Quebec passes law banning facial coverings in public

The Canadian province is barring public workers from wearing the niqab or burqa and obliging citizens to unveil while using public transit or government services

The Canadian province of Quebec has passed a sweeping ban on face coverings barring public workers from wearing the niqab or burqa and obliging citizens to unveil when riding public transit or receiving government services ushering in a law believed to be the first of its kind in North America.

The legislation was adopted on Wednesday, capping off two years of work by the provinces Liberal government to address the issue of state neutrality. The resulting law has been condemned by critics who say it deliberately targets Muslim women and will fuel the provinces simmering debate on identity, religion and tolerance.

Philippe Couillard, the premier of Quebec, was defensive as he addressed the new law. We are just saying that for reasons linked to communication, identification and safety, public services should be given and received with an open face, he told reporters. We are in a free and democratic society. You speak to me, I should see your face, and you should see mine. Its as simple as that.

The law was originally meant to ban face coverings for those offering or receiving services from government departments and provincially funded institutions, such as universities.

In August, the legislation was extended to apply to municipalities, school boards, public health services and transit authorities, raising the possibility that women wearing a niqab or burqa in Quebec would not be able to take the metro or ride the city bus. As long as the service is being rendered, the face should be uncovered, Stphanie Valle, Quebecs justice minister, said when asked.

The legislation stipulates that exemptions can be made for those who provide spiritual care or religious instruction, as well as those who are forced to cover their faces due to working conditions or occupational hazards.

Amid widespread confusion as to how the new law would be applied and who it would affect, Valle said the province would now work with municipalities, schools and public daycares to establish clear guidelines.

The Liberal government has long argued that the legislation which does not specifically mention the niqab or burqa addresses public safety, noting that it would also apply to masked protesters.

We are not legislating on clothing, Valle said last year. Public services have to be offered and received with the face uncovered for security, identification and communication purposes.

Others citing a 2016 survey that suggested that just 3% of Muslim women in Canada wear the niqab have accused the provincial government of targeting Muslim women in order to curry votes in the run-up to next years provincial election.

It seems like a made-up solution to an invented problem, said Ihsaan Gardee of the National Council of Canadian Muslims. We dont have a big issue right now with hordes of Muslim women in niqab trying to work in the public service or accessing public services with difficulty.

The law comes after two attempts by authorities in Quebec to legislate secularism in the public domain in recent years. A 2010 attempt by the Liberals died on the order paper after two years; a bill by the previous separatist government that sought to ban teachers, doctors and other public workers from wearing highly visible religious symbols failed to pass before an election was called.

On Wednesday the Liberals flexed their majority in the provincial government to pass the legislation, fending off calls from the provinces two main opposition parties to put in place tougher laws to address the issue of secularism and religious accommodation.

I know people would have liked us to go further, Valle told the provinces national assembly. Others think we are going too far. I think a balance has been found.

Many have voiced concerns that the new law targets a segment of the population that is already marginalised and stigmatised. We cant divorce this bill from the larger context in which it falls, said Gardee. According to Statistics Canada, hate crimes targeting Canadian Muslims increased from 2012 to 2015 by 253%.

Earlier this year, the province was left reeling after six men all of them fathers were shot dead as they prayed at a mosque in Quebec City. During the eulogy for the men killed, Imam Hassan Guillet drew a direct line between their murders and the political climate facing Muslims in Canada.

Unfortunately, day after day, week after week, month after month, certain politicians, and certain reporters and certain media, poisoned our atmosphere, he said.

While Quebec politicians said the ban on receiving services while wearing a face covering would enter into effect immediately, implementation of the law is likely to be hindered by the many questions that remain. We dont know how this is going to be applied and how it will be enforced, said Gardee. Its deeply troubling.

The legislation does note that those affected by the law can put in a request for accommodation, but little explanation is given to the criteria or how exactly it would work. The government said it would use the coming months to better outline how these requests should be treated as well as develop guidelines for those working in the public sector.

Legal observers said they expect several advocacy groups to challenge the new law in courts, pitting it against the countrys Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the provincial equivalent.

Gardee said it was an option his organisation would likely be considering in the coming days. We are of that opinion that the state has no business in the wardrobe of the nations, he said. The state should not be coercing women to undress or dress in any particular fashion.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/18/quebec-passes-law-banning-muslims-from-wearing-face-coverings-in-public

Dyslexia: scientists claim cause of condition may lie in the eyes

In people with the condition, light receptor cells are arranged in matching patterns in both eyes, which may confuse the brain

French scientists claim they may have found a physiological, and seemingly treatable, cause for dyslexia hidden in tiny light-receptor cells in the human eye.

In people with the condition, the cells were arranged in matching patterns in both eyes, which may be to blame for confusing the brain by producing mirror images, the co-authors wrote in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

In non-dyslexic people, the cells are arranged asymmetrically, allowing signals from the one eye to be overridden by the other to create a single image in the brain.

Our observations lead us to believe that we indeed found a potential cause of dyslexia, said the studys co-author, Guy Ropars, of the University of Rennes.

It offers a relatively simple method of diagnosis, he added, by simply looking into a subjects eyes.

Furthermore, the discovery of a delay (of about 10 thousandths of a second) between the primary image and the mirror image in the opposing hemispheres of the brain, allowed us to develop a method to erase the mirror image that is so confusing for dyslexic people using an LED lamp.

Like being left- or right-handed, human beings also have a dominant eye. As most of us have two eyes, which record slightly different versions of the same image, the brain has to select one of the two, creating a non-symmetry.

Many more people are right-eyed than left, and the dominant eye has more neural connections to the brain than the weaker one. Image signals are captured with rods and cones in the eye the cones being responsible for colour.

The majority of cones, which come in red, green and blue variants, are found in a small spot at the centre of the retina of the eye known as the fovea. But there is a small hole (about 0.1-0.15 millimetres in diameter) with no blue cones.

In the newstudy, Ropars and colleague Albert le Floch spotted a major difference between the arrangement of cones between the eyes of dyslexic and non-dyslexic people enrolled in an experiment.

In non-dyslexic people, the blue cone-free spot in one eye the dominant one, was round and in the other eye unevenly shaped. In dyslexic people, both eyes have the same, round spot, which translates into neither eye being dominant, they found.

The lack of asymmetry might be the biological and anatomical basis of reading and spelling disabilities, said the studys authors.

Dyslexic people make so-called mirror errors in reading, for example confusing the letters b and d.

For dyslexic students their two eyes are equivalent and their brain has to successively rely on the two slightly different versions of a given visual scene, they added.

The team used an LED lamp, flashing so fast that it is invisible to the naked eye, to cancel one of the images in the brains of dyslexic trial participants while reading. In initial experiments, dyslexic study participants called it the magic lamp, said Ropars, but further tests are required to confirm the technique really works.

About 700 million people worldwide are known to have from dyslexia about one in 10 of the global population.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/18/dyslexia-scientists-claim-cause-of-condition-may-lie-in-the-eyes

Penguins starving to death is a sign that somethings very wrong in the Antarctic | John Sauven

Overfishing, oil drilling, pollution and climate change are imperilling the ecosystem. But ocean sanctuaries could help protect what belongs to us all, says Greenpeace director John Sauven

The awful news that all but two penguin chicks have starved to death out of a colony of almost 40,000 birds is a grim illustration of the enormous pressure Antarctic wildlife is under. The causes of this devastating event are complex, from a changing climate to local sea-ice factors, but one thing penguins, whales and other marine life dont need is additional strain on food supplies.

Over the next year we have the opportunity to create an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary the largest protected area on Earth which would put the waters off-limits to the industrial fishing vessels currently sucking up the tiny shrimp-like krill, on which all Antarctic life relies.

In 1990, the Voyager 1 space probe looked back at Earth from six billion kilometres away and took a historic selfie of our solar system. What it saw, according to renowned astrophysicist Carl Sagan, was a pale blue dot.

Our planet is a blue planet, echoed David Attenborough, in his opening words to the BBCs landmark Blue Planet series. With over 70% of our world covered by water, this is no exaggeration. Our oceans can be seen from across the solar system.

The majority of this water falls outside of national borders. In fact, almost half of our planet is a marine natural wonder outside the boundaries of flags, languages and national divisions. These vast areas cover 230 million square kilometres, and they belong to us all. To give a sense of scale, thats the size of every single continent combined, with another Asia, Europe and Africa thrown in for good measure. The size of our oceans may seem overwhelming. Our collective responsibility to protect them, however, should not.

It wasnt long ago that the oceans were thought to be too vast to be irrevocably impacted by human actions, but the effects of overfishing, oil drilling, deep sea mining, pollution and climate change have shown that humans are more than up to the task of imperilling the sea and the animals that live there.

humpback
A humpback whale dives for krill in Wilhelmina Bay, off the Antarctic Peninsula. The creeping expansion of industrial fishing is targeting the one species on which practically every animal in the Antarctic relies: krill. Photograph: Charles Littnam/WWF/EPA

All of us who live on this planet are the guardians of these environments, not only to protect the wildlife that lives in them, but because the health of our oceans sustains our planet and the livelihoods of billions of people.

Heres the good news. The tide of history is turning. We on the blue planet are finally looking seriously at protecting the blue bits. Just a few months ago, in a stuffy room far from the sea, governments from around the world agreed to start a process to protect them: an ocean treaty.

This ocean treaty wont be agreed until at least 2020, but in the meantime momentum is already building towards serious and binding ocean protection. Just last year a huge 1.5 million sq km area was protected in the Ross Sea in the Antarctic. In a turbulent political climate, it was a momentous demonstration of how international cooperation to protect our shared home can and does work.

Over the next two weeks, the governments responsible for the Antarctic are meeting to discuss the future of the continent and its waters. While limited proposals are on the table this year, when they reconvene in 12 months time they have a historic opportunity to create the largest ever protected area on Earth: an Antarctic Ocean sanctuary. Covering the Weddell Sea next to the Antarctic peninsula, it would be five times the size of Germany, the country proposing it.

The Antarctic is home to a great diversity of life: huge colonies of emperor and Adlie penguins, the incredible colossal squid with eyes the size of basketballs that allow it to see in the depths, and the largest animal on the planet, the blue whale, which has veins large enough for a person to swim down.

The creeping expansion of industrial fishing is targeting the one species on which practically every animal in the Antarctic relies: krill. These tiny shrimp-like creatures are crucial for the survival of penguins, whales, seals and other wildlife. With a changing climate already placing wildlife populations in the Antarctic under pressure, an expanding krill industry is bad news for the health of the Antarctic Ocean. Even worse, the krill industry and the governments that back it are blocking attempts at environmental protection in the Antarctic.

Ocean sanctuaries provide relief for wildlife and ecosystems to recover, but its not just about protecting majestic blue whales and penguin colonies. The benefits are global. Recovering fish populations spread around the globe and only now are scientists beginning to fully understand the role that healthy oceans play in soaking up carbon dioxide and helping us to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Sanctuaries encourage vital biodiversity, provide food security for the billions of people that rely on our oceans, and are essential to tackling climate change. Our fate and the fate of our oceans are intimately connected.

Creating the worlds largest ever protected area, in the Antarctic Ocean, would be a signal that corporate lobbying and national interests are no match for a unified global call for our political leaders to protect what belongs to us all. The movement to protect over half our planet begins now, and it begins in the Antarctic.

John Sauven is director of Greenpeace

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/13/penguins-starving-death-something-very-wrong-antarctic

Catalan referendum: preliminary results show 90% in favour of independence

Spanish prime minister defends violent response to poll, as raids on ballot stations by riot police leave hundreds of Catalans injured

Catalan officials have claimed that preliminary results of its referendum have shown 90% in favour of independence in the vote vehemently opposed by Spain.

Jordi Turull, the Catalan regional government spokesman, told reporters early on Monday morning that 90% of the 2.26 million Catalans who voted Sunday chose yes. He said nearly 8% of voters rejected independence and the rest of the ballots were blank or void. He said 15,000 votes were still being counted.The region has 5.3 million registered voters.

Turull said the number of ballots did not include those confiscated by Spanish police during violent raids which resulted in hundreds of people being injured. At least 844 people and 33 police were reported to have been hurt, including at least two people who were thought to have been seriously injured.

Catalonias regional leader, Carles Puigdemont, spoke out against the violence with a pointed address: On this day of hope and suffering, Catalonias citizens have earned the right to have an independent state in the form of a republic.

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Catalan referendum: hundreds injured as police attack protesters video

My government, in the next few days, will send the results of [the] vote to the Catalan parliament, where the sovereignty of our people lies, so that it can act in accordance with the law of the referendum.

Puigdemont had pressed ahead with the referendum despite opposition from the Spanish state, which declared the poll to be illegal, and the regions own high court. He told crowds earlier in the day that the police brutality will shame the Spanish state for ever.

The Spanish government defended its response after hundreds of people were hurt when riot police stormed polling stations in a last-minute effort to stop the vote on Sunday.

Although many Catalans managed to cast their ballots, others were forcibly stopped from voting as schools housing ballot boxes were raided by police acting on the orders of the Catalan high court.

The large Ramon Llull school in central Barcelona was the scene of a sustained operation, with witnesses describing police using axes to smash the doors, charging the crowds and firing rubber bullets.

Barcelona referendum map

Spains interior ministry said 12 police officers had been hurt and three people arrested for disobedience and assaulting officers.

Salut (@salutcat)

The Department of Health informs that 844 people required medical assistance today on #CatalanReferendum pic.twitter.com/XQnSBwmM8O

October 1, 2017

The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, speaking on Sunday night, said the government had done what it had had to do and thanked the police for acting with firmness and serenity.

Today there has not been a self-determination referendum in Catalonia. The rule of law remains in force with all its strength. We are the government of Spain and I am the head of the government of Spain and I accepted my responsibility.

We have done what was required of us. We have acted, as I have said from the beginning, according to the law and only according to the law. And we have shown that our democratic state has the resources to defend itself from an attack as serious as the one that was perpetrated with this illegal referendum. Today, democracy has prevailed because we have obeyed the constitution.

Ada Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, demanded an end to the police actions and called for the Rajoys resignation.

Artur Mas, the former Catalan president whose government staged a symbolic independence referendum three years ago, called for the authoritarian Rajoy to stand down, adding that Catalonia could not remain alongside a state that uses batons and police brutality.

Enric Millo, the most senior Spanish government official in the region, said the police had behaved professionally in carrying out a judges orders.

Soraya Senz de Santamara, the Spanish deputy prime minister, echoed that position, saying the police had shown firmness, professionalism and proportionality in the face of the absolute irresponsibility of the Catalan government.

She called on Puigdemont to drop the farce of the independence campaign, saying Spain had long since emerged from the authoritarian shadow of the Franco dictatorship.

I dont know what world Puigdemont lives in, but Spanish democracy does not work like this, said Senz de Santamara. We have been free from a dictatorship for a long time and of a man who told us his word in the law.

The Catalan governments spokesperson Jordi Turull said 319 of the 2,315 polling stations set up for the referendum were closed by police.

Jess Lpez Rodrguez, a 51-year-old administrator, had taken his family to vote at the Ramon Llull school in the morning. Like thousands of Catalans, they began queuing from 5am. Three and a half hours later, national police officers arrived in riot gear.

They told us that the Catalan high court had ordered them to take the ballot boxes and that we needed to disperse, he told the Guardian. We chanted, No! No! No!, and then about 20 police officers charged us. It was short only about two minutes but we stayed together.

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Riot police attack protesters in Girona video

After about 15 minutes, eight or nine more police vans appeared and officers began cordoning off the surrounding streets and arresting people, Lpez Rodrgue said.

They dragged them out violently. We stood our ground but they kept dragging people away, kicking them and throwing them to the ground.

More police arrived and jumped over the school fence to enter the building to look for ballot boxes. After using axes to break down the doors of the school, they emerged with the boxes.

Lpez Rodrguez said that at about 10.25am, police began shooting rubber bullets at least 30 or 40.

He fled the shots with his wife and children, returning to their flat opposite the school. I feel really angry about it, he said, but I also hope people in Europe and around the world will see whats happening in Catalonia.

Similar scenes were reported elsewhere. Riot police smashed the glass doors of the sports centre near Girona where Puigdemont had been due to vote. Despite forcing their way in, they failed to stop the Catalan president voting. Pictures showed him casting his ballot in nearby Cornella del Terri.

The day started peacefully and hopefully in polling stations across the region. Hundreds of people started queuing outside the Cervantes primary school in central Barcelona from well before dawn.

Im here to fight for our rights and our language and for our right to live better and to have a future, said Mireia Estape, who lives close to the school. One man in the queue, who did not wish to be named, said he had come because Catalans need to vote; theyre robbing us in Spain.

Another would-be voter said simply: I dont want to live in a fascist country.

Many Catalans saw their wishes fulfilled in polling stations as officers from the regional force, the Mossos dEsquadra, hung back.

Joaqun Pons, 89, was delighted to have cast his ballot, as he had done in the symbolic referendum three years ago.

Last time it was cardboard ballot boxes, he said. This time they were real. It was very emotional. Pons said he felt Catalans had had little choice but to proceed unilaterally.

It would have been nice if we could all have stayed together in Spain but the Madrid government has made it impossible. Its sad but thats the way it is.

News and images of the police operation travelled quickly through the crowds in Barcelona and elsewhere, adding to the uneasy atmosphere that has intensified since police arrested 14 Catalan officials and seized millions of ballot papers last week.

On Sunday afternoon, FC Barcelona announced that its Spanish league game against Las Palmas would be played without fans at the citys Nou Camp stadium. In a statement, the club condemned the attempts to prevent Catalans exercising their democratic rights to free expression and said the professional football league had refused to postpone the game.

Sundays violence came less than 24 hours after the Spanish government had appeared confident that enough had been done to thwart the vote.

On Saturday, Millo said police had sealed off 1,300 of the regions 2,315 polling stations, while Guardia Civil officers acting on a judges orders had searched the headquarters of the Catalan technology and communications centre, disabling the software connecting polling stations and shutting down online voting applications.

These last-minute operations have allowed us to very definitively break up any possibility of the Catalan government delivering what it promised: a binding, effective referendum with legal guarantees, he said.

Additional reporting by Patrick Greenfield

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/01/dozens-injured-as-riot-police-storm-catalan-ref-polling-stations

Deloitte hit by cyber-attack revealing clients secret emails

Exclusive: hackers may have accessed usernames, passwords and personal details of top accountancy firms blue-chip clients

One of the worlds big four accountancy firms has been targeted by a sophisticated hack that compromised the confidential emails and plans of some of its blue-chip clients, the Guardian can reveal.

Deloitte, which is registered in London and has its global headquarters in New York, was the victim of a cybersecurity attack that went unnoticed for months.

One of the largest private firms in the US, which reported a record $37bn (27.3bn) revenue last year, Deloitte provides auditing, tax consultancy and high-end cybersecurity advice to some of the worlds biggest banks, multinational companies, media enterprises, pharmaceutical firms and government agencies.

The Guardian understands Deloitte clients across all of these sectors had material in the company email system that was breached. The companies include household names as well as US government departments.

So far, six of Deloittes clients have been told their information was impacted by the hack. Deloittes internal review into the incident is ongoing.

The Guardian understands Deloitte discovered the hack in March this year, but it is believed the attackers may have had access to its systems since October or November 2016.

The hacker compromised the firms global email server through an administrators account that, in theory, gave them privileged, unrestricted access to all areas.

The account required only a single password and did not have two-step verification, sources said.

Emails to and from Deloittes 244,000 staff were stored in the Azure cloud service, which was provided by Microsoft. This is Microsofts equivalent to Amazon Web Service and Googles Cloud Platform.

Microsoft's
Microsofts Azure cloud service. Photograph: Microsoft

In addition to emails, the Guardian understands the hackers had potential access to usernames, passwords, IP addresses, architectural diagrams for businesses and health information. Some emails had attachments with sensitive security and design details.

The breach is believed to have been US-focused and was regarded as so sensitive that only a handful of Deloittes most senior partners and lawyers were informed.

The Guardian has been told the internal inquiry into how this happened has been codenamed Windham. It has involved specialists trying to map out exactly where the hackers went by analysing the electronic trail of the searches that were made.

The team investigating the hack is understood to have been working out of the firms offices in Rosslyn, Virginia, where analysts have been reviewing potentially compromised documents for six months.

It has yet to establish whether a lone wolf, business rivals or state-sponsored hackers were responsible.

Sources said if the hackers had been unable to cover their tracks, it should be possible to see where they went and what they compromised by regenerating their queries. This kind of reverse-engineering is not foolproof, however.

A measure of Deloittes concern came on 27 April when it hired the US law firm Hogan Lovells on special assignment to review what it called a possible cybersecurity incident.

The Washington-based firm has been retained to provide legal advice and assistance to Deloitte LLP, the Deloitte Central Entities and other Deloitte Entities about the potential fallout from the hack.

Responding to questions from the Guardian, Deloitte confirmed it had been the victim of a hack but insisted only a small number of its clients had been impacted. It would not be drawn on how many of its clients had data made potentially vulnerable by the breach.

The Guardian was told an estimated 5m emails were in the cloud and could have been been accessed by the hackers. Deloitte said the number of emails that were at risk was a fraction of this number but declined to elaborate.

In response to a cyber incident, Deloitte implemented its comprehensive security protocol and began an intensive and thorough review including mobilising a team of cybersecurity and confidentiality experts inside and outside of Deloitte, a spokesman said.

As part of the review, Deloitte has been in contact with the very few clients impacted and notified governmental authorities and regulators.

The review has enabled us to understand what information was at risk and what the hacker actually did, and demonstrated that no disruption has occurred to client businesses, to Deloittes ability to continue to serve clients, or to consumers.

We remain deeply committed to ensuring that our cybersecurity defences are best in class, to investing heavily in protecting confidential information and to continually reviewing and enhancing cybersecurity. We will continue to evaluate this matter and take additional steps as required.

Our review enabled us to determine what the hacker did and what information was at risk as a result. That amount is a very small fraction of the amount that has been suggested.

Deloitte declined to say which government authorities and regulators it had informed, or when, or whether it had contacted law enforcement agencies.

Though all major companies are targeted by hackers, the breach is a deep embarrassment for Deloitte, which offers potential clients advice on how to manage the risks posed by sophisticated cybersecurity attacks.

Cyber risk is more than a technology or security issue, it is a business risk, Deloitte tells potential customers on its website.

While todays fast-paced innovation enables strategic advantage, it also exposes businesses to potential cyber-attack. Embedding best practice cyber behaviours help our clients to minimise the impact on business.

Deloitte has a CyberIntelligence Centre to provide clients with round-the-clock business focussed operational security.

We monitor and assess the threats specific to your organisation, enabling you to swiftly and effectively mitigate risk and strengthen your cyber resilience, its website says. Going beyond the technical feeds, our professionals are able to contextualise the relevant threats, helping determine the risk to your business, your customers and your stakeholders.

In 2012, Deloitte, which has offices all over the world, was ranked the best cybersecurity consultant in the world.

Earlier this month, Equifax, the US credit monitoring agency, admitted the personal data of 143 million US customers had been accessed or stolen in a massive hack in May. It has also revealed it was also the victim of an earlier breach in March.

About 400,000 people in the UK may have had their information stolen following the cybersecurity breach. The US company said an investigation had revealed that a file containing UK consumer information may potentially have been accessed.

The data includes names, dates of birth, email addresses and telephone numbers, but does not contain postal addresses, passwords or financial information. Equifax, which is based in Atlanta, discovered the hack in July but only informed consumers last week.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/sep/25/deloitte-hit-by-cyber-attack-revealing-clients-secret-emails

Trump attacks Puerto Rico mayor: ‘They want everything done for them’

Presidents tweet accuses Carmen Yuln Cruz of such poor leadership but San Juan mayor responds: Im not going to be distracted by small comments

Donald Trump lashed out at the mayor of Puerto Ricos capital city on Saturday as the row over his administrations response to a hurricane and humanitarian crisis escalated.

Ahead of his visit to the devastated US territory next week, the president used Twitter to say of Carmen Yuln Cruz: Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help.

He went on: They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.

Trump received a measure of praise for his handling of the recent hurricanes that struck Texas and Florida but has come under fire for a flat-footed response in Puerto Rico, where he sought to defend slow relief efforts by saying: This is an island surrounded by water, big water, ocean water. In the past 10 days he has been distracted by a long weekend at his golf club in New Jersey, an election contest in Alabama, a major tax reform plan and a racially charged dispute with sportsmen who kneel during the national anthem.

With terrible timing, there have also been revelations about Trumps cabinet members taking expensive charter flights at taxpayers expense, culminating in the resignation of the health secretary, Tom Price. Critics have warned that Maria threatens to become Trumps Katrina a reference to the 2005 hurricane that smashed New Orleans and became a defining failure of George W Bushs presidency.

Maria, the most powerful storm to strike Puerto Rico in nearly 90 years, has killed at least 16 people on the island, according to the official death toll. The situation remains dire as residents face shortages of food, water and fuel. The electric grid was badly damaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, leaving many without power and reliant on gas-powered generators. The hurricanes crippled the islands already weakened waste and water treatment plants while fallen trees and strewn debris block roads and cellphone service remains limited for the 3.4 million population.

Trump hit out at Cruz after she decried his relief efforts on Friday, saying if the federal government did not solve the logistics what we we are going to see is something close to a genocide.

San
San Juans Mayor Carmen Yuln Cruz, left, hugs a woman during her visit to an elderly home in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on 22 September. Photograph: Thais Llorca/EPA

We are dying here, Cruz said at a press conference, speaking with tears in her eyes. I cannot fathom the thought that the greatest nation in the world cannot figure out the logistics for a small island of 100 miles by 35 miles. So, mayday, we are in trouble.

Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)

…Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They….

September 30, 2017

Cruz had appealed directly to the president, saying: I am asking the president of the United States to make sure somebody is in charge that is up to the task of saving lives I will do what I never thought I was going to do. I am begging, begging anyone that can hear us, to save us from dying. If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency.

Trump, who has appointed a three-star general to coordinate the response, is scheduled to visit Puerto Rico on Tuesday and said on Saturday he would visit with the first lady and hopefully be able to stop at the US Virgin Islands, which have also been battered.

The president also criticised Fake News Networks for negative coverage and said Cruz had been wound up by his political opponents to attack him. He tweeted: The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.

Cruz was then asked on the MSNBC channel whether anyone had told her to go out and name Trump. She laughed scornfully and said: Actually, I was asking for help. I wasnt saying anything nasty about the president This is a time when everyone shows their true colors. I have no time for distractions This isnt about me; this isnt about anyone; this is about lives that are being lost if things do not get done properly real quickly.

She added: I am not going to be distracted by small comments, by politics, by petty issues. This is one goal and it is to save lives. Thats all that matters.

Carmen Yuln Cruz (@CarmenYulinCruz)

The goal is one: saving lives. This is the time to show our “true colors”. We cannot be distracted by anything else. pic.twitter.com/7PAINk19xM

September 30, 2017

Trump has a long history of punching back in business and politics. During his election campaign, he went on the offensive against the Muslim family of a dead US soldier and a former beauty queen who supported his rival Hillary Clinton. After a deadly terrorist attack in London in June, he twisted the words of Londons mayor, Sadiq Khan, to slight him.

Such broadsides appear to strike a chord with his rightwing populist base. Mike Cernovich, a notorious blogger, author and cheerleader for the president, tweeted about Cruz with no evidence: She is garbage, she is a murderer, she failed her people and her duties and belongs in prison!

Others expressed disgust at Trumps inaction and lack of sensitivity towards the mayor. Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the musical Hamilton and of Puerto Rican descent, tweeted: She has been working 24/7./ You have been GOLFING./ Youre going straight to hell./ Fastest golf cart you ever took.

Pop star Lady Gaga tweeted her 71.4 million followers in response to the presidents criticism of Cruz:

xoxo, Gaga (@ladygaga)

I this it’s clear where the ‘poor leadership’ lies @realDonaldTrump Puerto Rico is part of the United States. This is our responsibility.

September 30, 2017

She then followed that up with another tweet speculating on the reasons why Trump, in her opinion, wasnt helping Puerto Rico:

xoxo, Gaga (@ladygaga)

Oh I see @realDonaldTrump you’re not helping PR because of the electoral votes u need to be re-elected #Florida=29 #Texas=38 #PuertoRico=0

September 30, 2017

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/30/donald-trump-attacks-puerto-rico-mayor-carmen-yulin-cruz

Exclusive: footage shows young elephants being captured in Zimbabwe for Chinese zoos

Rare footage of the capture of wild young elephants in Zimbabwe shows rough treatment of the calves as they are sedated and taken away

The Guardian has been given exclusive footage which shows the capture of young, wild elephants in Zimbabwe in preparation, it is believed, for their legal sale to Chinese zoos.

In the early morning of 8 August, five elephants were caught in Hwange national park by officials at Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks).

These captures are usually kept as secret as possible. The Guardian understands that in this case the usual procedure was followed. First, a viable herd is identified. Then operatives in a helicopter pick off the younger elephants with a sedative fired from a rifle. As the elephant collapses, the pilot dive-bombs the immediate vicinity so the rest of the herd, attempting to come to the aid of the fallen animal, are kept at bay. When things quieten down, a ground-team approaches the sedated elephants on foot, bundles them up, and drags them on to trailers.

The footage, a series of isolated clips and photographs provided to the Guardian by an anonymous source associated with the operation, documents the moment that operatives are running into the bush, then shows them tying up one young elephant. The elephants are then seen herded together in a holding pen near the main tourist camp in Hwange.

Elephant
In this part of the footage, a young female elephant is seen being kicked in the head repeatedly by one of the captors. Photograph: The Guardian

Finally, in the most disturbing part of the footage, a small female elephant, likely around five years old, is seen standing in the trailer. Her body is tightly tied to the vehicle by two ropes. Only minutes after being taken from the wild, the animal, still groggy from the sedative, is unable to understand that the officials want her to back into the truck, so they smack her on her body, twist her trunk, pull her by her tail and repeatedly kick her in the head with their boots.

Altogether, 14 elephants were captured during this time period, according to the source, who asked to remain to anonymous for fear of reprisal. The intention was to take more elephants, but the helicopter crashed during one of the operations. It is estimated that 30-40 elephants were to be captured in total.

The elephants that were taken are now in holding pens at an off-limits facility within Hwange called Umtshibi, according to the source. One expert who reviewed the photographs, Joyce Poole, an expert on elephant behaviour and co-director of the Kenya-based organisation ElephantVoices, said the elephants were bunching huddling together because they are frightened.

The
The young elephants in their enclosure. According to experts, they are bunching, huddling together because they are frightened. Photograph: The Guardian

Audrey Delsink, an elephant behavioural ecologist and executive director for Executive Director for Humane Society International Africa, also reviewed the photos and footage. She believed that most of the elephants were aged between two and four. Basically, these calves have just been weaned or are a year or two into the weaning process. In the wild, elephants are completely dependent on their mothers milk until they are two, and are not fully weaned until the age of five.

A number of the calves, she said, were displaying temporal streaming a stress-induced activity. Many of the gestures indicate apprehensive and displacement behaviour trunk twisting, trunk curled under, face touching, foot swinging, head-shaking, ear-cocking, displacement feeding, amongst others. Zimparks were approached but did not make a comment.

The buyer for the young elephants is a Chinese national, according to inside sources who asked not to be named. Last year he was associated with a case involving 11 wild hyenas, who were discovered in a truck at Harare international airport that had been on the road for 24 hours without food or water and were reportedly in an extremely stressed condition, dehydrated and emaciated and, in some cases, badly injured.

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One of the hyenas found in a consignment at Harare airport in Zimbabwe. Photograph: The Guardian

The legal live trade in wild animals

The capture of the baby elephants is just one of a number of operations that have taken place in Zimbabwe and across the continent over several decades. Nine elephants were reportedly exported from Namibia to Mexico in 2012, six from Namibia to Cuba in 2013, and more than 25 from Zimbabwe to China in 2015. In 2016, the US imported 17 elephants from Swaziland despite objections from the public and conservationists. From 1995-2015, more than 600 wild African elephants and 400 wild Asian elephants are reported to have been traded globally, according to a database kept by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

Under Cites, trading live elephants is legal, with a few stipulations. The destination must be appropriate and acceptable, and the sale must benefit conservation in the home country. But elephant conservationists and animal welfare advocates point out a number of flaws in the system. There are no criteria setting out what appropriate and acceptable means and what is really contributing to conservation, explained Daniela Freyer of Pro-Wildlife, a German-based organisation that seeks to improve international legislation protecting wildlife. Currently, it is entirely up to authorities in the importing countries to define and decide. There are no common rules and no monitoring of the conditions of the capture, the number of animals being traded, where they will end up or the conditions in which they will be kept at their destination. There is also no monitoring of the requirement that a sale benefit conservation.

For example, Zimbabwe and China are the biggest players in the live elephant trade, but Iris Ho, wildlife programme manager at Humane Society International (HSI), says they have found little information from the importing countries on the animals arrival. We dont know how many facilities in China have received the elephants imported from Zimbabwe during the last few years. We dont know the status of these animals.

Attempts to comply with the few Cites stipulations such as appropriate and acceptable destinations are sometimes dismissed. In 2016, a Zimbabwe delegation of Zimparks and ZNSPCA inspectors travelled to China to access the facilities, where they found that most of the zoos showed signs of poor treatment of the animals. But their recommendation that a shipment of 36 elephants remain in Zimbabwe until the holding facilities in China were completed and assessed for compliance by Zimbabwe, was ignored.

On September 16 Chinese papers announced in cheery headlines that three elephants two females and a male, aged approximately four years old had arrived at the Lehe Ledu wildlife zoo. Photographs of the elephants from Chinese media were analysed by Poole, who noted that the face one of the females looked pinched and stressed. The elephant appears to have begun to wear her tusks down on the bars, rubbing back and forth in frustration. Poole added that the sunken look, dark eyes and mottled skin are common for young, captured elephants. In the wild, you only see the pinched, sunken look in sick or orphaned elephants.

The zoo has said that it is providing more than 1,000 square metres of indoor space and 3,000 sq metres outdoors. The animals have six full-time babysitters and every meal is prepared carefully, based on scientific recommendation.

A video posted on YouTube celebrating the arrival of the elephants at Lehe Ledu zoo.

Finally, questions have been asked about whether Zimbabwe is complying with the Cites stipulation that the sale of the elephants must benefit their conservation in the wild. The environment minister, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, was reported in the Guardian last year as saying the sale of the elephants was necessary to raise funds to take care of national parks in Zimbabwe, which have been ravaged by drought and poaching. But in the past, there have been unconfirmed reports of Grace Mugabe, the presidents wife, using funds from the sales of elephants to pay off a military debt to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The international body governing the trade, Cites, is increasingly coming under fire for its role. The scientific literature states that captive facilities continue to fall far short of meeting elephants natural needs for movement, space and extended social networks, with negative effects on health, behavior and reproduction, said Anna Mul, a legal adviser on animal law at Fondation Franz Weber, an organisation that is lobbying Cites to end the trade of live elephants.

A spokesman for CITES said: The triennial CITES conference held last year (CoP17) agreed that appropriate and acceptable destinations was defined as destinations where the importing State is satisfied that the recipient of the live animals is suitably equipped to house and care for them. CoP17 also agreed on a process to assess if additional guidance on this matter is required. Further, both the importing and exporting countries are now required to be satisfied that any trade in live elephants should promote the conservation of elephants in the wild. In addition, the exporting Party must also be satisfied that animals are prepared and shipped so as to minimize the risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment of live elephants in trade… CITES does not address the way in which the animals are captured or stored prior to export.

But for now, China continues to import the vulnerable elephants at almost conveyor-belt speed. According to Ho, some pressure to stop the practice is beginning to be felt, but the country is influenced by the view that breeding is conservation. And then, of course, there is a willing partner in Zimbabwe and the thrill of seeing African elephants by the visitors.

Its a win-win, she said, for those who are financially profiting from the legal trade in the calves. But its a lose-lose for the animals, both imported and left behind.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/03/exclusive-footage-shows-young-elephants-being-captured-in-zimbabwe-for-chinese-zoos

Hookworm, a disease of extreme poverty, is thriving in the US south. Why?

Exclusive: in America, the worlds richest country, diseases that thrive amid poverty are rampant, the first study of its kind in modern times shows

Children playing feet away from open pools of raw sewage; drinking water pumped beside cracked pipes of untreated waste; human faeces flushed back into kitchen sinks and bathtubs whenever the rains come; people testing positive for hookworm, an intestinal parasite that thrives on extreme poverty.

These are the findings of a new study into endemic tropical diseases, not in places usually associated with them in the developing world of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, but in a corner of the richest nation on earth: Alabama.

Scientists in Houston, Texas, have lifted the lid on one of Americas darkest and deepest secrets: that hidden beneath fabulous wealth, the US tolerates poverty-related illness at levels comparable to the worlds poorest countries. More than one in three people sampled in a poor area of Alabama tested positive for traces of hookworm, a gastrointestinal parasite that was thought to have been eradicated from the US decades ago.

The long-awaited findings, revealed by the Guardian for the first time, are a wake-up call for the worlds only superpower as it grapples with growing inequality. Donald Trump has promised to Make America Great Again and tackle the nations crumbling infrastructure, but he has said very little about enduring chronic poverty, particularly in the southern states.

The study, the first of its kind in modern times, was carried out by the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in conjunction with Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise (ACRE), a non-profit group seeking to address the root causes of poverty. In a survey of people living in Lowndes County, an area with a long history of racial discrimination and inequality, it found that 34% tested positive for genetic traces of Necator americanus.

Lowndes

The parasite, better known as hookworm, enters the body through the skin, usually through the soles of bare feet, and travels around the body until it attaches itself to the small intestine where it proceeds to suck the blood of its host. Over months or years it causes iron deficiency and anemia, weight loss, tiredness and impaired mental function, especially in children, helping to trap them into the poverty in which the disease flourishes.

Hookworm was rampant in the deep south of the US in the earlier 20th century, sapping the energy and educational achievements of both white and black kids and helping to create the stereotype of the lazy and lethargic southern redneck. As public health improved, most experts assumed it had disappeared altogether by the 1980s.

But the new study reveals that hookworm not only survives in communities of Americans lacking even basic sanitation, but does so on a breathtaking scale. None of the people included in the research had travelled outside the US, yet parasite exposure was found to be prevalent, as was shockingly inadequate waste treatment.

The peer-reviewed research paper, published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, focuses on Lowndes County, Alabama the home state of the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and a landmark region in the history of the nations civil rights movement. Bloody Lowndes, the area was called in reference to the violent reaction of white residents towards attempts to undo racial segregation in the 1950s.

It was through this county that Martin Luther King led marchers from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 in search of voting rights for black citizens, More than half a century later, Kings dream of what he called the dignity of equality remains elusive for many of the 11,000 residents of Lowndes County, 74% of whom are African American.

Raw
Raw sewage is carried through a PVC pipe to be dumped only a few yards away from a nearby home. Photograph: Bob Miller for the Guardian

The average income is just $18,046 (13,850) a year, and almost a third of the population live below the official US poverty line. The most elementary waste disposal infrastructure is often non-existent.

Some 73% of residents included in the Baylor survey reported that they had been exposed to raw sewage washing back into their homes as a result of faulty septic tanks or waste pipes becoming overwhelmed in torrential rains.

The Baylor study was inspired by Catherine Flowers, ACREs founder, who encouraged the Houston scientists to carry out the review after she became concerned about the health consequences of having so many open sewers in her home county. Hookworm is a 19th-century disease that should by now have been addressed, yet we are still struggling with it in the United States in the 21st century, she said.

Our billionaire philanthropists like Bill Gates fund water treatment around the world, but they dont fund it here in the US because no one acknowledges that this level of poverty exists in the richest nation in the world.

Flowers took the Guardian on a tour of Lowndes County to witness the conditions in which hookworm continues to proliferate. One stop was at a group of mobile homes outside Fort Deposit that graphically illustrated the crisis.

An eight-year-old child was sitting on the stoop of one of the trailers. Below him a white pipe ran from his house, across the yard just a few feet away from a basketball hoop, and into a copse of pine and sweet gum trees.

The pipe was cracked in several places and stopped just inside the copse, barely 30ft from the house, dripping ooze into a viscous pool the color of oil. Directly above the sewage pool, a separate narrow-gauge pipe ran up to the house, which turned out to be the main channel carrying drinking water to the residents.

The open sewer was festooned with mosquitoes, and a long cordon of ants could be seen trailing along the waste pipe from the house. At the end of the pool nearest the house the treacly fluid was glistening in the dappled sunlight a closer look revealed that it was actually moving, its human effluence heaving and churning with thousands of worms.

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Ruby Dee Rudolph, 66, noticed her septic tank was slowly sinking unevenly into the ground. Photograph: Bob Miller for the Guardian

This is the definition of Make America Great Again, said Aaron Thigpen, 29, a community activist who assisted with the hookworm study. This is the reality of how people are being forced to live.

Thigpens cousins live in the trailer park, and he has talked to them about the perils of piping sewage from their homes and dumping it in the open just a few feet away. They are disgusted about it, theyre sick and tired of living like this, but theres no public help for them here and if youre earning $700 a month theres no way you can afford your own private sanitation.

He added that people were afraid to report the problems, given the spate of criminal prosecutions that were launched by Alabama state between 2002 and 2008 against residents who were open-piping sewage from their homes, unable to afford proper treatment systems. One grandmother was jailed over a weekend for failing to buy a septic tank that cost more than her entire annual income.

People are scared. They dont like to speak out as theyre worried the health department will come round and cause trouble, Thigpen said.

The challenge to places like Lowndes County is not to restore existing public infrastructure, as Trump has promised, because there is no public infrastructure here to begin with. Flowers estimates that 80% of the county is uncovered by any municipal sewerage system, and in its absence people are expected and in some cases legally forced to provide their own.

Even where individuals can afford up to $15,000 to install a septic tank and very few can the terrain is against them. Lowndes County is located within the Black Belt, the southern sweep of loamy soil that is well suited to growing cotton and as a result spawned a multitude of plantations, each worked by a large enslaved population.

The same thing that made the land so good for cotton its water-retaining properties also makes it a hazard to the thousands of African Americans who still live on it today. When the rains come, the soil becomes saturated, overwhelming inadequate waste systems and providing a perfect breeding ground for hookworm.

Ruby Rudolph lives just beside the main Selma to Montgomery road where King led the protest walk. On the other side of the road theres a brown history placard to mark the spot where her grandmother, Rosie Steele, ran a campsite for the weary marchers.

After they moved on and the campsite was cleared, Rudolph said, her grandmothers grocery store was set on fire in an arson attack. She was 13 at the time, and can remember the flames leaping into the night sky.

Rudolph, now 66, does have her own septic tank at the back of her house, which she shows us in the sweltering 41C (105F) heat. But it doesnt function properly and when it rains the tank spills over, spreading raw waste all over the yard. Thats better than when it flushes back into the house, and Ive had that too, she said.

Shes been told a replacement system would cost her at least $12,000, which is beyond her means. She runs through her finances: she gets up at 4am every day to do an early shift at a Mapco convenience store, which brings in less than $1,200 a month. From that amount she has to pay $611 for her mortgage and theres the electricity bill that can be more than $300 a month when its hot and the air conditioning is busy. Theres not a lot left to put toward a new tank.

Perman
Perman Hardy, 58, stands with her grandson Carlos near the pipes that carry sewage from a relatives nearby trailer home into the woods, approximately 30ft from the back door. Photograph: Bob Miller for the Guardian

Perman Hardy, 58, lives in nearby Tyler in a collection of seven single-storey homes all occupied by members of her extended family. Only two of them have septic tanks, the rest just pipe raw waste into the surrounding woods and creeks.

Hardy is one of the lucky ones with a treatment system of her own, but like Rudolphs it is often overwhelmed in the rains with faeces washed back into her home. Last year the stench was so bad she had to vacate the property for two weeks over Christmas while it was professionally cleaned.

Hardy has traced her family back to slaves held on the Rudolph Bottom plantation about five miles away. The road that leads to the old plantation from her house is still called to this day by white neighbors Nigger Foot Road, she said, though she and other African Americans call it Collerine Cutoff Road.

As a child, Hardy worked in the cotton fields after school and, mindful of that and her familys slave history, shes determined to see a better future for her grandchildren. I dont want the same for my boys. But its still a struggle. Its the 21st century and we shouldnt be struggling like we still are today.

The daily hardship faced by Hardy, Rudolph and fellow inhabitants of Lowndes County is reflected in the Baylor studys glaring statistic of 34% testing positive for hookworm. The sample size was low 67 people participated with 55 giving stool samples, all of whom were African American but the results are so stark that the Houston scientists now want to conduct a larger survey across the region.

We now need to find how widespread hookworm is across the US, said Dr Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, who led the research team along with Rojelio Mejia. Hotez, who has estimated that as many as 12 million Americans could be suffering from neglected tropical diseases in poor parts of the south and midwest, told the Guardian the results were a wake-up call for the nation.

This is the inconvenient truth that nobody in America wants to talk about, he said. These people live in the southern United States, and nobody seems to care; they are poor, and nobody seems to care; and more often than not they are people of color, and nobody seems to care.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/05/hookworm-lowndes-county-alabama-water-waste-treatment-poverty

Myanmar blocks all UN aid to civilians at heart of Rohingya crisis

Exclusive: Military offensive against insurgents leaves thousands stranded without life-saving supplies

Myanmar has blocked all United Nations aid agencies from delivering vital supplies of food, water and medicine to thousands of desperate civilians at the centre of a bloody military campaign against the countrys Muslim Rohingya minority, the Guardian has learned.

The UN halted distributions in northern Rakhine state after militants attacked government forces on 25 August and the army responded with a counteroffensive that has killed hundreds of people.

The office of the UN resident coordinator in Myanmar said deliveries had been suspended because the security situation and government field-visit restrictions rendered us unable to distribute assistance.

The UN is in close contact with authorities to ensure that humanitarian operations can resume as soon as possible, the office said. Aid was being delivered to other parts of Rakhine state, it added.

In the deadliest outbreak of violence in the area for decades, the military has been accused of atrocities against the persecuted Rohingya minority, tens of thousands of whom have fled burning villages to neighbouring Bangladesh, many with bullet wounds.

Staff from the UN refugee agency, the United Nations Population Fund, and Unicef have not conducted any field work in northern Rakhine for more than a week a dangerous halt in life-saving relief that will affect poor Buddhist residents as well as Rohingya.

Myanmar map

The UN World Food Programme said it also had to suspend distributions to other parts of the state, leaving 250,000 people without regular access to food.

Sixteen major non-governmental organisations including Oxfam and Save the Children have also complained that the government has restricted access to the conflict area.

Humanitarian organisations are deeply concerned about the fate of thousands of people affected by the ongoing violence in northern Rakhine, said Pierre Peron, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Myanmar.

Refugees who have made it to Bangladesh during the past week have told horrific stories of massacres in villages they say soldiers raided and burned. Thick black smoke can be seen rising from small settlements surrounded by green fields along miles of the border.

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A Rohingya woman rests after fleeing Myanmar for Bangladesh. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

On Monday, thousands of Rohingya lined the main road that runs parallel with the border. Many were barefoot, their ankles caked in light brown mud.

The hills of Balukhali, an area very close to the border, were covered in shelters that the Rohingya have made themselves by wrapping bamboo frames in thin black tarpaulin. Local people said the refugee camp, which covers an area the size of a small town, was empty land just a week ago.

The displaced have stories of bloodshed and frantic escapes from villages where they had to leave behind mobile phones, shoes and in many cases family members.

The army just came and started killing, said Mohammed Hassan. The 20-year-old student fled his village in north Rakhine on Saturday. His sister, Romida, 25, was shot through the centre of her chest, he said.

The government blames rebels for burning their own homes and accuses them of killing Buddhists and Hindus, a claim repeated by some residents.

The Rohingya have suffered oppression for decades, but the recent bout of violence is seen as a dangerous escalation because it was sparked by a new Rohingya militant group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.

The military says 400 people have been killed, the vast majority of them terrorists, but a government block on access to Rakhine makes it impossible to verify official figures.

The UN said on Monday that 87,000 mostly Rohingya refugees had arrived in Bangladesh since 25 August. About 20,000 more were massed on the border and waiting to enter, it said.

About 1.1 million Rohingya live in Myanmar, which refuses to grant them citizenship and has been internationally condemned for its treatment of the ethnic minority.

Hardline religious leaders in majority Buddhist Myanmar have fuelled anti-Muslim sentiment and accuse relief workers of pro-Rohingya bias. Aid offices were ransacked during 2014 riots in Rakhines state capital, Sittwe.

Myanmars leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has forged an increasingly antagonistic relationship with humanitarian organisations in the country. Her office accused aid workers last week of helping terrorists, a claim that prompted fears for their safety.

Nobel peace laureate Malala Yousafzai and Muslim-majority countries in Asia led a growing chorus of criticism on Monday.

Protesters
Protesters in Kolkata, India, burn an image of Aung San Suu Kyi. Photograph: Bikas Das/AP

Every time I see the news, my heart breaks at the suffering of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, Yousafzai, who survived being shot in the head by the Taliban, said on Twitter. Over the last several years I have repeatedly condemned this tragic and shameful treatment. I am still waiting for my fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to do the same.

The Malaysian foreign minister, Anifah Aman, said: Very frankly, I am dissatisfied with Aung San Suu Kyi, he told Agence France-Presse. She stood up for the principles of human rights. Now it seems she is doing nothing.

Tens of thousands of people rallied in the capital of Russias mainly Muslim republic of Chechnya on Monday in support of the Rohingya. The Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, told the crowd in Grozny that the world was watching in silence while the Rohinghya were torn to pieces, burnt on fires and drowned.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoan, said in a statement: You watched the situation that Myanmar and Muslims are in. You saw how villages have been burned Humanity remained silent to the massacre in Myanmar.

More than 100,000 Rohingya who have lived in displacement camps in Rakhine since 2012, when violence between Muslims and Buddhists forced them out of their homes, also stopped receiving assistance last week.

Contractors reportedly refused to make deliveries to the camps because they were too scared of local resentment to show up for work. Latrines are overflowing in camps that normally receive regular assistance.

Authorities have also denied international staff access by holding up visa approvals, and non-critical staff from the north of the state have been evacuated.

There is an urgent need to ensure that displaced people and other civilians affected by the violence are protected and are given safe access to humanitarian assistance including food, water, shelter, and health services, Peron said.

Humanitarian aid normally goes to these vulnerable people for a very good reason, because they depend on it.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/04/myanmar-blocks-all-un-aid-to-civilians-at-heart-of-rohingya-crisis

Plastic fibres found in tap water around the world, study reveals

Exclusive: Tests show billions of people globally are drinking water contaminated by plastic particles, with 83% of samples found to be polluted

Microplastic contamination has been found in tap water in countries around the world, leading to calls from scientists for urgent research on the implications for health.

Scores of tap water samples from more than a dozen nations were analysed by scientists for an investigation by Orb Media, who shared the findings with the Guardian. Overall, 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibres.

The US had the highest contamination rate, at 94%, with plastic fibres found in tap water sampled at sites including Congress buildings, the US Environmental Protection Agencys headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York. Lebanon and India had the next highest rates.

European nations including the UK, Germany and France had the lowest contamination rate, but this was still 72%. The average number of fibres found in each 500ml sample ranged from 4.8 in the US to 1.9 in Europe.

The new analyses indicate the ubiquitous extent of microplastic contamination in the global environment. Previous work has been largely focused on plastic pollution in the oceans, which suggests people are eating microplastics via contaminated seafood.

We have enough data from looking at wildlife, and the impacts that its having on wildlife, to be concerned, said Dr Sherri Mason, a microplastic expert at the State University of New York in Fredonia, who supervised the analyses for Orb. If its impacting [wildlife], then how do we think that its not going to somehow impact us?

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A magnified image of clothing microfibres from washing machine effluent. One study found that a fleece jacket can shed as many as 250,000 fibres per wash. Photograph: Courtesy of Rozalia Project

A separate small study in the Republic of Ireland released in June also found microplastic contamination in a handful of tap water and well samples. We dont know what the [health] impact is and for that reason we should follow the precautionary principle and put enough effort into it now, immediately, so we can find out what the real risks are, said Dr Anne Marie Mahon at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, who conducted the research.

Mahon said there were two principal concerns: very small plastic particles and the chemicals or pathogens that microplastics can harbour. If the fibres are there, it is possible that the nanoparticles are there too that we cant measure, she said. Once they are in the nanometre range they can really penetrate a cell and that means they can penetrate organs, and that would be worrying. The Orb analyses caught particles of more than 2.5 microns in size, 2,500 times bigger than a nanometre.

Microplastics can attract bacteria found in sewage, Mahon said: Some studies have shown there are more harmful pathogens on microplastics downstream of wastewater treatment plants.

Plastic fibres found in tap water across the world

Microplastics are also known to contain and absorb toxic chemicals and research on wild animals shows they are released in the body. Prof Richard Thompson, at Plymouth University, UK, told Orb: It became clear very early on that the plastic would release those chemicals and that actually, the conditions in the gut would facilitate really quite rapid release. His research has shown microplastics are found in a third of fish caught in the UK.

The scale of global microplastic contamination is only starting to become clear, with studies in Germany finding fibres and fragments in all of the 24 beer brands they tested, as well as in honey and sugar. In Paris in 2015, researchers discovered microplastic falling from the air, which they estimated deposits three to 10 tonnes of fibres on the city each year, and that it was also present in the air in peoples homes.

This research led Frank Kelly, professor of environmental health at Kings College London, to tell a UK parliamentary inquiry in 2016: If we breathe them in they could potentially deliver chemicals to the lower parts of our lungs and maybe even across into our circulation. Having seen the Orb data, Kelly told the Guardian that research is urgently needed to determine whether ingesting plastic particles is a health risk.

The new research tested 159 samples using a standard technique to eliminate contamination from other sources and was performed at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. The samples came from across the world, including from Uganda, Ecuador and Indonesia.

How microplastics end up in drinking water is for now a mystery, but the atmosphere is one obvious source, with fibres shed by the everyday wear and tear of clothes and carpets. Tumble dryers are another potential source, with almost 80% of US households having dryers that usually vent to the open air.

We really think that the lakes [and other water bodies] can be contaminated by cumulative atmospheric inputs, said Johnny Gasperi, at the University Paris-Est Creteil, who did the Paris studies. What we observed in Paris tends to demonstrate that a huge amount of fibres are present in atmospheric fallout.

Plastic fibres may also be flushed into water systems, with a recent study finding that each cycle of a washing machine could release 700,000 fibres into the environment. Rains could also sweep up microplastic pollution, which could explain why the household wells used in Indonesia were found to be contaminated.

In Beirut, Lebanon, the water supply comes from natural springs but 94% of the samples were contaminated. This research only scratches the surface, but it seems to be a very itchy one, said Hussam Hawwa, at the environmental consultancy Difaf, which collected samples for Orb.

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This planktonic arrow worm, Sagitta setosa, has eaten a blue plastic fibre about 3mm long. Plankton support the entire marine food chain. Photograph: Richard Kirby/Courtesy of Orb Media

Current standard water treatment systems do not filter out all of the microplastics, Mahon said: There is nowhere really where you can say these are being trapped 100%. In terms of fibres, the diameter is 10 microns across and it would be very unusual to find that level of filtration in our drinking water systems.

Bottled water may not provide a microplastic-free alternative to tapwater, as the they were also found in a few samples of commercial bottled water tested in the US for Orb.

Almost 300m tonnes of plastic is produced each year and, with just 20% recycled or incinerated, much of it ends up littering the air, land and sea. A report in July found 8.3bn tonnes of plastic has been produced since the 1950s, with the researchers warning that plastic waste has become ubiquitous in the environment.

We are increasingly smothering ecosystems in plastic and I am very worried that there may be all kinds of unintended, adverse consequences that we will only find out about once it is too late, said Prof Roland Geyer, from the University of California and Santa Barbara, who led the study.

Mahon said the new tap water analyses raise a red flag, but that more work is needed to replicate the results, find the sources of contamination and evaluate the possible health impacts.

She said plastics are very useful, but that management of the waste must be drastically improved: We need plastics in our lives, but it is us that is doing the damage by discarding them in very careless ways.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/06/plastic-fibres-found-tap-water-around-world-study-reveals