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Gambia

General
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The Gambia is situated on the coast of West Africa and is a common tourist destination. It enjoys a tropical climate with a rainy season between May to October each year. Harmattan winds can be experienced
during the dry season.
Stability throughout the country has been in question since a coup in 1994 but generally tourists remain unaware of any particular difficulty in this regard. Civilian rule has been in place since 1996. There is a successful tourist industry and the majority of travellers will remain in the resort regions along the coast.
Safety & Security
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It is uncommon to hear of attacks against tourists but it is considered unwise to flaunt personal wealth. Thus wearing valuable jewellery or watches should be avoided. Use the hotel safety deposit boxes for storing items of value and keep an eye on personal belongings while on the beach, on ferries or walking through market places. Many of the main tourist beaches have police or hotel security but there would be a risk if visiting some of the more isolated areas along the coast.

Road Transport
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In the main tourist regions road transport is perfectly reasonable but travelling throughout the country, particularly during the rainy season, is much more difficult. Paved roads exist in the capital, Banjul, but pedestrians still need to take care while out walking. If leaving the main tourists resorts it is essential to travel with a recognised guide. If driving, take care to stop at all check points and never reverse to avoid a road checkpoint. It is safer to use a taxi where possible (green ones for tourists). Avoid travelling to the Casamance region in Senegal (close to Gambia border), as this area is quite unstable at present. The region around Ziguinchor has also unexploded mines and armed bandits and so it would be wise to avoid.
Ferry Risks
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Taking the Banjul to Barra ferry may involve safety risks as the boat is frequently overcrowded and does not carry enough life belts etc for the number of passengers. All the engines for the ferry do not always work and it may be wiser to consider travelling 150km upriver and use the Yelitenda to Bambatenda ferry.
Health Facilities
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The level of medical facilities varies greatly throughout the country. The Medical Research Council facility in Banjul offers excellent healthcare but travellers are advised to carry sufficient supplies of any personal medication they may require while abroad.
Food & Water Facilities
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The main tourist resorts offer a good standard of food for tourists. However, it is wise to ensure that all food is fresh and well cooked. Avoiding bivalve shell fish (oysters, mussels, clams etc) is essential as these foods are frequently associated with illness among those who partake. The tap water supply may not always be regularly maintained and so it is safer to use sealed mineral water for both drinking and brushing your teeth while in The Gambia. Ice in drinks will be made from tap water and so best avoided. Food and fluids should not be purchased from street vendors except in the case of fruit, which you will then peel yourself. Tinned drinks may be safe but be careful to clean the lip before drinking straight from the can.
Malaria & Mosquitoes
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The risk of malaria in The Gambia is generally between June to December each year. Tourists have seldom been at significant risk up until recently when there has been a significant increase in the numbers of cases returning to Europe with the disease. Malaria prophylaxis should be used throughout the year. Mosquitoes mainly bite between dusk and dawn but other species can bite at any time of the day.
Rabies Risk
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There is an ever-present risk of Rabies in Africa and The Gambia is no exception. The disease is mainly transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected dog but other animals also pose a risk including cats and monkeys. The disease can also be transmitted through licks and scratches’ so avoiding all contact with animals is a wise precaution.
Sun Exposure & Dehydration
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The heat and radiation from sunlight in The Gambia can be very significant especially for fair skinned Irish travellers. Make sure you use a wide brimmed hat and keep covered from the suns rays. Dehydration and salt depletion are also common and you will need to increase the amount of fluid (and salt, unless there is a contraindication) while in this climate.
Local Laws & Customs
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The Gambian authorities take strong action against those involved in any drug trade and so take care not to carry any item for another person at any time. It is a predominantly Muslim country and so care should be taken to respect their customs for example by dressing modestly particularly when away from the main tourist regions. Never take photographs or videos of any police or military installations.
Vaccinations
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If travelling to The Gambia you are advised to consider vaccination cover against the following;
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Yellow Fever (mosquito borne viral disease)
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Poliomyelitis (childhood booster)
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Tetanus (childhood booster)
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Typhoid (food & water borne disease)
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Hepatitis A (food & water borne disease)
Occasionally travellers are advised to also consider protection against diseases like Hepatitis B, Rabies and Meningitis.
Malaria prophylaxis is essential at all times of the year for your personal protection.
Summary
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Tourist holidays to The Gambia are increasing after a lull following the unrest of the mid 90’s. However, the recent increase in malaria during December 2000 among European tourists shows how travel to tropical Africa must be treated with the respect it deserves. The majority of travellers who follow sensible guidelines will travel healthy and well.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu 22 Nov 2018
From: Vanessa Field vanessa.field@nhs.net

Dr. Bram Goorhuis and Dr Martin Grobusch of the GeoSentinel Surveillance Network site, Center for Tropical & Travel Medicine, AMC, Amsterdam, have reported a patient with confirmed yellow fever (YF) after travel to the Gambia and Senegal. The patient is a 26-year-old male, with no significant medical history, and previously unvaccinated against YF, who had travelled, together with his girlfriend, to the Gambian coastal region, Mansa Konko (14 days) and the Niokolo Park game reserve, Senegal (3 days). He had exposure to insect bites, but not tick bites, and did not have contact with fresh water or animals. He did not take malaria chemoprophylaxis.

On 17 Nov [2018], whilst on his flight home to Amsterdam, Netherlands, he developed a fever, chills, photophobia, and some transient gastrointestinal complaints (frequent liquid stools and abdominal discomfort). On 20 Nov [2018], he was transferred to the Center for Tropical and Travel Medicine, Amsterdam, from a peripheral hospital, with fulminant hepatitis (AST 22,000 U/L; ALT 12,500 U/L) and signs of liver failure. He tested negative for malaria and dengue; yellow fever PCR showed a very high viral load of 3.82 x 109/L. Due to an evolving encephalopathy, and a potential need for liver transplantation, the patient has now been transferred to the Erasmus Medical Center, a GeoSentinel site (Dr. Jan Nouwen and Dr. Perry van Genderen), Rotterdam, Netherlands. More follow-up is pending.

The last reported case of yellow fever in a traveller from the Gambia was in 2001 in a 47-year-old unvaccinated Belgian woman, who acquired yellow fever during a one-week vacation and subsequently died. Ref. Colebunders R et al.: A Belgian Traveler Who Acquired Yellow Fever in the Gambia. Clinical Infectious Diseases. 2002. 35(10): e113-e116. doi: <https://doi.org/10.1086/344180>.

The Ministry of Health in Senegal last notified the WHO in 2001 of 3 cases of yellow fever in K'dougou and Saraya Health districts, near the border with Mali and Guinea Conakry. A mass vaccination campaign followed. There have been no official reports to the WHO from the Gambia.

Ref: WHO Disease Outbreak News

In 2017, there were major yellow fever (YF) outbreaks in Brazil and Nigeria. These outbreaks were not marked by the rapid urban spread seen in 2016 in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), yet they illustrate the increased risk of YF and urban outbreaks with international spread. The "Eliminate Yellow Fever Epidemics" (EYE1) strategy was developed with the goal to reduce the risk of YF through a continuum ranging from outbreak detection and response to prevention. The YF surveillance network also identified suspected cases in several other high-risk countries including Congo, DRC, and Liberia.
Ref: World Health Organization (WHO) Weekly epidemiological record, 10 Aug 2018, No. 32, 2018, 93, 409-416; Yellow fever in Africa and the Americas, 2017.
<http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/273782/WER9332.pdf?ua=1>.

World Health Organization (WHO) data suggest that the rate of yellow fever transmission is increasing, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The WHO estimates that, after adjustment for underreporting, about 200 000 cases of yellow fever occur each year. In most of west Africa, with the exception of the Gambia, yellow fever vaccination coverage is low, and there are regular epidemics of yellow fever that fluctuate according to the sylvatic cycle. Since the mid-1990s, epidemics have been reported from Ghana, Gabon, Liberia, Senegal, Benin, and Ivory Coast.

Yellow fever remains endemic in west Africa. Even urban yellow fever has recently been detected in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Many countries in areas of endemicity in Africa (such as the Gambia) and South America (such as Venezuela) do not require travelers to undergo yellow fever vaccination. International guidelines for travellers recommend vaccination against yellow fever for persons traveling to these countries, but vaccination is not required by the countries themselves.
-----------------------------------------
Communicated by:
Davidson Hamer, MD (GeoSentinel PI)
Professor of Global Health and Medicine
Boston University School of Public Health and School of Medicine
Boston, MA USA
and
Vanessa Field, MD
Chair, GeoSentinel Tracking and Communication Working Group
International Society of Travel Medicine
=======================
[Drs. Hamer and Field are thanked for this report of the Netherlands case and the overview of the YF situation in endemic countries. The Netherlands case is another example of failure of travellers to receive YF vaccination at least 10 days prior to arrival in an endemic country. Although the Netherlands case presents no risk of initiation of ongoing YF virus transmission, it does illustrate the fact that viremic individuals can travel long distances and, should their destination be an area that could support transmission, such as Central America or south/southeast Asia, can initiate an outbreak in a population that is overwhelmingly unvaccinated. - ProMED Mod.TY]

[Map of the Netherlands:

Maps of Senegal and the Gambia:
Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2017 17:50:39 +0100

Banjul, Gambia, Jan 18, 2017 (AFP) - Gambian President Yahya Jammeh looked determined to cling to power on Wednesday as his mandate came to an end, prompting neighbouring Senegal asking the UN to back regional actions against him.   Jammeh has announced a state of emergency which he said was necessary due to interference of foreign powers in the West African country's December 1 election, which the president of 22 years lost to opponent Adama Barrow.

Barrow, who is currently sheltering in Senegal, maintains his inauguration will go ahead on Thursday on Gambian soil, putting the country on a collision course.   Senegal on Wednesday presented a draft resolution to the UN Security Council seeking support for west African efforts to press Jammeh to step down, diplomats said in New York.   But the text does not explicitly seek council authorisation to deploy troops to The Gambia, they added.   Jammeh's declaration immediately triggered travel advisory warnings by Britain and the Netherlands, with around 1,000 British tourists expected to leave on special flights on Wednesday alone.   The 15-nation Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) has repeatedly urged Jammeh to respect the outcome of the vote and step aside, a call backed unanimously by the international community.

The exact location of the inauguration was "in the hands of ECOWAS," said James Gomez, the inauguration's head organiser who said he had spoken with Barrow twice on Tuesday.   Gomez said that plans for the transfer of power in a huge stadium outside the capital Banjul were now cancelled, but added "there will be a big celebration" despite the state of emergency.   A source at Nigeria's military HQ told AFP a deployment to Senegal, whose territory surrounds The Gambia, would happen "very soon", ramping up expectations of a possible military intervention.   Under the Gambian constitution a state of emergency lasts up to 90 days if the national assembly confirms it -- which the legislature did late Tuesday.   The country's vice-president Isatou Njie-Saidy resigned Wednesday, family sources said, along with environment minister Pa Ousman Jarju, the latest in a mass string of cabinet members deserting Jammeh's government.

- Tourist disappointment -
Tourists were streaming out of the country, leaving the small airport near Banjul struggling to handle extra flights.   Brian and Yvonne Souch, a couple from Witney in southern England, told AFP they were unaware of the potential risk of flying to the country 10 days ago and felt tour company Thomas Cook should have kept them better informed.   "We didn't know anything until we came down for breakfast,"  Brian Souch said, sitting in shorts and sleeveless T-shirt in the lobby of a hotel in the Kololi tourist strip as he awaited a bus to the airport.

Thomas Cook said in a statement Wednesday a programme of additional flights into Banjul airport would bring home the 1,000 package holidaymakers it has in The Gambia, followed by up 2,500 more at the "earliest possible flight availability".   Holidaymakers were told that Thomas Cook flights would stop completely in a few days time, leaving them at risk of being stranded.   The Dutch travel firm TUI Nederland told AFP Tuesday it would repatriate "about 800" clients.   Some tourists were unfazed by the news as the state of emergency, however, as their countries have not issued travel alerts.   "We have over two weeks left and we are staying," said Mariann Lundvall, who flew into Banjul to escape Finland's freezing winter.   "If the Finnish government decides we go, then we go," she added, but with a pained face added "the climate in Helsinki... it is so cold now!"   The panic caused by the state of emergency could prove devastating for the country's economy, which experts say relies on tourism for up to 20 percent of the economy.

- Stockpiling -
Gambians were taking precautions and stocking up on food and supplies in the few shops that remained open in districts near the capital, with roads quiet and street hawkers notably absent.   A source told AFP that patients at Banjul's Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital, which sits opposite Jammeh's seat of power, were removed for security reasons. Only those in intensive care remained.   Fatou Sarr, a resident of the fishing community of Old Jeshwang, said: "Only a few shops had bread this morning and they ran out of stock very early. If this stalemate drags on for a week or two, the country will run out."   Citizens continue to pack their bags and stream out of Gambia -- a small, narrow enclave of Senegal except for its coast -- by road and ferry heading for Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and Guinea, taking as many possessions as they could carry.   "My two children and I are staying with my aunt. We don't know what will happen tomorrow," said a 50-year-old woman who recently took shelter in Senegal, adding that she hoped to return home soon.
Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2017 04:45:54 +0100

Banjul, Gambia, Jan 18, 2017 (AFP) - Gambia's Yahya Jammeh declared a state of emergency just days before he was due to step down, with British and Dutch travel agencies scrambling to evacuate thousands of tourists Wednesday.   Jammeh, who has ruled The Gambia with an iron fist for 22 years, initially acknowledged opponent Adama Barrow as the victor in December elections, but later rejected the ballot count as flawed and lodged a complaint with the country's Supreme Court.   He declared a state of emergency on Tuesday due to the "unprecedented and extraordinary amount of foreign interference in the December 1 presidential elections and also in the internal affairs of The Gambia," Jammeh announced on state TV.

Citizens were henceforth "banned from any acts of disobedience to the laws of The Gambia, incitement to violence and acts intended to disturb public order and peace," Jammeh said, asking security forces to maintain law and order.   Under the Gambian constitution a state of emergency lasts up to 90 days if the national assembly confirms it -- which the legislature did late Tuesday, a parliamentary source told AFP.   In Washington, the US State Department urged Jammeh to "peacefully hand over power" to Barrow -- who is in Senegal, where he plans to remain until his planned inauguration Thursday.   "Doing so would allow him to leave office with his head held high and to protect the Gambian people from potential chaos," spokesman John Kirby said. "Failure to do so will put his legacy, and more importantly The Gambia, in peril."

The 15-nation Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) has also repeatedly urged Jammeh to respect the outcome of the vote and step aside, a call backed by the UN Security Council, African Union and others.   Jammeh has rebuffed two high-level delegations by west African leaders pleading with him to go.   "The potential for military intervention and civil disturbance is high," the British foreign ministry said on its website, a warning echoed on social media by its Dutch counterpart, who both urged citizens to avoid all but essential travel.   British travel agency Thomas Cook said it had "implemented our contingency plans to bring all our UK customers home," and was trying to arrange evacuation of up to 3,500 tourists from Banjul airport as soon as possible.    "We will operate a programme of additional flights into Banjul airport over the next 48 hours," the company said in a statement, adding this included four extra flights on Wednesday.   The Dutch travel firm TUI Nederland told AFP it would repatriate "about 800" clients.

- String of resignations -
Four more cabinet ministers in Jammeh's government defected, a source close to the regime told AFP on Tuesday.   Foreign minister Neneh Macdouall-Gaye, finance minister Abdou Kolley, trade minister Abdou Jobe and tourism minister Benjamin Roberts all resigned, the source said, requesting anonymity for safety reasons.   They follow the high-profile defection last week of information minister Sheriff Bojang, who is now in neighbouring Senegal.   Citizens continued to pack their bags and stream out of Gambia -- a small, narrow enclave of Senegal except for its coast -- by road and ferry heading for Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and Guinea, taking as many possessions as they could carry.   One traveller told AFP that those arriving at 10:00 am would have to wait until the following day to board a ferry at Banjul port to cross the river headed for Senegal, unless they bribed officials, due to huge numbers exiting the city.

- Military deployment? -
Military intervention in The Gambia seems closer than ever, following declarations by the UN and African Union that boots on the ground could get the green light without a rapid resolution to the crisis.   In Nigeria -- the regional power of west Africa -- a source at the country's military HQ said, "We are deploying to Dakar, Senegal, very soon."   "We are deploying platforms, a few personnel, pilots, technicians and the maintenance crew," said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.   "You already know that this deployment is in connection with the unfolding development in The Gambia."   In Rabat, it was reported that Morocco had offered Jammeh asylum for accepting the election defeat and stepping down "in return for a golden retirement", but Banjul sources were reluctant to confirm the claim.   Seven journalists -- from Sweden and Senegal, plus four from Kenya and South Africa who were working for a Chinese TV channel -- were expelled late Monday soon after they arrived at Banjul airport to cover the ongoing crisis.
Date: Tue, 13 Dec 2016 05:39:37 +0100
By Jennifer O'MAHONY

Banjul, Gambia, Dec 13, 2016 (AFP) - The cocktails keep flowing by the pool on the tourist strip, but in The Gambia's markets many African migrant traders are packing up their businesses and heading home.   The international community is piling pressure on President Yahya Jammeh to leave power after 22 years and hand over to opposition leader Adama Barrow, who won an election two weeks ago only for Jammeh to later reverse his original concession of defeat.

Of the economy's two main sources of investment from abroad, tourism appears to be weathering the country's political storm far better than the thousands of petty traders who move to The Gambia from the rest of west Africa.   President-elect Barrow told AFP on Monday claims that tourist numbers could be hit were "exaggerated", and with hotels and restaurants full, for the moment he appears to be right.   Flights from Brussels and London are still arriving like clockwork for the peak winter sun season, with many holidaymakers telling AFP they return to the country year after year -- and aren't changing their minds.

"I did think there were more checkpoints," said Elly Preston, a returning retired schoolteacher spending three and a half months in Kololi, the Gambian heartland of full English breakfasts and karaoke bars stuffed with crooning pensioners.   Preston had seen alarming posts on the Tripadvisor tourism website, but with hotel prices as low as £40 a night (48 euros) she stuck with her instinct and left behind the cold and rain of Cleckheaton in northern England.   "I feel safe here. I know everybody and we come together," she said from her sunlounger, waving at a friend she met while on holiday here a few years ago.

Reading a thriller while taking in some rays in the late afternoon, Joseph Fowlis from Liverpool is well aware that Jammeh has refused to stand down, and supports Barrow's fight for change.   "Taxi drivers told me they want a democracy," he told AFP. "And why shouldn't they have one?"   But that hasn't affected his budget break. Apart from a higher than usual level of political conversation in the back of cabs, he said, little had changed from the previous years he has been here.   "If you didn't know about it you wouldn't think anything of it," he said.   Hotel owners are slightly more nervous, but as long as the tour operators keep the flights up, business will boom, they told AFP.

- Trader panic -
The tiny west African state relies on largely British and Scandinavian tourists for 20 percent of its GDP.   Meanwhile Guineans, Mauritanians and Senegalese are well known for importing goods and selling them to the local population.   In a recent speech, Jammeh said 100,000 foreigners were working in The Gambia's markets, but did not specify a source for that figure.   Fifteen minutes down the road from Kololi, the hawkers and fruit sellers of Serekunda market have a very different interpretation of the events unfolding.

Amadou Wurri Jallow, a Guinean shopkeeper, spoke of his fear of soldiers being stationed on the streets of his neighbourhood.   "I do not understand why soldiers armed with machine guns would be deployed every night in built-up areas of Serekunda," Jallow said.   "This is really frightening and disturbing. I am leaving for my country until this political stalemate is resolved peacefully."   Fallou Diop, a Senegalese hawker who has lived and worked in The Gambia for the past few years, told AFP shortly before his departure to the city of Touba in central Senegal that the uncertainty was too much.   "Since no one can tell how this problem would come to an end, I am going back to Touba until the dust settles," he said.
Date: Fri 14 Nov 2014
Source: StarAfrica, APA (Agence Africaine de Presse) report [edited]

The head of disease control in the Gambia, Sanna Sambou, has confirmed the reopening of the country's border to countries affected by the deadly Ebola virus, APA reported on Friday [14 Nov 2014]. Mr Sambou noted that border closure was not the best solution to contain the virus, hence the need to reopen borders to allow in and out movement of people between the Gambia and countries affected by Ebola. According to media reports, the issue of border closure, as a result of the outbreak of the disease, was deemed discriminatory and unworthy by the World Health Organisation (WHO), adding that it should be considered a global pandemic.

Despite the restoration of the border crossing, however, Sambou said the health authorities are poised to continue on the thorough screening of people moving into the country from Ebola hit nations. It could be recalled the Gambia in September [2014] announced that it would no longer be granting entrance to Guineans, Liberians, Nigerians or Sierra Leoneans, due to fear of the disease getting into the country.
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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."