The World Today for December 21, 2022

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Bidding on Paradise


Indonesia wants to auction off development rights for more than 100 islands spread out over 25,000 acres that offer some of the most biodiverse areas of the planet.

The New York arm of auction house Sotheby’s was planning to accept bids for the opportunity to develop the Widi Reserve this month. “Every billionaire can own a private island, but only one can own this exclusive opportunity spread across 100-plus islands,” said Sotheby’s in a statement quoted in CNN.

Now, though, those plans have been pushed off until January after withering criticism from environmentalists and others. Locals especially depend on fishing in the waters around the islands known as the “Coral Triangle,” noted the Guardian.

“The islands are a sea migration route with mangrove forests and corals – a perfect zone for ecosystem regeneration,” Greenpeace Indonesia leader Afdillah Chudiel told Agence France-Presse. “That area should be protected for conservation, not for tourism purposes.”

The current holder of development rights in the Widi Reserve, Bali-based PT Leadership Islands Indonesia, said the construction of resorts, homes and a private airstrip would claim a fraction of a percent of the reserve.

Under Indonesian law, foreign investors can’t own the islands – but they can own shares of a company that might develop and own properties there, the South China Morning Post explained. Meanwhile, officials have canceled the company’s license, raising questions about whether the auction can proceed, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

The controversy underscores how Indonesia is struggling to balance the need for trade and investment with other values that Indonesians hold dear.

For example, Indonesia recently passed a law banning sex before marriage, wrote the BBC, in a move reflecting a greater push for Islamic morals in the country, which has the largest Muslim population in the world. Violators could face up to a year in jail. Officials were quick to add, though, that the ban wouldn’t apply to foreigners, who drive the country’s large tourism industry.

China has also invested heavily in Indonesia, pumping billions into nickel mines, refineries, smelters, and even a new metallurgy school in order to develop expertise in extracting minerals from the ground, Bloomberg added.

As Reuters wrote, the country also just passed a 500-page economic reform bill that aims to improve digital commerce, the efficiency of the financial sector, and promote economic development among communities that have been overlooked in the past.

Selling pristine habitats might generate cash, but environmentalists appear to have temporarily convinced Indonesians that it will be bad for business in the long run.


Looking Ahead


The Netherlands issued an official apology this week about its colonial past and its involvement in the slave trade from the 17th to the 19th centuries, a move that has divided the Dutch public and descendants of slaves, the BBC reported.

In a speech on Monday, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said slavery must be recognized in “the clearest terms” as “a crime against humanity.”

“Today I apologize for the past actions of the Dutch State to enslaved people in the past,” he added.

Following the apology, the Dutch government plans to allocate more than $210 million to awareness projects and has vowed to spend more than $28 million on a slavery museum.

Rutte’s announcement came ahead of ministerial visits in the Caribbean and Suriname – with the latter expecting to celebrate next year the 160th anniversary of the 1863 Emancipation Act that abolished slavery in the former Dutch colonies.

During the 17th century, the Netherlands became one of the world’s most prosperous trading nations, entering a period known as the “Golden Age” that saw great leaps in science and culture. But historians noted that a lot of the wealth generated during this period was made through state-mandated slavery and exploitation.

Enslaved people – including women and children – were forced to work in plantations, mines and households, while being subjected to physical, mental and sexual violence.

Scholars explained that in recent years there has been a change in the perception of the Netherlands’ colonial legacy. They added that the issue has raised more questions about the distribution of Dutch wealth and the prevalence of colonial-era prejudices today.

While many members of the African-Caribbean community in the Netherlands believe an apology is important, nearly half of the Dutch do not support it.

Others, meanwhile, worry that an apology would potentially instigate reparations claims – which could impact other nations that also profited from slavery centuries ago.

Even so, Linda Nooitmeer, director of the National Institute for the Study of Dutch Slavery and its legacy, said the apology allows people to look ahead to the future and consider the next steps.

Coup by Ballot


Fiji’s opposition parties reached a deal Tuesday to form a coalition government, putting an end to the 16-year rule of Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama of the South Pacific Island nation, Agence France-Presse reported.

The minor Social Democratic Liberal Party said it would join a broad coalition led by the People’s Alliance Party of two-time coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka, who is set to become Fiji’s next prime minister.

Details of the coalition deal are not yet clear, but they come days after Fiji’s parliamentary elections last week ended in a deadlock. Neither Bainimarama’s FijiFirst party nor Rabuka’s group won enough seats to form a majority.

Rabuka’s supporters welcomed the deal’s announcement, with many cheering the end of Bainimarama’s rule.

Bainimarama came to power in a 2006 coup, but later won two elections to legitimize his rule. Still, his government has been accused of using the legal system to silence critics and the media.

Fiji has had four coups in the last 35 years, and the threat of military intervention hovered over this year’s election.

Rabuka requested intervention from the country’s military commander after disputing early voting results that were delayed due to technical “anomalies” and an app glitch.

Meanwhile, Fiji remains a geopolitically important country in the Pacific where the US and China are clashing for influence, the New York Times noted.

The outcome has broader regional implications, as both Rabuka and his new coalition partners have indicated a willingness to cool relations with China.

Cleared for Take-off


The UK’s High Court ruled this week that the government’s controversial immigration plan to deport potential asylum-seekers to Rwanda was lawful, a verdict that came just months after the policy’s introduction, NPR reported.

The court found that the immigration plan did not violate the UK’s legal obligations either under domestic laws or the United Nations Refugee Convention.

But it warned that the country’s interior minister must carefully assess the circumstances of individual asylum seekers if their applications are to be tried in future in Rwanda rather than the UK.

The ruling Conservative government approved the plan earlier this year in an effort to address the growing number of migrants arriving in Britain on small boats or trucks from France.

The UK’s Office of National Statistics has estimated that over 45,000 migrants have arrived in small boats crossing the English Channel from France this year, compared with fewer than 30,000 in 2021.

The collaboration with Rwanda, in which Britain’s interior ministry would pay the African country to handle asylum requests, was allegedly intended to dissuade future arrivals in the UK via such risky routes – which the British government considers “illegal.”

But immigration lawyers and human rights groups challenged the plan, saying that asylum seekers could face possible rights violations at the hands of Rwandan authorities.


The Royal Flush

It might be advisable to close the toilet lid when flushing, according to a new study on public hygiene.

Scientists at the University of Colorado in Boulder found that a toilet flush can blast out a flurry of tiny water droplets invisible to the naked eye, Science Alert reported.

For their experiment, they used two green lasers and cameras to closely observe what happens when a toilet is flushed. Videos showed that the droplets would reach a height of nearly five feet and travel at speeds beyond 6.6 feet per second.

While larger droplets dropped quickly, it was the smaller ones – known as aerosols – that lingered in the air for a while.

The team noted that the experiment only used water, adding that the toilet bowl was not surrounded by stalls or people.

They added that knowledge about toilets potentially spewing aerosols is not exactly new but their findings centered on the question of how diseases might spread in bathrooms – both at home and in public.

Aerosols are known to carry pathogens but past studies haven’t exactly determined how and where these disease-laden particles may travel.

Lead author John Crimaldi said he hopes the findings will prompt more research and new methods to prevent dangerous viruses and microbes from spreading in public restrooms, even as most of the Western world has removed toilet seats from public restrooms.

“The goal of the toilet is to effectively remove waste from the bowl but it’s also doing the opposite, which is spraying a lot of contents upwards,” he said.

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