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Jan 21, 2018, 02:26 PM
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 on: Jan 20, 2018, 06:44 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Were sex traffickers to blame for the unsolved death of Silvana Beqiraj?

Silvana Beqiraj left rural Albania for France, only to be found dead in a canal four years later. Now her family want answers

Julie Bindel in Fier
20 Jan 2018 07.00 GMT

On a bright autumn day in September 2014, the body of a woman was hauled from the Lunel canal, a stretch of water that crosses a flat, marshy area of Montpellier. French police at first assumed she had drowned. There were no signs of injury, but her nakedness was a cause for concern.

The body was that of Silvana Beqiraj, an Albanian. Silvana was originally from Ndërmenas, a village in the district of Fier, an industrial town 100km from the Albanian capital, Tirana. A divorced mother of two, she had migrated to France four years earlier, leaving her young children with her parents. Another Albanian woman, Bukurie Elmazi, also from Fier, had moved to France with Silvana in 2011, having persuaded her to migrate for “better opportunities”, according to Silvana’s family. Elmazi identified the body.

“She told us she had moved there to look after an elderly woman,” says Silvana’s father, Mehmet Beqiraj, when I visit the family at their tiny, run-down farm. “But we were all suspicious.”

A murder investigation was opened in France soon after it was discovered that Silvana had been involved in prostitution in Montpellier, but the family still have no idea what happened to her. The exact cause of death has never been established by police or forensic pathologists, and to date no one has been arrested or charged.

Silvana’s family refuse to accept that their daughter was trafficked, preferring to believe that if she was in prostitution, it was voluntary.

“If you have a pimp or a trafficker you can’t bring much money in,” says her brother (who did not want to be identified), a man still racked with pain. “She sent us a lot of money. If she had a trafficker he wouldn’t let her send us money.”

The evidence, however, suggests otherwise.

Her brother says the men who “took Silvana to France” still live in the village, while Mehmet maintains Silvana only sent back small amounts of money, when she was able. Certainly, there was no sign of affluence in the family home.

Days after hearing of his daughter’s death, Mehmet travelled to Montpellier to meet with police.

“The Albanians [at the consulate] provided only one interpreter and nothing else. I was treated badly and they were arrogant and ignored me,” he says.

Silvana’s body was held by the coroner in France for seven months. When it was released, the family was informed it would cost a minimum of €6,000 (£5,336) to transport it back to Albania. “We have no money,” says Mehmet. “We had to find it somehow.”

Life in the village had not been easy for Silvana. As with many women from traditional Albanian communities, she entered an arranged marriage when she was 20.

After five years, Silvana filed for divorce and moved back to the family home with her children. Within a year, Silvana met Nuri Çela, a man from a neighbouring village. Not long after the couple moved in together, Çela was shot dead as they walked home. “It was over a debt,” says Sylvana’s mother, Yllka, sobbing. “They owed her €3,500 and all Çela did was ask for it back.”

According to a local journalist, Laureta Rroshi, Silvana had given the money to a trafficking gang to organise her transport and set her up in prostitution in France. Silvana subsequently changed her mind and asked for the money back.

It is impossible to tell exactly why Silvana agreed to go to France. But what is known about the trafficking of women from rural Albania is that they are promised a better life, then end up being debt-bonded as a result of the extortionate costs for the journey and subsequent accommodation imposed by traffickers. Their families back home receive threats if they do not comply.

“Even Silvana’s children were aware that their mother had been trafficked to France,” says Rroshi.
‘The gangs transporting women are brutal’

In the late 1990s, the Albanian government began to accept that trafficking in women was a serious problem. Experts were brought in to advise on how to identify victims and prosecute perpetrators.

Despite such efforts, and the millions of dollars poured into anti-trafficking law enforcement, it remains a serious problem in the Balkan region in general and Albania in particular.

National Crime Agency statistics show that, in the third quarter of 2017, the majority of girls and women trafficked into the UK were from Albania.

Scant attention is given to trafficking-related crimes in Albania, which means little deterrence.

The journey from the southern Albanian port city of Vlora to Brindisi, on the Italian coast, is approximately 90 minutes by speedboat, which is why Vlora became known as the trafficking hub of Albania. Today, Fier is more notorious, but Vlora still has its problems.

“I think that trafficking is decreasing,” says Balida, a warm, friendly police officer from the anti-trafficking unit in Vlora. “There are no gangs any more, just men offering marriage to the girls. They go willingly to Italy or wherever.”

According to Balida, convictions for traffickers are rare because victims “refuse to cooperate”. “When we call [a complainant] a prostitute, she says, ‘I do it as a profession. This is my profession.’ So if she does not think she is a victim, why should we?

“I think, more than the clients, we should criminalise the girls. Because the girls I’ve known do this kind of job for their desire. They are not under pressure, the girls I have met.”

Asked how many traffickers she or her team have arrested and interviewed under caution, Balida replies without hesitation. “None,” she says.

    I was inspected like cattle to see how much they thought I was worth
    Sara, trafficked to Italy aged 13

“We have groups involved in trafficking but we don’t have proof to arrest them. We just keep them under surveillance but we don’t have proof that they do it.” Was she aware of the Beqiraj case? “Yes, but no one will come forward,” she says. “Maybe she just made enemies, and everyone is scared of them.”

In Albania, reprisals towards trafficking victims are as harsh as they are commonplace. Anti-trafficking organisations and police officers tell grim tales of the torture inflicted on girls and women who try to escape.

One 20-year old victim who ran away on discovering she was pregnant to one of the men who bought her was found and taken to a building site. In full view of the other women, who had been taken to the site to watch, she was severely beaten before being bricked into a concrete wall while still alive.

Other women stay with the traffickers because the criminals know where their families live, and have been told they will die if they dare to escape or go to the police for help.

Some women in Vlora have been lucky enough to find support at the Vatra (women’s health) shelter for trafficking victims.

In a large, comfortable communal lounge at the centre, about 20 staff, volunteers and residents sit, while children play quietly nearby.

Sara, one of the residents, says she was trafficked by a local man when she was 13. “It was a man I believed to be my boyfriend, but he sold me to three men in Tirana, and they took me to Italy,” says Sara, who has a child living with her in the refuge. “On the way I was raped, beaten, humiliated, and even inspected like cattle to see how much they thought I was worth.”

Sara escaped when she was told to go to a new brothel in the small town near Turin.

“I went to police and thank God they believed me,” she says. “They sent me for help [to the International Organisation for Migration] and they helped me get home. But the police in Vlora did not believe me. They said I was lying because I had been a prostitute in Italy, and that it was my free choice. They said I would be arrested if I bothered them again.”

Four years after Silvana’s body was discovered, police are no further forward with the case. “It was a terrible reminder of how dangerous prostitution is for Albanian women,” says a Europol police officer currently on secondment in Albania from western Europe. “The gangs transporting females for this purpose are some of the most brutal we have encountered. Even the Russians are scared of them.”

Journalists in Tirana and Fier say no news has filtered through from France about the investigation in a long time. Police in Montpellier likewise claim no information is available.

Silvana’s grave is situated on a dry patch of land above her family’s farm. Other kin are buried there, says Yllka. She starts to cry, and asks for help in finding out what happened to her daughter. “The police don’t care,” she sobs, “and here they just think the girls are all prostitutes. But someone is to blame.”

The grave is merely a plaque embedded into the hard ground, adorned with a photograph of Silvana. “We can’t yet afford a gravestone for her,” says Mehmet, briefly touching the photograph. On the plaque is Silvana’s name, and dates of her birth and burial. No date of death, as if the family refuse to accept, until they have answers as to how their daughter died, that it ever happened at all.

 on: Jan 20, 2018, 06:41 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Mother and daughter shot dead while immunising children from polio in Pakistan

Prime minister condemns attack by gunmen in south-western city of Quetta, where two policemen also died in separate incident

Haroon Janjua in Islamabad
Fri 19 Jan 2018 07.00 GMT

Gunmen have shot and killed a mother and her daughter who were immunising children against polio in Pakistan’s south-western city of Quetta.

The attack took place as hundreds of polio teams, many of them volunteers, were out working on a campaign against the disease, police official Naseebullah Khan said.

Sakina Bibi, 50, and her 20-year-old daughter, Alizah, were providing polio immunisation drops to children when two gunmen riding on a motorcycle shot them. “Both died on their way to the hospital,” said Khan.

It is the latest in a string of attacks on attempts to prevent children from contracting the crippling and sometimes deadly disease.

Pakistan’s prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, condemned the attacks. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

“Polio teams are rendering a huge national service to save our children from the crippling disease. Attack on these dedicated workers, risking their lives for their nation, is an attack on our future,” Abbasi’s office said in a statement.

Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the only three countries in the world where polio has still not been eliminated.

Pakistan’s government regularly launches anti-polio drives despite threats from the Taliban, hardline clerics and other organisations, who mistrust the agenda behind such health campaigns and see vaccinations as part of a western conspiracy. Clerics have claimed the vaccines will sterilise Pakistani children.

A colleague of the two women who did not wish to be named told the Guardian: “This is really tragic, that our colleagues have been killed in the line of duty in Quetta today. There may be various insights behind this incident but, for the national cause, government administration, security agencies and polio workers are still committed to keep campaigns continuing.”

Mahmood Jan, an Islamic cleric, said: “In Quetta and the surrounding districts of Balochistan, people fear espionage like [that carried out by] Shakil Afridi. People here mostly dislike NGO activities – polio being part of such activities.

“Currently, polio vaccination teams are guarded by police personnel. Hence scepticism of the high-profile campaign of the American agenda – and our government is promoting their agenda.”

Suspicion of vaccination drives was exacerbated by disputed reports that a Pakistani doctor used a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign to gather DNA samples to help the CIA track down Osama bin Laden.

 on: Jan 20, 2018, 06:37 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Swallowed by the Sea

You doubt climate change? Come to this island — but hurry, before it disappears.

JAN. 19, 2018
NY Times

KUTUBDIA, Bangladesh — Anyone who doubts climate change should come to this lovely low-lying island, lapped by gentle waves and home to about 100,000 people.

But come quickly, while it’s still here.

“My house was over there,” said Zainal Abedin, a farmer, pointing to the waves about 100 feet from the shore. “At low tide, we can still see signs of our house.”

Already much of Kutubdia has been swallowed by rising seas, leaving countless families with nothing. Nurul Haque, a farmer who lost all his land to the ocean, told me that he may have to pull his daughter, Munni Akter, 13, out of eighth grade and marry her off to an older man looking for a second or third wife, because he has few financial options left to support her.

“I don’t really want to marry her off, because it’s not good for girls,” he said glumly. “But I’m considering it.” He insisted that if it weren’t for the rising waters and his resulting impoverishment, he wouldn’t think of finding a husband for her.

One of the paradoxes of climate change is that the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people — who contribute almost nothing to warming the planet — end up being most harmed by it.

Bangladesh is expected to be particularly badly hit by rising oceans because much of the country is only a few feet above sea level.

“Climate change is destroying children’s futures,” noted Justin Forsyth, the deputy executive director of Unicef. “In Bangladesh, tens of millions of children and families are at risk of losing their homes, their land and their livelihoods from rising sea levels, flooding and increased cyclone intensity.”

Forsyth said the average Bangladeshi produces just one-tenth of the global average in annual per-capita carbon emissions. In contrast, the United States accounts for more than one-quarter of cumulative carbon emissions since 1850, more than twice as much as any other country.

If Munni is pulled out of school and married off, she’ll have plenty of company. Unicef data suggest that 22 percent of girls in Bangladesh marry by the age of 15, one of the highest rates in the world.

“Climate changes appear to be increasing the numbers of girls who are forced to marry,” a three-year academic study in Bangladesh concluded.

A year ago in Madagascar I met a family ready to marry off a 10-year-old girl, Fombasoa, because of a drought linked to climate change. And there are increasing reports that poverty linked to climate change is leading to child marriage in Malawi, Mozambique and other countries.

In Kutubdia, climate change is not the only issue. The seas are rising, but in addition, Kutubdia itself seems to be sinking.

The upshot is that the island’s shoreline has retreated by about a kilometer since the 1960s, farmers say. Even when land is mostly dry, occasional high tides or storm surges bring in saltwater that poisons the rice paddies. Thousands of climate refugees have already fled Kutubdia and formed their own neighborhood in the mainland Bangladeshi city of Cox’s Bazaar.

A similar injustice is apparent in many poor countries. “Climate change contributes to conflict,” noted Neal Keny-Guyer, the C.E.O. of Mercy Corps, the aid group. He observed that a drier climate is widely believed to have caused agricultural failures, tensions and migrations that played a role in the Syrian civil war, the

Aside from reducing carbon emissions, Keny-Guyer said, Western countries can do much more to build resilience in poor countries. That can include supporting drought-resistant or saltwater-resistant crops, and offering microinsurance to farmers and herdsmen so that a drought does not devastate them. Mercy Corps is now developing such microinsurance.

The evidence of climate change is increasingly sobering, with the last four years also the hottest four years on record since modern record-keeping began in the 1880s.

We’re also coming to understand that climate change may wreak havoc, changing ocean currents, killing coral reefs and nurturing feedback loops that accelerate the warming. It turns out that 99 percent of green sea turtles hatched in the northern Great Barrier Reef are now female because their sex is determined by temperature.

Most of the villagers I spoke to both in Madagascar and in Bangladesh had never heard of President Trump. But the outlook for their descendants may depend on the actions he takes — and his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord is an unhelpful surrender of American leadership.

Americans were recently horrified by a viral video of a starving polar bear, whose condition may or may not be linked to climate change. Let’s hope we can be just as indignant about the impact of climate change on children like Munni.

 on: Jan 20, 2018, 06:33 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

One Year Into the Trump Administration, Where Do We Stand?

By John R. Platt

What a long, strange year it's been.

Saturday, Jan. 20 marks the one-year anniversary of the Trump administration officially taking office after a long and arduous election. It's a year that has seen seemingly unending attacks on science and the environment, along with a rise in hateful rhetoric and racially motivated policies. But it's almost been met by the continuing growth of the efforts to resist what the Trump administration has to offer.

So where do we stand, one year in?

Well, for one thing, we can say that the year has given the administration's actions a visible shape. "These are not isolated incidents at this point," said Jacob Carter, research scientist for the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who has been tracking the administration's attacks against science—at least 65 since the president took office. "They're happening so often now that there is definitely a pattern starting to emerge. The administration really wants to undermine the role of science and science-based decision making. They're getting the expertise out of the way to further a political agenda."

Carter said these attempts to remove science from government decision-making—ranging from ending a study of the health effects of mountaintop-removal mining to eliminating the words "climate change" from all EPA grants—"have real consequences on peoples' lives. It's about our health and safety. If we don't listen to the best available science, then our lives are at risk."

But pushing science and scientists aside doesn't mean they go away forever. "Under this administration we know the scientific evidence isn't going to be able to speak for itself, so scientists really have to step up and speak for it," Carter said. And scientists have been doing that in record numbers, starting with last year's March for Science and continuing on multiple fronts ever since. "They're stepping up in an unprecedented number and saying science has got to be used in policy-making decisions." That's not slowing down; Carter recalls how he attended two big scientific conferences last year and "I had tons of scientists coming up and asking me how they can advocate, what they could do to make sure that science is being used and remains in a proper place."

That increased level of activism is not unique to scientists, as people from many walks of live have definitely become more politically engaged in the past year. "Trump's election was a wakeup call in a way," said Gayle Alberda, an assistant professor of politics at Connecticut's Fairfield University, who studies elections, political participation and civic engagement. "Nation-wide, we've seen this huge influx of people wanting to know not only how to run for office, but how to get politically engaged."

Of course, people are rising up on both sides of the political aisle. In addition to the citizens opposing Trump's policies, Alberda said the people who see Trump as representing their ideals have also made their voices louder over the past year. "I think both sides are getting pushed in a way to really engage vastly differently than we have in the past," she said.

Unfortunately, the two sides aren't exactly talking to each other, and that's bad for the country. "We're losing the ability to engage in civil discourse in a way that's healthy for democracy," Alberda said.

Alberda said this has been building for a while, even before the election. "It's almost like you keep throwing firewood onto the fire and you don't realize how big it is until it blows up," she said. "You're like, 'whoa, that's a big fire.' Lots of little things have happened over the years and we're kind of seeing that all of a sudden in our face, because you have all of these questions about the state of democracy today." She said examples such as Trump's attacks on the free press, the Republican push to pass their legislative agenda, and the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the last election have only served to stoke this fire even further.

So where do we go as we enter the administration's second year? One avenue is to look toward groups that have experience fighting these kinds of regressive activities. "One of the strengths of the movement is solidarity," said Nadia Aziz, program manager of the Stop Hate Project run by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "There are a lot of organizations like ours that have been around for 50 years or more. We've been fighting to secure equal justice for racial and ethnic minorities for a very long time. I think we're very resilient organizations because of that," she said.

That resilience is important, she said, because right now we're at a critical point: "How do you make sure that this movement that we're all in, this resistance, is creating sustainable action and that we all don't get burned out?"

One way Aziz said she keeps herself strong is by seeing and experiencing what others are doing. "There are a lot of a lot of groups are doing such wonderful work," she said. "One of the most inspiring things about my job is being able to connect with people. I think that gives me resiliency, seeing how awesome the people are on the ground what the remarkable work they're doing."

That, in fact, may be one of the lasting legacies of this administration: Local community groups and national groups are connecting with each other, learning from each other, and collectively strengthening their voices. "I do think we're going to keep getting stronger and we're going to keep building out our movement," Aziz said.

As we enter year two of this administration, Alberda said she's looking toward local 2018 elections and the rise of candidates opposing Trump and his policies. "That is going to be really interesting," she said. "We've seen already that Republicans in safe Republican state legislative seats are getting challengers. I think that's indicative that we're going to see some interesting elections."

John R. Platt is the editor of The Revelator. An award-winning environmental journalist, his work has appeared in Scientific American, Audubon, Motherboard, and numerous other magazines and publications. His "Extinction Countdown" column has run continuously since 2004 and has covered news and science related to more than 1,000 endangered species. John lives on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon, where he finds himself surrounded by animals and cartoonists.


The Mad King Flies His Flag

Timothy Egan
JAN. 19, 2018
NY Times

The emperor of the outdoors rode into town on a horse named Tonto, and soon demanded that his own special flag fly outside his headquarters whenever he was in Washington.

He believes fracking is proof that “God loves us” and, despite being from Montana, doesn’t know how to properly set up his fly line when fishing in front of the cameras.

“He had rigged his reel backward,” Elliott D. Woods wrote of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in a wonderful profile in Outside Magazine. “Seems like an inconsequential thing, but in Montana, it’s everything.”

As it turned out, it was quite consequential. When the magazine next tried to dial into an Interior conference call, it was denied access.

You may think that Stormy Daniels is in charge of the natural world under Donald Trump. And yes, the boorish behavior of the president and the porn star makes for better reading than an account of the quack running Interior.

But if someone were trashing your house, you’d want to pay attention. And Trump, using the very strange Zinke, is going after the sacred foundations of America’s much-loved public lands, brick by brick.

Zinke has been called the Gulfstream Cowboy for his love of using charter planes to fly off to the nesting grounds of wealthy donors. But he’s more like a mad king. And this monarch has control over the crown jewels of America’s public land.

They are not in safe hands.

Last month, the secretary attacked Patagonia, the outdoor retailer, after it protested the largest rollback of public land protection in our history with a website home page of a black screen and stark message: “The President Stole Your Land.”

It is your land, all 400 million acres of it, though you wouldn’t know by the way the Trump administration has ceded control to the private predators from the oil, gas, coal and uranium industries.

It is also your water, the near entirety of the outer continental shelf that Trump is opening to extractive drilling. Almost a dozen states have protested. The waters off the coast of Mar-a-Lago, in Florida, were given an exemption after Zinke met with the governor, who said drilling was bad for tourism. Your public servant at work.

Zinke is upending a century of bipartisan values as part of a Trumpian culture war. When asked why the president shrank national monuments in the Southwest by two million acres, Zinke said it was a way to strike back against “an elitist sort of hunter and fisherman.” Huh?

Could this be the same regular guy who took a helicopter to ride horses with Mike Pence? The cabinet member who wants to charge $70 to get into our most iconic national parks? The man whose nomination was championed by Donald Trump Jr., elephant killer and dictionary definition of elite hunter and fisherman?

Defenders of public land have pushed back. This week, a majority of the nonpartisan National Park Service advisory panel resigned in frustration. The board, federally chartered to help guide the service, said Zinke had refused to convene a single meeting with the members last year. Silly bird-lovers. Don’t they know you need to charter a plane for Zinke if you want to get his attention?

A much less-connected group, the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, responded with an essay from a board member who lives in a 500-square-foot abode in the Rocky Mountains. “We hunt, gather, garden, can, smoke, dry, jelly and pickle as much of our own food as we can,” wrote Tom Healy. “According to Mr. Secretary, I am an elitist.”

The writer is from Whitefish, Zinke’s hometown in Montana. Where have you heard that before? Ah, yes, a tiny energy company from Whitefish with two employees — three if you count Zinke’s kid when he was an intern on a side project — finagled a $300 million, no-audit, no-bid contract to help rebuild Puerto Rico’s electric grid. Zinke said he had absolutely, positively nothing to do with it.

Look, it could have been worse: Sarah Palin was an early favorite for interior secretary. Zinke is an ex-Navy SEAL, and looks the part. Enough nutty things come out of his mouth to make him a perfect Trump guy.

“The government stops at the mailbox,” he said at a rally last year, “and if you come any further, you’re going to meet my gun.” Note to Mr. Secretary: Don’t shoot the sheriff, or the census taker.

It took a bribery scandal to bring down an interior secretary in the Teapot Dome affair of the 1920s. Today, the corruption is all upfront. Energy Secretary Rick Perry gives bear hugs to coal barons while doing all he can to have the government prop up their industry. The Environmental Protection Agency is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the polluters it is supposed to regulate.

Over at Interior, they haven’t yet figured a way to charge Americans for the air we breathe. But the next time Zinke’s flag is up, something may be in the works.

 on: Jan 20, 2018, 06:28 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Generations of Respect for Nature and Shamanic Healing Sustain This Remote Village

By Wahyu Chandra

In a remote village on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi lies a small garden of near-mythic repute—a place whose stewards grow not mere plants, but hopes and cures that have served the community for generations.

Packed into a single hectare (2.5 acres) in a Pakuli Induk village, in the Central Sulawesi province, are 400 different types of herbal plants, first collected and grown by Sahlan, a shaman or sando, from the Kaili tribe.

Like a real-life Getafix, Sahlan relied on plants that grow in the area to treat the needs of the villagers, venturing deep into the forest to pick the ingredients for herbal remedies for everything from sore eyes to kidney problems to ovarian cysts. The son of shamans, he was bequeathed the small lot for a garden in 1999 by the local chief, who was taken by Sahlan's passion for his craft.

Nearly 20 years on, Sahlan now practices traditional medicine in Palu, the provincial capital, and has left the running of the garden to the children and young adults of the Assyfa orphanage.

"It was Sahlan who taught us at first," said Risfa, 21, one of the 70 youths at the orphanage now tasked with caring for the garden.

Risfa then rattles off a list of plants grown there and their purported qualities: kada buku, whose leaves are used to treat external wounds; kanuna, believed to be effective in the treatment of ovarian cysts; keji beling, prescribed for kidney and appendix problems; kulei, whose sap is used as eye drops; and mavana, said to cure coughing in children.

There's also the ginseng-like root of the tudong layu plant, which, also like ginseng, is said to help treat erectile dysfunction. "It's best to mix it with eggs and honey," Finra, another of the caretakers, said while laughing.

Traditional Healing

As in most other parts of rural Indonesia, traditional medicine is the only kind of healthcare most people here have access to. In 2015, there were all of 12 medical professionals registered in Sigi district, where the Pakuli Induk district is located, according to the national statistics agency; of those, only two were doctors, serving a population of nearly 230,000.

"Sando are believed to be more effective" than medical doctors, said Amran Tambaru, a local environmental activist. He added that for communities like Pakuli Induk, shamans are often the first choice of health provider.

It's little wonder, then, that Sahlan's garden plays a central role in the lives of the villagers, who can buy a packet of mixed herbs tailored to treat specific ailments for about $2. Zainal, a former charge of the orphanage, said many of the plants grown in the garden are also found around the village. But the villagers are welcome to come in and pick, for free, any herbs they can't find elsewhere, as long as they ask for permission first.

Safeguarding the Forest

The reverence with which the community has long regarded traditional medicine, and by extension the plants on which it is based, has cultivated a respect for the environment that holds to this day. Any activity with the potential to disrupt the integrity of the natural ecosystem is strictly regulated to minimize damage.

Logging, for instance, can only be carried out if the timber is to be used to build a house. Even then, it requires permission from the village council, who also determine the location within the forest where trees may be felled. Violations of any of these rules is punishable by fines in the form of money or livestock—a serious financial setback in a community of subsistence farmers.

Similar rules are in place to protect the wildlife. Pakuli Induk's forests are rich in fauna, bordering Lore Lindu National Park. The 2,180-square-kilometer (840-square-mile) reserve is home to 77 species of birds found only in Sulawesi, including the rare and endangered maleo (Macrocephalon maleo), a striking-looking fowl with a black helmet casque atop its head.

A captive-breeding center has been set up for the maleo in the Pakuli Induk forest. The bird is considered sacred among the community, and the punishment for any attempt to poach it is suitably severe.

"If anyone dares try to catch one, they can be fined a water buffalo," said Zainal, noting that the high value and scarcity of buffalo make them a commodity not worth losing.

For the villagers, the forest and its plants and animals have long been a source of sustenance and well-being. And thanks to the orphans of Pakuli Induk, the stewardship of the local environment appears to be in safe hands.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

 on: Jan 20, 2018, 06:24 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Plastic bags charge set to be extended to small shops in England

Expansion expected of highly successful policy of charging 5p for each bag could be extended beyond large retailers

Anushka Asthana Political editor

The 5p charge for plastic bags is expected to be applied to small shops under government plans to be unveiled by Theresa May this week as she seeks to tackle Britain’s “throwaway culture”.

In a major speech on the environment, the prime minister will promise to hold consultations on removing an exemption that allows retailers with fewer than 250 employees to continue to give out free bags. The levy on supermarkets and other large retailers resulted in a 90% decline in use, with nine billion fewer plastic bags being used.

Such an extension would come alongside other measures to crack down on plastics pollution after Gove said he was “haunted” by images of the damage done to the world’s oceans shown on David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II TV series.

May and Gove briefed cabinet ministers on Tuesday, ahead of the speech that will mark the publication of the government’s 25-year plan, that will include a focus on single-use plastics.

The prime minister “said the government had a clear belief in ‘conserving what is good, and standing against the profligate use of resources – whether it be public money or natural resources’,” according to her official spokesman.

May’s plan would be focused on the idea of becoming “the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than we inherited”.

Gove told colleagues he was determined to tackle “the throwaway culture that plastics encapsulate” with a series of new initiatives on Thursday, the spokesman added.

“The environment secretary also said that he was working collaboratively with the secretary of state for international development to look at using aid money on the environmental agenda, such as reducing pollution by plastics.”

Gove arrived for the meeting carrying a reusable coffee cup made of bamboo fibre, after being criticised for previously turning up with a single-use takeaway option.

Worries about overuse of 2.5bn disposable coffee cups each year has already been raised by campaigners, and the environmental audit committee has called for a 25p “latte levy” to be charged on top of the price of a hot drink.

The environment secretary is understood to be considering proposals to encourage retailers to use fewer types of plastic and to get councils to adopt a standardised recycling policy.

The current patchwork of regimes means many types of plastic are not collected from households. Together, the two measures are intended to ensure that a greater proportion of the packaging used in the UK can be recycled.

In the November budget, the chancellor, Philip Hammond, announced plans to investigate new taxes on single-use plastic items. Ministers are also considering a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and other drink containers.

 on: Jan 20, 2018, 06:22 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Prague astronomical clock to be removed for restoration

New Europe

PRAGUE  — One of Prague's major tourist attractions, its medieval astronomical clock, was stopped Monday and is to be taken away for months for major repairs. The clock last performed its hourly show of the 12 apostles and other figures for crowds of visitors to the Czech capital on Monday at 9 a.m.

Prague officials say the clock that was installed on the City Hall's tower in 1410 will be completely disassembled and its parts taken for restoration, the first complex fix since World War II. The entire City Hall with the clock were badly damaged in the war and the some of the postwar restoration works were not done properly and need to be fixed.

"It's a necessary and responsible move to preserve it for the generations to come," city councilman Jan Wolf said. The clock is expected to be back in its place in the late summer. There are a number of legends linked to the clock. One of them says the entire nation will suffer when it stops running. Record flooding hit Prague and large parts of the Czech Republic in 2002, causing the clock to stop.

In 2011, it was shut down for a three-week repair, and again later that year for five minutes when Vaclav Havel died, to honor the former president.

 on: Jan 20, 2018, 06:20 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Wildlife photographer of the year people's choice award - in pictures

The Natural History Museum has chosen 24 of the best images from its Wildlife photographer of the year competition shortlist. Members of the public can vote for their favourite by 5 February 2018

20 Jan 2018 06.01 GMT

Click to see all of these stunning pictures: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2018/jan/09/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year-peoples-choice-award-in-pictures

 on: Jan 20, 2018, 06:15 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Breakthrough for genetic hearing loss as gene editing prevents deafness in mice

Prospect of a new class of therapies that could transform future treatment of genetic hearing loss, at the root of nearly half of all cases of deafness

Hannah Devlin Science correspondent

Deafness has been prevented in mice using gene editing for the first time, in an advance that could transform future treatment of genetic hearing loss.

The study found that a single injection of a gene editing cocktail prevented progressive deafness in baby animals that were destined to lose their hearing.

“We hope that the work will one day inform the development of a cure for certain forms of genetic deafness in people,” said Prof David Liu, who led the work at Harvard University and MIT.

Nearly half of all cases of deafness have a genetic root, but current treatment options are limited. However, the advent of new high-precision gene editing tools such as Crispr has raised the prospect of a new class of therapies that target the underlying problem.

The study, published in the journal Nature, focused on a mutation in a gene called Tmc1, a single wrong letter in the genetic code, that causes the loss of the inner ear’s hair cells over time.

The delicate hairs, which sit in a spiral-shaped organ called the cochlea, vibrate in response to sound waves. Nerve cells pick up the physical motion and transmit it to the brain, where it is perceived as sound.

If a child inherits one copy of the mutated Tmc1 gene they will suffer progressive hearing loss, normally starting in the first decade of life and resulting in profound deafness within 10 to 15 years. However, since most people affected by the mutation will also have a healthy version of the gene, inherited from their other parent, the scientists wanted to explore whether deleting the faulty version worked as a treatment.

Liu and colleagues used gene editing technology known as Crispr-Cas9, which acts as a molecular scissors, snipping the genome to disable a target gene. The team injected the gene editing solution into the inner ears of baby mice with the hearing loss mutation. After eight weeks, hair cells in treated ears resembled those in healthy animals – densely packed and tufted with hairlike bundles. The hair cells of untreated mice, in contrast, looked damaged and sparse.

Then the researchers conducted a hearing test on the mice by placing electrodes on their heads and monitoring the activity of brain regions involved in hearing. Researchers needed more sound to spark brain activity in untreated mice compared with treated mice, the team found. On average, after four weeks, treated ears could hear sounds about 15 decibels lower than untreated ears. “That’s roughly the difference between a quiet conversation and a garbage disposal,” Liu said.

Simon Waddington, a reader in gene transfer technology at University College London, described the study as an elegant application of new gene editing tools. “Hitherto incurable and often even untreatable diseases are now within the scope of gene therapy,” he said.

The team plans to develop the therapy in larger animals to ensure the method is safe and effective, before moving closer to a patient trial.

Previously, the option to carry out screening for genetic causes of deafness during IVF treatments has prompted an ethical debate, with some deaf couples seeking to use screening to select embryos carrying the deafness gene. In the UK, this was banned under legislation introduced in 2008. Liu added: “We also recognise the importance and remain mindful of cultural considerations within the deaf community as this work moves forward.”

 on: Jan 20, 2018, 06:11 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Two boys charged with killing half a million bees

20 Jan 2018 at 13:46 ET 

Two young boys have been charged with criminal mischief, agricultural animal facilities offenses and burglary after they knocked over beehives and killed half a million bees in Sioux City, Iowa.

On Wednesday, local police arrested the two boys, ages 12 and 13, who exposed the bees to deadly freezing weather while vandalizing a honey farm last month, reported The Sioux City Journal.

"They knocked over every single hive, killing all the bees. They wiped us out completely," Justin Engelhardt, co-owner of Wild Hill Honey, told the newspaper, before going on to condemn the boys for committing the "senseless" crime.

"They broke into our shed, they took all our equipment out and threw it out in the snow, smashed what they could," he added.

According to National Public Radio, the two boys, whose identities have been protected due to their age, could face up to $10,000 in fines and 10 years imprisonment for the incident that occurred late last December. However, it is more likely their case will be settled in juvenile court.

Engelhardt and his wife, Tori, claim the damage caused was so severe, it has completely put Wild Hill Honey out of business. However, the couple are pleased that the arrests were made less than a month after the vandalism occurred.

“It’s huge, right? It demonstrates the professionalism and determination of the Sioux City Police Department and we couldn’t be happier,” Justin Engelhardt said.

To restart their business, the couple will need around $60,000. Todd LaCroix, a family friend of the Engelhardts, started a GoFundMe page to crowd-source money for the couple. The page has already raised more than $30,000 from 838 people.

"It was amazing, and we are deeply grateful for all of the contributions from the people of Sioux City and people around the country," Justin Engelhardt said.

"It's thanks to those contributions that we'll be able to rebuild in the spring. We've already made arrangements to get some hives down south and we'll bring them up in the spring and we'll be right back to where we were."   

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