Mistrust Remains Two Years After Poisoned Water Crisis

Two years after a state of emergency was declared in Flint, Michigan because of lead-poisoned water, residents have been assured their water is now safe. But residents are wary even though these assurances come from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. VOA’s Anush Avetisyan visited Flint and spoke to residents who face a battle for clean water every day. …

Disasters Pounded North America in 2017 but Were Down Globally

North America couldn’t catch a break in 2017. Parts of the United States were on fire, underwater or lashed by hurricane winds. Mexico shook with back-to-back earthquakes. The Caribbean got hit with a string of hurricanes. The rest of the world, however, fared better. Preliminary research shows there were fewer disasters and deaths this year than on average, but economic damages were much higher. While overall disasters were down, they smacked big cities, which were more vulnerable because of increased development, said economist and geophysicist Chuck Watson of the consulting firm Enki Research. In a year where U.S. and Caribbean hurricanes caused a record $215 billion worth of damage, according to insurance giant Munich Re, no one in the continental U.S. died from storm surge, which traditionally is the No. 1 killer during hurricanes. Forecasters gave residents plenty of advance warning during a season where storms set records for strength and duration. “It’s certainly one of the worst hurricane seasons we’ve had,” National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini said. The globe typically averages about 325 disasters a year, but this year’s total through November was fewer than 250, according to the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at the University of Louvain in Belgium. They included flooding and monsoons in South Asia, landslides in Africa, a hurricane in Ireland, and cyclones in Australia and Central America. Colombia experienced two different bouts of floods and mudslides. Lower tolls Disasters kill about 30,000 people and affect about 215 million people …

Assisted Breeding Program Helps Australia’s Ailing Great Barrier Reef

There’s new hope for ailing parts of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – assisted reproductive technology.  Researchers have been capturing coral spawn and rearing millions of larvae in large tanks.  The reef is arguably Australia’s greatest natural treasure.  It stretches more than 2,300 kilometers down north-eastern Australia, and faces many threats, including climate change and pollution.  Professor Peter Harrison from Southern Cross University has been collecting the coral spawn off Heron Island on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.  It is then placed into tanks, where it matures. Millions of coral larvae are then placed back onto damaged areas of the reef that may not otherwise regenerate naturally.  The larvae are put into large enclosures where their growth can be monitored.  Early results are encouraging.  It is estimated that 100 juvenile coral have survived, and are settling into their new home. The mesh enclosures cover a hundred square meters of damaged coral, and the next challenge will be covering several kilometers of reef. It is the first time the assisted breeding method has been used in Australia, and it follows a successful trial in the Philippines that rejuvenated reefs damaged by fishing. Harrison says the trial on the Great Barrier Reef is going well. “What we are doing is capturing some of that coral spawn, growing millions of larvae, and then putting those larvae back into areas of the reef that do not have many living corals on them at the moment to rapidly increase the rate at which coral recovery can occur.  …

Trump Dismisses Last of His HIV/AIDS Advisory Council

The Trump administration has fired the remaining members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, also known as PACHA. Council members received a letter this week saying that their appointments to the panel were terminated, “effective immediately,” according to a report in The Washington Post. PACHA was established in 1995, during the Clinton administration, to advise the White House on HIV strategies and policies. Six of the members of the council, upset by White House actions on health policy, resigned in June. Scott Schoettes, a lawyer with Lambda Legal, a LGBT rights organization, was one of them. He wrote in Newsweek at the time that U.S. President Donald Trump “simply does not care” about people living with HIV. Schoettes said the Trump administration “pushes legislation that will harm people living with HIV and halt or reverse important gains made in the fight against this disease.” He told The Washington Post Friday, “The tipping point for me was the president’s approach to the Affordable Care Act,” which he said “is of great importance for people living with HIV like myself.” Schoettes said in Newsweek that much of the public is unaware that “only about 40 percent of people living with HIV in the United States are able to access the life-saving medications that have been available for more than 20 years. It is not acceptable for the U.S. president to be unaware of these realities, to setup a government that deprioritizes fighting the epidemic and its causes or to implement policies …

Wall Street Ends Strong Year on Quiet Note

There were no fireworks on Wall Street for the last trading day of the year, as U.S. stocks closed out their best year since 2013 on a down note, with losses in technology and financial stocks keeping equities in negative territory for the session. Major indexes hit a series of record highs in 2017, lifted by a combination of strong economic growth, solid corporate earnings, low interest rates and hopes for a tax cut from U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration. The benchmark S&P 500 surged 19.5 percent this year, the blue-chip Dow 25.2 percent and Nasdaq 28.2 percent, as each of the major Wall Street indexes scored the best yearly performance since 2013. The market has also remained resilient in the face of tensions in North Korea and political turmoil in Washington. The S&P 500 only saw four sessions all year with a decline of more than 1 percent while the CBOE Volatility index topped out at 15.96 on a closing basis, well below its long-term average of 20. What will 2018 bring? “The real question is what happens as we head into 2018,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA Research in New York. “There is an awful lot of optimism built into share prices right now that could set us up for disappointment.” Among sectors, the technology index has been the best performer, up 37 percent and led by a gain of 87.6 percent in Micron Technology. Telecom services, down 5.7 percent, and energy, down 3.7 percent, …

Russia Reports Virulent H5N2 Bird Flu at 660,000-bird Farm

Russia has reported an outbreak of highly pathogenic H5N2 bird flu on a farm in the central region of Kostromskaya Oblast that led to the deaths of more than 660,000 birds, the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) said Friday. The virus killed more than 44,000 birds in an outbreak first detected on December 17, the OIE said, citing a report from the Russian Ministry of Agriculture. The rest of the 663,500 birds on the farm were slaughtered, it said in the report. It did not specify the type of birds that were infected. It is the first outbreak of the H5N2 strain in Russia this year, but the country has been facing regular outbreaks of H5N8 since early December last year, with the last one reported to the OIE detected late November. Bird flu has led to the deaths or culling of more than 2.6 million birds on farms between December last year and November this year, a report posted on the OIE website showed. Neither the H5N2 or H5N8 strains has been found in humans. The virulence of highly pathogenic bird flu viruses has prompted countries to bar poultry imports from infected countries in earlier outbreaks. …

Beijing May Be Starting to Win Its Battle Against Smog

Beijing may have turned a corner in its battle against the city’s notorious smog, according to Reuters calculations, and environmental consultants say the Chinese government deserves much of the credit for introducing tough anti-pollution measures. The Chinese capital is set to record its biggest improvement in air quality in at least nine years, with a nearly 20 percent change for the better this year, based on average concentration levels of hazardous breathable particles known as PM2.5. The dramatic change, which has occurred across North China, is partly because of favorable weather conditions in the past three months but it also shows that the government’s strong-arm tactics have had an impact. The Reuters’ estimates show that average levels of the pollutants in the capital have fallen by about 35 percent from 2012 numbers, with nearly half the improvement this year. “The improvement in air quality is due both to long-term efforts by the government and short-term efforts this winter,” said Anders Hove, a Beijing-based energy consultant. “After 2013, the air in summers got much cleaner, but winter had not shown much improvement. This year is the first winter improvement we’ve seen during this war on pollution.” Government officials this week signaled they were confident they were starting to get on top of the problem. “The autumn and winter period is the most challenging part of the air pollution campaign. However, with the intensive efforts all departments have made, we believe the challenge is being successfully overcome,” Liu Youbin, spokesman for the …

Brands Map ‘Invisible’ Shoemakers in South India

When the 55-year-old woman stood up to speak at a meeting of shoemakers in south India earlier this month, she was seeing her employers for the first time. She told them about the decades she had spent hunched up in her home, repeatedly pulling a needle through tough leather as she sewed shoe uppers, the meager income she earned, her failing eyesight and the wounds on her hands. For manufacturers and brands, her story was a revelation. The meeting brought women workers, manufacturers, charities and brands face-to-face for the first time in a bid to map the role of homeworkers – an “invisible workforce” in a global supply chain making high-end shoes – and improve conditions. “It was a historical meeting in that sense,” said Annie Delaney of the Australian RMIT School of Management, who has documented the condition of homeworkers and attended the meeting a fortnight ago in Vellore in Tamil Nadu. “Homeworkers described their reality. It was a powerful experience for not just the women but also for the manufacturers and brands who were meeting them for the first time.” There are hundreds of thousands of women from poor, marginalized families who work for cash — stitching, embroidering and weaving at home to put the finishing touches to products that are sold globally, campaigners said. Most of them are not recognized as formal workers so have no access to social security or fair wages. Vellore district in Tamil Nadu is the hub of a growing industry in India …

Trump Targets Amazon in Call for Postal Service to Hike Prices

President Donald Trump returned to a favorite target Friday, saying that the U.S. Postal Service should charge Amazon.com more money to ship the millions of packages it sends around the world each year.    Amazon has been a consistent recipient of Trump’s ire. He has accused the company of failing to pay “internet taxes,” though it’s never been made clear by the White House what the president means by that.   In a tweet Friday, Trump said Amazon should be charged “MUCH MORE” by the post office because it’s “losing many billions of dollars a year” while it makes “Amazon richer.” Amazon lives and dies by shipping, and increasing rates that it negotiated with the post office, as well as shippers like UPS and FedEx, could certainly do some damage.   In the seconds after the tweet, shares of Amazon, which had been trading higher before the opening bell, began to fade and went into negative territory. The stock remained down almost 1 percent in midday trading Friday. Amazon was founded by Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post. The Post, as well as other major media, has been labeled as “fake news” by Trump after reporting unfavorable developments during his campaign and presidency.   He has labeled Bezos’ Post the, “AmazonWashingtonPost.” The Seattle company did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. A spokeswoman for the Postal Service said, “We’re looking into it.”   Between July and September, Amazon paid $5.4 billion in worldwide shipping costs, …