Monthly Archives: January 2020

MacKenzie Bezos sells $400M in stock after pledge to give away billions

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife, MacKenzie Bezos, has divested herself of about $400 million worth of the Amazon stock she received as part of the couple’s divorce settlement — potentially providing the wherewithal for the charitable activities she’s planning.

There’s no indication what the proceeds were used for, but shortly after the divorce was announced, MacKenzie Bezos said she signed the Giving Pledge, which commits her to giving half her fortune to philanthropic causes.

[Yahoo News]

Africa’s under-reported humanitarian crises

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In Madagascar, three-quarters of the country’s population is living on less than $3 per day. Recent drought has meant people have resorted to eating cassava leaves and the fruits from cactuses that grow locally.

The Suffering in Silence report released on Tuesday by aid agency CARE found the severe drought in Madagascar was the least-reported major humanitarian crisis of 2019, with the United Nations estimating a global humanitarian funding gap of $28.8 billion, showing a correlation between under-reported crises in Africa and a lack of humanitarian funding.

The report found nine of the 10 most under-reported humanitarian crises are located in Africa, many of which have been caused or worsened by climate change.

The brutal conflict in the Central African Republic is the second-least reported crises on the list, followed by climate change issues causing drought in Zambia.  Other crises in Burundi, Lake Chad Basin, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have all been reoccurring more than once over the last four years of CARE‘s reports.

Nairobian writer and award-winning political cartoonist Patrick Gathara believes the under-reporting of Africa in Western media in general is an important but complex issue. Paying attention to crises in Africa can often be about charity rather than justice, Gathara believes, which he said also raises issues with the media’s portrayal of the region. “There is little money to be made in reminding Western audiences that their privileged lifestyles are underwritten by the suffering in other parts of the world,” he told the ABC.


The spread of the coronavirus beyond China

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Coronavirus cases have spread to at least a dozen countries around the world, now confirmed on 4 continents: Asia, North America, Europe and Australia.

A leading Hong Kong researcher, Gabriel Leung, warned on Monday that the outbreak “may be about to become a global epidemic”, as he released new unofficial estimates of between 12,000 and 44,000 current infections in Wuhan.

While China has imposed unprecedented city-wide quarantines and travel restrictions in hotspot areas, including Wuhan, the city’s mayor on Monday said five million people had likely left the city before the quarantines were in place.

Thailand’s health ministry reported eight cases as of Monday – the most of any jurisdiction outside mainland China.

Vietnam is investigating if one of its confirmed cases became sick after a family member returned from Wuhan. This would be the first known case of human-to-human transmission outside China, the World Health Organization says. The other global cases so far are among people who had traveled to China.

Taiwan announced moves that would essentially shut its borders to many mainland Chinese. North Korea has also reportedly closed its borders to foreign tourists, the vast majority of whom come through agencies based in China.

The United Kingdom and the United States have stepped up health screenings at major airports.

But there’s disagreement among public health professionals about whether screenings and border shutdowns are effective – or even counterproductive. “Evidence shows that temperature screening to detect potential suspect cases at entry may miss travelers incubating the disease or travelers concealing fever during travel,” the WHO said in its 24 January advisory for containing the outbreak.

A study published in The Lancet medical journal also on 24 January suggested the virus can spread through patients who aren’t showing symptoms.

[The New Humanitarian]

Chinese leadership calls situation grave as China scrambles to contain virus

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China’s leader Xi Jinping called the accelerating spread of a new virus a grave situation, as cities from the outbreak’s epicenter in central China to Hong Kong scrambled to stop the spread of an illness — coronavirus — that has infected more than 2,800 people and killed more than 80.

Travel agencies have also been told to halt all group tours.

The city of Wuhan, where the outbreak started and its 11 million residents are already on lockdown, banned most vehicle including private cars in downtown areas, state media reported. Only authorized vehicles to carry supplies and for other needs would be permitted after that, the reports said.

The U.S. government is said to be arranging a flight to the U.S. to evacuate Americans from Wuhan.


Sanctions on Iran are helping fuel a new refugee crisis – in Turkey

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Decades ago, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan prompted thousands of people to flee to neighboring Iran.

Now, many of these refugees are once again seeking a new home in a new land –Turkey– desperate to escape the dire economic conditions fueled by U.S. sanctions on Tehran.

Tens of thousands made the dangerous, cross-border trek last year into Turkey, a U.S. ally that is already heaving under the burden of refugees fleeing unrest on its borders. Turkish authorities are grappling with nearly 4 million refugees.

[Washington Post]

America has spent $6.4 trillion on wars in the Middle East and Asia since 2001

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A report from the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University concludes that the United States has spent $6.4 trillion on wars in the Middle East and Asia since 2001, and more than 801,000 people have died as a direct result of fighting.

The study also finds that:

  • In addition to 801,000 people who have died due to direct war violence, indirectly this number multiplies several times
  • Over 335,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the fighting
  • 21 million — the number of war refugees and displaced persons
  • The US government is conducting counterterror activities in 80 countries
  • The wars have been accompanied by violations of human rights and civil liberties, in the US and abroad

Aid to vulnerable Iraqis may come to a complete halt

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The UN’s humanitarian chief in Iraq, Marta Ruedas, said aid to vulnerable people in Iraq risks being completely blocked within weeks, as a result of the suspension of government documents allowing humanitarians to carry out critical missions.

On Thursday Ms. Ruedas declared that “our operations are at risk. Without predictable, continual access authorization, humanitarian aid is in danger of rotting in warehouses, putting lives in jeopardy and wasting badly-needed donor funds”.

Prior to November 2019, humanitarian organizations based in Iraq, including the UN and its NGO partners, were granted monthly letters, allowing them to pass through checkpoints unhindered. As of January 2020, almost all of these letters had expired and, with no alternative measures in place, the flow of aid deliveries in Iraq had slowed considerably.

The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) says that, unless partners are allowed to immediately resume full, unimpeded movement of their personnel and supplies, humanitarian operations in Iraq “may come to a complete halt within a matter of weeks”, leading to the possibility of hundreds of thousands of people in conflict-affected areas going without food, medicine and materials to get them through the coldest months of the year.

[UN News]

Climate change: Last decade confirmed as warmest on record

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The 10 years to the end of 2019 have been confirmed as the warmest decade on record by three global agencies.

According to NASA, NOAA and the UK Met Office, last year was the second warmest in a record dating back to 1850. The Met Office says that 2020 is likely to continue this warming trend.

The past five years were the hottest in the 170-year series, with the average of each one more than 1C warmer than pre-industrial. The Met Office says that 2019 was 1.05C above the average for the period from 1850-1900.

2016 remains the warmest year on record, when temperatures were boosted by the El Niño weather phenomenon.

Last year saw two major heat waves hit Europe in June and July, with a new national record of 46C set in France on 28 June. New records were also set in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and in the UK at 38.7C.  In Australia, the mean summer temperature was the highest on record by almost a degree.

“Each decade from the 1980s has been successively warmer than all the decades that came before. 2019 concludes the warmest ‘cardinal’ decade (those spanning years ending 0-9) in records that stretch back to the mid-19th century,” said Dr Colin Morice, from the Met Office Hadley Centre.

Researchers say carbon emissions from human activities are the main cause of the sustained temperature rise seen in recent years.