The World Today for July 30, 2021

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A Land of No Yield

Hungry people in Madagascar are eating raw cactus fruit, leaves and locusts to survive the country’s worst famine since the early 1980s.

A woman identified as Tamaria who lives in Amboasary on the African island’s southern coast told the World Food Program that she was growing weaker and more desperate as she saw fewer options to feed herself or her seven children.

“I have no land so I cannot cultivate anything,” said the woman who lives in a 16-square-foot bamboo hut. “We live on wild tubers like fangitse and the red cactus in the forest. We sold all our domestic goods, including spoons. If we find green vegetables and want to cook them, for example, we need to borrow pots from other people. I have nothing left and it is painful.”

Around 400,000 people are facing starvation, the Associated Press reported. Another 14,000 are dealing with catastrophic food conditions. Those numbers are expected to increase significantly over the next few months unless the international community takes action.

Africans often face such harrowing circumstances when their countries are embroiled in violence – civil war, rebellions, terrorism and other phenomena can obviously hamper farming and food distribution. Madagascar has suffered those troubles.

But climate change is to blame for this famine.

As the Washington Post explained, five of the last six rainy seasons have delivered less rainfall than average, hurting agriculture. As a result, dust storms known locally as “tiomena” as well as locust swarms have become more common, further reducing or flat-out ruining harvests.

Malagasies live in crushing poverty – two-thirds earn less than $1.90 a day. Many depend on foraging in the wild for their nutritional needs. Those resources are under threat, too. Writing in the Conversation, University of Cape Town Postdoctoral Fellow Estelle Razanatsoa noted that the Covid-19 pandemic had set back the conservation efforts that were attempting to help local people stop deforestation and other trends that hurt food resources.

The government has responded by accepting humanitarian aid and jailing journalists who draw attention to the problem.

Reporters Without Borders recently condemned Malagasy officials for smearing French journalist Gaëlle Borgia for releasing video footage of hungry citizens. Last year, Borgia and the New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for covering Russian meddling in the country’s elections in 2018.

The winner of that election, Andry Rajoelina, who has come under fire for hawking an herbal remedy for Covid-19, recently took $40 million from the US to help fight hunger, a US Embassy press released showed. Many wonder where it’s going.

Regardless, memories of hunger and hardship will linger, alongside his legacy.



Cover the Bases

Chinese officials urged the Taliban to cut ties with “terrorist” groups operating in China in a formal meeting this week that underscores how Beijing aims to step up its role in Afghanistan as the United States withdraws, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said during the meeting in Tianjin in northeastern China that the Taliban is an important military and political force in Afghanistan and will play an integral role in rebuilding the country. He asked all factions in the war-torn nation to resolve their disputes and establish peace in Afghanistan.

Among the topics of discussion, Wang also urged the Taliban co-founder and political office chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar to cut ties with groups such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which it says stages attacks in western China.

China has previously engaged with the armed group but the need for reassurances comes as the Taliban have made multiple advances on the battlefield.

Analysts noted that China is not seeking to strengthen the Taliban but rather push them to engage in the peace process with the Afghan government: The current peace talks between the two have dragged on with minor progress, as fighting intensifies in the Central Asian nation.

They added that Beijing has vested economic interests in the country – including the Belt and Road Initiative – which have stalled due to the violence.

Another issue of concern remains whether the Taliban could threaten China’s Xinjiang province that borders Afghanistan. China has been increasingly cracking down on its Uighur Muslim ethnic minority there, a move that has received international condemnation.

Beijing argues that the Uighur face possible radicalization but has produced little evidence of Uighurs training abroad and returning to carry out attacks inside China.

Meanwhile, the Taliban have maintained that they have no intention of interfering in China’s affairs, seeing it as a source of international legitimacy, a potential economic lifeline and possible influence over Pakistan, a Chinese ally. It also assured Beijing that the group would never allow forces to use Afghanistan to endanger China.


The Stars Aligned

The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has vaccinated 90 percent of its eligible population within a week in what has been considered one of the world’s fastest and most effective vaccination campaigns against the coronavirus pandemic, the Washington Post reported.

The country’s foreign ministry said it managed to fully inoculate its eligible population with a second dose from July 20 to July 26 with the help of more than 4,800 health workers.

The successful campaign is a remarkable feat for the mountainous country wedged between India and China. Before the pandemic, the country only had 37 doctors and many rural areas were nearly inaccessible.

Bhutan’s efforts included the use of a wide network of health workers and more than 2,000 volunteers known as “desuung,” or the Guardians of the Peace, who operate under the authority of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. Authorities, including the king himself, also took a proactive stance to fight vaccine hesitancy and misinformation. Some healthcare workers trekked hours in the Himalayas to reach nomadic herders.

The country first received its large shipment of coronavirus vaccines in January. The start date of the campaign was selected through astrological consultations with Buddhist monks.

When the campaign began on March 26, more than 93 percent of eligible adults received the first dose in less than two weeks.

With a population of nearly 800,000, Bhutan has reported 2,501 confirmed cases and two deaths.

The success story contrasts with Bhutan’s neighbors India and Bangladesh, which are currently struggling with surges of the Delta variant and low vaccination rates.


One-way Traffic

The European Union expressed disappointment at the United States’ decision this week to keep its ban on European travelers indefinitely because of concerns about the coronavirus Delta variant, Politico reported.

Monday’s decision surprised many EU officials, particularly because the vaccination rates in the bloc have surpassed those in the US – in spite of a slow rollout.

In mid-June, the EU added the US to its “green list” of countries and has allowed arrivals even by unvaccinated travelers. Later that month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US ban would be lifted but specified no date.

Meanwhile, EU officials wonder if they should force their trans-Atlantic ally to abide by the same “reciprocity” requirement imposed on China. Still, officials said that it would not be advantageous to start a fight between the two allies even as European leaders consider whether to reimpose new restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.

Europe is also currently facing a surge in coronavirus infections.


Branching Out

The Chinese, the Koreans and Japan have long claimed unique cultures they trace back to mythological heritage to illustrate a genetic uniqueness.

It turns out, they are mostly right.

Scientists have found key genetic differences between people in northern China, Japan and Korea, just less than was once believed, the South China Morning Post reported.

A scientific team at China’s Institute of Forensic Science sequenced the human genome of hundreds of samples collected from multiple research databases.

In their paper for the journal Hereditas (Beijing), researchers found 49 possible variations – instead of hundreds – in the genes of people in these three groups. They later tested them against real-life genetic sequences collected from northern China, the Korean peninsula and Japan, and found that nearly all results matched.

Even so, lead author Li Caxia said that the three groups likely descended from common ancestors but later evolved independently in recent millennia.

“In recent years, with the frequent social and economic exchanges between China, Japan and South Korea, a large number of people have left their birthplaces to live in other countries and integrate into the local society,” the team wrote.

Li and her colleagues said that the findings could be used to aid police in forensic research, such as identifying a body.

But other researchers advised that the results should be treated with caution and only used in forensic science.

Due to the very sensitive nature of the issue, they warned that the genetic differences should “not be used for discrimination, nationalism, as biological weapons or for other purposes, to sow more divide or conflict in this region.”

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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: 34,751,045 (+0.23%)
  2. India: 31,572,344 (+0.14%)
  3. Brazil: 19,839,369 (+0.21%)
  4. France: 6,142,282 (+0.42%)
  5. Russia: 6,138,969 (+0.37%)
  6. UK: 5,828,318 (+0.53%)
  7. Turkey: 5,682,630 (+0.39%)
  8. Argentina: 4,905,925 (+0.29%)
  9. Colombia: 4,766,829 (+0.20%)
  10. Spain: 4,422,291 (+0.61%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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