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Belgium enforces teleworking and face masks as Covid cases rise

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The Belgian ministerial concertation committee decided on Wednesday to tighten its measures on rising Covid numbers. From Saturday on, teleworking will be mandatory for at least four days a week. Face masks are mandatory for everyone from 10 years old in on all public places. That also counts for night clubs.

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Planned change to Kenya’s forest act threatens vital habitats, say activists | Global development

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Environmentalists are deeply concerned by the Kenyan government’s move to allow boundary changes to protected forests, watering down the powers of conservation authorities.

The forest conservation and management (amendment) bill 2021 seeks to delete clause 34(2) from the 2016 act, which makes it mandatory for authorities to veto anyone trying to alter forest boundaries. The same clause protects forests from actions that put rare, threatened or endangered species at risk.

Tabled by the National Assembly’s procedure committee, the amendment would weaken the role of Kenya Forest Service, mandated to protect all public forests, allowing politicians to decide who can change forest boundaries.

In an election year, many have read the proposal, due to be debated at the end of the month, as politically motivated.

The committee’s memorandum to MPs said current laws “unnecessarily limit the rights of any Kenyan to petition parliament” as provided for in the constitution.

An indigenous tree stands in habitat destroyed by charcoal makers
An indigenous tree, believed by local people to be ancient, stands in an area destroyed by charcoal makers in Nyakweri forest, Narok county, Kenya. Photograph: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty

But conservationists have said this would be a serious setback for the country, which was seeking to increase forest cover to 10% of land by 2022, up from 7.4%. Forest authorities said the move puts endangered species at risk, as well as clearing the way for unscrupulous individuals to encroach into forests that, according to a 2014 government paper, have been shrinking at a rate of 50,000 hectares (124,000 acres) annually.

“I am astounded any right-thinking person would consider submitting or supporting such an amendment,” said Paula Kahumbu, chief executive at WildlifeDirect, a conservation NGO. “It will open the door to forest destruction after decades of hard work by agencies, communities and NGOs to increase forest cover, as committed to in our constitution. One can only read mischief in such a motion, with elections around the corner.”

A mural of Prof Wangari Maathai Nobel Peace prize winner by Pius Kiio Kitheka also known as Waji Dice.
A mural of Nobel Peace prize winner, Wangari Maathai, who campaigned to protect Kenya’s forests. Photograph: Boniface Muthoni/SOPA/Rex/Shutterstock

Kahumbu added: “At risk are indigenous forests and the biodiversity therein, the integrity of our water towers, generation of hydropower and productivity of our farms. The environmental experts of Kenya and the conservation community call on all citizens of Kenya to reach out to their MPs to wholeheartedly and aggressively reject this heinous bill.”

She said the amendment would destroy the legacy of Wangari Maathai, the late environmentalist and Nobel Peace prize winner, who was once attacked and seriously wounded as she led a tree-planting exercise in Nairobi’s Karura Forest.

In a tweet, Christian Lambrechts, executive director at Rhino Ark said: “Considering what Kenya has lost in the past, any change that weakens, rather than strengthens the mechanisms to protect our forests, is ill-advised.”

Rhino Ark has been spearheading an initiative to put up electric fences around Kenya’s public forests to hamper poachers and illegal incursions.

Dickson Kaelo, head of the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association, said the move by parliament is intended to “give legitimacy” to those who would destroy Kenya’s biodiversity.

“This is a well-calculated move to open the doors for forest excisions and allocation to private persons for development, and may even be a means to normalise current excisions. It is a threat to our forests coming at a time when we have a low forest coverage and a high risk of climate crisis-induced vulnerabilities. We call upon parliament to reject the amendment,” said Kaelo.

Protecting forests from developers has been a daunting task in Kenya.

Last July, Joannah Stutchbury, a prominent environmental activist, was killed near her home in Nairobi after her protracted opposition to attempts by powerful businessmen to build on Kiambu forest near the capital, Nairobi.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has yet to fulfil a promise to catch her killers.



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EU court set to rule on Hungary, Poland rule-of-law challenge

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The European Court of Justice will rule on 16 February on the legality of the new mechanism linking EU funds to respect for the rule of law, which was challenged by Poland and Hungary last year. The tool has been threatened against Budapest and Warsaw where governments oversaw a decline in EU democratic standards. The court’s adviser ruled last month that their challenges should be rejected.

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At least four killed after tropical Storm Ana hits Malawi and Mozambique | Global development

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At least four people have died and dozens are missing after strong winds and heavy downpours wreaked havoc in Malawi and Mozambique as Tropical Storm Ana made landfall on Monday.

Almost 16,000 people in the south of Malawi have been affected, according to the Red Cross, as search and rescue operations continue after the first cyclone of the region’s season. At least two people were killed and 66 injured in Mozambique on Monday and a further two people died on Tuesday in Malawi.

Felix Washon of the Malawi Red Cross Society said people were sheltering in schools-turned-evacuation centres as the organisation rushed to provide survivors with basic necessities, including shelter, food, kitchen utensils, water buckets and washing facilities such as toilets and clean water, adding that they are running short on supplies.

“The rains are still coming and the water levels are still rising, meaning more people are going to be affected. Roads are impassable and there are fears that some places might not be reachable,” he said.

Heavy flooding has forced the main hydropower supplier to shut down, and much of the country is still without electricity.

The Electricity Generation Company of Malawi said in a statement: “We are experiencing flash floods in the power station. As such, we have been forced to shut down some machines to protect the intake structure from damage.”

Eveness Masanjala, 47, who lives in Mulanje, southern Malawi, was forced to run with her children on Monday evening when water surrounded her house. Along with dozens of others, she is now being given shelter by neighbouring villagers.

“The water just came abruptly and I managed to grab my children and run,” she said. “I’m not sure what remains in the house as it’s submerged in the water. There is fertiliser, poultry, cash for farming and everything.”

Dr Victor Mithi, president of Malawi’s Society of Medical Doctors, said the electricity blackout is dangerous.

“At the moment most hospitals don’t have power apart from those that depend on fuel. If you think of all the small health centres and small community hospitals – they completely don’t have any source of power. This is very dangerous because if you think of patients that need oxygen therapy, they cannot be assisted. Those babies born prematurely may not be in proper nursery care because there is no power. Drugs that have to be kept at a specific temperature may not be there. We’re not sure when this might end, but we might lose lives.”

The Malawi Department of Disaster Management Affairs said on Tuesday that the cyclone made landfall over Nampula province in Mozambique the day before, after crossing from Madagascar.

“Councils are conducting assessments to establish the extent of damage and assisting all those in need. Meanwhile, the department has deployed a search and rescue team,” said a statement by Charles Kalemba, Malawi’s commissioner for disaster management.

The Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services advised Malawians to move to higher ground and avoid crossing flooded rivers and streams.

Southern African countries have been repeatedly struck by severe storms and cyclones in recent years, which experts say are worsening as waters warm due to the climate emergency.

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