Dry winter threatens lives of 1 million Afghans, says UNICEF

Dry winter threatens lives of 1 million Afghans, says UNICEF
Afghan children play on an abandoned armored vehicle in Kabul. A lack of rain, in late 2017 and early this year, is leading to food insecurity and water scarcity that could worsen the already high malnutrition rates among children in Afghanistan. (Reuters)
Updated 23 April 2018

Dry winter threatens lives of 1 million Afghans, says UNICEF

Dry winter threatens lives of 1 million Afghans, says UNICEF
  • A harsh winter has adversely affected much of Afghanistan and led to drought.
  • A drought emergency task force has been set up by the Afghan government to coordinate and align the response across all sectors, including education, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene, food security and agriculture.

KABUL: A severe dry winter has affected 22 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, threatening the lives of 1 million Afghans, in addition to another 2 million who may feel its impact in the coming months as a hot summer approaches, UNICEF warned on Monday.

A lack of rain in late 2017 and early this year is leading to food insecurity and water scarcity that could worsen the already high malnutrition rates among children, UNICEF said in a statement.

Food insecurity and reduced access to safe water are beginning to take their toll on the 10 worst affected provinces where 20 to 30 percent of water sources are reportedly dry, the statement said.

“The impact on children could be devastating as these areas have pre-existing high rates of malnutrition. Without adequate nutritious food and safe water for drinking, as well as for hygiene and sanitation, children’s health will only worsen.”

“The extremely dry winter has affected 22 provinces in Afghanistan and now threatens to negatively impact the lives of one million people, with an additional 2 million who may feel its effects over the coming months,” it added.

The priority is to prevent the situation from deteriorating by responding to the needs of children and families in the worst affected areas, Adele Khodr, UNICEF representative in Afghanistan, said in the statement.

The organization said the impact of the drought could not have come at a worse time as cases of severe acute malnutrition — seasonal malnutrition — rise on average by about 25 percent each year in the summer months. Some 1.6 million children and 443,000 pregnant and lactating women suffer from malnutrition all over Afghanistan, notes the UN body.

A drought emergency task force has been set up by the Afghan government to coordinate and align the response across all sectors, including education, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene, food security and agriculture.

Cattle and other animals have perished by the hundreds as a result of drought which has forced some farmers from northern areas to send their cattle into central Asia for survival and grazing, according to residents.

President Ashraf Ghani recently ordered the country’s agriculture ministry to distribute forage to farmers.

Due to bad crops and a lack of access to clean drinking water, an estimated 100 families from the Bala Murghab district of Badghis province have been forced to move to Herat to find alternative work, UNICEF said.

“The situation is further complicated as a result of escalating conflict that often occurs at this time of year, leading to increased displacement and reduced access for humanitarian workers,” it said.

Among the affected provinces are Badghis, Bamyan, Daykundi, Ghor, Helmand, Kandahar, Jawzjan, Nangarhar, Nimroz, Nuristan, Takhar, and Uruzgan which are in a state of critical priority for nutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene assistance.

Thirteen provinces, out of the country’s total of 34, received less than 30 percent of their average annual rainfall in the period October 2017 to the end of February 2018.

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600 migrants reach Italian island from Tunisia in 2 days

600 migrants reach Italian island from Tunisia in 2 days
Updated 5 min 55 sec ago

600 migrants reach Italian island from Tunisia in 2 days

600 migrants reach Italian island from Tunisia in 2 days
  • Increase in departures recalls 2011, when 25,000 Tunisians arrived in Italy during Arab Spring
  • Number of Tunisians trying to reach Italy has risen since early 2021 due to economic crisis, COVID-19 spike

ROME: Nearly 600 migrants reached the Italian island of Lampedusa from Tunisia in only two days. 
Countless departures of people fleeing the crisis-wracked North African country and attempting to reach Europe on dinghies and small boats are reported every hour by NGOs and Italian Coast Guard vessels patrolling the Channel of Sicily.
Only on Saturday, by midday, 99 migrants landed in Lampedusa on six different small boats. Before their arrival, 1,137 people were already present at the center in Contrada Imbriacola, well above the facility’s maximum capacity of 250.
“They arrive every hour, like a news bulletin,” Vincenzo Pandolfo, who owns a shop in the port of Lampedusa, told Arab News
“It seems that there is not much control on the Tunisian shores lately. We have not seen so many dinghies coming toward Lampedusa, and now even trying to reach the south of Sardinia, which is a much further and more dangerous trip, as we have since July 26, when the political crisis broke out in Tunisia,” Adm. Roberto Isidori, commander of the Coast Guard in Sicily, told Arab News.
“Our vessels are all out to make sure that no accident happens, but this situation is getting worse and worse”, Isidori added.
Italian security services had estimated at the beginning of the crisis that the ongoing political turmoil and instability in Tunisia may result in a drastic increase in migrants, with numbers potentially reaching up to 15,000 in a very short time.
But Isidori said that “if numbers continue to stay as they have been in the last week, that could be an optimistic forecast.”  
As a rule, Tunisians are not eligible for asylum in Italy, and up to 80 could be flown home each week under a deal reached between Rome and Tunisia last year.
The remainder are often given expulsion orders and released from migrant centers. Many then try to reach France or Germany.
The increase in departures has prompted fears of a repeat of 2011, when 25,000 Tunisians arrived in Italy during the Arab Spring uprising.
The number of Tunisians trying to reach Italy has been on the rise since the beginning of 2021 due to the worsening economic crisis at home, which was exacerbated by a dramatic spike of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases and a lack of vaccines.
Good weather conditions have also encouraged migrants to attempt the dangerous crossing.
Nearly 1,000 have died on route between the shores of North Africa and Sicily this year, up from 267 in the same period last year, including around 57 migrants who drowned this week when their boat capsized off the Libyan coast.
The Interior Ministry’s records show that out of a total of 28,515 illegal migrants who arrived in Italy so far this year, a big part came from Tunisia, which far outstrips those from any other country, including Libya. From January to June, 2,962 crossed to Italy, with another 3,796 sailing this month.


UK scientists: Future COVID-19 variants could have 35 percent fatality rates

UK scientists: Future COVID-19 variants could have 35 percent fatality rates
Updated 41 min 54 sec ago

UK scientists: Future COVID-19 variants could have 35 percent fatality rates

UK scientists: Future COVID-19 variants could have 35 percent fatality rates
  • Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE): “Realistic possibility” future strains could be as fatal as MERS
  • SAGE also warned that COVID-19 can infect common animal species including minks

LONDON: Future COVID-19 variants could have fatality rates of up to 35 percent, top UK government scientists have warned in a new report.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said it is a “realistic possibility” that future variants could prove as fatal as MERS, which has a death rate of 35 percent.
The chance of deadly COVID-19 mutations increases depending on the prevalence of the virus, the report said, adding that rapid vaccine rollouts worldwide will increase immunity levels, thereby forcing variants to mutate at a faster and more deadly pace.
The advisory body warned that future strains could become resistant to vaccines if they originate from the beta variant and combine with the alpha or delta variants, in a process called recombination.
And even with vaccines being expected to neutralize serious disease among COVID-19 patients, the report said a higher death rate is to be expected in the case of new deadly variants given that vaccines “do not provide total sterilizing immunity.”
SAGE also warned that COVID-19 can infect common animal species including minks, which some countries have taken to culling.
In response to the potential threat from animals — including dogs, cats, mice, rats and ferrets — becoming a host for future deadly variants, the group suggested that mass culling or animal vaccination programs should be considered by governments.


Turkish wildfire leaves charred home and ashes, as blazes continue

Turkish wildfire leaves charred home and ashes, as blazes continue
Updated 47 min 22 sec ago

Turkish wildfire leaves charred home and ashes, as blazes continue

Turkish wildfire leaves charred home and ashes, as blazes continue

MANAVGAT: Days after a raging wildfire in southern Turkey drove his family from the home they lived in for four decades, Mehmet Demir returned on Saturday to discover a burnt-out building, charred belongings and ashes.
Bedsprings, a ladder, metal chairs and some kitchenware were the only things left identifiable after some of the worst fires in years tore through the region, with several still burning four days after they erupted on Wednesday.
Demir’s home, near the coastal Mediterranean town of Manavgat, not far from the popular tourist resort Antalya, was hit by one of almost 100 fires which officials say erupted this week across southern and western Turkey, where sweltering heat and strong winds fanned the flames.
“The blaze spread through the highlands and raged suddenly,” Demir told Reuters as he looked around the wreckage of his home, built in 1982. “We had to flee to the center of Manavgat. Then we came back to find the house like this.”
“This was our (only) saving for the past 39-40 years. We are now left with the clothes we are wearing, me and my wife. There is nothing to do. This is when words fail.”
The death toll from the fires rose to six on Saturday, as two firefighting personnel died during efforts to control the fire in Manavgat, broadcaster CNN Turk said.
Satellite imagery showed smoke from the fires in Antalya and Mersin was extending to the island of Cyprus, around 150 km (100 miles) away.
Wildfires are common in southern Turkey in the hot summer months but local authorities say the latest fires have covered a much bigger area.
With deadly heatwaves, flooding and wildfires occurring around the world, calls are growing for urgent action to cut the CO2 emissions heating the planet.
Turkey’s Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said a total of 98 fires had broken out in the past four days, of which 88 were under control.
Fires continued in southern coastal provinces of Adana, Osmaniye, Antalya, Mersin and the western coastal province of Mugla, a popular resort region for Turks and foreign tourists, where some hotels have been evacuated this week.
Weather forecasts point to heatwaves along the Aegean and Mediterranean coastal regions, with temperatures expected to rise by 4 to 8 degrees Celsius over their seasonal average, Turkish meteorological authorities say.
They are forecast to reach 43 to 47 degrees Celsius in the coming days in Antalya, the main province of Manavgat.
“The weather is extremely hot and dry. This contributes to start of fires. Our smallest mistake leads to a great disaster,” Turkish climate scientist Levent Kurnaz said on Twitter.


Taliban and Afghan forces clash again outside Herat city

Taliban and Afghan forces clash again outside Herat city
Updated 55 min 44 sec ago

Taliban and Afghan forces clash again outside Herat city

Taliban and Afghan forces clash again outside Herat city
  • Violence has surged across Afghanistan since early May, when the Taliban launched a sweeping offensive
  • The militants have seized scores of districts across Afghanistan, including in Herat province

HERAT, Afghanistan: Afghan and Taliban forces clashed again on the outskirts of Herat Saturday, a day after a police guard was killed when a United Nations compound in the western city came under attack.
Violence has surged across the country since early May, when the Taliban launched a sweeping offensive as US-led foreign forces began a final withdrawal that is now almost complete.
The militants have seized scores of districts across Afghanistan, including in Herat province, where the group has also captured two border crossings adjoining Iran and Turkmenistan.
Officials and residents reported renewed fighting on the outskirts of Herat Saturday, with hundreds fleeing their homes to seek shelter closer to the heart of the city.
Herat governor Abdul Saboor Qani said most of the fighting was in Injil and Guzara district — where the airport is located.
“At the moment the fighting is ongoing in the south and southeast. We are moving cautiously and to avoid civilian casualties,” Qani said.
During fighting Friday, the main Herat compound of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan came under attack from rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire that the UN blamed on anti-government elements.
The militants say they will not target foreign diplomats, but have blatantly violated international protocol before.
Afghan forces and militiamen of veteran warlord and anti-Taliban commander Ismail Khan have been deployed around the city of 600,000 in recent days.
Khan, who previously fought the Soviet occupation forces in the 1980s and then the Taliban during their hard-line regime in the 1990s, has vowed to fight the insurgents again to counter their staggering advances in recent months.


Ex-general takes aim at UK PM’s Afghan ‘silence’ 

Ex-general takes aim at UK PM’s Afghan ‘silence’ 
Updated 31 July 2021

Ex-general takes aim at UK PM’s Afghan ‘silence’ 

Ex-general takes aim at UK PM’s Afghan ‘silence’ 
  • Gen. Lord Richards: “Ungoverned space” will create opportunities for terror groups

LONDON: A former head of the UK armed forces has called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to outline the country’s strategy for Afghanistan as the war-torn nation slides into further conflict amid the Taliban’s advance.
Gen. Lord Richards, former chief of defense staff, said he is “fed up” with the government’s lack of planning for the next stage of supporting Afghanistan, where he served as the commander of coalition forces between 2006 and 2007. He lamented the West’s “defeat” in the country. 
With Western forces lined up to be fully removed by Sept. 11, Richards warned of the potential creation of an “ungoverned space” that could be exploited by terror groups for the planning of atrocities such as the 9/11 attacks.
He told the BBC that he takes a “share of the blame” for the West’s calamitous performance in Afghanistan, but that while NATO military force — chiefly from the US and Britain — largely achieved what was expected, politicians had failed to give Afghanistan sufficient economic and political support following the 2001 removal of the Taliban from power. 
“We have invested — as a country, as the West and the US particularly — 20 years of time and much money and many lives in Afghanistan,” said Richards.
“I’m getting a little bit fed up that I’ve not heard from our government — indeed from the prime minister — as to why we have reached this nadir. It’s really not good enough, and I would like to hear from the government — I think it’s a prime ministerial obligation now — as to why we’ve got into this position and what we are now going to do about it,” he added.
“It’s deflecting attention from our defeat. Added to what happened in Iraq, Libya, Syria, it’s a pretty sorry tale of Western failed geo-strategy over the last 20 years. And it’s time we had an explanation of why and what are we now going to do about it, to prevent it from happening in the way we all now fear might occur.”
The decorated former officer complained that following the invasion, the UN conducted a “light-touch” approach masterminded by envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, which meant the West failed to build on the military gains of 2001. 
Richards said the short supply of economic support meant that the Taliban returned as a threat five years later.
“As all soldiers will tell you, we know we can’t win these things by military means alone. What we hoped we were doing was providing an opportunity for governments, the whole of the West, to act in the way they needed, not just militarily but politically and economically,” he added.
“That didn’t happen … At the very moment, in 2002 to 2005, when the West should have poured in assets — and I’m talking primarily non-military by the way — we didn’t do so. The Taliban sensed an opportunity, they came back.”
Richards warned that the Taliban’s capture of Kandahar — Afghanistan’s second city — is “inevitable” without a change in strategy, which would lead to the group sweeping across the south of the country. 
“My biggest worry at the moment is, with the Western forces having pulled out with no adequate explanation of what is going to replace them, we are going to see a potential collapse in Afghan Armed Forces morale,” he said, adding that the resurgence of Taliban control would “almost certainly” facilitate the return of terror training camps.
“There will be ungoverned space … and in that ungoverned space terrorist acts may yet again be planned and executed,” warned Richards.
“I think we all forget too readily the scenes of 9/11, the Twin Towers and the attack in Washington. That is actually why we went into Afghanistan, and we’ve been spectacularly successful in achieving what we aimed to do,” he added.
“That is now being put at risk, along with all the wonderful gains in terms of education, health, and democracy, allowing people to hope for the future. All that is now, I’m afraid at great risk. We don’t have a substitute strategy and I want to hear what it should be.”