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Friday, July 15, 2016

Significant rainfall leaves Saskatchewan crops sitting in water | Globalnews.ca

Significant rainfall leaves Saskatchewan crops sitting in water | Globalnews.ca

Heavy rain this week in Saskatchewan has left a lot of crops sitting in water.
According to the province's weekly crop report released Thursday, the significant rainfall resulted in localized flooding, saturated fields and crop lodging in the hardest hit areas.
A key concern for farmers are peas and lentils, as those crops don't tolerate the moisture as well as cereals.
Shawn Jaques of Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation says that the impact on crops will vary by area.
According to the crop report, those outside the flooded areas are in good to excellent condition, with 51 per cent of the fall cereals, 69 per cent of the oilseeds and 70 per cent of the spring cereals and pulses at their normal developmental stages for this time of year.
Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart says crops are among the best ever seen although he did mention that some fields have had too much moisture, especially around Estevan, Carrot River and Humboldt.
But generally speaking, Stewart said crops look lush and he can't remember on a province-wide basis when crops looked this good.
Cropland topsoil moisture is rated as 33 per cent surplus, 66 per cent adequate and one per cent short, with hay land and pasture topsoil moisture rated at 18 per cent surplus, 81 per cent adequate and two per cent short.
Aside from flooding, damage to crops over the past week was caused by hail, wind, leaf spot and root rot.
With files from The Canadian Press

What You Need to Know About the World's Water Wars

What You Need to Know About the World's Water Wars

A shepherd drinks water on the dry bed of Manjara Dam, which supplies water to Latur and nearby villages in the Indian state of Maharashtra. India has been enduring a severe drought, which has forced millions of farmers to rely more heavily on groundwater, which has been pumped out more rapidly than it can be naturally replenished.

In some neighborhoods, the ground is giving way at a rate of four inches a year as water in the giant aquifer below it is pumped.
The groundwater has been so depleted that China's capital city, home to more than 20 million people, could face serious disruptions in its rail system, roadways, and building foundations, an international team of scientists concluded earlier this year. Beijing, despite tapping into the gigantic North China Plain aquifer, is the world's fifth most water-stressed city and its water problems are likely to get even worse.
Beijing isn't the only place experiencing subsidence, or sinking, as soil collapses into space created as groundwater is depleted. Parts of Shanghai, Mexico City, and other cities are sinking, too. Sections of California's Central Valley have dropped by a foot, and in some localized areas, by as much as 28 feet.

Around the world, alarms are being sounded about the depletion of underground water supplies. The United Nations predicts a global shortfall in water by 2030. About 30 percent of the planet's available freshwater is in the aquifers that underlie every continent.
More than two-thirds of the groundwater consumed around the world irrigates agriculture, while the rest supplies drinking water to cities. These aquifers long have served as a backup to carry regions and countries through droughts and warm winters lacking enough snowmelt to replenish rivers and streams. Now, the world's largest underground water reserves in Africa, Eurasia, and the Americas are under stress. Many of them are being drawn down at unsustainable rates. Nearly two billion people rely on groundwater that is considered under threat.
Richard Damania, a lead economist at the World Bank, predicts that without adequate water supplies, economic growth in the most stressed parts of the world could decline by six percent of GDP. His findings conclude that the most severe impacts of climate change will deplete water supplies.
"If you are in a dry area, you are going to get a lot less rainfall. Run-off is declining," he says. "People are turning to groundwater in a very, very big way."
But few things are more difficult to control than groundwater pumping, Damania says. In the United States, farmers are withdrawing water at unsustainable rates from the High Plains, or Ogallala Aquifer, even though they have been aware of the threat for six decades.
"What you have in developing countries is a large number of small farmers pumping. Given that these guys are earning so little, there is very little you can do to control it," Damania says. "And you are, literally, in a race to the bottom."

Over the past three decades, Saudi Arabia has been drilling for a resource more precious than oil. Engineers and farmers have tapped hidden reserves of water to grow grains, fruits, and vegetables in the one of the driest places in the world. They are tapping into the aquifer at unsustainable rates. On these NASA satellite images of the Wadi As-Sirhan Basin, green indicates crops, contrasting with the pink and yellow of dry, barren land.

As regions and nations run short of water, Damania says, economic growth will decline and food prices will spike, raising the risk of violent conflict and waves of large migrations. Unrest in Yemen, which heavily taps into groundwater and which experienced water riots in 2009, is rooted in a water crisis. Experts say water scarcity also helped destabilize Syria and launch its civil war. Jordan, which relies on aquifers as its only source of water, is even more water-stressed now that more than a half-million Syrian refugees arrived.
Jay Famiglietti, lead scientist on a 2015 study using NASA satellites to record changes in the world's 37 largest aquifers, says that the ones under the greatest threat are in the most heavily populated areas.
"Without sustainable groundwater reserves, global security is at far greater risk," he says. "As the dry parts are getting drier, we will rely on groundwater even more heavily. The implications are just staggering and really need to be discussed at the international level."
Below are answers to your key questions.
Where is groundwater the most threatened?
The most over-stressed is the Arabian Aquifer System, which supplies water to 60 million people in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The Indus Basin aquifer in northwest India and Pakistan is the second-most threatened, and the Murzuk-Djado Basin in northern Africa the third.
How did these giant basins become so depleted?
Drought, bad management of pumping, leaky pipes in big-city municipal water systems, aging infrastructure, inadequate technology, population growth, and the demand for more food production all put increasing demand on pumping more groundwater. Flood irrigation, which is inefficient, remains the dominant irrigation method worldwide. In India, the world's largest consumer of groundwater, the government subsidizes electricity – an incentive to farmers to keep pumping.

The 20 million people of Beijing get about two-thirds of their water from the North China Plain aquifer, which is one of the world's largest groundwater basins.

How has irrigation changed farming?
Irrigation has enabled water-intensive crops to be grown in dry places, which in turn created local economies that are now difficult to undo. These include sugar cane and rice in India, winter wheat in China, and corn in the southern High Plains of North America. Aquaculture has boomed in the land-locked Ararat Basin, which lies along the border between Armenia and Turkey. Groundwater is cold enough to raise cold-water fish, such as trout and sturgeon. In less than two decades, the aquifer there has been drawn down so severely for fish ponds that municipal water supplies in more than two dozen communities are now threatened.
More is known about oil reserves than water. Calculating what remains in aquifers is extraordinarily difficult. In 2015, scientists at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada concluded that less than six percent of groundwater above one-and-a-half miles (two kilometers) in the Earth's landmass is renewable within a human lifetime. But other hydrologists caution that measurements of stores can mislead. More important is how the water is distributed throughout the aquifer. When water levels drop below to 50 feet or less, it is often not economically practical to pump water to the surface, and much of that water is brackish or contains so many minerals that it is unusable.
Depleted groundwater is a slow-speed crisis, scientists say, so there's time to develop new technologies and water efficiencies. In Western Australia, desalinated water has been injected to recharge the large aquifer that Perth, Australia's driest city, taps for drinking water. China is working to regulate pumping. In west Texas, the city of Abernathy is drilling into a deeper aquifer that lies beneath the High Plains aquifer and mixing the two to supplement the municipal water supply.

UNHCR - UNHCR viewpoint: 'Refugee' or 'migrant' – Which is right?

UNHCR viewpoint: 'Refugee' or 'migrant' – Which is right?

Refugee or Migrant - word choice matters.  © UNHCR
GENEVA, July 11 (UNHCR) – With more than 65 million people forcibly displaced globally and boat crossings of the Mediterranean still regularly in the headlines, the terms 'refugee' and 'migrant' are frequently used interchangeably in media and public discourse. But is there a difference between the two, and does it matter?
Yes, there is a difference, and it does matter. The two terms have distinct and different meanings, and confusing them leads to problems for both populations. Here's why:
Refugees are persons fleeing armed conflict or persecution. There were 21.3 million of them worldwide at the end of 2015. Their situation is often so perilous and intolerable that they cross national borders to seek safety in nearby countries, and thus become internationally recognized as "refugees" with access to assistance from States, UNHCR, and other organizations. They are so recognized precisely because it is too dangerous for them to return home, and they need sanctuary elsewhere. These are people for whom denial of asylum has potentially deadly consequences.
Refugees are defined and protected in international law. The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol as well as other legal texts, such as the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention, remain the cornerstone of modern refugee protection. The legal principles they enshrine have permeated into countless other international, regional, and national laws and practices. The 1951 Convention defines who is a refugee and outlines the basic rights which States should afford to refugees. One of the most fundamental principles laid down in international law is that refugees should not be expelled or returned to situations where their life and freedom would be under threat.
The protection of refugees has many aspects. These include safety from being returned to the dangers they have fled; access to asylum procedures that are fair and efficient; and measures to ensure that their basic human rights are respected to allow them to live in dignity and safety while helping them to find a longer-term solution. States bear the primary responsibility for this protection. UNHCR therefore works closely with governments, advising and supporting them as needed to implement their responsibilities.
Migrants choose to move not because of a direct threat of persecution or death, but mainly to improve their lives by finding work, or in some cases for education, family reunion, or other reasons. Unlike refugees who cannot safely return home, migrants face no such impediment to return. If they choose to return home, they will continue to receive the protection of their government.
For individual governments, this distinction is important. Countries deal with migrants under their own immigration laws and processes. Countries deal with refugees through norms of refugee protection and asylum that are defined in both national legislation and international law. Countries have specific responsibilities towards anyone seeking asylum on their territories or at their borders. UNHCR helps countries deal with their asylum and refugee protection responsibilities.
Politics has a way of intervening in such debates. Conflating refugees and migrants can have serious consequences for the lives and safety of refugees. Blurring the two terms takes attention away from the specific legal protections refugees require. It can undermine public support for refugees and the institution of asylum at a time when more refugees need such protection than ever before. We need to treat all human beings with respect and dignity. We need to ensure that the human rights of migrants are respected. At the same time, we also need to provide an appropriate legal response for refugees, because of their particular predicament.
So, back to Europe and the large numbers of people arriving in recent years by boats in Greece, Italy and elsewhere. Which are they? Refugees or migrants?
In fact, they happen to be both. The majority of people arriving in Italy and Greece especially have been from countries mired in war or which otherwise are considered to be 'refugee-producing' and for whom international protection is needed. However, a smaller proportion is from elsewhere, and for many of these individuals, the term 'migrant' would be correct.
So, at UNHCR we say 'refugees and migrants' when referring to movements of people by sea or in other circumstances where we think both groups may be present – boat movements in Southeast Asia are another example. We say 'refugees' when we mean people fleeing war or persecution across an international border. And we say 'migrants' when we mean people moving for reasons not included in the legal definition of a refugee. We hope that others will give thought to doing the same. Choices about words do matter.
By Adrian Edwards, Geneva
This article was originally published on 27 August 2015. It has been updated to reflect more current figures.

Report warns United Kingdom Climate Change Severe Impact

Report warns of severe future effects of climate change on the U.K.

Credit: University of Manchester

Two experts from Manchester have contributed to a new Government report on climate change, which predicts that global warming will hit our shores with severe heatwaves, flooding and water shortages.
The contributors, who include Environment and Climate Change Lecturer Dr Ruth Wood and Professor of Ecology Richard Bardgett, say that action to tackle urgent threats including widespread flooding and new diseases must be taken promptly.
The report also warns that wars and migration around the world caused by climate change could have significant consequences for the UK through disrupted trade and more overseas military intervention.
The worst-case scenarios - which will become reality if action to tackle climate change fails - foresees searing heatwaves reaching temperatures of 48°C in London, and the high 30s across the rest of England.
The wide-ranging assessment of the dangers of climate change to the UK has been produced over three years by a team of 80 experts, and reviewed by many more. The main analysis is based on the projected temperature rise if the last year's Paris global climate agreement is fully delivered, and takes account of plans already in place to cope with impacts.
"I was delighted to be asked to become a contributing author," said Dr Wood. "The experience provided valuable insights into the evidence required by decision makers in the energy sector when responding to challenges and opportunities arising from climate change."
"Climate change poses major threats to both natural and managed systems of the UK and worldwide," said Professor Bardgett. "Not only does it pose significant risks to our natural capital, including terrestrial, marine, freshwater and coastal ecosystems, but also it threatens our ability to produce food, for example due to increased incidence of pests and diseases, and the erosion of our soils."
The key threats
  • Heatwaves: By the 2040s, deadly heatwaves such as the one in 2003 when UK temperatures peaked at 38.5°C will be the norm, leading to a tripling in heat-related deaths. There are currently no policies which ensure that homes, businesses, public transport, schools and hospitals remain tolerable in high heat.
  • Water shortages: Severe are expected as summers get drier, and will extend across the country by the 2050s. Demand for water will outstrip supply 2.5 times in many places in the UK if temperatures are driven up significantly.
  • Floods and coastal erosion: On average, flooding already causes £1bn of damage every year - but the risks will rise further still, bringing floods to places not currently in danger, as climate change leads to more intense rainfall. By 2050, the number of households at significant risk of flooding will more than double to 1.9m if the global temperature rises by 4°C.
  • Natural environment: The proportion of prime farmland is expected to fall from 38% to 9%, and crop growing in eastern England and Scotland could be ended by degraded soil and water shortages. Warming seas are pushing key species northwards, meaning the entire marine food chain may be affected.
  • Food: Food prices are likely to be driven up by climate change, with extreme weather leading to lost crops and sudden price shocks. About 40% of the UK's food is imported, making it vulnerable to droughts and floods caused by around the world.
  • Diseases and pests: Dangers posed by new diseases and pests invading the UK as the climate gets warmer require urgent research. Higher temperatures will lead to an increased risk of dengue fever, Zika virus and invasive species such as the Asian tiger mosquito.
More information: The report is available online: www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/UK-CCRA-2017-Synthesis-Report-Committee-on-Climate-Change.pdf                                         

Saudi Arabia’s non-oil sector slips into recession — FT.com

Saudi Arabia's non-oil sector slips into recession

Saudi Arabia's non-oil economy has slipped into a technical recession for the first time since the 1980s, compounding the woes of a country already grappling with an oil sector pummelled by low prices.
The country's non-oil sector contracted 0.7 per cent year on year in the first three months of 2016, according to official data.
This follows on from a weak fourth quarter of 2015, which the country's statistics agency has now revised to show a 0.5 per cent year-on-year fall in non-oil output, rather than the 3.5 per cent rise originally reported.
The figures are a sign of the difficulties Riyadh faces in rebalancing its economy away from an overdependence on oil at a time when public spending is being cut and subsidies slashed.
"The non-oil sector is the part [of the economy] that worries us," says Carla Slim, an economist for the Middle East and north Africa region at Standard Chartered. "This revision of fourth quarter [2015] data was a surprise. We had expected the slowdown would not be as sharp as this."
Jason Tuvey, Middle East economist at Capital Economics, adds: "It looks like austerity has hit hard and more than we had anticipated, halting construction projects and stopping hiring".
So far the oil sector has managed to keep the Saudi economy as a whole out of recession, with higher production helping overall gross domestic product to rise 1.8 per cent year on year in the fourth quarter of 2015 (revised down from 3.6 per cent) and by 1.5 per cent year on year in the first three months of 2016.
However Capital Economics' proprietary GDP tracker suggests overall growth turned negative in May as "the slump in the non-oil sector deepened, contracting by around 4 per cent year on year", says Mr Tuvey. This is illustrated in the first chart.

The prime driver of the slowdown has been a fall in public spending as the government grapples with a gaping fiscal deficit in the wake of the slide in oil prices from $115 a barrel in 2014 to about $50 now.
Cuts in energy and water subsidies have led to a near-doubling of inflation to 4.1 per cent, eroding households' real incomes, while Ms Slim reports a drop in consumer confidence that is weighing on discretionary spending.
This was reflected in balance of payments data reported on Thursday that showed the value of Saudi imports fell to $32.4bn in the first quarter of 2016, down 18.1 per cent from the same period a year earlier.
Saudi Arabia's "secondary income" deficit, driven largely by outbound cross-border remittances, fell from $10.4bn to $9.9bn over the same period, probably reflecting a decline in the number of migrant workers in the country as the economy has slowed.
Mr Tuvey reports a range of other signs of slowing consumer spending. The value of ATM cash withdrawals and point of sale transactions are both declining in year-on-year terms, although the rate of decline is slowing, as the second chart shows.

"When oil was $30, consumers didn't want to make big transactions," says Mr Tuvey.
Likewise, the GDP generated by the trade, restaurants and hotel sector, a key element of consumer spending, was 0.8 per cent lower in the first quarter of 2016 than in the same period a year earlier, depicted in the third chart.
Despite the ongoing contraction in the non-oil sector, both Capital Economics and Standard Chartered believe the wider economy will probably be able to escape recession.

StanChart believes higher output from refineries should allow the oil sector to expand by 0.6 per cent this year, while the non-oil sector should rebound to growth of 0.7 per cent as the pick-up in oil prices from their low of $27 a barrel earlier this year helps support a modest recovery in consumer spending.
Overall it expects growth of 0.7 per cent this year, less than half the 1.5 per cent it had been pencilling in before the release of the first-quarter GDP data earlier this month.
Capital Economics is less upbeat, forecasting economy-wide growth of just 0.3 per cent in 2016, well below the 1 per cent consensus forecast and the 1.2 per cent seen by the International Monetary Fund. Moreover, "while a recovery should get under way in 2017-18, we think it is likely to be slow going", says Mr Tuvey.
"We have seen oil prices recover a little over the last few months and the government will ease off on austerity a little bit, but the [public spending] adjustment is just beginning," he adds.
"It only really started in the second half of last year and it's likely to continue for years to come."
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Destroying Islamic State May Not be Best Strategy Rand Corp

This Is the Problem with Trying to Destroy the Islamic State

Photo by Cpl. Olivia McDonald/U.S. Marine Corps
Staff Sgt. Todd Reinert guides soldiers through shooting drills prior to a live-fire range in Tiguet, Mauritania, Feb. 15, 2016
Would counterterrorism forces be better served by containing terrorist groups instead of attempting to destroy them? While causing a terrorist organization to break apart might seem like a positive outcome — indeed, this is one of the primary objectives of most counterterrorism campaigns — the fracturing of a terrorist organization often causes the emergence of new, and in some cases more violent, splinter organizations. Dismantling and destroying the Islamic State and similar organizations is a worthy strategic goal, but policymakers must also be prepared to limit the effectiveness of splinter groups as they emerge in the aftermath of a successful campaign against the parent group.
The Islamic State — a splinter of al-Qaeda in Iraq or AQI, which itself was previously a splinter of al-Qaeda — is one of many terrorist organizations that owe their emergence to the fracturing of a pre-existing group. Hezbollah, for example was an offshoot of the Afwaj al-Muqawama al-Lubnaniya (AMAL), formed in the early 1980s with help from Iran in response to Israel's invasion of southern Lebanon. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) coalesced between the late 1970s and early 1980s from an assortment of Tamil rebel groups.
Other prominent splinter groups have flourished in Northern Ireland (the Real IRA), Algeria (the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat) and Thailand (the New Patani United Liberation Organization). Splinter groups are often only slight variations on the original groups, with minor differences in ideology but more significant discrepancies over strategy, tactics and the utility of violence.
It is certainly possible that if the Islamic State is degraded to the point it is no longer such a threat, whatever supplants it could grow to be more potent than its predecessors.
That some of these groups have been more effective at sowing violence and discord than their predecessors is one of the unfortunate outcomes of effective counterterrorism campaigns. In several respects, the Islamic State poses a far greater threat than al-Qaeda in Iraq ever did. It has significant income flows from a variety of sources, controls swathes of territory on at least two continents and is capable of fomenting violence at great distances. It is certainly possible that if the Islamic State is degraded to the point it is no longer such a threat, whatever supplants it could grow to be more potent than its predecessors.
After all, the blueprint for success — evidenced in Iraq and North Africa — is now widely known: Gain a foothold in a failed state or ungoverned region, latch on to a marginalized ethnic or religious group, exploit local grievances, and lend guidance, resources, expertise and manpower to the fight. It is not difficult to imagine the Islamic State replicating this formula in any number of places.
Regions awash in weapons, plagued by poor security and weak rule of law are ideal options for splinter groups seeking to regenerate and exploit new bases of operations, if they choose to relocate abroad. The challenge for policy makers and practitioners is preventing these regenerated slivers from emerging stronger than before.
Think of it like this: The remnants of a largely extinguished fire must be stamped out before the embers can accelerate into a massive conflagration. Destroying a terrorist organization — and potentially creating splinter groups in the process — is less important than reducing its capacity to conduct operations that further its goals.
Potential group members can be absorbed into a broader political framework, as happened in both Spain and the Palestinian territories. The decision over whether to enter politics and leave behind violence is often a catalyst for splintering in the first place. Through power sharing or guarantees of greater autonomy, host-nation governments can work to ameliorate a range of existing grievances. While remnants of the organization remain, they are for the most part obliged to operate more or less legitimately.
In some cases — for instance, El Salvador, Liberia and Bosnia — certain elements of what previously constituted the insurgency or armed opposition become involved in the illicit economy and morph from terrorists to criminals, abandoning politics for profit.
Some splinter groups will be defeated through infighting. What were once hostile Sunni tribes in Iraq's Anbar province were mobilized to attack AQI militants in what became known as the Anbar Awakening. Persuading the tribes to attack the hard-core elements of the insurgency was initially a success, although the Iraqi government's failure to appropriately incorporate elements of these tribes into governance structures helped to create the conditions leading to the rise of the Islamic State.
Last, the host nation, either alone or with the help of an external power or coalition, can pursue an aggressive campaign to capture or kill the majority of the splinter group's leadership and foot soldiers, as happened in Peru with Lima's campaign against the radical group Sendero Luminoso.
When considering the Islamic State, what are the possible outcomes if the ongoing coalition counterterrorism campaign succeeds in smashing its core, causing it to splinter?
What might happen next? The inclusion of the Islamic State in any future political framework in either Iraq or Syria is a non sequitur. The Islamic State has not shared any political platform even mildly acceptable to even the most dysfunctional or harsh nation-state. If a political settlement in either Syria or Iraq were to gain traction, it is possible that elements of the Islamic State could continue to prosper as a violent criminal organization.
The Islamic State could eventually be defeated through insurgent fratricide, with the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front the most obvious candidate to fill the role of spoiler. Still, if the Islamic State feared it was facing extinction in Syria, its leadership might well decide to relocate the caliphate to Libya or someplace else where an existing offshoot might be bolstered.
It is possible that following the atomization of the Islamic State, its remnants could be stamped out by security forces in areas where it currently operates. However, the two primary factors that led to the resuscitation of AQI into Islamic State — the Syrian civil war and Baghdad's marginalization of Iraqi Sunnis — show no signs of abating anytime soon.
If none of the above scenarios play out, countries within the broader region will continue struggling to disrupt the blueprint that enables splinter groups to deftly reconstitute into more effective fighting forces. The lack of security cooperation and intelligence-sharing between countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa affords militants the space to operate and gain traction.
Without surveillance of poorly governed areas to help reduce threats within these territories, host-nation security forces will remain unable to stem migration (and other martial-resource) flows to active areas of hostilities.
The two main factors that led to an al-Qaeda splinter growing into the Islamic State in the first place are nowhere close to being resolved. The Syrian civil war continues to rage, and the Iraqi government has yet to work earnestly to reach out to marginalized Iraqi Sunnis. Without progress toward addressing what are essentially two political issues, even successful counterterrorism tactics will allow room for splinter groups to emerge and grow stronger.

Colin P. Clarke and Chad C. Serena are political scientists at the RAND Corporation.
This commentary originally appeared on The Washington Post Monkey Cage Blog on July 12, 2016.

Oman and Iran build Natural Gas Pipeline — FT.com

Oman: Iran's best friend in the Gulf

The sultanate of Oman appears set to play a key role in Iran's efforts to reintegrate into the regional and global economy. While other Middle Eastern states kept their distance during Iran's years of isolation, Oman stuck with its longtime trading partner and is now set to reap the benefits, as the two countries move ahead with large-scale joint economic initiatives.
A long-planned $60bn undersea gas pipeline project has been given fresh impetus since sanctions on Iran were lifted earlier this year. The Korea Gas Corporation, a partly state-owned South Korean energy company, is reported to be nearing an agreement to build pipelines that will pump 20m cubic metres of Iranian gas a day to Oman, where it will be converted into Liquefied Natural Gas for international export.
Plans for another major bilateral project are coming to fruition. An ongoing feasibility study for the construction of a car manufacturing hub in the Omani port of Duqm is likely to be concluded this month. The plant, a $200m joint venture with the Khodro Industrial Group, the region's largest automobile manufacturer, is expected to produce 20,000 cars within two years. Production is set to begin next year, with the bulk of output destined for neighbouring markets including Yemen, Sudan and Ethiopia.
The rapid expansion of business ties between the two countries was underlined recently when Oman's central bank granted its approval for Bank Muscat, the sultanate's largest lender, to open a branch in Tehran, making it one of the first foreign banks to enter the Iranian market following the removal of sanctions.
During the international embargo, Oman complied with UN sanctions directed specifically at entities connected with Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, but chose not to conform to the blanket sanctions imposed by the US and other western countries. In fact, the Omani government actively encouraged the expansion of economic ties with Iran. At the height of the sanctions regime between 2012 and 2013, Oman's annual bilateral trade with Iran reportedly grew by some 70 per cent to $873m, and by the end of 2015 it exceeded $1bn. Last month, Mohammed Reza Nematazadaeh, Iran's Minister of Industry, Mines and Trade, reportedly estimated that bilateral trade between the countries would reach $4bn within five years.
Religion has played a significant role in determining Oman's friendly attitude towards Iran. Since Oman is predominantly Ibadi, a branch of Islam that is neither Sunni nor Shia, the sultanate's relations with Iran have never been spoiled by the sectarian tensions or rivalries that have caused so much friction in Iran's relations with other Gulf Cooperation Council states.
During the recent escalation of Sunni-Shia tensions following the execution of a Shia cleric by Saudi Arabia in January 2016, which culminated with Iranian crowds attacking the Saudi embassy in Tehran, Oman did not join other GCC states in cutting or downgrading diplomatic ties with Iran. Some observers see Oman's 75-year-old ruler Sultan Qaboos as a stabilising force between rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Oman has been able to maintain friendly relations with Iran while remaining a strategic ally of the US and a key member of the GCC. This is largely due to all parties attaching great importance to its strategic location at the eastern entry of the vital Strait of Hormuz, through which the region's oil is transported to global markets. Oman's privileged position has enabled the sultanate to be an effective go-between for the west and Iran on several occasions, including the hosting of secret talks that eventually led to the signing of the nuclear deal in July 2015.
But while Iran has long been able to count on Oman's support, the potential for their growing cooperation should not be overstated. Oman may become one of Iran's most important partners in the post-sanctions era, but the Islamic Republic's integration into the regional economy would require a major détente with its Sunni rivals in the Gulf. Given the current friction between Iran and Saudi Arabia and their respective allies, that seems a long way off.
Yakir Gillis is a Middle East analyst at Alaco, a business intelligence consultancy.

Ten years on, is Hezbollah prepared for another war with Israel? - BBC News

Ten years on, is Hezbollah prepared for another war with Israel?

Getty Images
Hezbollah regards the outcome of the 2006 war as a victory over Israel

In a region transformed by the wars in Syria and Iraq, the stand-off between Israel and Hezbollah, the Shia jihadist group it last confronted in full-scale warfare in 2006, appears to be one thing that has not changed.
Ten years is the longest period without major fighting between them - a sign, perhaps, that the mutual deterrence established after 2006 is here to stay.
But earlier this year, rumour spread in Lebanon that Israel was preparing to attack and finish off Hezbollah, sparking media speculation that the summer of 2016 will see an even bloodier re-run of the war of 2006.
Back then, Hezbollah killed eight Israeli soldiers and abducted two in a cross-border raid, and demanded an exchange of prisoners with Israel.
Israel responded by launching an all-out war, beginning with a blockade and an intense aerial campaign. The war ended with a ceasefire after 33 days of fighting.
According to official figures, 1,191 people were killed in Lebanon, the majority of them civilians. In Israel, 121 soldiers and 44 civilians were killed.
Among the goals set by Israeli officials were an unconditional release of the abducted soldiers and the disarmament of Hezbollah, or at least the elimination of the "long-term" military threat the group poses to Israel. It achieved none of them.
Hezbollah issued a single demand following their cross-border raid - indirect negotiations leading to the release of Arab prisoners in exchange for the two Israeli soldiers. Hezbollah would not say whether they had survived their capture.
In 2008 the Israelis released five Lebanese prisoners, as well as the remains of 199 Lebanese and Palestinian fighters, in return for the bodies of the two soldiers.

'Disproportionate power'

Getty Images
Israeli air strikes caused massive damage, including in Hezbollah's Beirut stronghold

So judging by the war aims, Israel lost and Hezbollah won. But the scale of destruction in Lebanon posed a challenge to Hezbollah's narrative of victory.
Up to a million people were displaced, and around 15,000 homes and 900 factories were destroyed, along with roads, bridges, the runway at Beirut International Airport, and other infrastructure.
Civilians in areas where there was support for Hezbollah suffered most, and Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah later said that if he had known the scale of the Israeli response, he would not have ordered the cross-border attack.

Israel laid out a strategy of deterrence, first made public by Maj Gen Gadi Eizenkot in 2008 when he was head of the Israeli army's Northern Command.

He said that what happened in Dahiya, the southern suburb of Beirut in which neighbourhoods were flattened by Israeli airstrikes in 2006, would "happen in every village from which shots were fired in the direction of Israel".
Gen Eizenkot, now Israeli chief of staff, articulated what came to be known as the Dahiya Doctrine.
"We will wield disproportionate power," he said, "and cause immense damage and destruction. This isn't a suggestion. It's a plan that has already been authorised.
"Harming the population is the only means of restraining Nasrallah."

Syria war

After 2006, mutual deterrence took hold, and 10 years have passed without major confrontation.
But something else happened during that time - unexpected, unforeseen, and potentially transformative; the war in Syria.
From early on in the war, Hezbollah sent its fighters across the border to support President Bashar al-Assad.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has warned a new war would be devastating for Israel

It began in a few locations alongside the border and some Shia religious sites close to Damascus, but soon enough, they had fighters as far south as Deraa on the Jordanian border, and as deep into the north as Aleppo.
Their rationale for involvement in support of President Assad has evolved, but a dominant theme is that Syria has been the backbone of the resistance against Israel, and that the attacks on the regime are aimed at undermining Hezbollah by depriving them of an ally that has provided much needed logistical support.
According to their narrative, the war in Syria was a continuation of the 2006 war by other means, with the Americans, Israelis and Saudis trying to finish off the "axis of resistance", by destroying the glue that holds it together - the Assad regime.

New threats

In Syria, Hezbollah faces enemies more like themselves - guerrilla fighters waging unconventional warfare against a conventional army, many of them jihadists, hunted from the skies and driven underground.
Hezbollah are no longer the underdog. Allied to the Syrian army, they lay siege to rebel areas, and fight with air cover - Syrian at first, and subsequently often Russian.
Arguably, they even benefit indirectly from American strikes on some of their enemies, such as al-Nusra Front, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria.
But they face new threats. They fight across an area much larger than south Lebanon, without the benefit of local support they have in their strongholds.

Hezbollah has been stretched by involvement in a brutal war in Syria in recent years

Could this be Hezbollah's moment of weakness, and Israel's golden opportunity?
The possibility seems to have led Hezbollah to propose a deterrence strategy of its own, articulated by its Secretary General.
In a speech in February, he fanned Israeli fears that Hezbollah is able to strike containers where more than 15,000 tonnes of ammonia gas are stored, leading possibly to the death of tens of thousands of Israelis.
"A few of our missiles plus the ammonia containers in Haifa equal the effect of a nuclear bomb," he said.
About a month later, he said Hezbollah had a full list of petrochemical factories, biological research centres, nuclear reactors and containers where nuclear warheads are stored, along with precise co-ordinates.
'If there's any war against Lebanon and its people and infrastructure, we will fight it without a ceiling, without limits, without red lines."
Can they really inflict, for the first time in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, more harm on Israel than Israel can on them?
There seems to be agreement that Hezbollah has amassed a much larger missile arsenal. Various estimates from both sides suggest they have more than 100,000 missiles, and Hassan Nasrallah insists Israeli missile defence systems are incapable of effectively neutralising them in a new confrontation.

Apocalypse not now?

But Hezbollah seem aware that their constituency, feeling the pain in Syria, is in no mood for a war with Israel. The aim of their threats seems to be to deter the Israelis from initiating attack.
"We are talking about a defensive war, in which we are the ones who are on the receiving end of aggression," Hassan Nasrallah said.
This reflects Hezbollah's new posture and priorities. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, they kept up a persistent guerrilla campaign against the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon, and it was through attrition over almost two decades that they forced them out in 2000.
But in Syria, where they aim to subdue resistance to President Assad and enforce the regime's grip on power, attrition works the other way around. Their enemies are trying to slowly bleed them to exhaustion in places as far away from their strongholds as Aleppo, northern Syria.
Some in Israel believe it is better for them to wait and watch than wage war now.
Deputy Chief of Staff and head of the Northern Command Maj Gen Yair Golan said Israel should be in no rush to wage pre-emptive war against Hezbollah.
In a talk at Bar Ilan University last March, he said that Israel had considered Syria the central threat for decades, until it dissolved all on its own, after 'the regime used its weapons and crushed its forces in a war against its citizens."
Perhaps the Israelis hope Hezbollah too will dissolve on its own in the bloodied landscape of Syria.

Liberia must pass land rights bill or risk jeopardising peace, campaigners warn | Global development | The Guardian

Liberia must pass land rights bill or risk jeopardising peace, campaigners warn

Palm trees in north-western Liberia
Liberia could be plunged back into conflict if a historic land rights bill is not passed by August, civil society groups have warned.
The country's legislature received a bill protecting community land rights in 2014 but has since been silent on the subject. There are concerns that the bill will not be passed under the current government, or that it will be watered down so much that it fails to protect Liberians living in rural areas.
Hundreds of thousands of people in Liberia died in civil wars that were caused in part by disputes over the ownership of land and natural resources. More than two-thirds of Liberia's land is held under customary tenure.
Over the past few decades, according to the Sustainable Development Institute, land grabs have "turned citizens into refugees in their own country".
"Failure to recognise the rights of millions of Liberians to their customary lands jeopardises peace and security, and could fuel a slide back into the conflicts that devastated our country for decades," read the statement, which was signed by 18 civil society groups including youth, women's and rural organisations.
"If the legislature does not pass the 2014 version of the Land Rights Act before its recess in August, it will likely be delayed until after the elections; a new government takes office in 2018, leaving the legislation in limbo indefinitely."
What is important is not just that the act is passed, but that an effective version of it passes, the group said.
Three senior politicians, including the chairman of the ruling party, were recently arrested and charged with "economic crimes" after an investigation by the campaigning group Global Witness, which alleged that the British company Sable Mining paid bribes to change legislation so that it could get the rights to an iron ore deposit. The politicians deny any wrongdoing, as do Sable Mining.
The speaker of the house of representatives, Alex Tyler, "helped to get the Sable-friendly legislation through parliament", Global Witness said. The same legislature, now mired in bribery allegations, has held on to the Lands Right Act, and there are concerns that the final version will contain loopholes that were not in the original version, which local communities and civil society helped to draft.
"Insecure land rights have driven conflict and war across the region," said James Yarsiah, of the Rights and Rice Foundation. "Liberia is the first country to put forth a viable solution. In 2014, I was proud of the progress we had made. Now I am scared that this progress may be lost for good. It is up to our legislature to follow through on that solution, or force the country's citizenry to face years of uncertainty and violence."
The president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has spoken of her support for the act. For decades, however, the government has granted logging, mining, and agriculture concessions over about 40% of the country, ignoring the communities living there.
"Land grabs in Liberia have effectively turned citizens into refugees in their own country," said Ali Kaba, of the Sustainable Development Institute. "We cannot continue on in a state where people's homes and farms can be sold out from under them without their knowledge or consent, and where those who resist face violence."

Hillary Clinton could run on strongest climate change platform everThe Guardian

Hillary Clinton could campaign much more aggressively against climate change than any US presidential candidate before her, under a draft platform adopted by Democratic party leaders.
The leaders committed the presumptive Democratic nominee to a carbon tax, a climate test for future pipelines and tighter rules on fracking – all stronger positions than those held by Clinton herself at the start of the race.
The Clinton camp said, after the platform was adopted, that she does not support a carbon tax and the draft still needs to be ratified at the Democratic national convention in Philadelphia this month.

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Dispute turns deadly as indigenous Brazilians try to 'retake' ancestral landThe Guardian

Dispute turns deadly as indigenous Brazilians try to 'retake' ancestral land | Bruce Douglas

Jesus de Souza still struggles for breath, despite the assistance of an oxygen tube. He has had two operations after a bullet pierced his intestine. Lying in hospital, the 29-year-old teacher from the Guarani-Kaiowá indigenous community in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul tries to control his emotions as he recalls the day he was shot by local landowners, in an attack that left his brother, Clodiodi, dead, and five others seriously wounded. "Since this happened, I have not shed a single tear," he says. "I won't until I am back in my village."
Tension over land rights between the early inhabitants of the southern part of the state and the European-origin farmers who settled there in the 19th and 20th centuries is boiling over. In a feud that dates back decades, indigenous people seize private property they claim as their ancestral lands and farmers respond with deadly violence.
On 12 May, in the final hours of the government of President Dilma Rousseff, whose presidency has now been suspended, the indigenous affairs agency, Funai, finally approved a long-delayed report that would massively expand the Guarani-Kaiowá territory, from 3,600 hectares (8,900 acres) to 56,000.
In the weeks that followed, local farmers protested vigorously, warning that the move would turn valuable agricultural land into unproductive rural ghettos. They vowed to challenge the report.
On 12 June, dozens of Guarani-Kaiowá from the Caarapó indigenous reserve invaded the Fazenda Yvu, a neighbouring farm that belongs to one of the founders of a local agricultural association, in an act they describe as "retaking" their original lands.
After a day of failed negotiations between police, white farmers and the indigenous people, at least 100 of the farmers returned on the morning of 14 June. According to the local state prosecutor, Marco Almeida, some of the landowners opened fire, killing one of the Guarani-Kaiowá and wounding six others. One was a 12-year-old boy, who was shot in the stomach.
A month later, on 17 July, the Conselho Indigenista Missionário (Cimi), a Catholic organisation dedicated to the defence of indigenous rights, reported that another group of Guarani-Kaiowá occupying farms around Caarapó had come under attack, with three men, including a teenager, shot by a group suspected of links with local landowners.
Almeida says the attack is yet another example of the long history of "genocidal policies" of the Brazilian state, which has sought to deny the rights of its indigenous peoples.

Land occupied by the Guarani-Kaiowá community in Mato Grosso do Sul
Land occupied by the Guarani-Kaiowá community in Mato Grosso do Sul. Photograph: Phil Clarke Hill

The rich, red earth of Mato Grosso do Sul is fertile territory for growing soy, corn and sugarcane. Before mechanisation, much of the original backbreaking farm work was done by indigenous labourers. Many lived and toiled on large estates in appalling conditions: the state labour ministry only granted indigenous people formal employment rights in 1999.
While some Guarani-Kaiowá worked on white-owned farms, others were herded into small indigenous reserves. Over time, changes in farming techniques meant indigenous labour became increasingly redundant. Intensive monocultures have also denuded much of the countryside, rendering the Guaranai-Kaiowá's hunter-gatherer lifestyle unviable.
The state has also procrastinated on its commitment, set out in the 1988 constitution, to demarcate larger permanent indigenous territories.
"There has been a strategy of resistance by agribusiness and Congress to granting rights to indigenous people," he says. "We have to ask: how much does this process of denying rights rather than seeking to resolve conflict contribute to the worsening of the situation?"
However, for Tereza Cristina, a congresswoman from Mato Grosso do Sul, the government's decision to approve the report was "an incitement" to the Guarani-Kaiowá to invade legally held private property. "There are some big producers in the region, but many are small and medium-sized landowners who have had the title to their land for 60, 70, sometimes 100 years," she says.
Her view is echoed by Maurício Rasslan, a criminal lawyer based in the city of Dourados, who has close ties to the agricultural community and diligently documents crimes committed by local indigenous people. "There's this view abroad of the poor Indians as unarmed, alienated people who don't know what they are doing," he says. "That's not true."
Rasslan points to article 67 of the 1988 constitution, which states that the demarcation process "will be concluded within five years". In other words, he says, there is no validity to reserves created after 1993. "Anywhere in the world where the law does not rule, [it] becomes a mess," he adds.
If the indigenous people want more land, he argues, they should buy it.
Just hours after the killing of Clodiodi de Souza, a group of Guarani-Kaiowá took three police officers and a truck driver hostage, torturing them for several hours before they were released, following mediation by an evangelical preacher.
In the weeks that followed, hundreds of indigenous families occupied other properties in the area. Rene Escobar, 32, a pig farmer, was in Caarapó when he heard that his small, 6.5-hectare estate had been invaded. "They stole all my furniture, smashed up my house and killed all my animals. All the pigs, all the chickens. Even the dogs," he says. Escobar has made only one trip back to his house, under police escort, to retrieve documents.
Like many other smallholders in the region, he expressed bewilderment at what appears to have been a sudden deterioration in the relationship between indigenous Brazilians and those of European descent. "I never had any problem with any of them," he says. "I was friends with all of them."
After the landowners withdrew in the wake of Clodiodi de Souza's death, the Guarani-Kaiowá reoccupied the Fazenda Yvu and buried the former health worker there. His grave has been covered with concrete; a Brazilian flag spattered with red paint flutters above it.

The grave of Clodiodi Aquileu Rodrigues de Souza, who was killed on 14 June in Tekohá Tey Jusu
The grave of Clodiodi Aquileu Rodrigues de Souza, who was killed on 14 June in Tekohá Tey Jusu. Photograph: Phil Clarke Hill

Another victim of the attack in June, Cunamí Vera, 37, lives in a tarpaulin-covered shack on one of the farm's fields. Doctors told him it would be more dangerous to remove the bullet lodged just above his heart than to leave it, but he is in constant pain and has difficulty sleeping.
He has no intention of giving up the farm, and believes it is up to the government to compensate the Guarani-Kaiowá for the destruction of their environment. "There is no more forest for us to hunt. There's nowhere for us to fish," he says. "The only way that we can live in peace with the white man is if they approve and register our land."