more than doubled since the 1970s.

Ron Campbell, the mayor of Narrabri Shire, which includes Wee Waa, said his area was still waiting for government payments to offset damage from past catastrophes. He wondered when governments would stop paying for infrastructure repairs after every emergency.

“The costs are just enormous, not just here but at all the other places in similar circumstances,” he said.

60 percent of the trees in some places. Cattle farmers culled so much of their herds during the drought that beef prices have risen more than 50 percent as they rush to restock paddocks nourished (nearly to death) by heavy rain.

Bryce Guest, a helicopter pilot in Narrabri, once watched the dust bowls grow from above. Then came “just a monstrous amount of rain,” he said, and new kind of job: flights to mechanical pumps pushing water from fields to irrigation dams in a last-ditch effort to preserve crops that had been heading for a record harvest.

On one recent flight, he pointed to mountains of stored grain — worth six figures, at least — that were ruined by the rains, with heavy equipment trapped and rusting next to it. Further inland, a home surrounded by levees had become a small island accessible only by boat or copter.

“Australia is all about water — everything revolves around it,” he said. “Where you put your home, your stock. Everything.”

The flood plains in what is known as the Murray-Darling basin stretch out for hundreds of miles, not unlike the land at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The territory is so flat that towns can be cut off with roads flooded by less than an inch of additional rain.

That happened a few weeks ago in Bedgerabong, a few hundred miles south of Narrabri. On a recent afternoon, a couple of teachers were being driven out of town in a hulking fire truck — equipment for one disaster often serves another. Across a flooded road behind them, three other teachers had decided to camp out so they could provide some consistency for children who had already been kept out of school for months by pandemic lockdowns.

Paul Faulkner, 55, the principal of the school (total enrollment: 42), said that many parents craved social connection for their children. The Red Cross has sent in booklets for those struggling with stress and anxiety.

“Covid has kept everyone from their families,” he said. “This just isolates them even more.”

He admitted that there were a few things they did not discuss; Santa, for one. The town is expected to be cut off until after the holidays as the waters that rose with surging rains over a few days take weeks to drain and fade.

In Wee Waa, where the water has started to recede, supplies and people flowed in and out last week by helicopter and in a small boat piloted by volunteers.

Still, there were shortages everywhere — mostly of people. In a community of around 2,000 people, half of the teachers at the local public school couldn’t make it to work.

At the town’s only pharmacy, Tien On, the owner, struggled with a short-handed staff to keep up with requests. He was especially concerned about delayed drug deliveries by helicopter for patients with mental health medications.

Ms. Southwell, 69, was better prepared than most. She spent 25 years volunteering with emergency services and has been teaching first aid for decades. After a quick trip into Wee Waa by boat, she returned to her home with groceries and patience, checking a shed for the stray cats she feeds and discovering that only one of her chickens appeared to have drowned.

She said she wasn’t sure how much climate change could be blamed for the floods; her father had put their house on higher stilts because they knew the waters would rise on occasion.

All she knew was that more extreme weather and severe challenges to the community would be coming their way.

“The worst part of it is the waiting,” she said. “And the cleanup.”

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How India’s Farmers Got Narendra Modi to Back Down

NEW DELHI — Om Prakash relied on relatives and neighbors to tend his wheat and vegetable fields. He ate food donated by sympathizers at home and abroad. When he felt feverish, he turned to volunteer medical workers huddled, like him, near a noisy overpass for months, through heat and cold and a deadly viral outbreak.

Now, his year away from his farm and his family has finally paid off.

Mr. Prakash was one of thousands of farmers in India who used their organizational skills, broad support network and sheer persistence to force one of the country’s most powerful leaders in modern history into a rare retreat. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said lawmakers would repeal new agricultural laws that the protesting farmers feared would leave them vulnerable to rapacious big companies and destroy their way of life.

Their victory won’t help India solve the deep inefficiencies that plague its farming sector, problems that leave people malnourished in some places even as grain in other parts is unused or exported. But it showed how a group desperate to preserve its hold on a middle-class way of life could successfully challenge a government more accustomed to squelching dissent than reckoning with it.

fast-tracked citizenship for some groups but excluded Muslims, were plagued by violence.

The effort isn’t over yet. The farmers have vowed to continue their protests until the government submits to another demand, that it guarantee a minimum price for nearly two dozen crops. Rather than retreat now, they sense an opportunity to push even harder on a prime minister who is nervously watching his party’s poll numbers dip in a string of states with elections next year. The government has said it will form a committee to consider the matter.

India’s farming system still needs to be fixed, a fact that even many of the protesting farmers acknowledge. Initiated during a time of widespread starvation in the 1960s, the system created centralized markets where farmers could sell their crops. Some of the proceeds are funneled back to farming communities though infrastructure projects, pensions and programs providing free technical advice on matters like seed and fertilizer.

in debt. With city and factory jobs hard to find in a country still struggling with poverty, many farm children emigrate to find a better life.

Mr. Modi’s laws were aimed at bringing more private money into agriculture and making it more receptive to market forces. Mr. Singh, the protest leader, said many farmers would prefer subsidies over a wider range of output.

“The root of the agricultural issue in India is that farmers are not getting the proper value of their crops,” said Mr. Singh. “There are two ways to see reforms — giving away land to the corporations, the big people, the capitalists. The other is to help the farmers increase their yields.”

The movement started in Punjab, home to a large community of Sikhs, the religious group, and some of the country’s richest agricultural land. The protest leaders leaned on both to organize and finance their yearlong demonstrations.

farmers rode tractors over police barricades into New Delhi, leading to the death of one protester. Political analysts declared the movement dead. But organizers retreated behind the barricades, and resumed their peaceful protests through the harsh winter, a devastating wave of the coronavirus, a scorching summer and into the fall.

rammed into a group of protesting farmers, resulting in the deaths of four protesters along with four other people, including a local journalist. The son of one of Mr. Modi’s ministers is among those under investigation in connection with the episode.

That incident, which came after the protesters decided to shadow campaigning B.J.P. officials to draw cameras, may have been a turning point. The B.J.P.’s poll numbers soon dropped in Uttar Pradesh, where the deaths took place. Party officials began to worry that they could lose the state in elections set for early next year.

A day after Mr. Modi’s surprise announcement, the mood near Singhu, a village in the state of Haryana that borders the capital, was somber. Religious music and political speeches blared from loudspeakers across the makeshift village of bamboo huts, where people hawked T-shirts and flags that said, “No farmers, no food.”

Outside one of the huts serving free vegetarian lunch, Mr. Prakash, the farmer, described sleeping though cold weather and rain next to a busy road, leaving his farm in the care of his brothers’ children.

Mr. Prakash, who lives off his pension from 20 years in the Indian Air Force, does not need the farm to survive. Instead, holding on to the seven acres he and his siblings inherited from their parents ensures they can maintain a middle class life in a country where the vagaries of the economy often suck people back into poverty.

Mr. Prakash said that the family farm had supported his ambitions, and that he wanted the same for his children.

“To save our motherland,” he said, “we can stay here another two years.”

Hari Kumar contributed reporting.

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They Warned Their Names Were on a Hit List. They Were Killed.

At night in the refugee camps, with only a thin tarpaulin wall as protection, Mohammed waits for the men to come and kill him.

In less than a month, assassins have killed at least eight people in the Rohingya refugee settlements of southeastern Bangladesh, silencing those who have dared to speak out against the violent gangs that plague the camps. As with Mr. Mohammed, the militants threatened their victims before they killed, leaving their targets in a perpetual panic.

“I am living under the knife of a fearful and depressing life,” said Mr. Mohammed, a community organizer whose full name is not being used because of the documented risks he faces. “I came to Bangladesh from Myanmar because I would be killed there. Here, also, there are no guarantees for a safe life.”

In the world’s largest single refugee encampment, life is becoming unlivable. Already, Rohingya Muslims had to flee ethnic cleansing in their native Myanmar, ending up in a sprawl of shelters that ranks among the most tightly packed places on earth. Now, among the warrens of tents clinging to denuded hills, militants search for recruits, drug traffickers roam and kidnappers prey on women and children.

Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, or ARSA.

Mohib Ullah, a fellow Rohingya community leader, was killed by gunmen in late September. His fear intensified after seven men associated with an Islamic school that had stood up to ARSA militants were shot and stabbed to death.

Bhasan Char, a flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal that human rights groups have called a floating prison. ARSA has less sway there.

In October, U.N.H.C.R. and Bangladesh signed a memorandum of understanding paving the way for 80,000 or so Rohingya to be transferred to Bhasan Char, on top of the 20,000 who have already been moved there.

Among the first to be resettled on Bhasan Char were Rohingya Christians, a persecuted minority within a persecuted minority. Rohingya Christians in the camps have been kidnapped, police reports have documented.

Last October, one of the Christian families, since relocated to the island, sought protection from the United Nations after ARSA militants threatened them with abduction.

The family was given refuge for one night in a U.N.H.C.R. safehouse near the camps but was ordered to leave the next day by Bangladeshi staff, two family members said. With nowhere to go, a relative, Abdu Taleb, helped them on a bus to escape the ARSA militants who were menacing outside.

The escape plan failed, according to a police report filed shortly after the incident. The militants boarded the bus and abducted Mr. Taleb and the family. Mr. Taleb and the male head of the family were held in a dark place for nearly four months, where he said the militants tortured them, pulling out one of his teeth.

From Bhasan Char, where he now lives in a barrack surrounded by the sea, Mr. Taleb said he was finally at peace.

“I came in search of safety,” Mr. Taleb said. “I found security.”

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What Can and Can’t Be Learned From a Doctor in China Who Pioneered Masks

In late 1910, a deadly plague started spreading in the northeast reaches of China, reaching the large city of Harbin. Tens of thousands of people coughed up blood; their skin pruned and turned purple. They all died.

This outbreak sent the Qing government into a tailspin: They didn’t know what illness was causing these deaths, let alone how to control it. So they brought in one of the best trained doctors in Asia at the time, Dr. Wu Lien-Teh. After performing autopsies, Dr. Wu found Yersinia pestis, a bacterium similar to the one that had caused bubonic plague in the West. He recognized Manchuria’s plague as a respiratory disease and urged everyone, especially health care professionals and law enforcement, to wear masks.

Chinese authorities, heeding his call, coupled masking with stringent lockdowns enforced by the police. Four months after the doctor was summoned, the plague ended. Although often overlooked in Western countries, Dr. Wu is recognized in world history as a pioneer of public health, helping to change the course of a respiratory disease spread by droplets that could have devastated China in the early 20th century, and perhaps spread far beyond its borders.

While the Chinese of that era complied with these strategies, public health professionals in the United States and other Western countries have struggled to get people to listen to them during the Covid-19 pandemic. China, too, ran into challenges early on, but the country’s institutional memory from previous viral outbreaks helped turn the tide. And as many Americans abandon masking, push to restore normality in places where risks of infection remain high and hesitate to get vaccinated, some public health experts have looked to Dr. Wu’s success, seeking lessons on handling not only Covid, but also future epidemics.

masks became a political flash point in the United States and elsewhere during the Spanish flu pandemic, the idea of using them persisted in China, and gauze masks became an important tool in the political agenda of the Nationalist Party when it took over in 1928. Public health officials recommended all citizens wear gauze masks in public spaces during outbreaks of meningitis or cholera.

Kyle Legleiter, the senior director of policy advocacy at The Colorado Health Foundation.

Another factor that might have contributed to Dr. Wu’s success in China would be the reverence residents and officials had for him as a figure of authority, Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said.

In some ways, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser on Covid to President Biden and a prominent public health figure since the 1980s, served in a role similar to the one Dr. Wu played in China, Dr. Huang said. But, his message perhaps didn’t always get through because Americans are more polarized in their political identities and beliefs.

Dr. Legleiter added that public health messaging only penetrates if the public identifies with or trusts that figure of authority.

“An individual person is a stand-in for a broader set of institutions or systems that they’re speaking on the behalf of,” Dr. Legleiter said. Those who lean conservative, for instance, may put Dr. Fauci and other scientists in the category of “the elites.” As such, they’re more likely to flout public health policies that such authority figures promote, and comply with proclamations from individuals they identify with the most.

Others say that public health is intrinsically tied to the legitimacy of the state promoting it. At the turn of the 20th century, China was in distress, Dr. Hanson said. Dr. Wu helped bring China out of a tumultuous period, and the enforcement of public health measures gave the country more legitimacy.

Similarly, because the current pandemic has laid bare shortcomings in the public health systems in the United States, Britain and other Western countries, some experts believe it can be a catalyst for change.

“Since the mid-19th century, the West has generally seen its ability to control infectious disease as a marker of their civilizational superiority over much of the rest of the world,” Dr. White said. While China was seen as the sick man of the world then, some commentators in China now attempt to brand the United States with that label.

Ruth Rogaski, a medical historian at Vanderbilt University who specializes in studying the Qing dynasty and modern China, believes that the coronavirus crisis similarly offers an opportunity for reflection, which can be very motivating.

“Epidemics can serve as inflection points,” Dr. Rogaski said. “Opportunities to rethink, retool and even revolutionize approaches to health.”

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