$15M in cash from Qatar bring relief for Gaza

After months of negotiations, Qatar has delivered $15 million to Gaza, with the intention of paying salaries for Gaza’s civil servants and easing the humanitarian situation. The money, sent by cash in three large suitcases, was brought into Gaza through Israel last Thursday by Qatar’s envoy to Gaza, Mohamed Al Emadi.

Images from Gaza over the weekend showed Palestinians civil servants lining up to receive the cash, with some people fanning $100 bills in their hands. Hamas ordered post offices to remain open on Friday and Saturday — the normal weekend in Gaza — to handle the cash disbursements, a Hamas spokesman told CNN.

The cash transfer comes just a few weeks after Qatar began sending urgently needed fuel into Gaza to power the coastal enclave’s power plant. The fuel supply increased the electricity in Gaza from about four hours a day to eight hours in an effort to alleviate the humanitarian crisis there.

Negotiations for the financial package to Gaza began months earlier, following the Palestinian Authority’s decision to cut salaries of employees in Gaza last year, an Israeli government source with knowledge of the matter told CNN. The sanctions against Gaza were an attempt to put economic pressure on Hamas to relinquish control of the coastal enclave to the Palestinian Authority.


Canadian-led movement aims to seize assets from dictators to remedy refugee crisis

A Canadian-led international movement seized with staunching the flow of refugees wants to use an untapped source of cash to address the global crisis: the billions languishing in the frozen bank accounts of dictators and despots.

The proposal will be one of the main recommendations of the World Refugee Council, a self-appointed body of two dozen global political figures, academics and civil-society representatives led by former Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy. “We’ve put forward a proposition that where there are frozen assets they should be unfrozen through a proper legal process and reallocated to help the victims of the crime and corruption and instability that the bad guys create,” said Axworthy. “It’s a morality play. The bad guys have to pay to help their victims.”

The World Bank estimates the pool of cash to be worth $10 billion to $20 billion per year, Axworthy said in an interview.

The council was established last year by a Canadian think-tank, the Centre for International Governance Innovation, to find new ways to deal with the 21st century’s record-setting migration crisis — the 68.5 million displaced people driven from their homes by war, famine and disaster. The United Nations will turn its attention to solving the problem at a special session later this fall, and the council plans to offer its input, using the weight of the last Canadian foreign minister to chair a Security Council meeting. Axworthy says there are fundamental structural flaws in how the world’s institutions are set up to cope with the unprecedented forced migration of people, and a big one is how the bills are paid. The system is based on charity — the benevolent donations of people, countries and businesses — and is not sustainable, Axworthy said.

Axworthy said the courts in several countries can be used to seize funds that have been frozen there. Canada, the United States and Britain have all passed legislation allowing them to impose sanctions on individual human-rights abusers. These “Magnitsky laws” are named after a Russian tax accountant who died in prison after exposing a massive fraud by state officials there.

Irwin Cotler, a former Liberal justice minister and human-rights lawyer who has championed Magnitsky-style legislation, said in a separate interview that these laws can allow to go beyond freezing funds, because once the assets are seized, there’s no point to returning them to their corrupt owners. “What you want to do is have the proceeds put for the public good,” said Cotler, the founder of the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

[Read full CBC article]

New report shows the ozone hole is healing

A three decades old international treaty to phase out chemicals that deplete the ozone layer protecting our planet from harmful solar radiation is paying off. According to the 2018 Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion released by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme, the ozone layer is recovering.

This includes the “hole” over Antarctica where the ozone layer is exceptionally thin, which has been gradually shrinking since the early 2000s and is projected to heal by the 2060s. This year, the hole spanned about 9 million square miles, an area slightly smaller than the entire North American continent.

“Generally, it’s good news,” says Paul Newman, co-chair of the new assessment and chief scientist of earth sciences at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Ozone-depleting gases are decreasing and have continued to fall since the mid-1990s. “The projections into the future are pretty positive as long as parties continue to comply with the Montreal Protocol.”

That’s not to say there aren’t any flies in the ointment, Newman says. Certain ozone-depleting substances like chlorofluorocarbon-11 (CFC-11) are decreasing from the atmosphere more slowly than projected. Two independent networks have confirmed an uptick of emissions over eastern Asia since 2012, though their exact origins are still being investigated. That’s troubling because compounds including CFC-11 are banned under the Montreal Protocol and persist in the atmosphere for decades. If someone is releasing them today, they’ll continue to do damage for generations to come.

[Read full Popular Science article]

India suffering “the worst water crisis in its history”

India is suffering “the worst water crisis in its history,” according to a report by a government policy think tank NITI Aayog. Worsening water shortages – for farmers, households, and industry – threaten the lives and incomes of hundreds of millions of Indians, and the economic growth of the country, the report said.

An estimated 163 million people out of India’s population of 1.3 billion – or more than one in 10 – lack access to clean water close to their home, according to a 2018 report by WaterAid, an international water charity.

The port city of Chennai needs 800 million liters of water a day to meet demand for water, according to official data. At the moment, the government can provide only 675 million liters, according to the Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board. Like many Indian cities, Chennai and its suburbs plug that gap by buying water, encouraging residents to dig backyard borewells, or using private wells. Chennai depends on more than 4,000 private water tankers for its everyday water needs.  Each tanker may make up to five trips a day, ferrying water from the outskirts of the city to apartments, hotels, malls, and offices.

“There are neighborhoods that depend on tankers throughout the year with no access to government water pipelines,” said Shekhar Raghavan, director of the charity Rain Centre, which encourages rainwater harvesting and water conservation in urban areas. That, he said, has “given rise to the water mafia, which has total control over who will get how much water in the city.” Tankers identify good groundwater sources in agricultural areas in neighboring districts, pay a small fee to access the water and then sell if for 50 times that cost, Mr. Raghavan said. And what Raghavan called “indiscriminate” – and in many cases unauthorized – extraction of groundwater is creating growing problems as supplies run short.

Raghavan, of the Rain Centre, which has spent two decades looking for alternative and sustainable water for Chennai, said getting water to those who need it will require better rainwater harvesting and storage, and renovation of wells – not just more delivery tankers. “A common sense approach [is] required to avoid day zero,” he said.

Chennai’s highest court has ruled that overuse of rural groundwater is threatening food production and the country’s food security. “The water crisis is worsening and even we are worried about depleting ground water,” admitted Shakespeare Arulanandam, founder of the greater Tamil Nadu packaged drinking water manufacturers association, whose members filed the high court suit. “In the future we can only pray more fervently and hope for good rains to ensure there is enough water to go around. It will be up to the Gods,” he said.

[Thomson Reuters Foundation]

Displaced persons in Colombia and Venezuela

With a shared border more than 2.000 kilometres long, Colombia and Venezuela are facing a serious challenge with the massive forced migration of people coming from Venezuela.

According to United Nations estimates, more than two million people have fled Venezuela as a result of the internal crisis and the government’s economic policies. It is estimated that there are already close to one million forced migrants in Colombia, in different cities of the country, although some are returned Colombians.

A large part of the migratory flow of those crossing to Colombia by land, as walking migrants are forced to leave everything behind to seek new and better conditions of life in Colombia or other countries in the region. This is the case in the border crossing between Apure, Venezuela and Arauca, Colombia.

The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) is working to cover their basic needs and provide fundamental rights for thousands of forced, displaced, and refugee migrants in the region. JRS strives to provide legal, psychosocial, and humanitarian assistance in this important area of the broad, binational border.

[Jesuit Refugee Service]

Bill Gates reinventing the toilet

Bill Gates thinks toilets are a serious business, and he’s betting big that a reinvention of this most essential of conveniences can save a half million lives and deliver $200 billion-plus in savings.

The billionaire philanthropist, whose Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation spent $200 million over seven years funding sanitation research, showcased some 20 novel toilet and sludge-processing designs that eliminate harmful pathogens and convert bodily waste into clean water and fertilizer.

The Microsoft Corp. co-founder explained that new approaches for sterilizing human waste may help end almost 500,000 infant deaths and save $233 billion annually in costs linked to diarrhea, cholera and other diseases caused by poor water, sanitation and hygiene.

One approach from the California Institute of Technology that Gates said he finds “super interesting” integrates an electrochemical reactor to break down water and human waste into fertilizer and hydrogen, which can be stored in hydrogen fuel cells as energy.

Without cost-effective alternatives to sewers and waste-treatment facilities, urbanization and population growth will add to the burden. In some cities, more than half the volume of human waste escapes into the environment untreated. Every dollar invested in sanitation yields about $5.50 in global economic returns, according to the World Health Organization.

Gates, who with wife Melinda has given more than $35.8 billion to the foundation since 1994, said he became interested in sanitation about a decade ago.


One of the few ships still rescuing refugees in the Mediterranean

Since its launch in 2016, the Aquarius, has put out to sea 44 times. According to the ship’s records, it has saved the lives of 29,523 people trying to cross the sea. — and in doing so has become synonymous with the refugee crisis, both provoking hate and earning respect every time it sets out.

Politically, European nations are ignoring the deaths in the central Mediterranean, outsourcing the problem to the Libyans. Culturally, Europeans are tired of the arrival of refugees and migrants — as demonstrated by the shift to the right in elections across the continent.

This has translated into the life-saving mission of the ship becoming harder and harder. The International Organization for Migration states that 128,082 successfully made the journey in 2017, but only 39,145 have done so this year. The journey has never been so dangerous: In July of this year, the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) put the figure at one person drowning for every seven who cross the Mediterranean. Approximately 14,743 men, women, and children have died attempting to cross the sea from starting points in Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia since 2014, according to the Missing Migrants project.

The Aquarius is one of the few NGO boats still working to save lives in the central Mediterranean. The 2,000-ton ship costs approximately $12,600 daily to run — split between SOS Méditerranée and Doctors Without Borders (also known as Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF) — and operates in international waters off the Libyan coast, where the majority of rubber and wooden boats depart. When a boat is located, SOS Méditerranée teams launch two inflatable motorboats to scoop people from the water and transfer them back to the Aquarius. MSF’s onboard medical team — a doctor, a midwife, and two nurses — immediately triage and treat the rescued people. Then, the Aquarius takes those it has rescued to Europe and immediately returns to international waters to continue working.

At least, that’s how it used to work. Now whenever the Aquarius enters the waters off Libya, it now faces another problem: The radios go silent. Speaking to BuzzFeed News, the crew were unable to explain why since their last mission (more than a month previously) the ship has no longer been receiving the standard radio messages — usually transmitted across a channel available to all vessels in the area — once it enters the seas under the authority of the Libyan coast guard.

An agreement with the Libyan government was negotiated by the Italian politician Marco Minniti in 2017, whereby the Libyans receive 43 million euros of EU funds to tackle Europe’s refugee crisis from their shores. The number of boats towed back to Libya increased by an estimated 194%, or roughly 13,000 people, since the agreement.

Germany, once seen as the continent’s cheerleader for migration, has witnessed the far right marching against and attacking migrants, turbo-charged by rumors online. France tightened its immigration rules in July, including a measure that would allow unauthorized migrants to be detained for up to a year, much to the dismay of human rights groups. Spain has taken only 11% of its EU quota of refugees, and the new leader of the country’s right-wing Popular Front recently promised to “defend the borders” against “millions” of migrants.


Children in less wealthy nations often perform better at school – UNICEF

Living in a rich country does not guarantee equal access to quality education, according to a UNICEF report. Children in less wealthy countries often perform better at school despite fewer national resources, the report says.

An Unfair Start: Inequality in Children’s Education in Rich Countries ranks 41 member countries of the European Union and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development on the extent of educational inequalities at preschool, primary and secondary school levels. It uses the latest available data to examine the link between children’s achievement and factors such as parents’ occupation, migration background, gender and school characteristics.

In 16 of 29 European countries for which data are available, children from the poorest fifth of households have a lower preschool attendance rate than children from the richest fifth. The patterns persist throughout a child’s schooling.

Among children aged 15 who are doing equally well at school, those with parents in high-status jobs are much more likely to continue into higher education than those with parents in low-status jobs.

In 21 out of 25 countries with substantial levels of immigration children who are first-generation immigrants tend to do less well at school at age 15 than non-migrant children. In 15 countries, second-generation immigrant children also do less well than non-migrant children.

“What our report shows is that countries can offer their children the best of both worlds: They can achieve standards of excellence in education and have relatively low inequality,” said Dr Priscilla Idele, Director of UNICEF Innocenti. “But all rich countries can and must do much more for children from disadvantaged families as they are the most likely to fall behind.”

[Read full UNICEF article]

UN to lift sanctions on Eritrea after US shift

The UN Security Council is preparing to lift sanctions on Eritrea after the United States dropped its insistence on prolonging the measures despite a peace deal with Ethiopia, diplomats said on Friday.

Britain circulated a draft resolution to the council that calls for lifting the arms embargo and all travel bans, asset freezes and targeted sanctions on Eritrea, according to the text seen by AFP. The council is to vote on the proposed resolution on November 14. Diplomats said they expected the measure to be adopted after the US change in position.

Eritrea and Ethiopia signed a peace deal in July, but the United States, backed by France and Britain, insisted that Eritrea would first have to show progress on respect for human rights before sanctions could be lifted. That position however recently changed.

The council slapped sanctions on Eritrea in 2009 for its alleged support to Al-Shabaab jihadists in Somalia. The draft resolution acknowledged that UN monitors had “not found conclusive evidence that Eritrea supports Al-Shabaab.” The sanctions caused “considerable economic damage” to Eritrea and “unnecessary hardships,” said the foreign minister.

The peace declaration signed in July by the prime ministers of Eritrea and Ethiopia ended two decades of hostility and triggered a thaw in relations with Djibouti and Somalia that shored up stability in the Horn of Africa.


Oceans heating up faster than expected

The ocean is warming much faster than previously thought, new research has found. The new study published in the journal Nature concluded that the global oceans may be absorbing up to 60 percent more heat since the 1990s than older estimates had found.

This suggests that the Earth, as a whole, is more sensitive to climate change than previous estimates would imply. And that means the planet may respond more strongly to future greenhouse gas emissions than expected.

This may have some grave implications for global efforts to meet the climate targets outlined under the Paris Agreement. Currently, world nations are striving to keep global temperatures within 2 degrees Celsius of their preindustrial levels, or a more ambitious 1.5 C if possible. If the Earth is more sensitive to climate change than previously thought, those temperature targets could approach more quickly. That means nations may have to work harder or cut emissions more quickly to stay on track.

Scientists know the ocean plays a critical role in the global climate, helping to absorb excess heat from the warming atmosphere. Oceans may store as much as 90 percent of the globe’s extra heat. There’s a strong relationship between ocean heat and the amount of dissolved gas from the atmosphere that oceans can hold. As the ocean warms, its ability to take in oxygen and carbon dioxide decreases, and more of those gases remain in the atmosphere.

Kevin Trenberth, one of that study’s co-authors, noted that the findings “have implications, because the planet is clearly warming and at faster rates that previously appreciated, and the oceans are the main memory of the climate system (along with ice loss). The oceans account for about 92% of the Earth’s energy imbalance. This is why we are having increased bouts of strong storms (hurricanes, typhoons) and flooding events.”

While the exact values of ocean heat uptake may be up for debate, more studies are all coming to the same general conclusion—that it’s a bigger problem than scientists previously thought. And that’s something to be taken seriously, the authors say.

[Scientific American]