Over 160 die in Afghanistan as extreme cold sweeps across the country
A cold snap in Afghanistan has killed over 160 people and more than 200,000 livestock in what officials say is its coldest winter in 15 years.
Temperatures in some parts of the country have plummeted to -33 degrees Celsius and heavy snowfalls have been recorded across the nation – which is grappling with a severe humanitarian crisis.
The country’s disaster management agency said on Saturday that the death toll had risen by 88 over the past week and now stood at 166, based on data from 24 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
Ministry official Abdul Rahman Zahid said in a video statement that the deaths were caused by floods, fires and leaks from gas heaters, while about 100 homes have been destroyed.
“The Afghan winter … as everybody in Afghanistan knows, is the big messenger of doom for so many families in Afghanistan as we go through these many years of humanitarian need … we see some of the consequences in loss of life,” UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said this week 17 people had died in a single village in northeastern Badakhshan province due to an outbreak of “acute respiratory infection.”
“Harsh weather prevents help from reaching the area,” the WHO said.
At least 26 dead in tornadoes in Mississippi and Alabama
Rescuers raced Saturday to search for survivors and help hundreds of people left homeless after a powerful tornado cut a devastating path through Mississippi in the United States, killing at least 25 people, injuring dozens, and flattening entire blocks as it carved a path of destruction for more than an hour.
One person was also killed in Alabama.
The tornado devastated a swath of the Mississippi Delta town of Rolling Fork, reducing homes to piles of rubble, flipping cars on their sides and toppling the town’s water tower. Residents hunkered down in bath tubs and hallways during Friday night’s storm and later broke into a John Deere store that they converted into a triage center for the wounded.
“There’s nothing left,” said Wonder Bolden, holding her granddaughter, Journey, while standing outside the remnants of her mother’s now-leveled mobile home in Rolling Fork.
Based on early data, the tornado received a preliminary EF-4 rating, the National Weather Service office in Jackson said late Saturday in a tweet. An EF-4 tornado has top wind gusts between 265 kph and 320 kph, according to the service. The Jackson office cautioned it was still gathering information on the tornado.
The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency announced late Saturday afternoon in a tweet that the death toll had risen to 25 and that dozens of people were injured. Four people previously reported missing had been found.
Other parts of the Deep South were digging out from damage caused by other suspected twisters. One man died in Morgan County, Alabama, the sheriff’s department there said in a tweet.
Throughout Saturday, survivors walked around dazed and in shock as they broke through debris and fallen trees with chain saws, searching for survivors. Power lines were pinned under decades-old oaks, their roots torn from the ground.
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves issued a State of Emergency and vowed to help rebuild as he headed to view the damage in an area speckled with wide expanses of cotton, corn and soybean fields and catfish farming ponds. President Joe Biden also promised federal help, describing the damage as “heartbreaking.”
The supercell that produced the deadly twister also appeared to produce tornadoes that caused damage in northwest and north-central Alabama, said Brian Squitieri, a severe storms forecaster with the weather service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.
First major fire of year destroys 3,000 hectares in Spain
Spain’s first major wildfire of the year raged in the eastern Valencia region on Friday, destroying more than 3,000 hectares of forest and forcing 1,500 residents to abandon their homes, authorities said, Reuters reported.
An unusually dry winter across parts of the south of the European continent has reduced moisture in the soil and raised fears of a repeat of 2022, when 785,000 hectares were destroyed in Europe – more than double the annual average for the past 16 years, according to European Commission (EC) statistics.
“These fires we’re seeing, especially this early in the year, are once again proof of the climate emergency that humanity is living through, which particularly affects and ravages countries such as ours,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told a news conference in Brussels.
In Spain, 493 fires destroyed a record 307,000 hectares of land last year, according to the Commission’s European Forest Fire Information System.
More than 500 firefighters supported by 18 planes and helicopters worked throughout the night and on Friday to tackle the blaze near the village of Villanueva de Viver, in the Valencia region.
Emergency services evacuated eight communities, said Gabriela Bravo, the regional head of interior affairs.
“We didn’t sleep well because of anxiety, wondering whether our home had burned down and thinking about the animals we have,” said Maria Antonia Montalaz, who was evacuated from nearby Montanejos.
While firefighters believed they were managing to control the spread of the flames, strong winds and “practically summertime temperatures” could reactivate it, Bravo said.
World on ‘thin ice’ as UN climate report gives stark warning
Humanity still has a chance, close to the last, to prevent the worst of climate change’s future harms, a top United Nations panel of scientists said Monday.
But doing so requires quickly slashing nearly two-thirds of carbon pollution by 2035, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said. The United Nations chief said it more bluntly, calling for an end to new fossil fuel exploration and for rich countries to quit coal, oil and gas by 2040.
“Humanity is on thin ice — and that ice is melting fast,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. “Our world needs climate action on all fronts — everything, everywhere, all at once.”
Stepping up his pleas for action on fossil fuels, Guterres called for rich countries to accelerate their target for achieving net zero emissions to as early as 2040, and developing nations to aim for 2050 — about a decade earlier than most current targets. He also called for them to stop using coal by 2030 and 2040, respectively, and ensure carbon-free electricity generation in the developed world by 2035, meaning no gas-fired power plants either.
That date is key because nations soon have to come up with goals for pollution reduction by 2035, according to the Paris climate agreement. After contentious debate, the U.N. science report approved Sunday concluded that to stay under the warming limit set in Paris the world needs to cut 60% of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2035, compared with 2019, adding a new target not previously mentioned in six previous reports issued since 2018.
“The choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts for thousands of years,” the report said, calling climate change “a threat to human well-being and planetary health.”
“We are not on the right track but it’s not too late,” said report co-author and water scientist Aditi Mukherji. “Our intention is really a message of hope, and not that of doomsday.’’
With the world only a few tenths of a degree away from the globally accepted goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times, scientists stressed a sense of urgency. The goal was adopted as part of the 2015 Paris climate agreement and the world has already warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius.
This is likely the last warning the Nobel Peace Prize-winning collection of scientists will be able to make about the 1.5 mark because their next set of reports may well come after Earth has either passed the mark or is locked into exceeding it soon, several scientists, including report authors, told The Associated Press.
After 1.5 degrees “the risks are starting to pile on,” said report co-author Francis X. Johnson, a climate, land and policy scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute. The report mentions “tipping points” around that temperature of species extinction, including coral reefs, irreversible melting of ice sheets and sea level rise of several meters.
“1.5 is a critical critical limit, particularly for small islands and mountain (communities) which depend on glaciers,” said Mukherji.
“The window is closing if emissions are not reduced as quickly as possible,” Johnson said in an interview. “Scientists are rather alarmed.”
Many scientists, including at least three co-authors, said hitting 1.5 degrees is inevitable.
“We are pretty much locked into 1.5,” said report co-author Malte Meinshausen, a climate scientist at the University of Melbourne in Australia. “There’s very little way we will be able to avoid crossing 1.5 C sometime in the 2030s ” but the big issue is whether the temperature keeps rising from there or stabilizes.
Guterres insisted “the 1.5-degree limit is achievable.” Science panel chief Hoesung Lee said so far the world is far off course.
If current consumption and production patterns continue, Lee said, “the global average 1.5 degrees temperature increase will be seen sometime in this decade.”
Scientists emphasize that the world or humanity won’t end suddenly if Earth passes the 1.5 degree mark. Mukherji said “it’s not as if it’s a cliff that we all fall off.” But an earlier IPCC report detailed how the harms — including even nastier extreme weather — are much worse beyond 1.5 degrees of warming.
“It is certainly prudent to be planning for a future that’s warmer than 1.5 degrees,” said IPCC report review editor Steven Rose, an economist at the Electric Power Research Institute in the United States.
If the world continues to use all the fossil fuel-powered infrastructure either existing now or proposed, Earth will warm at least 2 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times, the report said.
Because the report is based on data from a few years ago, the calculations about fossil fuel projects already in the pipeline do not include the increase in coal and natural gas use after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It comes a week after the Biden Administration in the United States approved the huge Willow oil-drilling project in Alaska, which could produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil a day.
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