Myanmar blackout may be cover for gross human rights violations — UN investigator

Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. (AP)
Updated 25 June 2019
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Myanmar blackout may be cover for gross human rights violations — UN investigator

  • The Arakan Army is an insurgent group that recruits from the mainly Buddhist ethnic Rakhine population and is fighting for greater autonomy for the state

GENEVA: Myanmar’s army may be committing gross human rights violations under cover of a mobile phone blackout in parts of Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin states, UN special rapporteur Yanghee Lee said on Monday.
Lee, an independent expert who reports to the UN Human Rights Council on human rights in Myanmar, said nine townships had been blacked out, with no media access and serious restrictions on humanitarian organizations.
“I fear for all civilians there,” Lee said in a statement.
“I am told that the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s army) is now conducting a ‘clearance operation’, which we all know by now can be a cover for committing gross human rights violations against the civilian population.”
The statement said there were credible reports that the army helicopters carried out attacks in Minbya Township in central Rakhine on June 19, and the following day, the Arakan Army fired on a navy ship in Sittwe, killing and injuring several soldiers.
The Arakan Army is an insurgent group that recruits from the mainly Buddhist ethnic Rakhine population and is fighting for greater autonomy for the state.
The conflict has included use of heavy weaponry, airstrikes and helicopter gunships, with significant loss of life on all sides, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet told the UN Human Rights Council earlier on Monday.
Rakhine state came to global attention after about 730,000 Rohingya Muslims crossed into Bangladesh fleeing a military crackdown in response to militant attacks in 2017.
UN investigators have called for senior military officers to be prosecuted over allegations of mass killings, gang rapes and arson. The military denies widespread wrongdoing.
A leading telecoms operator, Telenor Group, said on Saturday that the Ministry of Transport and Communications had ordered a temporary shutdown of Internet services in conflict-torn western Myanmar, where government troops are fighting ethnic rebels.
It said the ministry had cited “disturbances of peace and use of Internet activities to coordinate illegal activities,” but a military spokesman said the army had no information about the shutdown and was not behind it.
Lee called on the government to end the mobile Internet ban.
Lee’s statement said the conflict between the Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw has been going on since late 2018 and has displaced more than 35,000 civilians.


Melting snowcaps spell water trouble for world’s highest capital

Updated 19 min 27 sec ago

Melting snowcaps spell water trouble for world’s highest capital

LA PAZ, Bolivia: Water resources are running dry in the world’s highest-elevation capital due to the combined effect of the Andean glaciers melting, drought and mismanagement.
But instead of surrendering, the locals in Bolivia’s capital La Paz are finding new ways to tackle the changing climate.
The sky-high metropolitan area’s 2.7 million people have already been jolted by climate change: a severe drought that lasted for several months from 2016 into 2017 was Bolivia’s worst in 25 years, leading to water rationing and widespread protests in several cities.
In a sign of possibly worse to come, the Andean snowcaps — which have been relied on to fill the city’s reservoirs — are disappearing at a rate that has alarmed scientists.
In a gray and misty Valle de las Flores district in the east of the city, people are beginning to adapt to disappearing water resources.
There, Juana and her colleague Maria wash clothes for a living at a municipal wash-house, which is fed by spring water.
Public wash-houses — where the water is free — are becoming more popular, as residents change their habits around water use, getting their laundry done and escaping rising water charges.
“It’s true that there are more people coming here than ever before,” since water started to become more scarce, said Juana, as the women scrubbed and wrung-out garments for a fee of 20 bolivianos, or around $3 per dozen items.
In some neighborhoods, locals have become accustomed to storing rainwater in cisterns, ready for when the dry season comes.
The severe drought that lasted from November 2016 to February 2017 was blamed on the combined effects of the El Nino weather cycle, poor water management and climate change.
Leftist President Evo Morales declared a “state of national emergency” and tens of thousands of people in La Paz faced imposed water rationing for the first time, while surrounding mountains that were once covered in snow turned brown and barren.
The measures were expanded to at least seven other cities, and in the countryside, farmers clashed with miners over the use of aquifers.
As part of a contingency plan, Morales doubled down by embarking on a vast investment program in a bid to ensure future water supplies.
According to recent data from the national water company EPSAS, the government has spent $64.7 million (58.7 million euros) to construct four water reservoirs and supply systems from the lagoons of the surrounding Andean highlands.
The new systems will in part ease reliance on the Inkachaka, Ajunkota and Hampaturi dams that have until now supplied drinking water to around one-third of La Paz’s population.
The drought had left the dams almost completely depleted, resembling open-cast mines, and they took months to recover ample water levels.
Patricia Urquieta, an urban planning specialist at the University Mayor de San Andres, says that despite the hardships it brought, the drought did not lead to an increased collective awareness of the need to manage water resources.
Once water restrictions were lifted “this awareness of the need to preserve water fizzled out,” said Urquieta.
“There has beeen no public policy to raise awareness about water usage, even though reports show that La Paz could end up without water because of the decrease of water in the moutains,” she said.
UNESCO introduced an “Atlas on the retreat of Andean glaciers and the reduction of glacial waters” to map the effects of global warming in 2018.
It said “global warming could cause the loss of 95 percent of the current permafrost in Bolivia by 2050, and 99 percent by 2099.”
A recent study published in the scientific journal Nature, citing analysis of satellite images, reported that “the Andean glaciers are among those that shrink the fastest.”
Between 2000 and 2018, the glaciers lost an average of 23 billion tons of ice a year, according to Nature
“When the glaciers disappear, they will no longer be able to provide water during the dry season,” said Sebastien Hardy, who is studying the local glaciers for the French Institute for Research and Development.
The Chacaltaya glacier — once the world’s highest ski resort — has already disappeared. Scientists said the glacier started to melt in the mid-1980s. By 2009, it had vanished.
The Inkachaka dam, a few miles outside the La Paz, is currently more than half-full, fed by snowfalls during the austral winter.
But the year-round snowcaps on nearby mountains, visible as recently as 30 years ago, no longer exist.