The World Today for July 21, 2021

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The Heat’s On

Cherries roasting on trees, crops baking in fields, mussels being boiled alive in the ocean – these are some of the casualties – alongside humans and their villages – of a record-setting wildfire season in the wake of a record-setting heatwave in Western Canada recently.

For example, the village of Lytton in British Columbia reported a temperature of more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit during a recent heatwave, a record high for all of Canada. While no one knows the cause, the scalding heat has made the fires more intense, destroying 1.7 million acres, including 90 percent of the village, according to the New York Times. Two people died.

Most of the more than 1,000 people who live in the Lytton area are members of the Lytton First Nation and the indigenous Nlaka’pamux people, CNN added. The punishing heat and flames, the latest in a string of challenges that have included colonization and exploitation, were hitting the community especially hard, argued Nlaka’pamux advocates.

Experts told Al Jazeera that a “heat dome” of dry, warm air had covered the region, stopping rainfall and spiking temperatures, drying out the brush that fuels fires. But the intensity of the heat dome that struck Western Canada was earlier and more intense. They described the recent heatwave as a once-in-a-thousand-year event.

Almost 500 people perished from the heatwave in British Columbia over five days recently, nearly three times the normal amount in the same period, Reuters added. Officials hundreds of miles away in North Dakota were warning people about the dangerous health effects of breathing ash, the Bismarck Tribune wrote.

The scorching temperatures wrought economic damage. Fire risks caused the country’s railway operator to cancel train traffic to the Port of Vancouver, Canada’s largest port, noted Bloomberg. A trade bottleneck in the region would have repercussions for supply chains throughout North America.

Meanwhile, consider the environment of the future. The heat has accelerated the melting of glaciers that are already forecast to disappear over the next 80 years, according to the Canadian Press. Millions of mussels, clams and other marine animals died as water temperatures rose. Stunned marine biologists described an “ecological catastrophe” to USA Today.

Critics said the Canadian government lacks a sufficiently robust disaster response preparedness program that can help its citizens when wildfires wipe out large swaths of land in the massive country’s rural regions, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

They might be right. But Canada is not alone in this club.



Underdog, Stage Left

Far-left candidate Pedro Castillo became Peru’s president this week, a victory that came more than a month after the country’s presidential elections which were dogged by accusations of electoral fraud by his rival, the New York Times reported.

Election officials said Castillo won slightly more than 50 percent of the vote, defeating his right-wing rival, Keiko Fujimori. Castillo pulled ahead by more than 44,000 votes against Fujimori. The loser, who disputed the results, had asked election authorities to toss out 200,000 votes from areas where the leftist candidate had won by a landslide.

Fujimori later accepted the results but maintained that Castillo’s party had stolen votes and called the president-elect “illegitimate.”

Castillo will now become the first president of “Campesino” – or peasant – background. He will inherit a country where corruption and political vendettas have resulted in four presidents and two congresses over the past five years.

Meanwhile, Peru has also been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and currently has the highest documented per capita Covid-19 death toll in the world.

Castillo has vowed to overhaul Peru’s political and economic system to resolve poverty and inequality. He has also said he wants to amend the constitution to increase the state’s role in the economy.

Even so, many analysts are skeptical of Castillo’s ability to bring about change, according to the Wall Street Journal. The former schoolteacher lacks political experience and will face strong resistance from lawmakers, the military, the business community and the media.

Roque Benavides, a Peruvian mining executive, told the Journal that Castillo will have no choice but to remain moderate and compromise with business leaders because of his fragile political standing.


Legislating Memory

Spain’s government approved a draft bill Tuesday that would outlaw support for General Francisco Franco and help in identifying the victims of the former dictator, the Associated Press reported.

The Socialist-led coalition government said the new “Law on Democratic Memory” will punish individuals and institutions that praise Franco’s coup and dictatorship and also penalize anyone “denigrating and demeaning the dignity of the victims of the coup, the Civil War or Franco’s rule.”

Expressing support for Franco-era figures and ideas will carry a maximum fine of $177,000.

Among the various provisions, the bill plans to create a national DNA bank to help trace those missing or presumed dead. It will also look into atrocities committed during the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s rule, as well as exonerate those who were convicted for crimes involving political, religious or sexual grounds during that period.

The draft law aims to also implement the teaching of democracy, human rights and anti-fascism in high schools, universities and professional training courses.

Officials said that the legislation is aimed at healing the divisions over Franco’s place in history: The autocrat remains a very controversial figure in Spain and still provokes strong emotions.

More than 500,000 people died in the civil war between Franco’s rebel nationalist forces and the defenders of a short-lived Spanish republic. Franco declared victory in 1939 and ruled Spain until his death in 1975.

Historians say that more than 110,000 victims from the war and his dictatorship remain unidentified.


A Full Plate

Haitian Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph stepped down this week, ending a power struggle that ensued following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse earlier this month, NPR reported.

Joseph will be replaced by Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon and public official who was originally appointed by Moïse to become the country’s prime minister two days before the assassination.

The power struggle between Henry and Joseph started right after gunmen assassinated Moïse at his residence on July 7. It ended after Henry drew international support from the “Core Group” – a collection of ambassadors to Haiti, including the United States, Germany and France – as well as the United Nations and the Organization of American States.

In a brief address to the nation, Henry denounced the assassination as “coup d’état” and called for political unity. The new leader will govern the country until elections can be held to elect a new president, originally slated for later this year.

Haiti has been dealing with unrest for months even before Moïse’s assassination. The late president had turned increasingly autocratic, canceling elections and ruling by decree.

The capital has also been plagued by gang violence, displacing thousands as well as forcing public employees and healthcare workers to stay at home out of fear of being kidnapped or becoming a victim of violence.


Junkie Fish

The use of methamphetamine has increased in Europe and the United States during the pandemic, further underscoring the global problem and reach of the narcotic and its damage to human beings.

Meanwhile, a new study on the effects of meth on fish has raised concerns about the ecological dangers the drug can pose to nature, the Smithsonian reported.

Scientists note that meth isn’t completely absorbed in the body and a portion exits humans via excrement. The excreted narcotic, however, doesn’t get properly processed in wastewater facilities, which allows meth-laced sewage to flow out in the environment.

In their paper, researcher Pavel Horký and his colleagues tested the effects of the drugs in the lab by placing 60 brown trout in a water tank spiked with meth.

The findings, of course, were not surprising: The fish became addicted and even developed withdrawal symptoms when they were forced out of the drug-laced waters after two months of living there.

The team warned that addicted trout could have difficulty searching for food, evading predators and finding mates.

They added that the junkie fish could congregate in wastewater treatment areas in order to get their fix. This behavioral change can alter the trout’s distribution patterns, affecting the food chain and affecting the predators that feed on them.

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: 34,174,774 (+0.13%)
  2. India: 31,216,337 (+0.13%)
  3. Brazil: 19,419,437 (+0.14%)
  4. France: 5,952,339 (+0.31%)
  5. Russia: 5,931,925 (+0.39%)
  6. Turkey: 5,546,166 (+0.16%)
  7. UK: 5,542,635 (+0.85%)
  8. Argentina: 4,784,219 (+0.32%)
  9. Colombia: 4,668,750 (+0.28%)
  10. Italy: 4,293,083 (+0.08%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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