Greece offers a great variety of attractions for the international traveller. A beautiful climate linked with great beaches, a vibrant nightlife and historical monuments to rival any other location throughout the world. All of this located
Situated in southern Europe the country enjoys mild winters but very hot summers. There may be occasional cool breezes (meltemia) but these can serve only to fool the traveller into thinking that they are unlikely to burn. Rain is very uncommon during the height of summer (July and August) and all travellers should be advised to use very adequate sun-block lotion at all times.
Slip, Slop, Slap
Following the Australian mantra of Slip, Slop and Slap makes perfect sense. Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat when out and about during the day and this should help protect against the intense suns rays. Nevertheless, despite all their best intentions, travellers get burnt. This is particularly a problem in the first few days after their arrival when they do not realise the intensity of the suns rays and how easily they can be exposed. Falling asleep beside the hotel's swimming pool or on the beach is a very common problem and must be avoided against. The tips of the ears, shoulders (especially along the bra-strap line, ankles and behind the knees are commonly exposed and forgotten areas.
After Sun care
To treat significant sunburn it is important to increase fluid intake but also to take extra salt on your food (unless medically contraindicated for some specific condition like high blood pressure etc). Soothing water soluble lotions (especially ones containing a mild anaesthetic and/or steroid cream) are probably best but certainly avoid any of the ones which paste the skin with a thick layer - which is almost impossible to remove without causing serious pain! The more severe sunburn cases may need medical care and even hospitalisation which really ruins a holiday.
Food & Water
As a European destination Greece has a good level of food and water hygiene. Unfortunately this can vary - especially as you move away from the main tourist destinations and also as the summer temperatures rise and food goes 'off' more quickly. Eating hot food, avoiding cold foods (side-salads, lettuce etc) and never eating undercooked bivalve shellfish (mussels, oysters, clams etc) makes perfect sense. Eating food or taking fruit juice drinks from street vendors is a risk just not worth taking.
There may be both mosquitoes and sandflys about so having good repellents (DEET based ones) is worthwhile. The biggest problem will be early in the morning and towards the end of the daylight hours. However sitting in the shade while having lunch may be nice and cool but it is also often a place where these insects tend to hover looking for their next meal. Just don't allow that meal to be the blood in your unguarded ankle!
Seeing the Monuments
As mentioned previously Greece is covered with ancient monuments and these attract many thousands of tourists each year. The ruins are often not the most hospitable places for sun-sensitive tourists so taking care against the suns rays is essential - especially while standing carefully listening to the tour guide explain some complicated piece of history while the back of your legs get roasted! The other issue, for those trekking through the ruins, is the distinct possibility of a nasty twisted ankle.
Laser Night shows
Many of the ancient sites have beautiful night shows which depict something of the past splendour and are definitely worth seeing. However it is wise to wear good shoes as stumbling across loose stones is a particular problem at night and also bring a small torch, if possible, to guide your way. Getting separated from your travelling companions, or not being able to find your return bus, can lead to some understandable panic so listen carefully to any instructions and look out for some land marks before you get too far away into the night time crowd.
Some tourists may forget that rabies is a problem in many countries throughout the world and, even though Greece is regarded as rabies-free', there is always a problem if someone should get bitten. The possibility that this animal could have been recently smuggled into the country cannot be out ruled and so many would advise full post exposure treatment should this contact occur. Children may be at particular risk due to their inquisitive nature.
Sunburn and swimming go hand in hand but drowning can also occur all too frequently within this region. Strong currents, swimming after meals (or alcohol) and the ever popular romantic midnight swim are all serious risk factors. Also children running around the deep end of the pool may lose their footing and topple in without warning. Unfortunately a very small child sinks instantly with very little sign of the emergency to those close by. Parents need to keep aware of this risk at all times.
The summer working holiday
Many of our students head towards Greece for 2 to 3 months during the summer to work. The attractions are obvious but commonsense and sensible life-style choices are needed throughout their stay to lessen the risk of illness or them returning home with an infection they had not bargained for. Unfortunately many return home with life-long illnesses which have been contracted from a single unprotected sexual contact.
Vaccinations for Greece
As a general rule the usual travel vaccines are not recommended for most short-term travellers to this region. However for the student planning to spend a more prolonged period it would be sensible to consider cover against both Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B and also to check that their Tetanus cover is up-to-date.
This is still one of the most popular destinations for northern European travellers and, in the vast majority of cases, they will have a fantastic time with only good memories. Unfortunately some less prepared folks will end up with serious sunburn and other illnesses or diseases which perhaps are frequently associated with their own lack of care and protection rather than anything specific to this beautiful country.
Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS
Athens, Nov 27, 2019 (AFP) - A strong 6.1-magnitude undersea earthquake shook the Greek island of Crete on Wednesday and was felt in other parts of the country, officials said. "It was a major earthquake, the whole island shook but fortunately so far no damage has been reported," Crete regional governor Stavros Arnaoutakis told state TV ERT. The Athens observatory said the quake struck at 9:23 am (0723 GMT) and had a depth of over 70 kilometres (44 miles).
The tremor occurred a day after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake in Albania that has left more than 20 dead and hundreds injured. Shortly after the Albania tremor, a 5.4-magnitude shock hit Bosnia, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Center reported on Tuesday. Greece lies on major fault lines and is regularly hit by earthquakes but they rarely cause casualties. In July 2017, a 6.7-magnitude earthquake killed two people on the island of Kos in the Aegean sea, causing significant damage.
Athens, Oct 2, 2019 (AFP) - Greek workers staged a fresh 24-hour strike Wednesday against government plans to deregulate the labour market, paralysing road and rail transport, closing banks and shutting down news outlets. Buses and trams stayed in their depots, the Athens metro was shut down and ferries serving islands on both sides of Greece stayed in port. The action also hit rail services, including to Athens airport. Banks were closed Wednesday and Poesy, the journalists' union, said there would be no news bulletins over the 24-hour strike period.
The strike caused long traffic jams in Athens as the GSEE, the largest union representing private-sector workers, organised a rally in the city centre to protest the planned legislation. It denounced "the suppression of collective conventions" and what it said was an assault on the unions. This was the second strike in a week against the planned reforms of conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, which he argues will open the way to investment and encourage growth of more than two percent. A strike last week hit transport, hospitals, schools and the courts. The unions say the proposed reforms will undermine collective agreements and make it harder to organise strikes.
The proposed law would require a more-than 50 percent turn-out of the workforce in any strike vote for it to be valid. Union leaders have also denounced a law passed in August which they say makes it easier to sack people in the private sector. Adedy, the federation of public-sector unions, which organised last week's strike, called on its members to join Wednesday's action. Mitsotakis came to power in July, replacing the left-wing government of Alexis Tsipras.
Athens, Sept 15, 2019 (AFP) - More than 160 firefighters on Sunday battled to contain a large fire near Athens blazing for a second day amid gale force winds, officials said. And in another emergency, authorities evacuated dozens of people from two villages and a hotel on the island of Zakynthos after a new fire broke out on Sunday.
The fire department said the blaze near Athens burned in the mountains above Loutraki, a coastal resort some 60 kilometres (35 miles) west of Athens. "The fire is burning near the top of the mountain," Stefanos Kolokouris, the fire department's deputy chief of operations, told state TV ERT. "We are trying to create a perimeter but the terrain is very difficult, with ravines," he said. Four water bombers and six helicopters were participating in operations. Given a lack of roads in the area, two squads of firefighters had to be carried to the mountaintop by Super Puma helicopter, state agency ANA said. Officials had already evacuated 50 people from a local monastery when the fire broke out on Saturday, but stressed that other inhabited areas were not in danger.
On Zakynthos, officials ordered the evacuation of the villages of Agalas and Keri in the south of the island. Some 120 tourists were also relocated to a safe area. The Greek fire department on Sunday said it had been called to nearly 80 fires over the past 24 hours. It has already faced more than 9,600 rural and urban fires this year.
Athens, Aug 13, 2019 (AFP) - Dozens of firefighters Tuesday battled a major wildfire that forced the evacuation of a monastery on the Greek island of Evia as smoke from the blaze reached as far as Athens, authorities said. Authorities also placed on alert two villages threatened by the blaze on the island, Greece's second largest after Crete and located northeast of Athens. The fire started at about 3 am (0000 GMT) at the side of a road and was quickly spread by strong winds through the dry and dense vegetation in the centre of the island, the semi-official news agency ANA said.
The monastery of Panagia Makrymallis was evacuated as a precaution and residents of the villages of Kontodespoti and Stavros were told to be ready to leave also, TV SKAI said. "Everything is ready in case it is necessary to evacuate the villages. The evacuation can be done in a few minutes. We are totally prepared," Fani Spanos, the governor of central Greece who was coordinating the operations, told SKAI. He warned the fire was not yet under control and was spreading in an area that was inaccessible overland.
Around 80 firefighters were fighting the blaze backed by some 40 fire trucks and two water-bombing helicopters and a plane. The strong winds blew the smoke from the blazing pine forest north toward the Magnesia region and south to the Attica peninsula and Athens. ANA said the pine forests on Evia are part of the "Natura 2000" European network of protected areas and habitats. Greece has been hit by a spate of wildfires since the weekend amid gale-force winds and temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (104 F).
On Monday, a major forest fire threatening homes in Peania, an eastern suburb of Athens, was brought under control. At least two houses were burned but there were no reports of injuries. On Sunday, a fire on the small island of Elafonissos, in the Peloponnese region, was brought under control after a two-day battle. Two more fires were doused on Saturday in Marathon, close to Mati, the coastal resort where last year 102 people died in Greece's worst fire disaster.
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
By Briseida MEMA
Tirana, Nov 26, 2019 (AFP) - Six people died and some 150 were injured in Albania after the strongest earthquake in decades rocked the Balkan country early Tuesday, destroying buildings and burying victims in rubble.
The epicentre of the 6.4 magnitude quake was about 34 kilometres (about 20 miles) northwest of the capital Tirana, at a depth of 10 km, according to the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre. "We have victims," Prime Minister Edi Rama wrote on Twitter. "We are working to do everything possible in the affected areas." The quake struck at 3:54 am local time (0254 GMT) and sent panicked residents running out onto the streets of Tirana, with people huddling in the open, an AFP correspondent said.
The worst damage appeared to be around the coastal town of Durres. The quake was the strongest to hit this region since 1926, Albanian seismologist Rrapo Ormeni told local television. Three bodies were pulled from the ruins of damaged buildings in the port town, where a three-story hotel collapsed and other buildings were damaged, according to the defence ministry. The bodies of a man and a woman were uncovered in rubble in the nearby town of Thumane, the ministry said.
A man in his fifties died after he jumped out of his building in panic in the town of Kurbin, the defence ministry said. Some 300 armed forces personnel have rushed to Durres and Thumane for rescue operations, where "there are people trapped under the ruins", defence ministry spokeswoman Albana Qahajaj said.
In Thumane, around a dozen rescuers used an excavator to dig through a mountain of debris in search of possible victims. At least 150 people with injuries have sought first aid in Tirana and Durres, Health Minister Ogerta Manasterliu said.
- Trapped under rubble -
In Thumane, soldiers, rescuers and families were sifting through the rubble of a collapsed five-storey building as cries of people trapped under debris were heard, an AFP reporter said. Thoma Nika, a 58-year-old who lived in the building, said there were at least six people under rubble. Another man, Arben Allushi said with tears in his eyes, that his wife and niece missing after the building collapsed.
A man in Durres told local television that his daughter and niece were trapped in the rubble of a collapsed apartment building. "I talked with my daughter and niece on the phone. They said they are well and are waiting for the rescue. I could not talk to my wife. There are other families, but I could not talk to them," the man said.
The tremors were felt across the Balkan region, from Sarajevo to Bosnia and even in the Serbian city of Novi Sad almost 700 kilometres away, according to reports in local media and on social networks. It was followed by several aftershocks, including one of 5.3 magnitude, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre said. It was described by authorities as the strongest earthquake in the last 20-30 years. The Balkans is an area prone to seismic activity and earthquakes are frequent.
Tirana, Sept 21, 2019 (AFP) - Albania was rattled by its strongest earthquake in decades Saturday, officials said, sending people fleeing into the streets in several cities, damaging buildings and triggering power cuts in the capital. The epicentre of the shallow 5.6-magnitude quake, was near Durres, less than 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of the capital Tirana, according to the US Geological Survey.
Albania's defence ministry said it was the "strongest earthquake in the country in the last 20 to 30 years". "There are no deaths," defence ministry spokeswoman Albana Qajaj said. Some 80 people sought medical help in both Tirana and Durres, 21 of whom were hospitalised due to injuries caused by falling objects or parts of walls as well as for panic attacks, Health Minister Ogerta Manasterilu said. Qajaj told AFP that houses and buildings in Tirana had been damaged but were still standing and that the ministry was accessing damage in other towns and villages. Prime Minister Edi Rama cancelled his scheduled trip to the United States following the quake, which cut electricity and telephone lines in Tirana and a number of other towns and villages.
Many people remained outside their homes for several hours in the capital, fearful of aftershocks. "I fear to return because such a strong earthquake could be followed with others," Drita Lohja, a resident in her fifties, told AFP. Falling debris pulverised parked cars in parts of the city. AFP reporters and witnesses saw windows broken and deep fissures in the facades of buildings in Durres, as well as in the capital. Media reported that a large building in Tirana was seriously damaged and that residents were being evacuated. A University of Tirana building was also damaged, witnesses said.
According to local media reports, at least two people were lightly injured and a dozen houses collapsed in the village of Helmes, 10 kilometres from Tirana. Two other earthquakes followed the strong one that occurred at around 4:00 pm (1400 GMT) and was felt in neighbouring Montenegro and Italy, but also on the Greek island of Corfu according to some Twitter users.
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.
World Travel News Headlines
Moscow, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - More than 50 polar bears have gathered on the edge of a village in Russia's far north, environmentalists and residents said, as weak Arctic ice leaves them unable to roam. The Russian branch of the World Wildlife Fund said climate change was to blame, as unusually warm temperatures prevented coastal ice from forming. The WWF said 56 polar bears had gathered in a one-square-kilometre (0.4-square-mile) area near the village of Ryrkaipy in Chukotka on the north-eastern tip of Russia.
There were concerns they could enter the village, home to fewer than 1,000 people, and patrols had been set up to monitor their movements. "The number of human and predator encounters in the Arctic is increasing," the WWF said in statement. "The main reason is the decline of sea ice area due to the changing climate. In the absence of ice cover, animals are forced to go ashore in search of food."
Residents had gathered walrus carcasses in the area to try to keep the bears from wandering into the village. "We have created a feeding point with walrus carcasses that we gathered along the coast," Tatyana Minenko of the local "Bear Patrol" told news agency RIA Novosti. "As long as there is no big freeze, the sea ice will not form and the bears will stay on the coast," she said.
Russia's weather service said temperatures in the region should fall from Saturday and that coastal ice should freeze by December 11. Polar bears regularly visit areas inhabited by humans in Arctic Russia to search for food, often in rubbish tips. But the number of visits has been growing as the melting of Arctic ice from climate change forces the bears to spend more time on land where they compete for food.
By Joseph Schmid
Paris, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - Travellers across France endured a second day of chaos on Friday as unions vowed to keep up their strike until President Emmanuel Macron backs down on controversial pension overhauls. Rail operator SNCF said 90 percent of high-speed TGV trains were again cancelled, and several airlines dropped flights including Air France, EasyJet and Ryanair.
Nine of the capital's 16 metro lines were shut and most others severely disrupted, sparking some 350 kilometres (220 miles) of traffic jams in the Paris region, well above the usual 200 km, the traffic website Sytadin reported. Many employees were unable to get to work and several schools again provided only daycare, though fewer teachers were on strike compared with Thursday when some 800,000 people demonstrated across the country according to the interior ministry. Bike paths were crowded with bikes and electric scooters, with metro operator RATP sponsoring special deals for commuters with a range of ride-hailing companies and other transportation alternatives.
The walkout is the latest test for Macron after months of protests from teachers, hospital workers, police and firefighters as well as the "yellow vest" movement demanding improved living standards. Unions say his "universal" pension system, which would eliminate dozens of separate plans for public workers, forces millions of people in both public and private sectors to work well beyond the legal retirement age of 62. Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said Friday that the government had "heard" the protesters' anger and would meet with union leaders to discuss the reform on Monday. The government has yet to lay out the details of its plan, and Buzyn told Europe 1 radio that "there is indeed a discussion going on about who will be affected, what age it kicks in, which generations will be concerned -- all that is still on the table".
- Macron 'determined' -
Yves Veyrier, head of the hardline FO union, warned Thursday the strike could last at least until Monday if the government did not take the right action. But it remains to be seen if the protests will match the magnitude of the 1995 strikes against pension overhauls, when France was paralysed for three weeks from November to December in an action that forced the government to back down.
Macron, a former investment banker, has largely succeeded in pushing through a series of controversial reforms, including loosening labour laws and tightening access to unemployment benefits. But this is the first time the various disgruntled groups have come together in protest. So far Macron has not spoken publicly on the stoppages though a presidential official, who asked not to be named, said Thursday that the president was "calm" and "determined to carry out this reform" in a mood of "listening and consultation".
While most of Thursday's rallies were peaceful, police fired tear gas to disperse dozens of black-clad protesters smashing windows and throwing stones during the Paris march, with one construction trailer set on fire. Sporadic clashes were also reported in some other cities. Many people were bracing for further disruptions over the weekend, including the prospect of fuel shortages as unions blocked most of the country's eight oil refineries.
The minimum pension age in France is 62, one of the lowest among developed countries, but there are 42 "special regimes" for railway workers, lawyers, opera employees and others offering earlier retirements and other benefits. The government says a single system will be fairer for everyone while ensuring its financial viability while acknowledging that people will gradually have to work longer.
Sydney, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - Three hundred animals have been evacuated from a wildlife park north of Sydney as massive bushfires encircled Australia's largest city and foreign firefighters arrived to relieve beleaguered local forces. Walkabout Wildlife Park said it had shipped out lizards, dingoes, peacocks and marsupials, as firefighters battled more than 100 fires up and down the eastern seaboard. "This fire has been doing some crazy things, so we have to be prepared," general manager Tassin Barnard told AFP.
Prolonged drought has left much of eastern Australia tinder dry and spot fires have raged every day for the past three months, leaving firefighters struggling to cope. New South Wales rural fire chief Shane Fitzsimmons said Friday that some US and Canadian firefighters had arrived to help out, easing the strain on the exhausted largely volunteer Australian force.
The incident-management and aviation specialists will help ease "fatigue and crew rotations" he said. "We are not only appreciative of their presence here today, but of their sacrifice," said Fitzsimmons -- who has become a fixture on Australian television screens for weeks, updating the public on blazes in towns, national parks and backwaters. "They are volunteering to sacrifice time from loved ones, from families, to give up that special time of the year around Christmas and New Year to come down here and lend us a hand," he said.
More than 600 homes have been destroyed and six people have died since the crisis began in September. That is many fewer than Australia's deadliest recent fire season in 2009 when almost 200 people died, but 2019's toll belies the scale of devastation. Millions of hectares have burned -- the size of some small countries -- across a region spanning hundreds of kilometres (miles). Bushfires are common in Australia but scientists say this year's season has come earlier and with more intensity due to a prolonged drought and climatic conditions fuelled by global warming.
The fires have taken a toll in Sydney and other major cities, which have been blanketed in toxic smoke for weeks and occasionally sprinkled with snow-like embers. Fitzsimmons said he could not "overstate the effect that this profound drought is having" as he warned of a long, painful summer ahead. "There is an absolute lack of moisture in the soil, a lack of moisture in the vegetation... you are seeing fires started very easily and they are spreading extremely quickly, and they are burning ridiculously intensely."
By Pierre-Henry DESHAYES
Half Moon Island, Antarctica, Dec 6, 2019 (AFP) - The swimsuit-clad tourists leap into the icy water, gasping at the shock, and startling a gaggle of penguins. They are spectators at the end of the world, luxury visitors experiencing a vulnerable ecosystem close-up. And their very presence might accelerate its demise. Antarctica, a vast territory belonging to no one nation, is a continent of extremes: the coldest place on Earth, the windiest, the driest, the most desolate and the most inhospitable. Now, it's also a choice destination for tourists.
All around Half Moon Island, off the Antarctic Peninsula, blocks of ice of all sizes float by on a calm sea, their varying forms resembling weightless origami shapes. On this strip of land, that juts out of the Antarctic Polar and towards South America, visitors can see wildlife normally only viewed in zoos or nature documentaries along with spectacular icy landscapes. The ethereal shades of white that play across the pillowy peaks change with the light, acquiring pastel hues at dawn and dusk. "Purity, grandeur, a scale that's out of this world," says Helene Brunet, an awestruck 63-year-old French pensioner, enjoying the scene. "It's unbelievable, totally unbelievable. It's amazing just to be here, like a small speck of dust."
AFP joined the 430 passengers on board the Roald Amundsen, the world's first hybrid electric cruise ship, on its maiden voyage in the Southern Ocean. "It's not your typical beach, but it's awesome to do it," says a numb Even Carlsen, 58, from Norway, emerging from his polar plunge in the three-degree C (37.4 F) water. When tourists go ashore, bundled up in neon-coloured windbreakers and slathered in SPF50 sunscreen, they have to follow strict rules: clean your personal effects so you don't introduce invasive species, keep a respectful distance from wildlife to avoid distressing them, don't stray from the marked paths and don't pick up anything. "We mucked up the rest of the world. We don't want to muck up Antarctica too," says an English tourist, as she vacuums cat hair off her clothes before going ashore.
- 'Heart of the Earth' -
The Antarctic peninsula is one of the regions on Earth that is warming the fastest, by almost three degrees Celsius in the past 50 years, according to the World Meteorological Organization -- three times faster than the global average. In March 2015, an Argentinian research station registered a balmy 17.5 degrees Celsius, a record. "Every year you can observe and record the melting of glaciers, the disappearance of sea ice... (and) in areas without ice, the recolonisation of plants and other organisms that were not present in Antarctica before," said Marcelo Leppe, director of the Chilean Antarctic Institute.
Antarctica is "like the heart of the Earth," he added, saying that it expands and contracts like a heart beating, while the mighty current which revolves around the continent is like a circulatory system as it absorbs warm currents from other oceans and redistributes cold water. The Antarctic Treaty, signed 60 years ago by 12 countries -- it now has 54 signatories -- declared the area a continent dedicated to peace and science, but tourism has gradually increased, with a sharp rise in the past few years. Tourism is the only commercial activity allowed, apart from fishing -- the subject of international disputes over marine sanctuaries -- and is concentrated mainly around the peninsula, which has a milder climate than the rest of the continent and is easier to access.
Cruise ships have roamed the region for around 50 years, but their numbers only started to increase from 1990, as Soviet ice-breakers found new purposes in the post-Cold War era. Some 78,500 people are expected to visit the region between November and March, according to the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO). That's a 40-percent increase from last year, due in part to short visits by a few new cruise ships carrying more than 500 passengers, too many to disembark under IAATO regulations. "Some might say 'Well, 80,000 people, that doesn't even fill a national stadium'... (and that it) is nothing like Galapagos which welcomes 275,000 a year," says IAATO spokeswoman Amanda Lynnes. "But Antarctica is a special place and you need to manage it accordingly."
- 'Leave Antarctica to the penguins' -
It is Antarctica's very vulnerability that is attracting more and more visitors. "We want to see this fantastic nature in Antarctica before it's gone," Guido Hofken, a 52-year-old IT sales director travelling with his wife Martina, says. They said they had paid a supplement to climate compensate for their flight from Germany.
But some question whether tourists should be going to the region at all. "The continent probably would be better off being left to penguins and researchers, but the reality is, that is probably never going to happen," said Michael Hall, professor and expert on polar regions at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. "Vicarious appreciation never seems to be enough for humans. So with that being the case, it needs to be made as low risk to the Antarctic environment and as low carbon as possible," said Hall. "However, when the average tourist trip to Antarctica is over five tonnes of CO2 emissions per passenger (including flights), that is a serious ask."
Soot or black carbon in the exhaust gases of the scientific and cruise ships going to the region is also of concern, said Soenke Diesener, transport policy officer at German conservation NGO Nabu. "These particles will deposit on snow and ice surfaces and accelerate the melting of the ice because the ice gets darker and will absorb the heat from the sun and will melt much faster," he told AFP. "So the people who go there to observe or preserve the landscape are bringing danger to the area, and leave it less pristine than it was," he added.
- Responsible tourism -
Antarctic tour operators insist they are promoting responsible tourism. The trend is for more intimate, so-called expedition cruises, in contrast to popular giant cruise liners elsewhere which are criticised for being invasive and polluting. With greener ships -- heavy fuel, the most commonly used for marine vessels, has been banned in Antarctica since 2011 -- cruise companies have sought to make environmental awareness a selling point, occasionally earning them accusations of greenwashing.
Global warming, pollution and microplastics are the result of human activities on other, faraway continents, say tour operators. Here, their motto is "Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints, keep nothing but memories". But before they've even set foot on the cruise ships departing from South America -- the most common itinerary -- visitors to Antarctica will already have flown across the world, causing emissions that harm the very nature they have come so far to admire.
Most visitors hail from the Northern Hemisphere, and almost half are from the United States and China, IAATO says. "I'm a tourist who feels a little guilty about taking a flight to come here," admits Francoise Lapeyre, a 58-year-old globetrotter om France. "But then again, there are priorities. There are some trips I just won't take, because they leave a big footprint and they're not worth it. "Crisscrossing the planet to go to a beach for example," she says.
- Don't mention climate change -
Like other expedition cruises where accessible science is part of their trademark, the Roald Amundsen, owned by the Hurtigruten company, has no dance floor or casino. Instead, there are microscopes, science events and lectures about whales and explorers like Charles Darwin. But they steer clear of climate change, which is only mentioned indirectly. That's a deliberate decision as the subject has proven "quite controversial", said Verena Meraldi, Hurtigruten's science coordinator. "We held several lectures dedicated specifically to climate change but it leads to conflicts. There are people who accept it as a fact, others who don't," she said. Onboard, "passengers" are referred to as "guests" and "explorers" rather than "cruisers". "Explorers" are typically older, well-heeled, often highly travelled pensioners who are handed walking sticks as they step ashore. "My 107th country," says a Dane, stepping ashore onto Antarctica.
The Roald Amundsen "guests" choose between three restaurants, from street food to fine dining -- a far cry from the conditions endured by the Norwegian adventurer for whom the ship is named, who had to eat his sled dogs to survive his quest to reach the South Pole in 1911. They have paid at least 7,000 euros ($7,700) each for an 18-day cruise in a standard cabin, and up to 25,000 euros ($27,500) for a suite with a balcony and private jacuzzi. Other cruises are banking on ultra-luxury, with James Bond-like ships equipped with helicopters and submarines, suites of more than 200 square metres (2,153 square feet) and butler services. With a seaplane to boot, the mega-yacht SeaDream Innovation will offer 88-day cruises "from Pole to Pole" starting in 2021. The two most expensive suites, with a price tag of 135,000 euros per person, are already booked.
Outside, in the deafening silence, wildlife abounds. All around are penguins, as awkward on land as they are agile in water. Massive and majestic whales slip through the waves, and sea lions and seals laze in the sun. On Half Moon Island, chinstrap penguins -- so called because of a black stripe on their chin -- strut about in this spring breeding season, raising their beaks and screeching from their rocky nests. "This is to tell other males 'This is my space' and also, maybe, 'This is my female'," ornithologist Rebecca Hodgkiss, a member of the Hurtigruten's scientific team, explains, as a group of tourists stroll around ashore. The colony of 2,500 penguins has been gradually declining over the years, but it's not known if that is man's fault or they have just moved away, according to Karin Strand, Hurtigruten's vice president for expeditions. Invisible to the naked eye, traces of humankind are however to be found in the pristine landscape. Not a single piece of rubbish is in sight but microplastics are everywhere, swept in on ocean currents. "We've detected them in the eggs of penguins for example," Leppe told AFP.
- Venice under water -
The Antarctic, which holds the world's largest reserve of freshwater, is a ticking time bomb, warn experts and studies. They say that the future of millions of people and species in coastal areas around the world depends on what is happening here. As a result of global warming, the melting ice sheet -- especially in the western part of the continent -- will increasingly contribute to rising sea levels, radically re-drawing the map of the world, says climate scientist Anders Levermann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. This meltwater will contribute 50 centimetres (almost 20 inches) to the global sea level rise by 2100, and much more after that, he said. "For every degree of warming, we get 2.5 metres of sea level rise. Not in this century, but in the long run," he said.
Even if the international community meets its obligations under the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to under two degrees Celsius, sea levels will still rise by at least five metres. "Which means that Venice is under water, Hamburg is under water, New York, Shanghai, Calcutta," he said. It's impossible to predict when, but the scenario appears unavoidable, says Levermann. In the same way that a cruise ship powering ahead at full speed can't immediately stop, sea levels will continue to rise even if all greenhouse gas emissions were to cease immediately, a study has said.
- Changing the world? -
The tourism industry says it hopes to make "ambassadors" out of Antarctica visitors. "It's good for the animal life and for the protection of Antarctica that people see how beautiful this area is, because you cherish what you know and understand," said Hurtigruten chief executive Daniel Skjeldam. Texan tourist Mark Halvorson, 72, says he is convinced. "Having seen it, I am that much more committed to having a very high priority in my politics, in my own inner core convictions to being as environmentally friendly in my life as I can," he said. So, do Guido and Martina Hofken see themselves as future "ambassadors of Antarctica"? "Just a little bit, probably. But I don't think I will change the world," Guido Hofken concedes. "The best thing would be for nobody to travel to Antarctica."
Paris, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - French rail operator SNCF said Thursday that it had cancelled 90 percent of all high-speed TGV trains and 70 percent of regional trains for Friday due to a strike over the government's pension reforms. SNCF said that services would "still be very disrupted" on the second day of the biggest transport strike in the country in years, with the Eurostar service to Britain and the Thalys service to northern Europe set to be "very heavily disrupted". In Paris, where only two of 16 metro lines were operating normally Thursday, public transport workers voted to remain on strike until Monday.
France's civil aviation authority meanwhile told airlines to cut 20 percent of their flights in and out of airports in Paris, Beauvais, Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse and Bordeaux on Friday, the same proportion as on Thursday. Striking transport workers, air traffic controllers, teachers, fire fighters, lawyers and other groups all fear they will have to work longer or receive reduced pensions under the government's proposal to scrap 42 special pension schemes and replace them with a single plan. Anticipating the worst travel chaos in years, many employees opted to work from home on Thursday. Those who did venture out travelled mainly by car, bicycle, electric scooter or on foot.
By Sofia CHRISTENSEN
Johannesburg, Dec 5, 2019 (AFP) - South African Airways was placed under a state-approved rescue plan on Thursday to avoid the embattled airline's collapse following a costly week-long strike last month. Thousands of South African Airways (SAA) staff walked out on November 15 after the flag carrier failed to meet a string of demands, including higher wages and job in-sourcing. The strike was called off the following week after SAA management and unions eventually clinched a deal.
But the walkout dealt a severe blow to the debt-ridden airline, which has failed to make a profit since 2011 and survives on government bailouts. "The Board of SAA has adopted a resolution to place the company into business rescue," said a statement by South Africa's Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, adding that the decision was also supported by the government. "It must be clear that this is not a bailout," said Gordhan. "This is the provision of financial assistance in order to facilitate a radical restructure of the airline." The business rescue process will be directed by an independent practitioner. It is meant to prevent a "disorderly collapse of the airline", he added. Gordhan said the government would provide 2 billion rand ($136 million) to SAA in "a fiscally neutral manner". Existing lenders will also provide a 2 billion rand loan guaranteed by the government.
- 'Financial challenges' -
South Africa is struggling to get state-owned companies back on track after nine years of corruption and mismanagement under former president Jacob Zuma. Its national airline -- which employs more than 5,000 workers and is Africa's second largest airline after Ethiopian Airlines -- had been losing 52 million rand ($3.5 million) a day during the strike. SAA's board said the business rescue, scheduled to start immediately, was decided after consultations with shareholders and the public enterprises department "to find a solution to our company's well-documented financial challenges".
"The considered and unanimous conclusion has been to place the company into business rescue in order to create a better return for the company's creditors and shareholders," said the SAA board of directors in a statement. The rescue plan will include a "new provisional timetable" and ensure "selected activities... continue operating successfully". With a fleet of more than 50 aircraft, SAA flies to over 35 domestic and international destinations. "SAA understand that this decision presents many challenges and uncertainties for its staff," said the board. "The company will engage in targeted communication and support for all its employee groups at this difficult time.
- 'Lesser evil' -
Unions told AFP they would comment later on Thursday. They have agreed to a 5.9-percent wage increase backdated to April, but which would only start to be paid out next March depending on funding. SAA had initially refused any pay rise. The cash-strapped airline needs two billion rand ($136 million) to fund operations through the end of March. But it was unable to cover all of its staff salaries last month. "Business rescue allows for the airline to continue to operate while it is being restructured, as opposed to liquidation," analyst Daniel Silke told AFP. He said the rescue was a "lesser evil for SAA" and would save more jobs than a "shutdown".
But Silke still expected jobs to be cut as SAA attempted to reduce costs. "Various divisions that make of SAA could be privatised," he said. "There will be a review of SAA aircraft and routes covered by SAA." Unions had already demanded a three-year guarantee of job security following an announcement last month that almost 1,000 SAA employees could lose their jobs as part of another restructuring plan. SAA pledged to defer that process to the end of January as part of the deal that ended the strike.