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Drought puts 2.1 million Kenyans at risk of starvation | Global development

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An estimated 2.1 million Kenyans face starvation due to a drought in half the country, which is affecting harvests.

The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) said people living in 23 counties across the arid north, northeastern and coastal parts of the country will be in “urgent need” of food aid over the next six months, after poor rains between March and May this year.

The crisis has been compounded by Covid-19 and previous poor rains, it said, predicting the situation will get worse by the end of the year, as October to December rains are expected to be below normal levels.

The affected regions are usually the most food-insecure in Kenya due to high levels of poverty.

Last week, President Uhuru Kenyatta declared the drought a national disaster promising “comprehensive drought mitigation measures”.

In July, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Kenya said the country needed 9.4bn Kenyan shillings (£62m) to mitigate the effects of the drought between July and November.

Asha Mohammed, secretary general of the Kenya Red Cross, said most of the affected counties had already had to deal with desert locust invasions, flash floods and tribal conflicts driven by diminishing resources.

“You have two seasons of depressed rains, desert locusts ravaging farmlands in the same counties and people fighting over the few resources available. That is the making of a disaster,” said Mohammed.

A child tries to chase away a swarm of desert locusts in Naiperere, near the town of Rumuruti, Kenya, January 2021
A child tries to chase away a swarm of desert locusts near the town of Rumuruti, Laikipia, Kenya, January 2021. Photograph: Baz Ratner/Reuters

She said it was not only farmers who had been affected by the drought, but also people in urban areas who had been forced to pay higher prices for the little available food. “There is some food reaching the urban areas within these counties but there is little purchasing power because many have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic,” she said.

The coronavirus pandemic has added to food insecurity by reducing available workforce in a country whose subsistence farming relies heavily on communal labour.

The NDMA said social distancing measures had “restricted the communal performance of agricultural activities and availability of casual labour opportunities, reducing the amount of land cultivated and projected crop production”. The disruption of supplies of staple food items and livestock has led to increased price volatility, it added.

Production of maize, Kenya’s staple food, is projected to decline by 50% in the affected regions due to low acreage under cultivation, while some areas will see total crop failure. Poor harvests have also affected those farming crops with short maturity cycles, such as vegetables.

Thomas Waita, from Kathatu village, in eastern Kenya, does not expect to harvest many tomatoes from his half-acre farm this year. Poor rains and dwindling water levels from a shallow well have seen the size of tomatoes shrink and a good portion of the crop damaged by blossom end rot, brought on by insufficient calcium intake.

For the father of two, a poor harvest means little money in the pocket and poor nutrition for his young family. “The tomatoes are ripening but didn’t get enough water. With drip irrigation, I can only afford to water them twice a week rather than daily. They will not fetch good prices at the market,” said Waita.

Waita counts himself among the fortunate ones because he at least had some water for his crops. Lack of water has seen maize planted in neighbouring farms wilt and die after hardly reaching knee height. Many farmers, he said, use irrigation methods that require a regular flow of water and, with rivers drying up, it is a matter of time before his fellow villagers become part of drought statistics.

“We are told it’s because of climate change. In the past, we used to have many trees here but most have been cut down for firewood and charcoal. [Scientists] tell us such fuels are contributing to global warming and changing rainfall patterns,” said Waita.

Mohammed said it is time the country thinks of medium and long-term interventions to mitigate the climate crisis and break the cycle of food insecurity.

“It’s clear this is going to get worse,” she said. “We have all the data to help these communities become more resilient and bounce back.”

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Too hot to handle: can our bodies withstand global heating?

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Extreme heat can kill or cause long-term health problems – but for many unendurable temperatures are the new normal

The impact of extreme heat on the human body is not unlike what happens when a car overheats. Failure starts in one or two systems, and eventually it takes over the whole engine until the car stops.

That’s according to Mike McGeehin, environmental health epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “When the body can no longer cool itself it immediately impacts the circulatory system. The heart, the kidneys, and the body become more and more heated and eventually our cognitive abilities begin to desert us – and that’s when people begin fainting, eventually going into a coma and dying.”

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Polish TV sabotages Tusk press briefing

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Polish opposition leader Donald Tusk clashed with Polish propaganda outlet TVP in Warsaw Tuesday. A TVP reporter asked him why Tusk’s party wanted Poland to leave the EU. “This is beyond imagination … I won’t answer such absurdities,” Tusk, whose Civic Platform party is pro-EU, said, before a prickly exchange ensued. TVP also muted MEPs who said Poland should face EU rule-of-law sanctions in its coverage of a Strasbourg debate.

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Odyssey Marine Exploration: Spanish court shelves case against US treasure hunters that looted ‘Mercedes’ frigate | USA

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The history of the Spanish frigate Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes includes two grievances and one victory. The first of the former was when the British Navy sunk it and its 275 crew members on October 5, 1804, off Portugal’s Algarve coast. The second offense came in May 2007, when the US treasure-hunting company Odyssey Marine Exploration scooped up its cargo of 500,000 silver and gold coins from the shipwreck at the bottom of the sea.

Triumph came when the US justice system confirmed that the treasure belonged to Spain, in a ruling released in February 2012. But there was one more affront to come: a Spanish court has just definitively shelved a case into alleged crimes committed by the US treasure hunters as they were removing the coins. After a tortuous 14-year investigation, a courtroom in Cádiz has been left with no option but to let the probe die, albeit admitting its “bafflement” and “anger” over what it considers “unusual proceedings.”

At the same time as the legal process began in Florida to determine who was the rightful owner of the rescued treasure, Odyssey or Spain, a court in La Línea de la Concepción, in the southwestern Spanish province of Cádiz, began investigating whether the then-CEO of Odyssey Marine Exploration, Greg Stemm, and his team had committed any criminal offenses when they removed the haul from the shipwreck. Among the potential crimes were damaging an archeological site and smuggling.

Odyssey workers hoisting a cannon from the 'HMS Victory' shipwreck in 2009.
Odyssey workers hoisting a cannon from the ‘HMS Victory’ shipwreck in 2009.

The fact that the 500,000 pieces of silver and gold were returned to Spain in February 2012 – nearly 17 tons of material, which are now held in the ARQUA underwater archeology museum in Cartagena – is proof that the legal battle in the United States ended well for Spain. But the latest decision in the Spanish case, to which EL PAÍS has had access, leaves no doubt that the investigation into potential crimes has definitively been shipwrecked.

The three judges who were responsible for the case found that the shelving, which cannot be appealed, is based principally on the fact that the potential offenses have now exceeded the statute of limitations in Spain for trial. And the slow process of the probe, according to the judges’ writ, was due to the failure of the US justice system to respond to the letters rogatory sent in 2013, and that were needed if Stemm and the rest of the suspects were to be questioned by investigators.

“In terms of the lawsuit over the coins, the United States was on Spain’s side,” explains Ángel Núñez, a public prosecutor who specializes in cultural heritage and who was in charge of the case until 2009. “But it is true that when it comes to targeting one of their own nationals, they are not so willing to collaborate. And given that these were US citizens who are not at the disposal of the Spanish courts…”

The Spanish court probe into Odyssey had already entered into a tailspin before this latest ruling. In December 2016, another judge in La Línea dismissed the case. The private prosecution, which was brought by the company Nerea Arqueología Subacuática, appealed the decision but it was rejected. In a new attempt to not let the legal process die, archeologist Javier Noriega, one of the heads of this small company based in Málaga, took the case to the High Court of Cádiz province, in La Línea, the one that has definitively shelved the proceedings.

In their ruling, the judges add that they share “with the appellant his surprise, confusion and even anger for the, shall we call it, unusual proceedings with this case, at least since the year 2013.” The magistrates do not go so far as to specify what prompted them to feel this way.

Spanish Civil Guard officers watching the "Ocean Alert," a vessel owned by Odyssey Marine Explorations, near Gibraltar in 2007.
Spanish Civil Guard officers watching the “Ocean Alert,” a vessel owned by Odyssey Marine Explorations, near Gibraltar in 2007.ANTON MERES (REUTERS)

Archeologist Javier Noriega believes that he knows all too well what they are referring to. He and his colleagues decided to take up the case – represented by the attorney José María Lancho – as a “professional and moral obligation.” They have since seen how “all of these years can be summed up by the end: exceeding the statute of limitations.” “They avoided entering into the substance of what happened to Spain’s cultural heritage,” the expert complains.

These unusual proceedings in the investigation which the judges mention and that Noriega suffered first-hand were reported on in the Spanish press. In March 2012, a former legal representative for Odyssey, with no authority, entered the courtroom when the judge was absent and persuaded court workers to photocopy the entire findings of the legal investigation so far, as was reported by the Spanish daily Abc at the time. According to Abc, such an action would have allowed Odyssey to prepare a defense against the findings of Civil Guard investigators and decide whether or not to actually take part in the trial.

The actions of the representative were very serious, taking into account that the probe was counting on a protected witness: a diver who had been threatened for having denounced Odyssey, given that he had knowledge of some of its activities in Spanish waters.

Now Noriega, 46, is gloomy about the end of a process that has occupied a significant part of his career. “As people who love our profession, it’s frustrating,” he explains. “It ends up being a defeat for all of us, for culture and for society. And if as well as that, the person responsible has gone unpunished, because of the statute of limitations, that’s very sad.”

Despite the legal setback, the archeologist argues that the court probe contains “evidence of all kinds, archeological, from witnesses, technical, juridical, and a ton of resounding questions that deal with what supposedly happened with an overwhelming truthfulness.”

The expert believes that an opportunity has been missed by Europe to convey “a clear message to the thieves who have spent years destroying the history of those shipwrecks from the modern era all over the world.”

Odyssey Marine Exploration never had any interest in the Spanish frigate beyond the cargo of silver and gold that it was carrying. That was made clear by the destruction caused by the company in the archeological area where the remains of the 275 people killed in the attack in 1804 lay. “When an archeological site is plundered, it is destroyed forever,” states Noriega.

After the site was looted, ARQUA led a scientific excavation that was carried out in three campaigns – from 2015 to 2017 – in which the remains of the shipwreck were documented and the items that the treasure hunters left behind were removed. These included cannon, cutlery and other everyday objects from life on board. The expedition also achieved the challenge of descending 1,130 meters underwater, the maximum depth achieved until that point during a subaquatic arqueological mission by a European country.

While the damage done to a historical site such as the Mercedes shipwreck will not result in a trial or convictions, Núñez believes that the consequences of the process “were positive, from a legal and global point of view.” Noriega goes even further: “Spain and its coasts are, today, possibly the best protected and safest in the world with regard to the protection of cultural heritage against looting.”

Since the Odyssey case, the classification of offenses against historical heritage in Spain has improved, new archeological maps have been created, there is better coordination between administrations, and there is greater social awareness about this kind of offense. It was precisely these weaknesses that the treasure-hunting company Odyssey made use of to make off with the coins. In fact, the activity has presumably lost its appeal not just in Spain but also elsewhere, given that the American company has since abandoned its treasure-hunting activities and is now focusing on underground mining.



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