Afghanistan quake kills 1,000 people, deadliest in 2 decades

Update Afghanistan quake kills 1,000 people, deadliest in 2 decades
Residents look at destruction caused by an earthquake in the province of Paktika, eastern Afghanistan on June 22, 2022. (Bakhtar News Agency via AP)
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Updated 22 June 2022

Afghanistan quake kills 1,000 people, deadliest in 2 decades

Afghanistan quake kills 1,000 people, deadliest in 2 decades
  • Information remains scarce on the magnitude 6.1 temblor near the Pakistani border

KABUL: A powerful earthquake struck a rural, mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday, killing at least 1,000 people and injuring 1,500 more in the deadliest temblor in two decades, authorities said. Officials warned that the already grim toll would likely rise.

Information remained scarce on the magnitude 6.1 temblor near the Pakistani border, but quakes of that strength can cause severe damage in an area where homes and other buildings are poorly constructed and landslides are common. Experts put the depth at just 10 kilometers (6 miles) — another factor that could increase the impact.

The disaster posed a major test for the Taliban-led government, which seized power last year as the US planned to pull out from the country and end its longest war, two decades after toppling the same insurgents in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Rescuers rushed to the area by helicopter Wednesday, but the response is likely to be complicated since many international aid agencies left Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover.

Neighboring Pakistan’s Meteorological Department said the quake’s epicenter was in Afghanistan’s Paktika province, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) southwest of the city of Khost. Buildings were also damaged in Khost province, and tremors were felt as far away as the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

Footage from Paktika showed men carrying people in blankets to waiting helicopters. Others were treated on the ground. One resident could be seen receiving IV fluids while sitting in a plastic chair outside the rubble of his home and still more were sprawled on gurneys. Some images showed residents picking through clay bricks and other rubble from destroyed stone houses, some of whose roofs or walls had caved in.

The death toll, given by Afghan emergency official Sharafuddin Muslim, made it the deadliest quake since 2002, when a 6.1 magnitude temblor killed about 1,000 people in northern Afghanistan immediately after the US-led invasion overthrew the Taliban government. Muslim said 600 more people were injured.

In most places in the world, an earthquake of this magnitude wouldn’t inflict such extensive devastation, said Robert Sanders, a seismologist with the US Geological Survey. But a quake’s death toll more often comes down to geography, building quality and population density.

“Because of the mountainous area, there are rockslides and landslides that we won’t know about until later reporting. Older buildings are likely to crumble and fail,” he said. “Due to how condensed the area is in that part of the world, we’ve seen in the past similar earthquakes deal significant damage.”

Earlier, the director-general of state-run Bakhtar news agency, Abdul Wahid Rayan, wrote on Twitter that 90 houses have been destroyed in Paktika and dozens of people are believed trapped under the rubble. The Afghan Red Crescent Society had sent some 4,000 blankets, 800 tents and 800 kitchen kits to the affected area, he added.

In Kabul, Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund convened an emergency meeting at the presidential palace to coordinate the relief effort, and Bilal Karimi, a deputy spokesman for the Taliban government, wrote on Twitter to urge aid agencies to send teams to the area.

The “response is on its way,” the UN resident coordinator in Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, wrote on Twitter.

That may prove difficult given the situation landlocked Afghanistan finds itself in today. After the Taliban swept across the country in 2021, the US military and its allies fell back to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport and later withdrew completely. Many international humanitarian organizations followed suit because of concerns about security and the Taliban’s poor human rights record.

In the time since, the Taliban has worked with Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates on restarting airport operations in Kabul and across the country — but nearly all international carriers still avoid the country, and reluctance on the part of aid organizations to put any money in the Taliban’s coffers could make it difficult to fly in supplies and equipment.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif in a statement offered his condolences over the earthquake, saying his nation will provide help. At the Vatican, Pope Francis offered prayers for all those killed and injured and for the “suffering of the dear Afghan population.”

In just one district of Khost province, the earthquake killed at least 25 people and injured over 95 others, local officials said.

Some remote areas of Pakistan saw reports of damage to homes near the Afghan border, but it wasn’t immediately clear if that was due to rain or the earthquake, said Taimoor Khan, a disaster management spokesperson in the area.

The European seismological agency, EMSC, said the earthquake’s tremors were felt over 500 kilometers (310 miles) by 119 million people across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Mountainous Afghanistan and the larger region of South Asia along the Hindu Kush mountains has long been vulnerable to devastating earthquakes.

In 2015, a major earthquake that struck the country’s northeast killed over 200 people in Afghanistan and neighboring northern Pakistan. In 1998, a 6.1 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tremors in Afghanistan’s remote northeast killed at least 4,500 people.


Lesotho inaugurates Saudi Arabia-funded $11.2 million water supply project

Lesotho inaugurates Saudi Arabia-funded $11.2 million water supply project
Updated 27 sec ago

Lesotho inaugurates Saudi Arabia-funded $11.2 million water supply project

Lesotho inaugurates Saudi Arabia-funded $11.2 million water supply project

DUBAI: Lesotho has inaugurated a $11.2 million water supply project that will supply clean water to five cities in the south African country.

Funded by the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD), the project aims to sustain water resources and provide clean water sources in Lesotho as well as mitigate effects of drought in the country to ensure water and food security.

The undertaking will see the laying of a 210-kilometer-long pipe network and the construction of 25 pumping stations.

Saudi Arabia, through the SFD, supports developing countries achieve their development goals by providing grants, technical aid as well soft loans and since its inception in 1975 has provided 730 development loans to finance 692 development projects and programs in 84 developing countries.


Rohingya refugees in India’s capital to be given flats, security

Rohingya refugees in India’s capital to be given flats, security
Updated 3 min 10 sec ago

Rohingya refugees in India’s capital to be given flats, security

Rohingya refugees in India’s capital to be given flats, security
  • There have been isolated incidents of violence toward Rohingya in India

NEW DELHI: Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in India’s capital will be allotted apartments and provided with police protection, a government minister said on Wednesday, signalling a change in the stance toward members of the Muslim minority.
“India has always welcomed those who have sought refuge,” Minister for Housing and Urban affairs Hardeep Singh Puri said on Twitter, outlining new provisions for Rohingya refugees in New Delhi.
“India respects & follows UN Refugee Convention 1951 & provides refuge to all, regardless of their race, religion or creed,” Puri said.
Puri did not elaborate on what he said would be “round-the- clock” police protection but there have been isolated incidents of violence toward Rohingya in India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has previously tried to send back members of the Muslim minority from predominately Buddhist Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of whom have fled from persecution and waves of violence in their homeland over the years.


South Korea president says any talks with Pyongyang should be more than show

South Korea president says any talks with Pyongyang should be more than show
Updated 17 August 2022

South Korea president says any talks with Pyongyang should be more than show

South Korea president says any talks with Pyongyang should be more than show
  • Yoon Suk-yeol repeats his willingness to provide phased economic aid to North Korea

SEOUL: Talks with North Korea should not be for political show but contribute to establishing peace, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said on Wednesday, speaking at a wide-ranging press conference to mark his first 100 days in office.
Yoon repeated his willingness to provide phased economic aid to North Korea if it ended nuclear weapons development and began denuclearization, noting that he had called for a dialogue with Pyongyang since his campaign.
“Any dialogue between the leaders of the South and North, or negotiations between main working-level officials, should not be a political show, but should contribute to establishing substantive peace on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia,” he said.
The comments were an apparent criticism of a series of summits involving his predecessor Moon Jae-in, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and then-US President Donald Trump.
Despite those meetings, denuclearization talks stalled in 2019 and North Korea has said it will not trade away its self-defense, though it has called for an end to sanctions. It has been observed preparing for a possible nuclear test, which would be its first since 2017.
South Korea was not in a position to guarantee the North’s security if it gave up its nuclear weapons, but Seoul did not want a forced change in the status quo in the North, Yoon said.
The North’s recent missile tests and nuclear development has revived debate over whether the South should pursue its own nuclear weapons. Yoon said that he was committed to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and working with the United States to boost its “extended deterrence” for South Korea.
“The NPT should not be abandoned and I will adhere to that until the end,” he said.


Rudy Giuliani set to testify in Georgia election probe

Rudy Giuliani set to testify in Georgia election probe
Updated 17 August 2022

Rudy Giuliani set to testify in Georgia election probe

Rudy Giuliani set to testify in Georgia election probe
  • It’s unclear how much the former New York mayor and attorney for Trump will be willing to say

ATLANTA: Rudy Giuliani is scheduled to appear in an Atlanta courthouse to testify before a special grand jury that is investigating attempts by former President Donald Trump and others to overturn his 2020 election defeat in Georgia.
It’s unclear how much the former New York mayor and attorney for Trump will be willing to say now that his lawyers have been informed he’s a target of the investigation. Questioning will take place behind closed doors Wednesday because the special grand jury proceedings are secret.
Yet Giuliani’s appearance is another high-profile step in a rapidly escalating investigation that has ensnared several Trump allies and brought heightened scrutiny to the desperate and ultimately failed efforts to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 election win. It’s one of several investigations into Trump’s actions in office as he lays the groundwork for another run at the White House in 2024.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis opened her investigation after the disclosure of a remarkable Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. On the call, Trump suggested that Raffensperger could “find” the exact number of votes that would be needed to flip the election results in Georgia.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing. He has described the call as “perfect.”
Willis last month filed petitions to compel testimony from seven Trump associates and advisers. She has also said she’s considering calling Trump himself to testify, and the former president has hired a legal team in Atlanta that includes a prominent criminal defense attorney.
In seeking Giuliani’s testimony, Willis noted that he was both a personal attorney for Trump and a lead attorney for his 2020 campaign.
She recalled in a petition how Giuliani and others appeared at a state Senate committee meeting in late 2020 and presented a video that Giuliani said showed election workers producing “suitcases” of unlawful ballots from unknown sources, outside the view of election poll watchers. The claims of fraud were debunked by Georgia election officials within 24 hours. Yet Giuliani continued to make statements to the public and in subsequent legislative hearings claiming widespread election fraud using the debunked video, Willis noted in her filing.
Two of the election workers seen in the video, Ruby Freeman and Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, said they faced relentless harassment online and in person after it was shown at the Dec. 3 Georgia legislative hearing in which Giuliani appeared. At another hearing a week later, Giuliani said the footage showed the women “surreptitiously passing around USB ports as if they are vials of heroin or cocaine.” They actually were passing a piece of candy.
Willis wrote in the court filing that Giuliani’s hearing appearance and testimony were “part of a multi-state, coordinated plan by the Trump Campaign to influence the results of the November 2020 election in Georgia and elsewhere.”
Willis also wrote in a petition seeking the testimony of attorney Kenneth Chesebro that he worked with Giuliani to coordinate and carry out a plan to have Georgia Republicans serve as fake electors. Those 16 people signed a certificate declaring falsely that Trump had won the 2020 presidential election and declaring themselves the state’s “duly elected and qualified” electors even though Biden had won the state and a slate of Democratic electors was certified.
Giuliani’s attorneys tried to delay his appearance before the special grand jury, saying he was unable to fly due to heart stent surgery in early July.
But Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who’s overseeing the special grand jury, said during a hearing last week that Giuliani needed to be in Atlanta on Wednesday and could travel by bus, car or train if necessary.
Other Trump allies have also been swept up in the probe. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, received a subpoena ordering him to appear for testimony on Aug. 23. Graham has challenged that subpoena, citing his protections as a member of Congress. A judge on Monday rejected that argument and said he must testify. Graham has said he’ll appeal.
Willis has indicated she is interested in calls between Graham and Raffensberger about the results in Georgia in the weeks after the election.


US cuts water supply for some states, Mexico as drought bites

US cuts water supply for some states, Mexico as drought bites
Updated 17 August 2022

US cuts water supply for some states, Mexico as drought bites

US cuts water supply for some states, Mexico as drought bites
  • Despite years of warnings and a deadline imposed by Washington, states that depend on the river have not managed to agree on a plan to cut their usage

LOS ANGELES: Water supplies to some US states and Mexico will be cut to avoid “catastrophic collapse” of the Colorado River, Washington officials said Tuesday, as a historic drought bites.
More than two decades of well below average rainfall have left the river — the lifeblood of the western United States — at critical levels, as human-caused climate change worsens the natural drought cycle.
Despite years of warnings and a deadline imposed by Washington, states that depend on the river have not managed to agree on a plan to cut their usage, and on Tuesday, the federal government said it was stepping in.
“In order to avoid a catastrophic collapse of the Colorado River System and a future of uncertainty and conflict, water use in the Basin must be reduced,” said Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary for water and science at the US Interior Department.
Arizona’s allocation from the river will fall by 21 percent in 2023, while Nevada will get eight percent less. Mexico’s allotment will drop by seven percent.
California, the biggest user of the river’s water and the most populous of the western states, will not be affected next year.
The Colorado River rises in the Rocky Mountains and snakes its way through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California and northern Mexico, where it empties into the Gulf of California.
It is fed chiefly by snowpack at high altitudes, which melts slowly throughout the warmer months.
But reduced precipitation and the higher temperatures caused by humanity’s unchecked burning of fossil fuels means less snow is falling, and what snow exists, is melting faster.
As a consequence, there is not as much water in the river that supplies tens of millions of people and countless acres of farmland.
The states that use the water have been locked in negotiations over how to slash usage, but missed a Monday deadline to cut a deal, so Washington stepped in.
Officials in upstream states hit out Tuesday at what they saw as an unfair settlement, with California exempted from any cuts.
“It is unacceptable for Arizona to continue to carry a disproportionate burden of reductions for the benefit of others who have not contributed,” said a statement by Tom Buschatzke, director of the state’s Department of Water Resources and Ted Cooke, general manager of the Central Arizona Project.
Deputy Interior Secretary Tommy Beaudreau said his department — which oversees US water supplies — was “using every resource available to conserve water and ensure that irrigators, Tribes and adjoining communities receive adequate assistance.”
“The worsening drought crisis impacting the Colorado River Basin is driven by the effects of climate change, including extreme heat and low precipitation,” he said.
“In turn, severe drought conditions exacerbate wildfire risk and ecosystems disruption, increasing the stress on communities and our landscapes.”
The western United States is suffering under a drought that is now in its 23rd year, the worst episode in more than 1,000 years.
That drought has left swathes of the country dry and vulnerable to hotter, faster and more destructive wildfires.
Communities served by the Colorado River, including Los Angeles, have been ordered to save water, with unpopular restrictions in place on outdoor watering.
Those restrictions are unevenly adhered to, with some lawns — especially in the plushest parts of Los Angeles and its surroundings — still remarkably green.