The World Today for August 09, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

EUROPE

Hunting Equilibrium

Italian officials recently banned massive cruise ships from the fabled lagoon of the City of Canals. The ships’ hastened erosion and polluted the ancient lagoon’s sensitive ecosystem, said critics who welcomed the move.

Others worried that the absence of the floating behemoths would be another body blow to the tourism industry that is central to Venice’s fortunes, Radio France Internationale reported. Without docks unloading tourists at Saint Mark’s Square, they claimed, the city will see an eventual 50 percent reduction in visitors – the average was 1.5 million annually before the pandemic.

Venice’s experience is one of many stories about how Europe is struggling to revive the continent’s vital tourism industry after the pandemic while also addressing the environmental and social impacts of tourism that have become more obvious after global tourism largely shut down in 2020.

In Calanques National Park in France, officials are seeking to reduce attendance after a year where prohibitions on foreign travel didn’t stop French visitors from pouring into the park amid city lockdowns. The land needs time to recover, they argued. “The park’s caretakers say the burgeoning crowds, on the beaches and in the water, threaten the site’s sensitive biological equilibrium,” wrote the Washington Post.

Greek conservationists were happy, for example, to see that fewer tourists stayed on the beautiful Mediterranean island of Zakynthos during the pandemic. The peace and quiet helped a new generation of loggerhead sea turtles, an endangered species, grow and develop, the Guardian reported. Humans’ impact on the beaches where the turtles dwell kept them from optimally reproducing.

The pause in tourism was a blessing and curse, the New York Times concluded. Fewer flights and congested highways meant cleaner air. Wildlife could move unmolested. Noise pollution plummeted. But many countries also pay for the enforcement of conservation and wildlife rules. Accordingly, illegal logging, poaching and other bad practices increased during the pandemic. Foreign Policy magazine explored the illegal wildlife trade during the pandemic, saying that endangered wildlife was “paying the price” of Covid-19, for instance.

The delta variant of Covid-19 is already causing officials to enact complex social distancing and testing measures that are making tourism within Europe difficult, harming a major economic driver, as CNBC explained. The rules are complicated enough for Serbia to exploit them to create a cottage industry. The Balkan country provides space for Indian tourists to quarantine for two weeks, per European laws, before they move on to other destinations, Reuters noted.

Humans will find ways to survive. The question is how sustainably they can do it.

WANT TO KNOW

AFGHANISTAN

Dominoes Theory

Taliban insurgents captured one of Afghanistan’s main cities over the weekend, a conquest that marks a huge blow for Afghan government forces as the United States and its allies withdraw from the country, NBC News reported.

The militants seized Kunduz in the north, Afghanistan’s sixth-largest city and an important commercial hub that offers easy access to much of the country’s northern regions.

The fall of Kunduz follows a series of significant victories by the armed group, including the capture of Sheberghan, the capital of the northern Jawzjan province, and Zaranj in the southwestern Nimroz province.

The Taliban began an aggressive offensive in May and have been able to capture more than half of Afghanistan’s territory including strategic border postings.

The militants’ advance has also prompted US and British embassies to warn their citizens to leave the country “immediately.”

The recent victory comes as the US military prepares its exit after nearly 20 years of fighting. Last month, President Joe Biden announced that the American military mission in Afghanistan will end on Aug. 31 – earlier than initially announced.

This has raised fears among many Afghanis, with thousands fleeing their homes to escape the fighting and also the prospect of another hardline Islamist regime by the Taliban, which ruled the Central Asian nation until 2001.

A study by Brown University reported that more than 2,300 US troops have died since the conflict started. About 58,000 members of the Afghan security forces were killed between 2001 and 2018.

EUROPEAN UNION

Cordon Sanitaire Redux

The implementation of mandatory health passes in some European Union nations spurred anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination protests over the weekend, with some fearing the measures could spark more violence and radicalization, the Washington Post reported.

On Saturday, more than 230,000 people marched in French cities to protest the implementation of the mandatory health pass, which will require proof of vaccination, immunity or a recent coronavirus test in order to access public venues and restaurants.

On the same day, thousands of Italians also protested the new “Green Pass” in multiple cities, the Local Italy reported.

Protesters in both nations have called the new measures dictatorial and have accused their governments of overreach – and of resembling the Nazi regime.

The demonstrations have also resulted in violence with a series of attacks on vaccination centers, death threats against politicians and social media posts about upcoming actions against the passes. Analysts warned that some far-right groups may be seeking to take advantage of demonstrations, seeing them as recruiting grounds.

The resistance to health passes has also prompted hesitation among German politicians to implement such a pass as the country prepares for general elections next month.

Even so, support for the demonstrators appears to be limited: In France, about a third of the population agree with the protesters. Italians, meanwhile, have generally accepted the implementation of the “Green Pass,” according to the New York Times.

ISRAEL

Broken, and Fighting

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah announced over the weekend that the militant group will retaliate against any Israeli airstrike in southern Lebanon, following a flare-up between the two forces last week, the Times of Israel reported.

Since Wednesday, the Israeli military and Hezbollah had been exchanging fire, with the militant group initially denying the attacks.

However, the Iran-backed group admitted Friday that it was responsible for missile launches toward Israel – the first time it admitted any aggression since the 2006 Lebanon war.

Nasrallah’s remarks came as he was celebrating Hezbollah’s self-described “victory” in the 2006 war. He admitted that the group deliberately attacked open military zones during the day to avoid “terrifying Israeli residents.” He added that the armed group will broaden its range if Israel continues to conduct airstrikes in Lebanon.

Israeli military officials said that they hope to contain the situation. They noted that Hezbollah has already been deterred as the group had only targeted open spaces instead of population centers.

The recent attacks come amid Lebanon’s economic and political crisis with analysts warning that the country is on the verge of collapse.

Even so, Nasrallah maintained that Lebanon’s situation will not affect Hezbollah’s ability to fight Israel.

DISCOVERIES

Giant Bloodsuckers

Vampire bats live up to their name: They are nocturnal creatures that feed on the blood of animals – the only mammal species to do so, according to National Geographic.

Despite their fearsome reputation, they are very small, with bodies of around 3.5 inches and a wingspan of seven inches. Even so,  paleontologists recently found the remains of a giant vampire bat that lived in a cave in Argentina some 100,000 years ago, Science Alert reported.

In a new study, researchers analyzed the jawbone of the extinct Desmodus draculae, which might unveil new details about the species’ mysterious origins.

The nocturnal mammal was 30 percent larger than its closest living relative – the common vampire bat – and had a wingspan of about 20 inches.

Scientists have known about the bats’ existence since the late 1980s but the research team said the find was very significant because bat fossils are extremely rare.

The team originally found the jawbone in a cave where a giant sloth of the Mylodontidae family also resided. The location not only suggests that D. draculae preferred to set up house near a food source but also liked to go after megafauna.

The authors theorized that the extinction of megafauna around 10,000 years ago eventually led to the demise of the giant bat but they added that shifting climates might have also played a role in its disappearance.

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: 35,764,022 (+0.07%)
  2. India: 31,969,954 (+0.11%)
  3. Brazil: 20,165,672 (+0.07%)
  4. France: 6,371,349 (+0.32%)
  5. Russia: 6,362,641 (+0.35%)
  6. UK: 6,098,117 (+0.45%)
  7. Turkey: 5,895,841 (+0.00%)**
  8. Argentina: 5,018,895 (+0.12%)
  9. Colombia: 4,838,984 (+0.09%)
  10. Spain: 4,588,132 (+0.00%)**

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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