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Monday, July 11, 2016

Suicide bomber kills six in mosque in north-east Nigeria, Africa News & Top Stories - The Straits Times

Suicide bomber kills six in mosque in north-east Nigeria

MAIDUGURI (REUTERS) - A suicide bomber killed six people inside a mosque in north-eastern Nigeria's Borno state at dawn on Friday, an army spokesman said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack in the town of Damboa but it bore the hallmarks of Islamist Boko Haram militants, who have waged an insurgency since 2009 to carve out a state based on sharia (Islamic law) in the north-east of Africa's most populous country.
Army spokesman Sani Usman said there were two suicide bombers involved, one of whom failed to gain entry to the Damboa Central Mosque and detonated his load in the street outside, killing himself but causing no other casualties.
He said the second militant managed to get into a smaller mosque nearby and blew himself up there, killing six worshippers and wounding one other person.
Earlier, a military source who did not want to be named said nine people were killed and 13 others injured in the 5.15am (12.15pm Singapore time) attack.
Damboa, 87km south of the Borno capital Maiduguri, was the first town captured by Boko Haram, in July 2014. Security forces ousted the militants two months later.
Nigeria's army, aided by troops from adjacent countries, has retaken over the past year most of the territory lost to Boko Haram. But the militant group, which last year pledged loyalty to Islamic State, still regularly stages suicide bombings.
The insurgency has killed more than 15,000 people and displaced two million others.

Africa: Global Academic Collaboration - a New Form of Colonisation? - allAfrica.com

Africa: Global Academic Collaboration - a New Form of Colonisation? - allAfrica.com

analysis By Hanne Kirstine Adriansen, Aarhus University
Higher education in Africa is as old as the pyramids in Egypt. But the continent's ancient institutions have long disappeared. The type of higher education that's delivered in Africa today, from curriculum to degree structure and the languages of instruction, is rooted in colonialism. This has led many to question whether African universities are still suffering from a sort of colonisation - of the mind.
The story of renowned climate change researcher Cheikh Mbow is an example. Mbow was born in Senegal in 1969 and studied there. Looking back at his experiences during his first years of university, Mbow observes: "I knew all about the geography and biology of France but nothing about that of Senegal."
Mbow also happens to be my friend, and together with one of his colleagues we wrote a book chapter about the production of scientific knowledge in Africa today. The chapter is based on Mbow's life story - which I'll return to shortly.
In recent years a new consciousness has emerged about higher education's historical roots. People are calling strongly for a decolonised academy. This feeds into a broader debate about the role of modern universities.
There's little doubt that Africa's universities need to be locally relevant - focusing their teaching and research on local needs. Unavoidably, though, they're simultaneously expected to internationalise and participate in the heated global higher education competition. Standardisation is the name of the game here. Universities compete to feature on global ranking lists, mimicking each other.

Internationalisation also sees African researchers like Mbow travelling North in search of research environments with better resources. These international collaborations can be hugely beneficial. But all too often it's organisations, universities and researchers in the global North that call the shots.
So how can the continent's universities manage the tricky balance between local relevance and internationalisation? How can they participate in international collaboration without being "recolonised" by subjecting themselves to the standards of curriculum and quality derived in the North? How can they avoid collaborative programmes with the North that become mere tick-box exercises that only benefit the Northern researchers and organisations?
International collaboration grows
Over the past 20 years, international interest in African higher education has intensified. Aid agencies in the North have developed policies that are designed to strengthen Africa's research capacity. Scandinavian countries were among the first to do so: Denmark has the Building Stronger Universities programme. Norway and Sweden have similar collaborative programmes.
Such initiatives are important. Research funding is very limited at African universities. National higher education budgets are quite low, especially compared with universities in the North. In their bid to educate rapidly growing populations, African universities tend to emphasise teaching rather than research. So these institutions rely heavily on external funding for research and depend on support from development agencies via so-called capacity building projects. These projects engage researchers from the North and South in joint activities within teaching and research, ideally to create partnerships based on mutual respect.
Many researchers from universities in the North and South are involved in these collaborative projects, usually as practitioners. Only rarely do we turn these collaborative projects into a research field, turning the microscope on ourselves and our own practice. After participating in a capacity building project in Africa, some colleagues and I became interested in understanding the geography and power of scientific knowledge.

We wanted to know how this power and geography is negotiated through capacity building projects. We also sought to understand whether such projects functioned as quality assurance or a type of neo-imperialism.
Simply put, our research explored whether capacity building and the tendency towards increased international collaboration in higher education is helping or hindering African universities. The answer? Both.
'Monocultures of the mind'
The problem with such projects is that they might create what Indian activist Vandana Shiva calls "monocultures of the mind". Shiva argues that these make diversity disappear from perception and consequently from the world. People all end up thinking in the same ways.
International collaboration can cause African universities to become more dependent on the North. Their dependence is on funding; through publication in journals from the North; and through technology that only exists in the North. It also manifests in thinking mainly using concepts and solutions developed in the North.
Another problem is that this international collaboration may draw African universities into the competition fetish that dominates higher education today. This may help them to become globally competitive. But they risk losing their local relevance in the process.
Capacity building projects risk creating Shiva's monocultures of the mind. But they can also have the opposite effect: they can empower African researchers and help them to become more independent.
Empowerment through capacity building
For Cheikh Mbow, the North represented both an imposed curriculum through colonial heritage and the chance to acquire the skills needed to become an emancipated academic capable of creating new knowledge.
His PhD project explored natural resource management in Senegal "but using methods designed in the global North, in particular from France". During his project he travelled from Senegal to Denmark and was exposed to another way of behaving. At his home institution, the Université de Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, questioning the knowledge and methods of older professors was perceived as misbehaviour. In Denmark he experienced a different system. There he was asked to question what was taken for granted even if it meant questioning older professors.

Paradoxically, the Danish system enabled Mbow to become an independent researcher. He became aware of how knowledge and methods inherited from the North were used in an African context without being questioned.
Mbow explains:
After several years of research, I began challenging some of the received knowledge and managed to specify what is particular to Africa. After being able to contextualise knowledge, I was able to create knowledge that concerned and responded to societal needs and local realities in Africa.
This is precisely what the African academy - and its societies more broadly - require.
Collaboration to decolonise
I would argue that collaborative projects such as capacity building programmes can be a means to assist African universities in producing contextualised knowledge. These projects can even lead to some sort of decolonisation of the academy if they are based on long-term partnerships, a close understanding of historical, political and geographical context, and not least a common exploration of knowledge diversity.
This article is based on a blog that originally appeared here.
Disclosure statement
Hanne Kirstine Adriansen does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

China’s Massive Effort to Purify Seawater Is Drying Up

China's Massive Effort to Purify Seawater Is Drying Up

The site of a seawater desalination plant that could provide up to one-third of the water consumed by Beijing's households lies about 200 kilometers southeast of the parched Chinese capital. In 2014, China's state news media reported that the facility, to be located on the shores of Bohai Bay, would be completed by 2019, contributing to the three million tons of fresh water per day of desalination capacity that China wants to have built by 2020.
Since then, the planning of this facility has been touch and go: it's been approved by the provincial development agency and listed as one of the major projects in China's initiative to build a supercity around Beijing, but it's still far from certain when the construction will begin.
After an initial boom—from 2006 to 2010, China's desalination capacity grew nearly 70 percent each year, according to government statistics—China missed its target of producing 2.2 to 2.6 million tons of desalinated water a day by 2015. As of December last year, China's total installed capacity was 1.03 million tons a day, according to the China Desalination Association.

China is falling far short of its goals for daily desalinated water production.

China has much to benefit from more abundant freshwater resources. Government statistics show that by 2030, the water shortage in China's coastal areas will reach 21.4 billion cubic meters, despite water conservation efforts and the massive South-North Water Diversion Project, which pumps 25 billion cubic meters of water per year from the Yangtze River in southern China to the north China plain via two routes that are each more than 1,000 kilometers long. Of China's 669 largest cities, at least 400 already suffer from water scarcity. Water security also underpins the economy, since 93 percent of power generation in China relies on water, according to China Water Risk.
But challenges abound in China's ambition to bring more desalination capacity online. Because of its energy-intensive nature, desalination is expensive—while most Chinese pay less than 50 cents for a ton of tap water, the average price of desalinated water in China is 75 cents to $1.20 per ton. This means the water is a hard sell for urban water authorities, and local governments are often reluctant to commit to building desalination plants.
"When there is a drought, local officials and enterprises all come to see us and say, 'We want to desalinate seawater,'" says Wang Zhi, director of the Key Laboratory of Membrane Science and Desalination Technology at Tianjin University. "But if there is sufficient rainfall the next year, they will drop the idea and invest their money in other things first."
Indeed, the demand for seawater desalination grows and wanes as the levels of local surface water and groundwater fluctuate from year to year, putting future projects on hold. There are mismatches between supply and demand for existing plants, too. The pilot phase of the proposed plant for Beijing currently produces 3,000 to 5,000 tons of fresh water a day for a local coal-fired generator—even though it was built to produce 50,000 tons a day.
"The rapid development of the entire seawater desalination industry in China will not happen unless most of the desalinated seawater can enter municipal water supplies," says Fan Zhifeng, senior engineer of the seawater desalination division at Shanghai Electric. "But currently that's not the case."
In an effort to prioritize the already dwindling freshwater resources, the Chinese government rolled out a new policy a few years ago: new water-intensive industrial facilities in the coastal areas cannot draw local surface water and are required to provide their own water supplies. As a result, over 60 percent of the desalinated water produced in China is for industrial use, often in the form of individual plants for generators or oil refineries along the country's east coast.
For northern China, the South-North Water Diversion Project has made seawater desalination seem less urgent. Some Chinese officials and scientists have questioned the sustainability of the project since it has forced hundreds of thousands of people to relocate and spurred environmental concerns such as destroying the ecology of the southern rivers. The choice between desalination and water transfer is a complicated one, as "desalination must likewise be designed so as to minimize negative impact on marine life" by diluting and diffusing the concentrated salt water discharged back into the sea after the fresh water has been extracted, says John Lienhard, director of the Center for Clean Water and Clean Energy at MIT.
Sensing that desalination is a technology-driven industry, China has called for at least 70 percent of domestic innovation in desalination equipment. That's still a long way off. According to a government document released in 2012, of the 756 desalination-related patents registered in China, only 15 percent had Chinese intellectual property.
Chinese scientists say they first use foreign equipment and then do their own research in order to catch up. "We import for the first phase, and then we do it on our own," says Xie Lixin, deputy director of the Tianjin University desalination lab, which boasts research on nearly all the major desalination technologies including distillation and energy recovery.
For foreign companies eyeing the potential of China as a desalination market, this means the picture is not all rosy. Located on the outskirts of Tianjin, the Beijing Power and Desalination Plant is the largest desalination facility in China. It was designed by Israel Desalination Enterprises, or IDE Technologies. Many Chinese companies go to the plant to try to imitate the design, says Wang Shuangcheng, general manager of IDE Technologies' China office. "It's a big market, so they think, why should it be dominated by a few foreign companies?"

Kashmir seethes as 25 killed amid protests - The China Post

Kashmir seethes as 25 killed amid protests

SRINAGAR, India--Indian authorities were struggling Monday to contain protests by Kashmiris angry after 25 people were killed in weekend demonstrations, as youths defied a curfew to rally in the streets against the killing of a top anti-India rebel leader.
Paramilitary troops and police in riot gear patrolled villages and towns in the Himalayan region. Most shops were shuttered, businesses were closed, and cellphone and mobile internet services were suspended in parts of the region. But by noon Monday, crowds were ignoring the clampdown to gather in parts of the main city of Srinagar and other locations.
The region erupted in protests on Saturday, a day after Indian troops killed Burhan Wani, the young leader of Kashmir's largest rebel group, Hizbul Mujahideen, which has been fighting since the 1990s against Indian rule. Wani, in his early 20s, had become the iconic face of Kashmir's militancy, using social media to rally supporters and reach out to other youths like him who had grown up amid hundreds of thousands of Indian armed forces deployed across the region.
Police Inspector-General Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gillani described Wani's killing as the "biggest success against militants" in recent years.
As news of his death spread, spontaneous protests erupted and crowds of angry youths gathered to throw rocks at Indian police and paramilitary soldiers, shouting "Go India, go back!" Police said that some police and paramilitary posts were attacked, and that some homes of pro-India politicians were burned.
At least 21 civilians and one policeman have died from wounds sustained in clashes Saturday and Sunday, as law enforcement officers used live ammunition, pellet guns and tear gas to try to break up the protests.
Most of those killed were young men under the age of 26 from southern Kashmir, police said. In addition, more than 150 civilians and 100 government troops have been injured. At least 10 of the injured civilians were in serious condition.
In several neighborhoods in Srinagar, activists painted graffiti on iron shutters of shops and walls, deploring India and eulogizing Wani. Messages that they wrote included "Burhan our hero" and "Burhan still in our hearts."
Anti-India sentiment is strong throughout India's portion of Kashmir, a region of 12 million people, about 70 percent of whom are Muslim. Many resent the deployment of hundreds of thousands of Indian troops, and openly voice support for rebels who have been fighting since the 1990s to demand independence or a merger with neighboring Pakistan. 

Flooding in central China takes toll on smartphone makers - The China Post

Flooding in central China takes toll on smartphone makers

Lenovo Group Ltd, a leading handset maker in China, said its newly released smartphone ZUK Z2 would be temporarily unavailable on online shopping platforms, due to heavy flooding in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province.
"This morning, our factory in Wuhan was besieged by water, and we have sent more than 2,000 workers out of the plant to safe places," Chen Xudong, senior vice-president of Lenovo, said on Wednesday.
According to his post on Sina Weibo, the flood receded at night, but because the downpour has seriously affected local traffic, e-commerce sites would temporarily be short of the ZUK Z2 smartphones.
"Please visit bricks-and-mortar stores for our products," Chen said.
It is not immediately clear how big the Wuhan plant's production capacity is and when online sales of ZUK Z2 will be resumed.
But local media outlet Hubei Daily reported that Lenovo has poured 5 billion yuan ($748 million) to build the Wuhan production base, which spans an area of about 126,000 square meters.
Lenovo is just one of tech companies that have suffered from the heavy rainfall in central China.
As of Wednesday, the torrential rainfall in Hubei has already caused direct economic damage worth 18.1 billion yuan, the provincial government said.
The Shenzhen-based smartphone vendor Shenzhen OnePlus Science & Technology Co Ltd also issued a statement on Sina Weibo on Wednesday, warning that the deluge has affected its customer service center in Wuhan.
Fu Liang, an industry expert, said: "The current spate of floods will have some short-term impacts on smartphone vendors' sales, but would not cause long-term changes." 

Latin American Herald Tribune - Death Squad Linked to 40 Murders Dismantled in El Salvador

Latin American Herald Tribune - Death Squad Linked to 40 Murders Dismantled in El Salvador

SAN SALVADOR – Salvadoran authorities have dismantled an alleged death squad partially made up of police and linked to around 40 killings of gang members since 2014, when a resurgence of gang-related violence began.

Five civilians and five police were arrested Friday in the first crackdown in 20 years on a "social cleansing" group in El Salvador.

Attorney General Douglas Melendez said the self-described "self-defense" organization was financed by local business leaders and Salvadorans living in the United States.

Eleven other suspected members of the gang, which operated in the eastern province of San Miguel, remain at large.

"We can't allow our country to become the Old West and this case is an example of that, where we have evidence of summary executions carried out by the suspects," Melendez said.

Although the group has been linked to 40 homicides, the detainees will be charged with 9 killings, he added.

It was the first "social cleansing" group dismantled in El Salvador since 1996, when police arrested 16 suspected members of a death squad known as "Sombra Negra" (Black Shadow), including two police officers, that also operated in San Miguel.

In early May, however, authorities arrested 21 suspected killers-for-hire, including five police, accused in the deaths of gang members in western El Salvador.

Amid reports of a resurgence of death squads, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid bin Ra'ad al-Hussain urged Salvadoran authorities in mid-June to improve public safety and respect human rights.

Official figures show the first half of 2016 was the Central American country's most violent in the last decade with 3,050 homicides, up 6.1 percent from the 2,874 murders registered in the same period of 2015.

Teachers Block Roads in Mexico City, Oaxaca, Lift Other Blockades in Chiapas

Latin American Herald Tribune - Teachers Block Roads in Mexico City, Oaxaca, Lift Other Blockades in Chiapas

MEXICO CITY – The militant CNTE teachers union has set up new roadblocks in the Mexican capital and is maintaining the ones already in place in the southern state of Oaxaca, but it lifted seven others in the southeastern state of Chiapas.

Mexico City's Civil Protection Secretariat reported intermittent blockades Friday in the capital, including on the Mexico City-Puebla, Mexico City-Cuernavaca and Mexico City-Toluca highways. Marches in support of the CNTE also were reported on avenues in different sections of the city.

In Oaxaca, where blockades have been reported for the past 25 days, four intermittent roadblocks were being carried out in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region.

In Chiapas, teachers and their supporters lifted seven roadblocks on Friday, 12 days after they had been set up, including those affecting two border crossings with Guatemala.

The roadblocks had resulted in lines of vehicles, including some 400 cargo trucks bound for Central America, stretching for more than 10 kilometers (6.2 miles).

Demonstrators who had been blocking one of the border crossings – Puente Talisman – said they would hold a mega-march on Monday in the state capital, Tuxtla Gutierrez.

One roadblock on the Tutxla Gutierrez-San Cristobal de las Casas highway will not be lifted because it is being manned not only by the CNTE but also groups with other agendas, including health sector workers and members of peasant and civil society organizations.

The CNTE, which is strongest in Oaxaca, Michoacan, Chiapas and Guerrero, Mexico's poorest states, is demanding the repeal of a 2013 education overhaul that includes regular teacher evaluations and ends longstanding union privileges.

The union says the evaluations are punitive because they fail to take into account that schools in rural areas often lack electricity and even textbooks.

On Tuesday, Government Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chang, Mexico's No. 2 official, said the government had resumed talks with the CNTE and proposed negotiations on the country's current educational model.

The CNTE leaders asked for time to discuss the government's proposals with the union's rank and file, according to Osorio Chang, who said that on Monday the two sides would analyze the points of agreement that "allow us to normalize the situation shortly."

The Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto has repeatedly stressed that the 2013 law is non-negotiable.

Berlin riot: 123 police injured in anti-gentrification protest - BBC News

Berlin riot: 123 police injured in anti-gentrification protest

Close to 1,800 police officers were deployed

Police in Berlin say 123 officers were injured in clashes with leftist protesters over the redevelopment of a district in the east of the city.
About 3,500 protesters marched through Friedrichshain on Saturday. Some were masked and threw missiles, police said.
The protest was the most violent in the past five years, they said.
Tensions have risen since moves began in June to evict squatters in the area. Friedrichshain has undergone rapid gentrification in recent years.
About 1,800 police were deployed at the protest, which began peacefully but escalated into violence. Eighty-six people were arrested, police said.

Protesters, some of them masked, waved flares from the roof of 94 Rigaer Strasse on Saturday night

Squatters are refusing to leave part of a block of flats at 94 Rigaer Strasse. Since June, squads of police have been monitoring the building day and night, with helicopters circling overhead.
Police fired tear gas as shop windows were shattered and police cars damaged.
Many of the neighbours live in housing collectives and sympathise with the squatters, who see themselves as a left-wing alternative to gentrification and rising rents.
During the protest, some neighbours beat spoons against pots in support of the squatters.

Venezuelans cross into Colombia to buy food - BBC News

Venezuelans cross into Colombia to buy food

It was the first time in a year that Venezuela opened the border

Thousands of people have crossed to Colombia after Venezuela opened their common border to allow its people to buy food and medicine, officials say.
The frontier, closed by Venezuela last August as part of a crime crackdown, was to open for 12 hours.
Venezuela is going through a deep economic crisis and many say they struggle to feed their families.
Last week, about 500 Venezuelan women broke through the border controls in search of food.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the border closure because, he said, the area had been infiltrated by Colombian paramilitaries and gangs.
The measure also prevents subsidised goods from being smuggled from Venezuela into Colombia.
Some 35,000 people crossed the border between San Antonio del Tachira, in Venezuela, and Cucuta, in Colombia, a Colombian official told the BBC.

'Happy to see so much food', By Natalio Cosoy, BBC News, Cucuta, Colombia


Supermarkets were crowded with Venezuelans buying basic supplies such as rice, oil, flour and sugar, which are expensive in their country because of the shortages.
Gloria Archila was all smiles. "They had everything," she said, comparing the situation here with the empty shelves in markets back home.
Everyone seemed to have a story like this - a mother who was looking for medicine for her daughter, another who described being "happy to see so much food together".
They complained about how devaluated their Venezuelan bolivar was, limiting their purchase power. They also found goods smuggled from Venezuela being resold here. But, by and large, as they returned home in packed buses, they were triumphant - and with full bags.

An unnamed woman who crossed with her husband and two young children told the Efe news agency it was "unfair" to keep the border closed.
"We are from San Antonio, and the reality is that we do not have any food to give to our children."

Many wore white T-shirts as a sign of peace, they said, denying it had any links with the opposition
People queued since the early hours of Sunday

Venezuelans who want to cross into Colombia in states where the border has been closed need a special permit to do so.
But as the scarcity of food gets worse in Venezuela, many have crossed the porous border illegally.

What is behind the shortages?


  • Venezuela grows and produces very little except oil and has historically relied on imports to feed its people
  • Oil prices have plummeted leaving the government with a shortfall of income
  • A lack of dollars means it is struggling to import all the goods its people need and want
  • The socialist government introduced price controls on some basic goods in 2003 to make them affordable to the poor
  • But up to 40% of subsidised goods were smuggled across to Colombia to be sold at a profit
  • The opposition blames government mismanagement for the shortages
  • The government says the shortages are the result of an economic war being waged against it

Food shortages and sea level rise US voters' top climate change concerns | US news | The Guardian

Food shortages and sea level rise US voters' top climate change concerns

Alaska sea level climate change
Diminishing food and water security and ruinous sea level rise are the leading climate change concerns of a section of the American electorate that is aghast at the lack of discussion of global warming during the presidential debate.
A Guardian US survey of its readers found that pressure on food and water supplies is considered the most important consequence of climate change. Sea level rise, which is set to inundate coastal areas currently occupied by millions of Americans, is second on the list of the most urgent issues.
The online poll, part of the Guardian's Voices of America project, further highlights frustration among many voters over the tepid level of debate over climate change in the presidential race so far.
Readers were asked to rank what they think are the most pressing issues thrown up by climate change. Phasing out fossil fuel, expansion of renewable energy and the unfolding disaster affecting coral and other marine life were all popular picks for the most important category. Deforestation and climate refugees also ranked highly.
One reader said: "It's frightening that neither major candidate is stressing the environment. Both buy into the concept that environmental concerns are bad for the economy. So sad to see Mrs Clinton backpedal on coal."
A separate commenter said: "I fear we have already waited too long for significant stopping action, but I'm still hoping for at least a chance for my grandchildren to live." Another said: "We have to stop pouring gasoline on the fire. If we don't address the root causes of all this suffering – our wasteful and destructive practices in all these areas – there is no hope for improvement."
Another reader wrote that they recently moved from south Florida to northern California. "Northern central California may turn to desert eventually but at least will not be underwater with no fresh water supply. Climate change is going to adversely effect the world in countless ways. Climate change refugees is going to become a huge issue."
Some people said that it was the media's fault, rather than candidates such as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, for the lack of focus on climate change. A small number disputed that climate change is an issue, which is contrary to the view of all of the world's leading scientific institutions and the 174 nations that signed the landmark Paris climate accord last year. More than 600 people responded to the online survey.
According to a Gallup poll taken in March, a record number of Americans now accept that global warming is real and poses a threat to their way of life. Despite this, climate change has rarely been a focal point of the presidential campaign.
Democratic contenders Clinton and Bernie Sanders have stressed their support to lower emissions, although Sanders has been more willing to rule out underground fracking for gas. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has said that climate change is a nefarious plot invented by the Chinese and has threatened to remove the US from the Paris deal.
All previous Republican challengers didn't raise the issue unless pressed on it, with former Florida governor Jeb Bush putting his faith in "someone in a garage" to solve the problem.
The US just recorded its warmest June on record, with worsening wildfires across the west and California still enmeshed in its worst drought in 1,200 years. Arctic sea ice experienced record lows for both winter and summer, with parts of Alaska effectively "robbed" of a winter.
Worldwide, heat records have been set for a stunning 13 months in a row, to the astonishment of climate scientists. India recently had its hottest ever day at an incredible 124F (51C).
A mass bleaching event, caused by elevated ocean temperatures, has threatened to kill off a chunk of the Great Barrier Reef. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide will surpass the symbolic barrier of 400 parts per million (ppm) this year and will not fall below this level in our lifetimes, according to the UK's Met Office.

'There is no escape': Nairobi's air pollution sparks Africa health warning | Cities | The Guardian

'There is no escape': Nairobi's air pollution sparks Africa health warning

Peak hour traffic on Tom Mboya Avenue, Nairobi,
A minibus belches black smoke; the lorry behind it in the traffic jam billows white fumes. Eyes smart in the smog as diesel gases from thousands of 10 and 15-year-old vehicles fill Nairobi's hazy evening air, adding to pollution levels that are "beyond imagination", according to one resident. This jam could last for one, three, even five hours – last year, one stretched for 30 miles.
We could easily be in Cairo, Lagos or another African megacity, but this is the eight-lane Mombasa Road in Kenya's capital – a permanently clogged artery in a metropolis where the number of vehicles doubles every six years.
Kenya is one of the few countries in Africa to have banned cars using the most sulphurous fuels, but what research there is suggests this is still one of the most polluted cities in the world – made worse by smoke from roadside rubbish fires, diesel generators and indoor cooking stoves.
No one knows for sure, however, because like nearly all African cities, Nairobi does not regularly monitor its urban air quality.
"In 28 years of living in Nairobi, I have seen the number of people quadruple and car ownership go from 5% to 27% of people. The pollution is mind-boggling," says Dorothy McCormick, a Nairobi university economics researcher and author of books on African transport.
"There are 16 times as many vehicles on the road as when I came – the city just cannot cope. We have no tarmac left, no congestion charge and people use charcoal, paraffin and wood to heat their homes. You can see the haze building up from the early morning. What do you do – stop breathing? There is no escape."
With half the world's population growth over the next 30 years predicted to occur in Africa, the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) expects the number of cars in African cities to rise dramatically. "The vehicle fleet will double in the next seven years in Nairobi," says Rob de Jong, Unep's head of transport. "The number of cars in Africa is still relatively small, but the emissions per vehicle are much higher [than the rest of the world]."

Smoke belches from a bus in Nairobi. Photograph: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images

Africa's urban air is especially bad because so few cars are new, the vast majority having been shipped in secondhand from Japan and Europe with their catalytic converters and air filters dismantled. It is in danger of becoming a dumping ground for the world's old cars – importing vehicles that no longer meet rich countries' pollution standards.
Across the continent, this explosion in car numbers, coupled with people cooking indoors on wood-fired stoves, is creating an urban health crisis already estimated by the UN to be killing 776,000 people a year. If unchecked, within a generation it is likely to kill twice as many annually, with devastating costs to public services and economies.
"Africa is urbanising and 'motorising' faster than any other region in the world," says De Jong. "Its pollution is not yet level with New Delhi or Beijing, but it is getting there quickly. Respiratory diseases are now the number one disease in Kenya – and that is directly linked to air pollution. It is rapidly on the rise."
According to Marie Thynell, an urban researcher at Sweden's Gothenburg University who led a study of Nairobi pollution in 2015, the amount of cancer-causing elements in the air within the city is 10 times higher than the threshold recommended by the World Health Organisation.
Thynell's research uncovered dramatic pollution spikes on all of Nairobi's main roads. "The pollution is uncontrolled and particularly deadly in slum districts and for drivers, street vendors and traffic police," she says.
Michael Gatari, an environmental scientist at the Kenyan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology, predicts the country will have "a very sick population in years to come. Even what limited data there is suggests it is around 30 times worse than in London, and that Kenya is building up an immense health problem. Thirty percent more diesel is being burned in Nairobi compared with five years ago. Without doubt, the pollution will have a huge economic and health impact. We will see more and more cancers and heart disease, many more asthma cases and respiratory diseases."

If action is not taken, the WHO estimates that Africa's urban air pollution levels could quadruple in 15 years. Photograph: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images

African air pollution is closely linked to poverty, according to Gatari. "In the slums, people light an open fire and close their windows; they are enclosed in very high pollution. Drivers mix good diesel with kerosene. There is a lot of burning of plastics and no proper incineration. Dust is blown everywhere by the wind, and there is loose soil from farming."
In west Africa, the manmade air pollution from the string of coastal cities including Lagos, Accra, Abidjan and Cotonou is now so bad that it is mixing with natural pollutants blown from the Sahara and affecting cloud cover and rainfall, according to Mat Evans, professor of atmospheric chemistry at York University, who is leading a large-scale investigation of air pollution in the region.
"A chain of megacities is building in Africa. The continent is in the same position that China was 20 years ago – if Africa does not regulate its air pollution, it will be a disaster."

The WHO highlighted the danger from air pollution last month when it released data on 3,000 cities worldwide. The few African cities which had any public monitoring records all had particulate (PM) levels way over UN guidelines, and four Nigerian cities were among the world's 20 worst-ranked.
Unless action is taken, says the WHO, the continent's urban air pollution levels could triple or quadruple within 15 years.
Onitsha, a commercial hub in eastern Nigeria, had the world's worst official air quality. A roadside monitor there registered 594 microns/cubic metre of PM10s, and 66 of the more deadly PM2.5s – nearly twice as bad as notoriously polluted cities such as Kabul, Beijing and Tehran, and 30 times worse than London.
Evans says that African cities such as Lagos have entirely different problems to London, where "pollution is mainly due to the burning of hydrocarbons for transport that can be addressed by tackling fuel usage through electric vehicles, and car-free zones.
"African pollution isn't like that. There is the burning of rubbish, cooking with inefficient solid fuel stoves, millions of small diesel electricity generators, cars which have had their catalytic converters removed and petrochemical plants, all pushing pollutants into the air over the cities.
"Compounds such as sulphur dioxide, benzene and carbon monoxide that have not been a problem in western cities for decades may be a significant problem in African cities. We simply don't know."
One important step forward, according to De Jong, would be to stop the dumping of old cars in Africa. "If African countries could set an age limit on imports, they could quickly improve pollution, and leapfrog technologies. The majority of vehicles which will be on the road in Africa in 10 years' time are not here yet. If these countries impose higher import standards, the majority of the fleet will soon be compliant – but if we wait nine years, the majority of cars will have come to Africa and it will be locked in to heavy pollution."
De Jong advocates the widespread introduction of electric bikes in Africa: "In China there will be 300 million of them by 2020. They are cheaper than petrol – it's purely a policy and awareness problem.
"The problem can be avoided by acting now. There is a massive opportunity for Africa to go down another road. Its air pollution must be a priority for the world."
  • The picture at the top of this article was changed on 10 July to a photograph of Nairobi.
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GCHQ’s data-mining techniques revealed in new Snowden leak | Ars Technica UK

GCHQ's data-mining techniques revealed in new Snowden leak

Shhh! Top Secret—don't pass it on...

A "Data Mining Research Problem Book" marked "top secret strap 1" has been leaked that details some of the key techniques used by GCHQ to sift through the huge volumes of data it pulls continuously from the Internet.
Originally obtained by Edward Snowden, the 96-page e-book has been published by Boing Boing, along with a second short document entitled "What's the worst that can happen?". Boing Boing describes this as "a kind of checklist for spies who are seeking permission to infect their adversaries' computers or networks with malicious software."
The data mining handbook was written by researchers from the Heilbronn Institute for Mathematical Research in Bristol, a partnership between GCHQ and the University of Bristol. According to Boing Boing, "Staff spend half their time working on public research, the other half is given over to secret projects for the government."
The handbook provides valuable insights into some of the details of GCHQ's data mining work, at least as it was in September 2011, when the document was written. At that time, some of the "bearers"—Internet links—were producing 10 gigabits per second. As the handbook notes: "A 10G bearer produces a phenomenal amount of data: far too much to store, or even to process in any complicated way." As a result, "To make things manageable, the first step is to discard the vast majority of the packets we see."
However, it is important to note that it is chiefly content that is discarded, not metadata. Here's why: "There are extremely stringent legal and policy constraints on what we can do with content, but we are much freer in how we can store and use metadata. Moreover, there is obviously a much higher volume of content than metadata. For these reasons, metadata feeds will usually be unselected—we pull everything we see; on the other hand, we generally only process content that we have a good reason to target." This confirms the central role played by metadata in GCHQ's surveillance, and that essentially all of it is already being collected, even before Snooper's Charter puts it on a firmer legal footing.
One interesting comment concerns false positives that can be thrown up by data mining: "It is important to point out that tolerance for false positives is very low: if an analyst is presented with three leads to look at, one of which is probably of interest, then they might have the time to follow that up. If they get a list of three hundred, five of which are probably of interest, then that is not much use to them." This would seem to reinforce the argument for targeted, rather than mass surveillance, although the handbook is obviously concerned with the latter.
Also notable is a section on steganography—the technique of hiding a message within another file: "Some targets try to hide their communications through the use of steganography. One approach is to slightly alter the coefficients in a JPEG image to encode the hidden data whilst trying to minimise visual changes in the JPEG." The fact that data-mining techniques have been developed to spot steganographic communications implies that it is not just a theoretical option.
Most of the handbook is devoted to reviewing the rather abstruse mathematics that can be applied to extract useful information from the huge stores of metadata that GCHQ gathers. Nonetheless, along the way, it provides useful insights into some of the key GCHQ programmes that are almost impossible to obtain any other way.
When Ars asked GCHQ whether the leaked document was genuine, a spokesperson said: "We have no comment to make on the story," and simply offered its boilerplate reply to all such requests: "It is longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters. Furthermore, all of GCHQ's work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework, which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All our operational processes rigorously support this position. In addition, the UK's interception regime is entirely compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights."
That last claim is about to be tested in court. As Ars reported recently, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has said that blanket surveillance without sufficient safeguards is a violation of basic rights. A ruling by the EctHR on whether GCHQ's activities are "entirely compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights" is expected soon.

RDC: interdiction d’une marche citoyenne pour réclamer l’électricité à Kananga - RFI

RDC: interdiction d'une marche citoyenne pour réclamer l'électricité à Kananga

En République démocratique du Congo (RDC), les autorités ont interdit, samedi 9 juillet, une marche citoyenne et pacifique dans la ville de Kananga, dans la province du Kasaï occidental, au centre du pays. Le rassemblement visait à réclamer essentiellement le rétablissement de l'électricité dans la région. C'est la deuxième marche liée à des revendications sur les questions d'électricité qui est interdite dans le pays. Et les organisateurs de la manifestation ne comprennent pas cette décision.

Les organisateurs indiquent que tout avait été fait dans les règles pour obtenir l'autorisation de marcher dans les rues de Kananga. Lundi, une lettre avait été envoyée à la maire de la ville, Antoinette Kapinga, mais deux jours plus tard, c'est une réponse négative qui leur parvient. Clément Kanku, l'un des organisateurs et président du parti d'opposition, Mouvement pour le renouveau, dénonce une restriction des libertés inacceptable.
« Nous ne comprenons pas. Nous pensons tout simplement que le pouvoir veut cacher des choses parce ce qu'ils sont incapables d'assurer la fourniture en énergie électrique. Aujourd'hui, il y a moins de 5 % de Congolais qui reçoivent du courant et encore, du courant de très mauvaise qualité. La population, c'est vrai, est fatiguée de cette situation. Je pense que c'est tout simplement une peur de la part de ce gouvernement qui veut se maintenir au pouvoir et qui évite que la population s'engage dans une voie de revendications », a-t-il estimé.
Dans sa réponse écrite de mercredi, la maire avait justifié cette interdiction par une visite programmée du président Joseph Kabila dans la province, sans donner de date précise : « La marche est inopportune en cette période où notre ville se concentre aux préparatifs de l'accueil du chef de l'Etat. »
Contactée, samedi, par RFI, Antoinette Kapinga a refusé fermement de s'exprimer sur une telle décision.

Afrique du Sud: arrestation de 4 hommes soupçonnés d’avoir voulu rejoindre l’EI - RFI

Afrique du Sud: arrestation de 4 hommes soupçonnés d'avoir voulu rejoindre l'EI

En Afrique du Sud, quatre hommes présentés comme des terroristes ont été arrêtés ce dimanche. Les individus âgés d'une vingtaine d'années envisageaient, selon le porte-parole de la police, de se rendre en Syrie combattre aux côtés de l'organisation Etat islamique.

Ces quatre personnes sont âgées de 20 à 24 ans, elles ont été interpelées dimanche après-midi dans deux communes de l'ouest de Johannesburg, par les Faucons, la brigade d'élite de la police sud-africaine. Le porte-parole de la police a donné peu de détails sur les activités dont sont suspectés ces individus : les services de renseignement les ont identifiés après qu'ils ont tenté de rejoindre le groupe Etat islamique en Syrie l'année dernière.
La police a également perquisitionné les lieux des arrestations, mais on ignore précisément le matériel qui a été saisi. Deux des suspects passent dès aujourd'hui devant le tribunal de Johannesburg où ils vont être jugés pour activités terroristes, tandis que les deux autres seront jugés plus tard pour détention d'armes illégale.
Peu de précédents
Ce genre d'arrestation est exceptionnel en Afrique du Sud, car le pays est pour le moment très peu exposé à la menace terroriste. D'après les derniers chiffres, moins d'une centaine de personnes par exemple auraient rejoint les rangs du groupe Etat islamique. Il y a un mois, le Royaume-Uni et les Etats-Unis ont mis en garde leurs ressortissants contre un risque élevé d'attentat pendant le mois du ramadan, un avertissement que les autorités sud-africaines n'ont pas apprécié. Un porte-parole du ministère des Affaires étrangères avait ainsi accusé les Etats-Unis d'encourager la panique.
Après ces dernières arrestations, la police assure tout de même qu'elle reste vigilante. Elle appelle d'ailleurs tous les Sud-Africains à dénoncer les comportements suspects.

Turkey's pro-government media mired in CIA conspiracy theories Al Monitor

Turkey's pro-government media mired in CIA conspiracy theories

A cufflink with the CIA logo is seen on CIA Director John Brennan's shirt as he testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on "diverse mission requirements in support of our national security," in Washington, June 16, 2016.  (photo by REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)
When Istanbul Ataturk Airport was attacked by three suicide bombers June 28, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim appeared on television and said, "Early signs indicate the Islamic State [IS]" was responsible. In the following days, further evidence and arrests by Turkish security forces confirmed a well-planned IS attack. In addition, on June 29, CIA Director John Brennan concurred with the Turkish authorities in an interview, also warning there could be similar attacks on American soil.
Yet, conservative, pro-Justice and Development Party (AKP) media outlets are presenting a rather different picture.
"The CIA was behind the attacks!" That was the headline of pro-AKP Islamist Yeni Akit daily on June 30. The headline was based on an opinion piece published the same day by the pro-government Takvim daily titled "CIA and the false flag again." Takvim columnist Ergun Diler said men who have previously been connected to the CIA carried out all the previous attacks in Boston, Paris and Brussels.
With mind-numbing logic, Diler explains the situation as part of World War III, organized around false-flag operations of the CIA. In the piece, he also makes reference to undisclosed foreign experts who have argued that "Turkey is a stronghold of the CIA, where the agency can carry out an attack every other day." Diler argues that three countries — Turkey, France and Russia — are paying the price for standing up against the United States.
Diler is not alone in his allegation of CIA-planned Islamist terror attacks. On the same day of Diler's analysis, several op-eds appeared in unison in pro-AKP media outlets directly blaming the attacks on the United States in general and the CIA specifically. Indeed, since June 29, almost all pro-AKP media have featured two types of analyses about the Istanbul airport attack: One, like Diler, directly and clearly blames the CIA; the more mellow versions suggest IS is a pawn of imperial forces. Here are some interesting arguments from these dailies.
On June 30, from Yeni Akit, Ali Karahasanoglu penned a piece titled "Whoever gave IS the brand-new Toyotas is the culprit." Karahasanoglu wrote, "When we say IS, I think of men with guns and Toyota pickup trucks." Questioning where these trucks came from, Karahasanoglu discards the possibility that the United States provided the trucks to the Free Syrian Army, which then lost them to IS. He concludes that the trucks are clear evidence of US involvement. Then he argues that the United States showed its jealousy of the Russian-Turkish rapprochement by bombing the airport. He repeats a popular argument that IS is merely a pawn.
Another striking piece comes from columnist Ibrahim Karagul of the conservative daily Yeni Safak. Karagul's piece is titled "This is not terror but a multinational attack: Turkey never kneels down!" Karagul warns his readers about internal and external threats working to conquer and divide Turkey. He concludes that the attacks are intelligence operations, but he can't quite say whether a Western or Eastern agency is behind them. However, he is confident that the hands that control the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party in Syria and IS are the same.
Posted on June 30, another Yeni Akit columnist, Mehtap Yilmaz, starts her column by asking, "Is there anyone who does not know IS is a project created at Mossad-CIA laboratories?" Indeed, Yilmaz expands the conspiracy even further, saying that not only are the PKK and IS products of foreign forces, but also the Gulen movement. Yilmaz's fellow columnist Ahmet Varol on the same day published a searing piece arguing IS was created and used by international imperialist forces to destroy Muslim societies from within. On July 7, as further IS attacks — focused particularly on Baghdad — took place during Eid al-Fitr, a holiday marking the end of Ramadan, Varol titled a new piece "Eids that are bombed," where he argued that, though IS' real target is Muslims, "global imperial forces focus on Islam, not on marginal or extremist attitudes, [when] explaining these attacks to their own public."
The immediate effects of these arguments were also seen on social media, where photos of Brennan were posted with the allegation that he was responsible for the blood spilled at the Istanbul airport.
All of this raises a daunting question. Turkish authorities have openly declared IS as the culprit, while pro-government media outlets — which traditionally refrain from publishing arguments of which the government does not approve — almost turn the official statement about IS involvement on its head. Why do pro-government media following the Istanbul attacks struggle so much to muddy the waters and virtually clear IS?
There are at least two possible explanations for this puzzle. First is the increasing sympathy toward the idea of a caliphate and people's difficulty in accepting a link between Islam and terror in Turkey. Second is the failure to accept how Turkey's foreign policy mistakes have increased its security vulnerabilities.
IS is known to claim attacks where the targets are Shiite mosques or shrines in Muslim-majority countries. But one of the reasons IS is not claiming responsibility for its attacks on Sunni-majority targets is to avoid hurting its credibility and recruitment rates among Sunnis. Next is its inability to explain how even the word "Islam" can be linked to IS atrocities for the majority of practicing Muslims. That is why conservative columnists almost always bring the PKK and other armed non-state groups into their arguments. Even when they accept that IS pulled the trigger, they insist on posing questions such as, "But who provoked IS?"
Omer Gergerlioglu, a columnist for the website T24, told Al-Monitor, "Islamists in Turkey are not yet able to face the music. That's why they insist IS is a pawn of foreign forces. Yet, when asked, 'Would someone blow himself up just to please the foreign forces?' they have no proper answer, because they have not thought these conspiracy theories through thoroughly."
Gergerlioglu makes another crucial point — that whitewashing IS could lead to a rise in the number of IS sympathizers and members. He said, "When pundits in prominent media outlets repeatedly generate conspiracy theories, how can we expect the public to react?"
Why, then, would these media outlets resort to such confusing conspiracies? Soli Ozel, a professor of international relations from Kadir Has University, wrote an opinion piece noting that in domestic politics, the government in Turkey is almost the exclusive gatekeeper of the news, but in foreign affairs it's not so easy to silence other countries' media outlets. Hence, in international circles, the government is ready to openly blame and hold IS accountable for its atrocities. Domestically, the pro-government media insists it must be the CIA.
Ozel suggests that Turkey's first step in adjusting its handling of foreign policy matters should be to discuss them without turning them into populist slogans for domestic audiences.
This confusion indeed has led to quite preposterous results. On July 7, Yeni Akit posted a piece of news titled "Western fashion world supports IS," in which it claimed last year's fashion week in New York included a show inspired by IS — indicating Western support for IS.
In the same news item was the claim that IS uses a brainwashing technique developed by the CIA to recruit rich kids into its ranks. The news even had a photo of an IS fighter with expensive gear — not to fight, but to hang out in affluent cafes to generate recruits. How does IS lure so many foreign fighters? The secret, according to this news report, is in the expensive fashion items: jeans costing almost $700 (2,000 Turkish lira) and $1,200 (3,300 Turkish lira) shirts, for starters.
Desperate times in Turkish politics are creating increasingly ridiculous news reporting that may have harmful consequences in the near future.