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Bahamas

The Bahamas Consular Information Sheet
July 14, 2005

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
The Bahamas is a developed, English-speaking Caribbean nation composed of hundreds of islands covering a territory approximately the size of California.
To
rism and financial services comprise the two largest sectors of the economy. Independent from the United Kingdom since 1973, The Bahamas is a Commonwealth nation with a centuries-old democratic tradition.
The capital, Nassau, is located on New Providence Island.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on The Bahamas at http://travel.state.gov for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
On December 31, 2005, the U.S. Government will begin to phase in new passport requirements for U.S. citizens traveling in the Western Hemisphere.
By December 31, 2007, all U.S. citizens will be expected to depart and enter the United States on a valid passport or other authorized document establishing identity and U.S. citizenship.
The Department of State strongly encourages travelers to obtain passports well in advance of any planned travel.
Routine passport applications by mail take up to six weeks to be issued.
For further information, go to the State Department's Consular website: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cbpmc/cbpmc_2223.html.

U.S. citizens must present original proof of U.S. citizenship (valid U.S. passport or certified U.S. birth certificate with a government-issued photo ID) and a return ticket. A passport is recommended as it eases processing upon return to the United States.
Voter registration cards, Social Security cards, driver's licenses, affidavits, and other similar documents are not acceptable as proof of U.S. citizenship. U.S. citizens do not need to obtain visas for stays of up to one month. Travelers arriving via private watercraft are charged docking fees.
See our Foreign Entry Requirements brochure for information on entry to The Bahamas and other countries.
U.S. citizens may also contact The Embassy of The Bahamas at 2220 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel: 202-319-2660), its Consulates in Miami and New York, or by email at bahemb@aol.com.

For entry and exit requirements pertaining to dual nationality and the prevention of international child abduction, read our information at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1469.html.
For Customs Information see http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1468.html.

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
The water sports and scooter rental industries in The Bahamas are not carefully regulated.
Visitors should rent equipment only from reputable operators, and should insist on sufficient training before using the equipment.
Every year, people are killed or injured by the improper use of scooters, jet-skis, and personal watercraft or by the careless or reckless operation of such equipment by others.
You should insist on seeing proof that operators have sufficient medical and liability insurance. Travelers should also invest in low-cost traveler's insurance that includes medical evacuations, as most American insurance companies do not cover this.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site at http://travel.state.gov where the current Travel Warnings and Public Announcements, including the Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, 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).

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 at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/safety/safety_1747.html.

CRIME:
While The Bahamas has a relatively low crime rate, visitors should exercise caution and good judgment. Although most criminal incidents take place in a part of Nassau not usually frequented by tourists (the "over-the-hill" area south of downtown), crime and violence has moved into more upscale tourist and residential areas.
Criminals also target restaurants and nightclubs frequented by tourists.
The most common approach for criminals is to offer victims a ride, either as a "personal favor" or by claiming to be a taxi, and then robbing and/or assaulting the passenger once they are in the car. Visitors should take care to ride only in licensed taxis, identifiable by their yellow license plates.

In the last year the U.S. Embassy has received several reports of sexual assaults, including against teen-age girls. Most assaults have been perpetrated against intoxicated young women, some of whom were reportedly drugged. To minimize the potential for sexual assault, the Embassy recommends that young women stay in groups, consume alcohol in moderation or not at all, ride only in licensed taxis, and not accept rides or drinks from strangers.
Travelers should avoid walking alone after dark or in isolated areas, and avoid placing themselves in situations where they are alone with strangers. Be cautious on deserted areas of beaches at all hours. Hotel guests should always lock their doors and should never leave valuables unattended, especially on beaches.
Visitors should store passport/identity documents, airline tickets, credit cards, and extra cash in hotel safes. Avoid wearing expensive jewelry, particularly Rolex watches, which criminals have specifically targeted. Use only clearly marked taxis with yellow license plates and make a note of the license plate number for your records.

The legal age in the Bahamas for consumption of alcoholic beverages is 18. Parents should be aware, however, that enforcement of the drinking age is weak.
It is easy for teenagers to obtain alcoholic beverages and underage drinking is prevalent.
Many of the arrests, accidents and violent crimes suffered by U.S. citizens in The Bahamas involve alcohol.

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 understand the local criminal justice process and find an attorney if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/emergencies/emergencies_1748.html.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
High quality medical care is generally available, but expensive, in Nassau and Freeport. Medical care is limited outside of Nassau and Freeport. Bahamian doctors and hospitals do not usually accept U.S. medical insurance policies and typically expect immediate cash payment for professional services. It is the patient's responsibility to seek reimbursement later from their insurance companies. Serious health problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars. Persons with serious or life-threatening conditions who wish to return to U.S. medical facilities for treatment normally must be airlifted.
There is a chronic shortage of blood at Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau, where most emergency surgery is performed.
Travelers with rare blood types should know the names and locations of possible blood donors should the need arise.
The Lyford Cay Hospital has a hyperbaric chamber for treatment of decompression illness.
Ambulance service is available, but may not be able to respond quickly in the event of a major emergency or disaster.

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); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith.

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 at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1470.html.

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

Traffic in The Bahamas moves on the left side of the roadway. Roads in Nassau and Freeport are generally adequate, but traffic congestion in those cities is endemic.
Rural roads can be narrow, winding, and in poor repair.
Flooding frequently occurs on roads in low-lying areas throughout The Bahamas, including Nassau and Freeport.
Drivers should be alert for unmarked construction zones throughout The Bahamas.
Travel by moped or bicycle can be quite hazardous, especially in the heavy traffic conditions prevalent in Nassau and Freeport. Travelers should exercise appropriate caution when renting motorbikes. Accidents involving U.S. tourists on motorbikes have caused severe injuries and fatalities. Those who choose to ride a moped or bicycle should wear helmets and drive defensively.
Pedestrians need to remember that vehicular traffic comes from the right.
Pedestrians have been hit by cars after failing to check properly for oncoming traffic.

Emergency ambulance service is generally available and can be reached by dialing 911. Roadside assistance is also widely available through private towing services, listed in the phone book.

For specific information concerning driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance in The Bahamas, please contact The Bahamas Tourist Board in New York at http://bahamas.com, (tel:
1-800-823-3136).

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/safety/safety_1179.html.
Visit the website of the country's national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety.

AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT:
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of The Bahamas as being in compliance with ICAO international aviation safety standards for oversight of The Bahamas' air carrier operations.
For more information, travelers may visit the FAA's Internet web site at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/index.cfm.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
CUSTOMS:
The Bahamas customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or exportation from The Bahamas of firearms. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas in Washington or one of the Bahamian consulates in the U.S. for specific information regarding customs requirements. Tourists who arrive by private boat are required to declare firearms to Bahamian Customs and leave firearms on the boat while in The Bahamas. Please see our information on customs regulations at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1468.html.

BOATING/FISHING:
Boaters should be aware that long-line fishing in Bahamian waters is illegal. All long-line fishing gear is required to be stowed below deck while transiting through Bahamian waters. Fishermen should note that stiff penalties are imposed for catching crawfish (lobster) or other marine life out of season or in protected areas.

TIME-SHARES:
U.S. citizens should exercise caution when considering time-share investments and be aware of the aggressive tactics used by some time-share sales representatives. Bahamian law allows time-share purchasers five days to cancel the contract for full reimbursement. Disputes that arise after that period can be very time-consuming and expensive to resolve through the local legal system.
HURRICANES:
The Bahamas, like all countries in the Caribbean basin, is vulnerable to hurricanes. Hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to November 30, although hurricanes have been known to occur outside that time period. Visitors to The Bahamas during hurricane season are advised to monitor weather reports in order to be prepared for any potential threats. General information about disaster preparedness is available via the Internet from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at http://www.fema.gov.

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 The Bahamas' laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in The Bahamas are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in illicit sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
For more information visit http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1467.html.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES:
For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, see the Office of Children's Issues website at http://www.travel.state.gov/family/family_1732.html.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in The Bahamas are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy through the State Department's travel registration website, https://travelregistration.state.gov, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within The Bahamas.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the U.S. Embassy.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located next to McDonald's restaurant on Queen Street in downtown Nassau; telephone (242) 322-1181, after hours: (242) 328-2206.
Consular Section hours are 1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 10:00-12:00 on Fridays. The Embassy is closed on local and U.S. holidays.
You may wish to visit the Embassy's website at http://bahamas.usembassy.gov/ or contact the Consular Section by e-mail at acsn@state.gov .

The U.S. Embassy is also responsible for consular services in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCIS), a United Kingdom (British) overseas territory.
U.S. citizens may obtain updated information on travel and security in TCIS from the U.S. Embassy in Nassau or the Consular Information Sheet for the Turks and Caicos.
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This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated October 15, 2004, to update Sections on Country Description, Entry/Exit Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Special Circumstances, and Registration/Embassy Location; to include a Section on Information For Victims of Crime; and to combine and update the Sections on Medical Facilities and Health Information.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon, 2 Sep 2019 11:42:27 +0200 (METDST)

Geneva, Sept 2, 2019 (AFP) - Hurricane Dorian has caused "extensive damage" across the Bahamas, the Red Cross said Monday, warning that as many as 13,000 houses may have been severely damaged or destroyed.   "We don't yet have a complete picture of what has happened," Sune Bulow, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies' Emergency Operation Centre in Geneva, said in a statement.   "But it is clear that Hurricane Dorian has had a catastrophic impact," he said, adding that "we anticipate extensive shelter needs, alongside the need for short-term economic support, as well as for clean water and health assistance."

Hurricane Dorian battered the Bahamas with ferocious wind and rain on Sunday, the monstrous Category 5 storm wrecking towns and homes as it churned on an uncertain path toward the US coast where hundreds of thousands were ordered to evacuate.   There was no immediate word on casualties in the low-lying islands.   But IFRC said that up to 13,000 houses may have been severely impacted.

The organisation also warned that extensive flooding on the island of Abaco was believed to have contaminated wells with saltwater.   IFRC said it had released 250,000 Swiss francs ($252,000, 230,000 euros) from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to bolster the initial response to the crisis, and to provide some 500 families with emergency shelter assistance.   Packing sustained winds of 185 miles per hour (295 kilometre per hour), Dorian crashed onshore in the Abacos Islands, in the northwest of the Bahamas, as the strongest storm ever to hit the Caribbean chain.

After days of nerve-wracking uncertainty surrounding the storm's path, the southeastern US states of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina finally ordered coastal residents to evacuate in a mass exodus set to affect hundreds of thousands of people.    The American Red Cross estimated that some 19 million people live in areas that could be impacted by the storm, with as many as 50,000 people in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina potentially in need of emergency shelter, depending on the impact.   IFRC said that hundreds of Red Cross volunteers, emergency response vehicles and more than 30 truck loads of relief supplies were being mobilised to help people living in the path of the hurricane.
Date: Mon, 2 Sep 2019 00:55:48 +0200 (METDST)
By Leila MACOR

Riviera Beach, United States, Sept 1, 2019 (AFP) - Hurricane Dorian blasted the northern Bahamas as a monster Category 5 storm on Sunday, pummeling the low-lying island chain with torrential rains and winds of a violence unprecedented in its history.   Packing winds of 185 miles per hour (295 kilometers per hour), Dorian made landfall twice in the Bahamas' Abaco Islands, and was tied for the second most powerful hurricane ever in the Atlantic basin, the National Weather Service said.

Footage posted on social media showed major destruction. There was no immediate word on casualties.   Parts of the Abaco Islands were reported to be under water as forecasters warned it was facing a towering 18 to 23 foot storm surge. Winds were gusting over 220 mph, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.   Video posted on the website of the Bahamian newspaper Tribune 242 showed water up to the roofs of wooden houses in what ppeared to be a coastal town. Capsized boats floated in muddy brown water dotted with wooden boards, tree branches and other debris.

In other social media footage of what appears to be an inland area, cars were smashed or turned over, telephone poles and trees were snapped like twigs and debris filled the yards of severely damaged homes. AFP could not immediately confirm the authenticity of any of this footage.   Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis broke down in tears as he addressed a news conference, calling it "probably the most sad and worst day of my life," the Nassau Guardian reported.   "We're facing a hurricane... one that we've never seen in the history of the Bahamas," he said.

Footage shot in Cooper's Town, Abaco and obtained by AFP showed waves crashing violently onshore, sending up huge clouds of spray along the coastline.   Local radio reported that people were calling for help after winds blew the roof off the Island Breezes Hotel in Marsh Harbour, a commercial hub in the Abacos.   "Things are really starting to rock and roll," a post on the Facebook page of the Hope Town Bulletin in Abacos said at 10:00 am local time.    As of 2200 GMT, the storm was 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Freeport on the island of Grand Bahama and moving slowly west.   In Grand Bahama, thousands have evacuated to get out of Dorian's predicted path.   "It feels like we are standing in a line waiting for a beating," Yasmin Rigby, a resident of Freeport, the island's main city, told AFP.

- Strongest storm to hit Bahamas -
The NHC said Dorian had become "the strongest hurricane in modern records for the northwestern Bahamas."   Describing "catastrophic" conditions in the Abacos Islands, it said the storm was "heading with all its fury towards Grand Bahama," where it was expected Sunday night into Monday.  NHC director Ken Graham on Facebook Live said the Bahamas would be under major hurricane conditions for a punishing 30 hours or more.   "That's major hurricane winds, that's storm surge of 10 and even 20 feet in some of those areas," he said. "That's also torrential rainfall of 15 to 20 inches, isolated 30 inches."

In Washington, US President Donald Trump met with his emergency management chiefs and declared "this looks monstrous."   "We expect that much of the eastern seaboard will be ultimately impacted and some of it very, very severely," he said.   Tropical storm warnings were in effect for parts of the Florida coast, and residents up and down the Atlantic coast braced for a brush with danger.   Florida issued its first evacuation orders in parts of Palm Beach, home of Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort, and Martin Counties.

- 'Very great danger' -
Kevin McAleenan, acting homeland security secretary, said hurricane force winds could hit Florida, followed by a prolonged rain event combined with a storm surge.   "That's going to be very difficult as the storm starts to move northward, mostly like, up the coast of Florida and toward Georgia and South Carolina," he said on ABC's "This Week."   While Miami appeared likely to be largely spared, 30-year-old David Duque, picking up sandbags there on Saturday, noted that "everything could change... I know it could be a scare, but better prepare instead of doing nothing."   The Florida National Guard said roughly 2,000 service members had been mobilized, with another 2,000 poised to join them.

- 'Absolute monster' -
Trump has declared a federal state of emergency in Florida, authorizing US assistance to supplement state and local efforts.   Following a similar state order in Florida, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency Saturday, saying, "Given the strength and unpredictability of the storm, we must prepare for every possible scenario."   Neighboring North Carolina also declared a state of emergency, and Georgia announced a state of emergency for 12 counties.   Orlando International Airport was to protectively halt commercial flights at 2:00 am (0600 GMT) Monday, and Florida's NASA Kennedy Space Center said it was moving an enormous mobile rocket launcher inside to protect it.
Date: Wed 25 Jul 2018
Source: Eyewitness News [edited]

Cases of reported conch poisoning are on the rise in the capital, according to Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands. The health minister confirmed Tue 24 Jul 2018 that over 3 dozen persons have sought medical attention for conch poisoning since the Ministry of Health announced the new outbreak in New Providence nearly a month ago.

Luckily, there have been no reports of conch poisoning in the Family Islands. Dr. Sands confirmed that the outbreak has been isolated to New Providence. "We can now confirm 25 clinical cases with laboratory testing," he said. "There are an additional 15 clinical cases that meet the definition but are still awaiting finalization of their laboratory data, so there may be as many as 40 clinical cases that might have been presented to the hospital. There are some people who get conch poisoning but it's not severe enough for them to come to the hospital for treatment."

The health minister continued to issue warning to patrons and vendors. "I continue to say that this is a preventable problem, so to the vendors, you have to wash the conch in fresh water. To the patrons, it is a good idea to insist that [the conch] is washed in fresh water."

Conch poisoning occurs when raw conch meat is not thoroughly washed in fresh water. Bacteria that resides on the skin of conch is what leads to the treacherous poisoning. The most recent major outbreak of conch poisoning in the Bahamas dates back to the 1990s.  [Byline: Theo Sealy]
=====================
[The aetiology is _V. parahaemolyticus_, a bacterium in the same family as those that cause cholera. It lives in brackish saltwater and causes gastrointestinal illness in humans. Symptoms include watery diarrhoea, abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, and fever and chills. Usually these symptoms begin within 24 hours of exposure. Illness is usually self-limited and lasts approximately 3 days. Severe disease is rare and occurs more commonly in persons with weakened immune systems.

Infections with this organism, which can be normal microflora in seawater, have been associated with the consumption of raw, improperly cooked, or cooked and recontaminated fish and shellfish. A correlation exists between the probability of infection and warmer months of the year. Improper refrigeration of seafood contaminated with this organism will allow its proliferation, which increases the possibility of infection. ProMED-mail covered a large 2005 outbreak in Chile. It was impressive in its size (more than 10 000 cases), continued to spread despite early recognition, and involved clams and mussels rather than the classical oyster vehicle. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map:
New Providence Island, New Providence, Bahamas:
Date: 5 Jul 2018
Source: The Nassau Guardian [edited]

The Ministry of Health warned yesterday of a recent outbreak of conch poisoning. Health authorities yesterday [4 Jul 2018] confirmed 4 cases of conch poisoning stemming from Potter's Cay in the past 72 hours but said the outbreak of _Vibrio parahaemolyticus_ could easily be prevented by vendors washing their conch supplies in fresh water.

_V. parahaemolyticus_ is a bacterium found in brackish saltwater, which, when ingested, causes symptoms including abdominal cramps, vomiting, headache, diarrhea and fever. "This is a preventable illness that requires basic hygiene as it relates to conch preparation," said Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands during a press conference at the Ministry of Health of Meeting Street. He continued, "I think there is no reason why we can't say we will ensure that every single vendor is reminded of the requirement to wash the conch with copious amounts of fresh, clean water. To those in the purchasing public, if your vendor does not have access to fresh tap water or distilled water, and is only washing the conch in seawater, until we get the all clear, don't buy from that vendor."

The 4 patients with confirmed cases of vibriosis are Bahamians. There were at least 6 more people exhibiting symptoms awaiting confirmation of conch poisoning.

Sands assured the public that health officials, who received reports of the cases yesterday morning [4 Jul 2018], have mobilized in conjunction with the Ministry of the Environment to take the necessary steps to protect the health of those affected and, through targeted interventions, prevent further cases. The minister also advised all conch vendors will be required to take a food-handling course and maintain fresh potable water at their stalls.

As it relates to the unconfirmed cases, Sands said those patients, who were admitted to the Emergency Room at Doctors Hospital and Princess Margaret Hospital in the past 24 hours with gastroenteritis, were awaiting lab results. "Bear in mind that gastroenteritis can occur for a number of reasons," he said, "And so, to ascribe a case of gastroenteritis to vibrio would require confirmatory testing."

Sands said one of the priorities of the ministry is to have the conversation with the public early and spread awareness. "The 2nd thing we would like to do and we have started to do is to ensure the environmental health teams speak directly with the vendors, but throughout New Providence [Bahamas] and anywhere else we may suspect a possibility of exposure," the minister said. "We learned back in the 1990s this is easily controlled if people practice very simple techniques of washing conch with fresh water, which minimizes, if not eliminates, the possibility of transmission. And so, we just redouble those efforts combined with public education."

Additionally, Sands advised conch purchasers to ask vendors and restaurants whether the conch has been washed in fresh water before purchasing and eating it. "If the answer is affirmative, then you ought to feel reasonably comfortable you can eat it," he said. "If the answer is no, then I wouldn't suggest you eat or purchase it." No vendor has been closed down as a result of the cases presented. Sands said that would be premature, noting that conch poisoning from _V. parahaemolyticus_ can be easily prevented.

Thousands of visitors frequent Potter's Cay and other venues to sample conch in the variety of ways it is prepared, such as conch salad, in which the conch is consumed raw with vegetables, pepper and lime. According to health officials, cooking the conch removes the chance of it being contaminated.

There were 223 cases of vibriosis in New Providence [Bahamas] in 2003. In 1991 and 1999, there were also outbreaks of conch poisoning with a combined 1100 cases, Sands said.

Regarding testing, Sands was asked whether the ministry has periodically tested random conch batches from vendors. "This is not an issue of the meat itself," he responded. "Vibrio is a bacteri[um] ordinarily living in sea water and is a part of the surface of the conch. The conch meat itself is not infected with _V. parahaemolyticus_, so you can wash it off. Testing the conch meat itself is not the issue."

Sands continued, "We have learned historically you can eliminate this problem by washing the conch in fresh water. If you are washing the conch with _Vibrio_-containing water, you are not going to solve the problem, even though the conch may appear clean on the surface." Sands said while this is a breaking matter and the ministry has a strategic plan, it has not gotten to the stage of testing batches of conch and the storage water, but "that does not mean that we won't get there."

Symptoms of conch poisoning from _V. parahaemolyticus_ can persist for 72 hours, and some patients may require hospitalization for treatment of dehydration. Those experiencing symptoms are asked to contact the ministry's surveillance unit at +1-242-502-4790 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. EDT.  [Byline: Torrell Glinton]
====================
[There is now confirmation the agent involved in the conch poisoning situation is the bacterium _Vibrio parahaemolyticus_. I apologize for the error regarding identification of the agent. Laboratory confirmation is always appreciated. [ProMED would like to thank Mr. Ryan Burke for bringing the laboratory confirmation to our attenttion. - ProMED Mod.JH]

_V. parahaemolyticus_ is a bacterium in the same family as those that cause cholera. It lives in brackish saltwater and causes gastrointestinal illness in humans. Symptoms include watery diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, and fever and chills. Usually these symptoms begin within 24 hours of exposure. Illness is usually self-limited and lasts approximately 3 days. Severe disease is rare and occurs more commonly in persons with weakened immune systems <http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/diseases/vibrio/basics.html>.

Additional information regarding _V. parahaemolyticus_ may be found on the CDC fact sheet <https://www.cdc.gov/vibrio/faq.html> - ProMED Mod.TG]

[Infections with this organism, which can be normal microflora in seawater, have been associated with the consumption of raw, improperly cooked, or cooked and recontaminated fish and shellfish. A correlation exists between the probability of infection and warmer months of the year. Improper refrigeration of seafood contaminated with this organism will allow its proliferation, which increases the possibility of infection. ProMED-mail covered a large 2005 outbreak in Chile. It was impressive in its size (more than 10 000 cases), continued spread despite early recognition, and the involvement of clams and mussels rather than the classical oyster vehicle. - ProMED Mod.LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map: <http://healthmap.org/promed/p/11584>]
Date: Thu 5 Jul 2018
Source: EW News [edited]

With 4 confirmed cases of conch poisoning in New Providence, [Bahamas], the Ministry of Health cautioned Bahamians against consuming the delicacy in the wake of this latest outbreak. Health Minister Dr. Duane Sands confirmed the 4 Bahamians suffering from the illness. The earliest case, he said, dates back to [Sat 30 Jun 2018].

Dr. Sands revealed that an additional 6 persons have been hospitalized with symptoms of conch poisoning. He said even though the number of cases is considered minimal, the ministry's warning is a proactive measure to prevent future cases. The ministry, he said, is expected to begin dialogue with local vendors to ensure they are utilizing proper cleaning methods in the preparation of conch dishes.

"Conch should be washed with fresh water, and not salt water, to ensure that all bacteria is removed from the conch meat," suggested Dr. Sands. He urged Bahamians to ask local vendors about the processes they employ during the preparation of conch dishes. "If they do not wash the conch in fresh water during the process of preparing it, then do not purchase the conch," he warned.

The early onset of conch poisoning is said to be accompanied by watery diarrhoea and extreme abdominal cramps. Some cases, the health minister said, are severe and can lead to dehydration and subsequent hospitalization.

The last major outbreak of conch poisoning dates back to the 1990s, according to Dr. Sands.  [Byline: Theo Sealy]
=========================
[The group of conchs that are sometimes referred to as "true conchs" are marine gastropod molluscs in the family Strombidae, specifically in the genus _Strombus_ and other closely related genera. For example, see _Lobatus gigas_, the queen conch, and _Laevistrombus canarium_, the dog conch (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conch>).

In ciguatera poisoning, the poisonous ingredient is ciguatoxin. This is a poison made in small amounts by certain algae and algae-like organisms called dinoflagellates. Environmental conditions are right for other organisms, mollusks, or fish to ingest the algae and dinoflagellates. Smaller organisms may be ingested by larger organisms, thus transferring the toxic agent to the larger animal.

Ciguatera is a foodborne illness (food poisoning) caused by eating fish that is contaminated by ciguatera toxin. Ciguatera toxin, a heat-stable, lipid-soluble compound produced by dinoflagellates and concentrated in fish organs, can cause nausea, pain, and cardiac and neurological symptoms in humans when ingested.

Ciguatera toxin is harmless to fish but poisonous to humans. The toxin is odorless and tasteless, and cooking does not destroy the toxin. The toxin activates voltage-dependent sodium channels, causing symptoms in gastrointestinal, cardiac, and nerve tissues of humans and other mammals.

Symptoms in people generally begin 6-8 hr after eating the contaminated fish but can occur as early as 2 or as late as 24 hr after ingestion. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain, numbness, tingling, abdominal pain, dizziness, and vertigo. There is no specific antitoxin available for ciguatera toxin.

Some investigators have suggested vomiting should be induced if the victim is awake and alert and has eaten ciguatera toxin-containing fish within the last 3-4 hr. Ipecac, a substance that causes vomiting, was suggested as the medication to use, but many investigators now think ipecac causes too much dehydration. Currently, some physicians recommend gastrointestinal decontamination with activated charcoal. Activated charcoal may absorb the toxin if administered 3-4 hr after ingestion.

Victims should maintain hydration. Intravenous fluids may be necessary for uncontrollable nausea and vomiting. Although there is no specific antidote available, supportive therapy and time usually is curative.

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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."