The World Today for January 20, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

Worst Crisis Today

YEMEN

Houthi rebels in Yemen recently launched a drone and missile strike against the United Arab Emirates, blowing up fuel tankers and killing three people. The origins of the drones weren’t clear. But, as the Jerusalem Post suggested, the Iranians, who support the Houthis, are a likely source.

The Saudi Arabia-led coalition seeking to oust the Houthis who control the capital of Sanaa responded with airstrikes, killing around 20, the Guardian wrote.

Prior to the strike, pro-government Yemeni forces and their Saudi-supported allies had captured the energy-rich Shabwa province from the Houthis. The victory puts the pro-government forces in a better position to retake another oil-producing province, Marib, further undermining the Houthis’ power, Voice of America reported.

The victory potentially foretold the beginning of the end of Yemen’s seven-year-old war, which began when Houthi forces ousted then-President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. But questions remain about how Yemenis will overcome a conflict that the United Nations claimed has resulted in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The war has resulted in more than 377,000 deaths, and more than 20 million people, or 80 percent of the population, face starvation. The UN has called for $3.9 billion this year to ameliorate the crisis, Agence France-Presse wrote.

Foreign governments don’t appear to be decreasing their meddling in Yemen, either.

At the tip of the proverbial spear that the coalition is using to push aside the Houthis are the Giants Brigades, Middle East Eye explained. A crack force of ultraorthodox Sunni Muslims that receives UAE support, they’ll likely expand the UAE’s influence in Yemen as their victories mount.

At the same time, Iran continues to pour small arms, including rocket launchers, sniper rifles and other weapons, into Yemen despite an arms embargo that the UN instituted against the Houthis in 2015, Al Jazeera wrote.

Saudi officials and Houthi leaders are engaged in a war in cyberspace, too. The Houthis have been particularly effective in manipulating the narrative. “Yemenis living in Houthi-dominated areas are more likely to trust Houthi news outlets or view statements from Houthi authorities as reliable, even if they are demonstrably false,” Foreign Policy magazine wrote.

Yemenis might also trust the Houthis more because pro-government forces have abducted and tortured civilians in a bid to quash the rebellion, the Intercept added. Activists believe as many as 10,000 men and boys are in UAE-run secret prisons in the country.

Both sides in the conflict are responsible for the suffering of the Yemeni people, argued Khaled Alyemany, Yemen’s ex-foreign minister, in an Atlantic Council blog post. The UN and International Monetary Fund could work with the Houthis and pro-government forces to stabilize the economy and avoid the worst of the humanitarian crisis, however, he argued.

That’s hopeful. But there’s a reason they say war is hell.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Strategic Moves

UNITED KINGDOM

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the removal of all remaining Covid-19 restrictions Wednesday amid an ongoing scandal over lockdown-breaching parties held in his office, Politico reported.

Johnson told lawmakers that starting next Thursday restrictions that require people to carry Covid-19 passports to enter certain venues and large events will be lifted. He said that face masks will also not be mandatory anymore but added that the government would advise the public to wear them in enclosed or crowded spaces.

He also ordered an end to the government’s guidance for people to work from home and said that workers should discuss with their employer their return to offices, according to the BBC.

Meanwhile, the wearing of masks in schools will no longer be compulsory as of this Thursday.

The prime minister said the lifting of the so-called Plan B restrictions – which were introduced last year amid a surge in infections – comes as the Omicron variant of the virus “has now peaked nationally.”

The leader is embroiled in a scandal over allegations that parties were held in No. 10 Downing Street in violation of the lockdown orders issued for the general public.

The scandal – dubbed “Partygate” – has prompted lawmakers from the opposition and Johnson’s own party to call for his resignation. One Conservative legislator defected in protest and called on Johnson to quit, the Guardian noted.

The lifting of restrictions is expected to satisfy some in Johnson’s party, who had initially opposed the Plan B regulations.

Even so, health officials warned that Johnson’s move felt like “more of a political decision” than one based on medical data and cautioned that it might be too early to lift the present curbs.

Sigh of Relief

PUERTO RICO

A federal judge approved a plan to slash Puerto Rico’s public debt load this week, in a decision that would end the US territory’s nearly five-year bankruptcy battle, the Associated Press reported.

Judge Laura Taylor Swain ruled in favor of the plan following intense negotiations between the island’s government and the financial oversight board created by the United States Congress.

The plan would cut Puerto Rico’s public debt by 80 percent and would save the island more than $50 billion in debt service payments. It would also avoid proposed pension cuts that caused friction between the board and the island’s governor.

Analysts and officials said the plan is the largest municipal debt restructuring in US history and no such mechanisms have been granted in other countries.

Puerto Rico is experiencing an economic crisis that has been exacerbated by hurricanes, earthquakes and the coronavirus pandemic. In 2015, the territory declared that it could not pay the overwhelming $70 billion public debt load it had amassed through years of mismanagement, corruption and excessive borrowing.

The plan stipulates that Puerto Rico has sufficient resources to pay the debt through 2034. Observers noted that the island would be able to access the market in three to five years to issue bonds for capital projects.

Puerto Rican Governor Pedro Pierluisi said the plan marks a big step for the island’s economic recovery.

Even so, critics warned that Puerto Rico does not have enough money to service the debt and warned that more austerity measures will be needed.

No One Spared

HONG KONG

Hong Kong plans to euthanize 2,000 hamsters after multiple rodents tested positive for the coronavirus this week, a move condemned by pet owners and animal rights activists, Reuters reported Wednesday.

Authorities ordered the hamster cull after tracing a coronavirus outbreak to a worker in the Little Boss pet shop, where 11 hamsters subsequently tested positive for Covid-19. The cull is part of China’s policy of “zero tolerance” for Covid-19. Health Secretary Sophia Chan noted that the government could not take any chances.

Pet stores selling hamsters in the city have been ordered to hand the animals over, and the import and sales of small mammals have been suspended. Officials have also asked owners who bought hamsters after Dec. 22, 2021, to hand over their pets to be put down.

Owners and animal advocates have criticized the order, while thousands of Hong Kongers have volunteered to adopt the unwanted rodents temporarily.

Scientists and veterinary authorities said that the move could be justified for public health reasons.

Even so, others suggested that fears of infection at home were overblown: They added that there was no evidence that animals play a major role in human contagion with the coronavirus.

DISCOVERIES

The Perpetual Tune

Birds in the mountain peaks of East Africa have been singing the same songs for as long as a million years, Live Science reported.

Sunbirds in the family Nectariniidae are small, colorful, nectar-feeding avians that resemble hummingbirds and are found throughout Africa and Asia.

A research team studied different populations of the eastern double-collared sunbird found in the “sky island” mountains from Mozambique to Kenya.

The tall peaks have isolated different populations – or lineages – of this species from one another for up to a million years. Even so, many of these lineages remain indistinguishable from each other, the team noted.

For their study, researchers visited 15 sky islands and recorded the songs of 123 individual birds from six different lineages. They then came up with a statistical technique to analyze how the birds’ songs evolved.

Their findings showed that some of the isolated populations stuck to the same tune, despite these lineages having been separated for thousands of years. The team also noticed that populations that had been separated for the longest period had nearly identical songs, unlike those that were separated for a shorter time.

The results were peculiar because biologists have noted that bird songs – as well as behavior and plumage – evolve through time in different populations, so they can adapt to new environments.

The authors suggested that the lack of geological change in the mountains of East Africa meant that the sunbirds did not need to evolve different feathers or songs – and therefore could remain unchanged for eons.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 337,933,545

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,565,571

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 9,728,183,410

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

  1. US: 68,569,958 (+1.44%)
  2. India: 38,218,773 (+0.84%)
  3. Brazil: 23,425,392 (+0.84%)
  4. UK: 15,610,069 (+0.70%)
  5. France: 14,285,261 (+0.00%)**
  6. Russia: 10,716,397 (+0.00%)**
  7. Turkey: 10,666,302 (+0.69%)
  8. Italy: 9,219,391 (+2.23%)
  9. Spain: 8,676,916 (+1.85%)
  10. Germany: 8,361,263 (+1.69%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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