Virus-hit Mumbai survives cyclone scare

Virus-hit Mumbai survives cyclone scare
Marine Drive wears a deserted look before cyclone Nisarga makes landfall in Mumbai, India, Wednesday, June 3, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 04 June 2020

Virus-hit Mumbai survives cyclone scare

Virus-hit Mumbai survives cyclone scare
  • Early preparations save city from catastrophe, officials say

NEW DELHI: A severe cyclone hit India’s commercial hub Mumbai on Wednesday, bringing the city to a standstill with transport and flights suspended for several hours, and more than 50,000 people evacuated from low-lying coastal areas of the city. 

Earlier, experts described cyclone Nisarga as the first severe storm to threaten India’s financial capital in more than 70 years.

Fearing the worst, residents took precautions early on.

“Last night we were asked to move to a nearby school away from the sea because of the cyclone,” a Mumbai-based fisherman told Arab News. 

The cyclone came at a time when the western state of Maharashtra, whose capital is Mumbai, is in the grip of the coronavirus outbreak. The state accounts for more than 70,000 COVID-19 cases out of India’s total of 201,000. 

It was a challenge for municipal authorities to safeguard and move thousands of people to temporary accommodation and maintain social distancing restrictions.

“We are alert to the coronavirus crisis and decided to test every evacuee,” Milind Dilip Kumar, deputy spokesperson for the Greater Mumbai corporation,  told Arab News. 

Authorities also moved a temporary quarantine center to a safer location to protect people from the cyclone. 

“Around 220 people were living in a makeshift quarantine center in the Worli Kurla area of the city, and since it was closer to sea we decided to shift them to a safer location,” Kumar added. 

Meanwhile, cyclone Nisarga, which was supposed to hit the capital and adjoining area with “unusual force,” changed its direction, saving the city from havoc. 

“The cyclone has weakened and skirted the city. There would be only mild wind and some rain," K. J. Ramesh, director general of the Indian meteorological department, told Arab News. 

Mumbai, home to 20 million people, is one of the worst coronavirus-affected cities in India with more than 1,000 recorded deaths.

Medical professionals say that, had the cyclone hit with full impact, it would have been a "double whammy.”

“The city was already overstretched with most government hospitals already in bad shape because of the overflowing COVID-19 cases. Had the cyclone created havoc the city could not have coped with this extra burden,” a medical professional working with a government hospital in Mumbai told Arab News. 

Mumbai resident Madhu Nainan feels a sense of relief that the cyclone missed the city.

“The city was already besieged by a crisis, and if the cyclone had created the same kind of damage as the cyclone Amphan did in (the eastern Indian state) of Bengal a couple of weeks ago, it would have been a double whammy for Mumbai,” Nainan told Arab News.


US decision to withdraw troops dismays some Somalis

US Marines file into an amphibious vehicle for evacuation from Mogadishu, Somalia, after a bloody two-year UN peacekeeping mission. (Reuters/File)
Updated 55 min 20 sec ago

US decision to withdraw troops dismays some Somalis

US decision to withdraw troops dismays some Somalis
  • The US program to expand Danab to 3,000 men was supposed to continue until 2027, Sheikh said, but its future is unclear

ADDIS ABABA: US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Somalia in the waning days of his presidency triggered dismay on Saturday from some Somalis, who appealed to the incoming US president to reverse the decision.
“The US decision to pull troops out of Somalia at this critical stage in the successful fight against Al-Shabab and their global terrorist network is extremely regrettable,” Sen. Ayub Ismail Yusuf told Reuters in a statement, referring to the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab insurgency.
“US troops have made a huge contribution and had great impact on the training and operational effectiveness of Somali soldiers,” said Yusuf, a member of Somalia’s Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.
He tagged US President-elect Joe Biden in a tweet criticizing the decision.
The Somali government could not immediately be reached for comment early on Saturday to Friday’s decision to withdraw almost all the roughly 700 US troops by Jan. 15.
Somalia’s fragile internationally backed government is due to hold parliamentary elections this month and national elections in early February, a precursor to the planned drawdown of the 17,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force.
US troops have been in Somalia, mostly supporting Somali special forces known as Danab in operations against Al-Shabab, whose attacks in nations like Kenya and Uganda have killed hundreds of civilians, including Americans.
Danab punches above its weight because regular forces are often poorly trained and equipped, frequently desert their posts or become enmeshed in power struggles between the national and regional governments.
If the withdrawal is permanent, “it will have a huge toll on counterterrorism efforts,” said Col. Ahmed Abdullahi Sheikh, who served for three years until 2019 as the Danab commander.
He fought alongside US forces, he said, and during his command two Americans and more than a hundred of his own men had died. Both US and Somali forces opposed the withdrawal, he said.
The US program to expand Danab to 3,000 men was supposed to continue until 2027, Sheikh said, but its future is unclear.
Airstrikes will likely continue from bases in Kenya and Djibouti, which could also provide a launchpad for cross-border operations. Rights group Amnesty International says the airstrikes have killed at least 16 civilians in the past three years.
The US withdrawal comes at a turbulent time in the region. Ethiopia, which is a major troop contributor to the peacekeeping forces and has thousands more troops in Somalia bilaterally, is distracted by an internal conflict that broke out last month. It has disarmed hundreds of its peacekeepers already.
Somalia has been riven by civil war since 1991, but the entry of the peacekeeping force in 2008 helped incubate fledgling government structures that allowed for gradual reforms of the military, such as a biometric system to pay soldiers and the formation of Danab.
But many problems with the Somali military remain, including corruption and political interference. Perhaps a withdrawal will force Somalia to confront them, said Sheikh. Or perhaps it will make them worse.