April 27, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

NEPAL

Messy House

Gray smog is cutting off the air of the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu amid a rash of wildfires. The Himalayan nation has counted more than 2,000 forest fires since November 2020, with a quarter of those spewing dust, smoke and ash into the atmosphere in late March, CNN reported.

The fires and air pollution have not necessarily hurt rhinoceros populations, which have rebounded in the past year as tourism declined during the pandemic, CBS News reported. But these developments show how climate change has caused dry periods sparking blazes that release massive amounts of carbon stored in trees into the atmosphere, explained the BBC.

Fires are not the only natural force spreading in Nepal. The former king – the monarchy ended in 2008 after two centuries of rule – recently contracted Covid-19 amid a spike in infections reported Al Jazeera. Indians who use Nepal as a transit route to other countries to circumvent bans on flights from India – where the pandemic has dramatically worsened – have not helped the situation, the Nepali Times wrote. Nepalese authorities have issued emergency authorization to use the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.

Meanwhile, politics has been fractured in the face of these challenges.

Last year, one faction of the ruling Nepal Communist Party ousted Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli as their leader, the Press Trust of India wrote. Sharma responded by kicking his critics out of the faction of the party that he controlled, the Indian Express reported. The two sides appear to have defused their animosity to the point where they can still meet and talk, however, according to ANI news.

The Hindustan Times described the conflict as an “acerbic power struggle.” Reconciliation is important, however, in the run-up to elections slated for April 30 and May 10. As the Diplomat argued, the prime minister and his rivals need to get organized to face challenges like fires and the pandemic as well as geopolitical questions.

China and India have interests in Nepal. The former wants a stable government in its neighborhood. India wants to increase its power after a falling out that involved a blockade in 2015 and occupation of Nepalese territories last year.

China is especially interested in convincing Nepal to join its strategic alliance in Asia. As the South China Morning Post detailed, leaders in Beijing want to counter a US-led, anti-China coalition that includes Australia, Japan and India.

Nepal has choices in the larger international reorganization, a good position to be in. But first, it must get its house in order to capitalize on it.

WANT TO KNOW

IRAQ

Fire and Graft

More than 80 people died in a hospital fire in Baghdad this week in an accident that underscores the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on a country plagued by corruption and mismanagement of its public services, the New York Times reported Monday.

Officials said the fire at the Ibn al-Khatib Hospital, which was dedicated to treating patients with severe Covid-19 symptoms, began when a cylinder filled with oxygen caught fire and exploded, causing a chain reaction that engulfed the intensive care ward.

The hospital lacked smoke detectors, sprinkler systems or fire hoses despite being renovated last year to accommodate Covid-19 patients.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi called the fire a crime and ordered an investigation into the incident. He also ordered the firing of the country’s health minister and the detention of the health director for the Rasfah area of the capital which hosts the hospital.

Al-Kadhimi came to power promising reform after his predecessor was forced to resign following mass demonstrations two years ago against government corruption and the lack of public services.

The incident highlights Iraq’s decrepit health system which has for years been plagued by conflict and mismanagement. The government has spent billions of dollars to restore the health care infrastructure but critics say there is little to show for it.

Last week, the country topped more than one million confirmed cases of Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic. Iraq has a population of about 40 million.

EUROPEAN UNION

Bitter Push

The European Union began legal action against AstraZeneca Monday after the British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm repeatedly failed to deliver the Covid-19 vaccines it had promised to the bloc, CNN reported.

EU officials said some terms of the contract “were not respected” and the company “hasn’t been in a position” to create a reliable strategy to ensure timely delivery of doses.

Amid a slow rollout, the EU had ordered 300 million vaccines from AstraZeneca with an option for another 100 million. However, the firm’s deliveries have fallen short of the targets agreed to in its contract with the EU by tens of millions of doses.

The drugmaker is scheduled to provide the 27-nation bloc with 70 million doses in the second quarter – rather than the 180 million it had promised, according to the Associated Press.

The late deliveries have caused a major dispute between the bloc and the company, which has also dragged in Britain – the former EU member has mostly received its doses on time.

AstraZeneca said that it has “fully complied” with the bloc’s contract and that it would “strongly defend itself” in court.

INDIA

The Surge

India reported a record number of Covid-19 cases for the fifth straight day Monday as the country grapples with a devastating second wave and a new variant that has overwhelmed the country’s healthcare system, CNBC reported.

The South Asian nation recorded more than 350,000 new cases and at least 2,812 deaths as the total infection numbers passed more than 17 million.

Although the official death toll is less than 200,000, health officials said that the number remains underreported, according to Politico.

The situation stands in stark contrast to a few weeks ago when India recorded around 10,000 new cases daily.

Analysts said recent mass gatherings for religious festivals and election rallies have contributed to the rising numbers. The new variant, a so-called double mutant strain that contains genetic mutations from two different versions of the coronavirus, has played a strong role.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing heavy criticism for allowing the large events. Meanwhile, multiple Indian cities have imposed strict lockdowns to control the spread of the virus.

The Indian government has also asked social media companies to remove posts that were creating “panic” by “using unrelated, old and out of the context images or visuals,” according to the Washington Post.

The new surges have also sent the country’s healthcare system to the brink with hospitals running out of beds and oxygen.

The situation has prompted Western nations to pledge aid to the South Asian country with the United States sending raw materials so India can ramp up manufacturing of the AstraZeneca vaccine locally.

India is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer but less than 10 percent of Indians have received even one dose to date.

DISCOVERIES

The Tool of Tools

Australia’s iconic boomerang was more of a Swiss army knife than a mere hunting tool, according to a new study.

For the first time, researchers closely studied 100 boomerangs across Australia to analyze the marks on their surfaces and determine their use, Brisbane Times reported.

Lead researcher Eva Martellotta and her team used the traceological method to spot signs of wear on the tools’ surface and edges to reveal various functions of the boomerang including the shaping of stone tools.

“When you use a tool, any tool, every action you make while using the tool causes particular marks on the tool’s surface,” said Martellotta.

They noted that the marks resembled ones found on bone tools used by prehistoric Neanderthals from cave sites dating back 500,000 years.

The authors explained that Indigenous Australians traveled long distances and preferred the boomerang for its lightweight over other stone tools.

The drawback of the study is the fact that most boomerangs studied were relatively recent – the oldest one dates to 1890.

Being wooden, boomerangs cannot survive Australia’s harsh climate so it’s impossible to study older models.

However, historical accounts have shown that the Aboriginal people used the tool for a range of tasks including making music and starting fires.

COVID-19 Global Update

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

  1. US: 32,125,009 (+0.15%)
  2. India: 17,636,186 (+1.87%)
  3. Brazil: 14,369,423 (+0.20%)
  4. France: 5,565,080 (+0.11%)
  5. Russia: 4,717,321 (+0.18%)
  6. Turkey: 4,667,281 (+0.81%)
  7. UK: 4,422,562 (+0.05%)
  8. Italy: 3,971,114 (+0.21%)
  9. Spain: 3,488,469 (+0.57%)
  10. Germany: 3,314,676 (+0.24%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours