The World Today for April 06, 2018



The Most Tragic of Corners

Over the last century, as economies and democracies flourished, governments have been able to respond more quickly to humanitarian catastrophes, Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, recently told PBS NewsHour.

But various manmade conflicts around the globe in recent years have halted that progress.

According to the United Nations’ food agency, the number of people at risk of starvation rose to 124 million last year – a 55 percent increase from 2015.

Over one-quarter of those people live in just four countries: Somalia, South Sudan, northeastern Nigeria and Yemen.

In Somalia, about half of the nation’s population, 6.2 million people, are in need of emergency aid for food, water and shelter. The nation has endured unprecedented drought across four consecutive rainy seasons and violent conflict that’s raged since 1991, Reuters reported.

The Somali famine of 2011 already took the lives of 260,000 – half of whom died before famine was officially declared, and because militants blocked humanitarian groups’ access to those in need. The Somali government, backed by Western powers, struggles to rein in the terror of the militant group al Shabaab in rural areas.

South Sudan, too, is on the brink of another famine. Civil war has raged since 2013, just two years after South Sudan gained independence, placing almost half of the population in a “crisis” situation, Al Jazeera reported. Four million have already fled the country, marking Africa’s worst refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

The African continent’s most populous nation, Nigeria, is often thought of as a success story for its vast oil reserves, but it’s also facing a troubled future. For the past nine years, the government has been in a stalemate with the Islamist group Boko Haram over control of the nation’s northeast.

The militants have isolated the region, preventing aid groups from reaching an estimated one million likely in dire straits. Fighters have even gone so far as to kill humanitarian workers trying to alleviate hunger, Reuters reported.

Of all these conflicts, however, the Fletcher School’s de Waal says the situation in Yemen is perhaps the “biggest famine crime of our generation.”

As the proxy war between Saudi and Emirati-backed government forces and Iran-backed Houthi rebels continues to kill civilians indiscriminately, the Saudi-led coalition has blockaded the ports, keeping food and medicine from reaching the country.

Some 150,000 malnourished children could soon die if they don’t receive aid, as ABC News’ Ian Pannell saw on a rare trip to the country recently.

Increased global wealth has helped alleviate hunger, but the quest for power and money around the world only fuels the vicious cycle of man-made famine, said de Waal. It’s something governments can control by withdrawing from conflicts.

But so far, with too much money to be made and power to be won, that’s not likely anytime soon.



May I Help You?

The United Nations Security Council rejected Moscow’s call for the UN to require Britain to allow Russia to participate in a joint investigation into the poisoning last month of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury.

British allies France, Poland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United States all rejected the proposal, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported.

Speaking in Ankara, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he expected “common sense to prevail,” a reference to various Russian statements suggesting that the charges are unfounded. Earlier, Britain was forced to withdraw a claim that scientists at the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down had determined that the nerve agent used in the poisoning was manufactured in Russia, CNN reported.

The UK said the confusion resulted from a clumsy paraphrase of a Porton Down report, after the head of the lab said researchers had determined that only a “state actor” could have accessed the nerve agent but could not say definitively where it was made.

Britain remains convinced Russia is to blame.


Worry Lines

Japan’s economy may be coming to the end of a long run of expansion, just when a looming trade war threatens to hit exports.

Household spending shrank 0.9 percent in February from a year earlier, the biggest drop since a 1.4 percent fall in April last year, suggesting that domestic consumption won’t be able to make up for the expected blow to exports, Reuters reported.

The most recent data also showed inflation-adjusted real wages fell for a third straight month in February, while a Bank of Japan survey showed business sentiment souring for the first time in two years.

Japan’s economy has grown for eight straight quarters, its longest continuous expansion since the 1980s bubble economy, the agency said separately.

The worrying signs come as nostalgia for the wild spending-bubble era sweeps the country, the New York Times noted. But government efforts to actually get young people to open their wallets have been less successful.

“Young people today feel anxious because they live in unstable times,” said an ad agency researcher focused on youth culture.


What’s a Rebellion?

A German court denied Spain’s extradition request for erstwhile Catalan President Carles Puigdemont on Thursday, saying there was no evidence of violence to support the charge of rebellion.

The regional court in the state of Schleswig-Holstein also ruled that Puigdemont may be released on bail, though a decision is still pending about whether he can be extradited on charges related to the alleged misuse of public money, the New York Times reported.

A lawyer for Puigdemont said his supporters would likely post bail of 75,000 euros, or nearly $92,000, to secure his release on Friday. The charge of rebellion carries a potential jail sentence of 30 years.

Earlier, German prosecutors ordered the former regional president taken into custody after determining that the charge was valid under German law, even though there is no specific equivalent crime to “rebellion.” The court rejected that view.


Burgers and Brie

When visiting France, do as the French do – eat a burger.

A new study has reported that the hamburger is now the most consumed food item in France – with more than 1.4 billion burgers sold last year alone, according to Forbes.

It’s the first time that burger sales surpassed the French fast-food staple, the jambon-beurre, a traditional ham-and-butter sandwich, causing some French to throw their hands up in despair.

“We have been talking about euphoria and craziness for three years now, and this year, we do not know how to describe this steamroller effect,” Bernard Boutboul, director of the restaurant consultancy firm Gira Conseil, which published a report on the findings, told AFP.

The report shows that the French aren’t just frequenting drive-throughs to get their fix: 85 percent of French restaurants list a burger on their menus, and only 30 percent are sold in fast-food restaurants.

Though some worry that the burger will come to replace the nation’s treasured cuisine, chefs have a more optimistic outlook.

The popularity of the fast-food industry has morphed the burger into a French staple, with chefs and restaurants adding their own flair to the versatile food – a burger with white truffles anyone?

After all, Forbes writes, the burger incorporates four basic French ingrédient quotidiennes: bread, meat, cheese – and French fries.

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