Tag Archives: India

Earth sizzles to 13th-straight month of record heat

Earth sizzled to its 13th-straight month of record heat in May, but it wasn’t quite as much of an over-the-top scorcher as previous months, federal scientists say.

Record May heat, from Alaska to India and especially in the oceans, put the global average temperature at 60.17 degrees Fahrenheit (15.65 degrees Celsius), according to NOAA. That’s 1.57 degrees (.87 degrees Celsius) above the 20th-century average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

There’s still a good chance that June will break records even as El Nino, one of two main reasons for record heat, dissipates, scientists say. And the U.S. Southwest is in the midst of an historic heat wave.

Tomorrow’s forecast high for Phoenix is 120 degrees, and temperatures are expected to remain above 110 degrees there for at least the next seven days. Palm Springs, California, should reach 121 on Monday. The thermometer will hover around 110 degrees all of next week in Las Vegas.

Last month, India recorded a record high temperature of 123.8 Fahrenheit, beating a 60-year-old record.

Excessive heat is the No. 1 weather-related killer in the United States, including Wisconsin. During the record heat wave in the summer of 1995, 145 people in the state died of prolonged exposure to heat and humidity, making it the top weather-related killer in Wisconsin since it became a state in 1848, according to NOAA.

Seven hundred people died in Chicago during the same heat wave. An August, 2003, heat wave in Europe killed an estimated 50,000 people.

The NOAA’s July through September forecast is for hotter-than-average temperatures in the entire United States except a tiny circle of southeastern Texas.

“We’re in a new neighborhood now as far as global temperature,” said Deke Arndt, NOAA’s climate monitoring chief. “We’ve kind of left the previous decade behind.”

But it’s not quite as broiling as it has been. May only broke the record — set in 2015 — by .04 degrees. It’s the first time since November that a month wasn’t a full degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter than the 20th-century average. March and February this year were 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

“It is slightly off from the kind of unprecedented large global temperatures we’ve seen in the last five to seven months,” Arndt says.

Arndt, like nearly every major climate scientist, says the record warm temperatures are due to a strong El Nino placed on top of man-made global warming from heat-trapping gases that come from the burning of fossil fuels.

The El Nino has just dissipated and forecasters expect its cooler flip side, La Nina, to kick in soon, which should keep global temperatures a bit lower than they’ve been, but still warmer than 20th-century average, Arndt said

But that may not be quite enough to keep 2016 from being the third straight record hot year, Arndt says. That’s because so far, 2016 is averaging 55.5 degrees (13.06 degrees Celsius), which beats the previous January to May record set last year by 0.43 degrees.

Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist at the University of Arizona, just came back from India and its record-breaking heat wave in time for potential record breaking heat in parts of Arizona.

“Thirteen months of consecutive record breaking heat is really unprecedented, and it’s yet another visceral glimpse of what is yet to come as the planet warms up even a lot more,” Overpeck said in an email. “No doubt about it, the planet is warming fast and we’re feeling the impacts.”

India denies forcing tribes from ‘Jungle Book’ tiger reserve

A wildlife official in central India on May 25 rejected claims that tribes living in a tiger sanctuary inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” were being forced from their ancestral land to protect the endangered animals.

Indigenous rights group Survival International says the Baiga tribes in the Achanakmar Wildlife Sanctuary in Chhattisgarh state are being harassed by forest guards to leave the land where they have lived for generations.

B.N. Dwivedi, principal chief conservator of forests and chief wildlife warden in Chhattisgarh, said there were plans to relocate some tribal villages that are inside the sanctuary, but that no force was being used.

“When we evacuate some villagers from the tiger reserve, it cannot be done without their permission, without their acceptance, without their saying ‘yes’,” Dwivedi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh.

“The allegation that they are being relocated forcefully is not correct and entirely incorrect.”

Achanakmar covers an area of 552 sq km (213 sq miles) and is home to numerous flora and fauna, including endangered animals such as leopards, wild bison and the Bengal tiger.

It forms part of a tiger corridor to the neighbouring Kanha National Park, which provided the inspiration for “The Jungle Book”, Kipling’s novel about an abandoned boy who is raised by wolves in the jungle in India.

London-based Survival International said the Baiga people were told they will have to move from their villages to a muddy clearing outside the reserve, even though there is no evidence their presence in the reserve is harming tigers.

In fact, it said, the number of tigers in the reserve has reportedly risen to 28 in 2015, from 12 in 2011.

“It’s illegal and immoral to target tribes, who have co-existed with the tiger for centuries, when industrialisation and mass-scale colonial-era hunting are the real reason the tiger became endangered,” said Survival’s Director Stephen Corry.

“Big conservation organisations should be partnering with tribal peoples, not propping up the forest departments that are guilty of brutalising them. Targeting tribal people harms conservation,” Corry said in a statement on Monday.

Despite a slew of “pro-poor” policies, activists say India’s economic boom has bypassed many tribal communities, who make up more than 8 percent of its population of 1.3 billion people.

Many live in forest villages, eking out a living by farming, rearing cattle, collecting and selling fruit and leaves.

The Forest Rights Act, a law recognising the right of indigenous tribes to inhabit forests where their forefathers had settled centuries earlier, came into force in 2008.

But some environmentalists fear it has hindered conservation efforts and encouraged the poaching of animals such as tigers.

Dwivedi said there were plans to relocate 250 Baiga families from four villages, but all were happy to leave the reserve.

“They are in fact very much willing to go out of that place,” he said. “They want to come out from the area so that they get schooling, hospital as well as road facilities.”

(Reporting by Jatindra Dash, writing by Nita Bhalla, editing by Alisa Tang. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

Climate change blamed for India’s record-breaking heat wave

A heat wave in India has resulted in the country’s highest recorded temperature ever  — a scorching 51 degrees Celsius (123.8 degrees Fahrenheit).

The record was set May 19 in the city of Phalodi, in the western state of Rajasthan. India’s meteorological department said the previous high was 50.6 C (123 F), reached in 1956 in the city of Alwar, also in Rajasthan.

A searing heat wave has ravaged most more than 13 Indian states for weeks. Roads have melted in the state of Gujarat. Tens of thousands of small farmers have abandoned their land to move into cities. But many others have chosen to kill themselves over having to go to live in urban shanty towns.

Laxman Singh Rathore, director general of the India Meteorological Association blamed human-caused climate change for the rising temperatures.

“It has been observed that since 2001, places in northern India, especially in Rajasthan, have experienced rising temperatures every year,” he said in a statement. “The main reason is the excessive use of energy and emission of carbon dioxide. Factors like urbanization and industrialization too have added to the global warming phenomenon. I think similar trend would be maintained in Rajasthan in coming days.”

Authorities have issued a severe heat wave alert for the next two days in the western states of Gujarat, Rajasthan and parts of the central state of Madhya Pradesh. That means the areas can expect temperatures of 47 C (116.6 F) or more.

The main summer months — April, May and June — are always excruciatingly hot across most parts of India before monsoon rains bring cooler temperatures.

The monsoon normally hits southern India in the first week of June and covers the rest of the nation within a month. It is especially eagerly awaited this year because several parts of the country are reeling under a drought brought on by two years of weak rains.

Clare Nullis, a spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization, told reporters in Geneva on May 20, during a briefing on record global temperatures that meteorologists expect this year’s Indian monsoon will bring more rain than normal, which would be good news for the drought-stricken regions.

“Obviously the monsoon hasn’t yet started. The intervening weeks will be quite serious. But I understand the Indian government is actually taking quite serious measures to address this,” she said.

In Rajasthan and Gujarat, authorities issued advisories urging people to remain indoors during the hottest parts of the day and stay hydrated.

Hospitals were asked to set aside beds to treat patients suffering from heatstroke.

Many people believe that certain foods help prevent heatstroke, and stalls selling a salty-sweet drink made of raw mangoes and ones selling sliced watermelon and cucumbers have been doing a brisk business.

The prolonged heat wave this year has already killed hundreds and destroyed crops in more than 13 states, impacting hundreds of millions of Indians.

Hundreds of farmers are reported to have killed themselves across the country and tens of thousands of small farmers have been forced to abandon their farmland and live in squalor in urban slums in order to eke out a living.

Rivers, lakes and dams have dried up in many parts of the western states of Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Gujarat, and officials say groundwater reservoirs are severely depleted.

In some areas, the situation is so bad the government has sent in water by train for emergency relief.


Study: Air pollution kills 3.3 million worldwide, farming plays a major role

Air pollution is killing 3.3 million people a year worldwide, according to a new study that includes this surprise: Farming plays a large role in smog and soot deaths in industrial nations.

Scientists in Germany, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia and Harvard University calculated the most detailed estimates yet of the toll of air pollution, looking at what caused it. The study also projects that if trends don’t change, the yearly death total will double to about 6.6 million a year by 2050.

The study, published in the journal Nature, used health statistics and computer models. About three quarters of the deaths are from strokes and heart attacks, said lead author Jos Lelieveld at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany.

The findings are similar to other less detailed pollution death estimates, outside experts said.

“About 6 percent of all global deaths each year occur prematurely due to exposure to ambient air pollution. This number is higher than most experts would have expected, say, 10 years ago,” said Jason West, a University of North Carolina environmental sciences professor who wasn’t part of the study but praised it.

Air pollution kills more than HIV and malaria combined, Lelieveld said.

With nearly 1.4 million deaths a year, China has the most air pollution fatalities, followed by India with 645,000 and Pakistan with 110,000.

The United States, with 54,905 deaths in 2010 from soot and smog, ranks seventh highest for air pollution deaths. What’s unusual is that the study says that agriculture caused 16,221 of those deaths, second only to 16,929 deaths blamed on power plants.

In the U.S. Northeast, all of Europe, Russia, Japan and South Korea, agriculture is the No. 1 cause of the soot and smog deaths, according to the study. Worldwide, agriculture is the No. 2 cause with 664,100 deaths, behind the more than 1 million deaths from in-home heating and cooking done with wood and other biofuels in developing world.

The problem with farms is ammonia from fertilizer and animal waste, Lelieveld said. That ammonia then combines with sulfates from coal-fired power plants and nitrates from car exhaust to form the soot particles that are the big air pollution killers, he said. In London, for example, the pollution from traffic takes time to be converted into soot, and then it is mixed with ammonia and transported downwind to the next city, he said.

“We were very surprised, but in the end it makes sense,” Lelieveld said. He said the scientists had assumed that traffic and power plants would be the biggest cause of deadly soot and smog.

Agricultural emissions are becoming increasingly important but are not regulated, said Allen Robinson, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, who wasn’t part of the study but praised it.

Ammonia air pollution from farms can be reduced “at relatively low costs,” Robinson said. “Maybe this will help bring more attention to the issue.”

In the central United States, the main cause of soot and smog premature deaths is power plants; in much of the West, it’s traffic emissions.

Jason West and other outside scientists did dispute the study’s projections that deaths would double by 2050. That’s based on no change in air pollution. West and others said it’s likely that some places, such as China, will dramatically cut their air pollution by 2050.

And Lelieveld said that if the world reduces a different air pollutant — carbon dioxide, the main gas causing global warming — soot and smog levels will be reduced as well, in a “win-win situation in both directions.”

Indian and Chinese immigrants to U.S. are outpacing those from Mexico

Siddharth Jaganath wanted to return to India after earning his master’s degree at Texas’ Southern Methodist University. Instead, he built a new life in the U.S. over a decade, becoming a manager at a communications technology company and starting a family in the Dallas suburb of Plano.

“You start growing your roots and eventually end up staying here,” the 37-year-old said.

His path is an increasingly common one: Immigrants from China and India, many with student or work visas, have overtaken Mexicans as the largest groups coming into the U.S., according to U.S Census Bureau research released in May.

While Republican presidential contenders spar for the mantle of the candidate who will treat immigrants the worst, they’re speaking of immigrants from Mexico. They’re seemingly unaware of the shift that’s been building for more than a decade — a shift that experts say is bringing more highly skilled immigrants here.

Mexicans still dominate the overall composition of immigrants in the U.S., accounting for more than a quarter of the foreign-born people. But of the 1.2 million newly arrived immigrants here legally and illegally counted in the 2013 census, China led with 147,000, followed by India with 129,000 and Mexico with 125,000. It’s a sharp contrast to the 2000 census, which counted 402,000 from Mexico and no more than 84,000 each from India and China. Experts say part of the reason for the decrease in Mexican immigrants is a dramatic plunge in illegal immigration.

“We’re not likely to see Asians overtake Latin Americans anytime soon (in overall immigration population). But we are sort of at the leading edge of this transition where Asians will represent a larger and larger share of the U.S. foreign-born population,” said Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program for the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute.

The national trend is evident even in Texas, where the number of Mexican immigrants coming to the border state each year has dropped by more than half since 2005, according to the Office of the State Demographer. In that time, the number of people from India coming to Texas has more than doubled and the number from China has increased more than fivefold, though both still comfortably trail Mexican immigrants.

Asian immigrants have flocked to Texas’ large urban and suburban areas, including the Dallas suburb of Collin County, the home to many major businesses. Laxmi Tummala, a real estate agent in the area and a U.S.-born child of Indian immigrants, has witnessed a buildup in Indian restaurants, grocery stores, clothing outlets and worship centers.

“All of that is extremely accessible now,” Tummala said.

Donald Trump has proposed kicking out the estimated 11 million people who are in the U.S. illegally before allowing the “good ones” and “talented” ones back in. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio both have said that the legal immigration process should focus more on letting in workers the country needs rather than reuniting families.

Increasing the flow of highly skilled immigrants would likely have a big impact on those coming from India and China. The majority of them who are 25 and older who arrived within three years of the 2013 census had a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Mexican immigrants only had 15 percent, up from 6 percent in 2000.

China and India’s growing economies have given immigrants access to travel and the ability to pay for an education abroad. Hua Bai came to the University of Texas at Dallas from China last year to work on a master’s degree in marketing and information technology management. The 25-year-old said that given the right opportunity, she’d like to stay in the U.S.

“If I get sponsorship I’d consider living here and working here,” she said. “It all depends on the job opportunities.”

Without revisions in immigration policy, experts say the change to the overall immigrant population will be slow. One reason is that the number of Mexicans who become legal permanent residents is about twice the number of Indian and Chinese people who do, according to Michael Fix, president of the Migration Policy Institute.

But a rising number of Chinese and Indians will become permanent residents, given the current rate of about half of people here on temporary work visas obtaining that status, Fix said.

Jaganath was among that group, inspired to come to the U.S. because the country is a leader in his career field.

“That was a following-the-dream type of thing for me,” he said.

Survey: 35.8 million enslaved around the world

An estimated 35.8 million people are trapped in modern slavery through human trafficking, forced labor, debt bondage, forced or servile marriage or commercial sexual exploitation.

The number is 20 percent higher than previously estimated, according to the Global Slavery Index recently published by the Walk Free Foundation, a global human rights group dedicated to ending modern slavery.

“There is an assumption that slavery is an issue from a bygone era,” said Andrew Forrest, chairman and founder of Walk Free Foundation. “Or that it only exists in countries ravaged by war and poverty. These findings show that modern slavery exists in every country.”

The index shows that Mauritania has the highest proportion of its population in modern slavery, at 4 percent, followed by Uzbekistan at 3.97 percent, Haiti at 2.3 percent, Qatar at 1.36 percent and India at 1.14 percent.

In terms of absolute numbers, India has the highest number of enslaved people — an estimated 14.29 million, followed by China (3.24 million), Pakistan (2.06 million), Uzbekistan (1.2 million) and Russia (1.05 million).

Together these nations account for 61 percent of the world’s modern slavery, or nearly 22 million people.

Forrest said, “The first step in eradicating slavery is to measure it. And with that critical information, we must all come together — governments, businesses and civil society — to finally bring an end to the most severe form of exploitation.”

Nobel Peace Prize winners: Education for all

Nobel Peace Prize winners Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India have stressed the importance of uniting people across borders and religions by educating children and freeing them from poverty.

The 17-year-old Malala, who was shot in the head two years ago for insisting that girls have as much right to education as boys, says it is “not only the right but the duty of children” to be educated.

Sitting side-by-side with Malala, the 60-year-old Satyarthi said that even if a single child is denied education “we cannot say we are enlightened.”

The Nobel Peace Prize winners were speaking to reporters in the Norwegian capital a day before being presented their awards on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896.

Malala, the youngest Nobel Prize winner, said said she had been concentrating on her difficult school exams in recent weeks – she is pleased to have gotten As and Bs -and has only focused on writing her Nobel speech in the last week.

To spotlight her crusade, Malala invited four girls and a young woman who have fought for education rights in Syria, Nigeria and Pakistan to join her delegation.

“I’m really happy my friends are coming,” she said. “I feel I am speaking on their behalf. It is important they are able to join me. This is a very big platform.”

Millions watch Bollywood style video on LGBT equality

A Bollywood-inspired United Nations music video promoting equal rights for LGBT people has been watched by more than a million people online and millions more on television since its release on April 30, according to the UN.

Charles Radcliffe of the UN Human Rights Office said this week that the novel approach to promoting equality around the world has “paid off.”

And gone viral.

The 2 1/2-minute video stars Indian actress Celina Jaitly, named a United Nations Equality Champion by human rights chief Navi Pillay last year for her support for LGBT rights.

Jaitly said this week that she has been “overwhelmed by the positive response.”

She said the video is aimed at promoting the difficult conversations that promote change “in a wonderful light hearted way through the universal language of music.”

Watch the video here: 


Activists: Anti-gay ruling in India hurts AIDS fight

Gay-rights activists and health workers in India are warning that a new Supreme Court ruling criminalizing homosexuality will undo years of progress in fighting AIDS by driving gay and transgender people underground.

They say HIV services expanded and gay and transgender people became more likely to seek them out after a landmark 2009 ruling decriminalized same-sex acts by throwing out a colonial-era law. India’s top court revived the law Dec. 11, saying it is up to the country’s lawmakers – not the court – to change it.

Activists fear the ruling will make LGBT people too fearful to seek treatment or counseling, driving HIV infections up. Indian health officials said last year that annual new HIV infections among adults had fallen 57 percent over the previous decade.

The reinstated law calls homosexuality an “unnatural offense” punishable by 10 years in jail. Criminal prosecutions were rare when the law was previously in force, but police used it to harass people and demand bribes.

“This law has made us all criminals,” said Lakshmi Tripathi, a transgender activist who added that the law will stop many people from approaching doctors or health clinics for prevention or treatment for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

“How can I go to an HIV/AIDS clinic?” asked Tripathi. “If I did, I can be hauled into jail for my lifestyle, for violating the law.”

Health activists say that before the law was overturned in 2009, nongovernmental organizations that ran AIDS intervention centers faced the threat of police raids.

In 2005, police raided an HIV outreach center in the Indian capital and forced it to close, said Shaleen Rakesh of the India HIV/AIDS Alliance.

“This happened in New Delhi,” he said. “The situation in small towns and in the rural hinterland is much worse.”

UNAIDS said in a statement this month that the number of organizations providing HIV services to gay and transgender people rose more than 50 percent while homosexuality was decriminalized.

“After the 2009 ruling, we saw a jump in gay men, bisexuals and transgenders coming to public health centers on their own, seeking medical advice or treatment. They felt it was safe to do so,” said Ashok Row Kavi of the Humsafar Trust, a group working with the gay community.

“Our big worry now is that they may stay away from health centers out of fear,” he said.

India’s reversal comes as gays and lesbians worldwide rack up significant victories in their quest for marriage equality and other rights. Same-sex marriage has legal recognition in 18 countries, 18 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

Parts of Asia appear to be growing more tolerant of homosexuality. China is increasingly accepting of gays and lesbians, although same-sex partnerships are not recognized. A law against “hooliganism” that used to target gays was eliminated in 1997 and homosexuality was removed from China’s list of mental disorders in 2001.

Thailand has no laws against homosexuality and is generally tolerant of gays, lesbians and transgender people. It is the only country in Southeast Asia to have a government-sponsored tourism campaign – “Go Thai. Be Free” – that is aimed at gay and lesbian travelers.

But in much of the world, homosexuality remains deeply taboo. According to international human rights groups, more than 70 countries have laws criminalizing homosexual conduct, with India by far the most populous.

Over the past decade, gays have gained a degree of acceptance in parts of India, especially its big cities. Many bars have gay nights, and some high-profile Bollywood films have dealt with gay issues. The last few years have also seen large gay pride parades in New Delhi and other big cities.

Still, being gay is seen as shameful in most of the country, and many homosexuals remain closeted.

Gay rights activists in India had hoped the 2009 decision would usher in greater acceptance of gays and lesbians, but now fear the stigma they face in India’s deeply conservative society will prevent them from disclosing their sexual orientation and openly accessing health care programs.

The social stigma faced by young gay men meant that they are forced by their families into marriage, putting their wives too at risk of contracting HIV.

HIV prevalence in the general population in India is around 0.31 percent, according to World Bank figures. According to the AIDS control organization, in 2010-11 the rate was 4.4 percent for gay men and 8.8 percent for transgendered people. The rate for gay men has been going down, but Rakesh of the India HIV/AIDS Alliance warned that the court ruling could change that.

“India is sitting on an HIV time bomb,” he said. “If India does not address this situation immediately, not only the gay and transgender community, but the rest of the population is also sitting on the same time bomb.”

Miley Cyrus leads in Time’s Person of the Year poll

Pop singer Miley Cyrus is in the lead in Time magazine’s annual readers’ Person of the Year survey.

Cyrus, with two days left in the popular balloting online, had 20.3 percent of the vote.

In the No. 2 spot is Egyptian defense minister Abdel Fattah El-Sisi with 18.5 percent, followed by Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan at 18.3 percent and Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi at 16.9  percent.

Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis was in fifth place at 2.7 percent, then Bashar Al-Assad, Edward Snowden, Malala Yousafzai, Pope Francis, Jimmy Fallon, Vladimir Putin and more.

The popular vote on Time.com does not decide the magazine’s Person of the Year, who is chosen by editors and will be named Dec. 11. The popular vote decides readers’ Person of the Year, which will be announced on Dec. 6.

On the Web…

Time voting: