COVID-19 restrictions destroy livelihoods in tandem with drought in southern Madagascar. | Photo Credit: WFP/Tsiory Andriantsoarana

Sep 6: UN Warns that Madagascar on the Brink of Famine, President Joe Biden Confident that US Withdrawal from Afghanistan was “Wise Decision”, Iran Prepared to Return to Nuclear Talks but Not Under Wester “Pressure”

North America:

  • President Joe Biden declared the California fire an emergency last Friday (Sep 3), allowing the state to receive federal help. Hundreds of structures were burned and destroyed by the Calder fire that is moving towards Nevada. Officials have deemed the situation highly dangerous, and thousands of firefighters have been dispatched to put it out. However, according to fire behaviour analyst Steven Volmer, the chances of it sparking a new fire is above 90 per cent, considering the hot and dry conditions in the area.
  • Flash flooding caused by remnants of Hurricane Ida caused at least 44 fatalities in four northeastern US states. New York City experienced a flash flood emergency warning following the record rainfall, which officials deem a climate change consequence. In response to the destruction Hurricane Ida brought, President Joe Biden ordered federal disaster management agencies to coordinate relief efforts and emergency aid to those affected.
  • Hospitals in Haiti are reportedly overwhelmed and in urgent need of aid to treat survivors of the 7.2 magnitude earthquake. Search and rescue efforts for the missing and affected are also being hampered by a lack of resources and weather circumstances like heavy rains. The crisis indicated that an estimated 600,000 people lack proper water resources; with the commune of Pestel being said to be the most vulnerable as drinking water reservoirs were completely destroyed.
  • President Joe Biden stood firm in a statement last Tuesday (Aug 31) that it was a “wise” decision to leave Afghanistan instead of continuing to fight in a “forever war”. Biden shared this sentiment following the criticism from Republican opponents about the chaotic withdrawal of US forces in Afghanistan. Biden also shared that the war cost an extraordinary amount, including more than 2,400 US military deaths and US$2.3 trillion (S$3.09 trillion), with little gained, since it ended with the Taliban guerillas gaining back their power. However, considering how hundreds were reportedly left abandoned and US military equipment is now accessible to the Taliban, this could be a dangerous political issue for Biden who promised to get out of the last big post-9/11 war in his campaign.
  • Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay’s detention centre who engaged in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings were arraigned last Monday (Aug 30) and have been charged for their connection to the incident. The three perpetrators, an Indonesian and two Malaysians, were secretly held in CIA confinement for three years before being held captive at the isolated US base in Cuba. The legal journey will most likely be a long one, considering how the case involved evidence tainted by CIA torture, which has been responsible for causing other war crimes cases to be neglected at Guantanamo.

South America:

  • The second round of talks between both sides of Venezuela’s political divide resumed last Friday (Sept 3) in Mexico. This round of talks was aimed to ease the country’s long-running socio-economic and political crisis which has caused millions to flee. Though no agreements from the talks have been publicly disclosed, the freeing of opposition leader Freddy Guevara and the opposition being able to participate in regional elections were cited as outcomes of the dialogue. US President Joe Biden’s administration has shown an openness to revisiting sanctions on Venezuela if there is “significant progress” in the Mexico talks.
  • Chile reasserted its claim to an undersea territory off its southern coast in a dispute with Argentina. Two weeks ago, Chile officially laid its claim to 5,000 square kilometres of the continental shelf in the Drake Sea between Chile’s Cape Horn, its mainland and the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said last Friday (Sept 3) that the claim was “legitimate”. Argentine secretary for Antarctica, the Southern Atlantic and Las Malvinas said last Thursday (Sept 2) that Argentina would seek UN intervention over Chile’s claim. 
  • The WHO is monitoring a new coronavirus variant known as “Mu”, which was first identified in Colombia earlier in January. Mu, scientifically known as B. 1621 is a “variant of interest” and has mutations that indicate a resistance to vaccines. This created widespread concerns as global infection rates continue to rise due to the Delta variant and relaxing coronavirus measures in certain countries. 
  • Anti-corruption prosecutors began an investigation into allegations that Russian businessmen paid a bribe to Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei to obtain a dock in one of the country’s main ports. The allegations were initially raised by the head of the Guatemalan Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI). Giammattei is currently not under investigation because no impeachment proceedings had begun. The bribery case linked to Giammattei is the latest in a series of corruption allegations against recent Guatemalan presidents. 
  • Amazonian delegates launched their campaign to urge world leaders to protect 80 per cent of the Amazon basin by 2025 last Sunday (Sept 5). The campaign goal is 30 per cent more than the current level of protection and started with a nine-day conference in Marseille, with thousands of officials, scientists and campaigners laying the groundwork for UN talks on biodiversity in China next year. Since right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro came into office in 2019, deforestation in the Amazon has surged. The Amazon basin has lost 18 per cent in total of its original forest while another 17 per cent has degraded. Scientists say that if deforestation reaches 20 to 25 per cent, the Amazon will be greatly affected.

Asia Pacific:

  • The Islamic State-Khorasan group was responsible for launching a rocket attack on Kabul’s airport last Monday (Aug 30) as the United States proceeded to complete its withdrawal from Afghanistan. The anti-missile defences put up by the United States managed to intercept five of the six rockets that were launched. In response to the attack, President Joe Biden emphasized his order for commanders to protect and aid US forces that were at the scene.
  • A UN watchdog reported that North Korea appeared to have renewed nuclear reactor activities. A senior administration official said last Monday (Aug 30) that the United States plans to address the issue with Pyongyang. The Biden administration claims to explore diplomacy to work on North Korea’s denuclearization. Concerns had been raised since the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report indicated signs of operation at the 5-megawatt reactor, which has the capability of producing weapons-grade plutonium.
  • Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said last Friday (Sept 3) that he would step down to allow for a new premier. Suga had received declining public support due to the COVID-19 response, with support ratings sinking below 30 per cent. He shared with reporters that he wanted to dedicate his focus to dealing with the COVID-19 situation as he is unable to juggle both that and running in the party leadership race. His decision to pull out from the elections means that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) will choose a new leader to become Prime Minister this month.
  • Japan suspended another million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine last Monday (Aug 30) after increased cases of vaccine contamination. Two fatalities have been recorded from people receiving shots from the affected lots. The latest reports share that the contamination, which appeared to be tiny black substances, came from the Gunma prefecture. In response, Rovi, the company that bottles Moderna vaccines, said the contamination could be due to a manufacturing issue on their end. The Moderna vaccine supplies that were suspended totalled more than 2.6 million doses, heightening concerns as Japan continues to battle its worst wave of the COVID-19 Delta variant infections.
  • An ISIS supporter reportedly stabbed shoppers in a supermarket in the Auckland suburb of New Lynn last Friday (Sep 3), injuring at least six of them. New Zealand police managed to shoot and kill the Sri Lankan national, who Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern highlighted was a “known security threat”, within 60 seconds from the start of the attack. Ardern also added that the “hateful” attack was carried out “by an individual, not a faith”, and that the perpetrator “alone carries the responsibility for these acts”.

Europe:

  • Russia continues to demonstrate unwavering support for Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, who continues to face domestic opposition and western condemnation for overseeing a violent crackdown. Lukashenko announced last Wednesday (Sept 1) that Moscow is to deliver a huge military hardware consignment. The two leaders are to hold talks in Russia on Sept 9, and the countries are to hold large joint military exercises later this month. 
  • Poland declared a state of emergency in two regions bordering Belarus last Thursday (Sept 2) after a surge of illegal migration. Poland and the EU accused Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko of pressuring the bloc over sanctions imposed on Belarus and retaliating by encouraging migrants to cross into Polish territory. Poland has begun militarising and fortifying its borders to stop the migrants from countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan from entering. Belarus’ Foreign Minister, Bladimir Makei, blamed “Western politicians” for the border situation.
  • US president Joe Biden and Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy met face to face for the first time last Wednesday (Sept 1). Topics of the meeting included a discussion of Belarus attaining NATO membership and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Biden is “firmly committed” to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and offered Ukraine US$60 million (S$80.5 million) in security aid to support Kyiv’s efforts to handle Russian aggression. US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken added last Thursday (Sept 2) that the US will also give Ukraine more than US$45 million (S$60.4 million) in additional humanitarian assistance.
  • Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal postponed a planned ruling last Tuesday (Aug 31) on whether the country’s constitution or EU treaties should take precedence. This was following the EU’s top court ruling last month that a Polish disciplinary chamber for judges was illegal. Moreover, after a threat of possible EU financial penalties, Poland said it would disband the chamber. This verdict could undermine the EU’s legal order. The primacy of EU laws over national laws is a key tenet of European integration. Opposition politicians expressed concern that challenging this might jeopardise Poland’s long-term future in the EU and the stability of the bloc itself. 
  • A senior EU official said last Wednesday (Sept 1) that the EU would need to engage with the Taliban. However, it will not rush into formally recognising the Islamist militant group as the new government of Afghanistan. The EU states that a key condition for official relations is the establishment of an inclusive and representative transitional government. The European Commission’s managing director for Asia and the Pacific, Gunnar Wiegand, said that a European Commission plan to secure 300 million euros (S$ 476.1 million) to support the resettlement and humanitarian admissions to resettle about 30,000 people is underway. 

Middle East:

  • Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pledged to “work together to refine a vision to activate efforts aimed at resuming negotiations, and work with brothers and partners to revive the peace process”. Abbas noted that the escalation of Israeli “violations” made a two-state solution unattainable, but Abbas’ party (Palestinian Authority) is still committed to peaceful methods. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett dismisses the idea of peace negotiations and opposes US president Joe Biden’s plan to reopen the US-Palestinian mission in Jerusalem, even though Israel agreed to lend the Palestinian Authority US$150 million (SG$201 million) following the first highest-level meeting in years. 
  • Iran is to hold the fourth round of talks with regional rival Saudi Arabia in Iraq. Iran and Saudi Arabia, the leading Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim powers in the Middle East, cut diplomatic ties in 2016. Iran’s relations with the UAE were further strained after the US-allied Arabian gulf state agreed to normalise ties with Israel last year. Iran publicly confirmed, earlier this year in May, that it would do what it could to resolve issues between the two countries. 
  • Turkey gave new signs of an effort to improve ties with UAE, with President Tayyip Erdogan holding a rare phone call with UAE’s de facto ruler, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Turkey and the UAE have been competing for regional influence since the Arab uprising a decade ago, with both countries backing rival groups in the Middle East for years. Last year, Turkey was considering cutting diplomatic ties after the UAE’s accord to normalise ties with Israel. Officials noted that there is new hope and determination for long term resolutions and improvement of diplomatic ties.
  • Qatar Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said during a press conference last Tuesday (Aug 31), that recognising the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan was not a priority but cooperating with the Islamist movement could be done. Al-Thani warned that isolating the Taliban could lead to further instability, power vacuum related issues and a replay of what led to the current situation. He urged countries to engage in addressing security and socio-economic concerns in the region. To date, no country has recognised the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan. 
  • Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi announced last Saturday (Sept 4) that Iran was ready to hold talks with world powers to revive its 2015 nuclear accord but not under Western ”pressure”. France and Germany had urged Iran to return to negotiations after a break in talks due to Iranian elections in June, demanding an immediate restart. Other Western countries have expressed concerns over Tehran’s expanding atomic work reported by the UN nuclear watchdog confirming Iran has upscaled uranium production. 

Africa:

  • Schools in Nigeria’s northwestern Zamfara State were closed following the kidnapping of at least 73 students by gunmen last Wednesday (Setp 1). Regarding the kidnapping incident, Zamfara State Police Command commented in a statement that a search and rescue team had been dispatched to work with the military to find and rescue the abducted students. UNICEF’s representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins shared that an estimated 1.3 million Nigerian children have been impacted by raids on schools carried out by gunmen that happen frequently.
  • According to Amnesty International, South Sudan is experiencing a “new wave of repression”. Authorities reportedly plan to stand firm against the demands from civil society groups that urged the government to step down. Eight activists have been arrested, and three journalists and two employees of a pro-democracy non-profit have been detained. The clampdown occurred after the People’s Coalition for Civil Action (PCCA) called for a peaceful uprising, only to have authorities deploying security forces to monitor the deemed ‘illegal” demonstration.
  • ​​Tanzanian police arrested several members from the opposition Chadema party and raided its offices. According to Chadema’s statement made last Saturday (Sep 4), the act was intended to block a planned symposium by the youth wing on constitutional change, indicating a possible clampdown on the party. In response, police chief Longinus Tibishibwamu commented that authorities cannot allow for the occurrence of such events as the president has instructed people to “focus on economic development” instead.
  • According to Strive Masiyiwa, African Union (AU) Special Envoy for COVID-19 response, shipment for Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines to Europe were suspended. The initially planned shipment of the vaccines to Europe was met with criticism among health activists in Africa who found it unreasonable to proceed with the arrangement considering the slower vaccination rates in the continent compared to Europe. Hence, the current plan is to have vaccines produced in Aspen to be distributed to Africa, of which fully vaccinated people make up only three per cent of the population.  
  • The UN warned that at least 30,000 people in southern Madagascar may be subjected to level five famine, the highest internationally recognised level of food insecurity, after a four-year drought. People have been left with no other choice but to feed on locusts and wild leaves for survival as the drought effects have caused severe agricultural losses. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic had affected the tourism industry that many depended on for income. The UN World Food Programme executive director has called for funding to help support those suffering in Madagascar.
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The IAS Gazette is a news site run by undergraduates from the Singapore Institute of Management’s International Affairs Society (IAS). Founded in 2018, it traces its roots to The Capital, a now defunct bimonthly magazine previously under the IAS.

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