Albania US Consular Information Sheet November 04, 2008
Albania is a parliamentary democracy that is transforming its economy into a market-oriented system. Albania's per capita income is among the lowest in Eu
A passport is required. All travelers entering or exiting Albania must have six months or more validity on their passport. Customs officers strictly enforce this law. U.S. citizens do not require a visa prior to entering Albania, but those traveling without a visa will be charged a fee for an entry stamp at the point of entry, which is valid for a stay of up to 90 days. This fee is currently 10 Euros, or the equivalent in any easily convertible currency, including U.S. dollars. Travelers without a visa who intend to stay in Albania for more than 90 days should be aware that Albanian law allows a traveler without a visa to remain in Albania for 90 days only within a specific 180-day period. That 180-day period is defined from the first day of entry. For example, a traveler entering without a visa on January 1 may remain in Albania for 90 days total during the period of time between January 1 and June 28. Departing Albania during this time period does not "restart the clock." Travelers attempting to reenter Albania without a visa and within 180 days of a previous entry and after an aggregate stay of 90 days may be denied entry. For stays exceeding 90 days within a 180-day period, those interested must apply for a Residency Permit at the police station with jurisdiction over the city of residence. Information on how to apply for a residency permit is available on the Embassy of Albania web site at http://www.embassyofalbania.org/. There is also a departure fee of ten Euros, or the equivalent in any easily convertible currency, including U.S. dollars. Visit the Embassy of Albania web site at http://www.embassyofalbania.org/consular.html#visa for the most current visa information. Dual Nationality: The Albanian government considers any person in Albania of Albanian parents to be an Albanian citizen. In addition to being subject to all Albanian laws affecting U.S. citizens, dual nationals may be subject to Albanian laws that impose special obligations. Male Albanian citizens are subject to compulsory military service regulations. If such persons are found guilty of draft evasion in Albania, they are subject to prosecution by the Albanian court. Those who might be affected should inquire at an Albanian Embassy or Consulate outside Albania regarding their status before traveling. In some instances, dual nationality may hamper U.S. Government efforts to provide protection abroad. 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
Although the overall security situation in Albania has improved in recent years, organized criminal activity continues to operate in all regions, and corruption is pervasive. US Government employees need permission to travel to the northern administrative districts of Shkoder, Malesi E Madhe and Tropoje (with the exception of the route along the national road to Montenegro and the city of Shkoder) and to the southern town of Lazarat, with such travel restricted to secure vehicles with escort. Travel restrictions for U.S. Government employees have been lifted for overnight stays in the city of Shkoder. In most cases, police assistance and protection is limited. A high level of security awareness should be maintained at all times. Photographing anything that authorities regard as being of military or security interest may cause travelers problems. All gatherings of large crowds should be avoided, particularly those involving political causes or striking workers. For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays). The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s A Safe Trip Abroad.
In the latest State Department assessment, Albania’s crime rating is “medium.” Crime against foreigners is rare in Albania, as targeting foreigners is often viewed as too risky. Visitors should maintain the same personal security awareness that they would in any metropolitan U.S. city. Caution should be exercised in bars in Tirana where violent incidents, some involving the use of firearms, have occurred in the past, particularly in the early morning hours. Within the last years there have been fewer cases of carjacking compared with previous years. Anyone who is carjacked should surrender the vehicle without resistance. Armed crime continues to be more common in northern and northwestern Albania than in the rest of the country. Street crime is fairly common in Albania, particularly at night. Criminals do not seem to deliberately target U.S. citizens or other foreigners, but do seek targets of opportunity, and select those who appear to have anything of value. Vehicle theft is still one of the biggest problems in Albania. Pick-pocketing is widespread; U.S. citizens have reported the theft of their passports by pick-pockets. 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, 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 find an attorney if needed. The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line is 129, though coverage is inconsistent at best. See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION
Medical facilities and capabilities in Albania are limited beyond rudimentary first aid treatment. Emergency and major medical care requiring surgery and hospital care is inadequate due to lack of specialists, diagnostic aids, medical supplies, and prescription drugs. Travelers with previously diagnosed medical conditions may wish to consult their physicians before travel. As prescription drugs may be unavailable locally, travelers may also wish to bring extra supplies of required medications. Recent electricity shortages have resulted in sporadic blackouts throughout the country, which can affect food storage capabilities of restaurants and shops. While some restaurants and food stores have generators to properly store food, travelers should take care that food is cooked thoroughly to reduce the risk of food-borne illness. Water in Albania is not potable. Visitors should plan to purchase bottled water or drinks while in country. The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Albania. 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 (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Albania is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance. Major roads in Albania are often in very poor condition. Traveling by road throughout Albania is the most dangerous activity for locals and tourists. Vehicle accidents are the major cause of death, according to police statistics. Electricity shortages have resulted in sporadic blackouts throughout the country that can happen any hour of the day or night. Such outages affect traffic signals and street lights, making driving increasingly treacherous at any time of day. Travel at night outside the main urban areas is dangerous and should be avoided due to deplorable road conditions. During the winter months, travelers may encounter dangerous snow and icy conditions on the roads throughout mountainous regions in northern Albania. Buses travel between most major cities almost exclusively during the day, but they are often unreliable and uncomfortable. Many travelers looking for public transport prefer to use privately owned vans, which function as an alternate system of bus routes and operate almost entirely without schedules or set fares. Please note that many of these privately owned vans may not have official permission to operate a bus service and may not adhere to accepted safety and maintenance standards. Persons wishing to use privately owned vans should exercise caution. There are no commercial domestic flights and few rail connections. Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of the country’s national tourist office at www.albaniantourism.com.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT
As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Albania, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Albania's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. For further information, travelers may visit the FAA's web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Albania's customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Albania of some items. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Albania in Washington, D.C. or one of Albania's Consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. As noted previously, the Albanian government considers any person in Albania of Albanian parents to be an Albanian citizen. In addition to being subject to all Albanian laws affecting U.S. citizens, dual nationals may be subject to Albanian laws that impose special obligations. Male Albanian citizens are subject to compulsory military service regulations. See our information pertaining to dual nationality. Albania is a cash economy. Credit cards and travelers checks are not generally accepted, except at the major new hotels in Tirana and some international airline offices. Travelers' checks can be changed at banks in larger towns. Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are available in most cities. 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 Albania’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Albania are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties. Under Albanian law, police can detain any individual for up to 10 hours without filing formal charges. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry a copy of their U.S. passports with them at all times to show proof of identity and U.S. citizenship if questioned by local officials.
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION
Americans living or traveling in Albania are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Albania. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located at Rruga Elbasanit 103, tel. (355)(4) 2247285; fax (355)(4) 2232222. The U.S. Embassy web site is http://tirana.usembassy.gov/ * * * This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated June 10, 2008, to update sections on Entry and Exit Requirements, Medical Facilities and Health Information, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Tirana, March 9, 2018 (AFP) - The military has been deployed in northern Albania to help hundreds of people trapped by floods following heavy rainfall, authorities said on Friday. More than 9,230 hectares (22,800 acres) of agricultural land is underwater in the Shkodra region, including villages where the only means of transport is by boat, the defence ministry said.
Army personnel are evacuating residents and securing food supplies in the affected areas, 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of the capital, Tirana. The torrential rain in recent days has caused landslides damaging dozens of homes and flooding roads, said the transport ministry. The rain has also forced the Albanian authorities to release excess water from a hydroelectric plant, which has added to the flooding in northern areas of the country. Weather forecasters say the rain is likely to ease from Saturday.
Tirana, Dec 3, 2017 (AFP) - Thousands of police and soldiers have been deployed in Albania to rescue stranded residents after heavy rainfall triggered major flooding, and caused the death of a utility worker, officials and the power company said Sunday. The victim, Sabri Vlinga, died while he was working on a electricity pole at Roskovec in the flooded south of the country, the power company said in statement. Two other people were injured in similar accidents. it added. Some 6,400 police and soldiers have been sent to help rescue people stranded by the floods, Prime MInister Edi Rama said Saturday, calling the situation "very critical".
Around 1,500 people in the affected areas have been rescued, while several thousand homes were without electricity as many utility poles have been swept away by mudslides, said Shemsi Prenci, head of civil protection. More than 7,874 hectares (19,450 acres) of farm land as well as 3,193 homes are under water and several roads in the south remained impassable.
Army forces have built a temporary bridge at Darezeze, about 70 kilometres (44 miles) from the capital Tirana, to come to the aid of 2,000 residents stranded by the floods, the defence ministry said. In neighbouring Macedonia, the heavy rains have also caused flooding as several rivers include the main Vardar river have burst their banks, the MIA news agency reported.
By Briseida MEMA
Tirana, Feb 6, 2017 (AFP) - Emira Sela covers her face with her hand to hide a disfiguring abscess, the traumatic result of unregulated cosmetic treatments now rampant across Albania. The 31-year-old began to worry when wrinkles appeared on her face. Sela's hairdresser told her that a simple injection, costing around 60 euros ($65), would banish the signs of ageing. "She assured me that I would not risk anything. She even listed well-known names" of women who had undergone such treatment, said Sela. "I did not think twice, I trusted her without asking questions," said the blonde woman with green eyes, her voice trembling.
Albanian hair and beauty salons lacking expertise and medical supervision are offering such cosmetic treatments, unregulated in a legal vacuum, much to the alarm of qualified doctors. A single injection of a product whose content and dosage Sela knew nothing about was enough to ruin her life in late August. Despite antibiotics she has permanent pain, fever and nausea, while the abscess on her right cheek forces her eye to half-close and her face is nearly paralysed. "I am so disfigured that I tried to commit suicide," said Sela, who lost her job in a bank. Her only hope now is corrective surgery at an Italian hospital, scheduled for this month.
- Desiring Kardashian look -
"There are more and more impostors with syringes," said Panajot Papa, a plastic surgeon at a private clinic in Tirana. "The problem is also the products... Forbidden in Europe, they enter illegally from Turkey or China." Eriona Shehu, a dermatologist at Tirana's university hospital, said these unregulated synthetic products, such as injected liquid silicone and acrylamide, were being offered at temptingly low prices.
"Cosmetic interventions have become a lucrative industry. The patient is only a customer, exposed to a number of risks." Shehu said the desire to look like voluptuous US reality television star Kim Kardashian was "destroying the lives of young Albanian girls looking for beauty". Albanian doctors say the typical age of clients for such procedures is between 16 and 28. In the country of about three million people, the demand for cosmetic interventions rose more than 50 percent in 2015, according to a study published by Albania's economic magazine Monitor.
Promotional offers can be seen everywhere, such as a beauty salon advertising 20 percent reductions for three people coming together for treatment during the holiday season. Papa says he has treated a dozen young women aged between 20 and 27 who suffered complications after having their lips and cheekbones swollen with injected liquid silicone for 40 to 50 euros. The product has been banned for cosmetic use in countries such as Italy and France for more than 15 years. Papa said such botched interventions left these women prone to particularly bad swellings during their menstrual period, requiring further treatment -- and he warned they may suffer such symptoms for life.
- Closing legal gap -
Albanian doctors are worried about foreign practitioners who come from Italy, Turkey and Greece to work just for a weekend. "They may not have a diploma, qualification or licence for these kind of interventions or for assuming the responsibility of a patient's medical follow-up," said Besim Boci, head of the otolaryngology department at Tirana's university hospital. Due to legal loopholes, the judiciary cannot step in. A spokesman at Tirana's tribunal, Alba Nikolla, admits that it is currently impossible to "open investigations and prosecute based only on complaints" against practitioners.
But authorities are set to tackle this with a draft law to control cosmetic products and beauty salons, which is due to be introduced in parliament in the next few months. The law complies with the requirements of the European Union, which Albania aspires to join, and will enable authorities to shut down rogue establishments using synthetic products. When health is adversely affected, practitioners could be imprisoned for three to 10 years. Such regulations could go some way to easing the trauma of women like Elisa Lura, a 22-year-old economics student. She underwent a laser treatment to restore her natural look after paying 50 euros to a neighbourhood salon for permanent eyebrow tattoos, which went wrong. But the laser made things much worse. "Everything is spoiled!" she said of her face now covered with painful scars.
By Briseida MEMA
Tirana, Albania, Jan 13, 2016 (AFP) - With her sick daughter in the arms, Mira Lela pushes her way through the hallway of the doctor's clinic, crowded with patients ailing from heavy pollution in Albania's capital. "This is an emergency, she has difficulty breathing," said the tearful woman, forcing open the door to the office of Bardhyl Vaqari, who has worked in the specialist Tirana clinic for more than 20 years. "An acute asthma attack," said the doctor on seeing the child. "The number of people with respiratory allergies and cardiovascular problems has greatly increased," he told AFP, adding that the number of patients on the clinic's books has more than doubled to 8,000 in the last four years.
On the noisy and congested streets outside, clapped-out bangers and Hummer trucks cross paths with Mercedes, BMWs and overloaded buses that leave a trail of black smoke and heavy odour. Having been cut off from the world under a strict communist regime until 1991, the Western Balkan city had just a few hundred cars on its roads in the 1990s.
But today, through a mixture of pride, luxury-seeking and necessity, given the lack of public transport, there are more than 190,000 cars circulating in a city of about one million people. "Albanians take the car even when going to buy bread in a nearby store. That's why the traffic is overloaded all day and this increases pollution levels," said Altin Duka, a despairing 65-year-old shopkeeper.
The average age of vehicles on Tirana's roads is around 16 years, twice the European average, according to Gani Cupi, deputy manager of Albania's Road Transport Services. Many of the vehicles do not meet the standards of the European Union, which Albania hopes to join. "The traffic load, the age of vehicles, their technical condition but also the poor quality of fuel are all factors contributing to the capital's pollution," said Cupi.
- Taxing dilemmas -
In a bid to clean up the air, Albanian authorities considered doubling taxes on ageing vehicles but then dropped such plans. Analysts suggested the cost would weigh too heavily on citizens in one of the poorest countries in Europe. New cars are already exempt from paying annual tax for the first three years, but authorities in 2012 lifted a levy on the import of old vehicles as the EU considered it a "fiscal discrimination".
Tirana's Mayor Erion Veliaj has pledged to battle against the fumes by increasing the number of green spaces, introducing hybrid buses and improving infrastructure in the city, which is crammed with mostly illegal constructions. "The number of vehicles does not stop growing," he told AFP, pointing out that about 500 people die in the city each year "because of respiratory or cardiovascular problems related to pollution".
A report this year from the European Environment Agency noted a 20 to 30 percent decrease in Tirana's concentration levels of PM10 and PM2.5 -- damaging particulate matter -- according to data assessment from 2011 to 2013. But Laureta Dibra, head of the air and climate change department at Albania's Environment Ministry, told AFP that PM10 levels had actually been rising in areas of heavy traffic in recent years. Tirana remains "among the most polluted cities in Europe", added the director of the National Environment Agency, Julian Beqiri. "The level of the population's exposure to pollutants is still a problem," he said.
- On your bikes -
In an effort to improve air quality in the capital and educate residents, Tirana organised two car-free days in 2015, when the air was said to be at least four times less polluted than usual. Worried activists are campaigning to promote the bicycle as a means of transport and a way of life. Ecovolis, a bike sharing system, rents out at least 200 bicycles from different tations around Tirana, at 60 leke (44 euro cents, $0.47) per bike per hour -- but many people still prefer getting behind the wheel.
Although Albania's energy minister claims that 95 percent of fuel meets the required standards, even Prime Minister Edi Rama attacked its quality in May last year. "It is so bad that even a strong car like a Mercedes ends up being bad for Albanians' lungs," he said, calling for urgent measures to improve fuel controls. The government says restrictions have since been tightened, but those at the frontline of the fumes remain unhappy. "I come home in the evening with a completely dry throat and a bitter taste my mouth," said Bequir Veseli, 37, a traffic policeman who spends eight hours a day at the centre of a chaotic roundabout. "I have trouble breathing but what can I do? The next day I have to go back to my post".
December 22, 2008
France is a developed and stable democracy with a modern economy.
Monaco is a developed constitutional monarchy.
Tourist facilities are widely
Read the Department of State Background Notes on France and Monaco for additional information.
France is party to the Schengen agreement.
As such, U.S. citizens may enter France for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa.
A passport is required and should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay.
Anyone intending to stay more than 90 days must obtain the appropriate visa issued by one of the French Consulates in the U.S., prior to departure for France.
This also applies to anyone considering marriage in France.
For further information about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet.
A passport is required to enter Monaco. A visa is not required for tourist/business stays up to 90 days in Monaco.
For further information concerning entry requirements for France, travelers may contact the Embassy of France at 4101 Reservoir Road NW, Washington, DC
20007, tel. (202) 944-6000, email: email@example.com, or the French Consulates General in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, or San Francisco.
For further information on entry requirements to Monaco, travelers may contact the Embassy of the Principality of Monaco. 2314 Wyoming Avenue, NW Washington, DC
20008, Tel: 202-234-1530, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or the Consulate General of Monaco, 565 Fifth Avenue – 23rd floor, New York, NY 10017, tel.: 212-286-0500, email: email@example.com.
For more information, visit the Embassy of France web site at www.consulfrance-washington.org or the Embassy of the Principality of Monaco web site at http://www.monaco-usa.org for the most current visa information.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
The Government of France maintains a threat rating system, known locally as “Vigipirate,” similar to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Advisory System.
Under this plan, in times of heightened security concerns, the government augments police with armed forces and increases visibility at airports, train and metro stations, and other high-profile locations such as schools, major tourist attractions, and government installations.
Over the last few years, there have been numerous arrests of suspected Islamic militants involved in various terrorist plots.
As with other countries in the Schengen area, France maintains open borders with its European neighbors, allowing the possibility of terrorist operatives entering/exiting the country with anonymity.
Political assassinations and bombings have occurred in France.
The National Front for the Liberation of Corsica (FLNC), as part of its decades-long bombing campaign on the island of Corsica, continues to conduct limited operations in the south of France and on Corsica.
In the 1990s there was a wave of bombings and attacks in Paris carried out by Algerian terrorists.
Today, numerous radical Islamic groups claim sympathizers within France’s large immigrant community, as evidenced by arrests over the last few years.
Although Americans have not been specifically targeted in terrorist attacks in France within the past few years, travelers should maintain vigilance.
Immediately report unattended packages observed in public places or any other suspicious activities. French law enforcement authorities are proactive and will respond immediately.
If there is a security incident or suspicious package, do not linger in the area to observe.
Although violent civil disorder is rare in France, in the past, student demonstrations, labor protests, and other types of demonstrations have developed into violent confrontations between demonstrators and police.
This was the case in March/April 2006, when a series of large demonstrations took place in central Paris. Several weeks of unrest occurred in the suburbs of Paris, as well as in other French cities and towns, in November 2005.
Neither of these periods of disorder exhibited any anti-U.S. sentiment, but it is important to remember that even a passer-by can be harmed should demonstrations devolve into violence.
Americans are advised to avoid street demonstrations, particularly if riot police are on the scene.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, 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., 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, please see A Safe Trip Abroad.
While both France and Monaco have relatively low rates of violent crime, a limited number of neighborhoods in the larger French cities merit extra caution.
Additionally, although the overall crime rate has fallen slightly in recent years, the violent crime rate has increased.
Thieves commonly target vehicles with non-local license plates, and work in or near tourist attractions such as museums, monuments, restaurants, hotels, beaches, trains, train stations, airports, and subways.
Americans in France and Monaco should be particularly alert to pickpockets in train stations and subways.
Travelers should keep photocopies of travel documents and credit cards separate from the originals, along with key telephone numbers to contact banks for credit card replacement.
Although thieves may operate anywhere, the U.S. Embassy in Paris receives frequent reports of theft from several areas in particular:
Paris: The Paris Police Prefecture published a pamphlet entitled “Paris in Complete Safety,” which provides practical advice and useful telephone numbers for visitors and can be accessed at http://www.prefecture-police-paris.interieur.gouv.fr/prevention/article/paris_securite_anglais.htm. Thieves operate on the rail link (RER) from Charles de Gaulle Airport to downtown Paris, where they prey on jet-lagged, luggage-burdened tourists.
In one common ruse, a thief distracts a tourist with a question about directions while an accomplice steals a momentarily unguarded backpack, briefcase, or purse.
Thieves also time their thefts to coincide with train stops so they may quickly exit the car just before the automatic doors close.
Travelers should consider taking an airport shuttle bus or taxi from the airport into the city.
Reports of stolen purses, briefcases, and carry-on bags at Charles de Gaulle Airport are not uncommon.
Travelers should monitor their bags at all times and never leave them unattended.
As thieves commonly target laptop bags, travelers should avoid carrying passports and other valuables in computer bags.
Another common method involves picking up a traveler’s shoulder bag that has been placed on the floor while the traveler is busy at the ticket counter. Also be aware that unattended bags are subject to destruction by airport security.
There are reports of robberies in which thieves on motorcycles reach into a moving car by opening the car door or accessing an open window or even breaking the window to steal purses and other bags visible inside.
The same technique is used against pedestrians walking with purses/bags/cameras slung over their street-side shoulder.
Those traveling by car should remember to keep the windows up and the doors locked and items that may be attractive to thieves out of sight.
Pedestrians are encouraged to remain aware of their surroundings at all times, and to keep bags slung across the body, with the bag hanging away from the street.
Many thefts occur on the Number One Subway Line, which runs through the center of Paris by many major tourist attractions (including the Grand Arch at La Défense, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysées, Place de la Concorde, the Louvre, and the Bastille).
Pickpockets are especially active on this metro line during the summer months and use a number of techniques.
The most common, and unfortunately the most successful, is the simple “bump and snatch,” where an individual bumps into the tourist while at the same time reaching into the pockets/purse/bag.
Visitors should be particularly careful when metro doors are closing, as this is a favored moment for the less-sophisticated pickpockets to simply grab valuables and jump through the closing doors, leaving the victim helplessly watching as the thief flees.
Visitors are encouraged NOT to confront thieves aggressively; they often operate in groups and may become violent if cornered.
Simply drawing attention to an attempted theft will most likely stop the operation, and result in a tactical withdrawal by the thief.
Gare du Nord train station, where the express trains from the airport arrive in Paris, is also a high-risk area for pocket-picking and theft.
Travelers should also beware of thefts that occur on both overnight and day trains, especially on trains originating in Spain, Italy, and Belgium.
These involve the theft of valuables while passengers are sleeping, or when the bags are left unattended.
In hotels, thieves target lobbies and breakfast rooms, and take advantage of a minute of inattention to snatch jackets, purses, and backpacks.
While many hotels do have safety latches that allow guests to secure their rooms from inside, this feature is not as universal as it is in the United States.
If no chain or latch is present, a chair placed up against the door and wedged under the handle is usually an effective obstacle to surreptitious entry during the night.
There are, however, reports of thieves breaking into hotel rooms on lower floors through open windows while the occupants are sleeping.
To guard against this, hotel room windows should be kept locked at all times. Whenever possible, valuables should be kept in the hotel safe.
Many Americans report thefts occurring in restaurants and nightclubs/bars, where purses are stolen from the back of a chair or from under the table.
Again, keep valuables on your person and do not leave them unattended or out of sight.
Thefts also occur at the major department stores such as Galeries Lafayette and Printemps where tourists often place wallets, passports, and credit cards on cashier counters during transactions.
Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are very common in France and provide ready access to cash, allowing travelers to carry as much money as they need for each day.
The rates are competitive with local exchange bureaus, and an ATM transaction is easier than cashing a traveler’s check.
However, crime involving ATMs is increasing.
Travelers should not use ATMs in isolated, unlit areas or where loiterers are present.
Travelers should be especially aware of persons standing close enough to see the Personal Identification Number (PIN) being entered into the machine.
Thieves often conduct successful scams by simply observing the PIN as it is entered and then stealing the card from the user in some other location.
If the card becomes stuck, travelers should immediately report it to the bank where the machine is located.
Large criminal operations in Paris involving the use of ATMs that “eat” the user’s ATM card have been reported.
This most often happens during a weekend or at night when the bank is closed.
The frustrated traveler often walks away after unsuccessfully trying to retrieve the card, with plans to return the first day the bank is open.
In such cases, a criminal gang has modified the machine using an add-on device equipped with a microchip that records the user’s PIN when it is typed in, and also prevents the card from being ejected.
The criminal retrieves the card from the device once the visitor departs, downloads the recorded PIN and then goes to other ATMs and withdraws as much cash as possible.
ATM users are strongly encouraged to carry a 24-hour emergency number for their ATM card and bank account that will enable the immediate prevention of withdrawals from the account if difficulties occur.
Pigalle is the “adult entertainment district” of Paris.
Many entertainment establishments in this area engage in aggressive marketing and charge well beyond the normal rate for drinks.
Reports of threats of violence to coerce patrons into paying exorbitant beverage tabs are not uncommon.
There have also been several violent confrontations between rival gangs in the district, including one in August 2007 one block from the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret.
Visitors are encouraged to avoid this area unless touring with a well-organized and reputable tour company.
There has been an increase in break-ins and thefts from vehicles in the parking lots at the Normandy beaches and American cemeteries common.
Valuables should not be left unattended in a car, and locking valuables in the trunk should not be considered a safeguard.
Thieves often pry open car trunks to steal bags inside.
Southern France: Thefts from cars with unlocked doors or open windows stopped at red lights or caught in slow traffic are very common, particularly along the Riviera of the Nice-Antibes-Cannes area, and in Marseille.
Car doors should be kept locked and windows raised at all times to prevent incidents of "snatch-and-grab" thefts.
In this type of scenario, the thief is usually a passenger on a motorcycle. Break-ins of parked cars are also fairly common.
Valuables should not be left in the car, not even in the trunk, when the vehicle is unattended.
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, assist you to 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.
Under French law, compensation is available to victims of crime committed on French soil under certain circumstances. To learn about resources in the U.S., including possible compensation, see our information on Victims of Crime
The local equivalents to the “911” emergency line in France are as follows: 17 (police emergency), 18 (fire department) and 15 (emergency medical/paramedic team/ambulance).
In Monaco, the numbers are 17 (police emergency), 18 (fire department) and 9375-2525 (medical/paramedic team/ambulance).
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical care comparable to that found in the United States is widely available. In France, the phone number for emergency medical services is 15.
In Monaco, the phone number for emergency medical services is 9375-2525.
The U.S. State Department is unaware of any HIV/AIDS related entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of France.
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 (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning France and Monaco is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Roads in France are generally comparable to those in the United States, but traffic engineering and driving habits pose special dangers.
Usually, lane markings and sign placements are not as clear as in the United States.
Drivers should be prepared to make last-minute maneuvers, as most French drivers do.
The French typically drive more aggressively and faster than Americans, and tend to exceed posted speed limits.
Right-of-way rules in France may differ from those in the United States.
Drivers entering intersections from the right have priority over those on the left (unless specifically indicated otherwise), even when entering relatively large boulevards from small side streets.
Many intersections in France are being replaced by traffic circles, where the right-of-way belongs to drivers in the circle.
On major highways, service stations are situated at least every 25 miles.
Service stations are not as plentiful on secondary roads in France as they are in the United States.
Paris, the capital and largest city in France, has an extensive and efficient public transportation system.
The interconnecting system of buses, subways, and commuter rails serves more than 4 million people a day with a safety record comparable to or better than the systems of major American cities.
Similar transportation systems are found in all major French cities. Between cities, France is served by an equally extensive rail service, which is reliable.
High-speed rail links connect the major cities in France. Many cities are also served by frequent air service.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the French and Monegasque National Tourist Office at http://us.franceguide.com/.
The website contains specific information concerning French and Monegasque driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of France's Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of France's air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
French and Monegasque customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from France of items such as firearms, antiquities, medications, business equipment, sales samples, and other items.
It is advisable to contact the Embassy of France in Washington, DC, one of France's consulates in the United States, or the Consulate General of Monaco in New York for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Please see our Customs Information.
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 French or Monegasque laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in France or Monaco are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
REGISTRATION/EMBASSY AND CONSULATE LOCATIONS:
Americans living or traveling in France or Monaco are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site, so they can obtain updated information on travel and security within France and Monaco.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in cases of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy/Consular Section in Paris is located at 4 avenue Gabriel, 75008 Paris (Place de La Concorde, métro stop Concorde), telephone: in country 01-43-12-22-22; from the U.S. 011-33-1-43-12-22-22 (24 hours); fax for Passport Services in country 01-42-96-28-39; from the U.S. 011-33-1-42-96-28-39; for Special Consular Services (emergencies) fax: in country 01-42-61-61-40; from the U.S. 011-33-1-42-61-61-40. Further information can be obtained at the U.S. Embassy's web site at http://france.usembassy.gov/
The Consulate General in Marseille is located at Place Varian Fry, 13006 Marseille, telephone: in country 04-91-54-92-00; from the U.S. 011-33-4-91-54-92-00 (24 hours); Consular Section fax: in country 04-91-55-56-95 and main fax 04-91-55-09-47; Consular Section fax from the U.S. 011-33-4-91-55-56-95, and main fax from the U.S. 011-33-4-91-55-09-47.
Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/marseille.html.
The Consulate General in Strasbourg is located at 15 Avenue d'Alsace, 67082 Strasbourg, telephone: in country 03-88-35-31-04; from the U.S. 011-33-3-88-35-31-04; fax: in country 03-88-24-06-95; from the U.S. 011-33-3-88-24-06-95.
Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/strasbourg.html.
The Consulate General in Strasbourg does not produce passports on the premises.
American citizens in this area whose passports are lost or stolen and have urgent travel needs should contact the U.S. Embassy in Paris.
The U.S. Government also has consular representation in Bordeaux, Lyon, Rennes, Nice and Toulouse that provide limited services to Americans, by appointment only.
The American Presence Posts in Bordeaux, Lyon and Rennes do not produce passports on the premises.
American citizens in this area whose passports are lost or stolen and have urgent travel needs should contact the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Paris.
The American Presence Post in Toulouse and the Consular Agency in Nice do not produce passports on the premises.
American citizens in this area whose passports are lost or stolen and have urgent travel needs should contact the U.S. Consulate General in Marseille.
The American Presence Post in Bordeaux is located at 10 place de la Bourse, 33076 Bordeaux (entry on 1 rue Fernand Philippart); telephone: in country 05-56-48-63-80; from the U.S. 011-33-5-56-48-63-80; fax: in country 05-56-51-61-97; from the U.S. 011-33-5-56-51-61-97.
Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/bordeaux.html
The American Presence Post in Lyon is located at 1, quai Jules Courmont, 69002 Lyon; telephone: in country 04-78-38-33-03; from the U.S. 011-33-4-78-38-33-03; fax: in country 04-72-41-71-81; from the U.S. 011-33-4-72-41-71-81.
Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/lyon.html
The American Presence Post in Rennes is located at 30, quai Duguay Trouin, 35000 Rennes; telephone: in country 02-23-44-09-60; from the U.S. 011-33-2-23-44-09-60; fax: in country 02-99-35-00-92; from the U.S. 011-33-2-99-35-00-92.
Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/rennes.html
The American Presence Post in Toulouse is located at 25, Allée Jean Jaures, 31000 Toulouse; telephone: in country 05-34-41-36-50; from the U.S. 011-33-5-34-41-36-50; fax: in country 05-34-41-16-19; from the U.S. 011-33-5-34-41-16-19. Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/toulouse.html
The Consular Agency in Nice is located at 7, Avenue Gustave V, 3rd floor, 06000 Nice, telephone: in country 04-93-88-89-55; from the U.S.
011-33-4-93-88-89-55; fax: in country 04-93-87-07-38; from the U.S. 011-33-4-93-87-07-38. Web site: http://france.usembassy.gov/nice.html
This replaces the Country Specific Information for France and Monaco dated May 5, 2008, to update the sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety & Security, Crime, Medical Facilities and Health Information, Children’s Issues and Registration/Embassy Location.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
By Alain JEAN-ROBERT
Paris, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - French construction workers wearing protective masks returned to the site of stricken Notre-Dame cathedral on Monday after a three-week pause due to the risk of lead contamination. Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud was given a tour of the scorched monumet wearing a white protective suit while workers could again be seen surveying the structure which was left damaged and weakened in a massive fire in April.
Restoration of the cathedral has yet to begin with efforts focused entirely on securing the building. The culture ministry has warned it is still at risk of collapse. Efforts to remove lead from the area around Notre-Dame began last week after alarm grew over the presence of the toxic metal. Hundreds of tonnes of lead in the roof and steeple melted during the April 15 blaze that nearly destroyed the gothic masterpiece, with winds spreading the particles well beyond the church grounds.
Residents have accused the Paris authorities of underplaying the risk from the lead although the culture ministry insists safety is the top priority. But prefect Michel Cadot, the government's top official for the Paris region, approved the resumption of the works after visiting the site. "I saw that the different recommendations of the labour inspectors had been implemented," he said, adding the decontamination work would help keep contractors safe. Securing the structure is required before the restoration work can start. The culture ministry said that stones had fallen from the nave vault during a heatwave in July. "It is only the urgency linked to the persistent risk of a collapse that justifies the rhythm of work undertaken" since the fire, it said in a statement Wednesday.
President Emmanuel Macron has set an ambitious target of five years for the restoration to be finished. But the ministry said the work would not even begin until next year. Paris prosecutors said in June that a poorly stubbed-out cigarette or an electrical fault could have started the fire and opened an investigation into criminal negligence, without targeting any individual.
French investigative news site Mediapart published a report this week accusing the ministry of repeatedly ignoring warnings by labour inspectors about the dangers posed by the lead until work was finally suspended on July 25. Critics have accused the city of failing to notify the public about the test results, while an environmental group has filed a lawsuit alleging that officials failed to sufficiently contain the contamination. The ministry rejected Mediapart's allegations it had failed to pay attention to the risks encountered by workers on the site.
By Amélie BOTTOLLIER-DEPOIS
Paris, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Seafood lovers who prize the mussel for its earthy taste and succulent flesh may be unaware of its growing potential in the fight against water pollution. The mussel is the hoover of the sea, taking in phytoplankton for nourishment along with microplastics, pesticides and other pollutants -- which makes it an excellent gauge.
One day, it may also be pressed into service to cleanse water. "It's a super-filter in the marine world, filtering up to 25 litres of water a day," says marine biologist Leila Meistertzheim. "It's a real model of bioaccumulation of pollutants generally speaking." As they pump and filter the water through their gills in order to feed and breathe, mussels store almost everything else that passes through -- which is why strict health rules apply for those destined for human consumption.
Like canaries in a coal mine, mussels have long been used as "bio-indicators" of the health of the seas, lakes and rivers they inhabit. Little-known pollutants can turn up to join the usual suspects, with increasing attention paid to microplastics containing bisphenol A and phthalates, both thought to be endocrine disruptors.
Meistertzheim heads a study for France's Tara Ocean Foundation using mussels to gauge the health of the estuaries of the Thames, Elba and Seine rivers. The mussels, placed in fish traps, are submerged in the waters for a month before researchers dissect them to determine what chemical substances lurk in their tissues. The idea of deploying mussels across the oceans to absorb ubiquitous microplastics is just a dream for now, but for other pollutants, the bivalves are already at work. "In some places, mussels are used, as well as oysters, to cleanse the sea of pesticides, for example," Meistertzheim notes.
- E. coli busters -
Richard Luthy, an environmental engineer from California's Stanford University, says that, in most cases, mussels harvested from contaminated waters should not be eaten. But if the contaminant is E. coli, mussels can be thanked for the "removal and inactivation" of the faecal material, he says, calling the service a "public health benefit". The mussels are edible because they "excrete the bacteria as faeces or mucus," he says. Mussels living in waterways affected by eutrophication -- often marked by abundant algae -- are also fit for human consumption, researchers say. The phenomenon is often the result of waste dumped into the waterway containing phosphates and nitrites, such as detergents, fertilisers and sewage. The nutrients in these substances encourage the proliferation of algae, which in turn starves the water of oxygen, upsetting the ecosystem.
Mussels "recycle" these nutrients by feeding on the algae, says Eve Galimany, a researcher of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Milford Laboratory who has experimented with mussels in the Bronx River in New York. The recycling principle is already at work in a pilot project titled Baltic Blue Growth in Sweden, Denmark and the Baltic countries which grows mussels to be fed to animals such as poultry, fish and pigs. "Eutrophication... is the biggest problem of the Baltic Sea, the most urgent one," says project head Lena Tasse. Mussels "could be part of a solution". Why feed them to animals if they are safe for humans? Because Baltic mussels are too small to be of interest to seafood lovers, says Tasse, adding: "Swedes like big mussels."
Meanwhile, the jury is still out on the effects of microplastics on human health. A recent report by WWF said that humans ingest an average of five grammes of microplastics a week -- about the weight of a credit card. A 2018 study published in the journal Environmental Pollution, based on samples from British coastlines and supermarkets, estimated that every 100 grammes (3.5 ounces) of mussels contained 70 tiny pieces of plastic. Should we be worried? Meistertzheim thinks not. "I eat them," she says. "A dish of mussels is not necessarily worse than organic hamburger meat wrapped in plastic."
Toulouse, France, Aug 17, 2019 (AFP) - Nine people were injured during a fireworks display in a popular resort in southern France when one rocket misfired close to onlookers on the beach, firefighters said Saturday. Three of those hurt in the incident in on Friday night in Collioure were taken to hospital after the device "exploded very low" and rained down sparks on some of the 80,000 crowd, firefighters and the local prefecture said.
One person remained in hospital after surgery for a shoulder fracture. The misfiring rocket was part of a show on a barge just off the port of Collioure, a small picturesque seaside town near the Spanish border whose 3,000 population mushrooms around 30-fold with summer tourists. Three doctors on site swiftly intervened to treat those injured, the local prefecture said, adding local police have opened an investigation into the incident.
Almost nothing is known regarding health effects of organic arsenic compounds in humans. Studies in animals show that some simple organic arsenic compounds are less toxic than inorganic forms. Ingestion of methyl and dimethyl compounds can cause diarrhea and damage to the kidneys.
<https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaqs/tf.asp?id=19&tid=3>. - ProMED Mod.TG]
Carcassonne, France, Aug 15, 2019 (AFP) - More than 500 firefighters have been deployed to battle a blaze that has already destroyed 900 hectares of pine forest in southern France, the fire service said on Thursday. The fire broke out on Wednesday afternoon in Aude, southeast of the city of Carcassonne, in forests that were classified as having a "severe" risk of fire because of a recent drought. "About 900 hectares (2,200 acres) burned," commander Philippe Fabre from the Aude fire service told AFP.
The fire was fanned by overnight winds blowing gusts of 40 kmh (25 mph) but homes were not under threat, he said. No buildings have been destroyed or people injured, he added, but warned that the wind strength was forecast to strengthen during the day. Firefighters were working to stop the blaze reaching nearby villages. "The fire if complicated because it is in an area difficult to access," an Aude official said. The fire service said it planned to drop water bombs over the burning area, after dampening down the edges of the forest overnight.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
San Juan, Feb 12, 2018 (AFP) - Most of San Juan and a strip of northern Puerto Rico municipalities were plunged into darkness Sunday night after an explosion at a power station, five months after two hurricanes destroyed the island's electricity network.
The state electric power authority (AEE) said the blast was caused by a broken-down switch in Rio Piedras, resulting in a blackout in central San Juan and Palo Seco in the north. "We have personnel working to restore the system as soon as possible," the AEE said. San Juan's mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, said on Twitter that emergency services and local officials attended the scene in the neighbourhood of Monacillos, but no injuries were reported.
Meanwhile, the Puerto Rican capital's airport said it was maintaining its schedule using emergency generators. The blackout comes as nearly 500,000 of AEE's 1.6 million customers remain without power since Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the US territory in September 2017. AEE engineer Jorge Bracero warned on Twitter that the outage was "serious," and advised those affected that power would not be restored until Monday.
By Leila MACOR
Fajardo, Puerto Rico, Dec 13, 2017 (AFP) - Until Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Jose Figueroa did brisk business renting kayaks to tourists itching to see a lagoon that lights up by night thanks to millions of microorganisms. Today, things are so dire he's considering selling water to motorists stopped at red lights. "Now we are trying to survive," the 46-year-old tour guide said.
It used to be that visitors had to reserve a month in advance to get one of his kayaks and paddle around in the dark on the enchanting, bioluminescent body of water called Laguna Grande. But tourists are scarce these days as the Caribbean island tries to recover from the ravages of the storm back in September. "We do not know if we will have any work tonight," Figueroa said. "Last week, we worked only one day." He and another employee of a company called Glass Bottom PR are cleaning kayaks on the seaside promenade of Fajardo, a tourist town in eastern Puerto Rico whose main attraction is the so-called Bio Bay.
The year started off well for Puerto Rico, with the global success of the song "Despacito" by local musicians Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee. The catchy tune helped promote the US commonwealth island of 3.4 million people, which is saddled with huge debts and declared bankruptcy in May. But the hurricane turned what should be an island bustling with tourists into one with deserted beaches, shuttered restaurants and hotels full of mainland US officials working on the rebuilding of the island. "What few tourists we have are the federal officials themselves," said Figueroa.
- Locals only -
The grim outlook spreads up and down the seaside promenade of Fajardo, where many restaurants are closed because there is no electricity. On this particular day around noon, the only restaurant open is one called Racar Seafood. It has its own emergency generator. "We get by on local tourists," said its 61-year-old owner, Justino Cruz. "Our clients are local -- those who have no electricity, no generator, cold food or no food."
Puerto Rico's once-devastated power grid is now back up to 70 percent capacity, but this is mainly concentrated in the capital San Juan. So while inland towns that depend on tourism are struggling mightily, things are getting better in San Juan as cruise ships are once again docking. On November 30, the first cruise ship since the storm arrived with thousands of vacationers on board. They were received with great fanfare -- quite literally, with trumpet blaring and cymbals crashing.
- Pitching in to help -
The World Travel & Tourism Council, based in London, says tourism accounted for about eight percent of Puerto Rico's GDP in 2016, or $8.1 billion. Hurricane Maria's damage has been uneven. Although some tour guides now have no work and many eateries are shut down, hotels that have their own generators are doing just fine. Thanks to the thousands of US government officials and reconstruction crew members that came in after the storm, the hotels that are open -- about 80 percent of the total -- are pretty much full.
These people are starting to leave the island this month but hotels may receive tourists around Christmas, at least in San Juan, where power has for the most part been restored. The hurricane "undoubtedly cost billions in lost revenue," said Jose Izquierdo, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company. But Izquierdo nevertheless says he is "optimistic" and suggests an alternative: put tourists to work as volunteers in the gargantuan reconstruction effort that the island needs. "We want to look for travellers who want to travel with a purpose, who might have the commitment to help rebuild," said Izquierdo.
The program, called "Meaningful Travel" and launched in mid-November, organizes trips on which residents, Puerto Ricans living abroad and tourists are invited to help the island get back on its feet. "The plan aims to create empathy with this tourist destination," said Izquierdo. "We want to be like New Orleans after Katrina, where 10 years after the hurricane, tourism is the driving force of its economy. We want to build that narrative of recovery," he added. "There are different ways in which the world wants to help Puerto Rico. The best way is to visit us."
By Marcos PÉREZ RAMÍREZ
San Juan, Nov 9, 2017 (AFP) - Andrea Olivero, 11, consults her classmate Ada about an exercise during their daily English class at San Juan's Sotero Figueroa Elementary School. The task: list the positive and negative aspects of Hurricane Maria's passing almost two months ago.
The girls only have to look around. There is no electricity and they "roast" in the heat, Andrea says. At the back of the room, computers and televisions collect dust. "We would like to move past the topic of the hurricane a bit. It is already getting repetitive," Andrea told AFP. She is one of more than 300,000 pupils in the public education system, although only half of schools are functioning. Barely 42 per cent of Puerto Ricans have electricity seven weeks after Maria struck, killing at least 51 in the American territory.
The lack of power has prompted disorienting timetable changes on the tropical island, to avoid both the hottest hours of the day and the use of dining facilities. "The children are very anxious. We manage to make progress in lessons and they change the hours again. Everything is messed up and we fall behind," English teacher Joan Rodriguez explained. "We can't use the computers to illustrate classes," she said. "They are reading the novel "Charlotte's Web," and we wanted to do exercises comparing it to the film version. But we cannot use the television.
- Suspicions -
From October 23, some directors reopened their schools in the western region of Mayaguez and San Juan. But last Thursday, the Department of Education ordered their closure, insisting they must be evaluated by engineering and architectural firms, then certified by the US Army Corps of Engineers. One of those schools was Vila Mayo, also in San Juan. The community presumed it would open, as it had been used as a shelter, its electrical infrastructure had been inspected and it had not suffered structural damage.
But Luis Orengo, the education department's director in San Juan, told protesters outside the school it was closed as inspectors' findings had not reached the central government. "This is unacceptable! The school is ready to give classes but they don't want to open it. Our children cannot lose a year," fumed Enid Guzman, who protested with her 11-year-old son, Reanny De la Cruz. There are suspicions the stalled reopening of schools is, in part, related to the prior closure of 240 schools over the past year during Puerto Rico's long-running financial crisis. The fiscal difficulties have seen the island's population drop over the past decade by 14 percent, leading in turn to a fall in school enrolment.
Before the storms, 300 schools were at risk of closure -- and for the president of Puerto Rico's federation of teachers, Mercedes Martinez, the government's aim is clear. "Secretary (Julia) Keleher seems to have an orchestrated plan to close schools," she said, referring to the education secretary. "Why do you have to wait 30 days to get a certification so a school can open?" Keleher has announced she expects most schools to be open by the middle of November.
By Ricardo ARDUENGO, con Nelson DEL CASTILLO en San Juan y Leila MACOR en Miami
Utuado, Puerto Rico, Oct 19, 2017 (AFP) - It's been a month since Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico and Samuel de Jesus still can't drive out of his isolated, blacked-out town. In fact, much of the US territory in the Caribbean is still a crippled mess four weeks after that fierce Category Four storm.
The bridge connecting Rio Abajo to the rest of the island was swept away when Maria slammed the island on September 20. For two weeks Rio Abajo, located in a mountainous region in central-western Puerto Rico, was cut off and forgotten, without power or phone service. "We didn't know what to do. We were literally going crazy," said de Jesus, 35. "Those were difficult, desperate days. We could not find a way out, and the hurricane caused extensive damage," he told AFP.
During the two long weeks following Maria, the 27 families living in Rio Abajo saw their supplies quickly deplete. De Jesus, who has diabetes, needed to keep his insulin refrigerated. The storm blew away the island's already decrepit power grid, so people resorted to emergency generators. "But I was running out of gasoline to run the generator," he said. A helicopter now makes regular deliveries of food, water and medicine because with the bridge washed out, there is no other way in or out of town.
People can't wade across the river because it is contaminated with human waste after a pipe broke when the bridge went. Some brave souls use a precarious ladder rigged to get across the water, but for most people it is too dangerous. We need a bridge "to take out our vehicles and leave in case of emergency, or if there is a landslide," he said. Where the bridge once stood, residents set up a system of ropes, pulleys and buckets to move supplies over the river, which has been contaminated with sewer water since the hurricane. Over the remains of the bridge locals hung the single-star, red, white and blue flag of Puerto Rico and a sign that reads "the campsite of the forgotten."
- Desperate need for electricity -
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello visited the surrounding municipality of Utuado on Wednesday to deliver supplies, but he did not stop in Rio Abajo. "Utuado is certainly one of the most severely affected municipalities in all of Puerto Rico," Rossello said. "Our commitment is to give it support and aid during the whole road to recovery." Eighty-one percent of Puerto Rico remains blacked out one month after Maria struck. Clean water for drinking, cooking and bathing is scarce, too.
Puerto Ricans' main obstacle to getting back to some semblance of normality is the slowness of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority in getting the power grid back up and running. The lack of power has paralyzed a key industry -- pharmaceutical production -- and most businesses including restaurants are closed or operating at great cost through the use of diesel powered generators.
This nightmare comes about a year after the US government established an external fiscal control board for the island after it declared bankruptcy because of 73 billion dollars in debt. Economist Joaquin Villamil told AFP that damage from Hurricane Maria is estimated at 20 billion dollars -- four times that of Hurricane Georges in 1998, when measured in 2016 dollars.
Villamil said reconstruction money provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and from insurance companies will have a positive impact on the island's economy in the second half of fiscal 2018 and in fiscal 2019, but this boost will just be temporary. "From an economic point of view there is not much net gain," said Villamil, who works for a consulting firm called Estudios Tecnicos. He said the economy has been shrinking since 2006 and Maria will delay any prospect of recovery. It will take at least until 2026 to get back to the GDP level of 2006, he added.
Making things worse, people are leaving the island for the mainland US. Forecasts are that the population now at 3.4 million will go down to 3.1 million or even less by 2026, said Villamil. The government of Florida estimates that since October 3 -- the day a state of emergency to deal with an influx of Puerto Ricans was declared -- more than 36,000 people from the island have poured in.
World Travel News Headlines
London, Aug 23, 2019 (AFP) - British Airways pilots on Friday said they will strike for three days in September in a dispute over pay, in a move that could affect tens of thousands of travellers. The strikes on September 9, 10 and 27 were announced by the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa), which said there had been a 93-percent vote in favour of industrial action. "It is completely unacceptable that Balpa is destroying the travel plans of tens of thousands of our customers with this unjustifiable strike action," said the airline. "We are extremely sorry that after many months of negotiations, based on a very fair offer, Balpa has decided on this reckless course of action," it said.
British Airways said it would change schedules to try and ensure as many people as possible can take their flights but warned that "many" customers will not be able to travel. "We will be offering refunds and re-bookings for passengers booked on cancelled flights," it said. Balpa said the strikes were "a last resort" but added that pilots had made "sacrifice after sacrifice" in recent years. Balpa estimated each day of strike action would cost the company around £40 million (44 million euros, $49 million).
By Obert SIMWANZA
Lusaka, Aug 23, 2019 (AFP) - Children living in a central Zambian mining town are still exposed to high levels of toxic lead 25 years after the mine closed, Human Rights Watch said Friday, as lawyers announced plans to take legal action. Decades of lead mining have left Kabwe, around 150 kilometres (95 miles) north of Lusaka, severely polluted, with serious health implications for residents. The mine, which operated from the early 1900s until its closure in 1994, was at one time the world's largest lead mine. It was run by the Zambian government from the early 1970s when the mining industry was nationalised. In a report published Friday, HRW said the town in the Copperbelt area still has extreme levels of contamination and children continue to be exposed to high levels of toxic lead in soil and dust around their homes, schools and play areas.
HRW's children's rights fellow and report author Joanna Naples-Mitchell described the situation in Kabwe as "a public health emergency" and said the government was "not responding with the sense of urgency that is warranted". "The Zambian government is aware that Kabwe has been severely contaminated... since the 1990s and efforts to clean up have been inadequate," she told AFP. A class action suit is being prepared to demand compensation for poisoning from Anglo American South Africa, a former investor in the mine, London-based law firm Leigh Day announced Friday. The law firm deals in human rights issues. The case will be brought in courts in South Africa, where the mining firm is based, said the lawyers, who are acting on behalf of some 200 children who have been treated for lead poisoning. Anglo American on Friday said in a statement it did not believe it was "in any way responsible for the current situation" in Kabwe. "We were concerned to learn of the situation at Kabwe as reported by the press," it said, adding "the nationalisation more than 40 years ago effectively placed these issues under the control of the Zambian Government".
- 'Severely contaminated' -
The HRW report said that although lead and zinc mining have stopped in the town, various medical studies conducted over the past seven years show children there still had elevated levels of lead in their blood. Between 2003 and 2011, the World Bank funded a government project to decontaminate Kabwe's affected townships, and to test and treat children. But some 76,000 people, or a third of the town's population, still live in contaminated areas. One recent study published last year and cited by HRW estimated that more than 95 percent of children in the townships surrounding the lead mine have elevated blood lead levels and that about half of them require medical intervention. "This is the worst environmental disaster I have seen in 30 years of practice," said lawyer Richard Meeran of Leigh Day. Johannesburg-based collaborating lawyer Zanele Mbuyisa said they will argue that "the environmental damage created has potentially contaminated almost three generations of men, women and children".
- Insufficient resources -
Three years ago, the government launched another five-year World Bank-funded project to get rid of the lead and carry out new rounds of testing and treatment. The project targets around 10,000 people including children, pregnant women and mothers. "We think this a very important opportunity for the Zambian government to find a lasting solution to this problem," said Naples-Mitchell. She urged Zambia to find new and effective methods to clean up the lead, adding that their 2018 study indicated that pollution levels were "as high they had been in the 1970s". In a letter last month, the government indicated to HRW that it does not have enough resources to address the full scale of the contamination. The government did not immediately comment on the report. Children are more vulnerable to lead poisoning since they absorb four to five times as much as an adult and this can retard their growth and IQ, while in worst cases it can result in brain damage or even death.
Khartoum, Aug 23, 2019 (AFP) - Rain and flash floods have killed 54 people in Sudan since the start of July and affected nearly 200,000, the United Nations said Friday. The worst affected area is While Nile state in the south but Khartoum and other regions have also been affected. "More than 37,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged," the UN said, quoting figures from the government body it partners with in the crisis response. "Humanitarians are concerned by the high likelihood of more flash floods," it said, adding that most of the 54 recorded deaths were due to collapsed roofs and electrocution.
The floods are having a lasting humanitarian impact on communities, with cut roads, damaged water points, lost livestock and the spread of water-borne diseases by insects. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said an extra $150 million were needed from donors to respond to the floods, in addition to the $1.1 billion required for the overall humanitarian situation in Sudan.
Warsaw, Aug 22, 2019 (AFP) - At least five people, including two children, were killed and more than 100 others were injured Thursday during a sudden thunderstorm in Poland and Slovakia's Tatra mountains, according to rescuers and officials. Most of the victims were on the Polish side, where lightning struck a large metal cross on top of Mount Giewont and a metal chain near the summit, rescuers said. One person died in Slovakia. "There were a lot of incidents involving lightning strikes today in the Tatras," Polish mountain rescue service chief Jan Krzysztof told Poland's PAP news agency. "More than 100 people are injured," Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said after arriving in the nearby mountain resort town of Zakopane.
Rescuers believe many hikers were nearby when lightning struck the cross on Giewont's summit. They had set out to climb Poland's highest mountains when the skies were clear earlier in the day. "We heard that after (the) lightning struck, people fell... the current then continued along the chains securing the ascent, striking everyone along the way. It looked bad," Krzysztof said. Lightning also struck on the nearby Czerwone Wierchy mountain massif, injuring a Portuguese citizen.
As many as 13 have died while 6677 have been infected across Tanzania. In Dar es Salaam region alone, 6631 cases and 11 deaths have occurred.
Dengue-type1 outbreak was declared on the 27 Feb 2019 following a laboratory (NZLabPlus) confirmation of 7 dengue type 1 cases. From 28 Jan-4 Aug 2019, a cumulative number of 78 dengue cases have been reported (22 confirmed, and 56 probable-NS1Ag positives). Rarotonga and Aitutaki are the only islands affected and most of the cases have been from the main island of Rarotonga. Aitutaki has managed to contain its number of cases to 3. The last case was reported on 18 Apr 2019. A total of 42 cases have been hospitalised and given free mosquito nets to take and use at home. Apart from some severe cases, the hospitalisation was also an effort to contain and minimise the spread of the infection into the community. Unfortunately, some cases refused to be admitted but were given some health advice and mosquito precautionary measures. No deaths reported.
358 indigenous cases and 2 imported cases of dengue 2 have been confirmed since the beginning of 2019, according to the latest Health Watch bulletin. Tahiti is still in an epidemic phase: all communes are affected except Mahaena, Pueu, and Teahupoo. In the islands, Bora-Bora is in epidemic phase (at least 3 cases without epidemiological link): Vaitape and Faanui are affected. Moorea is in an epidemic phase: The communes of Afareaitu, Haapiti, and Paopao are affected. Six islands are in the alert phase: Nuku-Hiva (Taiohae), Fakarava, Raiatea, Rangiroa, Huahine, and Hiva Oa (Atuona). Since dengue type 2 has not circulated in the country since the year 2000, the population is poorly immunized, and the epidemic may be large. People under 20 or arriving in French Polynesia after 2000 are most at risk of becoming infected.