The World Today for September 19, 2018

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NEED TO KNOW

BOTSWANA

The Other Refugee Crisis

The scandal over the discovery this summer of scores of elephant carcasses in Botswana illustrates the challenges to conservation presented by man-made development, poaching and climate change.

Animal advocates said they counted almost 90 dead elephants in the southern African country in a survey that started in July.

“While we had elephant poaching in the country before this year, it certainly wasn’t of the magnitude that we’re seeing now,” Mike Chase, founder and director of Elephants Without Borders, told CNN. “It’s completely unprecedented.”

Immediately, Botswanan authorities disputed Chase’s number, saying only 53 carcasses had been found – a discrepancy that might technically be important but doesn’t really diminish the tragedy of the situation.

An estimated 130,000 elephants roam Botswana. That’s more than a third of the approximately 350,000 pachyderms remaining on Africa’s savannas. The number in Botswana reflects how the nation has long enforced tough anti-poaching laws to stop people from killing elephants for their ivory.

But critics said the discovery of so many dead elephants could reflect a change in the wake of President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s decision to take guns away from conservation officers.

Masisi disagreed. “This stretch of imagination of linking the poaching of any species with an alleged disarmament of the department of wildlife is nothing but hysteria,” he told the Associated Press.

Masisi took office in April. His predecessor, Ian Khama, was widely viewed as a staunch defender of wildlife, according to Agence France-Presse.

Now Masisi is considering a counterintuitive measure to prevent more mass killings. He wants to lift a ban on elephant hunting, arguing that the ban has resulted in the animals’ population exploding, Bloomberg reported.

But, writing in the Conversation, South African natural resource governance expert Ross Harvey said the increase in elephants is due not to reproduction but to migration.

“Elephants are incredibly intelligent and migrate to where they are safest,” wrote Harvey. “Persecuted over decades across weakly governed range states in southern Africa, they found refuge in Botswana. “I believe that it was therefore only a matter of time until poaching efforts moved in.”

Instead of lifting its hunting ban, Masisi should return to empowering conservation officers to fight poachers, he said.

“Scarcity elsewhere meant high effort and low reward for poachers,” Harvey argued. “Botswana beckoned with a promise of low effort and high reward.”

There is an echo of this situation in refugee crises around the world. Like Syrians and others fleeing conflict zones, the elephants just want somewhere to live in peace.

WANT TO KNOW

NORTH KOREA

An Era of No War

Following a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang Wednesday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in declared that an “era of no war has started” with the signing of a joint military agreement that removes the threat of conflict on the Peninsula.

Perhaps of greater significance, Kim also vowed to destroy the Yongbyon nuclear site, which is believed to be used for the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, if the United States takes “corresponding measures,” CNN reported. And he agreed to do so in the presence of foreign experts, said Reuters.

Sincere or not, the promise bats the ball back into the US court, following Washington’s concern over what it perceives as a lack of concrete progress since Kim agreed to move toward denuclearization at his historic Singapore summit with President Donald Trump earlier this year.

The “corresponding measures” to which Kim refers would likely need to include the removal of US troops from South Korea and a withdrawal of its “nuclear umbrella” over South Korea and Japan.

MYANMAR

The Gravest of Crimes

The United Nations released a 444-page report detailing evidence that Myanmar’s military committed “the gravest crimes under international law” in the crackdown on the Muslim Rohingya minority previously described as “textbook ethnic cleansing.”

Myanmar still insists that the army did not commit any such atrocities, though the result was a mass exodus of some 750,000 people to Bangladesh, the New York Times reported.

But the UN panel responsible for the report issued Tuesday rejected the claim that the army was only responding to attacks by Rohingya militants, saying, “The killing was widespread, systematic and brutal,” and “The killing of civilians of all ages, including babies, cannot be argued to be a counterterrorism measure.”

The panel called for the army chief and others accused of responsibility for the campaign to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court or another similar tribunal, as well as an arms embargo and targeted sanctions against Myanmar.

Unusually, it also demanded an overhaul of the military and constitutional changes to end the political dominance of generals, the paper noted.

FRANCE

Staying Great?

France’s health care system – used as an example by pundits on both sides of America’s never-ending health care debate – is widely considered one of the best in the world. But President Emmanuel Macron wants to change it nevertheless.

On Tuesday, Macron unveiled plans to improve efficiency through organizational changes at hospitals, in the recruitment of doctors, and a better use of digital technologies to provide health care to patients across the country, the Associated Press reported.

Among other changes, the government will pay 400 family doctors to work in so-called “medical deserts” and eliminate quotas on the number of students in medicine, dentistry and pharmacy by 2020. Another scheme will require private doctors and other medical professionals to join “communities” that respond to daily emergency calls from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day in their geographic area.

The plan is expected to cost 3.4 billion euros ($4 billion) by 2022, while overall France’s health insurance budget in 2018 is 195.2 billion euros ($229 billion).

DISCOVERIES

Lack of Appreciation

The word “fungi” usually doesn’t inspire joy in the average person.

It doesn’t help that one of Kingdom Fungi’s millions of species exerts a deadly mind control over flies.

On the other hand, scientists believe that another microorganism in this group can help win the war against plastic pollution, the Telegraph reported.

Researchers at Kew Gardens in London noted in their recent 2018 State of the World’s Fungi report that one species of fungi can break down plastic in a matter of weeks instead of years.

Chinese scientists first discovered this property after finding the species, known as Aspergillus tubingensis, feasting on polyester polyurethane in a garbage dump in Pakistan.

The fungus’s novel ability “has the potential to be developed into one of the tools desperately needed to address the growing environmental problem of plastic waste,” the Kew Gardens report stated.

Researchers hope that this new finding could alter perceptions about fungi.

“We would be covered in litter and dead matter if it weren’t for fungi, but there is still so much more to know about it,” said Kew scientist Ester Gaya.

Scientists still have to develop a solution to the ecological bane, but the Kew report highlights the positive impact that a plastic-eating fungus could have in the environment, especially for endangered marine life.

According to the World Economic Forum, the oceans will contain more plastics than fish by 2050.

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