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Lesotho

Lesotho US Consular Information Sheet
May 28, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy with a democratically elected lower house of parliament.
The upper house, the Senate, is comprised of appointed hereditary ch
efs and politicians.
A Prime Minister is the head of the government.
Geographically, Lesotho is an extremely mountainous developing nation completely surrounded by the country of South Africa.
The capital, Maseru, is at 5,000 feet (1,500M) above sea level, and the mountains reach to 11,400 feet (3,500M). Facilities for tourism are limited.
A limited number of restaurants are available in Maseru.
Read the Department of State Background Notes on Lesotho for additional information.

ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS:
A passport is required, but no visa for U.S. citizens is needed for visits of 180 days or less.
Vaccination for yellow fever is a common requirement and travelers should carry their international vaccination cards with them.
For more information concerning entry requirements, travelers may contact the Embassy of the Kingdom of Lesotho, 2511 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 797-5533.
Visit the Embassy of Lesotho’s web site at http://www.lesothoemb-usa.gov.ls/ for the most current visa information.

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

SAFETY AND SECURITY:
Lesotho held a general election in February 2007, which international and local observers considered peaceful and independent.
Opposition parties disputed the allocation of parliamentary seats following the election, leading to a protracted political impasse, massive rallies, and several work stoppages in 2007 which disrupted public transportation and some commercial activity.
Although the Southern African Development Community (SADC) undertook a mediation effort aimed at achieving dialogue and reconciliation, senior political and government figures were targeted in a spate of armed attacks in June 2007.
These attacks, including the kidnapping of Lesotho Defense Force (LDF) guards and the seizure of military weapons, resulted in a government-imposed daily curfew from June 15 to June 22, 2007, and reports of harassment at security checkpoints and roadblocks.
Efforts by the Maseru City Council to disperse unlicensed street vendors in the central business district led to confrontations between police and vendors.
U.S. citizens should avoid political gatherings and street demonstrations and maintain security awareness at all times.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.

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

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.
For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME:
U.S. citizens should remain vigilant about their surroundings at all times.
Lesotho has a high level of crime and foreigners are frequently targeted, robbed and sometimes killed.
American citizens reported an increased number of incidents in the first half of 2008, including armed and unarmed confrontations, carjackings, and home invasions.
However, there are no indications that U.S. citizens are being specifically targeted or that there is an increase in the overall crime rate.

The Lesotho Mounted Police Service reported the presence of a number of armed gangs.
Lesotho’s high unemployment rate, aggravated by the return of large numbers of unemployed miners from South Africa, and the ongoing effects of social upheaval due to high HIV/AIDS rates of infection, continue to contribute to an increasing number of reported crimes.
These types of crimes occur primarily in the capital city of Maseru, but can occur elsewhere in Lesotho.
Crime scenes have included popular restaurants, pedestrian overpasses, unlit or poorly lit roads, and other locations foreigners are known to frequent.
Victims have included foreign diplomats, volunteer workers, employees of non-governmental organizations, and nationals of Lesotho.
U.S. citizens are advised to avoid large groups and demonstrations, walking and driving at nighttime if possible, and walking in the capital city of Maseru even during daylight.
Personal crime is more likely to occur at night, but there have been numerous recent incidents in the middle of the day.
Traveling alone or at night is particularly dangerous.
The Lesotho Mounted Police Service handles policing duties.
Police resources are limited and response time varies widely.
U.S. citizens should report crime to the police and to the Embassy consular section.

There is a serious baggage pilferage problem at Johannesburg International Airport, also known as Oliver Tambo International Airport, in South Africa.
Persons traveling by air to Lesotho must travel via Johannesburg.
The pilferage problem particularly affects travelers changing airlines and those flying on smaller airlines.
Passengers flying on major international carriers may not be affected to the same degree.
Travelers are encouraged to secure their luggage, use an airport plastic wrapping service, and avoid placing currency, electronics, jewelry, cameras or other valuables in checked luggage.
Make an inventory of items in checked baggage to aid in claims processing if theft does occur.
The claims processing procedure can be time-consuming.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME:
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.
Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney, if needed.

See our information on Victims of Crime.

MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION:
Medical facilities in Lesotho are limited.
Good medical service is available in Bloemfontein, South Africa, 90 miles west of Maseru.
There is no reliable ambulance service in Lesotho.
The Embassy maintains a list of physicians and other health care professionals in Lesotho who may see U.S. citizen patients.
The Embassy does not guarantee their services or provide recommendations.
Many medicines are unavailable at facilities in Lesotho; travelers should carry with them an adequate supply of needed medicines and/or prescription drugs, along with copies of prescriptions.
Lesotho has a very high HIV/AIDS prevalence rate, currently estimated at over thirty percent of the adult population.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx.
For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en.
Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.

MEDICAL INSURANCE:
The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS:
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
The information below concerning Lesotho is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Traffic moves on the left, with right-hand drive vehicles.
Never assume right-of-way, as aggressive and undisciplined local driving habits result in frequent collisions.
Lesotho has a high number of traffic-related deaths and injuries given its small size.
The previous king died in a road accident in 1996.
Driving after dark is dangerous due to the absence of street lighting, livestock on the roads, and the prevalence of crime, including incidents of carjacking.
American citizens may encounter roadblocks manned by unauthorized or off-duty police officers soliciting cash payments for alleged traffic violations.
Travel is best done by private car.
Rental cars are available, and cars rented in neighboring South Africa may be brought into Lesotho with written permission from the rental company.
Although bus and public taxi services exist, chronic overloading combined with inadequate vehicle maintenance and lack of driver training make them unsafe.
Some private taxi service exists in the capital, but roving mini-bus taxis should be avoided.
There is no passenger train service in the country.
Although the number of paved roads is gradually increasing, the majority of Lesotho’s 5,000 miles of roads are unpaved.
A few main rural highways are comparable to U.S. two-lane rural roads, but lane markings, signs, shoulders and guardrails are not to U.S. standards, and unfenced livestock pose a particular danger.
Lesotho's mountainous terrain makes driving on secondary roads hazardous.
Unpaved roads in the interior, often narrow, twisty and steep, are poorly maintained. For travel in the interior, especially in wet or snowy weather, a high ground clearance or four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended.
Four-wheel-drive is required for entering Lesotho through the Sani Pass on the eastern border.
The authority for road safety issues rests with the Lesotho Mounted Police Service.
There are no auto clubs or reliable ambulance services.
Drivers should contact the police in emergencies.
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
Visit the web site of the country’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safety at http://www.lesothoemb-usa.gov.ls/tourism.htm.

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

The only scheduled air service is between Maseru and Johannesburg on a South African Airways subsidiary. There is no scheduled service among towns within Lesotho.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:
Tap water is not reliably potable.
Visitors to the interior of Lesotho should bring clothing and equipment suitable for cold weather during the winter months (June - October).
In the mountains, weather conditions can deteriorate rapidly.
In winter snow often closes mountain passes and temperatures often drop below freezing during the night, even in the lowlands.

Please see our Customs Information.

CRIMINAL PENALTIES:
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.
Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.
Persons violating Lesotho laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Lesotho are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.
Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

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

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:
Americans living or traveling in Lesotho are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Lesotho.
Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at 254 Kingsway, Maseru West; the mailing address is PO Box 333, Maseru 100, Lesotho.
The telephone number is 266-22-312-666. The Embassy’s e-mail address is infomaseru@state.gov and the URL is http://maseru.usembassy.gov/.
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This replaces the Country Specific Information for Lesotho dated December 19, 2007 to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements, Crime, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Mon 27 May 2019
Source: The Post [edited]

Over 50 people were taken ill this week after they ate meat from cattle that died of anthrax in Qeme last Saturday [18 May 2019]. About 55 were rushed to nearby clinics while 18 of them were given prophylaxis and treated as outpatients. Most of the victims developed blisters and had swollen limbs while others suffered from severe stomach-aches and diarrhoea. So far more than 20 cattle have died from anthrax.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security this week declared that there had been an anthrax outbreak in Qeme area. The disease was 1st noticed in the villages of Ha-Tseka and Ha-Au in Qeme last Saturday [18 May 2019] after the villagers informed the ministry that their cattle were dying. The minister of agriculture, Mahala Molapo, told the post that they ensured that the carcasses were buried and those who ate meat of dead cattle were rushed to health centres for treatment.

A rapid response team comprising the Ministries of Agriculture and Health has since responded to the outbreak in the district. The team is comprised of experts from the Disease Control Unit, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the epidemiologists who swiftly moved to contain the disease. "Our main focus is treating those who ate the infected animals and how to properly bury the carcasses," Molapo said. "We are also testing water sources in the area." He said they are also going to hold public gatherings where they are going to sensitize the communities about the disease. Molapo said they have also banned the movement of animals in and out of the Qeme area, and next week they are going to embark on vaccination campaigns.

The minister said no one has died so far as a result of eating the contaminated meat. He said neighbouring countries have been notified and no movement of animals will be allowed between Lesotho and its neighbours until the disease is contained. He added the country's export of animal products such as skins and meat has also been banned until the crisis is addressed. "We are also planning to provide vaccines countrywide to prevent other diseases like Black Quarter," he said. The minister maintained they have put in place control measures to contain the disease in the affected areas to prevent more cattle from dying.

Meanwhile, the district administrator of Maseru, Mpane Nthunya, said they will start the vaccination campaigns next week. Nthunya said their work will be to meet the community leaders in the affected areas to sensitize them about the outbreak.  [byline: Tokase Mphutlane]
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communicated by:
Sabine Zentis
Castleview English Longhorns
Gut Laach
D-52385 Nideggen
Germany
===========================
[These human cases are in relation to the same villages reported in the previous OIE report (See: ProMED-mail. Anthrax - Lesotho: (MS) cattle, OIE http://promedmail.org/post/20190524.6485405.] With 3 villages affected a human case load of 50 is not unexpected in spite of the optimistic response of the local authorities. To locate the affected area go to the OIE report to see their map. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Fri, 9 Sep 2016 05:27:46 +0200
By Julie JAMMOT

Semonkong, Lesotho, Sept 9, 2016 (AFP) - Across the rough grasslands of Lesotho, jockeys wearing wool balaclavas and scruffy old helmets urge their horses towards the finishing post as hundreds of spectators cheer from a nearby hillside.

Horseracing in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho is not like at Ascot or Longchamp, but it is still highly competitive, involves lots of gambling and is a major social occasion.   The course at Semonkong, in the centre of the landlocked nation, hosts races once a month in the winter, with the most prestigious days marking King Letsi III's birthday in July and independence day in October.   Before each race, the horses are paraded in front of a crowd that expertly assesses breeding, formation and fitness of runners with such exotic names as "4x4", "Cain" and "Jerusalem".   Then the gambling begins.

Most bets are head-to-head wagers over which of two selected horses will be faster, rather than the overall race winner.   "It's an entertainment but it's also our culture, and it refreshes the mind," Mohale Mpapa, 45, a leading racehorse owner and farmer, told AFP.   "It's important to me because I get money if my horse wins, and for the country it's very important because we teach kids how to ride horses.   "If you take care of someone, if you respect him, you make them a good jockey. It's the same with a horse, you need to treat it well."   The horses are either cross-breeds, thoroughbreds from neighbouring South Africa or local "Basotho" ponies, which are better suited to the terrain and climate, and are still used for everyday transport.

- The will to win -
Mpapa's current jockey is Modikeng Tladi, 16, who also works for him as a shepherd.   Tladi -- wearing bright earrings -- rises at dawn and looks after racehorses and sheep that all live in one small, corrugated-iron shed.   "I will be very excited if I win, and very proud, because I will have won a professional race in front of everyone," he said before a recent race meeting.

"In my first race, I was so scared, now I'm used to it. I feel comfortable and excited when I ride the horse, I want to win all the time."   Tladi takes the patchwork blanket off a horse called "Kodi-a-Malla" and walks him over the hills to the racecourse -- a difficult job as the animal is twice his size and full of energy.   When race time finally comes, tensions mount as Mpapa checks the small saddle and issues last-minute instructions to Tladi before helping him on board.

Without stalls, the horses line up chaotically and -- after several false starts -- set off at a furious pace when an official waves his white flag and just avoids being trampled.   Tladi only manages fourth, but the team is happy enough.   "During training my horse got injured, so I didn't train him very hard, and next time it will be better," said Mpapa, who owns 15 horses in total.

- Unique heritage -
The Lesotho races are growing as a cultural event, and have received government sponsorship to boost visitor numbers to a nation that boasts stunning landscapes and a unique heritage independent from surrounding South Africa.

The owners of the first four horses in each race win between $20 and $70, with more than $1,000 on offer during the day.   "I have loved horses since I was very young, and they're part of my business," said Jonathan Hales, 46, who owns the nearby Semonkong Lodge that caters for tourists.   "The future of the horses of Lesotho comes out of these races, where all the breeders and owners can analyse and look at them.   "Tourism is also connected to the horses, so we promote them and care for them -- it's all about fun, not about winning and losing."

Jockeys such as Tladi may not agree.   After riding in several races and making some small bets, he made about $60 during the day -- 10 days of normal pay.   While the owners of victorious horses celebrate with joyful dancing, the jockeys barely manage a smile as they quickly ride over to collect their cash.   For the spectators, many of them wearing traditional blankets, racing combines their passion for animals with a chance to test their luck and judgement.   "The horse I bet on just lost, but I will keep gambling, I just love horses," said 50-year-old Motseki Pakela.
Date: Sat, 13 Aug 2016 05:04:53 +0200
By Julie JAMMOT

Sephareng, Lesotho, Aug 13, 2016 (AFP) - For farmer Mohlakoane Molise, the view of the enormous Katse dam from his smallholding high in the mountains of Lesotho taunts him daily.   His country is suffering through its worst drought in 35 years, but the vast and vital water reserves remain out of reach, destined instead for export to neighbouring South Africa.   "I am very angry about that water, because it could benefit us, we could use it to water the crops when there is a drought. But that's not happening," the 65-year-old widower told AFP.

Kneeling in front of his round, thatch-roofed hut, he sorted through his maize, examining each grain, one-by-one.   The operation didn't take long. His total annual harvest filled just two large sacks, in place of the usual dozen.   According to the World Food Programme (WFP), the 2016 harvest for Lesotho's primary crop maize is estimated at 25,000 tonnes, a dramatic drop from last year's 78,000-tonne haul.

Instead, the mountainous kingdom -- entirely landlocked by South Africa -- must import food from its larger neighbour.   But it too has been hit by the drought after the El Nino weather phenomenon wreaked havoc on the region's rainfall patterns, and maize prices have sky-rocketed by 60 percent in the last year.   According to the United Nations, 40 million people across southern Africa risk malnutrition by next year's harvest.   "From September, we'll have nothing left and we'll struggle to buy maize from the shop," said Molise.   Below, the immense dark blue of the dam stood out in stark contrast to the bare, brown mountains.

- 'It's like a desert' -
The valley here was flooded in the nineties to make way for Katse. The deal: hydroelectricity for impoverished Lesotho in exchange for a reliable water supply to the bustling cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria.   "There were fields around the river before the dam was built, and there were trees, but they are covered by water," said Molise.   "Since the dam is here, it's difficult to get water. The crops are very poor, even the grazing land. It's like a desert."   In Sephareng, the village tap has run dry for months. Residents must instead make their way up the mountain -- a good half-hour walk along a rocky trail -- to a communal pump. There, a feeble trickle of water fills their buckets, while their cows and donkeys drink from the small puddles left behind by a vanishing stream.

For its part, Africa's second-largest dam is fulfilling its mandate, despite the drought.   "The level today is about 63.4 percent, which is quite low," said Tatuku Maseatile, Katse acting branch manager for the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA).   "We are still able to meet our annual targets in terms of both generation and water transfer."   From his office high up on the soaring dam wall, he had an unparalleled view of the waters below.   "I do think people are benefiting from the dam," he said, ticking the projects off: a water supply system, construction jobs, two industrial fishing projects, schools.   "And roads in the mountains, tarred roads brought by the project -- another direct spin-off -- and a clinic built and transferred to the government."

- Disastrous consequences -
Along those tarred roads, women trudged uphill for hours to reach the clinic for the WFP's monthly food distribution.   "We give them four packs each," explained Mamakase Grace Sello, 21, a nutrition student interning with the WFP.   "It's for lactating or pregnant mothers, and infants below the age of two. But we know that often the whole family eats some, including the fathers, even if they should not. The nutrients are for the babies."   In a country where the overwhelming majority of families depend on their own crops for food and where nearly a quarter of the population is affected by AIDS, charities are predicting disastrous consequences by next year's harvest.

Earlier this year, the Lesotho government declared the drought a natural disaster.   "I've never seen a drought like this," said shepherd Ntoaesele Mashongoane, 32.   "This drought is really terrible, especially for the pregnant sheep. They don't have enough grass and there's no water."   His flock moved down the steep mountainsides to the water's edge for a drink -- a small consolation -- and the deep blue of the dam reflected the skies above, not a raindrop in sight.
Date: Thu, 1 Nov 2012 17:33:42 +0100 (MET)

MASERU, Lesotho, Nov 01, 2012 (AFP) - The Lesotho government fears it may not raise enough cash to avert a pending food crisis caused by two successive crop failures, the head of the country's disaster management authority said Thursday. "We are far from reaching the amount required to bail the country out of the food crisis it's facing, we may not even get half of that money and we strongly appeal for more donors to assist us," said Mats'eliso Mojaki. The tiny mountainous country is trying to raise 1.8 billion maloti, or around $200 million it believes is needed to avert disaster caused by unfavourable weather. "We are in a dire situation and can only appeal to the international community to assist."

Mojaki indicated that the country has not developed alternative plans in case they fail to get the entire amount. "At the present moment we do not have a plan B, but are however devising a long term prevention and adaptation plan. UNICEF Deputy Representative Naqib Safi described the situation as "dire". "More than two thirds of the country's population is facing a serious food crisis and we need assistance." Around 725,000 people out of a population of 1.8 million are said to be at serious risk this year and next. The kingdom relies on subsistence agriculture for income.
Date: Fri, 28 Sep 2012 15:15:28 +0200 (METDST)

GENEVA, Sept 28, 2012 (AFP) - More than 725,000 people face a food crisis in the tiny southern African nation of Lesotho after successive disastrous harvests cut production by 70 percent, the World Food Programme said Friday.   "Lesotho is facing the devastating effects of two successive crop failures due to drought and late rainfall," WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters in Geneva.

More than one third of the country's nearly two million people were at risk because of the poor harvests, Byrs said, describing the crop deficit as a "catastrophe for this little country".   Production of maize, the main staple food in Lesotho, has declined by 77 percent compared with last year, the food agency said.

Levels of other cereals such as sorghum and wheat were down by 80 percent and 52 percent respectively, meaning that the country will have less than 10 percent of its requirements for 2012/13, the WFP added in a statement.   Among those facing the food crisis, 230,000 people were "particularly vulnerable" to hunger, the agency said, especially the very poor, orphans and those with HIV/AIDS, an illness that affects 25 percent of the population.

Announcing an appeal for $38 million (29.3 million euros) in association with other humanitarian partners, the WFP said it aimed to provide life-saving help to 118,000 "of the most deprived".   It would also meet the needs "of all 725,000 food-insecure people" by boosting crop production and improving food security, health and nutrition.   The development follows Lesotho's declaration of an emergency food crisis on August 9, Byrs said.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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