Landslides kill 36 in India, dozens missing

Landslides kill 36 in India, dozens missing
In this handout photo taken on July 22, 2021, by Indian Air Force (IAF) shows villages in low lying areas inundated with flood water after heavy monsoon rains in Ratnagiri, district of Maharashtra. (AFP)
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Updated 23 July 2021

Landslides kill 36 in India, dozens missing

Landslides kill 36 in India, dozens missing
  • The Navy and Air Force meanwhile joined rescue efforts after the heavy rains caused floods that left thousands stranded
  • Rescue efforts were being hampered by landslides blocking roads, including the main highway between Mumbai and Goa

MUMBAI: Thirty-six people have been killed in landslides caused by monsoon rains in India, authorities said Friday.
As many as 40 other people were missing after the three separate landslides on Thursday in the Raigad district of the western state of Maharashtra.
“At least 35 to 40 people are still trapped, we are trying to rescue them,” a local official said, adding that “36 people have died after there were three landslides yesterday in the district caused by very heavy rainfull.”
The Navy and Air Force meanwhile joined rescue efforts after the heavy rains caused floods that left thousands stranded.
Rescue efforts were being hampered by landslides blocking roads, including the main highway between Mumbai and Goa.
Water levels rose to 3.5 meters (12 feet) in areas of Chiplun, a city 250 kilometers (160 miles) from Mumbai, following 24 hours of uninterrupted rain that caused the Vashishti river to overflow, submerging roads and homes.
The Indian Navy deployed seven rescue teams equipped with rubber boats, life jackets and lifebuoys to the affected areas, along with a helicopter to airlift marooned residents. Specialist Navy divers accompanied each team.
India’s meteorological department has issued red alerts for several regions in the state, indicating that heavy rainfall will continue for the next few days.
Flooding and landslides are common during India’s treacherous monsoon season between June and September, while also causing poorly constructed buildings and walls to collapse.
At least 34 people were killed after several homes were crushed by a collapsed wall and a landslide triggered in Mumbai, capital on Maharashtra, last weekend.
Rainwater also inundated a water purification complex, disrupting supply “in most of the parts of Mumbai,” a megacity of 20 million people, civic authorities said.
Last month, 12 people were killed when a building collapsed in a Mumbai slum.
And last September, 39 people died when a three-story apartment block collapsed in Bhiwandi near the financial capital.
Climate change is making India’s monsoons stronger, according to a report from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) published in April.
The report warned of potentially severe consequences for food, farming and the economy affecting nearly a fifth of the world’s population.
“Since Indian society is overall affected by the monsoon in a very strong way, stronger variability produces problems for agriculture, but also for the organization of public life,” said Anders Levermann from PIK and Columbia University.
Last year, five of the most costly extreme weather events in the world were related to Asia’s unusually rainy monsoon, according to a tally by the charity Christian Aid.
In 2013, some 6,000 people died when flash floods and landslides swept away entire villages in the Indian state of Uttarakhand as rivers swollen by monsoon rains overflowed.
ng-amu-stu/rbu


COVID-19 llama treatment shows positive signs

COVID-19 llama treatment shows positive signs
Updated 18 sec ago

COVID-19 llama treatment shows positive signs

COVID-19 llama treatment shows positive signs
  • Spray uses “nanobodies” produced by llamas, camels when they get an infection
  • Immunologist: “It’s very promising” and “exciting”

LONDON: A treatment derived from a llama has shown great promise in the fight against COVID-19. 

The product is a treatment made of “nanobodies,” which are simpler versions of antibodies, produced by llamas and camels when they get an infection.

Scientists have said it could be transformed into a simple nasal spray to treat early COVID-19 infection.

Prof. James Naismith described nanobodies as “fantastically exciting,” saying COVID-19-infected rodents treated with the spray had totally recovered within six days.

Public Health England has said it is looking at the “most effective SARS-CoV-2 neutralising agents” it has ever tested, and it could be used in human tests soon. 

The virus-specific nanobodies can attach to viruses and bacteria that invade the human body. It acts as a form of warning, allowing the rest of the body’s immune system to prepare to destroy the nascent infection. 

These nanobodies found by the UK researchers in llamas were shown to bind particularly tightly. “That’s where we had some help from Fifi the llama,” said Naismith.

Fifi was vaccinated with a tiny, non-infectious piece of the viral protein. The researchers then recovered and isolated the strongest nanobodies in a sample of the llama’s blood. 

From the sample of the potent nanobodies, the researchers were able to grow large quantities of its best molecules.

Prof. Sheena Cruickshank, an immunologist from the University of Manchester, said the new development is “exciting but still quite early.”

She added: “We need more data on efficacy and safety before we move to human trials. However it’s very promising nonetheless, and the fact it may be cheaper and easier to administer is a plus.

“COVID-19 will be, unfortunately, with us for a while yet, so more treatments will be needed.”

Naismith said: “Not all of the world is being vaccinated at the same speed. And there remains a risk of new variants capable of bypassing vaccine immunity emerging.”


German FM says Taliban ‘show’ at UN would serve no purpose

German FM says Taliban ‘show’ at UN would serve no purpose
Updated 22 September 2021

German FM says Taliban ‘show’ at UN would serve no purpose

German FM says Taliban ‘show’ at UN would serve no purpose
  • UN credentials committee is reviewing a request from the Taliban to address the General Assembly
  • "To schedule a show at the United Nations won't serve anything," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters

UNITED NATIONS, United States: Germany on Wednesday voiced opposition to the Taliban’s request to address the United Nations, saying the “show” by Afghanistan’s new rulers would serve no purpose.
The UN credentials committee is reviewing a request from the Taliban to address the General Assembly on behalf of Afghanistan, which is still represented at the world body by the ambassador from the government that collapsed last month.
“To schedule a show at the United Nations won’t serve anything,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.
“What’s important are concrete deeds and not just words, including on human rights and in particular the rights of women and on an inclusive government and distancing from terrorist groups,” he said.
Maas said it was important to communicate with the Taliban, but said: “The UN General Assembly is not the appropriate venue for that.”
A senior US official suggested that the credentials committee, which includes the United States, would not make a decision before the General Assembly ends on Monday.
“It will take some time to deliberate,” the official said.
No nation has recognized the Taliban, whose brutal 1996-2001 regime enjoyed recognition from only three countries — Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.


France's envoy to return to US after Macron, Biden talks

France's envoy to return to US after Macron, Biden talks
Updated 22 September 2021

France's envoy to return to US after Macron, Biden talks

France's envoy to return to US after Macron, Biden talks
  • The two heads of state “have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence,” the Elysee and the White House said in a joint statement.
  • The French ambassador will “have intensive work with senior U.S. officials” after his return to the United States

PARIS: France will send its ambassador back to Washington next week after French President Emmanuel Macron and President Joe Biden agreed in a phone call Wednesday to meet next month over a submarine dispute.
The two heads of state “have decided to open a process of in-depth consultations, aimed at creating the conditions for ensuring confidence,” the Elysee and the White House said in a joint statement. Macron and Biden will meet at the end of October in Europe, the statement said.
In an unprecedented move, France recalled its ambassador after the US, Australia and Britain announced a new Indo-Pacific defense deal last week. As part of the pact, Australia will cancel a multibillion-dollar contract to buy diesel-electric French submarines and acquire US nuclear-powered vessels instead.
The French ambassador will “have intensive work with senior US officials” after his return to the United States, the statement said.
Biden and Macron agreed “that the situation would have benefitted from open consultations among allies on matters of strategic interest to France and our European partners,” it said. Biden “conveyed his ongoing commitment in that regard.”
Biden reaffirmed in the statement “the strategic importance of French and European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.”
The European Union unveiled last week a new strategy for boosting economic, political and defense ties in the vast area stretching from India and China through Japan to Southeast Asia and eastward past New Zealand to the Pacific.
The United States also “recognizes the importance of a stronger and more capable European defense, that contributes positively to transatlantic and global security and is complementary to NATO,” the statement said.
Earlier Wednesday, Macron’s office said the French president was expecting “clarifications and clear commitments” from Biden, who had requested the call.
French officials described as a “crisis of trust” last week’s announcement of the Indo-Pacific deal, with Macron being formally informed only a few hours beforehand.
Paris is calling for “acts, not words only,” Macron’s office said.
France’s European Union partners agreed Tuesday to put the dispute at the top of the bloc’s political agenda, including at an EU summit next month.
The French presidency categorically denied a report by Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper published on Wednesday saying Macron could offer the country’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council to the European Union if the bloc backs his plans on EU defense.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson dismissed French anger over the submarine deal, saying French officials should “get a grip.” Using both French and English words, he added they should give him a “break.”
Speaking to reporters on a visit to Washington, Johnson said the deal was “fundamentally a great step forward for global security. It’s three very like-minded allies standing shoulder-to-shoulder, creating a new partnership for the sharing of technology.”
“It’s not exclusive. It’s not trying to shoulder anybody out. It’s not adversarial toward China, for instance.”
The deal has widely been seen as part of American efforts to counter a more assertive China in the Indo-Pacific region.


Afghan women MPs arrive in Greece on way to US

Afghan women MPs arrive in Greece on way to US
Updated 22 September 2021

Afghan women MPs arrive in Greece on way to US

Afghan women MPs arrive in Greece on way to US
  • The women, whose identities were not revealed, left Afghanistan with assistance from the New York-based NGO Zaka Khan
  • Greece is currently home to 40,000 long-term Afghan refugees and asylum seekers, making it the largest migrant population in the country

ATHENS: Greece on Wednesday said it was temporarily hosting six Afghan women MPs and their families who fled Afghanistan ahead of eventual resettlement in the United States.
Greece was hosting a “symbolic” number of Afghans who are “defenders of fundamental values, freedom of expression and gender equality,” the foreign ministry said.
“Six Afghan MPs arrived in Athens via Tbilisi (Georgia) a few hours ago, accompanied by family members,” it said, revising an earlier statement referring to seven MPs.
“(They) will be hosted in Greece for a short time until resettlement procedures to the United States are completed,” it said.
The women, whose identities were not revealed, left Afghanistan with assistance from the New York-based NGO Zaka Khan, the ministry said.
Greece took part in US-led evacuation efforts in August to remove a small number of people from Afghanistan following the Taliban return to power after two decades.
A ministry source said Greece has so far taken in around 65 Afghan evacuees, and evacuated three Greek nationals.
Greece is currently home to 40,000 long-term Afghan refugees and asylum seekers, making it the largest migrant population in the country, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

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UK climate activists face prison for blocking highways

UK climate activists face prison for blocking highways
Updated 22 September 2021

UK climate activists face prison for blocking highways

UK climate activists face prison for blocking highways
  • Members of campaign group Insulate Britain have shut down parts of London's M25 highway
  • “Invading a motorway is reckless and puts lives at risk,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote on Twitter

LONDON: Environmental activists who have repeatedly blocked Britain’s busiest highway face possible imprisonment after a judge granted an injunction against the protesters, Britain’s transport secretary said Wednesday.
Members of campaign group Insulate Britain have shut down parts of London’s M25 highway, which circles the British capital, five times in just over a week by sitting on the ground, painting the name of their group on the road and raising placards in front of traffic. Some have also targeted other highways.
Police have arrested dozens of the protesters, who demand the government improve home insulation to reduce emissions from heating and powering homes.
“Invading a motorway is reckless and puts lives at risk,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote on Twitter. “I asked National Highways to seek an injunction against M25 protesters which a judge granted last night.”
The injunction means that activists will face contempt of court with possible imprisonment if they continue blocking roads.
Insulate Britain spokeswoman Zoe Cohen said protesters “understand that the risks they are taking are because that we have tried everything else to make the government protect us from the predicted impacts of climate chaos.”
“That involves the loss of all that we cherish, our society, our way of life and law and order,” she told BBC radio.
Cohen said her group wants the government to update insulation in social housing by 2025 and all homes by 2030, “because this is the most effective way to reduce emissions and save lives from fuel poverty.”
The group said it will end its campaign as soon as it hears a “meaningful commitment” by the government to its demands.
The High Court order, which officially came into force on Wednesday, prohibits anyone from “blocking, endangering, slowing down, preventing, or obstructing the free flow of traffic onto or along or off the M25 for the purposes of protesting.”