The World Today for March 05, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

AUSTRALIA

Vandalized By Humanity

More than 20 percent of Australia’s forests – 27 million acres – burned this wildfire season due to unprecedented bushfires. Those figures could turn out to be low because they don’t include Tasmania and the season isn’t over yet, the Weather Channel reported.

The continent-country could be reaching the climate tipping point, the New York Times warned. The devastating fires late last year forced some Australians to seek refuge on the beach to escape the flames. More than 30 people died, including three American firefighters.

And more than one billion animals perished. Around 100 species will need “urgent help” to recover, reported Boston-based public radio station WBUR. Many bird species have been decimated. The koala, a symbol of Australia, is threatened. Wildlife experts are figuring out how to preserve threatened species.

The fires nearly destroyed the last remaining trees of a species called Eidothea hardeniana (nightcap oak), which first appeared hundreds of millions of years ago when Australia’s tectonic plate was part of the supercontinent of Gondwana. The tree’s lineage survived the catastrophe that killed off the dinosaurs but, as the Atlantic wrote, “might not survive the disaster now facing it, living in a biosphere that’s been vandalized by humanity.”

The disaster showed the effects of climate change, reported 60 Minutes. Australia is becoming drier and hotter, creating a landscape more conducive to intense firestorms. This season’s fires were more intense than any climate models predicted, however, added the BBC, quoting scientists who said their miscalculations were a wake-up call for anyone preparing for climate change.

The real question now is how the country will prevent future disasters.

Some Australians are looking to aboriginal practices, including controlled burns of dry vegetation, to reduce future risks, wrote Public Radio International.

Planning and environmental experts are imploring officials not to permit homeowners in fire hazard zones to rebuild immediately. Thanks to urban sprawl, homes lacking safety features appropriate for such areas have become common, the Australian Associated Press wrote. Urban planning specialists want to see better building codes developed. Insurance companies aren’t going to cover the same housing that just went up in flames, they argue.

But Australians are eager to rebuild, though it might take as long as five years to recover, the Australian Broadcasting Company reported. The drive to recreate one’s homestead is strong in Australia. After a fire in 2009 that killed more than 170 people, the government sought to purchase homes in fire-prone areas to avert future tragedies. But most people rebuilt, National Public Radio reported.

And they probably will again.

WANT TO KNOW

FRANCE

En Marche!

President Emmanuel Macron’s government survived two no-confidence votes Wednesday after his party passed a controversial pension overhaul without a parliamentary vote, Agence France-Presse reported.

Macron’s La Republique en Marche used a mechanism in the constitution to push the bill through the lower house of parliament after less than two weeks of debate.

The party, which has a comfortable majority, argued that debates would have taken up months of parliamentary time.

The bill will change the country’s 42 separate pension regimes into a single, point-based system, AFP reported separately.

The government argues that the new system will be fairer and end years of budget deficits. Critics, however, worry that it will force some to work beyond the official retirement age of 62, or receive a lower pension.

The pension reform has sparked mass protests and strikes since Dec. 5.

The bill still needs to pass the Senate where it might face more opposition.

MALAYSIA

Shaky Ground

Malaysia’s newly appointed prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, postponed the start of the parliamentary session by two months, after rivals threatened his new coalition government with a confidence vote, Al Jazeera reported.

The new parliamentary session will now begin on May 18. The prime minister did not provide an explanation for the delay.

Yassin was sworn in on Sunday following days of political turmoil in the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition, which led to the resignation of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Afterward, Yassin formed a coalition made up of the Islamist party PAS and the opposition United Malays National Organization: The latter had been tainted by corruption allegations and was defeated in the May 2018 elections.

There are concerns that the new coalition will give little voice to the minority groups in the country.

Ethnic Muslim Malays make up more than half of the population, but there are a significant number of ethnic Chinese, Indians and Indigenous people in Malaysia.

AFGHANISTAN

A Peace That Isn’t

The United States launched an airstrike against the Taliban Wednesday just days after both sides signed a peace deal to end almost two decades of war in Afghanistan, Reuters reported.

US officials said that it was a “defensive strike” meant to stop Taliban fighters attacking an Afghan National Security Forces checkpoint.

The Taliban declined to confirm or deny responsibility for the recent attacks, and made no comment regarding Wednesday’s airstrike.

Since the signing of the deal, the insurgent group has resumed its operations against Afghan security forces, but several sources confirmed they do not plan to attack foreign troops.

A spokesman from Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense said Wednesday that clashes between Afghan forces and Taliban have been reported in nine provinces in the past 24 hours.

The US and Taliban signed an agreement over the weekend which would ensure the full withdrawal of all US and coalition forces within 14 months, dependent on security guarantees by the Taliban.

The deal still faces a number of hurdles, especially the Inter-Afghan talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which are scheduled to begin next week.

DISCOVERIES

Save the Pooches

There are around 15 million stray dogs roaming the neighborhoods of Cairo, according to the Egyptian government.

And unfortunately, the strays are responsible for biting about 200,000 people a year and spreading rabies, which can be deadly.

For years, authorities and vigilantes have taken a brutal approach to controlling the situation by poisoning the abandoned pooches. Thankfully, attitudes are changing, the Associated Press reported.

Egypt’s street dogs are finally finding some acceptance among the population through programs including adoption, medical care, and spraying and neutering to keep them from having more puppies.

“I’ve seen a major shift … people are seeing a value in strays,” said Karim Hegazi, who works at a veterinary hospital to care for the once-reviled animals.

Several cities have developed their own pet hotels, cafes and grooming areas, while local neighborhoods have begun spray and neuter initiatives.

Mohammed Shehata, the founder of a group called Egyptian Vets for Animal Care, said his organization has treated about 10,000 stray pups over the past few years and began a mass rabies vaccination program last month.

Sadly, most of these efforts have not received any state funding or a legal framework but Hegazi and others say they will carry on.

“We will do our best…,” said Hegazi.

Correction: In Tuesday’s NEED TO KNOW section, we said in our “A Little Charm” item that with 90 percent of the vote counted in Israeli elections, Likud held 59 seats and the Blue and White party won 53 seats. In fact, it was their voting blocs that had those preliminary results. We apologize for the error.

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