May 04, 2020

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COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest number as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US 1,158,041 (+2.20%)
  2. Spain 247,122 (+0.63%)
  3. Italy 210,717 (+0.66%)
  4. UK 187,842 (+2.37%)
  5. France 168,925 (+0.24%)
  6. Germany 165,664 (+0.42%)
  7. Russia 134,687 (+8.57%)
  8. Turkey 126,045 (+1.34%)
  9. Brazil 101,826 (+4.87%)
  10. Iran 97,424 (+1.01%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Percentage change over 24 hours

NEED TO KNOW

WORLD

Salt of the Earth

These days, Hartmut Fey of Völklingen, Germany, regularly goes to the nearby French border crossing with a fishing rod: He can’t live without his French-baked croissants and baguettes so he “reels” them in with a fishing line and the help of a baker standing on the other side of the now-closed frontier.

This might be a small, amusing anecdote in the ocean of stories of deprivations caused by the novel coronavirus over the past few months. However, it underscores a serious development: Feeding the world becomes increasingly tricky when borders are closed and labor is forced to stay home.

For example, the virus has forced many American meat-processing plants to close, creating the specter of a food shortage in the world’s wealthiest nation. The warning that Tyson Foods Chairman John Tyson issued recently about the “food supply chain breaking” is not isolated to the United States, however.

It’s not that there isn’t enough protein, vegetables and grains either, Reuters reported.

Some suppliers have extra food on hand because restaurants and other food sources are shuttered. Folks in Manchester in the United Kingdom repurposed one million airline meals for underprivileged families, for example, according to the BBC.

Such efforts only go so far, though. Throughout the world, the normal mechanisms that bring those necessities to our plates are collapsing.

As Axios explained, panic buying in the early stages of the crisis emptied shelves. Then the virus spread through facilities where labor conditions have always been problematic. At the same time, fewer truckers are on the road to carry goods from farms to cities. To make matters worse, migrants are in lockdown at home or can’t cross borders to work harvests.

In northern India, farmers usually celebrate the coming of the winter crop in late April. Instead, Jagbir Singh Mann is fretting about his future. “All my work will come to nothing if I’m not able to sell my wheat at the market because of the labor shortage,” he told the Financial Times.

India’s socialistic food distribution system, inefficient and clunky in ordinary times, has successfully kept people fed, wrote researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia. How long that can continue is an open question, though.

South China Morning Post columnist Cary Huang wondered if China is headed for a famine reminiscent of the Great Famine of 1959-61 when tens of millions of people perished under Mao Zedong. Dependent on food imports, the world’s most populous country likely faces political instability if the same occurs again, he said.

A third of the population in the Caribbean and Latin America already suffer food insecurity, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization found. Hunger and poverty are expected to spike in already poor, corrupt and misgoverned countries like Venezuela and Haiti.

African countries are also facing food insecurity, especially East Africa, which has seen crops ravaged by locusts this year, with more to come. “This represents an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods,” FAO officials wrote.

Europe is also facing challenges. Governments have closed borders, preventing workers from Eastern Europe from picking French strawberries, German asparagus and other crops, the Washington Post reported. It’s not just that Western Europe wants to keep people out. Romanian leaders are leery of allowing their citizens to travel to coronavirus hotspots like Spain and Italy, the Guardian noted.

French officials have asked waiters and others laid off during the crisis to consider replacing the 200,000 people needed for agriculture. Thousands have already signed up.

Exchanging a tiny Parisian apartment for exercise and sunshine might be a good deal, especially if lunch – with wine – is provided.

WANT TO KNOW

AFGHANISTAN

A Deal For a Deal

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his rival Abdullah Abdullah said over the weekend they are close to resolving a feud over last year’s disputed presidential election that threatens the US-brokered peace process, Reuters reported.

Officials said a draft deal is on the table, one which would include Abdullah leading a high-level council for peace talks and receiving half of all government appointments for his faction.

In March, Ghani and Abdullah had both declared themselves president and each held an inauguration ceremony.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Afghanistan that month and tried to broker a deal between the two with little success. Afterward, he announced a $1 billion cut in aid for the war-torn country and threatened another next year if Abdullah and Ghani failed to reach an agreement.

US officials worried that the feud would derail inter-Afghan peace talks between the government and the Taliban. The US and the Taliban signed an agreement in February to end almost two decades of conflict. Talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are part of that agreement.

NORTH KOREA

He’s Back!

North and South Korean forces exchanged gunfire along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) Sunday, a day after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made his first public appearance following a three-week absence, Axios reported.

The skirmish comes after weeks of intense speculation over the leader’s health and a potential successor.

Analysts, however, told Bloomberg the attack was a deliberate move by North Korea to curb rumors over Kim’s ailing health.

Kim was initially reported to have undergone surgery last month but a senior South Korean official denied that the leader was ill.

SUDAN

Bucking Tradition

Sudanese officials said over the weekend they intend to criminalize female genital mutilation (FGM) after the transitional government passed a bill to end the practice, the Associated Press reported.

The legislation provides for jail terms of up to three years for anyone convicted of performing the procedure.

FGM is widespread across the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia and is an entrenched practice in Sudan’s conservative culture. A 2014 report by UNICEF estimated that 87 percent of Sudanese women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 have been subjected to the procedure, often without anesthesia or antiseptics.

The landmark legislation is part of a series of reforms by Sudan’s new interim administration, which includes abolishing the death penalty for minors.

The bill still needs to be ratified by a joint meeting of the Cabinet and the Sovereign Council, which assumed power after last year’s overthrow of longtime President Omar al-Bashir.

It’s also unclear whether the country’s military leaders, who hold a majority on the council, will approve the bill.

DISCOVERIES

Nothing Is Original

Many believe the environmental movement began in recent times.

Not true.

Archaeologists recently found evidence of garbage dumps outside the walls of Pompeii, they believe were actually ancient recycling plants.

Initially, they presumed that the mounds were created as a result of a powerful earthquake that struck Pompeii around 17 years before the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD – it destroyed the city.

It seems, the ancient Romans recycled and reused garbage to make buildings, probably even invented the practice, the Guardian reported.

Professor Allison Emmerson and her team noted that the Romans saw potential in using discarded mortar, plaster and ceramic shards as construction materials.

She explained that the civilization built waste management sites “with easy access to roads and highways by which it might be moved in, out and around the city.”

Scientific analysis also found that some of the buildings were made from discarded materials.

“We found that at least part of the city was built out of trash,” said Emmerson.

That has lessons for countries today, she added.

“This point has relevance for the modern garbage crisis,” she said. “The countries that most effectively manage their waste have applied a version of the ancient model, prioritizing commodification rather than simple removal.”