East Africa’s Huge Locust Outbreak Now Spreads to Congo

The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization says a small group of desert locusts has entered Congo, marking the first time the voracious insects have been seen in the Central African country since 1944.

The agency says the mature locusts, carried in part by the wind, arrived on the western shore of Lake Albert on Friday near the town of Bunia.

The worst locust outbreak that parts of East Africa have seen in 70 years also recently reached South Sudan, a country where roughly half the population already faces hunger after years of civil war.

Kenya, Somalia and Uganda also have been battling the locust swarms, which can reach the size of major cities.

The insects can destroy crops and devastate pasture for animals, and experts have warned that the outbreak is affecting millions of already vulnerable people across the region.

Uganda’s government said Tuesday it was trying to contain a large swarm and will need more resources to control the infestation that has spread to over 20 districts in the north. Soldiers have been battling swarms using hand-held spray pumps, while experts have said aerial spraying is the only effective control.

The U.N. recently raised its aid appeal from $76 million to $138 million, saying the need for more help is urgent. Experts have warned that the number of locusts if unchecked could grow 500 times by June, when drier weather is expected in the region.

A changing climate has contributed to this outbreak as a warming Indian Ocean means more powerful tropical cyclones hitting the region. A cyclone late last year in Somalia brought heavy rains that fed fresh vegetation to fuel the locusts that were carried in by the wind from the Arabian Peninsula.

A new generation of the locusts has been growing up in the Somalia desert in recent weeks, preparing to take flight as the next wave headed toward Kenya, Ethiopia and beyond.

From: MeNeedIt

Hillary Clinton: Will Support Sanders if Nominated for Dems

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed her skepticism about Bernie Sanders but says she will support the Democratic nominee regardless of who it is.

FILE – Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, makes a point as Bernie Sanders listens during a Democratic presidential primary debate in Des Moines, Iowa, Nov. 15, 2015.

Clinton, who beat Sanders for the Democratic nomination only to lose the 2016 election to President Donald Trump, made waves with comments about Sanders in the new documentary “Hillary” saying “nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him.”

But in comments at the Berlinale film festival Tuesday where she was promoting the four-hour documentary that will debut on Hulu in March, Clinton said her top priority was unseating Trump.

“I’m going to wait and see who we nominate,” she said. “I will support the nominee, and it won’t surprise you to hear me say that I think that it’s imperative that we retire the incumbent.”



From: MeNeedIt

Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Dead at 91

Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, the man long seen as the symbol of stability in the Middle East but who was ousted in a popular uprising, is dead. The former leader was 91 and died Tuesday. VOA’s Elizabeth Arrott looks back at the man called by some a modern pharaoh.


From: MeNeedIt

UN Calls for End to Idlib Carnage

The United Nations is appealing for $500 million to provide humanitarian, life-saving assistance for 1.1 million civilians trapped in a war zone in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib. 

More than three million civilians are trapped in Idlib.   Nearly one-third of this population or about 900,000 people have fled their homes over the past two months in search of a safe haven.  But the United Nations says there is no safe haven in Idlib.  

It says the ferocity of the military onslaught by Russian-backed Syrian government forces to regain this last rebel stronghold is forcing people to flee into an ever-smaller piece of land near the Turkish border.  Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syrian Crisis, Mark Cutts, calls this a major protection crisis.

“The fighting is now coming dangerously close to the area where more than a million are living in tents and makeshift shelters,” he said. “It is an extremely alarming situation because if airstrikes and shelling move any further into that area, we are no doubt going to see a real bloodbath, a real massacre of civilians in that area.” 

FILE – Internally displaced Syrians from western Aleppo countryside, ride on a vehicle with belongings in Hazano near Idlib, Syria, Feb. 11, 2020.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in nearly nine years of civil war.  The U.N. reports more than 12 million people have been displaced, 5.5 million across the borders as refugees and 6.5 million internally.  It notes well over one-third of the internally displaced are in northwestern Syria.

Cutts cites his biggest concern as the widespread, systematic targeting and bombing of densely populated civilian areas.  He says entire cities, towns and villages have been emptied out.  He says many hospitals, schools, marketplaces — even bakeries and water stations have been hit by air strikes and shelling in the last few months.

“There is a population now, which is terrorized and traumatized and living in fear,” he said.  “People have been fleeing in fear to the border area and what we have seen is the bombs have just been following them from place to place.  And, these people feel abandoned by the entire world.  They are dumbfounded that no one seems to be coming to their rescue.”  

The U.N. secretary-general has been calling repeatedly for an immediate cessation of hostilities, as have other humanitarian leaders.  So far, to no avail.  

Cutts says the U.N. has a massive humanitarian operation under way but given the current emergency, it is not enough.  He says the U.N. is appealing for half-a-billion dollars so it can scale up assistance to those in desperate need.    

He says the beneficiaries of the appeal are the 900,000 people who already are displaced, plus another 200,000 at imminent risk of becoming displaced.



From: MeNeedIt

Confirmed Coronavirus Cases Surpasse 200 in Italy

The death toll in Italy from the coronavirus outbreak stands at seven with more than 200 cases confirmed. At least 10 towns in the north are in lockdown mode and the army is ensuring no one enters of leaves them during a quarantine period.

Italian authorities are working around the clock putting in place unprecedented measures in an effort to curb the surge in coronavirus cases. In at least six regions in Italy’s industrial north, schools and universities are closed. People have been told to stay away from their offices and remain indoors as much as possible.

Theaters and museums have also been closed as have bars and discos. Venice carnival events have been cut short for the first time ever.

Tourists are wearing protective masks against coronavirus in Venice, Italy, Feb. 23, 2020. (S. Castelfranco/VOA)

Authorities have banned all demonstrations and public gatherings, including sporting events and church services as Italy deals with the biggest outbreak in Europe. The head of Italy’s civil defense department, Andrea Borrelli, said authorities were surprised by how fast the virus has spread. He said a plan is in place to house people who have contracted the virus and for those in quarantine.

Borrelli says thousands of beds are available throughout the national territory and that army barracks and hotels have been made available. He also says extra food and medical supplies will be taken to the towns in lockdown in northern Italy.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte says residents in affected towns could face weeks in lockdown.

In Milan over the weekend, many residents raided supermarkets, leaving empty shelves, fearing they would not be able to go to the shops. The Lombardy region is Italy’s hardest hit region and streets are deserted. Many people have been told to stay home and work from there. Those who venture out have been wearing surgical masks. One vendor outside a Milan railway station said he was selling the masks for $11 each.

University students in affected areas were unable to sit for their exams.

This student says she had three exams this week and all of them have been canceled. The student says she does not know when she will be able to take them.

According to the student, the Milan mayor said for the moment, colleges will be closed for a week but that this closure could be extended to a fortnight or more.

Italians have been told to avoid traveling to affected areas. At the airports, passengers are being checked for symptoms of the virus with heat sensors. Some regional train lines have canceled service, but fast trains between the major cities are still operating normally.

From: MeNeedIt

Some Signs of Panic as Coronavirus Appears to Spread from Iran to Neighboring States

Iran’s health ministry says 60 people have been infected by the coronavirus and that 12 people have died, so far, with the holy city of Qom being the hardest hit part of the country. Panic over the virus appears to be spreading to Iran’s neighbors, as well, with cases being reported in Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain and Lebanon.

Iran’s health ministry spokesman told journalists Monday that authorities are taking strict measures to control the spread of the coronavirus. He also defended a decision not to place the Shi’ite holy city of Qom under quarantine, saying that doing so would have scared people and caused many to flee to other parts of the country, further spreading the virus.

The spokesman went on to say that 60 people have been infected by the coronavirus across Iran, with 12 people succumbing to it. He said claims on social media of higher casualty figures were false.

A woman wearing a protective mask crosses a street in Iran’s capital Tehran, Feb. 22, 2020.

Amateur video on social media showed workers spraying subway cars in the Tehran metro to prevent the spread of the virus. Other video showed workers spraying Iranian passenger jets and city buses as well. State television reported that President Hassan Rouhani would preside over a crisis committee to oversee handling of the virus.

In neighboring Iraq, some panic was reported after an Iranian student in the holy city of Najaf came down with the virus. Iraqi officials told Arab media that a handful of suspected caseswere taken to Baghdad’s Euphrates Hospital.

Iraqi media showed protesters trying to block the Mahran border crossing from Iran. Several protesters criticized the country’s interior minister for allegedly refusing to stop Iranians from entering the country. VOA could not independently confirm the claim.

Amateur video broadcast by Arab media showed visitors from Iran being held in quarantine at a hotel in the city of Kut, near the Mahran border crossing. One man could be heard saying that armed men were posted outside the hotel.

Arab media say three coronavirus cases have been reported in Kuwait, which is refusing to allow ships from either Iraq or Iran to dock. Another case was reported in nearby Bahrain. Both Qatar and Bahrain say they are monitoring arriving passengers from countries hardest hit by the virus.

Here in Egypt, state media report that one patient who came down with the virus in the coastal town of Marsa Matrouah “has now recovered.” In Lebanon, a passenger arriving from Iran came down with the virus several days ago. Meanwhile, officials at Beirut Airport reportedly forced passengers on a plane arriving from Tehran Monday to disembark far away from the terminal.

From: MeNeedIt

Actor Jussie Smollett Pleads Not Guilty to Restored Charges

Former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty Monday to restored charges that accuse him of staging a racist, homophobic attack against himself last year in Chicago and then falsely reporting to that the phony attack was real.   

A somber looking Smollett, 37, entered a Cook County courthouse wearing sunglasses and sporting a beard, flanked by his legal teams and surrounded by reporters.
His lawyer, Tina Glandian, entered the not guilty pleas on his behalf to six counts of felony disorderly conduct. She also told Judge James B. Linn that she has asked the Illinois Supreme Court to halt the case.    

Smollett pleaded not guilty to 16 counts of the charge in the same courthouse last year, just weeks before the Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office abruptly announced it was dismissing the case, angering police and City Hall.
Special Prosecutor Dan Webb, a former U.S. attorney who was appointed to examine the state’s attorney’s office’s handling of the case, represented the state. Foxx’s office is not involved in the new case against Smollett.
Smollett has repeatedly denied police allegations that he staged the attack to get attention and further his career.
Defendants typically enter not guilty pleas during initial hearings before the trial judge, who sets bond amounts that defendants must post to secure their release. Attorneys often arrange for defendants to post bond at the clerk’s office rather than be taken into custody.
Smollett, who is black and gay, told police that two masked men attacked him as he was walking home in the early hours of Jan. 29, 2019. He said they made racist and homophobic insults, beat him and looped a noose around his neck before fleeing, and that at least one of his attackers was a white man who told him he was in “MAGA country,” a reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
Weeks later,  police alleged  that Smollett had paid two black friends to help stage the attack.
Among those in court to observed Monday’s proceedings were the brothers who say they were hired by Smollett to participate in the staged attack, Abimbola “Abel” Osundairo and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo. If Smollett’s case makes it to trial, they would be the state’s star witnesses.
Smollett has maintained his innocence, telling reporters after the charges were dropped last year that, “I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I was accused of.”
His attorney, Glandian, questioned the integrity of special prosecutor’s investigation after the new charges were announced this month, pointing out that Webb’s probe relied on the same detectives who were part of the original investigation despite pending civil claims that Smollett is pursuing against the city and police for malicious prosecution.
Foxx’s handling of the case, meanwhile, has become a key issue in her bid for re-election, with her opponents accusing her of having acted haphazardly and indecisively.

From: MeNeedIt

Dozens of Victims Escaping Fresh Violence in Cameroon

Renewed fighting in Cameroon’s restive English-speaking region has forced more than 70 people, mainly women and children, to flee for their lives and seek shelter at an orphanage. Many of them, however, are very ill, battling malaria and severe malnutrition. Others are dealing with fresh wounds from the fighting between government troops and separatist fighters.

They look tired, hungry, unkempt and sick. The victims of the separatist violence in the English-speaking northwestern Menchum administrative unit say that in the past two weeks, they have escaped escalating conflict.

Youths protest against French President Emmanuel Macron’s declarations over how Cameroon is handling the conflict in its English-speaking regions, outside the French embassy in Yaounde, Feb. 24, 2020. (Moki Edwin Kindzeka/VOA)

Comfort Finni, a 23-year-old mother of two, says she fled Menchum when men dressed in military uniforms torched the 32 houses in their village. Finni says the violence took the lives of her husband and oldest daughter.

“I am from Fang  [village],” said Finni. “We were just living in the village, some people just came and burned our village so we ran and went to the bush, to the forest. We made two weeks in the forest before coming out.”

Finni says the military, along with health workers with the Roman Catholic Church, rescued her in the locality of Wum. Finni says she has been living at the orphanage for close to one week.

Most of the victims are children and women who say they were molested by both the military and separatist fighters.

Fifty-five-year-old Moses Kum is one of only five men in the group of escapees. Kum says he does not know if his second wife and two children are still alive, adding that he spent several days in the bush foraging.

“Cutting fruits in the bush and managing to live, so we thank God that God helped us to trek for three days before reaching Bafmen,” said Kum.  

Humanitarian workers with the Roman Catholic Church and Red Cross took Kum and eight others from the town of Bafmen to the orphanage.

FILE – A woman stands outside a damaged school dormitory after it was set on fire in Bafut, in the northwest English-speaking region of Cameroon, Nov. 15, 2017.

Health worker Peter Ngwa says taking care of the displaced is a challenge because of a lack of resources.  

“We are focused on malaria which I know is passed by mosquitoes which are mostly common in the bushes where they have been staying,” said Ngwa. “We are concerned about HB [hemoglobin] blood level, which is also linked to nutrition. So when we test these parameters, we can give advice to them based on the results on how to go about to remedy the situation.”

Cameroon’s territorial administration minister, Paul Atanga Nji, says when he was informed about the critical situation facing the fleeing victims, he alerted President Paul Biya. Nji says the government will dispatch immediate humanitarian assistance.

“When the governor gave me the report my immediate reaction was that let us come and visit the place, give the first assistance what they call first aid, then after, we see gradually what can be done,” said Nji. “You can see the material that we have brought from the humanitarian plan of action given by President Paul Biya. At the same time, we will provide some financial assistance because they need medication; they need special attention.”

FILE – President of Cameroon Paul Biya with Chinese President Xi Jinping (not pictured) attend a signing ceremony at The Great Hall Of The People in Beijing, China, March 22, 2018.

Nji denied allegations the military was responsible for some of the atrocities.

Rights group Human Rights Watch has always blamed both government troops and separatist fighters for gross human rights violations, saying that Cameroonian security forces respond to increasing attacks by armed separatist groups by burning homes and other property in villages across the Northwest and Southwest regions.

Human Rights Watch also accuses armed separatist groups of killing, torture, assault, and kidnapping of dozens of people.

Separatists have been fighting since 2017 to detach English-speaking North-West and South-West Cameroon from the rest of the country and its French-speaking majority.
The secessionist uprising has left three thousand people dead H and forced 500,000 others to flee either to the French-speaking regions or into neighboring Nigeria, according to the United Nations.

From: MeNeedIt

Barbara ‘B.’ Smith, Model Turned Lifestyle Guru, Dead at 70

Barbara “B.” Smith, one of the nation’s top black models who went on to open restaurants, launch a successful home products line and write cookbooks, has died at her Long Island home at age 70 after battling early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Smith’s family announced on social media that she died Saturday evening.

“Heaven is shining even brighter now that it is graced with B.’s dazzling and unforgettable smile,” Smith’s husband Dan Gasby said on Facebook.

Smith’s eponymous Manhattan restaurant opened in 1986 and attracted a following among affluent black New Yorkers, The New York Times recalled. Essence magazine described it as the place “where the who’s who of black Manhattan meet, greet and eat regularly.”

Smith wrote three cookbooks, founded three successful restaurants and launched a nationally syndicated television show and a magazine. Her successful home products line was the first from a black woman to be sold at a nationwide retailer when it debuted in 2001 at Bed Bath & Beyond.

In 1976, she became the second black model to be on the cover of Mademoiselle magazine, after Joli Jones in 1969.

“You epitomized class, true beauty and dignity. Rest well Queen,” actress Viola Davis wrote on Twitter.

Smith was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2013. She and Gasby raised awareness of the disease, and particularly its impacts on the African-American community, following her diagnosis.

Some described Smith as a “black Martha Stewart,” a comparison she said she didn’t mind though she believed the two lifestyle mavens were quite different.

“Martha Stewart has presented herself doing the things domestics and African Americans have done for years,” she said in a 1997 interview with New York magazine. “We were always expected to redo the chairs and use everything in the garden. This is the legacy that I was left. Martha just got there first.”

In the same interview, Gasby said, “Martha is perfection and Barbara is passion.”

Smith began suffering from memory problems years before her diagnosis. She once froze for several seconds while being interviewed on the “Today Show,” prompting a doctor’s visit that led to her diagnosis. A few months later, she was missing in New York City for a day.

In 2018, Gasby revealed that he was in a relationship with another woman while caring for his ailing wife, leading to harsh criticism from some of her fans. He fired back at critics with a Facebook post about the pain of living with Alzheimer’s in the family. “I love my wife but I can’t let her take away my life,” he wrote.

The couple co-authored a book, “Before I Forget: Love, Hope, Help, and Acceptance in Our fight Against Alzheimer’s,” and have partnered with the Brain Health Registry.

Smith, a native of Pennsylvania, began her career as a fashion model in Pittsburgh and went on to serve as a spokeswoman for Verizon, Colgate, Palmolive Oxy and McCormick’s Lawry seasonings. She hosted the nationally syndicated television show “B. Smith with Style” for nearly a decade, which aired on NBC stations.

Smith is survived by Gasby, whom she married in 1992, and her stepdaughter Dana Gasby.

From: MeNeedIt

UN Study: 1 of Every 3 Venezuelans is Facing Hunger

One of every three people in Venezuela is struggling to put enough food on the table to meet minimum nutrition requirements as the nation’s severe economic contraction and political upheaval persists, according to a study published Sunday by the U.N. World Food Program.

A nationwide survey based on data from 8,375 questionnaires reveals a startling picture of the large number of Venezuelans surviving off a diet consisting largely of tubers and beans as hyperinflation renders many salaries worthless.

A total of 9.3 million people – roughly one-third of the population – are moderately or severely food insecure, said the World Food Program’s study, which was conducted at the invitation of the Venezuelan government. Food insecurity is defined as an individual being unable to meet basic dietary needs.

The study describes food insecurity as a nationwide concern, though certain states like Delta Amacuro, Amazonas and Falcon had especially high levels. Even in more prosperous regions, one in five people are estimated to be food insecure.

“The reality of this report shows the gravity of the social, economic and political crisis in our country,” said Miguel Pizarro, a Venezuelan opposition leader.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has been largely reluctant in recent years to invite international organizations to provide assessments of the nation’s humanitarian ordeal, though the World Food Program said it was granted “full independence” and collected data throughout the country “without any impediment or obstruction.”

“WFP looks forward to a continuation of its dialogue with the Venezuelan government and discussions that will focus on the way forward to provide assistance for those who are food insecure,” the agency said in a statement.

There was no immediate response to the findings by Maduro’s government.

The survey found that 74% of families have adopted “food-related coping strategies,” such as reducing the variety and quality of food they eat. Sixty percent of households reported cutting portion sizes in meals, 33% said they had accepted food as payment for work and 20% reported selling family assets to cover basic needs.

The issue appears to be one that is less about the availability of food and more about the difficulty in obtaining it. Seven in 10 reported that food could always be found but said it is difficult to purchase because of high prices. Thirty-seven percent reported they had lost their job or business as a result of Venezuela’s severe economic contraction.

Venezuela has been in the throes of a political and humanitarian crisis that has led over 4.5 million people to flee in recent years. Maduro has managed to keep his grip on power despite a push by opposition leader Juan Guaidó to remove him from office and mounting U.S. sanctions.

Maduro frequently blames the Trump administration for his nation’s woes, and his government has urged the International Criminal Court to open an investigation, alleging that the financial sanctions are causing suffering and even death. The nation’s struggles to feed citizens and provide adequate medical care predate U.S. sanctions on the Venezuelan government.

In addition to food, the survey also looked at interruptions in access to electricity and water, finding that four in 10 households experience daily power cuts. Four in 10 also reported recurrent interruptions in water service, further complicating daily life.

Noting that the survey was done in July through September, Carolina Fernández, a Venezuelan rights advocate who works with vulnerable women, said she believes the situation has deteriorated even more. While it was once possible for many families to survive off remittances sent by relatives abroad, she said, that has become more difficult as much of the economy is dollarized and prices rise.

“Now it’s not enough to have one person living abroad,” she said.

Fernández said food insecurity is likely to have an enduring impact on a generation of young Venezuelans going hungry during formative years.

“We’re talking about children who are going to have long-term problems because they’re not eating adequately,” she said.

Those who are going hungry include people like Yonni Gutiérrez, 56, who was standing outside a restaurant that sells roasted chickens in Caracas on Sunday.

The unemployed man approached the restaurant’s front door whenever a customer left with a bag of food, hoping they might share something. He said he previously had been able to scrape by helping unload trucks at a market, but the business that employed him closed.

“Sometimes, with a little luck, I get something good,” he said of his restaurant stakeout.

From: MeNeedIt