Flash flooding sweeps away Pakistan bridge

Flash flooding sweeps away Pakistan bridge
This picture taken on May 7, 2022, shows a bridge partially collapsed due to flash floods in Hassanabad village, in Pakistan's northern Hunza district. (AFP)
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Updated 11 May 2022

Flash flooding sweeps away Pakistan bridge

Flash flooding sweeps away Pakistan bridge
  • Such flooding occurs when glaciers melt at high speed and swell nearby lakes to unstable levels
  • Pakistan is home to more than 7,000 glaciers, more than anywhere outside the polar regions

HUNZA, Pakistan: A key bridge serving a remote corner of northern Pakistan has collapsed after a heatwave caused a glacial lake to burst and unleash flash flooding, the country’s climate minister said.
Pakistan is highly vulnerable to climate change, ranking eighth in a table of countries most affected by extreme weather, according to a study by environmental group Germanwatch.
A spring heatwave is currently ravaging the nation of 220 million, with forecasters saying the mercury may rise to around 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) in some areas this week.
On Saturday a bridge in the village of Hassanabad in the Gilgit-Baltistan region was destroyed by a “glacial lake outburst flood” triggered by soaring temperatures, climate minister Sherry Rehman said.

Such flooding occurs when glaciers melt at high speed and swell nearby lakes to unstable levels.
The lakes can then suddenly burst and set loose a violent cascade of water, ice and rocks.
Video shows the bridge — on the Karakoram Highway linking Pakistan and China — buckle and tumble into a river after its pillars are battered by the current.
Pakistan is home to more than 7,000 glaciers, more than anywhere outside the polar regions.

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Pakistan ranks 8th in a table of countries most affected by extreme weather

But Rehman has warned that glaciers in the north, including in the Himalayan and Hindu Kush mountain ranges, are “melting rapidly.”
More than 3,000 glacial lakes have formed in Gilgit-Baltistan as well as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan’s northwest, she said, and 33 are at risk of unleashing hazardous floods.
Rehman has said Pakistan’s current heatwave “is a direct repercussion of climate stress.”

Decoder

Glacial lake outburst flood

A common occurrence in Pakistan, such flooding occurs when soaring temperatures melt glaciers at high speed and swell nearby lakes to unstable levels. Pakistan is home to more than 7,000 glaciers, more than anywhere outside the polar regions.

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Flight with 22 people on board missing in Nepal: airline

Flight with 22 people on board missing in Nepal: airline
Updated 55 min 46 sec ago

Flight with 22 people on board missing in Nepal: airline

Flight with 22 people on board missing in Nepal: airline

KATHMANDU: A small airplane with 22 people on board flying on a popular tourist route was missing in Nepal’s mountains on Sunday, an official said.
The plane, which was on a 15-minute scheduled flight to the mountain town of Jomsom, lost contact with the airport tower shortly after takeoff.
Police official Ramesh Thapa said there was no information on the Twin Otter aircraft and a search was underway.
It has been raining in the area for the past few days but flights have been operating normally. Planes on that route fly between mountains before landing in a valley.
It is a popular route with foreign hikers who trek on the mountain trails and also with Indian and Nepalese pilgrims who visit the revered Muktinath temple.


25 missing after cargo boat sinks in Indonesia

25 missing after cargo boat sinks in Indonesia
Updated 29 May 2022

25 missing after cargo boat sinks in Indonesia

25 missing after cargo boat sinks in Indonesia
  • A total of 42 people were on the boat when it sank in bad weather on Thursday morning
  • Ferry tragedies are common in Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands

MAKASSAR, Indonesia: Rescuers in Indonesia were searching for 25 people who were missing after a cargo boat sank in the Makassar Strait in South Sulawesi province, officials said Sunday.
A total of 42 people were on the boat when it sank in bad weather on Thursday morning while traveling from a seaport in Makassar to Kalmas Island in Pangkep Regency, said Djunaidi, the head of the provincial search and rescue agency. Like many Indonesians, Djunaidi goes by only one name.
Seventeen people were later rescued, including some by two tugboats that were at sea at the time of the incident.
Djunaidi said the search and rescue agency received new information about the location of the sunken boat on Saturday and dispatched crews to the area. Two motor boats and a search and rescue boat, along with local fishing boats and Indonesia air force helicopters, are involved in the search for the missing passengers.
The sunken vessel was initially said to be a passenger ferry, but Djunaidi later clarified that it was a cargo boat carrying construction materials. Thirty-six passengers had asked for a ride on the boat and there were six crew members.
Ferry tragedies are common in Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, where ferries are often used as transport and safety regulations can lapse.
In 2018, an overcrowded ferry with about 200 people on board sank in a deep volcanic crater lake in North Sumatra province, killing 167 people.
In one of the country’s worst recorded disasters, an overcrowded passenger ship sank in February 1999 with 332 people aboard. There were only 20 survivors.


Pacific ‘very positive’ on Australian re-engagement: PM

Pacific ‘very positive’ on Australian re-engagement: PM
Updated 29 May 2022

Pacific ‘very positive’ on Australian re-engagement: PM

Pacific ‘very positive’ on Australian re-engagement: PM
  • Anthony Albanese: Australia’s previous government had ‘dropped the ball’ on the Pacific, both in terms of aid and also ‘a non-engagement on values’

SYDNEY: South Pacific nations have been “very positive” about Canberra’s “re-engagement,” Australia’s new prime minister has said, as China undertakes a region-wide diplomatic offensive that is raising concerns among Western powers.
The comments from Anthony Albanese — aired Sunday in an interview with Sky News — came as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was visiting Fiji for closely watched meetings with the island nation’s leaders and others from across the region.
Wang, who began his South Pacific tour Thursday in the Solomon Islands, is expected to discuss a wide-ranging draft agreement and five-year plan that would dramatically expand security and economic cooperation with South Pacific nations.
But Albanese said Australia’s own renewed diplomatic push had been well-received.
“The response has been very positive,” Albanese said when asked about Pacific leaders’ reaction to recent efforts, including a visit to Fiji last week by new Foreign Minister Penny Wong.
The prime minister said Australia’s previous government had “dropped the ball” on the Pacific, both in terms of aid and also “a non-engagement on values.”
“For our Pacific Island neighbors, the issue of climate change is an absolute national security issue,” Albanese said.
In addition to increased action on the environment, he also touted a boost in aid and a plan to set up a defense training school in the Pacific.
During Australia’s recent election campaign, Albanese’s center-left Labor party said the school would involve forces from Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga, Timor-Leste, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands.
Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang is expected to remain until at least Tuesday in Fiji’s capital, where he is to host a meeting with foreign ministers from across the Pacific.
The draft agreement and a five-year plan leaked ahead of that meeting, both obtained by AFP, would give China a larger security footprint in the region.
Australian Foreign Minister Wong warned Pacific leaders about the deal last week during her visit to Fiji.
“We have expressed our concerns publicly about the security agreement,” she said.
Beijing last month signed a wide-ranging pact with the Solomon Islands that Western governments feared could give China a military foothold in the region.


Shanghai takes further steps toward reopening, Beijing eases COVID-19 curbs

Shanghai takes further steps toward reopening, Beijing eases COVID-19 curbs
Updated 29 May 2022

Shanghai takes further steps toward reopening, Beijing eases COVID-19 curbs

Shanghai takes further steps toward reopening, Beijing eases COVID-19 curbs
  • The Chinese commercial hub of 25 million aims to essentially end from Wednesday prolonged lockdow

SHANGHAI/BEIJING: Shanghai announced on Sunday further steps toward returning to more normal life and lifting a two-month COVID-19 lockdown this week, while Beijing reopened parts of its public transport, some malls, gyms and other venues as infections stabilized.
The Chinese commercial hub of 25 million aims to essentially end from Wednesday a lockdown that has severely damaged the economy and seen many Shanghai residents lose income, struggle to source food and to cope mentally with prolonged isolation.
The painful coronavirus curbs in major Chinese cities run counter to trends seen in the rest of the world, which has largely moved toward co-existing with the virus even as infections spread.
Shanghai, China’s most populous city, will ease testing requirements from Wednesday for people who want to enter public areas, said city government spokeswoman Yin Xin, adding these tweaks should encourage work resumption.
“The current epidemic situation in the city continues to stabilize and improve,” Yin said, adding Shanghai’s strategy was now “pivoting toward normalized prevention and control.”
People entering public venues or taking public transport will need to show a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours, versus 48 hours previously.
Bus services within the Pudong New Area, home to Shanghai’s largest airport and the main financial district, will fully resume by Monday, officials said.
Plaza 66, an upscale mall in central Shanghai that hosts Louis Vuitton and other luxury brands, reopened on Sunday.
Authorities have been slowly relaxing curbs, with a focus on resuming manufacturing.
More people have been allowed to leave their flats, and more businesses permitted to reopen, though many residents remain largely confined to their housing compounds, and most shops limited to deliveries.
The authorities approved 240 financial institutions in the city for reopening from Wednesday, state-run Shanghai Securities News reported on Sunday, adding to a list of 864 firms released earlier this month. That is out of Shanghai’s roughly 1,700 financial firms.
The newspaper said on Saturday that the more than 10,000 bankers and traders who have been living and working in their offices since the start of lockdown were gradually returning home.
Shanghai has already allowed key manufacturers in the auto industry, life sciences, chemicals and semiconductors to resume production since late April.
In the capital Beijing, libraries, museums, theaters and gyms were allowed to reopen on Sunday, with limits on numbers of people, in districts that have seen no community COVID-19 cases for seven consecutive days.
The districts of Fangshan and Shunyi will end work-from-home rules, while public transport will largely resume in the two districts as well as in Chaoyang, the city’s largest. Still, restaurant dining remains banned city-wide.
Shanghai reported just over 100 daily COVID-19 cases on Sunday, while Beijing recorded 21, both mirroring a nationwide downtrend.


North Korea moves to soften curbs amid doubts over COVID-19 counts

North Korea moves to soften curbs amid doubts over COVID-19 counts
Updated 29 May 2022

North Korea moves to soften curbs amid doubts over COVID-19 counts

North Korea moves to soften curbs amid doubts over COVID-19 counts
  • Kim Jong Un and other Politburo members ‘made a positive evaluation of the pandemic situation being controlled and improved across the country’

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other top officials discussed revising stringent anti-epidemic restrictions during a meeting Sunday, state media reported, as they maintained a widely disputed claim that the country’s first COVID-19 outbreak is slowing.
The discussion at the North’s Politburo meeting suggests it will soon relax a set of draconian curbs imposed after its admission of the omicron outbreak this month out of concern about its food and economic situations.
Kim and other Politburo members “made a positive evaluation of the pandemic situation being controlled and improved across the country,” the official Korean Central News Agency said.
They also “examined the issue of effectively and quickly coordinating and enforcing the anti-epidemic regulations and guidelines given the current stable anti-epidemic situation,” KCNA said.
On Sunday, North Korea reported 89,500 more patients with fever symptoms, taking the country’s total to 3.4 million. It didn’t say whether there were additional deaths. The country’s latest death toll reported Friday was 69, setting its mortality rate at 0.002 percent, an extremely low count that no other country, including advanced economies, has reported in the fight against COVID-19.
Many outside experts say North Korea is clearly understating its fatality rate to prevent any political damage to Kim at home. They say North Korea should have suffered many more deaths because its 26 million people are largely unvaccinated against COVID-19 and it lacks the capacity to treat patients with critical conditions. Others suspect North Korea might have exaggerated its earlier fever cases to try to strengthen its internal control of its population.
Since its May 12 admission of the omicron outbreak, North Korea has only been announcing the number of patients with feverish symptoms daily, but not those with COVID-19, apparently because of a shortage of test kits to confirm coronavirus cases in large numbers.
But many outside health experts view most of the reported fever cases as COVID-19, saying North Korean authorities would know how to distinguish the symptoms from fevers caused by other prevalent infectious diseases.
The outbreak has forced North Korea to impose a nationwide lockdown, isolate all work and residential units from one another and ban region-to-region movements. The country still allows key agricultural, construction and other industrial activities, but the toughened restrictions have triggered worries about its food insecurity and a fragile economy already hit hard by pandemic-caused border shutdowns.
Some observers say North Korea will likely soon declare victory over COVID-19 and credit it to Kim’s leadership.
Yang Un-chul, an analyst at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea, said the North’s recently elevated restrictions must be dealing a serious blow to its coal, agricultural and other labor-intensive industrial sectors. But he said those difficulties won’t likely develop to a level that threatens Kim’s grip on power, as the COVID-19 outbreak and strengthened curbs have given him a chance to boost his control of his people.