” North Korean media said.KCNA did not refer to the war in Ukraine but North Korea’s Defence Minister, Kang Sun Nam, was reported as saying Pyongyang fully supported Russia’s “battle for justice” and protection of its sovereignty. State media photographs showed Kim and his guests at a display of some of the North’s ballistic missiles in multi-axle transporter launchers. Another image showed what analysts said appeared to be a new drone.“We’ve come a long way from when North Korea would avoid showing off its nuclear capabilities when senior foreign dignitaries from Russia and China were in town,” said Ankit Panda of the US-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, calling the tour “remarkable”.“The personal tour for Shoigu – and Shoigu’s willingness to be photographed with Kim in the course of this tour – is evidence that Moscow is complacent with North Korea’s ongoing nuclear modernisation,” he said.Kim also met Chinese Communist Party politburo member Li Hongzhong for talks and was handed a letter from Chinese President Xi Jinping, North Korean media reported.The visit by Li’s delegation showed Xi’s commitment to the North Korea-China friendship, Kim was quoted as saying by the North’s KCNA state news agency.State media photographs showed Kim at a large flashy performance flanked by Shoigu and Li, with a backdrop that included a slogan used by the Chinese army during the Korean War vowing to “resist US aggressors”.Later yesterday, North Korea was expected to hold a widely anticipated nighttime military parade to showcase the country’s latest weapons, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.Pyongyang’s state media had not reported on the parade as yesterday night.White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Russia’s overtures to North Korea come as the Kremlin struggles to procure arms.“It’s been no secret ... Putin is reaching out to other countries for help and support in fighting his war in Ukraine. And that includes, we know, some outreach to (North Korea),” he said. North Korea has backed the Kremlin over the Ukraine war and has shipped weapons including infantry rockets and missiles in support of Moscow, the White House has said.North Korea and Russia deny conducting arms transactions.The Russian visit raises the prospect of more open support for North Korea, especially with Russia isolated by the West over its invasion of Ukraine, analysts said.One analyst said Shoigu’s inspection of the North Korean missiles suggested Russian acceptance of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.“It may signify that the current geopolitical circumstances are starting to erode Russia’s long-standing interest in preserving the global non-proliferation regime,” said Artyom Lukin, a professor at Russia’s Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok.The simultaneous visits by high-ranking officials is another sign of a revival of the Russian-Chinese-North Korean coalition that originally existed in the late 1940s and 1950s, though now likely to be led from Beijing rather than Moscow, he added.“It may signify that the current geopolitical circumstances are starting to erode Russia’s long-standing interest in preserving the global non-proliferation regime,” Lukin said. South Korea’s foreign ministry noted it had been Russia’s official position to oppose North Korea’s nuclear programme and said it hoped the visit by Shoigu’s delegation would help the North return to dialogue.
Hollywood A-listers including Emmy winner Bryan Cranston and a group of Oscar winners yesterday led a large rally of striking actors and writers in New York’s Times Square, as the stalemate with studios and streamers dragged on.Academy Award winners Brendan Fraser, Jessica Chastain and F Murray Abraham were among the stars joining the mass of demonstrators. Movie and television production has effectively shut down in the United States since thousands of members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) guild walked off the job on July 14, joining writers who have been on strike for weeks. Both guilds are demanding better pay and job security, as well as safeguards against the threat posed by artificial intelligence as they pursue the first industry-wide walkout in 63 years. “We will not be having our jobs taken away and given to robots,” Breaking Bad star Cranston told attendees, referring to fears about AI being used to recreate an actor’s likeness. Surrounded by Times Square’s giant screens, which often advertise the latest movies and streaming series, Cranston delivered a message to Disney boss Bob Iger, the target of the actors’ ire. “We will not have you take away our right to work and earn a decent living and, lastly and most importantly, we will not allow you to take our dignity,” he bellowed, wearing a SAG-AFTRA T-shirt and raising his fists. Abraham, best known for winning an Academy Award for his starring role in the 1984 movie Amadeus, said unionism was “good for America.” “We’re fighting for integrity, respect, and honour,” said the 83-year-old, who recently featured in television hit series The White Lotus.
Countries around the world from China to the United States are battling heatwaves, with the onset of the climate phenomenon El Nino helping push temperatures higher.Scientists told Reuters that climate change and El Nino are the major drivers of extreme heat that have seen temperature records broken in Beijing and Rome, while leaving some 80mn Americans under excessive heat warnings.El Nino is a natural phenomenon that in addition to contributing to higher temperatures in many parts of the world, also drives tropical cyclones in the Pacific and boosts rainfall and flood risk in parts of the Americas, Asia and elsewhere.In June, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared that an El Nino is now under way. The past three years have been dominated by the cooler La Nina pattern.Scientists have warned that this year looks particularly worrying. The last time a strong El Nino was in full swing, in 2016, the world saw its hottest year on record. Meteorologists expect that this El Nino, coupled with excess warming from climate change, will see the world grapple with record-high temperatures.Experts are also concerned about what is going on in the ocean. An El Nino means that waters in the Eastern Pacific are warmer than usual. Globally, sea temperatures hit new records for the months of May and June, according to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. That could supercharge extreme weather.“We’re in unprecedented territory,” said Michelle L’Heureux, a meteorologist with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.This year’s El Nino could lead to global economic losses of $3tn, according to a study published last month in the journal Science, shrinking GDP as extreme weather decimates agricultural production, manufacturing, and helps spread disease. Governments in vulnerable countries are taking note. Peru has set aside $1.06bn to deal with El Nino’s impacts and climate change, while the Philippines — at risk from cyclones — has formed a special government team to handle the predicted fallout.Here is how El Nino will unfold and some of the weather we might expect:What causes an El Nino?El Nino is a natural climate pattern borne out of unusually warm waters in the eastern Pacific.It forms when the trade winds blowing east-to-west along the equatorial Pacific slow down or reverse as air pressure changes, although scientists are not entirely sure what kicks off the cycle.Because the trade winds affect the sun-warmed surface waters, a weakening causes these warm western Pacific waters to slosh back into the colder central and eastern Pacific basins.During the 2015-16 El Nino — the strongest such event on record — anchovy stocks off the coast of Peru crashed amid this warm water incursion. And nearly a third of the corals on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef died. In too-warm waters corals will expel living algae, causing them to calcify and turn white.This build-up of warm water in the eastern Pacific also transfers heat high into the atmosphere through convection, generating thunderstorms.“When El Nino moves that warm water, it moves where thunderstorms happen,” said NOAA meteorologist Tom DiLiberto. “That’s the first atmospheric domino to fall.”How does El Nino affect the world’s weather?This shift in storm activity affects the current of fast-flowing air that moves weather around the world — called the subtropical jet stream — pushing its path southward and straightening it out into a flatter stream that delivers similar weather along the same latitudes.“If you’re changing where the storm highway goes ... you’re changing what kind of weather we would expect to see,” DiLiberto said.During an El Nino, the southern United States experiences cooler and wetter weather, while parts of the US West and Canada are warmer and drier.Hurricane activity falters as the storms fail to form in the Atlantic due to changes in the wind, sparing the United States. But tropical cyclones in the Pacific get a boost, with storms often spinning toward vulnerable islands.Some parts of Central and South America experience heavy rainfall, although the Amazon rainforest tends to suffer from drier conditions.And Australia endures extreme heat, drought and bushfires.El Nino could offer a reprieve to the Horn of Africa, which recently suffered five consecutive failed rainy seasons. El Nino brings more rain to the Horn, unlike the triple-dip La Nina, which desiccated the region.Historically, both El Nino and La Nina have occurred about every two to seven years on average, with El Nino lasting 9 to 12 months. La Nina, which takes hold when waters are cooler in the Eastern Pacific, can last one to three years.Is climate change affecting El Nino?How climate change might be affecting El Nino is “a very big research question,” said DiLiberto. While climate change is doubling down on the impacts from El Nino — layering heat on top of heat, or excess rainfall on top of excess rainfall — it’s less clear if climate change is influencing the phenomenon itself.Scientists are not sure whether climate change will shift the balance between El Nino and La Nina, making one pattern more or less frequent. If ocean temperatures are rising across the board, it is unlikely the cycle would change, scientists said, as the basic mechanics behind the phenomenon stay the same.However, if some parts of the ocean are warming faster than others, that could influence how El Nino plays out by amplifying temperature differences. — ReutersExtreme heat straining health systemsThe extreme heat in the northern hemisphere is putting an increasing strain on healthcare systems, hitting those least able to cope the hardest, according to the World Health Organisation.The WHO has warned the heat often worsens pre-existing conditions, saying it was particularly concerned about those with cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and asthma.Millions of people across three continents are enduring a sustained spell of dangerous heat as temperature records tumble.“Extreme heat takes the greatest toll on those least able to manage its consequences, such as older people, infants and children, and the poor and homeless,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.“It also puts increased pressure on health systems,” he told a news conference.“Exposure to excessive heat has wide-ranging impacts for health, often amplifying pre-existing conditions and resulting in premature death and disability.”The WHO was working with the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), its fellow Geneva-based UN agency, to support countries in developing hot-weather action plans to coordinate preparedness and reduce the impacts of excessive heat on health, he added.Maria Neira, the WHO’s public health and environment chief, said the agency was particularly concerned about pregnant women and people with diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, and asthma, as air pollution would be part of the problem.Local and national governments needed to identify all those potentially at risk, while hospitals should ensure they had an action plan in place, she added.Neira also said communities needed to get the message out on avoiding sport during the hottest part of the day, finding a cool place indoors, looking out for the vulnerable, and being aware of heat stroke or heat exhaustion.Experts have blamed the heatwaves on climate change, driven by the burning of fossil fuels releasing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.Besides immediate measures to cope with the heat in the coming days, Neira said that in the longer term, countries needed to decarbonise to mitigate the causes of climate change, which is “exacerbating and increasing the frequency, the intensity and the duration of those heatwaves.“That will be helping us to reduce the heatwaves in a very important way.”City officials needed to think through their urban planning to ensure people had refuges in times of extreme heat, she added.The UN’s WMO weather agency has said repeated high overnight temperatures are a particular health risk because the body is unable to recover from hot days, leading to more heart attacks and deaths. — AFP