International Headlines: Science and Environment


Ethiopia Opens Sub-Saharan Africa’s First TramwayBusiness Day September 20, 2015

Sub-Saharan Africa’s first modern tramway opened in the Ethiopian capital marking the completion of a Chinese-funded infrastructure project hailed as a major step in the country’s economic development. Even before the ribbon was cut, several hundred residents were queueing for a ride on the Chinese-driven trams, which have the capacity to carry 60,000 passengers a day across the capital of Africa’s second most populous nation. The two line, 34-kilometre system was built by the China Railway Engineering Corporation (CREC). 85% of the $475 million project cost has been covered by China’s Exim bank. The tramway is designed to relieve the mounting strain on the city’s roads, where public transport for the five million (and growing) population has consisted of aged buses and "blue donkeys" — a network of cramped, polluting minibuses. Trams ticket prices have been set at the low, accessible rate of no more than $0.30. The light rail has been hailed as a milestone Ethiopia’s development, and part of a cluster of major infrastructure projects — most of them Chinese-funded — that include railway lines, motorways and dams.

The project is also a symbol of China’s continued strong economic presence on the commodity-rich African continent. Beijing even built the $200 million African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa in 2012 as a gift expressing "friendship to the African people." Ethiopia’s transport minister, Workneh Gebeyehu, said the tramway project would also boost Ethiopia’s bid to make the city — already the seat of the African Union — the undisputed continental hub.

Young Palestinian Woman Shot by Israeli Forces dies Al Jazeera September 22, 2015

A young Palestinian woman shot and wounded by Israeli troops after she reportedly attempted to stab a soldier at a checkpoint in the occupied West Bank has died, sources have told Al Jazeera. The soldier was not wounded. The woman, identified as a 19-year-old university student, was wounded at the checkpoint near the center of Hebron around 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday. While an Israeli army spokeswoman said that the soldier had fired at the woman’s “lower extremities,” it later emerged that she was shot several times, including in the chest. A video shows the woman being left to bleed on the ground after she was shot and then being roughly pulled out of the frame of a camera. A coordinator of Youth Against Settlements stated that the number of Israeli soldiers has been increasing throughout the city and that clashes "are still ongoing across the city" between Palestinian youth and Israeli soldiers in the area following the shooting.  On Tuesday, a Palestinian man died during an Israeli army operation in the same city, Hebron, as he handled a makeshift explosive device. However, Palestinian security officials said he was shot dead by Israeli troops in the village of Khursa near Hebron. Tensions have been running high across the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem, ahead of the Jewish Yom Kippur holiday, which begins at sundown on Tuesday, and the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, which begins on Wednesday evening and continues until Sunday. Israel has deployed thousands of police in Jerusalem and is closing it off from the West Bank. With the latest death, at least 25 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since the beginning of 2015, according to UN figures.

German Woman Aged 91 Charged Over Nazi Death Camp Allegations The Guardian September 21, 2015

A 91-year-old woman who worked as a telegraph operator in Auschwitz has been charged with complicity in the murders of at least 260,000 Jews during the Second World War. A court in the northern German city of Kiel is to decide whether to proceed with a trial next year, taking both the charges against her and her health into consideration. Chief prosecutor Dollel, says she belonged to an all-female unit that helped the Nazi SS in concentration camps, and that she was accused in connection with events between April to July 1944. Those three months correspond to a time when huge numbers of Hungarian Jews were murdered in the gas chambers of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. In July, a 94-year-old former SS officer was sentenced to four years in jail as an accessory to murder in 300,000 cases in which Hungarian Jews were sent to the gas chambers between May and July 1944.

Free Transit Attracts Riders, Helps Communities in More Ways Than One Shareable September 16, 2015

In January, as part of a larger transit improvement package, Missoula, Montana’s transit agency, Mountain Line, began a three-year, demonstration project on its fixed-route and door-to-door services where bus service is free. The demonstration project costs $460,000 a year and is funded annually by the University of Missoula ($205,000), the city $100,000, and others including Missoula County, the metropolitan planning organization, hospitals and medical centers, public schools, the department for aging, downtown and parking associations, a shopping mall, and an affordable-housing provider. Missoula is one of more than 35 communities in the US that have implemented fare-free public transit systems. It serves just under one million bus riders annually and hopes to grow its ridership by 45 percent within three years. Before this February, Mountain Line had never broken the 100,000 ride barrier. However, since then they have broken 100,000 every month, setting ever increasing ridership records. For the first time, ridership increased during the summer months.

Zero-fare systems have many benefits: lower administrative costs from not having to charge, collect, and enforce fares or issue tickets (e.g. transfer and monthly passes); shorter travel times, since passengers can board more quickly; reduced traffic, which results in less pollution; enhanced community pride as communities earn recognition such as “best places to live”; transit equity as service becomes accessible to everyone, regardless of income.

The three types of communities most likely to adopt a fare-free policy are rural and small urban, university dominated, and resort communities. A small number of public transit systems in larger urban areas experimented with offering some version of fare-free service over the years, but finding a source of funds to replace their substantial fare-box revenues proved too difficult. As of 2012, no public transit system with more than 100 buses offered fare-free service.

What America Owes the Refugees Pouring Into America Foreign Policy in Focus September 11, 2015

In addition to Syria, refugees are pouring into Europe from Libya, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Bangladesh, and beyond. The war in Syria lies at the center of the crisis. The United States bears no small responsibility. The Syrian war is directly connected to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, which gave rise to ISIS. Even now the U.S. airstrikes in Syria and neighboring Iraq are escalating the war in both places. The Obama administration’s decision to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country next year is welcome but not enough. It immediately needs to: increase daily refugee assistance to the World Food Program and the UN Human Rights Committee equal to its military action against ISIS (about $9 million a day); accept 65,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year, as called for by leading human rights organizations. In the next 30 days, Washington needs a plan to parole refugees into the United States while their home countries remain dangerous with longer-term protection determined on a case by case basis. In the next 45 days, the White House should announce: that it will provide 28 percent of the needed emergency refugee assistance (equivalent to the U.S. share of global wealth). This means 28 percent of the $5.5 billion requested by the United Nations through the end of this year and 28 percent of the 4 million refugees from Syria (and others fleeing due to the Syrian war) who need refuge abroad. Currently, fewer than 1,000 Syrians have been allowed into the United States. In the next 60 days, the U.S. should develop a new plan to engage with Iran as well as all other regional and global players in a renewed United Nations-led diplomatic and arms embargo initiative to end the Syrian war.