At least 9 dead as heavy rain hits France, Italy, Greece

A man walks past a car moved by the force of flood water after storms in Kineta village, about 68 kilometers west of Athens. (AP Photo)
Updated 26 November 2019

At least 9 dead as heavy rain hits France, Italy, Greece

  • The administration for France’s Var region said four people died, including a couple in their 70s from the perfume capital of Grasse whose car got submerged
  • The worst flooding in Greece occurred at the seaside resort of Kineta, where mudslides came from a nearby forest fire-damaged hillside

PARIS: At least nine people have died after heavy rain slammed the Riviera coasts of France and Italy, trapping travelers in their cars, and caused flooding in parts of Greece.
Some roads remained closed Monday on the French Riviera, and rivers were still rising in Italy after the weekend flooding.
The administration for France’s Var region said four people died, including a couple in their 70s from the perfume capital of Grasse whose car got submerged. Another died after a French rescue boat sank in the Mediterranean and another was found dead in a car.
In Greece, the bodies of the two men believed to be tourists were recovered late Sunday and early Monday near the port of Antirio, 250 kilometers (155 miles) west of Athens after a sailboat they were using was caught in the severe weather.
Another two women died when storms hit the country’s eastern Aegean Sea islands late Monday, state ERT TV said. One died when her basement room on Rhodes flooded, while the other drowned on the island of Kos when she went for a swim in stormy seas.
And in northern Italy, a woman was found dead after the Bomida river swept away her car. Rescuers are also searching for possible victims after a landslide caused the collapse of a stretch of an elevated highway near the flooded city of Savona.
Firefighter commander Emanuele Gizzi told SKY TG24 Monday that “we still don’t have the certainty that there is absolutely no one” missing.
Drivers who witnessed the collapse were able to stop in time. There were no reports of witnesses seeing vehicles fall with the roadway, but the search continued as a precaution.
The collapse of the raised highway, just 15 months after a deadly bridge collapse in Genoa, has raised concerns anew about the safety of Italy’s highways, a large part of which are viaducts traversing mountainous terrain.
Meanwhile, the level of the Ticino River in the Lombard city of Pavia was continuing to rise, flooding streets by about 15 centimeters and forcing some residents to evacuate.
In France, rivers started receding slowly but many families who evacuated still couldn’t return home. Authorities worked to restore electricity and clear roads of fallen trees and mud.
In Greece, hundreds of homes were flooded following an overnight storm that affected areas west of Athens.
Torrential rain and mudslides caused the closure of the highway linking the Greek capital to the western port city of Patras.
The worst flooding occurred at the seaside resort of Kineta, where mudslides came from a nearby forest fire-damaged hillside. Several dozen people trapped in their cars and in flooded homes were rescued by the Fire Service.


Pakistan takes steps to turn locust infestation into farming benefit

Updated 04 August 2020

Pakistan takes steps to turn locust infestation into farming benefit

  • Pakistan’s worst locust infestation in about 30 years started in June 2019

ISLAMABAD: First the idea was to feed them to chickens, now the plan is to grind them into fertilizer — as more locust swarms threaten Pakistan’s crops, a project aims to test ways of killing and using the voracious pests for the benefit of local communities.
Pakistan’s worst locust infestation in about 30 years started in June 2019, when the insects came over from Iran in a surge climate experts link to changing conditions conducive to the spread of the insects.
This summer, the locusts are breeding locally, says the Pakistani government, which is trying to head off another attack by spraying pesticides on newborn locusts — called hoppers because they cannot fly — in desert areas on the Indian border.
But worries that the pesticides could be harmful to plants, animals and people have motivated researchers to seek chemical-free methods of cutting the locust population.
“We wanted to come up with a locust control project that would be environmentally friendly and sustainable,” said biotechnologist Johar Ali.
For Ali and his colleague Muhammad Khurshid, who was working for the food ministry at the time, the answer was chicken feed.
In February, the state-run Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) sent Ali and Khurshid, now with the privatization ministry, to implement a three-day trial in Punjab province in eastern Pakistan.
During an infestation this spring, villagers in Okara district plucked locusts — which are largely immobile at night — off trees in a nearby forest, gathering about 20 tons of the flying insects.
The project team bought the bugs for 20 Pakistani rupees a kilo, then sold them to a nearby processing plant, which dried them and mixed them into chicken feed, Ali said.
The aim was to help control the locust surge in forested and heavily populated areas, where widespread pesticide spraying is not possible, while also generating income for communities hit by the swarms.
“It’s an out-of-box solution,” Ali said. “It could easily be scaled up in our populated rural areas. Yes, in our desert areas where locusts breed, chemical sprays make sense — but not in areas where we have farms with crops, livestock and people.”
In June, the government shifted the focus from chicken feed to compost, after PARC decided fertilizer was a safer and more feasible use for the insects.
Last month, communities living in the desert areas of Cholistan, Tharparkar, Nara and Thal were trained on how to catch locusts as they head there to breed for the season.
The next step is to look at how to turn the pests into organic fertilizer, explained PARC chairman Muhammad Azeem Khan.
By providing a “slow and continuous” release of nutrients, the compost could help farmers increase their yields by 30 percent and cut their use of chemical fertilizer in half, he said.
Pakistan’s current locust problem started with what Muhammad Tariq Khan, technical director of the food security ministry’s plant protection department, called a “climate change-induced international locust crisis” in Yemen and East Africa.
“Two big cyclones in 2018 dumped enough water in a desert area called the Empty Quarter in the Arabian Peninsula for three generations of locusts to grow undetected,” he said.
Torn by civil war, Yemen was unable to focus on exterminating the pests, which lay their eggs beneath the soil, and so “they came up like a bomb,” Khan said.
July’s monsoon rains arrived 10 days earlier than usual in Pakistan, creating moist soil conditions favorable for the locusts to breed in the border desert area, Khan said.
Swarms are also expected to arrive soon in Pakistan from Somalia, he said.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates losses to agriculture from locusts this year could be as high as 353 billion rupees ($2.2 billion) for winter crops like wheat and potatoes and about 464 billion rupees for summer crops.
“You can’t eradicate locusts, but you can control them. In this situation we have to rely on chemicals,” Khan said.
So far, insecticide-spraying operations have been carried out in 32 affected districts — both desert and cropping areas — spread over about 1 million hectares.
Pakistan’s pesticide-spraying operations had made it impossible to ensure the locusts eaten by poultry would be chemical-free, said PARC’s Azeem Khan.
“Sprayed locusts, if used as feed, are a threat to human health,” he said.
The new project, which has been approved by the National Locust Control Center, will entail buying living and dead locusts from local communities at 25 rupees per kilo.
The bugs will then be mixed with bio-waste such as manure and vegetation to turn them into compost, Azeem Khan said.
PARC is now analyzing samples of dead and decomposing locusts that have been sprayed with insecticide to assess the levels of chemical residue on them, he noted.
The PARC chairman said the government had earmarked $15 million for the project, with just over half going to the communities and the rest toward compost-processing.