Strong winds, steep terrain hamper crews battling Los Angeles area’s first major fire of the year

Firefighters working in sweltering conditions and steep terrain raced to douse spot fires that erupted as unpredictable winds blew embers ahead of the flames. (AFP)
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Updated 17 June 2024
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Strong winds, steep terrain hamper crews battling Los Angeles area’s first major fire of the year

  • Los Angeles County’s first major wildfire of the year swiftly grew to nearly 60 square kilometers
  • The blaze, dubbed the Post Fire, was just two percent contained Sunday evening

GORMAN, California: Strong winds pushed flames through dry brush in mountains along Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles on Sunday, and officials warned residents in the wildfire’s path to be prepared to leave if it explodes in size again.
Los Angeles County’s first major wildfire of the year swiftly grew to nearly 23 square miles (60 square kilometers), one day after it forced the evacuation of at least 1,200 campers, off-roaders and hikers from the Hungry Valley recreation area.
The blaze, dubbed the Post Fire, was just 2 percent contained Sunday evening. No injuries were reported. The cause was under investigation.
Firefighters working in sweltering conditions and steep terrain raced to douse spot fires that erupted as unpredictable winds blew embers ahead of the flames, said Kenichi Haskett, a section chief for the LA County Fire Department. The gusts also hampered efforts by aircraft crews to drop water and fire retardant, he said.
“When it’s windy, it just sprays the water everywhere we don’t need it. So that’s a challenge,” Haskett said.
Meanwhile in Northern California, a small wildfire sparked Sunday prompted evacuation orders and warnings for a sparsely populated area near Lake Sonoma. The so-called Point Fire sent up a huge plume of dark smoke as it churned through brush and timber about 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of San Francisco. It was 15 percent contained.
The Southern California fire erupted Saturday afternoon near I-5 in Gorman, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles. Two structures burned within the evacuated recreation area.
Flames were moving toward Pyramid Lake, a popular destination for boaters that was closed as a precaution on Father’s Day. No houses were threatened Sunday, but officials warned residents of Castaic, home to about 19,000 people, that they should prepare to leave if the fire pushes further south.
“If you’re in a warning area, be prepared with a ‘go bag,’ with overnight clothes and your cellphone, your medicines, your glasses. Have your car fueled up,” said Haskett. “Be ready to evacuate.”
Low humidity and gusts around 50 mph (80 kph) were expected throughout the day, and winds could pick up speed after sundown, warned the National Weather Service office for Los Angeles.
About 75 miles (120 kilometers) to the east, the nearly 2-square-mile (5-square-kilometer) Hesperia Fire forced road closures and prompted evacuation warnings after it broke out Saturday near mountain communities in San Bernardino County. The blaze was 19 percent contained Sunday evening.


Rushdie attacker indicted on terrorism charges

Updated 14 sec ago
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Rushdie attacker indicted on terrorism charges

NEW YORK: The man accused of trying to kill the author Salman Rushdie in a stabbing attack in 2022 has been indicted on separate US federal terrorism charges, according to documents unsealed Wednesday.
Hadi Matar, a 26-year-old American of Lebanese descent who was already charged by the state of New York for the attack, has now been indicted by a grand jury on three counts that include attempting to provide material to support a foreign terrorist organization, said the indictment dated July 17 but not unsealed until now.
That organization is Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah, the US Justice Department said.


France and Djibouti renew defense partnership

Updated 4 min 32 sec ago
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France and Djibouti renew defense partnership

  • Accord, signed at Macron’s office, governs the 1,500 French troops based in the small but strategically located East African country
  • Defense agreement was first signed in 1977 when the former French colony won independence, and was renewed in 2011

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron and his Djibouti counterpart Ismail Omar Guelleh agreed Wednesday to renew the defense partnership between the two countries, following two years of negotiations.
According to a statement from the French presidency, they signed an agreement on “the ambitious reform of the Defense Cooperation Treaty which unites France and Djibouti.”
The accord, signed at Macron’s office, governs the 1,500 French troops based in the small but strategically located East African country.
French troops have recently closed military bases in Mali and Niger following military coups in both countries, but there has never been any question of abandoning Djibouti, France’s largest permanent overseas base.
The country is located opposite Yemen, near an opening to the Red Sea, where a large part of the global trade between Asia and the West passes.
The discussions had been held up by Djibouti’s demands that France greatly increase the rent it pays, according to a source close to the negotiations.
The defense agreement was first signed in 1977 when the former French colony won independence, and was renewed in 2011.
But France only began to pay rent in 2003, following the opening of a US base in the country.


Why wave of extremism and crime may be West Africa’s ticking bomb

Updated 24 July 2024
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Why wave of extremism and crime may be West Africa’s ticking bomb

  • UN envoy to the Sahel and West Africa recently highlighted spike in trafficking of drugs, weapons and even humans
  • Regional security alliances have dissolved, leaving a power vacuum filled by extremist groups and crime syndicates

N’DJAMENA, Chad: A senior UN official delivered earlier this month a stark warning that terrorism and organized crime by violent extremist groups linked to Al-Qaeda and Daesh are escalating into a pervasive threat across West Africa and the Sahel region.

This menace is now spilling over into West Africa’s coastal countries, suggesting that the world might be waking up too late to the unfolding crisis.

The statements by Leonardo Simao, the UN special representative for the Sahel and West Africa, highlighted a surge in illegal trafficking in drugs, weapons, mineral resources, human beings, and even food.

The first half of 2024 alone has seen hundreds of people killed in terrorist attacks, reflecting a dramatic escalation in violence.

Members of the military junta arriving at the Malian Ministry of Defence in Bamako, Mali. (AFP)

These developments underscore the complex and multifaceted nature of the challenge. The intertwining of terrorism with organized crime networks has created a volatile environment where insecurity is the norm.

“This instability is significant also for the international community. As extremist groups tighten their grip, the humanitarian, economic and political fallout threatens to reverberate far beyond Africa’s borders,” Moustapha Saleh, a Chadian security expert, told Arab News.

The situation is further exacerbated by recent political upheavals. G5 Sahel, a French-backed alliance intended to coordinate security and development issues in West Africa, collapsed last year after the exit of the military-junta-run nations of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

This prompted the US and other Western countries to assist Ghana and neighboring coastal West African nations in bolstering their defenses. Although Ghana has not yet faced direct militant violence, Togo, Benin, and Ivory Coast have suffered attacks near their borders in recent years, illustrating the growing threat of regional instability.

Still, aid for West Africa has been lacking compared with assistance offered to Ukraine, Ghana’s President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo said in a recent interview.

US aid to Ukraine since the Russian invasion has climbed to $113 billion. In contrast, the combined assistance from the EU, the UK and the US to the Economic Community of West African States, the bloc known as ECOWAS, has amounted to a relatively tiny $29.6 million over the same period.

An operation in Menaka, Mali in 2020 aimed to lower the number of weapons in circulation. (AFP)

“Military regimes often struggle with legitimacy and resources, making them ill-equipped to handle the sophisticated and well-funded operations of extremist groups. The lack of international military support has left these nations vulnerable, and the consequences are becoming increasingly dire,” Saleh said.

This abrupt shift has opened the floodgates to a tide of extremism as these countries struggle to fill the security vacuum left by the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Many Sahel countries are now turning away from the West to find an ally to bolster their defenses. Russian mercenary group Wagner reportedly deployed contractors and military equipment in several West African countries, including Mali and Burkina Faso, over the past two years.

The human toll of this escalating crisis is staggering. In the first six months of 2024, hundreds of civilians have been killed in terrorist attacks. Communities are being torn apart, and the displacement of people is reaching unprecedented levels. Refugee camps are swelling as people flee the violence, resulting in a dire need for humanitarian aid.

Furthermore, human trafficking is becoming a critical issue. Vulnerable populations are being exploited, sold into slavery, or forced into militant groups. Illegal emigration from Western African countries into Europe, via the usual migratory routes, is soaring.

Cars supposedly burnt by members of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). (AFP)

Meanwhile, trafficking in drugs and weapons not only funds extremist operations but also fuels further violence, creating a vicious cycle of instability.

The economic ramifications are equally grave. A booming illegal trade in mineral resources, which includes gold, diamond and other valuable commodities, is depriving nations of crucial revenue. Instead of funding development and infrastructure, these resources are financing terror and crime.

The disruption of legal trade routes due to insecurity has crippled local economies. Farmers and traders find it increasingly difficult to transport goods, leading to food shortages and price hikes.

“The broader economic instability discourages foreign investment and hampers development, further entrenching poverty and disenfranchisement,” Saleh said.

Until last year, global support for combating terrorism in the Sahel region was significant, with contributions from various countries and organizations. The US played a crucial role, with its drone bases in Niger and Burkina Faso and around 1,000 troops in the region.

The military junta took over power in Mali on August 19, 2020. (AFP)

France was a prominent supporter through its military operations such as Operation Barkhane, headquartered in Chad, and involving around 4,000 personnel at its peak. It was aimed at securing the region and fighting terrorism in partnership with local forces in Mali, Niger and Chad.

The EU Training Mission and the EU Capacity-Building Mission too played a role until the wave of coup d’etats took the region by surprise. Consequently, it become impossible for Western governments to continue military cooperation with hostile juntas.

But given the severity of the current crisis, many experts say the world can ill afford to look away. “The international community must recognize that the threats emanating from the Sahel and West Africa are not confined to the region but have global implications,” Souley Amalkher, a Nigerien security expert, told Arab News.

INNUMBERS

• 361 Conflict-related deaths in Niger in the first three months of 2024. (ACLED)

• 25.8m+ People in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria in need of humanitarian assistance this year.

• 6.2m+ People currently internally displaced in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.

• 32.9m+ People facing food insecurity in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.

Terrorism and organized crime in these areas can destabilize entire continents, disrupt global trade, and fuel mass migrations. “There is also the risk of these extremist ideologies spreading beyond Africa, posing a security threat to other regions,” Amalkher said.

Experts say that the spread of extremist ideologies and the presence of terrorist groups in West Africa will lead to instability that may also affect the Arabian Peninsula.

They say the pro-West Gulf states, while already supportive of counterterrorism efforts in West Africa, must reconfigure their strategies given the recent dissolution of the G5 Sahel.

A motorbike drives past a sign welcoming people to the ‘Islamic State of Gao’, that was transformed to read ‘Welcome to the Malian State’, in the Malian city of Gao. (AFP)

Addressing this crisis requires a multipronged approach, the experts argue, pointing to what they say is the need for a combination of immediate and long-term strategies.

“Immediate actions should include re-establishing military partnerships. It is crucial to restore and strengthen military collaborations with international partners as this would provide the necessary support to local forces to counter the extremist threat effectively,” Lauren Mitchel, a security expert from the Washington-based Institute of Peace, told Arab News.

Humanitarian aid is also vital. Immediate and substantial assistance is needed to support displaced populations and provide basic necessities such as food, water and medical care.

Additionally, strengthening border controls and international cooperation is essential for the disruption of trafficking networks. This includes better intelligence sharing and coordinated law enforcement actions.

Long-term solutions focus mostly on economic development and support for projects that encourage self-sustainability.

The military junta took over power in Mali on August 19, 2020. (AFP)

“This involves building infrastructure, creating jobs, and promoting sustainable agricultural practices to ensure food security,” Mitchel said.

Analysts have found that the provision of education and vocational training to young people can help prevent them from being recruited by extremist groups. Social programs that address poverty and disenfranchisement are vital for long-term stability.

They say that international efforts should concentrate on facilitating the transition to stable, civilian-led administrations capable of effectively managing and addressing the needs of their populations.

 


Nine arrests during London protest against Israel arms exports

Police officers remove ‘Workers for a Free Palestine’ demonstrators in London.
Updated 24 July 2024
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Nine arrests during London protest against Israel arms exports

  • Last week new Foreign Minister David Lammy said a blanket ban on arms exports to Israel would not be right
  • London’s Metropolitan Police said protesters arrived outside Britain’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and blocked pedestrian and vehicle access

LONDON: British police on Wednesday arrested nine people during a protest against arms exports to Israel that briefly blocked the street outside the foreign ministry, highlighting pressure on the new Labour government over its stance on the Gaza war.
Pro-Palestinian protesters in Britain have been campaigning for a government ban on arms sales to Israel following its offensive on Gaza in response to the Oct. 7 attack.
Last week new Foreign Minister David Lammy, who has said he wants a balanced position on Israel and Gaza, said a blanket ban on arms exports to Israel would not be right, but he would follow a quasi-judicial process in assessing whether sales of offensive weapons that could be used in Gaza could proceed.
London’s Metropolitan Police said protesters arrived outside Britain’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and blocked pedestrian and vehicle access. Police then said the protest could only continue if it left the central arch of the street clear.
“When the group failed to comply with the conditions, officers intervened and made nine arrests, quickly restoring access,” a Met Police spokesperson said.
While in opposition, Lammy earlier this year said the government should suspend the sale of UK arms if there were a clear risk they might be used in a serious breach of humanitarian law.
Now in government, he said last week he requested on his first day in office an assessment of the legal situation and that he hoped to be able to communicate any decisions with “full accountability and transparency.”
Labour was elected with a huge majority earlier this month, but lost some seats to pro-Gaza candidates.
Campaign group Workers for a Free Palestine, which organized the protest, said that was a sign the government should take a stronger stance on restricting arms sales, and called on Lammy to “practice what he preached in opposition.”
While the previous Conservative government was a strong supporter of Israel’s right to defend itself following the Oct. 7 attack, Reuters found that the value of Britain’s approvals of new arms licenses dropped sharply after the start of the war.


Global hunger crisis set back 15 years, UN report reveals 

Updated 24 July 2024
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Global hunger crisis set back 15 years, UN report reveals 

  • FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu: Transforming agrifood systems is more critical than ever as we face the urgency of achieving the SDGs within six short years
  • Qu Dongyu: FAO remains committed to supporting countries in their efforts to eradicate hunger and ensure food security for all

RIYADH: The 2024 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, or SOFI, report, jointly published on Wednesday by five UN agencies under the theme “Financing to end hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition,” highlighted the deepening global food crisis. 

The heads of the five UN agencies — the Food and Agriculture Organization, World Health Organization, International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Food Programme, and UNICEF — emphasized the urgent need for increased and more efficient financing to address these complex challenges. They called for transformative measures in agrifood systems, equitable access to resources, and enhanced international cooperation to mitigate the impacts of food insecurity and malnutrition.

FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu said: “Transforming agrifood systems is more critical than ever as we face the urgency of achieving the SDGs within six short years. FAO remains committed to supporting countries in their efforts to eradicate hunger and ensure food security for all. 

“We will work together with all partners and with all approaches, including the G20 Global Alliance against Hunger and Poverty, to accelerate the needed change. Together, we must innovate and collaborate to build more efficient, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable agrifood systems that can better withstand future challenges for a better world,” Qu added.

The report, unveiled during the G20 Global Alliance against Hunger and Poverty Task Force Ministerial Meeting in Brazil, underscored that the international community is falling significantly short of achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2, zero hunger, by 2030. Highlighting a setback of 15 years in progress, the report compares current undernourishment levels to those last seen in 2008-2009.

In 2023, approximately 733 million people worldwide faced hunger, marking a continuation of the high levels observed over the past three years. This equates to one in 11 people globally, with the situation particularly dire in Africa, where one in five individuals grappled with food insecurity.

While there have been some gains in specific areas such as reducing stunting and promoting exclusive breastfeeding, the overall number of undernourished people is at a constant, ranging between 713 and 757 million in 2023. Regional disparities persist, with hunger increasing in Western Asia, the Caribbean, and several African subregions, while remaining stable in Asia and showing improvement in Latin America.

The report’s projections for 2030 suggest that around 582 million people will continue to suffer from chronic undernourishment, half of them in Africa. This mirrors levels observed in 2015 when the SDGs were adopted, indicating a plateau in progress.

Beyond hunger, the report highlights broader challenges in food security and nutrition. In 2023, 2.33 billion people faced moderate or severe food insecurity, worsened by various factors such as economic decline and climate change. 

The affordability of healthy diets is also a critical issue, particularly in low-income countries where over 71 percent of the population cannot afford adequate nutrition.

Despite gains in exclusive breastfeeding rates and reductions in child stunting, the world is still faced with many challenges. Rates of wasting among children and adult obesity are concerningly high, states the report, and indicate a double burden of malnutrition affecting global populations.

“The fastest route out of hunger and poverty is proven to be through investments in agriculture in rural areas. But the global and financial landscape has become far more complex since the Sustainable Development Goals were adopted in 2015,” said IFAD President Alvaro Lario. 

“Ending hunger and malnutrition demands that we invest more — and more smartly. We must bring new money into the system from the private sector and recapture the pandemic-era appetite for ambitious global financial reform that gets cheaper financing to the countries who need it most,’’ Lario added.

The report urges unified global action to achieve SDGs by 2030 by adopting and prioritizing innovative solutions and substantial investments to ensure that all people have access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food.

The SOFI report is an annual assessment providing insights into global progress toward ending hunger, improving food security, and advancing nutrition under the framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Its findings are intended to guide policymakers, international organizations, and the public in addressing these pressing global challenges.