This small country is situated between France and Spain. Because of its elevation and proximity to the Pyrenees the climate is generally pleasant throughout the year.
During the summer months the temperatures can rise to 30c but there is usually a cooling breeze. Lightening storms can occur during the summer months associated with torrential rain.
Sun Exposure and Dehydration
Those from Northern Europe can develop significant sun exposure and so remember to use a wide brimmed hat when necessary. The altitude can also lead to significant tiredness and dehydration so take sufficient initial rest and drink plenty of fluids.
Safety & Security
The level of crime throughout the country directed at tourists is very low. Nevertheless take care of your personal belongings at all times and use hotel safety boxes where possible.
There are strict laws regarding the use of illegal drugs. Make sure you have sufficient supplies of any medication you required for your trip and that it is clearly marked. The European E111 form is not accepted in Andorra and so it is essential that you have sufficient travel insurance for your trip.
Andorra is one of the regions where many travel to partake of their winter sport facilities. Generally this is well controlled and one of the safer regions. Nevertheless, make certain your travel insurance is adequate for the activities you are planning to undertake.
The only standard vaccine to consider for Andorra would be tetanus in line with many other developed countries of the world.
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Andorra la Vella, Andorra, July 12, 2018 (AFP) - The tax haven of Andorra has long been a favourite destination for smokers looking to stock up on cheap cigarettes, but the enclave said Thursday that it would soon stop advertising the fact. The government said it had signed up to the World Health Organization's (WHO) anti-tobacco convention, which aims to encourage people to quit smoking and combat contraband sales. "The goal is to contribute to public health and pursue the fight against trafficking," government spokesman Jordi Cinca said at a press conference.
The tiny principality of Andorra, perched in the Pyrenees on the border between France and Spain, attracts millions of shoppers each year to duty-free stores, where prices of alcohol, cigarettes, electronics and clothes can be up to 20 percent cheaper than elsewhere in the EU. High taxes on tobacco imposed by many countries to help people kick smoking make Andorra's cigarettes a particularly good deal. The average pack costs just three euros ($3.50) compared with eight euros in France, which has said it will gradually raise the price to 10 euros a pack by November 2020.
Tobacco sales bring in some 110 million euros a year for Andorra, whose economy is otherwise based almost entirely on tourism. It is also an enticing destination for smugglers, with French and Spanish border agents regularly seizing cartons from people trying to sneak them out, either by car or by hiking down the mountain trails which criss-cross the Pyrenees. No date has been set for the advertising ban, which will come into effect three months after the ratification of the WHO accord is voted by parliament.
Andorra la Vella, Andorra, March 16, 2018 (AFP) - The tiny principality of Andorra is witnessing a once in a generation phenomenon -- a widespread strike. Around a third of civil servants across the mountainous micro-state have walked out to protest proposed reforms to their sector in what has been described as Andorra's first large-scale strike since 1933.
With no negotiation breakthrough in sight, picket lines are expected to be manned again on Friday with customs officers, police, teachers and prison staff among those taking part. The first major strike in 85 years was sparked by plans from the government of Antoni Marti to reform civil servant contracts. He has assured officials "will not do an hour more" work under the reforms and that 49 million euros would be allocated for the next 25 years to supplement civil servant salaries. But government workers are unconvinced with unions warning the reforms could risk their 35 hour working week and pay.
Customs officers involved in the strike interrupted traffic on the Andorran-Spanish border this week, according to unions, while some 80 percent of teachers have walked out of classes. Strikers have occupied the government's main administrative building and held noisy protests outside parliament calling for Marti's resignation. "We have started collecting signatures to demand the resignation of the head of government and now nobody will stop us," Gabriel Ubach, spokesman for the public service union, told reporters.
ANDORRA LA VELLA, Andorra, Dec 26, 2013 (AFP) - A Spanish skier and a French snowboarder have died in avalanches in different mountain ranges in Europe, officials said Thursday.
The 27-year-old skier, a woman from Barcelona, died Wednesday while going off-piste alone in the Soldeu resort in Andorra, in the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain, a resort manager told AFP. Although she was rescued within 10 minutes, after her glove was spotted on the surface, she was unable to be revived despite a helicopter dash to hospital.
In the Italian Alps, close to the border with France, a 24-year-old Frenchman who was snowboarding with three friends on a closed run died Thursday when an avalanche swept over him in the resort town of Les Arnauds. Local officials said he succumbed to multiple injuries, asphyxia and hypothermia.
Avalanches are common in Europe's ski resorts at this time of year, when early snows are heavy with moisture, and several deaths occur each winter. Last Sunday, a 35-year-old Frenchman died in an avalanche in the Alps near the Italian border while on a three-day trek with a friend.
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San Juan, Feb 12, 2018 (AFP) - Most of San Juan and a strip of northern Puerto Rico municipalities were plunged into darkness Sunday night after an explosion at a power station, five months after two hurricanes destroyed the island's electricity network.
The state electric power authority (AEE) said the blast was caused by a broken-down switch in Rio Piedras, resulting in a blackout in central San Juan and Palo Seco in the north. "We have personnel working to restore the system as soon as possible," the AEE said. San Juan's mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, said on Twitter that emergency services and local officials attended the scene in the neighbourhood of Monacillos, but no injuries were reported.
Meanwhile, the Puerto Rican capital's airport said it was maintaining its schedule using emergency generators. The blackout comes as nearly 500,000 of AEE's 1.6 million customers remain without power since Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the US territory in September 2017. AEE engineer Jorge Bracero warned on Twitter that the outage was "serious," and advised those affected that power would not be restored until Monday.
By Leila MACOR
Fajardo, Puerto Rico, Dec 13, 2017 (AFP) - Until Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Jose Figueroa did brisk business renting kayaks to tourists itching to see a lagoon that lights up by night thanks to millions of microorganisms. Today, things are so dire he's considering selling water to motorists stopped at red lights. "Now we are trying to survive," the 46-year-old tour guide said.
It used to be that visitors had to reserve a month in advance to get one of his kayaks and paddle around in the dark on the enchanting, bioluminescent body of water called Laguna Grande. But tourists are scarce these days as the Caribbean island tries to recover from the ravages of the storm back in September. "We do not know if we will have any work tonight," Figueroa said. "Last week, we worked only one day." He and another employee of a company called Glass Bottom PR are cleaning kayaks on the seaside promenade of Fajardo, a tourist town in eastern Puerto Rico whose main attraction is the so-called Bio Bay.
The year started off well for Puerto Rico, with the global success of the song "Despacito" by local musicians Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee. The catchy tune helped promote the US commonwealth island of 3.4 million people, which is saddled with huge debts and declared bankruptcy in May. But the hurricane turned what should be an island bustling with tourists into one with deserted beaches, shuttered restaurants and hotels full of mainland US officials working on the rebuilding of the island. "What few tourists we have are the federal officials themselves," said Figueroa.
- Locals only -
The grim outlook spreads up and down the seaside promenade of Fajardo, where many restaurants are closed because there is no electricity. On this particular day around noon, the only restaurant open is one called Racar Seafood. It has its own emergency generator. "We get by on local tourists," said its 61-year-old owner, Justino Cruz. "Our clients are local -- those who have no electricity, no generator, cold food or no food."
Puerto Rico's once-devastated power grid is now back up to 70 percent capacity, but this is mainly concentrated in the capital San Juan. So while inland towns that depend on tourism are struggling mightily, things are getting better in San Juan as cruise ships are once again docking. On November 30, the first cruise ship since the storm arrived with thousands of vacationers on board. They were received with great fanfare -- quite literally, with trumpet blaring and cymbals crashing.
- Pitching in to help -
The World Travel & Tourism Council, based in London, says tourism accounted for about eight percent of Puerto Rico's GDP in 2016, or $8.1 billion. Hurricane Maria's damage has been uneven. Although some tour guides now have no work and many eateries are shut down, hotels that have their own generators are doing just fine. Thanks to the thousands of US government officials and reconstruction crew members that came in after the storm, the hotels that are open -- about 80 percent of the total -- are pretty much full.
These people are starting to leave the island this month but hotels may receive tourists around Christmas, at least in San Juan, where power has for the most part been restored. The hurricane "undoubtedly cost billions in lost revenue," said Jose Izquierdo, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company. But Izquierdo nevertheless says he is "optimistic" and suggests an alternative: put tourists to work as volunteers in the gargantuan reconstruction effort that the island needs. "We want to look for travellers who want to travel with a purpose, who might have the commitment to help rebuild," said Izquierdo.
The program, called "Meaningful Travel" and launched in mid-November, organizes trips on which residents, Puerto Ricans living abroad and tourists are invited to help the island get back on its feet. "The plan aims to create empathy with this tourist destination," said Izquierdo. "We want to be like New Orleans after Katrina, where 10 years after the hurricane, tourism is the driving force of its economy. We want to build that narrative of recovery," he added. "There are different ways in which the world wants to help Puerto Rico. The best way is to visit us."
By Marcos PÉREZ RAMÍREZ
San Juan, Nov 9, 2017 (AFP) - Andrea Olivero, 11, consults her classmate Ada about an exercise during their daily English class at San Juan's Sotero Figueroa Elementary School. The task: list the positive and negative aspects of Hurricane Maria's passing almost two months ago.
The girls only have to look around. There is no electricity and they "roast" in the heat, Andrea says. At the back of the room, computers and televisions collect dust. "We would like to move past the topic of the hurricane a bit. It is already getting repetitive," Andrea told AFP. She is one of more than 300,000 pupils in the public education system, although only half of schools are functioning. Barely 42 per cent of Puerto Ricans have electricity seven weeks after Maria struck, killing at least 51 in the American territory.
The lack of power has prompted disorienting timetable changes on the tropical island, to avoid both the hottest hours of the day and the use of dining facilities. "The children are very anxious. We manage to make progress in lessons and they change the hours again. Everything is messed up and we fall behind," English teacher Joan Rodriguez explained. "We can't use the computers to illustrate classes," she said. "They are reading the novel "Charlotte's Web," and we wanted to do exercises comparing it to the film version. But we cannot use the television.
- Suspicions -
From October 23, some directors reopened their schools in the western region of Mayaguez and San Juan. But last Thursday, the Department of Education ordered their closure, insisting they must be evaluated by engineering and architectural firms, then certified by the US Army Corps of Engineers. One of those schools was Vila Mayo, also in San Juan. The community presumed it would open, as it had been used as a shelter, its electrical infrastructure had been inspected and it had not suffered structural damage.
But Luis Orengo, the education department's director in San Juan, told protesters outside the school it was closed as inspectors' findings had not reached the central government. "This is unacceptable! The school is ready to give classes but they don't want to open it. Our children cannot lose a year," fumed Enid Guzman, who protested with her 11-year-old son, Reanny De la Cruz. There are suspicions the stalled reopening of schools is, in part, related to the prior closure of 240 schools over the past year during Puerto Rico's long-running financial crisis. The fiscal difficulties have seen the island's population drop over the past decade by 14 percent, leading in turn to a fall in school enrolment.
Before the storms, 300 schools were at risk of closure -- and for the president of Puerto Rico's federation of teachers, Mercedes Martinez, the government's aim is clear. "Secretary (Julia) Keleher seems to have an orchestrated plan to close schools," she said, referring to the education secretary. "Why do you have to wait 30 days to get a certification so a school can open?" Keleher has announced she expects most schools to be open by the middle of November.
By Ricardo ARDUENGO, con Nelson DEL CASTILLO en San Juan y Leila MACOR en Miami
Utuado, Puerto Rico, Oct 19, 2017 (AFP) - It's been a month since Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico and Samuel de Jesus still can't drive out of his isolated, blacked-out town. In fact, much of the US territory in the Caribbean is still a crippled mess four weeks after that fierce Category Four storm.
The bridge connecting Rio Abajo to the rest of the island was swept away when Maria slammed the island on September 20. For two weeks Rio Abajo, located in a mountainous region in central-western Puerto Rico, was cut off and forgotten, without power or phone service. "We didn't know what to do. We were literally going crazy," said de Jesus, 35. "Those were difficult, desperate days. We could not find a way out, and the hurricane caused extensive damage," he told AFP.
During the two long weeks following Maria, the 27 families living in Rio Abajo saw their supplies quickly deplete. De Jesus, who has diabetes, needed to keep his insulin refrigerated. The storm blew away the island's already decrepit power grid, so people resorted to emergency generators. "But I was running out of gasoline to run the generator," he said. A helicopter now makes regular deliveries of food, water and medicine because with the bridge washed out, there is no other way in or out of town.
People can't wade across the river because it is contaminated with human waste after a pipe broke when the bridge went. Some brave souls use a precarious ladder rigged to get across the water, but for most people it is too dangerous. We need a bridge "to take out our vehicles and leave in case of emergency, or if there is a landslide," he said. Where the bridge once stood, residents set up a system of ropes, pulleys and buckets to move supplies over the river, which has been contaminated with sewer water since the hurricane. Over the remains of the bridge locals hung the single-star, red, white and blue flag of Puerto Rico and a sign that reads "the campsite of the forgotten."
- Desperate need for electricity -
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello visited the surrounding municipality of Utuado on Wednesday to deliver supplies, but he did not stop in Rio Abajo. "Utuado is certainly one of the most severely affected municipalities in all of Puerto Rico," Rossello said. "Our commitment is to give it support and aid during the whole road to recovery." Eighty-one percent of Puerto Rico remains blacked out one month after Maria struck. Clean water for drinking, cooking and bathing is scarce, too.
Puerto Ricans' main obstacle to getting back to some semblance of normality is the slowness of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority in getting the power grid back up and running. The lack of power has paralyzed a key industry -- pharmaceutical production -- and most businesses including restaurants are closed or operating at great cost through the use of diesel powered generators.
This nightmare comes about a year after the US government established an external fiscal control board for the island after it declared bankruptcy because of 73 billion dollars in debt. Economist Joaquin Villamil told AFP that damage from Hurricane Maria is estimated at 20 billion dollars -- four times that of Hurricane Georges in 1998, when measured in 2016 dollars.
Villamil said reconstruction money provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and from insurance companies will have a positive impact on the island's economy in the second half of fiscal 2018 and in fiscal 2019, but this boost will just be temporary. "From an economic point of view there is not much net gain," said Villamil, who works for a consulting firm called Estudios Tecnicos. He said the economy has been shrinking since 2006 and Maria will delay any prospect of recovery. It will take at least until 2026 to get back to the GDP level of 2006, he added.
Making things worse, people are leaving the island for the mainland US. Forecasts are that the population now at 3.4 million will go down to 3.1 million or even less by 2026, said Villamil. The government of Florida estimates that since October 3 -- the day a state of emergency to deal with an influx of Puerto Ricans was declared -- more than 36,000 people from the island have poured in.
Brazil is the largest country in South America and extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean to the depths of the Amazon basin. The climate varies throughout the country but generally it experiences a humid
Safety & Security
The level of crime in many of the main urban centres is certainly rising and tourists need to be aware of the risks involved in travelling particularly in the evening hours. It is wise to use an official taxi for any journeys after dark. It is sensible not to flaunt any personal wealth and to use the hotel safety boxes for any valuables and your travel documents. The amount of crime against tourists tends to be greater in areas surrounding hotels, discotheques, bars, nightclubs and other similar establishments that cater to visitors, especially at dusk and during the evening hours. There are frequent reports of theft on city buses and such transportation should be avoided. A number of the main cities have established specialised tourist police units to patrol areas frequented by tourists. Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Brasilia all continue to experience a high incidence of crime.
Throughout this huge country the state of the roads varies greatly. In many regions the roads are dirt tracks and assistance would be hard to obtain for those travelling off from the main tourists routes. Bag snatching from traffic lights occurs in the main cities. If considering hiring a car make certain that your travel insurance is sufficient.
After your flight you will experience a degree of jet lag. Travelling from Europe this will be less than when you travel home but nevertheless it will still cause your body to complain for 24 to 48 hours. Try to have a more relaxing time for the first few days (and also after returning home if possible!). Be careful not to fall asleep by the pool and then awaken with sunburn which could ruin your time abroad.
In any country of this size the level of medical care will vary greatly. This is particular true out side the main tourist resorts. English speaking doctors should be available but the level of hospital care can be worrisome. Make certain you carry sufficient supplies of any medication you may require for your entire holiday. Essential drugs (asthma, diabetes, epilepsy etc) should be divided for security.
Sun Exposure and Dehydration
The hot humid tropical climate often leads to quite significant problems for the Irish traveller. Make sure you cover your head when out in the sunlight and drink plenty of fluids to replenish that lost through perspiration. Replace the salt you loose by eating crisps etc orby putting salt on your meal (providing there is no contraindication).
Visiting the Iguassu Falls
These huge waterfalls border Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. There is only minimal risk of malaria and so malaria prophylaxis is not generally recommended. Also, Yellow fever is not transmitted in this area but mosquitoes can abound. Sensible insect bite precautions should be followed at all times.
Food & Water
Many tourists who visit Brazil stay in the main resorts along the southern coast. The food and water preparation in the hotels is normally excellent but eating food from street vendors is generally unwise. Shell fish (bivalve oysters, mussels, clams etc) are unwise even in a five star hotel. Check the water from the cold water tap in your room. If you can’t easily smell chlorine (swimming pool style) don’t use it even for brushing your teeth. If travelling around the country (Caribbean coast or into the Amazon regions) take significantly more care.
This viral disease occurs throughout Brazil and it is usually transmitted through the bite from an infected warm-blooded animal (eg dogs, cats & monkeys). Any contact should be avoided but if it occurs treat it very seriously and seek competent medical attention immediately after you wash out the area and apply an antiseptic.
The risk of malaria is significant all year throughout the Amazon regions. There is insignificant risk for those staying along the coast up as far as Fortaleza and for those remaining in this region prophylaxis is not usually recommended. The risk in the region of Brasilia is also thought to be minimal though this is an area which has unusually experience an outbreak of Yellow Fever recently, and so the situation will require review.
Mosquito Borne Diseases Apart from malaria the other two main diseases transmitted by mosquitoes which cause problems in Brazil are Dengue Fever (mainly along Caribbean Coast but has been reported much further south) and Yellow Fever (mainly in the Amazon Basin but thought to be spreading to other regions). Avoidance techniques are important at all times throughout the day. Swimming **************************************** Most of the main tourist swimming pools will be well maintained and the smell of chlorine will be evident. If sea swimming is on your agenda make sure you go where there are plenty of others and never swim alone. Look for warning signs and pay attention to local advice. Be very careful of local currents which can be dangerous. Vaccinations **************************************** The Brazilian Embassy is advising all travellers to Brazil to have vaccination cover against Yellow Fever. Also for your personal protection it is wise to consider some further vaccines. Generally we would recommend the following vaccination cover; * Yellow Fever (mosquito borne) * Tetanus (childhood booster) * Typhoid (food & water borne) * Hepatitis A (food & water borne) For those travelling more extensively or staying in the country for longer periods we would usually suggest that further vaccines are considered including Hepatitis B, Meningitis and Rabies. Summary **************************************** Many travellers to Brazil will remain perfectly healthy and well providing they follow some sensible precautions. Further information is available from either of our centres regarding any recent disease outbreaks.
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By Rosa SULLEIRO
Sao Paulo, June 14, 2019 (AFP) - A nationwide strike called by Brazil's trade unions disrupted public transport and triggered road blocks in parts of the country Friday, ahead of protests against far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's pension reform. Hours before the opening match of the Copa America in Sao Paulo, some metro lines in the country's biggest city were paralyzed as professors and students also prepared to take to the streets over the government's planned education spending cuts. It will be the latest mass demonstration against Bolsonaro since he took office in January, but the timing could not be worse for the embattled president as Brazil prepares to play Bolivia in South America's showcase football tournament.
Bolsonaro was expected to attend the opener at Morumbi stadium where police sharpshooters will be deployed as part of increased security for the competition. One of Brazil's main trade unions estimated 45 million workers had taken part in the strike. Some 63 cities had been affected by the stoppage, with more than 80 cities recording demonstrations, G1 news site said. The number of protesters is expected to balloon in the afternoon with demonstrations planned in Brazil's major cities. Protesters have already blocked some roads in several cities, including Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, where G1 said police had used tear gas to disperse demonstrators and clear the streets. Brazilians were divided over the partial strike. "This current government wants to destroy everything that we built decades ago so that's why I'm in favor (of the strike) and I am fighting against social inequality," Vania Santos, 49, told AFP in Rio. In Sao Paulo, Flavio Moreira opposed the stoppage, however, saying it "hurts the commercial part" of the city.
- Pension savings cut -
Bolsonaro's proposed overhaul of Brazil's pension system -- which he has warned will bankrupt the country if his plan is not approved -- is seen as key to getting a series of economic reforms through Congress. But the changes, including an increase in the retirement age and workers' contributions, have faced resistance from trade unions and in the lower house of Congress, where Bolsonaro's ultraconservative Social Liberal Party has only around 10 percent of the seats. A pared-back draft of the reform presented to Congress on Thursday -- which reduces expected savings from 1.2 trillion reais ($300 billion) in 10 years to around 900 billion reais -- did little to appease union leaders, who vowed to go ahead with the shutdown. Such savings are seen as vital to repairing Brazil's finances and economy, which were devastated by a 2015-2016 crisis.
Economy minister Paulo Guedes, who is spearheading the government's reform agenda, has threatened to resign if the bill is not passed or is watered down significantly. It caps a tumultuous six months for Bolsonaro, who has seen his popularity nosedive as he struggles to push his signature reform through a hostile Congress and keep Latin America's biggest economy from sliding back into recession. More than 13 million people are unemployed, the latest data shows, with a record number giving up looking for a job. Fighting between military and far-right factions of Bolsonaro's government has fueled chaos in his administration where his sons and right-wing writer and polemicist Olavo de Carvalho wield enormous influence. Bolsonaro sacked his third minister on Thursday -- retired general Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, who had been the government secretary and seen as a moderate voice. That came on the same day Bolsonaro broke his silence to defend Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who has been accused of wrongdoing while serving as a judge in the sprawling Car Wash anticorruption investigation.
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London, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - British Airways pilots on Wednesday cancelled a strike that had been due September 27, the British Airline Pilots Association union said after two walkouts last week that cost the company dear. "Someone has to take the initiative to sort out this (pay) dispute and with no sign of that from BA the pilots have decided to take the responsible course," BALPA General Secretary Brian Strutton said in a statement. The union chief added that the airline's "passengers rightly expect BA and its pilots to resolve their issues without disruption and now is the time for cool heads and pragmatism to be brought to bear. "I hope BA and its owner IAG show as much responsibility as the pilots," he added. It was now "time for a period of reflection before the dispute escalates further and irreparable damage is done to the (BA) brand."
However the union added that should the airline "refuse meaningful new negotiations, BALPA retains the right to announce further strike dates". British Airways, which likes to call itself "the world's favourite airline", flew into turbulence last week as pilots staged a costly and historic two-day strike, tarnishing its global reputation according to aviation analysts. Pilots walked out for the first time in the company's 100-year history, sparked by a bitter and long-running feud over pay. BA faced the embarrassment of grounding its entire UK fleet on September 9 and 10, causing the cancellation of about 1,600 flights. The move sparked travel chaos for about 200,000 passengers who had been due to fly in and out of London's Gatwick and Heathrow airports.
The disruption continued into September 11 because half of BA's 300 aircraft and more than 700 pilots were mostly in the wrong place. As a result, BA was forced to cancel approximately ten percent of its daily 850 flights in and out of Britain that day. BALPA and its members are demanding a bigger share of British Airways profits. The airline has offered a salary increase of 11.5 percent over three years, which it argues would boost the annual pay of some captains to £200,000 ($250,000 or 226,000 euros). However, the union has rejected the proposal made in July. BALPA meanwhile estimates that last week's 48-hour strike cost the airline £80 million. BA is owned by IAG, which was formed in 2011 with the merger of British Airways and Spain's Iberia. IAG has since added other carriers, including Austria's Vueling and Ireland's Aer Lingus.
By Sam Reeves
Kuala Lumpur, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - Toxic haze from Indonesian forest fires closed schools and airports across the country and in neighbouring Malaysia Wednesday, while air quality worsened in Singapore just days before the city's Formula One motor race. Illegal fires to clear land for agriculture are blazing out of control on Sumatra and Borneo islands, with Jakarta deploying thousands of security forces and water-bombing aircraft to tackle them.
Indonesian blazes belch smog across Southeast Asia annually, but this year's are the worst since 2015 and have added to concerns about wildfire outbreaks worldwide exacerbating global warming. On Wednesday, air quality deteriorated to "very unhealthy" levels on an official index in many parts of peninsular Malaysia, to the east of Sumatra, with the Kuala Lumpur skyline shrouded by dense smog. Nearly 1,500 schools were closed across Malaysia due to the air pollution, with over one million pupils affected, according to the education ministry.
A growing number of Malaysians were suffering health problems due to the haze, with authorities saying there had been a sharp increase in outpatients at government hospitals -- many suffering dry and itchy eyes. Indonesian authorities said hundreds of schools in hard-hit Riau province on Sumatra were shut, without providing a precise number, while about 1,300 were closed in Central Kalimantan province on Borneo. Borneo is shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. Poor visibility closed seven airports in the Indonesian part of Borneo, the transport ministry in Jakarta said. Scores of flights have already been diverted and cancelled in the region in recent days due to the smog.
- Singapore smog race? -
Air quality in Singapore worsened to unhealthy levels and a white smog obscured the striking waterfront skyline, featuring the Marina Bay Sands casino resort with its three towers and boat-shaped top level. The worsening pollution increased fears that this weekend's Formula One race may be affected. Organisers say the possibility of haze is one of the issues in their contingency plan for Sunday's showpiece night race, but have not given further details.
The city-state's tourism board said spectators would be able to buy masks as protection from the haze if conditions did not improve and assistance would be provided for those who feel unwell, the Today news portal reported. The fires have sparked tensions between Indonesia and Malaysia. Indonesia's environment minister initially suggested the haze was from Malaysian fires despite satellite data showing hundreds of blazes in Indonesia and only a handful in its neighbour, prompting anger from her Malaysian counterpart.
Indonesia later sealed off dozens of plantations where it said fires were blazing, including some owned by Malaysia-based firms, deepening the row. But Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has struck a diplomatic tone throughout the crisis, said Malaysia may pass legislation forcing its companies to tackle fires on plantations abroad. Malaysia wants its firms with sites overseas to put out blazes contributing to the haze, he said, adding: "Of course, if we find they are unwilling to take action, we may have to pass a law to make them responsible."
The Indonesian government has insisted it is doing all it can to fight the blazes. But this year's fires have been worsened by dry weather and experts believe there is little chance of them being extinguished until the onset of the rainy season in October. Indonesia's meteorology, climate and geophysics agency said Wednesday that over 1,000 hotspots -- areas of intense heat detected by satellite that indicate a likely fire -- had been sighted, most of them on Sumatra.
By Aishwarya KUMAR
New Delhi, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - India announced on Wednesday a ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes, as a backlash gathers pace worldwide due to health concerns about a product promoted as less harmful than smoking tobacco. The Indian announcement, also outlawing production, import and distribution, came a day after New York became the second US state to ban flavoured e-cigarettes following a string of vaping-linked deaths. "The decision was made keeping in mind the impact that e-cigarettes have on the youth of today," Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters in New Delhi.
E-cigarettes do not "burn" but instead heat up a liquid -- tasting of everything from bourbon to bubble gum and which usually contains nicotine -- that turns into vapour and is inhaled. The vapour is missing the estimated 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke but does contain a number of substances that could potentially be harmful. They have been pushed by producers, and also by some governments including in Britain, as a safer alternative to traditional smoking -- and as a way to kick the habit.
However critics say that apart from being harmful in themselves, the flavours of e-cigarette liquids appeal particularly to children and risk getting them addicted to nicotine. Some 3.6 million middle and high school students in the United States used vaping products in 2018, an increase of 1.5 million on the year before. The New York emergency legislation followed an outbreak of severe pulmonary disease that has killed seven people and sickened hundreds. President Donald Trump's administration announced last week that it would soon ban flavoured e-cigarette products to stem a rising tide of youth users.
- Big E-Tobacco -
Although few Indians vape at present, the Indian ban also cuts off a vast potential market of 1.3 billion consumers for makers of e-cigarettes. Tobacco firms have been investing heavily in the technology to compensate for falling demand for cigarettes due to high taxes and public smoking bans, particularly in the West.
In 2018 Altria, the US maker of brands such as Marlboro and Chesterfield, splashed out almost $13 billion on a stake in one of the biggest e-cigarette makers, Juul. A few Indian states have already banned e-cigarettes although the restrictions have been ineffective since online sale of vaping products continue. The new ban does not cover traditional tobacco products in India. According to the World Health Organization, India is the world's second-largest consumer of tobacco products, killing nearly 900,000 people every year.
Nearly 275 million people over 15, or 35 percent of adults, are users, although chewing tobacco -- which also causes cancer -- is more prevalent than smoking. India is also the world's third--largest producer of tobacco, the WHO says, and tobacco farmers are an important vote bank for political parties. According to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry, an estimated 45.7 million people depend on the tobacco sector in India for their livelihood. Tobacco is also a major Indian export, and the government holds substantial stakes, directly or indirectly, in tobacco firms including in ITC, one of India's biggest companies.
Washington, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - Hurricane Humberto strengthened to a major Category 3 storm on Tuesday and was expected to pass near Bermuda, threatening it with dangerous waves and heavy rain, the US National Hurricane Center said. "Hurricane conditions are expected to reach Bermuda by Wednesday night and continue into early Thursday morning," the Miami-based NHC said. "Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or so, but Humberto should remain a powerful hurricane through Thursday," it said. As of 8:00 pm (0000 GMT), the storm had maximum sustained winds of 115 miles per hour (185 kilometers per hour) and was moving east-northeast at 12 miles per hour.
Dakar, Sept 17, 2019 (AFP) - Four people died after a boat carrying dozens of tourists capsized during heavy storms in Senegal, authorities and emergency services said Tuesday. The death toll could rise as three passengers were said to be missing after the accident. The boat was carrying several Senegalese nationals, six French people, two Germans, two Swedes and one person from Guinea-Bissau, when it turned over Monday in driving rain and a heavy swell, fire department chief Papa Angel Michel Diatta said. All the dead were Senegalese, officials and emergency services said.
Two worked in a national park, one was a woman and the other victim was a child, Diatta said. The boat was heading for the Madeleine islands, site of an offshore national park popular with tourists who travel from Dakar, coastal capital of the West African country. Senegalese President Macky Sall appealed for "greater caution and respect for existing security norms duing the rainy season" in a tweet.
Emergency services continued to look for those missing on Tuesday. AFP journalists saw a dozen divers at the scene. Distressed families were waiting on the shore to get news of their loved ones. "The gendarmerie called us at 5:00 am (GMT and local time). My brother was on the boat. The worst thing is not knowing," said Aminata Diop, who was among the relatives on the beach. There are "four dead bodies and between three and four people are missing. Thirty-five people were on the boat. Search and rescue operations are continuing this morning," Interior Minister Aly Ngouille Ndiaye told AFP by telephone.
The causes of the accident were unclear. The interior minister told Senegalese media overnight that several tourists were worried about the heavy rains and wanted to return to the pier but others wanted to stay on the boat. The survivors spent the night on the island, Ndiaye told local radio on Tuesday. Blankets and food were sent to them and they were to be ferried back to the mainland in the morning, he added. The rainy season arrived late this year and heavy storms have resulted in several casualties this month. Two fishermen were killed on their canoe in the same area nearly two weeks ago.
Jakarta, Sept 17, 2019 (AFP) - Massive forest fires in Indonesia that have caused a toxic haze to spread as far as Singapore and peninsular Malaysia are also seriously affecting endangered orangutans and their habitat, a rescue foundation said Tuesday. Jakarta has deployed thousands of troops as temporary fireman and deployed dozens of water-bombing aircraft to battle blazes that are turning pristine forest into charred landscape in Sumatra and Borneo islands. The fires -- usually started by illegal burning to clear land for farming -- have unleashed a choking haze across parts of southeast Asia.
The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation said Tuesday that the haze was affecting hundreds of great apes in its care at rescue centres and wildlife re-introduction shelters. "The thick smoke does not only endanger the health of our staff... but also it affects the 355 orangutans we currently care for", the foundation said in a statement, referring to just once cetre in Kalimantan "As many as 37 young orangutans are suspected to have contracted a mild respiratory infection," it added. Conditions were so bad at their Samboja Lestari facility in East Kalimantan that outdoor activities for the animals had been restricted to a few hours a day.
Orangutans have been particularly vulnerable to commercial land clearances and have seen their natural habitat shrink dramatically in the last few decades. The population of orangutan in Borneo has plummeted from about 288,500 in 1973 to about 100,000 today, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The toxic smoke caused by the forest fires is an annual problem for Indonesia and its neighbours, but has been worsened this year by particularly dry weather. On Borneo island, which Indonesia shares with Malaysia and Brunei, pollution levels were "hazardous", according to environment ministry data. Hundreds of schools across Indonesia and Malaysia were shut.