Facebook has delayed the launch of its new dating feature in Europe, after a last-minute visit by officers from the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC). The DPC said it had been told about the feature just 10 days ahead of the planned launch and "no information or documentation was provided to us". "We were very concerned that this was the first that we d heard," it said. Officers had gathered documents during Monday s inspection of Facebook s EU headquarters, in Dublin, the DPC said. The move also affects the UK market, which is bound to EU rules during the post-Brexit transition period this year. Tinder to add panic button and anti-catfishing tech Why do gay apps struggle to stop fakes and frauds? Facebook, however, said it had completed the necessary paperwork and shared it when asked. "It s really important that we get the launch of Facebook Dating right, so we are taking a bit more time to make sure the product is ready for the European market," a representative said. "We worked carefully to create strong privacy safeguards and complete the data-processing impact assessment ahead of the proposed launch in Europe, which we shared with the [regulator] when it was requested." No new date has been set for the roll-out. What is Facebook Dating? Facebook Dating launched in the US in September as part of the existing Facebook phone app. The feature, a potential competitor to dating giant Tinder, uses Facebook s data on a person to show common friends and interests on their dating profile. It can also pull in posts from Instagram - a Facebook-owned company. Other dating apps - such as Tinder and Bumble - can also use Facebook login features to build the user s profile. Image copyrightFACEBOOK Because Facebook already had a lot of information about people s lives, the company said, it had made special efforts to ensure safety, security and privacy. Unlike Facebook Messenger, photos, videos, and links cannot be sent through the dating messaging service. It is also available to over-18s only and does not - unless requested - try to match users with their existing Facebook friends. The app has been available in selected countries for less than half a year, attempting to wrest some of the market share from leaders Tinder and Bumble, each of which has tens of millions of users.
LONDON (AP) — The British government says it will give regulators the power to fine social media companies for harmful material on their platforms. Plans announced Wednesday would give the UK s telecommunications watchdog, Ofcom, power to enforce a “duty of care” on companies such as Facebook and Twitter “to protect users from harmful and illegal terrorist and child abuse content.” Firms that allow harmful material to flourish or don t remove it quickly could be sanctioned. Ofcom currently keeps tabs on radio and television broadcasters, and has the power to levy fines or even kick repeat offenders off the air. The government said it was “minded” to make the changes, but new legislation will be needed for it to take effect. It said officials were working “at pace” to draft a new law. Ofcom will hold companies to account if they don t deal with harmful material, and platforms will have to remove “illegal content” quickly and “minimize the risk of it appearing.” In order to safeguard freedom of expression, the rules won t ban people from accessing or posting offensive but legal content, though the government indicated it would let internet companies decide what material is tolerated. Online companies “will be required to explicitly state what content and behavior is acceptable on their sites in clear and accessible terms and conditions and enforce these effectively, consistently and transparently,” the government said. Tech companies welcomed the regulations. “Facebook has long called for new regulations to set high standards across the internet,” said Rebecca Stimson, the social network s head of UK public policy. “New rules are needed so that we have a more common approach across platforms and companies aren t making so many important decisions alone.” YouTube, owned by Google, said it looked forward to “working in partnership with the Government and Ofcom to ensure a free, open and safer internet that works for everyone.” Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan said the new rules would be “proportionate and strong.” “We have an incredible opportunity to lead the world in building a thriving digital economy, driven by groundbreaking technology, that is trusted by and protects everyone in the UK,” she said. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said it welcomed “a duty of care model that puts the onus on big tech to prevent online harms.” But free-speech advocates have expressed concerns about state attempts to limit activity that may be harmful but is not illegal.
The Egyptian Space Agency is set to host “Space Day”on February 16, an open event aiming to inform the public of the agency s work and upcoming projects and provide a platform for exchanging research and experience related to the science of outer space and satellite technology in the Middle East and Africa. The event, which was organized under the slogan “Space for Society,” will be held between 9 am and 3 pm at the Leadership and Management Development Center in Giza s Agouza, and people of all ages, university students, and foreign and local officials and researchers are set to attend. “We invite members of Egyptian society to participate with us in this event and celebrate the launch of Egyptian satellites, which were designed and manufactured 100 percent by Egyptian minds,” said Mohamed al-Qousy, CEO of the Egyptian Space Agency. During the event, the agency will also present Egypt s achievements in the field of space exploration and related sciences, he said. The Egyptian Space Agency was established in 2018 to coordinate the efforts of various scientific bodies concerned with studying outer space and satellite technology, so as to promote development in Egypt and protect national security. The agency has supported Egyptian universities in their efforts to establish laboratories for studies related to space science, Qousy said. He went on to say that the event provides an exceptional opportunity for officials, researchers, and the public to get acquainted with the Egyptian space program. A number of ministers, ambassadors of concerned countries and senior officials will participate in Egypt s Space Day, during which a platform will also be launched to organize science programs and related activities, and promote dialogue between foreign researchers and scientists in Egypt, the wider Arab world, and Africa. The day s events will also include an exhibition for private companies and Egyptian universities to display their vision and attract young people interested in the space field, with officials from the agency set to host discussions on its programs and upcoming plans. Three workshops scheduled for Space Day will also give participants practical knowledge about building and using satellites. Moreover, sponsors of Egypt s Space Day and the winners of the Egyptian Space Agency s logo design contest will be honored at the event. Qousy stressed that efforts to organize Space Day are consistent with the general framework of the country s social and economic development plans for achieving Egypt s 2030 vision. In December, Qousy announced that the first-ever competition to send an Egyptian astronaut to space was set to begin in January 2020, adding that any young man or woman was welcome to apply for the contest. Also that month, Egyptian Satellite Company “NileSat” signed a contract to manufacture and launch the new satellite “NileSat 301,” alongside French aerospace company Thales Alenia Space. Development of the new satellite began almost three years ago, and it is set to launch in 2022. The new satellite will expand its coverage to countries in the south of the African continent and along the Nile basin. This should help to strengthen communication across the African continent in line with the ongoing efforts of political leaders to bolster ties between Egypt and other African nations, according to NileSat head Ahmed Anis.
MELBOURNE/SYDNEY (Reuters) – A four-day downpour across Australia s east coast has brought relief after months of devastating bushfires and years of drought, but also widespread storm damage and forecasts of more wild weather to come. The weekend drenching represented the biggest sustained run of rainfall in Sydney and surrounding areas for 30 years, dousing some bushfires and replenishing depleted dams across New South Wales, the country s most populous state. Some rural areas received more rain in recent days than they had in the entirety of the past year – a startling and swift turnaround from the bushfires that have killed 33 people and ravaged large parts of the east coast. “It s amazing what the smell of the rain can do to people s spirits,” Ben Shields, the mayor of the inland city of Dubbo, told Reuters on the phone. Like many other rural towns, Dubbo has been beset by duststorms and subjected to water restrictions on the back of a three-year drought. James Jackson, a sheep and cattle farmer in the drought-hit Guyra district some 500 kilometers (311 miles) north of Sydney, told Reuters the region was starting to turn green again. “This one event won t replenish the whole soil moisture profile. We ll need a couple of these, but this is certainly a good start for those people who got it,” said Jackson, who is also the president of industry body NSW Farmers. “I have two-year-old sheep who are seeing green grass for the first time.” Bushfire warning signs were almost swamped by floods in several areas as the weekend rainfall cut power to tens of thousands of homes, caused travel chaos in Sydney and closed scores of schools for the start of the week. Almost 400 millimeters (15.8 inches) of rain fell in the Sydney area and surrounding areas. The Warragamba Dam, which supplies about four-fifths of Sydney s water, jumped from about 40 percent to above 60 percent full in just over a week, the state s water authority said, shoring up water supplies for the city of five million. The NSW Rural Fire Service s Sydney headquarters has been reconfigured to respond to floods and storm damage because of the rapid shift in the weather threat. WILDFIRES EXTINGUISHED Parts of northern and inland NSW, along with southern Queensland, have been in drought since 2016, severely reducing river and dam levels while also creating the tinder-dry conditions that have fueled this season s deadly bushfires. The weekend rain extinguished some of the worst bushfires in NSW, including the Gospers Mountain megafire in the Blue Mountains and the Currawon blaze on the south coast. Each burned for months, together razing more than one million hectares (2.5 million acres) of bushland and destroying hundreds of homes. In contrast, flood evacuation warnings have now been ordered for parts of the Conjola region, authorities said, where deadly fires razed dozens of homes on New Year s Eve. Thunderstorms are forecast for NSW and neighboring Victoria state in coming days. The rain has put some much-needed moisture into parched land months out from the all-important wheat-planting season which is crucial to the fortunes of Australia s biggest crop. Phin Ziebell, agribusiness economist at National Australia Bank, said the rain would also encourage farmers in the north-east state of Queensland to rebuild their stock numbers now they had water and feed. “Some of the driest parts of Queensland have received a drenching, which will help pasture growth,” Ziebell said.
Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil more than doubled in January compared with the previous year, according to official data published Friday. More than 280 square kilometers (110 square miles) were cleared, an increase of 108 percent. It was the largest area cleared in the month of January since 2015, when such data started being collected, according to Brazil s National Institute for Space Research (INPE). The data was collected by the INPE s satellite-based DETER system, which monitors deforestation in real time. In comparison, 136 square kilometers were cleared in January 2019, 183 square kilometers in 2018 and 58 square kilometers in 2017. INPE data published in mid-January found that deforestation in the Amazon in northern Brazil had soared 85 percent in 2019, clearing 9,166 square kilometers — the highest number in at least five years — versus 4,946 square kilometers cleared in 2018. The sharp increase overlapped the first year in office of President Jair Bolsonaro, a climate change skeptic who has eased restrictions on exploiting the Amazon s vast riches. Bolsonaro made headlines in August when he attempted to minimize the resurgence of forest fires that had shocked the world. On August 2, INPE then-president Ricardo Galvao was sacked by Bolsonaro s administration, which accused him of exaggerating the extent of the deforestation. On Wednesday, Bolsonaro unveiled a sweeping plan for the Amazon rainforest that would open indigenous lands to mining, farming and hydroelectric power projects. Many NGOs said this would further increase deforestation. The bill, which has yet to be approved by Congress, is a “dream” for the far-right leader but a “nightmare” for environmentalists and tribal leaders.
SAO PAULO (AP) — Their bodies painted black, dozens of members the Brazil s Guarani Mbya tribe lift their hands and sing a mourning song for hundreds of felled trees beside their village. They weep, chant and perform funeral rites for a lost patch of forest on the edge of Latin America s biggest city. People in the tribe rushed to the site, at the base of Sao Paulo s Jaraguá Peak, as soon as they heard chainsaws toppling trees on Jan. 30. Some wore feathered headdresses and held arrows in clenched fists. The display alarmed construction company employees, who called the police and sought refuge in a shack nearby. “Two employees of the company came in December to tell us not to be scared about the chainsaws,” tribal leader David Fernandes told The Associated Press. “There s no city here. There s just forest. How can the authorities give a license to build here? There has been no dialogue. It is our right to have a say about what impacts us.” Tree-cutting has been suspended, at least temporarily. But workers still hope to get back to building five high-rise apartment blocks for low-income residents. Sao Paulo s city hall said it had awarded licenses to build there. They were given by officials working for Mayor Bruno Covas, a former state environment secretary who is running for reelection this year. Until the 1950s, the tribe wandered in the Jaraguá region, an area of Atlantic forest. Decades later, the village they settled in was recognized by the Brazil government but also encroached upon by the sprawling metropolis. The tension between a builder with projects in nine Brazilian states and a 40-family indigenous community — the smallest by area in all Brazil at 4.2 acres (1.7 hectares) — is a microcosm of what s playing out elsewhere in the country. Farther afield, particularly in Brazil s Amazon, indigenous groups face growing pressure from business interests including loggers, miners, farmers and cattle ranchers. The developers have found a steadfast advocate in President Jair Bolsonaro, who has often said indigenous people and their land cannot be a hindrance to development and national sovereignty. Brazil s president has no say in awarding the constructor the permits to build near Guarani Mbya land. But tribal leaders argue the federal indigenous affairs agency did not consult them on potential impacts, as required by law, which would halt the licensing process. They also said no one from the agency, known as Funai, supported them after they informed about the construction. Funai said Tuesday that officials visited the site recently. In a statement the agency said the cutting of trees was suspended for 20 days following an agreement between indigenous leaders and the construction company. It did not comment on whether it had consulted the indigenous residents before tree-felling began. Sao Paulo s city hall said Tuesday night that construction at the site will be halted for seven days so the indigenous people have more time to provide any evidence that there are problems with the builder s environmental licenses. Earlier, builder Tenda said it had carried out all required procedures to begin the housing project and felled only “isolated trees.” Following repeated requests from the AP, Tenda didn t make anyone available for an interview. Tribal leaders are concerned that the roughly 500 trees felled over the past week is just the start, and that more trees will be cut. The indigenous group worries that amount of deforestation could dry up a spring that s important for local fishing. The Guarani Mbya officially gained claim to their land, an area smaller than two soccer pitches beside Sao Paulo s tallest hill, in 1987. While Tenda isn t building on the indigenous territory, Sao Paulo city councilman Gilberto Natalini says granting permission to build near the tribe and in a forested region still is a “disgrace” and a sign of greed. “In Brazil, the order now is destroy in order to make money,” Natalini said, walking amidst fallen trunks. “It s a very bad moment for our environment.” Bolsonaro has said indigenous people should be integrated into society, and also that they themselves desire modern conveniences. He has likened those living within protected areas to animals trapped in a zoo, angering human rights activists. Not all the Guarani Mbya cling to traditional habits. Unlike in some other Brazilian tribal villages, few children run around naked, especially because of Sao Paulo s often chilly weather. The youngest wear soccer shirts, while others carry cell phones and drive old cars on dirt roads to carry supplies for their families. Many have left the community, abandoning their culture altogether. But a quick walk around shows many of the 700 Guarani Mbya like to stay near one another, telling stories, praying in their clay huts and eating fruit from their own trees. They express their wish to maintain their distance from the metropolis, even if it means having shoddy housing and a lack of sewage treatment. “I never wanted to live there, but the city insists on coming to us,” tribe member Balbina Terue said. “I don t see why people have to destroy the environment just to live here.” On Sunday, the tribe suspended their ceremony and dispatched children to plant 200 trees on Tenda s land. It was a merely symbolic gesture, since the saplings of various cedars and oaks may never reach the heights of the trees that were recently removed. “This will not solve the problem for us,” Fernandes conceded. “But maybe it helps future generations.” Those generations, however, just might live in apartments.
Twitter unveiled a plan Tuesday to curb the spread of manipulated content including “deepfake” videos as part of a move to fight misinformation which could result in violence or other harm. The policy was announced after Twitter asked for comments last year on ways to reduce “synthetic and manipulated media” on the online platform that could deceive people during election campaigns or provoke violence or physical harm. Twitter, which along with other social platforms has been struggling to respond to concerns over misinformation, said its new policy calls for a mix of warning “labels” for tweets that include manipulated images or video, and removal of the tweets. The move comes amid growing concerns over “deepfake” videos altered using artificial intelligence, along with other kinds of manipulation to deceive social media users. Twitter vice president of trust and safety Del Harvey said the new policy addresses not only deepfakes but other kinds of manipulation, sometimes described as “shallow fakes” or “cheapfakes.” “This isn t a deepfake rule,” she said. “We want to address any incident where media has been altered or fabricated.” The decision on whether to include a label or remove the content will depend on “the likelihood and severity of harm that could result,” Harvey said during a call with journalists. Twitter said in a blog post it would begin enforcing the new policy on March 5, alerting users to manipulated pictures or video, and sometimes offsetting them with links to more information about the subjects. “You may not deceptively share synthetic or manipulated media that are likely to cause harm,” group product manager Ashita Achuthan and head of site integrity Yoel Roth said in the blog post. “In addition, we may label tweets containing synthetic and manipulated media to help people understand the media s authenticity and to provide additional context.” – Politicians included – The new rule will apply to politicians and their campaigns, according to Harvey. “If the media is altered or fabricated, regardless of who the individual is, this policy will still apply,” she said. Under the policy, for example, doctored videos of former US vice president Joe Biden and of Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi that caused recent controversies on social media would violate the new rule, according to Twitter executives. “Whether you are using advance machine-learning tools or using a 99-cent app to slow down videos on your phone, our rules apply to the content not how the result was achieved,” Roth said. “Does the end tweet result in confusion or misunderstanding or result in a deliberate attempt to mislead people? That is the question.” The announcement comes a day after YouTube said it will remove election-related videos that are “manipulated or doctored” to mislead voters, amid heightened concerns on efforts to spread misinformation that could influence elections around the world. Facebook, which has its own policies on misinformation, in January said it would ban deepfake videos while allowing heavily edited clips so long as they are parody or satire. – Filtering for fakes – Factors Twitter will weigh when deciding what content is deceptively manipulated or outright fabricated will include how heavily it is edited; whether audio has been dubbed over or removed, and whether those pictured are simulations. Also on the banned content list were threats to privacy or free expression in the form of “stalking or unwanted and obsessive attention; targeted content that includes tropes, epithets, or material that aims to silence someone; voter suppression or intimidation.” Roth said Twitter will seek to be “proactive” in the policy “to reduce the burden of people to report to us.” Along with showing warning labels on doctored imagery before it is “liked” or shared, Twitter will prevent it from being included in recommended content and will typically provide additional information intended to counter misperception. Twitter said the new rule was based on a survey of US users as well as feedback from people around the world who chimed in using tweets. Globally, more than 70 percent of Twitter users who voiced opinions said that taking no action on abusively doctored tweets would be unacceptable, according to Achuthan and Roth.
Environment Minister Yasmine Fouad, Minister of Agriculture Mohamed al-Qusayr and Qaliubiya Governor Abdel Hamid al-Haggan signed a protocol of joint cooperation on Sunday for the afforestation of streets at the cities of Khanka and Abu Zaabal, and to supply trees to the Ministry of Environment s department in New Cairo. Fouad said that the protocol is carried out in two phases: the first stage includes planting 4,000 trees at the cities of Khanka and Abu Zaabal. The second phase is for the supply of a number of trees to the Ministry of Environment department in New Cairo, and spread awareness of afforestation in all sectors of the society, especially among students. The agreement also includes the afforestation of the Educational Cultural Center (Cairo House), and the Ministry of Environment s building in Maadi. The signing of these protocols comes as part of joint cooperation between the state institutions to protect the environment in order to achieve sustainable development goals, increase the per capita green space, reduce pollution (especially in industrial cities) and contribute to addressing climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions, Fouad said. Criteria has been established defining the types and sizes of the trees used, so as to use the minimum amount of water, easily maintain them, ensure they resist climatic conditions, and absorb the largest amount of pollutants.
BEIJING (AP) — The Latest on the outbreak of a new virus from China (all times local): Seven pm. Chinese scientists say they have more evidence that the new virus that recently emerged in China likely originated in bats. In two papers published Monday in the journal Nature, scientists report that genome sequences from several patients in Wuhan show the virus is closely related to the viruses that cause Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS. In one study, Shi Zhen-Li and colleagues at the Wuhan Institute of Virology reported that genome sequences from seven patients were 96% identical to a bat coronavirus. SARS is also believed to originate in bats, although it jumped to civet cats before infecting people in the 2002-2003 international outbreak. Although scientists suspect the latest virus outbreak in China began at a seafood market in Wuhan where wild animals were on sale and in contact with people, the animal source has not yet been pinpointed. “In essence, it s a version of SARS that spreads more easily but causes less damage,” said Ian Jones, a professor of virology at the University of Reading who was not connected to the two studies. “The virus also uses the same receptor, the door used to get into human cells, which explains transmission and why it causes pneumonia,” he said in a statement. ___ 6:45 pm A cruise ship industry group says its members will ban anyone, including guests or crew, who has traveled from or through mainland China in the previous 14 days, the maximum incubation period for a new virus that originated in China. The Cruise Lines International Association, which says it represents more than 50 cruise lines and is the world s largest cruise industry trade association, said its members have suspended all crew movements from mainland China. Last week, a scare over a woman with flu-like symptoms led Italian authorities to keep 6,000 passengers and 1,000 crew members on a cruise ship docked north of Rome. The Costa Crociere cruise line said the woman and her partner, who had no symptoms, were put into isolation Wednesday. The passengers were allowed to disembark on Thursday after tests for the new virus came back negative. The number of people infected by the virus globally has topped 17,000. It has killed more than 360 people, all but one in China. ___ 6:15 pm The head of the World Health Organization says it s working with Google to ensure that searches about the new virus from China turn up information from the United Nations health agency first, part of efforts to fight “rumors and misinformation” about the outbreak. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the opening of WHO s executive board meeting on Monday that social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Tencent and TikTok “have also taken steps to limit the spread of misinformation” about the virus and outbreak that first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December and has now spread to 23 other countries. The number of people infected by the virus globally has topped 17,000. It has killed more than 360 people, all but one in China. ___ 5:55 pm Russia s Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin says the country may start deporting foreigners infected with the new coronavirus. Mishustin said at a Cabinet meeting Monday that it is one of the measures outlined in a government-approved plan of action for preventing the virus from spreading in Russia. On Friday, Russia reported its first two confirmed cases of coronavirus — two Chinese nationals were hospitalized in two different regions of Siberia. It wasn t immediately clear from Mishustin s statement whether they would be deported. Like other countries, Russia has halted most of its air and train traffic with China, shut down its land border with China and Mongolia and temporarily stopped issuing work visas to Chinese citizens. On Monday, authorities announced Russia was suspending the last operating train that connects Moscow and Beijing and all trains between Russia and North Korea. Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova also said that several Russian planes would fly to China on Monday to evacuate Russian citizens. Golikova said there are currently around 130 Russian nationals in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak. ___ 5:35 pm Hong Kong s leader Carrie Lam announced the city will shut almost all land and sea border control points to the mainland from midnight to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus from China. Lam said in a briefing Monday that only two border checkpoints — at Shenzhen Bay and the bridge to Macau and Zhuhai — will remain open. Lam denied that the move was due to pressure from medical workers who threatened a five-day strike to demand the government shut all borders to the mainland. Public broadcaster RTHK reports that some went on strike Monday and more threatened to walk out on Tuesday if their demands were not met. Lam said the border closures had “absolutely nothing to do with the strike” and was instead simply a measure to stem the spread of the virus which has infected 15 people in Hong Kong. Lam urged Hong Kong residents to “stand united” in combating the outbreak. ___ 5:30 pm The Czech Republic has plans to suspend all flights to and from China in an effort to prevent the new coronavirus from spreading. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis says the ban will take effect on Sunday. The lag gives 100 Czechs in China a chance to return home. About 620,000 Chinese tourists visited the Czech Republic last year. The first direct flight connection between Prague and China was established in 2015. Three Chinese airlines operate flights to Prague from Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu and Sian (Xi an). ___ 5:15 pm Dubai s long-haul carrier Emirates says it will continue flying to mainland China amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, but will fly smaller aircraft on many routes. The airline said Monday it would swap out its double-decker Airbus A380 for a Boeing 777 on several routes to Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai. The decision comes after Western and Arab airlines stopped flying to China over the outbreak. The UAE has pushed for more Chinese tourists and investment amid an economic slowdown. The United Arab Emirates also instituted a new rule Monday that any school staff or student returning to the country from China needed to spend 14 days at home before returning to class. ___ 4:45 p.m. The Shanghai Composite index has lost nearly eight percent as Chinese regulators moved to stabilize markets jolted by a virus that has spread to more than 20 countries, slamming regional tourism and threatening global growth. The outbreak of the virus in China has prompted governments around the world to step up surveillance and quarantine requirements as airlines cancel hundreds of flights. Millions of Chinese remained in lock-down as the number of people infected by the virus topped 17,000 as of Sunday night. It has killed more than 360 people, all but one in China. The Shanghai benchmark dropped almost nine percent after markets opened on Monday after a week-long Lunar New Year holiday that was extended by three days. It was its worst day since August 2015, despite the central bank s effort to put billions of dollars of extra cash into the markets through short-term securities purchases. Many analysts have dropped their forecasts for China, the world s second-largest economy, to near five percent from earlier forecasts of six percent economic growth for the year. ___ 2:15 pm Aviation authorities say that two flights carrying dozens of Pakistani students, Chinese and other passengers landed in Pakistan days after Islamabad suspended all flights with Beijing amid the outbreak of a new virus there. The passengers on Monday were permitted to leave the airport after their medical examinations. Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Abdul Sattar Khokhar says the ban on flights to and from China ended Sunday night and that the government health department had made “special arrangements” for screening incoming passengers. Last week s ban on flights with China affected 22 weekly flights. So far, Pakistan has no plans to evacuate some 30,000 nationals, including students, living in China. Authorities say that so far four Pakistani students in China have been diagnosed with the new virus and their conditions are listed as stable. About 500 Pakistani students were in Wuhan — the site of the outbreak — at the time it surfaced. ___ 10:40 am South Korea s defense ministry says about 800 South Korean soldiers have been placed under quarantine as a precaution against a new coronavirus from China. Ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyunsoo told reporters Monday that the soldiers either recently visited China, Hong Kong or Macau, or contacted people who visited those countries. She says 450 of them are quarantined at their military bases and the remaining 350 at their homes. South Korea has so far reported 15 cases of the new coronavirus, but none of them is affiliated with the country s 600,000-strong military.
Facebook s massive settlement in a class action case over violating a state law on how it uses facial recognition is being hailed as a watershed moment for “biometric privacy.” The leading social network said Wednesday it agreed to the $550 million payout after failing to win dismissal of the case alleging it illegally collected biometric information for “face tagging” in violation of a 2008 Illinois privacy law. The settlement could have wide-ranging implications for Facebook and other tech firms using facial recognition technology, and highlights the potential for state laws to force changes in privacy practices. Plaintiff attorney Jay Edelson said the case helps establish the principle of biometric privacy, or the right of users of tech services and products to control access to their data used for facial recognition. “Biometrics is one of the two primary battlegrounds, along with geolocation, that will define our privacy rights for the next generation,” Edelson said in a statement. “We hope and expect that other companies will follow Facebook s lead and pay significant attention to the importance of our biometric information.” Attorney Nathan Wessler of the American Civil Liberties Union, which backed the plaintiffs legal arguments, said the settlement could mark a turning point for consumers and biometrics. “Companies are going to have to take this seriously,” Wessler said. “Hopefully a settlement of this size will be a deterrent.” The deal is one of the largest settlements in a US privacy case, topped only by Facebook s $5 billion deal with the Federal Trade Commission on its data practices. Both are awaiting court approval. – Facial recognition growing – The legal case comes amid an array of deployments of biometric technologies such as facial recognition for law enforcement and border control, but also for “tagging” in social networks and in applications for retail stores or unlocking personal devices and cars. Several US cities including San Francisco have passed bans on the use of facial recognition technology. There are concerns about creating large databases with the potential for errors in identifying some individuals. “We have seen growing recognition in the courts and in the public for the last few years on the need for reasonable but strong limits on the collection and use of our most private information,” Wessler said. The Illinois law does not apply to government entities or contractors. At least two other states have similar laws, but Illinois is the only one allowing for private lawsuits for damages when companies collect data without consent. Alan Butler of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which also supported the plaintiff arguments, called the case “hugely significant” with a potential impact for all Facebook users. Butler noted that the courts ruled the case could proceed merely on the basis of showing a violation, without evidence of specific harms. – Unintended consequences? – But the Illinois law and similar restrictions may have negative consequences as well, according to Daniel Castro of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank often aligned with industry. The ability to sue without showing damages has unleashed a flood of litigation and some firms “are even blocking their services in Illinois to avoid the risk of penalties. That s not good for consumers,” Castro said. “At the same time, it does not do much to actually address many specific concerns, such as police use of facial recognition to track citizens.” Castro said the “patchwork” of state laws could make it difficult for tech firms to launch new products, leaving them at a disadvantage compared to their Chinese counterparts. The settlement comes as US lawmakers are debating federal privacy legislation, with some proposals that could pre-empt laws such as those in Illinois. Wessler argued that some states have been taking the lead in offering strong privacy rules, and that a federal law could weaken overall data protection. “The worst outcome would be a weak federal law with no private right of action, and which pre-empts state law, even though that is what the industry is seeking,” he said.
A drug molecule "invented" by artificial intelligence (AI) will be used in human trials in a world first for machine learning in medicine. It was created by British start-up Exscientia and Japanese pharmaceutical firm Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma. The drug will be used to treat patients who have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Typically, drug development takes about five years to get to trial, but the AI drug took just 12 months. Exscienta chief executive Prof Andrew Hopkins described it as a "key milestone in drug discovery". He told the BBC: "We have seen AI for diagnosing patients and for analysing patient data and scans, but this is a direct use of AI in the creation of a new medicine." The molecule - known as DSP-1181 - was created by using algorithms that sifted through potential compounds, checking them against a huge database of parameters. "There are billions of decisions needed to find the right molecules and it is a huge decision to precisely engineer a drug," said Prof Hopkins. "But the beauty of the algorithm is that they are agnostic, so can be applied to any disease," he added. NHS to set up national artificial intelligence lab Major deal for AI drug discovery firm Exscientia Are you happy to share your health data to benefit others? The first drug will enter phase one trials in Japan which, if successful, will be followed by more global tests. The firm is already working on potential drugs for the treatment of cancer and cardiovascular disease and hopes to have another molecule ready for clinical trials by the end of the year. "This year was the first to have an AI-designed drug but by the end of the decade all new drugs could potentially be created by AI," said Prof Hopkins. Paul Workman, chief executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, who was not involved in the research, said of the breakthrough: "I think AI has huge potential to enhance and accelerate drug discovery. "I m excited to see what I believe is the first example of a new drug now entering human clinical trials, that was created by scientists using AI in a major way to guide and speed up discovery."
Facebook has launched a new tool that lets people see which apps, businesses and websites are sharing their information with the social network. Many companies track what people do online and share that information with Facebook, to target adverts at them. The new tool lets people "clear" this "off-Facebook activity" data from their account and opt out of the information being used for targeted advertising. However, the data will not be permanently deleted. How does off-Facebook activity tracking work? When a person is browsing the internet, apps and websites can capture information about them. This can be something the person provides, such as their email address when they set up an account. It can also be information scooped up in the background, such as the unique ID of their web browser. Advertisers can create lists of people they know might be interested in their products and share them with Facebook. The social network then tries to find Facebook profiles that match information on the list, to show targeted ads. Off-Facebook activity tracking does not just work online. Supermarkets, for example, can track purchases via a loyalty card and share this information with Facebook. Facebook says it is able to offer its platform for free because of the money it earns from advertising. But it has faced increased scrutiny over the way companies can advertise on the platform, following the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. The company offers a tool called the Facebook Pixel, which companies can hide on their website. It tracks who has visited the website and can be used to target advertising. In 2018, Mark Zuckerberg promised to implement a "clear history" tool for off-Facebook activity. Human rights expert to keep Zuckerberg in check Ring doorbell gives Facebook and Google user data What can you use instead of Google and Facebook? But while the new tool disconnects a person s profile from the data shared by advertisers, it is not completely deleted. The tool also lets people opt out of targeted advertising based on off-Facebook activity. People who opt out will still see ads but they will be "less personalised". Off-Facebook activity can be tracked in the latest version of the app or on the Facebook website.
A rare species of frog native to the eastern slopes of the Bolivian Andes has been spotted in the South American country for the first time in 18 years, the investigation team that made the discovery told AFP. The Bolivian Cochran frog is notable for its transparent belly, leading to its nickname, the “glass frog”. “The rediscovery of this species fills us with a ray of hope for the future of the glass frogs — one of the most charismatic amphibians in the world — but also for other species,” said investigation team members Rodrigo Aguayo and Oliver Quinteros, from the Natural History Museum “Alcide d Orbigny”, and Rene Carpio of the San Simon University in Cochabamba. The team came across the frogs on January 8 during a mission to rescue reptiles and amphibians threatened by a hydroelectric project in the Carrasco National Park to the east of Cochabamba, the fourth largest city in Bolivia. Glass frogs are tiny, measuring only 0.7-0.9 inches (19-24 millimeters) and weighing just 2.5-2.8 ounces (70-80 grams). They can be found in the departments of La Paz (west), Cochabamba, Santa Cruz (east) and Chuquisaca (southeast). Some frogs hearts and digestive tracts can be seen through their transparent bellies. Those found in the Carrasco National Park had a transparent belly with a “white chest. The bones and vocal sac of the males are dark green,” the team said. The three frogs found were taken to the K ayra amphibian conservation center at the Alcide d Orbigny museum. Experts will try to encourage the frogs to breed as part of a conservation strategy. The K ayra Center is also home to a pair of Sehuenca water frogs, known as Romeo and Juliet, that scientists have been trying to convince to mate to help preserve their critically endangered species. Their attempts have so far been in vain.
The US Justice Department and state attorneys general are meeting this week for talks on their concurrent investigations into possible anti-competitive practices by Google, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday. The Journal said the talks could eventually lead to the two groups joining forces as their investigations progress. The Justice Department and the state attorneys general have not so far shared investigative materials from their respective probes, but officials said that could change. At least seven state attorneys general have been invited to the meeting, according to the Journal, which cited people familiar with the matter. A focus of the probes is Google s dominant position in the online advertising market, the report said. Another subject of scrutiny, it said, is possible anti-competitive behavior by Google in its Android operating system. The meeting is likely to include discussions of those issues as well as the scope of the investigations and how the work might be divided among them, the Journal said. Neither the Justice Department nor the state attorneys general commented on the report, nor did Google. Google dominates the US market for online advertising with a 36 percent share, compared to 19 percent for Facebook. Facebook is under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission s consumer protection bureau, which is looking into the impact on competition of the company s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp. The House Judiciary, meanwhile, is examining the practices of Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.
LONDON (Reuters) — British police are to start operational use of live facial recognition (LFR) cameras in London, despite warnings over privacy from rights groups and concerns expressed by the government s own surveillance watchdog. First used in the capital at the Notting Hill carnival in 2016, the cameras will alert police when they spot anyone on “wanted” lists. “The use of live facial recognition technology will be intelligence-led and deployed to specific locations in London,” the city s Metropolitan Police said in a statement on Friday. “This is an important development for the Met and one which is vital in assisting us in bearing down on violence.” The cameras will be clearly signposted and officers will hand out leaflets about what is happening. Facial recognition cameras have been deployed in other British cities and shopping centers but their use has prompted privacy concerns and opponents have questioned the accuracy of the technology. Last year, a Cardiff man took South Wales Police to the High Court, arguing that his human rights had been breached by officers using automated facial recognition without his knowledge when he was shopping. The court ruled that using the technology was lawful but civil rights group Liberty are appealing the decision. Responding to the ruling last September, the government s Surveillance Camera Commissioner, Tony Porter, said that police should not see it as a “green light” for generic deployment of automated facial recognition. “It is an intrusive tool with human rights and public confidence implications which have to be considered,” Porter said. The EU is considering banning the technology in public places for up to five years to give it time to work out how to prevent abuses. Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave said in a statement: “We are using a tried-and-tested technology, and have taken a considered and transparent approach in order to arrive at this point. “This is an important development for the Met and one which is vital in assisting us in bearing down on violence.” He said police will begin operationally deploying LFR in places where intelligence suggests they are most likely to locate serious offenders.
Egypt s Minister of Environment Yasmine Fouad has announced that January 27 will now mark Egypt s National Environment Day, which will celebrate considerable efforts devoted by the government and civil society actors to address climate change and other environmental issues like pollution and waste management. There are two reasons behind the selection of January 27. First, the date marks the anniversary of the first environmental law issued in Egypt in 1994. Fouad further highlighted in an official statement that January is the month of afforestation, or the process of planting new trees, a step that comes under the recently launched initiative “Live Green.” Under the slogan “Live Green: The Way to Sustainability,” the initiative was launched in collaboration with Egypt s Ministry of Agriculture and is set to plant much-needed trees in diverse areas around the country, including public schools and city squares. Underscoring the importance of raising awareness among young people regarding their role in protecting the environment, Fouad said that the initiative s vision is based on diminishing 50 percent of the solid particle pollution rate by the year 2030. “Afforestation is the fastest and cheapest way to confront air pollution and climate change impacts and conserve natural resources,” Fouad explained in a previous statement. In July 2019, Egypt revealed its intentions to entirely transform the popular Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-sheikh into a green city in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). It was previously announced in 2018 that the project set to transform Sharm el-Sheikh into an eco-friendly city will focus on waste recycling and water reuse. Highlighting the country s efforts in combating various sources of pollution, Egypt s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has ordered officials to design a new solid waste management system for overpopulated areas, according to an earlier statement from presidential spokesperson Basssam Rady in May 2019. In December, Fouad said that Egypt is among the countries most impacted by climate change while taking part in the UN Climate Change Conference COP25 held December 2-13 in Madrid. The potential impacts of climate change in Egypt — brought on by considerable loss of agricultural land and rising temperatures — are hard to ignore. They include reduced crop yields, food insecurity, and water stress, with rising sea levels also threatening coastal populations in the country. Cairo, a city of upwards of 20 million people, was ranked as the second most polluted city in the world by the World Health Organization in 2018. A more recent report from Eco Experts lists Cairo as the most polluted city in the world – above New Delhi and Beijing. On average, residents of Cairo breathe in air suffused with 11.7 times the World Health Organization s recommended safe level of PM2.5, or particulate matter that is 2.5 micrometers in diameter or less, considered to be the most dangerous type of pollutant, according to a report from Bloomberg.
President Donald Trump tore into environmental “prophets of doom” at the Davos forum Tuesday, rejecting fiery warnings from teenage campaigner Greta Thunberg and talking up his own record in a counterpoint to impeachment back home. Thunberg was in the audience in the Swiss Alps to hear the typically bullish speech by Trump, delivered just before the US Senate opened the crucial next stage in his trial for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The 50th meeting of the World Economic Forum aimed for a strong focus on climate change but Trump made clear he had no time for Thunberg s warning that “our house is still on fire.” Instead, he touted the US economy, which he said was enjoying an “unprecedented” boom thanks to his policies. That was a message he then continued at a dinner meeting with CEOs including Europe s richest person Bernard Arnault of luxury firm LVMH and the Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal. The Republican was also to meet Wednesday with the president of Iraq and the leader of Iraqi Kurdistan before heading back to Washington. This will be his first talks with the Iraqi leadership since a US drone strike killed Iran s top military figure and also a senior Iraqi commander in Baghdad, triggering a parliament vote calling for the expulsion of US troops from Iraq. – Dismissing the apocalypse – Dismissing scientifically backed warnings that global warming is wrecking the planet, Trump said “we must reject the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse.” He claimed that “alarmists” had been wrong over the decades when predicting population crisis, mass starvation or the end of oil. Trump branded those warning of out-of-control global warming and other environmental disasters “the heirs of yesterday s foolish fortune tellers”. Trump did not even mention global warming. He was just as unapologetic over his impeachment, which is now kicking into high gear. That s “just a hoax,” he said, calling the impeachment trial “disgraceful”. – Trump campaigns – Large parts of Trump s address sounded like a campaign speech aimed at a domestic audience as much as the Davos gathering of global political and business elites, which began in 1971. “I m glad to declare the United States is in the midst of a great economic boom the likes of which the world has never seen before,” he said. Over and over, Trump brought up statistics he claimed proved his “unprecedented” success, based on slashing environmental protections and renegotiating trade relationships with China and the United States two huge neighbors Canada and Mexico. “The American dream is back, bigger, better, stronger than ever before,” he said. Robin Niblett, director of the Chatham House think tank, called Trump s performance “an almost plain vanilla presidential campaign speech, laying out an unassailable set of statistics that tell the Democrats good luck taking me on on this, because you won t stand a chance .” – Just the very beginning – Earlier, Thunberg underlined the message that has inspired millions around the world, saying “basically nothing has been done” to fight climate change. Speaking calmly and with a wry smile, Thunberg acknowledged that her campaign, which began with school strikes, had attracted huge attention without yet achieving concrete change. “There is a difference between being heard to actually leading to something,” the 17-year-old said. And despite the focus given by the Davos forum, Greenpeace said in a new report that some of the world s biggest banks, insurers and pension funds have collectively invested $1.4 trillion (1.26 trillion euros) in fossil fuel companies since the Paris climate deal in 2016. Trump touted the United States as the “number one producer of oil and natural gas” and said he would not let “radical socialists” attack the lucrative industry. – Governments continue to fail – Sustainability is the buzzword at the Davos forum, with heel crampons handed out to participants to encourage them to walk on the icy streets rather than use cars, and the signage paint made from seaweed. “People are paying a lot more attention” to climate, Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer told AFP at Davos, adding there was “genuine action by some big players”, after investment titan BlackRock said it was partially divesting out of coal. “But let s be clear — a big part of this is because we failed for a very long time and governments continue to fail,” he added. Business leaders are likely also to be concerned by the state of the global economy whose prospects, according to the International Monetary Fund, have improved but remain brittle. The IMF cut its global growth estimate for 2020 to 3.3 percent, saying that a recent truce in the trade war between China and the US had brought some stability but that risks remained. Activists meanwhile will be pressing for much more concrete action to fight inequality, after Oxfam issued a report outlining how the number of billionaires has doubled in the past decade and the world s 22 richest men now have more wealth than all the women in Africa.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The men bringing James Dean back to life for a forthcoming film are aiming not just to give his digital likeness a role, but a whole new career. Dean s planned appearance in the Vietnam War movie “Finding Jack,” and the possibility of future parts, comes as digital de-aging and duplication of real actors has tipped from cinematic trick into common practice. And it s giving new life to old arguments about the immortality and dignity of the dead. “Our intentions are to create the virtual being of James Dean. That s not only for one movie, but going to be used for many movies and also gaming and virtual reality,” said Travis Cloyd, CEO of Worldwide XR, who is leading the design on the Dean project. “Our focus is on building the ultimate James Dean so he can live across any medium.” Legally, they have every right to do it, via the full agreement of the Dean estate and his surviving relatives. “Our clients want to protect these valuable intellectual property rights and the memories that they have of their loved ones,” said Mark Roesler, CEO of CMG Worldwide, the legal and licensing company that has long owned the title to Dean s likeness. “We have to trust them. … They want to see that their loved one s image and memory continues to live on.” Dean is an obvious candidate for revival with his embodiment-of-Hollywood image and the brevity of his life and career — he died at 24 and made just three films: “East of Eden,” “Rebel Without a Cause” and “Giant.” Roesler and Cloyd have not obtained the rights from Warner Bros. to use footage from those films, but they have a large trove of photos and Dean s dozens of TV roles. “There are thousands of images that we do have to work with,” Cloyd said. “What we typically do is we take all those images and videos and we run them through machine learning to create that asset.” That will be added to the work of a stand-in actor using motion-capture technology as commonly done now with CGI characters, along with the overdubbed voice of another actor. The announcement of the role last year caused a quick backlash, with responses like that of “Captain America” star Chris Evans on Twitter: “Maybe we can get a computer to paint us a new Picasso. Or write a couple new John Lennon tunes. The complete lack of understanding here is shameful.” “I think there s definitely something cynical and what feels like a little bit distasteful about bringing especially long-dead actors back to life,” said Terri White, editor-in-chief of film magazine “Empire.” “The reaction to the likes of the James Dean news has actually shown that I think most people don t really want that.” For the people behind the Dean project, the negative reaction is as inevitable as they believe the eventual acceptance will be. Cloyd foresees a Hollywood where even living actors have a “digital twin” that helps in their work. “This is disruptive technology,” Cloyd said. “Some people hear it for the first time and they get shaken by it. But this is where the market is going.” The revival of the dead, often done clumsily, has been happening for much of Hollywood s existence. Footage of Bela Lugosi, combined with a double holding a cape over his face, was used in 1959 s “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” released after the horror star s death. Bruce Lee s film “Game of Death,” left unfinished before his 1973 death, was completed using doubles and voice overdubs and released five years later. “The Fast and the Furious” star Paul Walker died in 2013 before shooting was done on “Furious 7.” His two younger brothers and others acted as stand-ins so his scenes could be finished. Even Lennon, and many other dead historical figures, were digitally revived in 1994 in “Forrest Gump.” But the technology of recreation and resurrection has taken a major leap forward in quality and prestige, with the extensive de-aging and re-aging used in Martin Scorsese s “The Irishman”; a young Will Smith digitally returning to play opposite the current version in last summer s “Gemini Man”; and Carrie Fisher, whose younger self briefly returned digitally in 2016′s “Star Wars: Rogue One” and appeared again after her death, in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” These instances have elicited scattered skepticism — both of the quality of the technology and the propriety of the revivals — but audiences have largely accepted them. Guy Williams, visual effects supervisor at filmmaker Peter Jackson s Weta Digital, said the possibilities do offer a moral dilemma. “The question isn t so much if you use somebody s likeness to bring them back or to create a digital version of them, it s what you do with it and the respect that you show to it,” Williams said. “So that, to me, is the more important question.” Pablo Helman, the visual effects supervisor behind the de-aging of Robert De Niro and others in “The Irishman,” said he considers that moral dilemma in his work. “The main question that you need to ask yourself is why do it?” Helman said. “You know, just because you can do it doesn t mean you should, you know? That would be one thing that I m always questioning: Is it in service of the story?” Ethical considerations are likely to give way to market forces if viewers decide they find digital versions of dead actors plausible, and palatable. “I think the moral question is going to be decided by the audiences and society, whether they want to see that,” said Bill Westenhofer, visual effects supervisor on “Gemini Man.” Dean will be playing a supporting role in “Finding Jack,” which is now in pre-production. The limited screen time is, at this point, as far as those recreating him want to go. But they hope the digital avatar can eventually carry a movie, possibly even playing James Dean himself at different ages. “At some point there s going to be the James Dean biopic,” Cloyd said. “I think the technology is not necessarily there today to take the risk.”
PENANG, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia has sent back 150 containers of plastic waste to 13 mainly rich countries since the third quarter last year, with the environment minster warning on Monday that those who want to make the country a rubbish bin of the world can “dream on.” Shipments of unwanted rubbish have been rerouted to Southeast Asia since China banned the import of plastic waste in 2018, but Malaysia and other developing countries are fighting back. Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin said another 110 containers are expected to be sent back by the middle of this year. Yeo said the successful repatriation of a total 3,737 metric tonnes (4,120 U.S. tons) of waste followed strict enforcement at key Malaysian ports to block smuggling of waste and shuttering more than 200 illegal plastic recycling factories. Of the 150 containers, 43 were returned to France, 42 to the United Kingdom, 17 to the United States, 11 to Canada, 10 to Spain and the rest to Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Portugal, China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Lithuania, her ministry said. She said the Malaysian government didn t pay a single cent, with the costs of sending back the waste fully borne by the shipping liners and companies responsible for importing and exporting the waste. Yeo said talks were ongoing with U.S. authorities to take back another 60 containers this year. Canada also has 15 more containers, Japan 14, the U.K. 9 and Belgium 8 from 110 more containers that are still being held at Malaysian ports, she said. “If people want to see us as the rubbish dump of the world, you dream on,” Yeo told reporters during inspection at a port in northern Penang state. Yeo said the government will launch an action plan on illegal plastic importation next month that will help the different agencies coordinate enforcement and speed up the process of returning the waste. “Our position is very firm. We just want to send back (the waste) and we just want to give a message that Malaysia is not the dumping site of the world,” she added. Image: Malaysia s Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin, third from left, inspects a container with plastic waste at a port in Butterworth, Malaysia, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. Malaysia has sent back 150 containers of plastic waste to 13 mainly rich countries since the third quarter last year, with the environment minster warning on Monday that those who want to make the country a rubbish bin of the world can “dream on.” (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
NEW DELHI (Reuters) — The tropical Maldives may lose entire islands unless it can quickly access cheap financing to fight the impact of climate change, its foreign minister said. The archipelago s former president Mohamed Nasheed famously held a cabinet meeting underwater to draw attention to submerging land and global warming a decade ago. Yet the Maldives, best known for its white sands and palm-fringed atolls that draw luxury holiday-makers, has struggled to find money to build critical infrastructure like sea-walls. “For small states, it is not easy,” Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid told Reuters in New Delhi. “By the time the financing is obtained, we may be underwater.” At the U.N. climate talks in Madrid in December, the Maldives and other vulnerable countries pushed for concrete progress on fresh funding to help them deal with disasters and longer-term damage linked to climate change – but failed. Shahid was hopeful the next round of talks, slated to take place in Glasgow in November, would yield better results. One of the world s lowest-lying countries, more than 80% of the Maldives land is less than one meter above mean sea levels, making its population of around 530,000 people extremely vulnerable to storm surges, sea swells and severe weather. In 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami ravaged the Muslim-majority state, causing financial losses of around $470 million — 62% of GDP — and hitting infrastructure, including its only international airport that was shut for several days. WE NEED IT Two of the country s main industries – tourism and fishing – are heavily dependent on coastal resources, and most settlements and critical infrastructure is concentrated along the coast. In 2014, more than 100 of the archipelago s inhabited islands were already reporting erosion, and around 30 islands are identified as severely eroded. The Maldives spends around $10 million annually for coastal protection works, but will need up to $8.8 billion in total to shield all of its inhabited islands, according to a 2016 estimate by its environment ministry. “In order to protect the islands, we need to start building sea walls,” Shahid said. “It s expensive, but we need it. We can t wait until all of them are being taken away.” The United Nations has created a pot to help developing nations, called the Green Climate Fund, which has already approved nearly $24 million in funding to the Maldives, according to its website. Some individual nations have also offered help, including Japan which contributed to a sea wall round the Maldives capital Male. Shahid did not specify where his government was pushing for more funding. However, Environment Minister Hussain Rasheed Hassan said recently his country would have to turn to banks given inadequate funding elsewhere despite the fact small nations like his were paying the price for the developed world s pollution. “We have to beg some of these (big) emitters to provide money for us. Is that fair?” he said.
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — As Egypt marks the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Suez Canal, marine biologists are bemoaning one of the famed waterway s lesser known legacies — the invasion of hundreds of non-native species, including toxic jellyfish and aggressive lionfish. The canal, which connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, revolutionized maritime travel by creating a direct shipping route between the East and the West. But over the years, the invasive species have driven native marine life toward extinction and altered the delicate Mediterranean ecosystem with potentially devastating consequences, scientists say. The influx has increased significantly since Egypt doubled its capacity in 2015 with the opening of the “The New Suez Canal,” raising alarm in Europe and sparking criticism from various countries along the Mediterranean basin. The sharpest criticism comes from neighboring Israel, which once battled Egypt in war alongside the 193-kilometer (120-mile)-long canal. Bella Galil, an Israeli marine biologist who has studied the Mediterranean for over three decades, said much of the ecological damage is irreversible. But with the invasive fish and crustaceans buoyed by warming water temperatures and rapidly spreading toward European shores, she argued that urgent action is needed to minimize its long-term impact. Galil, of Tel Aviv University s Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, said the continued widening and deepening of the canal had created a “moving aquarium” of species that, if unchecked, could make coastal waters inhospitable for humans. Galil said the number of invasive species, currently about 400, has more than doubled over the past 30 years, a phenomenon she called a “historic example of the dangers of unintended consequences.” Already, Israel is coping with an unprecedented wave of toxic jellyfish that has damaged coastal power plants and scared off beach-goers and tourists. Several other venomous species, including the aggressive lionfish, have established permanent colonies, creating a potential health hazard when they end up on plates of beach-side restaurants. Most worrisome has been the arrival of the Lagocephalus Sceleratus, an extremely poisonous bony fish commonly known as the silver-cheeked toadfish. Galil said half of all the Israeli fish intake — and all the crustaceans — are now of the invasive variety. With the “rolling invasion” now reaching as far as Spain, European countries are increasingly taking note. The issue is set to feature prominently at a United Nations ocean sustainability workshop this month in Venice. “These non-indigenous organisms present serious threats to the local biodiversity, at the very least comparable to those exerted by climate change, pollution and over-fishing,” Galil said. She said the new species have caused “a dramatic restructuring” of the ecosystem, endangering various local species and wiping out native mussels, prawns and red mullet. Israel s Environmental Protection Ministry said it was monitoring the process with concern since its coasts were the new species “first stop” in the Mediterranean. It stressed that Israel could not stop the phenomenon alone but is promoting regulation to protect the most vulnerable marine habitats. With Israel increasingly reliant on the Mediterranean Sea for drinking water, the ministry said protecting the country s marine environment was “now more important than ever.” Lebanese scientists at the American University of Beirut recently wrote that failing to mitigate the ecological risks associated with the expansion of the Suez Canal would place a large part of the Mediterranean ecosystem in jeopardy, an opinion shared by marine scientists across the eastern Mediterranean, from Turkey to Tunisia. A relatively simple option for damage control seems to be available in the form of the Qatari-funded desalination plants the Egyptians are building along the canal, the first of which is expected to be opened later this year. If carried out properly, Galil said the brine output of the plants could be funneled into the canal to recreate a “salinity barrier” that could stem the flow of species from south to north. The Great Bitter Lakes, about 45 kilometers (30 miles) north of Suez, once created such an obstacle. But as the canal widened and Egyptian cities and farms flushed agricultural wastewater into the lakes, that bulwark disappeared. Egypt, which signed a peace accord with Israel in 1979 and recently signed a massive deal with it to import natural gas, has largely rejected the dire warnings of the Israeli scientists as politically motivated. “Invasive species is a huge and nonspecific category,” said Moustafa Fouda, an adviser to Egypt s environment minister. “They can even be productive, replacing species that are overfished, bringing economic benefits or simply adapting to the new environment.” He estimated that less than 5% of invaders could be regarded as “disruptive” and that most of the shrimp, mollusks, puffer fish and crabs caused no harm. He said even toxic invaders, such as lionfish, were edible if their venomous spines were removed. Egyptian experts also denied the invasions resulted directly from the Suez expansion. They argue that rising water temperatures brought on by global warming and untreated ballast water discharged by cargo ships spurred the exotic arrivals. “Invasions are a global trend due to pollution and climate change, the natural result of which is every species struggling to survive and searching for its optimal environment,” said Tarek Temraz, a marine biology professor at Suez Canal University, and author of the environmental ministry s impact assessment of the canal expansion. The Suez Canal Authority, the government agency that operates the canal, claimed environmental concerns over its enlargement have been overstated. It said water volume flowing into the Mediterranean increased by 4%, creating “little impact on water flow and plankton movement.” Canal officials say they are closely monitoring species migration, imposing regulations on ships that unwittingly ferry invasive creatures and curtailing water contamination in hopes of restoring salinity to the lakes. The canal authority said a recent drive to divert agricultural wastewater away from the Bitter Lakes has successfully raised salinity there by 3% over the past years. Galil says that s not enough, insisting that salinity must increase significantly to serve as an effective barrier against newcomers. “One day we will wake up to a compete and irreversible change and know that there was something we could have done about it if only it had been done on time,” she said.
Mina M. Azer
Egyptians have made several achievements in fencing and many of them won international competitions. In that account, we may hear about champions like Adham Moataz, the European gold medal for the fencing for young men, and Medhat Moataz, owner of the world bronze medal for the fencing. Now, there is a new generation of Egyptians who is not satisfied with achieving local titles, but works hard to win international