The World Today for October 10, 2018

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Canaries and Bullhorns

One of the largest lakes in Africa, Lake Chad is the economic engine of the border region between Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. Humans have lived there for as long as humans have inhabited western and central Africa. Its wildlife and ecology are unique treasures.

But today Lake Chad is ground zero for numerous challenges that threaten the region and the world.

Almost 1,000 people have died from cholera in the region and around 38,000 people are sick with the disease, according to a United Nations report. Experts fear the outbreak could resemble one that killed thousands in 2010.

Also, Boko Haram, the Islamic State-affiliated insurgent group, is running rampant in the area after Nigerian troops advanced on its positions in the northeast of that country. The militants recently killed six people, including two soldiers, during an attack on Chadian troops, Al Jazeera reported.

Last but not least, the lake is also drying up due to climate change and irresponsible environmental management, researchers said.

“The consequences on lives and livelihoods of the shrinking of the Lake Chad and the pollution caused by oil exploitation activities alone make it mandatory on the nation to be at the forefront of the struggle for a safer and more sustainable environment,” said Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in a nationwide address recently.

In another speech a couple weeks earlier, Buhari connected all of the above problems with one another – public health failures and environmental degradation set the stage for jihadist influences, he said. As things fall apart, people leave, sparking refugee crises in North Africa and Europe.

“Most crises usually have a variety of festering causes and effects,” he said. “It is the failure to address them early and effectively that leads to out-of-control conflicts.”

The problems in the Lake Chad region have been growing for years. This New Yorker story from December 2017 shows how today’s challenges are an outgrowth of inaction and a range of humanitarian issues.

The Norwegian Refugee Council similarly raised alarms about how Lake Chad was indicative of the trends that are driving crises worldwide.

After relief officials appealed for urgent assistance at a conference in Berlin last month, donor nations and international organizations pledged more than $2 billion to help fix the situation, Reuters wrote.

“The international community must get far more engaged for the overall region to give these people a chance for survival,” said German Development Minister Gerd Mueller, whose country has been the destination for the most refugees from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia in recent years.

Years ago, miners would take canaries underground as an early warning system against toxic gases. Folks are sounding bullhorns over Lake Chad.



Embrace or Stranglehold?

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad offered amnesty to military deserters and draft dodgers in a bid to woo them back to the war-torn country. But some worry the warm embrace on offer could soon turn into a stranglehold.

The regime declared via social media that those who return would not face any punishment, though they would be required to perform two years of mandatory military service, the UK’s Telegraph newspaper reported. The deal does not apply to those who joined the Free Syrian Army (FSA) or other rebel groups, however.

An official from Syria’s reconciliation ministry said he expects thousands of people to take advantage of the amnesty offer, as many of the six million Syrian refugees who have fled the country cite fear of punishment for shirking military service as the main reason they have not returned.

On the other hand, some of those who came back to take advantage of earlier amnesty offers were later imprisoned or tortured.


Close, But No Cicig

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales’ fight to get rid of the international commission behind charges of illegal campaign financing and fraud against him suffered a blow Tuesday, as another investigation kicked off by the United Nations crime-fighting force ended in the jailing of former vice-president Roxana Baldetti.

Baldetti was sentenced to more than 15 years in prison for her involvement in an $18 million dollar fraud related to the cleanup of a contaminated lake, thanks to an investigation backed by the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Cicig), the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported. She’s the biggest fish to be brought to justice in nearly 700 criminal cases resulting from Cicig’s probes.

People campaigning to stop the body from being expelled from Guatemala by Morales – whose own legal woes stem from a separate Cicig investigation – cheered the decision as a blow against the endemic corruption in the Central American country. Morales wants to end the commission’s mandate next September. But he insists he is not motivated by his personal troubles.

Recently, he barred Cicig chief Iván Velásquez from re-entering Guatemala despite a court ruling that such a ban was unconstitutional.


Barriers or Barricades

French President Emmanuel Macron likes to cast the country’s tough labor laws and other liberal social policies as barriers to economic revival. But his reform agenda looks set to send French workers back to the barricades, as it were.

Violence broke out Tuesday as demonstrators took to the streets of Paris, Nice, Nantes, Marseilles, Tours, Rennes and Bayonne to protest what they called the “destruction of the social model,” the Daily Mail reported. French unions had called for a national day of protest against Macron’s government.

Armed police officers clashed with demonstrators, who in turn hurled tear gas grenades and missiles at the riot squad, in the first nationwide protests to hit France since June. Around 160,000 people turned out to voice their anger, the interior ministry said.

The target of their ire was Macron’s plan to reform the country’s pensions and unemployment benefits systems. Macron insists those reforms are badly needed to save France’s economy. But he has watched his approval ratings plummet even as growth reached nearly 2 percent and unemployment finally fell below double-digits last year.


The Risky Thaw

The race to prevent climate change is getting more intense.

Recently, scientists reported that the Arctic’s thawing permafrost – ground that has been frozen for millennia – is leaking acid, an issue that could seriously affect the Earth’s climate, Newsweek reported.

In their study, researchers observed that the rise in global temperatures is causing the frozen ground to thaw, releasing corrosive water and dissolving rocks in the ground, a process known as mineral weathering.

The cycle generates carbon dioxide and methane, which contribute to global warming.

“Any additional warming in the Arctic, which is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet, promotes more permafrost thaw and thus poses substantial challenges to Arctic and global ecosystems,” said lead author Scott Zolkos.

At the moment, scientists are closely monitoring the big thaw and are developing new models to better understand the impact of mineral weathering on climate change.

But the thaw is just part of the problem.

In August, NASA reported on Arctic lakes that are bubbling with methane, constituting another source of greenhouse gases that current climate models haven’t taken into account.

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