Thursday, January 31, 2019

Refugee babies freezing to death

At least 29 children and newborns are reported to have died in a teeming camp in northeastern Syria over the past 8 weeks, mainly due to hypothermia, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday.

About 23,000 people fleeing fighting in Deir al-Zor between Islamic State and the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces alliance, led by the Kurdish YPG militia, have arrived at al-Hol camp during the period, swelling its population, it said.

"The situation in Al-Hol camp is heartbreaking. Children are dying from hypothermia as their families flee to safety," Elizabeth Hoff, WHO representative in Syria, said in a statement.
Thousands of new arrivals have been forced to spend several nights in the camp's open-air reception and screening areas, without tents, blankets or heating," the WHO added.

"Humanitarian access to the camp and surrounding roads is hampered by bureaucratic obstacles and security constraints," it added, appealing to all parties to provide unhindered access for life-saving aid.

Stagnant Wages

Wages are still worth a third less in some parts of the country than a decade ago, according to a report.Research by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that the average worker has lost £11,800 in real earnings since 2008.

The UK has suffered the worst real wage slump among leading economies, the union organisation said.
TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “The government has failed to tackle Britain’s cost-of-living crisis. As a result, millions of families will be worse off this Christmas than a decade ago. While pay packets have recovered in most leading economies, wage growth in the UK is stuck in the slow lane. Ministers need to wake up and get wages rising faster. This means cranking up the pressure on businesses to pay staff more, especially at a time when many companies are sitting on large profits.”
The biggest losses have been in areas including the London borough of Redbridge, Epsom and Waverley in Surrey, Selby in North Yorkshire and Anglesey in north Wales, the study found. Workers have suffered cumulative losses in inflation-adjusted pay ranging from just under £5,000 in north-east England to more than £20,000 in London, said the report.
Stephen Clarke, a senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation thinktank, said: “While wages are currently growing at their fastest rate in a decade and employment is at a record high, the sobering big picture is that inflation-adjusted pay is still almost £5,000 a year lower than when Lehman Brothers was still around. Stronger wage growth is needed to make 2019 a better year for living standards than this one.”

Cold and homeless

The lowest temperature in the UK for seven years was recorded on Thursday as snowy and icy weather continued to hit Britain.

Rough sleeping rose in almost all England’s major cities last year, and across five of its nine regions, according to official figures.

The estimated number of rough sleepers rose by 13% in London, 60% in Birmingham, and 31% in Manchester. The place with the largest number of rough sleepers was Westminster, where 306 people were on the streets on the night of the survey, up by 41%.

The report says 4,677 people were counted or estimated to be sleeping on the streets in England. This is 165% higher than in 2010, although charities say it is likely to be an underestimate.

In England as a whole there was a marginal 2% annual fall in rough sleepers – equivalent to 74 people, the first time national figures have not risen in eight years.
Research for the Crisis charity by Heriot Watt University estimated 12,300 people in Britain were sleeping on the streets last year, with a further 12,000 spending the night in cars, trains, buses or tents.

Profits above all

A U.S. judge accused Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. on Wednesday, the nation’s largest utility of enriching shareholders instead of clearing trees that can fall on its power lines and start fires and making “excuses” to avoid turning off electricity when fire risk is high.

To my mind, there’s a very clear-cut pattern here: that PG&E is starting these fires,” Alsup said. “What do we do? Does the judge just turn a blind eye and say, ‘PG&E continue your business as usual. Kill more people by starting more fires.’”
Alsup is overseeing a criminal conviction against PG&E on pipeline safety charges stemming from a 2010 gas line explosion in the San Francisco Bay Area that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

He proposed earlier this month as part of PG&E’s probation that it remove or trim all trees that could fall onto its power lines in high-wind conditions and shut off power when fire is a risk regardless of the inconvenience to customers or loss of profit.
Alsup was also critical of the California Public Utilities Commission, accusing it of working slowly and using former PG&E employees, questioning how so many fires broke out under the CPUC’s watch.
Regulators have learned that fines are not an effective way to make change at PG&E, CPUC President Michael Picker said.
PG&E is facing hundreds of lawsuits from victims of wildfires in 2017 and 2018, including the nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century.
That blaze in November killed at least 86 people and destroyed 15,000 homes in and around the Northern California town of Paradise. The cause is still under investigation, but suspicion fell on PG&E after it reported power line problems nearby around the time the fire broke out.

The North-South Health Divide

There is a stark disparity in wealth and health between people in the north and south of England, commonly referred to as England’s “north-south divide”. The causes of this inequality are complex; it’s influenced by the environment, jobs, migration and lifestyle factors – as well as the long-term political power imbalances, which have concentrated resources and investment in the south, especially in and around London.

Life expectancy is also lower in the north, mainly because the region is more deprived. But new analysis of national mortality data highlights a shockingly large mortality gap between young adults, aged 25 to 44, living in the north and south of England. 

In 1995, there were 2% more deaths among northerners aged 25 to 34 than southerners (in other words, 2% “excess mortality”). But by 2015, northerners in this age group were 29% more likely to die than their southern counterparts. Likewise, in the 35 to 44 age group, there was 3% difference in mortality between northerners and southerners in 1995. But by 2015, there were 49% more deaths among northerners than southerners in this age group. 

While mortality increased among northerners aged 25 to 34, and plateaued among 35 to 44-year-olds, southern mortality mainly declined across both age groups. Overall, between 2014 and 2016, northerners aged 25 to 44 were 41% more likely to die than southerners in the same age group. In real terms, this means that between 2014 and 2016, 1,881 more women and 3,530 more men aged between 25 and 44 years died in the north, than in the south. 

From 2014 to 2016, northerners were 47% more likely to die for cardiovascular reasons, 109% for alcohol misuse and 60% for drug misuse, across both men and women aged 25 to 44 years old. Although the national rate of death from cardiovascular reasons has dropped since 1981, the longstanding gap between north and south remains. 

Suicide risk is twice as high among the most deprived men, compared to the most affluent. Suicide risk has also been associated with unemployment, and substantial increases in suicide have been observed during periods of recession – especially among men. Further evidence tells us that unskilled men between ages 25 and 39 are between ten Alcohol underpins the steep increase in liver cirrhosis deaths in Britain from the 1990s – which is when the north-south divide in mortality between people aged 25 to 44 also started to emerge. Previous research has shown that men in this age group, who live in the most deprived areas, are five times more likely to die from alcohol-related diseases than those in the most affluent areas. For women in deprived areas, the risk is four times greater. and 20 times more likely to die from alcohol-related causes, compared to professionals. It’s also widely known that mortality rates for cancer are higher in more deprived areas, and people have worse survival rates in places where smoking and alcohol abuse is more prevalent. Heroin and crack cocaine addiction and deaths from drug overdoses are also strongly associated with deprivation.

Deaths for young adults in the north of England have been increasing compared to those in the south since the late 1990s, creating new health divides between England’s regions. It seems that persistent social, economic and health inequalities are responsible for a growing trend of psychological distress, despair and risk taking among young northerners.


Unsustainable Fashion

Fashion retailers JD Sports, Sports Direct and Boohoo, Amazon, TK Maxx and Missguided were  described by the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) as being among the "least engaged" in sustainable fashion and labour market initiatives.
The inquiry was prompted by the popularity of "fast fashion... cheap clothing, with quick turnover that encourages repurchasing". Disposable fashion has come under fire, not only for the amount that ends up in landfill, but also because it can release toxic chemicals in production and plastic fibres when it is washed. 
The "most engaged" were named as Asos, Marks & Spencer Tesco, Primark and Burberry. All of them use organic or sustainable cotton and old materials and encourage customers to return old clothing.  The "moderately engaged" retailers were Next, Debenhams, Arcadia Group and Asda. 
EAC chair Mary Creagh said: "It's shocking to see that a group of major retailers are failing to take action to promote environmental sustainability and protect their workers."
The committee concluded that the UK fashion industry's current business model was "clearly unsustainable.

Top Universities - Fewer poor students

The gap between rich and poor students going to Britain's best universities, Oxford, Cambridge and other Russell Group universities, has widened.

Last year, students from the most advantaged backgrounds were 15 times more likely than those from the most disadvantaged social backgrounds.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the data was “extremely disappointing” and “unacceptable”. 

He said: “One problem may be the fact that it is very difficult to live away from home on the level of funding provided by the student maintenance loan. Middle class parents are able to pay towards their children’s accommodation and living costs, but this is not the case with disadvantaged families. Poor students may therefore be more inclined to live at home and unless there is a high-tariff university nearby, this will restrict their choice.”
Sir Peter Lampl, founder of social mobility charity Sutton Trust, told The Independent: “It is worrying to see that there has been limited progress in closing the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students getting into top universities. All young people, regardless of their background, should have a fair chance to get into these top institutions.”

The Anti-Rohingya Campaign in India

Earlier this month, India sparked panic among its long-suffering Rohingya refugee population by deporting a family of five to their home country of Myanmar, where they will most certainly face human rights violations and imprisonment. This expulsion came on the heels of the controversial forced repatriation of seven Rohingya men last October.

For Rohingya refugees currently residing in India, who the authorities claims are as many as 40,000, this second deportation seemed to harbinger a frightful pattern, especially as India's far-right government had previously pledged to deport all Rohingya. Ruling party officials have made such threats despite international law prohibiting states from refoulement, sending persons to nations where they risk persecution. In Myanmar, such persecution is a near-certainty. 
In response to the latest deportation, Rohingya refugees eager to avert similar fates began pouring from India into Bangladesh. Bangladeshi authorities estimate that over 1,300 Rohingya refugees have left India and sought refuge in its territory within the last month. 
31 refugees - including 16 children and 6 women - were left stranded in the barren "no man's land" along the India-Bangladesh border for four days after Bangladesh denied them entry and the two nations failed to agree on what to do with them. Eventually, India arrested the group on January 22. Like others apprehended as "illegal migrants", these detainees will likely face lengthy jail terms. Such imprisonment violates not only India's own law but also international law prohibiting arbitrary arrests and detentions, as well as the customarily recognised right to seek asylum.
Modi’s government made short work of vilifying Muslims and particularly Rohingya, recasting them as terrorists and "illegal Bengalis" (just like the Myanmar authorities do). The BJP has characterised Muslim refugees in India as threats to the very fabric of Indian society and used them as a tool to draw the country's Hindu majority into their far-right movement. Indian authorities ceased to recognise the UNHCR-issued refugee cards of Rohingya, effectively taking away the little amount of legal protection some 18,000 registered Rohingya refugees had in the country. At the moment, virtually all activities and services (including education, work, and healthcare) require a residency-based Aadhar card. According to Rohingya advocates and refugees, these were previously issued to some Rohingya who met the government’s criteria, but this practice has since ceasedRohingya also face increased surveillance, at times going as far as harassment, with officials repeatedly collecting biodata, fingerprints, and paperwork. In areas where the police are most hostile - like Jammu and Hiryana - refugees fleeing to other parts of the country or to Bangladesh report extortion, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and beatings are also on the rise. Extremist rhetoric has grown especially venomous, with one Jammu official even advocating for an "identify and kill" movement. Extremists have since adopted this mantra, protesting to demand full deportations and using billboards and front-page advertisements to convey propaganda and threats to local Rohingya.
The Indian government appears intent on following dangerously in the footsteps of the Myanmar authorities: intentionally fomenting religious-nationalist fervour and placing thousands of already traumatised Rohingya in a state of constant fear and deprivation.

The government also bars Rohingya from owning property or building permanent structures. This limits them to either renting dirt patches in remote settlements and constructing jhuggis (slum-like shanties), or - for a fortunate few - renting urban flats from sympathetic landlords. Jhuggi dwellers typically face the greatest hardships, as most work in rag picking (waste collection) or other irregular, poorly-paid labour. 
Rag picking in particular - perhaps the most common occupation among India’s Rohingya - poses serious health risks, as constantly handling and living amidst waste causes workers - including children as young as five - to frequently contract myriad unidentifiable maladies, while dire sanitation conditions further exacerbate widespread illness. In the squalid settlement of Faridabad, for instance, 180 refugees all working as rag pickers have no latrine in the entire camp, while nearly all residents' income goes to healthcare.
There has also been an increase in hate crimes against Rohingya throughout India, with verbal and physical assaults becoming familiar occurrences for some. Last April, on the very night that an international Rohingya conference was held in New Delhi, the Kalindi Kunj jugghi settlement was burned to the ground. When its 226 residents relocated and rebuilt, their attackers attempted (though fortunately failed) to destroy their settlement again. 

Migrants won't go away

The United Nations' refugee agency warned on Wednesday of a likely rise in anti-immigrant rhetoric ahead of European Parliament elections in May despite a fall in the number of migrant arrivals to Europe in 2018 to a four-year low.

Commissioner Filippo Grandi said the politicisation of migration had made it impossible for countries to allow in even a handful of refugees and there was little hope of change before the elections, when populist and eurosceptic parties are expected to perform well.

"I foresee an actual exacerbation of that rhetoric in the next few months, unfortunately," he told Reuters. Grandi said that even humanitarians understood that anti-migrant rhetoric had won a lot of votes for some politicians. "In the end it is in the interest of everybody, even these [populist] leaders, to find solutions," he said.

The UNHCR report said that, although migrant arrivals had decreased, the number of deaths per attempted crossing of the Mediterranean had risen.
Grandi said this was because the number of campaign group rescue boats had fallen from 10 in 2015 to two now, and because people are taking increasingly dangerous routes due to Italy's tough stance. Italy's government has closed its ports to humanitarian vessels in an effort to force other European Union nations to take a bigger share of migrants rescued in the Mediterranean.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

German Poverty

Some 5 million people (7.5 percent ) in Germany, the EU's wealthiest country, lack the money for a nutritious meal every other day.

Almost a third of unemployed persons in Germany are unable to regularly eat a nutritious meal.

 Roughly 21 million, or 30.4 percent — are not in the position to afford an unexpected expense of €1,000 ($1,140), such as paying for car repairs or a new washing machine. The percentage of unemployed Germans who couldn't pay an unexpected cost of that amount was 80 percent.

Courting Conflict with Iran

The US has imposed some of the most stringent sanctions on Iran, going as far as to order the arrest of a very senior executive of Huawei computers for flouting the trade embargo on Iran. 

The Americans accuse Iran of breaking a treaty it made not to manufacture nuclear weapons. But the nation that broke the treaty was the USA.

The chief of the international organization which has the responsibility of monitoring Iran's compliance with its pledge, International Atomic Energy Agency, publicly reiterated, “Iran is implementing its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.]Yukiya Amano said. 

This is confirmed by America's own intelligence services in testimony to Congress. 

CIA Director Gina Haspel attested to Iran's compliance.  
US Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats also acknowledged that Iran was not seeking to develop its nuclear weapon capabilities. "We do not believe Iran is currently undertaking the key activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device.” Coats said. 

Due to the US unilateral decision to pull out of it and impose sanctions upon crucial sectors of Iran's economy, both intelligence directors detect that it has resulted in signs that " if Iran does not gain the tangible trade and investment benefits it expected from the deal,” the country may well resume those nuclear activities that the JCPOA curtails.

Trump called his own top intelligence chiefs “extremely passive and naive” on Iran.