The World Today for September 07, 2022

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Wasting Away


Death has two faces in Somalia these days. If famine doesn’t claim one’s life in the war-torn nation on the Horn of Africa, then Islamic militants might.

Drought has brought Somalia to the precipice of its worst famine in 40 years. More than 7.1 million people, or around half the population, face starvation. At least 330,000 children require “life-saving treatment for severe wasting, the deadliest form of malnutrition,” according to ReliefWeb. In 2011, when Somalia last faced widespread food and water shortages, around 190,000 children required the same treatment.

Climate change is one cause of the crisis, aid officials say. Rain has become increasingly infrequent in the last decade. When it rains, floods occur. Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine is worsening the crisis, Time reported. Somalia imported 90 percent of its grain from Russia and Ukraine in 2020. Fighting between the two countries has cut off grain exports and caused the price of global agricultural commodities to soar.

Musician Bob Geldof, who famously organized humanitarian rock concerts in the 1980s to address famine in the Horn of Africa, compared the disaster to the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s. In the Financial Times, meanwhile, Irish correspondent Jude Webber noted an unfortunate dimension to the Irish suffering that was also occurring in Somalia – political instability.

For while Britain sent £7 million to Ireland between 1845 and 1852 to alleviate hunger in Ireland, which was then a colony, politicians in Westminster also appropriated £10 million for military forces who were maintaining the peace on the island.

Similarly, as Somali officials struggle to obtain more food aid from the international community, they are also fighting a 30-year-old civil war. To that end, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was elected in May, recently asked the United Nations to lift an arms embargo on his country, wrote the East African, a Kenyan newspaper.

Mohamud’s move reflects the situation on the ground. Al-Shabab, a terrorist group linked to al Qaeda that has been rampaging around Somalia for years, recently attacked a hotel in the Somali capital of Mogadishu. As the Associated Press explained, the militants barricaded themselves in the hotel for 35 hours, killing 21 people – some of whom were dismembered.

After the militants were dislodged, Mohamud vowed “total war” against them, saying Somali forces had to root them out once and for all.

But Mohamud has also said he will talk to the militants after defeating them, the Economist added. He even recently appointed a former al-Shabab spokesman as his religious affairs minister, Deutsche Welle reported.

Regaining control and stability in Somalia is certainly important. But one has to wonder whether a starving child cares.


Speaking Up


China’s strict anti-coronavirus strategy is facing an intense backlash after video footage showed officials preventing residents in the country’s southwest from leaving their homes following a deadly earthquake this week, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.

A 6.8-magnitude quake hit the Sichuan province Monday, killing more than 70 people, leveling buildings and rendering roads impassable.

The government has helped relocate more than 50,000 people and more than 1,900 security-force personnel have been dispatched to the area.

But the catastrophe also sparked criticism online over China’s strict “zero Covid” policy after online posts and videos emerged showing residents being stopped from fleeing their homes.

One screenshot showed how residents in the city of Chengdu were ordered by their building manager to stay in their apartments throughout the earthquake.

Another video in Chengdu showed a crowd of residents gathering at the gate of their apartment complex, asking to be let out. The employees on the other side urged them to return home, saying that the earthquake was over.

Chengdu’s health commission responded that in the event of a natural disaster, safety should take precedence over pandemic restrictions.

China’s inflexible Covid-19 measures have come under fire since the beginning of the pandemic when authorities confined residents into their homes – including welding doors shut in apartment buildings.

Beijing has been trying to ease some of the pandemic restrictions in recent months. Even so, tens of millions of people around the country are currently in lockdown after the government issued new restrictions in response to an uptick in cases.

The recent measures come ahead of a crucial Chinese Communist Party congress next month, where President Xi Jinping is expected to break precedent by staying on for a third five-year term.

Xi has vowed that the country will maintain its “zero Covid” policy to suppress outbreaks for the foreseeable future.

The Time for Justice


Eight defendants went on trial this week over their involvement in the 2016 Bastille Day attack that killed 86 people in the French coastal city of Nice, one of the worst terrorist acts in the country’s history, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Six years ago, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel drove a truck through Nice’s crowded seaside promenade during France’s national day.

Bouhlel ran over dozens of people who had gathered to watch the fireworks before he was shot dead by police. Authorities later discovered weapons and grenades in Bouhlel’s truck.

Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack.

The trial centers on seven men and one woman who allegedly aided Bouhlel. Three defendants are charged with belonging to a terrorist organization and are accused of helping Bouhlel by renting the truck, buying weapons and surveilling the route in advance of the attack.

If found guilty, the three suspects could be jailed for life. The other defendants, meanwhile, are accused of belonging to a criminal organization or arms trafficking and face shorter sentences.

The Bastille Day attack shook France, which, at the time, was still recovering from other terrorist attacks, including the IS attack in November 2015 that left 130 people dead at a French soccer stadium, the Bataclan music hall and cafés across Paris.

The trial for the Bataclan attacks concluded in June, with a Paris court handing down verdicts on 20 men, including main defendant Salah Abdeslam, the lone survivor of a 10-man jihadist unit that terrorized the French capital, according to France 24.

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said the terrorist threat remains high in France: Since last year, intelligence services have prevented six attacks from taking place, he added.

Codifying Reality


Israel amended a draft of controversial rules this week that would have imposed steep restrictions on foreigners wanting to live or visit the occupied West Bank, following widespread criticism of the rules, the Middle East Eye reported.

The original draft was released by the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the division of the Israeli defense ministry in charge of civil affairs in the Palestinian territories.

It would have ordered foreigners to inform Israeli authorities within 30 days if they had started a relationship with a Palestinian ID holder. If the couple got married, they would have had to depart after 27 months for a cooling-off period of at least six months.

The earlier draft also imposed a quota for 150 student visas and 100 foreign lecturers at Palestinian universities. There are no such limits on Israeli ones.

Many Palestinian and Israeli non-governmental organizations described the new regulations as “taking restrictions to a new level” but the Israeli government says it is codifying norms already in place for years, the BBC wrote.

But following widespread criticism, COGAT amended the rules to remove the “love interest” requirement and the education quotas.

Even so, businesses and aid organizations told the BBC that they will also be impacted because the new regulations set strict limits on the duration of visas and visa extensions, which would prevent people from working or volunteering in the West Bank for longer than a few months.

A spokeswoman from COGAT declined to comment on the new restrictions, according to the Washington Post. But the document says the goal is to “define the levels of authority and the manner of processing for applications from foreigners who wish to enter the (West Bank) area through the international crossings.”

The government has previously said the restrictions are necessary for security reasons.

Jessica Montell, executive director of the Israeli non-governmental organization HaMoked, however, described the restrictions as “demographic engineering of Palestinian society,” adding that such rules isolate Palestinians from the outside world.

Montell’s organization previously petitioned the Israeli High Court against the regulations. But the court rejected the petition in July, saying that COGAT had yet to reach a “final decision” on them.

Israel seized the West Bank from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War.


Mirror, Mirror

Doppelgängers can pass as identical twins even though they are not actual siblings.

Or are they?

A new study found that doppelgängers not only share similar looks but also the same genes and lifestyle traits, the Smithsonian Magazine reported.

A research team collaborated with Canadian photographer François Brunelle, who has been taking portraits of identical – and unrelated – people since 1999 as part of his “I’m not a look-alike!” project.

They used facial-recognition software on 32 pairs of Brunelle’s models to figure out how many facial similarities the pairs shared. When they compared the scores with those of identical twins, the software awarded twin-like scores to half of the doppelgänger pairs.

The team then took DNA samples from these 16 participants and were fascinated at the similarities: Nine of 16 very similar-looking pairs shared a lot of common genetic variations, making them “virtual twins,” according to co-author Manel Esteller.

Esteller and his colleagues noted that the identical pairs were more likely than non-doppelgängers to share characteristics, such as their weight, height, smoking history and education levels.

However, they added that there were some fundamental differences among the doppelgängers, including different epigenomes, which are variations in expressed traits influenced by the experiences of past generations.

From the standpoint of nature vs. nurture, this shows that DNA, rather than environmental influences or shared life experiences, is mostly responsible for the similarities in doppelgängers’ looks.

The authors explained that the findings could have far-reaching medical implications in the future: Because people with identical DNA may be equally prone to specific hereditary disorders, doctors might utilize facial analysis as a simple pre-screening method.

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