Afghan capital’s air pollution may be even deadlier than war

Old vehicles pump toxins into the air, as do electrical generators using poor quality fuel. Coal, garbage, plastic and rubber are burned by poor people at home, as well as at the many brick kilns, public baths and bakeries. (File/Photo)
Updated 13 November 2019

Afghan capital’s air pollution may be even deadlier than war

  • People are dying, not from the war, but the toxic air they breathe in
  • Research group State of Global Air says more than 26,000 deaths could be attributed due to the pollution

KABUL, Afghanistan: Yousuf fled with his family from his home in eastern Afghanistan eight years ago to escape the war, but he couldn’t escape tragedy. In the capital, Kabul, five of his children died, not from violence or bombings, but from air pollution, worsened by bitter cold and poverty.
At the camp for displaced people they live in, they and other families keep warm and cook by burning the garbage that surrounds them. One by one over the years, each of the children got chest infections and other maladies from the pollution and never made it to age seven, he told The Associated Press. The 60-year-old has nine surviving children.




Yusouf, who escaped war in eastern Afghanistan to safeguard his family, speaks during an interview in Kabul, Afghanistan. In the capital, Kabul, five of his children died, not from violence or bombings, but from air pollution, worsened by bitter cold and poverty. (AP/Rahmat Gul)

“We didn’t have enough money for the doctor and medicine ... I can barely feed my children,” said Yousuf, who works as a porter in a vegetable market earning barely a dollar a day. Like many Afghans he uses only one name.
Afghanistan’s pollution may be even deadlier than its war, now 18 years long.
There are no official statistics on how many Afghans die of pollution-related illnesses, but the research group State of Global Air said more than 26,000 deaths could be attributed to it in 2017. In contrast, 3,483 civilians were killed that year in the Afghan war, according to the United Nations.
Kabul, a city of some 6 million, has become one of the most polluted cities in the world — ranking in the top of the list among other polluted capitals such as India’s New Delhi or China’s Beijing. Decades of war have wrecked the city’s infrastructure and caused waves of displaced people.
On most days, a pall of smog and smoke lies over the city. Old vehicles pump toxins into the air, as do electrical generators using poor quality fuel. Coal, garbage, plastic and rubber are burned by poor people at home, as well as at the many brick kilns, public baths and bakeries. Many apartment buildings have no proper sanitation system, and garbage is piled on roadsides and sidewalks.
The large majority of victims are poisoned by the air in their own homes, as families burn whatever they can to keep warm in Kabul’s winters, with frequent sub-zero temperatures and snow. Children and elderly are particularly vulnerable. At least 19,400 of the 2017 deaths were attributable to household pollution, which also contributed to a loss of two years and two months of life expectancy at birth, according to the State of Global Air survey.




Old vehicles are pumping poisonous fumes into the air. (AFP)

Yousuf’s camp, home to more than a hundred families, has no proper water or sanitation system and is surrounded by garbage dumps. His and other families’ children search through the garbage for paper, cloth, sticks or plastic, anything that can be burned for fuel.
“We are so poor, and we have lots of problems, we don’t have enough money for medicine, wood or coal for heating, so this is our life, my children collect garbage from dump yards and we use it for cooking and heating to keep the kids warm,” he added.
Decades of war have worsened the damage to Afghanistan’s environment and have made it a huge challenge to address them. Environmental issues are far down the list of priorities for a government struggling with basic security issues, rampant corruption and a plunging economy.
Three or four decades ago, “it was a wish for people to come to Kabul and breath this air,” said Ezatullah Sediqi, deputy director for the National Environmental Protection Agency. But in the wars since, “we lost all our urban infrastructure for water, electricity, public transportation, green areas, all these things,” he said.
Kabul’s environmental department has launched a new program to control old vehicles, one significant source of pollution.
“Fighting pollution is an important as fighting terrorism,” said Mohammad Kazim Humayoun, the department’s director.
Authorities warn that this winter is expected to be colder than usual and fear that will only increase the use of pollution-creating fuels to keep warm. The Kabul municipality has also called on residents to stop burning garbage for heat and instead use fuel.




The wife of Yousuf who fled from their home in eastern Afghanistan, burns plastic to make tea at a camp for displaced people, in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP /Rahmat Gul)

“If everyone follows the instructions laid out by Kabul Municipality, the pollution could be controlled,” the municipality’s spokeswoman, Nargis Mohmand, said. But if not, “then we might live with this untreatable wound for years to come.”
But fuel is either too expensive or not available for many in Kabul. Electrical heaters are too pricey for most, and power outages are frequent.
Doctors at Kabul’s Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital say they’ve seen the numbers of patients with pollution-related illnesses increase, though they could not give exact figures. In the winter, hundreds of children a day sometimes come in, suffering from respiratory illnesses, according to hospital officials.
Dr. Saifullah Abassin, a specialist trainer at the hospital, said his ward has a capacity of 10 patients but often has three times that number.
The government has launched an environmental awareness campaign. Ads on TV, programs at schools and universities and sermons at mosques talk about pollution’s harm to society and tell listeners about steps to reduce it.
But there are steps the state needs to take, like encouraging the planting of trees and creating green spaces, as well as implementing a city master plan to stop unplanned development around the capital, often a source of pollution because of their lack of services.
Sediqi, of the NEPA, said that ever since the first post-Taliban government was created in 2001, there was no planning on urban infrastructure, which left individuals to build on their own.
“Unfortunately, that led to unplanned development,” he said. “So now we have numerous urban problems and challenges and organizational challenges, which is causing the environmental pollution.”


Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai jailed for 12 months over huge democracy rally

Updated 12 min 30 sec ago

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai jailed for 12 months over huge democracy rally

  • Jimmy Lai currently in custody after his arrest under Beijing’s sweeping national security law

HONG KONG: Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai was jailed for 12 months on Friday over one of the city’s biggest ever protests in 2019.
It is the first time the 73-year-old – who is currently in custody after his arrest under Beijing’s sweeping national security law – has received a sentence for his activism.


Police: 8 dead in shooting at FedEx facility in Indianapolis

Updated 52 min 54 sec ago

Police: 8 dead in shooting at FedEx facility in Indianapolis

  • The shooter wasn’t immediately identified
  • At least four were hospitalized, including one person with critical injures
INDIANAPOLIS: Eight people were shot and killed in a late-night shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, and the shooter has killed himself, police said.
Multiple other people were injured Thursday night when gunfire erupted at the facility near the Indianapolis International Airport, police spokesperson Genae Cook said.
At least four were hospitalized, including one person with critical injures. Another two people were treated and released at the scene, Cook said.
The shooter wasn’t immediately identified, and Cook said investigators were still in the process of conducting interviews and gathering information.
Police were called to reports of gunfire just after 11 p.m. and officers observed an active shooting scene, Cook said. The gunman later killed himself.
FedEx released a statement saying it is cooperating with authorities and working to get more information.
“We are aware of the tragic shooting at our FedEx Ground facility near the Indianapolis airport. Safety is our top priority, and our thoughts are with all those who are affected,” the statement said.
Family members gathered at a local hotel to await word on loved ones. Some said employees aren’t allowed to have their phones with them while working shifts at the facility, making it difficult to contact them, WTHR-TV reported.
Live video from news outlets at the scene showed crime scene tape in the parking lot outside the facility.
A witness who said he works at the facility told WISH-TV that he saw a man with a gun after hearing several gunshots.
“I saw a man with a submachine gun of some sort, an automatic rifle, and he was firing in the open,” Jeremiah Miller said.
Another man told WTTV that his niece was sitting in her car in the driver’s seat when the gunfire erupted, and she was wounded.
“She got shot on her left arm,” said Parminder Singh. “She’s fine, she’s in the hospital now.”
He said his niece did not know the shooter.

Opponents of Myanmar military rule hold ‘silent strike’

Updated 16 April 2021

Opponents of Myanmar military rule hold ‘silent strike’

  • Many Myanmar citizens have been taking to the streets day after day
  • The military has also been rounding up its critics and has published the names of more than 200 wanted people

Opponents of military rule in Myanmar observed a “silent strike” on Friday, with many people staying home to mourn the more than 700 people killed in protests against a Feb. 1 coup and others wearing black held small marches in several cities and towns.
Many Myanmar citizens, infuriated by the return of military rule after five years of civilian government led by democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi, have been taking to the streets day after day with activists thinking up new ways to show opposition as the security forces step up their suppression.
“Let’s make the roads silent,” protest leader Ei Thinzar Maung posted on her Facebook page.
“We have to stage a Silent Strike to show our sorrow for the martyrs who have scarified their lives. The most silent voice is the loudest.”
Friday is the fourth day of the five-day traditional Buddhist New Year holiday, known as Thingyan. Most people this year are shunning the usual festivities to focus on their campaign against the generals who overthrew Suu Kyi’s government and locked up her and many others.
Streets in the main city of Yangon were largely deserted, residents said, while black-clad protesters held small rallies in half a dozen cities and towns, media reported.
There were no immediate reports of violence but overnight, two people were shot and killed in the central town of Myingyan, Radio Free Asia reported.
A spokesman for the junta could not be reached for comment.
The military has also been rounding up its critics and has published the names of more than 200 people wanted under a law that makes it illegal to encourage mutiny or dereliction of duty in the armed forces.
Two prominent protest organizers were arrested on Thursday along with an actor and singer, both known for speaking out against the coup.
Late on Thursday, soldiers raided a famous Buddhist monastery in the second city of Mandalay and arrested two people, the Myanmar Now media group reported.
Opponents have been organizing both at home and abroad with the aim of stepping up their campaign.
A previously unknown group called the Ayeyarwaddy Federal Army said on Facebook it aimed to fight the military to restore an elected government and protect the people and it called for volunteers.
It gave no details about how it aimed to take on the well-equipped and seasoned army, which has been battling ethnic minority insurgents for decades.
International pressure has also been slowly building on the military, particularly from Western governments, though the military has a long record of brushing off outside pressure.
The European Union has agreed to impose sanctions on another 10 individuals linked to the coup and to target two businesses run by the armed forces for the first time in protest at the military takeover, two diplomats said.
While the EU has an arms embargo on Myanmar and targeted 11 senior military officials last month, the decision to target the two companies is the most significant response for the bloc since the coup.
EU diplomats said in March that parts of the military’s conglomerates, Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation would be targeted, barring EU investors and banks from doing business with them.
Human rights groups have also called for them to be sanctioned.
The EU declined to comment and no one at Myanmar’s mission to the EU in Brussels could be reached for reaction.


Officer accused in George Floyd’s death skips stand during trial

Updated 16 April 2021

Officer accused in George Floyd’s death skips stand during trial

  • Former Officer Derek Chauvin fate will be in a jury’s hands by early next week
  • Chauvin is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death

MINNEAPOLIS: Former Officer Derek Chauvin’s trial in George Floyd’s death will be in a jury’s hands by early next week, after his brief defense wrapped up with Chauvin passing on a chance to take the stand and tell the public for the first time what he was thinking when he pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck.
Closing arguments are set to begin Monday, after which a racially diverse jury will begin deliberating at a barbed-wire-ringed courthouse in a city on edge – not just because of the Chauvin case but because of the deadly police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man in a Minneapolis suburb last weekend.
Before the jury was brought in Thursday, Chauvin, his COVID-19 mask removed in a rare courtroom moment, ended weeks of speculation by informing the judge he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
Shortly afterward, the defense rested its case, after a total of two days of testimony, compared with two weeks for the prosecution.
Judge Peter Cahill reminded the jurors they will be sequestered starting Monday and said: “If I were you, I would plan for long and hope for short.”
Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death after the 46-year-old Black man was arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 at a neighborhood market last May.
Bystander video of Floyd gasping that he couldn’t breathe as bystanders yelled at Chauvin to get off him triggered worldwide protests, violence and a furious examination of racism and policing in the US
The most serious charge against the now-fired white officer, second-degree murder, carries up to 40 years in prison, though state guidelines call for about 12.
Prosecutors say Floyd died because the officer’s knee was pressed against Floyd’s neck or close to it for 9 1/2 minutes as he lay on the pavement on his stomach, his hands cuffed behind him and his face jammed against the ground.
Law enforcement veterans inside and outside the Minneapolis department testified for the prosecution that Chauvin used excessive force and went against his training, while medical experts said Floyd died of asphyxia, or lack of oxygen, because his breathing was constricted by the way he was held down.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson called a police use-of-force expert and a forensic pathologist to help make the case that Chauvin acted reasonably against a struggling suspect and that Floyd died because of an underlying heart condition and his illegal drug use. Floyd had high blood pressure and narrowed arteries, and fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in his system.
The only time Chauvin has been heard defending himself was when the jury listened to body-camera footage from the scene. After an ambulance had taken Floyd away, Chauvin told a bystander: “We gotta control this guy ‘cause he’s a sizable guy... and it looks like he’s probably on something.”
The decision of whether Chauvin should testify carried risks either way.
Taking the stand could have opened him up to devastating cross-examination, with prosecutors replaying the video of the arrest and forcing Chauvin to explain, one frame at a time, why he kept pressing down on Floyd.
But testifying could have also given the jury the opportunity to look at his unmasked face and see or hear any remorse or sympathy he might feel.
Also, what was going through Chauvin’s mind could be crucial: Legal experts say that an officer who believes his or her life was at risk can be found to have acted legally even if, in hindsight, it turns out there was no such danger.
In one final bit of testimony on Thursday, the prosecution briefly recalled a lung and critical care expert to knock down a defense witness’ theory that carbon monoxide poisoning from a squad car’s exhaust might have contributed to Floyd’s death. Dr. Martin Tobin noted hospital tests that showed Floyd’s level was at most 2 percent, within the normal range.
With the trial in session, Minneapolis has been bracing for a possible repeat of the protests and violence that broke out last spring over Floyd’s death.
The case has unfolded amid days of protests in the adjoining suburb of Brooklyn Center, after Officer Kim Potter, who is white, apparently mistook her gun for a Taser and fatally shot Daunte Wright. She resigned and was charged with manslaughter.
contributed from Atlanta.


India reports another record daily rise in COVID-19 infections

Updated 16 April 2021

India reports another record daily rise in COVID-19 infections

  • Total coronavirus cases in India nearly 14.3 million, second only to the United States

BENGALURU: India reported a record daily increase of 217,353 COVID-19 infections over the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed on Friday.
It was the eighth record daily increase in the last nine days. Total cases reached nearly 14.3 million, second only to the United States which has reported more than 31 million infections.
India’s deaths from COVID-19 rose by 1,185 to reach a total of 174,308, the data showed.