The World Today for July 01, 2021

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Ever Collapsing

Lebanon keeps lurching from crisis to crisis.

The currency amid the coronavirus pandemic shrunk 90 percent. Last summer, a massive blast in Beirut harbor killed more than 200 people, destroying much of the city center.

Today, fuel shortages are the emergency. The diverse Mediterranean nation lacks a robust mass transit system, making everyone, especially ubiquitous delivery services, dependent on gas. But, as the Washington Post reported, lines at gas stations now stretch for miles as the government, facing a shortage of foreign reserves, slashed fuel subsidies as gas smuggling to neighboring war-torn Syria continued to siphon off supply.

Gunfire and knife fights have erupted as frustrated drivers wait hours for their precious gas rations, France24 reported. The high cost of transportation or lack of fuel has led many students to simply abandon their studies, added Deutsche Welle.

In fact, Lebanese demonstrators blocked a highway to protest government-announced measures to curb smuggling to Syria, the Associated Press added. It was one of the bright spots in the country’s battered economy where poverty, power outages and other signs of collapse are becoming more prevalent.

Gross domestic product is expected to shrink by almost 10 percent this year after contracting more than 20 percent last year and almost 7 percent in 2019. Desperate to balance its budget and retain foreign cash to import medicines and other essential goods, the government also recently ended sugar subsidies that increased the price of bread by 18 percent, Al Jazeera noted.

Military leaders have complained that they might not have sufficient cash to pay troops who maintain the country’s security in a very troubled region, Al-Monitor reported. The US, in response, has been pouring money into its ally’s forces to maintain readiness. Soldiers earn around $100 a month, an eight-fold drop. Officers get $400 a month.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz said the Lebanese army was “begging for charity.”

Writing in the Arab News, columnist Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg, who is also a top official at the Gulf Cooperation Council based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, said Lebanese leaders needed to get a handle on their situation, arguing they faced a “looming meltdown.”

As Reuters explained, Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri and President Michel Aoun have been unable to reach a deal to name cabinet ministers for 10 months. Al-Hariri needs a government that can implement reforms if he hopes to receive foreign aid that would relieve the suffering of his people.

When political scientists and other observers discuss instability in the Middle East, this is it.



Boiling Over

Eswatini imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew this week amid ongoing pro-democracy protests that have swept the southern African country for three consecutive days, Al Jazeera reported Wednesday.

Acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku ordered the shuttering of all schools and instructed all residents to remain home from 6 p.m. until 5 a.m., saying the demonstrations were “hijacked by criminal elements.”

Videos posted on social media show demonstrators burning tires and barricading streets in two main cities, protesting against the government of King Mswati III, Africa’s last remaining absolute monarch.

Pro-democracy activists are demanding democratic reforms and the lifting of bans on all opposition parties in the country.

Mswati III has ruled Eswatini for more than three decades, and his family – which includes 15 wives – has been accused of enjoying a lavish lifestyle while most of the country’s 1.1 million people remain impoverished.

Since 1973, political parties have been banned in the country formerly known as Swaziland.

Protesters have vowed to intensify the demonstrations and are demanding that all businesses belonging to the royal family be seized or destroyed.


Far, Far Away

The British government is planning to introduce a new bill this week that would allow the country to hold asylum seekers in offshore processing centers, a move critics have called “inhumane in the extreme,” the Evening Standard reported.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said that the new Nationality and Borders Bill will be aimed at discouraging dangerous crossings of the English Channel.

The plan is reminiscent of Australia’s controversial asylum policy, which bans asylum seekers traveling by sea and redirects them to offshore immigration accommodation centers in states such as Papua New Guinea.

The proposed law will allow the British government to create offshore immigration processing centers for the first time. Patel said that the government is seeking advice from Denmark after the latter passed a similar bill last month.

Charities and lawmakers called the plan “cruel and brutally hostile.” Home Office officials, however, maintain that the current asylum system is “broken” and that the new bill will “welcome people through safe and legal routes while preventing abuse of the system and the criminality associated with it.”

Over the weekend, 315 migrants crossed the Channel, bringing this year’s total to 5,676.


Breaking Records… and Lives

A scorching heatwave in the western Canadian province of British Columbia killed hundreds of people this week and shattered historical records in the country, United Press International reported Wednesday.

Authorities said that at least 230 people have died from the heat between Friday and Monday and the death toll is expected to rise. The province’s chief coroner said the death toll of sudden and unexpected deaths was 486, the Washington Post reported.

Western parts of North American have been hit with an unprecedented heatwave that has caused hundreds of fatalities, as well as record high temperatures.

Environmental officials in British Columbia have reported three straight days of record-breaking temperatures: About 59 temperature records were broken in the province, 43 of which set all-time records.

Meanwhile, the village of Lytton broke the all-time Canadian heat record three days in a row, reaching 121.1 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday – which is hotter than Las Vegas’ record high of 117 degrees Fahrenheit.

Climatologists say the changing climate is expected to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves. However, they noted that it is complicated to link any single event to climate change, the BBC reported.


Our ‘Lopsided’ Planet

The Earth is growing ‘lopsided,’ offering an explanation on why seismic waves – vibrations of energy produced by earthquakes or volcanic eruptions – travel at different rates across the planet, reported Live Science.

For decades, scientists have known about seismic anisotropy – seismic waves that pass through the Earth’s solid inner core at a significantly faster speed between the north and south poles than across the equator.

Using computer simulations of the billion-year growth history of the Earth’s core, a new study is attempting to solve the mystery of this speed discrepancy.

The Earth’s inner core grows by 0.04 inches on average every year with new iron crystals forming faster on the east side of the core than on the west.

According to the team’s models, gravity corrects for the added growth in the east by pushing new crystals toward the west. Those crystals clump into lattice structures that stretch along the core’s north-south axis, forming seismic superhighways that enable earthquake waves to travel more quickly in that direction.

However, the researchers add that asymmetric growth doesn’t mean the inner core is misshapen or at risk of becoming disproportionate. Even so, scientists aren’t sure what causes this inner core imbalance.

Lead author Daniel Frost with a team of geomagnetists is continuing to investigate the other effects of this core imbalance like the impact of the lopsided core on the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field.

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: 33,665,034 (+0.04%)
  2. India: 30,411,634 (+0.16%)
  3. Brazil: 18,557,141 (+0.24%)
  4. France: 5,837,265 (+0.02%)
  5. Russia: 5,449,594 (+0.38%)
  6. Turkey: 5,425,652 (+0.10%)
  7. UK: 4,817,313 (+0.54%)
  8. Argentina: 4,470,374 (+0.51%)
  9. Italy: 4,259,909 (+0.02%)
  10. Colombia: 4,240,982 (+0.66%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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