News & Current Affairs

September 17, 2008

Norway joins fight to save Amazon

Norway joins fight to save Amazon

Carlito, a cattle rancher

Cattle ranching is blamed for up to 70% of current Amazon deforestation

Norway has pledged $1bn (£500m) to a new international fund to help Brazil protect the Amazon rainforest.

The donation is the first to the fund which Brazil hopes will raise $21bn to protect Amazon nature reserves.

Norway’s prime minister said the project was important in the fight to reduce global warming.

Brazil is one of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, with three-quarters of its total coming from the burning of trees in the Amazon.

The money will be released over seven years to promote alternatives to forest-clearing for people living in the Amazon, and support conservation and sustainable development.

The Amazon rainforest
Amazon map
Largest continuous tropical forest
Shared by nine countries
65% Brazilian territory
Covers 6.6m sq km in total
Pop: 30m – 23.5m are in Brazil

Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg said: “Efforts against deforestation may give us the largest, quickest and cheapest reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

“Brazilian efforts against deforestation are therefore of vital importance if we shall succeed in our campaign against global warming,” he added.

The Brazilian government wants to raise $21bn through foreign donors by 2021, although President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva has insisted that the Amazon’s preservation is Brazil’s responsibility.

He welcomed Norway’s pledge, saying: “The day that every developed country has the same attitude as Norway, we’ll certainly begin to trust that global warming can be diminished.”

Japan, Sweden, Germany, South Korea and Switzerland are said to be considering donating to the fund, which was launched last month.

September 12, 2008

Fears for package holiday firm XL

Fears for package holiday firm XL

Spanish beach

Tour operators have been hit by soaring fuel costs

Package holiday firm XL has filed for administration after experiencing financial difficulties, reports say.

The firm is Britain’s third biggest tour operator and flies to 50 destinations, mainly in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.

XL is the latest travel firm to face financial difficulties as the industry struggles with sky-high fuel costs and an economic downturn.

Low-cost transatlantic airline Zoom collapsed last month.

A Civil Aviation Authority spokesman said the company currently continued to hold a license to operate as a tour operator and commercial airline.

He said: “It has not been confirmed to us that XL have filed for administration.”

Financial protection

The carrier had already cancelled its schedule of flights to the Caribbean.

If the firm were to collapse, package holidaymakers would be protected under the Atol scheme, a financial protection package.

Administrators might be able to help the company continue.

“But many companies have gone into administration and not survived, it’s a sign there is severe problems with the company’s accounts,” he said.

“Other airlines who have had similar problems have had aircraft impounded.”

If the news is true, it is a major, major thing for the industry
Bob Atkinson, Travel Supermarket

Travel writer, Simon Calder, described XL’s airline operation: “A pretty large airline with 21 aircraft, [it] flies all over the world, the Caribbean; Mediterranean; North Africa and North America, from airports across the UK.

“It does most charter work, but also quite a lot of – effectively – no-frills, scheduled work.”

Bob Atkinson, of the price comparison website Travel Supermarket said XL’s troubles would be blow for the travel trade.

He said: “If the news is true, it is a major, major thing for the industry, the British travel industry. They are a very large operator and this will send serious shock waves through the industry.

“And what it’s going to do more than anything, it’s going to highlight how precarious the airline industry is at the moment.”

XL customer Marion Foster of Thame, Oxfordshire, has a flight booked to Rhodes next week and was contacted by customer services on Wednesday to ensure her tickets had arrived.

She said: “At the time I thought it was a nice customer service touch to receive such a phone call but now I don’t know what to think.

“As I only booked flights with them it looks like I will lose my money which seems somewhat unfair.”


Are you affected by the issues in this story? Do you have a holiday booked with XL? Send us your comments and experiences

September 9, 2008

Why the fascination with the end of the world?

Why the fascination with the end of the world?

Artists impression of asteroid hitting earth, placard and mushroom cloud from French nuclear test

A huge particle accelerator experiment is about to start and a tiny group of people believe it could spell the end of the world. But why are we so obsessed with the possibility of apocalypse?

The world will end. That much is a certainty. But it may not be soon. And in all probability it will not come to a shuddering, fiery, boiling, cataclysmic end on Wednesday this week.

THE LARGE HADRON COLLIDER
At Cern on French-Swiss border
One of biggest and most expensive experiments in human history
Critics say micro black holes could be created, that could swallow the earth
Cern says any black holes will evaporate quickly and harmlessly
Effects will be less than cosmic ray collisions in atmosphere
LHC collisions could shed light on creation of universe
First beam on Wednesday
First collision later in year
Action ongoing at European Court of Human Rights to stop experiments
LHC Kritiks lead opposition

That is when the Large Hadron Collider on the Swiss/French border has its first full beam. The collider is a giant particle accelerator which, by smashing one particle into another, will tell us amazing things about the birth of the universe, scientists hope.

But there are a small but significant group of naysayers who worry that the LHC is not 100% safe. Opponents say it is possible the collider could produce micro black holes and dangerous “strangelets”, and that catastrophic effects from these cannot be ruled out.

In this worst case scenario the earth could very well have had its chips.

However, the consensus of physicists is that the collider is perfectly harmless. Micro black holes would vanish almost instantaneously.

But when you see a headline in a newspaper that says “Are we all going to die next Wednesday?”, one can’t help but wonder at our fascination with the idea of the end of the world.

FAILED PREDICTIONS
Jehovah’s Witnesses have predicted end several times, but have stopped
Millerites predicted end of world for 22 October 1844 – day known to followers as Great Disappointment
Edgar C Whisenant wrote 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Could Be in 1988 – followed up with predictions for 1989, 1993, and 1994
Argentinian goalie Carlos Roa gave up football in anticipation of end of world in 2000
Hal Lindsey in 1970’s The Late, Great Planet Earth linked end of world to the EU

Whether you refer to it as eschatology (religious theory of the end of the world), millenarianism, end time belief, apocalypticism, or disaster scenario, it is one of humanity’s most powerful ideas, and it goes way back.

“It is a very ancient pattern in human thought. It is rooted in ancient, even pre-biblical Middle Eastern myths of ultimate chaos and ultimate struggle between the forces of order and chaos,” says cultural historian Paul S Boyer, author of When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture.

“It is deeply appealing at a psychological level because the idea of meaninglessness is deeply threatening. Human societies have always tried to create some kind of framework of meaning to give history and our own personal lives some kind of significance.”

And although end of the world thinking crops up in many religions, those in the West are probably most aware of Christian eschatology. In the early days of the church it was taken as a given by many believers that the Second Coming and the end of the world were imminent.

Child holds placard

The concept of the world ending is key to mainstream Christianity

Mainstream Christianity moved away from this type of thought, but large numbers of believers returned to it at various times.

“It isn’t just the lunatic fringe, it’s an integral part of all Christianity. But [in mainstream Christianity] it is put into perspective that it may happen ‘one day’,” says Stephen J Hunt, a sociologist of religion and author of Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco.

“But certain groups and movements believe it is in their generation. They are saying we have got the truth and nobody else has.”

Cataclysmic scenarios

There have been many groups that have predicted the end of the world, or Tribulation, or Rapture, dealt with it not coming to pass and then issued new ones.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have issued predictions about cataclysmic scenarios that have manifestly failed to come to pass, only ceasing predictions of the end in recent years. Failed predictions seem not to have alienated core believers. Indeed, it is denied by some that specific predictions – as opposed to speculation based on scripture – have ever been made.

RELIGIOUS AND SECULAR
“End of world” concepts include:
Destruction of planet
Extinction of human race
Significant change in situation of human race
Secular scenarios include:
Catastrophic climate change
Asteroid or comet strike
Massive nuclear war
Destabilisation of earth or moon orbit
Religious scenarios include:
Islam refers to “last judgement”
Some Buddhists believe in disappearance of Buddha’s teachings
Christian end of world linked to second coming of Jesus
Hindus believe in cycle of ages
Zoroastrians may have had first codified end of world theory

No such luck applied to the 19th Century Millerite sect, led by William Miller. He didn’t just predict the end would be soon. He nailed the day – 22 October 1844. As the day neared the sect’s popularity snowballed, with thousands of newspapers sold. Only one thing was able to derail the movement’s popularity – the safe and unexpected arrival of 23 October 1844. The failure of the world to end was known as the “Great Disappointment” and followers left in droves.

“The current prophecy popularisers are much shrewder,” says Prof Boyer. “They say no man knoweth the day or the hour, but it’s coming soon.”

Carlos Roa thought he kneweth the hour. The Argentinian goalkeeper, best known for his penalty heroics against England in the 1998 World Cup, refused to countenance a new contract at Real Mallorca as the year 2000 approached because he believed the world was going to end and he needed to prepare. When it didn’t he was soon donning the gloves back in Mallorca.

And for all it is easy to mock those who have tried and failed, thinking about the ways the world might end, or the timing, may be fulfilling a basic human need.

Edition of The End is Nigh

Eschatology is of interest to both academics and curiosity hunters

“It comes down to an issue of power,” says Michael Molcher, editor of the magazine The End is Nigh. “What you get during times of particular discontent or war or famine or during general bad times is a rise in apocalyptic preaching and ideas.

“It is a way for people to control the way their world works. The one thing we can never predict is the time and manner of our own deaths.”

The great periods of millenarianism – Europe around the year 1000, the English Civil War, the Industrial Revolution on both sides of the Atlantic, and the 20th Century – have been periods of intense turbulence. Putting an eschatological spin on current events is extremely tempting.

“A lot of fundamentalists are what we call ‘sign watching’. If there’s another tornado in Florida it must be a punishment,” says Dr Hunt.

Sometimes the links to the temporal world can be tortuous to say the least. A common theme on the fringes of Christian millenarianism is a revived Roman Empire led by the Antichrist and consisting of 10 European nations. The theme is drawn out from the description of a beast with 10 horns in the book of Revelation.

THE TERMINOLOGY
Eschatology: Religious theory of the end of the world
Millenarianism: In Christianity, belief in coming of thousand year golden age linked with second coming of Christ
Apocalypticism: Belief based on end of present world order
End time: The end of the world or the end of the current age

It was historically linked to the EU, but now there are 27 members attention has shifted to the 10-nation Western European Union.

And these end times beliefs seem easily to find their way into popular culture. The Left Behind series of novels have sold millions and cinema-goers have happily trooped in to see three instalments of the Omen.

But it is wrong to say that belief that the world could be about to end is entirely confined to religious people. When the Cold War was going on, the likely culprit was nuclear weapons, at the moment it might be a catastrophic climate change scenario that leaves the world intact, but humanity gone. And Mr Molcher’s favourite prediction of recent years involved a woman who was convinced that Chinese plans to build a base on the moon would throw its orbit out and send it hurtling towards earth.

Seventh Day Adventist next to poster for exhibition on the end of the world

Many religious groups have made more than one prediction

And end of the world believers, whether religious or not, have one thing going for them. The world will, one day, end.

And there are still plenty willing to name a date.

Preacher Ronald Weinland’s book 2008 – God’s Final Witness, predicts that the US will be destroyed within two years.

Sadly anybody wanting to find out more by e-mail receives an automated response. One can only assume he is too busy preparing for the end that is nigh.


Send us your comments

September 7, 2008

Swaziland king celebrates in style

Swaziland king celebrates in style

One of the world’s last remaining absolute monarchs, King Mswati III of Swaziland, has held lavish celebrations to mark his 40th birthday and 40 years of independence from Britain, reports.

King Mswati III

King Mswati III was flanked by dignitaries as he delivered his speech

Mswati III arrived in the stadium framed by mountains in the capital Mbabane in a brand new BMW – one of 20 bought just for the occasion.

The king, dressed in traditional clothing and wearing a beaded necklace, was welcomed by cheering, flag-waving supporters.

“We all trust him,” said a young man with a front-row seat, also in traditional dress.

“He’s a good man. He believes in his country. He loves everybody. We are all like the royal family.”

The king has a taste for the finer things in life – something he shares with his 13 wives.

Some of them arrived for the so-called “40-40” celebrations fresh from a shopping trip to Dubai.

With marching bands and dancing troupes, and a garden party to follow, it was a party fit for a king.

But can his impoverished kingdom afford it?

Contempt

The official budget is $2.5m (£1.4m) but some estimates claim the real cost could be five times that.

Critics say that it is money that could have been better spent elsewhere – on education, on health, and on saving lives.

People wave the National flag of Swaziland

Cheering crowds turned out to welcome the king to the stadium

With the world’s highest rate of HIV (adult prevalence of 26.1%), many believe there is nothing to celebrate.

For two days this week trade unions and civic groups took to the streets in protest calling for change and for multi-party democracy.

“We condemn this party with the contempt it deserves,” said Swazi Trade Union leader Jan Sithole, as he marched in the capital.

“People feel so strongly because this is a plundering of the country’s resources in the height of grinding poverty for most of the Swazi masses.

“People feel their money is being wasted, with arrogance.”

Powerlessness

Take a drive into the bush, and poverty is written all over the landscape – dirt roads, rundown homes, and hungry children.

President of Uganda Yoweri Moseveni and President of Botswana Ian Khama

A collection of African heads of state made the trip to Mbabane

Sibusiso Mamba is one of them. His name means blessing. Sibusiso is an Aids orphan, who is HIV positive himself. Now aged 14, he looks more like a seven-year-old.

For the past two months he has been on anti-retro viral drugs (ARVs).

They brought him back from death’s door, according to his grandmother, Ntsambose, who is caring for him at a remote homestead – 80km (49.7 miles) from the nearest hospital.

Now, as the king is having a banquet, she has run out of food.

“I feel bad when I see that he’s hungry,” she said. “It hurts me. He’s better because of the medicine. But the problem of hunger will make him sick again.”

Ntsambose knew nothing of the celebrations in the capital, or of the money being spent.

“Who am I to say anything?” she asked. “There’s nothing I can say about what is done by the king.”

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe was among those present

Many feel powerless to speak up against the monarch – criticism of Mswati is still frowned upon here.

Ntsambose can hardly see, so she relies on her grandson to gather firewood.

It takes all his strength to carry a few sticks. He dreams of being well enough for school next year, and of growing up to be a policemen. But he may not live to his next birthday.

Aids campaigners Tengetile Hlope, whose has been helping Sibusiso and his grandmother, believes this is no time for parties.

“HIV is killing the country. When you think of the budget that is being used for the 40-40 celebrations, you just feel like crying,” she said.

“There are people here who don’t have water, food or transport to a clinic.

“They are just out in the rural areas on their own. The people who are organising and celebrating the 40-40, they don’t even know about this place.”

’40 years of poverty’

The government denies that the birthday party is extravagant, and insists it’s a fitting way to mark a milestone.

“I think the nation can celebrate the achievements of the past 40 years,” said Percy Simelane, a government spokesman.

Women who took part in the birthday celebrations for Swaziland"s King Mswati III stand in line for food

After the celebrations, many of those who attended waited in line for food

“The country has changed tremendously. At independence we used to get teachers, doctors and nurses from other countries. Now we export them. ARVs are provided free.

“Aids orphans go to school free of charge, and the government pays for meals.”

But a short distance from Sibusiso’s homestead we found more evidence of the hardships many face, at a neighbourhood children’s centre.

About 60 children visit the centre every day – more than half of them are Aids orphans.

The volunteers who run the centre feed them when they can – that is about two days a month.

On the day of our visit, there were songs, games and informal education for the children, but nothing to eat.

Tengetile Hlope believes this is the reality of life for many in rural Swaziland, four decades on.

“I feel like I am just celebrating 40 years of poverty and hunger in this country,” she said.

September 5, 2008

Sea level rise by 2100 ‘below 2m’

Sea level rise by 2100 ‘below 2m’

B

Thames Barrier in the evening

A revamp of the Thames Barrier is likely as sea levels rise

Sea levels globally are very unlikely to rise by more than 2m (7ft) this century, scientists conclude.

Major increases would have to be fuelled by a faster flow of glaciers on the Greenland or Antarctic ice sheets.

But writing in the journal Science, a US team concludes that a rise of 2m would need glaciers to reach speeds that are “physically untenable”.

However, even increases substantially less than 2m would cause major issues for many societies, they say.

“Even a sea level rise of 20cm (8in) in a century will have quite dramatic implications,” said Shad O’Neel from the US Geological Survey (USGS).

Woe betide any government that thinks a 2m rise in sea level isn’t something to take notice of
Dr David Vaughan
British Antarctic Survey

“This work is in no way meant to undermine the seriousness of climate change, and sea level rise is something we’re going to have to deal with,” he told.

Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth received some criticism for implying that a rise of 20ft (6m) was possible in the near future, although it did not give a definite timeframe.

By contrast, this latest research tallies broadly with the conclusions of other groups that have examined the question using different approaches.

Fast work

In its landmark assessment of climate change published last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that sea level rise would probably fit in the range between 28 and 43cm over the century, although 59cm was a possibility.

The current rate is about 3mm per year.

But the IPCC specifically excluded the mechanism able to produce the biggest amounts of water quickly – acceleration in the flow of ice from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, the world’s two major ice masses that would between them raise sea levels by about 70m if they completely melted.

Most of the ice comes off in glaciers. Scientists know that many of the glaciers have accelerated in recent years – some quite spectacularly. The Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland, for example, doubled its speed in six years to about 12km per year.

Antarctic glacier

The acceleration of glaciers is not well understood

But the processes involved are poorly understood, and the IPCC concluded that on that basis it would be unreasonable to draw any conclusions about how far the acceleration might go.

Individual scientists, however, have not be so coy. The team behind the current research looked at what we do know about Greenlandic and Antarctic glaciers, about the rates of flow and the factors that might prevent acceleration.

“We don’t really know a speed limit for glaciers,” said Dr O’Neel, “but we can look at what we have today and ask ‘what would happen if they all behaved like Jakobshavn?’

“It’s been going fast for several years now and hasn’t gone another marked increase in speed. Helheim had a brief period at 14km per year, Columbia at nine or 10; so that kind of figure, in the region of 10km/year, seems to be about as fast as it gets.”

To achieve a 2m sea level rise by 2100, by contrast, every Greenland glacier would have to increase its flow rate to at least 27km per year and remain at that velocity for the rest of the century.

‘Scary’ scenario

Antarctica is rather different. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet rests on rock that is mainly below sea level, meaning that warming seas could increase the rate of ice loss, though again the new analysis suggests this is also very unlikely to result in a catastrophic melt during this century.

David Vaughan from the British Antarctic Survey believes the US team has got its figures about right.

“The point is that whatever happens in this century can only start from present conditions and present rates of sea level rise, and that constrains the rise that can occur this century,” he told.

“However, if you’re looking further ahead than 2100 – and many governments are, including the Netherlands and the UK which are thinking about infrastructure that would last more than 100 years – then that second century still looks quite scary.

“I certainly don’t disagree with them that we shouldn’t be making outlandish statements about sea level rise, and some outlandish statements have been made; but the high end of the estimates here is still about 2m, and woe betide any government that thinks a 2m rise in sea level isn’t something to take notice of.”

Malaysia deploys navy to Somalia

Malaysia deploys navy to Somalia

Map

Malaysia is sending three navy ships to the coast of Somalia to protect merchant vessels from piracy.

The ships, carrying troops and helicopters, are expected to begin patrolling in the Gulf of Aden in the next few days.

Two Malaysian tankers from the shipping line MISC Berhad were seized last month by Somali pirates.

The seas off Somalia, close to busy shipping routes, have some of the highest rates of piracy in the world.

The country has been without a functioning central government for 17 years and has suffered from continual civil strife.

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said the ships being deployed would provide protection for five MISC Berhad vessels, and would not launch rescue operations.

Counting ships

Officials in the semi-autonomous Somali region of Puntland say the ships are being held at the port of Eyl, a lawless outpost controlled by gangs.

Puntland’s minister for mines, who is leading a delegation to investigate the hijackings, told from a hill overlooking the port that he could count eight captured vessels.

He said another two were reported to be on their way to Eyl.

The delegation had spoken to local elders, he said, but it had not approached the pirates.

The latest vessel to be hijacked was an Egyptian ship which was reported missing on Thursday.

Earlier this week a French sailing boat with two crew was seized.

Pirates holding that boat are reportedly seeking a ransom of more than $1m (£0.56m).

Puntland’s ports minister said after the capture of the French boat that pirates in the region were well-armed and employ a lot of people.

He said there was little co-ordination between those trying to tackle them.

In June, the UN Security Council voted to allow countries to send warships into Somalia’s waters to tackle the pirates, but the ports minister complained that international vessels “don’t intervene”.

Easyjet’s passenger numbers rise

Easyjet’s passenger numbers rise

easyjet plane

Eayjet’s passenger traffic is up despite difficult market conditions

Easyjet has said that the number of passengers it flew in August this year rose 24% on the same month last year.

Europe’s second-largest budget airline said it transported some 4.6 million passengers in August 2008, compared to 3.7 million in August 2007.

Aer Lingus also saw an increase, flying 8.8% more passengers this August than in August 2007.

On a rolling 12-month basis to August 2008, Easyjet increased passenger numbers by 16.6%.

The number of seats filled also increased to 91.3% from 87.4% last August.

At Aer Lingus the load factor was 80.5% in August, a slight dip on 81.7% a year ago.

Easyjet shares were down 2% at 1005 BST, while Aer Lingus shares were down 0.9%.

Industry turbulence

The figures for Easyjet and Aer Lingus are relatively strong compared with those released on Friday by Scandinavian airline SAS.

SAS, which is partly owned by the governments of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, said traffic for August measured in revenue passenger kilometres, fell 0.7% and demand was weakening further.

Airlines worldwide have been effected by the economic deceleration and several airlines, including business airlines Silverjet, Maxjet and Eon and budget airline Zoom, have folded.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), global airlines will post losses in the region of $5.2bn (£2.96bn) this year and $4.1bn in 2009.

September 3, 2008

Major ice-shelf loss for Canada

Major ice-shelf loss for Canada

Ice drifts away from the Ward Hunt ice shelf in northern Canada

Ward Hunt is the largest of the remnant ice shelves

The ice shelves in Canada’s High Arctic have lost a colossal area this year, scientists report.

The floating tongues of ice attached to Ellesmere Island, which have lasted for thousands of years, have seen almost a quarter of their cover break away.

One of them, the 50 sq km (20 sq miles) Markham shelf, has completely broken off to become floating sea-ice.

Researchers say warm air temperatures and reduced sea-ice conditions in the region have assisted the break-up.

“These substantial calving events underscore the rapidity of changes taking place in the Arctic,” said Trent University’s Dr Derek Mueller.

“These changes are irreversible under the present climate.”

Satellite images of ice loss

Satellite images show the loss of the Markham Ice Shelf over the last year

Scientists reported in July that substantial slabs of ice had calved from Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, the largest of the Ellesmere shelves.

Similar changes have been seen in the other four shelves.

As well as the complete breakaway of the Markham, the Serson shelf lost two sections totaling an estimated 122 sq km (47 sq miles), and the break-up of the Ward Hunt has continued.

Cold remnants

The shelves themselves are merely remnants of a much larger feature that was once bounded to Ellesmere Island and covered almost 10,000 sq km (3,500 sq miles).

Over the past 100 years, this expanse of ice has retreated by 90%, and at the start of this summer season covered just under 1,000 sq km (400 sq miles).

Much of the area was lost during a warm period in the 1930s and 1940s.

Melt water on ice shelf

“Long meltwater lakes” were imaged on the Markham shelf in 2005

Temperatures in the Arctic are now even higher than they were then, and a period of renewed ice shelf break-up has ensued since 2002.

Unlike much of the floating sea-ice which comes and goes, the shelves contain ice that is up to 4,500 years old.

A rapid sea-ice retreat is being experienced across the Arctic again this year, affecting both the ice attached to the coast and floating in the open ocean.

The floating sea-ice, which would normally keep the shelves hemmed in, has shrunk to just under five million sq km, the second lowest extent recorded since the era of satellite measurement began about 30 years ago.

“Reduced sea-ice conditions and unusually high air temperatures have facilitated the ice shelf losses this summer,” said Dr Luke Copland from the University of Ottawa.

“And extensive new cracks across remaining parts of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf mean that it will continue to disintegrate in the coming years.”

Loss of ice in the Arctic, and in particular the extensive sea-ice, has global implications. The “white parasol” at the top of the planet reflects energy from the Sun straight back out into space, helping to cool the Earth.

Further loss of Arctic ice will see radiation absorbed by darker seawater and snow-free land, potentially warming the Earth’s climate at an even faster rate than current observational data indicates.

Egypt voices: Sexual harassment

Egypt voices: Sexual harassment

Seven Egyptian women talk about their experience of sexual harassment on the streets of Cairo. It is an increasingly common problem, with a recent survey suggesting more than four out of five women have been sexually harassed, while nearly two-thirds of men admitted assaulting women.

Noha Wagih

Noha Wagih
TV announcer

“I usually don’t answer back, but this time I did”

Posy Abdou

Posy Abdou
Shop worker

“I get harassed 100 times a day “

Nora Khaled

Nora Khaled
School pupil

“I was so scared and embarrassed, I cried”

Nancy Fakhr

Nancy Fakhr
Engineer

“When colleagues asked what was wrong, I lied”

Zeinab Boulaki

Zeinab Boulaki
Auditor

“My mother says I shouldn’t answer back but I think this is wrong”

Hoda Gallal
Housewife

“People gathered around but were not sympathetic”

NOHA WAGIH

Noha Wagih

Once I was out driving with my brother when he stopped at a supermarket and I waited for him outside. Two guys got out of a car and walked towards me in an intimidating way. They started commenting on the way I look and the way I’m dressed.

I usually don’t answer back, but this time I said: ‘I’m not here to get picked up, you know.’ This was too much for one of them who started shouting that I was crazy. I replied that even if I were a prostitute, I wouldn’t give him a second glance.

This made him mad. He came right up to me, shouting that he was a policeman and he would ‘show me’. In no time three more cars pulled up, and a group of men got out and started yelling at me and my brother.

I wrote down the number of the first car saying I was going to report him. He got so angry I thought he was going to beat me, so I slapped his face and started shouting ‘Rape!’ They all ran away, and I was left alone with my brother shaking with fear.

After this experience I want to make a program for TV about sexual harassment.

POSY ABDOU

Posy Abdou

I get harassed 100 times a day. I tried everything to stop it but it doesn’t stop. I wear loose clothes, I don’t wear make up, I spend more than an hour in front of the mirror everyday thinking of ways to hide my body.

I walk home everyday. It only takes me 15 minutes, I cross the bridge. It is usually very loud and busy, but that does not stop men from approaching girls, any girl, good looking or bad looking, covered or not.

I remember so many scary harassment’s. There was this guy who followed me and suddenly grabbed my bottom in front of everyone. I screamed but he ran away and no one interfered.

Once I was shopping with my father and aunt, and this guy kept staring at me and blowing me kisses. My dad shouted at him and started hitting him. I think men are doing this because they are jobless and have no manners.

NORA KHALED

Nora Khaled

I get harassed everyday, during the five minutes I walk from my house to the main street to take the school bus.Also in the seconds I cross the street when I finish my swimming class at the sports club.

I was waiting for the school bus once when a microbus driver followed me and kept calling me very bad names.

I was so scared and embarrassed, I cried.

NANCY FAKHR

Nancy Fakhr

I don’t walk a lot in the streets, because I have a car. But I get harassed by guys driving close to me, they try to grab my attention, it could lead to accidents.

The worst harassment I remember was last winter. I didn’t have my car and I was sleeping over at my sister’s house. I got up at 0700 to catch the bus and go to work. A guy followed me and kept calling me very bad names. I was horrified and I started walking fast, even running.

When he got very close to me, I was scared he would touch me, so I picked a stone from the floor and threw it at him and ran as fast as I could until I got to the main street and took the bus.

I was shaking and trembling. When I arrived at work, I collapsed and cried for a long time. When my colleagues asked me what is wrong, I lied and said I have family problems.

ZEINAB BOULAKI

Zeinab Boulaki

I get harassed whenever I walk down the street; even during the seconds I cross the street to take my car.Yesterday, when I was parking the car in front of my house, a guy grabbed my bottom, I shouted at him, and insulted him. At least I did something about it.

My mother says I shouldn’t answer back, but I think this is wrong. This way they will think they can harass anyone and get away with it. I know that shouting at someone who harasses me verbally or physically is not enough but at least it makes me feel better than doing nothing.

HODA GALLAL

I get harassed every day, although I am always carrying my baby. I thought being a mother would make me immune to harassment, but it made it even worse.

Once I was waiting for the bus with my child and a car stopped, the guy waved his hand at me with a 20 pound note. It was unbelievable. Another time I was walking home and this guy unzipped his trousers in a car next to me.

I screamed, but he shouted back very aggressively, saying ‘Who do you think you are? Why would I even look at you?’ People in the street gathered around us and to my surprise they were not sympathetic with me. They supported him. They all defended the guy because they do the same thing.

Once I was walking with a friend and this guy suddenly grabbed her from behind. We shouted for help and he ran away. A car stopped, they asked us what had happened, had we been mugged? When we told them that we’d been sexually harassed, they drove away. Isn’t this worse than robbery?

REEM IBRAHIM

I get harassed a lot. I can’t count the number of times, especially on public transport.

There was this guy who kept following me from one bus to another. If I stood up he stood by my side and if I sat down he sat beside me. Finally I shouted at him and insulted him, he left the minibus.

I stopped wearing skirts, and stopped doing my hair at the hairdresser’s, I also stopped wearing make up, even my fiance asks me why aren’t you taking care of your looks as you used to do.

But what can I do, I try to stop it but nothing works. I used to always have a smile on my face while walking down the streets, now I am always frowning, always provoked, always feeling the threat of someone approaching me physically or verbally.

At a bus or a microbus, I always feel there is a hand trying to touch me. It happened so many times, that I keep looking at the seat behind me as if I am crazy.

Grappling with a Roma identity

Grappling with a Roma identity

It was just a passing remark, the first time I heard Arpad Bogdan talk about the Roma father who had left him in an orphanage, and wonder if he should try to find him.

Arpad Bogdan

Arpad Bogdan spent his childhood in a state orphanage

We were drinking late at night in a semi-derelict house in a Budapest side street. We had skipped over bicycles and rubbish to make our way inside. I should say this was not a doss house but a trendy Urban Minimalism club.”He doesn’t have to tell you this you know,” whispered our mutual friend, director Antonia Meszaros. And it was then that I realised how conflicted Arpad is – how much of a dilemma his Roma inheritance has created.

Arpad is a much-garlanded young film director, whose feature film Happy New Life has won many awards. It is about a young Roma man’s unbearable childhood in an orphanage. In the end, he can’t hack it – unlike Arpad who emerged from his own orphanage into the University of Pecs and a promising film career.

“My film,” Arpad says, “is about the dilemmas of someone who realises that in order to face the future, he must come to terms with his past – and that’s something that I still have to do in my own life.”

Arpad was one of thousands of Roma – or gypsy – children who were taken into orphanages during Hungary’s Communist years. The truth is cloudy here, but it seems that in some cases their parents wanted this, in many they didn’t.

Sense of identity

“In the orphanage, being Roma had no positive implications for us,” Arpad recalls. “But some of the kids were visited by their parents and they brought smells and flavours that were strange to me and even a little bit frightening.

Hungary's Roma at an Easter celebration

The Roma people are Hungary’s largest minority

“There was also something exotic and exciting about them. The smell of an open fire, the smell of freedom.”Like many of his peers, and like many people in a globalised world, Arpad is now unsure where he belongs. He certainly seems to have a stake in the metro-savvy, globalized world of Budapest’s cafes, salons and grunge clubs.

But does he also belong – at some level – in the world of Gypsy Harlem, Budapest’s District Eight? Or in the villages where he reckoned his parents must still live?

Soon after our meeting, using powers under new Hungarian laws, Arpad sets off – in our own film – to find his parents. He had a rough idea where they lived, and had set off on a voyage of discovery before, only to lose his nerve.

What he finds is extraordinary. Newly released records show his parents “liked a drink, [and] discipline their children by beating them”.

He meets a brother, Laszlo, he had never met. He learns their mother is dead. And finally, he meets his ragged, handsome dad. A new young wife hangs back, in the shadows of the garden. Some 40 dogs bark and make our film crew nervous.

‘Forgiving’

And then his dad smiles, and extends a hand, and says, “Which one are you?” He’s so charming, it is impossible to take it the wrong way.

Whether I’ll see my father again, well maybe I will, but definitely not on my own
Arpad Bogdan

He’s called Laszlo too. He was in prison for 12 years.”I had a mean punch,” he says. “I always say better be accompanied by a prison guard than a priest on your way to the cemetery. Isn’t that right?”

The elder Laszlo doesn’t see much of any of his nine children anymore. “At least you came to find me,” he says.

“As for the past, let’s pull a veil over it, we should look to the future from now on.”

Back in Budapest, Arpad must think about his own future. First he must decide what his next film is about. He’s not really in a dilemma about whether to carve a career as a “gypsy director”. He doesn’t want to be typecast.

But he is uncertain about whether to stay in touch with his dad.

“I looked at my father, into his eyes, and I suddenly felt myself forgiving him. I let him go, along with all the bad things I used to blame him for,” he says.

“After that, I could see him for what he is, I could listen to him. Whether I’ll see my father again, well maybe I will, but definitely not on my own. I will have to take someone with me, someone from my own life.”

We’ll have to wait and see what he does.

So far, he doesn’t know himself.


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