Drought officially declared in several parts of England

People swimming in the sea at Perranporth beach, in Perranporth, Cornwall, Britain, on Jul.18, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 12 August 2022

Drought officially declared in several parts of England

  • The "drought trigger threshold had been met" in parts of southwestern, southern, central and eastern England
  • The Environment Agency on Friday published a report saying that England as a whole had its driest July since 1935

LONDON: The UK government on Friday officially declared a drought in several parts of England, following months of record low rainfall and unprecedented temperatures in recent weeks.
At a meeting of the National Drought Group, the government’s Environment Agency said the “drought trigger threshold had been met” in parts of southwestern, southern, central and eastern England.
Drought was last officially declared in England in 2018.
The Environment Agency on Friday published a report saying that England as a whole had its driest July since 1935.
The exceptional weather comes as France is also experiencing a record drought and battling huge wildfires.
The Met Office, the UK’s meteorological authority, said the period from January to June this year saw the least rainfall in England and Wales since 1976.
That summer saw the use of drastic measures such as roadside standpipes and water rationing.
The government statement said the move to drought status was based on factors such as rainfall, river flows and levels of groundwater and reservoirs and their impact on public water supply.
“We urge everyone to manage the amount of water they are using in this exceptionally dry period,” National Drought Group chair, Harvey Bradshaw, was quoted as saying.
The Environment Agency and water companies “will step up their actions to manage impacts” and press ahead with their published drought plans, including thinks like hosepipe bans.
It stressed that “essential supplies of water are safe.”
England and parts of Wales are severely parched and some water companies have already announced hosepipe bans.
The UK overall had 56 percent of its average rainfall for July. Every month of the year except February has been drier than average, according to the Met Office.
Satellite images from July released by NASA showed dried-up brown areas extending across most of southern England and up the northeastern coast.
The source of the River Thames has dried up, with the river now flowing from a point several miles downstream.
Meetings of the National Drought Group are convened by the government’s Environment Agency, which monitors water levels in rivers and ground water.
The group is made up of senior decision-makers from the government and water companies, along with other affected groups such as farmers.
The Met Office on Tuesday issued an amber warning over “extreme heat” in parts of England and Wales Thursday to Sunday, predicting possible impacts on health, transport and infrastructure.
Temperatures were expected to hit the mid-30s Celsius, peaking on Friday and the weekend, after which showers and thunderstorms were forecast.
Temperatures were not expected to hit the record levels seen in July when a temperature of 40.3 Celsius was recorded in Lincolnshire in northeastern England on July 20, during an unprecedented heatwave.
The National Climate Information Center said that such high temperatures in the UK were only possible due to human-induced climate change.


Blast at Kabul learning center kills scores of teenagers, mainly girls

Updated 30 September 2022

Blast at Kabul learning center kills scores of teenagers, mainly girls

  • Explosion killed at least 19 people were, injured 27
  • Attack occurred when students were taking an exam

KABUL: A suicide attack at a learning center in the Afghan capital on Friday killed scores of teenaged students, most of them girls, police and witnesses say.

The blast at the Kaaj education center in the Dasht-e-Barchi area in the west of Kabul took place in the morning, when students were taking a practice college exam.

“Initial information shows that sadly 19 people lost their lives and 27 others are injured,” Kabul police spokesperson Khalid Zadran told reporters.

One of the exam’s organizers told Arab News a suicide bomber entered the exam venue, where about 500 children were sitting.

“Our male and female students were killed on the spot, and some were taken to the nearby hospitals,” he said, requesting anonymity. “The attacker entered from the girls’ entrance and the blast happened in front of the girls’ section of the hall. Most of the martyrs are our girl students.”

The death toll is likely to be higher than the official figure, but local residents say the area has been cordoned off and they had not been able to see the victims.

“Taliban locked the area and don’t even allow us to hospitals to see the victims and give blood,” Mohammad Ali, a resident of Dasht-e-Barchi, told Arab News.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack that took place in a neighborhood inhabited by minority Hazaras who have often been targeted by militants.
 
Abbas Baqir, an elder from Dasht-e-Barchi said consecutive Afghan governments have failed to protect them.

“The governments failed to protect us. We are a target for militant groups because of our identity,” he told Arab News. “Today, our children lost their lives again while getting an education and preparing for their future.”

The security situation in Afghanistan had improved following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, but it has been deteriorating in recent months.

In a Twitter post, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid condemned Friday’s attack as an “act of terror.”

“The IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) expresses its deepest sympathy to the families of the victims of this attack. Serious measures will be taken to find and punish the perpetrators.”

Most of the attacks on schools and mosques have been claimed by Daesh militants who are a rival of the Taliban.

Last year, a bomb attack on a girls' school in Dasht-e-Barchi killed at least 85 people, mainly students.


Putin: Russia will use all means to guard annexed regions

Updated 30 September 2022

Putin: Russia will use all means to guard annexed regions

  • Russian leader warns Moscow would never give up the occupied areas
  • Vladimir Putin urges Ukraine to sit down for talks to end the fighting

KYIV: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed documents to incorporate four Ukrainian territories into Russia in a televised ceremony in the Kremlin.

Russia declared the annexations of the regions – Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson - after holding what it called referendums in occupied areas of Ukraine. Western governments and Kyiv said the votes breached international law and were coercive and unrepresentative.

In a speech preceding a treaty-signing ceremony to make four Ukrainian regions part of Russia, Putin warned his country would never give up the occupied areas and would protect them as part of its sovereign territory.

He urged Ukraine to sit down for talks to end the fighting, but warned sternly that Russia would never surrender control of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions. He accused the West of fueling the hostilities as part of its plan to turn Russia into a “colony” and a “crowds of slaves.”

The ceremony comes three days after the completion of Kremlin-orchestrated “referendums” on joining Russia that were dismissed by Kyiv and the West as a bare-faced land grab, held at gunpoint and based on lies.

The event in the Kremlin’s opulent white-and-gold St. George’s Hall was organized for Putin and the heads of the four regions of Ukraine to sign treaties for the areas to join Russia, in a sharp escalation of the seven-month conflict.

The separatist Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine have been backed by Moscow since declaring independence in 2014, weeks after the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. The southern Kherson region and part of the neighboring Zaporizhzhia were captured by Russia soon after Putin sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Both houses of the Kremlin-controlled Russian parliament will meet next week to rubber-stamp the treaties for the regions to join Russia, sending them to Putin for his approval.

Putin and his lieutenants have bluntly warned Ukraine against pressing an offensive to reclaim the regions, saying Russia would view it as an act of aggression against its sovereign territory and wouldn’t hesitate to use “all means available” in retaliation, a reference to Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

The Kremlin-organized votes in Ukraine and the nuclear warning are an attempt by Putin to avoid more defeats in Ukraine that could threaten his 22-year rule.

Russia controls most of the Luhansk and Kherson regions, about 60 percent of the Donetsk region and a large chunk of the Zaporizhzhia region where it took control of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.

Asked about Russia’s plans, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that at the very least Moscow aims to “liberate” the entire Donetsk region.

As it prepared to celebrate the incorporation of the occupied Ukrainian regions, the Kremlin was on the verge of another stinging battlefield loss, with reports of the imminent Ukrainian encirclement of the eastern city of Lyman.

Retaking it could open the path for Ukraine to push deep into one of the regions Russia is absorbing, a move widely condemned as illegal that opens a dangerous new phase of the seven-month war.

Russia on Friday also pounded Ukrainian cities with missiles, rockets and suicide drones, with one strike reported to have killed 25 people. The salvos together amounted to the heaviest barrage that Russia has unleashed for weeks.

They followed analysts’ warnings that Putin was likely to dip more heavily into his dwindling stocks of precision weapons and step up attacks as part of a strategy to escalate the war to an extent that would shatter Western support for Ukraine.

The Kremlin preceded its scheduled annexation ceremonies Friday with another warning to Ukraine that it shouldn’t fight to take back the four regions. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow would view a Ukrainian attack on the taken territory as an act of aggression against Russia itself.

The annexations are Russia’s attempt to set its gains in stone, at least on paper, and scare Ukraine and its Western backers with the prospect of an increasingly escalatory conflict unless they back down — which they show no signs of doing. The Kremlin paved the way for the land-grabs with “referendums,” sometimes at gunpoint, that Ukraine and Western powers universally dismissed as rigged shams.

“It looks quite pathetic. Ukrainians are doing something, taking steps in the real material world, while the Kremlin is building some kind of a virtual reality, incapable of responding in the real world,” former Kremlin speechwriter turned political analyst Abbas Gallyamov said.

“People understand that the politics is now on the battlefield,” he added. “What’s important is who advances and who retreats. In that sense, the Kremlin cannot offer anything сomforting to the Russians.”

A Ukrainian counter-offensive has deprived Moscow of mastery on the military fields of battle. Its hold of the Luhansk region appears increasingly shaky, as Ukrainian forces make inroads there, with the pincer assault on Lyman. Ukraine also still has a large foothold in the neighboring Donetsk region.

Luhansk and Donetsk – wracked by fighting since separatists there declared independence in 2014 – form the wider Donbas region of eastern Ukraine that Putin has long vowed, but so far failed, to make completely Russian. Peskov said that both Donetsk and Luhansk will be incorporated Friday into Russia in their entirety.

All of Kherson and parts of Zaporizhzhia, two other regions being prepared for annexation, were newly occupied in the invasion’s opening phase. It’s unclear whether the Kremlin will declare all, or just part, of that occupied territory as Russia’s. Peskov wouldn’t say in a call Friday with reporters.

In the Zaporizhzhia region’s capital, anti-aircraft missiles that Russia has repurposed as ground-attack weapons rained down Friday on people who were waiting in cars to cross into Russian-occupied territory so they could bring family members back across front lines, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said.

The general prosecutor’s office said 25 people were killed and 50 wounded. The strike left deep impact craters and sent shrapnel tearing through the humanitarian convoy’s lined-up vehicles, killing their passengers. Nearby buildings were demolished. Trash bags, blankets and, for one victim, a blood-soaked towel, were used to cover bodies.

Russian-installed officials in Zaporizhzhia blamed Ukrainian forces for the strike, but provided no evidence.

Russian strikes were also reported in the city of Dnipro. The regional governor, Valentyn Reznichenko, said at least one person was killed and five others were wounded.

Ukraine’s air force said the southern cities of Mykolaiv and Odesa were also targeted with Iranian-supplied suicide drones that Russia has increasingly deployed in recent weeks, seemingly to avoid losing more pilots who don’t have control of Ukraine’s skies.

Putin was expected to give a major speech at the ceremony to fold Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia into Russia. The Kremlin planned for the region’s pro-Moscow administrators to sign annexation treaties in the ornate St. George’s Hall of the palace in Moscow that is Putin’s seat of power.

Putin also issued decrees recognizing the supposed independence of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, steps he previously took in February for Luhansk and Donetsk and earlier for Crimea, seized from Ukraine in 2014.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, meanwhile, called an emergency meeting of his National Security and Defense Council and denounced the latest Russian strikes.

“The enemy rages and seeks revenge for our steadfastness and his failures,” he posted on his Telegram channel. “You will definitely answer. For every lost Ukrainian life!”

The US and its allies have promised even more sanctions on Russia and billions of dollars in extra support for Ukraine as the Kremlin duplicates the annexation playbook used for Crimea.

With Ukraine vowing to take back all occupied territory and Russia pledging to defend its gains, threatening nuclear-weapon use and mobilizing an additional 300,000 troops despite protests, the two nations are on an increasingly escalatory collision course.

That was underscored by the fighting for Lyman, a key node for Russian military operations in the Donbas and a sought-after prize in the Ukrainian counteroffensive launched in late August.

The Russian-backed separatist leader of Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, said the city is now “half-encircled” by Ukrainian forces. In comments reported by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, he described the setback as “worrying news.”

”Ukraine’s armed formations,” he said, “are trying very hard to spoil our celebration.”


UN to seek $800 million more in aid for flood-hit Pakistan

Updated 30 September 2022

UN to seek $800 million more in aid for flood-hit Pakistan

  • The unprecedented deluges — likely worsened by climate change — have killed 1,678 people in Pakistan since mid-June
  • The UN resident coordinator in Pakistan said the UN decided to issue the revised appeal

ISLAMABAD: The United Nations will seek $800 million more in aid from the international community to respond to soaring life-saving needs of Pakistani flood survivors, a UN official said Friday.
The unprecedented deluges — likely worsened by climate change — have killed 1,678 people in Pakistan since mid-June. About half a million survivors are still living in tents and makeshift shelters.
Julien Harneis, the UN resident coordinator in Pakistan, told reporters in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, that the latest appeal will be issued from Geneva on Tuesday. It comes just weeks after the agency sought $160 million in emergency funding for 33 million people affected by floods.
Harneis said the UN decided to issue the revised appeal “to respond to the extraordinary scale of the devastations” caused by the floods. Pakistan’s displaced are now confronting waterborne and other diseases, he said. The outbreaks, health officials say, have caused more than 300 deaths so far.
Since July, several countries and UN agencies have sent more than 130 flights carrying aid for the flood victims, many of whom complain they have either received too little help or are still waiting for aid.
Officials and experts have blamed the rains and resulting floodwaters on climate change. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited some of the flood-hit areas earlier this month. He has repeatedly called on the international community to send massive amounts of aid to Pakistan.
The Pakistani government estimates the losses from the floods to be about $30 billion.


Thailand’s constitutional court rules suspended PM Prayut can resume office

Updated 30 September 2022

Thailand’s constitutional court rules suspended PM Prayut can resume office

  • The former army chief came to power in a 2014 military coup
  • Prayut Chan-O-Cha was suspended last month after a legal challenge on his term limit

BANGKOK: Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha resumed office Friday after the country’s constitutional court ruled that he has not exceeded his eight-year term limit.
The former army chief, who came to power in a 2014 military coup, was suspended last month while the court examined a legal challenge mounted by opposition parties who argued he had reached his term limit in power.
Bangkok authorities were on alert for demonstrations after the ruling, as several protest groups had earlier said they would take to the streets if Prayut won the case.
“The constitutional court rules by a majority that the respondent’s premiership has not reached the eight-year limit,” said judge Punya Udchacon, reading the ruling.
“The cabinet under the premiership of the respondent is counted from April 6, 2017.”
Under the 2017 Thai constitution, a prime minister cannot serve more than eight years in office, but Prayut’s supporters and critics disagreed about when his term began.
The ruling counts Prayut’s term from when the new army-scripted constitution came into force and means he can stay in office until 2025 — depending on an upcoming national poll, which must be held within months.
Prayut welcomed the 6-3 majority ruling in a statement on his official Facebook page, saying he would use the government’s remaining time in office to push ahead with infrastructure projects.
“I will try my best and work with my full capacity to change the country,” he wrote.
Following Prayut’s suspension in August, his deputy Prawit Wongsuwan took over as caretaker prime minister, while Prayut continued to serve as defense minister.
The suspension had been hugely damaging to Prayut, Naresuan University political scientist Napisa Waitoolkiat said before the ruling, causing him to “lose face” in the eyes of voters.
Prayut and his Palang Pracharat Party are increasingly out of favor with voters, as an underperforming Thai economy hurts households.
A survey of 2,500 people earlier this month by the National Institute of Development Administration found that only 10.5 percent of respondents supported Prayut, who ranked a lowly fourth as a potential prime ministerial candidate.
Napisa said there could be angry reactions to the ruling going in Prayut’s favor.
“I think there will be protests in the street and demonstrations in Bangkok against the ruling.”
At least three protest groups — which came to prominence during 2020’s massive pro-democracy rallies — said Thursday they would demonstrate should Prayut carry the day.
Deputy national police spokesman Kissana Phathanacharoen said officers would be deployed to provide security near the court and in Bangkok’s shopping mall district, a popular location for previous protests.
Meanwhile, officials announced late Thursday there would be a restricted zone around the court.


Nobel Prize season arrives amid war, nuclear fears, hunger

Updated 30 September 2022

Nobel Prize season arrives amid war, nuclear fears, hunger

This year's Nobel Prize season approaches as Russia's invasion of Ukraine has shattered decades of almost uninterrupted peace in Europe and raised the risks of a nuclear disaster.
The secretive Nobel committees never hint who will win the prizes in medicine, physics, chemistry, literature, economics or peace. It's anyone's guess who might win the awards being announced starting Monday.
Yet there's no lack of urgent causes deserving the attention that comes with winning the world's most prestigious prize: Wars in Ukraine and Ethiopia, disruptions to supplies of energy and food, rising inequality, the climate crisis, the ongoing fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The science prizes reward complex achievements beyond the understanding of most. But the recipients of the prizes in peace and literature are often known by a global audience and the choices — or perceived omissions — have sometimes stirred emotional reactions.
Members of the European Parliament have called for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the people of Ukraine to be recognized this year by the Nobel Peace Prize committee for their resistance to the Russian invasion.
While that desire is understandable, that choice is unlikely because the Nobel committee has a history of honoring figures who end conflicts, not wartime leaders, said Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Smith believes more likely peace prize candidates would be groups or individuals fighting climate change or the International Atomic Energy Agency, a past recipient.
Honoring the IAEA again would recognize its efforts to prevent a radioactive catastrophe at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia atomic power plant at the heart of fighting in Ukraine, and its work in fighting nuclear proliferation, Smith said.
“This is really difficult period in world history and there is not a lot of peace being made,” he said.
Promoting peace isn't always rewarded with a Nobel. India's Mohandas Gandhi, a prominent symbol of non-violence in the 20th century, was never so honored.
But former President Barack Obama was in 2009, sparking criticism from those who said he had not been president long enough to have an impact worthy of the Nobel.
In some cases, the winners have not lived out the values enshrined in the peace prize.
Just this week the Vatican acknowledged imposing disciplinary sanctions on Nobel Peace Prize-winning Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo following allegations he sexually abused boys in East Timor in the 1990s.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won in 2019 for making peace with neighboring Eritrea. A year later a largely ethnic conflict erupted in the country's Tigray region. Some accuse Abiy of stoking the tensions, which have resulted in widespread atrocities. Critics have called for his Nobel to be revoked and the Nobel committee has issued a rare admonition to him.
The Myanmar activist Aung San Suu Kyi won the peace prize in 1991 while being under house arrest for her opposition to military rule. Decades later, she was seen as failing in a leadership role to stop atrocities committed by the military against the country's mostly Muslim Rohingya minority.
The Nobel committee has sometimes not awarded a peace prize at all. It paused them during World War I, except to honor the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1917. It didn't hand out any from 1939 to 1943 due to World War II. In 1948, the year Gandhi died, the Norwegian Nobel Committee made no award, citing a lack of a suitable living candidate.
The peace prize also does not always confer protection.
Last year journalists Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia were awarded “for their courageous fight for freedom of expression” in the face of authoritarian governments.
Following the invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin has cracked down even harder on independent media, including Muratov's Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s most renowned independent newspaper. Muratov himself was attacked on a Russian train by an assailant who poured red paint over him, injuring his eyes.
The Philippines government this year ordered the shutdown of Ressa’s news organization, Rappler.
The literature prize, meanwhile, has been notoriously unpredictable.
Few had bet on last year’s winner, Zanzibar-born, U.K.-based writer Abdulrazak Gurnah, whose books explore the personal and societal impacts of colonialism and migration.
Gurnah was only the sixth Nobel literature laureate born in Africa, and the prize has long faced criticism that it is too focused on European and North American writers. It is also male-dominated, with just 16 women among its 118 laureates.
The list of possible winners includes literary giants from around the world: Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Japan’s Haruki Murakami, Norway’s Jon Fosse, Antigua-born Jamaica Kincaid and France’s Annie Ernaux.
A clear contender is Salman Rushdie, the India-born writer and free-speech advocate who spent years in hiding after Iran’s clerical rulers called for his death over his 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses.” Rushdie, 75, was stabbed and seriously injured at a festival in New York state on Aug. 12.
The prizes to Gurnah in 2021 and U.S. poet Louise Glück in 2020 have helped the literature prize move on from years of controversy and scandal.
In 2018, the award was postponed after sex abuse allegations rocked the Swedish Academy, which names the Nobel literature committee, and sparked an exodus of members. The academy revamped itself but faced more criticism for giving the 2019 literature award to Austria’s Peter Handke, who has been called an apologist for Serbian war crimes.
Some scientists hope the award for physiology or medicine honors colleagues instrumental in the development of the mRNA technology that went into COVID-19 vaccines, which saved millions of lives across the world.
“When we think of Nobel prizes, we think of things that are paradigm shifting, and in a way I see mRNA vaccines and their success with COVID-19 as a turning point for us,” said Deborah Fuller, a microbiology professor at the University of Washington.
The Nobel Prize announcements this year kick off Monday with the prize in physiology or medicine, followed by physics on Tuesday, chemistry on Wednesday and literature Thursday. The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Oct. 7 and the economics award on Oct. 10.
The prizes carry a cash award of 10 million Swedish kronor ($880,000) and will be handed out on Dec. 10.