At least 66 killed in Afghanistan as heavy rains set off flash floods

At least 66 killed in Afghanistan as heavy rains set off flash floods
Afghans wait to cross a flooded area in Spin Boldak district of Kandahar province on April 13, 2024, after a flash flood following a heavy rainfall. (AFP)
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Updated 16 April 2024
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At least 66 killed in Afghanistan as heavy rains set off flash floods

At least 66 killed in Afghanistan as heavy rains set off flash floods
  • Number of reported casualties has doubled since Sunday
  • Many were killed when their homes collapsed on them

KABUL: Extreme rainfall in Afghanistan and devastating flash floods have killed at least 66 people and damaged homes, infrastructure, and farmlands across most of the country’s provinces, authorities said on Tuesday.

The storms, which started over the weekend, are adding to the challenges facing Afghanistan, which is still recovering from decades of conflict and natural disasters, including unprecedented droughts in the past four years, as well as a series of deadly earthquakes.

“According to primary reports from the provinces, at least 66 people lost their lives, and 36 others are injured,” Janan Sayeq, spokesperson of the National Disaster Management Authority, told Arab News on Tuesday.

The number of reported casualties has doubled since Sunday, raising fears the actual toll could be higher. Many of the victims were killed when their homes collapsed on them.

Sayeq said that 1,235 houses were destroyed.

Flash floods were reported in 23 of the country’s 34 provinces, damaging crops ahead of the harvest season, and further affecting food security in the country as UN agencies estimate that more than half of its population has been in need of humanitarian assistance.

“The wheat crops will be ready for collection in a few weeks. But the rainfalls could destroy most of it,” said Gul Hussain, a farmer from the eastern Laghman province, which is one of the main agricultural regions.

The impact of drought, and now also floods, has been devastating for rural families struggling with access to water.

“The floods have had severe effects on the lives of people in the southeast, southwest and east of the country and have caused loss of life and damage to houses, as well as economic and agricultural effects as crops are destroyed and livestock are killed,” Najibullah Sadid, a hydromophologist, told Arab News.

The country’s mountainous topography and reduced vegetation left little to no space for people to escape flood events, as preparedness and prevention in the face of the changing climate are almost nonexistent.

Water management infrastructure — such as check dams, trenches, terraces, and reservoirs that could help reduce flooding — is insufficient.

“For instance, Iran has 22 times more storage capacity and Pakistan 13 times more storage capacity than Afghanistan, making the country more vulnerable to floods during rainfalls,” Sadid said.

“Considering the increasing climate change effects as well as frequency and intensity of rainfalls, steps taken during the past two decades and now are limited and are not sufficient to control the situation.”


Ireland to announce recognition of Palestinian state on Wednesday, source says

Ireland to announce recognition of Palestinian state on Wednesday, source says
Updated 8 sec ago
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Ireland to announce recognition of Palestinian state on Wednesday, source says

Ireland to announce recognition of Palestinian state on Wednesday, source says
  • The Irish government has said recognition would complement peace efforts and support a two-state solution

DUBLIN: The Irish government is to announce the recognition of a Palestinian state on Wednesday, a move strongly opposed by Israel, a source familiar with the matter said.
European Union members Ireland, Spain, Slovenia and Malta have indicated in recent weeks that they plan to make the recognition, possibly in a coordinated announcement, arguing a two-state solution is essential for lasting peace in the region.
The efforts come as a mounting death toll in Gaza from Israel’s offensive to rout Hamas prompts calls globally for a ceasefire and lasting solution for peace in the region.
Since 1988, 139 out of 193 UN member states have recognized Palestinian statehood.
The Irish government has said recognition would complement peace efforts and support a two-state solution.
Israel’s foreign ministry on Tuesday warned against the move, saying in a post on social media platform X that recognition would “lead to more terrorism, instability in the region and jeopardize any prospects for peace.”
“Don’t be a pawn in the hands of Hamas,” the ministry said.
Hamas holds around 125 hostages seized during its cross-border rampage on Oct. 7, which killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies, and triggered the war. Gaza medical officials say more than 35,000 have been killed during the Israeli offensive.
The Irish government on Tuesday evening said the prime minister and foreign minister would speak to the media on Wednesday morning but did not say what the topic would be.


One dead, dozens injured as Singapore-bound flight hits turbulence

One dead, dozens injured as Singapore-bound flight hits turbulence
Updated 18 sec ago
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One dead, dozens injured as Singapore-bound flight hits turbulence

One dead, dozens injured as Singapore-bound flight hits turbulence
  • The airline said the aircraft was a Boeing 777-300ER with a total of 211 passengers and 18 crew on board

BANGKOK: A 73-year-old British man died and more than 70 people were injured Tuesday in what passengers described as a terrifying scene aboard a Singapore Airlines flight that hit severe turbulence, triggering an emergency landing in Bangkok.
An initial data analysis by the aviation tracking service Flightradar24 suggested the London-Singapore flight experienced more than one minute of extreme turbulence at around 11,300 meters (37,000 feet) over Myanmar, during which it violently rose and plunged several times.
Flight SQ321 had taken off from London’s Heathrow airport and “encountered sudden extreme turbulence” over Myanmar’s Irrawaddy Basin, according to Singapore Airlines.
The aircraft later affected a sharp, controlled descent and diverted to Bangkok.
Andrew Davies, a British passenger aboard the Boeing 777-300ER, told BBC Radio 5 that the plane “suddenly dropped” and there was “very little warning.”
“During the few seconds of the plane dropping, there was an awful screaming and what sounded like a thud,” he said, adding that he helped a woman who was “screaming in agony” with a “gash on her head.”
He described seeing people with head lacerations and bleeding ears: “I was covered in coffee. It was incredibly severe turbulence.”
Most of the injured passengers on the flight suffered blows to the head, said the director of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, Kittipong Kittikachorn, who confirmed the age and nationality of the deceased man.
Emergency vehicles raced onto the tarmac at the Thai capital’s main airport with lights flashing and sirens blaring after the plane touched down at 3:45 p.m. (0845 GMT).
“At 3:35 p.m. the airport received a distress call from the Singapore Airlines flight saying there were passengers on board injured by turbulence, and requesting an emergency landing,” Suvarnabhumi Airport said in a statement.
“The plane landed at the airport and the medical team was sent to treat all the injured.”
A large number of those aboard the plane — 131 passengers and 12 crew members — finally arrived in Singapore on a relief flight just after 5:00 am Wednesday, the airline said.
Another 79 passengers and six crew members remained in Bangkok, including those receiving medical care.
Singapore Prime Minister Lawrence Wong meanwhile sent his “deepest condolences” to the family and loved ones of the deceased, posting on Facebook that his country was “working closely with Thai authorities.”

Bangkok’s Samitivej Srinakarin Hospital said a total of 71 people had been sent for treatment, six of them severely injured.
“We deeply apologize for the traumatic experience that our passengers and crew members suffered on this flight. We are providing all necessary assistance during this difficult time,” Singapore Airlines said.
Of the passengers, 56 were Australians, 47 British and 41 Singaporeans, the airline said.
“In terms of exactly what happened, it’s too early to tell. But I think passengers are too casual on board commercial aircraft,” US-based aerospace safety expert Anthony Brickhouse told AFP.
“The moment the captain turns off the seatbelt sign, people literally unbuckle.”
Davies, the passenger, said that at the very moment a seatbelt sign came on, “the plane suddenly dropped.”
Allison Barker told the BBC her son Josh, who was aboard the plane, texted her that he was on “a crazy flight” that was making an emergency landing.
“It was terrifying,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on. We didn’t know whether he’d survived, it was so nerve-wracking. It was the longest two hours of my life.”

Singapore’s transport ministry said it would send investigators to Bangkok, while the city-state’s President Tharman Shanmugaratnam said “we must hope and pray” for the injured to recover.
The episode marks the latest drama involving a Boeing plane, after a fuselage panel blew out of an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX in January as well as two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019.
Boeing said it was “ready to support” Singapore Airlines.
“We extend our deepest condolences to the family who lost a loved one, and our thoughts are with the passengers and crew,” Boeing said on social media platform X.
Scientists have long warned that climate change is likely to increase so-called clear air turbulence, which is invisible to radar.
A 2023 study found the annual duration of clear air turbulence increased 17 percent from 1979 to 2020, with the most severe cases increasing over 50 percent.
 

 


Over 1 million claims related to toxic exposure granted under new veterans law, Biden announces

Over 1 million claims related to toxic exposure granted under new veterans law, Biden announces
Updated 22 May 2024
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Over 1 million claims related to toxic exposure granted under new veterans law, Biden announces

Over 1 million claims related to toxic exposure granted under new veterans law, Biden announces
  • In raw numbers, more than 1 million claims have been granted to veterans since Biden signed the so-called PACT Act into law in August 2022, the administration said Tuesday

NASHUA, N.H.: President Joe Biden, aiming to highlight his legislative accomplishments this election year, traveled to New Hampshire on Tuesday to discuss how he’s helped military veterans get benefits as a result of burn pit or other toxic exposure during their service.
“We can never fully thank you for all the sacrifices you’ve made,” Biden said to the veterans and their families gathered at a YMCA. “In America, we leave no veteran behind. That’s our motto.”
In raw numbers, more than 1 million claims have been granted to veterans since Biden signed the so-called PACT Act into law in August 2022, the administration said Tuesday. That amounts to about 888,000 veterans and survivors in all 50 states who have been able to receive disability benefits under the law.
That totals about $5.7 billion in benefits given to veterans and their survivors, according to the administration.
“The president, I think, has believed now for too long, too many veterans who got sick serving and fighting for our country had to fight the VA for their care, too,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough told reporters on Monday. PACT stands for “Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics.”
The PACT Act is relatively lower profile compared to the president’s other legislative accomplishments — such as a bipartisan infrastructure law and a sweeping tax, climate and health care package — but it is one that is deeply personal for Biden.
He has blamed burn pits for the brain cancer that killed his son, Beau, who served in Iraq, and has vowed repeatedly that he would get the PACT Act into law. Burn pits are where chemicals, tires, plastics, medical equipment and human waste were disposed of on military bases and were used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Before the law, the Department of Veterans Affairs denied 70 percent of disability claims that involved burn pit exposure. Now, the law requires the VA to assume that certain respiratory illnesses and cancers were related to burn pit or other toxic exposure without veterans having to prove the link.
Before Biden’s planned remarks, he went to a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Merrimack, New Hampshire. The president met there with Lisa Clark, an Air Force veteran who is receiving benefits through the PACT Act because her late husband, Senior Master Sergeant Carl Clark, was exposed to the chemical herbicide Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, marked the milestone by praising the veterans who advocated for the law.
“For far too long, our nation failed to honor its promises to our veterans exposed to toxins in military conflicts across the globe— until we fought like hell alongside veterans to finally get the PACT Act signed into law,” Tester, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said.


Blinken says he’ll work with US Congress to respond to ICC move on Gaza

Blinken says he’ll work with US Congress to respond to ICC move on Gaza
Updated 22 May 2024
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Blinken says he’ll work with US Congress to respond to ICC move on Gaza

Blinken says he’ll work with US Congress to respond to ICC move on Gaza
  • The United States is not a member of the court, but has supported past prosecutions, including the ICC’s decision last year to issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over the war in Ukraine

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration is willing to work with Congress to respond to the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s request for arrest warrants for Israeli leaders over the Gaza war, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday, amid Republican calls for US sanctions against court officials.
Speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Blinken called the move “profoundly wrong-headed” and said it would complicate the prospects of reaching a hostage deal and a ceasefire in Israel’s conflict with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said on Monday he had reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s defense chief and three Hamas leaders “bear criminal responsibility” for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Both President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and his political opponents have sharply criticized Khan’s announcement, arguing the court does not have jurisdiction over the Gaza conflict and raising concerns over process.
The United States is not a member of the court, but has supported past prosecutions, including the ICC’s decision last year to issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over the war in Ukraine.
“We’ll be happy to work with Congress, with this committee, on an appropriate response” to the ICC move, Blinken said on Tuesday.
He did not say what a response to the ICC move might include.
In a later hearing, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told Blinken he hoped to work together with the administration to express the United States’ opposition to the ICC prosecutor.
“What I hope to happen is that we level sanctions against the ICC for this outrage, to not only help our friends in Israel but protect ourself over time,” said Graham.
Republican members of Congress have previously threatened legislation to impose sanctions on the ICC, but a measure cannot become law without support from President Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats, who control the Senate.
In 2020, then-President Donald Trump’s administration accused the ICC of infringing on US national sovereignty when it authorized an investigation into war crimes committed in Afghanistan. The US targeted court staff, including then-prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, with asset freezes and travel bans.


UK minister accused of ‘witch hunt’ against pro-Palestine movement

UK minister accused of ‘witch hunt’ against pro-Palestine movement
Updated 21 May 2024
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UK minister accused of ‘witch hunt’ against pro-Palestine movement

UK minister accused of ‘witch hunt’ against pro-Palestine movement
  • Michael Gove: University encampments represent ‘antisemitism repurposed for Instagram age’
  • Palestine Solidarity Campaign: Britain ‘complicit’ in ‘genocide in Gaza’

LONDON: The UK’s secretary of state for leveling up, housing and communities has been accused of conducting a “witch hunt” after accusing pro-Palestinian demonstrators of antisemitism.
Political parties and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign condemned Michael Gove, with the Revolutionary Communist Party calling his accusations an attempt to distract from the Conservatives’ “support for genocide” in Gaza.
The Socialist Workers Party said he is conducting a “witch hunt (against) the Palestine solidarity movement.”
Gove announced plans to make protest organizers foot the cost of policing at pro-Palestinian demonstrations, saying they are not doing enough to stop some attendees spreading anti-Jewish messages.
“Many of those on these marches are thoughtful, gentle, compassionate people — driven by a desire for peace and an end to suffering. But they are side by side with those who are promoting hate,” he added.
“The organizers of these marches could do everything in their power to stop that. They don’t.”
Gove also said pro-Palestinian university encampments across the UK represent “antisemitism repurposed for the Instagram age,” and their presence has facilitated hostility against Jewish students on campuses.
Ben Jamal, PSC director, said in a statement: “Apologists for Israel’s genocidal violence and system of apartheid have lost the democratic and legal arguments, but continue to attempt to delegitimize Palestinian solidarity. They will not succeed.
“At a moment when Israel is on trial in the world’s highest court for the crime of genocide and the day after its Prime Minister has been threatened with ICC (International Criminal Court) arrest warrants for war crimes, it is grotesque that these smears continue.
“The real issues are that the UK government continues to arm Israel, refuses to resume funding to UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees), and is attempting to protect Israel from legal accountability.
“Far from stopping the genocide in Gaza as required under international law, the UK is complicit.”