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Toxic Smog Forces Emergency Measures in New Delhi

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  • A poisonous smog in New Delhi, India has caused the government to declare a public health emergency, shutting down schools and halting construction projects.
  • As the city’s 20 million people battle respiratory problems, headaches, and burning eyes, the government has implemented vehicle restrictions that require people to alternate between days they can drive based on their license plate number.
  • The pollution, which has become a reoccurring problem for New Delhi this time of year, is caused by a combination of farmers burning crops mixed with vehicle emissions and pollution from firework displays celebrating the Hindu holiday Diwali.
  • As a result, many have criticized the government for not doing enough to deal with the pollution and argued that their proposals are only short-term fixes to a long-term problem.

Toxic Smog

Record levels of toxic smog have engulfed the Indian capital of New Delhi as government officials scramble to control the situation.

The poisonous smog, which the Delhi Chief Minister described as “unbearable pollution,” has taken over the city of more than 20 million people since late last week. 

It is not currently clear how high the pollution levels are.

Over the weekend, it was reported that the levels were literally off the charts, with some people reporting that most areas in the city showed an air quality index of 999 because the meters can not record above that.

That number is three times higher than the “hazardous” level on the global air quality index.

According to other sources, the levels of dangerous particulates were more than 20 times higher than the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended safe daily maximum, which is the equivalent of smoking more than two packs of cigarettes a day.

Government Response

The Indian government responded on Friday by declaring a public health emergency, shutting down all primary schools, and halting construction projects for several days. 

The government also said it would distribute masks to five million children in the city.

People have been encouraged to stay inside as much as they can as reports of respiratory problems, headaches, and burning eyes continue.

On Sunday, flights were delayed and diverted due to the fact that pilots could not see through the smog. The smog has also caused traffic and car accidents.

Officials in New Delhi on Monday started restricting the use of private vehicles to try to help lift the pollution. 

Under those restrictions, people can only use their cars on alternating days: Cars with odd-number license plates can drive on odd dates and cars with even-numbered plates can drive on even-numbered dates. Anyone found violating the restrictions will face a fine.

According to reports, the restrictions will not apply on Sunday. Additionally, the seven million motorbikes and scooters registered in the city are exempt from the restrictions, as are those taking public transportation and cars carrying only women.

Yearly Occurrence

While the dangerous smog in New Delhi is certainly significant, it is not something new.

In fact, this kind of air pollution is something that has been happening in New Delhi annually in recent years around this time. It is caused by a combination of a few things that all come together in especially bad timing.

One of the main causes of pollution is crop fires. Every winter, farmers in the surrounding areas of New Delhi in northern India burn old crops to make room to grow new crops.

The smoke and fumes from that process then drift to the suburbs and city, where they mix with construction dust and car emissions.

To make matters worse, that already toxic combination then mixes with smoke from fireworks displays during the Hindu holiday Diwali, which also happens at this time of the year.

However, because so much of the pollution comes from the crop burning, many have criticized the vehicle alternation restrictions, arguing that it will ultimately not do much.

Leaders in New Delhi⁠— which in the past has been labeled the most polluted city in the world⁠— have said any efforts they have made to clear up pollution have been undone by farmers burning crops in nearby states, and largely blamed the farmers.

But others have noted that New Delhi frequently does not meet air quality guidelines even when it is not crop-burning and firework season, arguing that the capital has a major issue with traffic pollution.

According to scientists at India’s state-run weather monitor SAFAR, crop burning in nearby states only contributes to just over 40% of Delhi’s pollution.

Taking that data into account, it appears that not just the farmers are responsible, prompting accusations that the politicians are just trying to scapegoat them.

In fact, back in September, even before the recent pollution crisis, government officials had already announced that they would implement the alternating odd-even car rule in early November.

Those restrictions have also been applied before, most recently in 2016. 

Broader Problem

While the pollution crisis in Delhi right now is extreme, it is part of a much bigger problem for India as a whole.

In May 2018, a study by the World Health Organization found that out of the top 10 most polluted cities in the world, nine of them were in India.

As a result, many have called on the government to take more accountability and actually do something, arguing that short-term band-aid solutions are not going to change anything.

On Saturday, people in New Delhi protested the lack of government action outside Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s residence.

On Monday, India’s Supreme Court criticized both national and state governments for not doing anything to curb the pollution.

“This can’t go on,” the high court said in a report. “People aren’t safe even inside their houses and rooms.”

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (Al Jazeera)

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E.U. and U.S. Sanction Russian Officials Over Navalny Detention

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  • The E.U. and U.S. coordinated new sanctions against seven Russian officials tied to the current fate of activist and Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
  • More efforts are expected to follow, with officials claiming that 14 Russian entities tied to the manufacturing of Novichok – the rare nerve agents that supposedly poisoned Navalny – are the next to be sanctioned.
  • Despite the sanctions, Biden’s administration hopes to be able to work with Russia on other world issues, such as nuclear arms in Iran and North Korea.
  • Navalny himself isn’t likely to benefit from the sanctions as he’s serving a 2.5-year prison sentence in one of Russia’s most notorious penal colonies.

Coordinated Efforts by E.U. and U.S.

The U.S. and E.U. both announced coordinated sanctions against Russia Tuesday morning over the poisoning, arrest, and detention of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

In particular, seven senior officials are targeted by the sanctions.

  • Federal Security Service Director Aleksandr Bortnikov
  • Chief of the Presidential Policy Directorate Andrei Yarin
  • First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Sergei Kiriyenko
  • Deputy Minister of Defense Aleksey Krivoruchko
  • Deputy Minister of Defense Pavel Popov
  • Federal Penitentiary Service director Alexander Kalashnikov
  • Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov.

Both the E.U. and U.S. also plan to add fourteen entities that are involved in making the extremely deadly Russian nerve agent Novichok.

First Step For Biden

These sanctions are the first such action by the Biden administration against Russia and seem to be a tone shift from the previous administration. The Trump administration was considered relatively soft on Russia and only enacted a few sanctions over election interference, which were only softly enforced.

One U.S. official, according to NBC News reportedly said, that “today is the first such response, and there will be more to come.”

“The United States is neither seeking to reset our relations with Russia nor are we seeking to escalate,” the official went on to add.

The man at the center of all this, Alexei Navalny, has been an outspoken critic of Putin who was arrested when he returned to Russia from Germany after being treated for Novichok poisoning.

He was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison over alleged fraud crimes and is reported to have been sent to one of Russia’s worst penal colonies outside of the city of Pokrov to serve out his term.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (NPR) (NBC News)

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Biden Faces Criticism Over U.S. Airstrike in Syria

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  • On Friday, the U.S. conducted an airstrike against an Iranian-back militia in Syria after it shot rockets into northern Iraq and injured U.S. service personnel.
  • The airstrike marks the first in Biden’s presidency, and while normally a routine response, it caused particular backlash against the president, who campaigned on getting out of “forever wars” in the region.
  • Many felt like Biden was more concerned with bombing people in the Middle-East than he was with passing his $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which was being debated by Congress at the time.
  • The targeting of an Iranian-backed militia likely didn’t help efforts to start informal talks with Iran on Sunday in an effort to reignite the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Striking Back Against Militias

The U.S. military conducted an airstrike on an Iranian-backed militia in Syria on Friday, marking it as the first such airstrike under President Joe Biden’s term.

The airstrike was conducted as retaliation after the militia launched rockets into northern Iraq; killing civilians, contractors, and injuring a U.S. service member as well as other coalition troops.

Despite airstrikes being a routine response for such situations over the last 20 years, the decision caused Biden to face intense backlash in the U.S.

For many, it set the tone and seemed to contradict some of his earlier stances when running for office. In 2019, for instance, Biden made it clear that he wanted to get out of Iraq as soon as possible, as well as speed up the removal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. However, such airstrikes are often blamed for further entrenching the U.S. in the region.

Biden received criticism across the political spectrum, with only a few conservatives praising the airstrike as a necessary move to protect U.S. troops.

In Congress, many Democrats called the move unconstitutional, a stance the party has had since at least 2018 when Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said a similar airstrike conducted by President Trump required the approval of Congress. The Biden administration pushed back against this, sending a letter to Congress on Sunday saying the president had the power to use limited force without the body’s approval via the War Power Act.

Public Perception in a Downward Spiral

Many Americans have mocked Biden for seemingly feeling comfortable enough to use his executive power to bomb militias while also expressing apprehension toward using that same power to forgive student loans.

Others pushed back against the idea that the airstrike was a form of defensive retaliation

“This latest Biden airstrike is being spun as “defensive” and “retaliatory” despite its targeting a nation the US invaded (Syria) in response to alleged attacks on US forces in another nation the US invaded (Iraq),” wrote one user on Twitter, “You can’t invade a nation and then claim self-defense there. Ever.”

Some of the biggest criticism the president received came from those who said it seemed like his priorities were off-base. Because while the airstrike was conducted, Congress was debating his $1.9 trillion stimulus package.

Civil Rights activist Ja’Mal Green, for instance, tweeted, “We didn’t flip Georgia Blue for Biden to air strike Syria. We flipped Georgia Blue for our $2,000 Stimulus Checks.”

However, it’s worth noting that there’s not much Biden can do right now to push his stimulus package through Congress, other than attempt to convince some on-the-fence senators like Joe Manchin (D-WV). Still, the perception of confused priorities was enough to anger many.

All of this likely didn’t help when the E.U. foreign policy chief, on behalf of all the countries who signed the Iran Nuclear deal, attempted to convince Iran to engage in informal talks to try and restart the deal on Sunday. A proposal was shot down by Iran.

Considering the recent actions and statements by the United States and three European powers, Iran does not consider this the time to hold an informal meeting with these countries,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh

See what others are saying: (BBC) (NBC) (CNN)

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Nigerian Gunmen Kidnap Over 300 Students From Boarding School

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  • Gunmen abducted 317 girls from a Nigerian boarding school early Friday morning, making it the second major abduction in the northwest area of the country in over a week.
  • Militants loaded some girls on trucks while others were walked into the nearby Rugu forest, which covers hundreds of miles and is spread over three states.
  • Authorities believe these abductions are being carried out by armed bandit groups seeking random rather than the jihadist groups in the region.
  • According to terror analysts, kidnapping is quickly becoming one of the most thriving industries in Nigeria and has led to 10.5 million Nigerian children being out of school – the most of any nation.

Abductions Before Dawn

Gunmen abducted 317 students early Friday morning from the Nigerian Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara state.

They entered the building shooting, although it’s clear if anyone was hurt, and forced many girls onto trucks while others into the nearby Rugu forest, which covers hundreds of square miles and crosses multiple states. Some girls escaped, but by morning it was clear to the local community that hundreds were taken.

Zamfara police and security forces, backed by Nigerian army reinforcements, said they are in pursuit of the abductors.

This abduction is the second in a little over a week in the northwest area of the country. At the Kagara Government Science College in Niger state, dozens of schoolboys were abducted on February 17.

In December, 344 boys in Katsina state were also abducted before being freed a week later. At the time, the kidnappers claimed a ransom had been paid, a common motivation for such abductions, but security forces say the children were freed after they had surrounded the group.

Was the Kidnapping for Ransom?

Many abductions have a monetary aspect, with ransoms quickly being demanded; however, it’s currently unclear if Friday’s events were carried out by local bandits looking for a payout or one of the nation’s myriad of jihadist groups that occasionally take hostages.

Most are leaning towards believing this was a kidnapping for ransom due to it quickly becoming the nation’s most thriving industry, according to Bulama Bukarti, a terror analyst and columnist of northern Nigeria’s largest paper.

Unfortunately, the constant kidnapping in less-stable parts of the country, along with economic hardships, have caused parents to pull their children out of schools. Currently, there are more than 10.5 million Nigerian children out of school, the most of any nation. The issue is so prevalent that 1 in 5 of the world’s unschooled children are in Nigeria.

The government has struggled to respond to the rise of kidnappings, with officials both on the civilian side and within the military unsure of how to proceed. On one hand, there are those who want to deal with the issue head-on and attack kidnappers, but others want to try and resolve the issue with dialogue.

See what others are Saying: (NPR) (CNN) (Wall Street Journal)

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