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.
Every devout Muslim seeks to perform the Hajj on at least one occasion during their life. This pilgrimage, which is a central duty of Islam, brings Muslims from all over the wor
Coping with the Climate
The dates for this festival vary from year to year but this year it is in December. In the evenings it can be significantly cold in 'tent city' and so travellers should bear this in mind when packing.
With this massive influx of people travel in and out of Saudi can be difficult and, where possible, plans should be made well in advance.
Care for the pilgrims
The Saudi government seek to provide the highest level of health care possible for those visiting their Kingdom. This has involved the setting up of a series of rules and regulations which need to be observed. Nevertheless every pilgrim should ensure that their own personal health is sufficient before agreeing to travel. This may involve a consultation with their GP - especially if they have any underlying medical conditions.
No food is allowed into Saudi during this time and will be confiscated on arrival.
In order to reduce the risk of certain diseases the Saudi authorities insist on all travellers providing correctly certified evidence of vaccination against some diseases.
All travellers are required to provide evidence of vaccination against Meningococcal Meningitis (ACYW-135). This vaccine has to have been given to every traveller within the previous three years and at least 10 days before arrival into Saudi Arabia. (Other vaccinations against Meningitis C or Meningococcal A&C are not acceptable.)
Some travellers arriving from what are regarded as 'higher risk' countries will also be given prophylactic antibiotics to lessen the possibility of their carrying Meningococcal Meningitis into the country. This is a compulsory requirement - though the medication given varies depending on the age of the individual and whether or not the female traveller is pregnant.
It is also essential for some travellers to have evidence of Yellow Fever vaccination certification. Generally this is only required for those arriving from the countries of Africa and South America. This vaccine needs to have been given within the previous 10 years and at least 10 days before arrival.
Other Recommended Vaccines
Even though it is not a requirement of entry to perform the Hajj or visit Saudi Arabia, travellers are strongly advised to consider the following vaccinations;
Influenza / Pneumococci
These are air-borne diseases and the close proximity of so many pilgrims will make the risk of contracting either or both of these highly infectious diseases much higher. Influenza vaccine needs to be given each year where as Pneumococcal vaccine is often only given on one occasion in a lifetime.
This viral disease is disappearing from much of the world and may be eradicated within a few years. However during 2005 a significant number of outbreaks occurred in various African countries and India. The Hajj was linked to outbreaks in Yemen and Saudi Arabia itself. Vaccination is recommended for all unprotected travellers.
Hepatitis A / Typhoid
With such a massive number of people to be catered for it is hardly surprising that the level of food and water borne disease is high. These vaccines are strongly recommended for all travellers. They provide excellent protection but all travellers will still need to exercise extra care to lessen their personal exposure.
The main specific risk of contracting Hepatitis B probably relates to the ritual head shaving which is performed as part of the celebrations. Professional barbers are used and long lines of men wait for their turn. In some cases the blade is not changed between shaves and this potentially presents a serious risk of contamination with Hepatitis B infection.
It should also be noted that during the celebrations a ritual sacrifice of a small animal is performed. Pilgrims are strongly advised not to undertake the actual act of sacrifice themselves - unless they are very experienced - as otherwise they could seriously injury themselves.
Avoiding Accidents and Dehydration
The desire to perform the Hajj is strong and it is an emotional time for any Muslim. Unfortunately the presence of so many other pilgrims in a very confined space at the same time does increase the risk of various diseases and accidents. This includes the risk of being crushed, as has occurred with disastrous consequences in the past. The degree of dehydration can also be high as there is a significant amount of exercise and walking involved. A good pair of comfortable walking shoes is certainly worth the investment. It will also be important to bring some plasters to treat minor injuries and blisters.
Being Separated from Companions
Due to the numbers involved it is very easy to become separated from travelling companions. It is wise to have a plan in place before arriving so that each member of the party knows where to meet.
It is extremely important that all those undertaking this pilgrimage recognise the necessity to stay constantly alert to the personal health and accident risks which are present and do everything within their power to avoid them. The Tropical Medical Bureau centres throughout Ireland usually carry both the required and the recommended vaccines for travellers to the Hajj. Appointments should be made well in advance of visa application to ensure that these are given in sufficient time.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Date: Fri 31 May 2019 Source: Vaxbeforetravel [edited] <https://www.vaxbeforetravel.com/level-1-travel-vaccine-requirements-updated-pilgrims-attending-hajj>
The Hajj, or annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, is scheduled for 9-14 Aug 2019, which enables those planning on attending this worldwide event have ample time to appropriately prepare for the trip. The Hajj is one of the world's largest mass gatherings each year and is associated with unique health risks.
More than 2 million Muslims from over 183 countries make Hajj each year, with approximately 11,000 Hajj pilgrims traveling from the United States.
Before attending the Hajj, both the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Ministry of Health in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia published vaccine requirements and travel recommendations. The CDC updated its Level 1 Travel Alert on 31 May 2019, saying those participating in the Hajj should be up-to-date on all routine vaccines, especially the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR).
The CDC says the measles virus is extremely contagious, and the crowded conditions during Hajj provide an ideal opportunity for measles transmission. As of 7 May 2019, the European Region reported 34 300 measles cases in 42 countries during 2019. For travellers who do not have evidence of measles immunity or who lack written documentation of measles vaccination, the CDC recommends 2 doses of MMR vaccine separated by at least 28 days, to be completed before travel.
Additionally, the Saudi Ministry of Health recommends that Hajj pilgrims confirm they have been vaccinated against these diseases:
- Yellow fever: all travellers arriving from countries or areas at risk of yellow fever transmission must present a valid yellow fever vaccination certificate, stating vaccinated against the disease before the arrival of the Kingdom no later than 10 days and not more than 10 years. The Stamaril vaccine is available in the USA.
- Meningococcal meningitis: visitors are required to submit a valid vaccination certificate with a tetravalent (ACYW135) meningococcal vaccine administered no less than 10 days prior to arrival to Saudi Arabia.
- Poliomyelitis: travellers arriving from countries with circulating wild or vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV2) and from countries at risk of polio reintroduction, are required to submit a valid polio vaccination certificate. - Seasonal influenza: the Ministry of Health in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia recommends that all pilgrims get vaccinated against the 2018/19 seasonal influenza.
Previously, on [15 Apr 2019], a joint declaration regarding vaccinations was issued at the Afghanistan-Pakistan Eminent Ulama Conference. In his opening address, His Excellency the Deputy of Al Azhar Al Sharif, Dr Saleh Abbas Goma Saleh, called upon parents to vaccinate their children to protect them from harm. "The family bears the responsibility of the proper upbringing of, and caring for children and maintaining their health," he said.
The CDC suggests scheduling a visit with a travel vaccine specialist at least 4 to 6 weeks before departure. Travel vaccine counselling sessions can be scheduled at Vax-Before-Travel [<https://www.vaxbeforetravel.com/vax-before-travel/appointment>].
The CDC Vaccine Price List provides the private sector vaccine prices for general information, and vaccine financial support programs can be found at Vaccine Discounts. And, pack enough prescription and over-the-counter medicines to last your entire trip.
The CDC says if you develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness within 14 days after traveling from countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula, you should call a healthcare provider and mention your recent international travel.
Americans traveling abroad can enrol with the nearest US embassy or consulate through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program [<https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/before-you-go/step.html>] to receive the latest safety updates and assistance in an emergency. [Byline: Don Ward Hackett]
[Saudi Arabia issues its requirements for entry into Saudi Arabia for the Hajj, which are updated annually.
The Hajj requirements for 2019 can be found at
<https://www.saudiembassy.net/hajj-requirements>. - ProMED Mod.ML]
[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Saudi Arabia: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/131>]
Children over 15 years of age should present the same vaccinations requested for adults:
a. meningitis and ACYW135;
b. seasonal (or common) flu, which should be taken 2 weeks before applying for the visa;
World Travel News Headlines
Lomo del Pino, Spain, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - A raging wildfire on the Spanish holiday island of Gran Canaria forced the evacuation of some 5,000 people, authorities said Sunday, warning it could take days for the blaze to be brought under control. The fire, which has spread to the mountainous Cruz de Tejeda region popular with tourists for its breathtaking views, is "extremely fierce" and "unstable", said Canary Islands president Angel Victor Torres in a statement. No fatalities have been reported.
More than 600 firefighters and 14 aircraft battled to contain the flames, hampered by strong winds and high temperatures. With the temperature set to rise Monday, authorities estimate it could take days before the blaze is brought under control. "The next few hours will be very important because the weather forecast for the night is not good," Torres said. The fire broke out days after another wildfire in the same region forced the evacuation of hundreds.
Gran Canaria is the second most populous of the Canary Islands in the Atlantic off the northwest coast of Africa. The Canary Islands received 13.7 million foreign visitors last year, over half of them from Britain and Germany. Spain is frequently plagued by huge forest fires because of its arid summer climate.
Lisbon, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Portuguese fuel tanker drivers whose strike has caused fuel shortages at the summer holiday season on Sunday ended their industrial action. Drivers have been staging a strike since Monday to demand further wage increases in 2021 and 2022, prompting the government to declare an energy crisis. "Since all the conditions are now in place to negotiate, we decided to end the strike," Pedro Pardal Henriques, spokesman for the National Union of Dangerous Goods Carriers (SNMMP), told reporters.
A meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, the union President Francisco Sao Bento said, adding that the union did not "rule out new strikes being called if Antram (the employers association) adopts an uncompromising attitude". Police had launched an operation to escort fuel tankers with extra supplies and Portugal also mobilised about 500 members of the security forces to replace the strikers and drive the trucks. Despite the shortages, Energy Minister Joao Pedro Matos Fernandes said about two-thirds of the country's 3,000 or so petrol stations had not run dry.
By By Emal Haidary and Mushtaq Mojaddidi
Kabul, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Joy and celebration turned into horror and carnage when a suicide bomber targeted a packed Afghan wedding hall, killing at least 63 people in the deadliest attack to rock Kabul in months, officials and witnesses said Sunday. The massive blast, which took place late Saturday in west Kabul, came as Washington and the Taliban finalise a deal to reduce the US military presence in Afghanistan and hopefully build a roadmap to a ceasefire. The groom recalled greeting smiling guests in the afternoon, before seeing their bodies being carried out hours later.
The attack "changed my happiness to sorrow", the young man, who gave his name as Mirwais, told local TV station Tolo News. "My family, my bride are in shock, they cannot even speak. My bride keeps fainting," he said. "I lost my brother, I lost my friends, I lost my relatives. I will never see happiness in my life again." Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said at least 63 people had been killed and 182 injured. "Among the wounded are women and children," Rahimi said. Earlier he stated a suicide bomber carried out the attack.
Afghan weddings are epic and vibrant affairs, with hundreds or often thousands of guests celebrating for hours inside industrial-scale wedding halls where the men are usually segregated from the women and children. "The wedding guests were dancing and celebrating the party when the blast happened," recounted Munir Ahmad, 23, who was seriously injured and whose cousin was among the dead. "Following the explosion, there was total chaos. Everyone was screaming and crying for their loved ones," he told AFP from his bed in a local hospital, where he is being treated for shrapnel wounds.
Images from inside the hall showed blood-stained bodies on the ground along with pieces of flesh and torn clothes, hats, sandals and bottles of mineral water. The huge blast ripped parts of the ceiling off. The wedding was believed to be a Shia gathering. Shia Muslims are frequently targeted in Sunni-majority Afghanistan, particularly by the so-called Islamic State group, which is also active in Kabul but did not immediately issue any claim of responsibility.
Wedding guest Hameed Quresh told AFP the young couple were saying their vows when the bomb went off. "We fainted following the blast, and we don't know who brought us to the hospital," sobbed Quresh, who lost one brother and was himself wounded. Another guest told Tolo that some 1,200 people had been invited. With low security, weddings are seen as easy targets. The attack sent a wave of grief through a city grimly accustomed to atrocities. President Ashraf Ghani called it "barbaric", while Afghanistan's chief executive Abdullah Abdullah described it as a "crime against humanity".
- Withdrawal deal expected -
The attack underscores both the inadequacy of Afghanistan's security forces and the scale of the problem they face. While the police and army claim they prevent most bombings from ever happening, the fact remains that insurgents pull off horrific attacks with chilling regularity. On July 28, at least 20 people were killed when attackers targeted Ghani's running mate Amrullah Saleh as he campaigned in presidential elections. The incident showed how even amid tight security and known threats, insurgents can conduct brazen attacks. The issue also goes to the heart of a prospective deal between the US and the Taliban that would see Washington begin to withdraw its approximately 14,000 soldiers from Afghanistan.
The deal relies on the Taliban providing guarantees they will stop jihadist groups such as Al-Qaeda and IS from using Afghanistan as a safe haven. Saturday's attack suggests any such promise would be tough to keep. The "Taliban cannot absolve themselves of blame, for they provide platform for terrorists," Ghani said. Few believe such a deal will bring quick peace.
Many Afghans fear the Taliban could return, eroding hard-won rights for women in particular and leading to a spiralling civil war. Meanwhile, in the northern province of Balkh, 11 members of the same family were killed when their car hit a roadside bomb, officials said. The provincial governor blamed the Taliban for planting the device.
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."
By Ricky Ombeni and Marthe Bosuandole
Kinshasa, DR Congo, Aug 17, 2019 (AFP) - Measles has killed 2,758 people in the DR Congo since January, more than the Ebola epidemic in a year, medical NGO Doctors Without Borders said, and called Saturday for a "massive mobilisation of funds." The disease, preventable with a vaccine, has infected over 145,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo between January and early August, it said in a statement. "Since July, the epidemic has worsened, with a rise in new cases reported in several provinces," said the NGO that goes by its French acronym MSF. "Only $2.5 million has been raised out of the $8.9 million required for the Health Cluster response plan -- in stark contrast with the Ebola epidemic in the east of the country, which attracts multiple organisations and hundreds of millions of dollars in funding," it added.
MSF tweeted that without a "massive mobilisation of funds and response organisations, the current measles outbreak in #DRCongo could get even worse." The NGO said it has vaccinated 474,860 children between the ages of six months and five years since the beginning of the year, and provided care to more than 27,000 measles patients. In the country's east, Ebola has claimed more than 1,900 lives since erupting last August.
Measles is a highly-contagious diseased caused by a virus that attacks mainly children. The most serious complications include blindness, brain swelling, diarrhoea, and severe respiratory infections. Last year, cases more than doubled to almost 350,000 from 2017, according to the World Health Organization, amid a rise in "anti-vaxxer" sentiment in some countries that can afford the vaccine, and lagging resources for the preventative measure in poor nations. The DR Congo declared a measles epidemic in June.
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.
By Ricky Ombeni and Marthe Bosuandole
Bukavu, DR Congo, Aug 16, 2019 (AFP) - A woman has died of Ebola and her infant son was diagnosed with the virus in the first confirmed cases in DR Congo's South Kivu province, reviving fears Friday the highly contagious disease could spread through the region.
The Democratic Republic of Congo's Ebola epidemic has claimed more than 1,900 lives since erupting last August. "Two cases which tested positive for Ebola were confirmed overnight in South Kivu, in Lwindi district in the Mwenga region," the provincial government said in a statement. A woman in her twenties died while her seven-month-old child tested positive for the virus and is receiving treatment, the vast central African nation's pointman on Ebola, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, said in a statement.
The woman had been staying with a family in the North Kivu town of Beni, the epicentre of the outbreak, and was identified as a "high-risk contact" of one of the family members infected with Ebola, the statement said. She then "escaped" movement controls in the area, changing identities four times and travelling from Beni through the North Kivu cities of Butembo and Goma to South Kivu's Bukavu and Mwenga, the statement added. She died on Wednesday. "We reassure neighbouring countries that all steps are being taken to strengthen surveillance at points of entry as well as sanitary control," the statement said. South Kivu shares borders with Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.
World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted that the outbreak in South Kivu "has sparked a rapid response... to provide treatment, identify all contacts, raise community awareness & begin vaccinating". The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said it was "rapidly deploying an expert team" to the area. And South Kivu Governor Theo Ngwabidje told reporters: "Teams from the national anti-Ebola coordination campaign arrived yesterday to provide support."
- Risk of crossing border 'enormous' -
The outbreak of the haemorrhagic virus began in neighbouring North Kivu province on August 1, 2018 and spread to Ituri province. The WHO declared the epidemic a "public health emergency of international concern" last month after cases were confirmed in the densely-populated North Kivu capital Goma. The city's proximity to Rwanda and many transport links sparked fears of cross-border spread. "Beni, Butembo and Goma are still containable," a Congolese professor and epidemiologist said of the three North Kivu cities. "But with the disease in South Kivu, the risks of it spreading to (the eastern DR Congo town) of Kalemie, Tanzania and Burundi are enormous."
Residents in South Kivu's capital Bukavu said they were worried. "At this time of year, we rarely have running water -- how are we going to avoid this disease if we have to frequently wash our hands?" asked mother-of-five Martine Mushagalusa. Anselme Kangeta, 35, said: "Given the crowded way we live, movement is uncontrolled, people go from one place to another without taking precautions. The authorities must get involved otherwise we will all die." South Kivu experienced an Ebola scare on July 31 when doctors briefly quarantined 15 people in the town of Birava over fears they were infected, but tests came back negative.
- Drug breakthrough -
Ebola is named after a river in northern DR Congo, formerly named Zaire, where the virus was first identified in 1976. The latest outbreak is the second-deadliest on record after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014-2016. The pathogen causes fever, vomiting and severe diarrhoea, often followed by kidney and liver failure, and internal and external bleeding. The disease is spread by contact with infected bodily fluids and is fought with the time-honoured but laborious techniques of tracing contacts and quarantining them.
The cases in South Kivu come on the heels of researchers announcing a possible breakthrough in the quest for drug to treat Ebola. Two prototype drugs, REGN-EB3 and mA114, slashed mortality rates among Ebola patients in a
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