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.
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]