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American Samoa

Samoa US Consular Information Sheet
January 23, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Samoa consists of the two large islands of Upolu and Savai’i and seven small islets. The country has a stable parliamentary democracy with a developing economy. To
rist facilities are accessible by bus, taxi and car and are within walking distance of access roads. Infrastructure is adequate in Apia, the capital, but it is limited in other areas. Nearly all Internet connections use a relatively slow dial-up method. Samoa has two digital telephone service providers, and visitors can easily purchase prepaid phones that cover virtually the entire country. The Samoa Tourism Authority, at http://www.visitsamoa.ws/, provides a wide range of information of interest to travelers. Read the Department of State Background Notes on Samoa for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
U.S. nationals who are not U.S. citizens, and who are resident in American Samoa, must obtain a visitor permit prior to all travel to Samoa. U.S. nationals have not been permitted to travel to Samoa on certificates of identity since May 2005 except on a case by case basis. (U.S. law distinguishes between individuals who are citizens and those who are nationals. The U.S. passport bio-page shows one’s status as either a citizen or a non-citizen national.) As of March 22, 2006, visitor permits to travel to Samoa can be applied for at the new Samoa Consulate General office in Pago Pago, American Samoa. A valid passport and an onward/return ticket are required for all Americans (both citizens and nationals) to travel to Samoa. Visitor permits are not required for U.S. citizens (only for U.S. nationals) seeking to stay in Samoa for up to 60 days. All visitors are required to pay a departure tax of 40 Tala (approximately 17.50 USD) upon leaving the country. Further information about entry requirements and the departure tax may be obtained from the Samoa Mission to the United Nations at 800-2nd Avenue, Suite 400J, New York, NY 10017, telephone (212) 599-6196, fax (212) 599-0797. Visit the Embassy ofSamoa web site at http://www2.un.int/public/Samoa/ for the most current visa information.

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

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
In Apia and many villages, stray dogs wander the streets. Visitors should not approach or feed them; they can become aggressive in the presence of food or if they feel threatened.

Although there have been no major accidents involving the ferry service linking Upolu and Savai’i, vessels are sometimes overloaded. One of the ferries, a multi-deck automobile ferry, sometimes transports passengers on its automobile deck. Americans who choose to use this ferry are encouraged not to remain in the automobile deck during the crossing and to ride only in the passenger compartment in order to avoid injury from shifting vehicles.

Samoa has numerous “blowholes” (lava tubes open to the sea where wave action produces, often spectacular, geysers). These blowholes are popular tourist attractions. The footing around the mouths of most blowholes is very slippery. To avoid being swept in, visitors should not approach too closely and should never stand between the opening of the blowhole and the sea.

Snorkeling and diving in ocean lagoons is a popular activity for many visitors to Samoa. Tide changes can produce powerful currents in these lagoons. Visitors are encouraged to consult local residents and tour operators about hazards and conditions at a particular location before venturing into the water.

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 pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
Overall, Samoa is considered a low threat environment. Nevertheless, visitors should remain aware of their surroundings, lock their doors at night, and not leave their belongings unattended. Incidents of petty theft/robberies of personal effects are common. Some such incidents have involved residential break-ins. While rare, violent assaults, including sexual assaults have occurred in Samoa. No specific groups have been targeted, nor have there been any racially motivated or hate crimes against Americans. Police responsiveness in Apia is generally good. Because of the very limited police presence elsewhere in Samoa (where order is maintained primarily by local village authorities), police responsiveness elsewhere is problematic.

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:
Health care facilities in Samoa are adequate for routine medical treatment, but are limited in range and availability; complex illnesses and life-threatening emergencies generally need to be treated elsewhere. Dental facilities do not meet U.S. standards, but good dental treatment and some emergency care can be obtained nearby at the LBJ Tropical Medical Center in Pago Pago, American Samoa. The national hospital and a small private hospital are located in Apia, and there are several small district hospitals on Savai'i and in outlying areas of Upolu. There are no hyperbaric chambers on any of the islands for the treatment of scuba diving related injuries. Serious cases of decompression sickness are evacuated to the nearest treatment center in Suva, Fiji, or Auckland, New Zealand. Serious medical conditions and treatments that require hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars. Travelers should carry emergency evacuation insurance. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. There is no reported incidence of malaria or rabies in Samoa. Occasional outbreaks of typhoid and non-hemorrhagic dengue do occur.

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

Safety of public transportation and rural road conditions in Samoa, are considered fair, while urban road conditions/maintenance is considered good. Taxis in particular are widely available and used by Samoans and visitors alike; buses are slow, generally crowded and uncomfortable, and rarely utilized by visitors. Rental cars can also be obtained. No roadside assistance is available. Most major roads are tar-sealed, but secondary roads are predominantly dirt and gravel and may be overgrown with vegetation. A four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended for travel on these roads. Travelers should be aware that vehicle safety regulations are rarely enforced and traffic violations occur routinely. Roads outside Apia are often narrow, winding, relatively steep, with narrow or no shoulders, and poorly lighted. Pedestrians as well as vehicles and livestock regularly travel these roads. Due to poor and deteriorating road conditions, night driving on unlit rural roads can be dangerous and should be avoided if possible. Roads in Samoa often traverse small streams. Drivers are urged to exercise extreme caution when fording these streams, which can become swollen and dangerous with little warning. Vehicles should never enter a stream if the roadbed is not visible or if the water’s depth exceeds the vehicle’s clearance.

Speed limits in Samoa are 25 miles per hour in the Apia area and 35 miles per hour outside Apia, with certain exceptions. At unmarked intersections, traffic on the left has the right of way. As in the United States, vehicular traffic moves on the right side of the road; although right-hand-drive vehicles (mainly from New Zealand) do exist in Samoa. Importing right hand drive vehicles to Samoa is currently legally forbidden.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office at Samoa Tourism Authority at http://www.visitsamoa.ws/.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government ofSamoa’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Samoa’s air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Some overseas treatment centers, known as Behavior Modification Facilities, operate in Samoa. Though these facilities may be operated and staffed by U.S. citizens, the Samoan government is solely responsible for compliance with local safety, health, sanitation and educational laws and regulations, including all licensing requirements of the staff in country. These standards, if any, may not be strictly enforced or meet the standards of similar facilities in the U.S. Parents should be aware that U.S. citizens and non-citizen nationals 14 years of age and older have a right to apply for a passport and to request repatriation assistance from the U.S. government, both without parental consent. Any U.S. citizen or non-citizen enrollee has the right to contact a representative from the U.S. Embassy. For further information, consult the Department of State's Fact Sheet on Behavior Modification Facilities, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page. Parents may also contact the U.S. Embassy in Apia or the country officer in the Office of American Citizens Services, Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5226.

Financial Transactions:
Although some businesses (especially those in Apia or those frequented by tourists) do accept credit cards, many (including gas stations) do not. Major credit cards (Visa, Master Card, and American Express) are accepted at major hotels and some restaurants and stores. Samoan currency can be obtained from ATMs, which are located in Faleolo Airport and in many locations in Apia. For more information on ATM locations and banking services see ANZ web site at http://www.anz.com/samoa/overview.asp and WESTPAC web site at http://www.westpac.com.ws/pacific/publish.nsf/Content/PFSA+HomePage.

Disaster Preparedness: Samoa is located in an area of high seismic activity. Although the probability that a major earthquake would occur during an individual trip is remote, earthquakes can and will continue to happen. Major cyclones have occurred in the past and are always a concern. Strong winds and very heavy rains are common, especially during the rainy season from November to April. During this period, Samoa receives most of its annual average of over 130 inches of rain. General information about natural disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) web site at http://www.fema.gov/.

Customs: Samoa customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Samoa of items such as firearms, fruits, pets and other animals, and drugs. It is advisable to contact the Samoan Mission to the United Nations at 800 2nd Avenue, Suite 400J, New York, NY 10017, telephone (212) 599-6196 for specific information regarding customs requirements. 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 Samoa’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Samoa 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.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
Samoa is not a member of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. 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 Samoa 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 withinSamoa. 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 in the Accident Compensation Board (ACB) Building, Fifth Floor, Apia. The Embassy is open to the public from 8:15 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday - Friday. The Embassy's mailing address is U.S. Embassy, P.O. Box 3430, Apia, Samoa 0815. The telephone numbers are (685) 21436/21631/22696 and 21452. The fax number is (685) 22030. An Embassy officer can be reached after hours in an emergency involving the welfare of a U.S. citizen or non-citizen national at (685) 21514 or (685) 777-1776. Visit the U.S. Embassy’s web site at http://samoa.usembassy.gov/.
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet (now known as Country Specific Information) dated May 21, 2007, to update sections on Country Description and Crime.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

American Samoa. 8 Mar 2017.
(susp) as of mid-February 30 cases of Dengue.

A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map showing the location of American Samoa in the Pacific can be accessed at <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/380>
and a map of the island at <http://www.nationsonline.org/maps/tutuila-island-map.jpg>. - ProMED Mod.TY
Date: Sat 20 Sep 2014
Source: Radio New Zealand [edited]

Latest figures from Samoa's Ministry of Health show an increase of suspected and confirmed cases of chikungunya [virus infections] from 400 to 626 since the outbreak of the acute fever, rash and joint pain disease was reported in July [2014].

However, the ministry says so far presentation of the main signs and symptoms of those affected have largely been mild.

The highest number of people affected is recorded in the districts of Vaimauga west in the urban area with 151 cases; Faleata east, 139 cases; and 113 in Faleata west.  The majority of patients is young.

In American Samoa, the chikungunya outbreak is on the wane. Health officials say there are now 823 probable cases of the mosquito-borne illness, with 15 people requiring hospital care.
===========
[The chikungunya outbreak continues to grow in Samoa, from 269 cases reported on 25 Aug 2014 to 433 reported on 8 Sep 2014 and now to 626 cases. One hopes that a prompt and aggressive clean up of breeding sites will reduce the vector mosquito population enough to halt, or at least reduce, transmission.

On 26 Jul 2014, it was reported that American Samoa had about 100 cases, with 3 laboratory confirmed as chikungunya virus infections (see ProMED-mail archive no. 20140727.2638925). This is a sharp outbreak, with over 700 cases in a little over one month, apparently peaking at 823 probable cases reported above. Once introduced into American Samoa, spread of the virus is not surprising, because it has had dengue virus transmission in the past, and the same mosquitoes that transmit dengue viruses can transmit chikungunya virus as well.

A map showing the location of Samoa in the Pacific Ocean can be accessed at <http://www.worldatlas.com/webimage/countrys/oceania/wsnewz.gif>. A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map showing the location of both Samoa and American Samoa in the Pacific Ocean can be accessed at <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/380>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Mon 9 Sep 2014
Source: Radio New Zealand [edited]
<http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/253977/chikungunya-related-cases-reach-over-700-in-american-samoa

The latest reports from American Samoa reveal that chikungunya-related [febrile] cases have now reached over 700, and there is now one probable case in Ofu, Manua. The virus was discovered in the territory in July 2014, but there have been no reported cases in Manua until now.

Health officials are urging residents not to travel to Manua if they have chikungunya, and testing is being done to determine whether the case in Ofu is due to the virus. Since July 2014, there have been 11 hospitalisations with the virus but no deaths.

Health officials continue to urge those with symptoms to drink plenty of fluids, get a lot of rest, and visit the emergency department if symptoms become serious.
=======================
[On 26 Jul 2014, it was reported that American Samoa had about 100 cases, with 3 laboratory confirmed as chikungunya virus infections (see ProMED-mail archive no. 20140727.2638925). This is a sharp outbreak, with over 700 cases in a little over one month. Once introduced into American Samoa, spread of the virus is not surprising, because it has had dengue virus transmission in the past, and the same mosquitoes that transmit dengue viruses can transmit chikungunya virus as well.

A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map showing the location of American Samoa in the Pacific Ocean can be accessed at
Date: Tue 5 Aug 2014
Source: Radio New Zealand International [edited]

The American Samoan Department of Health says there are now more than 300 confirmed cases of chikungunya or 'chik' virus in the territory.

The Health Director Motusa Tuileama Nua says his department and LBJ hospital have confirmed the outbreak of fever, rashes, and joint pains among people on the main island of Tutuila is due to chikungunya.

He says there have been 343 recorded cases, with 6 patients hospitalised and no deaths, since the beginning of July [2014].

He recommends those who are ill with fever and body aches do not travel off island.
--------------------------
Communicated by:
Roland Hubner
Superior Health Council
Brussels
Belgium
===============
[CHIKV has been circulating in Pacific islands this year (2014).

Maps showing the location of American Samoa in the Pacific Ocean can be accessed at
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/380>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
****************************
American Samoa: confirmed
Date: Fri 8 Aug 2014
Source: Samoa News [edited]

The American Samoa Department of Health and the LBJ hospital have created a 24 hour a day hotline for the CHIK virus. The CHIK hotline number is 731-7511.

The Health Alert issued yesterday [7 Aug 2014] confirms chikungunya (CHIK) virus as the cause of fever, rash, and joint pains outbreak on Tutuila and there have been more than 390 recorded cases, with 7 patients hospitalized and no deaths since 1 Jul 2014.

According to the health alert, there is no cure for CHIK virus [infection, and] it can usually be treated at home by drinking lots of fluids, taking pain medicine like Tylenol, ibuprofen, or Aleve as needed but only as much and with cautions as recommended on the package.

The health alert urges not to work while your joints are painful, let them rest and apply ice or cold packs on the joints and this may protect against prolonged joint pain.

DOH notes you should go to the Emergency Room to see a doctor if symptoms persist more than 10 days, or if you have bleeding from any part of the body or bruised skin. Call the hotline "or come to the ER or clinic if you are worried about your condition getting worse."

The alert once again urges that people stay indoors in air-con, behind screens, or under bed nets while you are ill, because if you are bitten by mosquitoes while you are ill, you can spread the disease to your family and neighbors.

For travelers, the DOH urges those who are ill not to travel off island, including to Manu'a. "If you travel and become ill when you arrive, tell the doctor who sees you that you may have been exposed to the CHIK virus."  [Byline: B. Chen]
----------------------------------
Communicated by:
Roland Hubner
Superior Health Council
Brussels
Belgium
-----------------------------------
[Interestingly, the 5 Aug 2014 report above indicated that there were 343 reported cases, and in the subsequent report of 8 Aug 2014 above, that number has increased to 390 cases, indicating that transmission of CHIK virus is continuing. - ProMed Mod.TY]
******
Samoa: suspected cases
Date: Fri 8 Aug 2014
Source: Island Business [edited]

Samoa's Ministry of Health has reported 2 deaths from acute fever and rash, saying it is now an outbreak. A press statement from the Director General, Leausa Toleafoa Dr Take Naseri, says there have been 21 recorded cases as of earlier this week with 4 people hospitalised.

The cases are suspected to be chikungunya virus, similar to dengue fever, but results are yet to be confirmed and 3 children and one man have been admitted to the intensive care unit.

The ministry says collaboration with other government agencies, and media campaigns, aim to raise awareness of the outbreak and help its containment.

Samoa has also sought assistance from the Ministry of Health's development partners including the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and the World Health Organisation.

In neighbouring American Samoa, there have been more than 300 confirmed cases of chikungunya.
======================
[This is the 1st ever ProMED-mail report of a chikungunya outbreak in Samoa. Concerning the current outbreak, it would be unusual to have 2 deaths from chikungunya virus infections of a total of 21 recorded cases. One explanation for the high proportion of fatal cases could be significant underreporting of non-fatal cases. No mention is made indicating that there were contributory underlying medical conditions in these 2 fatal cases. ProMED-mail will be interested in receiving results of the laboratory tests when they become available.

Maps showing the location of Samoa in the Pacific Ocean can be accessed at
at <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/2>. - ProMed Mod.TY]
Date: Wed 14 May 2014
Source: Radio New Zealand International [edited]

Health officials in American Samoa are warning the public about an amoebic dysentery outbreak which has so far affected 26 people, half of which have been admitted to the LBJ hospital. A Pacific Island Health Officers' Association Epidemiologist, Mark Duran, says the department of health is leading an investigation into the source of the parasite.

Dr Duran says amoebic dysentery is spread through contamination of human waste. "It especially attacks the intestines and invades its way into the wall of the intestines; it causes abdominal pain, it causes bloody diarrhoea, fever." Dr Duran says in serious cases the parasite can travel through the body and cause abscesses especially in the liver.
===================
[Maps of American Samoa can be seen at
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/380>. - ProMed Sr.Tech.Ed.MJ]
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 11:08:10 +0200 (METDST)

Manila, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Parents lined up from sunrise holding sleeping infants as the Philippines launched a campaign on Monday to vaccinate millions of children against polio, which has re-emerged nearly two decades after the nation's last cases.   Years of falling vaccination rates, made worse by the botched rollout of a dengue vaccine, culminated in an outbreak of the preventable disease in September.   "This is for the welfare of my child," Ruth Miranda told AFP after the vaccine was squirted into her child's mouth at the Manila slum they call home.

Miranda's child is among scores who are unprotected in the capital of about 13 million people, where vaccination rates of young children plunged from 77 percent in 2016 to a mere 24 percent in June.   The atmosphere at the event in Manila was festive -- with ice cream vendors and music -- but the stakes for the campaign are high.

Polio, which can cause paralysis and can be fatal in rare cases, has no cure and can only be prevented with several doses of oral and injectable vaccines.   Two cases were detected in September, the first polio infections in the Philippines since 2001, adding to the woes of a country already hit by deadly measles and dengue epidemic.   The risk of the disease spreading within the Philippines is high, according to World Health Organization, due to low immunisation coverage partly blamed to a dengue vaccine scandal.

The Philippines was the first nation to use Dengvaxia in a mass programme in 2016, but a botched rollout led to claims that children had died after being vaccinated.   A dramatic drop in vaccine confidence followed, with trust plunging from 93 percent in 2015 to 32 percent in 2018, according to a study led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.   The Philippines polio outbreak has been traced back to the weakened form of the virus used in vaccines, which is excreted by people for a time after they receive it.   According to the WHO, that form can mutate and spread in the surrounding community when immunisation rates get too low.
Date: Mon, 14 Oct 2019 10:25:38 +0200 (METDST)
By Shingo ITO, Sara HUSSEIN

Tokyo, Oct 14, 2019 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of rescue workers in Japan battled on Monday to find survivors of a powerful typhoon that killed at least 43 people, as fresh rain threatened to hamper efforts.   Typhoon Hagibis crashed into the country on Saturday night, unleashing high winds and torrential rain across 36 of the country's 47 prefectures, and triggering landslides and catastrophic flooding.   "Even now, many people are still unaccounted for in the disaster-hit area," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told an emergency disaster meeting on Monday.   "Units are trying their best to search for and rescue them, working day and night," Abe said.

But even as rescuers, including troops, combed through debris, the country's weather agency forecast rain in central and eastern Japan that it warned could cause further flooding and new landslides.   "I would like to ask people to stay fully vigilant and continue watching for landslides and river flooding," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.   In Nagano, one of the worst-hit regions, rain was already falling and was expect to intensify.   "We are concerned about the impact of the latest rain on rescue and recovery efforts," local official Hiroki Yamaguchi told AFP.   "We will continue operations while watching out for secondary disasters due to the current rain."

- 43 dead, 16 missing: NHK -
By late Monday afternoon, national broadcaster NHK said the toll had risen to 43 dead, with 16 others missing and over 200 people injured. The government gave lower figures but was continuing to update its information.   The dead included a municipal worker whose car was overcome by floodwaters and at least seven crew from a cargo ship that sank in Tokyo Bay on Saturday night, a coast guard spokesman said.   Four others, from China, Myanmar and Vietnam, were rescued when the boat sank and the coast guard was still searching for a last crew member.   While Hagibis, one of the most powerful storms to hit the Tokyo area in decades, packed wind gusts of up to 216 kilometres (134 miles) per hour, it was the heavy rains that caused most damage.

A total of 142 rivers flooded, mainly in eastern and northern Japan, with river banks collapsing in two dozen places, local media said.   In central Nagano, a levee breach sent water from the Chikuma river gushing into residential neighbourhoods, flooding homes up to the second floor.   As water slowly receded Monday, television footage showed patients being transferred by ambulance from a Nagano hospital where some 200 people had been cut off by flooding.   Elsewhere, rescuers used helicopters to winch survivors from roofs and balconies, or steered boats through muddy waters to reach those trapped.

- Japan dedicates rugby win to victims -
By Monday afternoon, some 75,900 households remained without power, with 120,000 experiencing water outages.   The disaster left tens of thousands of people in shelters, with many unsure when they would be able to return home.   "Everything from my house was washed away before my eyes, I wasn't sure if it was a dream or real," a woman in Nagano told NHK.   "I feel lucky I'm still alive."   The storm brought travel chaos over the holiday weekend, grounding flights and halting commuter and bullet train services.

By Monday, most subway trains had resumed service, along with many bullet train lines, and flights had also restarted.   The storm also brought havoc to the sporting world, forcing the delay of Japanese Grand Prix qualifiers and the cancellation of three Rugby World Cup matches.   But a crucial decider pitting Japan against Scotland went ahead, with the hosts dedicating their stunning 28-21 win to the victims of the disaster.   "To everyone that's suffering from the typhoon, this game was for you guys," said Japan captain Michael Leitch.
Date: Sun, 13 Oct 2019 23:31:57 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, Oct 13, 2019 (AFP) - Doctors will use a second Ebola vaccine from November in three eastern provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo to fight the deadly virus, medical officials said Sunday.   "It's time to use the new Ad26-ZEBOV-GP vaccine, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson's Belgian subsidiary," said Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, who leads the national anti-Ebola operation in the DRC.    It will arrive in the eastern city of Goma, in North Kivu province, on October 18 and be used from the beginning of next month, he added.   DRC's latest Ebola epidemic, which began in August 2018, has killed 2,144 people, making it the second deadliest outbreak of the virus, after the West Africa pandemic of 2014-2016.

Muyembe said the communes of Majingo and Kahembe had been selected to receive the vaccine as they were considered the epicentres of the epidemic.   "We will extend this vaccination to our small traders who often go to Rwanda to protect our neighbours," he added.   "If it works well, we will expand vaccination in South Kivu and Ituri."   DR Congo's eastern provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu sit on the borders with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.   The Belgian laboratory will send a batch of 200,000 doses to neighbouring Rwanda and 500,000 doses in the DRC, Muyembe said.   More than 237,000 people living in active Ebola transmission zones have received a vaccination produced by the pharma company Merck Sharpe and Dohme since August 8, 2018. 

The J&J vaccine had been rejected by DRC's former health minister Oly Ilunga, who cited the risks of introducing a new product in communities where mistrust of Ebola responders is already high.   But Ilunga's resignation in July appears to have paved the way for approval of the second vaccine. He currently faces charges that he embezzled funds intended for the fight against Ebola.   In his letter of resignation Ilunga said "actors who have demonstrated a lack of ethics" want to introduce a second vaccine, but did not elaborate.    Muyembe, who took over the Ebola fight in the DRC in July, said "The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has the most science-based data."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 20:02:59 +0200 (METDST)
By Robbie COREY-BOULET

Addis Ababa, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - A palace that once housed Ethiopia's emperors and also served as a torture site under the communist Derg regime is to open to the public in a controversial government tourism project.    The palace compound in Addis Ababa, which Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government has rebranded "Unity Park", was formally launched Thursday and will be open from Friday.    Abiy's office said on Twitter Thursday that the project "symbolises our ability to come together".

But critics have dismissed it as vanity project for Abiy that could prove divisive.   Backed by the United Arab Emirates, the project cost more than $160 million (145 million euros), Ethiopian officials told reporters at a briefing earlier this week.    Built in the late 1800s by Emperor Menelik II, who founded Addis Ababa, the palace was the residence of Ethiopia's rulers for more than a century.   Abiy himself does not live there, and it has seen little activity in recent years.    Abiy's advisers say he has taken a keen interest in transforming the palace into a tourist attraction since coming to power in April 2018 -- visiting the site every day in recent weeks to monitor progress.

The government's "Home-Grown Economic Reform" agenda, unveiled last month, describes tourism as a primary engine of potential job creation.    On Thursday, government officials and the diplomatic corps toured the expansive site before attending a banquet that was expected to draw five regional heads of state and other dignitaries.    The restored rooms feature items like Menelik's sword and a life-size wax replica of former Emperor Haile Selassie, who lived at the palace and was then etained there after the Derg overthrew him in 1974.

The site also includes a sculpture garden with installations representing Ethiopia's nine regions, and a zoo is expected to open by the end of the year.    Aklilu Fikresilassie, an Ethiopian employee of the United Nations who attended the launch Thursday, said he was "really fascinated" to set foot inside a place that had been closed to the public his entire life.    "For us it's like a government house, so now when you enter that palace it tells you that we are getting somehow closer to our leaders," he said.

But not everyone is convinced the palace will succeed in bringing Ethiopians together.   In a country grappling with ethnic divisions, some worry that the palace could alienate ethnic Oromos who contend that their ancestors were forced off their land when Addis Ababa was built.    Journalist and former political prisoner Eskinder Nega said the renovations were undertaken "without consultation from the public", which he called "a huge mistake."    "This is all about heritage, about preserving heritage. The people should have had a say in it," he said.    "Like everything else this was decided from the top and implemented only by the decision of the prime minister."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 13:13:57 +0200 (METDST)

Hanoi, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - Selfie-snapping tourists railed against the closure of Hanoi's 'train street' on Thursday after police blocked off the Instragram-famous tracks for safety reasons.   The narrow railway corridor in central Hanoi has become a hotspot among visitors seeking the perfect holiday snap on the tracks -- often dodging trains that rumble through daily.    But Hanoi authorities said this week they would block people from the tracks to avoid accidents, and police on Thursday erected barricades to keep out disappointed visitors.    "I'm very frustrated because today I can't go in and take a picture," Malaysian tourist Mustaza bin Mustapha told AFP, vowing to come back later.

Dozens of other tourists were turned away, though some managed to get onto still-open sections of the railway, moving out of the way as an afternoon train chugged past.    Built by former colonial rulers, the railway once shipped goods and people across France's former Indochina colony and remains in use today by communist Vietnam's state-run railway company.    The stretch of the tracks was once known as a rough part of town, occupied by drug users and squatters until their recent discovery by camera-wielding holidaymakers who have splashed images of the area across social media.

Cafe owners complained that business would be hurt thanks to the new regulations, and that tourists always moved out of the way for oncoming trains.   "There has never been any regretful accidents here," said Le Tuan Anh, who runs a cafe from his home along the tracks.   "Compared to traffic density elsewhere in the city, this is much safer," he said, referring to Hanoi's chaotic, motorbike-clogged streets.   New signs were installed in the area Thursday, warning passersby not to take photos or videos in the "dangerous area", much to the chagrin of British tourist Harriet Hayes.   "People come from all over the world to Hanoi just to see the train go past," she told AFP.   "It's such a shame that we come and have been told that we have to leave."
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 2019 06:51:42 +0200 (METDST)
By Holly ROBERTSON

Sydney, Oct 10, 2019 (AFP) - Large numbers of tourists are rushing to scale Uluru -- also known as Ayers Rock -- ahead of a looming ban on climbing a site sacred to indigenous Australians.   Photographs of hundreds of people clambering up the giant red monolith have provoked a social media backlash, with critics lashing as "ignorant" those going against the wishes of the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land, the Anangu.   "A mass of morally and ethically bankrupt people," indigenous woman Laura McBride tweeted alongside an image showing a queue of people snaking up the side of Uluru.    "One even hiking a toddler up, teaching the next generation how to be ignorant."   "Imagine rushing to climb Uluru before it closes just so you could brag about disrespecting the oldest living culture in the world," tweeted National Indigenous Television journalist Madeline Hayman-Reber, who called the scenes "embarrassing".

Officials say the ban, which comes into effect on October 26, is intended to show respect for cultural practices, protect the site from further environmental damage and to ensure visitors' safety.    More than 395,000 people visited the Uluru-Kata National Park in the 12 months to June 2019, according to Parks Australia, about 20 percent more than the previous year. Around 13 percent of those who visited during that period made the climb, park authorities said.    More recent figures are not available but Tourism Central Australia CEO Stephen Schwer said there had been a "significant jump" in the number of people visiting in recent weeks, with the period leading up to the ban coinciding in part with school holidays.   "Its been very busy, particularly down in the national park precinct itself," he told AFP.   "We've had quite an issue with accommodation availability, because there's a lot of people want to climb Uluru before it closes. It's been a busier than normal holiday period."   Japanese visitors and Australians on driving holidays were most likely to want to scale Uluru, Schwer said, though he urged them not to do so.

Australian tourist Belinda Moore, 33, drove to Uluru from her home in central Queensland state to ascend the rock, an experience she said she "absolutely loved".   "It's always been something to tick off the bucket list and when we heard it was closing, we knew it was now or never," she told AFP.   Moore said she did not think her climb was disrespectful to traditional owners as she was not Aboriginal.    "It may be for their own people, because it's their sacred site," she said.   "I'm pretty sad that they're closing it, but it's still amazing just to see it. I would still recommend it."   The climb will be permanently closed as of October 26, the anniversary of ownership being handed back to the Anangu people.

Uluru has great spiritual and cultural significance to indigenous Australians, with their connection to the site dating back tens of thousands of years.   Though visitor numbers were expected to decline once the ban was in place, Schwer said local tourism operators were "not particularly concerned" as it would return the area to normality.   "People need to remember that in central Australia we're a very interconnected community," he said. "The people who are requesting the climb closure are our friends and colleagues.   "We're just looking forward to being able to have the climb consigned to the annals of history."
Date: Wed, 9 Oct 2019 22:01:17 +0200 (METDST)

Kinshasa, Oct 9, 2019 (AFP) - Six people were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo after torrential rains hit the capital Kinshasa, flooding several neighbourhoods. a local official said.    The bodies were found between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.    Five people were killed in the capital's Selembao municipality where around 30 houses collapsed, local mayor Augustin Mankesi told Top Congo radio station.   One woman died in the Pelende district after she was electrocuted, he added.    "Our community is stricken," Mankesi added, calling on the Congolese authorities for help.   Fatal floods and rains are frequent in Kinshasa. In January last year 48 people were killed in landslides, floods and after houses collapsed, according to authorities.    Residents told AFP the road from the sea port district of Matadi to the Kinshasa turnoff has been closed due to erosion caused by the rain.    The passage is Kinshasa's main supply route for imported goods and also serves as an exit point for exports.
Date: Tue, 8 Oct 2019 04:13:25 +0200 (METDST)
By Margioni BERMÚDEZ

Caracas, Oct 8, 2019 (AFP) - The small waiting room at the home of self-styled healer "Brother Guayanes" in Caracas' rundown Petare district fills up quickly with patients -- business has never been better.   With Venezuela's chronic medicine shortages and hyperinflation, more and more people are turning to alternative medicine to treat common ailments in the crisis-wracked South American country.   "We go to the hospital and there's nothing there. They don't have medicines, or they're too expensive, what are we to do?" said Rosa Saez, 77, who has come to get treatment for a painful arm.   Carlos Rosales -- he uses the more ceremonious "Brother Guayanes" for his business -- is finishing up a "spiritual intervention" on a patient in what passes for his surgery.   The patient lies, eyes closed, on a cot as, in a series of swishes and clicks, the healer waves five pairs of scissors one after another over his prone body.    The healer says he performs 200 such interventions a week in a dim, candle-lit room that features two camp beds and an array of plaster statues that Rosales says represent "spiritual entities".   A regular visitor to the spiritual center, Saez says she has faith in Rosales' methods: "He healed my kidneys."

- Natural healing -
All across Venezuela, but particularly in poor areas like Petare, patients cannot hope to afford the price of medicines that due to the economic crisis, have become exceedingly rare.  Venezuela's pharmacists' federation say pharmacies and hospitals have on average only about 20 percent of the medicine stock needed.   Rosales' clinic is muggy with the smell of tobacco. A crucifix suspended from a chain around his neck, he practices a seeming mixture of smoke-blowing shamanism, plant-based medicine and mainstream religion.    Posters hung near the entrance remind clients to arrive with a candle and tobacco and "Don't forget that payment is in cash".   Much like a general practitioner, Rosales spends time consulting with his patients, examining them with a stethoscope, before offering a diagnosis. Often he prescribes potions based on plants and fruit, such as pineapple and a type of local squash known as chayote.   "We know medicines are necessary," he says. "I'm not against medicine, but my medicine is botany."

- Plants replace drugs -
At her stall in a downtown Caracas market, 72-year-old Lilia Reyes says she has seen her trade in medicinal plants flourish.   "I can't keep up with the demand," she said at her stall, bathed in the aroma of camomile, one of the 150 plants she sells.   Careless consumption of some herbs can be deadly, warns Grismery Morillo. A doctor at a Caracas public hospital, she says she has seen many cases of acute liver failure in people who have eaten certain roots.   According to Venezuela's opposition parties, some 300,000 chronically ill people are in danger of dying from the shortages of medicines.

But despite the risks, people like Carmen Teresa say they have no alternative.    In the kitchen of her restaurant which closed down three years ago as the economic crisis took hold, the 58-year-old Colombian prepares an infusion of fig leaves to treat "diabetic neuropathy".   The painkillers needed for the condition are "too expensive" and prices are going up due to hyperinflation, so she is cutting back on the pills and supplementing her treatment with herbal infusions.   She needs at least four tablets a day to keep her diabetes at bay. Her mother, bedridden since breaking a leg a year ago, suffers from Alzheimer's disease and needs five pills a day for hypertension.   "I'm still taking my pills, but I reduced the dose," says Teresa, who is also replacing cholesterol pills with lemon juice.
Date: Sun, 6 Oct 2019 12:04:37 +0200 (METDST)

Riyadh, Oct 6, 2019 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia announced Sunday it would allow unmarried foreign couples to rent hotel rooms together as the ultraconservative kingdom begins offering up tourist visas for the first time.   The tourism authority said in a statement published on Twitter that Saudi women travelling alone would also be able to check into a hotel by presenting valid ID.

In the past, couples wanting to stay in a hotel had to prove they were married.    "This is no longer required for tourists," the statement said.   Saudi Arabia announced on September 27 it was opening its doors to holidaymakers with the goal of diversifying its oil-dependent economy.   The kingdom had previously only issued visas to Muslim pilgrims, foreign workers, and recently to spectators at sporting or cultural events.

Kickstarting tourism is one of the centrepieces of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform programme to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.   Citizens from 49 countries are now eligible for online e-visas or visas on arrival, including the United States, Australia and several European nations.   On September 28, Saudi authorities warned that tourists who violated "public decency", including with immodest clothing and public displays of affection, would be subject to fines.
Date: Sat, 5 Oct 2019 03:30:17 +0200 (METDST)
By Giovanna FLEITAS

Petorca, Chile, Oct 5, 2019 (AFP) - For Erick Hurtado, the worst thing about the drought that has devastated his family farm in Chile is the dead animals.   "Going out and seeing the animals dead on the ground is so horrible," Hurtado says as he gazes across the dusty paddocks of his farm in Petorca, near the coastal city of Valparaiso.

Farmers are counting the cost of one of the driest austral winters in six decades, which has destroyed crops and left tens of thousands of farm animals dead in the fields of central Chile.   Hurtado's farm, owned by his grandfather, has lost half its 60 head of cattle.   So far, 106,000 animals have died due to lack of water and fodder, mostly goats, cattle and sheep, according to the agriculture ministry.   President Sebastian Pinera, who last month announced a $5 billion plan to improve water distribution, this week set up a crisis group of government agencies to tackle the water crisis, which he said had become "more extensive and more intense."

In Colina, north of the capital Santiago, the drought has been hard on small farmers. Scrawny cattle pick at sprigs of strawy grass on pastures that have turned to dust. Cows, goats and horses roam hungry on hills have turned to a dry muddy brown.   "The drought has been disastrous for us," said Sandra Aguilar. Her family owned about a hundred head of cattle. Today, only half survive thanks to a trickle of water provided by a neighbor who still has some reserves.   "The situation is complicated," said Javier Maldonado, governor of the province of Chacabuco, where several agricultural areas have been hit particularly hard by the drought.    "We have to be realistic, climate change is here to stay," he said.

- Water shortages -
Dominga Mondaca points out the deep fissures that run through the garden behind her house in the village of La Ligua near Valparaiso. The garden used to be full of strawberries and citrus trees; now it's cracked earth.    "We have had many years with little water. But the last year, it didn't rain at all," said the 73-year-old, one of more than 600,000 people the government is supplying by tanker trucks as part of emergency measures.   She says she has had to give up raising chickens, in order to keep what little water she and her husband receive for their own consumption, washing and cleaning. Whatever is left, she uses to sprinkle on herbs in a small kitchen garden.   The agriculture ministry says 37,000 family farms need assistance in the central Chile.

- Thirsty avocados? -
In Petorca, some rivers have run dry, and the landscape has been left parched, but lush avocado and citrus plantations are nevertheless thriving.   Locals in Petorca say the real, long-term problem is the mismanagement of water resources.    "There is an excess of monoculture plantations that consume all the water," said Diego Soto of the Movement for the Defense of Access to Water, Land and Environmental Protection (MODATIMA) told AFP.   Avocados need a lot of water to grow, said Soto.   "An avocado tree needs 600 liters of water per week, whereas humans consume 50 liters a day, or 350 liters a week," he said.   Producers refute these figures and say the real problem is a lack of infrastructure to store water, both above and below ground.    "The avocado is not a crop that needs more water," insisted Francisco Contardo, chairman of the local producers' committee.   Avocados are a key export for Chile, mostly to the US and China, but drought has reduced exports by 25 percent.

- Less snow -
For many though, the changes being wrought by climate change are overwhelmingly obvious. Snow in the highlands of central Chile was relatively scarce this year.    Scientists predict an average decrease of between five and 10 percent snowfall every 10 years in almost the entire Andes mountains, one of the country's main sources of water.   "The central zone of Chile is highly dependent on the summer melt season, its snow and glaciers, which means that if the snow cover is reduced, there is also a reduction in the availability of water resources," said Paul Cordero, climate change expert at the University of Santiago.   Weak snowfall forced the country's main ski resorts to use artificial snow machines much earlier and more often this season than in previous years.    "Chile has been living as if it were a country with an abundance of water," said Pinera.   "Climate change and global warming have changed this situation probably forever."