Bangladeshi capital employs drones to control dengue outbreak

Special Bangladeshi capital employs drones to control dengue outbreak
A drone of the Dhaka North city corporation is seen monitoring a residential area of the Bangladeshi capital in July 2022. (Supplied)
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Updated 07 July 2022

Bangladeshi capital employs drones to control dengue outbreak

Bangladeshi capital employs drones to control dengue outbreak
  • Drones search for containers with standing water, where mosquitoes breed
  • Fever presents major health threat in Dhaka during monsoon season between June, September

DHAKA: Facing an annual outbreak of dengue fever, the administration of Dhaka has introduced a fleet of drones to monitor the city for potential breeding sites of disease-spreading mosquitoes.

Hot, humid and crowded, Bangladesh’s sprawling capital struggles with swarms of mosquitoes due to its climate and unplanned urbanization.

The breeding of insects becomes a major health concern during the monsoon season between June and September, when thousands of Dhaka residents contract dengue, a viral and potentially deadly disease transmitted to humans by mosquitoes of the genus Aedes, which breed in freshwater pools and rain drains.

The disease used to be rare in Bangladesh in the 1960s, but for the past two decades its incidence has increased dramatically and in 2019 — the worst dengue outbreak year in the country’s history — more than 100,000 cases were reported across the country, mainly in Dhaka.

This year alone, already more than 1,300 people have been hospitalized with dengue in the Bangladeshi capital, while the monsoon season is not even in full swing yet.

To contain the outbreak, the Dhaka North City Corporation, which governs about 80 percent of the Bangladeshi capital’s 22 million people, last week deployed 10 drones to monitor residential areas for containers with standing water, where Aedes mosquitoes could breed.

“Fresh rainwater is logged on the rooftops during monsoon and becomes an ideal breeding place for the Aedes mosquitoes. That’s why we opted for drone flying to identify the Aedes breeding grounds in the city,” Brig. Gen. Mohammad Zobaidur Rahman, chief health officer of Dhaka North City Corporation, told Arab News on Wednesday.

The drive started on July 2 and will run until the whole city is mapped.

Based on drone footage, administration officials identify spots with stagnant water and visit the sites to assess if they are hazardous.

“We take still photos and videos of rooftops if there’s found to be a dengue (mosquito) breeding place. Later on, our team visits those buildings in person and takes steps to clean the premises,” Rahman said. “It’s a very time saving and effective method, as we can monitor a huge area within a short span of time.”

Data obtained from drones is going to serve for future dengue-prevention efforts.

“In this way we are also making a database of every building in the city, which will make things easier for us in the next few years,” Rahman said. “Our aim is to make people aware about dengue breeding grounds. We don’t want to penalize people. This drone flying has already brought some positive results. People have taken it very positively and in many cases are spontaneously cleaning their premises before our staffers reach their buildings.”

While the flying of drones might raise concerns over privacy and surveillance, some residents see it as essential in addressing the dengue threat.

“People have a tendency to ignore their social responsibilities,” Enamul Huq, a 47-year-old resident of the Uttara area said. “I think the local representatives of the city corporation should play a more active role in accelerating the ongoing drive against dengue.”

For Ishrat Jahan, a 32-year-old from the Gulshan area, monitoring should be expanded to waste management in the city, where half of trash is uncollected, adding to problems with pollution.

“We live in this city and it’s our collective responsibility to keep the city clean and livable,” she told Arab News. “With drone flying, now the city’s dwellers will also find themselves under monitoring and come forward to clean their own buildings, and localities.”

French academic back in Iran prison after 5-day leave: supporters

French academic back in Iran prison after 5-day leave: supporters
Updated 24 sec ago

French academic back in Iran prison after 5-day leave: supporters

French academic back in Iran prison after 5-day leave: supporters
  • Fariba Adelkhah was earlier allowed to leave Tehran’s Evin prison for five days
  • Her temporary release comes at crucial time of nuclear program talks

PARIS: A French-Iranian academic held in Iran for the past three years in a case that has raised tensions between Tehran and Paris has returned to prison after a brief furlough, her supporters said.
Fariba Adelkhah was last week allowed to leave Tehran’s Evin prison for five days.
Hopes that the measure may be extended were not fulfilled, her support group said in a statement published late Sunday.
“Unfortunately, Fariba’s five-day leave was not extended, or transformed into house arrest,” it said. “It gave her a break, but it’s still bad news.”
Activists say that at least 20 foreign and dual nationals are being held by Tehran on baseless charges, in a deliberate policy of hostage diplomacy aimed at extracting concessions from the West.
Adelkhah’s temporary release comes at a crucial time in the negotiations between world powers and Iran over the Iranian nuclear program, with Tehran studying a final proposal from the EU aimed at salvaging a 2015 deal.
It is relatively common for prisoners in Iran to be allowed brief leave for time at home with families before returning to jail.
A specialist in Shiite Islam and a research director at Sciences Po university in Paris, Adelkhah was arrested in June 2019 along with her French colleague and partner Roland Marchal.
Adelkhah was sentenced in May 2020 to five years in prison for conspiring against national security, accusations her supporters say are absurd.
Marchal was released in March 2020 and Adelkhah was allowed home in Tehran in October 2020 with an electronic bracelet. But she was then sent back to prison in January 2022.
Iran last month allowed German-Iranian woman Nahid Taghavi, who was arrested in October 2020, a medical furlough to get treatment for back and neck problems.
Three other French nationals are also being held by Iran.
Benjamin Briere, who according to his family is simply a tourist, was arrested in May 2020 after taking pictures in a national park with a recreational drone and sentenced to eight years in prison on spying charges.
Meanwhile, French teachers’ union official Cecile Kohler and her partner Jacques Paris were arrested in early May on security-related charges, Tehran has said.
Iran insists the foreigners are given fair trials but their families claim they are being held as pawns in a political game.

Pandemic pushed millions more into poverty in the Philippines — government

Pandemic pushed millions more into poverty in the Philippines — government
Updated 15 August 2022

Pandemic pushed millions more into poverty in the Philippines — government

Pandemic pushed millions more into poverty in the Philippines — government
  • Recently inaugurated President Ferdinand Marcos Jr aims to slash the poverty rate to 9 percent by the end of his single six-year term in 2028

MANILA: About 2.3 million people in the Philippines were pushed into poverty between 2018 and 2021, largely due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, the statistics agency said on Monday.
The number of people living in poverty in 2021 rose to a total of almost 20 million or 18.1 percent of the population from 16.7 percent in 2018, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said, overshooting the government’s target of 15.5 percent-17.5 percent.
Recently inaugurated President Ferdinand Marcos Jr aims to slash the poverty rate to 9 percent by the end of his single six-year term in 2028 — a target that remains achievable despite soaring inflation, according to Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan.
He said the government’s strategy will focus on fully reopening the economy, investing in human capital and social protection, and transforming production sectors to generate more and quality jobs and competitive products.
“We can reduce poverty incidence by 5 percentage points at midterm, and another 4 percentage points by 2028,” Balisacan told a media briefing.
The PSA — which defines poverty as including those Filipinos whose per capita income cannot sufficiently meet individual basic food and non-food needs — releases these statistics every three years.
Balisacan said that before the pandemic, in 2018, the country had achieved its goal of lifting 6 million Filipinos out of poverty, four years ahead of a 2022 target.
But COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 and a long-running issue of poor households having limited access to regular and productive jobs had plunged many Filipinos back into difficulty, he said.

China conducts fresh drills around Taiwan as US lawmakers visit

China conducts fresh drills around Taiwan as US lawmakers visit
Updated 46 min 9 sec ago

China conducts fresh drills around Taiwan as US lawmakers visit

China conducts fresh drills around Taiwan as US lawmakers visit
  • Beijing calls drills a ‘deterrent’ against Washington and Taipei

BEIJING: China said Monday it had organized fresh military drills around Taiwan, as a delegation of visiting United States lawmakers met the island’s leader after a similar trip by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi heightened fears of conflict.

The unannounced two-day trip came after Beijing sent warships, missiles and jets into the waters and skies around Taiwan, a self-ruled democracy that China’s leaders claim and have vowed to one day seize.

The five-member congressional delegation — led by Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts — met with President Tsai Ing-wen on Monday, according to Washington’s de facto embassy.

“The delegation had an opportunity to exchange views with Taiwan counterparts on a wide range of issues of importance to both the United States and Taiwan,” it said.

The bipartisan trip sparked a caustic response from Beijing, which said it had carried out “combat readiness patrol and combat drills in the sea and airspace around Taiwan island” on Monday.

“This is a solemn deterrent against the US and Taiwan for continuing to play political tricks and undermining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” Shi Yi, spokesman for the Chinese military’s Eastern Theater Command, said in a statement, promising to “resolutely defend national sovereignty.”

Taiwan’s government has accused Beijing of using Pelosi’s visit as an excuse to kickstart drills that would allow it to rehearse for an invasion.

China’s Communist Party has never ruled Taiwan but says it will use force if necessary to take the island and bristles at any perceived treatment of it as a sovereign nation state.

In response to the delegation’s visit, Beijing called on Washington to “stop going further down the wrong path of hollowing out and distorting the one-China principle, so as not to cause further damage to China-US relations and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”

“China will take firm and forceful measures to safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular briefing.

That decades-old threat was reiterated in a white paper published last week when China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said it would “not renounce the use of force” against its neighbor and reserved “the option of taking all necessary measures.”

It added, however: “We will only be forced to take drastic measures to respond to the provocation of separatist elements or external forces should they ever cross our red lines.”

Taipei has remained defiant throughout the standoff with Beijing, with foreign minister Joseph Wu saying after a meeting with the delegation that their visit showed the island had not been cowed by China’s threats.

“Authoritarian China can’t dictate how democratic Taiwan makes friends, wins support, stays resilient and shines like a beacon of freedom,” Wu said in a tweet.

“Their visit once again demonstrates that China cannot dictate nor instruct other countries’ politicians not to visit Taiwan,” Lo Chih-cheng, a lawmaker with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), said.

Pelosi has stood by her visit but President Joe Biden said the US military was opposed to the trip by his fellow Democrat, who is second in line to the presidency after the vice president.

Congress is constitutionally an equal branch of government in the United States, with lawmakers free to travel where they wish, and Taiwan enjoys bipartisan backing in divided Washington.

The United States switched diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing in 1979. But it remains a key ally of Taiwan and maintains de facto diplomatic relations with Taipei.

Washington’s official policy opposes both Taiwan declaring independence and China forcibly changing the island’s status.

It remains deliberately ambiguous about whether it would come to Taiwan’s aid militarily if China invaded.

Visits by senior US officials to Taiwan have happened for decades and even Pelosi’s trip was not without precedent — then-speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich visited in 1997.

But the frequency and profile of US visits has increased both under former president Donald Trump and Biden.

Taiwan has also seen a flurry of delegations visit from Europe and other Western allies in recent years, partly in response to Beijing’s more aggressive stance under Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Seoul offers Pyongyang ‘audacious’ economic benefits for denuclearization

Seoul offers Pyongyang ‘audacious’ economic benefits for denuclearization
Updated 15 August 2022

Seoul offers Pyongyang ‘audacious’ economic benefits for denuclearization

Seoul offers Pyongyang ‘audacious’ economic benefits for denuclearization
  • North Korea has a history of dialing up pressure on the South when it doesn’t get what it wants from the US

SEOUL: South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on Monday offered “audacious” economic assistance to North Korea if it abandons its nuclear weapons program while avoiding harsh criticism of the North days after it threatened “deadly” retaliation over the COVID-19 outbreak it blames on the South.
In a speech celebrating the end of Japan’s colonization of the Korean Peninsula, Yoon also called for better ties with Japan, calling the two countries partners in navigating challenges to freedom and saying their shared values will help them overcome historical grievances linked to Japan’s brutal colonial rule before the end of World War II.
Yoon’s televised speech on the liberation holiday came days after North Korea claimed a widely disputed victory over COVID-19 but also blamed Seoul for the outbreak. The North insists leaflets and other objects flown across the border by activists spread the virus, an unscientific claim Seoul describes as “ridiculous.”
North Korea has a history of dialing up pressure on the South when it doesn’t get what it wants from the United States, and there are concerns that North Korea’s threat portends a provocation, which could possibly be a nuclear or major missile test or even border skirmishes. Some experts say the North may stir up tensions around joint military exercises the United States and South Korea start next week.
Yoon, a conservative who took office in May, said North Korea’s denuclearization would be key for peace in the region and the world. If North Korea halts its nuclear weapons development and genuinely commits to a process of denuclearization, the South will respond with huge economic rewards that would be provided in phases, Yoon said.
Yoon’s proposal wasn’t meaningfully different from previous South Korean offers that have already been rejected by North Korea, which has been accelerating its efforts to expand its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles program leader Kim Jong Un sees as his strongest guarantee of survival.
“We will implement a large-scale program to provide food, providing assistance for establishing infrastructure for the production, transmission and distribution of electrical power, and carry out projects to modernize ports and airports to facilitate trade,” Yoon said.
“We will also help improve North Korea’s agricultural production, provide assistance to modernize its hospitals and medical infrastructure, and carry out initiatives to allow for international investment and financial support,” he added, insisting that such programs would “significantly” improve North Korean lives.
Inter-Korean ties have deteriorated amid a stalemate in larger nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang, which derailed in early 2019 over disagreements in exchanging a release of crippling US-led sanctions against the North and the North’s disarmament steps.
North Korea has ramped up its testing activity in 2022, launching more than 30 ballistic missiles so far, including its first demonstrations of intercontinental ballistic missiles since 2017.
Experts say Kim is intent on exploiting a favorable environment to push forward his weapons program, with the UN Security Council divided and effectively paralyzed over Russia’s war on Ukraine.
North Korea’s unusually fast pace in weapons demonstrations also underscore brinkmanship aimed at forcing Washington to accept the idea of North Korea as a nuclear power and negotiating badly economic benefits and security concessions from a position of strength, experts say.
The US and South Korean governments have also said the North is gearing up to conduct its first nuclear test since September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a nuclear warhead designed for its ICBMs.

Fumio Kishida: Japan vows ‘never to repeat tragedy of war’

Fumio Kishida: Japan vows ‘never to repeat tragedy of war’
Updated 15 August 2022

Fumio Kishida: Japan vows ‘never to repeat tragedy of war’

Fumio Kishida: Japan vows ‘never to repeat tragedy of war’
  • Country marks the 77th anniversary of its World War II defeat

TOKYO: Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida renewed Japan’s no-war pledge at a somber ceremony Monday as his country marked the 77th anniversary of its World War II defeat, but he did not mention Japanese wartime aggression.
In his first address as prime minister since taking office in October, Kishida said Japan will “stick to our resolve to never repeat the tragedy of the war.”
Kishida did not mention Japanese aggression across Asia in the first half of the 20th century or the victims in the region. The omission was a precedent set by the assassinated former leader Shinzo Abe, who had pushed to whitewash Japan’s wartime brutality.
Kishida largely focused on the damages Japan suffered on its turf — the US atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, massive firebombings across Japan and the bloody ground battle on Okinawa. He said the peace and prosperity that the country enjoys today is built on the suffering and sacrifices of those who died in the war.
Beginning in 2013, Abe stopped acknowledging Japan’s wartime hostilities or apologizing in his Aug. 15 speeches, scrapping the tradition that began in 1995.
Emperor Naruhito repeated his “deep remorse” over Japan’s wartime actions in a nuanced phrase in his speech, like his father, Emperor Emeritus Akihito, who devoted his career to making amends for a war fought in the name of the wartime emperor, Hirohito, the current emperor’s grandfather.
Some 900 participants observed a minute of silence at noon during the ceremony held at the Budokan arena. The crowd was reduced from about 5,000 before the pandemic, participants were asked to wear masks, and there was no singing of the national anthem.
While Kishida on Monday stayed away from praying at the Yasukuni Shrine and sent a religious ornament instead, three of his Cabinet members visited — Economic Security Minister Sanae Takaichi and Disaster Reconstruction Minister Kenya Akiba earlier Monday and Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura on Saturday.
“I paid respects to the spirits of those who sacrificed their lives for the national policy,” Takaichi told reporters, adding that she also prayed so that there will be no more war dead in Ukraine.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno defended their Yasukuni visits by saying that “In any country, it is natural to pay respects to those who sacrificed their lives to their nation,” but that they decided to pray as “private citizens.”
“There is no change to Japan’s policy of strengthening its ties with its neighbors China and South Korea,” Matsuno said.
Victims of Japanese actions during the first half of the 20th century, especially China and the Koreas, see the shrine as a symbol of Japanese militarism because it honors convicted war criminals among about 2.5 million war dead.
The visits sparked criticisms from China and South Korea.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry expressed “deep disappointment and regret” over the Yasukuni visits which it said beautifies Japan’s past invasions. The ministry urged Japanese officials to “look squarely” at history and demonstrate their “sincere” remorse with action.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin, on Sunday after Nishimura’s visit, criticized it as “Japanese government’s erroneous attitude toward historical issues.” Wang also urged Japan to “deeply reflect” on its wartime aggression and act responsibly to gain trust of its Asian neighbors and the larger international community.