The World Today for January 31, 2020

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Getting It Together

As many as 3 million people died in the Nigerian civil war that ended 50 years ago this month.

The war kicked off in 1967 when leaders in the country’s southeast declared an independent Republic of Biafra. This CNN story has some amazing photographs of the war. Note the refugees in a photo dating from 1968. Carrying their belongings on their heads and babies in their arms, they’re barefoot.

An opinion piece in the Nigerian newspaper the Guardian cited Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, a poet, and other luminaries who marked the 50th anniversary of the end of the war by emphasizing that Nigeria must never again descend into internecine fighting.

Indeed, many who fought in the war probably didn’t expect their country, the most populous in Africa, ever to be described as a potential superpower. Yet Newsweek used that term in a recent story that described how the country’s fortunes would improve if officials could address the needs of its rapidly growing but impoverished population and redistribute the wealth of its natural resources.

By the end of the century, Nigeria will likely be the third-most-populous country in the world – a challenge and an opportunity. The country has the funds to help those people become productive. But Nigeria’s creaky oil pipelines spill around $100 million worth of oil a day on the ground. And around 80 percent of oil proceeds go to the top 1 percent of the population.

Islamist terrorists have killed 36,000 people in recent years. More than 7 million Nigerians are in need of humanitarian assistance due to the violence.

Recently, UN officials lamented new attacks on humanitarian workers, Reuters reported. “I am shocked by the violence and intensity of this attack,” UN Humanitarian Coordinator Edward Kallon said in a statement. That attack took place 10 days after another that claimed the lives of 25 soldiers and displaced 1,000 people.

Boko Haram, an Islamic State-linked militant group, was the dominant terror group in Nigeria for years. But, as the right-leaning Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal explained, others have cropped up as the Nigerian government has largely succeeded in countering Boko Haram, though failing to extirpate it entirely.

Such issues have sparked a brain drain from Nigeria. The Atlantic magazine described how Canada especially has taken advantage of well-educated, English-speaking Nigerians.

Efforts to cultivate more innovation and economic growth in Nigeria are underway, reported Quartz.

But, as economist Sheriffdeen Tella discussed in the Conversation, Nigeria is poised to become home to a quarter of the world’s destitute inhabitants if officials don’t encourage the private sector to grow. The state-centered economy can’t provide for them all, said Tella.

So much potential to be wasted or not.



Leaving the Leavers

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish parliament on Friday that she is laying out the “next steps” for Scottish independence, on the day the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, Euronews reported.

Her announcement comes two days after Scottish lawmakers voted to hold another referendum for Scotland’s secession from the UK before the end of the year.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, however, has previously refused permission, and no vote can take place without approval from the British government.

Following the parliamentary vote, a new YouGov poll revealed that a slim majority of Scots would support Scotland’s split from the United Kingdom, Reuters reported.

The survey found that more than 50 percent agreed that Scotland should be an independent country but opposed holding a second vote on independence this year.

In 2014, Scotland voted to remain in the United Kingdom by 55 percent to 45 percent, but the recent poll found that Brexit has changed the opinions of some of those who voted against Scottish independence.

Despite the support, YouGov’s Chris Curtis argued that a lot of voters are still unwilling to back a separation from Britain due to the economic impact it might cause.



The World Health Organization on Thursday declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency, warning that the virus has spread in other countries and threatens nations with weaker health systems, the BBC reported.

The news comes as Russian officials said they are closing their 2,670-mile far-eastern border with China in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.

Chinese authorities announced Thursday that the deadly virus had spread to every region of the country, adding that it has killed more than 200 people and infected nearly 10,000, the BBC reported separately.

Several countries have also evacuated their citizens from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus started, and are planning to quarantine them to monitor for symptoms and prevent them from infecting others.

The spread of the virus has severely affected the travel and airline industries, with several international airlines suspending flights to Chinese cities.

The virus is affecting China’s economy but the International Monetary Fund told Reuters that it’s too early to tell how severe the pathogen’s economic impact will be.


A Wall That Floats

The Greek government said it is planning to install a floating barrier to stop boats carrying refugees and migrants from reaching its shores from Turkey, the Independent reported Thursday.

The 1.7-mile fence is expected to be built near the Greek island of Lesbos in the Aegean Sea within the next three months at a cost of $550,000, including four years of maintenance.

Officials from Greece’s defense ministry added that the fence could be lengthened to eight to nine miles if it proves successful.

The announcement comes a week after residents of Lesbos and two other Greek islands staged protests against the overcrowding of refugee camps and the government’s handling of migrant arrivals, the Voice of America reported.

Some refugee camps in these islands hold more than 10 times the number of people they were built for.

Taking a tougher stance on the issue, Greece’s center-right government has vowed to build detention facilities for migrants who are denied asylum and to speed up deportations back to Turkey.


A Different Kind

The field of robotics recently received a huge upgrade.

Scientists created the first living and self-healing robots using stem cells from frogs, and the machines look nothing like the archetypal robots of science fiction, CNN reported.

The new “xenobots” are tiny blobs of pink flesh, equipped with tiny limbs and pulsing heart muscles that allow them to move around on their own.

In their study, researchers scraped stem cells from frog embryos and left them to incubate. Next, they used a supercomputer to design, cut and shape the blobs into their peculiar forms.

The team noted that xenobots don’t look like traditional robots but are more akin to “biological machines,” which makes them more environmentally friendly and safer for human health.

“It’s a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism,” said co-author Joshua Bongard.

The study reported that the machines could be used for a variety of tasks that would benefit humanity, such as cleaning up microplastics in the ocean or scraping plaque from human arteries.

They could also help scientists learn more about the secrets of cell biology – subsequently allowing advances in human health and longevity.

As for any worries that the machines might rebel and bring about humanity’s demise, the team said there’s no cause for concern. Xenobots live only weeks and cannot reproduce.

Here’s a preview of the biological machines.

Editor’s Note: In Thursday’s DailyChatter, we entitled a news item on Syria, “Pyrrhic Victory.” Readers astutely noted that the Syrian army’s victory over rebel forces in Maarat al Numan was not Pyrrhic in the proper definition of the term. We meant to say that the toll of the Syrian civil war had in a sense made Assad’s victory Pyrrhic but we failed to be specific and we regret the error.

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