Indian Capital Gears Up to Tackle Air Pollution Ahead of Winter

The Indian capital of New Delhi will enforce a 15-step action plan to curb pollution ahead of the arrival of winter, when a haze of toxic smog envelops the world’s most polluted city.

High pollution is an annual sore point for Delhi, especially in October and November.

Authorities urge people to stay indoors as burning of crop waste ahead of a new sowing season and lower temperatures trap pollutants in the air for longer, often forcing the closure of schools, with curbs placed on use of private vehicles.

“We are announcing a 15-point winter action plan,” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal told a news conference at which he laid out the measures to reduce pollution, though the annual campaign has had little impact for years.

Measures to help limit dust in the air will include installation of anti-smog guns and water sprinklers, he added.

The government will also ensure that people do not burn waste materials, a major cause of pollution.

Tough measures to check vehicular pollution include curbs on the usage of diesel-fueled vehicles older than 10 years and petrol-run vehicles older than 15.

Pollution levels also peak during Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, which falls on Oct. 24 this year. The government renewed a ban on firecrackers this month.

The Delhi city government will draft thousands of volunteers to ensure the anti-pollution measures are followed, Kejriwal added. He urged neighboring states to ensure a constant supply of electricity and so limit use of diesel-run power generators.

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Nobel Prize Season Arrives Amid War, Nuclear Fears, Hunger 

This year’s Nobel Prize season approaches as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shattered decades of almost uninterrupted peace in Europe and raised the risks of a nuclear disaster.

The secretive Nobel committees never hint who will win the prizes in medicine, physics, chemistry, literature, economics or peace. It’s anyone’s guess who might win the awards being announced starting Monday.

Yet there’s no lack of urgent causes deserving the attention that comes with winning the world’s most prestigious prize: wars in Ukraine and Ethiopia, disruptions to supplies of energy and food, rising inequality, the climate crisis, the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The science prizes reward complex achievements beyond the understanding of most. But the recipients of the prizes in peace and literature are often known by a global audience, and the choices — or perceived omissions — have sometimes stirred emotional reactions.

Members of the European Parliament have called for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the people of Ukraine to be recognized this year by the Nobel Peace Prize committee for their resistance to the Russian invasion.

While that desire is understandable, that choice is unlikely because the Nobel committee has a history of honoring figures who end conflicts, not wartime leaders, said Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Smith believes more likely peace prize candidates would be those fighting climate change or the International Atomic Energy Agency, a past recipient. Honoring the IAEA again would recognize its efforts to prevent a radioactive catastrophe at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant amid fighting in Ukraine, and its work in fighting nuclear proliferation, Smith said.

“This is a really difficult period in world history, and there is not a lot of peace being made,” he said.

Promoting peace isn’t always rewarded with a Nobel. India’s Mohandas Gandhi, a prominent symbol of nonviolence, was never so honored.

In some cases, the winners have not lived out the values enshrined in the peace prize. 

Just this week the Vatican acknowledged imposing disciplinary sanctions on Nobel Peace Prize-winning Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo following allegations he sexually abused boys in East Timor in the 1990s.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won in 2019 for making peace with neighboring Eritrea. A year later, a largely ethnic conflict erupted in the country’s Tigray region. Some accuse Abiy of stoking the tensions, which have resulted in widespread atrocities. Critics have called for his Nobel to be revoked, and the Nobel committee has issued a rare admonition to him.

The Myanmar activist Aung San Suu Kyi won in 1991 for her opposition to military rule but decades later has been viewed as failing to oppose atrocities committed against the mostly Muslim Rohingya minority.

In some years, no peace prize has been awarded. The Norwegian Nobel Committee paused them during World War I, except to honor the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1917. It didn’t hand out any from 1939 to 1943 because of World War II. In 1948, the year Gandhi died, the committee made no award, citing a lack of a suitable living candidate.

The peace prize also does not always confer protection.

Last year journalists Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia were awarded “for their courageous fight for freedom of expression” in the face of authoritarian governments.

Following the invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin has cracked down even harder on independent media, including Muratov’s Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s most renowned independent newspaper. Muratov himself was attacked on a Russian train by an assailant who poured red paint over him, injuring his eyes.

The Philippines government this year ordered the shutdown of Ressa’s news organization, Rappler.

The literature prize, meanwhile, has been anything but predictable.

Few had bet on last year’s winner, Zanzibar-born, U.K.-based writer Abdulrazak Gurnah, whose books explore the personal and societal impacts of colonialism and migration.

Gurnah was only the sixth Nobel literature laureate born in Africa, and the prize has long faced criticism that it is too focused on European and North American writers. It is also male dominated, with just 16 women among its 118 laureates.

A clear contender is Salman Rushdie, the India-born writer and free-speech advocate who spent years in hiding after Iran’s clerical rulers called for his death over his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. Rushdie, 75, was stabbed and seriously injured in August at a festival in New York state.

The list of possible winners includes literary giants from around the world: Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Japan’s Haruki Murakami, Norway’s Jon Fosse, Antigua-born Jamaica Kincaid and France’s Annie Ernaux.

The prizes to Gurnah in 2021 and U.S. poet Louise Gluck in 2020 have helped the literature prize move on from years of controversy and scandal.

In 2018, the award was postponed after sex abuse allegations rocked the Swedish Academy, which names the Nobel literature committee, and sparked an exodus of members. The academy revamped itself but faced more criticism for giving the 2019 literature award to Austria’s Peter Handke, who has been called an apologist for Serbian war crimes.

Some scientists hope the award for physiology or medicine honors colleagues instrumental in the development of the mRNA technology that went into COVID-19 vaccines, which saved millions of lives around the world.

“When we think of Nobel prizes, we think of things that are paradigm shifting, and in a way I see mRNA vaccines and their success with COVID-19 as a turning point for us,” said Deborah Fuller, a microbiology professor at the University of Washington.

Physics at times can seem arcane and difficult for the public to understand. But the last three years, the physics Nobel has honored more accessible topics: climate change computer models, black holes and planets outside our solar system.

Some harder-to-understand topics in physics — like stopping light, quantum physics and carbon nanotubes — could capture a Nobel award this year.

The Nobel announcements kick off Monday with the prize in physiology or medicine, followed by physics on Tuesday, chemistry on Wednesday and literature on Thursday. The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on October 7 and the economics award on October 10.

The prizes carry a cash award of 10 million Swedish kronor (nearly $900,000) and will be handed out on December 10.

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FBI Joins Australian Hunt for Data Hackers

Australia has asked the American FBI to help catch computer hackers responsible for one of Australia’s biggest data breaches. Personal details, including home addresses, driver license and passport numbers, of more than 10 million customers of the Singapore-owned telecom giant Optus were stolen.

A massive amount of personal information about Optus customers in Australia was stolen and an extortion threat made to the company. But then there was an apparent twist. An apology was issued on an online forum by an account that investigators believe belonged to the alleged hacker, who had been unnerved by the attention the case had generated.

“Too many eyes,” it read. “We will not sale (sic) data to anyone. Sorry to 10.2m Australians whose data was leaked. Ransom not paid but we don’t care anymore.”

The Australian government has blamed Optus, one of the biggest telecommunications companies in the country, for the breach. Australia’s cybersecurity minister, Clare O’Neil, said the company had made it easy for hackers to get in.

“What is of concern for us is how what is quite a basic hack was undertaken on Optus,” she said. “We should not have a telecommunications provider in this country which has effectively left the window open for data of this nature to be stolen.”

But Optus Chief Executive Officer Kelly Bayer Rosmarin denied the company’s cyber defenses were inadequate. She said the data was encrypted and there were multiple layers of protection. But for many Optus customers, there is deep anxiety that their personal information has been compromised.

The FBI has joined the hunt for the Optus data thieves.

Frank Montoya Jr, a former FBI special agent, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that a foreign government could be involved.

“We try to determine if it is a nation state or if it is a criminal enterprise,” he said. “Now, that can be a challenge, too, because sometimes the nation state is the criminal enterprise, and I think of North Korea, for instance, and how they go after these databases for various reasons. But sometimes it is just about selling it on the dark web so they can get access to hard currency.”

Australian cyber security experts have warned that unless companies do more to protect their customers’ personal information, a data breach like the Optus theft could happen again.

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Cholera Surging Globally as Climate Change Intensifies

Cholera is surging around the globe, the World Health Organization warns.

Flareups of the deadly disease have been reported in 26 countries in the first nine months of this year. In comparison, fewer than 20 countries reported cholera outbreaks per year between 2017 and 2021. In addition to greater frequency, the WHO reports the outbreaks themselves are larger and more deadly. 

While poverty and conflict are major triggers of cholera, climate change is a growing threat. 

Philippe Barboza, WHO team lead for Cholera and Epidemic Diarrheal Diseases, said climate change presents an additional layer of complexity and creates the conditions for cholera outbreaks to explode. 

“This is what we have seen in southern Africa with the succession of cyclones that affected the eastern part of the African Coast,” Barboza said. “The drought in East Africa is driving population movements, reducing access to water, which is already needed. So, of course, it is a key factor, which is fueling the outbreak. And the same in Sahel and other places.”   

Fifteen of the 26 cholera-infected countries are in Africa, according to the WHO. 

Barboza said massive climate-induced floods in Southeast Asia also have resulted in large outbreaks of cholera in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Many countries that have made significant progress in controlling cholera are now back to square one, he added.   

Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease caused by contaminated food or water. It can kill within hours if left untreated. Cholera outbreaks can be prevented by ensuring access to clean water, basic sanitation, and hygiene, as well as stepping up surveillance and access to health care, Barboza said. 

“This is what we need countries to do, but that is easier said than done. Although many of the cholera-affected countries are actively engaged in these efforts, they are facing multiple crises, including conflict and poverty, and this is why international action is so important,” he said.  

Cholera is a preventable and treatable disease, Barboza said, so with the right foresight and action, the current global crisis can be reversed. 

 

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Challenges and Hope as India Makes Home for African Cheetahs

Eight cheetahs have been brought from Africa to India this month to conserve a species that became extinct in the South Asian country seven decades ago. While the project is hugely challenging, conservationists say the benefits go beyond conserving the world’s fastest land animal – if successful, it could help save neglected ecosystems such as grasslands. Anjana Pasricha report from New Delhi.

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