Afghanistal US Consular Information Sheet March 03, 2009
Afghanistan has made significant progress since the Taliban were deposed in 2001, but still faces daunting challenges, including de
A passport and valid visa are required to enter and exit Afghanistan. Afghan entry visas are not available at Kabul International Airport or any other ports of entry in Afghanistan. American citizens who arrive without a visa are subject to confiscation of their passport and face heavy fines and difficulties in retrieving their passport and obtaining a visa, as well as possible deportation from the country. Americans arriving in the country via military air usually have considerable difficulties if they choose to depart Afghanistan on commercial air, because their passports are not stamped to show that they entered the country legally. Those coming on military air should move quickly after arrival to legalize their status if there is any chance they will depart the country on anything other than military air. Visit the Embassy of Afghanistan web site at http://www.embassyofafghanistan.org for the most current visa information. The Consular office of the Embassy of Afghanistan is located at 2233 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Suite 216, Washington, DC 20007, phone number 202-298-9125. Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
The latest Travel Warning for Afghanistan emphasizes that the security situation remains critical for American citizens. The Taliban and associated insurgent groups, al-Qaida network terrorist organizations, and narco-traffickers oppose the strengthening of a democratic government. These groups aim to weaken or bring down the Government of Afghanistan and to drive Westerners out of the country. They do not hesitate to use violence, including targeting civilians. Terrorist activities may include, but are not limited to bombings -- including improvised explosive devices and car bombs -- assassinations, carjackings, rocket attacks, assaults and kidnappings. There were over 120 suicide attacks in 2008. There is an ongoing threat to attack and kidnap U.S. citizens and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) workers throughout the country. In 2008,, more than 30 NGO workers were killed (six foreigners) and at least 78 NGO staff members (seven foreigners) were abducted. Over 25 other foreign civilians, including journalists, were kidnapped. Kabul continues to experience suicide bombings against Afghan government personnel and installations, Afghan and coalition military assets, and international civilians. Riots -- sometimes violent -- have occurred in response to various political or other issues. Crime, including violent crime, remains a significant problem. Official Americans' use of the Kabul-Jalalabad, Kabul-Kandahar highways and other roads throughout the country is often restricted or completely curtailed because of security concerns. Insurgents continue to use roadside and car bombs to conduct attacks and abductions along major highways. Millions of unexploded land mines and other ordinance present a constant danger. The country faces a difficult period in the near term, and American citizens could be targeted or placed at risk by unpredictable local events. Americans should not come to Afghanistan unless they have made arrangements in advance to address security concerns. The absence of records for ownership of property, differing laws from various regimes and the chaos that comes from decades of civil strife have left property issues in great disorder. Afghan-Americans returning to Afghanistan to recover property, or Americans coming to the country to engage in business, have become involved in complicated real estate disputes and have faced threats of retaliatory action, including kidnapping for ransom and death. Large parts of Afghanistan are extremely isolated, with few roads, mostly in poor condition, irregular cell phone signals, and none of the basic physical infrastructure found in Kabul or the larger cities. Americans traveling in these areas who find themselves in trouble may not even have a way to communicate their difficulties to the outside world. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
A large portion of the Afghan population is unemployed, and many among the unemployed have moved to urban areas. Basic services are rudimentary or non-existent. These factors may directly contribute to crime and lawlessness. Diplomats and international relief workers have reported incidents of robberies and household burglaries as well as kidnappings and assault. Any American citizen who enters Afghanistan should remain vigilant for possible banditry, including violent attacks.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Kabul for assistance. The Embassy staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to provide a list of attorneys if needed. The local equivalent to the "911" emergency line in Afghanistan is: 119 Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Afghanistan’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. During the last several years, there have been incidents involving the arrest and/or detention of U.S. citizens. Arrested Americans have faced periods of detention—sometimes in difficult conditions—while awaiting trial. Penalties for possession or use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Afghanistan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Another sensitive activity is proselytizing. Although the Afghan Constitution allows the free exercise of religion, proselytizing is often viewed as contrary to the beliefs of Islam and considered harmful to society. Proselytizing may lead to arrest and/or deportation. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
Because of the poor infrastructure in Afghanistan, access to banking facilities is limited and unreliable. Afghanistan's economy operates on a "cash-only" basis for most transactions. Credit card transactions are not available. International bank transfers are limited. Some ATM machines exist at Standard Charter Bank and Afghan International Bank (AIB) in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood of Kabul, but some travelers have complained of difficulties using them. International communications are difficult. Local telephone networks do not operate reliably. Most people rely on satellite or cellular telephone communications even to make local calls. Cellular phone service is available locally in Kabul and some other cities, but can be unreliable. Injured or distressed foreigners could face long delays before being able to communicate their needs to family or colleagues outside of Afghanistan. Internet access through local service providers is limited. In addition to being subject to all Afghan laws, U.S. citizens who are also citizens of Afghanistan may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on Afghan citizens. U.S. citizens who are also Afghan nationals do not require visas for entry into Afghanistan. The Embassy of Afghanistan issues a letter confirming your nationality for entry into Afghanistan. However, you may wish to obtain a visa as some Afghan-Americans have experienced difficulties at land border crossings because they do not have a visa in their passport. For additional information on dual nationality in general, see the Consular Affairs home page for our dual nationality flyer. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passport with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available. As stated in the Travel Warning, consular assistance for American citizens in Afghanistan is limited. Islam provides the foundation of Afghanistan's customs, laws and practices. Foreign visitors -- men and women -- are expected to remain sensitive to the Islamic culture and not dress in a revealing or provocative manner, including the wearing of sleeveless shirts and blouses, halter-tops and shorts. Women in particular, especially when traveling outside of Kabul, may want to ensure that their tops have long sleeves and cover their collarbone and waistband, and that their pants/skirts cover their ankles. Almost all women in Afghanistan cover their hair in public; American women visitors should carry scarves for this purpose. Afghan customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Afghanistan of items such as firearms, alcoholic beverages, religious materials, antiquities, medications, and printed materials. American travelers have faced fines and/or confiscation of items considered antiquities upon exiting Afghanistan. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements. Travelers en route to Afghanistan may transit countries that have restrictions on firearms, including antique or display models. If you plan to take firearms or ammunition to another country, you should contact officials at that country's embassy and those that you will be transiting to learn about their regulations and fully comply with those regulations before traveling. Please consult http://www.customs.gov for information on importing firearms into the United States. Please see our Customs Information sheet.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Well-equipped medical facilities are few and far between throughout Afghanistan. European and American medicines are available in limited quantities and may be expensive or difficult to locate. There is a shortage of basic medical supplies. Basic medicines manufactured in Iran, Pakistan, and India are available, but their reliability can be questionable. Several western-style private clinics have opened in Kabul: the DK-German Medical Diagnostic Center (www.medical-kabul.com), Acomet Family Hospital (www.afghancomet.com), and CURE International Hospital (ph. 079-883-830) offer a variety of basic and routine-type care; Americans seeking treatment should request American or Western health practitioners. Afghan public hospitals should be avoided. Individuals without government licenses or even medical degrees often operate private clinics; there is no public agency that monitors their operations. Travelers will not be able to find Western-trained medical personnel in most parts of the country outside of Kabul, although there are some international aid groups temporarily providing basic medical assistance in various cities and villages. For any medical treatment, payment is required in advance. Commercial medical evacuation capability from Afghanistan is limited and could take days to arrange. Even medevac companies that claim to service the world may not agree to come to Afghanistan. Those with medevac insurance should confirm with the insurance provider that it will be able to provide medevac assistance to this country. There have been outbreaks of Avian Influenza in poultry in Afghanistan, to include the areas of Nangahar, Laghman, and Wardak provinces, and in the city of Kabul, however, there have been no reported cases of the H5N1 virus in humans. Updates on the Avian Influenza situation in Afghanistan are published on the Embassy’s web site at http://kabul.usembassy.gov/information_for_travelers.html. For additional information on Avian Influenza, please refer to the Department of State's Avian Influenza Fact Sheet available at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/health/health_1181.html Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Afghanistan. For further information, please consult the CDC's Travel Notice on TB. http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-TB.aspx| The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Afghanistan. However, if one has questions, please inquire directly with the Embassy of Afghanistan at http://www.embassyofafghanistan.org before you travel. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site. Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas. TRAFFIC
SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Afghanistan is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. All drivers face the potential danger of encountering improvised-explosive devices and land mines that may have been planted on or near roadways. An estimated 5-7 million landmines and large quantities of unexploded ordinance exist throughout the countryside and alongside roads, posing a danger to travelers. Robbery and kidnappings are also prevalent on highways outside of Kabul. The transportation system in Afghanistan is marginal, although the international community is constructing modern highways and provincial roads. Vehicles are poorly maintained, often overloaded, and traffic laws are not enforced. Vehicular traffic is chaotic and must contend with numerous pedestrians, bicyclists and animals. Many urban streets have large potholes and are not well lit. Rural roads are not paved. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Afghanistan, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s internet website at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa. U.S. Government personnel are not authorized to travel on Ariana Afghan Airlines or any other airline falling under the oversight of the Government of Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority, owing to safety concerns; however, U.S. Government personnel are permitted to travel on international flights operated by airlines from countries whose civil aviation authorities meet international aviation safety standards for the oversight of their air carrier operations under the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program.
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction. R
EGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Afghanistan are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Afghanistan. Americans without internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located in Kabul on Great Massoud (Airport) Road, local phone number 0700-108-001 or 0700-108-002, and for emergencies after hours 0700-201-908. The web site is http://kabul.usembassy.gov/ * * * * * This replaces the Country Specific Information dated June 16, 2008 to update sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Information for Victims of Crime, Criminal Penalties, Special Circumstances, and Medical Facilities and Health Information.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
By Mushtaq MOJADDIDI
Kabul, March 7, 2019 (AFP) - At least two blasts struck a large ceremony Thursday attended by Afghanistan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah and other leading government officials, killing one person and injuring 17 others. The Kabul attack represents a major security breach and marks a resumption of violence in the capital after weeks of calm amid ongoing peace talks between the US and Taliban in Doha. "Stay calm, the area of the blast is far from us," said former lower house speaker Mohammad Younus Qanooni during a live broadcast of the event. But moments after the announcement, another explosion and gunfire could be heard that sent people running. A second unidentified voice then addressed the screaming crowd, saying: "I request my countrymen to stay calm. The mortar attack is far from the gathering."
The blasts happened during a ceremony marking the 24th anniversary of the death of Shiite Hazara leader Abdul Ali Mazari that was attended by many of the country's political elite, including Abdullah and former President Hamid Karzai. "Terrorists were firing Mortars at Abdul Ali Mazari remembrance ceremony, from inside a compound," deputy interior minister Khoshal Sadat said in English on Twitter, adding that police had arrested one person linked to the attack. "One martyred, 17 wounded -- 3 children and one woman among them," tweeted Wahidullah Mayar, spokesman for the health ministry. Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani -- who was at the scene -- later added that "terrorists launched rocket attacks on commemoration ceremony", and said he had escaped safely. It remained unclear whether rockets or mortar fire were being used, with officials using both terms.
- 'Unforgivable attack' -
No group has claimed responsibility for the blasts. "This was the most horrid and unforgivable attack on civilians by a merciless enemy," tweeted presidential candidate and former national security adviser Mohammad Haneef Atmar. He added that eight of his security guards were injured in the attack. The incident comes as US and Taliban negotiations continue to hold peace talks in Qatar aimed at ending the nearly 18-year conflict.
The last major attack in Kabul occurred in January when the Taliban-claimed responsibility for a car bomb that struck the heavily fortified Green Village foreign compound. Heavy snowfall across large swathes of Afghanistan has led to a reduction in violence this winter, but warmer weather in the country's south will likely spark an increase in bloodshed with the arrival of the spring fighting season. Analysts have warned that the Taliban are likely to ramp up attacks in the coming months as they seek to maintain momentum on the battlefield and leverage at the negotiating table.
On Wednesday at least 16 people were killed in a suicide attack on a construction company in eastern Afghanistan's Jalalabad city. The hours-long attack began early Wednesday when two suicide bombers detonated explosives at the gate of the compound, allowing three others to enter the area where they went on a killing spree. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but both the Islamic State group and the Taliban are active near the city, in Nangarhar province. Afghanistan has been enmeshed in nearly constant conflict since the Soviet invasion of 1979, which was followed by civil war, the Taliban regime, and the US invasion in late 2001.
Kandahar, Afghanistan, March 2, 2019 (AFP) - At least 20 people were killed by flash floods in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar province, the UN said Saturday, as heavy rains swept away homes and vehicles and potentially damaged thousands of houses. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said widespread flooding indudated Kandahar city and surrounding districts in the province, with 97mm of rain falling in affected areas in the last 30 hours. "At least 10 people, including children, are still missing," said the UN agency in a statement.
"It is anticipated that up to 2,000 homes may have been damaged", with severe damage to infrastructure also being reported. Kandahar's deputy governor Abdul Hanan Moneeb said the flooding was the worst in at least seven years, with many nomadic herders camped in the area swept away by the floodwaters along with their livestock. The official added that 400 families have been rescued by the Afghan army since the flooding began late Friday night. Rescue operations, however, were largely delayed due to heavy rainfall, Raziq Shirzai, the provincial commander of the Afghan air force, told AFP.
Disasters such as avalanches and flash floods often hit mountainous areas and river valleys of Afghanistan as snow melts in the spring and summer. It is made worse by deforestation. Heavy snowfall across large swathes of Afghanistan this winter has raised fears of severe flooding as spring approaches, following years of devastating drought in the country. Nearly 50 people have been killed as of February 12 due to flooding in Afghanistan so far this year, according to the UN.
January 13, 2009
Spain and Andorra are both advanced stable democracies and modern economies. Spain is a member of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union.
Read the D
Spain is a party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter Spain for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.
The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.
For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our Schengen Fact Sheet.
In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points.
These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present.
Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.
For further information concerning entry requirements for Spain, travelers should contact the Embassy of Spain at 2375 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20037, telephone (202) 452-0100, or the nearest Spanish Consulate in Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, or San Juan.
Spanish government web sites with information about entry requirements (in Spanish) can be found at http://www.mae.es and http://www.mir.es.
Additional information may be obtained from the Tourist Office of Spain in New York, telephone (212) 265-8822, or online at http://www.spain.info/.
For further information on entry requirements to Andorra, travelers should contact the Andorran Mission to the UN, 2 U.N. Plaza, 25th floor, New York, NY 10018, telephone (212) 750-8064 or online at http://www.andorra.ad.
Visit the Embassy of Spain and Andorra web sites for the most current visa information.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Spain and Andorra share with the rest of the world an increased threat of international terrorist incidents.
Like other countries in the Schengen area, Spain's open borders with its Western European neighbors allow the possibility of terrorist groups entering and exiting the country with anonymity.
Spain’s proximity to North Africa makes it vulnerable to attack from Al Qaeda terrorists in the Maghreb region.
Americans are reminded to remain vigilant with regard to their personal security and to exercise caution.
In the deadliest terrorist attack in recent European history, in March 2004, Islamist extremists bombed four commuter trains entering Madrid, causing 191 deaths and over 1,400 injuries.
Spanish authorities tried the suspected terrorists and their co-conspirators in February 2007 and convicted in October 2007.
The Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) terrorist organization remains active in Spain.
ETA has historically avoided targeting foreigners, directing their attacks against the police, military, local politicians, and Spanish government targets as well as attempts to disrupt transportation and daily life. However, foreigners have been killed or injured collaterally in ETA attacks.
Two examples of this are the Barajas Airport bombing in December 2006, in which two Ecuadorian nationals were killed and the bombing at the University of Navarre in October 2008, in which 17 students were injured including one American student.
In addition, bombs have been used as part of criminal extortion of businesses, particularly in the Basque region. The risk of “being in the wrong place at the wrong time” in event of an ETA action is a concern for foreign visitors and tourists.
U.S. tourists traveling to Spain should remain vigilant, exercise caution, monitor local developments, and avoid demonstrations and other potentially violent situations.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s A Safe Trip Abroad.
Andorra has a low rate of crime.
While most of Spain has a moderate rate of crime and most of the estimated one million American tourists have trouble free visits to Spain each year, street crimes against tourists occur in the principal tourist areas.
Madrid and Barcelona, in particular, report incidents of pick-pocketing, mugging and occasional violent attacks, some of which require the victim to seek medical attention.
Although crimes occur at all times of day and night and to people of all ages, older tourists and Asian Americans seem to be particularly at risk.
Criminals frequent tourist areas and major attractions such as museums, monuments, restaurants, outdoor cafes, Internet cafes, hotel lobbies, beach resorts, city buses, subways, trains, train stations, airports, and ATMs.
In Madrid, incidents have been reported in all major tourist areas, including the area near the Prado Museum, near Atocha train station, in Retiro Park, in areas of old Madrid including near the Royal Palace and in Plaza Mayor.
There have been a number of passport and bag thefts reported at Madrid’s Barajas Airport, local hotels, as well as in El Rastro (Madrid’s flea market) and in the Metro.
In Barcelona, the largest number of incidents reported also occurred in major tourist areas, on Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s El Prat airport, Sants train station, Metro stations, in the Sagrada Familia Area, in the Gothic Quarter, in Parc Güell, in Plaza Real, and along Barcelona’s beaches.
There has been a rise in the number of thefts reported at the Port Olimpic Area and nearby beaches.
Travelers should remain alert to their personal security and exercise caution. Travelers are encouraged to carry limited cash, only one credit card, and a copy of their passport; leaving extra cash, extra credit cards, passports and personal documents in a safe location.
When carrying documents, credit cards or cash, you are encouraged to secure them in a hard-to-reach place and not to carry all valuables together in a purse or backpack.
Thieves often work in teams of two or more people.
In many cases, one person distracts a victim while the accomplices perform the robbery.
For example, someone might wave a map in your face and ask for directions, “inadvertently” spill something on you, or help you clean-up bird droppings thrown on you by a third unseen accomplice.
While your attention is diverted, an accomplice makes off with the valuables.
Thieves may drop coins or keys at your feet to distract you and try to take your belongings while you are trying to help.
Attacks are sometimes initiated from behind, with the victim being grabbed around the neck and choked by one assailant while others rifle through or grab the belongings.
A group of assailants may surround the victim in a crowded popular tourist area or on public transportation, and only after the group has departed does the person discover he/she has been robbed.
Purse-snatchers may grab purses or wallets and run away, or immediately pass the stolen item to an accomplice.
A passenger on a passing motorcycle sometimes robs pedestrians.
There have been reports of thieves posing as plainclothes police officers, beckoning to pedestrians from cars and sometimes confronting them on the street asking for documents, or to inspect their cash for counterfeit bills, which they ultimately “confiscate” as evidence.
The U.S. Embassy in Madrid has received reports of cars on limited access motorways being pulled over by supposed unmarked police cars.
The Spanish police do not operate in this fashion.
American citizens are encouraged to ask for a uniformed law enforcement officer if approached.
Theft from vehicles is also common.
“Good Samaritan" scams are unfortunately common, where a passing car or helpful stranger will attempt to divert the driver’s attention by indicating there is a flat tire or mechanical problem.
When the driver stops to check the vehicle, the “good Samaritan” will appear to help the driver and passengers while the accomplice steals from the unlocked car. Drivers should be cautious about accepting help from anyone other than a uniformed Spanish police officer or Civil Guard.
Items high in value like luggage, cameras, laptop computers, or briefcases are often stolen from cars. Travelers are advised not to leave valuables in parked cars, and to keep doors locked, windows rolled up, and valuables out of sight when driving.
While the incidence of sexual assault is statistically very low, attacks do occur.
Spanish authorities warn of the availability of so-called "date-rape" drugs and other drugs, including "GBH" and liquid ecstasy.
Americans should not lower their personal security awareness because they are on vacation.
A number of American citizens have been victims of lottery or advance fee scams in which a person is lured to Spain to finalize a financial transaction. Often the victims are initially contacted via Internet or fax and informed they have won the Spanish Lottery (El Gordo), inherited money from a distant relative, or are needed to assist in a major financial transaction from one country to another.
For more information, please see the Bureau of Consular Affairs web site on International Financial Scams.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law.
In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
More information on this serious problem is available at http://www.cybercrime.gov/18usc2320.htm.
The Embassy’s U.S. Commercial Service receives reports of a type of scam targeting U.S. businesses, utilizing the name of a legitimate Spanish concern and legitimate-appearing Spanish bank references.
The scam usually involves a temptingly large order or business proposal.
The U.S. Commercial Service in Spain at http://www.buyusa.gov/spain/en/ stands ready to counsel any U.S. firm which would like to verify the legitimacy of an unsolicited business proposal purporting to come from a Spanish firm.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, help you find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
Spain does have a Crime Victim’s Assistance program.
More information can be obtained at http://www.mjusticia.es/Directorio/Victimas?menu_activo=1057821035144&lang=es_es.
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Spain is 112.
Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Good medical care is available in both Spain and Andorra.
Regulations regarding medications may vary from those in the United States; Americans with need for specific medications are encouraged to bring a supply sufficient for their anticipated period of stay, as the medication may not be available and customs regulations may prohibit certain medications to be mailed from the United States to Spain or Andorra.
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance companies prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and if it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
U.S. medical insurance plans may not cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased.
Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. You should contact your insurance provider before departure so appropriate arrangements can be made.
Many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas, including emergency services such as medical evacuations.
When making a decision regarding health insurance, Americans should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the United States may cost well in excess of $50,000.
Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties, whereas travelers who have purchased overseas medical insurance have found it to be life saving when a medical emergency has occurred.
When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, please ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or if you will be reimbursed later for expenses that you incur.
Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Spain or Andorra.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning name of country is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Traffic in Madrid and Barcelona is faster-paced than in U.S. cities and can be unnerving due to unfamiliar signs or motorbikes weaving between traffic lanes.
Drivers should always obey the closest traffic light, as there are separate pedestrian lights in the city.
Drivers should be alert when driving at night in urban areas, due to the possibility of encountering drivers or pedestrians under the influence of alcohol.
Night driving in isolated rural areas can be dangerous because of farm animals and poorly marked roads.
Rural traffic is generally heavier in July and August as well as during the Christmas and Easter seasons.
Traffic regulations in effect in Spain include the prohibition on the use of a mobile phone without a hands-free device while driving a car.
There is a fine of 300 euros for violation of this regulation and loss of driving privileges.
In addition, all drivers and passengers are required to carry a reflective vest and put it on if they need to stop on the roadside.
A reflective triangle warning sign for a vehicle stopped on the side of the road is also mandatory.
Those renting vehicles are encouraged to check with the rental company about traffic regulations and safety equipment.
U.S. citizens using U.S. issued drivers licenses must obtain International Driving Permits prior to their arrival if they plan to drive in Spain.
Pedestrians should use designated crossing areas when crossing streets and obey traffic lights.
Public transportation in large Spanish cities is generally excellent.
All major cities have metered taxis, in which extra charges must be posted in the vehicle.
Travelers are advised to use only clearly identified cabs and to ensure that taxi drivers always switch on the meter.
A green light on the roof indicates that the taxi is available.
Rail service is comfortable and reliable, but varies in quality and speed. Intercity buses are usually comfortable and inexpensive.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
For specific information concerning Spanish driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax and mandatory insurance, please contact the Spanish National Tourist Organization offices in New York at http://www.spain.info/us/TourSpain.
For information about driving in Andorra, refer to http://www.andorra.ad/en-US/Pages/default.aspx.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Spain’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Spain’s air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offences.
Persons violating the laws of Spain or Andorra, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Spain and Andorra are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. The cities of Madrid and Barcelona and The Balearics Regional Government have banned the consumption of alcohol in the street, other than in registered street cafes and bars.
Visitors to Madrid, Barcelona, Mallorca, Ibiza, and Menorca should be aware that failure to respect this law might result in the imposition of fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Spain or Andorra are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site to obtain updated information on travel and security within Spain or Andorra.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at Serrano 75; telephone (34) (91) 587-2200, and fax (34) (91) 587-2303. U.S. citizens who register in the Consular Section at the U.S. Embassy, Consulate General, or one of the Consular Agencies listed below can obtain updated information on travel and security within Spain or Andorra.
Additional information and appointments for routine services are available through the U.S. Embassy’s home page at http://madrid.usembassy.gov.
Appointments are required for routine Consular Services.
To make an appointment, go to https://evisaforms.state.gov/acs/default.asp?postcode=MDD&appcode=1.
The U.S. Consulate in Barcelona is located at Paseo Reina Elisenda 23-25; telephone (34) (93) 280-2227 and fax (34) (93) 205-5206.
Visitors to Barcelona can access additional information from the Consulate General’s web page at http://madrid.usembassy.gov/barcelonaen.html.
There are six consular agencies in Spain, which provide limited services to American citizens, but are not authorized to issue passports.
Anyone requesting service at one of the consular agencies should call ahead to verify that the service requested will be available on the day you expect to visit the agency.
Fuengirola (in Malaga Province), at Avenida Juan Gomez Juanito #8, Edificio Lucia 1C, Fuengirola 29640 Spain. Telephone (34) (952) 474-891 and fax (34) (952) 465-189.
Hours 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
La Coruna, Calle Juana de Vega 8, 5º Piso, Oficina I, La Coruna 15003 Spain.
Telephone (34) (981) 213-233 and fax (34) (981 22 28 08).
Hours 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Las Palmas, at Edificio Arca, Calle Los Martinez de Escobar 3, Oficina 7, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria 35007 Spain.
Telephone (34)(928) 222-552 and fax (34)(928) 225-863.
Hours 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Palma de Mallorca, Edificio Reina Constanza, Porto Pi, 8, 9-D, 07015 Palma de Mallorca 07015 Spain.
Telephone (34) (971) 40-3707 or 40-3905 and fax (34) (971) 40-3971.
Hours 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Seville, at Plaza Nueva 8-8 duplicado, 2nd Floor, Office E-2 No.4, Sevilla, 41101 Spain. Telephone: (34) (65) 422-8751 and fax (34) (91) 422-0791.
Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Valencia, at Doctor Romagosa #1, 2-J, 46002, Valencia 46002 Spain.
Telephone (34) (96)-351-6973 and fax (34) (96) 352-9565.
Hours 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
For Andorra, please contact the U.S. Consulate in Barcelona.
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Spain and Andorra dated July 15, 2008, to update sections on Safety and Security and Medical Facilities and Health Information.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
By Álvaro VILLALOBOS
Madrid, March 8, 2019 (AFP) - For the second year running, Spanish women went on strike Friday for International Women's Day, with several protests kicking off over what has become a hot topic in the country's election campaign. "If we stop, the world stops." Armed with this slogan, Spain's largest unions CCOO and UGT organised a two-hour work stoppage -- the first starting at midday -- while smaller unions have called for a 24-hour strike.
Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena, prominent journalists, nuns and company employees are among hundreds of women who have pledged to take part in a strike that seeks to recreate an unprecedented two-hour work stoppage that took place on the same day in 2018. It was as yet unclear how many women were participating. International Women's Day was being celebrated around the world on Friday, with marches and other actions expected.
Hundreds of protests and gatherings were planned across Spain. In Barcelona, demonstrators blocked a major thoroughfare, some wearing purple wigs -- the colour long associated with gender equality. Unions, feminist associations and left-wing parties are hoping to draw hundreds of thousands of people in big marches later in the day in Madrid and Barcelona.
As snap general elections near on April 28, women's rights has become a crux theme of left- and right-wing parties' election campaigns, with all pledging to do their bit for inequalities. The gender pay gap stands at 14.2 percent according to the latest EU statistics, two points below the EU average.
And gender violence continues to take its toll on women, with 47 killed by their partners or ex-partners last year and at least 975 dead since 2003, according to government figures. "Us women need to be seen, because there is still a lot of work to do," Ana Pastor, the conservative parliament speaker, told Spanish television. "Women don't have real power."
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who has made women's rights one of the central themes of his campaign, tweeted that he wanted "a feminist Spain." "Only with feminism will we end violence against women and achieve real equality," he said. Spanish media is awash with stories about women's rights and gender inequality. On Thursday, the national police force announced it was working on a "non-sexist language guide for its agents."
- Dissenting voices -
But there are increasing dissenting voices against what some conservative groups believe has gone too far. The conservative Popular Party won't take part in the Madrid protest, considering the manifesto that called the demonstration "unacceptable." This calls on people to mobilise "in the face of the right and far-right that have placed us women and migrants as a priority target of their ultra-liberal, racist and patriarchal offensive."
Centre-right party Ciudadanos, meanwhile, has lashed out at what it considers an attempt by the left to appropriate feminism to get more votes on April 28 general elections. The "Women of the World Global Platform," a Spanish initiative that groups together conservative associations from around the world, has also called for a counter-protest in central Madrid on March 10.
International Women's Day "has converted into a day for those who reject femininity as well as masculinity, complementarity, maternity and dedication to the family," spokeswoman Leonor Tamayo said in a statement. Small far-right party Vox, which opposes a law against gender violence that it feels is "ideological" and "discriminatory" towards men, has also been gaining ground. Pastor, though, retorted that "this is not about parties." "There are thousands of women in Spain who don't vote, who don't identify with parties... A day like today is more about speaking as people, above all as women."
Madrid, March 4, 2019 (AFP) - Dozens of wildfires raged across northern Spain Monday, fuelled by strong, dry winds and warm temperatures, local officials said, unusual in a region that is normally rainy, especially in winter. Some 300 firefighters and soldiers backed by nine water-dropping aircraft battled 99 forest fire burning across the Asturias region, local emergency services said, while another 18 blazes raged in neighbouring Cantabria. The fires were being fed by strong southerly winds, with gusts of up to 100 kilometres (60 miles) an hour, and unusually warm temperatures for this time of the year, local officials said. No injuries were reported.
Temperatures hit 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) on Sunday in Gijon, the largest city in Asturias, according to national weather office Aemet. All of Asturias faced either an "very high" or "extreme" risk of wildfires on Monday, the region's government said. The president of the regional government of Cantabria, Miguel Angel Revilla, urged locals to be vigilant, warning that Tuesday's forecast was for more "very strong winds" from the south. Spain is prone to wildfires in summer, especially in the more arid southern regions and along its Mediterranean coastline. But such incidents are unusual in winter, especially in rainier northern regions such as Asturias and Cantabria.
By Daniel BOSQUE
Barcelona, Feb 21, 2019 (AFP) - Activists blocked roads and rail lines in Catalonia on Thursday while tens of thousands took to the streets during a region-wide strike against the trial of separatist leaders for their role in a failed 2017 secession attempt. On Thursday evening 40,000 people rallied along one of Barcelona's major avenues, police said, while earlier around 1,000 demonstrators gathered in the central University Square, where the city's oldest university stands. Four people were arrested with 37 people injured in clashes including six police. Called by a small pro-independence union, Intersindical CSC, but without the backing of larger unions, the one-day strike was not widely followed in the northeastern region. Public transport in Barcelona was slower than usual but most shops remained open.
Traffic authorities in Catalonia said activists cut off around 20 roads, including the A7 highway that links Spain to France, the A2 between Madrid and Barcelona and the main entry points to the Mediterranean city. Police cleared several of the road blocks and detained two protesters, a spokesman said. Activists also briefly blocked train traffic by occupying the tracks at a station in Barcelona and in other parts of the region, according to the company that manages Spain's rail network. "We're here in solidarity with those who are victims of a trial that just doesn't hold water," said Jaume Sole, a 45-year-old engineer
- 'Politically-motivated' -
The Catalan employers' association has denounced the work stoppage as politically motivated. Separatist parties and associations are backing it. They began mobilising last week in solidarity with the Catalan separatist leaders on trial for pushing a secession referendum in October 2017 in defiance of a court ban, and a subsequent short-lived declaration of independence.
On Saturday, around 200,000 people including regional president Quim Torra protested in central Barcelona, police said, behind a banner that read "self-determination is not a crime." Torra's separatist executive has expressed solidarity with the strike and cancelled all official events planned for Thursday. The trial of the Catalan separatists started on February 12 under intense domestic and foreign scrutiny. It was due to last three months but the court on Wednesday sped up the process to try and finish the trial before snap general elections on April 28.
Catalonia's former president Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium soon after the declaration of independence on October 27, 2017, is not among the defendants as Spain doesn't judge people in absentia for major offences. So far, those on trial have defended the peaceful nature of the secession movement. They have justified holding the referendum on a democratic mandate they say they got from voters in Catalonia who handed separatist parties a majority in 2015 polls. This prompted unusually outspoken comments from King Felipe VI on Wednesday who said it was "unacceptable to appeal to a so-called democracy that is above the law."
- 'Criminalising' a protest -
Defendants have also said the proclamation of independence was a mere political declaration without legal effect. On Thursday, Santi Vila, a regional government member at the time, said the referendum was actually "a big political mobilisation" rather than a plebiscite given the Constitutional Court had banned it. "It was about tightening the rope without it breaking," Vila, who faces up to seven years in jail for misuse of public funds and disobedience, told the court. Prosecutors accuse the defendants of implementing a strategy concerted by the regional government, parliament and pro-independence associations to achieve secession outside the law. They accuse nine of them of rebellion, a serious offence that implies a "violent uprising."
Prosecutors point for instance to damage made to police cars during a pre-referendum protest on September 20, 2017, or claim separatists used citizens as "human walls" against police dispatched to stop the referendum. Independence supporters and the defendant's lawyers, however, argue there was never any violence. Jordi Sanchez, head of the powerful ANC pro-independence association who was at the protest on September 20 and faces up to 17 years in prison, accused prosecutors of "criminalising and penalising a demonstration."
Source: El Pais in English [edited]
An investigation has been opened to determine the cause of death of a 46-year-old woman, who became ill after eating at a one-star Michelin restaurant called RiFF in Valencia. A total of 23 other patrons, including the victim's husband and 12-year-old son, also fell sick after the meal but their symptoms were mild and they have reportedly all recovered. The case was confirmed by regional health chief Ana Barcela, who expressed her condolences to the family and said that an investigation was already underway. "We've conducted a primary inspection of the establishment and everything appears to be normal," she said. "Analytical tests will now be carried out on the food products."
Barcela explained that the regional public health department will be in charge of the investigation and for determining the causes behind the woman's death. According to sources from the regional health department, the food poisoning outbreak was reported on [Sun 17 Feb 2019], after the 3 family members fell ill. They began to show symptoms of food poisoning - vomiting and diarrhoea - on [Sat 16 Feb 2019]. According to Europa Press, the father and son recovered but the woman's symptoms were more severe, and she died in her home early on the following morning. The investigation into the death revealed that a total of 9 patrons had experienced illness, mainly vomiting, after eating at the same restaurant.
Subsequently, it emerged that a further 14 people had also suffered light symptoms. "17 people have been interviewed, of whom 14 stated that they had some kind of mild symptoms," explained regional health chief Ana BarcelÃ³ today, [Wed 20 Feb 2019]. "The samples that have been collected over the last few days have been sent to the National Toxicology Institute to be analyzed." Public health officials inspected the restaurant on [Mon 18 Feb 2019], but did not find any problems that could have contributed to the food poisoning. Investigators also collected samples of ingredients and raw food products that were part of the menu, and are currently analyzing them.
Barcela added that at this point she could not confirm whether the sickness had been caused by morel mushrooms that were on the restaurant's menu. "We will have to wait for the autopsy to be carried out on the woman before we can determine whether it was the ingestion of a food that directly caused her death, or whether it prompted a state that led to this fatal outcome, or if she had an existing condition," she explained on [Wed 20 Feb 2019].
Forensic teams are working to determine whether she could have been poisoned by something she ate, or whether she may have choked on her own vomit. In a statement, the owner of RiFF, Bernd H. Knaller, announced that the restaurant will remain closed until the cause of the food poisoning outbreak is determined and "activities can resume with full assurances for the staff and the patrons." The owner said he has been cooperating with the regional health department on the investigation and pointed out that the inspection "showed that the restaurant complies with all sanitary regulations." He added: "Regardless of what caused the situation, I want to convey my deep regret for what happened, and I hope all of the facts will be clarified shortly." [Byline: Cristina Vazquez]
Madrid, Feb 17, 2019 (AFP) - Regional authorities in northern Spain said Sunday they were battling around 50 fires, some of which were deliberately set. By end of Sunday, 48 fires were still active, a statement from the government of the Cantabria region said. "During the day we counted 50 fires, and 760 people from different administrations working to put them out," the statement added.
Since the first fires broke out on Thursday in the mountainous region, no people have been injured and "most of the fires took place in inaccessible areas and have not put the population or infrastructure in danger," the government added. Two people have been arrested, the head of the Cantabria region, Miguel Angel Revilla, said on Spanish television, adding that there have been "no injuries, only five people have been evacuated" from the area.
World Travel News Headlines
By Joaquim Nhamirre
Maputo, March 15, 2019 (AFP) - Tropical cyclone Idai battered Mozambican coastal city Beira Friday, leaving half a million people virtually cut off after power lines crashed, airport shut and roads were swamped by flooding that killed 66 people nationwide. "There is no communication with Beira. Houses and trees were destroyed and pylons downed," an official at the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) told AFP. Authorities had to close Beira international airport after the air traffic control tower, the navigation systems and the runways were damaged by the storm. "Unfortunately there is extreme havoc," said the official. "Some runway lights were damaged, the navigation system is damaged, the control tower antennas and the control tower itself are all damaged. "The runway is full of obstacles and parked aircrafts are damaged."
Late on Wednesday, the national carrier LAM cancelled all flights to Beira and Quelimane, which is also on the coast, as well as to Chomoio, which is inland. Power utility Electricidade de Mocambique said in a statement that the provinces of Manica, Sofala and parts of Inhambane have been without power since Thursday. Officials did not report any confirmed deaths, but local Beira station STV reported a child had died in Manica province west of the city, apparently the victim of a falling roof. "There was no tsunami-type storm but Beira and Chinde (400 kilometres, 250 miles northeast of Beira on the coast) were badly hit," added the NIDM official.
Another official, Pedro Armando Alberto Virgula, in Chinde, said a hospital, police station and seven schools there lost their roofs and four houses were destroyed. Virgula added that efforts were under way to assess the damage caused after Idai made landfall late on Thursday. Local officials said that this week's heavy rains claimed 66 lives, injured 111 people and displaced 17,000 people. The World Food Programme (WFP) said it would move 20 tonnes of emergency food aid to the affected areas. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had warned that the storm could pack winds of up to 190 kilometres per hour (118 miles per hour).
- 'Devastation' -
At least 126 people were killed by the downpour that has struck parts of Mozambique, Malawi and South Africa over the past week, officials said. Heavy rains in neighbouring Malawi have affected almost a million people and claimed 56 lives, according to the latest government toll. Authorities there have opened emergency relief camps where malaria and shortages of supplies have led to dire conditions, according to AFP correspondents.
Malawian President Peter Mutharika this week declared a natural disaster. Mozambique's weather service has warned that heavy rain will continue to batter Beira and surrounding areas until Sunday. The UN warned of damage to crops, "including about 168,000 hectares (415,000 acres) of crops already impacted by flooding in early March, which will undermine food security and nutrition". Mozambique and Malawi, two of the poorest countries in the world, are prone to deadly flooding during the rainy season and chronic drought during the dry season. In neighbouring Zimbabwe, weather services have warned that violent thunderstorms, lightning and strong winds will be experienced in the eastern regions of the country.
Niamey, March 15, 2019 (AFP) - Health authorities in Niger said Friday they had found a fake version of a meningitis vaccine after the country had launched a campaign to innoculate millions of children against the disease. In a statement, the health ministry asked doctors to be vigilant over a "counterfeit" version of a vaccine called Mencevax ACWY. The fake drug is marked as having been manufactured in December 2016, with an end-date for use by November 2021, it said. Niger launched a week-long campaign on March 5 to vaccinate six million children against meningitis, which killed nearly 200 people two years ago. The country lies in the so-called "meningitis belt" stretching from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east, where outbreaks of the disease are a regular occurrence.
The vaccination programme is against meningitis A, one of the six groups of meningitis bacteria that can cause epidemics. The ministry's spokesman told AFP the bogus drug had been discovered during a "routine inspection" of a privately-owned pharmacy in the capital Niamey. An investigation is underway to try to ascertain how many of the fake vaccines have been used, the spokesman said. Health workers administering meningitis jabs are being asked to take special care about their supply source, and the public are being urged to scrutinise vaccines clearly, even if they buy them in "licensed" pharmacies. Fake drugs -- medications that are outright counterfeits or whose active ingredients have been diluted -- are a major problem in West Africa.
In the 2017 outbreak, and in an epidemic in 2015 in which nearly 500 people died, Niger sounded the alarm over purported vials of vaccine that just contained water. Meningitis is transmitted between people through coughs and sneezes, close contact and cramped living conditions. The illness causes acute inflammation of the outer layers of the brain and spinal cord, with the most common symptoms being fever, headache and neck stiffness.
By Khaliun Bayartsogt
Bornuur, Mongolia, March 15, 2019 (AFP) - In the world's coldest capital, many burn coal and plastic just to survive temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees -- but warmth comes at a price: deadly pollution makes Ulaanbataar's air too toxic for children to breathe, leaving parents little choice but to evacuate them to the countryside. This exodus is a stark warning of the future for urban areas in much of Asia, where scenes of citizens in anti-pollution masks against a backdrop of brown skies are becoming routine, rather than apocalyptic. Ulaanbaatar is one of the most polluted cities on the planet, alongside New Delhi, Dhaka, Kabul, and Beijing. It regularly exceeds World Health Organisation recommendations for air quality even as experts warn of disastrous consequences, particularly for children, including stunted development, chronic illness, and in some cases death.
Erdene-Bat Naranchimeg watched helplessly as her daughter Amina battled illness virtually from birth, her immune system handicapped by the smog-choked air in Mongolia's capital. "We would constantly be in and out of the hospital," Naranchimeg told AFP, adding that Amina contracted pneumonia twice at the age of two, requiring several rounds of antibiotics. This is not a unique case in a city where winter temperatures plunge towards uninhabitable, particularly in the districts that rural workers moved to in search of a better life. Here row upon row of the traditional tents -- known as gers -- are warmed by coal, or any other flammable material available. The resulting thick black smoke shoots out in plumes, blanketing surrounding areas in a film of smog that makes visibility so poor it can be hard to see even a few metres ahead. Hospitals are packed and young children are vulnerable, common colds can quickly escalate into life-threatening illness.
- Birth defects -
The situation was so bad that doctors told Naranchimeg the only solution was to send her little girl to the clean air of the countryside. Now aged five, Amina is thriving. She lives with her grandparents in Bornuur Sum, a village 135 kilometres away from the capital. "She hasn't been sick since she started living here," said Naranchimeg, who makes the three-hour round trip to see Amina every week. "It was very difficult in the first few months," she said. "We used to cry when we talked on the phone." But like many parents in Ulaanbaatar, she felt the move was the only way to protect her child.
The levels of PM2.5 -- tiny and harmful particles -- in Ulaanbaatar reached 3,320 in January, 133 times what the World Health Organisation (WHO) considers safe. The effects are terrible for adults but children are even more at risk, in part because they breathe faster, taking in more air and pollutants. As they are smaller, children are also closer to the ground, where some pollutants concentrate, and their still-developing lungs, brains, and other key organs are more vulnerable to damage. Effects to prolonged exposure range from persistent infections and asthma to slowed lung and brain development. The risks apply in utero, too, because gases and fine particles can enter a mother's bloodstream and placenta, causing miscarriage, birth defects and low birth weights, which can also affect a child for the rest of their lives. Researchers are now investigating whether pollution, like exposure to tobacco smoke, has health effects that could even be passed down to the next generation.
- 'Terribly afraid' -
Buyan-Ulzii Badamkhand and her husband need to stay in capital for work, but they have decided to send their two-year-old son Temuulen more than 1,000 kilometres away. The 35-year-old mother-of-three struggled with the decision, even moving from one ger district to another in the hope her son's health would improve. But successive bouts of illness, including bronchitis that lasted a whole year, finally convinced her to send Temuulen to his grandparents. Hours after he arrived, she called her mother-in-law to discuss her son's medicines. "But my mother-in-law asked me 'does he still need medicine? He isn't coughing anymore," she said. "I tell myself that it doesn't matter that I miss him and who raises him, as long as he is healthy, I am content." Respiratory problems are the most obvious effect of air pollution, but research suggests dirty air can also put children at greater risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life. And the WHO links it to leukaemia and behavioural disorders. When air pollution peaks in winter, Ulaanbaatar's playgrounds empty and those who are able to are increasingly travelling abroad to wait out the smog.
In desperation, Luvsangombo Chinchuluun, a civil society activist, borrowed money to take her granddaughter to Thailand for all of January. "We can't let her play outside (in Ulaanbaatar) because of the air pollution, so we decided to leave," she said. The persistent smog has caused tensions in the city, with those living in wealthier areas blaming the ger residents for the pollution and even calling for the tent districts to be cleared. But the ger residents say coal is all they can afford. "People come to the capital because they need sustainable income," said Dorjdagva Adiyasuren, a 54-year-old mother of six. "It's not their fault," she added. In a bid to tackle the problem, the local government banned domestic migration in 2017, and a ban on burning coal comes into force from May. But it is unclear whether the moves will be enough to make a difference. For Naranchimeg, the problems are serious enough to make her consider whether she wants more children. She explained: "Now, I am terribly afraid of to give birth again. It is risky to carry a child and what will happen to the child after it is born in this amount of pollution?"
Reykjavik, March 14, 2019 (AFP) - Iceland has blocked the millions of tourists who descend upon the volcanic island each year from visiting a canyon that has been overrun since it was featured in a Justin Bieber music video. An influx of tourists and a humid winter have disrupted the Fjadrargljufur canyon's fragile ecosystem, so the Environment Agency of Iceland has closed the site to the public until June 1. "During periods of thaw, the path is completely muddy and is practically unusable for hikers," agency advisor Daniel Freyr Jonsson told AFP on Thursday. "Because the mud is so thick, visitors step over the fences and walk parallel to the path, which rapidly damages the plant life," he added.
Fjadrargljufur is a gorge about 100 meters (yards) deep and two kilometres (1.25 miles) long, with steep green walls and a winding riverbed. The canyon was created by progressive erosion from water melting from glaciers 9,000 years ago. The canyon was little known to foreigners until the end of 2015, when Canadian singer Justin Bieber featured the site in his song "I'll Show You". "Visits to the site have risen by 50 to 80 percent per year since 2016," said Daniel Freyr Jonsson, estimating that around 300,000 people visited the canyon in 2018. A growing number of tourist sites in Iceland have been closed in a bid to
The popular Reykjadalur valley and its hot springs were temporarily closed in April 2018 and a hiking trail overlooking the Skogafoss waterfall is currently shut. "The infrastructure is not set up to accomodate so many visitors," said Daniel Freyr Jonsson. "Tourism in winter and spring, the most sensitive periods for wildlife in Iceland, (was previously) almost unheard of in Iceland." Since 2010 and the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano -- which generated a lot of publicity for the island -- the number of visitors has grown by 25 percent per year on average. Last year, a record 2.3 million people visited Iceland.
Geneva, March 14, 2019 (AFP) - The deadly Ebola outbreak raging in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo should be over within six months, the head of the World Health Organization said Thursday. Seven months since the outbreak erupted in DRC's violence-torn North Kivu province, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters there were clear signs the spread of the virus was "contracting". "Our target is now to finish it in the next six months," he told reporters in Geneva, warning though that increased unrest in the affected area could reverse the progress being made. "It's always good to plan beyond the horizon to prepare for any eventualities," he said, while voicing optimism that massive efforts to rein in the outbreak are working.
The ongoing Ebola outbreak, the 10th in DRC's history, emerged in North Kivu in August 2018 and then spread to neighbouring Ituri province. It has claimed 584 lives out of nearly 1,000 believed to have been infected, WHO said. Security in eastern DRC, a region rampant with rebel fighters, has dramatically complicated the response, with numerous attacks on Ebola treatment centres. The Doctors Without Borders (MSF) medical charity has also sounded the alarm over increasingly "toxic" relations with local communities, whose resistance to Ebola response efforts have also fuelled the spread. MSF pointed out that 40 percent of deaths from the extremely contagious virus are occurring in communities rather than in Ebola treatment centres.
- 'Contracting' -
"The Ebola response is failing to bring the epidemic under control," MSF chief Joanne Lieu told reporters in Geneva last week. But Tedros denied Thursday that this was the case. "That's not true," he said. "You cannot say it's failing when the outbreak is contracting. It's contracting." He stressed that over the past seven months, the virus had been contained to North Kivu and Ituri.
"It hasn't spread to other parts of the country and it hasn't spread to neighbouring countries," he said, adding that transmission had been halted in a number of places, including in Beni and Mangina. "So the cases are now shrinking in certain geographic areas," he said. Tedros also stressed that the number of new cases had been cut in half since January, with an average of 25 new cases reported each week now compared to 50 at the beginning of the year. He acknowledged though that violence, unrest and community resistance remained a challenge in Butembo especially, which along with Katwa is where the spread of the virus is now concentrated. "I don't want to undermine the risk, because it may again (resurge) if the security situation continues to deteriorate," he said, acknowledging that there is still a chance Ebola could spread to other parts of DRC and neighbouring countries.
Kuala Lumpur, March 14, 2019 (AFP) - Over 100 schools in Malaysia have been closed after the dumping of toxic waste into a river caused hundreds of people to fall ill, including many children, authorities said. A lorry is believed to have dumped the waste in southern Johor state last week, sending hazardous fumes across a wide area and causing those affected to display symptoms of poisoning such as nausea and vomiting.
Over 500 people, many of them school pupils, have received medical treatment after inhaling the fumes, with over 160 admitted to hospital, according to official news agency Bernama. It was unclear what type of poisonous gas had been emitted near the industrial town of Pasir Gudang. Education Minister Maszlee Malik initially ordered the closure of 43 schools in the area Wednesday, but later announced that figure had more than doubled.
"The ministry of education has decided to close all 111 schools in the Pasir Gudang area immediately," he said in a statement. "The education ministry is requesting that all parties take precautions." Three men were arrested earlier this week over the toxic waste dumping. One is expected to be charged in court soon and could face up to five years in jail if found guilty of breaking environmental protection laws.
A map of Colonia department in southern Uruguay is available at
and <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/27367>. - ProMED Mod.TY]