Extreme heat triggers novel insurance payout for 50,000 women in India

Women wearing scarves walk in a garden on a hot summer day in New Delhi on May 30, 2024, amid ongoing heatwave. India is enduring a crushing heatwave with temperatures in several cities sizzling well above 45 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). (AFP/File)
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Updated 12 June 2024
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Extreme heat triggers novel insurance payout for 50,000 women in India

  • 50,000 self-employed women in India have become first beneficiaries of insurance scheme that pays out when temperatures hit certain extremes
  • As the temperature crossed 40 degrees Celsius between May 18-25, women in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra all received $5 payment

LONDON: A group of 50,000 self-employed women in India have become the first beneficiaries of a novel insurance scheme that pays out when temperatures hit certain extremes.
As the temperature crossed 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) between May 18 and May 25, the women in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra all received a flat $5 payment.
“This is the first time that insurance payouts and a direct cash assistance program have been combined to supplement the income of women when it’s dangerously hot,” said Kathy Baughman McLeod, CEO of non-profit Climate Resilience for All, which designed the insurance scheme along with India’s Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA).
The bulk of the women, some 92 percent, then went on to receive an additional payout when insurance tied to the local conditions and duration of the extreme heat was triggered, with some receiving up to $19.80 each.
Insurance is increasingly seen by policymakers as a tool to help vulnerable communities receive financial support quickly after extreme weather events occur.
Total payments across the program totalled $341,553.


Typhoon Gaemi strengthens as it nears Taiwan, work halted, flights canceled

Updated 16 sec ago
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Typhoon Gaemi strengthens as it nears Taiwan, work halted, flights canceled

  • Gaemi, expected to be the strongest storm to hit Taiwan in eight years, is set to make landfall on the northeast coast on Wednesday evening
  • After crossing the Taiwan Strait, it is likely to hit the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian late on Thursday afternoon
YILAN, Taiwan: Taiwan hunkered down on Wednesday for the arrival of a strengthening Typhoon Gaemi, with financial markets shut, people getting the day off work and flights canceled, while the military went on stand-by amid forecasts of torrential rain.
Gaemi, expected to be the strongest storm to hit Taiwan in eight years, is set to make landfall on the northeast coast on Wednesday evening, the weather authorities said.
They upgraded its status to a strong typhoon, packing gusts of up to 227kph near its center.
After crossing the Taiwan Strait, it is likely to hit the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian late on Thursday afternoon.
“The next 24 hours will present a very severe challenge,” Taiwan Premier Cho Jung-tai told a televised meeting of the emergency response center.
In rural Yilan county, where the typhoon will first hit land, wind and rain gathered strength, shutting eateries as most roads emptied out.
“This could be the biggest typhoon in recent years,” fishing boat captain Hung Chun told Reuters, adding that Yilan’s harbor of Suao was packed with boats seeking shelter.
“It’s charging directly toward the east coast and if it makes landfall here the damage would be enormous.”
Work and school were suspended across Taiwan, with streets almost deserted in the capital Taipei.
The government said more than 2,000 people had been evacuated from sparsely populated mountain areas at high risk of landslides from the “extremely torrential rain.”
Almost all domestic flights had been canceled, along with 201 international flights, the transport ministry said.
All rail operations will stop from midday, with an abbreviated schedule for high-speed links between north and south Taiwan that will continue to operate, it added.
However, TSMC, the world’s largest contract chipmaker and a major supplier to Apple, said it expected its factories to maintain normal production during the typhoon, after it activated routine preparations.
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The typhoon is expected to bring rain of up to 1,800mm to some mountainous counties in central and southern Taiwan, weather officials said.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said it had put 29,000 soldiers on stand-by for disaster relief efforts.
The typhoon has severely curtailed this year’s annual Han Kuang war games, but they have not been canceled, with scheduled live fire drills held on the Penghu islands in the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday.
Gaemi is expected to bring heavy to very intense rains over vast swathes of China from Thursday, the water resources ministry warned.
These are areas between the Pearl River basin in the south and the Songhua and Liao River basins on the northeastern border with Russia and North Korea, it said on Wednesday.
The rains are expected to last until July 31, fueled by the typhoon’s abundant moisture, it added.
Gaemi and a southwest monsoon brought heavy rain on Wednesday to the Philippine capital region and northern provinces, bringing work and schools to a halt, with stock and foreign exchange trading suspended. The storm killed 12 people.
While typhoons can be very destructive, Taiwan relies on them to replenish reservoirs after traditionally drier winters, especially in its south.

Germany bans Muslim association for pursuing radical Islamism

Updated 10 min 12 sec ago
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Germany bans Muslim association for pursuing radical Islamism

  • Extensive evidence from an earlier search of 55 properties conducted in November provided the basis for Wednesday’s ban of the IZH

FRANKFURT: Germany’s interior ministry said on Wednesday it has banned the association Islamic Center Hamburg (IZH) and its subsidiary organizations, saying it pursues radical Islamist goals.
The ministry said in a statement that 53 of the organization’s premises had been searched by authorities in eight German states early on Wednesday, acting on a court order.
Extensive evidence from an earlier search of 55 properties conducted in November provided the basis for Wednesday’s ban of the IZH, known in German as Islamisches Zentrum Hamburg, said the ministry.
“Today, we banned the Islamisches Zentrum Hamburg, which promotes an Islamist-extremist, totalitarian ideology in Germany,” said Interior Minister Nancy Faeser.
She said she wanted to make clear that “this ban absolutely does not apply to the peaceful practice of the Shiite religion.”
The IZH was not available for comment by phone on Wednesday morning, and its website was not accessible to the public.


Philippines orders foreign workers in offshore gaming hubs to leave in 2 months

Updated 20 min 22 sec ago
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Philippines orders foreign workers in offshore gaming hubs to leave in 2 months

  • Marcos has banned Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) for their alleged links to crimes, human trafficking and financial scam

MANILA: The Philippines has ordered foreigners working in offshore gambling firms to leave the country in two months’ time, its immigration bureau said on Wednesday, following President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s decision to stamp out the operators.
Marcos has banned Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) for their alleged links to crimes, human trafficking and financial scams, and gave the gaming regulator until the end of the year to shut down these businesses.
Philippine immigration chief Norman Tansingco said in a statement foreign workers had 59 days to leave the country. Around 20,000 people are expected to be affected by the order, most of them Chinese citizens.
Workers who stay in the country beyond the two-month period will be deported, he added.
The Chinese embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
POGOs emerged in 2016 and boomed in just a few years as companies capitalized on liberal laws to target customers in China, where gambling is banned.
At their peak, some 300 POGOs operated in the Philippines, but the coronavirus pandemic and tighter tax rules forced many to relocate or go underground. Only 42 mostly Chinese firms have kept their licenses, directly and indirectly employing around 63,000 Filipino and foreign workers.


Thai court to rule next month on case seeking PM’s dismissal

Updated 24 July 2024
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Thai court to rule next month on case seeking PM’s dismissal

  • In May, the court accepted a petition submitted by 40 former senators to remove Srettha Thavisin from office under ethics rules

BANGKOK: Thailand’s top court will rule next month on a case seeking to oust Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin over his appointment of a cabinet minister with a criminal conviction.

In May the court accepted a petition submitted by 40 former senators, to remove Srettha Thavisin from office under ethics rules.

The case centers on Pichit Chuenban, appointed minister in a recent reshuffle, who served six months in jail for contempt of court in 2008.

Pichit, a former lawyer with close links to billionaire ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, later resigned from the cabinet in a bid to protect Srettha.

The constitutional court will give a verdict on Srettha’s case on August 14, it said in a statement.

Srettha, who has denied any wrongdoing, is also from Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai party, and became PM after forming a coalition with army-linked parties following elections in 2023.


India’s strategic railway bridge to entrench New Delhi’s control of disputed Kashmir

Updated 24 July 2024
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India’s strategic railway bridge to entrench New Delhi’s control of disputed Kashmir

  • Military experts say the bridge will ‘revolutionize’ logistics in Ladakh, the icy region bordering China
  • Residents of the region say easier access will bring outsiders to buy land and settle in Kashmir

REASI: Soaring high across a gorge in the rugged Himalayas, a newly finished bridge will soon help India entrench control of disputed Kashmir and meet a rising strategic threat from China.
The Chenab Rail Bridge, the highest of its kind in the world, has been hailed as a feat of engineering linking the restive Kashmir valley to the vast Indian plains by train for the first time.
But its completion has sparked concern among some in a territory with a long history of opposing Indian rule, already home to a permanent garrison of more than 500,000 soldiers.
India’s military brass say the strategic benefits of the bridge to New Delhi cannot be understated.
“The train to Kashmir will be pivotal in peace and in wartime,” General Deependra Singh Hooda, a retired former chief of India’s northern military command, told AFP.
Muslim-majority Kashmir is at the center of a bitter rivalry between India and Pakistan, divided between them since independence from British rule in 1947, and the nuclear-armed neighbors have fought wars over it.
Rebel groups have also waged a 35-year-long insurgency demanding independence for the territory or its merger with Pakistan.
The new bridge “will facilitate the movement of army personnel coming and going in larger numbers than was previously possible,” said Noor Ahmad Baba, a politics professor at the Central University of Kashmir.
But, as well as soldiers, the bridge will “facilitate movement” of ordinary people and goods, he told AFP.
That has prompted unease among some in Kashmir who believe easier access will bring a surge of outsiders coming to buy land and settle.
Previously tight rules on land ownership were lifted after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government canceled Kashmir’s partial autonomy in 2019.
“If the intent is to browbeat the Kashmiri consciousness of its linguistic, cultural and intellectual identity, or to put muscular nationalism on display, the impact will be negative,” historian Sidiq Wahid told AFP.
India Railways calls the $24 million bridge “arguably the biggest civil engineering challenge faced by any railway project in India in recent history.”
It is hoped to boost economic development and trade, cutting the cost of moving goods.
But Hooda, the retired general, said the bridge’s most important consequence would be revolutionizing logistics in Ladakh, the icy region bordering China.
India and China, the world’s two most populous nations, are intense rivals competing for strategic influence across South Asia, and their 3,500-kilometer (2,200-mile) shared frontier has been a perennial source of tension.
Their troops clashed in 2020, killing at least 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers, and forces from both sides today face off across contested high-altitude borderlands.
“Everything from a needle to the biggest military equipment... has to be sent by road and stocked up in Ladakh for six months every year before the roads close for winter,” Hooda told AFP.
Now all that can be transported by train, easing what Indian military experts call the “world’s biggest military logistics exercise” – supplying Ladakh through snowbound passes.
The project will buttress several other road tunnel projects under way that will connect Kashmir and Ladakh, not far from India’s frontiers with China and Pakistan.
The 1,315-meter-long steel and concrete bridge connects two mountains with an arch 359 meters above the cool waters of the Chenab River.
Trains are ready to run and only await an expected ribbon cutting from Modi.
The 272-kilometer railway begins in the garrison city of Udhampur, headquarters of the army’s northern command, and runs through the region’s capital Srinagar.
It terminates a kilometer higher in altitude in Baramulla, a gateway trade town near the Line of Control with Pakistan.
When the road is open, it is twice the distance and takes a day of driving.
The railway cost an estimated $3.9 billion and has been an immense undertaking, with construction beginning nearly three decades ago.
While several road and pipeline bridges are higher, Guinness World Records confirmed that Chenab trumps the previous highest railway bridge, the Najiehe bridge in China.
Describing India’s new bridge as a “marvel,” its deputy chief designer R.R. Mallick, said the experience of designing and building it “has become a holy book for our engineers.”