Remembering naturalist E.O. Wilson

class=”MuiTypography-root-135 MuiTypography-h1-140″>Remembering naturalist E.O. Wilson

We remember E.O. Wilson, one of the world’s leading naturalists who died on Dec. 26, 2021. “I like to call it, ‘one Earth, one experiment,'" he once said. "We’ve only got one shot at this. Let's be careful.”

Living on EarthJanuary 21, 2022 · 5:45 PM EST

E.O. Wilson in his office at Harvard University.

Jim Harrison/Wikimedia Commons CC by 2.5

E.O Wilson, a Harvard professor and a pioneer in the field of conservation biology, died on Dec. 26, 2021.

Wilson won two Pulitzer prizes for his nonfiction books and inspired generations of students and colleagues with his infectious love of the ants he studied and his bold ideas about how to stem species extinction.

Wilson laid out his call to preserve the Earth’s biodiversity in his book, "Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life.”

“I like to call it, ‘one Earth, one experiment.' We’ve only got one shot at this. Let's be careful.”

E.O. Wilson

“I like to call it, ‘one Earth, one experiment,’” Wilson once said. “We’ve only got one shot at this. Let's be careful.”

In a 2017 interview with Living on Earth from PRX, Wilson said:

“What we need to do is try for a moonshot, and the moonshot is to set aside half the surface of the land and half the surface of the sea as a reserve, a reserve that doesn't exclude people, by any means — Indigenous people are, in fact, encouraged to enjoy them and continue their way of life. But, if we could give half of the Earth primarily to the millions of other species that inhabit the Earth with us, then we would be able to save about 80 to 90% of the species, bring the extinction level down to what it was before the coming of humanity. That would be a successful moonshot.”

Wilson’s bold plan has inspired roughly 70 countries to commit to protecting at least 30% of their land and oceans by 2030, as a first step.

RelatedA plan to save more than 80 percent of Earth's species

Jane Lubchenco, a marine ecologist and Oregon State University distinguished professor who is currently serving as deputy director for climate and environment in the White House, worked with E.O. Wilson for over five decades. She says he made so many important contributions to the field of conservation biology that it’s hard to know where to start.

“Obviously, ants were his passion and his lifelong love throughout his career, but he was able to build on those observations and create really innovative breakthroughs in multiple areas,” Lubchenco says.

Wilson discovered how ants communicate with one another via pheromones and developed the theory of island biogeography, which focuses on identifying the guiding principles behind how best to protect the species found on islands and fragments of habitat. The theory was created both mathematically, with Robert MacArthur, and then tested experimentally with one of Wilson’s graduate students, Dan Simberloff.

“[Wilson's] theory of island biogeography has really formed the foundation of modern conservation biology. It enabled people to think about, where do we want conservation parcels to be? How big should they be? How should they be connected to one another?”

Jane Lubchenco, deputy director for climate and environment, US White House

“That theory of island biogeography has really formed the foundation of modern conservation biology,” Lubchenco says. “It enabled people to think about — where do we want conservation parcels to be? How big should they be? How should they be connected to one another?”

Wilson also created new ideas about how people connect to nature and how nature influences people, Lubchenco says. He created the concept of biophilia, which suggests that humans have an innate connection to nature.

RelatedE.O. Wilson’s lifelong passion for ants helped him teach humans about how to live sustainably with nature

All of Wilson’s ideas were “grounded in very detailed, keen observations, but result[ed]in some grand theories and grand vision,” she says.

Wilson was a gifted teacher, as well, Lubchencko notes.

“He was so adept at being able to explain something, but to do it in a way that would then trigger new thoughts on the part of the person he was interacting with. He would stimulate ideas and encourage others to sort of take them on to the next level and make them relevant to their lives.”

In the 1970s, when Lubchenco was a graduate student and then an assistant professor at Harvard, there was a lot of tension in the biology department, she says. Molecular biology was on the rise and many of the field’s leaders — James Watson, in particular — “were very arrogant about ecology, evolution, systematics, and really dismissed that field as just a bunch of stamp collectors.”

For Wilson, being dismissed and marginalized “was very powerful motivation to show that, in fact, the science of ecology, [and] of evolution, were actually legitimate in their own right, and not yesterday's science but tomorrow's science,” Lubchenco says.

Harvard didn’t treat Wilson particularly well, either. The university didn't want to give him tenure and “stuck him” over in the museum with his ants. But through the years, he kept his office in the museum and never lost his excitement and enthusiasm for his ants and the big ideas they inspired.

RelatedWhy a famous biologist wants to eradicate killer mosquitoes

In his lab with his students, Wilson would “just light up and get so excited,” Lubchenco says. His “palpable excitement…provided a really powerful antidote to a lot of the tension that was in the department more broadly.”

Wilson’s notion of “half-Earth” may turn out to be his most influential idea.

“Ed was a big thinker, and he didn't do things halfway. But when he did them, they were solidly grounded in evidence, in good science."

Jane Lubchenco, Deputy Director for Climate and Environment in the White House

“Ed was a big thinker, and he didn't do things halfway,” Lubchenco says. “But when he did them, they were solidly grounded in evidence, in good science. Through the years and his extensive travels, he really became quite concerned about the sixth mass extinction event of biodiversity, the first one in the whole history of Earth that was being caused by people. He saw firsthand the numbers, but also the devastation in many different habitats, and he became very, very concerned about the future of the planet, the future of people, in part because we were losing so many species.”

These experiences led Wilson to develop the concept of protecting half of the planet for nature, an idea that many dismissed as completely impossible because at the time only about 3% of the ocean and 17% of the land on Earth was fully protected.

“The idea of 50% was just mind boggling, and still is to many,” Lubchenco says. “Nonetheless, he became a staunch champion, very eloquent in his speaking and his writing, focusing on the importance of saving nature, not only for its own sake, but also for our sake. And that concept has gained a lot of support from colleagues and others. The fact that many countries are focused on 30% is quite remarkable, actually.”

It remains to be seen how effective that protection is, Lubchenco cautions.

“Something that is fully protected is really, really different from something that's only lightly or marginally protected,” she explains. “So, the devil is in the details, with respect to the execution. Nonetheless, his idea was a bold challenge and an inspiration to many people.”

This article is based on an interview by Steve Curwood that aired on Living on Earth from PRX.

Turkey’s ‘whirling dervishes’ strive to keep the practice sacred amid tourist demand

class=”MuiTypography-root-135 MuiTypography-h1-140″>Turkey's 'whirling dervishes' strive to keep the practice sacred amid tourist demand

In the city of Konya, adherents of a Sufi ritual meditation are torn between commercialism and tradition.

The WorldJanuary 21, 2022 · 2:15 PM EST

A semazen leans his head back while turning during a sema ritual at the Irfan Civilization Research and Culture Center in Konya, Turkey. 

Durrie Bouscaren/The World

On a recent Friday evening, spectators gathered around a circular, wooden stage at a cultural center in Konya, Turkey. A single beam of light shined down on a man who placed a red sheepskin cloth on the floor. 

A procession of semazen appeared wearing tall headpieces and long, white robes covered by dark cloaks. They ranged widely in age, but are all were men who enact the sema, a ritual meditation known in popular culture as actions of the “whirling dervishes.” 

“The acts of the sema represent the other world. … Remembering the other world, remembering the creator, all the time.”

Osman Sariyer, 32, semazen and tour guide, Irfan Civilization Research and Community Center, Konya, Turkey

“The acts of the sema represent the other world,” said 32-year-old Osman Sariyer, a semazen and tour guide with the Irfan Civilization Research and Community Center in Konya, where the ritual demonstration took place. “Remembering the other world, remembering the creator, all the time.” 

Related: ‘She’s in our hearts’: Devotees from China and Taiwan come together to celebrate the goddess Mazu

Osman Sariyer, 32, spins during a sema ritual at the Irfan Civilization and Culture Center in Konya, Turkey. By day, he works for the center as a tour guide. 

Credit:

Durrie Bouscaren/The World

Countless semazen — those who do the sema — live in the modern Turkish city of Konya, the final resting place of Jalalluddin Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet, Islamic philosopher, and Sufi mystic who first popularized the sema. 

Today, semazen must grapple with the push and pull between the promise of tourism income for the community and the nagging feeling that the sema should be a private affair.

In December, Konya hotels sell out for weeks as tourists arrive from around the world to pay their respects on the anniversary of Rumi’s death. In 2008, UNESCO inscribed the sema as one of the “masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.” 

In this hubbub — where busloads of tourists arrive to buy tickets to sold-out “dervish shows,” and flock to the shops where they sell tiny figures of semazen souvenirs — it can start to feel overwhelmingly commercialized. 

Visitors pray before the green tomb of Rumi, who died in Konya. Credit: Durrie Bouscaren/The World

But performing the sema for tourists is a way to share this ritual, Sariyer said. At the cultural center, the tickets are free, according to a long-held tradition that prohibits the exchange of money or engagement with politics when it comes to this practice. 

“As semazens, we believe in the brotherhood of other religions, and we do not exclude anyone. Anyone coming here from any religious energy will feel that energy, and that’s what we’re trying to do here,” he said.

As the music begins, a solo from a type of flute known as the ney symbolizes the breath of God, blowing life into human forms. The semazen shed the outer layer of their clothing — an act of shedding the ego. They bow and begin to spin.

It’s hypnotic. The movement, the swishing of the feet. The smell of incense. Many of the ritual performers have a look of peace on their faces — eyes half-open, leaning back. 

It’s a slow, controlled spin. One foot stays planted on the floor. At times, one hand reaches up to the sky, while the other points downward — a position meant to bring love from God down to Earth and its people. 

A young semazen during a sema ritual at the Irfan Civilization Research and Culture Center in Konya, Turkey. There is no age limit to learn the ritual, and some who do it publicly begin at an early age. 

Credit:

Durrie Bouscaren/The World

But outside the ritual, Sariyer explained, most semazens live regular lives. They get married, have kids and work desk jobs. 

Related: Chile has a growing Muslim community — but few know about it

A private ritual made public

The origin story of the sema goes back more than 700 years, when Rumi is said to have walked through Konya, and got inspired by the clanging sound of goldsmiths hammering in a Seljuk bazaar. 

According to tradition, Rumi began to spin as a form of meditation and prayer, and his followers continued the practice, passing down the tradition for centuries.

Ismail Fenter, 66, a semazen with the International Mevlana Foundation, said the ritual sema for the public is a demonstration, but it’s “really a very private thing.” (Mevlana means “our leader,” referring to Rumi.) 

Fenter, originally from California, grew up Catholic and became a semazen after converting to Islam. Sufism is an Islamic philosophy of practicing faith through personal, direct experience with God. 

“To have it done for money, to turn it into dance and art…I mean, from the true Mevlevi [Rumi follower] perspective. And I’m speaking only for myself. It’s not preferred.”

Ismail Fenter, semazen, International Mevlana Foundation, Turkey

In the foreground, a dede bows at the end of the sema ritual. Dede is a title bestowed on those who lead the sema, and serve as religious teachers.

Credit:

Durrie Bouscaren/The World

“To have it done for money, to turn it into dance and art … I mean, from the true Mevlevi [Rumi follower] perspective. And I’m speaking only for myself. It’s not preferred.” 

Historically, semazens were organized in orders throughout the Ottoman Empire and beyond. The orders were banned in 1925, as Turkey became a secular republic. So, they went underground.

The semazens grew and learned about the practice within these orders, explained Nadir Karnıbüyükler Dede, a leader at the International Mevlana Foundation. When they were abolished, it became harder to pass on the traditions to the new generation. 

“After the law was put in place, the tradition was continued by people who can live it in their soul."

Nadir Karnıbüyükler Dede, leader with the International Mevlana Foundation

“After the law was put in place, the tradition was continued by people who can live it in their soul,” Karnıbüyükler said. 

The law is still on the books in Turkey, but rarely enforced today. 

Related: Turkey’s modest fashion market hits its stride

Keeping it sacred

In his office at a construction firm, Adnan Küçük keeps a small square board on the floor — just 3-feet tall and 3-feet wide — to practice the turns of the sema. 

“It gives you this excitement, this feeling of being overjoyed … I remember times that I would try to whirl more and more, so that feeling would never end,” Küçük said. 

He’s been practicing sema for over 20 years.

Küçük’s father was one of those who upheld the tradition in those difficult decades, from the 1920s through the 1990s.

“After the closure of the orders, there were no real dedes, or Sufi leaders left to lead the path,” Küçük said. 

By the 1990s, when Küçük was a teenager, there were very few young semazens in Konya. But one day, a Polish official called Konya’s tourism office to ask if they had any whirling dervishes they could send to participate in a youth festival. 

Tourism officials recruited Küçük and his friends for a crash course in how to be a semazen. They were fitted for robes, learned how to turn, and flew to Poland for a demonstration that turned out to be a resounding success. 

Küçük began doing the ritual publicly, in Konya and beyond, as demand increased for the ritual at weddings, with tour groups and even at shopping malls. 

“They’d take us to a hotel, people would be eating — and as we’re preparing the sema they’re serving alcohol,” he said. “Which completely contradicts the ritual.” Alcohol is forbidden in Islam. 

A semazen leans his head back while turning during a sema ritual at the Irfan Civilization Research and Culture Center in Konya, Turkey. 

Credit:

Durrie Bouscaren/The World

Küçük believes that no one should do the sema for any reason other than to express one’s dedication to God. 

Now, he only gathers with a small group of friends to do the sema privately, meeting at least once a week before the pandemic began. 

“In modern society, our minds are already so busy with worldly matters,” Küçük said. “There needs to be a place that’s cleansed of all that. These places give you room to breathe.”

Adnan Küçük, semazen and construction worker, Konya, Turkey

“In modern society, our minds are already so busy with worldly matters,” Küçük said. “There needs to be a place that’s cleansed of all that. These places give you room to breathe.” 

A long journey from Kabul brings one family to New Bedford

class=”MuiTypography-root-222 MuiTypography-h1-227″>A long journey from Kabul brings one family to New BedfordThe WorldJanuary 21, 2022 · 1:45 PM EST

Farkhanda Ehssan gathers her three children around the dinner table.

Daniel Ackerman/CAI

This past summer, the US ended its 20-year war in Afghanistan. As the Taliban captured the capital, Kabul, tens of thousands of Afghans fled the country, fearing repression and economic collapse.

Farkhanda Ehssan's family is one of several whose journey out of Kabul led them to New Bedford, Massachusetts.

On a recent evening, Ehssan checked on the beans in her small second-story apartment as her three kids waited eagerly for dinner. The older kids pecked at a video game on their mom’s phone, while the youngest, 4, clambered onto the table for an impromptu dance performance.

Ehssan is grateful for light-hearted scenes like this since such moments have been hard to come by. In recent months, her family spent most nights sleeping in tents on military bases — in Qatar, Germany, and El Paso, Texas. They finally arrived at this apartment a couple of weeks ago.

The family’s long journey from Kabul to New Bedford began on the morning of Aug. 15 — but Ehssan said she didn’t realize it at first. “When we woke up, everything was normal," she said, recalling that day. "My husband left for his job, and the kids left for school.”

Ehssan worked for the U.S. government’s Agency for International Development, helping train Afghan women to be journalists. Around 10 a.m. that day, Ehssan got a call from her sister-in-law.

“She told me, ‘The Taliban has come.’ I said, ‘What are you saying? Joking?’ She said, ‘No, no, no, just go and check.’”

Ehssan flipped on the television to learn that the Taliban had captured Kabul.

Panicked, she tried to call her husband, but she couldn’t unlock her phone — she was too flustered in that moment to remember her passcode. She said her neighbors all across Kabul were feeling the same anxiety.

“The people were very much afraid of the Taliban,” said Ehssan. “Everyone was hopeless that they have conquered the whole country. Now what? What will happen with our schools, with our education, with our economy, with our culture? We don’t know the answers.”

Ten days later, the U.S. military offered her family a flight out of Kabul, thanks to her work with the U.S. government. The family waited in the airport for three days, with no food, until their flight finally departed. During the wait, a suicide bombing killed dozens of people trying to enter the airport.

Kabul’s banks closed when the Taliban arrived. So despite her well-paying job, Ehssan took off with no money — just six gold bracelets around her wrist.

Last month, her family was at a camp in El Paso. Ehssan was teaching an English class to other refugees one day when she got a text informing her of where her family would be resettled long-term. The place name was unfamiliar: Massachusetts.

That’s when the Googling began.

“The first thing I search was the map — where is Massachusetts situated?” she said. Ehssan was glad to find it on the same side of the country as Virginia, where she has a sister.

Ehssan’s family spent their final days in El Paso glued to the internet, reading up on their future home state. “It has a good economy," she said, recalling those days and what she learned online. "The best schools are here. And the housing is very expensive.”

Arriving in New Bedford has meant at least a touch of normalcy. Ehssan could finally cook her own food for the family, after months of eating military-grade boiled eggs for breakfast.

The first morning in their new apartment, Ehssan’s kids requested, “'Mom, cook us eggs in our own style,’" she recalls with a smile.

So Ehssan fried the eggs, leaving the yolks runny. “They were very, very happy for that.”

Ehssan’s husband has started a job at a warehouse. Ehssan is looking for work too. In the meantime, she’s helping her family settle into New Bedford with trips to the playground and a visit to the local mosque. They’ve also taken in some of the city’s signature waterfront sights.

“We have seen the fishing boats,” said Ehssan, adding that her kids have begged for a ride on one.

The family is one of five who have settled in New Bedford after fleeing Afghanistan this summer. More are waiting to come, but it’s been hard to find housing.

Local aid groups are working to secure housing and accepting donations to support the families. The Immigrants Assistance Center in New Bedford is collecting gift cards to restaurants and supermarkets. The City of New Bedford is taking furniture donations. And the International Institute of New England is accepting cash.

Ehssan plans to one day start her own mutual aid group to support other Afghan refugees. For now, though, she’s taking things one step at a time. She’s getting her kids registered for school, while also keeping them connected to their homeland through their first language, Dari (which she also calls Persian).

“To be honest, I told them, ‘You’ll learn English at school, but [when] you’re at home, you try to speak Persian so you don’t forget your own language,’” said Ehssan. “Because it will help them again. I hope we can have a time to move back to our country, be in our country, see our country. So they should not forget their own language.”

This story originally appeared on CAI, the local NPR station for the Cape and Islands.

A year after Navalny’s return, Putin remains atop a changed Russia

class=”MuiTypography-root-222 MuiTypography-h1-227″>A year after Navalny’s return, Putin remains atop a changed RussiaThe ConversationJanuary 21, 2022 · 11:45 AM EST

Russian President Vladimir Putin stands alone. 

Alexey Druzhinin/AFP via Getty Images

In early 2021, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny flew back to Moscow after recovering in Germany from an assassination attempt carried out by Russian security services. His return prompted an authoritarian turn that transformed Russia – again.

I have studied the emergence of Navalny’s strategy and organization from the mid-2000s, documenting his threat to the regime led by Vladimir Putin.

Given the loyalty that Putin commands among military and security officials, governmental leaders and economic elites, I was not surprised when security authorities diverted Navalny’s plane to avoid the supporters gathered in Moscow to welcome him back. Nor was I shocked when border patrol forces arrested him before he passed through passport control. The charge: failing to meet parole requirements while recovering in Germany.

Navalny’s arrest in 2021 prompted some of the largest protests since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Street actions extended across the nation’s 11 time zones. The Kremlin responded with police violence and arrests by the specialized anti-protest force, Rosgvardia. The level of coercion was unprecedented in post-Soviet Russia.

After popular backlash against the violence, the state used facial recognition software to track down participants beyond Navalny’s core team of opposition activists. Public-sector workers were fired for participation and support. Security services made nighttime visits to protesters in their homes. Journalists were arrested. The regime used new laws to punish TikTok, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram users who supported the protests.

New tools of state surveillance continue to erase the barriers between public and private lives and violate social and political rights. Navalny remains in prison but has continued to speak out. In January 2022, one year after his return and the massive protests that followed, 53% of Russians say that they fear the authorities’ abuse of power.

Just the beginning

By February 2021, these tactics ended the protests. Yet repression intensified.

In June 2021, a Moscow city court designated Navalny’s organization, the Anti-Corruption Foundation, known by its Russian initials as the FBK, as an “extremist” group, using a recently revised law. The designation lumped the FBK together with terrorist groups such as al-Qaida. Officials from the Ministry of Justice also used the law to dismantle the national network Navalny had organized to support opposition candidates running for regional and city councils.

In late December 2021, more regional leaders and activists were arrested, some charged with treason. These new-generation leaders face long sentences in Russia’s notorious penal colonies.

If threats against the activists fail to intimidate them, then the government jails family members, as it did with Navalny’s brother, Oleg, and the 67-year-old father of FBK Director Igor Zhdanov.

Alexei Navalny speaks from prison to a court hearing in Russia.

Credit:

Denis Kaminev/AP

A focus on the media

The protests highlighted vibrant patches in Russia’s government-controlled media landscape, placing these outlets under state scrutiny. Relying on new amendments to the 2012 foreign agent law, the state extended its scope to cover politically active news outlets working inside and outside of Russia, nongovernmental organizations and individuals. All organizations and individuals declared foreign agents must label every story and event with a warning. The tactic scares investors and subscribers, and subjects organizations to audits that impede daily operation. By the end of 2021, 111 news organizations and journalists were placed on the list, and prominent news outlets were driven out of business.

The government also used newly revised laws and technology to control new media platforms that facilitate collective action. For instance, when Navalny’s team endorsed viable opposition candidates in 2021 elections with an app called Smart Vote, the Russian government blocked the effort by shutting down Russia-based websites. Under pressure from Russia’s internet regulator, Roskomnadzor, Western social media giants Facebook, TikTok and Instagram also blocked the Smart Vote app.

Toward coercion, control and apathy

Protest quickly gave way to election victories for the Putin regime. Candidates from Putin’s party, United Russia, dominated highly manipulated parliamentary elections in September 2021, winning 70% of seats in the national legislature. Putin’s personal popularity appears strong but remains below all-time highs.

Polls show little support for Navalny and his organization. Popular expectations of protest potential fell by mid-2021 from an all time high in January of that year.

The prospect of protest

The high percentage of support for the regime obscures the threat from Putin’s substantial opposition. In his 20 years in power, Putin brought domestic and international influence but failed to address economic modernization and inequality. Economic stagnation, hardship in everyday life, inflation and time have increased popular frustrations.

Evidence from the protests shows that the 2021 protests were about Putin, not Navalny. Popular opposition to Putin is concentrated in younger, urban populations fed by the repressed alternative media. They support calls for decreased corruption and more government responsiveness to citizens’ demands.

It is difficult to anticipate the spark that can launch protest. As unexpected citizen protests in Russia’s neighbors Armenia, Belarus and Kazakhstan demonstrate, frustration with longtime dictators can spill over into the streets even when those dictators maintain significant support.

Even in Russia the possibility of renewed mass protest remains. Some scholars argue that Putin may be falling into a self-reinforcing repression trap. The idea is that repression replaces positive policies to win support, increasing the need to repress or to link domestic challenges to real and imagined external threats.

Remixing strategies

While popular enthusiasm over Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 has waned, Putin’s popularity remains tied to his success in foreign policy.

To shore up support, Putin increasingly peddles anti-Western conspiracy theories. These repeat charges that the West is poised to undermine Russia’s sovereignty — by supporting protest, brainwashing young people and threatening national security.

In addition to threats against alleged foreign agents and extremists at home, Putin deployed his military in neighboring countries, blaming Western aggression. He has amassed troops on the Ukrainian border and led Collective Security Treaty Organization troops in a mission to Kazakhstan to fight alleged foreign meddling.

These military actions hark back to Soviet-era claims to a buffer zone around Russia’s border. In contemporary terms, military threats by Russia reveal conflicts and weaknesses within NATO and hinder opportunities for democratic reform in Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and other post-Soviet states.

At home, the Kremlin’s decision to increase confrontation and repression illustrates the consolidation of Russia’s authoritarian system.

Navalny, who was harassed for more than a decade before being jailed, will not be surprised by these changes. It remains unclear how ordinary Russians will respond as repression and international conflict limit internet communication, travel, trade, educational opportunities and daily freedoms.

Regina Smyth is a professor of political science at Indiana University. This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit, independent news organization dedicated to unlocking the knowledge of experts for the public good.

Remembering Tom Lovejoy, champion of biodiversity and the Amazon

class=”MuiTypography-root-135 MuiTypography-h1-140″>Remembering Tom Lovejoy, champion of biodiversity and the Amazon

Tom Lovejoy, along with his colleague EO Wilson, shaped humanity’s understanding of biodiversity and the importance of keeping vital ecosystems intact.

Living on EarthJanuary 20, 2022 · 12:15 PM EST

Ecologist Tom Lovejoy is being remembered for his decades of research and bringing people together to protect the Amazon rainforest and other ecosystems on the planet.

Courtesy of Carmen Thorndike

Biologist Tom Lovejoy, who dedicated his career to studying tropical rainforests and communicating the biodiversity crisis to the public, died on Dec. 25, 2021.

Over the years, Lovejoy hosted politicians — including Vice President Al Gore, and celebrities, such as Olivia Newton-John and Tom Cruise — at Camp 41, a research station deep in the Amazon, where people slept in hammocks to reduce the odds of scorpions creeping into their sleeping bags.

Lovejoy first went to the Amazon as a graduate student. His initial work focused on birds, but he fell in love with the entire rainforest, says Jane Lubchenco, a marine ecologist and Oregon State University distinguished professor who worked with Lovejoy for over 50 years.

At the time, logging was increasing in the Amazon and Lovejoy quickly understood the potential threat it posed to the health of the rainforest ecosystems, not only to the birds that he cared about, but to the mammals, insects and trees, Lubchenco says.

RelatedA UN report says Earth faces 'unprecedented' threat to biodiversity

Lovejoy was inspired by the work that EO Wilson, Robert MacArthur and Dan Simberloff had done on island biogeography, and he started wondering how the size of forest parcels that remain in the rainforest after logging affects biodiversity.

At the time, there was a "raging controversy" in the conservation world, called the SLOSS debate," Lubchenco says. SLOSS is an acronym for "Single Large Or Several Small" parcels. “The question was, if you are in a position of creating habitat for biodiversity, is it better to have one single large parcel — let’s say 10 acres, just for the sake of argument — or 10 smaller, 1-acre parcels,” she explains.

One side argued that if land is conserved as a single parcel, then wildfire and disease could wipe out the whole thing. If conserved land is divided up into smaller parcels, then at least some of them might persist. The opposing idea posited that some of the large, mobile creatures — panthers, for example — might need a large habitat to survive. Dividing the land into smaller parcels might lead to the loss of these big, charismatic species.

“Tom said, ‘Let's test this idea,’” Lubchenco says. “This is the scientific approach. So he worked with colleagues in Brazil, worked with landowners and the government, and created this experiment that is still ongoing today.”

RelatedA sobering report on biodiversity loss spurs big plans to save species

The experiment, called the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project, began in 1979 with the support of the Smithsonian and Brazil’s National Institute of Amazonian Research.

“[Tom's] experiments have given us a huge amount of information about how size of the parcel affects the type of species that are there and the health of the whole system."

Jane Lubchenco, deputy director for climate and environment, US White House

“The experiment was essentially to create parcels that were one, ten, or a hundred hectares, and then follow them through time and see how the biodiversity changed in those parcels,” Lubchenco explains. “Those experiments have given us a huge amount of information about how size of the parcel affects the type of species that are there and the health of the whole system. And in fact, there is no doubt that larger parcels are better. So, that early experiment of Tom's has yielded a huge amount of information that is guiding conservation action today.”

RelatedBiodiversity loss has an enormous impact on humans, according to a UN report

Lovejoy was a gifted communicator who understood people and how to connect with them, Lubchenco notes.

"Part of Tom's legacy is this gift that he had for sharing the excitement, enthusiasm and passion that he had for nature with others, and training them in this vision of respecting nature, protecting nature, living with nature.”

Jane Lubchenco, deputy director for climate and environment, US White House

“He understood what would be of interest to someone, and he would very carefully make an argument to someone about why they should be interested in the Amazon or biodiversity or birds or whatever it was,” she says. “So, part of Tom's legacy is this gift that he had for sharing the excitement, enthusiasm and passion that he had for nature with others, and training them in this vision of respecting nature, protecting nature, living with nature.”

Lovejoy also understood the importance of connecting with local people, Lubchenco adds. He conducted much of his work in the Amazon alongside Brazilian students and Brazilian scientists, and he invited Brazilian politicians to Camp 41.

“So, it was not a nature vs. people thing. It was very holistic,” she says. “Now there are many, many young Brazilian scientists that are spectacular, in part because they sort of got their start with Tom.”

Lubchenco spent a lot of time with Lovejoy at his home, which he named Drover's Rest, in McLean, Virginia.

“It was a very special place,” she says. “He often would have dinners there. Fantastic food, great wine. … He would gather unusual groups of people together and have these engaging conversations. Always a fire in the wintertime, a fire going in the fireplace in this old cabin that had a lot of character. Tom was such a gifted host. Everybody would be comfortable, but he had given a lot of thought to the people he was introducing to one another, so it wasn't just the same group.”

“[Tom] was always matchmaking, and always with the idea of stimulating conversation that would be intriguing, interesting — we could learn from one another — but also result in some higher purpose focused on conservation, on nature, on big ideas, on getting something done.”

Jane Lubchenco, deputy director for climate and environment, US White House

“Oftentimes, when I would be there, everybody was new to me or I might know only one other person,” she continues. “He was always matchmaking, and always with the idea of stimulating conversation that would be intriguing, interesting — we could learn from one another — but also result in some higher purpose focused on conservation, on nature, on big ideas, on getting something done.”

In addition to Lovejoy, Lubchenco worked with another influential naturalist who died just a day apart from him — EO Wilson. Both were gifted scientists who took very different paths, she says.

“Ed was an academic who [made] just one discovery after another after another, and then he came around to appreciating the biodiversity crisis and being a leader in saving biodiversity,” Lubchenco says. “[Tom] was more a scientific adviser, a scientific communicator, an instigator of new conservation-oriented things. So, different paths, but they ended up very much in the same place — of being champions for biodiversity and eloquent communicators through their writings, through their speaking, to motivate people to care about nature and to help be part of the solution.”

This article is based on an interview by Steve Curwood that aired on Living on Earth from PRX.

Protest projection: Part II

class=”MuiTypography-root-135 MuiTypography-h1-140″>Protest projection: Part II

In this week's Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, Sam Ratner takes a deep dive into new research on what happens when Chinese political prisoners make an appeal to an international audience.

Inkstick MediaJanuary 19, 2022 · 3:15 PM EST

Activists shout slogans to mark anniversary of death of Chinese Nobel prize winner Liu Xiaobo outside a district court in Hong Kong, Monday, July 13, 2020. 

Vincent Yu/AP

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

Last week on Deep Dive, we looked at some of the unintended consequences for domestic protest movements of being observed by international actors. This week, we’ll look at new research on what happens when domestic protesters very much intend to be observed by the outside world.

Related: Protest projection: Part I

If you are being held in custody by a government because that government perceives you as a political threat, then it is near impossible to appeal to that government’s sense of legal responsibility to gain your freedom.

The whole concept of a political prisoner is, in some basic sense, internationalized. If you are being held in custody by a government because that government perceives you as a political threat, then it is near impossible to appeal to that government’s sense of legal responsibility to gain your freedom. Jailing political prisoners rarely seems absurd to the government doing the jailing. To international audiences, however, the logics of power preservation behind jailing political opponents are often painfully obvious. For that reason, many political prisoners make direct appeals to international audiences in hopes of aid in securing their release.

Related: Struggle for self-determination: Part I

Wei Jingsheng was released as part of China’s effort to win the competition to host the 2000 Olympics, and credited international pressure for helping achieve his freedom. Liu Xiaobo, conversely, died incarcerated despite winning a Nobel Peace Prize.

In a recent article in International Studies Quarterly, political scientist Jamie Gruffydd-Jones takes up the question of what happens once those appeals go out into the world. Gruffydd-Jones studies China, and the focus of his article is on political prisoners there. Chinese dissidents like Wei Jingsheng and Liu Xiaobo have gained international fame and recognition for both their activism and their roles as the faces of China’s carceral approach to deterring dissent. Yet, as Gruffydd-Jones notes, despite both being international causes celebres, Wei and Liu’s stories ended very differently. Wei was released as part of China’s effort to win the competition to host the 2000 Olympics, and credited international pressure for helping achieve his freedom. Liu, conversely, died incarcerated despite winning a Nobel Peace Prize.

Related: Struggle for self-determination: Part II

Drawing from a database of Chinese political prisoners who between 1994 and 2017 who have sought local, national, or international attention for their cases, researcher Jamie Gruffydd-Jones coded whether each case was highlighted by international human rights groups, major international media outlets, or the US State Department.

Gruffydd-Jones takes a data-driven approach to understanding why some international awareness efforts produce results like the campaign for Wei, and why some end in failure. Drawing from a database of Chinese political prisoners who between 1994 and 2017 who have sought local, national, or international attention for their cases, he coded whether each case was highlighted by international human rights groups, major international media outlets, or the US State Department. He then compared the level of international attention each case received to its outcome – namely, were the prisoners released before completing their sentences.

International attention does help free Chinese political prisoners, but only if it comes early in the process.

The answer is that international attention does help free Chinese political prisoners, but only if it comes early in the process. Early international publicity made it 70% more likely that a prisoner would be released before they had been sentenced. Once a Chinese court passed down a sentence, however, the effect of international publicity disappeared. If anything, attention from abroad after a prisoner had been sentenced actually reduced their chances for early release. 

International pressure has also become less effective over time in China.

International pressure has also become less effective over time in China. The effect of all forms of international pressure was higher between 1994 and 2007 than between 2008 and 2014, but the change in the effect of State Department involvement is particularly striking. Up until 2007, being mentioned by the State Department made it slightly more likely that a Chinese political prisoner would receive early release. Since 2008, the impact of a State Department mention is unambiguously negative. As China has grown economically stronger, it appears, its resistance to pressure on human rights issues — especially from the US — has increased.

Naysayers who suggest that any outside pressure will result in the Chinese government merely doubling down on repression to save face appear, at least in pre-sentencing cases, to be wrong.

Gruffydd-Jones’ study is, ultimately, good news for human rights activists. It offers strong evidence that even the most powerful human rights abusers can be pressured to do the right thing in the correct circumstances. Naysayers who suggest that any outside pressure will result in the Chinese government merely doubling down on repression to save face appear, at least in pre-sentencing cases, to be wrong. The fact that such a shift occurs at sentencing suggests that the limits to international pressure have more to do with domestic political structures than with the strategies used by outside advocates.

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy without all the stuff you don't need. It's top news and accessible analysis for those who want an inside take without all the insider bs. Subscribe here

Ghana revs up its COVID-19 vaccination campaign as omicron cases surge

class=”MuiTypography-root-135 MuiTypography-h1-140″>Ghana revs up its COVID-19 vaccination campaign as omicron cases surge

COVID-19 vaccines have been available in Ghana since March 2021, but vaccine hesitancy in some areas has slowed down vaccination rates so far in the West African nation.

The WorldJanuary 19, 2022 · 1:45 PM EST

Dozens take turns to receive a COVID-19 vaccine shot at the Adabraka vaccination center in Accra, Ghana. 

Ridwan Karim Dini-Osman/The World

As Gloria Yeboah waited to get her COVID-19 vaccine shot at the Adabraka hospital in Accra, Ghana’s capital, she brooded over how the COVID-19 pandemic has turned her life upside down. 

The 18-year-old is in her final year of high school. She said she misses the parties and is getting tired of wearing masks.

“If you go out, you have to socially distance. You constantly have to keep on wearing masks. And some masks are just very uncomfortable. … And we had to pause school for a bit.”

Related: Pregnant women and children with HIV in Ghana struggle to access lifesaving medicine during pandemic

Gloria Yeboah, 18, receives her COVID-19 jab. 

Credit:

Ridwan Karim Dini-Osman/The World

COVID-19 vaccines have been available in Ghana since March 2021 and have since been distributed in phases by Ghana’s Health Service. But vaccine hesitancy in some areas — largely attributed to misinformation, myths and conspiracy theories circulating online — has slowed down the vaccination rates so far. 

Ghana has secured some 17 million doses since December 2021 of various vaccines, including AstraZeneca, Sputnik V, Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson.

Related: The quest for a universal coronavirus vaccine

Not far from where Yeboah sat, health officers busily assembled vaccination materials as more than a dozen people waited their turn to get the jab.

Yeboah said she was finally convinced to take the vaccine after having to pay about $50 every time she went anywhere that required a COVID-19 test.

“At least with this vaccine, I know I’m protected. Even though I still have to mask up, I know I’m protected,” Yeboah said. 

Ghana shut its land and sea borders to passenger traffic since restrictions were first instituted at the beginning of the pandemic.

Currently, airlines that bring unvaccinated people into the country through the Kotoka international airport are fined $3,500 for each passenger, and also for those who test positive for COVID-19 upon arrival.

The government also says people who remain unvaccinated will not be allowed access to beaches, restaurants, stadiums, cinemas and nightclubs.

Related: Health care workers in the Philippines reject new COVID-19 rules as 'inhumane'

Omicron sparks new concerns

Desmond Amoah receives the COVID-19 vaccine over concerns about the latest omicron variant. 

Credit:

Ridwan Karim Dini-Osman/The World

Shortly after Yeboah took her turn, Desmond Amoah also rolled up his sleeve to receive his shot. 

The 40-year-old civil servant said his fear of infection with the latest omicron variant led him to get the shot.

"I see it as defense for myself against the virus so I have just taken the step to get myself vaccinated, with the hope that this is what I need to stand against the virus,” he said.

More than 154,000 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in Ghana since the pandemic began and more than 1,300 deaths.

The World Health Organization says Ghana has one of the best COVID-19 testing programs in Africa. But, like most nations on the continent, vaccination uptake has been slow despite an increase in supplies over the last few months.

At the Adabraka vaccination center, officials are recording low turnout due to vaccine hesitancy. They say misinformation and myths about vaccines are still circulating among the public.

Stephen Obeng, an Adabraka hospital administrator, said he is extremely worried about the situation.

When they started doing vaccinations, they were serving about 500 people per day, he said. That was the peak. Now, they may serve about 50 people a day, he said.

So far, less than 3 million of Ghana’s more than 30 million people are fully vaccinated.

Stephen Obeng is an administrator at the Adabraka hospital in Accra, Ghana.

Credit:

Ridwan Karim Dini-Osman/The World

Ghana's Health Service says vaccine hesitancy poses a risk to meeting the set target of vaccinations for at least 20 million people.

In the Volta region of eastern Ghana, nearly 13,000 vaccines expired during the last vaccination campaign largely due to concerns about the vaccine. 

“If we had left it there, without monitoring, we probably would have had more expiry,” said Dr. Kwame Amponsah Achiano who oversees Ghana’s Expanded Program on Immunization. 

“We did redistribution quickly when we were about two, three days to expiry. The fact of the matter is that there is real hesitancy, and so we think that high-level people should be able to support the region to overcome that."

Dr. Kwame Amponsah Achiano, program manager, Expanded Program on Immunization

“We did redistribution quickly when we were about two, three days to expiry. The fact of the matter is that there is real hesitancy, and so we think that high-level people should be able to support the region to overcome that,” Achiano said.

Dr. Kwame Amponsah Achiano is a program manager for Ghana's Expanded Program on Immunization.

Credit:

Ridwan Karim Dini-Osman/The World

Mass communication strategies 

Ghana has initiated a rigorous vaccination campaign in a bid to contain the fourth wave of COVID-19 as omicron cases surge.

Authorities have issued a vaccine mandate for targeted groups, including government employees, health workers, security officials and students at the end of January.

Related: Vaccine mandates aren’t new. But do they work?

“We have a whole subcommittee on communication that is working on all kinds of strategies to get the information appropriately to the people,” Achiano said. 

Radio jingles in different Ghanaian languages have been successful in reaching the masses. 

“Some media stations have even started playing most of the jingles already. We are using satisfied clients and voices of people in high places and so on."

Dr. Kwame Amponsah Achiano, program manager, Expanded Program on Immunization

“Some media stations have even started playing most of the jingles already. We are using satisfied clients and voices of people in high places and so on,” he said.

Related: Filipinos hesitant about getting COVID jab after dengue fever vaccine debacle

The Ghana Health Service is also encouraging people to rely on reputable and authoritative sources of information, such as health care providers, public health officials and the World Health Organization website, to help make informed choices and stay current. 

According to the WHO, 3.5 million people have died from COVID-19 in 2021, which is a higher death toll compared to deaths from HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, combined, in 2020. 

Most African countries fell short of the WHO target to achieve full vaccination rates of 40% by the end of December 2021. Only about 6.6% of Africa's population of 1.3 billion is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 so far. 

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says many African nations are still grappling with hesitancy and the logistics to accelerate their COVID-19 vaccination program. 

The WHO has set a further target of 70% coverage for all countries by June 2022, but experts worry that African countries could miss this target due to weakening health infrastructure, inadequate funding to train and deploy medical officers, and vaccine storage problems.

Back at the Adabraka hospital’s vaccination center, Yeboah urged people to disregard misinformation and conspiracy theories and focus on getting vaccinated.

“Please, there is no chip in the vaccine,” she said, referring to a false rumor circulating on the internet. “It is not the mark of the beast. I don’t know what you have heard but please take your vaccine. You’ll be fine, trust!” 

Colorado’s catastrophic winter firestorm may be a sign of more to come

class=”MuiTypography-root-135 MuiTypography-h1-140″>Colorado's catastrophic winter firestorm may be a sign of more to come

Nearly 60 million homes in the United States are within a mile of a wildfire zone, but most people are unaware of the risk. This risk was made clear in the suburbs of Boulder, Colorado, on Dec. 30, 2021, when the Marshall fire torched close to a thousand homes.

Living on EarthJanuary 18, 2022 · 6:15 PM EST

A fire still burns in a home destroyed by the Marshall Wildfire in Louisville, Colorado, Friday, Dec. 31, 2021.

Jack Dempsey/AP

Fire season in Colorado is typically during the hot, dry months of summer and early fall, with blazes most often occurring in the forested wilderness. But on Dec. 30, 2021, 100-mile-an-hour winds drove a massive firestorm into Boulder’s suburban neighborhoods from nearby grasslands, destroying close to a thousand homes.

Some 30,000 people had just minutes to evacuate.

“It's been an exhausting and scary couple of days for us in Boulder and Louisville and Superior,” says fire expert Jennifer Balch, who lives in Boulder County and directs the Earth Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“I have friends [and] colleagues who lost their homes. Being a fire scientist, it's one thing to study it, but it's another thing to be living through it, and this event started just a couple miles from my home," Balch says. "I know that it could have been could have been my home, it could have been my neighborhood. We're living with the reality of being in the wild land urban interface, where homes mingle with flammable vegetation.”

Balch and her colleagues have mapped the perimeter, or outer limits, of all the wildfires that have happened in the US over the past two decades. Within those burned areas, she says, one million homes were touched in some way. Another 59 million homes were within about a half mile of the perimeter.

“I think we just haven't been acknowledging the high level of risk that we're living with today. And that risk is made worse by climate change — and that's a big part of the story, as well.”

Jennifer Balch, director, Earth Lab, University of Colorado, Boulder

“I think we just haven't been acknowledging the high level of risk that we're living with today,” she says. “And that risk is made worse by climate change —and that's a big part of the story, as well.”

RelatedA perfect storm of factors is making wildfires bigger and more expensive to control

Colorado, like other states prone to wildfire, is a beautiful, but also highly flammable state, Balch notes. Because Colorado is a beautiful landscape, a lot of people want to live there, and housing developments continue to expand into flammable areas without considering the risk.

“I think there's a lot of room for us to do it better — to build better and to build more fire-resilient homes and neighborhoods into our flammable, but beautiful, landscapes,” Balch says.

Climate change is a “huge factor” in the proliferation of wildfires throughout the western US, Balch says.

“The fact that I'm even talking…about winter wildfires is somewhat remarkable."

Jennifer Balch, director, Earth Lab, University of Colorado, Boulder

“The fact that I'm even talking…about winter wildfires is somewhat remarkable,” she points out. “There's only been one other time in my career where I've talked about snow putting out wildfires — that’s this year and last year. So what we're seeing is consistent with a trend in warming that we know is influencing wildfires and making them more frequent and making them bigger.”

“When this event started on Dec. 30, we had the warmest June through December period on record for the Front Range, going back to the 1960s,” Balch adds. “So what that did was it essentially made our fuels very dry and crispy and essentially ready to ignite. So [warming] was a huge factor that played into what happened.”

“We know that it takes just a little bit of warming to lead to a lot more burning. We've seen a doubling of the forests that have burned across the West since the 1980s.”

Jennifer Balch, director of the Earth Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“We've seen a 2 degree Fahrenheit increase across the west over the last century,” Balch continues. “We know that it takes just a little bit of warming to lead to a lot more burning. We've seen a doubling of the forests that have burned across the West since the 1980s.”

RelatedWhat Aboriginal Australians can teach us about managing wildfires

More frequent wildfires and their increasing size and ferocity may add to the climate disruption that is making these fires more common and more fierce in the first place, particularly if changes to vegetation occur, Balch warns. If forest systems turn into grassland systems due to fire, for example, the Earth will lose the carbon storage capacity of those forests.

Scientists are seeing some early signs of this transition across the West, where some forests are not recovering or regenerating because the seedling trees that come in after a fire are not surviving from year to year in the drought conditions the region is experiencing.

Colorado is still in the midst of a megadrought, despite the snowfall that helped put out the Marshall fire. (The fire was named for its proximity to the unincorporated community of Marshall, near Boulder).

“It’s essentially more than a 20-year period where we've had a lack of moisture contributing to it being very hard for plants to survive, particularly ones that need a little bit more water, like trees,” Balch says.

One important lesson from the Marshall fire is that the wild land urban interface, where homes are most at risk, is “way bigger than we thought it was,” Balch says. She estimates that 13 million Americans live with high wildfire risk, and many of them likely don't know it.

RelatedAfter wildfires, health risks linger

“We need to help communities prepare and recover from these types of events,” Balch says. “There are important factors that play into whether a community is ready: whether it's a low-income community, whether it has resources to do the fuel mitigation around neighborhoods and around homes.

“Age makes a difference. Elderly communities, who may not be as mobile or have as many resources, are also vulnerable and need greater assistance in times of evacuation. We also need to be concerned about those with preexisting health conditions, like asthma, that make them vulnerable to smoke and smoke exposures.

“So there's a lot that we need to be working on and thinking about and helping communities and those whose lungs are in the way and whose homes are in the way. We need to better protect people.”

This article is based on an interview by Steve Curwood that aired on Living on Earth from PRX.

‘On the brink’: Canada postpones or cancels tens of thousands of medical procedures amid COVID surge

class=”MuiTypography-root-135 MuiTypography-h1-140″>'On the brink': Canada postpones or cancels tens of thousands of medical procedures amid COVID surge

Provincial governments in Ontario and Quebec said that in order to keep beds open for COVID-19 patients, only emergency procedures should go ahead.

The WorldJanuary 18, 2022 · 2:30 PM EST

People line up to enter a COVID-19 vaccination clinic with a torch of the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics painted on the staircase in Montreal, Jan. 6, 2022.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP

Veronica Roy was supposed to go to the hospital for a hysterectomy at the end of January.

Her doctor arranged the surgery last fall after discovering several large tumors on her uterus that have caused years of excruciating pain.

Related: This Canadian company is betting big on the ‘psychedelic renaissance’

“When you're in a situation like mine where there's a degenerative condition with chronic pain and a severe impact on my quality of life, it’s not elective, it’s urgent,” said Roy, 35, an arts administrator in Ottawa, Ontario.

But last week, her doctor’s office called to say that urgent or not, her surgery would be postponed indefinitely.

“It was a very short, and to-the-point phone call, and there are no next steps at this time,” she said.

Roy is one of tens of thousands of Canadians who’ve had surgeries and medical procedures postponed or canceled this month because of the pandemic. The number of COVID-19 cases has skyrocketed across Canada since omicron took hold in December.

Provincial governments in Ontario and Quebec said that in order to keep beds open for COVID-19 patients, only emergency procedures should go ahead.

“We’ve started to see an alarming number of new hospital admissions now with triple-digit admissions every single day. If we don’t do everything possible to get this under control, the results could be catastrophic.”

Doug Ford, Ontario premier 

“We’ve started to see an alarming number of new hospital admissions now with triple-digit admissions every single day,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford. “If we don’t do everything possible to get this under control, the results could be catastrophic.”

Under Canada’s publicly funded health care system, provincial governments pay for all hospital procedures considered to be medically necessary. But many experts say the hospital system is stretched to the breaking point, and that the cancelations underline how fragile the system is.

Related: Montréal Massacre anniversary: The media must play a key role in fighting femicide

“When you hit the point of winding down surgical services across the province, for example, it's acknowledging the fact that as a system, we are on the brink for capacity,” said Dr. Fahad Razak, an internist and a member of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Canada has fewer hospital beds per capita than almost any other industrialized country. Administrators cut beds over the years to account for the fact that more procedures are done on an outpatient basis.

But Razak said the cuts went too far. Even before the pandemic, hospitals were often overflowing with patients.

“Because of lack of resources, they ended up being cared for in the hallways or in atypical spaces like a converted closet because we just didn't have the physical capacity to provide rooms for their care.” 

Dr. Fahad Razak, internist, member of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table

“Because of lack of resources, they ended up being cared for in the hallways or in atypical spaces like a converted closet because we just didn't have the physical capacity to provide rooms for their care,” he said.

Staffing shortages have exacerbated the problem. In Quebec, more than 20,000 staff were absent in mid-January because of COVID-19.

At the downtown Toronto hospital where Razak works, about 7% of doctors and staff are away because of COVID-19.

As a short-term solution, Ontario’s government said this week it will fast-track licensing and hire up to 1,000 foreign-trained nurses who aren’t yet qualified to work in Canada but who could help fill the gap.

Related: Canada promised to resettle 40,000 Afghans. Many are still waiting for answers.

Dr. Stephen Archer, a cardiologist at Kingston General Hospital in eastern Ontario, said he’s confident that COVID-19 patients will get the care they need.

But he said he and other specialists at his hospital have had to delay procedures for dozens of other people who had already been waiting too long.

“The people that are my elective cases waiting are people with chest pain, positive stress tests. They're very symptomatic, and normally, they'd wait two weeks for an outpatient angiogram. Now, they're waiting two months, and I really can't guarantee their safety during that waiting period,” he said.

Roy said doctors predict her condition will keep deteriorating if she doesn’t get her surgery. She has already given up her work as a touring burlesque dancer and storyteller to cope with the pain.

She said she’s now questioning the government’s commitment to providing quality health care for all Canadians.

“It's kind of a mix of sadness and anger. Just white-hot anger toward the medical system in Ontario. They've had two years of this pandemic to improve the system that was overcapacity before the pandemic, and they didn’t,” she said.

However, she said she still believes that Canada’s publicly funded system is better than the private system in the United States.

Tonga volcanic eruption is a ‘1-in-1,000-year event,’ volcanologist says

class=”MuiTypography-root-135 MuiTypography-h1-140″>Tonga volcanic eruption is a '1-in-1,000-year event,' volcanologist says

Three deaths have been confirmed by Tongan authorities. The eruption was so powerful that people as far as 2,000 miles away could hear it, and volcanic ash plume grew to 180 miles across the island in less than an hour.

The WorldJanuary 18, 2022 · 1:15 PM EST

In this photo provided by the New Zealand Defense Force, volcanic ash covers roof tops and vegetation in an area of Tonga, Jan. 17, 2022. Thick ash on an airport runway was delaying aid deliveries to the Pacific island nation of Tonga, where significant damage was being reported days after a huge undersea volcanic eruption and tsunami. 

CPL Vanessa Parker/NZDF/AP

Three deaths have been confirmed in the Pacific nation of Tonga after a massive underwater volcano in the South Pacific erupted on Saturday.

The eruption of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano, located just 40 miles away from Tonga’s main island, Tongatapu, sent a mushroom cloud of volcanic ash high into the atmosphere and tsunami waves across the Pacific, from Japan to California.

Related: Lava from La Palma eruption reaches the Atlantic

The surprise eruption knocked out phone and internet services, sending the South Pacific island nation into a virtual black out.

In the last 24 hours, photos from military surveillance flights sent by New Zealand and Australia have begun to surface, revealing battered coastlines, damaged buildings and fallen ash blanketing the landscape.

This satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite, and released by the agency, shows an undersea volcano eruption at the Pacific nation of Tonga, Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. 

Credit:

Japan Meteorology Agency/AP

On Tuesday, Tongan officials released their first statement since the blast confirmed what many had feared — widespread destruction, injury and death.

The release stated that telecommunications had been knocked out due to damage to the international fiber optics cable that serves the country, and that search and rescue operations were ongoing.

Meanwhile, many islands sustained damage and Tonga's water supplies “have been seriously affected by the volcanic ash,” officials said.

Future eruptions are predicted to be less intense than the one on Saturday, but the uncertainty could hamper post-eruption clean-up.

Both New Zealand and Australia say they are poised to send further aid as soon as conditions make it possible.

Related: Nerves on edge as volcano erupts on island in the Canaries

An eruption heard around the Pacific

People as far as 2,000 miles away could hear the eruption, which the US Geological Survey reported was the equivalent of a 5.8 magnitude earthquake.

In Suva, Fiji, nearly 500 miles away from the volcano, Vikrant Singh said the sounds reached him when he was at the pharmacy late Saturday afternoon.

“While I walked from the car park to the pharmacy, I was hearing all these booming sounds, which at first I ignored,” he said.

Then the sounds got louder.

“At first it was sort of like thunder, but then it became very constant like Bang! Bang! Bang! And then the tremors sort of started, like the door of the pharmacy started to shake."

Vikrant Singh, Suva, Fiji

“At first it was sort of like thunder, but then it became very constant like Bang! Bang! Bang! And then the tremors sort of started, like the door of the pharmacy started to shake,” Singh said.

He estimated that the noise continued for about 30 minutes, during which Singh headed down to the seaside where he saw what appeared to be the beginning of a tsunami — the water receding into the sea.

“The water just receded, and you could see all the sand, then it comes rushing back in. Then it recedes and comes rushing back in,” he said. It wasn’t until then that Singh learned through messages from friends and social media that the shaking and booming was coming all the way from Tonga.

Videos of the eruption recorded in Tonga before telecoms went out show a giant plume of ash rising above the ocean nearly 20 miles high, mixing with lightning and swirling above a gray sea. 

Tongan authorities issued a tsunami warning for the country’s roughly 100,000 residents, and it wasn’t long before people started sharing videos of huge waves crashing onto the shore of Tongatapu, the largest island, under a darkening sky.

 Not long after, the phone lines and internet cut off — with the last images on the ground showing ash raining down from a black sky.

 

A harbor official pulls debris from rising waters out of Santa Cruz harbor in Santa Cruz, California, Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. 

Credit:

Nic Coury/AP

A ‘surprise’ event

Following the eruption, tsunami warnings rang out across the Pacific, with places as far as away Japan later reporting waves up to 3 feet. The US West Coast also experienced a water surge and some flooding.

Marco Brenna, a volcanologist with the University of Otago in New Zealand, said Saturday’s eruption was a 1-in-1,000-year event.

“Over the previous 100 years, there was nothing really that was indicating that there could be such a very large explosive ensuing. … So, I think it caught everyone by surprise.”

Marco Brenna, volcanologist, University of Otago, New Zealand

“Over the previous 100 years, there was nothing really that was indicating that there could be such a very large explosive ensuing,” he said. “So, I think it caught everyone by surprise.”

The eruption was so powerful that, not only did the volcanic ash plume grow to 180 miles across in less than an hour, the incident also produced an atmospheric pressure wave that scientists say reached as far as Finland.

This is the volcano’s second eruption in less than a month, and Brenna said it’s not finished.

“There will probably still be a hopefully small-scale eruption for several weeks. Now that the volcano’s edifices have collapsed, there is basically a free pathway for magma to reach the surface,” he said.

While the continued eruptions are predicted to be less intense than on Saturday, the uncertainty could hamper post-eruption clean-up, experts said.

How the Vietnam War pushed MLK to embrace global justice, not only civil rights at home

class=”MuiTypography-root-135 MuiTypography-h1-140″>How the Vietnam War pushed MLK to embrace global justice, not only civil rights at home

MLK’s vision for nonviolence included abolishing what he called triple evils — racism, poverty and militarism.

The ConversationJanuary 17, 2022 · 1:45 PM EST

President Lyndon B. Johnson, right, talks with Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders in his White House office in Washington, Jan. 18, 1964. 

AP 

On July 2, 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. stood behind President Lyndon Baines Johnson as the Texan signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Although not the first civil rights bill passed by Congress, it was the most comprehensive.

King called the law’s passage “a great moment … something like the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln.” Johnson recognized King’s contributions to the law by gifting him a pen used to sign the historic legislation.

A year later, as Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law, King again joined the president for the occasion.

But by the start of 1967, the two most famous men in America were no longer on speaking terms. In fact, they would not meet again before King fell to an assassin’s bullet on April 4, 1968.

King was foremost a minister who pastored to a local church throughout his career, even while he was doing national civil rights work. And he became concerned that his political ally Johnson was making a grave moral mistake in Vietnam. Johnson quickly escalated American troops' presence in Vietnam from 75,000 to 125,000 in 1965. And by 1968, more than half a million troops were stationed in the Southeast Asian nation.

As I write in my 2021 book “Nonviolence Before King,” the Baptist preacher had been on a “pilgrimage to nonviolence” for years. And by 1967, he was a radical apostle of Christian nonviolence.

King called on the United States to “be born again” and undergo a “radical revolution of values.” King believed that Jim Crow segregation and the war in Vietnam were rooted in the same unjust ethic of race-based domination, and he called on the nation to change its ways.

Speaking against the Vietnam War

King preached nonviolent direct action for years, and his team organized massive protest movements in the cities of Albany, Georgia, and Selma and Birmingham in Alabama. But by 1967, King’s religious vision for nonviolence went beyond nonviolent street protest to include abolishing what he called the “triple evils” crippling American society. King defined the triple evils as racism, poverty and militarism, and he believed these forces were contrary to God’s will for all people.

He came to believe, as he said in 1967, that racism, economic exploitation and war were crippling America’s ability to create a “beloved community” defined by love and nonviolence. And on April 4, 1967, he publicly rebuked the president’s war policy in Vietnam at Riverside Presbyterian Church in New York City in a speech titled “Beyond Vietnam.”

“I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam,” he told those gathered in the majestic cathedral. “I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam.”

King was initially optimistic that Johnson’s Great Society program, which aimed to make historic investments in job growth, job training and economic development, would tackle domestic poverty. But by 1967 the Great Society appeared to be a casualty of the mounting costs of the war in Vietnam. “I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such,” King said in his speech.

King saw the grinding poverty facing Black people at home as inseparable from the war overseas. As he noted, “If our nation can spend 35 billion dollars a year to fight an unjust, evil war in Vietnam, and 20 billion dollars to put a man on the moon, it can spend billions of dollars to put God’s children on their own two feet right here on earth.”

King could no longer ignore that military force ran contrary to the nonviolence he espoused. As urban revolts in Watts and Newark in the late 1960s rocked the nation, he pleaded with people to remain nonviolent.

“But they ask — and rightly so — what about Vietnam?” King said in the same 1967 speech. “They ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”

Martin Luther King Jr. leads the march against the Vietnam conflict in a parade on State Street in Chicago on March 25, 1967. 

Credit:

AP Photo

King’s vision

By 1967, King’s vision of justice was one of flourishing for all people, not only civil rights for African Americans. King was criticized for expanding his vision beyond civil rights for Black Americans. Some worried that aligning with the peace movement would weaken the civil rights movement. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People even issued a statement clearly opposing what it saw as a merging of the civil rights and peace movements.

But in his 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech, King called “for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation … an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind.” Such unconditional love is “the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality,” and he noted that this unifying principle was present in Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism.

King was always first a religious leader. He never sought nor gained elected office, because he wanted to maintain a moral voice and be free to challenge policies he believed to be unjust.

But the cost for King’s speaking out was high: By the time of his assassination, King’s national approval rating was at an all-time low.

He was not a morally perfect man. Declassified files show how the FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover tried to target King over his extramarital affairs. Hoover used a wiretap to tape King having sex with other women and sent those to his wife, Coretta Scott King, with a letter indicating King should kill himself because of his moral transgressions.

Honoring King

For those seeking to honor King’s legacy today, his religious nonviolence is demanding. It asks that people go beyond acts of service and charity — as important as those are — to both speak and act against violence and racism as well as to organize to end those pernicious forces.

It is a radical concept of love that demands we embrace those we know and those we don’t, to acknowledge, as King said, “that all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny.”

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the challenge may be to decipher the meaning of this idea in action for our own lives. The future of what King called the beloved community depends on it – a world at peace because justice is present.

Anthony Siracusa is senior director of inclusive culture and initiatives at the University of Colorado Boulder. This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit, independent news organization dedicated to unlocking the knowledge of experts for the public good.

Flights sent to assess Tonga damage after volcanic eruption

class=”MuiTypography-root-230 MuiTypography-h1-235″>Flights sent to assess Tonga damage after volcanic eruptionAssociated PressJanuary 17, 2022 · 10:15 AM EST

In this satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite, and released by the agency, shows an undersea volcano eruption at the Pacific nation of Tonga, Jan. 15, 2022.

Japan Meteorology Agency via AP

New Zealand and Australia were able to send military surveillance flights to Tonga on Monday to assess the damage a huge undersea volcanic eruption left on the Pacific island nation.

A towering ash cloud since Saturday's eruption had prevented earlier flights. New Zealand hopes to send essential supplies, including much-needed drinking water, on a military transport plane Tuesday.

No casualties have been confirmed on Tonga, although a British woman was reported missing.

Communications with Tonga remained extremely limited. The company that owns the single underwater fiber-optic cable that connects the island nation to the rest of the world said it likely was severed in the eruption and repairs could take weeks.

The loss of the cable leaves most Tongans unable to use the internet or make phone calls abroad. Those that have managed to get messages out described their country as looking like a moonscape as they began cleaning up from the tsunami waves and volcanic ash fall.

Tsunami waves of about 2.7 feet crashed into Tonga's shoreline, and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described damage to boats and shops on Tonga's shoreline. The waves crossed the Pacific, drowning two people in Peru and causing minor damage from New Zealand to Santa Cruz, California.

Scientists said they didn’t think the eruption would have a significant impact on the Earth’s climate.

Huge volcanic eruptions can sometimes cause temporary global cooling as sulfur dioxide is pumped into the stratosphere. But in the case of the Tonga eruption, initial satellite measurements indicated the amount of sulfur dioxide released would only have a tiny effect of perhaps 0.02 degrees Fahrenheit global average cooling, said Alan Robock, a professor at Rutgers University.

Satellite images showed the spectacular undersea eruption Saturday evening, with a plume of ash, steam and gas rising like a giant mushroom above the South Pacific waters.

A sonic boom could be heard as far away as Alaska and sent pressure shockwaves around the planet twice, altering atmospheric pressure that may have briefly helped clear out the fog in Seattle, according to the National Weather Service. Large waves were detected as far away as the Caribbean due to pressure changes generated by the eruption.

Samiuela Fonua, who chairs the board at Tonga Cable Ltd. which owns the single cable that connects Tonga to the outside world via Fiji, said the cable appeared to have been severed about 10 to 15 minutes after the eruption. He said the cable lies atop and within coral reef, which can be sharp.

Fonua said a ship would need to pull up the cable to assess the damage and then crews would need to fix it. A single break might take a week to repair, he said, while multiple breaks could take up to three weeks. He added that it was unclear yet when it would be safe for a ship to venture near the undersea volcano to undertake the work.

A second undersea cable that connects the islands within Tonga also appeared to have been severed, Fonua said. However, a local phone network was working, allowing Tongans to call each other. But he said the lingering ash cloud was continuing to make even satellite phone calls abroad difficult.

He said Tonga, home to 105,000 people, had been in discussions with New Zealand about getting a second international fiber-optic cable to ensure a more robust network but the nation's isolated location made any long-term solution difficult.

The cable also broke three years ago, possibly due to a ship dragging an anchor. At first Tongans had no access to the internet but then some limited access was restored using satellites until the cable was repaired.

Ardern said the capital, Nuku'alofa, was covered in a thick film of volcanic dust, contaminating water supplies and making fresh water a vital need.

Aid agencies said thick ash and smoke had prompted authorities to ask people to wear masks and drink bottled water.

In a video posted on Facebook, Nightingale Filihia was sheltering at her family's home from a rain of volcanic ash and tiny pieces of rock that turned the sky pitch black.

“It’s really bad. They told us to stay indoors and cover our doors and windows because it’s dangerous,” she said. “I felt sorry for the people. Everyone just froze when the explosion happened. We rushed home.” Outside the house, people were seen carrying umbrellas for protection.

One complicating factor to any international aid effort is that Tonga has so far managed to avoid any outbreaks of COVID-19. Ardern said New Zealand's military staff were all fully vaccinated and willing to follow any protocols established by Tonga.

Dave Snider, the tsunami warning coordinator for the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska, said it was very unusual for a volcanic eruption to affect an entire ocean basin, and the spectacle was both “humbling and scary.”

The US Geological Survey estimated the eruption caused the equivalent of a magnitude 5.8 earthquake. Scientists said tsunamis generated by volcanoes rather than earthquakes are relatively rare.

Rachel Afeaki-Taumoepeau, who chairs the New Zealand Tonga Business Council, said she hoped the relatively low level of the tsunami waves would have allowed most people to get to safety, although she worried about those living on islands closest to the volcano.

“We are praying that the damage is just to infrastructure and people were able to get to higher land,” she said.

The explosion of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano, about 40 miles north of Nuku’alofa, was the latest in a series of dramatic eruptions. In late 2014 and early 2015, eruptions created a small new island and disrupted international air travel to the Pacific archipelago for several days.

Earth imaging company Planet Labs PBC had watched the island in recent days after a new volcanic vent began erupting in late December. Satellite images showed how drastically the volcano had shaped the area, creating a growing island off Tonga.

By Associated Press writer Nick Perry. Journalists Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland, and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.

Massive sinkholes appear in farmers’ fields in central Turkey due to climate change and drought

class=”MuiTypography-root-135 MuiTypography-h1-140″>Massive sinkholes appear in farmers’ fields in central Turkey due to climate change and drought

The recent uptick in sinkholes is largely attributed to rapid groundwater loss as farmers tap deep underground wells to irrigate fields during a nearly three-yearlong drought. 

The WorldJanuary 14, 2022 · 4:45 PM EST

A massive sinkhole in central Turkey is attributed to a three-year drought and climate change. 

Durrie Bouscaren/The World 

A few weeks ago, in a cornfield just outside Cafer Ata’s house, the earth opened up. A round, sharp-edged sinkhole, about 10-feet deep, now stands in the ground as if cut by a knife. 

Ata, a sheepherder, shakes his head incredulously. Although sinkholes have randomly appeared in central Turkey’s agrarian breadbasket in the past, they’ve started to show up with alarming frequency.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” he said in Turkish. “It’s bad. God have mercy.” 

Sinkholes are a global geological phenomenon with many causes, but the recent uptick in Turkey’s central Konya region is largely attributed to rapid groundwater loss as farmers tap deep underground wells to irrigate fields amid a nearly three-yearlong drought. 

Related: Drought in Iraq and Syria could totally collapse food system for millions, aid groups warn

Researchers have cataloged more than 2,200 sinkholes in the area — more than 700 of which are deeper than 3 feet. The largest are hundreds of feet deep. 

Cafer Ata stands beside a new sinkhole that opened up recently in a neighbor’s field.

Credit:

Durrie Bouscaren/The World

Back at Cafer Ata’s home, his wife Atiye Ata serves cups of strong, sweet tea. 

Cafer Ata said he knows of at least one neighbor who fell into a sinkhole. It took two days to get him out. Sheepherders now must keep a mental map of each sinkhole, so their animals don’t fall in while they’re grazing in open fields. 

Atiye Ata said that the past three years have been so dry that it’s hard to find green pastures at all. 

“We keep buying hay from the market,” Atiye Ata said. 

Every year, they sell some of their flock to buy animal feed, reducing their profits. It’s not a long-term fix. 

“We can go hungry, but we won’t let our animals go hungry,” Cafer Ata said. 

Cafer Ata and his wife, Atiye, at their home in a village near the town of Karapinar. The couple herds sheep for a living, and say they have to keep a mental map of where the sinkholes are to keep their flock safe while grazing in open pastures.

Credit:

Durrie Bouscaren/The World

The winter landscape surrounding the the Atas' home is a mix of dry, parched browns and swaths of deep emerald green, framed by distant mountains. 

Just off the road in front of the village, a fenced-off sinkhole measures about 3-feet deep. 

The area historically grew much of Turkey’s wheat, but farmers later shifted to more water-intensive crops like sugar beets and corn. 

Those who can afford it install underground water pumps to irrigate their fields, but the area’s groundwater is limited. Every year, particularly in times of drought, they find themselves drilling further to reach the water. In doing so, they prime the ground above for a looming collapse. 

Related: ‘The sea is throwing up’: Turkey’s record sea snot outbreak signals severe underwater pollution

“In the Konya Basin, there are 35,000 registered, legal pumps that pull up groundwater for irrigation. There are three times as many illegal, unregistered ones."

Fetullah Arık, geologist and director, Sinkhole Application Research Center, Konya Technical University, Turkey

“In the Konya Basin, there are 35,000 registered, legal pumps that pull up groundwater for irrigation. There are three times as many illegal, unregistered ones,” said Fetullah Arık, a geologist and director of the Sinkhole Application Research Center at Konya Technical University. 

The annual change in the groundwater table was once between 3 feet to 7 feet a year. Last year, Arık saw that in the northern part of the basin, there was a 65-foot drop.  

“This means that the groundwater is practically running out,” Arık said. 

In an open field surrounded by industrial parks, Arık pointed out various types of sinkholes across the ground. The tiniest could easily be mistaken for an animal’s burrow. Others are modest and rounded, from the size of a watermelon to one that could fit a large bathtub. Some sinkholes appear suddenly — others start small and grow slowly. 

Related: Seed keepers in Turkey revive old farming methods to confront new climate threats

Learning to predict sinkholes

Arık and his team are developing ways to predict where sinkholes will appear, using ground-penetrating radar and soil samples. Some sinkholes grow along underground fault lines that can be measured and studied. 

“We can also tell in residential areas: If there are tiny cracks on door frames or the garden stairs, it can be an indicator of sinkhole changes. This way, we can mostly predict where they will appear,” Arık said. 

By developing risk maps and cataloging their findings, Arık is trying to make the case to business owners and government representatives that sinkholes aren’t just a threat to farmers. 

One field, for example, is a former marsh, drained to make way for factories. Each one could have structural problems if a sinkhole appeared beneath it. No confirmed fatalities related to sinkholes have yet been reported, but property damage is an issue. 

“Even if there’s a small sinkhole in a field, it’s really difficult to find anyone to work there, or to find agricultural machinery to work there. They’re afraid that something could happen,” Arık said. “It’s a significant economic loss.” 

Longer droughts, higher temps 

The problem seems to be mounting. 

Climate change predictions for central Turkey include longer droughts and higher temperatures. Last year, Turkey’s wheat production fell by 14%, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute. Even red lentils had to be imported, after a 30% loss. 

Still, farmers in the Konya area insist that they must pump water from wells in the ground. 

In a village outside the town of Karapinar, an area with one of the highest concentrations of sinkholes, dairy farmer Mustafa Baldanoğlu said that in his childhood, the town would get plenty of rain. 

But today, after almost three years of drought, they rely on the wells to grow animal feed.  

“We used to draw water from 20 meters down. Now, it’s from 55 [meters] to 60 meters below,” Baldanoğlu said. 

Mustafa Baldanoğlu takes a break from operating a tractor at his family’s dairy farm. In his childhood, the town would get plenty of rain, he said. But today, after almost three years of drought, they rely on the wells to grow animal feed.  “There’s no alternative,” he says.

Credit:

Durrie Bouscaren/The World

Sinkholes appear in the village with relative frequency, but neighbors say most are small enough to be repaired. 

Baldanoğlu supposed that water could be piped in from the neighboring towns, but that would also have to come from groundwater. 

“There’s no alternative,” Baldanoğlu said.

Seemingly small shifts in global temperatures have huge consequences for the planet

class=”MuiTypography-root-135 MuiTypography-h1-140″>Seemingly small shifts in global temperatures have huge consequences for the planet

The year 2021 was once again one of the hottest on record. And what may seem like a slight temperature increase has actually caused devastating effects across the globe, with natural disasters becoming stronger and deadlier.

The WorldJanuary 14, 2022 · 3:15 PM EST

Dead trees stand on the beach and in the ocean at "The Boneyard," created by beach erosion and fierce storms, in Hunting Island State Park on Hunting Island, South Carolina, in the United States, Oct. 30, 2021.

Rebecca Blackwell/AP/File photo

Last year was once again recorded as one of the hottest on record.

NASA said that 2021 tied for the sixth-hottest year yet. And the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said it owns the title outright.

And six different analyses have found that 2021 was between the fifth- and sixth-hottest on record, even though it was a La Niña year, which generally brings a cooling effect.

“The last eight years are the eight warmest years on record,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

As the climate continues to warm, not every year will set a new record, he said, but “the temperature trends continue to rise and, in fact, accelerate, and so this really is just another continuation of the long-term trajectory of the climate.”

The average global temperature is about 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it was in the late 1800s.

Though this may not have created a noticeable effect on day-to-day activities, this seemingly incremental shift comes with devastating repercussions across the planet.

Arctic sea ice is declining, sea levels are rising, wildfires and heat waves are getting worse and hurricanes are becoming more intense.

Related: Norway has one of the world's most ambitious climate change targets. But it's also a major oil producer and exporter.

Last year, a series of floods inundated cities in parts of China to Germany. Intense hurricanes and cyclones caused destruction, from Ida in the Atlantic Ocean to Tauktae in the Arabian Sea. And heat waves smothered communities from Canada’s British Columbia to parts of Russia. Argentina is currently experiencing a historic heat wave, which recently shut down the electrical grid in the capital Buenos Aires.

Part of a larger problem

A slight increase in global temperatures is just part of a larger problem.

“What we have is an energy imbalance. So, there is more energy coming into the system than is leaving.”

Gavin Schmidt, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

“What we have is an energy imbalance,” NASA’s Schmidt said. “So, there is more energy coming into the system than is leaving.”

Greenhouse gases emitted from burning fossil fuels end up trapping some of the sun’s energy on Earth each day, instead of letting it escape back into space.

And it’s a lotof trapped energy.

The amount of excess energy on Earth due to climate change was some 28 times more in 2021 than all the energy humans use each year, Schmidt said, for everything from driving our cars to flying our planes to heating and cooling every building on Earth.

“That’s a big number,” Schmidt said.

Related: Why COP26 is the ‘last, best hope’ for fighting climate change

Most of that extra energy is not going to warm up the Earth’s average surface temperature even though that’s the figure global climate change targets focus on.

“More than 90% — to be exact, 93% — of the additional heat due to global warming is going into the oceans,” saidRoxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in the city of Pune.

“And that is equivalent to five to six Hiroshima atom bombs per second — per second — that much energy [is what] the oceans are absorbing.”

A separate study released this past week found that 2021 was, in fact, the hottest year on record for the world’s oceans. And all that extra energy is being linked to the extreme weather that we’re seeing around the world.

As an example, Koll points to Cyclone Tauktea, which made landfall in Gujarat, India, last May, with wind speeds of 100 miles per hour. It killed some 174 people.

The storm formed in the Arabian Sea, which used to be the cooler, quieter cousin to the Bay of Bengal, but rising ocean temperatures have changed that.

As ocean temperatures heat up, Koll explained, more water at the surface evaporates. This warm, moist air acts as fuel for hurricanes. When it rises and cools, it condenses into clouds that can be whipped up into storm systems.

Around the world, as more water evaporates from hotter oceans, the warmed-up air can then hold more of that moisture. That, in turn, sets the stage for another symptom of climate change: heavier downpours.

“The warmer the ocean, the more intense these kinds of convective activities [become].”

Roxy Mathew Koll, climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune

“The warmer the ocean, the more intense these kinds of convective activities [become],” Koll said. “The more supply of moisture, more supply of heat into the atmosphere, and there we get more intense cyclones or more intense cloud systems, which can provide a lot of intense rainfall.”

Xuebin Zhang, senior research scientist with Canada’s national environment agency, said, “With warming, the amount of moisture contained in the air has increased quite a bit.”

“It's roughly about [a] 7% increase per 1 degree [Celsius] warming.”

Related: COP26 made incremental progress but failed to deliver on ‘transformational’ change, negotiators say

Catastrophic results

The human cost of these storms can be catastrophic.

The heavy rains in China’s central Hunan province last July triggered floods that led to 24 deaths, destroyed roughly 21,300 homes and damaged more than 1.5 million acres of farmland, according to official state media.

Zhang said it’s likely that climate change was partly to blame for that flooding. Eight inches of rain fell in a single hour.

“As a result, streets were full of water because the drainage system was not designed to drain so much water,” Zhang said.

And even though a warmer surface temperature is just one small symptom of the climate problem, it can wreak quite a lot of havoc.

Europe and the continental US saw their hottest summers ever in 2021, according to US and EU science agencies.

Canada broke its own high temperature record three days in a row, and nearly 600 people died in British Columbia due to the “heat dome” that settled over the region in June and July.

Related: Who will pay for ‘losses and damages’ caused by climate change? Developing countries make their case at COP26.

David Phillips, senior climatologist at Canada’s national environment agency, said in June that the heat in British Columbia was “unprecedented.”

“Historically we’ve never seen this before,” he told PBS. “It's like a different world for us here.”

Scientists who analyzed this summer’s North American heat wave said it would have been nearly impossible without all the extra energy that was trapped on Earth due to climate change.

“The amount of climate change that we’ve had has made this event 150 times more likely than it would have been in the past,” said Faron Anslow, a climatologist with the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium in British Columbia. “In the late 1800s, an event like this would have been a one-in-150,000 year event.”

Now it’s only a one-in-1,000-year event.

And sometime in the not-to-distant future, it could even happen once every five or 10 years.

Health care workers in the Philippines reject new COVID-19 rules as ‘inhumane’

class=”MuiTypography-root-135 MuiTypography-h1-140″>Health care workers in the Philippines reject new COVID-19 rules as 'inhumane'

Many front-line workers and organizations immediately condemned the new rules, calling them “not safe, not fair” and not a solution to the “chronic and accurate problem of understaffing.”

The WorldJanuary 14, 2022 · 3:00 PM EST

Medical Technologist Erika Alvarado performs a COVID-19 test on a patient who just delivered a baby outside a hospital in Manila, Philippines, on Dec. 24, 2021.

Aaron Favila/AP

New guidance that shortens the isolation period for health care workers in the Philippines who catch COVID-19 has drawn the ire of many doctors and nurses across the country who say the reason for the change is not scientifically sound.

On Jan. 6, the Inter-Agency Task Force, the group in charge of the Philippines’ pandemic response, released new rules stating that fully vaccinated, front-line workers who test positive for the virus only have to isolate themselves for five days before returning to work. The previous rules gave a 10-day timeline.

“There is evidence, really, that fully vaccinated individuals, and especially those with boosters, have lower viral load than those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.” 

Maria Rosario Vergeire, Philippines Department of Health undersecretary

“There is evidence, really, that fully vaccinated individuals, and especially those with boosters, have lower viral load than those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated,” the Philippines Department of Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told news network ANC earlier this week.

Related: Inclusion, walkability will be key to rebuilding cities after the pandemic

Still, many front-line workers and organizations immediately condemned the new rules, calling them “not safe, not fair” and not a solution to the "chronic and accurate problem of understaffing."

If this all sounds familiar, particularly for an American audience, it should.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued the same guidance for US health care workers just last month, with CDC head Rochelle Walensky pushing the same rationale in interviews with the media.

“So, having that as evidence, we have adopted the CDC guidelines,” Vergeire told ANC, noting that individual hospitals can decide if they want to implement them. She said the need to bolster the Philippine health care workforce, which has seen more and more people become infected with COVID-19, prompted the policy shift.

Philippine General Hospital in Manila, the country’s leading COVID-19 hospital, soon waded further into the controversy by announcing that they would allow vaccinated workers who have been exposed to COVID-19 to come into work — as long as they are asymptomatic.

Related: Uganda's schools reopen, ending world's longest lockdown

PGH Dr. Jonas del Rosario told CNN Philippines that those workers wouldn’t pose a risk to patients and colleagues.

“When we ask them to go back to work, they’re also wearing the proper PPE [personal protective equipment],” he said.

They’ll also expect workers to monitor themselves and if they start feeling symptoms, they’ll be pulled out of work and tested, Rosario said — and if that test comes back positive, they’ll be sent home.

Neither the Department of Health nor the task force coordinating pandemic response immediately responded to The World’s requests for comment. 

Overworked, understaffed

The new guidance comes at a time when coronavirus cases are surging in the Philippines, slamming short-staffed medical centers and overwhelming overworked doctors and nurses who report low morale and widespread frustration.

This past week, the country not only breached 3 million total cases, it also broke its own daily record for new cases for the entire pandemic four times.

Nurse Cristy Donguines said that she and her staff at Jose R. Reyes Memorial Medical Center are exhausted heading into the junior year of the pandemic.

“We are overwhelmed, it’s very, very difficult and very, very tragic for us,” Donguines said.

Related: India postpones in-school learning as omicron surges 

“Even though we are not a COVID-referral hospital, we are still catering to COVID patients,” she said. “But the problem is we cannot handle it anymore because we are super, super understaffed.”

The nurse of over 22 years said it’s not unusual to work 16 hours one day and then 12 hours the next.

Still, her union of government and private health care workers, the Alliance of Health Care Workers, condemns the rule change.

“We [do not] agree on this kind of very inhumane department order. It is an anti-health care worker guideline.”

Cristy Donguines, Jose R. Reyes Memorial Medical Center, nurse

“We [do not] agree on this kind of very inhumane department order,” Donguines said. “It is an anti-health care worker guideline.”

Dr. Joshua San Pedro, a community physician in Metro Manila and with the Coalition for People’s Right to Health, also opposes the policy shift.

“It’s concerning that you might be going back to work infected,” he said, pointing out that front-line workers in the US have also pushed back on the issue that there’s been no solid evidence that people are less contagious after five days of infection.

Related: Brazil heads into latest COVID surge amid public health information blackout

San Pedro said that these new rules, along with the perpetual issues facing Philippine health care workers like PPE shortages, low pay and meager benefits, really have the country’s health care workers feeling dejected.

“And the concern that nothing is really changing wave after wave, surge after surge and that the work is just getting harder and harder,” he said. 

Inclusion, walkability will be key to rebuilding cities after the pandemic

class=”MuiTypography-root-135 MuiTypography-h1-140″>Inclusion, walkability will be key to rebuilding cities after the pandemic

Income, accessibility, the presence of green space and the availability of amenities are neighborhood features that affect how COVID-19 has spread through cities.

The ConversationJanuary 13, 2022 · 3:45 PM EST

Developing mixed use and mixed income neighborhoods will help cities recover after the pandemic. 

Shutterstock

Cities emerged as the epicentres of the COVID-19 pandemic: roughly 90% of COVID-19 infections worldwide were reported in urban settings. And poor urban neighbourhoods were hit especially hard.

Researchers frequently attributed the vulnerability of cities to high population density, overcrowding and poor air circulation. The vulnerability of cities during the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to create sustainable cities that promote health.

To address the pandemic, municipal governments around the world have changed their approaches to urban planning.Less density, more diversity

As sociologists interested in urban settings, we examined how the physical environment of neighbourhoods shaped the spread of COVID-19 in Toronto. Our findings suggest a few things cities should keep in mind as they rebuild following the pandemic.

First, we should create more walkable neighborhoods. COVID-19 spread at a much slower pace in highly walkable neighborhoods. Residents in these neighbourhoods can travel shorter distances on wider and better maintained sidewalks, which may reduce their exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

Higher population density increased the spread of COVID-19 in low-income neighbourhoods, but lowered the infection rate in more affluent neighbourhoods. 

Credit:

(Shutterstock)

Second, we should reduce the number of overcrowded households. Soaring real estate prices have forced many socio-economically disadvantaged families into overcrowded housing. Space constraints in these housing units may make it more difficult for residents to practice adequate physical distancing. It may have also deprived them of the space necessary to isolate if they contracted the virus. These factors may have increased their risk of contracting COVID-19. Increasing the supply of affordable housing may hold the key to reducing the urban poor’s vulnerability to infectious diseases.

Third, we should increase the number of mixed-income housing units and better integrate our neighborhoods. COVID-19 spread much faster in lower-income neighborhoods. Housing affordability may have pushed out disadvantaged families from higher-income neighbourhoods and forced them to settle in lower-income areas with fewer amenities.

Displacement and higher density due to limited housing affordability may have increased the concentration of residents who were exposed to the COVID-19 virus. Residents of low-income neighborhoods are more likely than their peers in affluent neighbourhoods to live in close proximity to someone with a COVID-19 infection.

Tailored responses

Residents of low-income neighborhoods rely more on neighbourhood amenities than their peers in affluent neighborhoods because they have fewer personal resources at their disposal. And even when communities have the same amenities, those in lower-income neighborhoods are more likely to be poorly maintained. For example, lower-income neighborhoods may lack wide and well-maintained sidewalks.

They also have fewer health-promoting amenities, such as grocery stores with fresh produce or high quality health care facilities. Therefore, a neighborhood’s physical environment contributes to the spread of COVID-19 differently in lower and higher income neighborhoods.

Our study reveals that population density increased the spread of COVID-19 in low-income neighborhoods, but it lowered the infection rate in high-income neighbourhoods. In more affluent neighborhoods, even high-density apartment buildings come with amenities and protections — like better ventilation systems and additional staff to properly sanitize common areas — that similarly dense buildings in lower-income neighborhoods lack.

Similarly, green space mitigates the spread of COVID-19 in lower-income, but not higher-income, neighborhoods. Housing units in low-income neighbourhoods are likely smaller, overcrowded, less well-maintained and have poorer ventilation. Residents of low-income neighbourhoods may thus face greater difficulty adhering to stay-at-home policies. Large green spaces in such neighborhoods may provide a safe space where residents can get clean air and safely practice social distancing.

Building more urban green spaces will allow people to socialize safely. 

Credit:

(Shutterstock)

Furthermore, neighborhood walkability helps mitigate the spread of COVID-19 more in lower-income neighborhoods than in higher-income neighborhoods. This pattern likely emerges because residents of low-income neighborhoods are less likely than their counterparts in affluent neighborhoods to own cars. They are more likely to rely on public transportation for errands that cannot be completed on foot. For residents of low-income neighborhoods with poor walkability, running errands may require longer trips and making multiple transfers in the public transportation system.

After the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for us to build sustainable cities that promote health and reduce the vulnerability to infectious diseases among their residents. Future urban planning efforts should not adopt a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, they should tailor the rebuilding process to meet the diverse needs of residents of lower and higher income neighborhoods.

Specifically, rebuilding efforts should prioritize low-income neighborhoods and remedy their high population density, construct more green spaces and improve their walkability.

This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit, independent news organization dedicated to unlocking the knowledge of experts for the public good. 

‘We have no future’: Afghan women protest Taliban restrictions

class=”MuiTypography-root-135 MuiTypography-h1-140″>‘We have no future’: Afghan women protest Taliban restrictions

The US has ended its war in Afghanistan, the bombs have stopped falling and the Taliban are back in power. But life hasn't improved for millions of Afghans under the new government.

The WorldJanuary 13, 2022 · 3:30 PM EST

Afghan women chant during a protest in Kabul, Afghanistan, Oct. 21, 2021.

Ahmad Halabisaz/AP

Since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan on Aug. 15, life for 33-year-old Wahida Amiri has been one shock after another.

First, she lost her job as a librarian. Then, she was told that women can’t leave home unless accompanied by a male relative. And now, Wahida Amiri is witnessing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, according to international groups. 

Related: ‘I had to burn a lot of my stuff’: Two Afghan women on what they left behind when they fled the Taliban

Afghanistan's economy is on the brink of collapse and the rights of women and girls have been curtailed.

 “We lost our identity and our dreams,” Wahida Amiri said from her home in Kabul. “The Taliban say they want an inclusive government, but so far, their actions paint a different picture.”

Wahida Amiri and a group of women across the country have been protesting Taliban restrictions for months. They have been out on the streets calling for teenage girls to be allowed back into schools and for women to have permission to work. (Women are banned from most employment).

“Work and access to education is a basic human right.”

Wahida Amiri, protester, Afghanistan

“Work and access to education is a basic human right,” she said.

Wahida Amiri and other women in Aghanistan have been out on the streets calling for teenage girls to be allowed back into schools and for women to have permission to work. (Women are banned from most employment).

Credit:

Courtesy of Wahida Amiri

The Taliban’s response to women’s protests has been fierce. Protesters have been beaten and threatened, Wahida Amiri said. In November, Frozan Safi, a 29-year-old women’s rights activist, was reportedly shot to death in northern Afghanistan. Taliban officials suggested the death might have been the result of a “personal feud.”

Thousands of activists, media professionals, artists and university professors have fled the country since the Taliban takeover, fearing for their safety under the new government.

Related: An upcoming vaccine drive in Afghanistan is an ‘unprecedented opportunity’ to eradicate polio, UN official says

Wahida Amiri recorded a video last month from the back seat of a taxi. She had just left a protest, and through tears, she explained how Taliban men attacked women protesters and fired gunshots in the air.

“Are we not human?” she asks in the video. “Our lives are upended, we have no future.”

Learning to govern

The Taliban takeover happened fast. Even the group’s leaders seemed caught off guard by how quickly they were back in power

In the five months since they took control, “they have been very busy consolidating power,” explained Omar Samad, formerly Afghanistan’s ambassador to Canada and France, who is now with the Atlantic Council, a think tank in Washington.

“They have had to relearn or learn from scratch how to govern.”

The Taliban, which was in power for a short period in the 1990s, are facing the realities of running a country of roughly 40 million people, Samad said.

“They do not seem to have enough people who can handle technical aspects of governance and on top of all this, we have seen this very troubling humanitarian crisis unfold in Afghanistan,” Samad said.

Related: 'Why don’t you have mercy?': Afghanistan’s Hazara people increasingly face eviction, violence under Taliban rule

The World Food Program estimates that 98% of Afghans don’t have enough food to eat. UNICEF says 1 million children are on the brink of famine. The International Rescue Committee ranked Afghanistan at the top of its annual emergency watchlist, adding that the country could see near-universal poverty (97%) by mid-2022.

“The numbers that we’re looking at far exceed the combined total civilian casualties from the various armed attacks that took place in Afghanistan over 20 years,” warned Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights with the United Nations.

Last month, after much pressure, the United Nations lifted some restrictions on humanitarian aid.

Ní Aoláin said it’s a good step, but it’s not enough compared to the magnitude of the problem.

She likens the one-year reprieve to “shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic, where humanitarian actors get a small amount of time to do work that simply cannot be done.”

To solve the humanitarian crisis, Ní Aoláin said, the world needs to engage with the Taliban, “however unhappy and distasteful people find it.”

But some experts say that does not seem to be a top priority for the Biden administration. (The World requested an interview with the newly appointed US special envoy for Afghan women, girls and human rights, Rina Amiri (no relation to protester Wahida Amiri), which was not granted).

“One of the tragedies of this moment is that the United States is behaving as if it is done with Afghanistan because it decided to leave. The leadership moment is not in walking out. The leadership moment is in what you do afterward.”

Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights with the United Nations

“One of the tragedies of this moment is that the United States is behaving as if it is done with Afghanistan because it decided to leave,” Ní Aoláin said. “The leadership moment is not in walking out. The leadership moment is in what you do afterward.”

This week, the Biden administration announced $308 million in humanitarian aid for the people of Afghanistan. The White House said that it is also sending 1 million additional COVID-19 vaccine doses to the country through COVAX, an initiative by the World Health Organization to improve vaccine access and equity. 

The aid will flow through aid organizations, and not the Taliban, US officials said.

‘We will continue to protest for our rights’

Meanwhile, people inside Afghanistan continue to not only fight hunger, but also the Taliban’s harsh rule.

Related: ‘It’s the American spirit’: These Connecticut landlords are stepping up to help Afghan refugees arriving in the US

“They have oppressed women, they have oppressed minorities, they have continued punishment of people on the streets, they have outlawed music,” said Samiullah Mahdi, a journalist and university lecturer.

Wahida Amiri is among a group of women across the country who have been protesting Taliban restrictions for months. 

Credit:

Courtesy of Wahida Amiri

Mahdi, who left the country a day before Kabul fell, said his journalist colleagues who are still there describe a dire situation for freedom of the press.

“Working in the media now is like working for outfits [that] are mouthpieces of the Taliban,” he said, adding that Taliban officials frequently visit newsrooms to “order reporters and editors on what kind of stories they can report on.” Mahdi said editors are regularly summoned by the Taliban to the intelligence offices and given instructions on coverage.

But Taliban pressure has not stopped Afghan women from protesting.

Wahida Amiri, the activist, said sometimes protesters gather in living rooms and basements to avoid harassment. They hold up signs that read “education is a human right” and “work, bread, freedom.” They then post photos and videos online.

“We will continue to raise our voice, despite the risks,” she said.

Mexican crooner converts heartbreak into joy — and music

class=”MuiTypography-root-135 MuiTypography-h1-140″>Mexican crooner converts heartbreak into joy — and music

At 24, Silvana Estrada has already established herself as one of Mexico’s most promising singer-songwriters. Her debut album, “Marchita,” or "Withered," tells the story of how she learned to take care of herself after her first big heartbreak — and find joy in everyday life.

The WorldJanuary 13, 2022 · 2:15 PM EST

Mexican singer-songwriter Silvana Estrada. 

Courtesy of Edwin Erazo

The singer Silvana Estrada likes to incorporate joy into her routines. 

She likes to take herself to the movies. She likes to go on walks through her leafy neighborhood in Mexico City. And recently, she’s enjoyed plowing through the catalogs of Latin American poets: Argentina’s Alejandra Pizarnik, Uruguay’s Idea Vilariño and the Mexican poetry anthology, “Sombra roja.” 

Related: Feminist tango collectives take center stage in Argentina

At 24, Estrada has already established herself as one of Mexico’s most promising singer-songwriters, mostly on hit singles that feature her commanding singing and delicate strumming of the four-stringed cuatro guitar. 

Related: Delgrès founder pays tribute to his family's Guadeloupean roots through music

Now, Estrada is preparing to release her debut album, “Marchita,” or "Withered," in which she tells the story of how she learned to take care of herself after her first big heartbreak — and how she learned to find joy in her everyday life.

Related: Gil Scott-Heron 'was first and foremost an activist,' fellow poet says

“I like to do a lot of things on my own,” Estrada said. “It reminds me that I can find happiness and give it to myself.”

Mexican singer-songwriter Silvana Estrada. 

Credit:

Courtesy of Sol Talamantes

In this interview with The World’s Latin America correspondent Jorge Valencia, Estrada explains how she went from first love to first heartbreak to happiness — and how she crafted the experience into her new album’s first single.   

Estrada kicks off her first headlining US tour on Jan. 14. 

Protest projection: Part 1

class=”MuiTypography-root-135 MuiTypography-h1-140″>Protest projection: Part 1

Critical State, a foreign policy newsletter by Inkstick Media, takes a deep dive into why protests led to military interventions in Bahrain, Syria, Libya, and Yemen, and how those interventions played out.

Inkstick MediaJanuary 13, 2022 · 11:15 AM EST

In this Friday Jan. 20, 2012, file photo, anti-Syrian regime protesters gather at a square as they hold an Arabic banner, center, reading, "Hey, the miserable, the tyrant, what else," during a demonstration at the mountain resort town of Zabadani, Syria, near the Lebanese border. 

AP/File 

This analysis was featured in Critical State, a weekly foreign policy newsletter from Inkstick Media. Subscribe here.

Most protests are directed against a fairly immediate authority. When you march on a picket line, you’re protesting to get more leverage over your boss. When you and your neighbors fill up your downtown chanting “Black lives matter,” you’re protesting (in part) to get more leverage over your local government and police department. But protests have other audiences, many of which are farther away – physically and conceptually – than the people the protest is aimed at. This week and next on Deep Dive, we’ll look at new research about how protest movements impact third parties.

Related: Foundations of international relations: Part I

Sometimes the audience that takes an interest in your protest isn’t even in your country. That happened to Arab Spring protesters in a variety of different ways. People around the region looked at early protests in Tunisia and took inspiration. Then Twitter took an interest and decided that it was the hero of the protests. In the end, though, for many protesters, it was foreign governments that were among the most effectual audiences for their protests. For protesters in Bahrain, Syria, Libya, and Yemen, that meant military interventions by foreign powers in response to their protests, most of which have had devastating consequences. 

Related: Foundations of international relations: Part II

Though the uprisings were aimed at securing concessions from governments, the reality of the near-simultaneous uprisings throughout the region changed not just the situation of each individual country but the entire regional order.

In a new article in the journal International Politics, political scientist Shamiran Mako develops a theory about why protests led to interventions in those four countries and why those interventions played out the way they did. In Mako’s telling, though the uprisings in each country were aimed at securing concessions from that country’s government, the reality of the near-simultaneous uprisings throughout the region changed not just the situation of each individual country but the entire regional order. Each individual movement on its own did little to change the international structure, but when they all rose at the same time it upended the regional balance of power.

All of a sudden, regional powers could intervene not just at the level of the state but with the elements of the coalition of groups that, in normal times, formed the state.

With the regional balance of power up in the air due to the protests, Mako argues, regional powers saw opportunities to meddle in their neighbors’ affairs in ways that were not possible before. Because the legitimacy of so many governments had been called into question, all of a sudden regional powers could intervene not just at the level of the state but with the elements of the coalition of groups that, in normal times, formed the state. 

In Yemen, for example, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the Saudi-led regional group responded to protests by trying in 2011 to broker a transition that would remove dictator Ali Abdellah Saleh and replace him with another GCC-oriented leader. In a situation where Yemen was the only country in the region undergoing transition, the GCC effort might have succeeded, since there would be little reason for other parties to upset the balance of power. As negotiations continued in the post-Arab Spring era, however, other players joined and initiated or increased their support for other Yemeni factions. Qatar and Turkey backed groups associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, and Iran directed some resources to the Houthis. By 2015, with the Houthis gaining ground militarily and Saudi Arabia responding with direct military intervention, the promise of democratization in Yemen had faded almost completely. Instead, the country had become a battleground for factions seeking to stake or expand their claim to a piece of the new regional order being born. 

Basically, chaos is a ladder, but ladders go both up and down. Foreign powers pay particular attention to domestic social movements because, when successful, they create moments when the rules of the international game can change.

Basically, chaos is a ladder, but ladders go both up and down. Foreign powers pay particular attention to domestic social movements because, when successful, they create moments when the rules of the international game can change. In the Arab Spring, the pace and scale of the rule changes created incentives for regional and world powers to target states that could be profitably be divvied up into factions. For people in those states, who began protesting hoping to resolve the contradictions in their societies, the effect of foreign intervention was often disastrous. 

Critical State is your weekly fix of foreign policy without all the stuff you don't need. It's top news and accessible analysis for those who want an inside take without all the insider bs. Subscribe here

What does Moderna owe the world?

class=”MuiTypography-root-127 MuiTypography-h1-132″>What does Moderna owe the world?

Moderna’s newfound success has put the small Massachusetts company in the hot seat over its handling of vaccine manufacturing and global access.

The WorldJanuary 12, 2022 · 4:00 PM EST

A vial of the Moderna vaccine for the coronavirus.

Jenny Kane/AP

Noubar Afeyan always keeps a plaque on his desk with the quote: “Trust your crazy ideas.” 

The well-known biotech investor and co-founder of Moderna said at a STAT event in Boston that it captures his philosophy about science, investment and how Moderna came to be. 

The small Massachusetts company formed in 2010, with the hopes of leveraging messenger RNA technology. 

Related: Brazil heads into latest COVID surge amid public health information blackout

Until the pandemic, it was relatively unknown. But in January 2020, when the coronavirus took center stage, Moderna used its mRNA technology to develop a highly effective vaccine against SARS-CoV-2. Now, Moderna is a household name. 

Moderna’s newfound success, however, has also put the company in the hot seat over its handling of vaccine manufacturing and global access. Recent patent disputes are further amplifying a difficult question: What does Moderna owe the world during a deadly pandemic?

Many places have said they can make Moderna’s vaccine, critics say, but the company won’t share the technology. The World Health Organization is supporting an effort in South Africa to crack the recipe.

“We think that Moderna, in particular, has an obligation to do much more than it's currently doing to vaccinate the world.”

Robbie Silverman, Oxfam, senior manager

“We think that Moderna, in particular, has an obligation to do much more than it's currently doing to vaccinate the world,” said Robbie Silverman, a senior manager with Oxfam, the global, anti-poverty group

Silverman argues that Moderna has an obligation beyond its bottom line because it would not exist without massive government support. 

As omicron surges around the world, pressure is also mounting, including from some US lawmakers, for Moderna to more equitably distribute its vaccine, to share its vaccine technology and allow other manufacturers to independently produce the shots.

An obligation beyond the bottom line?

Over the past year, global demand has far outpaced the mRNA vaccine supply. Moderna produced between 700 million and 800 million doses in 2021 — lower than its initial projection. The company has made billions in profits. 

Moderna has sent more of its shots to wealthy countries than any other vaccine manufacturers, according to The New York Times citing data firm Airfinity

As of late fall, about 1 million of Moderna’s vaccines had gone to low-income countries, with many middle-income countries still waiting on their orders, some of whom paid more than the US for those shots.

Related: The best is yet to come': Thousands of Bulgarians return home during pandemic

That’s in comparison to the 8.4 million Pfizer doses and 25 million single-shot Johnson & Johnson doses that have gone to low-income countries, according to Fortune.

Pfizer and BioNTech didn’t take US government aid for developing their shots but they worked with the Biden administration to expand vaccine supply around the world, and received nearly half a billion dollars from the German government.

“Unfortunately, up until this point, Moderna has really prioritized selling and providing its doses to the ‘global north’ — to rich countries like the United States and Europe, — and really has done very, very little to provide doses to low-income countries around the world.”

Robbie Silverman, Oxfam, senior manager

“Unfortunately, up until this point, Moderna has really prioritized selling and providing its doses to the ‘global north’ — to rich countries like the United States and Europe, — and really has done very, very little to provide doses to low-income countries around the world,” Oxfam’s Silverman said.

The company received at least $1 billion from the US government’s Operation Warp Speed to bring the vaccine from the lab to clinical trials to approval. That’s in addition to hundreds of millions of dollars in US government purchasing contracts for the vaccine. 

Moderna collaborated with scientists from the federal National Institutes of Health to develop the vaccine. 

Now, Moderna and NIH are in a patent dispute over ownership of the vaccine. Moderna recently paused its application, but Silverman alleges that the company has been vague about this conflict — even with shareholders. 

Silverman said that this cuts to the heart of the issue: “Because if government scientists helped co-create the Moderna vaccine, that would give the United States much more leverage to do more to actually share the technology with other producers in other countries that desperately need it.”

Some experts say the Biden administration could try to require the company to share their intellectual property under the 1950 Defense Production Act, which gives the president a broad set of authorities to influence domestic industry in emergencies.

Oxfam filed a shareholders complaint against Moderna with the Securities and Exchange commission last month, alleging that the company failed to disclose the dispute to the SEC and shareholders and has published misleading statements on the subject. 

A shared burden

Brendan Borrell, author of “The First Shots: The Epic Rivalries and Heroic Science Behind the Race to the Coronavirus Vaccine,” a book about the pandemic’s main vaccine developers, said it might be convenient to point the finger at Moderna, but the company can’t bear the full blame for the lack of global vaccine equity.

“I would be cautious to make the company out to be a hero or to be such a villain,” Borrell said. 

Related: India postpones in-school learning as omicron surges 

Central to Moderna’s research and business model, since its beginnings, was to secure patents for what its scientists were doing and discovering.

“Moderna, was a very secretive company in the early days. That was part of their strategy,” Borrell said. “They were a patent-filing machine, I was told.”

This is to be expected in the world of biotech. That way, no one else can make the same product without getting a license from the patent holder, without paying for it. And vice versa. The idea is this encourages big financial risks and innovation. 

Moderna did not respond to The World’s request for comment. In an interview last month with Rewired, the company’s CEO, Stefan Bancel, said he couldn’t speak about ongoing disputes. 

He said the company has done a lot in the global response. 

“As you can imagine, we have been working literally seven days a week since January of 2020, that isn’t a long time to get as many doses as we can out,” Bancel said. “It usually takes three to four years, as everybody knows, to be the manufacturing plant for pharmaceutical products. And there was no such mRNA plant that existed at the time.” 

The company has announced manufacturing partnerships around the world, from South Korea to Australia to a future plant somewhere in Africa.

Thomas Cueni, director of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, said that Moderna and other manufacturers are scaling up more now.

Last year, it was tough, he said, due to shortages of raw materials and countries imposing export bans on vaccines and other needed supplies.  

“Vaccine manufacturing, in particular, biological manufacturing, is extremely challenging. We have seen so many bumps and hitches, but looking overall, we see the biggest vaccination effort in the history of mankind.”

Thomas Cueni, International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Association, director

“Vaccine manufacturing, in particular, biological manufacturing, is extremely challenging,” Cueni said. “We have seen so many bumps and hitches, but looking overall, we see the biggest vaccination effort in the history of mankind.”   

Manufacturers have managed to produce more than 11 billion vaccines in 2021, but the inequitable distribution is shameful and embarrassing for everyone, Cueni said at a recent forum. 

The world lacks a coordinated vaccine distribution system. The onus is also on wealthy countries, he said, to share the doses they’ve reserved. 

Despite pledges and targets, only 7% of people in low-income countries have received a single dose, according to an upcoming report from Amnesty International, which described the situation as a catastrophic failure by pharmaceutical companies and wealthy nations alike.

As for Moderna, what it may owe the world during a pandemic might need to get settled on the global stage.  

Editor's note: This report reflects the Jan. 3 broadcast date and is subject to change as COVID-19 scenarios evolve quickly.

Residents remember their losses as they rebuild from La Palma’s volcanic eruption

class=”MuiTypography-root-135 MuiTypography-h1-140″>Residents remember their losses as they rebuild from La Palma's volcanic eruption

The Cumbre Vieja volcano’s eruption was officially declared over on Christmas Day after 10 days of no lava flows or seismic activity, and more than three months since it first erupted. Now, residents are trying to pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives.

The WorldJanuary 12, 2022 · 3:45 PM EST

View of the Cumbre Vieja volcano in the Canary Islands of La Palma, Spain, Dec. 15, 2021.

Saul Santos/AP/File photo

Twenty-five-year-old Alexandra Gómez was not prepared for an evacuation.

She was living with her mother and brother on the small island of La Palma, part of Spain’s Canary Islands archipelago. On Sept. 19, she received news that a nearby volcano, the Cumbre Vieja — which experts had been monitoring for months — had erupted. Authorities had warned residents of an imminent eruption and had evacuated several neighborhoods ahead of time.

But Gómez’s area wasn’t on the list. The crater was expected to open farther away. It wasn’t until she stepped outside that she realized the predictions had been wrong.

“When we saw the explosion and noticed the lava was headed our way, we ran out of the house with just the clothes on our back and the few documents we could grab.”

Alexandra Gómez, 25-year-old resident of La Palma, Spain

“When we saw the explosion and noticed the lava was headed our way, we ran out of the house with just the clothes on our back and the few documents we could grab,” Gómez said.

She and her mother, who was also home that day, went to Gómez’s grandmother’s house farther down. But less than an hour after arriving there, emergency service workers showed up to evacuate that area too.

Related: Spain vows to help rebuild La Palma after devastating volcano eruption

“The lava was expected to move fast, and everyone was desperately running out of their houses,” Gómez said.

But the lava flowed a lot slower than anticipated, so Gómez and her family were able to return to their house twice before it was completely destroyed.

"I grabbed several sentimental belongings. … I looked up at the exploding volcano and cried."

Alexandra Gómez, 25-year-old resident of La Palma, Spain

“I grabbed several sentimental belongings, including a blanket handsewn by my great-grandmother, and as I put them in the car, I looked up at the exploding volcano and cried,” said Gómez, who’s been living at a relative’s house since. She says she often stays up at night remembering all the other things she forgot to take.

Related: Southern Spain's green-belt project aims to stave off impending desertification

The volcano’s eruption was officially declared over on Christmas Day after 10 days of no lava flows or seismic activity, and more than three months since it first erupted.

Like Gómez, more than 2,000 people lost their homes to a blanket of lava, which is estimated to have destroyed more than 1,600 buildings and roughly 50 miles of roads. The eruption also changed the island’s coastline. When the lava reached the ocean, it created two big deltas.

Other neighborhoods are completely covered by thick layers of ash — from a distance, they look like dark-gray sand dunes that have swallowed up trees and houses. Over the past few weeks, emergency service personnel and volunteers have been working around the clock to dig them out.

But Carlos Clemente, from a newly formed association of residents affected by the volcano, says the future remains uncertain.

Related: As energy prices soar in Spain, residents seek renewable alternatives

“Residents haven’t received any of the donations yet, which began pouring in as soon as the volcano erupted,” Clemente said. “We also haven’t seen the millions of euros promised by the Spanish government.”

He blames local officials for a mismanagement of funds.

Clemente’s 75-year-old mother lost her house and allof her belongings to the volcano, including photographs and letters. She’s been living with relatives on another part of the island, but Clemente hopes she’ll soon be given housing.

“Rebuilding our lives and communities will take a long time. And it’s up to public officials to listen to the needs of those affected.”

Carlos Clemente, member of an association for residents affected by the volcanic eruption

“Rebuilding our lives and communities will take a long time,” Clemente said. “And it’s up to public officials to listen to the needs of those affected.”

Juan Vicente Rodríguez is another member of the association and the president of Cooperativa Covalle, a collective of banana farmers whose headquarters was destroyed by the lava.

“Banana farmers suffered a loss of 50 million euros [more than $57 million] in damages when the lava ate up more than 900 acres of agricultural fields,” Rodríguez said.

Bananas are La Palma’s main export, accounting for 50% of its gross domestic product and providing thousands of direct and indirect jobs. The destroyed cropland made up around 30% of all of the island’s production, Rodríguez said.

Related: Biden proclaimed Oct. 11 Indigenous Peoples’ Day. But Spain still honors Columbus as part of its National Day.

“If these plantations aren’t rebuilt, the island will lose an important economic hub,” Rodríguez said. “The problem is, the destroyed farmlands are now dried lava, and it’s unclear if we’ll be able to plant bananas there again.” 

The biggest challenge, he said, will be finding new territory to harvest — there may not be enough to go around.

“It’s a traumatic situation, it feels like a sort of death,” Rodríguez said. “But it could be a chance to start over, by investing in other industries that provide new opportunities.”

 

Indonesia poised to ease export ban on thermal coal

class=”MuiTypography-root-135 MuiTypography-h1-140″>Indonesia poised to ease export ban on thermal coal

In an effort to protect Indonesia’s thermal coal supply, the country imposed an export ban in early January. But after several countries in Asia that depend on the crucial commodity lamented the move, the country has indicated an imminent ease of the ban.

The WorldJanuary 12, 2022 · 1:45 PM EST

A worker walks at power plant area in Cirebon, Indonesia, Oct. 17, 2014.

Achmad Ibrahim/AP/File photo

In an effort to protect Indonesia’s thermal coal supply, the country imposed an export ban in early January. 

Indonesia has now indicated that it will ease the ban after several countries across Asia that depend on the crucial commodity — such as Japan, South Korea and the Philippines — came calling on Jakarta to continue exporting coal.

Indonesia is the world’s largest exporter of thermal coal. 

Related: What's behind unrest rocking oil-rich Kazakhstan

The Jan. 1 ban was put into place just a day after the country’s main electricity supplier, PLN, warned the government that its coal reserves were critically low. 

Fearing widespread power disruptions, however, coal exports were banned for the entire month of January.

“It would be very embarrassing for the government if we start the year 2022 with massive blackouts. … So, the government acted quickly with the export ban.”

Rocky Intan, researcher, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Jakarta, Indonesia

“It would be very embarrassing for the government if we start the year 2022 with massive blackouts,” said Rocky Intan, a researcher for the Jakarta-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. “So, the government acted quickly with the export ban.”

Coal prices shot up across the region as a result of the ban, while vessels, packed with coal, sat idle in Indonesia’s harbors. 

Earlier this week, after various meetings among government officials and coal producers, the Indonesian government said the stockpile situation for PLN had improved. 

Related: Green-conscious Norway will dig a new copper mine in the Arctic

A self-made problem

Officials recently said they would work to renegotiate the problematic policy that put the country’s domestic coal reserves in a tenuous situation in the first place. 

Coal producers in Indonesia currently make more money exporting their product than selling it at a government-capped price to domestic buyers, like PLN, Intan explained. 

The domestic market obligation (DMO) — coal that stays in Indonesia — requires producers to sell 25% of production to local buyers at the capped price of around $70 per ton. The government’s benchmark for coal exports is significantly higher — at about $200, Intan explained. 

“So once PLN loses out because of lower domestic prices, it became a problem,” he said. 

Over 400 coal producers did not sell coal to domestic buyers in 2021, according to various media reports. 

Rory Simington, a research analyst at Wood Mackenzie, said the other issue is that the DMO policy is “quite a blunt instrument.”

“There’s always been this sort of conflict between the overall requirement of the DMO and what the domestic market actually requires. … It’s not a particularly accurate scheme.”

Rory Simington, research analyst, Wood Mackenzie

“There’s always been this sort of conflict between the overall requirement of the DMO and what the domestic market actually requires,” he said. “It’s not a particularly accurate scheme.”

And until these issues are resolved, Simington said, there’s still a lot of uncertainty in the global thermal coal market for everyone moving forward.

Related: Electricity rates have skyrocketed in Brazil. The govt says the water crisis is to blame.

An overdependence on coal 

If Indonesia had enforced its ban for all of January, experts say it would have had a major impact, as it makes up nearly half of the world’s coal market. 

In 2020, the country exported over 400 million tons alone. 

In turn, millions of people who depend on that coal would be affected. That includes several countries in the 10-member bloc of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN.

“Everyone may have been impacted but I believe that in ASEAN, it is the Philippines that is most impacted by the export ban."

Alberto Dalusung III, energy policy expert, Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, Manila, Phillippines

“Everyone may have been impacted but I believe that in ASEAN, it is the Philippines that is most impacted by the export ban,” said Alberto Dalusung III, an energy policy expert with the Manila-based Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities. 

Related: Glasgow summit pledge to phase out fossil fuel subsidies faces an uphill battle

Over 50% of the power in the Philippines is generated by coal and Dalusung said they don’t really have other reliable energy alternatives like Vietnam, which has hydropower, or Malaysia, which has oil and gas.

“If it was a longer period of export ban, it definitely would mean blackouts. Even without that, today we are on yellow alert, meaning not enough coal capacity,” he said. 

The Philippine government acknowledges its overdependence on coal, Dalusung said, but the Indonesian coal ban adds another concern: the risk of relying too much on imported fuel.

Related: World leaders agree to help South Africa phase out coal

“The lesson is that, just because we can pay for coal, we can assume that we can access it for our needs. Coal becomes a commodity of national interest during international disruptive events,” he said.

‘Magical’ animal encounters on the Galapagos Islands

class=”MuiTypography-root-135 MuiTypography-h1-140″>'Magical' animal encounters on the Galapagos Islands

Writer Jennifer Junghans describes her close encounters with blue-footed boobies and blacktip sharks — and a wondrous face-to-face meeting with a curious pufferfish.

Living on EarthJanuary 11, 2022 · 4:15 PM EST

A marine iguana crawls along the beach on Rabida Island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, Saturday Jan. 15, 2011.

Dolores Ochoa/AP

Writer Jennifer Junghans had always dreamed of going to the Galapagos Islands to swim with the marine iguanas. In 2017, she finally had her chance.

Her beloved iguanas remained on shore, but the experience brought her up close with blue-footed boobies and blacktip sharks — and face-to-face with a curious pufferfish.

Here's an excerpt from her audio diary about her experience: 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve dreamed of traveling to the Galapagos Islands to free-dive with the ancient marine iguanas and roam the archipelago, as Darwin did as he unraveled our story of evolution.

He found little value in the marine iguana, insulting their physical appearance, intelligence and behavior. But I fell in love with them when I saw a photo in National Geographic of this wave of marine iguanas swimming underwater.

I longed to be right there among them, these gentle giants that often look like statues on land, armored in scales, with faces that resemble a gentler cousin of Tyrannosaurus rex and snaggletoothed spines that jut from head to tail, eyes that stare, and large claws at the end of hands that look strangely like our own.

Then, in 2017, I disembarked a small plane from Ecuador and stepped into the remote wilderness of my dreams.

In July, the temperature is cooler, the seas are rougher and the winds are stronger, but the lifecycles of the natural world are vigorous and alive. Here, the animals are abundant and unafraid.

Related'Nature is always singing': Now you can make your own music from nature's sounds

In one startling panoramic view, blue-footed boobies dive like torpedoes into turquoise water; sea lion pups with giant, dark globes for eyes and sand all over their faces follow us as they wait for their mothers to return with food; and colossal numbers of my beloved marine iguanas bask in the sun to warm themselves, piled in tangles of arms and legs and salt-crusted faces.

At night when we anchor at sea, sea lions jump up to rest and sleep on the stern of our boat and we wait for blacktip sharks to appear just below the surface, likely looking to score an easy meal, accustomed to the bycatch fishing boats dump. I gasp when they appear. Several have come and we peer overboard, the mystery of how big the next one will be or how close it will come or from which direction, electrifies my senses.

RelatedScientists say nature therapies don’t just feel good — they save trillions in health costs

In their presence, Hollywood’s characterization of these beings as man-eating predators crumbles and I feel an undeniable resurrection of a connection once lost.

Out here in the wilderness, under the celestial skies, in these moments of reverence, I am closer to the truth than I’ve ever been.

Jennifer Junghans

Out here in the wilderness, under the celestial skies, in these moments of reverence, I am closer to the truth than I’ve ever been. I don’t wonder about the future or question my existence. Somehow, out here, where the planet pulses according to its natural rhythms, it all makes sense.

We take a long hike up rocky terrain to where blue-footed boobies have gathered to mate and raise their young. White puffs of down stretch their gaping beaks upward from beneath their mother’s wing and, by the magic of serendipity, we witness the flamboyant courtship dance and the rarely seen mating of these birds.

But it’s a tiny pufferfish that touches me most. Several swim up to me as I snorkel, but one stays. She fans her fins, hovering right in front of me, observing me as intently as I observe her. We stay like this, face-to-face, for several minutes.

I’ve never felt so acknowledged or seen.

In that moment, the boundary between species blurs. We are two beings who share this planet in a moment of uninterrupted recognition. 

Jennifer Junghans

In that moment, the boundary between species blurs. We are two beings who share this planet in a moment of uninterrupted recognition. As different as we look, transcending millions of years of evolution, we come from the same origin — in fact, we share strikingly similar genomes with pufferfish — and something inside me innately knows it. 

I never did swim with the marine iguanas, as I’ve dreamed of. They spent most of their time basking on land, even though they depend on the algae clinging to rocks in the sea. But my time here has given me something greater. Wandering among these wild animals at every turn, I attune to how life unfolds and exists when we are the visitor. It’s illuminated what the world once was and the wildness that we are still able to preserve and protect.

This audio essay aired on Living on Earth from PRX.

‘The best is yet to come’: Thousands of Bulgarians return home during pandemic

class=”MuiTypography-root-135 MuiTypography-h1-140″>‘The best is yet to come': Thousands of Bulgarians return home during pandemic

Since 1989, hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians have left the country, looking for better job prospects and wages. But in 2020, emigration decreased dramatically while the number of returnees soared. Leaders hope they’ll stay and help build Bulgaria’s future.

The WorldJanuary 11, 2022 · 3:00 PM EST

A man passes by a wall displaying an urban art project in the Transylvanian town of Sibiu, Romania, May 8, 2019. 

Andreea Alexandru/AP/File

Paskal Zhelezov was just 15 when his family moved from Burgas, on the Black Sea Coast, to North Carolina, in the US, in 2007. His father applied for a green card every year for over a decade. 

His parents saw opportunities in the US that they couldn’t see in Bulgaria back then, he said.

“Bulgaria was not the most attractive spot and did not have much to offer after the end of communism in 1989."

Paskal Zhelezov returned to Bulgaria in 2020, after 13 years in the US

“Bulgaria was not the most attractive spot and did not have much to offer after the end of communism in 1989. They were looking for a change, not only economically, but also on the social side of things.” 

Related: Roma persecution intensifies during the coronavirus pandemic in Europe

Since 1989, hundreds of thousands of  Bulgarians have left the country and headed to Western Europe looking for better job prospects and wages. But in 2020, emigration numbers dropped dramatically, while those returning soared. Newly elected Prime Minister Kiril Petkov is hoping that with a strong anti-corruption message and promise of speedy economic growth, those returnees will stay put. 

After 13 years in the US, Zhelezov moved back home in May 2020, during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s one of several thousand Bulgarians who returned home in 2020, reversing the migration trend for the Eastern European country. 

Zhelezov’s family thrived in the US. His mother is now an academic adviser at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his father works for the American Red Cross. Zhelezov graduated from North Carolina State and, in 2017, moved to San Francisco to work with a business travel start-up.

But the pandemic hit the company hard and it soon began to let workers go.

Zhelezov was offered a job by another start-up, Omnipresent, a group that helps companies employ remote workers abroad while ensuring compliance with local tax systems. With no fixed office, Omnipresent told Zhelezov he could base himself anywhere. He chose Bulgaria.

Zhelezov said even after 13 years in the US, he never felt fully at home.

“I just never really felt like an American who wants to live the American lifestyle. Bulgaria was always home,” he said.

Related: ‘I had no life left here’: Iraqi Kurds are at the center of the migration crisis in Europe

EU’s poorest nation

Bulgaria is the poorest country in the European Union. Transparency International has also ranked it the most corrupt on the continent. In 2019, the United Nations Population Division reported that Bulgaria was projected to be the second-fastest shrinking country in the world, behind Lithuania.

Exact data on the numbers of people who returned to Bulgaria in 2020 is not available. However, the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) estimates that about 30,000 more people moved back to the country than left that year.

Related: ‘Strangers in their own land’: Iraqi Yazidis and their plight, 7 years on from genocide

Ognyan Georgiev, visiting fellow with the ECFR who researched the data, spoke with many of the new returnees. Job loss was a big reason why many returned, but a significant number also moved back because they felt safer being home with their families during the pandemic, he said.

“The two reasons [returnees] gave me was they were either left without a job or they were fearing for their security. I mean their health security, you know, they just felt more secure being back, being there with their parents, family or whatever.”

Ognyan Georgiev, visiting fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations

“The two reasons they gave me was they were either left without a job or they were fearing for their security. I mean their health security, you know, they just felt more secure being back, being there with their parents, family or whatever.”

Shifting government tide

Atanas Pekanov returned to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, from Austria, in 2021.

Pekanov, an economist with the Austrian Institute for Economic Research, was offered the position of deputy prime minister with Bulgaria’s caretaker government.

For much of the last 12 years, Bulgaria has been ruled by conservative leader Boyko Borisov, until his resignation in April 2021.

Related: Protesters in Bulgaria demand prime minister's resignation amid corruption allegations

Pekanov’s interim cabinet ran the country for seven months, while Bulgarians went to the polls three times to elect a new government.

In December 2021, Kiril Petkov, co-founder of the anti-corruption party We Continue The Change (PP), was appointed prime minister.

Petkov, along with party co-founder Assen Vassilev, are known as “The Harvards" — both men were educated at Harvard Business School and went on to become successful entrepreneurs.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Pekanov said there is a new sense of optimism in Bulgaria following Petkov’s appointment.

Kiril Petkov, co-leader of the We Continue the Change party, speaks during the first session of the new Bulgarian Parliament, Sofia, Friday, Dec. 3, 2021.

Credit:

Valentina Petrova/AP

“I think people are really now hopeful that things can change, but I always say that it's going to take a while. In the past decade, we neglected a lot of problems that we have and now we have to face them head on, but it will take time."

Atanas Pekanov, economist, Austrian Institute for Economic Research 

“I think people are really now hopeful that things can change, but I always say that it's going to take a while. In the past decade, we neglected a lot of problems that we have and now we have to face them head on, but it will take time,” Pekanov said. 

Many of Pekanov’s friends moved back to Bulgaria during the pandemic, too, but he said he’s not sure how many will stay. He figures that decision probably lies with their employers. Many work remotely for companies based in Western Europe that may soon decide to ask their staff to return onsite. 

Pekanov said he hopes some will stay and use the skills they’ve learned abroad to bolster the Bulgarian economy. But even he admitted he cannot say for certain if he will remain long-term. 

Petar Cholakov, associate professor with the Institute of Sociology at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, said job prospects in Bulgaria are quite good. The national unemployment rate is at just 4.6%, but wages are also low compared to many Western European nations. 

Cholakov said he has heard a lot of talk about this renewed sense of hope in Bulgaria, but he said he is not yet convinced. He pointed out that voter turnout at the last election in November 2021 was just 40%, meaning 60% of the population lacked motivation to go to the polls.

“This means that for a lot of people, whether we have a regular or stable government or whether we have a caretaker government, that doesn't really matter for them at all."

Petar Cholakov, associate professor, Institute of Sociology, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences

“This means that for a lot of people, whether we have a regular or stable government or whether we have a caretaker government, that doesn't really matter for them at all,” Cholakov said. 

The new coalition government is made up of four political parties with very different ideals. Prime Minister Petkov’s anti-corruption party has teamed up with the leftist socialists, the populist There is Such a People (ITN) party and the center-right Democratic Bulgaria party. 

Cholakov predicts plenty of disagreements ahead, but the coalition might work if only because citizens are weary to hold another election. 

Election officers dressed in protective gear to protect from COVID-19 go to the addresses of sick people to allow them to cast their votes, in Sofia, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021. 

Credit:

Valentina Petrova/AP

Top priorities

Prime Minister Petkov has vowed to tackle corruption head on, but the pandemic will likely have to be his top priority, said Ognyan Georgiev with the European Council on Foreign Relations. 

The omicron variant was detected in the country just a little over a week ago, but it’s spreading fast. Bulgaria has the lowest vaccination rate in all of the EU with less than 30% fully vaccinated. On Tuesday, a senior health official announced that the Bulgarian prime minister, the president and several senior ministers have all gone into self-isolation after coming into close contact with someone who tested positive the previous day.

Back home in Bulgaria, Zhelezov said he’s planning to stay for the long haul.

“We have pretty beaches, nice weather most of the time and a developing economy,” he said. Besides, he’s keen to see if this new government will live up to its campaign promises, he said. 

A man is flies his kite during the First Varvara Kite Fest in the village of Varvara on Bulgarian Black Sea coast, Friday, Aug. 27, 2021. 

Credit:

Valentina Petrova/AP

A recent Gallup poll found Bulgarians to be among the most pessimistic people in the world. But Zhelezov is not one of them. 

“I'm convinced that we're changing for the better and the best is yet to come.”

Uganda’s schools reopen, ending world’s longest lockdown

class=”MuiTypography-root-228 MuiTypography-h1-233″>Uganda's schools reopen, ending world's longest lockdownAssociated PressJanuary 10, 2022 · 2:15 PM EST

Pupils wear face masks as they attend class at Kitante Primary School in Kampala, Uganda, Jan. 10, 2022.

Hajarah Nalwadda/AP

Uganda's schools reopened to students on Monday, ending the world's longest school disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The reopening caused traffic congestion in some areas of the capital, Kampala, and students can be seen carrying their mattresses in the streets, a back-to-boarding school phenomenon not witnessed here for nearly two years.

Uganda’s schools have been fully or partially shut for more than 83 weeks, the world's longest disruption, according to figures from the UN cultural agency. The shutdown affected more than 10 million learners.

The East African country of 44 million people first shut down its schools in March 2020, shortly after the first coronavirus case was confirmed on the African continent. Some classes were reopened to students in February 2021, but a total lockdown was imposed again in June as the country faced its first major surge.

For many parents, the reopening was long overdue.

“Inevitably, we have to open up schools,” said Felix Okot, the father of a 6-year-old kindergartner. “The future of our kids, the future of our nation, is at stake.”

The country's schools cannot “wait forever” for the pandemic's end, he warned.

The protracted school lockdown proved controversial in a country where measures aimed at stemming the spread of the virus were ignored by many. Vaccine skepticism, even among health workers, remains a problem, with growing reports of fake COVID-19 vaccination cards sold in downtown Kampala.

Many students returning to school are believed to have had no help during the lockdown. Most public schools, which serve the vast majority of children in Uganda, were unable to offer virtual schooling. The Associated Press reported in November on students in a remote Ugandan town where weeds grew in classrooms and some students worked in a swamp as gold miners.

Some critics pointed out that the government of President Yoweri Museveni — an authoritarian who has held power for 36 years and whose wife is the education minister — did little to support home-based learning. Museveni justified the lockdown by insisting that infected students were a danger to their parents and others.

“There are many things which can't be predicted right now. The turnout of students is unpredictable, the turnout of teachers is unpredictable," said Fagil Mandy, a former government inspector of schools now working as an independent consultant. “I am more worried that many children will not return to school for various reasons, including school fees.”

Mandy also noted concern that a virus outbreak “will spread very fast” in crowded schools, urging close monitoring by school administrators.

Welcoming the reopening of Uganda's schools, Save the Children warned that “lost learning may lead to high dropout rates in the coming weeks without urgent action," including what it described as catch-up clubs.

The aid group warned in a statement Monday of a wave of dropouts “as returning students who have fallen behind in their learning fear they have no chance of catching up.”

It remains to be seen how long Uganda's schools will remain open, with an alarming rise in virus cases in recent days. In the past week health authorities have been reporting a daily positivity rate in excess of 10%, up from virtually zero in December. Museveni has warned of a possible new lockdown if intensive care units reach 50% occupancy.

Hoping for a smooth return to school, authorities waived any COVID test requirements for students. An abridged curriculum also has been approved under an arrangement to automatically promote all students to the next class.

Uganda has received foreign support toward the reopening of schools.

The UN children's agency and the governments of the UK and Ireland announced financial support focusing on virus surveillance and the mental health of students and teachers in 40,000 schools. They said their support was key for Uganda's school system to remain open.

By Associated Press writer Rodney Muhumuza

Feminist tango collectives take center stage in Argentina

class=”MuiTypography-root-133 MuiTypography-h1-138″>Feminist tango collectives take center stage in Argentina

All-female and all-queer tango groups playing contemporary tango songs with a feminist lens are on the rise in Argentina.

The WorldJanuary 10, 2022 · 1:15 PM EST

Gaston Gatti and Hebe Hernandez dance while competing in the final round of the stage category during the Tango World Championship in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sept. 25, 2021. 

Natacha Pisarenko/AP/File photo

Patricia Malanca always dreamed of writing a tango album full of feminist songs — a rarity in the tango world.

“My intention is to have my songs heard in places where the traditional sexist tango persists,” she said of her newest album, “Traerán Ríos de Tango las Páginas de un Libro,” or “The Book’s Pages Will Bring Rivers of Tango,” released in November 2021.

Each song in Malanca’s album is an ode to a novel written by a contemporary female Argentine author, touching on topics such as abortion rights and transgender identity.

Related: From Argentina to US to Spain: A personal history told through childhood audio diaries

“Female lyricists and singer-songwriters are writing tango’s new poetry and songbooks. … We’re paving the way for the 21st century, full of songs about equality.”

Patricia Malanca, singer-songwriter, Argentina

“Female lyricists and singer-songwriters are writing tango’s new poetry and songbooks,” Malanca said. “We’re paving the way for the 21st century, full of songs about equality.”

Malanca said classical tango songs often normalized gender violence or devalued women. Even Carlos Gardel, considered the most prominent figure in tango history, has songs like “Tortazo,” roughly translated as “The Slap,” where he threatens a woman with physical violence in order to “keep her in her place.”

To this day, it’s common to hear songs from the early tango days played in recitals or milongas, special venues where tango is danced to live music.

In this June 6, 2021, file photo, a couple dances tango at a park amid the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

Credit:

Natacha Pisarenko/AP/File

Related: How the Beatles inspired a rock revolution in Argentina

The roots of tango date back to the late 19th century, when Argentina’s capital of Buenos Aires was a cultural mix of Indigenous people, formerly enslaved Afro-Argentines and recently arrived migrants predominantly from Italy and Spain.

“It was a very patriarchal world. … Buenos Aires’ population was around 70% male, mainly because of all the migrants, and that was reflective in tango songs. … Nowadays, women are creating new spaces for themselves in the tango world.”

Francisco Palumbo, tango historian, Argentina

“It was a very patriarchal world,” tango historian Francisco Palumbo said. “Buenos Aires’ population was around 70% male, mainly because of all the migrants, and that was reflective in tango songs.”

But by the early 20th century, Palumbo said, some women had worked their way into the spotlight. Paquita Bernardo played the bandoneon — a small type of accordion typical in tango. She died young in 1925, leaving behind no recordings. Rosita Quiroga was a guitarist who sang in the first tango ever recorded in Argentina in 1926: “La musa mistonga,” a song using slang particular to Buenos Aires in the early 20th century, and which roughly means “The worthless muse.”

“Nowadays, women are creating new spaces for themselves in the tango world,” Palumbo said.

All-female and all-queer tango groups playing contemporary tango songs with a feminist lens are on the rise in Argentina.

Related: Royal Spanish Academy dismisses movement to make Spanish more gender-inclusive

One is La Empoderosa Orquesta Atípica, or the Empowered Atypical Orchestra. They cover songs like “Pendeja,” about a young girl who was forced to carry out a pregnancy after being raped. That songtitle term, when used toward women, is often an insult. Composer Cintia Trigo said she wrote the song to highlight the importance of abortion access, which was illegal in Argentina until December 2020.

“I started noticing how, once the [latest] feminist movement gained traction following [anti-gender violence] marches and abortion rights campaigns, the feminist tango movement really took off."

Cintia Trigo, singer-songwriter, Empowered Atypical Orchestra, Argentina

“I started noticing how, once the [latest] feminist movement gained traction following [anti-gender violence] marches and abortion rights campaigns, the feminist tango movement really took off,” Trigo said.

For Trigo, who’s been in the tango industry for nearly 20 years, the emergence of feminist tango collectives helped her feel less alone. Now, she often collaborates with other female and trans musicians. And there are many venues that prioritize feminist and queer tango.

“What tourists are looking for when they come to Argentina, that’s not an authentic representation of tango,” Trigo said. 

“Real tango is about the underground movement, about independent musicians who sing about contemporary issues. This feminist tango is growing, and we need the public to grow, as well.”

‘It’s the American spirit’: These Connecticut landlords are stepping up to help Afghan refugees arriving in the US

class=”MuiTypography-root-133 MuiTypography-h1-138″>‘It’s the American spirit’: These Connecticut landlords are stepping up to help Afghan refugees arriving in the US

As military bases temporarily hosting refugees reach capacity, states are being asked to help, according to resettlement agencies. Connecticut alone is expecting more than 500 refugees — a jump since the initial 300 estimated in September. And the number could see another increase. But as Connecticut prepares for the influx, affordable housing has become a challenge.

The WorldJanuary 10, 2022 · 12:45 PM EST

Tom Kania is working with a community co-sponsorship group and IRIS to welcome an Afghan refugee family of up to six. The Middletown apartment has been fully furnished by IRIS and is ready for the family when they arrive.

Joe Amon/Connecticut Public Radio

Thomas Kania is the grandson of Polish immigrants, people who he says came to the United States for opportunity.

Now Kania, a real estate investor, says it’s their experience that has motivated him to help others looking for a bit of opportunity of their own — newly arrived Afghan refugees.

“It’s basically the American spirit,” Kania said from his rental unit in Middletown’s North End.

It will soon house a family of six from Afghanistan.

“It’s the American spirit that my grandparents felt. It’s the American spirit that subsequent generations have been able to take advantage of in my family. So, I’m really happy to have someone here who basically could take advantage of the American experience, and so, we welcome them as we would any other tenant.”

Related: Some Afghan university students find refuge — and hope — in Kyrgyzstan

Kania is just one of hundreds of landlords pitching in as Connecticut expects to welcome hundreds of refugees over the next couple of months. As military bases temporarily hosting refugees reach capacity, states are being asked to help, according to resettlement agencies. Connecticut alone is expecting more than 500 refugees — a jump since the initial 300 estimated in September. And the number could see another increase. But as Connecticut prepares for the influx, affordable housing has become a challenge.

“We know when we are resettling folks, they have been through a lot,” said Susan Schnitzer, president and CEO of the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants, one of two federally approved resettlement agencies in Connecticut. “Many of them have just grabbed their bags, fled their homes, they have been in military bases for weeks or months, and this is the first time they can sit and breathe. We are asking for landlords — large landlords, individual landlords — to contact our agencies and open your doors to refugees.”

New Haven-based IRIS brought in furniture and kitchen items for the family of six that will be staying in the Middletown apartment owned by Tom Kania. The apartment has been fully furnished and is ready for the family when they arrive.

Credit:

Joe Amon/Connecticut Public Radio

At a recent news conference, Schnitzer said over 200 individuals have been able to resettle so far, but as the state gears up for more, there are concerns about a housing shortage.

Kania remembers it like it was yesterday when he got the call about his new tenants. He was showing his vacant unit to about 20 applicants. He said he had about 60 interested customers in total.

“I got a phone call from a broker who asked me not to hang up and explained the situation to me,” he said. “And I said, ‘Sure, come and see the apartment, see if it will work for you.’”

Related: 'Everything I am would not be the same without being a veteran,' says soldier who served in Afghanistan

The call was on behalf of New Haven-based resettlement agency Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, or IRIS. The unit is across the street from a local elementary school and a short walk from a public bus stop. Kania knew it would be perfect for a family new to America, so he didn’t think twice about it.

The three-bedroom apartment was built in the 1900s, but what’s inside is newer. Thanks to IRIS, the main bedroom has a new bed, a thick winter blanket, towels, a dresser and more. Meanwhile, the two other rooms — ideally for children — have new twin beds, stuffed animals and covers.

A view of the kitchen of the Middletown apartment owned by Tom Kania that will house an Afghan family of six.

Credit:

Joe Amon/Connecticut Public Radio

The apartment is furnished by IRIS with donations. The organization aims to provide the family a warm and safe apartment from day one. The kitchen is also stocked with essentials.

“The basic food that you would need for a family — things that would be used for an international diet, things like rice, sugar, salt, basic seasoning, cooking oil,” Kania said.

Related: ‘I had to burn a lot of my stuff’: Two Afghan women on what they left behind when they fled the Taliban

It’s his first time working with a resettlement agency, but he said he has no worries.

“It’s about really showing them the true American experience, and the American experience starts with a home.”

Thomas Kania, real estate investor

“I don't understand the hesitancy,” he said. “We all came from somewhere at one point. And they have resettlement agencies working with them. If they were to just dump these people here to fend for themselves, they’d be setting up tents in public parks. But I think that’s not what the intention is of bringing these people here … It’s about really showing them the true American experience, and the American experience starts with a home.”

About 15 miles from Middletown, in Hartford’s Barry Square neighborhood, another landlord is also welcoming new Americans.

Murat Feratovic owns over 30 units in Greater Hartford, and in the last two years, he said he’s helped about 10 refugees resettle through IRIS. He’s drawn to the cause because he’s been in their shoes.

Here is the living room of the apartment that will be home to an Afghan family of six. The Middletown apartment, owned by Tom Kania, was furnished by resettlement agency IRIS.

Credit:

Joe Amon/Connecticut Public Radio

“I come [here the] same as them,” Feratovic said. “I [came] from Bosnia. You come here with a bag with nothing in it, and you start a life here. You leave everything behind. It’s so difficult, but you have to get used to it.”

Feratovic left Bosnia during the country’s civil war in the 1990s. Similar to refugees from Afghanistan, Feratovic was forced to leave his home country. He came here with no credit history or stable income, so he knows how important it is for someone to just give you a chance. He’s able to connect with his tenants on a deeper level and tries to be a resource as much as possible, he said.

“[I] try to point them in the right way because this is a country with a lot of opportunity, but if you use [it] in the wrong way, it’s going to hurt you. [As] much as I can, I help them,” he said. “Here in Connecticut, you need a car to be successful. You get a better job, better opportunity, so I let them know [where] to get a driver’s license and car insurance.”

Chris George is the executive director at IRIS. And while the organization has housing specialists, he often finds himself meeting landlords who are on the fence. He said there’s a lot of hesitancy in the landlord community, and that alongside about a 15% increase in rents this year could lead to a potential roadblock for resettlement. IRIS alone will need at least 100 apartments in both cities and suburbs across Connecticut, and it aims to minimize as much risk as possible for landlords.

Related: The spotlight has faded on Afghanistan, but not the urgency for Afghans seeking safety

“There may be some things that are a little different,” George said. “For example, they don’t have a credit history. But we co-sign the lease. They might not speak English really well. But IRIS is always available to translate. They don’t have jobs when they arrive. But they will get jobs very quickly. And IRIS makes sure that they will pay the rent on time. And in full.”

IRIS, which furnished the Middletown apartment that will house an Afghan family of six, also supplied children's items for the family.

Credit:

Joe Amon/Connecticut Public Radio

George says the ideal living space for a refugee family is near public transportation. Rates for an apartment should range between $1,100 a month for a two-bedroom apartment and $1,500 for a four-bedroom, but they can vary depending on the location. The idea is that the family should be able to afford rent if they have to work minimum-wage jobs.

The state has committed to helping refugees with a security deposit and two months of rent — about $4,500 per family of five — and they’ll also be able to apply to the state’s emergency rental assistance program, Unite CT, which offers up to $15,000 in rent assistance. Resettlement agencies have also pledged to help families financially in their first year until they can become independent.

Steven Kaplan understands some of the hesitancy. He’s a new landlord in New Haven and heard about IRIS on the radio. He said at first he had a lot of questions.

“Are they familiar with electricity?” he asked. “Do they know how to work a thermostat and oven? So just like the everyday things we take for granted, I was just worried about their familiarity with it.”

Murat Feratovic has worked with New Haven-based resettlement agency IRIS for the last two years. He welcomed refugees from Afghanistan a few days ago. He's a landlord in Hartford with over 30 units and is happy to work with agencies in this larger effort to welcome new Americans.

Credit:

Joe Amon/Connecticut Public Radio

But in working with IRIS, he’s been able to address all of his concerns. He’s now renting to four men from Afghanistan and said it’s opened his eyes to different cultures.

“I took them to Home Depot, which was fun and you know, put on the radio for them, let them hear what our music is like,” Kaplan said. “And they played me some of their music while we were in the car. And so it’s getting to know individuals who otherwise I would never meet.”

Kaplan says he’s excited to grow their tenant-landlord relationship and hopes to sit down soon to share a meal.

“To help out people who have lost everything, and just to give them the comfort of knowing that there’s a safe house for them to live in, warm food, a nice bed,” Kaplan said. “It’s the least we can do as America.”

This story was originally published by Connecticut Public Radio.

India postpones in-school learning as omicron surges 

class=”MuiTypography-root-133 MuiTypography-h1-138″>India postpones in-school learning as omicron surges 

This month, parents, teachers and kids in India were poised to reenter their classrooms full time. Omicron has pumped the brakes on that.

The WorldJanuary 7, 2022 · 5:15 PM EST

An Indian teen reacts as she receives Covaxin COVID-19 vaccine at a government school in Hyderabad, India, Jan. 6, 2022. 

Mahesh Kumar /AP

This month, parents, teachers and kids in India were poised to reenter their classrooms full time. Omicron has pumped the brakes on that. 

For parents like Teresa Khanna, it's a nuisance. 

“It's been so long now that I really can't remember how it was when he went to physical school.”

Teresa Khanna, parent of a 10-year-old in India

“It's been so long now that I really can't remember how it was when he went to physical school.”

Related: Heavy smog shuts down schools in India’s capital

Khanna's 10-year-old son Shreyas is in the fifth grade. His last full day in school was in March 2020. Khanna said he went to school again in November 2021 for a couple of half days, fully masked with all COVID-19 protocols in place. But soon, schools shut down again. 

In Mumbai, only middle schools and high schools reopened last year, but with a remote learning option for those who didn't want to risk the classroom. 

As omicron spreads, most states in India have postponed physical school yet again. 

Khanna said at first, Shreyas was excited about online learning. He could sleep in and walk up to school in the next room; he didn't even have to wear his full school uniform because only his shirt was visible online. 

But the novelty soon wore off. 

Related: India will soon roll out a DNA vaccine for the coronavirus. It’s the latest example of how COVID-19 is transforming vaccines.

Shreyas said online school is boring, and he feels “very lonely.” He misses chatting with friends in the breaks between classes. 

“The 15 minutes breaks here are me just sitting in the bed and doing nothing, so I really don't enjoy what the school has done.”

Shreyas Khanna, 10-year-old student, learning at home during COVID-19 in India

“The 15 minutes breaks here are me just sitting in the bed and doing nothing, so I really don't enjoy what the school has done.”

 He misses being in person and playing or “having funny chats with nice friends, eating food and discussing every single thing.” 

“So, I definitely would like to go back to school … if possible,” he said. 

It's not just the kids who expressed disappointment. Teachers say the pace is exhausting. Many think that teaching online is much harder than in-person lessons, and they can't tell if the kids are actually paying attention. 

It's even harder in rural India where 70% of Indians live. 

Teachers have struggled as much as students to adapt to teaching and learning online, according to Rushda Mujeeb, who works with the Bernard van Leer Foundation, an international organization focused on early childhood development in India. 

“I think this has put a lot of stress on young children and their caregivers,” she said. 

Technology poses a major challenge. Having someone at home to sort out computer issues is one thing. But for so many lower-income families, access itself is a problem. 

“It's not always affordable, a lot of parents may not have access nor understanding of the digital technologies that are in use,” she said.  

A lot of kids don't have access to smartphones or reliable internet access. 

The long-term impact on kids remains unknown. In September, a group of researchers documented a four-year learning deficit among underprivileged kids. What that means is that a child who was in third grade in 2020, and is heading to fifth grade this year would exhibit the reading skills of a first grader. 

Mujeeb mentioned a UNICEF report that said 42% of children between the ages of 6 to 13 years have not been able to access any form of remote learning in India. 

“We will see this play out in learning loss and so on for the next four years, unless we find ways or the government finds ways to to catch up on some of these things."

Rushda Mujeeb, Bernard van Leer Foundation

“We will see this play out in learning loss and so on for the next four years unless we find ways or the government finds ways to catch up on some of these things,” she cautioned. 

Nutrition is another concern for kids who cannot go to school now. 

India has a long-running school lunch program in government schools. Mujeeb said for a lot of children, lunch is the main reason their parents send them to school and that has been severely affected by the school closures. 

In turn, malnutrition could become more of a problem, which also impacts children’s ability to learn, she said. 

School closures could also have a disproportionate impact on girls. 

The National Right to Education says that 10 million girls could drop out of secondary school, which puts them at increased risk of early marriage, early pregnancy, poverty, trafficking and violence.

“For young girls, this is especially in an issue where they have dropped out of school, whether they will be allowed by families to actually go back to school, again, depending on a range of socio-economic and societal factors.”

It's not all doom and gloom, though. Mujeeb said schools have adapted to tech demands at an astonishing pace. Remote learning tools are getting better. And for many parents and children, school-from-home and work-from-home have resulted in stronger bonds and a lot of quality time together. 

Khanna said her son Shreyas is trying new things this school year.  He did a lot of coding classes last year, and this year, he is enjoying online chess. 

“To balance out everything online, we've also started badminton coaching for him because it's a low physical contact sport and you don't need to be face-to-face with anybody. That also helps because a whole day of classes online and then maybe gaming is followed by a couple of other physical exercises and going out of the house.”

Shreyas summed it up like this: "Not going to school doesn't feel right. Even though it's a little bit more convenient, it's not good for me mentally."

For kids like Shreyas — at least until the next announcement from the government — school life will mostly stay online. 

What’s behind unrest rocking oil-rich Kazakhstan

class=”MuiTypography-root-228 MuiTypography-h1-233″>What's behind unrest rocking oil-rich KazakhstanAssociated PressJanuary 6, 2022 · 3:15 PM EST

Smoke rises from the city hall building during a protest in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Jan. 5, 2022. 

Yan Blagov/AP

Kazakhstan is experiencing the worst street protests the country has seen since gaining independence three decades ago.

The outburst of instability is causing significant concern in Kazakhstan's two powerful neighbors: Russia and China. The country sells most of its oil exports to China and is a key strategic ally of Moscow.

A sudden spike in the price of car fuel at the start of the year triggered the first protests in a remote oil town in the west. But the tens of thousands who have since surged onto the streets across more than a dozen cities and towns now have the entire authoritarian government in their sights.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has cut an increasingly desperate figure. He first sought to mollify the crowds by dismissing the entire government early Wednesday. But by the end of the day he had changed course. First, he described demonstrators as terrorists. Then he appealed to a Russian-led military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, for help in crushing the uprising and the CSTO agreed to send an unspecified number of peacekeepers.

Why are people angry?

Of the five Central Asian republics that gained independence following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan is by far the largest and the wealthiest. It spans a territory the size of Western Europe and sits atop colossal reserves of oil, natural gas, uranium and precious metals.

But while Kazakhstan’s natural riches have helped it cultivate a solid middle class, as well as a substantial cohort of ultrarich tycoons, financial hardship is widespread. The average national monthly salary is just under $600. The banking system has fallen prey to deep crises precipitated by non-performing loans. As in much of the rest of the region, petty corruption is rampant.

The rally that set off the latest crisis took place in the dusty western oil town of Zhanaozen. Resentments have long festered in the area over a sense that the region's energy riches haven't been fairly spread among the local population. In 2011, police shot dead at least 15 people in the city who were protesting in support of oil workers dismissed after a strike.

When prices for the liquified petroleum gas most people in the area use to power their cars doubled overnight Saturday, patience snapped. Residents in nearby cities quickly joined in and within days large protests had spread to the rest of the country.

Who is leading the protests?

The suppression of critical voices in Kazakhstan has long been the norm. Any figures aspiring to oppose the government have either been repressed, sidelined or co-opted. So, although these demonstrations have been unusually large — some drawing more than 10,000 people, a large number for Kazakhstan — no protest movement leaders have emerged.

For most of Kazakhstan's recent history, power was held in the hands of former President Nursultan Nazarbayev. That changed in 2019 when Nazarbayev, now 81, stepped aside and anointed his long-time ally Tokayev as his successor. In his capacity as head of the security council that oversees the military and security services, Nazarbayev continued to retain considerable sway over the country. Tokayev announced Wednesday that he was taking over from Nazarbayev as security council head.

Much of the anger displayed on the streets in recent days was directed not at Tokayev, but at Nazarbayev, who is still widely deemed the country’s ultimate ruler. The slogan “Shal ket!” (“Old man, go”) has become a main slogan.

How are the authorities responding?

A police official in Almaty said Thursday that dozens of protesters were killed in attacks on government buildings. At least a dozen police officers were also killed, including one who got beheaded.

There were attempts to storm buildings in Almaty during the night and “dozens of attackers were liquidated,” police spokeswoman Saltanat Azirbek said. She spoke on state news channel Khabar-24. The reported attempts to storm the buildings came after widespread unrest in the city on Wednesday, including seizure of the mayor’s building, which was set on fire.

The initial reaction was in keeping with usual policy in the face of public discontent. Police and the National Guard were deployed in large numbers. The crowd that made its way to City Hall in the commercial capital, Almaty, early Wednesday was met by large phalanxes of riot police and armored personnel carriers. While gatherings are normally dispersed with ease, the number of people on the street this time was too large.

With government buildings coming under assault in several large cities, Tokayev appealed for help from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Moscow-led military alliance. He justified the appeal for external intervention by claiming the protesters were operating at the behest of international terrorist groups. He offered no details on what he meant by that.

Is the government likely to be toppled?

This is uncharted territory for Kazakhstan. The country has seen major demonstrations before: In 2016, after the passage of a contentious land law. And again in 2019, after the contentious election that secured Tokayev’s hold on power. But never anything on this scale.

In one of his appeals to the public Wednesday, Tokayev pledged to pursue reforms and hinted that political liberalization might be possible. His darker remarks toward the end of the day, however, suggested he would instead go down a more repressive road.

Still, because the street protests are so lacking in focus, at least for now, it's difficult to see how they might end. But even if they fail to topple the government, it looks possible they might lead to deep transformation. What is not clear is what that might mean.

Associated Press

Brazil heads into latest COVID surge amid public health information blackout

class=”MuiTypography-root-133 MuiTypography-h1-138″>Brazil heads into latest COVID surge amid public health information blackout

COVID-19 is back with a vengeance in Brazil, along with simultaneous flu and other viral infections. But a “total blackout” on data has left health workers feeling blindsided.

The WorldJanuary 6, 2022 · 1:30 PM EST

Commuters wear protective face masks as they walk through a subway station, in São Paulo, Brazil, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Dec. 1, 2021. Brazil joined the widening circle of countries to report cases of the omicron variant. 

Andre Penner/AP/File photo

Daniela Castelan lives in a 3-bedroom house in Sao Paulo with her husband and two young girls. Just after Christmas, they started feeling sick. 

“We had light symptoms,” she said. “One of my daughters had a fever. My 7-year-old had a bad cough. We were all congested and we all had a cough. That’s why I believe it was omicron.” 

She said they’ve had a hard time getting tested, because COVID-19 tests are either hard to come by or really expensive. So, they’ve been isolating at home.

This is the story for many in Brazil today. COVID-19 is back with a vengeance, after months of respite, while the flu and other viruses are also hitting communities hard. But a "total blackout" on public health information since December has left health workers feeling blindsided.

Many Brazilians rang in the new year by partying like COVID-19 was a thing of the past. People packed beaches for celebrations in Rio de Janeiro. No one wore a mask.

Related: Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity over negligent COVID response 

"We are going to have an absurd number of cases. … We are going to pack the emergency rooms. This is a fact. This will happen."

Marcos Caseiro, infectious disease specialist, Brazil

“We are going to have an absurd number of cases,” infectologist Marcos Caseiro said during an interview shared online last week. “We are going to pack the emergency rooms. This is a fact. This will happen,” he said.

Public hospitals in the state capital of Belo Horizonte are at capacity. Hospitals elsewhere are also filling up.

The omicron variant now accounts for a majority of COVID-19 cases in the country. But Brazil is also battling a flu outbreak. Dozens in São Paulo alone are infected right now with both viruses at the same time.

"We are hearing stories from colleagues that there are patients with COVID, with the flu, with rotavirus and RSV [respiratory syncytial virus]. There are people with four different viruses like this at the same time. … It’s insane. …"

Larissa Brussa, microbiologist, Brazil

“We are hearing stories from colleagues that there are patients with COVID, with the flu, with rotavirus and RSV [respiratory syncytial virus]. There are people with four different viruses like this at the same time,” said Larissa Brussa, a microbiologist who works with the country’s largest private-sector laboratory. “It’s insane. We weren’t expecting this and it’s very concerning.”

According to the numbers, omicron cases are still relatively low in Brazil. But that’s because there are no official figures. Since a hacker knocked out the country’s COVID-19 reporting system in mid-December, government numbers have been largely offline.

Related: Electricity rates have skyrocketed in Brazil. The govt says the water crisis is to blame.

"I am very concerned about this blackout of information. This leaves us blind for what’s happening around us. And it’s hard for us to develop effective measures to stop cases, hospitalizations and deaths from rising."

Mellanie Fontes-Dutra, biochemist and a researcher, COVID-19 Analysis Network, Brazil

“I am very concerned about this blackout of information. This leaves us blind for what’s happening around us. And it’s hard for us to develop effective measures to stop cases, hospitalizations and deaths from rising,” said Mellanie Fontes-Dutra, a biochemist and a researcher with the COVID-19 Analysis Network.

If there is a silver lining, Brazil’s COVID-19 vaccination program has been a success, after an initially slow start. The government says 80% of the eligible adult population is fully vaccinated. 

Related: Brazil’s COVID vaccination campaign picks up thanks to a 1980s public health mascot

Yesterday, Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga announced that vaccines were finally approved for children over the age of 5. He said they would start to be distributed in the coming days. 

Cities have reinstated mask mandates. São Paulo is now requiring all state employees to get vaccinated. Many cities, including Rio de Janeiro, have canceled Carnival for the second year in a row.

These measures to stem the spread of the virus are increasing as the country heads into another COVID-19 wave. This time, with more vaccines — but less government data to guide the way forward.

“It’s like we’ve been in a tunnel, we’ve had some glimmers of hope. … but at this moment, with the erasing of information, there is a total blackout. We are in a tunnel. And the light of hope has been blown out.”

Renata Rivera, doctor, São Paulo, Brazil

“It’s like we’ve been in a tunnel, we’ve had some glimmers of hope,” São Paulo doctor Renata Rivera said. “But at this moment, with the erasing of information, there is a total blackout. We are in a tunnel. And the light of hope has been blown out.”