The World Today for August 15, 2018

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Peace and Prejudice

This month, the United Nations’ special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, convinced both sides fighting in Yemen to come to Geneva for talks on ending the nation’s brutal civil war.

With the war between the Saudi-led coalition backing the Yemeni government and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels seeking to overthrow it now in its fourth year, those talks can’t come soon enough.

In 2014, Houthi rebels overran much of the country, prompting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with aid from the United States, to enter the war to quash the uprising. Iran backed the Houthi militants vying for control.

Since then, at least 10,000 people have been killed. On Thursday, a missile hit a school bus killing 50, mostly children, as they laughed and chatted on a field trip to mark graduation. The images are chilling and heartbreaking.

The proxy war has demolished the nation’s infrastructure and left 22 million Yemenis, about three-quarters of the population, in dire need of food, clean water and medical supplies. Diseases like cholera and diphtheria run rampant as a result, and the international community calls the situation the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

Reports from the ground bring such statistics into shocking focus.

Photographing the streets of the southern city of Ad Dali for National Geographic, Italian photographer Matteo Bastianelli captured images of wounded and downtrodden citizens struggling to live.

Washington Post reporter Sudarsan Raghavan wrote of the desperate situation in hospitals, where medical personnel, facing extortion and harassment by rebel groups, have abandoned their posts. Babies, young children and their distraught parents are left to face crippling illnesses and malnutrition on their own, often at hefty monetary costs.

Even amid all this suffering, there’s little impetus to end a civil war that’s spun into a proxy conflict pitting regional and international heavyweights against one another, Columbia University’s Hamid Dabashi wrote recently for Al Jazeera. Yemen’s strategic geographical location has become even more crucial as a pan-Arab alliance moves against Qatar, and Iran seeks to hold on to its regional influence.

The current battle over the crucial port city of Hodeidah has become a flashpoint indicative of the complex nature of the conflict, CNN reported.

A Houthi stronghold, the city serves as a bottleneck to much-needed goods entering the country. UAE and Saudi-coalition forces have chipped away at Hodeidah‘s surrounding neighborhoods, but they’ve stopped short of an all-out siege out of fear of losing international favor in the event of brutal guerrilla warfare.

Still, just hours after Griffiths announced the peace talks that could end the stalemate in Hodeidah, more bombs fell on the city, killing more than 25, the Guardian reported. That number had doubled just a few days later as fighting continued, the New York Times reported.

As Robert Malley, chief executive of the nonprofit International Crisis Group, and analyst Peter Salisbury wrote for the Atlantic, it will take more than just the promise of dialogue to seize this fleeting opportunity for peace.

The cost of not doing so, though, is very steep.



Scattered, Not Broken

The United Nations warned that 20,000 to 30,000 Islamic State militants remain in Syria and Iraq, including “many thousands of active foreign terrorist fighters,” the BBC reported Tuesday.

Despite the deaths of numerous commanders and planners, a significant number of militants are still fully engaged militarily, the UN report said. Meanwhile, a “reduced, covert version” of IS will likely prove difficult to eliminate in both countries.

In addition to the fighters in Iraq and Syria, IS maintains “significant” affiliates in Afghanistan, Libya, Southeast Asia and West Africa, while al Qaeda is stronger in areas such as Somalia and Yemen, the UN said.

As many as 40,000 foreign jihadists traveled to Iraq and Syria to join Islamic State during its heyday, but the exodus of these militants since the recapture of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria last year has been “lower than expected,” the report said.

A reminder of that continued presence: Last month, more than 200 people were killed in a large-scale IS attack in southwest Syria.


The Cost of Austerity?

A 160-foot high section of an Italian highway bridge collapsed Tuesday during a rainstorm, sending some 35 vehicles plummeting to earth and killing at least 26 people.

As firefighters searched for survivors, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the death toll is likely to rise, and would likely hit at least 35, Reuters reported.

Within hours of the incident, the new government insinuated that austerity measures linked to the financial crisis that began a decade ago were to blame, saying the country needs to spend more on its dilapidated infrastructure, regardless of EU budget constraints.

Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said that the disaster suggested the bridge had been poorly maintained. But Autostrade, the firm responsible for its management, said, “The bridge was constantly monitored and supervised well beyond what the law required.”


Policing the Police

Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo ordered the head of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) to overhaul the controversial Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), following an #EndSARS petition circulated on social media calling for the unit to be disbanded.

Osinbajo, who is acting head of state while President Muhammadu Buhari is on holiday in Britain, also ordered an independent investigation after “persistent complaints and reports” that bordered on “allegations of human rights violations”, Reuters reported.

The unit has been dogged by accusations including “extortion from, disappearance and the deaths of countless citizens” according to #EndSARS activist Segun Awosanya.

Rather than disband it, NPF chief Inspector General Ibrahim Idris sacked the unit’s chief and human rights desk officers and said it will now be called the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS).

Notably, Idris had vowed a similar reorganization after the upper house of parliament voted in December 2017 to investigate the unit.


Janitors, at the Top of the World

Mount Everest is the mother of all mountains for many adventurers, the mountain to conquer.

That status has come at a cost. The peak has become the world’s highest dump, littered with garbage and human waste left behind by would-be summiteers. Nowhere is that more evident than the frozen lakebed of Gorak Shep, where tons of fecal matter risk contaminating the water supply system.

To solve this, climbers Garry Porter and Dan Mazur established the Mount Everest Biogas Project, CNN reported.

They want to install a solar-powered biogas digester, where bacteria will convert the excrement into methane gas, which can be used for cooking, and effluent for fertilizing crops.

“It takes a nasty product and makes two products that can be used by the Nepali people,” says Porter.

So far, mini digesters at Kathmandu University have successfully converted waste into methane gas, but the team is still testing whether the effluent can be used as a fertilizer.

Once enough funds are raised for the project, Porter aims to hand the reins over to a local NGO that will act as a janitor of the world’s tallest mountain.

Porter considers this project as his apology to the Nepalese people.

“I was part of the problem, so hopefully now I can be part of the solution,” he said.

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