London Climate Protesters Seek Talks With Government

Climate change protesters who have brought parts of London to a standstill said Sunday they were prepared to call a halt if the British government will discuss their demands.

Some 963 arrests have been made and 42 people charged in connection with the ongoing Extinction Rebellion protests.

On the seventh day of demonstrations that have occupied key spots in the British capital, Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg addressed the demonstrators, telling them: “Humanity is standing at a crossroads.”

Organizers said they were willing to switch tactics from disruption to dialogue next week — if the government enters talks.

“We are prepared to pause, should the government come to the negotiating table,” Extinction Rebellion spokesman James Fox told AFP.

“What the pause looks like is us stopping an escalation.

“We can discuss leaving if they are willing to discuss our demands.

“At the moment, we haven’t received a response from the government… so we’re waiting on that.”

Extinction Rebellion was established last year in Britain by academics and has become one of the world’s fastest-growing environmental movements.

Campaigners want governments to declare a climate and ecological emergency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025, halt biodiversity loss and be led by new “citizens’ assemblies on climate and ecological justice.

“We’re giving them an opportunity now to come and speak to us,” Fox told AFP.

“If they refuse to come and negotiate with us, then this is going to continue and this is going to escalate in different, diverse and very creative ways.”

Thunberg, the 16-year-old activist who has inspired pupils worldwide to boycott classes to join climate protests, addressed the cheering crowds at the Marble Arch landmark, the only authorized demonstration site.

“For way too long the politicians and people in power have got away with not doing anything at all to fight the climate crisis and ecological crisis,” she said.

“But we will make sure that they will not get away with it any longer.”

She continued: “How do we want the future living conditions for all living species to be like?

“Humanity is now standing at a crossroads. We must now decide which path we want to take.

“We are waiting for the others to follow our example.”

Police said they had managed to clear the protesters from Parliament Square and the Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus junctions.

Those charged range in age from 19 to 77. They hail from around England and Wales, with one person from France charged.

The charges are for various offenses including breaching public order laws, obstructing a highway and obstructing police.

Calling for an end to the protests, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said more than 9,000 police officers had been responding to the demonstrations, which had left the force as a whole overstretched.

“This is now taking a real toll on our city… this is counter-productive to the cause,” he said.

“I’m extremely concerned about the impact the protests are having on our ability to tackle issues like violent crime.

“You must now let London return to business as usual.”

In the blazing sunshine on Waterloo Bridge, police lifted protesters and carried them off to waiting police vans.

“I’m genuinely terrified. I think about it all the time. I’m so scared for the world. I feel like there is going to be calamity in my lifetime,” student Amber Gray told AFP.

“I don’t even feel comfortable bringing children into this world knowing that that is coming.

“And I don’t want people in the future to say to me, ‘why didn’t you do anything?’.”

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Earth Day 2019 Looks at Human Effect on Planet

On April 22, more than 1 billion people in 192 countries are expected to take part in a global day of political and civic action for the Earth.

People will march, plant trees, clean up their cities, parks, beaches and waterways, politicians will announce policies, and corporations will pledge to work toward sustainability — all to mark Earth Day 2019.

Earth Day Network, the organization that leads Earth Day observances worldwide, has designated 2019 to be the year to “Protect Our Species.”

According to EDN, the theme was picked to highlight the fact that human activities are directly linked to what environmental journalist Elizabeth Kolbert refers to in her book, “The Sixth Extinction,” which describes a mass extinction caused by human activity rather than natural causes.

“The good news is that the rate of extinctions can still be slowed, and many of our declining, threatened and endangered species can still recover if we work together now to build a united global movement of consumers, voters, educators, faith leaders and scientists to demand immediate action,” EDN President Kathleen Rogers told VOA.

Earth Day brings, in general, a greater awareness to environmental concerns.

The Pew Research Center released a report last week that found climate change was the top concern in half the countries it surveyed last year.

At the top of the list was Greece, where 90 percent of those surveyed called it a major threat and only 4 percent did not view climate change as a threat at all. Their concern was shared by residents of South Korea, France, Spain and Mexico, countries that ranked Nos. 2-5, respectively.

The survey also found that concern over climate change has been steadily rising around the world since 2013, when Pew first asked that question. That year, a median of 56 percent in 23 countries said climate change was a major threat.

In the most recent survey, a median of 67 percent in the same countries hold this view. The concern was also the highest among specific demographics — the educated, women and those between the ages of 18 and 26.

The rising awareness, especially among the young, is good news for EDN, which is looking ahead to next year when it marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. It has already launched several initiatives this year in hopes of seeing results by Earth Day 2020. Among them are:

Earth Challenge 2020

EDN is working with the U.S. State Department and the Woodrow Wilson International Center to engage millions of people around the world to gather more than 1 billion data points in areas including air quality, water quality, biodiversity, pollution and human health.

The “citizen science” volunteers will gather information about their local conditions asking questions such as: What is in my drinking water? How does air quality vary locally? What is the extent of plastics pollution? How are insect populations changing? And is my food supply sustainable?

EDN is working with major tech companies to develop apps where the citizen scientists can upload the data they collect. The apps will also tell users what the information they collect means and offer suggestions on what else they can do to help the environment, Rogers said.

EDN hopes to be able to use the data to leverage public policy decisions and inspire collaborative action worldwide.

The Great Global Cleanup

The initiative will be launched in cities across the United States on Earth Day this year. It will call on volunteers to help pick up pieces of trash from neighborhoods, beaches, rivers, lakes, trails and parks. Using the lessons learned in the U.S., a global effort on Earth Day next year will try to gather millions of volunteers to remove billions of pieces of trash.

One of the most ambitious project connected to the global cleanup is one aimed at cleaning the most polluted rivers in the world: the Ganges, in India. Coordinated by Earth Day India and a local NGO, the first phase will begin in the Himalayas, where two glacier-fed streams meet to form India’s most famous and sacred river.

The cleanup will evolve over the next 15 months through 100 towns and cities, including some of the most densely populated ones such as Kolkota, Varanasi and Patna. It will culminate in the Sunderbans Delta, where the river empties into the Bay of Bengal.

“The project on the Ganges will serve as a lightning rod for many more countries and communities to get involved worldwide,” Rogers said.

The Canopy Project

One of EDN’s ongoing projects since 2010 has been to plant trees to fight deforestation. EDN focuses on restoring forests in environmentally critical areas such the Amazon rainforest and the Boreal Forest. But it also plans on reforestation of areas degraded by natural disasters such as flooding or fires. The organization estimates it has planted hundreds of millions of trees worldwide since it started.

Rogers says EDN’s goal for the 50th anniversary is to plant 7.8 billion trees, one for every person alive on Earth that year. Although, she says, the latest population forecast is close to 7.6 billion in 2020 “so that’s a bit of a reprieve.”

She explains that the 7.8 billion number is in addition to the reforestation pledges made by governments, corporations and other environmental groups. For example, she said, the government of Pakistan has already declared its intention to plant 1 billion trees. EDN is now in negotiations with Islamabad to plant 1 billion additional trees to meet the 2020 goal.

Since the first Earth Day in 1970, when 20 million Americans banded together to launch the modern environmental movement, governments around the world have passed laws and implemented policies to preserve the Earth.

EDN says as the 50th anniversary of Earth Day approaches, the time is long overdue for a global outpouring of energy, enthusiasm and commitment to create a new environmental paradigm.

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Precious Companionship: How Assistance Dogs Change Lives

Trained to aid and accompany people with disabilities at all times, assistance dogs are much more than dedicated friends, they are the ears, the eyes and the moral support that is so needed, whether their companion has a physical disability or an emotional one, like PTSD. Anush Avetisyan learned more about training assistance dogs and matching them with companions.

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Long Road to Recovery for Children After Cyclone Idai

The U.N. children’s fund says at least 1.6 million children in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe need help right away to recover from the affects of Cyclone Idai, which battered their countries more than one month ago.

Cyclone Idai, the deadliest storm to hit southern Africa in more than two decades, killed at least 1,000 people, and destroyed crops, livelihoods and hundreds of thousands of homes.

The U.N. children’s fund says the emergency phase of its response in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe is winding down. But the road to recovery will remain very long, especially for children, who are the most vulnerable.

It says children lack essential services, including healthcare, nutrition, water and sanitation, protection and education. It says the situation is particularly dire for some one million children in Mozambique where the storm hit with particular ferocity.

UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac says conditions in that country are ripe for an explosion of disease, noting more than 5,000 cases of cholera have already been reported.

“We also have a concern with malaria, with more than 7,500 cases confirmed. And UNICEF is distributing 500,000 mosquito nets. I also understand that in the coming weeks, campaigns are planned around measles vaccination, deworming and vitamin A boosters,” he said.

Boulierac says UNICEF also is supporting the establishment of several health clinics in resettlement areas.

The agency reports nearly one-half-million children in Malawi need humanitarian assistance to recover from the impact of Cyclone Idai. It says many children are living in crowded evacuation centers.

It adds it is providing water trucks, toilets, medicine and mobile clinics in those centers; creating child-friendly spaces and providing children with education and recreation kits.

In Zimbabwe, 130,000 children are at risk. UNICEF says it is furnishing vital health and nutrition supplies, other essential relief and psycho-social support to vulnerable children in child-friendly spaces.

UNICEF is appealing for $122 million to support its humanitarian operations in the three storm-affected countries.

 

 

 

 

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Two-Wave US Flu Season is Now the Longest in a Decade

Three months ago, this flu season was shaping up to be short and mild in the U.S. But a surprising second viral wave has made it the longest in 10 years.

This flu season has been officially going for 21 weeks, according to reports collected through last week and released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That makes it among the longest seen since the government started tracking flu season duration more than 20 years ago.

Some experts likened the unusual double waves to having two different flu seasons compressed, back-to-back, into one.

“I don’t remember a season like this,” said Dr. Arnold Monto, a University of Michigan researcher who had been studying respiratory illnesses for more than 50 years.

The previous longest recent flu season was 20 weeks, which occurred in 2014-2015.

Flu can cause a miserable, relatively mild illness in many people and a more severe illness in others. Young children and the elderly are at greatest risk from flu and its complications. Flu vaccinations are recommended annually for all but the very young.

The current season began the week of Thanksgiving, a typical start time. At the beginning, most illnesses were caused by a flu strain that tends not to cause as many hospitalizations and which is more easily controlled by vaccines.

But in mid-February, a nastier strain started causing more illnesses and driving up hospitalizations.

Not helping matters: The harsher bug is not well matched to the vaccine, said the CDC’s Lynnette Brammer, who oversees flu tracking.

Still, this flu season is not nearly as bad as last winter’s 19-week season, the deadliest in at least four decades. An estimated 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications last season.

The CDC is estimating that flu-related deaths this season in the range of 35,000 to 55,000.

More good news: Brammer said that although the virus is notoriously unpredictable, signs suggest this flu season should be over soon.

“It’s on the verge” of being over, she said. “If nothing changes.”

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How the Smallest Bears ‘Talk’ to Each Other

One of the key components of empathy is what scientists call facial mimicry. It seems complicated, but is as simple as smiling when someone smiles at you, and that conveys a lot of information. Scientists have always thought that animals who do it, humans included, are a small group, but maybe not. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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Attackers Kill Doctor at Hospital in Congo’s Ebola Epicenter

Attackers stormed a hospital at the epicenter of Congo’s Ebola outbreak and killed “a dear colleague,” the head of the World Health Organization said Friday as he condemned the latest violence against health workers trying to contain the virus.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a Twitter post others were injured in the attack Friday in Butembo, a city in eastern Congo.

The world’s response to the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history has been hampered by a series of deadly attacks on health centers in Butembo and elsewhere that have disrupted medical care and vaccination efforts, leading to a rise in new Ebola cases in the sprawling African nation.

Butembo’s deputy mayor, Patrick Kambale Tsiko, identified the slain WHO staffer as a doctor from Cameroon and blamed a militia group for the attack. He said the militiamen erroneously believed that foreigners had brought the disease with them to Congo.

“According to witnesses at the scene, these militiamen wanted all the expatriates to go home because according to them, Ebola does not exist in Butembo,” Tsiko said. “They said they will continue if these expatriates do not return as soon as possible.”

Police were pursuing the attackers, Tsiko said.

Congo’s health ministry confirmed the assault on the Catholic University of Graben hospital. One aid group, the International Rescue Committee, said the hospital held only non-Ebola patients and many of them fled during the attack.

Dozens of rebel groups are active in eastern Congo. There also has been some community resistance to Ebola containment efforts in a traumatized, wary region that had never faced an outbreak of the virus before.

Ebola can spread quickly and can be fatal in up to 90% of cases. The hemorrhagic fever is most often spread by close contact with the bodily fluids of people exhibiting symptoms or with objects such as sheets that have been contaminated.

Health Minister Dr. Oly Ilunga said in a tweet that local and international health workers are courageously combating the virus, “sometimes at the cost of their lives.”

The attack came three days after President Felix Tshisekedi visited the Ebola outbreak zone, pledging more military and police protection for health workers and asking residents for their cooperation. The president hoped to see the outbreak contained in less than three months, although some health experts estimate it could take much longer.

Robert Kitchen, senior vice president for emergencies with the International Rescue Committee, predicted it could take at least another year to contain the Ebola outbreak without a significant change in “community engagement and understanding.” He said such attacks on health workers are increasingly common.

This month could see the highest rate of Ebola transmission yet, Kitchen said, adding “the trajectory of this outbreak is alarming.”

Since the Ebola outbreak in Congo was declared in August, there have been more than 1,300 confirmed and probable cases, including 843 deaths, the health ministry said Thursday.

More than 102,000 people have received an experimental but effective Ebola vaccine.

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Official: Taliban, IS Deprive Afghan Kids of Polio Vaccine 

Some information in this report came from Reuters. 

More than 1 million Afghan children, particularly in conflict-stricken regions of the country, were deprived of polio vaccinations in 2018 because of actions taken by Taliban and Islamic State militants, Afghanistan health officials tell VOA.

“Overall, 1.2 million children were deprived of vaccinations in the country,” Dr. Gula Khan Ayoubi, public affairs director of the mass immunization program at the Afghan Ministry of Public Health, told VOA. “And the hope this year is to bring down the number to about 200,000 children. The remaining 200,000 children are living in areas where the Islamic State terror group has a strong presence and does not allow any vaccinations.” 

 

“To a large extent, the southern provinces of Zabul, Kandahar, Helmand, Uruzgan, and in the east, Kunar, have been affected the most due to the Taliban’s opposition,” Ayoubi added.  

 

Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria are the only three countries in the world where polio is still not eliminated and continues to threaten the lives of millions of children. 

 

In 2018, Afghanistan had the most cases of polio among the three, with 21 cases reported across the country. 

 

Afghan officials charge that contentious fighting, unrest, and the Taliban, IS and other armed groups are the main obstacles in the hard-to-reach areas in southern, southeastern and eastern Afghanistan.  

​Immunization ban 

 

The Afghan Taliban last week told Reuters the group had banned the activities of World Health Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross in areas under their influence until further notice. 

 

“They [vaccinators] have not stuck to the commitments they had with Islamic emirates, and they are acting suspiciously during vaccination campaigns,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.  

 

Polio vaccinators often go house to house to vaccinate children, and they mark the doors of houses where members are not present at the time to ensure the residents are vaccinated at a later date.  

 

The Taliban consider these vaccinators spies for the government and foreign forces, and are sensitive to their presence in areas under their influence. 

 

Conditional agreement 

 

Afghan health officials told VOA this month that they had reached a conditional agreement with the Taliban to continue their vaccination campaign in Taliban-controlled areas. 

 

“With the help of religious leaders and local influential elders, local Taliban commanders have agreed to allow the children under their controlled areas to be vaccinated,” Ayoubi said at the time. “Their condition, however, is that the mass vaccinations take place at a mosque or a similar place. Our vaccinators would not be allowed to go house by house and mark the doors.” 

 

WHO reaction 

 

In a statement issued last week, WHO said the Taliban’s ban would negatively affect its operations across the war-torn country. 

 

“We are deeply concerned that the temporary ban will negatively impact delivery of health services to affected populations,” the organization said. “WHO has been supporting health activities in all parts of Afghanistan, including primary health care, response to health emergencies, vaccination and polio eradication.”  

Sanela Bajrambasic, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, also said her organization was seeking clarification from the Taliban and that it would work with the group to find a solution to the issue.  

 

“What we can say at this point is that we have seen the same statement on their website, and we will be seeking to engage bilaterally with the Taliban on it,” she told Reuters. 

 

Negative campaign 

 

Some experts charge that in addition to militant groups, negative campaigns and rumors that swine are used to prepare the polio vaccine or that it has dangerous side effects have also made it difficult for vaccination campaigns to succeed in rural areas, which contribute to the spread of polio.  

 

“The groups that spread these rumors are those opposing the mass immunization programs,” said Dr. Najib Safi, WHO program manager of health system development. “These groups have always been trying to confuse people. In 2016, Afghan religious scholars decreed that it is permissible to use the polio vaccine. In addition to that, there are Islamic decrees from Egypt’s al-Azhar University, [Saudi Arabia’s] Jeddah and India’s Deobandi Islamic school that the polio vaccine is permissible to administer.”  

 

“Polio, and all other immunizing vaccines that are being administered to children, have no side effects. There are no links between the polio vaccine and impotency,” Safi added.  

 

Dr. Alam Shinwari, a medical expert who follows health-related developments, including polio in Afghanistan, charges that public awareness is the key to overcoming this issue.  

 

“Polio is mainly endemic in areas around the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, where traditional conservative religious tribes are residing, who have been influenced by their local religious scholars and local traditions beliefs that have negatively impacted their perceptions toward polio vaccination,” Shinwari said.  

 

“To overcome such barriers, we need to increase the level of public awareness by involving local religious scholars and imams, local educational experts, and finally, local leaders and elders. They have significant influence among people in tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan and can help overcome this problem,” he said. 

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