News, August 8th

Building a green economy, brick by brick

In Uruguay, thousands of families earn a precarious livelihood making bricks, using traditional methods that are often inefficient and harmful to the environment. A UN project, in collaboration with the Uruguayan government, aims to make the industry less polluting, whilst preserving jobs for the many artisans who depend on it.

When Eduardo Romero was 40 years old, he was fired from his job as a bricklayer. It was 1992, in the city of Durazno, Uruguay. With his few belongings on his shoulder, Eduardo headed for the north of the country and stopped only when he found work. It was in the city of Tranqueras, and his new source of income came from land, fire, and water: Eduardo started making bricks.

Today, five jobs, two ventures, three children and 28 years later, Mr. Romero is still linked to this insecure industry, which is both an easy source of employment for those who need it most, but where people work without social security or insurance, and with their labor rights continuously violated. “It is a precarious sector,” says Mr. Romero. “We are always on the edge of town, wearing dirty clothes.”

Reliable statistics on the industry are hard to come by, but estimates suggest that there are some 14,000 families working in 3,500 production units across the country. The informal nature of the work makes for high turnover.

On top of the pressure on individual workers, the industry has a negative impact on the environment; emissions are high and some brickmakers, lacking other sources of fuel, burn protected species of trees.

During the brickmaking season, which lasts from September to April, an artisanal producer can make an average of about 30,000 bricks per month; the entire sector in Uruguay yields enough bricks every year to build at least 1,500 new houses, plus hundreds of businesses, kilns, factories, and more.

Eduardo is one of a growing number of artisanal producers who are changing the way they make bricks and, in the process, helping the entire country enjoy a cleaner environment. But in a sector like this, changing traditions is difficult.

Making bricks the traditional way, is an art that requires several stages. First the elements are obtained to make the raw material: water, soil, clay, sand, and organic matter such as horse dung.

This material is mixed and put into molds, then laid out to dry for three days. Then they are baked in an oven, with firewood serving as the main fuel, for between two and seven days, and allowed to cool. Four days later they are ready for sale.

At each stage of the process, there are abundant occupational hazards and environmental impacts.

In addition, this method is far more inefficient than modern, mechanized techniques: according to the government, factories can churn out bricks almost seven times faster than an artisanal producer.

“The artisanal brick industry is far behind in technological terms,” says Pablo Montes, who works for the Uruguayan government, and is also national coordinator of PAGE Uruguay (Partnership for Action on the Green Economy), a project involving the UN and the Uruguayan Government.

He explains that there are significant obstacles to artisans moving to newer techniques: it has fewer job opportunities; it also requires certification that most artisans don’t have, whether for the expense, or because many have not finished primary school and can barely read or write.  

That’s why PAGE is looking to support the artisanal industry, helping workers to enjoy greater rights and higher incomes, and cutting pollution during the production process.

PAGE staff talked to brickmakers from all over the country, looking for improvements at every stage of the production process, and brought in consultants from other countries – such as Colombia, which has already undergone its own transformation – to give workshops on how to make better bricks.

By doing so, PAGE is helping to move Uruguay closer to the twin goals of a greener and more prosperous economy. The project is still in progress and is developing even better methods and training more brickmakers.

“Transforming the industry will allow these ventures to be successful,” says Mr. Romero. Still, he has no illusions that such a change will be easy to achieve.

“In this profession, there are men and women who have made an honest living for decades or for their whole lives,” he explains. Artisanal brickmaking is a way of life, a tradition. Countless homes and businesses in every part of Uruguay have been built with bricks made by the hands of anonymous laborers. They have invested their lives in the profession, and they are proud of what they have created.

“That is what we are trying to defend,” says Mr. Romero. Even as he changes his own way of working, with guidance from PAGE, he realizes that not everyone will be so quick to adapt. Some may be skeptical of outsiders who come to teach them a skill they’ve practiced for many years.

Pablo Montes of PAGE is optimistic that brickmakers will be won over by the benefits that the new ways of working offer them. “We want to keep the industry artisanal, while making it safer and greener,” he says. “We can have both.”

Fury over Beirut blast fuels protests, clashes with police

Public fury over this week’s massive explosion in Beirut took a new turn Saturday night as protesters stormed government institutions and clashed for hours with security forces, who responded with heavy volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets.

One police officer was killed, and dozens of people hurt in the confrontations, which played out in streets that were wrecked from Tuesday’s blast at the port that devastated much of the city and killed nearly 160 people. Dozens were still missing and nearly 6,000 people injured.

The disaster has taken popular anger to a new level in a country already reeling from an unprecedented economic and financial crisis and near bankruptcy.

Activists who called for the protest set up symbolic nooses at Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square to hang politicians whose corruption and negligence they blame for the explosion.

The blast was fueled by thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate that had been improperly stored at the port for more than six years. Apparently set off by a fire, the explosion was by far the biggest in Lebanon’s troubled history and caused an estimated $10 billion to 15 billion in damage, according to Beirut’s governor. It also damaged 6,200 buildings and left hundreds of thousands of people homeless.

“Resignation or hang,” read a banner held by protesters, who also planned to hold a symbolic funeral for the dead. Some nooses were also set up along the bridges outside the port.

Khodr Ghadir, 23, said the noose was for everyone who has been in power for the last 30 years. “What happened was a spark for people to return to the streets.”

A placard listed the names of the dead, printed over a photo of the blast’s enormous pink mushroom cloud. “We are here for you,” it read.

Dozens of protesters stormed the buildings of government ministries and the headquarters of the banking association, turning their rage to state and financial institutions.

Earlier Saturday, the protesters entered the empty buildings of the foreign ministry, declaring it a headquarters of their movement. Others then fanned out to enter the economy and energy ministries, some walking away with documents claiming they will reveal the extent of corruption that permeates the government. Some also entered the environment ministry.

Many protesters said they now had only their homes and even those are no longer safe. They blamed the government’s inefficiency and political division for the country ills, including the recent disaster that hit almost every home.

The violence unfolded on the eve of an international conference co-hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres aimed at bringing donors together to supply emergency aid and equipment to the Lebanese population.

In a televised speech Saturday evening, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said the only solution was to hold early elections, which he planned to propose in a draft bill. He called on all political parties to put aside their disagreements and said he was prepared to stay in the post for two months to allow time for politicians to work on structural reforms.

The offer is unlikely to soothe the escalating fury on the street.

In central Beirut, some protesters threw stones at security forces, who then released heavy tear gas. Near parliament, protesters tried to jump over barriers that closed the road leading to the legislature. The protesters later set on fire a truck that was fortifying barriers on a road leading to parliament.

At least 238 people were hurt in the clashes, and 63 of them needed to be taken to the hospital, according to the Red Cross. Several protesters were carried away with blood running down their faces. At one point, gunfire could be heard, but its source was not immediately clear.

The country’s ruling class, made up mostly of former civil war-era leaders, is blamed for incompetence and mismanagement that contributed to Tuesday’s explosion.

“The current leaders’ bloodline needs to end. We want the death of the old Lebanon and the birth of a new one,” said Tarek, a 23-year-old university student who had prepared a mix of water and paint in a bottle to throw at the police. No peaceful protest would bring about change, he said.

Sandy Chlela, a 35-year old from Kousba in the north, disagreed with Tarek. She said she had no illusion that the protests would bring change, but the demonstrations were a necessary expression of anger and puts some pressure on the politicians.

“I know it will not change much but we can’t act as if nothing happened,” the computer programmer said.

The state, which is investigating the cause of the explosion, has been conspicuously absent from the ravaged streets of Beirut, with almost zero involvement in the cleanup. Instead, teams of young volunteers with brooms have fanned out to sweep up broken glass and reopen roads.

The U.S embassy in Beirut tweeted that “the Lebanese people have suffered too much and deserve to have leaders who listen to them and change course to respond to popular demands for transparency and accountability.”

Documents that surfaced after the blast showed that officials had been repeatedly warned for years that the presence of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate at the port posed a grave danger, but no one acted to remove it. Officials have been blaming one another, and 19 people have been detained, including the port’s chief, the head of Lebanon’s customs department and his predecessor.

The protests came as senior officials from the Middle East and Europe visited in a show of solidarity with the tiny country that is still in shock.

The president of the European Council, Charles Michel, arrived in Beirut for a brief visit. Turkey’s vice president and the country’s foreign minister met Aoun and said that Ankara was ready to help rebuild Beirut’s port and evacuate some of the wounded to Turkey for treatment.

At the site of the blast, workers continued searching for dozens of missing people.

Italy’s cabinet passes new 25-bln-euro stimulus package for COVID-19 recovery

Italy’s cabinet on Friday gave green light to a new decree containing new supportive measures worth 25 billion euros (29.4 billion U.S. dollars) to address the COVID-19 emergency and encourage economic recovery.

The decision on the extra spending had been taken by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s cabinet in a previous meeting on July 23 and authorized by parliament on July 29.

The fresh resources represented the third economic provision aimed at supporting the economy, which has been severely hit by the lockdown measures imposed to curb the coronavirus.

A first 25-billion-euro decree had been passed in March, and a second worth 55 billion euros in May.

“The decree aims at supporting workers, businesses, and local institutions overall,” Conte told a press conference after the meeting.

“The latest data by ISTAT (the National Institute of Statistics) showed consumption has partially resumed in June already, and this was possible also thanks to the previous measures delivered,” he explained.

The new stimulus measures contained in the 103-article decree include an 18-week extension of public funding for workers put in temporary redundancy schemes. Companies accessing the schemes, however, will have to put on hold any cut to their workforce in the same period.

In addition, employers calling back workers, who were put on redundancy in the previous months due to the COVID-19 crisis, will be allowed a 100 percent cut of social contribution payments for four months.

A specific measure to help businesses and employment in the less-developed southern regions was delivered, providing for a 30 percent cut of social contribution payments to companies for all of their employees (and not just for new hiring) starting from Oct. 1.

Among other provisions, the package included extra funding for public schools reopening in September under anti-COVID safety rules and rescheduling of fiscal and social contribution payments for workers across a period of two years.

A specific non-repayable fund was set aside “to support businesses based in the historic centers of 29 cities across Italy that are particularly devoted to international tourism,” Conte explained in the press conference, not specifying the total amount of the fund.

A 400-euro ’emergency income’ introduced in March for supporting low-income households hit by the coronavirus emergency was also renewed until Oct. 15.

With the new decree, some containment measures approved in the previous months to curb the spread of the coronavirus were extended up to Sept. 7.

Wearing face masks will remain mandatory in all indoor public spaces — for all but children under 6 years of age — as well as maintaining the one-meter interpersonal safety distance and avoiding public gatherings.

Any person with a body temperature higher than 37.5 degrees Celsius will be required to remain at home and avoid any working or leisure activity outdoors.

The 25-billion-euro deficit hike implemented with the decree will now push Italy’s budget deficit to 11.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year and public debt to 157.6 percent of GDP, according to estimates provided by officials of Bank of Italy in late July.

The Italian economy — the third largest in the 19-member eurozone — was likely to contract by around 9.5 percent in 2020 and rebound by 4.8 percent in 2021 and by 2.4 percent in 2022, according to the same sources.

A state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic declared by the Italian government on Jan. 31, and originally due to expire on July 31, was recently extended until Oct. 15.

Local, county, state departments see typical Rally-related crime

Sturgis Police, Meade County Sheriff’s and South Dakota State Highway Patrol department officials said the 80th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is pretty typical as far as crime goes.

Sturgis Police Chief Geody VanDewater said his department is down by 27 calls overall, although there’s been an increase in non-injury accidents.

According to information the department released this morning, there were 11 non-injury accidents as of 6 a.m. Friday and 6 a.m. Saturday. Last year there was one.

Meade County Sheriff’s Ron Merwin said they had 21 people move through the county jail, which is one short of last year.

“We’re running pretty even,” he said.

Those arrested are going through the courthouse basement jail rather than the general population county jail. He said people taken in go through COVID-19 screening.

The only difference this year is that judges have agreed to be on call every night, so about 98% of those brought in, if they have the legal .06 or less alcohol limit, are bonded out and return to court the following day.

Merwin said the majority of cases have been for reckless driving and DUI.

State Highway Patrol Capt. Jason Kettering said the number of crashes has picked up since Friday, but that it’s still comparable to last year.

He said the state has seen more motorcycle fatalities than previous years, but there’s not necessarily a concrete conclusion that can be drawn.

Kettering said the Department of Transportation will release its traffic numbers starting Monday.

All departments said their officers are equipped with personal protective equipment.

Our solar system looks like a deflated croissant, reveals NASA

Our solar system looks like a deflated croissant, NASA has revealed after developing a new prediction of the shape of the magnetic bubble surrounding our solar system.

Using data from NASA missions, an updated model of our solar system suggests the shape of the Sun’s bubble of influence, the heliosphere, may be a deflated croissant shape, rather than the long-tailed comet shape suggested by other research.

The shape of the heliosphere is more than a question of academic curiosity. The heliosphere acts as our solar system’s shield against the rest of the galaxy.

According to new research published in the journal Nature Astronomy, all the planets of our solar system are encased in a magnetic bubble, carved out in space by the Sun’s constantly outflowing material, the solar wind.

Outside this bubble is the interstellar medium — the ionized gas and magnetic field that fills the space between stellar systems in our galaxy.

Traditionally, scientists have thought of the heliosphere as a comet shape, with a rounded leading edge, called the nose, and a long tail trailing behind.

The shape of the heliosphere is difficult to measure from within.

The closest edge of the heliosphere is more than 10 billion miles from Earth.

NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, mission studies the heliosphere.

Merav Opher, lead author of new research at Boston University, and colleagues used data from NASA planetary science missions to characterize the behavior of material in space that fills the bubble of the heliosphere and get another perspective on its borders.

“Because the pick-up ions dominate the thermodynamics, everything is very spherical. But because they leave the system very quickly beyond the termination shock, the whole heliosphere deflates,” said Opher.

The heliosphere’s shape is also part of the puzzle for seeking out life on other worlds.

The damaging radiation from galactic cosmic rays can render a world uninhabitable, a fate avoided in our solar system because of our strong celestial shield, said the researchers.

Vietnam café offers purr-fect pick-me-up

If your idea of the purr-fect day is spending it curled up with convalescent rescue cats and a coffee, then one cafe in Vietnam has you covered.

Ngao’s Home Cafe in Hanoi is a loving home for 15 felines, many of whom were abandoned or found injured after being bitten by dogs or suffering serious accidents.

“I try to help cats with difficult backgrounds, to heal their physical and mental wounds,” said 24-year-old cafe owner Nguyen Thanh Binh ahead of International Cat Day today.

The cafe has clawed its way up the favorite list of many cat lovers since it opened last month, offering coffee and cuddles but also the chance to give the animals medicine and even engage with them on a deeper level.

“When I come to this cafe, apart from playing with the cats, I can hear their stories and empathize with them,” 20-year-old student and customer Le Hoang Yen told AFP.

Many cats in Vietnam are cherished pets, but others are sold for their meat, which is considered a delicacy in parts of the country.

Thieves have been known to steal cats which can then be sold on for consumption.

Owner Binh was inspired to start the coffee house, which runs as a non-profit, after spotting cats in cages, and others who had been injured by thieves.

“Once me and my friends have the cats, we first bring those with injuries or medical problems to a vet. Then when they get better, I take them here to the cafe for even better care,” he said as he stroked a fluffy white feline, blind in one eye.

He also hopes one or two customers might be tempted to take home more than a coffee.

“I will help them find new owners– ones who really love them.”

Vietnamese missions celebrate ASEAN’s anniversary abroad

Vietnam’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in its capacity as ASEAN Chair in New York hosted a virtual ceremony on August 7 to celebrate the 53rd founding anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) (August 8).

The ceremony was attended by President of the UN General Assembly Tijjani Muhammad Bande, UN Under-Secretary-General Atul Khare, UN Assistant Secretary-General Alexander Zuev and more than 4,000 delegates from UN member states.

Bande applauded ASEAN’s key role in maintaining peace, stability and prosperity in the region and expressed his wish to further enhance close cooperation between ASEAN and the UN in various fields such as peacekeeping, counterterrorism, natural disaster mitigation, climate change, protection of laborer’s, gender equality and children’s rights.

He welcomed ASEAN’s efforts in promoting sustainable development and enhancing links between the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Khare also expressed his desire to step up close cooperation between ASEAN and the UN, especially in peacekeeping and building peacekeeping capacity, and thanked ASEAN member nations for sending 5,000 servicepersons, including servicewomen, to UN peacekeeping missions.

Amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, he said, ASEAN may play an important role in dealing with the current challenges.

He took this occasion to thank Vietnam for helping the UN’s COVID-19 medical evacuation force to bring UN staff infected with the coronavirus to high-quality treatment facilities as well as providing technical training for nations sending servicepersons to peacekeeping missions within the ASEAN-UN cooperation framework.

On behalf of the ASEAN member states, Head of Vietnam’s Permanent Mission to the UN Ambassador Dang Dinh Quy said ASEAN has been developing strongly since its inception 53 years ago, emerging from a war-torn region to a region of peace, stability, prosperity, and dynamic development.

These achievements are attributed to the efforts of ASEAN people and the close relations with partner and friend nations around the world as well as the UN, he stressed.

The ambassador affirmed the commitment to join hands with other nations to further promote ASEAN-UN relations in the fields of politics, economy, culture, and social affairs.

The same day, the Vietnamese Embassy in South Africa hoisted the ASEAN flag to mark the bloc’s 53rd founding anniversary.

Speaking at the ceremony, Vietnamese Ambassador to South Africa Hoang Van Loi said as ASEAN Chair 2020, Vietnam has been trying its best to leading the bloc to seize opportunities and effectively respond to challenges in the “Cohesive and Responsive” spirit.

As South Africa is planning to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) this year, relations between South Africa and ASEAN in general and its member states in particular, including Vietnam, are expected to see new and strong development steps, especially in the fields of economy-trade and coordination at regional and international forums, Loi added.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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