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Even Amid a Pandemic, More Than 40 Million People Fled Their Homes

Storms, floods, wildfires — and to a lesser degree, conflict — uprooted 40.5 million people around the world in 2020. It was the largest number in more than a decade, according to figures published Thursday by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, a nonprofit group based in Geneva that tracks displacement data annually.

It was all the more notable as it came during the worst global pandemic in a century.

Extreme weather events, mainly storms and floods, accounted for the vast majority of the displacement. While not all of those disasters could be linked to human-induced climate change, the Center’s report made clear that global temperature rise, fueled by the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, “are increasing the intensity and frequency of weather-related hazards.”

Last May, Cyclone Amphan alone displaced five million people in Bangladesh and India, as it whipped across the Bay of Bengal, downed trees and power lines, and destroyed thousands of buildings. In Bangladesh, weeks later, torrential rains upstream swelled rivers, submerging a quarter of the country and taking away the assets of its people — their homes built of mud and tin, their chickens and livestock, their sacks of rice stored for the lean times.

two ferocious hurricanes, Eta and Iota, pummeled Central America in quick succession, washing away bridges, uprooting trees and causing widespread flooding and deadly mudslides. The 2020 hurricane season was the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record, with 30 named storms, 13 of them hurricanes.

In the United States, rising temperatures and sea level rise have made flooding more frequent, particularly along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, and the rate of that flooding is quickening, according to United States government researchers. At many locations, “floods are now at least five times more common than they were in the 1950s,” according to figures published recently by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Last year’s displacement numbers come as this year’s Atlantic hurricane season approaches. Scientists have projected the season will see above-normal storm activity.

Climate change has led to wetter storms because warmer air holds more moisture. And while the links between climate change and hurricanes are complex, recent research suggests that warming has made stalled Atlantic storms more common. That can be more destructive because they linger in one place for a longer period of time.

The largest numbers of displaced people, mostly weather-related, were in Asia, with five million in China, roughly 4.4 million each in Bangladesh and the Philippines, and 3.9 million in India. The United States recorded 1.7 million displacements. Conflict-related displacement was highest in the Democratic Republic of Congo at 2.2 million and Syria at 1.8 million.

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SpaceX Wins NASA $2.9 Billion Contract to Build Moon Lander

Elon Musk’s private space company is developing a giant rocket called Starship to one day take people to Mars.

But first, it will drop off NASA astronauts at the moon.

NASA announced on Friday that it had awarded a contract to SpaceX for $2.9 billion to use Starship to take astronauts from lunar orbit to the surface of the moon.

The contract extends NASA’s trend of relying on private companies to ferry people, cargo and robotic explorers to space. But it also represents something of a triumph for Mr. Musk in the battle of space billionaires. One of the competitors for the NASA lunar contract was Blue Origin, created by Jeffrey P. Bezos of Amazon.

SpaceX now outshines Blue Origin and other rocket builders, emphasizing how it has become the highest-profile partner of NASA in its human spaceflight program.

The Washington Post.

NASA last year awarded contracts to three companies for initial design work on landers that could carry humans to the lunar surface. In addition to SpaceX, NASA selected proposals from Dynetics, a defense contractor in Huntsville, Ala., and Mr. Bezos’ Blue Origin, which had joined in what it called the National Team with several traditional aerospace companies: Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper.

The award is only for the first crewed landing, and SpaceX must first perform an uncrewed landing. “NASA is requiring a test flight to fully check out all systems with a landing on the lunar surface prior to our formal demonstration mission,” Ms. Watson-Morgan said.

NASA officials said Blue Origin, Dynetics and other companies would be able to bid for future moon landing missions.

Mr. Trump pledged a return by 2024, the schedule was not considered realistic after Congress did not provide requested financing, and NASA is now re-evaluating the schedule.

The NASA Artemis program is expected to launch its first uncrewed trip either later this year or early next year, using a powerful rocket called the Space Launch System to propel the Orion capsule, where future astronauts will be sitting, on a trip to the moon and back. The booster stage of the rocket passed an important ground test last month.

For the spacecraft that would land astronauts on the moon, NASA had been expected to choose two of the three companies to move forward and build their landers, mirroring the approach the space agency has used for hiring companies to take cargo and now astronauts to the International Space Station. Two options provide competition that helps keep costs down, and provides a backup in case one of the systems encounters a setback.

why NASA needs the Space Launch System rocket at all.

Each launch of the Space Launch System is expected to cost more than $1 billion. Because Starship is designed to be fully reusable, its costs will be far cheaper.

The Artemis plans currently call for the astronauts to launch into orbit on top of a Space Launch System rocket. The upper stage of the rocket is to then propel the Orion capsule, where the astronauts will be sitting, toward the moon.

Unlike NASA’s Apollo moon missions in the 1960s and 1970s, the lander spacecraft is to be sent separately to lunar orbit. Orion is to dock with the lander, which will then head to the surface.

But Starship will dwarf Orion in size, making the architecture similar to sailing a yacht across the Atlantic Ocean and then switching to a cruise ship for the short ride into port.

Yusaku Maezawa, has bought an around-the-moon flight on Starship. That trip, which could occur as soon as 2023, would only pass by the moon and not land.

SpaceX has been launching a series of high-altitude tests of Starship prototypes at its site at the southern tip of Texas, not far outside Brownsville, to perfect how the spacecraft would return to Earth. SpaceX has made great progress with the maneuver of belly-flopping to slow its fall, but the tests so far have all ended explosively.

Mr. Musk recently pledged that the spacecraft would be ready to fly people to space by 2023, although he has a track record of overpromising and underdelivering on rocket development schedules.

Nevertheless, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket has become the workhorse of American and international spaceflight with its reusable booster stage. The company has twice carried astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA, and it is scheduled to loft a third crew there on Thursday.

Numerous private satellite operators have relied on the company to carry their payloads to orbit. And another company, Astrobotic, announced this week that it had picked a larger SpaceX rocket, Falcon Heavy, to carry a NASA rover called VIPER to the moon’s south pole to prospect for ice in the coming years.

On Friday, the Biden administration also announced the nomination of Pamela Melroy, a former astronaut, to become NASA’s deputy administrator. Last month, Bill Nelson, a former Florida senator, was nominated to be administrator.

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With the Suez Canal Blocked, Shippers Go Around Africa

As the world absorbed the reality that the Suez Canal will almost certainly remain blocked for at least several more days, hundreds of ships stuck at both ends of the channel on Friday began contemplating a far more expensive alternative: forsaking the channel and heading the long way around Africa.

A journey from the Suez Canal in Egypt to Rotterdam, in the Netherlands — Europe’s largest port — typically takes about 11 days. Venturing south around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope adds at least 26 more days, according to Refinitiv, the financial data company.

The additional fuel charges for the journey generally run more than $30,000 per day, depending on the vessel, or more than $800,000 total for the longer trip. But the other option is sitting at the entrance of the canal and waiting for the mother of all floating traffic jams to dissipate, while incurring so-called demurrage charges — late fees for cargo — that range from $15,000 to $30,000 per day.

“You are either stuck with the commodity and waiting for things to evolve, or you take the cost and you move your commodity, and you free up your ship,” said Amrit Singh, lead shipping analyst at Refinitiv in London. “People have started making decisions.”

surge of orders spurred by the pandemic.

A world whose initial experience with the coronavirus featured the hoarding of toilet paper now braces for fresh shortages of that vital commodity. Like many consumer goods, paper products are transported through the Suez Canal in giant shipping containers.

More than 200 ships are now stuck at either end of the Suez Canal, with no clarity on when they will be able to continue their journeys. Some 80 additional ships are scheduled to arrive over the next three days, Mr. Singh said.

For ships that had been on their way to Europe from Asia and are stuck at the southern end of the canal, the route around Africa involves crossing through an area off Somalia that is rife with piracy. Some ships are carrying security teams that enable them to pass through the piracy zone. Those that lack guards must detour around it, adding three more days to their journeys.

Crews may be unfamiliar with the waters around Africa’s southern tip, where the convergence of warm and cool currents produces turbulent and unpredictable conditions. Early Portuguese navigators called this region “the cape of storms.”

These are the sorts of factors that shipping companies are now considering.

“It is like choosing the queue at the post office,” said Alex Booth, head of research at Kpler. “It is never the right decision.”

Already, seven giant carriers of liquefied natural gas appear to have decided to change course away from the canal, according to Kpler.

One of these ships, chartered by Royal Dutch Shell, had picked up a cargo of gas at Sabine Pass in Texas and was heading toward the canal when it made a sharp turn in the Atlantic Ocean toward Africa. Another, operated by Qatargas, a state energy company, and loaded at Ras Laffan, the Qatar energy hub, was headed for Suez but then veered away toward the Cape of Good Hope before reaching the Red Sea.

Container ships are also changing their plans. HMM, a South Korean shipping company, ordered one of its vessels that was headed to Asia from Britain via the canal to go around Africa instead, according to NOH Ji-hwan, a spokesman for the company.

Mr. Booth said a ship that was already waiting at the canal would be unlikely to backtrack all the way around Africa. That would mean a nearly six-week journey to reach Amsterdam compared with just 13 days from the canal.

If the call is made in the early part of a journey, though, it may make sense. For instance, Kpler estimates that a trip around the cape from the Saudi oil terminal Ras Tanura would require 39 days, versus 24 days by way of Suez.

Ultimately, the decision hinges on an assessment of the time required for engineers to extract the Ever Given, allowing traffic to resume. The most optimistic outlook took a hit on Friday, with the failure of the latest effort to get the enormous ship floating.

“People are saying that something will be done by Sunday,” said Mr. Singh of Refinitiv. “But I have my little doubts. The tide and nautical conditions are more favorable toward the middle of next week.”

Vivian Yee and Su-Hyun Lee contributed reporting.

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Aleksander Doba, Who Kayaked Across the Atlantic, Dies at 74

Aleksander Doba, a Polish adventurer who kayaked alone across the Atlantic at the age of 70 while subsisting on his wife’s fortifying plum jam — after having twice paddled solo across the Atlantic when he was in his 60s — died on Feb. 22 on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa. He was 74.

His son Czeslaw said the cause was asphyxia resulting from high-altitude pulmonary edema.

Mr. Doba’s three daring voyages earned him Guinness World Records titles, and in 2017 he became the oldest person to kayak across the Atlantic. His feats made him a national hero in Poland.

A former chemical plant engineer who lived in a little river town, Mr. Doba had long been the most accomplished kayaker in his country. His desire to conquer the ocean grew from an innocent idea that gradually consumed him: He had kayaked everything else, so why not the Atlantic Ocean?

As a young man in Communist Poland, he had joined a local kayaking club, and he took to the sport avidly. In 1989, he surpassed the record for the most days paddled by a Polish man in a single year. He later spent 100 days paddling the circumference of the Baltic Sea. He also kayaked the coast of Norway to the Arctic Circle; on that trip, he was thrown from his boat during a storm and woke up to the sound of his own screaming after washing ashore.

told The New York Times Magazine in 2018. “I was infected with a virus.”

In the spring of 2017, he began his third trans-Atlantic crossing — the one that garnered the most media attention — when he paddled out from New Jersey. After clearing Barnegat Bay and heading for the horizon, he was soon a floating blip in the ocean.

told The Times.

But Mr. Doba had tested the limits of possibility during his two previous Atlantic crossings.

In 2010, when he kayaked from Senegal to Brazil, his skin broke out in salt-induced rashes, his fingernails nearly peeled off, and his eyes suffered from conjunctivitis. In 2013, when he paddled from Portugal to Florida, a Greek tanker made the mistake of trying to rescue him.

“Me, fine,” Mr. Doba shouted in English to the ship’s crew, giving a thumbs-up.

They offered to throw him ropes. He refused.

When the ship circled back to him again, Mr. Doba shouted a vulgarity in Polish, and they left for good.

told Canoe & Kayak magazine in 2014. “The whale swam here, and there, all around my kayak. Its 20-meter-long tail was wagging. And then, suddenly, the whale went down and disappeared into the ocean.”

Aleksander Ludwik Doba was born on Sept. 9, 1946, in Swarzedz, Poland. His father, Wincenty, was a mechanic. His mother, Eugenia (Ilijna) Doba, was a homemaker.

He grew up ice skating on ponds and skiing through forests. His father built him a bicycle from scrap parts, and when he was 15 he rode it across the country.

In the early 1970s, Mr. Doba graduated from Poznan University of Technology, where he studied mechanical engineering. He married Gabriela Stucka in 1975, and they settled in a town called Police, where he got a job at a chemical plant. In 1980, his co-workers asked him if he wanted to join their kayaking club, and soon he was spending all his weekends out on the water.

An early escapade involved kayaking on the Baltic Sea at a time when the Communist Party, to discourage defectors, had declared it illegal. When Mr. Doba encountered border patrol soldiers, they told him that he was in serious breach of the law.

“I was just paddling down the river,” he explained. “I don’t know how I ended up here.”

He kept chasing adventure. He explored countless Polish rivers, and he amassed records and firsts.

enjoyed celebrity status in Poland. People stopped him on the street to take selfies. An elementary school honored him with a statue in his scruffy, bearded likeness. And he began preparing to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, an expedition that had long been on his bucket list. He trained by jogging up and down the stairs of a high-rise building with a heavy backpack, and he took long daily hikes.

He arrived in Tanzania last month. On the morning of Feb. 22, he reached Kilimanjaro’s summit with two guides. After taking in the view, he sat on a rock to rest.

“He said many times that he didn’t want to die in his bed,” his son said. “From what we gather, he was euphoric to reach the summit. Then he sat down and fell asleep.”

One of the last people to see Mr. Doba alive was a Polish climber named Boguslaw Wawrzyniak, who was also summiting Kilimanjaro that day. When he encountered Mr. Doba at 18,700 feet, he was excited to encounter one of his homeland’s heroes, and he took a selfie with him on the mountain.

“I wished him luck in reaching the summit,” Mr. Wawrzyniak said in a phone interview. “Then I asked the local guides with him, ‘Do you know who this man is?’ And they said: ‘Yes. We know who this is. He is the king of the ocean.’”

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