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Greece

Background
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
within western Europe and a short flight away from many of the cooler northern destinations - like Ireland. Travellers from these regions descent on Greece in very significant numbers each year and for the vast majority of them they will have a splendid and healthy time. However for some this may not be the case and serious illness and accidents are regularly reported. Following some commonsense rules would go a long way to avoiding disaster and ensuring that this trip is truly one to be remembered for all the right reasons.
Climate
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.
Insect bites
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.
Animal bites
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.
Swimming
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.
Summary
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

6th December, 2019
HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre

On 27/11/2019, a possible case of diphtheria was reported to the Department of Epidemiological Surveillance and Intervention through the Mandatory Notification System in Greece. It concerned an 8 years old boy of Greek nationality, who was hospitalized in the ICU of General Children's Hospital  where he died.  This child had underlying conditions (severe pulmonary hypertension) and was admitted to ICU  on 22/11/2019 with clinical presentation of laryngitis (without the presence of characteristic pseudo membranes) and pneumonia, immediately intubated, covered with double antibiotic regimen and died due to deterioration of his clinical presentation on 26/11/2019.
 
According to the epidemiological data given , there is no travel history, group living, no connection to another case and the child does not belong to a specific population group. Regarding his immunization status, the child was vaccinated with at least 3 doses against diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis.
 
Laboratory investigation of bronchial exudate isolated Corynebacterium diphtheriae via VITEK. Further laboratory testing was performed by the Public Health England  reference Laboratory for Corynebacteria. On Thursday 5/12/2019, the National Public Health Organization was informed that multiplex PCR testing was positive for C. Diphtheriae and positive for the diphtheria toxin gene. The Elek test was also positive for toxin production. The results of the child's post-mortem exam are pending.

Contact tracing and management is ongoing and has identified most of the close contacts of the patient. The National Public Health Organization provided recommendations on obtaining nasopharyngeal cultures in close contacts to evaluate carriage as well as the necessary preventive measures to protect the child's close contacts as well as the medical staff involved in direct patient care (i.e. awareness for potential compatible with diphtheria symptoms and administration of antibiotic prophylaxis together with booster or complete vaccination series as appropriate) according to the WHO’s Diphtheria Surveillance Standards (September 2018). In addition we have initiated the procedure for the procurement of a limited stockpile of DAT.
Date: Wed, 27 Nov 2019 09:20:47 +0100 (MET)

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.
Date: Wed, 2 Oct 2019 12:31:30 +0200 (METDST)

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.
Date: Thu 12 Sep 2019, 7:54 PM
Source: Ekathimerini [edited]

The death toll from the West Nile virus since June this year has risen to 20, according to this week's report by the National Health Organization (EODY).

Up until [12 Sep 2019], authorities had diagnosed a total of 176 cases of the mosquito-borne virus. Of these, 109 developed illnesses affecting the central nervous system such as encephalitis or meningitis.

EODY is urging the public to spray insect repellent on bare skin and clothing, to install mosquito nets and screens, to remove stagnant water from basins, vases and gutters, to regularly mow lawns and to water plants in the morning.
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[The first report mentions 20 fatal human cases as compared to the latest ECDC update that mentions 19 and the total case number is 176 versus 171 (ECDC report).

West Nile fever is a disease caused by West Nile Virus (WNV), which is a _Flavivirus_ related to the viruses that cause St. Louis encephalitis, Japanese encephalitis, and yellow fever. It causes disease in humans, horses, and several species of birds. Most infected individuals show few signs of illness, but some develop severe neurological illness which can be fatal. West Nile Virus has an extremely broad host range. It replicates in birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, mosquitoes and ticks <https://www.oie.int/doc/ged/D14013.PDF>.

The reservoir of the virus is in birds. Mosquitoes become infected when they bite an infected bird ingesting the virus in the blood. The mosquitoes act as carriers (vectors) spreading the virus from an infected bird to other birds and to other animals. Infection of other animals (e.g. horses, and also humans) is incidental to the cycle [as also evident in the ECDC update above] in birds since most mammals do not develop enough virus in the bloodstream to spread the disease.

Key to preventing the spread of West Nile fever is to control mosquito populations. Horses should be protected from exposure to mosquitoes. Likewise, people should avoid exposure to mosquitoes especially at dusk and dawn when they are most active, use insect screens and insect repellents, and limit places for mosquitoes to breed. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[HealthMap/ProMED maps available at:
Date: Sun, 15 Sep 2019 15:38:29 +0200 (METDST)

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.
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Liberia

Liberia - US Consular Information Sheet
February 21, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Liberia is a country in West Africa that suffered from years of instability and conflict from 1990 - 2003, with attendant destruction of buildings, roads, and infras
ructure and public institutions.
A comprehensive peace accord ended the conflict in August 2003 and a United Nations peacekeeping force (UNMIL) was deployed to facilitate disarmament and demobilization, help arrange democratic elections and provide for security of the country.
In late 2005, Liberians went to the polls and elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as president.
The new government was inaugurated in January 2006, and has made tremendous progress towards restoring security and stability to the country.

Despite nearly four years of peace and a renewal of economic growth, Liberia is still one of the poorest countries in the world and many basic services (public power, water and sewage, land line phones) are either limited or unavailable.
Facilities for foreign visitors are adequate in the capital, Monrovia, but virtually non-existent in the rest of the country.
The official language of Liberia is English.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Liberia for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport and a visa are required for entry, as is evidence of a yellow fever vaccination and a physician's letter attesting to absence of communicable diseases.
Visa applicants may also be asked to provide evidence of health insurance.
Immigration officials no longer issue visas at the airport.
Persons arriving without a visa may be deported immediately, without leaving the airport.
Persons arriving from the United States must obtain a Liberian visa before traveling.
There is a US $25 airport tax on departing passengers, although this is usually collected as part of the ticket price.
For the latest information on entry requirements, visa fees and airport tax for Liberia, contact the Embassy of the Republic of Liberia, 5201 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20011, tel. (202) 723-0437, web site www.embassyofliberia.org.
Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest Liberian embassy or consulate.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.
For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to plan proposed travel to Liberia carefully and to exercise caution when traveling in Liberia.
Neither public transport nor taxis are available at the international airport, which is located 40 miles outside of Monrovia; therefore, before traveling to Liberia, Americans are urged to make arrangements for transportation from the international airport into the city center.
Americans traveling to Liberia are also urged to ensure that they have confirmed reservations at a reputable hotel, as rooms can be scarce and difficult to find without advance plans.

Americans who travel to or reside in Liberia should realize that Liberia's police force is in the process of being rebuilt.
There is a UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), but its mandate is to ensure political stability in Liberia.
Americans who travel around Liberia must realize that the role of UN Police (UNPOL) officers is to serve as advisors to the Liberia National Police. Accordingly, they do not have the authority to arrest or detain, and they are unarmed.
The Liberia National Police, for its part, has a limited presence in Monrovia, and even less of a presence outside of Monrovia.
In addition, police officers can be a source of problems for visitors as well as a source of aid or assistance.
Although problems with corruption have improved, travelers may be detained by police officers who solicit bribes.
Americans are encouraged to carry a photocopy of their passports with them at all times so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available.
If detained or arrested, U.S. citizens should always ask to be allowed to contact the U.S. Embassy.

U.S. citizens in Liberia should be aware of their surroundings at all times and use caution when moving around, especially at night.
The U.S. Embassy recommends that American citizens observe a suggested curfew of 2:00 a.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Travel outside of Monrovia after dark is strongly discouraged as roads are in poor condition and thus dangerous to navigate at night.
U.S. citizens should avoid crowds, political rallies, and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Internet web site, where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts can be found. Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.
These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME:
Crime in Liberia is rated high and is exacerbated by the high rate of unemployment.
Theft, assault, sexual crimes, and murder are problems, and they occur more frequently after dark.
Foreigners, including U.S. citizens, have been targets of street crime, robbery, and sexual assault.
Women have been attacked on deserted beaches.
Residential armed break-ins occur.
The police are ill equipped and largely incapable of providing effective protection or investigation.
Criminal activity is reported in both urban and rural areas.

Perpetrators of business fraud often target foreigners, including Americans.
Formerly associated with Nigeria, these fraud schemes are now prevalent throughout western Africa, including Liberia, and pose a danger of both financial loss and physical harm.
An increasing number of American citizens have been the targets of such scams.
The best way to avoid becoming a victim of fraud is common sense – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Any unsolicited business proposal originating in Liberia should be carefully checked before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel.
There is also an increase in Liberian/American Internet relationships, where there are eventual requests for financial assistance under fraudulent pretenses.
For additional information, please see the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure International Financial Scams.

Petty corruption is rampant; poorly paid government officials are not immune from the temptation to collect fees for doing their job.
The result is that travelers may be asked for bribes and inconvenienced for not paying them.

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.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Hospitals and medical facilities in Liberia are very poorly equipped and are incapable of providing many services.
Emergency services comparable to those in the U.S. or Europe are non-existent, and the blood supply is unreliable and unsafe for transfusion.
Americans with serious medical problems travel or are medically evacuated to the United States, Europe or South Africa.
Medicines are scarce, often beyond expiration dates, and generally unavailable in most areas.
As there is neither an effective garbage removal service nor a functioning sewer system, the level of sanitation throughout urban areas is very poor, which increases the potential for disease.
Upper respiratory infections and diarrhea are common, as well as the more serious diseases, typhoid and malaria.
All travelers to Liberia must be vaccinated against yellow fever and should carry a supply of all prescription medication, plus anti-malaria medication, adequate for their entire stay.
A typhoid vaccination is also recommended.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
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.
For travel to Liberia, obtaining separate medical evacuation insurance before arriving in Liberia is strongly recommended.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
SWIMMING HAZARD:
Liberia has many excellent beaches along the Atlantic coastline that tourist and those who live in the country enjoy throughout the year, however American citizens should be aware of the threat of dangerous rip currents better known as rip tides.
These strong currents can occur anywhere on the coast given the right surf conditions.
The Liberia Weather Service does not provide information on where and when these tides form and there are no lifeguards posted on beaches.
American citizens who plan to swim in the Atlantic should read from various sources e about the dangers of rip currents and how to navigate if you find yourself in such a situation; or better still do not swim if you are unfamiliar with swimming in water where very strong rip currents occur.

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 Liberia is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Road travel in Liberia can be hazardous.
Potholes and poor road surfaces are common, making safe driving extremely challenging.
Cars, trucks, and taxis are often overloaded with people and goods and make frequent stops without signaling.
Drivers overtake on the right as well as the left.
Many vehicles operate with threadbare tires, and blowouts are frequent.
Public taxis are poorly maintained and usually overloaded.
Intersections must be approached with caution.
The absence of public streetlights makes pedestrians walking in the city streets and those walking on country roads difficult to see at night.
Drivers and pedestrians are cautioned that high-speed car convoys carrying government officials require all other vehicles to pull off the road until they have passed.

Travelers should expect delays at UNMIL security checkpoints, as well as time-consuming detours around the many bridges and roads damaged by war, neglect, or the heavy annual rains, which occur from May to November.
Travelers can expect strict enforcement of border controls by Liberian, Ivorian, Sierra Leonean, and Guinean authorities.
At times border crossings to neighboring countries are closed.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service between the United States and Liberia, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Liberia’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Lodging, fuel, transportation, and telephone services are unevenly available in Liberia, and are nonexistent or severely limited in rural areas.
Neither water nor electricity is commercially available in Liberia, including the capital of Monrovia.
Most hotels have utilities available, but not always on a 24-hour basis.
There is no working landline telephone system in Liberia.
Several cell phone companies provide service in Monrovia and some areas outside the capital.
US cellular phones do not always work in Liberia and it is advisable to rent or purchase a local cellular phone.
The postal system is slow and unreliable.
Commercial air courier service is available through UPS, Federal Express (FedEx), and other companies.

The U.S. dollar is readily accepted in Liberia, and there is no limit on the amount of foreign currency that can be transported into and out of the country, provided one follows the specific regulations on how such transfers must be done.
Sums in excess of US $10,000 must be reported at the port of entry and no more than US $7,500 in foreign currency banknotes can be moved out of the country at one time.
Larger sums must be transferred via bank drafts or other financial instruments; persons without a Liberian bank account are limited to two outgoing US $5,000 over-the-counter cash wire transfers per month.
Wire transfers are not widely used and are subject to substantial fees.
ATMs are unavailable and Traveler's checks and credit/debit cards are not accepted anywhere in Liberia.

Photographing military installations, air and seaports, and important government buildings is prohibited.
Visitors should not take photographs of sites or activities that might be considered sensitive, or police are liable to confiscate the camera.

Please see our information on 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 Liberian law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Liberia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
The U.S. Embassy does not always receive timely notification of the arrest of U.S. citizens by Liberian authorities.
If arrested, U.S. citizens should ask to be allowed to contact the U.S. Embassy (see the Registration/Embassy Location section below).
Americans should carry a photocopy of their U.S. passport with them at all times.
The consular section of the U.S. Embassy cannot give legal assistance but can provide a list of Liberian attorneys if one is required.
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.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children’s Issues web pages.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Liberia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Liberia.
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 111 United Nations Drive, Mamba Point, Monrovia; telephone 231-77-054-826; fax 231-77-010-370; web site http://monrovia.usembassy.gov.
U.S. citizens who wish to write to the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia may address letters to the Consular Section, 8800 Monrovia Place, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20521-8800, or send emails to ConsularMonrovia@state.gov.
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This replaces the Consular Information Sheet on Liberia dated June 15, 2007 to include a caution on swimming at local beaches.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Tue 3 Dec 2019
Source: Liberian Observer [edited]

A report reaching the Daily Observer from the Nimba County Health Team said that Lassa fever is becoming alarming, with 9 cases confirmed, out of which 3 persons have died.

The county health surveillance officer, Isaac Cole, told reporters in Nimba that 3 districts, including Sanniquellie Mahn, Saclepea, and Tappita have been declared as the "epicenters" of the deadly disease.

Of the 3 districts, Cole said Sanniquellie Mahn is the worst-affected area, where over 30 cases of suspected Lassa cases were registered and 9 confirmed, and from where the 3 deaths are recorded.

He has meanwhile warned locals to avoid rodents (rats) by thoroughly cleaning their surroundings to stop the flow of rats in their homes. The county health team is therefore calling on residents to report any suspected case, particularly people who may have developed prolonged fever, to any of the nearest health facilities. Residents are also advised not to bury the dead (suspected Lassa fever patients) without referencing trained medical practitioners.

"Protect your food from rats, and also avoid touching them at all times should you encounter one," he added.

Lassa fever, also known as Lassa hemorrhagic fever (LHF), is a type of viral hemorrhagic fever caused by the Lassa virus. Many of those infected by the virus do not show symptoms early on. When symptoms do occur, they typically include fever, weakness, headaches, vomiting, and muscle pains.  [Byline: Ishmael F. Menkor]
===================
[The occurrence of Lassa fever cases in Liberia is continuing with the confirmation of 9 new cases. The previous ProMED-mail post reported that according to MoH data, a total of 92 suspected cases between 1 Jan-25 Aug 2019, including 21 deaths, have been reported. Of these, 25 cases have been confirmed by RT-PCR (Nimba (9), Bong (10), Grand Bassa (5), and Grand Kru (1)), while 9 remain suspected cases, the release recorded. The case-fatality rate among confirmed cases in that report was stated as 36% (9 deaths out of 25 confirmed cases). Males are mostly affected by the disease (56%) of confirmed cases as compared to females.

Occurrence of Lassa fever cases in areas outside the usual "Lassa fever belt" is of concern, and the Ministry of Health is wise to increase public information and advise citizens about measures that should be taken to avoid infection with the virus. Occurrence of Lassa fever in Liberia is not new, and cases have occurred there sporadically for several years. Between 1 Jan and 27 Jun 2018, 20 cases were laboratory confirmed (see archive no. http://promedmail.org/post/20180711.5898495). Apparently, all those Lassa fever virus infections were acquired by contact with infected rodents or their excretions. Lassa fever virus can be acquired from infected rodents or patients in the hospital. Transmission can occur in health facilities when personal protective equipment is not employed or barrier-nursing practices or biocontainment facilities in the laboratory are not adequate to protect staff from blood and secretions of infected patients.

As mentioned in previous posts, Lassa fever virus transmission to humans occurs when people are in contact with the reservoir rodent host, the multimammate mouse (_Mastomys natalensis_ and _M. erythroleucus_) and the African wood mouse (_Hylomycus pamfi_) or their excreta, as was likely the situation in many of these cases. Rodent control has to be undertaken at the village level with individual households employing the preventive measures listed above. This requires an extensive and continuous public education effort.

Images of the _Mastomys natalensis_ mouse, the rodent reservoir of Lassa fever virus, can be seen at <https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/45326-Mastomys-natalensis> and of _M. erythroleucus_ and _Hylomycus pamfi_ at <http://punchng.com/nigerias-large-rat-population-threatens-lassa-fever-war/>. - ProMED Mod.TY]

Date: Mon, 23 Sep 2019 19:35:57 +0200 (METDST)

Monrovia, Sept 23, 2019 (AFP) - More than 10,000 Liberian health workers began a strike Monday to demand salary arrears and regular supplies of medicine and equipment in a country ravaged by civil war and an Ebola epidemic.   Battered two back-to-back civil wars and then in 2014-16 by the worst Ebola epidemic in history, Liberia's health sector is on its knees.   The crumbling infrastructure lacks almost everything -- medicine, beds, equipment, ambulances, even a reliable electricity supply.   "We are striking because we do not have medicines in the hospitals, no materials like gloves to protect ourselves before treating the patients which is dangerous for us, the laboratories are unequipped.... until today most of the workers have not got their July salaries," George Williams, secretary general of the Health Workers Association, told AFP.   "We have realised the exchange rate with the US dollar is so terrible, and these salaries we are making are the same we have been making since eight years, the cost of living has tripled," he said.   State-run hospitals and clinics were closed, sparking protests from patients in Monrovia.   Some 40 pregnant and sick women blocked a road in the northern suburb of Paynesville, shouting slogans.   "I don't have money; I am not rich like the big people, so I cannot afford to go in any private clinic. I am eight months pregnant," Annie Sieh, 35, said.
Date: Mon 2 Sep 2019
Source: Daily Observer [edited]

Just 5 years after containing the deadly Ebola virus disease (EVD), authorities at the Ministry of Health (MoH) have confirmed an outbreak of Lassa fever across the country.  The situation is so serious that Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Francis Nah Kateh, has warned Liberians to take the necessary preventive measures, "even though this is what we have been taking care of all the while. For the disease to spread to Grand Kru County, gives health authorities the cause for concern."  According to MoH data, a total of 92 suspected cases between 1 Jan-25 Aug 2019, including 21 deaths, have been reported.  "Of these, 25 cases have been confirmed by RT-PCR (Nimba-9, Bong-10, Grand Bassa-5, and Grand Kru -1), while 9 remain suspected cases," the release recorded.  The case fatality rate among confirmed cases is 36% (9 deaths out of 25 confirmed cases). Males are mostly affected by the disease (56%) of confirmed cases as compared to females.

The MoH release also said that although Lassa fever is not new to Liberia, it is a deadly viral disease that requires urgent attention. The disease is spread by rodents or rats and through close contact with infected persons.  "We are concerned about the sporadic increase of Lassa fever cases outside the Lassa Belt in Liberia," meaning Nimba, Bong, and Grand Gedeh counties.  "For Lassa fever to affect Grand Kru other than those counties it has previously affected, gives us the fear to raise the alert," Dr Kateh told the Daily Observer via mobile phone on [Fri 2 Sep 2019].

Henceforth, MoH authorities in collaboration with partners and the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), said they are responding to the Lassa fever outbreak in the country.  According to a release issued in Monrovia on 22 Aug 2019, Bong County Health Team notified NPHIL and MoH of the disease's outbreak following the confirmation of one case from Suakoko District, Bong County.  The case concerned the death of a 30-year-old male and a laboratory technician; a health worker, who previously worked with the Phebe Hospital, and a resident of Phebe Airstrip.  "Our hearts are broken, and we express our heartfelt condolences to members of the bereaved family," MoH said in a release on [Fri 30 Aug 2019].  Similarly, on 24 and 25 Aug 2019, the National Public Health Reference Laboratory confirmed 2 additional cases of Lassa fever infection in a 46-year old male as well as a 14-year old female, both residents of Suakoko Town, Bong County.

So far, the release said a total of 30 contacts, including 18 health workers, have been line-listed and are being followed up to the extent that 2 of the contacts have become symptomatic, though one of them have been tested negative. Additionally, 2 cases (one contact) remain in isolation and are undergoing Ribavirin (Lassa) treatment, "because this is the 10th confirmed case being detected from Bong County since [the beginning of] 2019." In response to the outbreak, MoH, NPHIL, World Health Organization (WHO), United States-based Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC), and partners are providing technical, financial, and logistical support to the District Response Teams.  "No epidemiological link has been established between these cases. However, there is a likelihood for these cases to be linked based on history of the source of infection," the release declared.

Health authorities are therefore advising people to "Keep your environment clean; cover your dishes to prevent rats excreting or urinating on them; cover food in tightly-closed containers to prevent rats from playing in food or drinking water; do not eat rats, because you can get the sickness by coming in contact with their blood, [urine, or feces] do not dry food in open places where rats can reach; avoid body contact with infected persons and endemic zone; and visit a health facility immediately when you feel sick."

Meanwhile, NPHIL, MoH, and partners have appealed to the general public to take necessary preventive measures, and kindly report cases of fever (any kind) to the nearest health facility.  "We continue to improve our rapid response teams at county, district, and community levels through the County Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs), and to provide technical, financial and logistical support to the outbreak," the release said.
Date: Mon 6 May 2019
Source: Front Page Africa [edited]

The emergence of a rare skin disease known in Liberia as "Be Serious" has sparked fear amongst residents of Charlie Town in Rivercess County. Residents, mainly parents, say children who are under 15 years of are seriously infected. They are afraid that the disease is contagious and is fast spreading rashes on the bodies of school-going-kids.

They are afraid that the situation will become an emergency, due to lack of adequate medication at the only clinic in the area. Joe Gbessigie, a resident of the town, says he's worried that instead of providing medicines, the clinic only gives patients prescriptions to buy drugs from private pharmacies.

Nathaniel Zoklah, the Township Commissioner, says some kids who are affected by the disease are in school, and he is concerned that the situation poses risk to other pupils. "At this time of the school year, keeping children who are affected with the disease may affect their education, so the kids are in schools with their friends but it is risky also," Commissioner Zoklah said. "They are interacting, eating together and this disease has the ability to spread through contact, so more children risk being affected."

The residents have not been able to state the actual cause of the disease, but some are assuming that it is waterborne. Some of the residents in Charlie Town and its surroundings said the hand pumps that are a major source of drinking water are all damaged, forcing residents to fetch water from creeks.  [Byline: Willie N. Tokpah]
===========================
[The disease referred to in this report and its accompanying photograph is most likely to be scabies.  Scabies is a skin infestation by the scabies mite - _Sarcoptes scabiei_. The infection is found worldwide and is transmitted under poor hygienic conditions. The mite is transmitted by physical contact and poor hygiene is a main risk factor. Outbreaks are seen in refugee camps and nursing homes.

An outbreak is handled by ensuring that the affected people and close contacts at risk have a frequent bath and change clothes daily. The traditional treatment is pyrethroid containing ointments which kill the mites, but ivermectin orally is easier to administer and thus more acceptable and ensures better compliance. Especially in an outbreak in a school the best way to stop the outbreak would be administration of ivermectin to all children. - ProMED Mod.EP]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Rivercess County, Liberia: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/42309>]
Date: Tue 23 Oct 2018
Source: The Bush Chicken [edited]

The director for immunization at the Ministry of Health says there are currently 29 reported measles cases in Grand Gedeh, with 7 of those cases confirmed.

Director for immunization at the Health Ministry Adolphus T. Clarke said reports of the outbreak in Tchien district 1st emerged on [Wed 17 Oct 2018]. Speaking to The Bush Chicken in an exclusive interview, Clarke said out of the 29 cases reported, health officials in the area realized that 11 children under 5 years of age were affected by the disease. The other children were older than 5.

"The 29 cases identified were managed at the Martha Tubman Memorial Hospital in Zwedru, and the affected children fully recovered with no death reported."

With support from the Ministry of Health, Clarke said the county responded quickly with vaccinations. "The exercise has concluded, and health officials were able to reach a total of 1551 children not less than 5 years," he said. "So I can say that the county responded swiftly to the outbreak of the disease and recorded zero deaths."

However, things did not go smoothly. Due to the poor road conditions in the south-eastern region, Clarke said some health officials who left Monrovia with vaccinations for Grand Gedeh endured difficulties during the journey. "Others had to travel through neighbouring Ivory Coast to reach the country," he said.

The director indicated that, due to the challenge in attaining high vaccination coverage, health authorities in the country knew that, at some point in time, there would be sporadic outbreaks of the disease in the county.

Clarke said the current outbreak was not severe, because the ministry has dealt with sporadic outbreaks of measles in the past. He noted that health officials in Grand Gedeh have now been encouraged to carry out vaccination campaigns in affected and nearby communities as the dry season approaches.

"We have encouraged mothers to make use of the health facilities in the county and ensure that their children are vaccinated against all the diseases the ministry is preventing," Clarke said.  [Byline: Zeze Ballah]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 16 Dec 2019 10:21:01 +0100 (MET)
By Marie-Pierre FEREY

Paris, Dec 16, 2019 (AFP) - French commuters endured a twelfth day of misery on Monday as the government and unions traded blame for a crippling transport strike over a pensions overhaul that has put holiday travel plans at risk for thousands.   Some 630 kilometres (390 miles) of traffic jams clogged Paris and its suburbs during the morning rush hour, nearly double the average levels, as most metro lines were again closed or operating just a handful of trains.

Across France, just one in three high-speed TGV trains and one in four regional trains were running, though most cities were not enduring the chaos seen in the capital.   "Until now I've been working from home or taking my car," a man who gave his name as Francois told AFP at the Saint-Lazare station in Paris, saying he had left home at just before 5:00 am.   "But the car is no longer an option, because of the cost but also because it's exhausting."   Unions plan a fresh day of mass demonstrations on Tuesday and insist the government must abandon planned pension reforms that they say could force millions of people to work longer before retiring.

Mass walkouts are again expected by teachers, hospital workers and other public employees as well as by lawyers protesting over plans to introduce a single pension system that would do away with 42 separate regimes.   The government has said it is willing to negotiate, in particular a "pivot age" of 64 that would grant rights to a full pension, but has defended a key project of President Emmanuel Macron's wide-reaching reform drive.    "Going on strike is legitimate, but you can also respect events like the year-end festivities," Environment Minister Elisabeth Borne told France 2 television, saying it would be "irresponsible" of union leaders to "ruin vacations".

Rail operator SNCF has already warned that unless the strike ends in a few days, it will not have time to get service back to normal by December 25.   "We're going to try to make miracles happen" for the Christmas holidays that begin on Saturday, SNCF's Rachel Picard told the Parisien newspaper over the weekend.   "If the government drops its project and we start serious talks on how to improve the system... everything will be fine," Philippe Martinez of the hardline CGT union said Sunday.   "Otherwise, the strikers will decide on what to do on Thursday or Friday."
Date: Mon, 16 Dec 2019 09:52:36 +0100 (MET)
By Ferdh Cabrera

Padada, Philippines, Dec 16, 2019 (AFP) - Rescuers in the southern Philippines used heavy equipment and their bare hands on Monday in hopes of finding several people feared trapped beneath a building toppled by a powerful earthquake that claimed at least three lives.   Sunday's tremor cracked schools, toppled homes and injured dozens but largely spared big cities on the island of Mindanao, which is still recovering from a string of deadly quakes in October.

Searchers have pulled survivors from the collapsed market building in the town of Padada, but were still looking for a person who had texted authorities saying six people were trapped under the rubble.   "The person can no longer be reached," fire official Fred Trajeras told reporters, adding that rescuers' held out hope survivors could be found.   A young child was killed when a family home collapsed near the epicentre, and searchers pulled the bodies of two victims from the collapsed market building.

However applause erupted after Lesley Jane Gatos, 31, was pulled from the rubble on Sunday, shortly after the tremor.   Gatos used her phone to call for help and then began making noise to attract the attention of rescuers, who reached her after clearing a path in the debris.   "Finally I was able to get out. I saw people. They clapped because I was the first one rescued," she told AFP.   The collapsed building was near the epicentre of the 6.8 magnitude quake and is in the same region that was hit by three tremors above 6.0 in a matter of weeks in October.   Those quakes killed some two dozen people and forced tens of thousands into shelters as well as heavily damaging homes and offices.

The Philippines is situated on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches from Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.   Searchers were fanning out across the quake-hit areas of Mindanao on to fully assess the damage, but have already reported several schools and hospitals were cracked.   President Rodrigo Duterte, who is from Davao and was there during the quake, was not hurt.  "The first lady... said the car she was riding (in) was swaying," spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
Date: Mon, 16 Dec 2019 04:25:33 +0100 (MET)
By Holly ROBERTSON

Sydney, Dec 16, 2019 (AFP) - Australia's biggest city is facing a "public health emergency" over the bushfire smoke that has choked Sydney for weeks, leading doctors warned Monday after hospitals reported a dramatic spike in casualty department visits.   Hundreds of climate change-fuelled bushfires have been raging across Australia for months, with efforts to contain a "mega-blaze" burning north of Sydney destroying an estimated 20 homes overnight and fires near Perth threatening towns.

More than 20 medical groups including the Royal Australasian College of Physicians -- which represents 25,000 doctors and trainees -- released a joint statement Monday calling on Australia's government to address the toxic air pollution.   "The air pollution in NSW is a public health emergency," the Climate and Health Alliance said.   "Smoke from bushfires has produced air pollution of up to 11 times the base 'hazardous' level in parts of Sydney and New South Wales.   "Bushfire smoke is particularly hazardous because of the high levels of tiny particles (PM2.5)."   The New South Wales state health department said it recorded a 48 percent increase in the number of people visiting hospital emergency rooms with respiratory problems in the week ending December 11 compared to the five-year average.   Visits spiked 80 percent on December 10, when air quality plummeted across Sydney prompting up to 20,000 residents to march in protest the following day.

The Climate and Health Alliance called on the government to take urgent action to curb emissions, saying climate change is worsening bushfires that are having "devastating impacts on human health".   "The air pollution events resulting from bushfires will become more and more frequent and are a result of climate change," it said.   "Our governments must act quickly to rapidly and deeply reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which we know are driving climate change."   Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week made a rare admission that climate change is one of the "factors" behind the fires, but defended Australia's record on emissions reduction and failed to announce further measures to address the issue.

- 'Heartbreaking' -
Six people have been killed, more than 700 houses destroyed and at least three million hectares (7.4 million acres) of land burned this bushfire season.   More than 100 fires are currently burning in New South Wales, where efforts to contain a 400,000-hectare blaze near Sydney using backburning are believed to have sparked another fire that destroyed an estimated 20 homes.   A New South Wales Rural Fire and Rescue Service spokeswoman told AFP the fire was "likely the result of embers from the backburning operation" but that work had been "absolutely critical" and many more homes could have been lost without it.   The devastating fires have focused attention on climate change, with scientists saying the blazes have come earlier and with more intensity than usual due to global warming and a prolonged drought that has also caused towns to run out of drinking water and forced farmers off their land.

More than 35,000 people living in a drought-stricken area of southern Queensland will be restricted to using a maximum of 80 litres (21 US gallons) of water each per day under "emergency" rules from Thursday, as local authorities begin trucking in water from other regions.   "The rain has gone around us now for three years. It's been heartbreaking," Southern Downs Council mayor Tracy Dobie told ABC.   Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Monday singled out bushfires and drought as the biggest domestic challenges for the economy, telling reporters in Canberra the dry spell had taken a quarter of a percentage point off GDP growth and reduced farm output by "a significant amount" over the past two years.   Official data shows 2019 is on track to be one of the hottest and driest years on record in Australia, with the country set to experience a heatwave this week that forecasters predict will break temperature records -- and firefighters say will make their job even tougher.
Date: Sat, 14 Dec 2019 04:27:07 +0100 (MET)
By Béatrice DEBUT

Adelaide, Afrique du Sud, Dec 14, 2019 (AFP) - South African farmer Steve Bothma heaved a sigh of relief when the weatherman finally predicted rain.   His excitement was short-lived. Just a few days later, the forecast changed. It was back to cloudless sunshine.   In South Africa's Eastern Cape province, no one can remember the last proper downpour. Some say it was five years ago, others six. "This is a disaster," said Bothma, 51, who in his three decades working the land has never seen such dry weather.     "Older people who are 70 or 80 years old would tell you exactly the same thing," he added.

Southern Africa is grappling with one of the worst droughts in decades -- the outcome of years of absent or erratic rainfall, and temperatures that have reached record highs.   Millions are facing hunger due to poor harvests and dwindling livestock.    "It is usually beautifully green at this time of the year," said Bothma, as a hot gust of wind swept through his sheep pen.   "But now even the pine trees are dying."

South Africa is one of the world's driest countries at the best of times.   Rapid urbanisation and growing water consumption have placed a strain on water reserves and caused the coastal city of Cape Town to almost run dry in 2018.   But the ongoing drought has compounded the situation.    Dam levels dropped dangerously low in October, prompting President Cyril Ramaphosa to call for "drastic measures".   South Africa is in "a dire situation", said Ramaphosa in October, highlighting that five out of nine provinces were badly hit.

- To the slaughterhouse -
Bothma has had to cull around 60 percent of his merino sheep, including lambs.   Because of the drought, he could only afford to keep 2,000 as "breeding stock".   "Usually I keep them until they are five or six years old," Bothma explained, as his staff selected animals for the next trip to the slaughterhouse.

The price he gets for his merino wool has plunged by around 40 percent over the past year due to the drought and a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in the north of the country.      "The wool is full of dust and not very strong," said Bothma.   Years of dry weather have left scars in the landscape.   Arid fields flanked the windy gravel road leading to the nearest town of Adelaide, tucked at the bottom of a mountain range.    Cows chewed pieces of wood and sheep ambled in search of food.   In town, livestock roamed the streets and nibbled at scorched grass on the golf course.   The nearest dam dried up at the start of the year.

- 'Can't wash' -
Some of Adelaide's 15,000 inhabitants had been without running water for seven months.  A South African aid group, Gift of the Givers, has been helping by delivering water to the area since April.     On a recent water mission, hundreds of people In the township of Bezuidenhoutville rushed up with an array of empty bottles, buckets, iceboxes and even paint cans.      "We are keeping it for food and drink," said Rodney Douglas, 59, pushing a wheelbarrow piled high with plastic jerrycans.

Assanda Sais, 38, complained that she could only spare enough water to bathe once a week and that her house was "smelling".    "We keep dirty water to flush," she explained.   Bezuidenhoutville's local middle school has had to shorten its week by half a day due to the lack of water.    Many children were missing class altogether.   "Kids have to help parents to carry water," said teacher Zeenat Gangat, sweltering as the sun beat down on the container walls of a classroom.   "They can't wash," she added. "They complain about stomach issues."

- Poor infrastructure -
Local authorities have tried to ease the situation by connecting sections of the town to a reservoir fed by Fish River, around 50 kilometres (30 miles) away.   The water is allocated on a rotational basis, but even then the pipeline to the river is way too narrow.   Adelaide deputy mayor Bornboy Ndyebi said the town's pipelines were in poor shape, and Thandekile Mnyimba, who heads the regional district of Amathole, told AFP that water trucks supplied by the government had broken down.

South Africa's main opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has accused the ruling party of acting too late.   "It is only when the dam reached a very low level - around four percent -- that they woke up," said DA councillor Ernie Lombard.   Ramaphosa has sought to pin the blame on years of poor governance under former president Jacob Zuma, whom he succeeded in 2018.   "Corruption in the water sector has in no small part contributed to the situation we currently face," he declared.

- 'Can't sleep at night' -
Water insecurity could become "the biggest developmental and economic challenge facing this country," Ramaphosa added.   Adelaide is already suffering from South Africa's ailing economy, marked by low growth and chronic unemployment.    Close to 70 percent of the small town's inhabitants are out of work. When houses go up for sale, they stay on the market.

The manager of Adelaide's only hotel said she was worried if too many rooms were booked at the same time, as "it takes two weeks to do the washing".   On nearby farms, high-yielding avocado trees now barely produce 10, low-grade fruit instead of 50.   Helpless farmers watch their animals succumb to thirst and hunger. Alton Snaer has lost nine of his 15 cows.   "I can't sleep at night," said the retired farmer.   Bothma feared that more months without rain would force him "to close the books".   "Farmers are taking their life," he said, eyes reddened by the dust. 
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2019 16:41:23 +0100 (MET)
By Mariëtte Le Roux and Joseph Schmid

Paris, Dec 13, 2019 (AFP) - French commuters gritted their teeth for a ninth day of public transport strikes Friday, with unions vowing to keep up their protest against a pension overhaul through the holidays unless the government backs down.   Officials have said they are ready to negotiate, with Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer meeting teachers' representatives on Friday to try and stave off another day of class shutdowns.   "It was an intense and frank meeting... but we still need details, and maintain our call to strike on Tuesday," Stephane Crochet of the SE-Unsa union said.

Unions are hoping for a repeat of 1995, when they forced a rightwing government to back down on pension reforms after three weeks of metro and rail strikes just before Christmas.   The prospect of a protracted standoff has businesses fearing big losses during the crucial year-end festivities, and travellers worried that their Christmas plans may be compromised.   "Right now it's a catastrophe here, but we're hoping there will be a solution before Christmas," Frederic Masse, a foie gras producer at the huge Rungis wholesale food market south of Paris, told AFP on Friday.

The capital city was again choked by huge traffic jams as most metro lines remained shut, only a handful of buses and trams were running, and one in four TGV trains were cancelled.   "I'm sick of this, and I won't be able to keep working if it goes on," Zigo Makango, a 57-year-old security agent, told AFP onboard a bus in the Bobigny suburb northeast of Paris.   To get home at night Makango said he has to use taxis, but "my boss doesn't reimburse me for that".

- 'Historic reform' -
President Emmanuel Macron on Friday expressed his "solidarity" with people impacted by the strike, "but I want the government to continue its work" in forging a single pension system, a key campaign promise.   "It's a historic reform for the country," he told journalists at an EU summit in Brussels. 

The overhaul unveiled by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe would do away with 42 separate regimes, some of which offer early retirement and other benefits to public-sector employees such as train drivers, dockers and even Paris Opera employees.   But Philippe angered unions further by proposing a reduced payout for people who retire at the legal age of 62 instead of a new, so-called "pivot age" of 64.

They have called for new mass demonstrations for next Tuesday, the third since the action started on December 5 in the biggest show of strength in years by France's notoriously militant unions.   Philippe insisted on Twitter that "My door is open and my hand outstretched".   But Laurent Brun of the hard-line CGT union, the largest among public-sector workers including those at rail operator SNCF, has already warned "There won't be any Christmas truce" unless the government drops the plan entirely.

- France divided -
A poll released Thursday by the Elabe institute found France evenly divided on Philippe's plan, with 50 percent for and 49 percent against.  But 54 percent rejected the mooted 64-year cutoff for a full pension, and 54 percent supported the protest.

Staff at four of France's eight oil refineries were on strike Friday, affecting output and raising fears of shortages down the line.   And both Paris operas, the Garnier and the Bastille, again cancelled Friday performances and others through the weekend.   Macron's government insists the changes will make for a fairer system and help erase pension system deficits forecast to reach as much as 17 billion euros ($19 billion) by 2025.   The average French person retires at just over 60, years earlier than most in Europe or other rich OECD countries.
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2019 14:05:22 +0100 (MET)

Milan, Dec 13, 2019 (AFP) - More than 300 flights were cancelled Friday in Italy due to a planned one-day strike by workers from Alitalia and Air Italy.   Alitalia said in a statement that 315 flights were cancelled on Friday, with another 40 cancelled Thursday night and Saturday morning. It was not immediately clear how many flights were cancelled at Air Italy.   The 24-hours strike, which involves pilots, flight attendants and ground personnel, was called by three unions to draw attention to what they called "the ongoing crisis at Alitalia and Air Italy."

The strike was felt most in Sardinia, with about 30 flights cancelled.    Money-losing Alitalia has been under special administration since 2017 when employees rejected a restructuring plan that would have laid off 1,700 workers out of an approximately 11,000.   The government has so far looked for buyers without success.    Unions plan to meet on Tuesday with Economy Minister Stefano Patuanelli.    A potential consortium of buyers for the ailing carrier fell apart last month after Atlantia, which operates Rome's airports, pulled out.
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2019 05:24:44 +0100 (MET)
By Neil SANDS

Wellington, Dec 13, 2019 (AFP) - Adventure tourism is a key part of New Zealand's international appeal but the White Island volcano eruption is a tragic reminder that such activities carry genuine risk that must be better explained to travellers, experts say.   The South Pacific nation offers a wealth of adrenaline-fuelled pursuits, from heli-skiiing on snow-capped mountains to ballooning and blackwater rafting through caves.

Some, such as bungee-jumping, jet-boating and zorbing -- where you hurl yourself down a hill inside an inflatable ball -- were invented or popularised in a country that prides itself on catering to intrepid visitors.   The tourism industry as a whole is among New Zealand's biggest earners, generating about NZ$16.2 billion ($10.7 billion) and attracting 3.8 million international visitors annually.     "Adventure tourism is a massive sector in New Zealand. We are promoting ourselves as the adventure capital of the world," professor Michael Lueck, a tourism expert at Auckland University of Technology, told AFP.

New Zealand is also renowned for its rugged landscapes, which feature prominently films such as Kiwi director Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings".   Day-trips to White Island combined both, taking tourists including cruise ship passengers to a desolately beautiful island off the North Island coast where they could experience the thrill of standing on an active volcano.   Instead, at least 16 people are believed to have died and dozens suffered horrific burns when 47 tourists and guides were caught on the island during Monday's eruption.

The disaster has raised questions about why tourists were allowed on a volcano where experts had recently raised threat levels, as well as broader issues about the regulation of risky activities in the tourism sector.   "There will be bigger questions in relation to this event," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told parliament after the eruption.   "These questions must be asked, and they must be answered."

- 'Slapdash' or world's best? -
The disaster on White Island -- also known as Whakaari -- is not the first mass-fatality accident to affect tourists in New Zealand.   In 2015, seven people were killed when a scenic helicopter flight crashed into Fox Glacier. Two years earlier, a hot-air balloon claimed 11 lives and in 2010 nine died when a plane carrying skydivers plunged into a paddock.

Briton Chris Coker's son Brad, 24, died in the skydive plane crash and since then he has campaigned from afar for tighter regulations in New Zealand's adventure tourism sector.   "In my opinion, the New Zealand authorities... are still slapdash about tourist safety," Coker told news website stuff.co.nz after the White Island eruption.   "To run tourists there is insane. I know they signed a waiver and so on, but it's not really taking care of people."

Trade body Tourism Industry Aotearoa disputes such assessments, saying operators are "working within a world's best regulatory framework", but could not eliminate risk completely.   "Operators put safety first, but adventure activity inherently carries some risk and it's critical that 'adventure' remains in adventure tourism," TIA chief executive Chris Roberts told AFP.   "Operators take all practical actions to minimise the risks and the safety culture of individual operators remains the key factor in preventing accidents."

Roberts said the issue was not tourism operators, but the alert system they relied on at volcanic destinations such as White Island, which attracts about 17,000 visitors a year.   The GeoNet monitoring agency raised White Island's threat level in the week before the eruption but also advised current activity "does not pose a direct hazard to visitors".   "The reviews need to look at the science and specifically the guidance provided about volcanic activity, and whether the operating practices followed for the past 30 years need to change," Roberts said.

- 'Understand the risks' -
Travel companies such as White Island Tours brief customers before setting off and require them to sign a waiver declaring they understand the risk, as well as supplying equipment such as hard-hats and gas masks.   However, some relatives of those affected by the eruption have expressed scepticism that their loved ones truly appreciated the potential danger they faced.   Options for legal redress are limited under New Zealand's Accident Compensation Commission scheme, which covers victims' medical bills and provides modest compensation but does not allow civil suits for damages.

Neither Roberts nor Lueck expected the White Island eruption to hit international arrivals in New Zealand, which have continued to climb despite major earthquakes in 2011 and 2016.   The nature of any review arising from White Island remains uncertain, but Lueck said at the very least tourists needed to be better informed about any risks.   "Operators and tourism boards should have tourists understand what these risks are, and not brush over quickly signing a waiver," he said.   "Only then can tourists make an informed decision and decide whether or not they want to take that particular risk."
Date: Thu, 12 Dec 2019 21:25:36 +0100 (MET)

Kinshasa, Dec 12, 2019 (AFP) - Twenty-three cases of Ebola have been recorded in four days in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where deadly violence is hampering efforts to end the 16-month-old epidemic, authorities said on Thursday.   Ten cases were recorded on Tuesday alone in Mabalako in North Kivu province, after six on Monday, according to the Multisectoral Committee for Epidemic Response (CMRE).   Three out of the six were practitioners of traditional medicine, it said.

On Wednesday, three cases were recorded in North Kivu, including one in the Biena neighbourhood -- which has had no new Ebola cases for the last 85 days.   More than 2,200 people have died since the epidemic was declared on August 1, 2018.   As of November 22, the rate of new cases had fallen to 10 per week.   CMRE said "security reasons" -- attacks on Ebola health workers and sites by armed groups and angry youths -- had "paralysed" work in the key zones of Beni, Biakato and Mangina.   The attacks led to a pullout of locally-employed Ebola workers in Biakato by the UN's World Health Organization (WHO) and Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
Date: Thu, 12 Dec 2019 15:59:23 +0100 (MET)

Juba, Dec 12, 2019 (AFP) - Devastating flooding in South Sudan following a fierce drought could tip parts of the country into famine in the next few months, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned on Thursday.   According to the UN refugee agency nearly one million people were affected by floodwaters that submerged entire towns, compounding an already dire humanitarian situation after six years of war.

The WFP said that 5.5 million people are expected to be going hungry in early 2020 -- the time at which the population is generally benefiting from their harvest in October and November of the previous year.   An earlier harvest failed due to drought. This time crops have been washed away.    "The number of people in need is likely to increase because of the catastrophic level of destruction caused by floods since October following a drought that hammered parts of the country earlier in the year," the agency said in a statement.

The floods wiped out 73,000 metric tons of potential harvests as well as tens of thousands of cattle and goats, said the WFP.   "We know the problems that we've been having in South Sudan, but the rains and the floods have led to a national disaster and are much worse than anyone could have anticipated," said WFP Executive Director David Beasley.    "In fact, if we don't get funding in the next few weeks and months, we are literally talking about famine. We need support, we need help and we need it now."   The agency estimated its needs at $270 million (242 million euros) for the first half of 2020.   South Sudan declared a "man-made" famine affecting around 100,000 people in 2017. 

The term "famine" is used according to a scientific system agreed upon by global agencies, when at least 20 percent of the population in a specific area has extremely limited access to basic food; acute malnutrition exceeds 30 percent; and the death rate exceeds two per 10,000 people per day for the entire population.   "Famine in South Sudan was defeated after four months in 2017 by a concerted large-scale humanitarian response," said the WFP.   "Experts now say the country's food security outlook has never been so dire."   Political instability is also high as President Salva Kiir and his rival Riek Machar have again delayed their formation of a power-sharing government, this time by 100 days until February 2020.
Date: Wed, 11 Dec 2019 09:33:13 +0100 (MET)
By Holly ROBERTSON

Sydney, Dec 11, 2019 (AFP) - Up to 20,000 protesters rallied in Sydney on Wednesday demanding urgent climate action from Australia's government, as bushfire smoke choking the city caused health problems to spike.   Sydney has endured weeks bathed in toxic smoke as hundreds of blazes have raged across the countryside, with hospitals recording a 25 percent increase in the number of people visiting emergency departments last week.   On Tuesday smoke alarms rang out across Australia's biggest city, with thick haze triggering smoke alarms and forcing buildings to be evacuated, school children to be kept indoors, and ferries to be cancelled.   The devastating fires have focused attention on climate change, with scientists saying the blazes have come earlier and with more intensity than usual due to global warming and a prolonged drought.   Police estimated the crowd size at 15,000, organisers put the figure at 20,000.

Many of the protestors voiced anger at the government's silence in the face of the crisis.   "The country is on fire" said 26-year-old Samuel Wilkie attending his first climate protest. He described politicians' response as "pathetic".    "Our government is not doing anything about it," said 29-year-old landscape gardener Zara Zoe. "No one is listening, no one is doing anything."   Prime Minister Scott Morrison -- a staunch backer of Australia's vast coal industry -- has said little about the smoke since the crisis began, preferring to focus on fire-hit rural communities.   Organiser Chloe Rafferty said that had created anger at the conservative government's inaction.   "I think the wider public can see that we are not expecting the climate crisis in the future but we are facing the climate crisis now," she told AFP.   "People are experiencing it in their day-to-day lives."   As well as a rise in people visiting hospitals with smoke-related health symptoms, the number of emergency calls for ambulances spiked 30 percent last week.    "For most people, smoke causes mild symptoms like sore eyes, nose and throat," top health department official Richard Broome said.   "However, people with conditions like asthma, emphysema and angina are at greater risk because the smoke can trigger their symptoms."

Smoke from bushfires is one of the biggest contributors to air pollution in Australia, releasing fine particles that can lodge deep within people's lungs and cause "severe" health impacts over time, according to scientist Mick Meyer from government-funded scientific research agency CSIRO.   "The impact of smoke on people remote from the fires may, on occasion, substantially exceed the direct injury to people within the fire zone," he wrote in The Conversation.   "But we currently lack the operational tools to understand the extent of these impacts or to manage them."   Six people have been killed and more than 700 houses destroyed in bushfires this fire season.   Though the human toll has been far lower than the deadliest fire season in 2009 -- when almost 200 people died -- the scale of this year's devastation has been widely described as unprecedented.   Three million hectares (7.4 million acres) of land has been burnt -- the size of some small countries -- and vast swathes of koala habitat scorched.   Official data shows 2019 is on track to be one of the hottest and driest years on record in Australia.