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)
1 / 5
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)
2 / 5
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)
3 / 5
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)
4 / 5
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)
5 / 5
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)
Short Url
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.”


UK to toughen Covid-19 entry rules for all arrivals

UK to toughen Covid-19 entry rules for all arrivals
Updated 4 sec ago

UK to toughen Covid-19 entry rules for all arrivals

UK to toughen Covid-19 entry rules for all arrivals
LONDON: Britain will require all arriving passengers to isolate until they can show a negative PCR test against Covid-19 and is restoring a mandate to wear face masks in shops and public transport, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Saturday.
“We now need to go further and implement a new testing regime,” he told a hastily arranged news conference, hours after the government confirmed the first two cases of the new Omicron variant in Britain.
Currently, all Britons and foreigners entering the UK are required to take a PCR test on day two after their arrival.
The new rules add the requirement for isolation pending a negative result, significantly toughening the regime, in a bid to curb the spread of the new strain.
“I very much hope that we will find that we continue to be in a strong position and we can lift these measures again,” Johnson said, promising a review in three weeks, before Christmas.
“But right now this is a responsible course of action,” he said, vowing to protect Britons’ hopes for a more festive Christmas this year as he indicated no further nationwide lockdown is coming.
Johnson added that the mandate for masks, controversially ditched by the government earlier this year, would return, without specifying when the new measures will come into force.

Greece opens two more ‘closed’ migrant camps

Greece opens two more ‘closed’ migrant camps
Updated 27 November 2021

Greece opens two more ‘closed’ migrant camps

Greece opens two more ‘closed’ migrant camps
  • The 'closed' camps feature barbed wire fencing, surveillance cameras, x-ray scanners and magnetic doors and gates remain closed at night
  • Greece was the main point where more than one million asylum seekers — mainly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans — entered Europe in 2015

KOS, Greece: Greece on Saturday opened two more of its new “closed” migrant camps that have been criticized by rights groups for their restrictive measures.
“A new era is beginning,” Minister of Migration Notis Mitarachi said announcing the opening of the camps on the islands of Leros and Kos.
“We are extricating our islands from the migration problem and its consequences,” he said. “The images that we all remember from 2015-2019 are now in the past.”
Greece was the main point where more than one million asylum seekers — mainly Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans — entered Europe in 2015 and its islands in the Aegean Sea are the main port of call from people arriving via Turkey in search of a better life in Europe.
The crisis in Afghanistan has prompted fears of a new migration wave.
The “closed” camps feature barbed wire fencing, surveillance cameras, x-ray scanners and magnetic doors and gates remain closed at night.
They also have many features, like running water, toilets and more security, that were absent from the previous facilities that became infamous for their living conditions.
Greece inaugurated the first such camp on the island of Samos in September and plans to open two more, on the islands of Lesbos and Chios.
The EU has committed 276 million euros ($326 million) for the new camps.
But NGOs and aid groups have raised concerns about the new camps’ structure in isolated places and residents’ confinement, saying that the movement of people in the camps should not be restricted.
According to latest UN estimates, there are currently around 96,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Greece.


South Africa ‘punished’ for detecting Omicron Covid variant: Government

South Africa ‘punished’ for detecting Omicron Covid variant: Government
Updated 27 November 2021

South Africa ‘punished’ for detecting Omicron Covid variant: Government

South Africa ‘punished’ for detecting Omicron Covid variant: Government
  • The ministry pointed out that new variants had been discovered in other parts of the world

JOHANNESBURG: South Africa complained Saturday that it is being “punished” for detecting a new Covid-19 variant Omicron which the World Health Organization has termed a “variant of concern” and is more transmissible than the dominant Delta strain.
The decision by a number of countries around the world to ban flights from southern Africa following the discovery of the variant “is akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker,” the foreign affairs ministry said in a statement.
“Excellent science should be applauded and not punished,” it said.
The ministry pointed out that new variants had been discovered in other parts of the world.
“Each of those cases have had no recent links with Southern Africa, but the reaction to those countries is starkly different to cases in Southern Africa,” it said.
Israel and Belgium announced after South Africa that they also had detected cases of Omicron.
Government insisted that South Africa’s “capacity to test and its ramped-up vaccination program, backed up by a world-class scientific community should give our global partners the comfort that we are doing as well as they are in managing the pandemic.”
With more than 2.95 million cases and 89,783 deaths, South Africa is the worst-hit country in Africa by the pandemic.


World races to contain new COVID threat, the omicron variant

Intensive care nurses treat patients severely ill with Covid-19 disease in the Corona intensive care unit at the University Hospital in Halle/Saale on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. (AP)
Intensive care nurses treat patients severely ill with Covid-19 disease in the Corona intensive care unit at the University Hospital in Halle/Saale on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. (AP)
Updated 27 November 2021

World races to contain new COVID threat, the omicron variant

Intensive care nurses treat patients severely ill with Covid-19 disease in the Corona intensive care unit at the University Hospital in Halle/Saale on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. (AP)
  • Scientists are still learning about the variant, first identified at the start of this week
  • Several countries, including in the Gulf, institute travel restrictions on visitors from southern Africa

BRUSSELS: Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the world raced Friday to contain a new coronavirus variant potentially more dangerous than the one that has fueled relentless waves of infection on nearly every continent.
A World Health Organization panel named the variant “omicron” and classified it as a highly transmissible virus of concern, the same category that includes the predominant delta variant, which is still a scourge driving higher cases of sickness and death in Europe and parts of the United States.
“It seems to spread rapidly,” U.S. President Joe Biden said of the new variant, only a day after celebrating the resumption of Thanksgiving gatherings for millions of American families and the sense that normal life was coming back at least for the vaccinated. In announcing new travel restrictions, he told reporters, “I’ve decided that we’re going to be cautious.”
Omicron's actual risks are not understood. But early evidence suggests it carries an increased risk of reinfection compared with other highly transmissible variants, the WHO said. That means people who contracted COVID-19 and recovered could be subject to catching it again. It could take weeks to know if current vaccines are less effective against it.
In response to the variant's discovery in southern Africa, the United States, Canada, Russia and a host of other countries joined the European Union in restricting travel for visitors from that region, where the variant brought on a fresh surge of infections.
The White House said the U.S. will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries in the region beginning Monday. Biden said that means “no travel” to or from the designated countries except for returning U.S. citizens and permanent residents who test negative.
Medical experts, including the WHO, warned against any overreaction before the variant was thoroughly studied. But a jittery world feared the worst after the tenacious virus triggered a pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people around the globe.
“We must move quickly and at the earliest possible moment,” British Health Secretary Sajid Javid told lawmakers.
Omicron has now been seen in travelers to Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel, as well as in southern Africa.
There was no immediate indication whether the variant causes more severe disease. As with other variants, some infected people display no symptoms, South African experts said. The WHO panel drew from the Greek alphabet in naming the variant omicron, as it has done with earlier, major variants of the virus.
Even though some of the genetic changes appear worrisome, it was unclear how much of a public health threat it posed. Some previous variants, like the beta variant, initially concerned scientists but did not spread very far.
Fears of more pandemic-induced economic turmoil caused stocks to tumble in Asia, Europe and the United States. The Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly dropped more than 1,000 points. The S&P 500 index closed down 2.3%, its worst day since February. The price of oil plunged about 13%.
“The last thing we need is to bring in a new variant that will cause even more problems,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn said. Members of the 27-nation EU have experienced a massive spike in cases recently.
Britain, EU countries and some others introduced their travel restrictions Friday, some within hours of learning of the variant. Asked why the U.S. was waiting until Monday, Biden said only: "Because that was the recommendation coming from my medical team.’’
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said flights will have to “be suspended until we have a clear understanding about the danger posed by this new variant, and travelers returning from this region should respect strict quarantine rules.”
She warned that “mutations could lead to the emergence and spread of even more concerning variants of the virus that could spread worldwide within a few months."
“It’s a suspicious variant," said Frank Vandenbroucke, health minister in Belgium, which became the first European Union country to announce a case of the variant. “We don’t know if it’s a very dangerous variant.”
Omicron has yet to be detected in the United States, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government's top infectious disease expert. Although it may be more transmissible and resistant to vaccines than other variants, "we don’t know that for sure right now,” he told CNN.
Speaking to reporters outside a bookstore on Nantucket Island, where he was spending the holiday weekend, Biden said the new variant was "a great concern” that “should make clearer than ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations."
He called anew for unvaccinated Americans to get their widely available doses and for governments to waive intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines so they can be more rapidly manufactured around the world.
Israel, one of the world's most vaccinated countries, announced Friday that it also detected its first case of the new variant in a traveler who returned from Malawi. The traveler and two other suspected cases were placed in isolation. Israel said all three were vaccinated, but officials were looking into the travelers' exact vaccination status.
After a 10-hour overnight trip, passengers aboard KLM Flight 598 from Capetown, South Africa, to Amsterdam were held on the edge of the runway Friday morning at Schiphol airport for four hours pending special testing. Passengers aboard a flight from Johannesburg were also isolated and tested.
“It’s ridiculous. If we didn’t catch the dreaded bug before, we're catching it now,” said passenger Francesca de’ Medici, a Rome-based art consultant who was on the flight.
Some experts said the variant's emergence illustrated how rich countries’ hoarding of vaccines threatens to prolong the pandemic.
Fewer than 6% of people in Africa have been fully immunized against COVID-19, and millions of health workers and vulnerable populations have yet to receive a single dose. Those conditions can speed up spread of the virus, offering more opportunities for it to evolve into a dangerous variant.
“This is one of the consequences of the inequity in vaccine rollouts and why the grabbing of surplus vaccines by richer countries will inevitably rebound on us all at some point,” said Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at Britain’s University of Southampton. He urged Group of 20 leaders "to go beyond vague promises and actually deliver on their commitments to share doses.”
The new variant added to investor anxiety that months of progress containing COVID-19 could be reversed.
“Investors are likely to shoot first and ask questions later until more is known,” said Jeffrey Halley of foreign exchange broker Oanda.
The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discouraged any travel bans on countries that reported the new variant. It said past experience shows that such travel bans have “not yielded a meaningful outcome.”
The U.S. restrictions will apply to visitors from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi. The White House suggested the restrictions will mirror an earlier pandemic policy that banned entry of any foreigners who had traveled over the previous two weeks in the designated regions.
The U.K. banned flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries and announced that anyone who had recently arrived from those countries would be asked to take a coronavirus test.
Canada banned the entry of all foreigners who have traveled to southern Africa in the last two weeks.
The Japanese government announced that Japanese nationals traveling from Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Lesotho will have to quarantine at government-dedicated accommodations for 10 days and take three COVID-19 tests during that time. Japan has not yet opened up to foreign nationals. Russia announced travel restrictions effective Sunday.

 


Ethiopia’s Abiy at the battlefront vows to ‘bury the enemy’, UN sounds alarm on hunger

In this image made from undated released by the PM of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed is seen dressed in military uniform speaking to a television camera at an unidentified location in Ethiopia. (AP)
In this image made from undated released by the PM of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed is seen dressed in military uniform speaking to a television camera at an unidentified location in Ethiopia. (AP)
Updated 27 November 2021

Ethiopia’s Abiy at the battlefront vows to ‘bury the enemy’, UN sounds alarm on hunger

In this image made from undated released by the PM of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed is seen dressed in military uniform speaking to a television camera at an unidentified location in Ethiopia. (AP)
  • The war has exacted a huge humanitarian toll, with the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) saying Friday that the number of people requiring food aid in the country’s north had surged to more than nine million

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed vowed Friday to “bury the enemy” in his first message from the battlefront according to state media, as the UN warned the year-long conflict has left millions short of food.
As Tigrayan rebels report major territorial gains, claiming this week to have seized a town just 220 kilometers (135 miles) from Addis Ababa, international alarm over the escalating conflict has deepened, with foreign countries urging their citizens to leave.
State media reported Wednesday that Abiy, a former lieutenant-colonel in the military, had arrived at the front line to lead a counter-offensive against the rebels, handing regular duties to his deputy.
In an interview shown Friday on the state-affiliated Oromia Broadcasting Corporation channel, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner said he was certain of achieving victory against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group.
“Until we bury the enemy... until Ethiopia’s independence is confirmed, we won’t reverse course. What we want is to see an Ethiopia that stands while we die,” he said.
He added that the military had secured control of Kassagita and planned to recapture Chifra district and Burka town in Afar region, which neighbors Tigray, the TPLF’s stronghold.
“The enemy doesn’t have the standing to compete with us, we will win,” he said.
The interview was broadcast hours after the government announced new rules Thursday against sharing information on battlefield outcomes that was not published by official channels, a move that could bring sanctions against journalists.

The war has exacted a huge humanitarian toll, with the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) saying Friday that the number of people requiring food aid in the country’s north had surged to more than nine million.
Hundreds of thousands are on the brink of famine as aid workers struggle to deliver urgently-needed supplies to desperate populations in Tigray, Amhara and Afar.
The WFP said the situation had sharply deteriorated in recent months, with an estimated 9.4 million people facing hunger “as a direct result of ongoing conflict,” compared with around seven million in September.
“Amhara region — the frontlines of the conflict in Ethiopia — has seen the largest jump in numbers with 3.7 million people now in urgent need of humanitarian aid,” WFP said.
“Of the people across northern Ethiopia in need of assistance, more than 80 percent (7.8 million) of them are behind battle lines.”
This week, aid workers were able to distribute food in the Amhara towns of Dessie and Kombolcha for the first time since they were captured by the TPLF nearly a month ago, the WFP said, adding that it was only granted access to its warehouses last week.
The risk of malnutrition has also increased across the three regions, with screening data showing rates between 16 and 28 percent for children, it said.
“Even more alarmingly, up to 50 percent of pregnant and breastfeeding women screened in Amhara and Tigray were also found to be malnourished.”
Fighting has also damaged more than 500 health facilities in Amhara, the UN’s humanitarian agency OCHA said late Thursday.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “expressed grave concern about worrying signs of military escalation” in Ethiopia during a telephone conversation with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday.
He also “emphasised the need to urgently move to negotiations” on the conflict, according to a statement from the State Department.

As the war has dragged on, the government has stepped up its use of air power against the TPLF — one of the areas where it enjoys a military advantage.
On Friday the TPLF and a hospital official reported two air strikes in Tigray’s capital Mekele.
Dr. Hayelom Kebede, research director at Mekele’s Ayder Referral Hospital, told AFP the bombings occurred at 9 am (0600 GMT) and 12:30 pm, with the first one destroying two homes.
“Still waiting for the casualty report,” he said.
Sources told AFP the first strike hit close to the house of a rebel commander and near a hill with an anti-aircraft machine gun.
Much of the conflict-affected zone is under a communications blackout and access for journalists is restricted, making battlefield claims difficult to verify.
Abiy’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum said she had “no information” about any drone strikes in Mekele, which was recaptured by the rebels in June before they expanded into Amhara and Afar.
The war erupted in early November 2020 when Abiy deployed troops into Tigray, bringing to a head a long-simmering row with the TPLF, the region’s ruling party.