Death toll rises as unprecedented rainfall hits India’s Himalayan state

Submerged cars are seen at a flooded hotel resort as extreme rainfall caused the Kosi River to overflow at the Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand, India, on Oct. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/ Mustafa Quraishi)
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Submerged cars are seen at a flooded hotel resort as extreme rainfall caused the Kosi River to overflow at the Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand, India, on Oct. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/ Mustafa Quraishi)
Hotel guests stand on the roof of the flooded Lemon Tree hote in Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand, India, on Oct. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Mustafa Quraishi)
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Hotel guests stand on the roof of the flooded Lemon Tree hote in Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand, India, on Oct. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Mustafa Quraishi)
Rescuers evacuate stranded people following heavy rains at Chhara village in Nainital district, Uttarakhand, India, on Oct. 20, 2021. (National Disaster Response Force/Handout via REUTERS)
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Rescuers evacuate stranded people following heavy rains at Chhara village in Nainital district, Uttarakhand, India, on Oct. 20, 2021. (National Disaster Response Force/Handout via REUTERS)
Indian soldiers rescue people stranded in floodwaters in Udham Singh Nagar, Uttarakhand state, India, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (National Disaster Response Force via AP)
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Indian soldiers rescue people stranded in floodwaters in Udham Singh Nagar, Uttarakhand state, India, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (National Disaster Response Force via AP)
Rescuers evacuate stranded people following heavy rains at Chhara village in Nainital district, Uttarakhand, India, on Oct. 20, 2021. (National Disaster Response Force/Handout via REUTERS)
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Rescuers evacuate stranded people following heavy rains at Chhara village in Nainital district, Uttarakhand, India, on Oct. 20, 2021. (National Disaster Response Force/Handout via REUTERS)
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Updated 21 October 2021

Death toll rises as unprecedented rainfall hits India’s Himalayan state

Death toll rises as unprecedented rainfall hits India’s Himalayan state
  • Incessant rain has caused massive destruction in the state lying on the southern slope of the Himalaya mountain range
  • Ecologists blame unplanned development in the mountainous state for increasing climate-related disasters

NEW DELHI: Nearly 50 people have died in flash floods triggered by unprecedented heavy rains in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, authorities said on Wednesday, as environmentalist warn the Himalayan region is seeing the effects of climate change and rampant development.

Incessant rain since Monday has caused flooding, landslides, and massive destruction in the state lying on the southern slope of the Himalaya mountain range, in what is a second devastating incident related to extreme weather this year. In February, a portion of the Nanda Devi glacier broke off in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district, triggering an avalanche and flooding that killed dozens of people.

“There has been massive damage. It will take time to return to normalcy,” Uttarakhand chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami told reporters on Wednesday. “Roads were washed away, there were landslides, rivers changed their routes, villages were affected, bridges collapsed.”

The amount of rain that fell on the region, especially its famous tourist destination and hill station Nainital was abnormal, according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD).

“This was an unprecedented rain at this time of the year. Normally, the monsoon is retreating at this time and chances of rain are slim, but this amount of rain is unheard of in recent history,” Dr. Rajendra Kumar Jenamani of the IMD told Arab News.

Ecologists have been warning for years that the Himalayas are warming at an alarming pace, melting ice trapped in glaciers, elevating the risk of devastating floods and landslides. Nearby populations are vulnerable, as the region’s ecosystem has also become too fragile for construction projects.

Nainital-based journalist and environmental researcher Kavita Upadhyay said the local community has not recorded incidents that had brought devastation as large as that caused by Monday and Tuesday downpours.

“We received more than 500-millimeter rainfall in 24 hours, and this is the maximum in recorded history,” she told Arab News. “When we get 60-milimeter rainfall it is called heavy rainfall, imagine the magnitude of 500 millimeters.”

Upadhyay blamed unplanned development for the disaster.

“One would hear the word ‘climate change’ but I am not an expert on that, but what we do know is that extreme weather events have been increasing,” she said. “The reason for the disaster is definitely the way development is happening in Uttarakhand. Be it roads, houses or expanding tourism, big infrastructure projects like that. I don’t think authorities have taken into account that extreme weather events will happen.”

Delhi-based environmentalist Vimlendu Jha said the extreme weather incidents occurring in Uttarakhand were an indication of a “climate crisis.”

“We cannot call it climate change because change is a moderate word. Here we are talking about the climate crisis which is causing extreme rainfall and also a lot of rainfall in a small period of time,” he said.

Referring to previous climate-related disasters in the region, Jha said in each case devastation was happening as unplanned development — including of hydroelectric power plants and roads for which thousands of trees had been cut — was causing “nature’s fury.”

“The reason why it got scaled up and extreme this time is because of the overall destruction of the local ecology,” Jha said. “These are the reason we are witnessing this kind of nature’s fury.”


Germany backs restrictions for unvaccinated as mandate looms

Germany backs restrictions for unvaccinated as mandate looms
Updated 58 min 22 sec ago

Germany backs restrictions for unvaccinated as mandate looms

Germany backs restrictions for unvaccinated as mandate looms
  • Measures were necessary in light of concerns that hospitals in Germany could become overloaded
  • “The situation in our country is serious,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, calling the measure an “act of national solidarity”

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that people who aren’t vaccinated will be excluded from nonessential stores, cultural and recreational venues.
And parliament will consider a general vaccine mandate as part of efforts to curb coronavirus infections that again topped 70,000 newly confirmed cases in a 24-hour period.
Speaking after a meeting with federal and state leaders, Merkel said the measures were necessary in light of concerns that hospitals in Germany could become overloaded with people suffering COVID-19 infections, which are more likely to be serious in those who haven’t been vaccinated.
“The situation in our country is serious,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, calling the measure an “act of national solidarity.”
She said officials also agreed to require masks in schools, impose new limits on private meetings and aim for 30 million vaccinations by the end of the year — an effort that will be boosted by allowing dentists and pharmacists to administer the shots.
Merkel herself backed the most contentious proposal of imposing a general vaccine mandate. She said parliament would debate the proposal with input from the country’s national ethics committee.
If passed, it could take effect as early as February, Merkel said, adding that she would have voted in favor of the measure if she were still a member of parliament.
About 68.7 percent of the population in Germany is fully vaccinated, far below the minimum of 75 percent the government is aiming for.
There have been large protests against pandemic measures in the past in Germany and the vaccine mandate is likely to be opposed by a minority, though opinion polls show most Germans are in favor.
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who is expected to be elected chancellor by a center-left coalition next week, has also backed a general vaccine mandate, but favors letting lawmakers vote on the issue according to their personal conscience rather than party lines.
“If we had a higher vaccination rate, we wouldn’t be discussing this now,”he said.
The rise in COVID-19 cases over the past several weeks and the arrival of the new omicron variant have prompted warnings from scientists and doctors that medical services in the country could become overstretched in the coming weeks unless drastic action is taken. Some hospitals in the south and east of the country have already transferred patients to other parts of Germany because of a shortage of intensive care beds.
Agreeing what measures to take has been complicated by Germany’s political structure — with the 16 states responsible for many of the regulations — and the ongoing transition at the federal level.
Germany’s disease control agency reported 73,209 newly confirmed cases Thursday. The Robert Koch Institute also reported 388 new deaths from COVID-19, taking the total since the start of the pandemic to 102,178.
To reduce the pressure on hospitals over the festive period, the sale of fireworks traditionally set off during New Year’s in Germany will be banned. Each year, hospitals treat hundreds of people with serious injuries because of mishandled fireworks.
The new measures will take effect once Germany’s 16 states incorporate them into existing rules, likely in the coming days.


Norway reports large outbreak of omicron variant infections

Norway reports large outbreak of omicron variant infections
Updated 02 December 2021

Norway reports large outbreak of omicron variant infections

Norway reports large outbreak of omicron variant infections
  • “More cases are expected. Effective tracing is being done to limit transmission routes and prevent major outbreaks,” said Oslo Municipality
  • The government agency said that there was “a high vaccination coverage” in the group

COPENHAGEN: At least 50 people in and around Norway’s capital have been infected with the omicron coronavirus variant and the cases are connected to a Norwegian company’s Christmas party in an Oslo restaurant, officials said Thursday.
“More cases are expected. Effective tracing is being done to limit transmission routes and prevent major outbreaks,” the Oslo Municipality said in a statement.
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health said that those affected live in Oslo and surrounding municipalities, and “the infection detection team in Oslo has contacted the municipalities concerned to start infection detection.”
The government agency said that there was “a high vaccination coverage” in the group, adding that overall “more than 50 cases” have been recorded in Norway. The country’s first two cases were announced Monday.
On Wednesday the city of Oslo urged people who visited two restaurants in the capital to be tested. One reportedly was where the Christmas party was held.
Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart vaccines.
It is customary in Scandinavia for companies, associations and individuals to hold Christmas parties in the weeks leading up to Christmas eve.


Pope Francis arrives in Cyprus with migrants in focus

Pope Francis arrives in Cyprus with migrants in focus
Updated 02 December 2021

Pope Francis arrives in Cyprus with migrants in focus

Pope Francis arrives in Cyprus with migrants in focus
  • On Friday he is scheduled to perform mass at an open-air stadium and later hold an 'ecumenical prayer' with migrants at a Catholic Church
  • Francis has arranged to have 50 migrants relocated to Italy after his trip this week

LARNACA, Cyprus: Pope Francis arrived on Cyprus on Thursday with a focus on inter-faith dialogue and lending his support to a country on one of the frontlines of Europe’s migration crisis.
Francis, who will travel on to Greece on Dec. 4, was to meet with Cyprus’s president on Thursday as well as with the Maronite Church. On Friday he is scheduled to perform mass at an open-air stadium and later hold an ‘ecumenical prayer’ with migrants at a Catholic Church in the divided capital.
“It will be a beautiful trip but we will touch some wounds. I hope that we all will be able to gather up the messages given to us,” Pope Francis told journalists on the aircraft.
Young children waving flags of Cyprus and the Vatican welcomed Francis at Larnaca airport, and three young girls in Cypriot traditional dress gave him bouquets of flowers.
Cyprus says it is struggling to cope with an influx of undocumented migrants, either through a dividing line splitting the island, or by boats from the neighboring Middle East.
Francis, who has made defense of migrants and refugees a cornerstone of his papacy, has arranged to have 50 migrants relocated to Italy after his trip this week.
Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict, visited Cyprus in 2010. Cyprus’s Orthodox Church, the dominant Christian communion, traces its lineage back to some of Christ’s earliest followers.
According to the Book of Acts in Christian scripture, St. Paul visited the island with Barnabas, the founder of Cyprus’s Church, and Mark the Evangelist.
The Pope will be staying at a Franciscan monastery in the capital Nicosia, one of the last divided capitals of the world. The Roman Catholic Holy Cross Church, in the same compound, still bears scars from the crossfire of ethnic strife and from a Turkish invasion triggered by a Greek-inspired coup in 1974.


EU orders ‘non essential’ staff out of Ethiopia

EU orders ‘non essential’ staff out of Ethiopia
Updated 02 December 2021

EU orders ‘non essential’ staff out of Ethiopia

EU orders ‘non essential’ staff out of Ethiopia
  • EU ordered its non-essential staff to leave war-torn Ethiopia

BRUSSELS: The European Union on Thursday announced that it was ordering its non-essential staff to leave war-torn Ethiopia.
EU spokeswoman Nabila Massrali said security would be stepped up for EU and local staff remaining at its missions to Ethiopia and to the African Union.


Baby found dead in migrant boat off Spain’s Canaries

Baby found dead in migrant boat off Spain’s Canaries
Updated 02 December 2021

Baby found dead in migrant boat off Spain’s Canaries

Baby found dead in migrant boat off Spain’s Canaries
  • The group includes 68 women, six children and the body of a baby who did not survive the voyage
  • Spain is one of the main gateways into Europe for migrants seeking a better life in Europe

MADRID: A baby was found dead in one of five migrant boats intercepted off Spain’s Canary Islands in the Atlantic with nearly 300 people on board, officials said Thursday.
Migrant arrivals on the Canaries have surged since late 2019 after increased patrols along Europe’s southern coast dramatically reduced crossings to the continent via the Mediterranean.
In the latest incident, the Spanish coast guard rescued 282 sub-Saharan African migrants from five inflatable dinghies off the coast of Fuerteventura, one of the seven islands that make up the Canary islands, local emergency services said in a tweet.
The group includes 68 women, six children and the body of a baby who did not survive the voyage, an emergency services spokeswoman said.
They are all in good health except for one woman who needed medical attention, she added.
Spain is one of the main gateways into Europe for migrants seeking a better life in Europe.
Between January 1 and November 30 a total of 36,379 migrants arrived in Spain by sea, 511 more than during the same time last year, according to interior ministry figures.
More than half, 54 percent, arrived on Spain’s Canary Islands off the North African coast.
The shortest route to the archipelago is more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the Moroccan coast, but it is notoriously dangerous due to strong currents.
Over 900 migrants have died trying to reach the Canaries so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration.