The World Today for June 14, 2024

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Let the Games Begin

FRANCE

French officials are only fairly sure that the opening ceremony for the upcoming summer Olympics starting in late July will occur on the River Seine that winds through the City of Light.

At present, the plan is for the athletes to travel down the river in boats. Nearly 330,000 onlookers are expected to flock to the Paris waterfront and surrounding bridges and streets to cheer them on. Unfortunately, reported Politico, concerns about terrorism have prompted organizers to consider other options, including holding the ceremony in a stadium where security will be easier to maintain.

Such concerns are not the only unknowns hanging over the Games.

The French government has dug an enormous reservoir next to the Austerlitz train station in the capital, for example, to prevent rainwater and sickening sewage overflows from polluting the river, where marathon swimming and triathlons will be held, wrote the Associated Press. The reservoir will hold and treat enough water to fill 20 Olympic swimming pools rather than dumping it into the river.

That’s not the only way the French are cleaning up the river. They have also been displacing migrants who live along the riverbank in tent cities that have popped up as more asylum seekers and others flee to France, but have nowhere permanent to live.

“When the tourists come, they won’t have to see the bad people,” Dak, a 20-year-old South Sudanese migrant who had been living under the Charles de Gaulle Bridge near the city center, told the Washington Post.

That’s not the only place in Paris and its surroundings where authorities are moving people in their massive clean-up operation. Seemingly overnight, groups of drug addicts have disappeared from their hangouts near the Canal de l’Ourcq and other places in the city. Tents of migrants under elevated metro lines are gone. The homeless, along with the benches they sleep on, have gone missing in many neighborhoods.

As a result, 80 charities partnered to form a new group called “The Other Side of the Medal” to raise alarms about these policies. As Agence France-Presse explained, the group recently issued a report showing how migrants, squatters, the homeless, and sex workers were suffering as the government invested $8.7 billion money into facilities and other preparations. The report found that nearly 2,000 people had been displaced.

“This summer, Paris and its region will be able to present themselves in a way that authorities see as favorable: a sterile ‘City of Light,’ with its misery almost invisible, without important informal areas of life, ‘clean’ neighborhoods and woods, without beggars, drug use or sex work,” the report said, calling the operations “social cleansing.”

Meanwhile, some of the investments into the Olympics will help the banlieue of Seine-Saint-Denis and other northern suburbs, which are multi-cultural, immigrant-filled areas known here for their riots and its poverty, El País reported.

Seine-Saint-Denis, the poorest and youngest in France, is actually the center of the Olympics because it hosts France’s largest national stadium. Already, it has seen the building of the Aquatic Center for swimming, the Athletes’ Village and the construction of the Grand Paris Express, a public transport system that will connect the cities and neighborhoods of the region.

Now, many like the mayor of L’Île-Saint Denis are hoping things change for its residents after the Games are over.

“We have suffered (with all the construction) but not only will this transform our town, we will be at the heart of the (excitement),” Mayor Mohamed Gnabaly told the Straits Times. “We are not going to be left out”.

Meanwhile, many French folks are still grousing about the high costs and inconveniences associated with the Olympics, a common phenomenon among anyone who has spent time in a city where the Games are occurring.

For a year, parts of Paris have resembled a warzone as streets and sidewalks have been ripped up and reconstructed. Now, some areas of the city are off limits to everyone but residents or Games attendees, both needing special QR codes to access them. Already some locals are planning their exit from Paris – transportation will be difficult during the events with some stations closed and other lines not running, making getting to work – or anywhere – tough.

Time will tell whether these scoffers change their tune when they see the torchbearer running to inaugurate an event billed as bringing the world together.

Novelist Robert McLiam Wilson, who is based in Paris, doesn’t think so.

“(Now) Paris mutters and grumbles to itself like a pessimist being told to cheer up,” he wrote in the Guardian. “Perhaps the Games will be an uproarious success after all … But, in a country deeply at odds with itself, launching a giant shindig designed largely for television cameras and subject to corporate prerogatives is not going to win you any friends.”

“Essentially, staging an Olympic Games is about improving how the world thinks of you,” he added. “But with an absoluteness hard to describe, Parisians don’t give a stuff what the world thinks about them. It is, by far, their best feature.”

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

At the Starting Line

ARGENTINA

Argentine President Javier Milei secured his first legislative win Thursday after the parliament’s upper house narrowly approved a package of free-market reforms and fiscal measures aimed at reviving the country’s struggling economy, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The package – passed after hours of debate and violent protests – includes labor reforms and the privatization of state companies. The vote saw intense opposition from labor unions and left-wing groups outside Argentina’s legislature, leading to violent clashes with police.

Authorities said at least 20 police officers were injured and more than a dozen protesters arrested, according to Sky News.

The approved reforms were significantly scaled back from the original proposal which consisted of more than 600 articles. The initial bill sought to privatize more than 40 state companies, but the approved version will fully privatize only two, while four others will open to private capital.

One of the discarded proposals included the government’s plan to reinstate an income tax after the latter was removed by the previous left-wing government.

The bill will now move to the lower house of parliament for further discussions before it is signed into law.

The contentious economic package is part of Milei’s “shock therapy” to revive Argentina’s decades-long financial crisis that has seen soaring inflation and increased poverty.

The president has hailed the vote as “the first step to recovering our greatness.” Critics of the bill fear that the reforms will harm workers’ rights and sell off national assets.

Analysts told the Journal that the legislative win underscores Milei’s cooperation with opposition parties in congress, where his Freedom Advances Party has less than 15 percent of seats.

Since he was sworn in December, Milei has devalued Argentina’s currency and cut public spending, prompting the country’s first quarterly budget surpluses in 16 years.

His policies have also reduced monthly inflation to 8.8 percent in April, down from 25 percent in December.

However, the measures have also worsened the economic situation with poverty increasing from 44 to 56 percent in the first quarter, according to Argentina’s Catholic University.

Observers said more signs of economic recovery are crucial to avoid further economic instability. Despite the backlash, Milei maintains that the economy will soon improve.

No, Thanks

SWITZERLAND

Swiss lawmakers voted this week to reject a historic ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that accused the country of not doing enough to fight climate change, a vote that legal observers said sets a “concerning precedent” for global climate action, the Independent reported.

On Wednesday, the lower house of parliament announced that the ECHR “exceeded the limits of permissible legal development and disregarded Switzerland’s democratic decision-making processes.”

That vote came a week after the upper house approved a similar motion criticizing the court’s ruling, saying it was overreach into national affairs. Both legislative chambers accused the court of “judicial activism,” Politico noted.

At the same time, the government said its climate action plan was sufficient.

The move comes two months after a group of more than 2,000 Swiss women known as the “climate seniors” filed a lawsuit against the Swiss government, saying it was violating their human rights by failing to protect them from the impacts of climate change.

In April, the ECHR ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, a verdict that many climate advocates and analysts said established an international precedent to make governments legally accountable for inaction on the climate crisis.

But the Swiss legislature’s snub now puts into question how such verdicts can be enforced in the future. It remains unclear if the Swiss government will still comply with the ruling despite the parliament’s vote.

Officials have until October to report to the Council of Europe – which enforces rulings of the ECHR – about how it plans to implement the verdict.

No member country has ever outright refused to implement a judgment from the ECHR, according to council representatives.

Even so, data from the European Implementation Network indicates that nearly half of the most significant cases from the past decade have yet to be implemented, despite governments being legally obligated to do so.

The Bond of Water

ALGERIA

Riots erupted in the central Algerian city of Tiaret this week after locals in the desert region have struggled with months of water shortages, leaving taps running dry and forcing citizens to ration water, the Associated Press reported.

Demonstrators have been setting tires on fire and building make-shift barricades to block roads to protest the shortages. They are also demanding that President Abdelmajid Tebboune resolves the situation.

News about the riots spread across social media but garnered little coverage in Algeria, where press freedoms aren’t strong.

Tiaret, a city of fewer than 200,000 people located 155 miles from the capital Algiers – and three surrounding municipalities – has been facing months of water shortages, according to officials. The region has been impacted by a multi-year drought that has also wreaked havoc across North Africa, drying up key reservoirs.

The region surrounding Tiaret gets its water from three reservoirs that are only functioning at 20 percent of their capacity. Authorities added that groundwater aquifers have also not been replenished because of the lack of rainfall.

Following the unrest, Tebboune asked his cabinet to implement “emergency measures” in the desert city and sent ministers to “ask for an apology from the population.”

Currently, Cosider – a public firm responsible for the region’s water infrastructure – is sending large water trucks into the Tiaret. Company representatives added that they are trying to finalize new pipelines by July to bring groundwater to the city from wells 20 miles away.

Meanwhile, Algerian authorities are working on a long-term solution to pipe water from larger dams, as well as rely on alternative supplies, including desalination plants that the country has heavily invested in.

DISCOVERIES

Accident-Prone

In 2013, a meteor fell to Earth in Siberia, injuring more than 1,000 people and causing more than $33 million in damage to infrastructure. Though this type of event is rare, asteroids present the biggest risk to planets.

Now, scientists have found that Mars is even more at risk: A recent study shows that our neighboring planet faces twice as many close calls with potentially dangerous asteroids than Earth does.

It’s obvious to scientists that the Red Planet is more at risk because it lies right next to the Main Belt, a stretch of asteroids and other space rocks flowing between Mars and Jupiter. But the risk had not been quantified yet.

A team of astronomers at Nanjing University in China conducted simulations to determine how many asteroids get dangerously close to Mars each year. They labeled the rocks “close approach potentially hazardous asteroids”, or “CAPHAs” for short.

The simulations incorporated the Yarkovsky effect, a force caused by sunlight that makes asteroids smaller than 25 miles in diameter either slow down or speed up, and potentially drift.

The Yarkovsky effect can send some asteroids into gaps in the belt, where gravitational tugs from neighboring super-planets Jupiter and Saturn can kick the rocks out of orbit and toward other planets in the inner solar system, Live Science explained.

Mars is the first target on this collision course. The researchers found that about 52 CAPHAs skim past it yearly, which is 2.6 times more than the CAPHAs threatening Earth.

“As human visits to Mars become more frequent, the threat posed by Mars-CAPHAs may increasingly be taken seriously,” said Yufan Zhou, lead author of the study.

But other scientists opined that this was a problem only secondary to the risk of CAPHAs hitting Earth.

“Earth is still the place to focus such discovery efforts since Earth-approaching asteroids are the ones that pose an impact hazard to where humanity is actually located,” astronomer Rob Weryk told Popular Science.

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