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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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Mukbangs and Ordering Too Much Food Banned in China

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  • China recently passed a law that bans ordering too much food and sharing content online that portrays overeating.
  • Though food scarcity is not an issue in the country, the law is meant to combat food waste, with authorities pointing out that China tosses 35 million tons of food annually.
  • The law doesn’t penalize consumers at restaurants. Instead, it fines restaurants $1550 for allowing diners to order “more than they need.”
  • TV stations, media companies, or people who post overeating content, such as Mukbangs, can face a $16,000 fine.

The End of Mukbangs

Some of the most popular content across Chinese social media has effectively been banned under an anti-food waste law that authorities passed late last week.

The law bans diners from ordering more than they need, which could hurt an entire class of eating videos, including ones where people enter all-you-can-eat restaurants to consume thousands of dollars worth of food. While it could be argued that if the creators eat all that food, they’ve satisfied the “more than they need” clause, the law also bans binge eating and posting such content online, meaning no more mukbangs for Chinese fans.

Censors have already begun removing overeating content, and much of it went missing overnight from Douyin, TikTok’s Chinese sister app.

The law also affects far more than a fringe group of people making food content. It’s so vague and open to interpretation that it could disrupt everyday restaurant-goers.

President Xi Jinping called food waste a “distressing” problem that threatens China’s food security, despite the fact that China is not facing any imminent food shortages.

Nearly 35 million tons of food go to waste every year in China, though that’s a relatively small amount for its population size. The U.S., for comparison, manages to throw away 66 million tons of food yearly.

Still, the legislation does not come as a complete surprise since Xi launched a food-saving campaign back in August claiming that COVID-19 was threatening the food supply chain.

Who’s Penalized?

Across China, restaurants have already begun to comply with the new rules. Some have set up scales at their entrance to give recommended food portion sizes to customers based on their weight. Meanwhile, others have promised to offer smaller-sized plates as an option.

One standard that many are seeking to enact is the “N-1” rule, which states that the number of dishes should be one less than the number of guests. The rule could be an attempt to curb a cultural practice that sees hosts ordering far more food than could be eaten in an effort to show off wealth.

Under the law, much of the blame towards a consumer wasting food is placed on restaurants, as there’s no clear cut fine for diners violating the law. Any establishment found allowing customers or misleading customers into ordering excessive amounts of food facing a $1550 fine. Showing content related to binge-eating could result in TV stations, online media companies, or even content creators facing a $16,000 fine.

Tuesday seems to have been the first time regulators went after a particular business, warning a Nanjing bakery to stop throwing away pastries that the business didn’t believe would sell because of visual defects. It has promised to donate them instead.

See what others are saying: (SCMP) (The Guardian) (Vice)

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Zimbabwe Considers Controversial Mass Elephant Killing

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  • Zimbabwe is considering culling its 100,000 elephant population over concerns of how they destroy other habitats and interact with farmland.
  • The plan isn’t unheard of, as Zimbabwe has done similar culls in the past, while other countries have done their own more recently.
  • However, the large-scale killing of elephants has faced pushback, with some suggesting the animals should instead be transported to areas with falling elephant populations.
  • For the time being, the plan is still just a proposal, and the government of Zimbabwe has promised to make a decision based on “scientific advice.”

Killing Elephants Is What’s Best for Them?

For the first time since 1988, Zimbabwe is considering a mass killing of elephants.

In a local radio interview on Wednesday, Minister of Environment, Climate, Tourism, and Hospitality Mangaliso Ndlovu said, “We are trying to see ways in which we can reduce the numbers. We have to discuss it at policy level as government. Options are on the table…” 

“It’s an option but not a decision yet,” Ndlovu later added by text message to the station. “We will obviously rely on scientific advice.”

The country is home to about 100,000 elephants, the second largest population in the world after neighboring Botswana. The mass killings are better known as culls, and the concept isn’t completely unknown in areas with large animal populations. They can happen for a variety of reasons, such as removing sterile males from the mating population that prevent fertile ones from accessing mates.

In Zimbabwe, authorities are worried that the elephant population has outgrown the resources available, causing the animals to destroy habitats that other species need to survive by eating the bark off trees and killing them. Additionally, the large population increases the chances of violent human-elephant interactions as elephants encroach on farmlands.

Elephants are known for their great intelligence and advanced emotional states compared to other animals, and therefore authorities are concerned about how a cull could affect populations. Notably, elephants can experience Post-traumatic stress disorder. In an effort to minimize those effects, other countries that have initiated culls, such as Uganda, have targeted entire herds for eradication while leaving others completely untouched.

Cull Concerns

Any discussion of a cull causes alarm bells among animal conservationists, particularly as total elephant populations in Africa have been on the decline over the last decade. However, in both Botswana and Zimbabwe the populations have actually risen considerably. Despite this, the possible plan has received considerable pushback online.

Many people have pointed out that there are other viable solutions to control the population and protect both the animals, other habitats, and farmland. As journalist Yashar Ali pointed out, “The only reasonable solution for Zimbabwe and other countries with large elephant populations is to work on human-wildlife conflict mitigation measures, contraception for elephants, and translocation.”

In particular, translocation has been touted as a viable alternative to not only help reduce the elephant population in Zimbabwe but also bolster the falling populations in other countries. Now, some have wondered why there has been any pushback against a cull, pointing out that animals such as deer are regularly culled across the world.

But it’s not quite apples and oranges. Take the U.S., which often hosts deer culls. The country has over 30 million deer, compared to Zimbabwe’s 100,000 elephants. On top of that, deer can give birth to over 20 fawns in their roughly 10-year lifespan, compared to less than 10 for an elephant during its more than 60 years alive.

For the time being, the plan is still just a proposal. It remains to be seen if Zimbabwe’s government will take such a large-scale cull seriously.

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (Bloomberg) (Quartz)

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Cash-in-Transit Truck Driver Praised After Foiling Robbery Attempt in South Africa

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  • Viral video captured the moment a rookie security guard and the driver of an armored cash-in-transit truck were ambushed in South Africa by robbers firing bullets at them last month. 
  • The footage shows the driver, 48-year-old Leo Prinsloo, keeping his cool as he sped off and maneuvered through traffic to get away from the two groups chasing them. 
  • When the truck eventually jerked to a halt, he grabbed a gun from his partner and exited the vehicle to confront the attackers, who had fled empty-handed. 
  • While Prinsloo has faced widespread praise, he has also been placed under protective guard because of death threats he’s received since foiling the heist.

The Viral Video

Millions of people all over the world have watched dash-cam footage of a rookie security guard and the driver of an armored cash-in-transit truck as they were ambushed in South Africa by robbers firing bullets at them.

The incident happened on April 22, though the footage, which looks like it was pulled straight from an action movie, has recently gone massively viral.

It shows the driver, 48-year-old Leo Prinsloo keeping his cool as he sped off and maneuvered through traffic to get away from the two groups chasing them. When the truck eventually jerked to a halt, he grabbed a gun from his partner and exited the vehicle to confront the attackers, who had fled empty-handed.

It turns out Prinsloo, who served with the South African Police Services special forces unit for 12 years, actually teaches the nation’s military special forces how to shoot. People who watched the insane footage are now calling him the real-life Jason Bourne, with many impressed by his incredible instincts.

“I cannot say much as an investigation is underway but I and my fellow guard did what was expected of us. They needed to take us out so they could take out the cargo vehicle,” Prinsloo said when speaking to the Daily Mail.

“But there was no way I was going to let that happen and unfortunately I did not have a chance to return fire,” he added.

Prinsloo Defends Partner

Prinsloo’s partner, Lloyd Mtombeni, has been facing a bit of criticism for what some perceived as a lack of action. However, it’s worth noting that Mtombeni told local reporters this was only his fourth day on the job and the first time he had ever experienced gunfire from inside the vehicle.

Because of the backlash against him, Prinsloo defending Mtombeni, saying, “I think those people should keep their opinions to themselves until they’re in the same situation and see if they can do better in the same circumstances.”

Others also spoke out in support of the guard online, commended him for staying composed and taking direction from Prinsloo. Still, it doesn’t appear like the threat is over.

According to News24, Prinsloo has been placed under protective guard because he’s been receiving death threats since foiling the heist. So far, no arrests have been made in this case but police are still investigating.

See what others are saying: (News24) (The South African) (ABC 7)

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