Brain disease kills 97 Indian children, ‘heat curfew’ imposed as severe heat rages in Bihar state

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he Indian state of Bihar grappled Monday with twin crises, with a brain virus potentially linked to lychees killing almost 100 children and extreme heat leaving 78 people dead. (AP)
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Residents of a housing society cool off with a "rain dance" organized to beat the heat on a hot summer day in Greater Noida, outskirts of New Delhi, India, on June 15, 2019. Many parts of India are experiencing extreme heat conditions. (AP Photo/R S Iyer)
Updated 17 June 2019

Brain disease kills 97 Indian children, ‘heat curfew’ imposed as severe heat rages in Bihar state

  • Officials urged residents to not leave their homes until temperatures fall
  • A heatwave in 2015 left more than 3,500 dead in India and Pakistan

PATNA, India: The Indian state of Bihar grappled Monday with twin crises, with a brain virus potentially linked to lychees killing almost 100 children and extreme heat leaving 78 people dead.

The heatwave — India's second-longest on record — prompted authorities in part of the northern state, one of the country's poorest, to impose curfew-like restrictions.

Daytime temperatures across large parts of India have hovered above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) for the past 32 days, just one short of a record 33-day period in 1988.

Temperatures touched 50.3 degrees Celsius in the town of Churu in the northern desert state of Rajasthan recently, just below India's record of 51 degrees.

Bihar, home to almost 100 million people, has seen temperatures hovering around 45 degrees for several days.

Severe heat there has killed 78 people -- most of them aged above 50 -- across three districts since Saturday afternoon, local official Sandeep Kumar told AFP.

More than 130 others were undergoing emergency treatment for heatstroke in various hospitals.

Authorities in Gaya district which has borne the brunt of the heatwave invoked an Indian law to prohibit residents from going outdoors for non-essential work.

The district magistrate also banned construction work and any outdoor programme between 11:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Heatstroke is usually caused by prolonged exposure to sun or from physical exertion in high temperatures.

It has left more than 36 people dead in southern India in recent weeks. Large parts of India are also reeling from drought, with annual monsoon rains late in coming.

Last week four passengers on a train travelling from Agra -- the city of the Taj Mahal -- to Coimbatore in the country's south died from heatstroke.Bihar, home to some of India's worst health indicators, has also been struggling with an outbreak of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES), a viral infection, since the start of this month.

Eighty children have now died in the state's biggest government-run hospital -- the Sri Krishna Medical College and Hospital (SKMCH), in the city of Muzaffarpur -- and 17 others at a private facility, health official Ashok Kumar Singh said.

Most of the victims had suffered a sudden loss of glucose in their blood, Singh told AFP.

TV channels showed distraught parents sitting next to their children, several of whom were cramped on one bed.

One parent heckled India's Health Minister Harsh Vardhan as he took his entourage around the SKMCH for an inspection.

A doctor told a local TV channel that the SKMCH was ill-equipped to handle the rush of patients, most of whom were wheeled in semi-conscious. The outbreak of the disease has happened annually during summer months in the same districts since 1995, typically coinciding with the lychee season.

Several years ago US researchers had said the brain disease could be linked to a toxic substance found in the fruit.

Known locally as Chamki Bukhar, the disease claimed a record 150 lives in 2014.

They also said more study was needed to uncover the cause of the illness, which leads to seizures, altered mental state and death in more than a third of cases.

Outbreaks of neurological illness have also been observed in lychee-growing regions of Bangladesh and Vietnam.


US lawmakers reach deal on massive defense bill

Updated 25 min 3 sec ago

US lawmakers reach deal on massive defense bill

  • The US House of Representatives and Senate Armed Services Committees agreed on a compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act
  • The bill says Trump should implement sanctions on Turkey over the S-400 purchase, something lawmakers have been demanding

WASHINGTON: US lawmakers announced an agreement on Monday on a $738-billion bill setting policy for the Department of Defense, including new measures for competing with Russia and China, family leave for federal workers and the creation of President Donald Trump’s long-desired Space Force.
It also calls for sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of a Russian missile defense system, and a tough response to North Korea’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
The US House of Representatives and Senate Armed Services Committees agreed on a compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, after months of negotiations. It is expected to pass before Congress leaves Washington later this month for the year-end holiday break.
The legislation includes $658.4 billion for the Department of Defense and Department of Energy national security programs, $71.5 billion to pay for ongoing foreign wars, known as “Overseas Contingency Operations” funding, and $5.3 billion in emergency funding for repairs of damage from extreme weather and natural disasters.
There were concerns earlier this year that the NDAA might fail for the first time in 58 years over steep divides between the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and Republican-controlled Senate over Trump’s policies.
Because it is one of the few pieces of major legislation Congress passes every year, the NDAA becomes a vehicle for a range of policy measures as well as setting everything from military pay levels to which ships or aircraft will be modernized, purchased or discontinued.
It includes a 3.1 percent pay hike for the troops, the largest in a decade and, for the first time, 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal workers, something Democrats strongly sought.
Among other things, the proposed fiscal 2020 NDAA imposes sanctions related to Russia’s Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream pipelines and bars military-to-military cooperation with Russia.
Russia is building the pipelines to bolster supply to Europe while bypassing Ukraine, and members of Congress have been pushing the Trump administration to do more to stop the projects as they near completion.
The NDAA also prohibits the transfer of F-35 stealth fighter jets, which Lockheed Martin Corp. is developing, to Turkey. It expresses a Sense of Congress that Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system, which Washington says it not compatible with NATO defenses and threatens the F-35, constitutes a significant transaction under US sanctions law.
The bill says Trump should implement sanctions on Turkey over the S-400 purchase, something lawmakers have been demanding.
The NDAA also reauthorizes $300 million of funding for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, to include lethal defensive items as well as new authorities for coastal defense cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles.
Military aid to Ukraine has been at the center of the impeachment inquiry into Trump, after his administration held up security assistance for Kiev last summer even as the country dealt with challenges from Russia.
Fulfilling one of Trump’s most high-profile requests, the bill establishes the US Space Force as the sixth Armed Service of the United States, under the Air Force.
The legislation also contains a series of provisions intended to address potential threats from China, including requiring reports on China’s overseas investments and its military relations with Russia.
It bars the use of federal funds to buy rail cars and buses from China, and it says Congress “unequivocally supports” residents of Hong Kong as they defend their rights and seek to preserve their autonomy with China. It also supports improving Taiwan’s defense capabilities.
The NDAA calls for a sweeping approach to North Korea’s nuclear weapons development, as well as the threat it poses to US forces on the Korean peninsula and allies in the region.
It puts mandatory sanctions on North Korean imports and exports of coal and other minerals and textiles, as well as some petroleum products and crude oil, and it puts additional sanctions on banks that deal with North Korea.
The bill also bars the Pentagon from reducing the number of troops deployed to South Korea below 28,500 unless the Secretary of Defense certifies that it is in the US national security interest to do so.