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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Low oil price and austerity overshadow Eid in Saudi Arabia

After weeks of fasting, affluent Saudis typically spend, feast and travel as they celebrate Eid to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan. 
Families gather in gleaming malls from Riyadh to Jeddah, picking up bargains and eating at restaurants.
But this year, the celebrations took place in a distinctly more frugal climate, one clouded by fragile consumer confidence and a stuttering economy as Saudi Arabiareels from the plunge in oil prices and the impact of government austerity measures. 
“The number one economic worry is the government budget — the cuts in spending and lower revenues,” said a government employee, who did not want to be named. “Everything else is a product of that, for example, sales in retail have taken a nosedive.”I saw this article when using the Financial Times app and thought you might be interested:


Read the full article at: http://on.ft.com/29CcHdn



Global Air Pollution Map Pinpoints the Most Unhealthy Cities | InsideClimate News




Global Air Pollution Map Pinpoints the Most Unhealthy Cities

Air pollution data recently released by the World Health Organization reveals that the majority of cities breathing the unhealthiest air are located in China and India, with a swath stretching across the Middle East and into Eastern Europe.
The WHO data is not comprehensive—with virtually no data from Russia or large swaths of Africa or South America—but it illustrates the impact of decades of regulation in North America, Europe and Australia, where air quality is generally better.
"One of the great gifts we have [in the U.S.] is the Clean Air Act," said Janice Nolen, vice president of national policy at the American Lung Association. She said it's easy to forget how air pollution in the U.S. was once as bad as it is now in Asia. "When you look at pictures of this country from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, [the air] was hazy, just like what you see in these international photos."
The U.S. and Europe have "made a strong push to improve air quality over the past 15 years," said Kirsten Koehler, an environmental health sciences professor at Johns Hopkins University. "So what we see is the impact of those policies that have been put in place."
InsideClimate News used the WHO database to map the cities with the highest annual average  concentrations of particulate matter (PM)—a mixture of dust, soot and microscopic particles that cause respiratory and cardiovascular disease.  
This sobering picture is expected to  get worse with climate change, as wildfires and dust storms driven by rising temperatures release additional pollution. According to Nolen, even developed countries, where PM levels generally meet health guidelines, will struggle to keep PM in check.  
PM emissions originate from human activity—including combustion from coal plants, diesel engines and wood—as well as natural sources such as wind-blown mineral dust and sea salt.
The database divides particulate matter into two categories: PM10, which refers to particles that are smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter, and PM2.5, for particles under 2.5 micrometers in diameter. For comparison, the average human hair has a thickness of 70 micrometers.
Click and drag on the maps below to change locations, or zoom in and out using the "+" and "-" buttons. Hover over the individual cities to see more detailed PM data.


The maps only included the most reliable data points (click here for an explanation of our methodology). 
Many cities monitor PM10 or PM2.5, but not both. Our maps show all the places where annual PM10 levels are above 70 micrograms per cubic meter, and where annual PM2.5 levels are above 30 micrograms per cubic meter. Those benchmarks are a long way from what the WHO considers "healthy" (PM10 levels at 20 and PM2.5 at 10), but they are the first in a series of  levels designated by the WHO as reasonable,  intermediate goals for countries trying to clean up their air.
We found that most of the cities with the worst PM2.5 levels were in China, which measures PM2.5 more frequently than it does PM10. India, on the other hand, rarely measures PM2.5, and dominated the list for the worst PM10 cities.
Nolen said Asia's high PM levels are a result of rapid industrialization and the continued reliance on burning wood for energy in rural areas.
In Beijing, average PM10 levels hover around 100 micrograms per cubic meter, five times higher than the WHO guideline  for healthy air. But PM concentrations can increase exponentially each spring, when the city is hit with dust storms that originate from Xinjiang, a region in northwestern China with widespread desertification. Last year, a dust storm sent Beijing's PM10 soaring to 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter. The WHO recommends 24-hour peak exposure levels stay below  50 micrograms per cubic meter.
Even countries with generally cleaner air are at risk.
PM2.5 levels in Calgary, Canada reached 186 micrograms per cubic meter last summer due to wildfires in Washington state and British Columbia. Calgary's annual average PM2.5 is roughly 10 micrograms per cubic meter.
In the U.S., southwestern states are particularly vulnerable, as increased heat waves, drought, and decades of poor forest management create ideal conditions for wildfires. According to the National Climate Assessment, global warming was the single largest factor driving western U.S. fires from 1916-2003.
A 2012 wildfire near Fort Collins, Colo., led to such high PM levels that local air monitors "assumed it was wrong" and delayed reporting the data, according to Koehler.
Recent wildfires in southern California triggered air pollution warnings in Las Vegas, 300 miles away.
These episodic PM spikes, though brief, present serious health consequences. Short-term exposure leads to acute effects, including asthma attacks or heart attacks, Koehler said, while long-term exposure is linked to chronic illnesses like lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.
After a series of wildfires in Quebec sent a plume of smoke and particulates into New York, Pennsylvania, and other mid-Atlantic states in 2002, researchers at Johns Hopkins linked the pollution to increased hospitalizations for respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses.
A recent report from the International Energy Agency found that investing an additional 7 percent in energy projects that reduce harmful air emissions could halve global air pollution-related deaths by 2040 and enable CO2 emissions to peak by 2020.

Coal India accused of bulldozing human rights amid production boom




Coal India accused of bulldozing human rights amid production boom

An Adivasi man walks towards his fields on Gair Mazrua common lands, July 2014
The bulldozer came to Barkuta village at 10am one February morning. Nirupabai was working in the fields when her neighbours called, telling her to rush home. By the time she reached her house it had been reduced to rubble. "I cried, I screamed, trying to save it," she says, recalling the eviction now in an Amnesty International report, two years on. "All my things, my son's school books, a year's worth of rice, everything was scattered, everything in ruins."
Barkuta is one of seven villages that neighbour the Kusmunda opencast coalmine in the state of Chhattisgarh. In 2005, the government drew up an emergency coal production plan to curb the effects of huge, impending energy shortages in the rapidly industrialising country. Kusmunda was one of 16 mines identified for expansion. In 2014, the bulldozers came, and Nirupabai had no home.
According to a report by Amnesty International released on Wednesday, state-owned Coal India and its subsidiaries in the states of Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh have neglected both local and international human rights law in the eviction and land acquisition process as mining operations expand. The Ministry of Power has slammed the report as "baseless canards", which are "part of a conspiracy to derail the development and progress of India".
The brunt of the coalmine expansion, according to Amnesty, is being borne by India's Adivasi aboriginal communities. Aruna Chandrashekhar, a researcher at Amnesty, said interviews with 124 people in the three states reveal human rights violations. "Adivasi communities in these areas have been routinely shut out from decision-making processes around their traditional lands, rights and resources.
"Many have had to wait for decades for the compensation and rehabilitation they were promised when their land was acquired. The violations of their rights to consultation and consent – around land acquisition, environmental impacts, indigenous self-governance and the use of traditional lands – has led to serious impacts on their lives and livelihoods," she said.

USIU-A students, staff, demonstrate over alleged land grab - NTV



IDF chief: If needed, we will defeat Hezbollah in next confrontation | The Ugly Truth




IDF chief: If needed, we will defeat Hezbollah in next confrontation


JERUSALEM POST –  The IDF will definitely defeat Hezbollah in the event of a future war in Lebanon, IDF Chief of Staff, Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, vowed on Sunday ahead of the 10th anniversary of the Second Lebanon War. Eisenkot made the remarks in a written statement that was published by the official website of the IDF Spokesperson ahead of the war's anniversary this Tuesday.

The website released testimonies by commanders who took part in the war, images, maps, and a virtual tour of the battle zones.

Today, Eisenkot said, "Our enemies to the north examine us all of the time. I am sure that in the moment of truth, we will stand firm and prove that the IDF is a ready, powerful, and decisive military," he added.

Eisenkot, who was head of the military's Operations Branch in 2006, wrote that during the conflict, the IDF dealt a severe blow to Hezbollah, consolidated Israeli deterrence, and enforced a lengthy period of stable calm on the Lebanese border, which "serves civilians on both sides of the border."

He acknowledged, however, the many faults that came to light during the conflict in the military's performance. In the years that followed the war, "an in-depth lesson learning process" occurred, which led to a "significant improvement in the IDF's ability," Eisenkot wrote.

Today, the IDF is "prepared, trained and equipped. Readiness for emergency and war stands at the top of the IDF's priorities," he added.

A new emphasis on training conscripts and reserves dominates the agenda, the chief of staff said.

Additionally, the IDF's increased understanding of its enemy has led to to many insights and improvements, he added. "All of these will enable the IDF – if it is required – to win in the next confrontation," said the chief of staff.

The threat posed to Israel by Hezbollah in Lebanon continues to this day, and the IDF must prepare for "every scenario" that could develop, he warned.

Amnesty Intl Hundreds 'disappeared' by Egypt security forces The Guardian




Hundreds 'disappeared' by security forces in Egypt, says Amnesty

Amnesty International activists protest about the death of Italian student Guido Regeni, at Milan's city hall in April.
Hundreds of Egyptians have been forcibly disappeared and tortured in a "sinister" campaign to wipe out peaceful dissent in the most populous country in the Arab world, Amnesty International says in a new report.
Children as young as 14 as well as students, political activists and protesters have vanished without trace after security forces raided their homes. Many have been held for months at a time and kept blindfolded and handcuffed. At least 34,000 people are behind bars, the government admits.
Most of those who have "disappeared" are supporters of Mohamed Morsi, the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood president who was deposed in July 2013 and eventually replaced by president Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi.
Amnesty's report also mentions the case of the Italian Giulio Regeni, the Cambridge graduate student who was found dead, with his body bearing signs of torture, in Cairo in February.
"The terrible injuries sustained by Giulio Regeni are similar to those suffered by numerous people interrogated by the Egyptian security forces – his case is just the tip of the iceberg," said Amnesty's Felix Jakens.

Privacy trap awaits EU-US data-sharing pact

I saw this article when using the Financial Times app and thought you might be interested:

Financial Times,
Privacy trap awaits EU-US data-sharing pact
--
Duncan Robinson in Brussels
--
Shield offers little protection from challenge that did for its predecessor

Read the full article at: http://on.ft.com/29Ua0Ji


Sent from my iPad

Terrorists slip through profiling gaps

Article explores the issue of profiling for terrorist
--
The response of the west is being lost in a search for clarity in a sea of contradiction

Read the full article at: http://on.ft.com/29AF5MB


Sent from my iPad

Twenty killed in head-on train crash near Bari in southern Italy


--
Many more injured on one of country's worst rail accidents

Read the full article at: http://on.ft.com/29tBQvB


Sent from my iPad

China attacks international court after South China Sea ruling The Guardian




China attacks international court after South China Sea ruling

Beijing claims the Philippines concocted a 'pack of lies' in order to undermine its interests in the South China Sea
Beijing has criticised an international court's stinging rejection of its territorial claims in the South China Sea, with Communist party-controlled newspapers warning of a military escalation in response to what they denounced as a US ploy to thwart China's rise.
One day after a UN tribunal ruled overwhelmingly against Chinese claims to huge swaths of the strategically important waterway, Beijing rebuffed the verdict, calling it "a piece of paper that is destined to come to naught".


In a 13,900-word white paper, Beijing claimed the Philippines, which brought the case, had "distorted facts, misinterpreted laws and concocted a pack of lies" in order to undermine Chinese interests.
The ruling against China had been based on "woefully weak pieces of evidence", the white paper fumed, according to a copy of the text published by Xinhua, Beijing's official news agency.
A front page commentary in the Communist party's official mouthpiece, the People's Daily, continued the offensive, dismissing the tribunal as "a lackey of some outside forces" that would be remembered "as a laughing stock in human history".
"We do not claim an inch of land that does not belong to us, but we won't give up any patch that is ours," the newspaper said, adding: "China, of course, will not accept such downright political provocations."
The China Daily, Beijing's English-language mouthpiece, claimed the "outrageously one-sided ruling" meant military confrontation in the region had become more likely.
"With military activity reaching unprecedented levels in the South China Sea, there is no guarantee that an escalating war of words will not transform into something more," it said.


The Global Times, a nationalist tabloid that is controlled by the People's Daily and is known for its inflammatory rhetoric, was even more direct.
Further political or military pressure from the US – which Beijing has accused of masterminding the case against its claims in the South China Sea – would lead the Chinese people to "firmly support our government to launch a tit-for-tat counterpunch", it warned.
Liu Zhenmin, China's vice-foreign minister, said Beijing reserved the right to declare an air defence identification zone over the South China Sea.
"What we have to make clear first is that China has the right to ... But whether we need one in the South China Sea depends on the level of threats we face," he said, adding that China hoped to return to bilateral talks with Manila.
"We hope that other countries don't use this opportunity to threaten China, and hope that other countries can work hard with China, meet us halfway, and maintain the South China Sea's peace and stability, and not turn the South China Sea in a source of war," Liu said.
Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, said she expected an aggressive response from Beijing.
"It's my view that this has been a real loss of face for Xi Jinping and that he will be under tremendous domestic pressure [to respond]," she said.
"I think [Xi] will see that the world is ganging up on China and he will believe that the United States has manipulated this ruling. I can't see him compromising on this … I think in the final months of the Obama administration we could see some very assertive, destabilising actions by China."
Nick Bisley, an international relations professor from La Trobe University in Melbourne, said that for all China's frustration at the ruling he believed a military "counterpunch" was unlikely.
"Beijing will probably have been a little surprised by the extent to which it lost … [But] if you were going to get a really hot response from Beijing the first thing you would see is a manufactured protest saying 'You have offended the feelings of the Chinese people' and that doesn't seem to be the case."
Bisley said he did not envisage "a particularly provocative or reactive" response from China unless pressure from the US meant its leaders felt obliged to hit back to avoid looking weak before a domestic audience. "The real issue is that the regime doesn't want to look bad internally."
Washington's initial response was cautious. "The world is watching now to see what these claimants will do," state department spokesperson John Kirby said following the ruling. "The world is watching to see if China is really the global power it professes itself to be and the responsible power that it professes itself to be."
Bisley said: "They are trying to keep a lid on it … there's a shared understanding between the sensible heads in Beijing and in Washington that, whatever their differences of opinions about this dispute, it is in no one's interests to have higher temperatures than necessary. That's why on balance we are unlikely to see any big spike in the immediate aftermath of this."
Bill Hayton, the author of South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia, said the uncompromising rhetoric coming out of Beijing was to be expected.
"I think what is going on here is public opinion management," he said. "They've suffered a reverse. They have to scream and shout and stamp their feet."
Speaking in Washington, China's ambassador to the US, Cui Tiankai, warned that the ruling would "certainly intensify conflict and even confrontation".
But Hayton said he believed such rhetoric belied the fact that Beijing would now attempt to defuse the situation in the South China Sea after so many of its claims there were ruled "completely incompatible with the law".
"I think the bluster disguises a deliberate attempt by China to try and move closer to international law," he said. "But they can't do it in one step."

Disaster Losses Up $11b from half 2015




Total worldwide economic losses for first half of 2016 at US$70 billion, up US$11 billion from 2015 half-year totals: Munich Re

Total worldwide economic losses for the first half of 2016 were US$70 billion, of which US$27 billion were insured, significantly higher than the first year losses of US$59 billion in 2015, of which US$19 billion were insured, Munich Re said on Tuesday.
FILE - Burned out houses are shown in the Abasands neighbourhood during a media tour of the fire-damaged city of Fort McMurray, Alta., in a May 9, 2016, file photo. Severe weather events such as fires and floods are becoming more frequent and more difficult to predict, and it's forcing architects and engineers to rethink how they design buildings, infrastructure and cities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward, File
FILE – Burned out houses are shown in the Abasands neighbourhood during a media tour of the fire-damaged city of Fort McMurray, Alta., in a May 9, 2016, file photo. Severe weather events such as fires and floods are becoming more frequent and more difficult to predict, and it's forcing architects and engineers to rethink how they design buildings, infrastructure and cities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward, File
"The main losses drivers were powerful earthquakes in Japan and Ecuador, storms in Europe and the U.S., and forest fires in Canada," Munich Re said in a press release.
Toronto-based Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc. (CatIQ) has estimated insured losses from the Fort McMurray wildfire at $3.58 billion, while Property Claim Services estimated last month the fire would cost the Canadian insurance industry about $4.6 billion.
The world's largest reinsurer reported that natural catastrophes in the United States caused almost a quarter of worldwide economic losses, accounting for 58% of global insured losses. U.S. economic losses caused by nat cats in the first half of 2016 were US$17 billion (previous year US$12 billion), of which US$11 billion (previous year US$8 billion) were insured. Approximately US$12.3 billion (US$8.8 billion insured) of this was due to a series of storms in Texas and neighbouring states, including destructive hailstorms in Dallas and San Antonio, and severe flooding in the Houston metropolitan area, Munich Re said in the release.
"Homes and businesses incur the brunt of these losses, and property damage from this spring's thunderstorm season remind us that a roof is a building's first line of defense against hail and wind events," said Tony Kuczinski, president and CEO of Munich Reinsurance America, Inc., in the release. "Proper roof maintenance, roofing materials and installation are all critical to helping reduce these types of losses."
Weather extremes in Texas and other southern states are symptomatic of an El Niño phase, which can cause an increase in severe storms in the region, Munich Re said in the release. Further north, El Niño conditions also caused warm and dry conditions in Alaska and western Canada, helping to trigger the worst wildfire in Canadian history.
"The fading El Niño again showed its teeth with forest fires in Canada caused by the dry conditions and heat, and a series of storms in Texas, bringing billion-dollar losses," said Peter Höppe, head of Munich Re's Geo Risks Research Unit. "The complete absence of tropical cyclones in the northwestern Pacific in the first half of the year is also likely to have been influenced by El Niño."
Other highlights for the first half of 2016 include:
  • Overall global losses were above the inflation-adjusted average for the last 30 years (US$ 63 billion), but below the average for the last 10 years (US$92 billion);
  • Insured losses were in line with the inflation-adjusted average for the last 10 years and above the average for the last 30 years (US$15 billion);
  • 3,800 people lost their lives, significantly fewer than the previous year (21,000) and the averages for the last 10 and 30 years (47,000/28,000);
  • The highest losses were caused by two earthquakes (magnitudes 6.2 and 7) on the Japanese island of Kyushu in April (US$25 billion, of which US$6 billion was insured). "Countless" buildings were destroyed and 69 people were killed;
  • The greatest number of fatalities was caused by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake which hit the pacific coast of Ecuador at almost the same time the quakes hit Japan. Nearly 700 people were killed, and only US$400 million of the overall loss of US$2.5 billion was insured; and
  • The overall loss from storms in Europe totalled US$6.1 billion, of which US$3 billion was insured. Losses in Germany accounted for US$2.8 billion of overall losses and US$1.3 billion of insured losses.

Drought disaster declared for 6 Alabama counties | AL.com




Drought disaster declared for 6 Alabama counties

drought map 7.5.16Paul Gattis | pgattis@al.com 
With parts of Alabama experiencing their worst drought in four years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared drought disaster areas.
The USDA last week declared designated DeKalb and Jackson counties in northeast Alabama as primary natural disaster areas due to damages and losses caused by a recent drought.
Farmers and ranchers in Cherokee, Etowah, Madison and Marshall also qualify for natural disaster assistance because their counties are contiguous as well as Franklin and Marion counties in south central Tennessee and Chatooga, Dade and Walker counties in northwest Georgia.
"Our hearts go out to those Alabama farmers and ranchers affected by recent natural disasters," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the announcement. "President Obama and I are committed to ensuring that agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation's economy by sustaining the successes of America's farmers, ranchers, and rural communities through these difficult times.
"We're also telling Alabama producers that USDA stands with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood."
According to the latest information from the U.S. Drought Monitor, virtually all of Jackson County and about half of DeKalb County as well as eastern Madison County were classified as being in "extreme" drought conditions. That's the second-highest designation on the drought monitor.
According to the USDA announcement, all qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for low interest emergency (EM) loans from USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA), provided eligibility requirements are met. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for loans to help cover part of their actual losses. FSA will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability.
Click here for more information on USDA disaster assistance programs.

GOP votes down funding for global climate fund | TheHill




GOP votes down funding for global climate fund

The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday voted down a Democratic push to allow federal spending on an international climate change program. 
Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the panel, proposed an amendment to the House's State Department and foreign operations spending bill that would let the federal government contribute to the United Nations' Green Climate Fund (GCF). Republicans have looked to block that funding.
"Preventing the U.S. from making a contribution is short-sighted because we cannot solve climate change alone. It requires multilateral partnerships," Lowey said.
"The Green Climate Fund is the only multilateral institution that supports clean, resilient development around the world. It is an institution we should be leading."
Lowey's GCF measure was tucked into a broader amendment restoring funding for a wide variety of Democratic foreign affairs priorities, including refugee admissions, policies toward Cuba and funding for other United Nations offices. 
Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) opposed the entire amendment and said the Green Climate Fund "amendment would strike language preventing the administration from carrying out its harmful climate change policies."
The measure failed on a 20-29 vote. 
The GCF is an international account designed to funnel public and private money for climate change adaptation work from developed countries to poorer nations. 
The Obama administration has pledged $3 billion for the account by 2020, but Republicans in Congress have looked to stymie the effort. 
The 2015 year-end spending deal didn't include the $500 million Obama wanted for the GCF. But because the deal didn't prohibit GCF spending, the State Department was able to make a $500 million contribution to the fund out of its normal budget. 
Appropriations Committee Republicans in both the House and Senate included GCF funding prohibitions in their 2017 State Department spending bills. But the Senate pulled that provision out of its bill during a markup last month and actually provided $500 million for the fund.
The House committee also voted down an amendment from Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) to provide funding for the GCF. She called the fund a "smart, effective investment," and said "the U.S. needs to be a leader in this global effort, and not prohibited from participating."
Granger, the chairwoman of the State Department appropriations subcommittee, said she received more member requests to block GCF spending than for any other program. McCollum's measure failed 19-29.
Updated at 12:25p.m.

Privacy trap awaits EU-US data-sharing pact — FT.com




Privacy trap awaits EU-US data-sharing pact

The European Commission has signed off on a data-sharing arrangement between the US and the EU in spite of doubts about the scheme's legality.
Supporters say the so-called Privacy Shield will provide legal certainty to the internet groups such as Google and Facebook that move data back and forth across the Atlantic. Critics say the accord, sealed after years of negotiations, will fare no better than an arrangement that was struck down by the European Court of Justice.
What is the new deal?
Privacy Shield will give signatory companies the legal right to transfer data to the US from the EU without breaking the bloc's strict privacy laws — something that is key to their business.
EU law forbids companies from moving personal data, such as payslips or photographs, to countries outside the bloc unless they have privacy laws similar to those of the EU, or certain separate safeguards such as Privacy Shield.
What did it replace?
A framework known as Safe Harbour, used by the likes of Facebook and Google to shift data from the EU to the US since 2000 — was struck down by the EU's highest court last October after judges ruled it did not keep the data of EU citizens safe from US intelligence agencies.
This triggered bedlam among the 4,000 companies — from Amazon to small businesses in the EU — that relied on it. Other methods of transferring data were available but were "lengthy and expensive", said Phil Lee, a data protection specialist at Fieldfisher, the law firm.
What are the new terms?
Negotiators from Brussels and Washington spent two years trying to come up with a replacement for Safe Harbour that would stand up in court.
They introduced features such as an ombudsman to deal with complaints from EU citizens. Brussels also secured pledges from the US government that there would be no unreasonable spying.


"It is unusual quite how transparent we are being," Penny Pritzker, the US commerce secretary, who led negotiations for Washington, said on Tuesday as the new pact was endorsed. Vera Jourova, the EU commissioner who oversaw the deal, agreed. "My confidence stems from the fact that we have based the rules of Privacy Shield on the court judgment," she said.
So why don't the critics like it?
To opponents, the deal still fails to address the root of the problem: intrusive snooping by US authorities, such as the National Security Agency. A letter from a spy promising not to spy "unjustifiably" is not worth much from a legal perspective, they argue. They also have doubts about the impartiality of the US ombudsman.
Jan Philipp Albrecht, a Green MEP who focuses on data protection, said: "The commission has today signed a blank cheque for the transfer of personal data of EU citizens to the US without delivering equivalent data protection rights."
Where does this leave business?
In a pretty sticky situation. With legal doubts still hanging over Privacy Shield, few companies have pledged to sign up to it. Microsoft is the only large exception.
Others have been unwilling to throw their support behind it just yet. "It is a bit too early," said an executive at a Silicon Valley group. "We haven't even read the full text."


Other compliance methods exist. One involves a company entering into a series of boilerplate legal contracts, approved by the European Commission, with its various regional subsidiaries or supply chain. But this is cumbersome and subject to legal challenge. Companies face another few years, at least, say analysts, before they are on firm legal footing.
Max Schrems, the Austrian law student who brought the original case against Safe Harbour, has already indicated he will challenge Privacy Shield. "This deal is bad for users, which will not enjoy proper privacy protections and bad for businesses, which have to deal with a legally unstable solution," he said.
How bad could it get?
In the worst case scenario, internet groups would in effect face the costly prospect of having to "silo" their EU divisions, building independent data centres in the EU to serve only customers in the bloc.
All this comes at a time when cloud computing is becoming the norm, with businesses and consumers storing data in servers all over the globe, rather than locally.
It would come at a significant price: a ban on transfers across the Atlantic would knock 0.4 per cent off the EU's gross domestic product, according to one estimate from the European Centre For International Political Economy, a think-tank. 

EU gives the green light to US data transfer pact - Daily News Egypt




EU gives the green light to US data transfer pact

European governments have approved the new agreement after the last one was struck down for not guarding citizens' privacy. Certain protective measures have been added, though not enough to convince four countries.
A majority of European governments have accepted a commercial data transfer pact first agreed to in February by the European Commission and the United States, making it possible for the new framework to enter into effect as soon as next week.
The pact, coined "Privacy Shield," supplies the legal framework for companies – which together represent $250 billion (226 billion euros) annually in transatlantic digital trade – to move their data between the US and the EU.
German Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel noted that data volumes in industry, services and private communications were "multiplying in ever shorter cycles," with business models being increasingly based on global transfers.
"Therefore, our companies urgently need a safe legal framework," he said in a statement, adding that the ministry had held intense consultations with businesses and data protection authorities during the process.
Privacy Shield serves as a replacement for the "Safe Harbor" agreement signed in 2000, which was struck down by Europe's top court last October. The court's ruling had come amid worries that the agreement left the door open for undue US government access to the data of European citizens.
Data privacy has grown into a fiercely protected right in the EU, especially in the aftermath of Edward Snowden's 2013 revelations of mass surveillance carried out by the US – and often targeted at its European allies.
Such concerns led the EU's data protection authorities to demand further measures to ensure privacy after the US and the EU reached a provisional agreement on the new pact in February.
Will it live up to its name?
In an attempt to answer these concerns, the parties have worked out a system to give EU citizens more legal redress if they believe their privacy is being infringed upon by data being held in the US. An ombudsman will be created in the US State Department to receive such complaints.
In a joint statement Thursday, European Commission Vice President Andrus Ansip and Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said the new agreement "is fundamentally different from the old Safe Harbor."
Safe Harbor allowed companies to store data on more laxly regulated US servers so long as they said the data complied with the EU's rules – such as deleting data after a certain amount of time.
Furthermore, according to Ansip and Jourova, the US government has given "written assurance" that it will limit itself and put in safeguards in regards to accessing data and that it will not carry out indiscriminate mass surveillance of European citizens' data.
Not convinced that the pact went far enough to protect privacy, Austria, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Croatia abstained from voting for its approval.
jtm/uhe (European Commission, Reuters, German Economic Ministry)

Malaysia Chemical spill closure three Johor water plants | New Straits Times




Chemical spill leads to closure of three Johor water treatment plants

JOHOR BARU: A chemical spill in Sungai Johor has caused a disruption in the water supply in several areas in Johor Baru and Kulai since early Tuesday afternoon.
SAJ Holdings Sdn Bhd's head of corporate communications, Jamaluddin Jamil said the ammonia spill was detected on Tuesday morning upstream of Sungai Johor.
"The spill forced SAJ to shut the operations of three water treatment plants, namely the Sungai Johor, Semangar and Tai Hong plants, immediately after the spill was detected," said Jamaluddin.
However, the cause of the ammonia spill is still unknown at press time.
The closure of the three treatment plants caused water disruption in several areas, including Iskandar Puteri, Skudai, the Port of Tanjung Pelepas and the Tanjung Bin power plant, as well as Bukit Batu in Kulai.
Some 120,000 households are affected by the water disruption.
Jamaluddin said SAJ would restart the operation of the three plants as soon as the spill is contained.
"However, it will take some time for the water supply to be restored as we need to treat the raw water, build up the water pressure and fill the water tanks," said Jamaluddin.

United States saysSouth China Sea ruling 'legally binding,The China Post




South China Sea ruling 'legally binding,' says the United States

WASHINGTON -- The United States put itself on a collision course with great power rival mainland China on Tuesday, describing a ruling against Beijing's South China Sea claims as "final and legally binding."
Washington had carefully avoided taking a stance on the suit lodged by the Philippines against China's maritime territorial claims, but when judgment came down, it urged both sides to abide by the result.
"The United States expresses its hope and expectation that both parties will comply with their obligations," U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said. Beijing has already rejected the ruling out of hand.
Earlier, a U.N.-backed tribunal in The Hague — the Permanent Court of Arbitration — ruled that China has no historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the so-called nine-dash-line.
The United States has no claims of its own within this 3-million-square-kilometer (1.2-million-square-mile) patch of sea, but has asserted the right of all shipping to pass through areas it regards as international waters.
And Washington is an ally of the Southeast Asian countries which do dispute China's claim, including the Philippines, which lodged the international suit.
"The decision today by the tribunal in the Philippines-China arbitration is an important contribution to the shared goal of a peaceful resolution to disputes in the South China Sea," Kirby said.
U.S. officials are "studying the decision and have no comment on the merits of the case," he added, but nevertheless asserted the right of the tribunal to make its ruling and said it should be respected.
"The United States strongly supports the rule of law. We support efforts to resolve territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea peacefully, including through arbitration," he said.
"As provided in the Convention, the tribunal's decision is final and legally binding on both China and the Philippines," he added, urging all claimants "to avoid provocative statements or actions."
But Beijing has already reacted furiously, saying it "neither accepts nor recognizes" the ruling. 

Singapore studying implications of Hague China Ruling The Straits Times




Singapore studying implications Hague

China's South Sea Fleet taking part in a drill in the Xisha Islands, or the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea on May 5, 2016.
Singapore is studying the Arbitral Tribunal's ruling in the Philippines versus China case and its implications on the Republic and the wider region, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said yesterday.
"Singapore has taken note of the Award made by the Arbitral Tribunal convened under Annex VII to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) on 12 July 2016 on the case between the Republic of the Philippines and the People's Republic of China.
"We are studying the Award and its implications on Singapore and the wider region," the ministry said in a statement.
"Singapore is not a claimant state and we do not take sides on the competing territorial claims. However, we support the peaceful resolution of disputes among claimants in accordance with universally-recognised principles of international law, including Unclos, without resorting to the threat or use of force.
"As a small state, we strongly support the maintenance of a rules-based order that upholds and protects the rights and privileges of all states," the MFA said.
"Singapore values our longstanding and friendly relations with all parties, bilaterally and in the context of Asean. We urge all parties to fully respect legal and diplomatic processes, exercise self-restraint and avoid conducting any activities that may raise tensions in the region," the statement said.
"Singapore supports the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the expeditious conclusion of a legally-binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea," it added.

Europe learn lessons from Ethiopia refugee treatment - Sudan Tribune:




Europe urged to learn lessons from Ethiopia on refugee treatment

By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
July 9, 2016 (ADDIS ABABA) - Ireland's former president and Untied Nations Special Envoys on El Niño and Climate Mary Robinson said European leaders should look into Ethiopia when it comes to ways of handling refugees.
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Mary Robinson, addresses UN Human Rights Council, on March 6, 2015 (UN Photo)
Mrs. Robinson made the remarks after concluding it's three-day tour this week in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is one of the countries listed on UN's least developed nations list, the country however hosts more refugees than any other African countries.
Currently Ethiopia shelters over 700,000 refuges in different camps.
"It is really depressing that at the moment that there is so much attention on refugees and migrants nearly losing their lives then not being treated well when they get to Europe" Robinson told journalists.
"Yet in Ethiopia their are made welcome and they are cared for, the way it should be. Europe can learn from what is happening here in Ethiopia"
While in Ethiopia this week, Robinson held talks with government officials and international Aid agency representatives.
She has also visited El-Nino hit areas to observe the impacts of the El-Nino induced drought and to further witness the level of the international community's response toward it.
Robinson who was also UN' high commissioner for human rights travelled to Ethiopia along with Ireland's largest Aid agencies.
Ethiopia is one of the African nations worst hit by El-Nino subjecting the east African nation to a worst drought in decades hugely affecting agricultural production.
As a result over 10 million Ethiopian's are forced to depend on food Aid.
The UN special envoy called on the international community to fill 518 million dollar funding gap for Ethiopia to mitigate effects of drought.
Ethiopia whose 80% population depend on agriculture is vulnerable to effects of climate change.
On Monday, Ethiopian prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, said climate change has affected the country's economy and couldn't achieve as forecasted.
He said Ethiopia has registered 8% economic growth in the ending Ethiopian fiscal year, which is the lowest in about a decade, according to government figures.
"Climate change impacts will continue to undermine development gains and increase the vulnerability of people to natural disaster, therefore the international community has a duty to reduce emissions, support resilience and adaptation efforts in the hardest hit communities" Robinson added.
El-Nino is a natural phenomenon of water warming weather pattern in Pacific ocean.
(ST)

In Warming Oceans, Stronger Currents Releasing Heat in Bigger Storms, Study Says | InsideClimate News




In Warming Oceans, Stronger Currents Releasing Heat in Bigger Storms, Study Says

Global warming is intensifying some of the world's most important ocean currents, new research shows, raising the risk of damaging storms along heavily populated coastlines of China and Japan. The findings are sobering as China and Taiwan rebound from the devastating effects of super typhoon Nepartak last week.
The western boundary currents, which run along the eastern coasts of South Africa, Asia, Australasia, and South America, carry massive amounts of heat from the tropics northward. The recent research by a group of scientists with the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Germany found they are strengthening, warming and moving poleward.
"They have been getting stronger and warmer since CO2 in the atmosphere has been increasing," said study author Hu Yang. "This heat must be released to the atmosphere. The most common way to release the heat is storms."
Yang said storms like Nepartak, which took aim at Taiwan and the Chinese mainland last week, are likely to become more common in coming decades. Nepartak strengthened as it passed over the Kuriosho Current late last week, generating sustained winds of 160 miles per hour. The storm weakened slightly before making landfall along the Taiwan coast, where it dropped up to 20 inches of rain in some spots.
"The coastal region of China, the western Pacific, is seeing much more warming than the global average, and it's because of this intensification," Hu said. "These currents will bring much more heat and precipitation in the future. China and Japan will suffer more warming than other regions."
The study, published in June in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, looked at the Kuroshio Current, the Gulf Stream, the Brazil Current, the East Australian Current and the Agulhas Current, which are western branches of gyres that circulate around the perimeter of the world's subtropical oceans—clockwise in the northern hemisphere, counterclockwise the southern hemisphere. They are fast, much warmer than the surrounding ocean and have a "broad impact on the weather and climate over the adjacent mainland," including the formation of intense storms, according to the study. They also play an important role in distributing heat globally.
Previous studies have suggested that the currents — with the exception of the Gulf Stream — have all strengthened in recent decades. By analyzing observational data from satellites and other sources (11 climate databases in all) from 1958 to 2001, along with the latest global-scale climate models, the researchers said they were able to show that long-term global warming is causing the simultaneous intensification and poleward shift of the currents.
The study found the currents are releasing 20 percent more heat than just 50 years ago, which is already beginning to have a significant impact on weather events along the eastern coasts of South Africa, Asia, Australasia, and South America. The researchers expect those areas to warm faster and become more stormy than other regions. In particular, Japan, China and Korea can all expect rapid warming and more storminess, especially in winter, said Gerrit Lohmann, a climate modeller at the Alfred-Wegener-Institute and co-author of the study.
The new findings are linked with other studies showing that global warming is expanding and strengthening semi-stationary subtropical high-pressure systems. Those are domes of stable, warm and dry air that "largely determine the location of the world's subtropical deserts, the zones of Mediterranean climate and the tracks of tropical cyclones," The study says. As those high pressure domes strengthen, so do their clockwise winds that drive the boundary currents.
Michael Alexander, a researcher with NOAA's Physical Sciences Division in Boulder, Colo., said, "Observations indicate that western boundary currents around the world, including the Gulf Stream are moving poleward (north in the Northern Hemisphere and south in the southern Hemisphere). "The position and strength of these currents are partly controlled by the surface winds. So a change in the winds may influence the Gulf Stream," said Alexander, who was not involved in the new study.
Yang said the Gulf Stream is the exception to the findings. That current is driven more by contrasts in water temperature and density than by wind. Several separate studies have suggested the Gulf Stream is likely to slow as Greenland's melting ice sheets pour cold and fresh water into the North Atlantic.
"There are other studies looking at these Western Boundary Currents. Some researchers tried to put a cable on the ocean floor and tried to detect the volume transport. In our study, we observed the ocean surface and tried to track changes to these currents by the heat release," he said.
The fact that they found very similar results for nearly all the western boundary currents across all ocean basins in the northern and southern hemispheres led the scientists to the conclusion that global warming is the root cause.
"It must be forcing from something that can influence all ocean basins," he said. "It's amazing to have such a result ... the findings fit so perfectly in all these areas."
The climate scientists said the rapidly changing currents will affect animals and plants in the nearby coastal regions. Many species will be forced to move to find suitable habitat, but some probably won't be able, said Lohmann.
"In the coastal fishing grounds, the fish won't be able to survive in their previous living environments. A change of 1 or 2 degrees Celsius will be too much for them," Yang said.

Egypt loses 20% wheat supplies inadequate infrastructure - Daily News Egypt




Egypt loses 20% of wheat supplies due to inadequate infrastructure

Egypt may lose 10% to 20% of its overall wheat supplies due to inadequate infrastructure along the supply chain, according to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
During a conference entitled "Securing the future of Baladi bread" held on Wednesday, the participants assured that Egypt is Africa's largest grain producer and the world's biggest importer of foreign-grown grains.
Baladi bread is typical Egyptian flatbread that is a staple for Egypt's fast-growing population.
EBRD Director for Agribusiness Gilles Mettetal said that developing key logistical and storage infrastructure could be a turning point in improving import efficiency in Egypt's grain sector.
Mettetal said the government and the private sector can achieve this if there is strong willingness to move towards a more liberalised market to boost private investment and competitiveness.
He added that the bread industry is also hampered by complex tender procedures and inspection requirements that increase the cost of Egyptian grain imports.
An economist at FAO's Investment Centre, Dmitry Prikhodko, agreed with Mettetal in this regard, saying that streamlining tender procedures, greater transparency, and consultation in the application of phytosanitary measures in line with international practice will greatly contribute to the efficiency of the grain supply chain and could eventually lead to important savings for Egyptian consumers.
FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa Abdessalam Ould Ahmed said that Egypt is aware of the importance of wheat as a strategic food item.
Ould Ahmed added that FAO is doing its part in offering the technical expertise to reduce loss and waste in the value chain, and in introducing water-saving techniques in irrigation.
The conference was hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and EBRD and brought together representatives from both the private and public sectors.

West Africa and Sahel must step up intelligence gathering, UN envoy tells Security Council




West Africa and Sahel must step up intelligence gathering, UN envoy tells Security Council

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11 July 2016 – Countries in West Africa and the Sahel must expand intelligence gathering capacities to counter militant threats, such as those posed by Boko Haram, the head of the United Nations operation for that region said today.
"It was indeed the desperation from the perceived lack of opportunities, justice, and hope that contributed to the creation of a conductive climate for emergence of militant movements," said Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the Secretary-General's Special Representative and the head of the UN Office for West Africa and Sahel (UNOWAS), in his briefing to the Security Council.
He said that militant movements seen in northern Mali and north-eastern Nigeria threaten to destabilize West Africa and the Sahel region, as well as the Lake Chad Basin area.
Across the Sahel, 4.5 million people are displaced, and six million are in need of emergency food assistance, he explained. Moreover millions cannot farm their land, and millions of children do not receive the education they need for a better future.
Boko Haram continues to change tactics, having twice overrun the city of Bosso in Niger in June, he noted. Terrorists have also struck further afield in West Africa, notably Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso on 15 January, and in Grand Bassam, Côte d'Ivoire on 13 March. Traffickers, criminals, and their collaborators are seeking to benefit from lawlessness and insecurity to expand their networks.
He emphasized to Council members the need to further strengthen regional forces mobilized under the Multinational Joint Task Force, in particular in the area of intelligence gathering, and the need to augment democratic governance as an essential task in conflict prevention efforts.
In addition, efforts towards meeting the basic needs of innocent civilians trapped in this tragedy must be stepped up. "It is deeply troubling, that only 11 per cent of the UN appeal of $1.98 billion in 2016 has been received," he said.

As of June 2016, 4.6 million people are severely food insecure in the Lake Chad basin, of which 65 per cent are located in Northeast Nigeria, especially in the Borno and Yobe States. Photo: FAO/Patrick David
Warning that the subregion is increasingly threatened by violent extremism and radicalization, he said that UNOWAS organized a regional conference on 27 and 28 June in Dakar, Senegal, in line with the Secretary-General's Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism.
He said he is setting up a UN Regional Task Force on the Prevention of Violent Extremism to facilitate coordination and complementarity of the UN's work in this area.
The Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission, which he chairs and which works toward determining the definitive border between the two nations, remains a prime example of the benefits of foresight and cooperation, he said.
"Looking at the underlying challenges in the sub-region and beyond, we also need to think harder, how we can collectively improve international conflict prevention efforts before crises escalate beyond control," he said. "We owe it to the people of West Africa and the Sahel, who have shown such remarkable resilience to persisting multifaceted challenges."
Countries in the region are engaged in reviews of their foundational laws, he said. Commissions put in place in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, Senegal and Sierra Leone, are working on recommendations to adapt their constitutions to their needs as modern nations.
He said these West African and Sahel countries will hopefully emerge from these reform efforts more cohesive, better governed, and with more women taking part in decision- making. "This would in turn strengthen their resilience to withstand internal and external shocks, such as the recent Ebola outbreak," he said.
News Tracker: past stories on this issue

What does Theresa May mean for Africa? | News & Analysis




What does Theresa May mean for Africa?



Britain Home Secretary Theresa May officially launches her campaign to become prime minister in Birmingham, England. Photo: Chris Radburn/AP/SIPA
Theresa May will become the second woman after Margaret Thatcher to hold Britain's highest office when David Cameron formally hands over power to her on Wednesday. Cameron announced that he would step down hours after the country voted to leave the European Union, triggering a leadership contest in his Conservative Party.

May emerged as the winner of that contest on Monday, following the shock resignation of former London mayor Boris Johnson, who had been the face of the campaign to leave the EU. She will parachute into Number 10 Downing Street at one of the most turbulent periods in modern British history.
As the new Prime Minister, May will lead negotiations with the EU to form a new relationship between London and Brussels. After she invokes article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, which begins the formal process to leave the bloc, she will need to balance markets and migration.
Many of Britain's businesses want free access to the single market. But with immigration as the key issue in last month's referendum, the majority of Britons do not want EU citizens to move freely into the country. The tension between those two positions will form the basis of much of the talks.
Immigration
A steep rise in immigration from Africa and the Middle East, mainly from Eritrea and Syria, was a key development during May's tenure as the UK's home secretary. At a Conservative party conference in October, May gave a speech asserting that immigration is undercutting wages for British workers and new arrivals are not benefiting the economy in any way.
"It certainly suggests that Mrs May is determined to oppose the idea that adaptation to an age of mass migration is a more realistic answer than resisting it," the Guardian newspaper said in an editorial.
She came under fire for missing a target to reign in the flow of non-European migrants to below 100,000 a year. Last year, 330,000 people arrived in Britain.
Her response to greater immigration from Africa was to agree a £200m aid package for Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Uganda as well as countries hit by the El Nino drought. "We want to work with African countries, the countries of origin, to ensure people don't feel the need to make this journey to Europe," May said.
May has also championed greater policing in Libya, from where many African migrants take boats to Europe. "British immigration officials worked [in Libya] with their European and Libyan counterparts to stop illegal immigration from Africa at its source."
But she has been criticised for cracking down on immigration by making it more difficult for people to gain asylum in Britain, even if they are fleeing war.
Trade
Trade is another important issue between Britain and Africa. May will need to work with James Duddridge, the UK's minister for Africa, to form dozens of new trade agreements between Britain and African countries as well as their regional blocs. These agreements had previously been struck through the EU.
Duddridge told Radio France International: "The complexities of Africa and crossover of issues probably mean that the UK is going to play a more active role in African security and play a greater role in Africa militarily regardless of whether we remain within the EU or whether we exit."
Gay rights
May has a complicated relationship with gay rights. After voting to keep a law that bans schools from purposefully promoting homosexuality, May voted to legalise same-sex marriage. But during her time as home secretary, the UK has started to require asylum seekers to prove their sexual orientation to eliminate fraudulent applicants.
A new election?
After Cameron announced his resignation there were widespread calls for a fresh general election. These calls have been ignored by May, who said "there should be no general election until 2020" when she launched her campaign to become leader of the Conservative Party.
Foreign policy
May's lack of foreign policy experience make it hard to predict what her overseas priorities will be after she assumes office. But it is safe to assume that negotiating the UK's new relationship with the EU will take up most of her time.