They have to be ready on a moment’s notice because promising clouds are not as common in the Middle East as in many other parts of the world.

“We are on 24-hour availability — we live within 30 to 40 minutes of the airport — and from arrival here, it takes us 25 minutes to be airborne,” said Capt. Mark Newman, a South African senior cloud-seeding pilot. In the event of multiple, potentially rain-bearing clouds, the center will send more than one aircraft.

The United Arab Emirates uses two seeding substances: the traditional material made of silver iodide and a newly patented substance developed at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi that uses nanotechnology that researchers there say is better adapted to the hot, dry conditions in the Persian Gulf. The pilots inject the seeding materials into the base of the cloud, allowing it to be lofted tens of thousands of feet by powerful updrafts.

And then, in theory, the seeding material, made up of hygroscopic (water attracting) molecules, bonds to the water vapor particles that make up a cloud. That combined particle is a little bigger and in turn attracts more water vapor particles until they form droplets, which eventually become heavy enough to fall as rain — with no appreciable environmental impact from the seeding materials, scientists say.

That is in theory. But many in the scientific community doubt the efficacy of cloud seeding altogether. A major stumbling block for many atmospheric scientists is the difficulty, perhaps the impossibility, of documenting net increases in rainfall.

“The problem is that once you seed, you can’t tell if the cloud would have rained anyway,” said Alan Robock, an atmospheric scientist at Rutgers University and an expert in evaluating climate engineering strategies.

Another problem is that the tall cumulus clouds most common in summer in the emirates and nearby areas can be so turbulent that it is difficult to determine if the seeding has any effect, said Roy Rasmussen, a senior scientist and an expert in cloud physics at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

Israel, a pioneer in cloud seeding, halted its program in 2021 after 50 years because it seemed to yield at best only marginal gains in precipitation. It was “not economically efficient,” said Pinhas Alpert, an emeritus professor at the University of Tel Aviv who did one of the most comprehensive studies of the program.

Cloud seeding got its start in 1947, with General Electric scientists working under a military contract to find a way to de-ice planes in cold weather and create fog to obscure troop movements. Some of the techniques were later used in Vietnam to prolong the monsoon season, in an effort to make it harder for the North Vietnamese to supply their troops.

While the underlying science of cloud seeding seems straightforward, in practice, there are numerous problems. Not all clouds have the potential to produce rain, and even a cloud seemingly suitable for seeding may not have enough moisture. Another challenge in hot climates is that raindrops may evaporate before they reach the ground.

Sometimes the effect of seeding can be larger than expected, producing too much rain or snow. Or the winds can shift, carrying the clouds away from the area where the seeding was done, raising the possibility of “unintended consequences,” notes a statement from the American Meteorological Society.

“You can modify a cloud, but you can’t tell it what to do after you modify it,” said James Fleming, an atmospheric scientist and historian of science at Colby College in Maine.

“It might snow; it might dissipate. It might go downstream; it might cause a storm in Boston,” he said, referring to an early cloud-seeding experiment over Mount Greylock in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts.

This seems to be what happened in the emirates in the summer of 2019, when cloud seeding apparently generated such heavy rains in Dubai that water had to be pumped out of flooded residential neighborhoods and the upscale Dubai mall.

Despite the difficulties of gathering data on the efficacy of cloud seeding, Mr. Al Mandous said the emirates’ methods were yielding at least a 5 percent increase in rain annually — and almost certainly far more. But he acknowledged the need for data covering many more years to satisfy the scientific community.

Over last New Year’s weekend, said Mr. Al Mandous, cloud seeding coincided with a storm that produced 5.6 inches of rain in three days — more precipitation than the United Arab Emirates often gets in a year.

In the tradition of many scientists who have tried to modify the weather, he is ever optimistic. There is the new cloud-seeding nanosubstance, and if the emirates just had more clouds to seed, he said, maybe they could make more rain for the country.

And where would those extra clouds come from?

“Making clouds is very difficult,” he acknowledged. “But, who knows, maybe God will send us somebody who will have the idea of how to make clouds.”

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Exclusive: Japan seeks to organise Sri Lanka creditors’ meeting on debt crisis

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TOKYO, Aug 26 (Reuters) – Japan is seeking to organise a Sri Lanka creditors’ conference, hoping it could help solve the South Asia nation’s debt crisis, but uncertainties cloud the outlook for any talks, three people with knowledge of the planning said.

Tokyo is open to hosting talks among all the creditor nations aimed at lifting Colombo from its worst debt crisis since independence, but it is not clear whether top creditor China would join and a lack of clarity remains about Sri Lanka’s finances, one source told Reuters.

Japan would be willing to chair such a meeting with China if that would speed up the process for addressing Sri Lanka’s debt, estimated at $6.2 billion on a bilateral basis at the end of 2020, this source said.

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President Ranil Wickremesinghe told Reuters last week that Sri Lanka would ask Japan to invite the main creditor nations to talks on restructuring bilateral debts. He said he would discuss the issue with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo next month, when he is expected to attend the funeral of the assassinated former premier Shinzo Abe. read more

Tokyo, the number two creditor, has a stake in rescuing Sri Lanka, not just to recoup its $3 billion in loans but also its diplomatic interest in checking China’s growing presence in the region.

S&P Global this month downgraded Sri Lanka’s government bonds to default after it missed interest and principal payments. The island nation of 22 million people off India’s southern tip, with debt at 114% of annual economic output, is in social and financial upheaval from the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on top of years of economic mismanagement.

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) team met Wickremesinghe on Wednesday to discuss a bailout, including restructuring $29 billion in debt, as Colombo seeks a $3 billion IMF aid programme. read more

The president met the same day with Japan’s ambassador.

Tokyo believes a new “platform” is needed to pull creditors together, the sources said.

“Sri Lanka is running out of time since it defaulted on its debt. The priority is for creditor nations to agree on an effective scheme,” one source said.

“Japan is keen to move this forward. But it’s not something Japan alone can raise its hand and push through,” said the source, adding that the cooperation of other nations was crucial.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment. Sri Lanka’s central bank and Finance Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment. An IMF spokesperson declined to comment.

NEW FRAMEWORK NEEDED

Concerns include rivalry and territorial tensions between big creditors China and India, while Sri Lanka would have to commit to reforming its finances and disclose more information about its debt, the sources said.

Last month, shortly after Wickremesinghe took office when his predecessor fled the country, Chinese President Xi Jinping wrote to him that he was “ready to provide support and assistance to the best of my ability to President Wickremesinghe and the people of Sri Lanka in their efforts”. read more

But the sources said getting Beijing’s cooperation on a debt restructuring was complicated by factors such as a large number of lenders and that China was baulking at taking a “haircut” on its loans and at reducing Colombo’s debt burden.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman told Reuters that Beijing was “willing to stand with relevant countries and international financial institutions and continue to play a positive role in helping Sri Lanka respond to its present difficulties, relieve its debt burden and realise sustainable development.”

Japan hopes to see a new debt restructuring framework resembling one set up by the Group of 20 big economies targeting low-income countries. Sri Lanka does not fall under this “common framework” because it is classified as a middle-income emerging country.

“It must be a platform where all creditor nations participate” to ensure they all shoulder a fair share in waiving debt, another source said. The third said, “Until these conditions are met, it would be difficult for any talks to succeed.”

The common framework, launched by the G20 and the Paris Club of rich creditor nations in 2020, provides debt relief mainly through extension in debt-payment deadlines and reduction in interest payments.

Some people involved think an initial creditors’ meeting could be held in September, but one source said it would “take a little while, possibly several months”.

Restructuring talks are only possible after the IMF scrutinises Sri Lanka’s debt, the sources said.

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Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto and Takaya Yamaguchi in Tokyo; Additional reporting by Yoshifumi Takemoto and Kentaro Sugiyama in Tokyo, Uditha Jayasinghe in Colombo, Eduardo Baptista in Beijing and David Lawder in Washington; Writing by Leika Kihara and Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by William Mallard

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Canada’s OpenText to buy British software firm Micro Focus in $6 bln deal

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A sign stands outside the offices of Micro Focus after they and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co announced that Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co will spin off and merge its non-core software assets with Britain’s Micro Focus International in a deal worth $8.8 billion, in Newbury, Britain, September 8, 2016. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

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  • OpenText to buy Micro Focus in all-cash deal
  • Will enable OpenText to expand in enterprise info management
  • Micro Focus shares soar 92% in early trade
  • UK company to recommend deal to shareholders

Aug 26 (Reuters) – Shares of Micro Focus (MCRO.L) soared more than 90% on Friday after Canadian software company OpenText (OTEX.TO), agreed to buy the enterprise software maker in an all-cash deal valuing the British company at $6 billion including debt.

In a push to expand its enterprise information management business, OpenText said on Thursday it would pay 532 pence ($6.30) in cash for each Micro Focus share, a 98.7% premium over Micro Focus’s closing price on Thursday, giving the company a market capitalization of about $2 billion.

Micro Focus’ shares soared to a more than one-year high of 518 pence in early trade.

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The UK company said it considered the terms of the deal to be “fair and reasonable” and would recommend shareholders vote in favour of the acquisition, according to the joint statement on Thursday.

Micro Focus, based in Newbury, Berkshire, has $4.4 billion debt on its balance sheet, according to its latest earnings report.

OpenText will fund the deal by raising $4.6 billion in new debt, $1.3 billion in cash and drawing $600 million from its existing revolving credit facility.

During a call with analysts, OpenText Chief Executive Mark Barrenechea said the company can stabilize Micro Focus’ business and accelerate its cloud transition.

Micro Focus helps customers maintain and integrate legacy IT technology, a business it has grown by acquiring legacy technology such as mainframe computer software used by banks, retailers and airlines.

OpenText, one of Canada’s largest software makers, said it expects cost savings of $400 million after the deal closes. The deal will be subject to regulatory approval.

The company’s U.S-listed shares were down 4.8% in after-hours trading on Thursday.

Barclays served as financial adviser to OpenText on the deal, which is expected to close in the first quarter of 2023.

Micro Focus was advised by Goldman Sachs and Numis.

($1 = 0.8448 pounds)

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Reporting by Eva Mathews and Yadarisa Shabong in Bengaluru and Krystal Hu in New York;
Editing by Vinay Dwivedi, Arun Koyyur and Susan Fenton

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How to Prepare Your Home for Severe Storms and Weather

As a lifelong resident of Lafourche Parish in southern Louisiana, Jeanne Gouaux knew the storms that cut through the region demanded preparation. She had wind and hail insurance, a solid savings account. But it wasn’t until Hurricane Ida’s 150-mile-per-hour winds peeled back part of her roof last August that she experienced the fury — and its aftermath — up close.

“In a matter of one day, one storm came through and knocked out everything I worked so hard for all these years,” said Ms. Gouaux, a single mother of four and director of pharmacy for a surgery center near her home in Lockport, La.

With the cost and frequency of weather-driven disasters on the rise, girding your financial house for such a catastrophe — to the extent that you’re able — is increasingly crucial in parts of the country.

damage to residences, businesses and municipalities, according to an analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

too weak (or simply unenforced) to withstand damage.

But climate shifts are “supercharging the increasing frequency and intensity of certain types of extreme weather that lead to billion-dollar disasters,” said Adam Smith, the climate scientist who led the NOAA analysis, “most notably the vulnerability to drought, lengthening wildfire seasons in the Western states and the potential for extremely heavy rainfall becoming more common in the Eastern states.”

“It hints that the extremely high activity of recent years is becoming the new normal,” he added.

Ms. Gouaux, 45, had a bad feeling about Ida. In a prescient move, she packed up her family and, for the first time, left her home before the storm hit.

state program — while the home was gutted and repaired. Only in June, after 10 months, was the family able to partly move back in. With the house incomplete, meals are still cooked in the camper.

went bankrupt, causing the state guarantor to take over claims, gumming up an already slow process. It took nine months to collect her first insurance check.

Not all households have the wherewithal to prepare themselves for the worst. But there is some safeguarding that everyone can attempt. Here’s where to start:

tools can provide a starting point for assessing your home’s risk to earthly hazards.

Risk Factor has created a user-friendly tool that outlines flood, fire and extreme-heat risks (and soon other perils, including wind) for most homes across the country. Plug in an address, and it drills down to the property level, illustrating potential hazards. For example, it can show the probability that a property might flood, where the water is likely to pool, the damage it might cause and how much repairs might cost.

hazard maps for earthquakes, while the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Flood Insurance Program maintain flood maps (which also determine whether a home with a federally backed mortgage is required to have flood insurance). The flood program has recently overhauled its rating methodology, called Risk Rating 2.0, but you’ll have to contact a flood insurance agent who can share more about your property’s unique risk, said Jeremy Edwards, a FEMA spokesman.

You may be able to find more local hazard information, too. Californians, for example, can enter their address into the MyHazards website. And if you’re new to a community, talk to neighbors.

you can do to minimize damage if a flood or fire strike. The costs of mitigation will vary, but it may reduce your insurance premiums. Some insurers, for example, provide meaningful discounts in hurricane-prone regions after homeowners install roof braces or straps, said Alyssa Bourgeois, an insurance producer with MarshMcLennan in Metairie, La.

The Risk Factor website provides suggestions for hazards facing specific properties, and many regions have programs offering residents financial help to harden their homes against specific hazards, though funding is often limited.

Evaluate insurance needs. The insurance market varies greatly by locality and the hazards inherent to the area. Standard homeowners’ and renters’ insurance policies do not cover all hazards. Floods and earthquakes always require separate coverage. Wind and hail (hurricane) coverage may carry its own deductible as part of your homeowners’ insurance, or it may be a separate policy, at least in certain areas. Wildfires, meanwhile, are often incorporated into many policies, experts said.

Flood insurance (see Ann Carrns’s guide here) is generally available through the National Flood Insurance Program, which FEMA manages. Most Californians buy earthquake coverage through the California Earthquake Authority, a nonprofit entity created through state law to provide policies through its member insurers.

enough coverage to replace your property — that is, to rebuild it, not what you’d pay to buy it again, said Amy Bach, executive director of United Policyholders, a consumer advocacy group.

But many households in the highest-risk areas, including hurricane-prone states like Louisiana and Florida, are having trouble finding affordable coverage as insurers exit the market in droves.

Jude Boudreaux, a financial planner in New Orleans, said he receives calls weekly from clients questioning whether they should continue living there given the increased insurance costs. “A lot of carriers are leaving Louisiana, so people with policies are getting nonrenewal notices, and there are fewer choices out there,” he said.

Until rates stabilize, many people are resorting to the usual strategies to keep costs manageable, like increasing deductibles and reducing some coverage, including on “other structures” such as garages and personal property.

cars and other vehicles. Comprehensive auto coverage, required by auto lenders, generally provides protection against natural disasters. But older, low-value cars may not have comprehensive (and it may not be worth the cost anyway). “In those cases, we’d recommend setting aside the amount of the premium you’d pay each year into a savings account instead of giving it to the insurer,” Mr. Heller said.

home inventory spreadsheet, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners has a related app, and there are other inventory apps as well.

The least time-consuming method might be to walk through each room of your home with your mobile phone’s video camera, narrating the contents along the way. Don’t forget to open up closets, cabinets and drawers, as well as storage spaces and the garage. Then email the file to yourself, or store it securely online (and perhaps on an external hard drive).

There’s real money at stake: Ms. Gouaux was able to recover only roughly $14,000 of the $53,000 in contents coverage on her wind and hail policy.

“The night we left, someone posted: Make sure you take photos of all the rooms,” she said. “We didn’t do a good job. By the time we got back, everything was all over the place, and it was very hot.”

fireproof and waterproof box. Consider storing electronic copies on an external hard drive (using password protection) or in the cloud.

FEMA’s financial emergency kit has an exhaustive check list of what to gather and protect, along with a 41-page emergency financial first-aid kit that can be filled out online and stored in a secure place. The American Red Cross has a version of its own.

If you have to leave your home, experts suggest taking key documents with you in case you need to file a claim with your insurer or apply for FEMA assistance.

Keep emergency funds. Having access to money for any basic needs is also something to consider. If there’s no electricity and A.T.M.s aren’t working, you’ll probably need cash. Stash some in a safe place.

And if you receive any federal benefits through paper checks, now is the time to switch to automatic electronic deposits. Ditto for any other payments you may receive by mail.

take. Mr. Boudreaux, who has lived with the threat of hurricanes for most of his life, said to walk through your home and think about what’s irreplaceable — it probably fits into a plastic box.

“Define what those things are, or create a list so if someone knocked on your door and said, ‘The fire is coming in 30 minutes’ — what would you take?” he said. “It’s also good life perspective exercise.”

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Still reeling from China’s data debacle

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A man walks under an electronic screen showing Japan’s Nikkei share price index inside a conference hall in Tokyo, Japan June 14, 2022. REUTERS/Issei Kato

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Aug 16 (Reuters) – A look at the day ahead in Asian markets from Jamie McGeever

With no major regional economic reports on tap Tuesday, Asian markets will continue to digest the implications from China’s dismal data deluge on Monday that instantly deepened the gloom surrounding the world’s second largest economy.

The central bank’s meagre 10 basis point reduction to some lending rates in response is unlikely to have any discernible impact. China’s economy is in trouble, bond yields are tumbling, and the yuan is feeling the squeeze. read more

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The dollar jumped 1% against China’s currency on Monday, one of its biggest rises in years, to push the yuan to its lowest since May. China’s 10-year bond yield is less than 20 basis points from a fresh 20-year trough.

The slowdown is alarming, and as Societe Generale economists note, Beijing seems less willing than before to halt the slide, never mind reverse it.

“Our GDP forecast of 2.7% is right now at the bottom of Street estimates, and yet may still prove too optimistic. The July trajectory points to a below-2% GDP growth rate for 2022, if policymakers remain slow to step up,” they wrote.

For the global economy and markets, however, China’s darkening economic cloud may have a silver lining: lower energy prices.

Brent crude oil fell around 4% on Monday and is down 23% over the last two months. Its year-over-year rise – crucial for annual inflation prints – is down to around 35% from 100% in March.

Asia will look to take heart from Wall Street’s upswing on Monday, which showed investors shrugging off China’s news and an equally surprising and dismal New York Fed manufacturing report. For now, lower oil prices are trumping weak economic data.

Key developments that should provide more direction to markets on Tuesday:

RBA minutes from August policy meeting

India’s wholesale price inflation (July)

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Reporting by Jamie McGeever in Orlando, Fla.
Editing by Lisa Shumaker

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Live Updates: Ukraine Estimates Sharply Higher Russian Casualty Toll in Crimea Blasts

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

BAKHMUT, Ukraine — Ukrainian soldiers scurried around the howitzer in a field one recent morning. In a flurry of activity, one man lugged a 106-pound explosive shell from a truck to the gun. Another, using a wooden pole, shoved it into the breach.

“Loaded!” the soldier shouted, then knelt on the ground and covered his ears with his hands.

The gun fired with a thunderous boom. A cloud of smoke wafted up. Leaves fluttered down from nearby trees. The shell sailed off toward the Russians with a metallic shriek.

It is a scene repeated thousands of times daily along the frontline in Ukraine: artillery duels and long-range strikes from both sides on targets ranging from infantry to fuel depots to tanks.

And what followed the salvo fired on Wednesday morning in eastern Ukraine was also indicative of the rhythm of this war: a coffee break.

This is a war fought in a cycle of opposites — bursts of chaos from outgoing or incoming shelling, and then long lulls in which soldiers undertake the most routine activities. Fighters who minutes before unleashed destructive weapons with a thunderous roar settled in a grove of oak trees around a picnic table of wooden ammunition boxes, boiling water on a camp stove and pouring cups of instant coffee.

They rested in an oak forest, overlooking a field of tall green grass and purple flowering thistles. Elsewhere, soldiers used a lull to smoke or get a haircut.

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

On a recent visit, soldiers from the 58th Brigade fighting in and around the city of Bakhmut, where the artillery war is raging, were both attacking and under attack from artillery.

All about on the rolling, grassy hills west of Bakhmut, puffs of brown smoke rose from incoming Russian strikes, aimed at Ukraine’s artillery positions.

The pivotal importance of long-range fire was one reason the United States and other allies rushed NATO-caliber howitzers to Ukraine. Its military is close to depleting the entire stock of Soviet-legacy shells in its own arsenal and from allied countries in Eastern Europe, and it is now shifting to more abundant NATO ammunition.

Russia has vast supplies of artillery ammunition but indications are surfacing that it is dipping into older reserves that more frequently do not detonate on impact.

The Soviet-legacy howitzer the Ukrainian team fires, a model called the D-20 that is nicknamed the “fishing lure,” has held up well, said the commander, Lieutenant Oleksandr Shakin. American-provided long-range weaponry such as the M777 howitzer and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, known as HIMARS, have extended the reach of Ukraine’s army, but the bulk of the arsenal is still Soviet-era guns.

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

The cannon they fired was made in 1979, he said, and most of the shells were from the 1980s. Still, Lt. Shakin said, “They have not let me down yet.’’

Typically, he said, he fires around 20 shells a day from each gun, conserving Ukraine’s dwindling supply of 152 millimeter ammunition.

“We have a lot of motivation,” said Captain Kostyantin Viter, an artillery officer. “In front of us are our infantry and we have to cover them. Behind us are our families.”

Inside the city of Bakhmut on Wednesday, at a position where soldiers of the 58th Brigade are garrisoned in an abandoned municipal building, the whistles of their colleagues’ shells could be heard sailing overhead — aimed at Russian forces to the east of town.

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

The soldiers stood in a courtyard, smoking and listening to the whizzing of shells overhead and thuds of explosions in the distance.

The buzzing of electric clippers filled the air, too, as one soldier gave another a haircut. A few trucks were parked in the yard and a dozen or so soldiers milled about.

Half an hour or so on, a new noise joined the background of distant booms: the clang of nearby explosions. What had been a languid summer morning became a scene of chaos.

Soldiers dashed for cover or dove to the ground. After a dozen or so booms, it was over. An acrid smoke wafted over the courtyard, and shards of glass lay about. “Is everybody alive?” a soldier shouted.

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

All of the soldiers who had been in the yard escaped unhurt. But the Russian rocket strike killed seven civilians and wounded six others in the neighborhood near the soldiers’ base, the authorities reported later.

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U.N. Chief Warns World Is One Step From ‘Nuclear Annihilation’

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the warning at a meeting to review the 50-year-old treaty aimed at preventing nuclear weapon spread.

The United Nations chief warned Monday that “humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation,” citing the war in Ukraine, nuclear threats in Asia and the Middle East and many other factors.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gave the dire warning at the opening of the long-delayed high-level meeting to review the landmark 50-year-old treaty aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and eventually achieving a nuclear-free world.

The danger of increasing nuclear threats and a nuclear catastrophe was also raised by the United States, Japan, Germany, the U.N. nuclear chief and many other opening speakers at the meeting to review progress and agree to future steps to implement the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, known as the NPT.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said North Korea is preparing to conduct its seventh nuclear test, Iran “has either been unwilling or unable” to accept a deal to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement aimed at reining in its nuclear program, and Russia is “engaged in reckless, dangerous nuclear saber-rattling” in Ukraine.

He cited Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warning after its Feb. 24 invasion that any attempt to interfere would lead to “consequences you have never seen,” emphasizing that his country is “one of the most potent nuclear powers.”

This is contrary to assurances given to Ukraine of its sovereignty and independence when in gave up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons in 1994, Blinken said, and sends “the worst possible message” to any country thinking it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself and deter aggression.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said divisions in the world since the last review conference in 2015, which ended without a consensus document, have become greater, stressing that Russia’s threat to use nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war has contributed “to worldwide concern that yet another catastrophe by nuclear weapon use is a real possibility.”

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock accused Russia of “brutally violating the assurances” it gave Ukraine in 1994 and said Moscow’s “reckless nuclear rhetoric” since its invasion of its smaller neighbor “is putting at risk everything the NPT has achieved in five decades.”

Putin appeared to roll back on his nuclear warning in a message of greetings to NPT participants posted on his website Monday.

“We believe that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought, and we stand for equal and indivisible security for all members of the world community,” the Russian leader said.

Putin said his country “consistently follows the letter and spirit” of the NPT and expects all parties to “strictly comply with their commitments” and make “a significant contribution” at the conference to strengthening the non-proliferation regime “to ensure peace, security and stability in the world.”

Most recently, Blinken said Russia seized Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhya and is using it as a military base to fire at Ukrainians, “knowing that they can’t and won’t shoot back because they might accidentally strike a nuclear reactor or highly radioactive waste in storage.” He said this brings the notion of having “a human shield to an entirely different and horrific level.”

Russia’s delegation to the NPT issued a statement Monday night strongly rejecting Blinken’s contention that Russia is using the Zaporizhzhya plant as a military base, saying a limited number of servicemen are there “to ensure safety and security at the power plant.”

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the Ukraine conflict is “so grave that the specter of a potential nuclear confrontation, or accident, has raised its terrifying head again.”

He warned that at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant “the situation is becoming more perilous by the day,” and he urged all countries to help make possible his visit to the plant with a team of IAEA safety and security experts, saying his efforts for the past two months have been unsuccessful.

Guterres told many ministers, officials and diplomats gathered in the General Assembly Hall that the month-long review conference is taking place “at a time of nuclear danger not seen since the height of the Cold War.”

The conference is “an opportunity to hammer out the measures that will help avoid certain disaster, and to put humanity on a new path towards a world free of nuclear weapons,” the secretary-general said.

But Guterres warned that “geopolitical weapons are reaching new highs,” almost 13,000 nuclear weapons are in arsenals around the world, and countries seeking “false security” are spending hundreds of billions of dollars on “doomsday weapons.”

“All this at a time when the risks of proliferation are growing and guardrails to prevent escalation are weakening,” he said, “And when crises — with nuclear undertones — are festering from the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and to many other factors around the world.”

Guterres called on conference participants to take several actions: urgently reinforce and reaffirm “the 77-year-old norm against the use of nuclear weapons,” work relentlessly toward eliminating nuclear weapons with new commitments to reduce arsenals, address “the simmering tensions in the Middle Est and Asia” and promote the peaceful use of nuclear technology.

“Future generations are counting on your commitment to step back from the abyss,” he implored the ministers and diplomats. “This is our moment to meet this fundamental test and lift the cloud of nuclear annihilation once and for all.”

Japan’s Kishida, recalling his home city of Hiroshima where the first atomic bomb was dropped in August 1945, echoed many of Guterres’ points saying the path to a world without nuclear weapons has become harder but “giving up is not an option.”

In force since 1970, the Nonproliferation Treaty known as the NPT has the widest adherence of any arms control agreement, with some 191 countries that are members.

Under its provisions, the five original nuclear powers — the United States, China, Russia (then the Soviet Union), Britain and France — agreed to negotiate toward eliminating their arsenals someday and nations without nuclear weapons promised not to acquire them in exchange for a guarantee to be able to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

India and Pakistan, which didn’t join the NPT, went on to get the bomb. So did North Korea, which ratified the pact but later announced it was withdrawing. Non-signatory Israel is believed to have a nuclear arsenal but neither confirms nor denies it. Nonetheless, the treaty has been credited with limiting the number of nuclear newcomers (U.S. President John F. Kennedy once foresaw as many as 20 nuclear-armed nations) as a framework for international cooperation on disarmament.

The meeting, which ends Aug. 26, aims to generate a consensus on next steps, but expectations are low for a substantial — if any — agreement. There were 133 speakers as of Monday, plus dozens of side events.

The NPT’s five-year review was supposed to take place in 2020, when the world already faced plenty of crisis, but was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Patricia Lewis, former director of the U.N. Institute for Disarmament Research who is now in charge of international security programs at the international affairs think tank Chatham House in London, said “President Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons have shocked the international community.”

Russia is not only an NPT signatory but a depository for treaty ratifications and in January it joined the four other nuclear powers in reiterating the statement by former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that “a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought,” she told The Associated Press.

Lewis said countries participating in the review conference will have a difficult decision to make.

To support the treaty and what it stands for, “governments will have to address Russia’s behavior and threats,” she said. “On the other hand, to do so risks dividing the treaty members — some of whom have been persuaded by Russia’s propaganda or at least are not as concerned, for example, as the NATO states.”

“Russia no doubt will strenuously object to being named in statements and any outcome documents,” Lewis said.

Source: newsy.com

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Wildfires In West Explode In Size Amid Hot, Windy Conditions

A significant build-up of vegetation was fueling the McKinney fire, said Tom Stokesberry, a spokesman with the U.S. Forest Service for the region.

Wildfires in California and Montana exploded in size overnight amid windy, hot conditions and were quickly encroaching on neighborhoods, forcing evacuation orders for over 100 homes Saturday, while an Idaho blaze was spreading.

In California’s Klamath National Forest, the fast-moving McKinney fire, which started Friday, went from charring just over 1 square mile to scorching as much as 62 square miles by Saturday in a largely rural area near the Oregon state line, according to fire officials.

“It’s continuing to grow with erratic winds and thunderstorms in the area and we’re in triple digit temperatures,” said Caroline Quintanilla, a spokeswoman at Klamath National Forest.

Meanwhile in Montana, the Elmo wildfire nearly tripled in size to more than 11 square miles within a few miles of the town of Elmo. Roughly 200 miles to the south, Idaho residents remained under evacuation orders as the Moose Fire in the Salmon-Challis National Forest charred more than 67.5 square miles in timbered land near the town of Salmon. It was 17% contained.

A significant build-up of vegetation was fueling the McKinney fire, said Tom Stokesberry, a spokesman with the U.S. Forest Service for the region.

“It’s a very dangerous fire — the geography there is steep and rugged, and this particular area hasn’t burned in a while,” he said.

A small fire was also burning nearby, outside the town of Seiad, Stokesberry said. With lightning predicted over the next few days, resources from all over California were being brought in to help fight the region’s fires, he said.

McKinney’s explosive growth forced crews to shift from trying to control the perimeter of the blaze to trying to protect homes and critical infrastructure like water tanks and power lines, and assist in evacuations in California’s northernmost county of Siskiyou.

Deputies and law enforcement were knocking on doors in the county seat of Yreka and the town of Fort Jones to urge residents to get out and safely evacuate their livestock onto trailers. Automated calls were being sent to land phone lines as well because there were areas without cell phone service.

Over 100 homes were ordered evacuated and authorities were warning people to be on high alert. Smoke from the fire caused the closure of portions of Highway 96.

“We’re asking residents all over the area to be ready,” Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Courtney Kreider said. “Last night we were pushing out evacuations about every hour, and there are large portions of the county that are in warning areas.”

Moments later, she said, “Oh — we just added another zone to the evacuation warning.”

The Pacific Coast Trail Association urged hikers to get to the nearest town while the U.S. Forest Service closed a 110-mile section of the trail from the Etna Summit to the Mt. Ashland Campground in southern Oregon.

Oregon state Rep. Dacia Grayber, who is a firefighter, was camping with her husband, who is also in the fire service, near the California state line when gale-force winds awoke them just after midnight.

The sky was glowing with strikes of lightening in the clouds, while ash was blowing at them, though they were in Oregon, about 10 miles away. Intense heat from the fire had sent up a massive pyrocumulonimbus cloud, which can produce its own weather system including winds and thunderstorms, Grayber said.

“These were some of the worst winds I’ve ever been in and we’re used to big fires,” she said. “I thought it was going to rip the roof top tent off of our truck. We got the heck out of there.”

On their way out, they came across hikers on the Pacific Coast Trail fleeing to safety. They offered rides, but one hiker said he would just take a beer, which they gave him, she said.

“The terrifying part for us was the wind velocity,” she said. “It went from a fairly cool breezy night to hot, dry hurricane-force winds. Usually that happens with a fire during the day but not at night. I hope for everyone’s sake this dies down but it’s looking like it’s going to get worse.”

In western Montana, the wind-driven Elmo fire forced evacuations of homes and livestock as it raced across grass and timber, according to The National Interagency Fire Center, based in Idaho. The agency estimated it would take nearly a month to contain the blaze.

Smoke shut down a portion of Highway 28 between Hot Springs and Elmo because of the thick smoke, according to the Montana Department of Transportation.

Crews from several different agencies were fighting the fire on Saturday, including the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Fire Division. Six helicopters were making drops on the fire, aided by 22 engines on the ground.

In Idaho, more than 930 wildland firefighters and support staff were battling the Moose fire Saturday and protecting homes, energy infrastructure and the Highway 93 corridor, a major north-south route.

A red flag warning indicated that the weather could make things worse with the forecast calling for “dry thunderstorms,” with lightning, wind and no rain.

Meanwhile, crews made significant progress in battling another major blaze in California that forced evacuations of thousands of people near Yosemite National Park earlier this month. The Oak fire was 52% contained by Saturday, according to a Cal Fire incident update.

As fires raged across the West, the U.S. House on Friday approved wide-ranging legislation aimed at helping communities in the region cope with increasingly severe wildfires and drought — fueled by climate change — that have caused billions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses in recent years.

The legislative measure approved by federal lawmakers Friday combines 49 separate bills and would increase firefighter pay and benefits; boost resiliency and mitigation projects for communities affected by climate change; protect watersheds; and make it easier for wildfire victims to get federal assistance.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein has sponsored a similar measure.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Strong Earthquake Kills At Least 5 People In Northern Philippines

By Associated Press
July 27, 2022

Dozens of people are still missing in a mountainous area of Abra province following the 7 magnitude quake.

A strong earthquake set off landslides and damaged buildings in the northern Philippines on Wednesday, killing at least five people and injuring dozens. In the capital, hospital patients were evacuated and terrified people rushed outdoors.

The 7 magnitude quake was centered in a mountainous area of Abra province, said Renato Solidum, the head of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, who described the midmorning shaking as a major earthquake.

Bureau of Fire Protection via AP

“The ground shook like I was on a swing and the lights suddenly went out. We rushed out of the office, and I heard screams and some of my companions were in tears,” said Michael Brillantes, a safety officer of the Abra town of Lagangilang, near the epicenter.

At least five people died — mostly in collapsed structures. One villager died when hit by falling cement slabs in his house in Abra, where dozens of others were injured. In Benguet province, a worker was pinned to death after a small building that was under construction collapsed in the strawberry-growing mountain town of La Trinidad.

Hundreds of houses and buildings had cracked walls, including some that collapsed in Abra, where President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office less than a month ago, planned to travel Thursday to meet victims and local officials.

Marcos Jr. told a news conference he was in his office at the riverside Malacanang presidential palace complex when the chandeliers began swaying and making clanking sounds. “It was very strong,” he said of the ground shaking.

In a chilling near-death experience, Filipino photojournalist Harley Palangchao and companions were traveling downhill in two vans in Mountain Province when they suddenly heard thunder-like thuds and saw an avalanche of boulders as big as cars raining down just ahead of them from a towering mountain.

Amid screams of his companions in their van to “back up, back up!” the 44-year-old father of three raised his camera in the front seat and snapped what he feared could be the final pictures of his life. The van in front of them was grazed by a boulder, injuring one, but he and others in the second van drove backward fast enough and escaped unscathed.

The Red Cross issued a picture of a three-story building precariously leaning toward a debris-covered road in Abra. A video taken by a panicking witness showed parts of an old stone church tower peeling off and falling in a cloud of dust on a hilltop.

Patients, some in wheelchairs, and medical personnel were evacuated from at least two hospitals in Manila, about 265 miles south of Lagangilang, but were later told to return after engineers found only a few minor cracks on walls.

The quake’s strength was lowered from the initial 7.3 magnitude after further analysis. The quake was set off by movement in a local fault at a depth of 10 miles, the institute said, adding it expected damage and more aftershocks.

The Philippines lies along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an arc of faults around the Pacific Ocean where most of the world’s earthquakes occur. It is also lashed by about 20 typhoons and tropical storms each year, making it one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.

A magnitude 7.7 quake killed nearly 2,000 people in the northern Philippines in 1990.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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