UN warns hunger is expected to rise in 23 global hotspots

Ethiopian mothers and their babies from Tigray region are seen at a North African refugee camp with volunteers of the Action Against Hunger, a global humanitarian organization helping refugees around the world. (Action Against Hunger photo)
Ethiopian mothers and their babies from Tigray region are seen at a North African refugee camp with volunteers of the Action Against Hunger, a global humanitarian organization helping refugees around the world. (Action Against Hunger photo)
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Updated 31 July 2021

UN warns hunger is expected to rise in 23 global hotspots

UN warns hunger is expected to rise in 23 global hotspots
  • Ethiopia is at the top of the list, with  thenumber of people facing starvation and death expected to rise to 401,000 — the highest number since the 2011 famine in Somalia — if humanitarian aid isn’t provided quickly

UNITED NATIONS: Hunger is expected to rise in 23 global hotspots in the next three months with the highest alerts for “catastrophic” situations in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region, southern Madagascar, Yemen, South Sudan and northern Nigeria, two UN agencies warned Friday.
The Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Program said in a new report on “Hunger Hotspots” between August and November that “acute food insecurity is likely to further deteriorate.”
They put Ethiopia at the top of the list, saying the number of people facing starvation and death is expected to rise to 401,000 — the highest number since the 2011 famine in Somalia — if humanitarian aid isn’t provided quickly.
In southern Madagascar, which has been hit by the worst drought in the past 40 years, pests affecting staple crops, and rising food prices — 14,000 people are expected to be pushed into “catastrophic” acute food insecurity marked by starvation and death by September. And that number is expected to double by the end of the year with 28,000 people needing urgent help, the two agencies said.
In a report in May, 16 organizations including FAO and WFP said at least 155 million people faced acute hunger in 2020, including 133,000 who needed urgent food to prevent widespread death from starvation, a 20 million increase from 2019.
“Acute hunger is increasing not only in scale but also severity,” FAO and WFP said in Friday’s report. “Overall, over 41 million people worldwide are now at risk of falling into famine or famine-like conditions, unless they receive immediate life and livelihood-saving assistance.”
The two Rome-based agencies called for urgent humanitarian action to save lives in the 23 hotspots, saying help is especially critical in the five highest alert places to prevent famine and death.
“These deteriorating trends are mostly driven by conflict dynamics, as well as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” they said. “These include food price spikes, movement restrictions that limit market and pastoralists activities alike, rising inflation, decreased purchasing power, and an early and prolonged lean season” for crops.
FAO and WFP said South Sudan, Yemen and Nigeria remain at the highest alert level, joined for the first time by Ethiopia because of Tigray and southern Madagascar.
In South Sudan, they said, “famine was most likely happening in parts of Pibor county between October and November 2020, and was expected to continue in the absence of sustained and timely humanitarian assistance” while two other areas remain at risk of famine.
“In Yemen, the risk of more people facing famine-like conditions may have been contained, but gains remain extremely fragile,” the UN agencies said. “In Nigeria, populations in conflict-affected areas in the northeast may be at risk of reaching catastrophic food insecurity levels.”
Nine other countries also have high numbers of people facing “critical food insecurity” coupled with worsening drivers of hunger — Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Colombia, Congo, Haiti, Honduras, Sudan and Syria, the report said.
Six countries have been added to the hotspot list since the agencies’ March report — Chad, Colombia, North Korea, Myanmar, Kenya and Nicaragua, it said. Three other countries also facing acute food insecurity are Somalia, Guatemala and Niger, while Venezuela wasn’t included due to lack of recent data, it said.
In Afghanistan, FAO and WFP said 3.5 million people are expected to face the second-highest level of food insecurity, characterized by acute malnutrition and deaths, from June to November. They said the withdrawal of US and NATO forces as early as August could lead to escalating violence, additional displaced people and difficulties in distributing humanitarian assistance.
In reclusive North Korea, which is under tough UN sanctions, the agencies said “concerns are mounting over the food security situation ... due to strained access and the potential impact of trade limitations, which may lead to food gaps.” While data is “extremely limited,” they said recent figures from the country’s Central Bureau o Stations and an FAO analysis “highlight a worrying cereal deficit.”


Indonesia mulls reopening Bali for foreign tourists, but with caution

Indonesia mulls reopening Bali for foreign tourists, but with caution
Updated 21 sec ago

Indonesia mulls reopening Bali for foreign tourists, but with caution

Indonesia mulls reopening Bali for foreign tourists, but with caution
  • ‘Don’t want to let our guard down,’ officials say amid measures to curb new variants of virus from entering archipelago

JAKARTA: Indonesia is looking to welcome back foreign tourists to its resort island of Bali in October after a 98 percent drop in the number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country since its worst peak in July, officials said.

Last week, authorities eased COVID-19 restrictions on the tourist island, but international visitors will still face stricter health protocols on arrival to curb the spread of new variants.

Some measures include providing vaccination certificates, undergoing an eight-day quarantine and taking three PCR tests before entering the island.

“We are preparing Bali for (hosting) the G20, so we will have the trial by reopening Bali for foreigners,” Sandiaga Uno, the tourism and creative economy minister, told a press briefing on Monday.

“We don’t want to let our guard down; that would enable other new variants to enter Indonesia like the delta,” he said.

Officials said that some of the countries to be welcomed back could include France, Ukraine, Russia, Austria, Poland, South Korea, New Zealand, Singapore and Japan.

The government assesses the outbreak situation every week, and Uno said that authorities were approaching the reopening very carefully to avoid a third wave of the pandemic after the second wave — triggered by the highly contagious delta variant — ravaged Indonesia, especially its most populated island of Java and Bali, in July and August.

Indonesia is set to take over the G20 chairmanship in 2022 from this year’s host, Italy.

It is a year earlier than the initial schedule, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi, after India — which was set to hold the 2022 presidency — agreed to swap the schedule with Indonesia for 2023.

One of the optional locations in Bali to host the G20 main events would be in Nusa Dua, Uno said, responding to a question from Arab News.

Bali’s Nusa Dua resort cluster, where numerous luxury hotels are located, has hosted other international summits for Indonesia in the past as well.

However, Uno said that the government remained cautious and would reopen Bali and other tourist destinations in stages based on how the situation developed.

Bali is heavily reliant on tourism for its economy, and its regional GDP severely contracted during the pandemic last year following Indonesia’s suspension of visa-free travel for foreign tourists.

In neighboring Lombok Island, adjacent to Bali’s east, its main tourist destinations have also become sleepy towns due to the absence of international visitors.

Some resort hotels on Lombok’s picturesque Senggigi Beach have been shut for months, with very few open as quarantine facilities or those providing heavily discounted prices for domestic tourists.

Meanwhile, Senaru village in the northern part of Lombok, where one of the tracks to hike up Indonesia’s second-highest volcano, Mount Rinjani, starts, is also empty with homestays that were earlier bustling with tourists.

“I could hike up to the peak of Rinjani two or three times a week with guests before the pandemic,” said a village native and mountain guide, Surya, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.

On Monday, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, a senior minister for investment affairs handling the pandemic in Java and Bali, said that the pandemic’s severity status in all major cities on the two islands had been lowered to level two and three, from the most severe level of four.

“The daily number of new cases has dropped 98 percent from its worst in mid-July,” he said.

The downgrade in outbreak severity level means that some restrictions have been eased, with malls, restaurants, tourism destinations, and public places can welcome customers again with a limited capacity.

In a press briefing on Friday, Pandjaitan said given the current trend, including the case reproduction rate in Java and Bali that lowered on Friday to below 1 at 0.98 and is the lowest since the pandemic hit Indonesia in March 2020, the government is “very confident” that they can reopen Bali for foreign visitors in October.

International arrivals to Indonesia currently have to undergo an eight-day quarantine in Jakarta and Manado, North Sulawesi, where the airports are open for international flights, while the other international airports, including Bali, are still closed for international flights.

“We will review in October to see if it can be reduced to five days,” Pandjaitan said.


Aid reaches Mozambique’s insurgent-hit Palma after 6 month hiatus

Aid reaches Mozambique’s insurgent-hit Palma after 6 month hiatus
Updated 16 min 52 sec ago

Aid reaches Mozambique’s insurgent-hit Palma after 6 month hiatus

Aid reaches Mozambique’s insurgent-hit Palma after 6 month hiatus
  • Palma — the operational hub of a multi-billion-dollar gas project — had been off bounds since it was attacked by Daesh-linked militants
  • Locally referred to as Al-Shabab, Mozambique’s insurgents have been troubling the gas-rich Cabo Delgado province since 2017

MAPUTO: Aid has reached Mozambique’s northern coastal town of Palma for the first time since it was overrun by extremists in March, the United Nations said on Monday, even as beheadings were reported in another area.

Palma — the operational hub of a multi-billion-dollar gas project of France’s TotalEnergies — had been off bounds since it was attacked by Daesh-linked militants earlier this year.

Dozens of people were killed, some beheaded, and thousands fled through surrounding forests, joining hundreds of thousands already displaced by the violence.

Humanitarian access to the town remained difficult as local troops worked alongside soldiers sent by several other African countries to stem the insurgency.

“For the first time since March, humanitarian aid reached people in Palma,” tweeted the UN’s Word Food Programme (WFP) in Mozambique, adding that 2,150 families had received emergency food, hygiene and shelter kits.

Many of those displaced from Palma had sought refuge in the nearby village of Quitunda, close to the gas project, where rights groups say they were trapped by troops and ongoing fighting.

WFP’s announcement was made days after suspected militants beheaded five civilians in the village of Namaluco, around 150 kilometers (about 90 miles) south of Palma, military and local sources told AFP.

The victims were reportedly brewing a traditional alcoholic beverage when they were murdered.

Locally referred to as Al-Shabab, Mozambique’s insurgents have been troubling the gas-rich Cabo Delgado province since 2017 in a bid to establish a caliphate.

The goup grew bolder last year, escalating attacks that culminated with the raid on Palma on March 24, which forced Total to evacuate its staff and suspend operations.

But they have lost ground since several African countries deployed troops to help overwhelmed local forces.

They suffered a major defeat in August, when Mozambican troops backed by Rwandan soldiers drove them out of their de-facto headquarters in Mocimboa da Praia.


US easing virus restrictions for foreign flights to America

US easing virus restrictions for foreign flights to America
Updated 20 September 2021

US easing virus restrictions for foreign flights to America

US easing virus restrictions for foreign flights to America
  • Changes, to take effect in November, will allow those who’ve been separated by travel restrictions for 18 months to plan for long-awaited reunifications
  • The new policy will replace a patchwork of travel bans

WASHINGTON: The US said Monday it will ease airline restrictions this fall on travel to the country for people who have vaccination proof and a negative COVID-19 test.
This will replace a hodgepodge of rules that had kept out many non-citizens and irritated allies in Europe and beyond where virus cases are far lower.
The changes, to take effect in November, will allow families and others who have been separated by the travel restrictions for 18 months to plan for long-awaited reunifications and allow foreigners with work permits to get back to their jobs in the US
Airlines, business groups and travelers cheered.
“It’s a happy day. Big Apple, here I come!” said French entrepreneur Stephane Le Breton, 45, finally able to book a trip to New York City that had been put on hold over the virus restrictions.
The new policy will replace a patchwork of travel bans first instituted by President Donald Trump last year and tightened by President Joe Biden that restrict travel by non-citizens who have in the prior 14 days been in the United Kingdom, European Union, China, India, Iran, Republic of Ireland, Brazil or South Africa.
White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients announced the new policies, which still will require all foreign travelers flying to the US to demonstrate proof of vaccination before boarding, as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of flight. Biden will also tighten testing rules for unvaccinated American citizens, who will need to be tested within a day before returning to the US, as well as after they arrive home.
The tougher rules for unvaccinated Americans come as the White House has moved to impose sweeping vaccination-or-testing requirements affecting as many as 100 million people in an effort to encourage holdouts to get shots.
Fully vaccinated passengers will not be required to quarantine, Zients said.
There will be no immediate change to US land border policies, which restrict much cross-border travel with Mexico and Canada.
The travel bans had become the source of growing geopolitical frustration, particularly among allies in the UK and EU. The easing comes ahead of Biden meeting with some European leaders on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly this week.
“This is based on individuals rather than a country-based approach, so it’s a stronger system,” Zients said.
The EU and UK had previously moved to allow vaccinated US travelers in without quarantines, in an effort to boost business and tourism. But the EU recommended last month that some travel restrictions be reimposed on US travelers to the bloc because of the rampant spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus in America.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will require airlines to collect contact information from international travelers to facilitate tracing, Zients said.
It was not immediately clear which vaccines would be acceptable under the US system and whether those unapproved in the US could be used. Zients said that decision would be up to the CDC.
Monday’s announcement was met with applause by the air travel industry, which has lost significant revenue from declines in international travel.
Delta Air Lines spokesman Morgan Durrant said, “Science tells us that vaccinations coupled with testing is the safest way to re-open travel, and we are optimistic this important decision will allow for the continued economic recovery both in the US and abroad and the reunification of families who have been separated for more than 18 months.”
Worldwide, air travel is still down more than half from pre-pandemic levels, and the decline is much sharper for cross-border flying. By July, domestic travel had recovered to 84 percent of 2019 numbers, but international travel was just 26 percent of the same month two years ago, according to figures this month from the airline industry’s main global trade group, the International Air Transport Association.
The numbers are similar but not quite as stark for the US, where international travel in August was 46 percent of that in August 2019, according to Airlines for America. Arrivals by non-US citizens were only 36 percent of the 2019 level.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that he was “delighted” by the news. He said: “It’s a fantastic boost for business and trade, and great that family and friends on both sides of the pond can be reunited once again.”
Airlines hailed the US decision as a lifeline for the struggling industry. Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry body Airlines UK said it was “a major breakthrough.”
Shai Weiss, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, said it was “a major milestone. ... The UK will now be able to strengthen ties with our most important economic partner, the US, boosting trade and tourism as well as reuniting friends, families and business colleagues.”
The changes also drew praise from business groups, who have been contending with labor shortages as the economy bounces back with unexpected strength from last year’s coronavirus recession. US employers have been posting job openings — a record 10.9 million in July — faster than applicants can fill them.
Myron Brilliant, head of international affairs for the U..S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement, “Allowing vaccinated foreign nationals to travel freely to the United States will help foster a robust and durable recovery for the American economy.”


Forfeited EGuinea VP assets to be used by UN, NGO for health care

Forfeited EGuinea VP assets to be used by UN, NGO for health care
Updated 20 September 2021

Forfeited EGuinea VP assets to be used by UN, NGO for health care

Forfeited EGuinea VP assets to be used by UN, NGO for health care
  • The US alleged that Obiang, the son of the leader of Equatorial Guinea, had amassed more than $300 million worth of assets through corruption and money laundering
  • Obiang was forced to sell a Malibu, California, mansion that he purchased for $30 million, a Ferrari automobile and various items of Michael Jackson memorabilia

WASHINGTON: Some $26 million in assets forfeited by the son of the leader of Equatorial Guinea are to be used by the United Nations and an NGO to fund health care in the African nation, the US Justice Department said Monday.
The United Nations will receive $19.25 million to purchase and distribute Covid-19 vaccines and Medical Care Development International (MCDI) will receive $6.35 million for medicines and medical supplies to be sent to Equatorial Guinea, it said.
The funds stem from a civil forfeiture settlement involving Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, whose father has ruled the oil-rich but poverty-stricken country since 1979, the Justice Department said in a statement.
In the civil forfeiture case, the United States alleged that Obiang had amassed more than $300 million worth of assets through corruption and money laundering.
Under a 2014 settlement agreement, Obiang was forced to sell a Malibu, California, mansion that he purchased for $30 million, a Ferrari automobile and various items of Michael Jackson memorabilia, according to the Justice Department.
“As provided in the agreement, $10.3 million of these settlement funds were to be forfeited to the United States and the remaining settlement funds would be distributed to a charity or other organization for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea,” the department said.
“Wherever possible, kleptocrats will not be allowed to retain the benefits of corruption,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite said.
A French court recently upheld Obiang’s conviction in France for accumulating luxury properties with illegally obtained funds, handing out a suspended three-year prison sentence and a 30 million euro ($35 million) fine.
Despite Equatorial Guinea’s oil riches, most of the central African country’s 1.4 million people live below the poverty line.


Canary islanders flee as volcano vents its fury

Canary islanders flee as volcano vents its fury
Updated 20 September 2021

Canary islanders flee as volcano vents its fury

Canary islanders flee as volcano vents its fury
  • In residential areas flanking the volcano, hundreds of police and Guardia civil officers were charged with evacuations
  • Although some 5,500 people have been evacuated and "around 100 homes destroyed", there have so far been no reports of injuries

LOS LLANOS DE ARIDANE, Spain: Throwing a handful of belongings into her car alongside goats, chickens and a turtle, Yahaira Garcia fled her home just before the volcano erupted, belching molten lava down the mountainside.
She and her husband, who live near the Bodegon Tamanca winery at the foot of La Cumbre Vieja volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma, decided to leave on Sunday afternoon just before the eruption kicked off.
“We decided to leave even before they gave the evacuation order after a really terrible night of earthquakes... my house shook so much it felt like it was going to collapse,” the 34-year-old told AFP by phone.
“We were on our way when we realized the volcano had erupted.” He left in his car and she took hers to go and pick up her parents and their animals: four goats, two pigs, 20 chickens, 10 rabbits, four dogs and a turtle.
“I am nervous, worried, but we are safe,” Garcia said.
In residential areas flanking the volcano, hundreds of police and Guardia civil officers were charged with evacuations, with the work continuing well into the night, police footage showed.
“This is the police. This is not a drill, please vacate your homes,” they shouted through loud speakers, their vehicles flashing blue lights on the drive through dark streets.
Elsewhere, the footage showed officers evacuating goats in pick-up trucks in an area which is above all agricultural.
They also filmed the slow collapse of a building whose walls caved in under a wall of red hot lava.
Although some 5,500 people have been evacuated and “around 100 homes destroyed,” there have so far been no reports of injuries.
As the lava beat an unstoppable path down the mountainside, Angie Chaux, who wasn’t home when the alarm was raised, rushed back to try and salvage some possessions.
“When we got there, the road was closed and the police gave us three minutes to get our things,” said the 27-year-old.
It was 4:30 am and there were people and cars everywhere.
“Right now, we’re watching the news and the lava is 700 meters from our home. I’m really worried because I don’t know what’s going to happen to it.”
Miriam Moreno, another local resident, said they had been ready to leave when the order came with emergency backpacks stocked with food and water.
“You can hear a rumble as if planes were flying overhead and see smoke out of the window although at night you could actually see the lava about two kilometers away,” she said, admitting they were worried about “toxic gases.”
For the evacuees, it is an anguished wait to see what happens with no-one sure when they will be able to go home — or what they will find when they get there.
“The worst of it is the anxiety about losing your home. My house on the beach is fine for the moment but I don’t know when I’ll be able to go back,” said 70-year-old Montserrat Lorenzo from the coastal village of El Remo.
And experts do not know how long the volcano will remain active nor when the flow of lava, which officials said was “about six meters (20 feet) high,” will stop.
“Now they are saying the volcano could continue erupting for three months... we don’t know when the volcano will settle down,” said Garcia.
Volcanology expert Stavros Meletlidis from Spain’s National Geographic Institute said it was too early to say.
“There are volcanoes in the Canary Islands that have erupted for days and others that have continued for several years,” he told Spain’s public television.