The World Today for December 23, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

The Propulsion of Desperation

SIERRA LEONE

When Alhaji Siraj Bah’s adopted family perished along with more than 1,400 people in Sierra Leone in 2017 in mudslides, he vowed to take action. “All I felt was helpless,” Bah, now 22, told the Washington Post. “So, I put my attention into finding ways to help.”

He fulfilled his dream with the help of coconuts. Bah now runs Rugsal Trading, a company that uses coconut shells and husks to make briquettes that are a substitute for charcoal produced by loggers who cut down the trees that prevent mudslides. He’s made 100 tons of the briquettes. Studies have found that one ton spares as many as 88 trees.

The West African country lost nearly a third of its forests between 2001 and 2015, Global Forest Watch found. As CNN explained, poor infrastructure and drainage and a lack of waste removal also exacerbate flooding. The combination means deadly mudslides are all too frequent.

Park rangers pursue loggers who illegally cut down the country’s trees and destroy flora and fauna but market demand fuels the industry, noted the Global Climate Change Alliance Plus Initiative. Demand for charcoal, moreover, is rising. By 2030, more than two billion people in Africa will still be using charcoal and other biomass for their cooking and heating needs, added the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

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President Julius Maada Bio has pledged to plant trees to restore forests and install solar panels so that his people have alternatives to charcoal. But his poor country needs more funding to address the problem adequately, the Sierra Leone Telegraph reported. Only around a quarter of the country has access to electricity. In rural areas, only six percent have access. The country’s grid dates to the 1960s, before the civil war in the 1990s destroyed much of the country.

As Bah and others illustrate, the country’s private sector is stepping up to help.

Jeremiah Thoronka, 20, for example, grew up experiencing frequent electricity shortages. His family depended on charcoal to heat and light their home.  As the BBC wrote, Thoronka invented a “piezoelectric device” that, when placed under a road or walkway, converts kinetic energy from passing cars and pedestrians into electricity without emissions. The device is more reliable than solar or wind power because people serve as the energy source, often unwittingly.

Another twenty-something entrepreneur, Emmanuel Alieu Mansaray, created a solar-powered “imagination car” out of trash and detritus that he assembled in the capital of Freetown. The vehicle travels around only 10 miles an hour but has drawn attention to air pollution, according to Euronews.

It’s popular in Palo Alto and elsewhere to believe that investment fuels innovation. But sometimes, in some places, it’s desperation and hope propelling ingenuity.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Stood Up

LIBYA

Libya’s highly anticipated presidential elections set to take place Friday were postponed, dealing a major blow on international efforts to end years of conflict in the oil-rich North African nation, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.

A parliamentary election committee said it encountered a series of difficulties including “the inadequacy of electoral legislation with regard to the judiciary’s role in electoral appeals and disputes.”

It proposed a new date of Jan. 24.

The delay comes as tensions are increasing in the country, which is just emerging from a civil war. Observers were divided on whether the polls would renew conflict or defuse tensions after a decade of civil conflict.

Currently, three main candidates are running for president: Interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah; eastern-based commander General Khalifa Haftar; and Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who was overthrown during the 2011 revolution.

All three candidates have been facing eligibility issues in recent weeks and their allegiances are divided along geographical lines.

The international community threw its support behind the scheduled elections, hoping the polls could fill the power vacuum that began after the elder Gaddafi’s ouster. Last month, foreign powers underscored the importance of the Dec. 24 vote at a summit in France and threatened to sanction those who attempted to impede it.

Problem Child

EUROPEAN UNION

The European Union’s executive body launched legal action against Poland on Wednesday after the country’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the national constitution takes precedence over some of the bloc’s laws, Politico reported.

The case began in October when the Polish tribunal said that Poland’s constitution has primacy over sections of EU treaties and some rulings by the bloc’s highest court.

The ruling came amid an ongoing dispute between the EU and Poland over the latter’s judicial reforms, which critics say bring Polish judges under political control.

On Wednesday, the European Commission said the ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal breached “the general principles of autonomy, primacy, effectiveness and uniform application of Union law” and the binding effect of rulings by the European Court of Justice.

The Commission also questioned the independence and impartiality of the Tribunal itself: Polish opposition parties and legal analysts say it is controlled by the ruling Law and Justice party.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki rejected those allegations.

Wednesday’s decision marks the most recent spat between the EU and its member state over issues relating to rule-of-law, judicial reform and LGBTQ+ rights.

Earlier this year, Poland was hit with a record $1.2 million-per-day fine for failing to comply with the European Court of Justice’s verdict to suspend the Polish disciplinary mechanism for judges. The daily fine remains ongoing.

Meanwhile, the Commission also took the first informal step toward implementing a so-called conditionality mechanism, which would make EU funds to states conditional on complying with the bloc’s rule-of-law principles.

Final Touches

NIGER

French forces killed a leading Islamic State militant in Niger this week in a military operation that is likely to be one of France’s last in West Africa, France24 reported.

French officials said that Soumana Boura was killed in an airstrike in northwestern Niger. Boura was a key suspect in the August 2020 murder of six French aid workers and two local guides during a visit to a nature reserve.

The jihadist organization claimed responsibility for the killings. French military officials said that Boura had recorded the executions. French President Emmanuel Macron denounced the murders as a terrorist attack and threatened repercussions.

Boura’s death comes four months after France’s military announced the killing of Adnan Abou Walid al-Sahrawi, the head of the Islamic State Greater Sahara (ISGS), and the alleged mastermind behind the killings of the aid workers.

Military representatives said Boura’s death helped “to fight against the expansion of ISGS and to stop it taking control of some parts of the three-border region” between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

Meanwhile, France is winding down and reorienting its operations in the Sahel region after nine years. It has already withdrawn from three bases in northern Mali and is refocusing attention on the cities of Gao, Menaka and Niamey.

The 5,000 troops in the region will be reduced to half by 2023.

DISCOVERIES

The Blood Drive

Lazy mice can reap the benefits of exercise without lifting a single claw, according to a new paper, but only if they get a transfusion from more athletic mice, which will then boost their brainpower, Science Magazine reported.

Previous studies have shown that exercise is beneficial for the brain as it helps the production of new brain cells, improves learning and memory, as well as soothes brain inflammation – which is believed to be a culprit for Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions.

In their experiments, researchers separated mice into an athletic group and inactive group: The athletic ones would run about six miles on their running wheels, while the slackers simply scurried around in their cage.

After 28 days, the team extracted blood plasma from both rodent groups and injected the substance into another group of non-exercising mice every three days for nearly a month.

The results showed that the runners’ plasma triggered many of the same brain effects as a month of exercise: The injected animals experienced boosted brain cell survival and performed better in memory tests than mice that received plasma from the idlers.

More tests showed that athletic plasma quieted multiple genes that stimulate inflammation.

The team said the plasma from the marathoners had four proteins that are integral to providing immunity and preventing inflammation, such as clusterin.

The study suggests that clusterin plays an important role in reducing inflammation and preventing neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s.

Even so, the authors cautioned that the protein is just one piece of the puzzle and more research is needed to determine whether these results can be replicated in humans.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 277,185,382

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,377,551

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 8,836,623,207

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 51,546,004 (+0.53%)
  2. India: 34,765,976 (+0.02%)
  3. Brazil: 22,222,928 (+0.02%)
  4. UK: 11,713,684 (+0.91%)
  5. Russia: 10,114,983 (+0.00%)**
  6. Turkey: 9,230,805 (+0.21%)
  7. France: 8,902,466 (+0.96%)
  8. Germany: 6,943,752 (+0.64%)
  9. Iran: 6,177,885 (+0.03%)
  10. Spain: 5,645,095 (+1.08%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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