On September 5, the provincial capital finally saw the terrorist siege broken, which brought relief for up to 125,000 inhabitants, trapped by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) militants. Largely left without functioning infrastructure, locals struggled to survive for nearly three years, mostly relying on aid airdropped by the UN, Russia, and the Syrian government.
With the land route opening, convoys with food and medical supplies have started to flow freely to exhausted citizens, ready to reclaim their lives after years of constant danger, hardships, and hunger.
“We spent [the time under siege] like slaves,” grocer Abu Mohammad says, according to Syrian news agency SANA. “Hunger killed some of us, both young and old, and it almost killed us but then the Syrian Arab Army’s vanguards arrived and brought us salvation and victory. ISIS terrorists used to target homes, shops, and even fields, preventing food from reaching the neighborhood and seizing all of it, leaving the locals to fall prey to hunger and disease.”
While the drone hovered over Deir ez-Zor, showing the locals walking freely on the streets, Syrian Army units kept advancing further along the Euphrates River and striking the remaining pockets of IS resistance. On Friday, the troops recaptured the Al-Baghiliyah district, lying northeast of Deir ez-Zor.
After steady progress in fighting hunger, the United Nations announced an increase in the number of chronically hungry people for the first time in over 10 years. Some 11 percent of the world’s population is affected.
World Hunger is on the rise after years of steady decline, warns a UN report released Friday.
Most of the world’s hungry people are in Asia and Africa, with 520 million and 243 million, respectively. But proportionally Africa is hardest hit, with 20 percent of people not having enough food – in Asia the ratio is 11.7 percent, according to the reported prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Food Program and the World Health Organization.
Overall, the number of chronically hungry people rose to 815 million, or 11 percent of the world’s population, in 2016. The figure represents an increase of 38 million over the previous year.
It remains to be seen if the change is the start of a new trend or a one-off aberration, but the report attributes the increase to man-made conflicts, a sputtering economy and climate change.
World hunger peaked in 2000 when 900 million people didn’t have enough food. Still, the UN warned the latest figure “is cause for great concern.”
Some 20 million people are at risk of famine in parts of South Sudan, Somalia, northeast Nigeria and Yemen where violent conflicts have created much of the food crisis.
But a slowdown in global growth in recent years, which led to a collapse in the prices of numerous commodities, also had a negative impact on the ability of people in many countries to feed themselves, the UN report said.
“Economic slowdowns in countries highly dependent on oil and other primary commodity export revenues have also had an impact on food availability and/or reduced people’s ability to access food,” said the report.
Global warming and hunger
The report also points to a link between climate change and conflict.
It “singles out conflict — increasingly compounded by climate change — as one of the key drivers behind the resurgence of hunger and many forms of malnutrition,” said a joint statement by the UN agencies which drafted the report.
“The concurrence of conflict and climate-related natural disasters is likely to increase with climate change, as climate change not only magnifies problems of food insecurity and nutrition but can also contribute to a further downward spiral into conflict, protracted crisis and continued fragility,” said the report.
It attributed severe weather, “in part linked to climate change” to the reduced availability of food in many countries
Scientists are hesitant to attribute any one weather event to climate change but there is near unanimity that rising temperatures increase the severity of storms and droughts.
bik/sms (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)
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The US envoy to the UN has urged the Security Council to take the “strongest possible measures” against North Korea after its latest nuclear test.
“The time has come to exhaust all diplomatic means before it is too late,” Nikki Haley told an emergency meeting of the council in New York.
The US will circulate a draft resolution, for a vote next Monday.
South Korea is poised to scrap a warhead weight limit on its own missiles after talks with the US.
President Moon Jae-in reached agreement by phone with his counterpart, Donald Trump. Missiles are currently capped at 500kg (1,100lb).
The country carried out live-fire exercises on Monday, simulating an attack on the North’s nuclear test site.
Reports suggest the North is preparing new test missile launches. It tested a nuclear bomb underground on Sunday. Estimates of its power range from 50 kilotonnes to 120 kilotonnes. A 50kt device would be about three times the size of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945.
In other developments:
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would press for tougher EU sanctions on North Korea, agreeing with Mr Trump by phone on the need for stricter sanctions
- Swiss President Doris Leuthard said her country was prepared to act as a mediator and called for more discreet negotiations, saying “Twitter won’t be an adequate instrument”
- Japan is planning, in the event of war, for a mass evacuation of nearly 60,000 Japanese citizens currently living in or visiting South Korea, Nikkei Asian Review reports
‘Begging for war’
Opening Monday’s meeting, UN Under Secretary General Jeffrey Feltman said North Korea’s actions were destabilising global security, and he called on Pyongyang to abide by Security Council resolutions.
“The DPRK [North Korea] is the only country that continues to break the norm against nuclear test explosions,” he said.
Ms Haley argued that only the strongest sanctions would enable the problem to be resolved through diplomacy.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had shown through his actions that he was “begging for war”, she said.
“War is never something the United States wants,” she continued. “We don’t want it now but our country’s patience is not unlimited.”
She was speaking after President Trump warned the US might consider stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea.
“The United States will look at every country that does business with North Korea as a country that is giving aid to their reckless and dangerous nuclear intentions,” Ms Haley said.
The British ambassador to the UN, Matthew Rycroft, said direct talks with North Korea were only possible if Pyongyang stopped the escalation.
“Dialogue will always be our end goal but returning to dialogue without a serious sign of intent from Pyongyang would be a set-up to failure,” he said. “North Korea must change course to allow a return to dialogue.”
China’s envoy to the UN, Liu Jieyi, reiterated a call for all sides to return to negotiations. “The peninsula issue must be resolved peacefully,” he said. “China will never allow chaos and war on the peninsula.”
What happens next?
By Jonathan Marcus, BBC defence and diplomatic correspondent
China is key but it is a conflicted party. On the one hand it does not want to see a nuclear-armed North Korea and it has made its view clear to Pyongyang on many occasions.
However, it does not want to see the North Korean regime swept away. This would result in millions of refugees flooding into China and would probably result in a unified Korea very much in the US orbit. This is seen in Beijing as worse than having a difficult nuclear neighbour.
If China were to take the view that the coincidence of a rapidly advancing North Korean nuclear programme and the uncertainties of the Trump administration’s diplomatic capabilities means that there is a very real risk of misunderstanding and catastrophe, then maybe it might bring much greater pressure to bear on Pyongyang.
North Korea is a very isolated country and China is both its major ally and economic prop. There is a lot more that China can do. North Korea’s recent testing has been as much an embarrassment to China as it has angered the US. But the Chinese have a difficult diplomatic calculation to make.
What other sanctions remain?
Last month, the Security Council voted unanimously to ban North Korean exports and limit investments in the country.
Ms Haley did not spell out what additional measures might be taken but diplomats have suggested an oil embargo would have a crippling effect.
There could also be a ban on the North’s national airline, curbs on North Koreans working abroad, and asset freezes and travel bans on officials.
How big was the latest test?
It was North Korea’s sixth and most powerful nuclear test to date. The US Geological Survey recorded a resulting tremor at 6.3 magnitude.
Kim Jong-un was pictured on camera being shown what state media said was a new type of hydrogen bomb.
- Kim inspects ‘nuclear warhead’: A picture decoded
- ‘Tunnel collapse’ at nuclear site may provide clues
- China mutes discussion of North Korea bomb
South Korea said it was now presumed that the North had reduced its nuclear warhead in size to below 500kg, and would be able to attach one to an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
But analysts have said the North’s claims about miniaturisation should be treated with considerable caution.
Earlier on Monday, a South Korean defence ministry official said there were signs of “possibly more ballistic missile launches”, including an ICBM.
How else are the South and its US ally responding?
Monday’s drills simulated the targeting of the Punggye-ri nuclear site in Kilju County, where North Korea carried out its bomb test. Missiles were fired from the ground and rockets from fighter jets.
The defence ministry in Seoul said there would be more live-fire drills in the South this month, involving Taurus air-to-surface missiles mounted on F-15 jets.
The ministry also told parliament the US would seek to deploy a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to seas off the peninsula.
Four more launchers of the US Thaad (Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence) missile defence system -strongly opposed by China and Russia – would also be deployed to join two already at a site in Seongju, south of Seoul.
North Korea’s nuclear tests
At least 35 people have been killed in raids on Sanaa, Yemen’s capital. Medical sources say two airstrikes hit a small hotel just outside the capital.
On Wednesday, two airstrikes hit a hotel near a Houthi-controlled checkpoint in Arhab, north of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, according to medical sources, the Houthi rebel movement and officials.
The broadcaster Al-Jazeera reported that dozens of people were killed and wounded in the attack.
Houthi rebels, who control the capital and the north of the country, are allied with Iran. They are also linked to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, although ructions in recent weeks are threatening to weaken their alliance further.
The internationally recognized government is backed by a Saudi-led coalition, which carried out Wednesday’s airstrikes, according to The Associated Press (AP).
Witnesses told the AP that the two-floor hotel in the Qaa al-Qaidhi neighborhood collapsed and that bodies are still being retrieved.
‘Largest humanitarian crisis’
Yemen’s medical facilities have been decimated, exacerbating what the World Health Organization has called the “world’s worst cholera outbreak.” Food and other supplies are not getting to those in need. About 2 million people are internally displaced, according to the UN.
The country has been engulfed in civil war since September 2014, when Houthi rebels took the capital and overthrew the government.
The Saudi-led alliance intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015 to restore the government to power, but the conflict has spiraled out of control.
ng/mkg (AP, Reuters, AFP)
The family of the jailed Christian governor of Jakarta has withdrawn its appeal to have him released. The announcement came as the UN called on the country to do away with its blasphemy laws.
A group of UN experts on Monday released a statement calling for the release of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as “Ahok,” arguing that his arrest violates basic civil liberties.
“Mr. Purnama’s blasphemy conviction and imprisonment will undermine freedom of religion or belief and freedom of speech in Indonesia,” the statement said.
The 50-year-old Purnama was jailed on May 9 for a longer-than-expected two years after being found guilty of insulting the Koran. Purnama was “found guilty to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act of blasphemy, and because of that we have imposed two years of imprisonment,” presiding judge Dwiarso Budi Santiarto said.
The verdict came as a shock to many, as prosecutors had originally asked for a one-year suspended sentence. One judge on the panel said they handed down a harsher sentence because Purnama “didn’t feel guilt” and that his comments “caused unrest in society and wounded the feelings of Muslims.”
Outrage from Muslim community
The experts’ statement came the same day Purnama’s family made the unexpected decision to withdraw their appeal of the verdict.
“After a lengthy discussion we the family decided to withdraw the appeal,” said Purnama’s sister Fifi Lety Indra, who is also one of his lawyers. They had submitted the appeal only hours before.
The controversy ignited while Purnama was seeking re-election, when he charged his opponents of lying to the public by saying the Koran prohibited them for voting for someone who wasn’t Muslim. The comments led to calls from the country’s Muslim community for Purnama to be prosecuted.
Christians make up 10 percent of Indonesia’s population, which is predominantly Muslim. There are 250 million people in the country in total.
blc/se (Reuters, dpa, AFP)
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The world promised Yemen only half the aid it needs. Yet at the same time, arms sales to the warring factions are thriving. What is needed now is an arms embargo, writes Matthias von Hein.
Every ten minutes, a child dies in Yemen – of preventable causes. After the Yemen donor conference, no one will be able to claim ignorance in this regard. The meeting in Geneva has, at least for a very brief moment, drawn attention to the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis. By the end of the conference, of the aid required by the UN to avert imminent mass starvation this year, almost 50 percent had been pledged. Sure enough, that’s an achievement – previously, the figure had been 15 percent. But even if every dollar, every euro raised for the benefit of those who are suffering in Yemen is important: a “remarkable success” – UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ assessment of the donor conference results – would have had to raise all of the required $2.1 billion (1.93 billion euros), and not just half of that amount.
Hunger as a weapon
Primarily, because the worst famine in the world today has been man-made for the most part. It’s because of war that one third of Yemenis are starving and two thirds of the country’s people depend on relief supplies. It is a war that sees hunger used as a weapon. It is a war that, only after the Saudi-led coalition intervened two years ago, escalated ethnic conflicts that had simmered for decades into a disaster.
If nothing else, it is a war which generates huge profits – also for those who pledged relief money in Geneva: In 2015, when the wealthiest country in the Arabian peninsula started to bomb the poorest country in the region back to the stone age, arms worth in excess of 1.8 billion euros ($1.96 billion) were exported from the European Union to Saudi Arabia. In 2016, the German Ministry of Economy issued export licenses for weapons sold to Saudi Arabia worth more than 500 million euros ($544 million). This makes Germany a participant in this very dirty war. Matters are not helped by the fact that Great Britain, France and especially the US are also among those who, acting resourcefully and displaying high levels of entrepreneurial flair, make sure that the Saudi arms, bombs and missile depots remain fully replenished, despite constant deployment on a massive scale.
Truth be told, the coalition of the Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh is also fighting this war without any regard for the civilian population. However, one of the main causes of Yemen’s famine is the continuing Saudi-led naval blockade of Yemeni ports. The situation could even become dramatically worse because the Saudi-led coalition plans to launch an offensive against Hodeida, a Red Sea port held by the Houthi-Saleh bloc.
Hodeida, the eye of the needle
That port’s capacity has been dramatically reduced already due to Saudi airstrikes. In spite of that, it is still the central hub when it comes to supplying Yemen with food and relief aid. If the port comes under attack, the current mass starvation would turn into a death trap. The coalition’s argument – according to which Hodeida must be seized in order to halt arms supplies to the Houthi-Saleh bloc and force them to the negotiating table – is not convincing: the UN Special Envoy’s recent peace initiative was rejected by the Saudi-backed government of exiled president Hadi. And all ships approaching the port have been inspected by the coalition for quite some time already.
In this war, there can’t be any military victory – this insight was even shared by US Defense Minister James Mattis when he visited Riyadh recently. Those who care about the people of Yemen must, therefore, bring the warring parties to the negotiating table. To this end, pressure must be put on Riyadh, which, thus far, has rejected everything that didn’t amount to a capitulation of the Houthi-Saleh alliance. In this situation, an arms embargo targeting Saudi Arabia could be a start that’s long overdue.