In Indonesia, deforestation is intensifying disasters from severe weather and climate change

Homes damaged by a flash flood sit in Pesisir Selatan, West Sumatra, Indonesia, March 13, 2024. In Indonesia, environmental groups continue to point to deforestation and environmental degradation worsening the effects of natural disasters such as floods, landslides, drought and forest fires. (AP)
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Updated 31 March 2024
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In Indonesia, deforestation is intensifying disasters from severe weather and climate change

  • Experts warn that it’s unlikely deforestation in Indonesia will stop anytime soon as the government continues to move forward with new mining and infrastructure projects

JAKARTA, Indonesia: Roads turned to murky brown rivers, homes were swept away by strong currents and bodies were pulled from mud during deadly flash floods and landslides after torrential rains hit West Sumatra in early March, marking one of the latest deadly natural disasters in Indonesia.
Government officials blamed the floods on heavy rainfall, but environmental groups have cited the disaster as the latest example of deforestation and environmental degradation intensifying the effects of severe weather across Indonesia.
“This disaster occurred not only because of extreme weather factors, but because of the ecological crisis,” Indonesian environmental rights group Indonesian Forum for the Environment wrote in a statement. “If the environment continues to be ignored, then we will continue to reap ecological disasters.”
A vast tropical archipelago stretching across the equator, Indonesia is home to the world’s third-largest rainforest, with a variety of endangered wildlife and plants, including orangutans, elephants, giant and blooming forest flowers. Some live nowhere else.
For generations the forests have also provided livelihoods, food, and medicine while playing a central role in cultural practices for millions of Indigenous residents in Indonesia.
Since 1950, more than 74 million hectares (285,715 square miles) of Indonesian rainforest — an area twice the size of Germany — have been logged, burned or degraded for development of palm oil, paper and rubber plantations, mining and other commodities according to Global Forest Watch.
Indonesia is the biggest producer of palm oil, one of the largest exporters of coal and a top producer of pulp for paper. It also exports oil and gas, rubber, tin and other resources. And it also has the world’s largest reserves of nickel — a critical material for electric vehicles, solar panels and other goods needed for the green energy transition.
Indonesia has consistently ranked as one of the largest global emitters of plant-warming greenhouse gases, with its emissions stemming from the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and peatland fires, according to the Global Carbon Project.
It’s also highly vulnerable to climate change impacts, including extreme events such as floods and droughts, long-term changes from sea level rise, shifts in rainfall patterns and increasing temperatures, according to the World Bank. In recent decades the country has already seen the effects of climate change: More intense rains, landslides and floods during rainy season, and more fires during a longer dry season.
But forests can help play a vital role in reducing the impact of some extreme weather events, said Aida Greenbury, a sustainability expert focusing on Indonesia.
Flooding can be slowed by trees and vegetation soaking up rainwater and reducing erosion. In dry season, forests release moisture that helps mitigate the effects of droughts, including fires.
But when forests diminish, those benefits do as well.
A 2017 study reported that forest conversion and deforestation expose bare soil to rainfall, causing soil erosion. Frequent harvesting activities — such as done on palm oil plantations — and the removal of ground vegetation leads to further soil compaction, causing rain to run off the surface instead of entering groundwater reservoirs. Downstream erosion also increases sediment in rivers, making rivers shallower and increasing flood risks, according to the research.
After the deadly floods in Sumatra in early March, West Sumatra Gov. Mahyeldi Ansharullah said there were strong indications of illegal logging around locations affected by floods and landslides. That, coupled with extreme rainfall, inadequate drainage systems and improper housing development contributed to the disaster, he said.
Experts and environmental activists have pointed to deforestation worsening disasters in other regions of Indonesia as well: In 2021 environmental activists partially blamed deadly floods in Kalimantan on environmental degradation caused by large-scale mining and palm oil operations. In Papua, deforestation was partially blamed for floods and landslides that killed over a hundred people in 2019.
There have been some signs of progress: In 2018 Indonesian President Joko Widodo put a three-year freeze on new permits for palm oil plantations. And the rate of deforestation slowed between 2021-2022, according to government data.
But experts warn that it’s unlikely deforestation in Indonesia will stop anytime soon as the government continues to move forward with new mining and infrastructure projects such as new nickel smelters and cement factories.
“A lot of land use and land-based investment permits have already been given to businesses, and a lot of these areas are already prone to disasters,” said Arie Rompas, an Indonesia-based forestry expert at Greenpeace.
President-elect Prabowo Subianto, who is scheduled to take office in October, has promised to continue Widodo’s policy of development, include large-scale food estates, mining and other infrastructure development that are all linked to deforestation.
Environmental watchdogs also warn that environmental protections in Indonesia are weakening, including the passing of the controversial Omnibus Law, which eliminated an article of the Forestry Law regarding the minimum area of forest that must be maintained at development projects.
“The removal of that article makes us very worried (about deforestation) for the years to come,” said Rompas.
While experts and activists recognize that development is essential for Indonesia’s economy to continue to go, they argue that it should be done in a way that considers the environment and incorporates better land planning.
“We can’t continue down the same path we’ve been on,” said sustainability expert Greenbury. “We need to make sure that the soil, the land in the forest doesn’t become extinct.”


Asian activists call out Western feminists over ‘selective empathy’ on Gaza

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Asian activists call out Western feminists over ‘selective empathy’ on Gaza

  • Non-Western feminists say white supremacy, imperialism are inherent to Western feminism
  • Seven months into Israel’s deadly war on Gaza, feminists in the West have been largely silent

JAKARTA: When Western actresses and female politicians cut their hair to protest the death of Mahsa Amini or rallied against the Taliban ban on girls’ education, they stood up to defend women’s rights. However, the zeal went missing when it came to Palestine, non-Western feminists say, denouncing their peers’ silence on Israel’s killing of women in Gaza.

Mass protests and displays of solidarity in Europe and the US broke out in 2022 and carried on into 2023 following the death in Iranian police custody of the 22-year-old Amini, who was charged with breaching hijab rules. In the same years, when the Taliban barred Afghan girls from school, women united in outcry and called for international pressure against them.

But more than seven months into Israel’s indiscriminate killing, wounding, and maiming of Palestinian civilians, the West’s mainstream feminist movement has been largely silent.

At least 35,800 people in Gaza have been killed and 80,000 wounded by Israeli airstrikes and ground offensive that have destroyed most of the enclave’s infrastructure and rendered it uninhabitable.

The majority of the dead are women and children. Many have lost their lives as most of the hospitals have been flattened by Israeli troops and no medical assistance could reach them.

The International Rescue Committee estimated last month that 37 mothers had been killed in Gaza each day and 60,000 pregnant women had no access to midwives or doctors, while tens of thousands struggled with breastfeeding as they were so malnourished due to Israel’s blockade of humanitarian aid.

In the face of the widely documented atrocities, Haein Shim, Korean activist and spokesperson of Haeil, a Seoul-based feminist group, told Arab News that Western feminists were exhibiting “selective empathy” and “double standards” with regard to Israel’s onslaught, the criticism of which has regularly been labeled as “antisemitism” — not only by Israeli authorities but by Western leaders as well.

“I strongly believe these issues are interconnected with racism, imperialism, and colonialism,” Shim said.

“We need to urge each other to break the silence and unite against occupation and subjugation, Israel’s human rights abuses and ongoing genocide. One thing to be clear: Our solidarity does not mean antisemitism but only to end the vicious genocide and violence against women and children.”

While Shim believes it is not too late for “global feminist solidarity” with women in Gaza, Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, Malaysian human rights lawyer and scholar focused on decolonization, sees an intrinsic flaw in Western feminism, which might prevent it.

“The function of Western feminism, which is inherently imperialist, is to reduce and dehumanize not only Palestinian women and children but also Palestinian men, who have been subjected to decades of Israeli settler colonialism, with the full support of US imperialism and its allies in Europe,” she said.

“It is, therefore, not surprising to witness the deafening silence of most Western feminists, who are staunch advocates of this strand of feminism, in the face of relentless imperialist violence in Gaza and all of historical Palestine. Their silence is an endorsement of the status quo.”

For Fikri, Western feminism has been shaped by “the racist narrative of the clash of civilizations,” and its silence on Gaza was merely consequential.

“We see women like Madeline Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Hilary Clinton, Kamala Harris — both white and non-white — who depict themselves as champions of women’s rights become members of the ruling classes of imperialist states that are responsible for the mass death, destruction, and suffering around the world,” she said.

“Therefore, there are no double standards of Western feminism; there is only one political standard meant to protect the interests of the imperialist ruling classes, which has been applied consistently.”

In the context of Israel and accusations of antisemitism fired against its critics, Asian feminists also cited the problem of white supremacy, which they closely linked with Zionism.

“Zionist ideologies are not just harming and discriminating against Palestinians, and the destruction of Palestine is not merely about Palestine. Zionism is about white supremacy and colonization, and the destruction of Palestine is just another example of imperialist violence inflicted by Western colonizers, aka white people,” said V., member of Chinese Feminism in Toronto, a Canada-based grassroots collective, who requested to remain anonymous.

“If we consider the sociopolitical context of North America, we know most Jews are also white people, yet we do not have the space to discuss the complexity of antisemitism and white supremacy simultaneously. I guess that speaks a lot (as to) why white feminists tend to be hypocritical here.”

Her colleague, G., also a member of the group, said that hypocrisy was also present among non-white women leaders who were “internalizing whiteness” and embracing Zionism.

“We need to understand this should not be done in our names. We need to have firm voices and expose these leaders as Zionist agents and complicit in genocide, instead of accepting the fact that our elected leaders turn complicit and no longer represent us. We need to hold them accountable,” she said.

“Decolonization is not just theory. We all need to move beyond the bystander observer position and let Palestine radicalize us. We need to continue to educate ourselves and our communities on colonial feminism/pinkwashing and purplewashing.”

Part of the struggle is debunking pro-Israel propaganda and fighting “against the utilization of antisemitism to shut down any criticism against Israeli or Zionist policies,” according to Okky Madasari, Indonesian novelist and academic, whose research focuses on knowledge production and censorship.

“There must be a unified campaign to stop believing anything coming out from the Israeli authorities. They are liars unless they are proven otherwise,” she told Arab News.

For those activists who for the past seven months have been silent over Gaza, Okky suggested that they stop using the feminism label altogether.

“You should be ashamed of yourself if you don’t speak up against Israel when you are so fussy about many other more trivial things,” she said.

“Condemning Israel and taking sides with the Palestinians is what any decent human being must do, let alone if you are a feminist.”


Parts of northern India scorched by extreme heat with New Delhi on high alert

Updated 18 May 2024
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Parts of northern India scorched by extreme heat with New Delhi on high alert

  • India’s weather department expects heat wave conditions to persist across north for next few days
  • On Friday, parts of New Delhi reported up to 47.1°C, with temperatures also soaring in nearby states

NEW DELHI: Parts of northwest India sweltered under scorching temperatures on Saturday, with the capital New Delhi under a severe weather alert as extreme temperatures strike parts of the country.
India’s weather department expects heat wave conditions to persist across the north for the next few days, and has put several states on high alert.
On Friday, parts of New Delhi reported up to 47.1 degrees Celsius (116 degrees Fahrenheit). The nearby states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan also saw temperatures soar and are likely to stay high over the next few days, said Soma Sen Roy, a scientist at the India Meteorological Department.
Roy cautioned people against going outdoors under the afternoon sun, drink lots of water and wear loose-fitting clothes while those who are especially vulnerable like the elderly should stay indoors.
The extreme temperatures in northern India coincide with a 6-week-long general election, with experts worried that the heat wave could increase health risks as people wait in long lines to cast their vote or candidates campaign aggressively in the outdoors. One minister fainted due to heat last month while addressing an election rally in Maharashtra state.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as his main challenger, Rahul Gandhi of the opposition Congress Party, are expected to hold rallies in New Delhi later on Saturday, as the city heads to the polls on May 25.
Satish Kumar, a 57-year-old rickshaw driver in the capital, said his work was suffering because of the heat. “People are not coming outside, (markets) are nearly empty,” he said.
Pravin Kamath, a 28-year-old who runs a cart selling cold drinks, complained that it was so hot he could hardly stand being outdoors. “But I must work. What can I do? I am poor so I have to do it.”
The main summer months — April, May and June — are always hot in most parts of India before monsoon rains bring cooler temperatures. But the heat has become more intense in the past decade and is usually accompanied by severe water shortages, with tens of millions of India’s 1.4 billion people lacking running water.
A study by World Weather Attribution, an academic group that examines the source of extreme heat, found that a searing heat wave in April that struck parts of Asia was made at least 45 times more likely in some parts of the continent by climate change.
Climate experts say extreme heat in South Asia during the pre-monsoon season is becoming more frequent and the study found that extreme temperatures are now about 0.85 C (1.5 F) hotter in the region because of climate change.
At least 28 heat-related deaths were reported in Bangladesh, as well as five in India in April. Surges in heat deaths have also been reported in Thailand and the Philippines this year, according to the study.
Extreme heat is fast becoming a public health crisis in India, with more than 150 people dying last year during heat waves. The government estimates nearly 11,000 people have died during heat waves this century, yet experts say such figures are likely a vast undercount.


Slovak PM Fico stable but in serious condition

Updated 18 May 2024
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Slovak PM Fico stable but in serious condition

  • Robert Fico underwent a two-hour operation on Friday that increased hopes for his recovery
  • Slovak police have charged a man identified by prosecutors as Juraj C. with attempted murder

BANSKA BYSTRICA, Slovakia: The condition of Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico has stabilized but remains serious, the country’s health minister said on Saturday, following Wednesday’s assassination attempt against the central European leader.

Slovakia’s deputy prime minister also said the transfer of Fico to the capital Bratislava from the small-town hospital near the area where he was shot five times at point blank range would not take place in the coming days.

There was no need to formally take over Fico’s official duties and some communication with the premier was taking place, Deputy Prime Minister Robert Kalinak told reporters in front of the hospital where Fico was being treated.

Fico underwent a two-hour operation on Friday that increased hopes for his recovery. The attack sent shockwaves throughout Europe and raised concerns over the polarized and febrile political situation in the nation of 5.4 million people.

Slovak police have charged a man identified by prosecutors as Juraj C. with attempted murder. Local news media say he is a 71-year-old former security guard at a shopping mall and the author of three collections of poetry.


Arab-American leaders meet with Blinken over Gaza

Updated 18 May 2024
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Arab-American leaders meet with Blinken over Gaza

  • Demands include immediate ceasefire, Israeli withdrawal, unimpeded humanitarian aid, halt to arms deliveries
  • Arab American Institute president: US efforts to restrain Israel ‘feeble,’ image across Arab world ‘tattered’

CHICAGO: A group of Arab-American leaders met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington D.C. on Friday night, demanding that the US “stop the genocide” in Gaza and define a clear path to “Palestinian liberation.”

The group was led by Arab American Institute President James Zogby and included several key organizations such as the American Federation of Ramallah, the Arab American Chamber of Commerce, Arab America, and the US Palestinian Council.

In a statement sent to Arab News, organizers said they demanded that the Biden administration endorse an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza; call for the “return of all hostages,” including Israelis taken on Oct. 7 and Palestinians being held without judicial process; support the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza; ensure “unimpeded” humanitarian assistance to its civilian population; and cease weapons deliveries to Israel.

Israel has received more than $40 billion in aid from the Biden administration.  

“When we met with Secretary Blinken in October of 2023, I noted that Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of Gaza had killed 5,000 Palestinians. I urged an immediate ceasefire to save lives. I also noted that Israel and the US were operating under the mistaken belief that the war could be won, with the likely outcome being the emergence of Hamas 2.0,” Zogby said.

“We come back seven months later with over 36,000 dead, most of Gaza’s homes and infrastructure destroyed, millions of Palestinian lives shattered, and Gaza on the verge of starvation.”

After the meeting, Zogby called US efforts to urge Israeli restraint “feeble,” adding: “Once again, we are calling on the Biden administration to demand an immediate ceasefire to end the unfolding genocide, to save Palestinian lives, and salvage whatever remains of the United States’ tattered image across the Arab world.”

Arab and Muslim leaders who met with US President Joe Biden last month in Washington D.C. left disappointed by his failure to enforce a ceasefire.

Several attendees walked out in disgust, including Dr. Thaer Ahmad, who told reporters after the April 2 meeting that he was leaving “out of respect for my community.”

After Friday’s meeting, USPC President John Dabeet said attendees “asked Secretary Blinken and the administration to subject any military assistance to Israel to strict oversight to ensure that it is fully compliant with US law, international law and human rights conventions.”

Bilal Hammoud, director of the AACC, said the Biden administration “has failed to act urgently and within its values to take meaningful measures that ensure the freedom, equality and prosperity of the Palestinian people, resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of innocent lives.

“There must be a full stop of US military funding that is threatening the security and stability of the whole region, including the cessation of attacks on sovereign Arab nations.”


Three Spanish, three Afghans killed in shooting in Afghanistan

Updated 18 May 2024
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Three Spanish, three Afghans killed in shooting in Afghanistan

  • The group were fired on while walking through a market in the mountainous city of Bamiyan
  • Among eight others wounded, four were foreigners from Norway, Australia, Lithuania and Spain

KABUL: The bodies of three Spanish tourists and three Afghans shot dead while on a tour in Afghanistan were transported to the capital along with multiple wounded, the Taliban government said Saturday.
The group were fired on while walking through a market in the mountainous city of Bamiyan in central Afghanistan, around 180 kilometers (100 miles) from the capital Kabul, on Friday evening.
“All dead bodies have been shifted to Kabul and are in the forensic department and the wounded are also in Kabul. Both dead and wounded include women,” the government’s interior ministry spokesman Abdul Mateen Qani told AFP.
“Among the eight wounded, of whom four are foreigners, only one elderly foreign woman is not in a very stable situation.”
Qani said the death toll had risen to six, including two Afghan civilians and one Taliban member.
Spain’s foreign ministry on Friday announced that three of the dead were Spanish tourists, adding that at least one other Spanish national was wounded.
According to preliminary information provided by hospital sources, the wounded were from Norway, Australia, Lithuania and Spain.
“They were roaming in the bazaar when they were attacked,” Qani added.
“Seven suspects have been arrested of which one is wounded, the investigation is still going on and the Islamic Emirate is seriously looking into the matter.”
He did not say if there had been multiple shooters.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez posted on X, formerly Twitter: “Overwhelmed by the news of the murder of Spanish tourists in Afghanistan.”
The European Union condemned the attack “in the strongest terms.”
“Our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of the victims who lost their lives and those injured in the attack,” the bloc said in a statement.
The Taliban government, which took power in 2021 after a decade-long insurgency against foreign forces, has yet to be officially recognized by any government.
It has, however, supported a fledgling tourism sector, with more than 5,000 foreign tourists visiting Afghanistan in 2023, according to official figures.
Tourists holiday without consular support, after most embassies were evacuated, and many Western nations advise against all travel to the country, warning of kidnap and attack risks.
Alongside security concerns, the country has limited road infrastructure and a dilapidated health service.
Bamiyan is Afghanistan’s top tourist destination, known for turquoise lakes and striking mountains, and once home to the giant Buddha statues that were blown up by the Taliban in 2001 during their previous rule.
The number of bombings and suicide attacks in Afghanistan has reduced dramatically since the Taliban authorities took power and deadly attacks on foreigners are rare.
However, a number of armed groups, including the Daesh group, remain a threat.
The jihadist group has waged a campaign of attacks on foreign interests in a bid to weaken the Taliban government, targeting Pakistan and Russian embassies as well as Chinese businessmen.