Climate change, corruption blamed for Venice flood devastation

Climate change, corruption blamed for Venice flood devastation
A man pumps out water from the flooded crypt of St. Mark's Basilica after an exceptional overnight "Alta Acqua" high tide water level, on November 13, 2019 in Venice. (File/AFP)
Updated 14 November 2019

Climate change, corruption blamed for Venice flood devastation

Climate change, corruption blamed for Venice flood devastation
  • The government in Rome was expected to declare a state of emergency at a cabinet meeting on Thursday
  • Dirty water was swirling around the marble tombs inside the 12th-century crypt of St. Mark’s Basilica, which suffered untold damage

VENICE: Much of Venice was left under water after the highest tide in 50 years ripped through the historic Italian city, beaching gondolas, trashing hotels and sending tourists fleeing through rapidly rising waters.

The government in Rome was expected to declare a state of emergency at a cabinet meeting on Thursday after Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte described the flooding as “a blow to the heart of our country.”

Officials blamed climate change while shopkeepers on the Grand Canal raged against those who have failed to protect the UNESCO city from the high tide.

They said corruption had repeatedly delayed a barrier protection system that could have prevented the disaster.

“The city is on its knees,” Venice mayor Luigi Brugnaro said in an interview with national broadcaster RAI.

“There’s widespread devastation,” he said in the famed St. Mark’s Square, which bore the brunt of the flooding. “In all likelihood the damage from last night runs into hundreds of millions of euros.”

The state of emergency for a natural disaster will allow the government to use “exceptional powers and means” to intervene more quickly, and Conte said his government was ready to allocate funds.

“The disaster that has struck Venice is a blow to the heart of our country,” Conte said at the scene. “It hurts to see the city so damaged, its artistic heritage threatened.”

St. Mark’s Square was calm on Wednesday evening, with just a smattering of tourists walking through the relatively dry square marked with occasional puddles.

Four Venetian friends who had gathered in the square, all wearing boots, said the relative quiet and lack of tourists was upside of an otherwise harrowing few days.

“We’ve never seen anything like it,” said Alvise, 19.

Earlier, tourists lugging heavy suitcases waded in thigh-high boots or barefoot through the submerged alleys, as gondola and water taxi drivers baled sewage-tainted water out of their trashed vessels.
Schools would stay closed on Thursday, authorities said.

Dirty water was swirling around the marble tombs inside the 12th-century crypt of St. Mark’s Basilica, which suffered untold damage when an unprecedented high tide swept through the city.

It was closed to tourists as were many other Venice highlights including the Fenice Theatre and the Ducal Palace.

“We said last year that the basilica had aged 20 years in a high tide. It risks having aged much more than that in this one,” said the building’s procurator Carlo Alberto Tesserin.

A 78-year old was killed by an electric shock as the waters poured into his home.

“We ask the government to help us, the costs will be high,” mayor Brugnaro tweeted. “These are the effects of climate change.”

“The future of Venice is at stake,” he warned. “We cannot live like this anymore.”

Environment Minister Sergio Costa blamed climate change and the “tropicalization” of violent rainfall and strong winds.

“This is what is happening more and more often in the Mediterranean,” Costa said on Facebook.

“Global warming will destroy our planet if we do not immediately reverse the direction.”

The exceptionally intense “acqua alta,” or high waters, peaked at 1.87 meters (six feet). Only once since records began in 1923 has the water crept even higher, reaching 1.94 meters in 1966.

“It was unbelievable. The water rose so quickly,” said resident Tiziano Collarin, 59, as he surveyed the damage.

“Windows were blown out, there are those who have lost everything,” he said as the flood alarm rang out to warn those in the canal city that the tide, which had receded somewhat overnight, was rising once again.

The fire brigade said it had carried out over 400 operations as well as laying on extra boats as water ambulances.

Around 160 firefighters were deployed to rescue people stranded on jetties and to recover boats broken free from their moorings.

President of the Veneto region Luca Zaia said 80 percent of the city had been submerged, causing “unimaginable damage” to the city, which has 50,000 residents but receives 36 million visitors each year.

A massive infrastructure project called MOSE has been under way since 2003 to protect the city, but it has been plagued by cost overruns, corruption scandals and delays.

The plan involves 78 gates that can be raised to protect Venice’s lagoon during high tides — but a recent attempt to test part of the barrier caused worrying vibrations and engineers discovered parts had rusted.

Outside historic Venice, the Lido and Pellestrina islands were also hard hit by flooding.
 


Malaysia, Indonesia urge UN Security Council to stop Israeli ‘violence’

Malaysia, Indonesia urge UN Security Council to stop Israeli ‘violence’
Updated 16 May 2021

Malaysia, Indonesia urge UN Security Council to stop Israeli ‘violence’

Malaysia, Indonesia urge UN Security Council to stop Israeli ‘violence’
  • The Security Council will publicly discuss the worsening violence on Sunday, diplomats said this week

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia and Indonesia on Saturday called on the UN Security Council to intervene and stop Israel’s strikes on Gaza, as the conflict between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants raged on.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said that in a phone conversation with Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, both leaders agreed that Israel’s “despicable actions” must be stopped immediately.

“We were of similar views that the international community, especially the United Nations Security Council, should act swiftly to cease all forms of violence committed by Israel, and save the lives of Palestinians,” Muhyiddin said in a televised address.

“To date, the UN Security Council has not issued any statement on the current situation in Palestine due to opposition from the United States of America,” he said.

Malaysia has long been a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, pushing for a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders.

The Security Council will publicly discuss the worsening violence on Sunday, diplomats said this week. The 15-member council has met privately this week about the worst hostilities in the region in years, but has so far been unable to agree on a public statement, diplomats said.

Iran’s foreign minister canceled a visit with his Austrian counterpart to show displeasure that Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s government had flown the Israeli flag in Vienna in a show of solidarity, the Austrian Foreign Ministry said on Saturday.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was supposed to meet Alexander Schallenberg but had called off the trip, a spokeswoman for Schallenberg said, confirming a report in newspaper Die Presse.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Iranian minister cancels Austrian visit over Israeli flag.

• Morocco to send 40 tons of aid to Palestinians.

• Egypt sends ambulances to evacuate Gaza wounded.

“We regret this and take note of it, but for us it is as clear as day that when Hamas fires more than 2,000 rockets at civilian targets in Israel then we will not remain silent,” the spokeswoman said.

In Tehran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told the semi-official news agency ISNA: “Mr. Zarif did not consider the trip beneficial in these circumstances, and therefore the travel arrangements were not finalized.”

The dispute comes during talks in Vienna to try to revive a 2015 accord with western powers in which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions. 

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has ordered 40 tons of aid for Palestinians to be shipped to the West Bank and Gaza following recent violence.

The aid includes food, medicine and blankets and will be carried by military aircraft, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Morocco also denounced “the violent acts perpetrated in occupied Palestinian territories,” and reiterated support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Morocco resumed ties with Israel in December as part of a deal brokered by the US that also includes Washington’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.

Egypt opened its Rafah border crossing with Gaza to allow 10 ambulances to transport Palestinians seriously wounded in Israeli airstrikes to Egyptian hospitals, medical officials said.

Egypt “exceptionally opened the Rafah crossing to allow 10 Egyptian ambulances into the Gaza Strip to transport wounded Palestinians ... to be treated in Egypt,” a medical official said.

The grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar mosque and university, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, has launched a campaign on social media in “support the Palestinian people.” Stop the killing, he said.

“Enough with silence and double standards if we are really working toward peace.”


Shear luck: Afghan karakul traders lament decline of ‘Karzai cap’

Shear luck: Afghan karakul traders lament decline of ‘Karzai cap’
Updated 16 May 2021

Shear luck: Afghan karakul traders lament decline of ‘Karzai cap’

Shear luck: Afghan karakul traders lament decline of ‘Karzai cap’
  • Tradition risks being lost as lamb stocks deplete and anger grows over ‘pelt peeling’

KABUL: For generations, the pelts of newborn karakul lambs were one of Afghanistan’s major export items, sought after at home and abroad to produce the iconic caps worn by rulers, statesmen and trend-setters — prized fashion items that sold for up to $3,000 each.

However, in recent years, there has been a drastic decline in demand for the eye-catching headwear due to the special breed of sheep that produces the pelt becoming endangered.

“In the past 10 years, the industry has gone bankrupt. There is no market for it now,” Mohammad Salim Saee, head of the agriculture department of northern Balkh, one of the key production areas of karakul sheep, told Arab News.

At its peak in the 1970s, the volume of karakul sheepskin exports to the West stood at 10 million pieces, he said, adding: “You cannot compare it in terms of the percentage now with what we used to produce and export.”

It is now difficult to find a single shop selling karakul sheepskins among the dozens of stores lining the famous avenue of Shahe-Do-Shamshera in the Afghan capital Kabul, where former president Hamid Karzai used to source his trademark hats.

The karakul cap became so synonymous with Karzai that US designer Tom Ford once named him “the chicest man on the planet” for his sartorial choice.

Besides Karzai, regional leaders such as Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, and other rulers in Central Asia and across Russia have been seen donning the popular fashion accessory.

Mohammad Aref, head of the agency for karakul production in Balkh, said that Afghanistan exported almost 500,000 skins to the West and across the region just four years ago.

However, there has been a gradual decline in volume since then, with just 17,000 pieces exported to Uzbekistan last year.

Mirwais Ibrahimi, a karakul trader in Balkh, said: “Until a few years ago, 280 shops were selling karakul skins, but now only three or four are left.”

He traces the decline to growing opposition, both at home and abroad, to the “barbaric” practice of ripping the skin off newborn lambs to source the fur.

“In Afghanistan and abroad, the killing of the newborn lamb is regarded as a cruel act. That is why there isn’t much desire for it as there was some years ago,” he told Arab News.

Soon after the birth of a lamb, dealers peel the pelt from its skin before it is fed by the ewe, “because it affects the quality of the skin.”

Rahmat Shah, a dealer in Jowjzan, another key karakul region, said: “Some butchers in the past would even cut through the abdomen of a pregnant sheep to take its baby, but the practice was stopped as it was considered too cruel.”

Kazim Hamayoun, a senior official in Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency, said that no regulation or law bans the practice, “which is a concern.”

He added: “Indeed, it is a major concern. The younger a karakul, the higher its value, and the quality of the fur will be finer, too. It is a serious threat to wildlife.

“We do not have anything preventing this — no law or directive. We have distributed leaflets informing dealers about it, but have not done a poll to determine its impact. We hope to launch a national dialogue on this.”

However, Shah lamented the loss of business and the end of an Afghan tradition.

“There is no business at all. We do not know how we and the government can save this industry and tradition from being buried in history forever.”

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Indian state in lockdown after ‘super spreader’ poll

Indian state in lockdown after ‘super spreader’ poll
Updated 16 May 2021

Indian state in lockdown after ‘super spreader’ poll

Indian state in lockdown after ‘super spreader’ poll
  • Daily deaths across country stay near 4,000 as total cases reach 24.37m

KOLKATA: An Indian state stricken by coronavirus after mass rallies were held for a key election ordered a two-week lockdown on Saturday in a bid to halt the spread.

All offices, stores and public transport in West Bengal were told to close for 15 days after the region reported its biggest spike yet in deaths and infections.

West Bengal along with a host of southern states are bearing the brunt of a COVID-19 surge in India that has taken the nation’s infection total to nearly 25 million with more than 265,000 deaths.

The strain of the virus responsible has been declared a variant of “global concern” by the World Health Organization.

West Bengal accounted for 21,000 of India’s 326,000 new cases reported on Saturday and hospitals in the state say they are swamped with patients.

In the past 24 hours, India tally of COVID-19 cases reached 24.37 million, with 3,890 deaths, for a toll of 266,207, Health Ministry data shows.  Prime Minister Narendra Modi drew tens of thousands of people to rallies in the region last month ahead of state elections in which his ruling nationalist party failed to unseat Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Banerjee also staged major rallies ahead of the polls and on Friday her brother died from coronavirus in hospital.

Many experts have said the election campaign was a “super-spreader.”

In the resort state of Goa, more than 70 people have died in four days from medical oxygen shortages at hospitals, an opposition party in the region said.

A court ordered emergency supplies of oxygen to be sent to Goa Medical College Hospital to prevent more deaths.

The state’s main opposition party said the patients died from a lack of oxygen but the government said the cause of death had not been determined.

Goa authorities nevertheless said they had asked the central government to nearly double the state’s oxygen supply to 40 tons per day.

Coronavirus restrictions in Goa had been relatively relaxed until the current wave of infections. 

The virus is now causing more than 60 deaths a day in the region and Goa has one of India’s highest infection rates.

In Geneva, the World Health Organization’s chief said India was a huge concern, with the second year of the pandemic set to be more deadly than the first.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’s remarks to an online meeting came after Modi sounded the alarm over the rapid spread of the disease through the vast countryside.

India reported its smallest daily increase in coronavirus infections in nearly three weeks on Saturday, with deaths still near the 4,000-mark, but federal health officials said cases and fatalities are rapidly stabilizing in this wave
of the pandemic.

The overall rate of positive cases per tests had dipped to 19.8 percent this week from 21.9 percent last week, federal health officials said in a briefing, but warned that cautiousness must continue.

The slow growth may also reflect test rates that are at their lowest since May 9.

Randeep Guleria, director of AIIMS Hospital in Delhi, warned that secondary infections like mucormycosis or “black fungus” were adding to India’s mortality rate with states having reported more than 500 cases recently in COVID-19 patients with diabetes.

Earlier in the day, Modi told officials to focus on distributing resources including oxygen supplies in the hard-hit rural areas, according to a government statement.

He also called for more testing in India’s vast countryside, which is witnessing a rapid spread of the virus, it added.

Four thousand WHO-supported oxygen concentrators arrived in Delhi on Saturday and will be rushed to states over the next 2-3 days to support the COVID-19 response, Tedros tweeted.

During the past week, the south Asian nation has added about 1.7 million new cases and more than 20,000 deaths in a second wave of infections that has overwhelmed hospitals and medical staff.


Japan, US and France hold military drill

Japan, US and France hold military drill
Updated 16 May 2021

Japan, US and France hold military drill

Japan, US and France hold military drill
  • Around 200 troops took part in Saturday’s exercises

TOKYO: Dozens of Japanese, American and French troops landed amid pouring rain from a CH-47 transport helicopter onto a grassy field at a training area in southern Japan, part of Saturday’s joint scenario of defending a remote island from an enemy invasion.

The three nations’ first joint drills on Japanese soil — dubbed “ARC21” and which began on Tuesday — come as they seek step up military ties amid growing Chinese assertiveness in the region.

Japanese soldiers and their counterparts from the French army and the US Marine Corps also conducted an urban warfare drill using a concrete building elsewhere at the Japanese Self-Defense Force’s Kirishima Training Area in the southern Miyazaki prefecture. 

Around 200 troops took part in Saturday’s exercises.

On Saturday, the three countries were also joined by Australia in an expanded naval exercise involving 11 warships in the East China Sea, where tensions with China are rising around the island of Taiwan.

The drills come as Japan looks to bolster its military capabilities amid a deepening territorial row with China in regional seas. 

Japan is increasingly concerned about Chinese activity in and around Japanese-claimed waters surrounding the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, which Beijing also claims and calls Diaoyu.

Since the end of World War II, Japan’s constitution has limited the use of force to self defense. 

Japan in recent years has continued to expand its military role, capability and budget.

Japan’s Vice Defense Minister Yasuhide Nakayama, who observed the exercise, stressed the significance of French participation in the joint exercises regularly held between Japan and the US, and often with Australia.

“It was a valuable opportunity for the Japanese Self-Defense Force to maintain and strengthen its strategic capability necessary to defend our remote islands,” Nakayama said. 

“Together we were able to show to the rest of the world our commitment in defending Japanese land, territorial seas and airspace.”

France, which has territories in the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific, has strategic interests in the region.

“It is obviously very important for us because we need to be side by side with people who are sharing this part of the world,” Lt. Col. Henri Marcaillou from the French army told reporters after Saturday’s exercise.

US Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jeremy Nelson said the three countries showed they can work together “for a common goal or common cause.”

Britain, which recently adopted a policy of deeper engagement in the region, is sending the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth and its strike group, due to arrive in the region later this year. 

Germany is also set to deploy a frigate to the region.

Japan and the US have been promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific vision of defense and economic framework based on democratic principles in the area in a group known as the Quad, which also includes Australia and India, seen as a move to counter China’s escalating influence in the region.

China has criticized the US-Japanese framework as an exclusionist bloc based on a Cold War-era mindset.


UK’s Labour slams Israel over destruction of media building

UK’s Labour slams Israel over destruction of media building
Updated 15 May 2021

UK’s Labour slams Israel over destruction of media building

UK’s Labour slams Israel over destruction of media building
  • ‘Targeting of media offices in Gaza completely unacceptable. Press freedom is a fundamental right’

LONDON: Britain’s main opposition Labour Party on Saturday branded an Israeli airstrike that leveled a media building in Gaza as “completely unacceptable,” as up to 100,000 protesters marched through central London to show solidarity with the Palestinian people.

The high-rise building, which hosted offices for journalists from international outlets such as the Associated Press and Al Jazeera, was destroyed on Saturday afternoon.

The strike leveled the building an hour after people were told to evacuate. It followed an earlier Israeli attack in Gaza City that killed eight children and two other Palestinians from an extended family.

“The targeting of media offices in Gaza by Israeli air strikes is completely unacceptable. Press freedom is a fundamental right,” said Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy.

“The devastating escalation of violence — including Hamas rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and air strikes on the Gaza City refugee camp — has cost more civilian lives and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” she added.

“The UK must join our international partners in calling for an immediate ceasefire, an end to all rocket attacks and air strikes, and work with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to prevent this dangerous situation deteriorating further.”

Labour MP Diane Abbott told the crowd at the London demonstration: “We must remember we’re part of an international movement. This is a worldwide movement for justice.”

She added: “Palestinian people are having their land seized ... and they’re now being killed in their homes. All of this is illegal.”