Cuba is an independent island country situated in the Caribbean. It is the largest of the islands and covers 42,000sq miles. The climate is sub tropical throughout the year with most of the rainfall in
Safety & Security:
The majority of tourists visiting Cuba will have no difficulty but bag snatching and other street crime appears to be increasing. The old Havana area and other major tourist resorts may be particular areas of concern in this regard. On arrival be careful to only use your recognised tour operator. If you are taking a taxi at any stage make sure it is a registered one and not a private vehicle. It is unwise to carry large quantities of money or jewellery away from your hotel and try not to flaunt wealth with your belongings. Pickpockets are too common an occurrence on buses and trains and at train stations so be careful with your essential documents and credit cards. Valuables should not be stored in suitcases when arriving in or departing from Havana as there have been a number of thefts from cases during the time the cases are coming through baggage handling. There is an airport shrink-wrap facility for those departing Havana which reduces the risk of tampering. Remember to carry a photocopy of your main documents (passport, flight tickets etc).
Following a number of serious road accidents involving tourists, you are advised not to use mopeds for travelling around Cuba or in Havana. Also, if you are involved in any accident a police investigation will be required to clear you and this may significantly delay your travel plans. On unlit roads at night there have been a number of accidents associated with roaming cattle (sounds like Ireland!). The traffic moves on the right side of the roads. There is a main highway running the length of the country but many of the country roads are in poor repair.
Local Laws & Customs:
When arriving into Cuba make sure you are not carrying any items which could be considered offensive. Any illicit drug offense is treated very seriously and Cuban law allows for the death penalty to be used under these circumstances. If you require personal medication for your health, make sure it is in original packing and carry a letter from your doctor describing the medication. Never agree to carry any item for another individual and always secure your cases once they are packed. Taking photographs of military or police installations or around harbours, rail and airport facilities is strictly forbidden.
Since 1993 it is now possible to use US dollars for all transactions within Cuba. Remember, there is a 20$ airport departure tax. Certain travellers cheques and credit cards may not be acceptable within Cuba. This is particularly true of American Express cheques and cards but check your situation with the travel operator before departure.
Generally healthcare facilities outside of Havana are limited and many standard medications may not be available. It is important to carry sufficient quantities of any medications which may be required for the duration of your time in Cuba.
Food & Water:
The level of food and water hygiene varies throughout the country and between resorts. On arrival check the hotel cold water supply for the smell of chlorine. If it is not present then use sealed bottled water for both drinking and brushing your teeth throughout your stay. Cans and bottles of drinks are safe but take care to avoid pre-cut fruit. Peel it yourself to make sure it is not contaminated. Food from street vendors should be avoided in most cases. Bivalve shellfish are also a high risk food in many countries and Cuba is no exception in this regard. (Eg Mussels, Oysters, Clams etc)
Malaria & Mosquito Borne Diseases:
Malaria transmission does not occur within Cuba and so prophylaxis is not required. However, a different mosquito borne disease called Dengue has begun to reoccur in the country over the past few years. This viral disease can be very sickening and even progress to death. It is rare for tourists to become infected but avoiding mosquito bites is a wise precaution.
Swimming, Sun & Dehydration:
The extent of the Cuban sun (particular during the summer months (April to October) can be very excessive so make sure your head and shoulders are covered at all times when exposed. Watch children carefully as they will be a significant risk. Drink plenty of fluids to replace what will be lost through perspiration and, unless there is a reason not to,
take extra salt either on your food or in crisps, peanuts etc. Take care if swimming in the Caribbean to stay with others and to listen to local advice. Never swim after a heavy meal or alcohol.
Rabies Risk in Cuba:
This viral disease does occur throughout Cuba and it is essential that you avoid any contact with all warm blooded animals. Dogs, cats and monkeys are the most commonly involved in spreading the disease to humans. Don't pick up a monkey for a photograph! If bitten, wash out the wound, apply an antiseptic and seek urgent medical attention.
Vaccinations for Cuba:
There are no essential vaccines for entry / exit if coming from Ireland. However, for your own personal protection travellers are advised to have cover against the following;
Tetanus (childhood booster)
Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
Hepatitis A (food & water borne disease)
For those planning a longer or more rural trip vaccine cover against conditions like Hepatitis B and Rabies may also need to be considered.
Cuba is becoming a popular destination for tourists and generally most will stay very healthy. However commonsense care against food and water borne disease is essential at all times. Also take care with regard to sun exposure, dehydration and mosquito bites.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Buenos Aires, May 17, 2018 (AFP) - Tourism regulation in Antarctica has become an urgent matter due to environmental threats, officials from the 53 member countries of the Antarctic Treaty warned at their annual meeting, held this week in Buenos Aires.
In the absence of rules, travel agencies offer trips to the region on boats sometimes equipped with helicopters or submarines, according to Segolene Royal, French ambassador for the Arctic and Antarctic poles. "This activity creates considerable disturbance ... we are witnessing a race toward large-scale tourism that is dangerous for ecosystems," she said at the assembly on Wednesday.
During the austral summer of 2016/2017, around 44,000 tourists set off for Antarctica, compared with just 9,000 in 1995/1996, according to French authorities. However, the push for regulation is not about banning tourism, former environmental minister Royal said, but rather about ensuring it is managed in compliance with the treaty and its environmental protection protocol.
In Buenos Aires, the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting -- whose mission is to regulate human activity on the continent -- also sought to encourage scientific cooperation between countries that have collectively set up around 100 research bases across the ice. Also up for analysis is China's proposed fifth permanent scientific station in Antarctica, which would be located in the Ross Sea area south of New Zealand.
By Marlowe HOOD
Paris, July 5, 2017 (AFP) - A chunk of ice bigger than the US state of Delaware is hanging by a thread from the West Antarctic ice shelf, satellite images revealed Wednesday. When it finally calves from the Larsen C ice shelf, one of the biggest icebergs in recorded history will be set adrift -- some 6,600 square kilometres (2,550 square miles) in total, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).
The iceberg's depth below sea level could be as much as 210 metres (almost 700 feet), or about 60 storeys, it said. "The crack in the ice is now around 200 kilometres (125 miles) long, leaving just five kilometres between the end of the fissure and the ocean," the ESA said in a statement. "Icebergs calve from Antarctica all the time, but because this one is particularly large its path across the ocean needs to be monitored as it could pose a hazard to maritime traffic."
Scientists tracking the berg's progression expect it to break of within months. The Larsen C shelf will lose more than 10 percent of its total surface area. The massive ice cube will float in water and by itself will not add to sea levels when it melts. The real danger is from inland glaciers. Ice shelves float on the sea, extending from the coast, and are fed by slow-flowing glaciers from the land. They act as giant brakes, preventing glaciers from flowing directly into the ocean. If the glaciers held in check by Larsen C spilt into the Antarctic Ocean, it would lift the global water mark by about 10 centimetres (four inches), researchers have said.
The calving of ice shelves occurs naturally, though global warming is believed to have accelerated the process. Warming ocean water erodes the underbelly of the ice shelves, while rising air temperatures weaken them from above. The nearby Larsen A ice shelf collapsed in 1995, and Larsen B dramatically broke up seven years later. The ESA is keeping an eye on Larsen C with its Copernicus and CryoSat Earth orbiters.
Man-made global warming has already lifted average global air temperatures by about one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial levels. Antarctica is one of the world's fastest-warming regions. The world's nations undertook in the Paris Agreement, inked in 2015, to cap average global warming at "well under" 2 C.
By Jean-Louis SANTINI
Washington, June 22, 2016 (AFP) - Two sick workers were evacuated from a remote US research station near the South Pole on Wednesday in a risky rescue mission carried out in the dead of Antarctica's winter, a US official said. A Twin Otter turboprop plane flew in dark and cold conditions to pick up the workers from the Amundsen-Scott station, about 250 meters from the geographic South Pole, a spokesman for the US National Science Foundation (NSF), Peter West told AFP.
The plane's crew and a medical team had made the 10-hour journey to the South Pole in the middle of Antarctica's 24-hour winter on Tuesday night to reach the unidentified patients, who could not be treated on site. The NSF -- the US research agency that operates the Amundsen-Scott Station -- organized the rescue mission last week given the condition of the first patient, which was not disclosed for privacy reasons. "It was really an emergency," West said. It later became apparent that the second worker also needed to be evacuated.
The sick workers -- employees of the US company Lockheed Martin who worked on base logistics -- were then taken to the Rothera base, a British research station some 2,200 kilometers (about 1,365 miles) away, the spokesman said. The pair, who were not identified, were then to be transferred to a hospital in South America, West said, without giving further details. The Amundsen-Scott base was home to 48 people -- 39 men and nine women -- who work on-site throughout the austral winter, which spans February through October.
- Rare rescue mission -
Near the world's southernmost point, workers spend this period withstanding nearly complete darkness and dramatically low temperatures -- on Tuesday, the thermometer dropped to -60 degrees Celsius (-76 degrees Fahrenheit). It was only the third time that an emergency rescue operation has been launched in the middle of winter. In 2001, the only doctor at the Amundsen-Scott station was suffering from a life-threatening pancreatic condition and required urgent evacuation. A second medical evacuation was carried out that year.
In 1999, the US station's doctor Jerri Nielsen, who was self-treating her own breast cancer, required medical evacuation but weather conditions were more favorable, as the mission took place in the spring. The Twin Otter plane, operated by the Canadian company Kenn Borek Air, is specially designed to operate in extremely cold temperatures.
Research projects at the Amundsen-Scott station include monitoring long-term levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. The station also operates two telescopes that observe "cosmic microwave background" radiation -- the faint light signature left by the Big Bang -- to study the origins of the universe, dark energy and dark matter.
by Martin PARRY
SYDNEY, June 18, 2014 (AFP) - Antarctic scientists warned Wednesday that a surge in tourists visiting the frozen continent and new roads and runways built to service research facilities were threatening its fragile environment. Tourist numbers have exploded from less than 5,000 in 1990 to about 40,000 a year, according to industry figures, and most people go to the fragmented ice-free areas that make up less than one percent of Antarctica. A growing number of research facilities are also being built, along with associated infrastructure such as fuel depots and runways, in the tiny ice-free zones.
It is these areas which contain most of the continent's wildlife and plants, yet they are among the planet's least-protected, said a study led by the Australian government-funded National Environmental Research Programme (NERP) and the Australian Antarctic Division. "Many people think that Antarctica is well protected from threats to its biodiversity because it's isolated and no one lives there," said Justine Shaw from the NERP of the study published in the journal PLoS Biology. "However, we show that there are threats to Antarctic biodiversity. "Most of Antarctica is covered in ice, with less than one percent permanently ice-free," she added. "Only 1.5 percent of this ice-free area belongs to Antarctic Specially Protected Areas under the Antarctic Treaty System, yet ice-free land is where the majority of biodiversity occurs." Five of the distinct ice-free areas have no protection at all while all 55 of the continent's protected zones are close to sites of human activity.
- Fragile ecosystems -
Steven Chown of Monash University, another collaborator in the study, said the ice-free areas contain very simple ecosystems due to Antarctica's low species diversity. This makes its native wildlife and plants extremely vulnerable to invasion by outside species, which can be introduced by human activity. "Antarctica has been invaded by plants and animals, mostly grasses and insects, from other continents," he said. "The very real current and future threats from invasions are typically located close to protected areas. "Such threats to protected areas from invasive species have been demonstrated elsewhere in the world, and we find that Antarctica is, unfortunately, no exception."
The study said the current level of protection was "inadequate by any measure" with Shaw saying more was needed to guard against the threat posed by the booming tourism industry. "(We need) to protect a diverse suite of native insects, plants and seabirds, many of which occur nowhere else in the world," she said. "We also need to ensure that Antarctic protected areas are not going to be impacted by human activities, such as pollution, trampling or invasive species." Antarctica is considered one of the last frontiers for adventurous travellers. Most travel by sea, some paying in excess of US$20,000 for a luxury cabin in the peak period from November to March. There is also a healthy market for sightseeing flights.
Approximately 30 nations operate permanent research stations on the continent including the US, China, Russia, Australia, Britain, France and Argentina, and more are on the way. China's state media said in December that the country was building its fourth base and a fifth was being planned. Fellow study author Hugh Possingham, from NERP, said that without better protection "this unique and fragile ecosystem could be lost". "Although we show that the risks to biodiversity from increasing human activity are high, they are even worse when considered together with climate change," he added. "This combined effect provides even more incentive for a better system of area protection in Antarctica."
WASHINGTON, Nov 17, 2013 (AFP) - A powerful 7.8 magnitude undersea earthquake struck in the Scotia Sea, a remote region in the far south Atlantic near Antarctica, US earthquake monitors reported Sunday. The quake struck at 0904 GMT in the ocean some 893 kilometers (550 miles) southwest of Grytviken, South Georgia, and 1,140 kilometres (710 miles) southeast of Ushuaia, Argentina, said the US Geological Survey, which monitors earthquakes worldwide. The epicenter was at a depth of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), and was near that of a 6.8 magnitude undersea earthquake that the USGS registered in the Scotia Sea some 30 hours earlier.
The quake occurred at the boundary between the Antarctic tectonic plate and the Scotia Sea plate, said geophysicist Randy Baldwin at the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado. "They're sliding past one another horizontally, it's not a subduction zone," Baldwin told AFP. "There will be aftershocks probably for weeks." There were no tsunami warnings since there were no vertical movements in the seafloor as occur in a subduction quake, when one tectonic plate moves under another one, Baldwin said. Yet despite the enormous energy unleashed the area is so remote that there is little or no impact to humans, he said. "You couldn't pick a more remote area for an earthquake," he said.
Information for Bali
Bali is one of the main tourist destinations for many Irish travellers to Indonesia. The island is well developed for the tourist industry and genera
Safety & Security
Throughout Indonesia there are many regions where it is unsafe to travel. The Parliament in Indonesia may impeach the President in the near future. Civil disturbance with student demonstrations in the capital Jakarta, earthquakes in the island of Sumatra, unrest regarding the independence of Timor and profound warring fractions on the island of Borneo has the potential to spill over into Bali. Nevertheless during the past years Bali has remained stable and there have been few reports of serious disturbances that have affected tourists or business travellers. Lombok is an island close to Bali often visited by tourists. It is regarded as more unstable and recently (Dec 2000) four explosions during fighting between two villages (Bongor & Parampuan). The main tourist region around Senggigi has remained quiet.
The laws against illegal drugs are severe and travellers should ensure that they carry sufficient well-marked medication that they may require for their time in Indonesia. Travellers are required to show identification at any time and so carrying photocopies of your passport is a wise precaution. Keep all valuable documents in a safe place and do not flaunt personal wealth while travelling around the island.
The nightlife in Bali is one of the main attractions for many tourists but sensible precautions are required. Travelling alone is unwise. Take care to ensure that your drink could not be spiked at any stage and do not walk at night, use an authorised taxi where possible. The level of HIV infection among the bar workers is high and close personal contact is very unwise.
The level of available health facilities varies greatly through Bali and other parts of Indonesia. In general most of the main hotels will have English speaking doctors but care would be required if your illness requires hospitalisation.
Food and Water
It is wise to maintain a high level of care with regard to your food and water while in Indonesia. This includes even those in high quality hotels but also particularly for those eating from street vendors. Bivalve shellfish (e.g. oysters, mussels, clams etc) should be avoided at all times due to inadequate cooking. Bottled water should be purchased from your hotel or good quality shops to ensure that it is pure.
Mosquitoes and Insect Bites
Malaria transmission occurs throughout Indonesia all year but the risk in Bali is so low that prophylaxis is not generally recommended for most tourists. Nevertheless for those visiting Lombok (overnight visits) the risk exists and prophylaxis should be considered. Other mosquito borne diseases also occur throughout Indonesia and care must be taken to avoid insect bites. In Jakarta and other main cities there is a particular problem with a viral disease called Dengue Fever. The mosquito, which transmits this disease, typically bites during the day and in main urban centres.
The strength of the sun in Bali is considerable higher than that experienced in Ireland at any time of the year. Sufficient head covering should be worm when exposed and travellers should ensure that their fluid intake is sufficient. Salt depletion also needs to be replaced in times of significant perspiration.
If swimming in pools, make sure that sufficient chlorination has been used. Take care with small children when close to the deep end of the pool. If sea swimming make sure that there are always others around and that you heed any local advice and warning signs. Never swim soon after alcohol or for an hour after mealtime.
The extent of jet lag, which you will experience, depends on the duration of your flight and the amount of rest you were able to get before arrival. Try to rest for the first 24 hours to allow your body to acclimatise and make sure you do not fall asleep beside the swimming pool during this initial period.
Vaccinations for Bali
There are no essential vaccines or entry to Bali from Western Europe. However for your personal protection travellers are recommended to consider vaccination cover against;
Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
Tetanus (childhood booster)
Typhoid (food & water disease)
Hepatitis A (food & water disease)
Other travellers planning a more rural or extensive trip may need to consider other vaccine cover against diseases like Hepatitis B, Japanese B Encephalitis, Rabies.
The majority of those visiting Bali will enjoy the many tourist attractions on the island. However commonsense and care is required to ensure that you do not expose yourself to unnecessary risk. The staff of the Tropical Medical Bureau can be contacted at either of the numbers below if you require further information.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Jakarta, Aug 3, 2019 (AFP) - Five people died and several were injured after a powerful undersea earthquake rocked Indonesia's heavily populated Java island, triggering a brief tsunami warning, the national disaster agency said Saturday. The 6.9 magnitude quake on Friday evening sent residents fleeing to higher ground, while many in the capital Jakarta ran into the streets.
An official from Indonesia's national disaster agency warned the quake could generate a tsunami as high as three metres (10 feet), but the alert was lifted several hours later. Three people died of heart attacks as the strong quake rocked the region, agency spokesman Agus Wibowo said on Saturday. Another person fell to his death while trying to flee his house when the jolt happened, he said, while a fifth victim died from a panic attack. Four more people were injured and more than 200 buildings were damaged, with about 13 houses destroyed, he added.
More than 1,000 people, who had earlier fled to temporary shelters, returned home after authorities convinced them it was safe to do so, Wibowo said. "There was thundering noise -- it sounded like a plane overhead -- and I was just so scared that I ran," said 69-year-old Isah, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, at an evacuation shelter in Pandeglang at the southwest end of Java. In December, the area was hit by a volcano-sparked tsunami that killed more than 400 people.
Indonesia experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", where tectonic plates collide. Last year, a 7.5-magnitude quake and a subsequent tsunami in Palu on Sulawesi island killed more than 2,200 people, with another thousand declared missing. On December 26, 2004, a 9.1-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra and triggered a tsunami that killed 220,000 across the Indian Ocean region, including around 170,000 in Indonesia.
Labuha, Indonesia, July 14, 2019 (AFP) - A major 7.3-magnitude earthquake hit the remote Maluku islands in eastern Indonesia Sunday, sending panicked residents running into the streets, but no tsunami warning was issued. The shallow quake struck about 165 kilometres (100 miles) south-southwest of the town of Ternate in North Maluku province at 6:28 pm (0928 GMT), according to the US Geological Survey.
"The earthquake was quite strong, sending residents to flee outside. They are panicking and many are now waiting on the roadside," said local disaster mitigation official Mansur, who like many Indonesians goes by one name. Officials were assessing the situation but there were no immediate reports of casualties, he told AFP.
In the town of Labuha, one of the closest to the epicentre, panicked residents took to motorcycles in a bid to flee to higher ground, according to an AFP photographer in town when the earthquake hit. Local disaster official Ihsan Subur told Metro TV that no damage or casualties had been reported there so far, but residents took to the streets and many evacuated to higher ground. "Electricity went of during the earthquake, but now it's back to normal," ubur said, adding that at least seven big aftershocks were felt after the initial quake.
The province was also hit by a 6.9-magnitude tremor last week. Indonesia experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", where tectonic plates collide. Last year, a 7.5-magnitude quake and a subsequent tsunami in Palu on Sulawesi island killed more than 2,200 people, with another thousand declared missing. On December 26, 2004, a devastating 9.1-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra and triggered a tsunami that killed 220,000 across the Indian Ocean region, including around 170,000 in Indonesia.
Jakarta, June 24, 2019 (AFP) - A powerful magnitude 7.3 quake struck eastern Indonesia on Monday, US seismologists said, but no tsunami warning was issued and there were no immediate reports of major damage or casualties. The quake hit at a depth of 208 kilometres (129 miles) south of Ambon island in the Banda Sea at 11:53 local time, the US Geological Survey said.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there was no threat of a tsunami as the quake was too deep. The strong temblor came hours after a 6.1-magnitude earthquake hit Papua, also in the eastern part of the Southeast Asian archipelago. That quake hit about 240 kilometres (150 miles) west of the town of Abepura in Papua province, at a relatively shallow depth of 21 kilometres, according to the USGS.
There were also no immediate reports of casualties after the earthquake. A shallower 6.3-magnitude hit the area last week, but the damage was not extensive. Indonesia experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", where tectonic plates collide. Last year, a 7.5-magnitude quake and a subsequent tsunami in Palu on Sulawesi island killed more than 2,200 with a thousand more declared missing. On December 26, 2004, a 9.1-magnitude earthquake struck Aceh province, causing a tsunami and killing more than 170,000.
A volcano on the Indonesian island of Bali erupted Friday, spewing a plume of ash and smoke more than 2,000 metres (6,500 feet) into the sky. Mount Agung, about 70 kilometres from the tourist hub of Kuta, has been erupting periodically since it rumbled back to life in 2017, sometimes grounding flights and forcing residents to flee their homes.
The latest eruption shortly before noon on Friday shot a cloud of volcanic ash high into the sky, but caused no disruption to flights, Indonesia's geological agency said. Agung remained at the second highest danger warning level, and there is a four-kilometre no-go zone around the crater.
Last summer, dozens of flights were cancelled after Agung erupted, while tens of thousands of locals fled to evacuation centres after an eruption in 2017.
The last major eruption of Agung in 1963 killed around 1,600 people.
Indonesia is situated on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", a vast zone of geological instability where the collision of tectonic plates causes frequent quakes and major volcanic activity.
World Travel News Headlines
London, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - British Airways pilots on Wednesday cancelled a strike that had been due September 27, the British Airline Pilots Association union said after two walkouts last week that cost the company dear. "Someone has to take the initiative to sort out this (pay) dispute and with no sign of that from BA the pilots have decided to take the responsible course," BALPA General Secretary Brian Strutton said in a statement. The union chief added that the airline's "passengers rightly expect BA and its pilots to resolve their issues without disruption and now is the time for cool heads and pragmatism to be brought to bear. "I hope BA and its owner IAG show as much responsibility as the pilots," he added. It was now "time for a period of reflection before the dispute escalates further and irreparable damage is done to the (BA) brand."
However the union added that should the airline "refuse meaningful new negotiations, BALPA retains the right to announce further strike dates". British Airways, which likes to call itself "the world's favourite airline", flew into turbulence last week as pilots staged a costly and historic two-day strike, tarnishing its global reputation according to aviation analysts. Pilots walked out for the first time in the company's 100-year history, sparked by a bitter and long-running feud over pay. BA faced the embarrassment of grounding its entire UK fleet on September 9 and 10, causing the cancellation of about 1,600 flights. The move sparked travel chaos for about 200,000 passengers who had been due to fly in and out of London's Gatwick and Heathrow airports.
The disruption continued into September 11 because half of BA's 300 aircraft and more than 700 pilots were mostly in the wrong place. As a result, BA was forced to cancel approximately ten percent of its daily 850 flights in and out of Britain that day. BALPA and its members are demanding a bigger share of British Airways profits. The airline has offered a salary increase of 11.5 percent over three years, which it argues would boost the annual pay of some captains to £200,000 ($250,000 or 226,000 euros). However, the union has rejected the proposal made in July. BALPA meanwhile estimates that last week's 48-hour strike cost the airline £80 million. BA is owned by IAG, which was formed in 2011 with the merger of British Airways and Spain's Iberia. IAG has since added other carriers, including Austria's Vueling and Ireland's Aer Lingus.
By Sam Reeves
Kuala Lumpur, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - Toxic haze from Indonesian forest fires closed schools and airports across the country and in neighbouring Malaysia Wednesday, while air quality worsened in Singapore just days before the city's Formula One motor race. Illegal fires to clear land for agriculture are blazing out of control on Sumatra and Borneo islands, with Jakarta deploying thousands of security forces and water-bombing aircraft to tackle them.
Indonesian blazes belch smog across Southeast Asia annually, but this year's are the worst since 2015 and have added to concerns about wildfire outbreaks worldwide exacerbating global warming. On Wednesday, air quality deteriorated to "very unhealthy" levels on an official index in many parts of peninsular Malaysia, to the east of Sumatra, with the Kuala Lumpur skyline shrouded by dense smog. Nearly 1,500 schools were closed across Malaysia due to the air pollution, with over one million pupils affected, according to the education ministry.
A growing number of Malaysians were suffering health problems due to the haze, with authorities saying there had been a sharp increase in outpatients at government hospitals -- many suffering dry and itchy eyes. Indonesian authorities said hundreds of schools in hard-hit Riau province on Sumatra were shut, without providing a precise number, while about 1,300 were closed in Central Kalimantan province on Borneo. Borneo is shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. Poor visibility closed seven airports in the Indonesian part of Borneo, the transport ministry in Jakarta said. Scores of flights have already been diverted and cancelled in the region in recent days due to the smog.
- Singapore smog race? -
Air quality in Singapore worsened to unhealthy levels and a white smog obscured the striking waterfront skyline, featuring the Marina Bay Sands casino resort with its three towers and boat-shaped top level. The worsening pollution increased fears that this weekend's Formula One race may be affected. Organisers say the possibility of haze is one of the issues in their contingency plan for Sunday's showpiece night race, but have not given further details.
The city-state's tourism board said spectators would be able to buy masks as protection from the haze if conditions did not improve and assistance would be provided for those who feel unwell, the Today news portal reported. The fires have sparked tensions between Indonesia and Malaysia. Indonesia's environment minister initially suggested the haze was from Malaysian fires despite satellite data showing hundreds of blazes in Indonesia and only a handful in its neighbour, prompting anger from her Malaysian counterpart.
Indonesia later sealed off dozens of plantations where it said fires were blazing, including some owned by Malaysia-based firms, deepening the row. But Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has struck a diplomatic tone throughout the crisis, said Malaysia may pass legislation forcing its companies to tackle fires on plantations abroad. Malaysia wants its firms with sites overseas to put out blazes contributing to the haze, he said, adding: "Of course, if we find they are unwilling to take action, we may have to pass a law to make them responsible."
The Indonesian government has insisted it is doing all it can to fight the blazes. But this year's fires have been worsened by dry weather and experts believe there is little chance of them being extinguished until the onset of the rainy season in October. Indonesia's meteorology, climate and geophysics agency said Wednesday that over 1,000 hotspots -- areas of intense heat detected by satellite that indicate a likely fire -- had been sighted, most of them on Sumatra.
By Aishwarya KUMAR
New Delhi, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - India announced on Wednesday a ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes, as a backlash gathers pace worldwide due to health concerns about a product promoted as less harmful than smoking tobacco. The Indian announcement, also outlawing production, import and distribution, came a day after New York became the second US state to ban flavoured e-cigarettes following a string of vaping-linked deaths. "The decision was made keeping in mind the impact that e-cigarettes have on the youth of today," Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters in New Delhi.
E-cigarettes do not "burn" but instead heat up a liquid -- tasting of everything from bourbon to bubble gum and which usually contains nicotine -- that turns into vapour and is inhaled. The vapour is missing the estimated 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke but does contain a number of substances that could potentially be harmful. They have been pushed by producers, and also by some governments including in Britain, as a safer alternative to traditional smoking -- and as a way to kick the habit.
However critics say that apart from being harmful in themselves, the flavours of e-cigarette liquids appeal particularly to children and risk getting them addicted to nicotine. Some 3.6 million middle and high school students in the United States used vaping products in 2018, an increase of 1.5 million on the year before. The New York emergency legislation followed an outbreak of severe pulmonary disease that has killed seven people and sickened hundreds. President Donald Trump's administration announced last week that it would soon ban flavoured e-cigarette products to stem a rising tide of youth users.
- Big E-Tobacco -
Although few Indians vape at present, the Indian ban also cuts off a vast potential market of 1.3 billion consumers for makers of e-cigarettes. Tobacco firms have been investing heavily in the technology to compensate for falling demand for cigarettes due to high taxes and public smoking bans, particularly in the West.
In 2018 Altria, the US maker of brands such as Marlboro and Chesterfield, splashed out almost $13 billion on a stake in one of the biggest e-cigarette makers, Juul. A few Indian states have already banned e-cigarettes although the restrictions have been ineffective since online sale of vaping products continue. The new ban does not cover traditional tobacco products in India. According to the World Health Organization, India is the world's second-largest consumer of tobacco products, killing nearly 900,000 people every year.
Nearly 275 million people over 15, or 35 percent of adults, are users, although chewing tobacco -- which also causes cancer -- is more prevalent than smoking. India is also the world's third--largest producer of tobacco, the WHO says, and tobacco farmers are an important vote bank for political parties. According to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry, an estimated 45.7 million people depend on the tobacco sector in India for their livelihood. Tobacco is also a major Indian export, and the government holds substantial stakes, directly or indirectly, in tobacco firms including in ITC, one of India's biggest companies.
Washington, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - Hurricane Humberto strengthened to a major Category 3 storm on Tuesday and was expected to pass near Bermuda, threatening it with dangerous waves and heavy rain, the US National Hurricane Center said. "Hurricane conditions are expected to reach Bermuda by Wednesday night and continue into early Thursday morning," the Miami-based NHC said. "Some fluctuations in intensity are likely during the next day or so, but Humberto should remain a powerful hurricane through Thursday," it said. As of 8:00 pm (0000 GMT), the storm had maximum sustained winds of 115 miles per hour (185 kilometers per hour) and was moving east-northeast at 12 miles per hour.
Dakar, Sept 17, 2019 (AFP) - Four people died after a boat carrying dozens of tourists capsized during heavy storms in Senegal, authorities and emergency services said Tuesday. The death toll could rise as three passengers were said to be missing after the accident. The boat was carrying several Senegalese nationals, six French people, two Germans, two Swedes and one person from Guinea-Bissau, when it turned over Monday in driving rain and a heavy swell, fire department chief Papa Angel Michel Diatta said. All the dead were Senegalese, officials and emergency services said.
Two worked in a national park, one was a woman and the other victim was a child, Diatta said. The boat was heading for the Madeleine islands, site of an offshore national park popular with tourists who travel from Dakar, coastal capital of the West African country. Senegalese President Macky Sall appealed for "greater caution and respect for existing security norms duing the rainy season" in a tweet.
Emergency services continued to look for those missing on Tuesday. AFP journalists saw a dozen divers at the scene. Distressed families were waiting on the shore to get news of their loved ones. "The gendarmerie called us at 5:00 am (GMT and local time). My brother was on the boat. The worst thing is not knowing," said Aminata Diop, who was among the relatives on the beach. There are "four dead bodies and between three and four people are missing. Thirty-five people were on the boat. Search and rescue operations are continuing this morning," Interior Minister Aly Ngouille Ndiaye told AFP by telephone.
The causes of the accident were unclear. The interior minister told Senegalese media overnight that several tourists were worried about the heavy rains and wanted to return to the pier but others wanted to stay on the boat. The survivors spent the night on the island, Ndiaye told local radio on Tuesday. Blankets and food were sent to them and they were to be ferried back to the mainland in the morning, he added. The rainy season arrived late this year and heavy storms have resulted in several casualties this month. Two fishermen were killed on their canoe in the same area nearly two weeks ago.
Jakarta, Sept 17, 2019 (AFP) - Massive forest fires in Indonesia that have caused a toxic haze to spread as far as Singapore and peninsular Malaysia are also seriously affecting endangered orangutans and their habitat, a rescue foundation said Tuesday. Jakarta has deployed thousands of troops as temporary fireman and deployed dozens of water-bombing aircraft to battle blazes that are turning pristine forest into charred landscape in Sumatra and Borneo islands. The fires -- usually started by illegal burning to clear land for farming -- have unleashed a choking haze across parts of southeast Asia.
The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation said Tuesday that the haze was affecting hundreds of great apes in its care at rescue centres and wildlife re-introduction shelters. "The thick smoke does not only endanger the health of our staff... but also it affects the 355 orangutans we currently care for", the foundation said in a statement, referring to just once cetre in Kalimantan "As many as 37 young orangutans are suspected to have contracted a mild respiratory infection," it added. Conditions were so bad at their Samboja Lestari facility in East Kalimantan that outdoor activities for the animals had been restricted to a few hours a day.
Orangutans have been particularly vulnerable to commercial land clearances and have seen their natural habitat shrink dramatically in the last few decades. The population of orangutan in Borneo has plummeted from about 288,500 in 1973 to about 100,000 today, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The toxic smoke caused by the forest fires is an annual problem for Indonesia and its neighbours, but has been worsened this year by particularly dry weather. On Borneo island, which Indonesia shares with Malaysia and Brunei, pollution levels were "hazardous", according to environment ministry data. Hundreds of schools across Indonesia and Malaysia were shut.