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
Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - Scores of people including children were wounded Monday after a series of explosions shook the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, as the country's independence day was marred by bloodshed.
As many as 10 blasts were reported in and around the city in Nangarhar province, authorities said, and casualty numbers rose as the day wore on. "The explosions were caused by IEDs in different parts of the city and as groups of people were celebrating independence day," the Nangarhar governor's spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said, referring to improvised explosive devices. Jalalabad is the scene of frequent bomb attacks, and the surrounding terrain is home to both Taliban fighters and the Islamic State group's local affiliate.
At least 52 people were wounded, Khogyani said. Zaher Adel, a spokesman for a local hospital, said 66 wounded people had been brought in. An AFP correspondent saw children among the victims. This year's August 19 celebrations mark 100 years of Afghan independence from British influence. The day was supposed to be one of national pride and unity, but was overshadowed by an IS suicide attack Saturday on a crowded Kabul wedding hall that killed at least 63 people.
In Kabul, locals took to the streets to wave the black-red-and-green Afghan flag, but several public events to commemorate the date were scrapped as Kabul mourns and due to fears of a fresh attack. "We postponed the celebrations to honour the victims, but we will definitely take revenge for our people," Afghan President Ahraf Ghani said. "We will avenge the blood of our people, every drop of it."
Mayhem from Afghanistan's war continues to wreak havoc on Afghans every day, even though the US and the Taliban are in final negotiations for a deal that would see US troops begin to quit Afghanistan and could potentially lead to a reduction in violence.
By By Emal Haidary and Mushtaq Mojaddidi
Kabul, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Joy and celebration turned into horror and carnage when a suicide bomber targeted a packed Afghan wedding hall, killing at least 63 people in the deadliest attack to rock Kabul in months, officials and witnesses said Sunday. The massive blast, which took place late Saturday in west Kabul, came as Washington and the Taliban finalise a deal to reduce the US military presence in Afghanistan and hopefully build a roadmap to a ceasefire. The groom recalled greeting smiling guests in the afternoon, before seeing their bodies being carried out hours later.
The attack "changed my happiness to sorrow", the young man, who gave his name as Mirwais, told local TV station Tolo News. "My family, my bride are in shock, they cannot even speak. My bride keeps fainting," he said. "I lost my brother, I lost my friends, I lost my relatives. I will never see happiness in my life again." Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said at least 63 people had been killed and 182 injured. "Among the wounded are women and children," Rahimi said. Earlier he stated a suicide bomber carried out the attack.
Afghan weddings are epic and vibrant affairs, with hundreds or often thousands of guests celebrating for hours inside industrial-scale wedding halls where the men are usually segregated from the women and children. "The wedding guests were dancing and celebrating the party when the blast happened," recounted Munir Ahmad, 23, who was seriously injured and whose cousin was among the dead. "Following the explosion, there was total chaos. Everyone was screaming and crying for their loved ones," he told AFP from his bed in a local hospital, where he is being treated for shrapnel wounds.
Images from inside the hall showed blood-stained bodies on the ground along with pieces of flesh and torn clothes, hats, sandals and bottles of mineral water. The huge blast ripped parts of the ceiling off. The wedding was believed to be a Shia gathering. Shia Muslims are frequently targeted in Sunni-majority Afghanistan, particularly by the so-called Islamic State group, which is also active in Kabul but did not immediately issue any claim of responsibility.
Wedding guest Hameed Quresh told AFP the young couple were saying their vows when the bomb went off. "We fainted following the blast, and we don't know who brought us to the hospital," sobbed Quresh, who lost one brother and was himself wounded. Another guest told Tolo that some 1,200 people had been invited. With low security, weddings are seen as easy targets. The attack sent a wave of grief through a city grimly accustomed to atrocities. President Ashraf Ghani called it "barbaric", while Afghanistan's chief executive Abdullah Abdullah described it as a "crime against humanity".
- Withdrawal deal expected -
The attack underscores both the inadequacy of Afghanistan's security forces and the scale of the problem they face. While the police and army claim they prevent most bombings from ever happening, the fact remains that insurgents pull off horrific attacks with chilling regularity. On July 28, at least 20 people were killed when attackers targeted Ghani's running mate Amrullah Saleh as he campaigned in presidential elections. The incident showed how even amid tight security and known threats, insurgents can conduct brazen attacks. The issue also goes to the heart of a prospective deal between the US and the Taliban that would see Washington begin to withdraw its approximately 14,000 soldiers from Afghanistan.
The deal relies on the Taliban providing guarantees they will stop jihadist groups such as Al-Qaeda and IS from using Afghanistan as a safe haven. Saturday's attack suggests any such promise would be tough to keep. The "Taliban cannot absolve themselves of blame, for they provide platform for terrorists," Ghani said. Few believe such a deal will bring quick peace.
Many Afghans fear the Taliban could return, eroding hard-won rights for women in particular and leading to a spiralling civil war. Meanwhile, in the northern province of Balkh, 11 members of the same family were killed when their car hit a roadside bomb, officials said. The provincial governor blamed the Taliban for planting the device.
Kabul, July 1, 2019 (AFP) - At least one person was killed and dozens wounded in a Taliban-claimed attack which saw a powerful car bomb rock Kabul early Monday, followed by gunmen who battled special forces in an area housing military and government buildings. Many children were among the wounded, according to a hospital statement, after the rush-hour explosion sent a plume of smoke into the air above the Puli Mahmood Khan neighbourhood of the Afghan capital and shook buildings up to two kilometres (1.2 miles) away.
AFP reporters could hear gunshots and multiple smaller explosions as fighting between the gunmen and special forces continued more than four hours after the attack began. "At first, a car bomb took place and then several attackers took over a building. The area is cordoned off by the police special forces and (they) are bringing down the attackers," interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said. He later said that at least one attacker had been killed. Health ministry spokesman Wahidullah Mayar said that at least one person had been killed and 65 wounded -- including nine children -- and warned that casualties could rise. "Among the wounded, many children who were going to school," said the Twitter account of the Emergency Hospital in Kabul, where many victims were taken. Some social media images purportedly taken at the hospital showed wounded, stunned children in school uniforms, still clutching books as they arrived for treatment.
The Taliban claimed the attack, which came just two days after the insurgents began a seventh round of talks with the US in Qatar as Washington eyes a breakthrough before Afghanistan's September presidential election. Militant spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid released a statement saying the insurgents had targeted a defence ministry building in the area, which was quickly blocked off by Afghan forces and ambulances, with helicopter gunships seen overhead as firing continued. Authorities have not confirmed the target. "We were sitting inside the office when the world turned upside down on us," Zaher Usman, an employee at a branch of the culture ministry, which he said stands just 150 metres (yards) from the blast.
- Brief lockdown -
"When I opened my eyes, the office was filled with smoke and dust and everything was broken, my colleagues were screaming," Usman told AFP by telephone. Shams Amini, a spokesman for the Afghan Football Federation, told AFP that the blast occurred near their HQ gates, and said some colleagues had been injured. Nearby Shamshad TV station, which was attacked in 2017, aired images of broken glass and damage to its offices. "I was terrified," Shamshad anchor Hashmat Stanikzai told AFP.
The explosion came as the US was set to begin a third day of negotiations with the militants in Doha. There was no immediate confirmation if they would go ahead after the blast. With the attack still ongoing, the Taliban spokesman in Doha again insisted that the insurgents will not negotiate with Kabul. "Once the timeline for the withdrawal of foreign forces is set in the presence of international observers, then we will begin the talks to the Afghan sides, but we will not talk to the Kabul administration as a government," Suhail Shaheen tweeted.
The insurgents have long refused to negotiate with the Western-backed government, whom they deem puppets. The talks have so far centred on four issues -- counter-terrorism, the foreign troop presence, an intra-Afghan dialogue and a permanent ceasefire. A potential deal would see the US agree to withdraw its troops after more than 17 years in Afghanistan, igniting deep concerns among Afghans who fear Washington will rush for the exits and allow the militants to return to some semblance of power. In return, the Taliban would guarantee the country would never again become a safe haven for violent extremism, as happened with Al-Qaeda before the September 11, 2001 attacks. However, US officials have insisted that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed", including intra-Afghan talks.
May 21, 2008
The Union of the Comoros is a developing nation located in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa.
Comoros consists of three islands, Ngazidja (also known
A fourth island, Mayotte, is claimed by Comoros but remains a territory of France.
Ngazidja is home to the capital city, Moroni, and is the most developed of the three islands.
Facilities for tourism are limited and telecommunication links are unreliable.
French, Arabic, Swahili, and Comorian Creole are spoken.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on the Union of Comoros for additional information.
A passport and onward/return ticket are required.
Visas are available from the Comoran Mission to the United Nations in New York; American citizens visiting Comoros can obtain a free, 24-hour transit visa upon entry.
The following day, visitors are required to go to the immigration office in Moroni to change their visa status.
A fee is charged, depending on length of stay.
Travelers should obtain the latest details from the Mission of the Union of Comoros, 420 East 50th Street, New York, NY 10022; telephone number (212) 972-8010, fax (212) 983-4712.
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:
Comoros has experienced frequent strikes and civil unrest, resulting in violent clashes between police and demonstrators.
The most recent unrest involved the de facto separation of Anjouan from the Union government.
In March 2008, Union forces re-took Anjouan and are preparing the island for elections.
The former leader of Anjouan, Mohamed Bacar, has applied for asylum with France and is being held on the French Island of Reunion while his asylum claims is adjudicated.
As the government completes the transition to constitutional federalism and as Bacar’s asylum claim is pending, periodic strikes and protests will likely continue to occur.
U.S. citizens should avoid political rallies and street demonstrations as even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence.
American citizens are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations.
Conditions are subject to rapid change on each of the three islands of the Comoros due to weak political institutions and a lack of economic development.
In a rare, apparently religious-based attack, a clinic run by a foreign Christian organization was firebombed on the island of Grande Comore in August 2007.
Religious intolerance and religious-based violence remain very unusual in Comoros.
Although foreign residents and visitors have not been targeted, the potential for further outbreaks of civil disorder remains high, and Americans should exercise caution and good judgment, keep a low profile, and remain vigilant with regard to their personal security.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Antananarivo, Madagascar, if visiting or residing in Comoros.
Embassy contact information is provided below.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s web site, where the current Travel Warnings and Public Announcements, including 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.
U.S. travelers are advised to be vigilant against pick-pocketing and other forms of petty crime when visiting crowded market areas, parks, and at the beaches.
Violent crime is uncommon.
The most commonly reported crime is breaking into homes.
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, to 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.
See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities in Comoros are poorly equipped.
Travelers should bring their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. Malaria is prevalent in Comoros.
Travelers to Comoros should take malaria prophylaxis.
The serious and sometimes fatal strain of malaria, P. falciparum, is resistant to the anti-malarial drug chloroquine.
Because travelers to Comoros are at high risk for contracting malaria, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that travelers should take one of the following antimalarial drugs: mefloquine (Lariam™), doxycycline, or atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone™).
The CDC has determined that a traveler who is on an appropriate antimalarial drug has a greatly reduced chance of contracting the disease.
In addition, other personal protective measures, such as the use of insect repellents, help to reduce malaria risk.
Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area and up to one year after returning home should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician their travel history and what antimalarials they have been taking.
For additional information on malaria, protection from insect bites, and anitmalarial drugs, please visit the CDC Travelers' Health web pages.
The East African Indian Ocean islands have seen a rise in the cases of chikungunya, a viral dengue-like ailment, and dengue itself.
As with malaria, chikungunya and dengue are transmitted by mosquitoes.
Every effort should be made to use repellants, proper clothing and barriers that discourage/prevent mosquito bites.
The CDC web site contains further information on chikungunya at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/chikungunya/ and dengue at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/yellowBookCh4-DengueFever.aspx.
There have been occurrences of measles in Comoros, with outbreaks of greater severity on the islands of Anjouan and Moheli.
Travelers are advised to ensure that their measles vaccinations are up to date.
Further, 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.
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 if 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 Comoros is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
In Comoros, one drives on the right side of the street.
Roads are ill-maintained, congested, very narrow and poorly lit at night.
Travelers should exercise extreme caution when driving after dark.
Most urban roads are paved, but many rural roads are not.
Many roads are full of potholes and dangerous curves.
Most roads have no posted speed limits, but road conditions limit speeds to below 30 miles an hour.
Drivers and front seat passengers are required to wear seat belts.
There are no laws regarding child safety seats.
There are no organizations in Comoros that provide emergency or roadside assistance.
Individuals involved in accidents rely on passersby for assistance.
Taxis or a rental car with driver are preferable to public transportation.
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 Comoros, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Comoros’ Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: While religions other than Islam are permitted in Comoros, evangelization is illegal.
Violators of this law can be fined or imprisoned.
Few establishments accept credit cards in the Comoros and most prefer Comoran Francs or Euros to dollars.
Please see our Customs Information.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: 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 the laws of Comoros, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Comoros are strict, with convicted offenders receiving a mandatory minimum five-year jail sentence and heavy fines.
Engaging in sex 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:
The United States has no Embassy in Comoros.
Americans living or traveling in Comoros are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy in Antananarivo, Madagascar through the State Department's travel registration web site, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Comoros.
Americans without Internet access may register in person at the U.S. Embassy in Antananarivo.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at 14-16 Rue Rainitovo, Antsahavola, Antananarivo.
The mailing address is B.P. 620, Antsahavola, Antananarivo, Madagascar; telephone  (20) 22-212-57; fax  (20) 22-345-39.
The Embassy web site is http://www.usmission.mg/.
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated October 26, 2007 to update the section on Safety and Security.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
The number of reported cases has remained stable since the beginning of April  (on average, 4 to 5 reported cases per week). Since the beginning of the health alert, human cases have remained mainly in the center and northwest of the island." (<https://lejournaldemayotte.yt/2019/05/11/fievre-de-la-vallee-du-rift-a-mayotte-stabilite-du-nombre-de-nouveaux-cas/>).
By Philippe ALFROY
Bambao, Comoros, March 25, 2019 (AFP) - The Bambao hospital, nestled in a tropical forest on Anjouan island in the Comoros, was meant to bring state-of-the-art medical care to the poor Indian Ocean nation. Just two years later, the hospital is deep in debt and shunned by potential patients who find it too costly. "A poisoned chalice", "a colossus with feet of clay", "a sinking ship" are among the cliches that chief paediatrician Ahmed Rakibou used to describe the facility funded and built under a Chinese aid scheme. "If they had consulted us while building it, this could have been a jewel," the doctor said, regretting that "today it's all going straight to hell". The hospital is some 30 kilometres (about 20 miles) east of Mutsamudu, the capital of Anjouan, the poorest of the three islands comprising the Union of the Comoros.
The aim was to make the hospital a flagship of Comoran healthcare, with 120 beds in a brand-new building, a team of 167 staff, many recruited locally, and modern equipment including a digital radio scanner. China's ambassador to the Comoros, Xiao Ming, hailed a "new page in the annals of cooperation" at the opening ceremony, saying "public health has always had a priority place in Sino-Comoran cooperation". But a project that cost four billion Comoran francs (8.1 million euros, $9.2 billion) today looks more like a ghost ship, with a handful of patients wandering its corridors in stifling heat. For lack of funds, about 100 staff jobs have not been filled.
- 'Not many patients' -
In the emergency ward, a doctor silently examines a child's injured arm. The lethargic mood is broken only by the arrival of an ambulance carrying the victim of a motorcycle accident. "Our activity is very varied," nurse Ali Mosthadoi says cautiously before going further. "In fact, we don't have many patients."
Deputy director Sidi Chaanbane was more forthcoming. Since the hospital was opened by President Azali Assoumani in 2017, it has faced mounting difficulties, he said. "At the start, the road from Mutsamudu was in a very bad state and patients had trouble getting here," the administrator said. "It's been repaired since, but our real problem is that we sorely lack equipment and staff." In addition to staff salaries, the Comoran state provides just five million francs (10,000 euros) a month, but the hospital needs three times as much to pay its bills. "We can't balance the budget," Chaanbane said.
Day-to-day management is a nightmare. The scanner broke down soon after it was first used. Repairs were not covered by the Chinese cooperation agreement, so the hospital took out a loan to get the machine working again. The main problem is the cost of treatment, which is not free in the former French colony, independent since 1975. Much of the funding comes from the French Development Agency (AFD) in its aid budget. France still rules over the fourth major island in the archipelago, Mayotte. The three islands forming Comoros lack the standard of living on Mayotte and are far from able to make up the remaining health budget.
- 'Expensive' -
Rakibou said the hospital charges 125,000 Comoran francs for a Caesarean birth. "What Comoran can pay that?" he asks. "No -- this hospital is not made for the population." Kanissa Adbou, 27, brought her eight-year-old daughter who trod on a nail to the hospital. "The treatment is expensive. If I could afford it, I would go to Mayotte because there, hospital is free." Those who believed that providing a modern hospital on Anjouan would dissuade Comorans from trying their luck on Mayotte have been disappointed, although the trip is illegal. "People here prefer to pay 1,000 euros to go to Mayotte by kwassa kwassa (human traffickers' dugouts) than to come to us," a nurse said. "They trust only white doctors."
The failure to put the sophisticated equipment at Bambao to regular good use enrages Ahmed Abdallah, secretary general of the Hombo public hospital in Mutsamudu. "The money spent there would have been enough to repair our buildings, replace our equipment and build roads so that sick people could come from nearby villages," he said. "We don't have even a single ambulance, yet the government has I don't know how many four-wheel drives." Health Minister Fatma Mbaraka declined to respond to requests for comment from AFP. But Rakibou refuses to throw in the towel. He hopes that the winner of Sunday's presidential election and the international community will come up with increased funding. "It wouldn't take much to change our lives!" he said.
- since the beginning of the health alert, human cases have been located mainly in the centre and north west of the island, with nearly 60% of cases in Chiconi and Tsingoni.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Tokyo, Aug 23, 2017 (AFP) - Guam's number two politican Wednesday rolled out the welcome mat to tourists, promising his sun-kissed tropical island is safe -- despite North Korea's threat to launch missiles toward the Pacific US territory. Lieutenant Governor Raymond Tenorio made the comments in Tokyo where he was joined by Guam's tourism boss Jon Nathan Denight, amid fears that Pyongyang's sabre-rattling will hammer the key tourism industry.
Last year, Japanese tourists made up about half of the 1.5 million visitors to the island, which is about a four-hour flight from Tokyo. "We're one of the most protected and safe islands you'll find in the world," Tenorio told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan. He added there was a big US military presence on Guam, a strategic outpost in the Pacific with its own missile defence system.
Added Denight: "Guam's brand image was built as a very safe and family-friendly destination. I want to reassure people of Japan that there has been no change and Guam is safe for travel." The unusual appeal to tourists comes several weeks after Pyongyang said it was considering firing a salvo of missiles toward the island -- prompting an angry reaction from US President Donald Trump.
Unlike Trump, however, Guam's 162,000-odd residents seem to be taking it all in stride, including Tenorio. "By and large, 99 percent of our population just go about their lives every single day. Things are normal on Guam," he said. "I have to admit sometimes it's really hard to do my job in my office. If you look outside...(from) where I'm sitting at my desk many times you'll see dolphins chasing the fish."
Hagatna, Guam, Aug 11, 2017 (AFP) - Tourism-dependent Guam is looking to cash in on its new-found fame as a North Korean missile target, tapping an unlikely promotional opportunity to attract visitors to the idyllic island and prove that all publicity is good publicity. Pyongyang's threats to launch four missile strikes near the US territory has stirred global curiosity in the remote Pacific destination, with it trending heavily on search engines as social media users wondered, "what is Guam?"
Although Guam hosts two US military installations and 6,000 US soldiers, making it the target of North Korea's wrath, tourism authorities are keen to dispel any impression of danger to the tranquil island and its secluded beaches. "The circumstances are unfortunate but this is a good opportunity for us to educate the world about Guam and our culture, about where we are, and who we are," said Josh Tyquiengco, marketing director at Guam Visitors Bureau, the official agency for the island.
"Guam is more than a military base. We are a safe family destination. We reassure potential visitors that we continue to be a safe... place to visit," Tyquiengco told AFP. Despite North Korea's threats to prepare plans within days that would surround Guam with "enveloping fire", fears of a potential attack have not deterred tourists from visiting Guam, he said. "We heard about a few booking cancellations from South Korea, but it's too minimal to affect the industry," he said.
Governor Eddie Calvo, in a briefing late Friday, said any attack on Guam "would be met with overwhelming force", pointing out that the biggest threat facing the island was the looming typhoon season. "With that, everybody should conduct their lives like business as usual. It's the weekend. Go out, have a good time, enjoy the beaches tomorrow and live your lives. "At this point, there are thousands of tourists coming in on a daily basis... from Japan, (South) Korea, Taiwan and China and other areas. It is our belief that they should enjoy themselves here."
As aircraft after aircraft -- packed with tourists -- landed Friday at Guam's international airport, the latest visitors to the island appeared untroubled by the prospect of missile strikes. Sun Doojin, who arrived with her husband and two-year-old daughter on a flight from Seoul, responded with an emphatic "no" when asked if she was concerned about an attack during her visit.
- 'A hidden gem' -
The Guam Daily Post, in an editorial, said the spotlight on the territory offered an opportunity to show the world why an island of 162,000 people draws more than 1.5 million tourists a year. "The beach waters are crystal clear, beaches aren't overrun, and nature hiking trails are very accessible. "The different cultures that are showcased on the island through food make Guam a hidden gem, a tropical vacation getaway but with the amenities and comforts of some of the small cities stateside."
Guam's history of earthquakes and typhoons mean its infrastructure is built to robust standards and authorities insist that the island is prepared for any emergency, including a North Korean strike. Homeland Security spokeswoman Jenna Gaminde told the Guam Daily News that in the event of an attack, residents would be immediately notified by sirens from the All-Hazards Alert Warning System located throughout the island. "If you hear the sirens, tune into local media -- radio, print, television -- for further instructions," she said.
Pyongyang has said it would take less than 18 minutes for a missile to cross the 3,400-kilometre (2,100-mile) distance to the US territory. In addition to the US military bases, Guam is also equipped with the sophisticated THAAD weapons system which is capable of destroying intermediate-range missiles in the final phase of flight.
Officials, however, have sought to brush off fears and say there has been no change in the threat level for now. "I don't think there's anything to worry about. No missile is going to land on Guam," said Carl Peterson, who serves on the Guam Chamber of Commerce's armed forces committee. "We've got defense mechanisms in place... they have the ability to seek out the missiles with kinetic energy and destroy it."
Miami, June 8, 2017 (AFP) - Five percent of women in the US territories who were infected with the Zika virus while pregnant had fetus or babies with defects, including microcephaly, government health data said Thursday. The report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention covered the US territories of Guam, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands, Micronesia, the Republic of Marshall Islands and Puerto Rico. The report is the first based on data from the US territories and the largest study of its kind to date.
CDC experts said the findings are consistent with previous findings about Zika cases in the mainland United States. "Women in the US territories and elsewhere who have continued exposure to mosquitoes carrying Zika are at risk of infection," said CDC acting director Anne Schuchat. "We must remain vigilant and committed to preventing new Zika infections." The rate of birth defects was slightly higher -- eight percent, or one in 12 -- in women whose infections were confirmed early in the pregnancy, during the first trimester, said the report.
The findings were based on the cases of 2,549 women with possible Zika virus infection who completed their pregnancies. Among these women, 1,508 had confirmed Zika virus infection from January 1, 2016 to April 25, 2017. Over 120 pregnancies resulted in Zika-associated birth defects, including infants born with unusually small heads, an irreversible condition known as microcephaly. Other complications in babies included seizures and problems with movement, coordination, eating and near constant crying.
Zika can be spread by the bite of infected mosquito or via sexual contact. Pregnant women are urged to avoid areas where Zika is spreading. Since Zika erupted on a large scale in mid-2015, more than 1.5 million people have been infected, mostly in Brazil and other countries in South America. Some 70 countries have been impacted. Zika may lead to an itchy rash and although it is dangerous for pregnant women and their fetuses, it often causes no symptoms in adults. In November 2016, the World Health Organization announced that the Zika virus outbreak no longer poses a world public health emergency, though it warned the epidemic remains a challenge.
[Guam is an organized, unincorporated territory of the United States in the western Pacific Ocean. A map of the island can be found at <http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/islands_oceans_poles/guam.gif>.
World Travel News Headlines
KHARTOUM, 11 October 2019 - "Sudan has launched an oral cholera vaccination campaign in response to the ongoing outbreak of cholera. More than 1.6 million people aged one year and above in the Blue Nile and Sinnar states will be vaccinated over the coming five days. “The announcement of the Federal Ministry of Health in Sudan on the cholera outbreak last month allowed national and state authorities, and health partners, to act quickly and respond to the outbreak.
“Since the announcement on 8 September, 262 cases of suspected cholera and eight related deaths have been reported as of 9 October in the Blue Nile and Sinnar states. No cholera-related deaths have been reported since mid-September. “The vaccines were procured and successfully shipped using funding from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. In addition, Gavi is providing nearly US$ 2 million to cover operational costs for the campaign.
“We joined efforts to respond as quickly as possible to contain the current outbreak of cholera and prevent it from spreading further in Sudan. The vaccination campaign kicking off today in combination with other measures including scaling up water, sanitation and hygiene activities, enhancing surveillance, prepositioning supplies and case management, will help protect people who are at highest risk.
“The first round of the campaign will conclude on 16 October and will be followed by a second round in four to six weeks to provide an additional dose to ensure people are protected for at least the next three years. “As part of the campaign, over 3,560 vaccinators, more than 2,240 social mobilizers, and almost 70 independent monitors have been trained and deployed to the two affected states.”
Paris, Oct 20, 2019 (AFP) - French rail services ground to a halt in parts of the country Sunday as workers walked off the job for a third day in a dispute over train staffing levels, stranding holiday travellers. Services in the Paris suburbs, the northeastern Champagne-Ardenne region and the southern Occitanie region, which includes Toulouse and Montpellier, were particularly affected. The state railway company SNCF said most services would return to normal on Monday.
The industrial action began on Friday after a train in north-eastern France slammed into a truck at a level crossing, injuring 11 people. The train driver was himself among those hurt but being the sole employee of state railway company SNCF on board had to help take care of passengers. Unions said the incident highlighted understaffing on trains, notably the absence of ticket inspectors on some lines.
Since Friday, staff have been exercising their "right to withdraw" their labour -- a clause that allows workers to walk off the job in case of "clear and present danger to their life or health". SNCF's management has accused the workers of abusing that right on a busy weekend for train travel, at the start of the mid-autumn school holidays. It argues that some train lines have not had ticket inspectors for decades.
Frankfurt am Main, Oct 20, 2019 (AFP) - Cabin crew at four Lufthansa subsidiary airlines staged a day-long strike Sunday, causing dozens of cancellations at German airports in a battle for better pay and conditions. The walkout, called by the UFO cabin crew union, was initially set to last from 5:00 am until 11:00 am (0300-0900 GMT) but a worsening spat with Lufthansa bosses prompted the union to extend the strike until midnight.
The industrial action at Eurowings, Germanwings, SunExpress and Lufthansa CityLine led to over 100 flight cancellations, mainly hitting short-haul journeys at Hamburg airport, Munich, Berlin-Tegel, Cologne and Stuttgart, according to DPA news agency. Frankfurt airport, the country's busiest, reported "only a few" cancellations, affecting CityLine flights.
In a statement, UFO said it had ramped up the strike after the Lufthansa group told employees the walkouts were "illegal" and "endanger your jobs". "This is not only wrong, it also signals the next level in the threats against cabin crew colleagues," UFO said. "This behaviour must be stopped." But the Lufthansa group downplayed the impact of the strike, with a spokesman telling DPA that "more than 90 percent of the crew members showed up on time for their shift".
The union had previously called off plans for Lufthansa workers to join Sunday's warning strike after the company offered a surprise two-percent pay hike to flight attendants at the flagship airline. But other demands for better conditions have yet to be met and UFO has not ruled out further action, with fresh talks at all five airlines scheduled for Monday. Bosses at the Lufthansa group believe UFO may no longer have the legal right to speak for workers and have challenged its status in court. Internal disputes at the union have cost it members and support among cabin crew, some of whom have now turned to other representative organisations.
Niamey, Oct 20, 2019 (AFP) - Floods in southeast Niger have forced 23,000 people to flee their homes since early October, officials said Saturday, threatening a new humanitarian crisis in a region already wracked by Boko Haram Islamist violence. Heavy rains have caused the Komadougou Yobe river that flows through the semi-desert Diffa region into Lake Chad to burst its banks, inundating villages, flooding fields and damaging crops. Two villages near the city of Diffa were "completely submerged" and 2,500 households have been forced to move, according to national radio the Voice of the Sahel.
Some 400 families were sheltering in a gym in the city, it added. "We have been fighting for days to stop the water rising, but it's not working," Amadou Issa, a rice farmer, told AFP. "The sandbags we've been using to keep the water out are completely under water." Extreme weather events are common in Niger, one of the world's poorest countries. Between June and September 57 people were killed and more than 130,000 affected by flooding according to government figures.
The capital Niamey was hit badly in September, with the waters of the Niger river -- the third biggest in Africa -- rising to a level not seen in more than 50 years and swamping parts of the city. Last year, drought and flooding led to food shortages in a crisis which, exacerbated by jihadist violence, left more than 10 percent of the population needing humanitarian aid. Niger, along with neighbouring Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Mauritania is also struggling against escalating attacks by armed Islamists. According to the UN's human rights agency UNHCR, the Diffa region is home to almost 120,000 refugees and 109,000 internally displaced people.
Washington, Oct 18, 2019 (AFP) - The US moved to further hurt Cuba's vital tourism industry by tightening the ability of the country's airlines to lease aircraft. The US Department of Commerce said it was revoking existing licenses for US companies leasing aircraft to Cuban carriers, and will deny future applications for aircraft leases. The move could make it harder for Cuba to service its rapidly growing tourism sector, a key source of foreign revenue for the poor country.
Washington has stepped up pressure on Havana due to its support for the embattled regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. "This action by the Commerce Department sends another clear message to the Cuban regime -- that they must immediately cease their destructive behaviour at home and abroad," Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a statement.
It was not immediately clear how many aircraft the move would impact. Cuba's cash-poor carriers depend on aircraft rented from leasing companies or other airlines, which are often very old. In May 2018, 112 people died in the crash of a 39-year-old Boeing 737 leased by national carrier Cubana de Aviacion from a small Mexican firm, Global Air.
In June of this year, US President Donald Trump announced a US ban on cruise ship stopovers by Americans on the island, forcing Havana to cut its 2019 tourism target by 15 percent to 4.3 million visitors. Nearly 900,000 tourists visited the island on cruise ships last year, and almost 40 percent were American, according to official figures. The announcement Friday also expanded restrictions on imports from Cuba and on products with US content that can be sold to the country.
Accra, Oct 18, 2019 (AFP) - Floods caused by eight days of torrential downpours in north-eastern Ghana have left 28 people dead and displaced hundreds, officials said Friday. "At the moment the death toll is 28. About 640 people in some six communities have been displaced and we are providing shelters for them," George Ayisi, spokesman for the National Disaster Management Organisation, told AFP. "We've counted about 286 collapsed houses during this disaster and that is making life difficult for the people."
Relief items were being transported 800 kilometres (500 miles) by road from the capital Accra to the affected region on the border with Burkina Faso as meteorologists warned the rains could last into November. "We have to just prepare for anything," Ayisi said. So far this year 46 people have been killed in floods in the West African nation, the disaster relief agency said. Flooding in northern and other parts of Ghana happens each year during the rainy season. Last year, 34 people died in northern Ghana during flooding caused by heavy rains and waters spilling from a dam in Burkina Faso.
By Patrick FORT
Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, Oct 18, 2019 (AFP) - "They've placed us in the red zone, which means the tourists aren't coming like before. Even the aid workers don't come," said Antoine Atiou, governor of Burkina Faso's Hauts-Bassins region. The "red zone" refers to the risk of jihadist attacks -- a top-end warning by Western embassies to travellers wanting to visit southwest Burkina and the economic capital, Bobo-Dioulasso, once a popular tourist destination. The impact has been brutal for local businesses. The city's hotels have emptied, its heritage sites are quiet and the souvenir shops shuttered. "It's hard, hard, hard!... We haven't seen a tourist for a fortnight," said Sanou Moumouni, a guide at the city's mosque and in the historic Kibidwe district for 22 years. In the past he could sometimes earn 100,000 CFA francs ($167, 150 euros) in two days, he said, but he has not made 5,000 francs in the last three months. "I'm living on loans," he said. "We no longer have work because of the murderers. We're sick of it." The north and the east of the landlocked country in West Africa endure frequent Islamist attacks, which have claimed some 600 lives in the past four years. There have also been some raids in the west.
In December 2018, an Italian man and his Canadian companion were kidnapped on the road from Bobo to the capital Ouagadougou. Last April, the Burkinabe government said it had information that the couple was still alive, but might have been taken to another country. Bobo-Dioulassou itself has been relatively spared as the jihadist threat expands across poor nations of Africa's Sahel region. Ministry of tourism statistics from 2017 show that of about half a million annual visitors to Burkina Faso, fewer than 150,000 came from abroad -- down 5.6 percent from 2015. The number of nights stayed in the country by Westerners fell from 30,000 in 2012 to fewer than 15,000 in 2017. "This trend has probably sped up in 2018 and 2019," a local tour operator said.
- Crafts and wonders -
Renowned for its traditional masks, its batik print textiles and the balafon -- a West African instrument like a xylophone -- Bobo attracted thousands of Western tourists. The Lonely Planet guide, which notes the security situation currently prohibits travel, says the city's "tree-lined streets exude a languid, semitropical atmosphere that makes it a favourite rest stop for travellers", adding that highlights include a "thriving live-music scene and excellent restaurants".
The city itself has an array of charms, with its grand railway station, bustling market and striking Great Mosque -- an undulating white-plastered mud structure studded with wooden poles that dominates the historic centre. Bobo-Dioulasso is a jumping-off point to visit regional highlights like the ruined fortress of Loropeni, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was also a base for exploring the Dogon country in Mali, Ivory Coast and Ghana. "Everyone came through Bobo. We really were a tourist region. Now it's over," said Benjamin Ouedraogo, owner of the Watinoma hotel and president of the professional association of hotel and restaurant owners in High Basins. He said hotels in the region only do a third of the business they did before the attacks To avoid closing his hotel, Ouedraogo took on a second job in the building trade. "We asked for help, but state aid is a disaster," he said, explaining that the authorities rejected applications for tax rebates and preferential tariffs on water and electricity.
- 'We subsist' -
In Kibidwe, an old neighbourhood of the city near the mosque, children play in alleys and women wash clothes in the open air, but most of the shops that catered for tourists are now shut. Sanon Bissiri, an artist, was quick to bring out his batik prints on spotting Western journalists. "I don't hang them every day any more, that's pointless. Since July, I haven't even sold two. All this because of those jihadists. Now I have to do masonry whenever I'm wanted." Bissiri used to sell his textiles to an Italian association that made regular visits. "That's over. We just get by. It's my wife who meets our needs," he said. "I come in to work each day on foot, six kilometres (nearly four miles). I can't afford medicine for my son with his cough." Bobo's nightlife is not what it was, though the locally-brewed beer is the same. "There's still a little activity with Burkinabe visitors," said musician Gaoussou Ben Sanou. But "there's less money, fewer dates, fewer gigs. We can't sell records". Governor Atiou said people were reluctant to go out. "All that weighs on economic activity. Unfortunately, this is the aim of the terrorists."
Manila, Oct 17, 2019 (AFP) - Five people were killed and dozens were injured after a powerful earthquake hit the southern Philippines, authorities said Thursday. The 6.4-magnitude quake struck the Mindanao region on Wednesday night, reducing dozens of houses to rubble on the southern third of the Philippines. On Thursday afternoon, authorities said five people were killed and 53 injured, mainly in a cluster of small farming towns. Three people were killed in landslides while another was crushed by the collapsed wall of a house. The fifth suffered a fatal heart attack, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said. No fatalities were reported in Mindanao's major cities. Local authorities had earlier told AFP three children were among the dead. The Philippine seismology office has recorded more than 300 weaker aftershocks in the area since the big quake, but authorities said they do not expect the toll to rise significantly.
The disaster council's spokesman Mark Timbal told local television it had not received any reports of missing people from any of the quake-hit areas. "People have returned home... They are OK now, unlike last night when they were terrified and slept on roads beside their homes," Zaldy Ortiz, civil defence officer of Magsaysay town, told AFP. Local school and government holidays were announced in Magsaysay, where the landslides struck, to allow building inspectors to check structures for damage, Ortiz added. Power was being restored in the bigger cities, but there was substantial damage to some hospitals, government buildings, schools, churches and houses in the small towns, the council said in a report. In General Santos City, firefighters on Thursday finally put out a blaze that started at a shopping mall shortly after the quake. The Philippines is part of the Pacific "Ring of Fire", an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches from Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.
By Tom LITTLE
Kulusuk, Denmark, Oct 17, 2019 (AFP) - Kayaking past blue-white icebergs drifting along near a pristine harbour, wandering around colourful houses or trekking in the snow-capped wilderness: July and August are high season for tourists in eastern Greenland. Many of the 85,000 tourists who visit each year head to the west coast, but eastern Greenland, with its glaciers, wilderness and wildlife starring whales and polar bears, is also drawing visitors.
Sarah Bovet, a 29-year-old Swiss artist, said it's hard to know what to expect. "Thinking you're going to be surprised, you are even more so in reality," she said standing outside a hostel in the tiny village of Kulusuk. Bovet was on an artistic residency in Greenland when she visited Kulusuk and its 250 souls. Although she had imagined a small village before arriving, its stunning views and bright colours still came as a surprise. With just one supermarket, an airport built in the 1950s by the US military to serve a Cold War radar base, and a harbour surrounded by brightly painted wooden houses, most of the villagers appreciate the extra revenue from tourism.
Justus Atuaq, a young hunter in Kulusuk, takes tourists out on sled tours in March and April -- the spring high season -- earning money that helps him feed and care for the dogs he uses for racing and hunting. "Now I can take dogsleds for hunting, and sometimes tourists coming from other countries also want to dogsled," he said outside his wooden house. Tourists also take boat trips during the summer high season from July to August. Arrivals to the island grew 10 percent year-on-year from 2014 to 2017, and three percent in 2018, according to the tourist board, Visit Greenland. Many adventure seekers and nature lovers arrive by plane, but cruise ships also bring admirers, hugging the picture perfect coastline.
- Growing strategic importance -
But they are not alone in taking an interest in the world's largest island. The Danish territory's rich natural resources and growing strategic importance as the Arctic ice sheet melts have attracted the attention of US President Donald Trump. The Arctic region has untapped reserves of oil, gas and minerals, as well as abundant stocks of fish and shrimp. In August, Trump offered to buy Greenland, then called off a visit to Copenhagen over its refusal to sell.
Denmark colonised Greenland in the 1700s, granting it autonomy in 1979. Today, many Greenlandic political parties advocate full independence. The territory still receives an annual subsidy from Copenhagen, which was 4.3 billion Danish kroner (576 million euros) in 2017, and tourism could help it to become economically self-reliant. Like many parts of Greenland, Kulusuk has no tarmac roads and visitors must travel by plane or boat. The growth in tourism could put a strain on the village's infrastructure, and the sector faces unique challenges given Greenland's location, weather and the cost of travelling there.
Day tours of Kulusuk with flights from the Icelandic capital Reykjavik are 97,000 Icelandic kronur ($780, 700 euros). Jakob Ipsen, a 48-year-old who grew up between Denmark and Greenland's west coast, runs Kulusuk's sole hotel. The 32-room hotel stands beside a fjord, and from its dining room, guests can watch icebergs drift by during the summer. But the region's isolation can be problematic, Ipsen admits. "We have to get all our supplies in with the first ship for the whole summer season, and for the winter season when everything is frozen over, we have to get all our supplies in with the last ship for the whole winter," he said.
- 'They go back as different people' -
Greenland must tackle its infrastructure challenges if it wants to develop tourism, Visit Greenland says. Government-funded work is under way to extend runways at the capital Nuuk and Ilulissat, both on the west coast, and a new airport is planned in the south. The tourist body said it would weigh the environmental impact of boosting infrastructure, both on the environment and on local communities. Ipsen worries about the effects of uncontrolled tourism to the region. "We want to try to maintain it as it is, so it's not exploding," he said.
Already, said Johanna Bjork Sveinbjornsdottir, who runs tours in Kulusuk for an Iceland-based company, the rise in visitor numbers is making itself felt. "In the campsites here out in nature where you used to be alone, there's two, three groups at a time," she said. Like Ipsen, she is also concerned about the effect that rising visitor numbers could have on the wilderness around the village. "If you want nature to survive that, you have to build up the infrastructure," she said, pointing to the lack of officially designated campsites around Kulusuk, with no rubbish bins or toilets for travellers outdoors and no one supervising the sites. Despite the concerns, Sveinbjornsdottir hopes visitors will keep coming. "They go back as different people," she said. "Everything is beyond what you ever imagined."
Beirut, Oct 15, 2019 (AFP) - Lebanon has turned to its neighbours for help battling forest fires that have ravaged homes and killed a volunteer firefighter in the Mediterranean country, its premier said on Tuesday. Heavy rain fell on parts of the country including Beirut in the evening, after Cyprus dispatched help and as Greece and Jordan vowed to follow suit. "We have contacted the Europeans who will send means of help," Prime Minister Saad Hariri said earlier in comments carried by national news agency NNA.
Dozens of blazes have hit Lebanon in recent days, fire chief Raymond Khattar told NNA, amid unusually high temperatures and strong winds. Thick smoke had been seen drifting over the outskirts of Beirut, the mountainous Chouf region to its southeast, and the southern city of Saida. In the Chouf, an area famed for its forests, a volunteer firefighter lost his life trying to put out the flames, his family said. In an area south of Beirut, firefighters have for two days been unable to stop the blaze, which has burnt four homes to the ground and caused dozens to suffer breathing difficulties, NNA said.
Interior Minister Raya El-Hassan said nearby Cyprus and Greece had responded to Lebanon's call for help. "Two Cypriot planes have been working to put out the fires since yesterday," she said on Twitter. "Greece has responded to our request and will send two planes to help us," she added. Jordan's army said the king had ordered two firefighting planes to be dispatched. NNA said the army was working together with helicopters and the Cypriot planes to fight the blaze, with access sometimes impeded by thick smoke and high-voltage power lines. Personnel from UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL, who usually patrol the country's southern border with Israel, have also joined in the efforts, the agency said. Lebanese on social media criticised the government's apparent inability to respond fast enough on its own.
In neighbouring war-torn Syria, fires also killed two people, Syrian state media said. Flames have ripped through parts of the coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartus, as well as the central province of Homs but most have been brought under control, state news agency SANA said. Two members of the Latakia forestry department were killed while fighting the blaze, it added. In Tartus, the fires -- mostly stamped out -- coincided with the olive harvest, the governor told SANA. In Homs, trees were burnt and electricity networks disrupted in mountainous areas, the agency reported.