Daily Archives: January 4, 2015

Miami Beach pushing beachfront development — collecting storm-water fees to fight sea-level rise

Coastal infrastructureMiami Beach pushing beachfront development — collecting storm-water fees to fight sea-level rise

Published 5 January 2015

City planners and real estate developers in Miami Beach are fight the threat of climate change by continuing to encourage the development of new beachfront properties, including hotels and residential condos. Revenue from real estate taxes and fees will fund a $300 million storm-water project. Florida has no income tax, and much of South Florida’s public infrastructure projects are supported by property taxes. By 2020, Miami Beach will have built eighty new storm pumps which will collect and remove up to 14,000 gallons of seawater per minute back into Biscayne Bay.

City planners and real estate developers in Miami Beach are fighting the threat of climate change by continuing to encourage the development of new beachfront properties, including hotels and residential condos. Revenue from real estate taxes and fees will fund a $300 million storm-water project, said Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine. Florida has no income tax, and much of South Florida’s public infrastructure projects are supported by property taxes.

Levine commends private-sector efforts in the local real estate market, as it will help contribute to the sustainability of South Florida. “The biggest investors in the world, the smartest minds in the world… they’re all buying,” Levine told the Washington Post. “They believe Miami Beach has a tremendous future, and they put their money where their mouth is.”

A storm-water fee on property owners and hotels helped Miami Beach save enough money to borrow $100 million to begin the storm-water project. By 2020, Miami Beach will have built eighty new storm pumps which will collect and remove up to 14,000 gallons of seawater per minute back into Biscayne Bay. Construction, which began last February, will reduce sunny day flooding and prepare the city for future sea level rise.

Climatologists question the strategy of building more luxury properties to fight rising sea levels. They claim the existing development already stresses the area’s infrastructure, built decades before concern about sea level rise. “When you consider current hurricane threats, and the sea level rise that could erode these properties… Common sense says no, you shouldn’t do it,” said Florida State University climatologist David Zierden.

The 2014 National Climate Assessment report warns that Miami is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Sea level around South Florida is expected to rise by three feet by 2100. To make matters worse, researchers predict that hurricanes will gain strength and occur more often as temperatures rise.

City officials see the real estate boom as an opportunity to plan for the future. “The time to put away things for a rainy day is when it’s sunny outside,” said public works director Eric Carpenter. “If you wait until it’s raining, it’s too late.” The storm-water fee charged to all property owners collects $7 for every 791 square-feet for commercial buildings including hotels.

The concerns about climate change seem to have little effect on property investors in Miami Beach. Last year the city collected $128 million in property taxes, an increase from $117 million in 2013. Many of the buyers are from South America, concerned with currency instability in their home countries and looking to Miami Beach properties as investment alternatives. “They want somewhere safe to park their money,” said Peter Zalewski, founder of condo consulting site CraneSpotters.com, whose firm tracks applications. “A lot of buyers here never step foot in the condos. They’ll sell them before the water makes it to the bottom floor of their buildings, anyway.”

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Kenya’s efforts to counter al- Shabaab faulted as heavy-handed

African securityKenya’s efforts to counter al- Shabaab faulted as heavy-handed

Published 5 January 2015

As Somali-based al-Shabaab loses ground in its home country to international forces backed by the United States, the United Nations, and the African Union, it has increased its attacks in Kenya, specifically, attacks on Christians who live in towns near Kenya’s border with Somalia. To counter al-Shabaab’s operations in Kenyan security forces have begun to launch attacks on suspected terrorists in Kenya. Human rights groups have documented assassinations and disappearances of terrorism suspects by Kenya’s counterterrorism units. Such raids only act as a recruitment tool for al-Shabaab, say analysts.

As Somali-based al-Shabaab loses ground in its home country to international forces backed by the United States, the United Nations, and the African Union, it has increased its attacks in Kenya, specifically, attacks on Christians who live in towns near Kenya’s border with Somalia. The Los Angeles Times reports that 2014 was the most deadly year for Kenyans since 2011, when Kenya began its military intervention in Somalia as part of an effort to eradicate al-Shabaab before the group further spread to neighboring countries. In 2014, more than ninety people were killed in several terrorist attacks near Lamu on the Kenya coast, and sixty-four were executed in two attacks near the northeastern town of Mandera.

To counter al-Shabaab’s operations in Kenyan security forces have begun to launch attacks on suspected terrorists in Kenya. Human rights groups have documented assassinations and disappearances of terrorism suspects by Kenya’s counterterrorism units. Several local imams have been killed by police, sparking riots and alienating local Muslims. In one case, 6,000 police officers raided a Somali neighborhood near Nairobi.

Such raids only act as a recruitment tool for al-Shabaab, says Cedric Barnes, an International Crisis Group analyst. “The government’s recent action threatens to create a greater constituency for Al Shabab, uniting grievances that are specific to the Somali community with those of the wider Muslim population,” Barnes wrote in a report last April.

The Kenyan government has denied any counterterrorism effort that kills suspected terrorists, but members of anti-terrorism police units have admitted to killing dozens of people to avoid Kenya’s weak and corrupt legal system. “Kenyan counter-terrorism forces appear to be killing and disappearing people right under the noses of top government officials, major embassies and the United Nations,” Leslie Lefkow, Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for Africa, said in an August report. “This horrendous conduct does not protect Kenyans from terrorism — it simply undermines the rule of law.”

Last month, Kenyan lawmakers approved a security bill which limits the number of Somali refugees allowed in the country from 500,000 to 150,000, and restricts them to two refugee camps. The rule also allows authorities to revoke ID cards and require the media to get police permission before publishing any articles relating to counterterrorism investigations and operations. Some security analysts have called the new security bill a means to cover up unlawful counter-strategies deployed by security forces. The law also requires anyone planning a protest rally to get permission from the Cabinet secretary in charge of security.

The U.S. State Department has called on Kenya to repeal the security bill as it appears to violate the freedom of assembly, the press, and access to asylum for refugees. “Laws that violate fundamental rights and are open to abuse by security forces aren’t the right solution to Kenya’s security crisis,” Lefkow said in a recent statement.

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Natural grotto discovered in Majda

Natural grotto discovered in MajdalZoun in the South

Sun 04 Jan 2015 at 20:25

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NNA – A natural grotto was discovered Sunday in the area of Majdal-Zoun in Tyre, formed over thousands of years in the middle of a hilltop rising approximately 500 meters above sea level.

Townsmen were using the place as a waste dump area. However, the heavy rains that fell in the last few days created a water pond, causing the feet of amateur fishermen to sink in; thus, exposing the surface opening of the natural grotto.

The grotto was found to contain a wide range of natural stalagmites which are usually formed by moisture and water leakage, similar to those found in the Jeita Grotto in the region of Keserwan. It also contains natural rock forms caused by mother nature over thousands of years.

The delay in discovering the grotto is due to several reasons, namely: the place in which it is located, which was previously considered as borderline prior to the South Liberation in 2000, which was facing an Israeli enemy position overseeing the area at the time. Additionally, the UNIFIL had used hilltop above the grotto to establish an advanced control center, and later on vacated the premises after Liberation.

================ R.Sh.

IMF-imposed reforms undermined healthcare provision in Ebola-stricken West Africa

EbolaIMF-imposed reforms undermined healthcare provision in Ebola-stricken West Africa

Published 5 January 2015

Researchers criticize reforms advocated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for chronically under-funded and insufficiently staffed health systems in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. They say these policies contributed to “lack of preparedness” of West African health systems to cope with disease and emergencies such as Ebola. The researchers argue that IMF programs over the years have imposed heavy constraints on the development of effective health systems of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone — the cradle of the Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 6,800 since March this year.

Researchers criticize reforms advocated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for chronically under-funded and insufficiently staffed health systems in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. They say these policies contributed to “lack of preparedness” of West African health systems to cope with disease and emergencies such as Ebola.

Writing in the journal Lancet Global Health, researchers from Cambridge University’s Department of Sociology examine the links between the IMF and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

A University of Cambridge release reports that the authors, joined by colleagues from Oxford University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, argue that IMF programs over the years have imposed heavy constraints on the development of effective health systems of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone — the cradle of the Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 6,800 since March this year.

The researchers say that economic policy reforms advocated by the IMF have undermined the capacity of health systems in these three nations — systems already fragile from legacies of conflict and state failure – to cope with infectious disease outbreaks and other such emergencies.

“A major reason why the Ebola outbreak spread so rapidly was the weakness of healthcare systems in the region, and it would be unfortunate if underlying causes were overlooked,” said lead author and Cambridge sociologist Alexander Kentikelenis.

“Policies advocated by the IMF have contributed to under-funded, insufficiently staffed, and poorly prepared health systems in the countries with Ebola outbreaks,” he said.

By reviewing the policies enforced by the IMF before the outbreak — extracting information from the IMF lending programs between 1990 and 2014 — the researchers were able to examine the effects on the three West African nations, and identified three key policy impacts that led to the weakening of the already fragile healthcare systems in these countries:

Firstly, the IMF required economic reforms that reduced government spending. “Such policies have been extremely strict, absorbing funds that could be directed to meeting pressing health challenges,” write the researchers. Although the IMF responded to concerns raised about the impact of these policies by incorporating “poverty-reduction expenditures” that aimed to boost health budgets, the researchers found these conditions were often not met.

“In 2013, just before the Ebola outbreak, the three countries met the IMF’s economic directives, yet all failed to raise their social spending despite pressing health needs,” said Professor Lawrence King, co-author and Cambridge sociologist.

Secondly, the IMF often requires caps on the public-sector wage bill, directly impacting the capacity of these nations to hire and adequately pay key healthcare workers such as doctors and nurses. An independent evaluation of the IMF in 2007 stated that these limits are “often set without consideration of the impact on expenditures in priority areas.”

“Wage limits set by the IMF have been linked to a ‘brain drain’ of health workers in countries that need them most. For example, the IMF imposed restrictions on wage spending in Sierra Leone over the 2000s. At the same time, the number of health personnel in the country plummeted,” said King.

Thirdly, the IMF campaigns for decentralized healthcare systems. While the idea behind this is to make healthcare more responsive to local needs, the researchers say that in practice this makes it difficult to mobilize coordinated responses to outbreaks of deadly diseases such as Ebola.

In recent months, however, the IMF has announced $430 million of funding to help combat Ebola in West Africa, leading IMF director Christine Lagarde to say it is “good to increase the fiscal deficit when it’s a matter of curing the people […] The IMF doesn’t say that very often.”

“The IMF’s recent change of heart about prioritizing public health instead of fiscal discipline is welcome, but this is not the first time we have heard such rhetoric from the IMF leadership. It remains to be seen whether this time is different,” said Kentikelenis.

The authors of the Lancet article point to that journal’s own Commission on Investing in Health, which calls for increases in public health spending and attention to hiring and training health workers. “The experience of Ebola adds a degree of urgency to the implementation of its recommendations,” they write.

— Read more in Alexander Kentikelenisemais et al., “The International Monetary Fund and the Ebola outbreak,” The Lancet Global Health (21 December 2014) (DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S2214-109X(14)70377-8)

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At least 100 dead in Burundi attac

At least 100 dead in Burundi attack by rebel group: military source

Sun 04 Jan 2015 at 14:44

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NNA – At least 100 rebels have been killed after a cross-border attack against the central African nation of Burundi from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a top military source told Agence France Presse Sunday.

A general in the Burundian army, speaking on condition that he not be named, said the attack by the unidentified rebel group had been defeated after five days of heavy fighting in the border area north of the capital Bujumbura.

“After five days of non-stop military operations, the armed group which attacked Burundi has been wiped out by our security forces. In total, we killed 105 of them and captured four, out of a total of the 121 who entered Cibitoke province from the DRCongo,” the general said.

“We also seized a 60mm mortar, five rocket launchers, machine guns and more than 100 assault rifles,” he said, adding the Burundian army had lost two soldiers.

There was no further confirmation of the claim, with the army declining to comment officially on the fighting while operations in the area were still in progress.

Burundian officials and witnesses said the group of unidentified rebels crossed into Burundi overnight Monday from DRCongo’s eastern Kivu region, a chronically unstable and resource-rich area that is home to dozens of rebel groups.

A previous toll given on Wednesday put the toll at 35 dead, including 34 rebels and one government soldier.

Previous attacks in Burundi’s border region have been claimed by a splinter faction of the National Liberation Forces (FNL). The main body of FNL — a highly disciplined group notorious for singing hymns as they carried out attacks — signed a peace deal with the Burundian government in 2009 and have since become a political party.

The rebels who still fight on have claimed a string of attacks this year, most recently in October when they claimed to have killed six soldiers, and vowed to “intensify” their raids ahead of presidential elections in June 2015. The group, however, have denied they were behind the latest attack.

Burundi, a small nation in Africa’s Great Lakes region, emerged in 2006 from a brutal 13-year civil war and its political climate remains fractious ahead of presidential elections scheduled to take place this year.–AFP

================R.Z.