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The death of the last glaciers in Mexico | USA

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The Ayoloco glacier was once 200 meters thick, an icy colossus dragging rocks through its slow path down the slope. When you ascend to the 4,700-meter point of the Iztaccíhuatl volcano in central Mexico today, all that remains are the deep grooves it carved and a wall of old ice. The awesome force of its weight, dating back millennia, is gone.

Two researchers from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) are now trying to affix a metal plate into one of those ancient grooves. They coat it with glue and secure it with screws. They don’t want it to fall down in the next storm. “This plaque is in memory of Ayoloco, to remind us it was here,” explains glaciologist Hugo Delgado. “And that it receded until it disappeared in 2018 because of climate change linked to human activity.”

The disappearance of this key water source cannot be reversed, and soon ice-free slopes and stones scattered like bones are all that will be left of Mexico’s once plentiful glaciers

This geologist has dedicated his career to studying Mexican glaciers, and says that measures should have been taken much earlier to prevent Ayoloco’s fate. The disappearance of this key water source cannot be reversed, and soon ice-free slopes and stones scattered like bones are all that will be left of Mexico’s once plentiful glaciers.

Delgado came to Iztaccíhuatl in 1974 to learn to walk on snow. He climbed the magnificent Ayoloco glacier with a hammer and ice ax, and lived here for two weeks in 1979 to prepare an expedition to the Himalayas. He lost his best friend on that mission. He has crossed this mountain so many times that he does not know the exact figure, and knows it like the back of his hand. “Our ice is heroic,” he says. “It is resisting as long as it can”.

Iztaccíhuatl is Mexico’s third-highest peak at 5,230 meters. Back in 1958, 11 glaciers were counted here in a national survey. Now only three remain: the Pecho, the Panza and the Suroriental glaciers. Between them, they barely cover 0.2 square kilometers, but in 1850 they stretched over 6.23 square kilometers, during the tail-end of the so-called “Little Ice Age”. In 170 years, the mountain has lost 95% of its glacier mass.

Mexico’s last five glaciers have a grim prognosis. Delgado predicts that in the next five years the three on Iztaccíhuatl will have disappeared

In the rest of Mexico, only two other permanent masses of ice remain: “El Norte” (North) Glacier and the small “Noroeste” (Northwestern) Glacier, totalling little more than 0.6 square kilometers. They are found in the Pico de Orizaba, also known as Citlaltépetl, on the border of the Mexican states of Puebla and Veracruz. The Pico de Orizaba is the highest mountain in the country, at 5,675 meters, and the third-highest in North America. Four glaciers have disappeared from its slopes over the last sixty years. El Norte, the geologists’ last hope, has lost its “tongues” – ridges or protrusions that snaked up the mountain. “The rock is showing through,” explains Delgado, “the ice layer is minimal”.

Remnants of the masses of ice that still survive in Iztaccíhuatl. On the video, the ascent to the former glacier of Ayoloco (Spanish language).PHOTO | VIDEO: TERESA DE MIGUEL

Mexico’s last five glaciers have a grim prognosis. Delgado predicts that in the next five years the three on Iztaccíhuatl will have disappeared. He gives those on Pico de Orizaba two decades. In any case, he says: “In 2050 there will be no glaciers in Mexico”.

Delgado also represents his country in the international glacier research group, and for years he has endured the jokes of Latin American colleagues, proud of the magnificent glaciers of Ecuador or Peru. “‘Soon you won’t even need to show up,’” they used to say, laughing at me… They have gone from making fun of the size of my glaciers to worrying about their own as they watch the ice vanish,” he explains.

The continuing disappearance of glaciers is a mirror held up to the world we are heading for: warmer, drier, worn out.

This fast-accelerating extinction is happening to ice masses simultaneously around the world. From Ok in Iceland to Pizol in Austria, the funerals are happening in quick succession, with requiems for Spanish glaciers and new lakes forming in the Himalayas. No one, no matter where they are, can escape global warming. Glaciers are a sensor for climate change: the more the planet’s temperature rises, the faster they retreat. Their continuing disappearance is a mirror held up to the world we are heading for: warmer, drier, worn out.

You can hear crunching footsteps on the earth, the heavy breathing and the bristling zacatones, plants that cover the slopes of Iztaccíhuatl like a blanket. In a clearing, before reaching the snow, crosses commemorate Luis Rosas, a mountaineer who died in 1971, and Daniel Peralta, who lost his life in 2013. These plaques in homage to mountain lovers inspired the farewell to Ayoloco.

The silence on the path suddenly shifts to a low, constant rumble. “Can you hear that? It’s a gas leak, with a lot of pressure. There are sometimes some explosions. It’s Popocatépetl,” says Robin Campion, a volcanologist from UNAM who accompanies Delgado on his expeditions to the glaciers. From the foothills of Iztaccíhuatl, the smoke of the other volcano is clearly outlined in the clear May sky, as a constant reminder of its presence.

Popocatépetl also had glaciers until 2000, when a strong eruption buried them. “There is still some ice left, but it does not function as a glacier because it has no movement or feeding process. In fact, those ice masses are ironically being preserved by the volcano’s ashes,” explains Delgado. If one day Popocatépetl falls dormant and the temperature increase has not melted the ice, the glacier could be regenerated.

A thick blanket of clouds accompanies the mountaineers on their ascent until it covers their feet, knees and the belly of Iztaccíhuatl. The hollow that occupied the Atzintli glacier until around 2012 appears on the western slope, on the route to Ayoloco. Now lizards hide among the rock piles and lichen at 4,500 meters above sea level. For centuries both glaciers were an important source of water during the dry season. Their names in Nahuatl, “heart of water” and “my water”, spell out the link with the people who lived here.

The two glaciers disappeared when the temperature increased and remained below the so-called “equilibrium line”. Geologists define this as the area in the mountains where the average annual temperature is zero degrees or less. Above this line, snow, blizzards or hail accumulate and feed the glacier. “As it feeds, it moves downslope due to gravity. When it exceeds the equilibrium line, it reaches what we call the ablation zone,” Delgado explains. This is where the temperature is higher than zero degrees and where everything begins to melt. “Glaciers have this dynamic of feeding and loss and there is a balance that allows them to conserve mass or lose it,” he adds.

This line of equilibrium has moved naturally over time. All the mountains of the Valley of Mexico taller than 3,500 meters were once covered with ice: the Ajusco, the Sierra de la Cruces, the Nevado de Toluca or the mountains of the Sierra Nevada all harbored glaciers. The temperature increase means that the level of the line is ever higher up. In 1958, it could be found in Mexico at 4,500 meters; now it is at 5,250 meters.

In addition to global warming, Mexican glaciers are trying to survive while surrounded by the industrial zones of the Valley of Mexico and Puebla state, and densely populated areas like Mexico City and Nezahualcoyotl

All of Iztaccíhuatl’s glaciers are already below the equilibrium line. “This means that solid precipitation has no hope of staying put,” Delgado explains. While the researchers secure the Ayoloco plate, the snow is falling heavily on the belly of the mountain. The rainy season has just begun and at this altitude the storm is shedding snowflakes relentlessly, but they do not cover all of the exposed rock. “The snow doesn’t last more than a few days, maybe a few weeks with luck. But it doesn’t stick, it can’t feed the glaciers.” The trio that remain on Iztaccíhuatl remain couched inside the craters, as the hollow protects the body of ice. “They are being maintained by the conditions on the surface, but the hope that they will stay is practically nil.”

Things are different at Pico de Orizaba. The summit and its glaciers are still 120 meters above the equilibrium line. But geologists have detected a lack of synchronization when it snows in the rainy season, which in Mexico coincides with summer. The high temperatures prevent the snow from sticking, and when it gets cold enough, there is no precipitation. “If things continue with the same temperature records, in a couple of decades they will disappear,” Delgado predicts.

In addition to global warming, Mexican glaciers are trying to survive while surrounded by the industrial zones of the Valley of Mexico and Puebla state, and densely populated areas like Mexico City and Nezahualcoyotl. As the glacial ice melts, outcrops of dark mountain rock start to appear which absorb instead of reflect solar radiation, causing additional warming.

A monitoring station on the Pico de Orizaba also corroborates that Mexico’s ice is “hot ice”, with a temperature so close to zero degrees that the ice melts easily with just a small rise in temperature. In addition, in the dry seasons the glaciers suffer from the sun’s rays due to their altitude and orientation, and although temperatures are low the ice turns from a solid state into gas and evaporates.

The loss of the Mexican glaciers means losing a sensor for climate change, but it also means losing a water source. In an increasingly populated and drier country – the average temperature in Mexico has risen 2ºC in the last 34 years – glaciers are an additional contribution to drinking water in the dry season for communities living near the mountains. They contribute about 5% of the region’s water, in runoff or by feeding into aquifers. “It’s very little, but even that will still cease to exist,” Delgado notes. All the signs – receding glaciers, melting poles, emptying dams – point in the same direction: “There will no longer be as much water available. Our society will be under water stress. It is a problem that is already here, but  the magnitude of it is not yet clear. The real challenge now is how we are going to adapt.”

There is no hope for these frozen masses fading slowly away on Mexico’s mountain tops, but we can try to slow down the process. Reducing greenhouse gases, saving water, avoiding deforestation and investing in environmental education are all necessary today. Delgado, who finds hope in the upcoming generation, concludes: “This is not to protect the planet, but the environment that allows us to survive as a species. We are risking our own existence.”

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Venezuela’s mining region a hotbed of sex trafficking and violence, UN says | Global development

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Struggling to get by amid Venezuela’s runaway inflation, widespread shortages and rampant unemployment, a young woman left the city of San Félix for the promise of a job deep in the forests of Bolívar state.

The offer made on Facebook promised a good salary in exchange for working in a booming mining town.

Once there, however, she quickly realised she had been deceived. Rather than cooking, cutting hair and washing clothes, she was forced by armed men into selling her body to gold miners.

A landmark UN report on human rights abuses in Venezuela’s lawless mining arc has found evidence of widespread sex trafficking and violence against vulnerable women and children in the region. Many victims are lured to the mines with promises of work, and then pressured or forced into sex work.

“The situation in Bolívar state and other mining areas is deeply troubling,” said Patricia Tappatá Valdez, an author of the fact-finding report, which was presented in Geneva this week. “Local populations, including Indigenous peoples, are caught in the violent battle between state and armed criminal groups for the control of gold.”

As Venezuela’s economy has collapsed – forcing nearly 7 million to flee the country – President Nicolás Maduro has used state forces and paramilitary groups to clamp down on dissent and tighten his grip on power.

The gold-rich mining arc, where Colombian and Venezuelan armed groups war for control of its lucrative mines, has become a hotspot for human rights abuses.

Though the mining towns of Bolívar are sites of brutal massacres and are plagued with disease, UN investigators say that rumours proliferate in towns throughout Bolívar that the mines are the route to riches.

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Once lured to the region, economically vulnerable women and girls are enslaved by criminal groups who steal their documents or threaten them with violence, rape or public shaming.

While men typically have their hands or fingers cut off for breaking the gangs’ rules, the report found that women are publicly shamed. Sex workers had their hair shaved off or were publicly stripped as a form of humiliation for trying to escape.

One witness told the mission that in September 2021 she saw at least 30 women with scars around their mouths or their ears sliced off. Labelled “the discarded ones”, their faces were cut by the gangs so they would be less attractive to clients.

“Getting into the mines is very easy for women,” another interviewee told the researchers. “The problem is to get out of there in one piece.”

The report found that the region’s bloated military forces are complicit, ignoring sex trafficking, and in some cases were responsible for the human rights violations.

Researchers collected numerous reports of soldiers not allowing women to pass checkpoints unless they performed sexual favours.

The 70 case studies in the report offer a harrowing illustration of how corruption and impunity have left the country’s most vulnerable groups – women, children and Indigenous populations – open to abuse from state forces.

In return for parcelling off land to armed gangs, Maduro’s inner circle siphons off most of the profits from drugs, gold and sex work, said Cristina Burelli, founder of the advocacy group SOS Orinoco.

“These are not autocrats, these are criminals,” she said. “These armed groups and the political and military power structures are completely enmeshed.”

The anarchic forests of the Orinoco are dangerous for NGOs and journalists to access, which meant the mission could not fully document the scale of the egregious human rights violations, Marta Valiñas, chair of the fact-finding mission told the Guardian.

The UN’s fact-finding mission on Venezuela expires on Friday and a vote on whether to extend the mandate will probably take place next week.

“There’s a high risk that the dynamics of violence are not only perpetuated but actually start becoming normalised, while at the same time impunity and the context of lawlessness ensures that the violations continue, or even worsen, leaving the populations in those regions completely unprotected,” said Valiñas.

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Russia Vetoes UNSC Draft Resolution Rejecting Referendum Results in Former Ukraine Regions

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UNITED NATIONS (Sputnik) – Russia vetoed on Friday a UN Security Council draft resolution designed to condemn Moscow for incorporating four former Ukrainian regions.

Ten members voted in favor 10, one against and four others abstained.

“The draft resolution has not been adopted owing to the negative vote of a permanent member of the Council,” French Ambassador to the UN De Riviere said at a UN Security Council meeting.

France holds the presidency of the Council for September.

Ahead of the vote, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield noted that in the event of the resolution being vetoed, the matter would be taken to the 193-member General Assembly.

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia earlier remarked that the US-Albanian draft resolution demonstrates the West’s refusal to engage and cooperate within the Council. He called the draft a “low-grade provocation with a goal that is clear to all.”

The Friday vote came hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin held a speech before lawmakers in Moscow on the accession of the Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporozhye regions.

“I would like everyone, including the authorities in Kiev and their real masters in the West, to hear me and remember that the people of [the four territories] are becoming our citizens. Forever,” Putin said. “We call on the Kiev regime to immediately cease fire, cease all hostilities – the war it unleashed in 2014 and return to the negotiating table. We are ready for this,” Putin said.

The Russian president also took the opportunity to call on Ukraine to respect the choices made by voters in favor of joining the Russian Federation, adding that Moscow would use all means to protect the newly independent territories.

The Kherson, Zaporozhye and the Donbass republics will officially become part of Russia once lawmakers finalize legislation on their incorporation, and is signed by Putin.



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Ukrainians fleeing Putin’s referendums: ‘Of course I didn’t vote, damn them!’ | International

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Constantin, a 28-year-old internet installer, decided he had had enough. On Tuesday, he packed his gray Lada 110 and its roof rack with everything he feasibly could, then put his brother, his wife, his son and his daughter in the car and drove away, leaving behind his home in Ivanivka, a Russian-occupied town in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine. Tuesday was the last of five days during which Moscow had organized annexation referendums in the occupied zone and three other regions partially under the control of Russian troops to decide if those territories would become part of Russia. The Kremlin’s next step will be to impose mandatory enlistment from October 1 on men aged between 18 and 35, forcing them to fight in Russian uniform against Ukrainian forces defending their own country.

Constantin did not open the door of his home on Monday, when two armed men and a woman, a ballot box in her hand, went house to house to coerce residents into participating in the illegal vote. Neither does he intend to wear the uniform of his country’s enemy. The Kherson region has now been occupied for seven months and the ongoing war, which has resulted in insecurity, inflation and harsh living conditions, have now been brought to the doorsteps of residents suffering harassment in the face of the Kremlin’s designs. “I was scared,” Constantin admits, hours after arriving safely in Zaporizhzhia in the southeast of Ukraine.

Zaporizhzhia, capital of the eponymous region, is also playing host to officials of the Kyiv government who fled their municipalities after refusing to collaborate with the Russians. Moscow’s agenda “will not change our lives or those of our troops in any way. Berdyansk will remain Ukrainian. We will fight until victory”, says Viktor Tsukanov, the ousted head of the Berdyansk City Council. The 40-year-old, who served as mayor of the city before it was taken by Russian troops in February, plays down Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric. The Russian president plans to announce on Friday – unilaterally and without official backing from beyond Moscow – that the areas currently occupied by his soldiers in the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson will become part of Russia.

Nevertheless, thousands of Ukrainian citizens in the occupied zone, like Constantin and his family, are not waiting for Putin’s pronouncement. Long lines of vehicles trying to reach unoccupied soil resemble those of Russians fleeing their country to avoid being drafted and sent to fight in Ukraine after Putin ordered a partial mobilization in Russia, the country’s first since World War II. To reach Zaporizhzhia, refugees first have to navigate Vasylivka, where hundreds of vehicles are backed up. As dozens of interviewees attest, it is a kind of border hell of draconian controls where Russian troops go out of their way to make passage difficult for the population they have supposedly come to rescue from the “Nazism” of the Kyiv government. Constantin says he was forced to strip to his underpants so that the soldiers could examine his tattoos, as he has several that are clearly visible. It is the occupiers’ method of detecting patriotic or nationalistic symbolism not to their liking, and as such an excuse to make an arrest. Other men consulted by this newspaper described similar experiences.

Ina, 24, is Constantin’s wife. She deals as best she can with Danil, their four-year-old boy, while carrying little Vladislava, nine months old, in her arms. The family has arrived at a transit center set up in an abandoned factory, where they ill remain until they find a place to settle. There are several of these halfway houses in Zaporizhzhia, where refugees are organized according to their place of origin. At one point during the interview, Constantin gets up to help the rest of the volunteers unload a truck that has arrived carrying aid.

Ina holds her daughter Vladislava in her arms at the transit center where she is sheltering with her husband and son.
Ina holds her daughter Vladislava in her arms at the transit center where she is sheltering with her husband and son.

His wife recalles the hours they spent in Vasylivka with dread. They even tried to elicit sympathy from the Russian soldiers by pretending Danil had a broken leg. The worst of the four controls was the second, Ina says. There, the car was turned inside out and all of the family’s electronic devices were confiscated, even Danil’s tablet. The soldiers scanned social networks, phone contacts and Google and YouTube history, finding something they didn’t like on Ina’s cell phone. “One of the soldiers went crazy and starting shouting aggressively, telling me to get out of the car,” Ina recalls. “Please, I am a mother with two children, one with a broken leg. Let me go on,” she implored. Then came a moment that almost saw them turned back, as had happened to four of the cars that were part of their convoy of 16 vehicles. The Russians became suspicious of Artem, Constantin’s brother, because he wasn’t carrying a phone. In the view of the soldiers, that meant he had something to hide. The nightmare of fleeing through Vasylivka finally ended when they passed the last checkpoint, “which was controlled by Chechens,” says Ina with evident relief.

Viktor Tsukanov and a group of municipal employees and volunteers from Berdyansk, a city in the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia region, celebrate a birthday at the offices where they help refugees
Viktor Tsukanov and a group of municipal employees and volunteers from Berdyansk, a city in the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia region, celebrate a birthday at the offices where they help refugeesLuis de Vega

Also at the makeshift refugee center is Sergei Tatarnikov, a 36-year-old who walks leaning on an old wooden crutch with his left leg bandaged. He was wounded by shrapnel during an attack on August 24, Ukraine’s Independence Day, which was also the the six-month anniversary of the invasion. He was evacuated from Orikhiv, a town the Russians have not yet managed to capture but which is under a permanent state of siege. “It’s a war zone,” says Tatarnikov, who estimates that only 5% of Orikhiv’s 50,000 inhabitants remain there.

In the same facility where the former inhabitants of Berdyansk are receiving help, Irina, 44, recalls how in Vasylivka the Russian troops humiliated them by mocking the use of “Slava Ukaine!” (Glory to Ukraine) that the locals would greet each other with. Another Irina, a 69-year-old nursery school teacher, watched as her neighbor opened the door during the referendum, which the international community has branded a “farce,” and was forced to drop in a ballot. She was accompanied on the bus journey by her son-in-law, Oleksei, 38, a newspaper advertising employee who lost his job because of the war and is also fleeing the Russian draft. He recounts bitterly how “many” acquaintances and former classmates are now collaborating with the occupiers.

A woman in the parking lot of a shopping center in Zaporizhzhia, converted into a reception area for people arriving from the occupied zone.
A woman in the parking lot of a shopping center in Zaporizhzhia, converted into a reception area for people arriving from the occupied zone. Luis de Vega

Night falls over the old Zaporizhzhia factory while dinner is distributed in the dining room provided by the NGO World Central Kitchen, led by the Spanish chef José Andres. Even at night the trickle of refugees arriving at the ten-storey high facility continues. Valentina, 65, a philologist with a doctorate in the Ukrainian language, managed to leave the city of Kherson by crossing the Dnieper River on a small ferry, one of few routes out after the bridge was bombed. Her group had to stop for two days in Vasylivka, where an old woman welcomed them into her home. “In Kherson most people are still with Ukraine. They are waiting for our army to arrive to liberate us”, says Valentina, a retiree who hopes that in Zaporizhzhia she will be able to recover her pension, which it is impossible to receive under the Russian occupying authorities. When she set out last Sunday, the ballot boxes of the illegal referendum were still being carried from house to house, with a military escort. “Only a few people opened the door to vote,” Valentina says, making it abundantly clear she was not one of them: “Of course I didn’t vote, damn them!”

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