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Date: Fri, 17 Nov 2017 10:52:10 +0100

Athens, Nov 17, 2017 (AFP) - Six people are still missing in Greece two days after a flash flood killed 16 people near the capital, the fire department said Friday.   "We are looking for two additional people whose disappearance was declared to police," a fire department spokesman said.   "That brings the total to six," he said.   The Greek government on Wednesday declared a three-day state of mourning after the freak flood struck the towns of Mandra, Nea Peramos and Megara, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Athens.

Some elderly people died inside or near their homes, drivers were trapped in their cars as they drove to work, and two bodies were found at sea.   "We have never seen such a storm. Five months of rain fell in just a few hours," Megara mayor Grigoris Stamoulis told state TV ERT.   One of the missing is apparently a hunter. The other was last seen at a roadside canteen, the spokesman said. Several people were trapped there when the flood struck.   At the height of the disaster, the deluge exceeded three metres (10 feet) in some areas, witnesses said. Three highways were flooded, submerging and carrying away even trailer trucks.

Over a hundred firefighters were in the area for a third day, clearing debris and racing against the clock to find people who could still be trapped under the mud.   "We are continuing to drain water (from properties) and to look for the missing, which is our priority," said fire department chief Constantinos Giovas.   Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he felt "shock" after touring the area Thursday.   "This is clearly a rare and extreme weather phenomenon," Tsipras said in a statement.   "But this extreme phenomenon had these effects because of (decades of) accumulated problems and deficiencies in infrastructure and zone planning," he said.

Experts have said ill-conceived building in the area -- some of it by local municipal authorities -- meant this was a disaster waiting to happen.    Corrective drainage works for the area were approved in 2016 but work has yet to begin.   Stricken areas will request EU solidarity funds, the Athens governor's office said.   Late on Thursday, the capital was lashed by another thunderstorm and firefighters in northern Greece said they were called to drain water from over 400 homes.    In the northern region of Pieria, nearly 40 people had to be rescued by firefighters, authorities said.
Date: Fri, 17 Nov 2017 07:27:54 +0100

Port-au-Prince, Nov 17, 2017 (AFP) - Floods caused by two days of torrential rains have left five people dead in Haiti and more than 10,000 homes inundated, authorities said Thursday.   Among the victims was a woman in her fifties and a three-year-old girl who were swept away as they tried to cross a rain-swollen river in Port-de-Paix in the northwest.   The body of a man in his sixties also was recovered in the same region, the civil protection agency said in a statement giving a preliminary summary of the toll.

In southern Haiti, a man drowned on the island of Vache and a two-year-old died in flooding in Cayes, Haiti's third largest city.   Cayes was particularly hard hit: the city's assistant mayor said more than 10,000 houses there were inundated.   Rescue workers reported that numerous roads were cut off in at least three of Haiti's 10 departments.   Jerry Chandler, Haiti's civil protection chief, called on people to exercise caution, warning that weather conditions would not improve before the weekend.
Date: Fri, 17 Nov 2017 07:26:03 +0100

Washington, Nov 17, 2017 (AFP) - The US military has quietly upped the tempo of its operations in Somalia, conducting a growing number of drone strikes against Al-Qaeda affiliated Shabaab militants and other jihadists.   Since the start of the year, America has carried out 28 drone strikes in the Horn of Africa nation, with 15 of these coming since September 1, the military's Africa Command (AFRICOM) said.   That's a big increase from last year. According to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which maintains a tally of US operations in Somalia and elsewhere, there were 15 anti-Shabaab air strikes in the whole of 2016.

The surge in activity comes as the US watches for an influx of fighters from the Islamic State group, which has lost almost all its territory in Iraq and Syria.     The US conducted a pair of drone strikes against IS in Somalia on November 3, the first time it has hit the jihadists there.   Though the Pentagon has provided few details about the strikes, spokesman Colonel Rob Manning said this week that US forces had killed 40 Shabaab and IS fighters in a series of five strikes on Somalia between November 9 and 12.

On Wednesday, AFRICOM announced a sixth strike that killed "several" Shabaab militants 60 miles (97 kilometers) northwest of the capital, Mogadishu.   The surge in activity comes after President Donald Trump in March loosened constraints on the US military in Somalia, allowing commanders to take action against suspected terrorists when they judge it is needed, without seeking specific White House approval.   The US is supporting the country's fight against Shabaab, which has carried out a string of devastating bombings in Mogadishu and elsewhere.

In May, officials said only about 50 US troops were in Somalia providing training and advice for the Somali military and logistical support, but on Thursday the Pentagon said the figure is now at about 500.   Pentagon spokesman and Joint Staff Director Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie told reporters Thursday that he didn't necessarily think there was a ramping-up of operations, but said the "density of targets" meant more strikes had been possible.   "There's no particular rhythm to it, except that as (targets) become available and as we're able to process them and vet them, we strike," he said.   McKenzie added that officials keep a close eye on foreign fighters' movements from Iraq and Syria, but he would not say if the Pentagon was tracking jihadists flowing from their former "caliphate" through Yemen and onto Somalia.

Aside from US forces training and advising Somalia's young military, about 22,000 African Union troops are helping secure outlying urban areas.   AMISOM, the AU's mission in Somalia, has said it will withdraw 1,000 troops fighting jihadists in the country this year, as part of plans to pull out all soldiers by December 2020.

Washington is worried the reduction will hamper efforts against Shabaab.   Deputy Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan met with Ugandan Minister of Defense Adolf Mwesige in Vancouver, Canada on the margins of a UN peacekeeping summit this week.    Uganda is the main contributor to AMISOM and has been there for a decade.   Shanahan "acknowledged those Ugandan lives lost in Somalia. He expressed his understanding of the frustration with the pace of progress in Somalia but also his confidence that progress is being made," Shanahan's spokeswoman
Commander Sarah Higgins said.

For Jennifer Cooke, an Africa specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, this "militarization" of US policy in Somalia is concerning.    "The raining down of strikes from the sky can give major fuel to recruitment by (jihadist) groups," she told AFP.    Cooke worried that increasing military intervention is not being matched by diplomatic efforts in Somalia as the US State Department's budget is cut.   "You don't have the counter-balance of a diplomatic strategy to go with that expanding military footprint," she said, also adding that rising civilian casualties were a real risk.
Date: Fri, 17 Nov 2017 04:54:55 +0100
By Nick Perry

Ahmedabad, India, Nov 17, 2017 (AFP) - Traffic chokes the centuries-old stone archway into Ahmedabad's historic quarter, the snarl of honking rickshaws and sputtering buses coats the monuments of India's only heritage city in a greasy layer of soot.

Conservation experts warn Ahmedabad, one of the world's most polluted cities, faces a mammoth task defending its newly won UNESCO status as its fragile cultural icons decay under neglect, traffic and trash.   The 600-year-old enclave was named India's first 'World Heritage City' in July -- despite warnings from some of UNESCO's own experts that it lacked a convincing plan for protecting its ancient citadels, mosques and tombs.   Ahmedabad hosts the towering Bhadra fort, the legendary stone latticework of the 16th-century Sidi Saiyyed mosque, and countless relics fusing the unique Hindu and Muslim architectural styles of its conquerors.

Authorities hope the global recognition from the UN's cultural body will restore community pride in the crumbling, garbage-strewn old city.   "They themselves also will be slightly more restrained in dirtying the places," said P.K Ghosh, chairman of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation's heritage conservation committee, of the city's inhabitants.   But many families that once fastidiously tended to ornate wooden homes in the old city are leaving in droves for the comforts of the modern city outside, tired of shabby living conditions.

- Treasures in ruin -
Jagruti Vyas, a long-term resident, hoped the UNESCO listing would bring standards in her dilapidated neighbourhood into line with newer areas beyond the old city's walls.   "We hope to see similar changes, such as this part of the city becoming cleaner," she told AFP from the narrow doorway of her wooden home.

But it is the pressures of modern Ahmedabad -- the chronic air pollution, crushing traffic and chaotic urban sprawl -- that experts say are also rapidly eroding its cultural capital.   The cramped heritage district was never built for cars, yet today thousands of trucks and rickshaws are diverted through its narrow lanes and alleys.    The grinding congestion tears apart roads and fouls the air with fumes, streaking stone-carved monuments with black exhaust stains.   Long-flouted laws banning construction near heritage sites have also hampered efforts to save Ahmedabad's treasures from ruin.

In the heart of the old quarter, just the dome of a medieval mosque is visible behind a tangle of shops, electricity wires and flats illegally erected around the sultanate-era relic.   Ornate homes have been torn down and replaced by garish structures "totally incongruous" with history, said Ghosh.   He said the heritage listing would give teeth to those safeguarding Ahmedabad's architectural heritage.  "There will be stricter enforcement of the rules. "Pulling down the exquisite old architectural pieces will not be easy now," he told AFP.

- Challenge starts now -
Some long-neglected quarters, sealed off from the outside world by labyrinthine alleys, are well beyond restoration.   Many traditional 'pols' -- clusters of settlements identified by UNESCO as bearing "enormous" historical value -- are all but abandoned, the iconic wooden homes collapsing from neglect.   A small boy was injured in October when a balcony caved in, while at least two people died in July when monsoon rains brought whole houses crashing down, media reported.

Once grand havelis -- beautiful multi-level wooden mansions -- are being rented to poor migrants and businesses looking for warehouse space.   Conservation architect and old city expert Khushi Shah said Ahmedabad was "one of the most unique urban settlements in India" that could not be recreated once it was gone.   "The city which we call a 'living heritage entity' will no longer be so if people start moving out," she told AFP.   Ahmedabad's conservation committee has three years to document close to 3,000 buildings of heritage value to strict UNESCO standards -- a monumental task for Ghosh's small team.

UNESCO could revoke or downgrade Ahmedabad's listing to "heritage in danger" should the deadline be missed and the committee fail to show it has slowed the decline and destruction of the old city.   Jigna Desai, associate professor at CEPT University's architecture faculty in Ahmedabad, said the coveted UNESCO inscription would mean little if there was nothing left to protect.   "How do you make sure that this evidence does not deteriorate, that the evidence stays for the world to see, or the next generations to see?" she told AFP.   Ghosh's deputy at the heritage council, P.K.V Nair, agrees: "Getting the listing was one thing, now meeting that challenge is more important."
Date: Fri, 17 Nov 2017 01:54:53 +0100

San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico, Nov 17, 2017 (AFP) - The Agua Azul waterfalls in southern Mexico are a playground of bright turquoise water cascading over limestone steps.   But after a powerful earthquake hit the country, they dried up -- and the area's once-booming tourist economy along with them.   The state of Chiapas, where the falls trickle near the ancient Mayan ruins of Palenque, was the epicenter of the 8.2-magnitude earthquake that struck Mexico on September 7, killing 96 people.   Besides flattening houses and buildings across a broad swathe of southern Mexico, the quake, along with thousands of aftershocks, also altered the bed of the Agua Azul river.

The tremors -- together with the normal erosion of the limestone whose minerals give the water its bright color -- collapsed a portion of the river's left bank, said Mexico's National Water Commission.   That shifted the flow of water to another branch of the river and caused the water level to drop by nearly a meter (three feet), leaving the falls completely dry in many places.   Locals watched in alarm this month as the water dried up from one day to the next, making them fear for the future of a tourist attraction that draws thousands of visitors a day from around the world.   "If there are no tourists, there are no jobs," local businessman Juan Manuel Hernandez told AFP.   The government vowed to study the problem and seek a solution.   But not content to sit back and wait, locals have taken matters into their own hands.

Using shovels and pickaxes, they partially restored the riverbed to its original course, bringing back a trickle of the famously bright blue water.   After moving as much stone and sediment as they could by hand, they have asked the authorities for heavy machinery they hope will help them bring the falls back to their full flow.   Mexicans have a tradition of springing into action after earthquakes, stepping up when overwhelmed authorities don't.   After the September 7 quake and another on September 19 that leveled dozens of buildings in Mexico City, killing 369 people, volunteers flooded the streets to pull survivors from the rubble, bring emergency supplies and even provide free legal services and psychological counseling.
Date: Thu, 16 Nov 2017 15:28:29 +0100

Barcelona, Nov 16, 2017 (AFP) - Sales and bookings in shops and hotels in one of Barcelona's most popular neighbourhoods dipped by up to 30 percent last month amid the region's independence crisis, an industry representative said Thursday.   A spokeswoman for the business association of Passeig de Gracia -- one of Barcelona's main thoroughfares -- told AFP that the drop was "between 20 percent and 30 percent" in October compared to the same month a year earlier. 

As the capital of Catalonia, a wealthy northeastern region accounting for one fifth of Spain's GDP, Barcelona has been especially heavily hit by the independence crisis.    Nearly 2,500 business have moved their headquarters to elsewhere in Spain since the region went ahead with a banned referendum on independence on October 1.    Big protests following that vote and the decision of the regional parliament to declare secession on October 27 are thought to have dented visitor confidence.    But Barcelona was also the scene of a deadly van attack on its famous Las Ramblas boulevard in August, which was claimed by the Islamic State group.

The Gremi Hotels Barcelona group, which represents around 400 establishments across the city, reported a dip in revenues of 13 percent in October and said it expects November to be "similar".   It called in a statement for authorities to take steps to "regain the confidence" of visitors.   Around 40 percent of small- and medium-sized business owners reported seeing a "strong or very strong" fall in sales last month, according to a poll by one union.   Of those, 60 percent said the political crisis was to blame.    Catalonia is Spain's most visited region and saw more than 18 million foreigners arrive in 2016. The vital tourism sector accounts for around 12 percent of the region's GDP.
Date: Thu, 16 Nov 2017 04:41:20 +0100

Saint Louis, Senegal, Nov 16, 2017 (AFP) - The echo of Koranic verse from a religious school in Senegal's Saint-Louis is familiar, but just metres down the beach classes have fallen silent in another building abandoned to the ravages of climate change.   Listed in 2000 as a UNESCO world heritage site, Saint Louis has fallen into disrepair, and without urgent intervention more than 300 years of colonial history could be lost.   Beautifully coloured buildings with colonial facades line the streets of the city, once known as "Africa's Venice", but on closer inspection many are crumbling. Others that look on to the beach succumb to Atlantic waves.

And at the cathedral, large sections of plaster peel from the walls and float to the earth.   "It's dramatic and it could become extremely serious," said French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on a visit Tuesday to what was once the Senegalese capital, and where the first French chartered company set up shop in 1659.   On a thin, sandy strip separating the Senegal River from the ocean, the effects of rising sea levels driven by climate change are clear.    Abdoulaye Mben Khali School was forced to relocate eight year groups to another establishment, Cheikh Ndar, itself just 50 metres away on the seafront and also under threat from the waves, explained Saint Louis governor Mariama Traore.   Meanwhile more than 150 families have lost their homes in recent years, several during the height of the storms of Senegal's rainy season in September.   They are now living in tents near the city's tiny airport.

- Fightback -
Senegalese President Macky Sall left the capital, Dakar, on Tuesday to attend a UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, where developing nations will repeat longstanding calls for the world's biggest economies to respect agreements on lowering greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels.   This week, Syria became the 196th country to formally adopt the hard-fought Paris Agreement, signed in 2016, leaving the United States as the only nation in the UN climate convention to reject it.   The Paris Agreement commits countries to limiting average global warming to under two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over Industrial Revolution levels, and 1.5 C if possible, to avert calamitous climate change-induced storms, drought and sea-level rises.

Away from the corridors of international diplomacy, the World Bank is conducting a study on the city and its battle against climate change at the behest of the Senegalese authorities.   "I hope the conclusion will come through quickly because we must draw up an action plan," France's Le Drian noted as he toured the city's winding alleys.   Meanwhile work is due to begin imminently on a 3.6-kilometre (2.2-mile) long dyke to protect the city's most heavily populated neighbourhoods.   Other symbols of France's colonial past in Senegal, which ended with independence in 1960, have created serious debate.

When a bronze statue of Louis Faidherbe, governor of Senegal between 1854-1861 and then 1863-1865, fell from its pedestal in the town square during September's storms, some said good riddance.   But the Senegalese authorities ultimately decided the statue counted as heritage nonetheless and was therefore to be protected, against the cries of pandering to the preservation of colonialism.   The square where Faidherbe was resurrected was supposed to be renovated to the tune of 24.5 million euros ($29 million) by France's development agency, but despite approval in 2011 work has yet to begin.
Date: Wed, 15 Nov 2017 21:21:44 +0100

Maiduguri, Nigeria, Nov 15, 2017 (AFP) - Twelve people were killed Wednesday evening after four suicide bombers struck in the regional capital of Maiduguri in northeast Nigeria, rescue workers told AFP.   Two men and two women blew themselves up in the Muna neighbourhood at around 1700 GMT, the head of Borno State's emergency response agency, Bello Dambatta said.
Date: Tue, 14 Nov 2017 16:21:58 +0100

Paris, Nov 14, 2017 (AFP) - Homesharing giant Airbnb announced Tuesday that it will automatically cap rentals in central Paris to 120 nights a year, bringing it in line with the French capital's legal limit.   But Airbnb was quickly criticised for not imposing the new restriction  -- which will begin in January -- across the entire city.

The measure will be applied in four central Parisian districts "which have faced the pressure of tourism and trade, as well as a particularly strong housing shortage over several decades," Airbnb said in a statement.   "It's unbelievable," Paris city hall official Ian Brossat told AFP.    "This means that Airbnb will not enforce the law" in the city's 16 other districts or arrondissements, he said.   Brossat accused the company of "making an announcement that violates the law as a gesture of good will," calling for it to apply the rental limit in the whole of Paris.

Paris is one of Airbnb's top markets, with some 65,000 sites listed. Another 35,000 are available from similar online platforms.   As a major tourist destination, Paris has slapped limits on the short-term rental of apartments and rooms as they compete with hotels, encourage property speculation and reduce the housing available to residents.   From December 1, anyone wanting to rent their Paris apartment on an online platform will have to get a registration number.   Airbnb was founded in 2008 and offers accommodation ranging from single bedrooms to entire homes in 65,000 cities in 191 countries.
Date: Wed 15 Nov 2017
Source: Boston Globe [edited]

University of Massachusetts Amherst officials say a student on campus has been diagnosed with meningitis weeks after another student fell ill with a related illness and are suggesting students consider an additional vaccination as a precaution.

A student was diagnosed with a meningococcal illness last month [October 2017] that was later determined to be a strain of the disease not covered by the vaccine students must have to attend the school. The 2nd student, who lives in a residence hall, was diagnosed on [Sun 12 Nov 2017] with bacterial meningitis.

"It is not known yet whether the 1st case led to the 2nd case," University Health Services [UHS] Executive Director George Corey said at a press conference [Tue 14 Nov 2017] afternoon. UMass Amherst is the state's largest public university and more than 3-quarters of its 21 000 undergraduate students are from the state.

Meningococcal disease can lead to meningitis -- a potentially deadly infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord -- and infections of the blood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even when treated, meningococcal disease kills 10 to 15 percent of infected people, the center says. As many as 10 to 20 percent of survivors suffer disabilities like hearing loss, brain damage, kidney failure and amputations. "Meningococcal disease often occurs without warning - even among people who are otherwise healthy," the center says.

The university said it is reaching out to those close to the student diagnosed this weekend, who is in stable condition at an area hospital. The student diagnosed [24 Oct 2017] is also in stable condition, the university said.

"Because these 2 students were not in close contact with each other, these 2 cases raise our level of concern," Corey said in a statement. "UHS is working in consultation with federal and state public health officials, and will be updating advice as more information becomes available."

The student diagnosed [24 Oct 2017] has a serogroup B infection, a strain not covered by the meningitis vaccine required for college attendance. That vaccine covers strains A, C, Y and W, the university said. The serogroup B vaccine is available on campus.

Meningococcal disease spreads via close contact like coughing or kissing or lengthy contact among people living in the same household. The university advised students not to "swap saliva" and to avoid sharing food and drinks, cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing and wash hands regularly.

"As with all vaccines, protection is not immediate and should be thought of as a wise precaution for this winter and for several years to come," Corey said in a statement.  [Byline: Stephanie Murray]
Communicated by:
Ann Yao Zhang
University of Rochester
Rochester, New York, USA
[ProMED-mail thanks Ann Yao Zhang for submitting the above information regarding meningococcus group B disease on the University of Massachusetts Amherst with 2 primary cases of meningococcus disease within 1 month. The 1st case was caused by serogroup B; the 2nd case's serogroup is still pending.

A primary case is a case that occurs in the absence of previous known close contact with another case-patient.

An outbreak is defined by the occurrence of at least 3 confirmed or probable primary cases of the same serogroup meningococcal disease during a period of 3 months or less, with a resulting primary attack rate of 10 or more cases per 100,000 population. If both cases are caused by serogroup B, 2 primary cases in 21,000 UMass Amherst undergraduates gives a primary attack rate of 9.5 / 100 000.

In some instances the attack rate will be greater than 10 cases per 100 000 population with only 2 or 3 cases. According to the CDC, "in these situations, vaccination may be considered after only 2 primary cases are identified. Examples of an organization-based outbreak include cases in schools, churches, and universities" (<>).

Outbreaks of meningococcal disease are usually caused by the same or closely related strains. Molecular genotyping will help characterize an outbreak clone. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at: