The World Today for September 05, 2018

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Home, and Away

Large refugee camps in regions like the Middle East and Africa become like cities, with stores, eateries and other amenities.

In Zaatari, the largest camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan – 80,000 refugees live in the camp founded in 2012. Here, “Paradise Salon” rents wedding dresses.

“A little girl burst through a door twirling in a white princess dress,” NPR wrote. “She posed briefly for the camera before (vanishing) amid the colorful clothes.”

But Jordanian leaders aren’t amused.

Recently, they announced that they can no longer accept refugees from their war-torn neighbor.

An American ally whose late monarch signed a peace treaty with Israel in the 1990s, Jordan is an island of relative stability in the Middle East.

But the country estimates it has accepted 1.3 million refugees from Syria and spent $10 billion to host them, Agence France-Presse reported.

Jordanian security forces have also clashed with Islamic State fighters who have fled across the border, said Al Jazeera. The National wrote about terrorists setting off improvised explosive devices and police raids on terror cells that killed and injured officers.

Jordan is embracing a Russian-backed plan to send the refugees home now that the Syrian army has secured a border crossing with Jordan.

“Most of Syria’s territory had been liberated from terrorists, so its citizens can safely return to their home country from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey,” stated Tass, a Russian government-operated newswire.

Jordanian leaders and the United Nations want the refugees to return voluntarily. Presumably some will not, Voice of America suggested, because they aren’t supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a ruthless autocrat who has sanctioned the massacre of his own citizens.

Issues other than peace and repatriation are likely on the Jordanians’ minds.

The opening of the border crossing is vital to the Jordanian economy: 70 percent of the country’s exports and imports went through Syria, Xinhua explained.

Meanwhile, Syrian refugees aren’t the only ones struggling with recent developments in the Middle East and North Africa region.

UN-operated schools that serve Palestinians refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria as well as the West Bank and Gaza are struggling to remain open due to American funding cuts enacted after President Donald Trump called on the Palestinians to return to talks with Israeli officials, Reuters said.

And in Libya, fighting continues to rage between militias in spite of a ceasefire agreed to earlier this week. Thousands have been displaced from their homes in Tripoli and elsewhere. Libya has long been a main departure point for refugees trying to reach Europe.

Amid that uncertainty, somewhere in Zaatari two people are exchanging vows and looking toward the future together.



Fewer, and More Deadly

The number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean in hope of a better life in Europe has fallen but the death rate has risen “sharply” since 2017, according to a new report from the United Nations’ refugee agency.

In the central Mediterranean, the death rate soared to one out of every 18 people attempting the dangerous sea crossing so far this year, compared with one out of 42 in 2017, Politico reported. In total, more than 1,600 people have died or gone missing while attempting the crossing so far this year.

Credit for a 40 percent drop in the portion of refugees entering Europe via the Mediterranean goes to Libya, which is intercepting or rescuing more migrants than before and returning them to Libyan shores, the UN said.

European Commission spokesman Tove Ernst rejected the notion that European policies regarding rescue operations and border controls are responsible for the higher death rate – which the UN stopped short of saying directly – putting the blame on traffickers and smugglers “who are exploiting human misery.”


Once in a Generation

The strongest typhoon to hit Japan in 25 years has killed at least seven people and devastated infrastructure, prompting officials to order more than a million people to evacuate their homes.

Typhoon Jebi made landfall in the western part of the country, bringing heavy rain and winds up to 107 mph, the BBC reported. Along with those killed, another 200 people were injured and tens of thousands were left without electricity as a result of the heavy winds.

Hitting Shikoku island around noon on Tuesday and moving to the main island of Honshu, “very strong” to hit Japan’s main islands since a similar storm left 48 people dead or missing in 1993, the BBC said.

Along with high winds, Japan’s weather agency has warned of landslides, flooding, unusually high tides, lightning and tornadoes in areas affected by the storm.



Argentine President Mauricio Macri aims to abolish “about half” of the government ministries as part of an austerity plan to tackle the country’s currency crisis announced Monday.

Beginning Jan. 1, Argentina will also reinstate taxes on soy meal and soy oil as well as corn, wheat and raw soybeans – its main exports, the BBC reported. The move is a reversal of Macri’s decision to slash agricultural taxes in December 2015.

Macri also set his sights higher than the targets set in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund in May, vowing to balance the budget next year and deliver a 1 percent surplus by 2020.

Arriving for talks with the IMF in Washington on Tuesday, Argentine Treasury Minister Nicolas Dujovne said he hopes to renegotiate better terms for a $50 billion loan package from the fund, securing an early release of some of the money so as to avoid tapping the bond market. The massive bailout scheme has already sparked protests in Argentina – where many blame the agency for the country’s 2001-2002 financial crisis.


Couch Potatoes Redux

What do fictional characters Homer Simpson, Al Bundy (“Married with Children”) and Garfield have in common?

They are awfully lazy – which might not be a bad thing, actually.

In a recent study of mollusk fossils, researcher Luke Strotz and his team found that the more immobile species in that group had a higher evolutionary endurance than their more active counterparts, the Washington Post reported.

“Instead of ‘survival of the fittest,’ maybe a better metaphor for the history of life is ‘survival of the laziest’ or at least ‘survival of the sluggish,’” said co-author Professor Bruce Lieberman.

Researchers observed that species were more likely to go extinct if they had a higher metabolic rate, but why remains a mystery.

They aim to uncover more clues in the future, and hope their work can help conservationists understand which animals will go extinct from climate change.

Strotz also emphasized that his study doesn’t in any way support laziness.

“We’re talking about a species level, not an individual level,” he said. “I’ve had to tell many people that I can’t be the champion of the couch potato.”

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