The World Today for December 27, 2021

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After the Fall

AFGHANISTAN

Two veteran foreign correspondents from the Washington Post recently journeyed along the 300-mile highway from the Afghan capital of Kabul to the southern city of Kandahar.

American taxpayers funded the road to the tune of $300 million. Today, four months after the US pulled out of the war-torn Central Asian country, National Highway 1 showcases the ongoing violence that still wracks the country, the toll of decades of fighting on infrastructure and the dim prospects for Afghanistan under the ultra-orthodox Islamic militants, the Taliban, who are now in charge there.

Peace is a long way off in Afghanistan.

The numbers of Al Qaeda extremists are growing, the Associated Press reported. Deadly blasts and fighting still occur throughout the country, as Al Jazeera noted. The Taliban recently gutted programs to help victims of gender-based violence, including releasing rapists and others from prison, Amnesty International added.

On Afghan television, suicide bombers are lionized as elite forces within the new national army. Three thousand have been deployed to defend the border with Tajikistan, for example.

“The Taliban’s passion for suicide bombing did not end with their military victory,” wrote Foreign Policy magazine. “Their love of suicide bombing seems to be taking a new turn, with Taliban officials publicly venerating the tactic and its agents in an apparent attempt to normalize it on a larger, societal scale.”

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Meanwhile, the Taliban continues to dismantle the pillars of democracy that were erected after the group fell out of power in 2001, the Associated Press reported. Over the weekend, the Taliban said it dissolved Afghanistan’s two election commissions as well as the state ministries for peace and parliamentarian affairs because they were “unnecessary.”

But perhaps more concerning is how the Afghan economy is in “free fall,” in the words of the United Nations. The healthcare system is crumbling, the Economist reported. Staff isn’t receiving paychecks. Medical supplies are dwindling. Millions are unemployed. The banking system is dysfunctional. Around 97 percent of the population is headed toward poverty as a cold winter approaches.

When the US pulled out, foreign donors did the same. The US has not yet unfrozen $9 billion in Afghan central bank reserves or lifted sanctions on Taliban leaders, either. As a result, the same leaders issued an international call for help to prevent people from starving this winter, Reuters explained.

Islamic leaders met in Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan, recently to discuss efforts to help, National Public Radio wrote. They were hoping to raise $4.5 billion, a sum that UN officials described as a stopgap measure.

Speaking at the meeting covered by Agence-France Presse, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said his country especially has good reason to be concerned about an economic meltdown. In the event of mass famine, for example, many Afghans will likely seek out opportunities in Pakistan, as millions have done over the past decades. They will have nothing to lose.

Reports of how the US bungled the war in Afghanistan are now legion. But the Taliban might soon be choking on the ashes of their victory.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

No Quarter

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

A suicide bomber killed at least six people in Congo’s eastern town of Beni over the weekend, sparking fears that religious extremism has taken hold in a region that has been historically plagued by rebel violence and insecurity, the Associated Press reported.

Authorities said that two children were among the dead and at least 13 people were wounded. They added that heavy gunfire began shortly after the bomb went off.

Saturday’s attack marks the first time that a suicide bomber caused fatalities in eastern Congo. Earlier this year, an Islamic State affiliate took responsibility for another suicide bombing in Beni, which had no casualties.

The militant group said it was also behind another explosion at a Catholic church that wounded two people.

Beni has been plagued for years by rebels from the Allied Democratic Forces, which traces its origins to neighboring Uganda. The town’s residents have lamented the ongoing insecurity despite an army offensive and the presence of United Nations peacekeepers.

More than 2,200 people died during the 2018-2020 Ebola outbreak in eastern Congo as vaccination efforts were hindered by insecurity in the area.

Strike Two

CHINA

China denounced a new US law that would restrict imports from the northwestern Xinjiang region, where the Chinese government is accused of human rights violations against the Muslim Uyghurs, the New York Post reported over the weekend.

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act – signed by President Joe Biden – forbids the importation of goods from Xinjiang, unless the importer can prove that they were not made using forced labor.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the move “maliciously denigrates the human rights situation in China’s Xinjiang in disregard of facts and truth.” He added that the measure violates international law and “grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs.”

About one million Uyghurs are believed to be held in massive detention camps, where they are reportedly forced to manufacture goods. The US has accused China of conducting a campaign of cultural genocide against the Uyghurs, citing reports of torture, rape, forced abortions and executions.

China has repeatedly denied the allegations as “vicious lies concocted by anti-China forces.” The government has said that it is fighting Islamic extremism and that the minorities are learning professions and being taught patriotism.

The law is the latest move by the US to protest China’s alleged human rights violations. Previously, the US and some of its allies have announced a diplomatic boycott of February’s Winter Olympics in China.

Occupational Hazards

GERMANY

Germany’s Federal Social Court ruled this month that a person walking from their bed to their home office will count as a commute, a verdict seen as an effort to improve the rights of workers working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic, CNBC reported.

The case began after a German man working from home slipped on a spiral staircase and broke his back. His employer’s insurer had refused to cover the accident claim, with a lower regional court saying the walk from one’s bed to one’s home office was an “uninsured preparatory act that only precedes the actual activity.”

However, the Federal Social Court ruled that the company’s insurance should cover the man’s accident because it is “an insured work route.”

It added that insurance cover should be provided if the “insured activity is carried out in the household of the insured person or at another location.”

The ruling is one of the latest decisions in the European Union to shore up the rights of remote workers.

In October, Portugal passed new labor laws which included a ban on bosses contacting employees outside of working hours. The legislation also required employers to contribute to their employees’ work-from-home expenses, such as internet and electricity.

Earlier this year, the European Parliament voted in favor of introducing a “right to disconnect” law that would allow workers to switch off their work devices at the end of the day across the EU.

DISCOVERIES

Living Up To a Name

Millipedes don’t actually have “a thousand feet,” despite being named so, literally, in Latin.

The closest species to reach that milestone is the Illacme plenipes from California, which has about 750 feet.

But now, a research team discovered a completely new species in southwestern Australia that has more than 1,000 tiny limbs, Inside Science reported.

“This new millipede with 1,306 legs nearly doubles the number of legs of the previous record-holder,” said study lead author Paul Marek.

Marek’s team named the creature Eumillipes persephone, from the Greek word “eu” for true, the Latin words, “mille” and “pes,” for “thousand” and “foot” respectively, and Persephone, the Greek goddess of the underworld.

Scientists found the record-setting millipede nearly 200 feet underground in a 150-millimeter-wide drill hole in Australia’s Goldfields region. They explained in their paper that the crawlers’ bodies have about 330 segments and are up to 95.7 millimeters long and 0.95 millimeters wide.

I. persephone also has an eyeless cone-shaped head with large antennae to help it burrow underground and feed on fungi.

Researchers noted that despite the similarities between E. persephone and I. plenipes, the millipedes are distant relatives.

Millipedes have been on Earth for more than 400 million years and some of their extinct relatives are believed to have been more than six feet in length.

Marek said that new species’ discovery shows there are more unknown creatures living underground.

“We are surrounded by biodiversity that we know so little about,” he said.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 279,992,190

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,401,862

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 8,932,611,214

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

  1. US: 52,283,331 (+0.35%)
  2. India: 34,793,333 (+0.02%)
  3. Brazil: 22,243,266 (+0.02%)
  4. UK: 11,958,928 (+0.00%)**
  5. Russia: 10,236,301 (+0.23%)
  6. Turkey: 9,309,094 (+0.22%)
  7. France: 9,220,540 (+0.30%)
  8. Germany: 7,009,648 (+0.15%)
  9. Iran: 6,184,762 (+0.03%)
  10. Spain: 5,718,007 (+0.00%)**

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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