Nigerian Students Join Global Fight for Climate Action

Sixteen-year old Faithwins Iwuh — who is sometimes referred to as Nigeria’s Greta Thunberg — wants Nigeria to contribute to the global fight against climate change.To achieve this, she started planting trees around her school and neighborhood, and recycles used plastic bags into shower caps.Iwuh says she has been concerned about the effects of poor environmental practices for years.”I started having this guilt anytime I see someone throw something out the window or I see people dispose wrongly,” she said. “I felt as if they were harming me and when I began to think about it, in a certain way they were harming me because it’s my future. If I do not take care of it now, I may not have a generation.”An estimated 4 million students worldwide have taken part in the “Fridays for Future” movement, launched by Thunberg in Sweden in August 2018.FILE – Protesters march to demand action on climate change, on the streets in Lagos, Nigeria, Sept. 20, 2019.In recent months, hundreds of schoolchildren in NIgeria joined the movement. Two weeks ago, 300 students from 10 schools walked out of classes to protest in Abuja.Fanny Nyalander, the Swedish ambassador to Nigeria, calls the action “inspiring.””I think it’s fantastic to see the young generation taking responsibilities and asking for climate action to be taken [seriously] — because it is their future and their future planet that is endangered,” she said. “So it is incredible and very inspiring to see that young people of Nigeria are standing up and asking for actions to be taken.”Iwuh, however, is concerned that awareness of environmental threats in Nigeria remains low.”Not very many people know about this,” she said. “Only a handful know about this problem. I’m lucky to be one of the few that know about this and I’m trying my best to sell the idea to the world that it needs to save it from ending.”Nigeria is the biggest importer of fossil fuel-powered generators in Africa, and therefore one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.Environmental experts like David Michael say climate change has serious consequences in Nigeria.”Unfortunately, we in Africa contribute very little to the course of climate change, less than 3 percent, but we’re the most vulnerable continent,” he said. “And, of course, in Nigeria here the effects are everywhere — the desertification up north, sea rise down south, in the middle belt, the crisis between farmers and herders.”At a summit last December, Nigeria was one of 195 countries and territories that agreed to take steps to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.In real-world politics, that pledge is more likely to be fulfilled if more schoolchildren like Iwuh demand immediate action toward that goal.
 

EPA Seeks to Rewrite Rules on Lead Contamination in Water

The Trump administration Thursday proposed a rewrite of rules for dealing with lead pipes contaminating drinking water, but critics say the changes appear to give water systems decades more time to replace pipes leaching dangerous amounts of toxic lead.Contrary to regulatory rollbacks in many other environmental areas, the administration has called dealing with lead contamination in drinking water a priority. Communities and families in Flint, Michigan, Newark, New Jersey, and elsewhere have had to grapple with high levels of lead in tap water and with regulatory failures dealing with the health threat.Lead in drinking water has been linked to developmental delays in children and can damage the brain, red blood cells and kidneys. It is most often caused by lead service lines — pipes connecting a home to a water main — or lead fixtures in a home or school.At a news conference in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced changes that include requiring water systems to test lead levels in water at schools and child care facilities.But Wheeler disappointed conservation groups by declining to lower the level of lead contamination in drinking water systems that triggers cleanup action. And another change lowered the amount of lead pipe that water systems have to replace each year once the threshold is hit, cutting it from 7% a year to 3% a year.That, according to Eric Olson at the Natural Resources Defense Council conservation group, would give water utilities about 20 more years to fully replace all the lead pipes in a contaminated system.Wheeler said a series of other, smaller changes in the new proposals would offset that. Overall, he argued, the rule changes, if the White House ultimately adopts them, would mean leaking old lead pipes are “replaced at a much faster rate than ever before.”Betsy Southerland, a senior EPA water official under the Obama administration, said the new proposals largely miss the opportunity to boost the urgency of the country’s rules, issued in 1991, for cleaning up lead in water systems. Asked her overall impression, she said, “I would say disappointing.”

WHO: More Than a Billion People Suffer Preventable Vision Problems

The World Health Organization reports proper care could have prevented vision impairment or blindness in about half of the more than 2.2 billion people globally who suffer from these conditions. The findings were part of the WHO’s first World Report on Vision that was launched in Geneva in advance of World Sight Day Oct. 10.  The report attributes the increase in worldwide eye problems to an aging population, changing lifestyles, which are leading to a rise in type 2 diabetes, and limited access to eye care in low- and middle-income countries.The World Health Organization reports people who live in rural areas, those who are poor, people with disabilities, and ethnic minorities are among those who suffer most from bad vision.Technical officer in the WHO’s Prevention of Blindness and Deafness Department, Stuart Keel, says conditions such as shortsightedness and farsightedness, glaucoma and cataracts are about four times higher in the world’s poorer regions than in high-income regions.  “For instance, western and eastern sub-Saharan Africa have vision impairment rates [and] distance vision impairment rates that are eight times higher than all high-income regions. … We know that about 60 percent of all vision impairment cases are found in three Asian regions alone, that being South Asia, East Asia, and South-East Asia,” said Keel.The WHO says cataract surgery could prevent 65 million people from becoming blind. It says early diagnosis and treatment can improve conditions for many of the 76 million people suffering from glaucoma. And eyeglasses, it says, could vastly improve the eyesight of more than 800 million people who currently live with blurred vision.Coordinator of the WHO’s Prevention of Blindness and Deafness Department, Alarcos Cieza, told VOA that research indicates that children who spend too much time on their electronics are likely to become visually impaired as they grow older.“The major concern is that if children do not spend enough time outdoors and too much time indoors looking at their tablets and computers and these activities … they will increase the probability of becoming myopic and also to increase the severity of the myopia,” she said.Cieza warns that the more severe the myopia, the more difficult the treatment. Her advice: Children should spend more time outdoors kicking a ball around and less time indoors looking at tablets, television and computers. 

Majority of Mental Health Problems in Conflict Zones and Other Emergencies Go Untreated: Survey

To mark World Mental Health Day, the International Committee of the Red Cross is calling for greater psycho-social support for millions of people caught in violence and armed conflict.A survey finds more than one in five people in conflict-affected areas live with a mental health condition ranging from depression and anxiety to post-traumatic stress.  That is three times more than the general population worldwide.Despite the growing problem, the International Committee of the Red Cross says mental health conditions among people subjected to war and violence are generally overlooked. It warns the hidden wounds will have long-term, even life-threatening impacts, if left untreated.Ida Andersen is ICRC lead psychologist for Africa. She works with people in crisis in countries such as Nigeria, the Central African Republic, Burundi and South Sudan.  She says people exposed to extreme violence often have sleep disorders, including insomnia or nightmares. Some suffer from schizophrenia, become overly aggressive or have suicidal tendencies.She tells VOA on Skype from Nairobi that mental health needs for victims of war are as important as water, food and shelter. She says therapeutic help must be part of an integrated response.“Mental health and psycho-social needs need to be considered along with other needs and the response to them should occur simultaneously…It is about providing what is needed as soon as it is needed,” said Andersen.Andersen says talking about problems is what works best with adults in distress. Drawing, however, works best with children.“We carry out these mental health and psycho-social interventions where we use drawings as a way of allowing the child to express him- or herself,” said Andersen. “These children have often times experienced terrible violence and they barely have the vocabulary to talk about it and through the drawings, they are able to express a lot of things.”   The Red Cross is calling for increased recognition of the mental health consequences of humanitarian crises. It says investing in mental health and psycho-social support saves lives. Such investment also reaps economic benefits in post-conflict environments. It notes every dollar invested in treatment for depression can lead to a $5 return in better health.

Ebola Virus in DR Congo Significantly Contained, But Remains Dangerous

 The World Health Organization reports progress in containing the Ebola outbreak in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, but says many challenges to its elimination remain.  WHO reports the number of cases in the outbreak now stands at 3,207, including 2,144 deaths. The executive Director of WHO Health Emergencies, Michael Ryan, says he is largely optimistic that aid workers are getting control of the Ebola outbreak in eastern Congo.  But, he says, it is impossible to say the outbreak is over.“It is not.  It is impossible to predict where the outbreak is going to go next,” said Ryan. “But… I do–I would stand over the fact that we have significantly contained the virus in a much smaller geographic area.  Now we have to kill the virus.  The problem is, it is back in areas that are deeply insecure.”Congo Ebola Outbreak Spreads to City of 1 Million

        Health authorities in Democratic Republic of Congo have confirmed a case of Ebola in another city of close to 1 million people, the health ministry said Wednesday.Bunia is the second-largest city in eastern Congo to confirm a case of the hemorrhagic fever during the current outbreak, which was declared last August and is believed to have killed 610 people and infected 370 more to date.The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said last week that the outbreak was concentrated in two areas and…

In fact, the virus has come full circle.  Ryan notes the disease has moved from Butembo and other urban areas to the remote, rural town of Mangina, the epicenter of the outbreak.  He says the virus is back where it began when the Ebola outbreak was declared August 1, 2018.“So, essentially the virus is back in the same zone,” said Ryan. “So, the factors that allowed that virus to transmit at low intensity for a number of months, have not changed.  Deep insecurity, reticence amongst the population, distrust and many other factors continue to make this a very dangerous situation.  But a situation, for which I believe we are making significant progress at this time.”Ryan says WHO is increasing the scale of its operation, engaging in active surveillance across North Kivu province and actively seeking new cases and tracing contacts to keep the virus from spreading.He says more than 230,000 people have been vaccinated against the deadly disease and more lives are being saved among people infected with the virus who are coming to the treatment centers.  He says the fatality rate among the nearly 800 patients currently in Ebola treatment units is less than one third – a significantly better outcome than the two-thirds fatality rate reported for the disease overall.Still, this is the biggest Ebola outbreak in Africa since the epidemic across three West African countries in 2014 killed more than 11,000 people. 

Global Fund CEO: Pledges for AIDS, TB, Malaria Hit $14 Billion Target

Governments, businesses and philanthropists pledged just over $14 billion on Thursday to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, exceeding the targeted amount, its chief executive Peter Sands announced.Beside French President Emmanuel Macron, who hosted the replenishment conference and had urged governments to open their wallets wide, Sands said the target was even slightly exceeded, reaching $14.02 billion. The fund says the money will help save 16 million lives and avert 234 million infections by 2023. 

Medical Waste Washing Ashore in Pakistan

Except for the occasional sunburn, a day at the beach is never a bad day. But lately visitors to Clifton Beach in Karachi, Pakistan are finding their day at the beach is being spoiled by some very unwelcome visitors. VOA’s Sidra Dar has more in this report narrated by Bezhan Hamdard.

Zuckerberg to Testify in US on Facebook Digital Currency Plan

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg will testify at the US House of Representatives this month on the social network’s plan for a global digital currency, officials announced Wednesday.The House Financial Services Committee said in a statement Zuckerberg would be the sole witness at the hearing on “An Examination of Facebook and Its Impact on the Financial Services and Housing Sectors.”The move comes with Facebook’s planned digital coin Libra facing heavy criticism from regulators and lawmakers in the United States and Europe.Earlier this year, David Marcus, Facebook’s executive heading the digital coin effort, defended the plan during more than two hours at a Senate Banking Committee and said the cryptocurrency would not be launched without regulatory approval.Marcus and other Facebook executives have claimed the new digital coin could help lower costs for global money transfers and help those without access to the banking system.French economy and finance minister Bruno Le Maire has warned that under current circumstances Libra posed a threat to the “monetary sovereignty” of governments and could not be authorized in Europe.Last week, digital payments firm PayPal said it was quitting the alliance of companies and organizations promoting Libra, raising questions over Facebook’s ability to launch the coin early next year as planned.

European Union Finds Ransomware Is Top Cybercrime

The European Union’s 2019 cybercrime report said the number of online attacks is going down but criminals are targeting more data and profits.The European Union’s law enforcement agency developed the report that shows that ransomware remains the top cybercrime threat. Ransomware attacks block access to vital data and are described as being targeted, more profitable for the attackers and causing greater economic damage to private and public entities.The report, called the Internet Organized Crime Threat Assessment, cited the 2019 “GermanWiper” ransomware as an example of the harm it can bring. That ransomware replaced the files of German companies, making them unrecoverable.The report identified concerns of governments becoming victims to ransomware attacks. Local governments in the United States, like the cities of Atlanta and Baltimore, have fallen victim to it.  According to the report “every state in the U.S. has been hit with an attack, with the exception of Delaware and Kentucky.”The IOCTA said the United States has seen more damage from ransomware than the European Union, but that could change as cybercrime “evolves.”Europol also highlighted online sexual exploitation of children.  A report says cybercriminals can use the internet to access sexually explicit content of minors. It says a growing number of juveniles have been sharing sexual pictures or videos with peers, which could be stolen and reposted.Cybercriminals can also make content themselves. The report targeted deepfakes as being used to create videos of children using their own material. Deepfakes create false images and have been used to produce explicit content from celebrity websites. A comedian used Artificial Intelligence to generate a deepfake of former U.S. president Barack Obama.Other developments in cybercrime like decentralized, unregulated internet marketplaces and phishing scams that steal personal data, remain concerns for Europol because of their potential to continue to evolve even as law enforcement works to prevent it.”Some threats of yesterday remain relevant today and will continue to challenge us tomorrow,” said Europol’s Executive Director, Catherine De Bolle.  

African Women in Tech Working to Close Digital Divide

Women from across Africa are meeting at the annual Women in Tech Africa Week, hoping to bring more women into the tech industry and combat inequalities in technology use and access, especially for economic empowerment.Francesca Opoku remembers having to physically send workers to deliver messages or documents when she started her small social enterprise in Ghana 10 years ago. Today, she works to keep up with fast-developing technology to grow her business that produces natural beauty products. She also trains women she works with in financial literacy, such as using simple mobile technology to manage their money.”As a small African business, as you are growing and as you aspire to grow globally and your tentacles are widening, the world is just going techy,” Opoku said. “Business in the world is going techy. It’s especially relevant in small business. It’s the best way to make what you are doing known out there.”She was at the launch of Women In Tech Africa in Accra, with events in six other countries including Germany, Kenya and Zimbabwe. Opoku said she wants to learn more about how she can use technology to make her business grow and to ensure she is not left behind in the technology divide.Across Africa, this divide means women are 13% less likely to own a mobile phone and 41% less likely to use mobile internet than men.Women In Tech Africa founderWomen In Tech Africa founder Ethel Cofie speaks at the opening of the annual Women in Tech event in Accra. (S. Knott/VOA)Ethel Cofie, founder of Women In Tech Africa, an NGO that started in 2015, said addressing this gap is crucial. Her network of 5,000 women across 30 African countries is pushing the conversation about women in technology and leadership.”There is a huge gender gap, and that is part of the conversation,” Cofie said. “When we are out here showing the world we actually exist, are doing things, what it does is, it provides avenues for us to support other women. One of the things Women in Tech has done is work with the Ghanaian Beauticians Association and Ghana traders associations. Even though these women are not necessarily as educated, they also need to be able to use tech to build their businesses.”Cofie says the digital gap between men and women in Africa is a consequence of poverty and economic disparities. Men usually have higher incomes, and better access to mobile phones and internet data.EducationIncreasing digital access starts with education. At the G-7 summit this year, members pledged to work with developing countries to promote inclusion, equity and access for girls and women to quality education, including Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).Faiza Adam, a network engineer, started Girly Tech this year to inspire underprivileged Ghanaian girls into STEM careers. She’s training young girls in web development, programming and robotics in Accra.”Imagine where girls don’t embrace tech, then in five years to come, we have only males who are in the tech space — there is no diversity,” Adam said. “So, in the decision making, they tend to use the male, male, male ideas instead of female. So, when we have inclusion, or there is diversity — I bring my idea, and the guy also brings his idea from the male perspective — we come together and solve societal problems.”Cofie and Adam both say more women in tech will mean more problems solved in their own communities. But Cofie adds that half the battles — like the gender divide — could be overcome with the right policies in place.
 

EU Warns Hostile Countries Are 5G risk, Avoids Naming Names

The European Union warned Wednesday that next-generation telecommunication networks face a range of cyber threats, including from hostile countries.
 
While steering clear of singling out Chinese tech company Huawei, an EU security risk assessment identified “states or state-backed actors” as the most serious and likely culprits to carry out sophisticated attacks on new 5G networks.
 
The report didn’t name specific countries. It only briefly mentioned Huawei as one of the main suppliers of 5G equipment, alongside Finland’s Nokia and Sweden’s Ericsson. 
 
Huawei, the world’s biggest maker of telecom network gear, has been at the center of a furious geopolitical battle between the U.S. and China. The U.S. government has been lobbying allies in Europe and elsewhere to shun Huawei over concerns its equipment might aid Chinese electronic spying, claims that the company has consistently denied. 
 
Fifth-generation mobile networks will allow ultrafast download speeds and less signal delay — advances that pave the way for innovations such as self-driving cars, factory robots and remote surgery. But 5G technology will also depend more heavily on software, which brings new security risks, the report said. 
 
“Hostile third countries may exercise pressure on 5G suppliers in order to facilitate cyberattacks serving their national interests,” the report said. 
 
It cited a possible risk scenario in which a “hostile state actor” pressures a supplier “under its jurisdiction to provide access to sensitive network assets through [either purposefully or unintentionally] embedded vulnerabilities.” 
 
At a briefing in Brussels, EU officials deflected repeated questioning by journalists about why they couldn’t be more explicit in spelling out whether Huawei posed a risk. 
 
 “I don’t think you can accuse us of ducking the issues. The issues are spelled out pretty clearly,” said EU Security Commissioner Julian King, pointing to the report’s section on “non-technical factors.”
 
He said they wanted to make a detailed, step-by step, risk-based analysis rather than “jumping to conclusions.”
 
U.S. officials were given the opportunity to brief EU member states as they carried out national risk assessments for the bloc-wide report, said Minna Kivimaki, the deputy permanent representative from Finland, which holds the rotating EU presidency, without providing more details. 
 
Huawei said it welcomed the report. 
 
“We are pleased to note that the EU delivered on its commitment to take an evidence-based approach, thoroughly analyzing risks rather than targeting specific countries or actors,” it said in a statement. 
 
  

Measles Outbreak Kills More Than 4,000 in Congo This Year

More than 4,000 people have died in Congo this year in the world’s largest measles outbreak, the United Nations children’s agency said Wednesday.
 
The Central African nation is also battling an Ebola outbreak that has killed about half that number since August 2018.
 
Since January, more than 200,000 cases of measles have been reported across Congo, UNICEF said. More than 140,000 involve children under 5, who also make up nearly 90 percent of deaths.
 
“We’re facing this alarming situation because millions of Congolese children miss out on routine immunization and lack access to health care when they fall sick,” said the UNICEF country representative, Edouard Beigbeder. “On top of that, a weak health system, insecurity, community mistrust of vaccines and vaccinators, and logistical challenges all contribute to a huge number of unvaccinated children at risk of contracting the disease.”FILE – Health workers wearing protective gear check on a patient isolated in a plastic cube at an Ebola treatment center in Beni, Congo, July 13, 2019.Health officials are facing many of the same challenges in the Ebola outbreak in eastern Congo that has killed more than 2,000 people. Multiple armed groups have been fighting over the mineral-rich land for decades and threatening residents. The insecurity has led to mistrust of authorities, including health workers.
 
UNICEF said health workers were rushing additional medical kits to help care for more than 110,000 people infected with the measles, a highly contagious and potentially deadly virus. More than 1.4 million children have been vaccinated this year.The U.N. agency said Congo’s government will launch a vaccination campaign at the end of October to make sure children in every province are vaccinated.