New Delhi to shut schools as toxic smog chokes India’s capital

New Delhi to shut schools as toxic smog chokes India’s capital
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said primary schools would be closed from Saturday until ‘the pollution situation improves.’ (Reuters)
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Updated 04 November 2022

New Delhi to shut schools as toxic smog chokes India’s capital

New Delhi to shut schools as toxic smog chokes India’s capital
  • On Friday, levels of the most dangerous PM2.5 particles were almost 25 times the daily maximum recommended by the WHO

NEW DELHI: Primary schools in India’s capital New Delhi will shut to protect children from the toxic smog choking the megacity of 20 million people, authorities said Friday.
Smoke from farmers burning crop stubble, vehicle exhaust and factory emissions combine every winter to blanket the capital in a deadly grey haze.
On Friday, levels of the most dangerous PM2.5 particles — so tiny they can enter the bloodstream — were almost 25 times the daily maximum recommended by the World Health Organization, according to monitoring firm IQAir.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, under fire from residents and political opponents for failing to address the crisis, said primary schools would be closed from Saturday until “the pollution situation improves.”
“No child should suffer in any way,” Kejriwal told reporters.
Delhi is frequently ranked as one of the world’s most polluted cities. On Friday it again topped IQAir’s list of major cities with the worst air quality.
A Lancet study in 2020 attributed 1.67 million deaths to air pollution in India during the previous year, including almost 17,500 in the capital.
Authorities regularly announce different plans to reduce the pollution, for example by halting construction work, but to little effect.
Tens of thousands of farmers across north India set fire to their fields at the start of every winter to clear crop stubble from recently harvested rice paddies.
The practice is one of the key drivers of Delhi’s annual smog problem and persists despite efforts to persuade farmers to use different clearing methods.
Farm fire smoke accounted for a third of Delhi’s air pollution on Thursday, according to India’s air quality monitoring agency.
The problem is also a political flashpoint — with Delhi and the northern state of Punjab governed by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a rival to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.
But Kejriwal called for an end to “blame games and finger-pointing” over responsibility for tackling the smog, after India’s environment minister lambasted the AAP for presiding over an increase in farm fires.
“It won’t help in finding solutions. We can blame them, and they can blame us, but that would lead to nothing,” he said.
“Farmers need solutions,” he added. “The day they get a solution, they will stop burning the stubble.”


Scotland’s health secretary drops legal case against nursery for discrimination over Muslim name

Scotland’s health secretary drops legal case against nursery for discrimination over Muslim name
Updated 11 sec ago

Scotland’s health secretary drops legal case against nursery for discrimination over Muslim name

Scotland’s health secretary drops legal case against nursery for discrimination over Muslim name
  • Humza Yousaf and Nadia El-Nakla claimed in August 2021 that the Little Scholars day nursery in the Scottish city of Dundee had refused to give their 2-year-old daughter a place

LONDON: Scotland’s health secretary and his wife have dropped a £30,000 ($36,000) legal case against a nursery they had accused of discriminating against their daughter due to her Muslim-sounding name.

Humza Yousaf and Nadia El-Nakla claimed in August 2021 that the Little Scholars day nursery in the Scottish city of Dundee had refused to give their 2-year-old daughter a place, while at the same time had taken in children with “white Scottish-sounding” names.

El-Nakla, along with one of her white friends, subsequently applied to the nursery using fictitious applications for children with “white-sounding names,” who were accepted.

In a Twitter thread posted by Yousaf and his wife at the time, which laid out their allegations, the health secretary said: “I cannot tell you how angry I am.”

The couple launched legal action following a report from the Care Inspectorate, which upheld their complaint and found the nursery did not “promote fairness, equality and respect.” It instructed the nursery to make changes in its procedures.

The owner of Little Scholars, Usha Fowdar, who herself is of South Asian origin, was reported to be “furious” at allegations of discrimination on religious or ethnic grounds at the time of the complaint.

The legal representative for Yousaf and El-Nakla, who is one of the most prominent Muslim politicians in the Scottish National Party, confirmed court proceedings had ceased, the BBC reported.

“[The couple] only ever wanted the nursery to accept the findings of the independent Care Inspectorate investigation and for the nursery to make changes,” Aamer Anwar said.

“The nursery owners may wish to say that they were prepared 100 percent to go to court, but this was a joint agreement reached, and on their acknowledgment of the findings of an independent investigation and implementing the necessary changes in full.”

Fowdar said in a statement on Tuesday: “Whilst we were 100 percent prepared to see Ms El-Nakla in court, we are extremely pleased that this baseless legal action has been terminated.

“It bears repeating that, despite some extremely misleading headlines and spurious allegations, the Care Inspectorate identified administrative processes for improvement which had nothing to do with discrimination, because there never was any discrimination.

“[It] beggars belief that, rather than pick up the phone to quickly resolve what was a simple misunderstanding, they colluded in a half-baked sting operation and then mounted a vicious and cynical campaign against us in the national media. What sort of people do that?”


Traveling artist paints a different picture of Mauritania’s poor

Traveling artist paints a different picture of Mauritania’s poor
Updated 55 min 56 sec ago

Traveling artist paints a different picture of Mauritania’s poor

Traveling artist paints a different picture of Mauritania’s poor

NOUAKCHOTT: For the past decade, artist Seb Toussaint has traveled to some of the poorest parts of the world to paint brightly colored frescoes on the walls of downtrodden neighborhoods.

Dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, the 35-year-old French British artist, who always paints an inspiring word at the heart of his work, is tackling a piece called “Future” in a dusty slum on the outskirts of Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott.

“The goal is to paint the words of those who don’t have a voice,” he says. He and two travel companions have daubed the sides of a sheet metal shack with a mural of geometric and undulating shapes in white, blue and baby pink.

As they work, children play in the dirt paths, rolling a tire or kicking a ball between makeshift homes, as curious women in colorful veils mill around.

Zaatar is a hodgepodge extension of the capital, where fishermen, construction workers, carpenters and casual workers have made their homes. The soil is too salt-laden to be cultivated, and there is little greenery aside from two ailing acacia trees.

Since 2013, Toussaint has painted walls of cement, wood, and corrugated iron with words in different languages and alphabets as part of his project, which he calls “Share the Word.”

There was “Humanity” in the Palestinian Territories, “Change” in Nepal, and “Freedom” in Iraq.

He earns a living painting murals in Europe and saves up to finance about two trips a year to spend a month in a slum or refugee camp, where he offers his services to residents. The homeowner will decide what word he wants highlighted in the mural.

Toussaint started his career painting “tifos” — vibrant choreographed displays held up by fans at football matches. 

He decided to dedicate himself to bringing “color to an environment where there is very little,” after being exposed to the harsh realities some people face when traveling the world on his bicycle a decade ago.

When he arrived in Zaatar in early January, “we played football with the kids. I explained in broken Arabic that the goal was to paint houses. One person said: I would like you to paint my house.”

“We have never had anyone turn us down,” he said. However, there is often an initial reluctance.

“We had our suspicions about their presence, but we quickly realized these guys had good intentions,” said fisherman Amar Mohamed Mahmoud, 52.

“They do a good job that brightens up the neighborhood.”

Mahmoud got a rare animal painting, “The Camel,” in shades of blue and fawn, in honor of the animal which plays an important role in Mauritanian society.

He has painted eight murals in the neighborhood, among them “Mum,” “Youth,” and “Friends,” whose colors dazzle in the sun-scorched neighborhood.

He estimates he has painted 222-word murals around the world, with a general fondness for the themes “Peace” and “Love.”

Some of his works last for years, while others are fleeting. Several murals disappeared when a migrant camp in Calais in northern France was dismantled.

The murals also become a backdrop for local music artists to shoot videos, he says. Once, in Nepal, one of his painted walls was used as a backdrop for a fashion shoot.


Russia’s Lavrov vows aid for West Africa’s extremist fight

Russia’s Lavrov vows aid for West Africa’s extremist fight
Updated 07 February 2023

Russia’s Lavrov vows aid for West Africa’s extremist fight

Russia’s Lavrov vows aid for West Africa’s extremist fight
  • Lavrov made the remarks at a press conference during a visit to Bamako that the Russian envoy described as a ‘historic’ first
  • Lavrov promised Mali further military support and declared Russia’s wider backing for Africa in the face of what he described as the West’s ‘neo-colonial approach’

BAMAKO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday promised the Kremlin’s help for states in West Africa’s Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea which are facing a ruthless extremist insurgency.
“The fight against terrorism is of course an issue for the other countries in the region,” Lavrov said during a visit to Mali, which Russia is already helping militarily.
“We are going to provide our assistance to them to overcome these difficulties. This concerns Guinea, Burkina Faso and Chad and the Sahel region generally and even the coastal states on the Gulf of Guinea,” he said.
Lavrov made the remarks at a press conference during a visit to Bamako that the Russian envoy described as a “historic” first.
Since seizing power in 2020, Mali’s ruling junta has brought in Russian planes, helicopters and paramilitaries to strengthen its fight against extremist militants.
The closer ties with the Kremlin have coincided with the departure of France, the country’s former colony and traditional ally, which says the Russian operatives are Wagner mercenaries.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the UN have implicated Wagner and the Malian army in an alleged massacre at Moura in central Mali last March in which several hundred people were rounded up and killed.
The landlocked state is the epicenter of an extremist insurgency that began in northern Mali in 2012 and spread to neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015.
Thousands of civilians have died across the three countries, and millions have fled their homes.
Discontent within the military in Mali and Burkina has spurred two coups in both countries.
Sporadic cross-border attacks have also taken place in Togo, Benin and Ivory Coast in recent years, spurring fears that the extremists are seeking to push southwards to the Gulf of Guinea.
France wound down its long-running military presence in Mali in the face of mounting hostility with the junta and pulled out its last troops in 2022.
Similar tensions have recently broken out between France and Burkina Faso. The French military contingent there, a unit of special forces numbering around 400 men, is to be withdrawn this month.
Lavrov promised Mali further military support and declared Russia’s wider backing for Africa in the face of what he described as the West’s “neo-colonial approach.”
“We are going to provide our support for resolving problems on the African continent,” he said.
“We always start from the basis that African problems must be resolved by African solutions.”


German court rejects climate lawsuit against automaker BMW

German court rejects climate lawsuit against automaker BMW
Updated 07 February 2023

German court rejects climate lawsuit against automaker BMW

German court rejects climate lawsuit against automaker BMW
  • The group Environmental Action Germany argued that manufacturers such as BMW pose a threat to people's right to property, health and life if they continue making vehicles that produce greenhouse gas emissions

BERLIN: A German court on Tuesday rejected a lawsuit by environmental campaigners seeking to force automaker BMW to stop selling vehicles with combustion engine by 2030.
The group Environmental Action Germany, also known by its German acronym DUH, argued that manufacturers such as BMW pose a threat to people’s right to property, health and life if they continue making vehicles that produce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Munich regional court ruled Tuesday that while the plaintiffs’ arguments couldn’t be dismissed from the outset, “at present there is no threat of illegal encroachment” of their rights.
Judges noted that German and European lawmakers, spurred partly by a 2021 ruling by Germany’s top court, have taken numerous measures to achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris climate accord. As such there was no absence of laws that would warrant civil action against BMW “at last not at this time,” they said.
The Munich-based automaker welcomed the ruling, saying efforts to cut emissions should be determined by democratically elected parliaments, not in the courts.
DUH said it was satisfied the court had recognized the permissibility of their lawsuit in principle. It plans to appeal the ruling.
The group said vehicles sold by BMW in 2021 were responsible for more emissions of planet-heating carbon dioxide than countries such as Finland or Portugal produce in a year.
A similar lawsuit against Mercedes-Benz was rejected by a German court last year and the appeal is pending.
A third lawsuit, against energy company Wintershall Dea, is scheduled to be heard in August.


Calls mount on Philippine government to review labor agreements with Kuwait 

Calls mount on Philippine government to review labor agreements with Kuwait 
Updated 07 February 2023

Calls mount on Philippine government to review labor agreements with Kuwait 

Calls mount on Philippine government to review labor agreements with Kuwait 
  • In 2018 and 2020, the Philippines banned worker deployment to Kuwait after murder cases
  • Over 268,000 Filipino workers, mostly women employed as domestic helpers, live in Kuwait 

MANILA: Philippine lawmakers are calling on the government to review labor agreements with Kuwait after increasing reports of abuse, including a brutal murder, of Filipino migrant workers. 

The murder of 35-year-old maid Jullebee Ranara, whose charred body was found abandoned in a desert in late January, had sent shockwaves across the Philippines. She was one of over 268,000 Filipino workers living in Kuwait, a group of mostly women employed as domestic helpers. 

After Ranara’s murder, Philippine authorities tightened rules for recruitment agencies in Kuwait. In another case that emerged in the media recently, a Filipina worker in Kuwait was reportedly paralyzed after trying to escape her abusive employer. 

“There is growing clamor for a review of all labor agreements entered by the Philippines with countries of destination to determine specific guidelines and mechanisms needed for the protection of their human rights,” lawmaker Marissa Magsino said in a resolution introduced in the House of Representatives on Monday. 

The agreements, Magsino said, must not only ensure the welfare of overseas Filipino workers and guarantee their access to legal support but also “provide for serious consequences” in cases of abuse. 

She told Arab News on Tuesday that such bilateral labor agreements are very important, “especially with Kuwait,” where about 100 overseas Filipino workers were now at a shelter, waiting for repatriation. 

“They are those who were maltreated, abused, and then they ran away (from their employer),” the lawmaker, who is also a member of the House’s Overseas Workers Affairs committee, said. 

“The only reason why they are in the shelter is that it’s the last recourse for them to seek refuge, to be able to run away from their abusive employers.” 

Ranara’s murder was not the first such incident in Kuwait, where the 2018 killing of a Filipina domestic helper, Joanna Daniela Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer at an abandoned apartment, led to the Philippines imposing a worker deployment ban to the Gulf country. 

The ban was partially lifted that same year after the two countries signed a protection agreement for workers. 

But it was again introduced in January 2020, after the 2019 killings of Filipina maid Constancia Lago Dayag and Jeanelyn Villavende, who was tortured by her employer to death. 

The ban was lifted when Kuwaiti authorities charged Villavende’s employer with murder and sentenced her to hanging. 

According to Sen. Rafael Tulfo, another ban might be needed following the latest incidents. He has also called for a “tighter screening process on foreign employers to avoid abuse and maltreatment of (Overseas Filipino Workers),” his office said in a statement on Monday. 

“The senator,” the statement said, “maintained that his proposed deployment ban to Kuwait can be used as a leverage when the Philippine government sits down with Kuwait for bilateral talks.”