Typhoon Hagibis death toll rises to 72 with thousands left stranded in the cold without power

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The death toll from Typhoon Hagibis has risen to 72 in Japan, as thousands of residents remain without power or water and evening temperatures hover around 15 degrees Celsius (59 Fahrenheit), according to public broadcaster NHK.

The storm — one of the strongest to hit the country in years — made landfall on Saturday evening local time on the Izu Peninsula, southwest of Tokyo, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

In one tragic incident, a family of four perished as they were swept down a raging river in their car. A video released by TV Asahi on Tuesday shows rescuers trying to retrieve the crushed vehicle from the still turbulent waters in Sagamihara City, a suburb of greater Tokyo. The car fell from a bridge due to the strong rain and the swelling of the river, Takayuki Magara, a spokesman for the local fire department, told CNN. The bodies of the 49-year-old father, 39-year-old mother and 11-year-old daughter were all found scattered near to the car. The body of the 8-year-old son was uncovered on Tuesday morning 1.7 kilometers (1.1 miles) down the river.

Although typhoons are not uncommon in Japan, Hagibis was particularly brutal, leading to the high death toll. It is one of the deadliest typhoons to have hit Japan in the past decade, surpassed only by Typhoon Talas in 2011, which caused 82 deaths.

More than 230,000 people had been evacuated ahead of the storm. An estimated 5,500 people remain housed in shelters, according to Japan’s Cabinet Office. The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said in a release that 9,962 houses had been flooded across the country. The number of households without power stood at 34,000 as of Tuesday morning, down from a peak of 520,000. More than 133,000 households were also without water, according to the Cabinet Office. Because of the rain, 47 rivers burst their banks.

Typhoon Hagibis is on course to be one of the costliest natural disasters to have hit Japan, with insured losses of more than $9 billion.


The world loses $400 Billion of food before it reaches stores

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The world loses about $400 billion of food before it even gets delivered to stores, according to the United Nations. Some 14% of all food produced is lost annually, with central and southern Asia, North America and Europe accounting for the biggest shares, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a report, citing the latest data as of 2016.

Food wastage is drawing increased scrutiny because more than 820 million people are estimated to go hungry each day, and because of the contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

Consumers also squander huge amounts. As much as 37% of animal products and potentially a fifth of fruit and vegetables may be wasted after being purchased, according to the FAO. Rich nations have higher levels of waste due to limited shelf life or poor consumer planning, while poorer countries typically grapple with climate and infrastructure issues.

Boosting farm productivity through research and development has been found to be more cost-effective than curbing post-harvest losses, the FAO said. Better cold storage and infrastructure would help reduce losses, but more detailed data on the supply chain is needed to tackle the problem, it said.


On World Food Day: 820 million suffer from hunger while 830 million suffer from obesity

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In 1800, the world’s population living in urban areas was less than 5 percent. By the year 2000, according to the United Nations, that number increased to 47 percent. In ten years’ time, that number is expected to reach 65 percent.

As these shifts have taken place, we have witnessed dramatic changes in our diets and eating habits. The world has begun to abandon the traditions of preparing meals at home, which have historically been seasonal, plant-based and fibre-rich. Preferring convenience, the world has turned to refined starches, sugars, fats, salt, processed foods, meat and animal-source products.

Dietary choices and sedentary lifestyles have pushed obesity into epidemic proportions not only in developed countries, but in low-income countries too, where hunger and obesity can co-exist.
– Currently, 670 million adults and 160 million children suffer from obesity worldwide.
– Astonishingly, over 820 million people still suffer from hunger
– This dichotomy is taking a toll on national health budgets, costing up to 2 trillion us dollars per year.
– Poor diets are now are a leading cause of illness, linked to one fifth of all deaths worldwide.

The annual celebration of World Food Day is an effort to bring attention to these issues. This year, it aims to push people everywhere to take action, under the theme: “Our Actions Are Our Future.” Dietary choices, from the products we consume individually, to planetary choices, including the reduction of our environmental footprints, can enable a movement of change.

[Inter Press Service]

Nobel Prize in economics awarded to trio for work on global poverty

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A trio of economists were awarded the Nobel Prize on Monday for their work to alleviate global poverty. Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer pioneered an approach to poverty reduction that was based on carefully designed experiments.

Duflo, a 46-year-old professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the youngest person and second woman to be awarded the prize. Mumbai-born Banerjee, her husband, is also a professor at MIT. Kremer is a professor at Harvard.

As a direct result of their research, more than 5 million Indian children had benefited from remedial tutoring in schools, while many countries had introduced heavy subsidies for preventive health care, according to a statement from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the prize.

Peter Fredrikkson, chairman of the economic sciences prize committee, told reporters that their work tested the impact of specific interventions in areas such as agriculture, health and education, and “reshaped development economics, had a clear impact on policy and improved our ability to fight global poverty.”

Duflo said via a phone call that “the essence of our research is to make sure that the fight against poverty is based on scientific evidence.”

[CNN Business]

Tens of thousands of war-torn civilians in Syria flee yet more violence

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Aid agencies, military leaders and senior international officials including NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, and the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker have warned that hundreds of thousands of people are in immediate danger from Turkey’s offensive targeting Kurdish forces in northern Syria.

Syria is already hosting one of the world’s most complex humanitarian crises, with millions of people displaced both within and outside its borders, and the Turkish offensive threatens to add a frightening new dimension. Aid agencies said many of those in the area where the controversial offensive is focused have already survived the brutality of the Islamic State era. Many have been displaced multiple times during Syria’s long war.

The UK-based agency Save the Children states: “Currently, there are 1.65 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in this area, including more than 650,000 displaced by war. All essential services including food, water, shelter, health, education and protection must be consistently provided to all civilians, or we could see another humanitarian disaster unfold before our eyes. In addition to the Syrian civilians in the north-east, there are thousands of women and children living in camps across the area … who rely completely and exclusively on humanitarian aid. Any interruption to camp services which are already overstretched would put their lives at risk.

“Children in Syria who have fled ISIS-held areas are innocent and swept up in horrific events far beyond their control. Their short lives have been full of violence and fear. All children deserve [the] chance to recover.”

In sharp-edged remarks aimed at Turkey, European commission president Juncker pointed out that the EU is contributing €6bn to Turkey to help support the 3.6 million Syrian refugees in the country, adding that Europe would not contribute to the creation of a “safe zone” in northern Syria. While acknowledging that Turkey has security concerns on its border with Syria, Juncker said: “If the Turkish plan involves the creation of a so-called safe zone, don’t expect the European Union to pay for any of it.”

[The Guardian]

Turkish president threatens to send 3.6m refugees to Europe

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Turkish warplanes and artillery continue to strike border towns in north-eastern Syria, after its troops crossed into the region to wrest it from US-backed Kurdish forces. An earlier barrage of airstrikes and artillery signalled the beginning of a long-planned operation. The Turkish military later said it had hit 181 “militant targets”.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has threatened to “open the gates” for Syrian refugees in his country to migrate to Europe if the continent’s countries label Turkey’s military campaign in north-eastern Syria an “occupation”.

Video footage showed civilians fleeing towns with columns of smoke rising in the background and jet trails visible in the sky. Kurdish activist groups estimated tens of thousands of civilians had fled their homes after the beginning of the Turkish offensive. Pictures and video from border towns shared on social media showed wrecked buildings and bodies in the rubble.

President Trump presented the invasion as a historical inevitability, saying Turks and Kurds “have been fighting each other for centuries”. And he downplayed the US debt to Kurdish fighters, saying: “They didn’t help us in the second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy.”

Turkey says it is seeking to establish a 20-mile (32km) wide buffer zone along the border against the threat of what it says are Kurdish terror groups as well as ISIS. It also hopes to resettle Syrian refugees in the zone.

[The Guardian]

Humanitarian concerns as Turkey launches Trump-sanctioned military assault on Kurds in Syria

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Rights groups and anti-war activists warned of a looming “humanitarian catastrophe” Wednesday as Turkish forces invaded northeastern Syria and launched airstrikes against Kurdish targets, forcing civilians to flee in panic. Activists reported airstrikes on a town on Syria’s northern border and a Kurdish official said warplanes targeted civilians, causing a “huge panic.”

The attack comes days after U.S. President Donald Trump gave his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a green light to begin the operation by announcing the abrupt withdrawal of American forces from northeastern Syria.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) warned in a statement Wednesday that Turkey’s assault “will spill the blood of thousands of innocent civilians because our border areas are overcrowded.”

SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali accused Turkey of deliberately targeting “civilian areas.” Fighters with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which leads the SDF, told CNN that hundreds of civilians scrambled to escape northeastern Syria as Turkey began bombarding the area.

Also on Wednesday, ISIS militants targeted a post of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, which was once the de facto ISIS capital at the height of the militants’ power in the region.

The Turkish operation will ignite new fighting in Syria’s 8-year-old war, potentially displacing hundreds of thousands of people, and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights reported that people had begun fleeing the border town of Tal Abyad. Kurdish politician Nawaf Khalil, who is in northern Syria, said some people were leaving the town for villages farther south.

The local civilian Kurdish authority known as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria asked the international community to live up to its responsibilities as “a humanitarian catastrophe might befall our people.”

Syria’s Foreign Ministry condemned Turkey’s plans for an invasion, calling it a “blatant violation” of international law and vowing to repel the incursion. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Washington of playing “very dangerous games”:  “Such reckless attitude to this highly sensitive subject can set fire to the entire region, and we have to avoid it at any cost,” he said. Russian news media said Moscow communicated that position to Washington.

[CBS/Common Dreams]

Disaster recovery: Bringing hope and vision

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Disaster recovery is a long and complex process. It’s much more than getting enough food and water to needy families. It’s about bringing hope and vision to devastated parents and children.

I’ve gone tent-to-tent with Food for the Hungry (FH) staff, to visit disaster-battered families in places like Ethiopia, the Philippines, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Eyes cast down to the floor will lift, and a new spark lights up when strangers walk in. “I see you, I see your suffering, it matters to me,” is what you say when you visit. You offer someone a hopeful, emotional ladder to climb out of a pit.

“Recovery” gives the idea of restoring a community to what it was before a disaster. Often, your donations to the disaster relief fund help communities strengthen their ability to react rapidly. Or, they help prevent disaster in the first place, as community leaders learn how to identify where they are vulnerable, and how to protect themselves.

Most importantly, however, disaster recovery gives people hope. I will never forget visiting a community in the Philippines that was literally flattened by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. As soon as I climbed out of the car, a man with a broad smile hurried to our group. He literally hugged me. … “You came back!” the man kept saying.

He was a community leader in the city government and had been greeting a parade of humanitarian organizations amidst the piles of debris. FH’s team had been there the day before; I was not among them, but he recognized the logo on my hat. You’re the first group I’ve seen who came back,” he continued, smiling broadly. In the coming back, in the staying, in helping parents, churches, and leaders envision a better future, hope remains, even when the walls have crumbled.

[Excerpts of an article by Beth Allen, a volunteer with Food for the Hungry]

Humanitarian relief groups worried about new military action in Syria

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Relief groups are worried about any new military action in Syria, which could pose a new threat to 2 million civilians in northeast Syria, said Misty Buswell, the International Rescue Committee‘s policy, advocacy and communications director for the Middle East. “A military offensive could immediately displace at least 300,000 people and disrupt lifesaving humanitarian services … ” Buswell said.

The Pentagon issued a statement around midday on Monday, clarifying that it has not endorsed a Turkish military offensive over the border. “The Department of Defense made clear to Turkey — as did the President — that we do not endorse a Turkish operation in Northern Syria…” said Jonathan Hoffman, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs.

News that Turkey now plans to move ahead with an offensive along its border with Syria is likewise raising concerns in the U.K. and France.

As the potential for a clash between Turkey and the Syrian Democratic Forces rises, there are also questions about the makeup of the group. According to Amy Austin Holmes, a fellow with the Wilson Center’s Middle East Program, the SDF is far more diverse than its origins as Kurdish organization.

“[Turkish President] Erdogan plans to invade Syria again to destroy the SDF, who he assumes are all Kurds and PKK terrorists,” said Holmes, who conducted a survey of the group in northern Syria. She added, “In reality, my survey data shows the majority of SDF are Arabs. Members of the Christian and Turkmen minority in Syria have also joined the SDF.”


Save the Children speaks out following the announced withdrawal of United States troops from Syria

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In a remarkable announcement late Sunday night, the White House said that United States forces in northern Syria would move aside in advance of a planned Turkish military offensive.

The move marks a major shift in US foreign policy and effectively gives Turkey the green light to attack US-backed Kurdish forces. The group, long considered as among Washington’s most reliable partners in Syria, has played a key strategic role in the campaign against ISIS in the region.

Bill Chambers, President and CEO of Save the Children Canada said: ‘We are deeply concerned for hundreds of thousands of people present in North East Syria.

“Currently, there are 1.65 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in northeast Syria, including more than 650,000 displaced by war. All essential services including food, water, shelter, health, education, and protection need to be consistently provided, or we could see another humanitarian disaster unfold before our eyes.”

“This number includes more than 9,000 children from more than 40 different nationalities including Canadian children, in three camps who rely completely and exclusively on humanitarian aid. Any interruption to camp services which are already overstretched would put their lives at risk.”

[CNN/Save the Children]