News & Current Affairs

September 1, 2008

Indian floods cut off thousands

Indian floods cut off thousands

Half a million people in the Indian state of Bihar remain stranded in villages which have been devastated by massive flooding, officials say.

Correspondent reports chaotic scenes as soldiers try to reach those cut off and people attempt to scramble from rooftops into rescue boats.

With 1.2 million people homeless, India is struggling to cope with the crisis.

The flood waters are spreading to new areas, and conditions in relief camps are overcrowded and unsanitary.

The floods are known to have killed at least 75 people in Bihar but the death toll could climb once the situation in remote areas emerges.

Tens of thousands of people have also been displaced in neighboring Nepal where some of those who have lost their homes are camping under plastic sheets.

Disorganization

Visiting the Bageecha relief camp in Purnea, the BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder could find no camp co-ordinator or government official in charge of distributing aid.

map

Trucks and vans carrying relief material stood parked on the highway as volunteers waited to be organised.

Several tonnes of aid had arrived but the volunteers were not quite sure how to distribute it.

The situation was symptomatic of what was happening across Bihar’s flood-affected areas, our correspondent says.

The disaster began on 18 August when a dam burst on the Saptakoshi river in Nepal.

The Saptakoshi, which becomes the Kosi when it enters India, subsequently broke its banks in Bihar.

Officials in Nepal say hundreds of people there have been hit by illnesses such as diarrhoea and pneumonia and an estimated 50,000 are homeless.

They say nearly 1,000 houses have been completely destroyed. Power supplies and transport have been severely affected.

The costs to the economy are now estimated at one billion Nepalese rupees ($14.25m).


Have you been affected by the floods in Bihar? Send us your comments and experiences.
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August 23, 2008

Russia accused of abusing truce

Russia accused of abusing truce

A Russian soldier, his helmet marked "Peacekeeping Forces", watches combat troops pull out of Georgia on 22 August

Shoulder and helmet badges mark out Russia’s peacekeepers

The US and France have accused Russia of failing to comply with the terms of its ceasefire with Georgia by creating buffer zones and checkpoints.

Russia announced the full withdrawal of combat forces from Georgia proper on Friday but insisted hundreds of other troops could stay under the ceasefire.

France brokered the ceasefire to end fighting over Georgia’s pro-Russian breakaway province of South Ossetia.

Its terms are vague about the extent of any buffer zones, analysts say.

A White House spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, said the checkpoints and buffer zones set up by Russia were not part of the ceasefire agreement.

A spokesman for the French foreign ministry, Eric Chevalier, said a United Nations Security Council resolution was needed to clarify exactly what the ceasefire agreement covers.

The Russian military say they intend to maintain a peacekeeping presence in Georgia, controlling buffer zones around both South Ossetia and the other breakaway province, Abkhazia.

The zones include sections of the main highway from the capital Tbilisi to the Black Sea as well as Georgia’s main airbase at Senaki.

‘Clearly stated’

US President George W Bush and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy agreed in a telephone conversation on Friday that Russia was “not in compliance [with the ceasefire] and that Russia needs to come into compliance now”, Mr Johndroe said.

“Compliance means compliance with that plan,” he added.

“We haven’t seen that yet. It’s my understanding that they have not completely withdrawn from areas considered undisputed territory, and they need to do that.”

PEACE PLAN
No more use of force
Stop all military actions for good
Free access to humanitarian aid
Georgian troops return to their places of permanent deployment
Russian troops to return to pre-conflict positions
International talks about security in South Ossetia and Abkhazia

“Establishing checkpoints, buffer zones, are definitely not part of the agreement,” US state department spokesman Robert Wood added.

The French spokesman told that the ceasefire had stipulated that Russia’s forces “should go back to the situation before the hostilities started”.

“The idea is that, yes, for a temporary period some Russian peace forces could stay on… next to the [border] line of Ossetia but it’s temporary, it should be for patrolling and it should be until we have an international mechanism,” Mr Chevalier said.

“It was clearly stated that this presence first has to be through patrolling, no fixed presence and, second, should not have an effect on the freedom of movement on roads and trains in this place.”

The UN Security Council split this week over a resolution, with rival drafts submitted by Moscow, and the US and its allies.

Western diplomats fear that Moscow is determined to define the parameters of the interim security arrangements on its own terms.

Part of the problem, he adds, is the extraordinary vagueness of the EU-brokered ceasefire deal, which speaks only of “additional security measures” in “the immediate proximity of South Ossetia” – proximity being defined as a distance of “several kilometers”.

‘Zone of responsibility’

Moscow intends to maintain a peacekeeping presence of nearly 2,600 troops in the buffer zones for the foreseeable future, backed by armoured cars and helicopters.

Of these, 2,142 will be deployed along Abkhazia’s de facto border and 452 on the de facto border of South Ossetia, the Russian military said.

Russia’s so-called “zone of responsibility” also includes Georgia’s main airbase at Senaki, some 40km (25 miles) from the boundary with Abkhazia, which sits astride vital road and rail links to the Black Sea port of Poti.

Correspondents on the ground say they have seen what appears to be a significant Russian troop movement out of Georgia.

Correspondents in Igoeti – just 35km (21 miles) from the capital, Tbilisi – says he saw Russian troops leave the town, joining a column of hundreds of armoured vehicles on the road towards South Ossetia.

Our correspondent says buses of Georgian police are arriving in Igoeti to take control after Russian troops removed their roadblocks and pulled out.

But another correspondent in the nearby town of Korvaleti says Georgian police vehicles there are still being blocked at checkpoints.

Russia’s four-day war with Georgia began after Tbilisi tried to retake South Ossetia – which broke away in 1992 – in a surprise offensive on 7 August.

Georgia map


Are you in Georgia? How is your community affected by the conflict? Can normal life ever be resumed?

Send your comments

August 20, 2008

Thousands affected by Nepal flood

Thousands affected by Nepal flood

People displaced by the floods in Nepal on 19 August 2008

Many flood victims are suffering from diseases

Nearly 30,000 people are reported to have fled their homes after a dam collapsed in south-eastern Nepal leading to flooding in the area.

The police say they are trying to rescue the stranded people, but the high water levels are making airlifting them difficult.

The Koshi dam on the Saptakoshi river in Sunsari district collapsed on Monday afternoon after breaching embankments.

Many flood victims have taken shelter in school and college buildings.

The police say at least three people have drowned in the floods.

A number of villages have been inundated, a police officer said. “People stranded on the roofs of their houses are being rescued by boat rescue teams,” he added.

Traffic on a highway linking eastern Nepal with its western part has been affected after flood waters damaged a section of the road.

Many of the flood victims who are suffering from diarrhoea and fever have been taken to the district hospital, a police official said.

About 28 million people were affected by the floods in India, Bangladesh and Nepal last year, in which more than 400 people died.

August 19, 2008

Florida braced for tropical storm

Florida braced for tropical storm

Map

The US state of Florida is braced for Tropical Storm Fay, which is thought to have claimed dozens of lives on its rampage through the Caribbean.

Forecasters warned Fay could reach hurricane force as it approached the Florida peninsula.

The storm’s center has already crossed Florida Key West with winds near 60mph (97km/h), flooding some roads.

Florida’s Governor Charlie Crist warned that Fay threatened a “major disaster”, but he insisted the state was prepared.

With a state of emergency in place, Mr Crist said some 500 national guard members had been deployed, with another 8,500 on standby.

The US National Hurricane Center said the storm still had the potential to top sustained winds of 74 mph (119 km/h) by the time it hits the west coast of Florida early on Tuesday.

Across Florida at least 22 school districts, a number of colleges and a university have canceled classes.

HOW HURRICANES FORM
NOAA satellite image showing tropical storm Fay over Cuba (17 August 2008)
Sea surface temperatures above 26.5C (79.7F)
A pre-existing weather disturbance
Moisture in the atmosphere
Favourable conditions, such as light winds or weak wind shear

Residents of Miami have been stocking up on bottled water, fuel and other vital supplies.

The main highway linking the Keys to the mainland was choked with traffic on Sunday as thousands of tourists evacuated.

But not everyone was hunkering down – hundreds of surfers flocked to Miami beaches to take advantage of the huge swells created by the storm.

In Cuba, Fay caused some flooding and damaged a number of homes, although no deaths were reported.

But a number of lives were lost in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

The worst incident was in Haiti, where a truck carrying up to 80 passengers plunged into a swollen river.

Officials there said more than half the passengers were missing, with many feared drowned.

Fay is the sixth tropical storm of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season.

Two of the tropical storms so far, Bertha and Dolly, have reached hurricane strength.


Has Tropical Storm Fay affected you? Are you in Florida preparing for the storm to hit? Send us your comments

August 17, 2008

Russian troops ‘start withdrawal’

Russian troops ‘start withdrawal’

Russian tank in Georgia (16 August 2008)

Moscow’s troops continue to operate deep inside the Caucasus republic

The Russian commander of front line forces in Georgia has told that a gradual withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgia is under way.

Maj Gen Vyacheslav Borisov said he had given the order for Russian soldiers to be replaced by peacekeepers.

Russian forces in position 35km (22 miles) from the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, on the road to Gori, close to South Ossetia.

Russia said it did not have a timetable for a full withdrawal from Gori.

Russia still controls almost all of the main arterial highway running east-west through Georgia, and the main towns along the route.

Russia’s claimed redeployment comes a day after Moscow signed a French-brokered peace plan to end the crisis.

Conflict between Georgia and Russia erupted on 7 August when Georgia launched an assault to retake its Russian-backed separatist province of South Ossetia.

It led to a massive counter-offensive by Russia, with Russia moving deeper into Georgian territory.

The US has demanded Russian troops pull out, but Moscow says it will only withdraw from Georgian territory once extra security measures are in place.

International attention

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who mediated the peace deal on behalf of the European Union, has warned Moscow that the ceasefire bars its forces from any “major urban area” in Georgia.

However, in a letter addressed to his Georgian counterpart, Mikhail Saakashvili, Mr Sarkozy said Russian troops did have the right to patrol “a few kilometres” beyond the conflict zone in South Ossetia.

But he underlined that clauses in the agreement permitting Russia to implement additional security measures “in no way limit or put in danger the freedom of movement and travel along the road and rail axes of Georgia” and could not be applied in any towns or cities.

PEACE PLAN
No more use of force
Stop all military actions for good
Free access to humanitarian aid
Georgian troops return to their places of permanent deployment
Russian troops to return to pre-conflict positions
International talks about future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia

“I am particularly thinking of the city of Gori,” he said, which is the largest town close to the South Ossetia border.

There is a much reduced Russian military presence in the town compared with Saturday – though Russian soldiers still control the town’s key entry and exit points.

He says that even if Russian peacekeepers replace soldiers, local residents say it will not make much difference.

Meanwhile, US President George W Bush has reiterated his staunch support for ally Georgia.

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is due to hold talks with Mr Saakashvili in Tbilisi later on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has called on the Russian authorities to immediately take steps to end attacks by South Ossetian militias on ethnic Georgians in Gori and to allow vital humanitarian aid to reach vulnerable civilians.

“The Russian military has effective control of the Gori region, making it responsible for the security and well-being of all people living there,” said Rachel Denber, HRW’s Europe deputy director.

Russian control

The BBC’s Richard Galpin, who has spent the past two days traveling from the Black Sea port of Poti to Tbilisi, says Georgian forces seem to be surrendering control of the highway to the Russians.

Georgian refugee in Tbilisi (16 August 2008)

The UN puts the number of those displaced in the conflict at 118,000

In the western town of Senaki, our correspondent saw large numbers of Russian troops moving around on Saturday.

Further east in Zestafoni, he witnessed the panic of local residents as the word spread that the Russian army was approaching.

Cars sped away from roadblocks set up by the Georgian police, the drivers realizing their hopes of reaching Tbilisi had been dashed.

When the Russians arrived, they stayed only a few minutes after apparently being told there was no military base to take over.

Our correspondent says he then followed the Russian troops as they entered the central town of Khashuri, where they were given an escort by the local police.

He spoke to one Russian soldier who said he believed their final destination would be the Georgian capital, although the Kremlin flatly denied this. Another soldier said he expected to be in Georgia for a year.

Georgia has meanwhile accused pro-Russian Abkhaz separatist fighters of taking over 13 villages and a hydroelectric power plant. There has so far been no independent confirmation.

Security steps

Among the six points in the ceasefire deal, both sides agreed to pull back their forces to their positions before hostilities began on 7 August.

Diplomats have said that the UN Security Council is expected to vote later on Sunday on a draft resolution formalising the ceasefire agreement.

President Bush has said Mr Medvedev’s signing of the truce is “hopeful”, but that there can be no question that South Ossetia and Abkhazia will remain within Georgian borders, which are internationally recognised.

Reports suggest Mr Saakashvili only reluctantly agreed to another of the plan’s clauses – international talks about the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Map of region


Are you in Georgia or Russia? Have you been affected by the conflict? You can send us your experiences

August 16, 2008

Russia signs up to Georgia truce

Russia signs up to Georgia truce

Russian troops

Moscow’s troops continue to operate deep inside the Caucasus republic

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has signed a ceasefire agreement with Georgia after receiving it in Moscow.

The deal calls for all military activity to stop and for troops from both sides to pull back into pre-conflict positions.

The deal was signed on Friday by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

But Russian forces remain deep in Georgian territory, and correspondents say many obstacles remain in the way of full implementation of the peace deal.

At stake is the future of Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

US-backed Georgia has vowed it will not accept any loss of its territory, but Russia insists that following the recent violence, residents are unlikely to want to live in the same state as Georgians.

The crisis, which began nine days ago, saw Georgian forces launch a surprise attack to regain control of South Ossetia, only to be decisively repelled by Russian forces.

Russian ‘advances’

On the ground in Georgia, Russian forces had moved forward overnight.

Russian forces still control Gori, which lies some 15km (10 miles) from the border with South Ossetia.

Several tanks and armored personnel carriers were seen in Kaspi, west of Gori and some 35km north-east of the capital Tbilisi – an advance of some 15km on their previous position. Lorries of soldiers were seen heading towards the town.

Meanwhile, Russian troops were seen patrolling in Zestafoni, some 100km west of Gori along a major highway.

The Russian army brought in a large number of irregulars, mercenaries… They go around drunk, aggressive, armed and do all these atrocities
Mikhail Saakashvili
Georgian president

Georgian officials also said Russian forces remained in the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti, the site of a major oil shipment facility, and a major Russian military contingent is further inland, at Senaki.

The crisis began on 7 August, when Georgian forces launched a surprise attack to regain control of South Ossetia, which has had de facto independence since the end of a civil war in 1992.

The move followed days of exchanges of heavy fire with the Russian-backed separatist militias. In response to the Georgian assault, Moscow sent armoured units across the border into South Ossetia to intervene.

Obstacles ahead

Scores of people have been killed by the fighting and tens of thousands displaced.

PEACE PLAN
No more use of force
Stop all military actions for good
Free access to humanitarian aid
Georgian troops return to their places of permanent deployment
Russian troops to return to pre-conflict positions
International talks about future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia

The EU-brokered ceasefire agreement which both sides have now signed includes a pledge to pull all troops back to their pre-conflict positions.

It also contains a plan to begin international talks about the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was in Tbilisi on Friday, has demanded the immediate withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgian territory.

But Russia argues its forces are there to ensure civilians face no threat from Georgian troops.

Mr Saakashvili has accused the Russians of committing war crimes.

A displaced Georgian woman rests just outside the town of Gori (15/08/08)

The UN puts the number of those displaced in the conflict at 118,000

“The Russian army brought in a large number of irregulars, mercenaries,” he said. “They go around drunk, aggressive, armed and do all these atrocities.”

He criticized the West for not granting Georgia membership of Nato, saying it could have prevented the fighting.

Diplomats have said that the UN Security Council is expected to vote this weekend on a draft resolution formalising the ceasefire agreement.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will meet the Russian permanent representative in New York, possibly on Saturday, because he has so far been unable to contact the Russian president, officials have said.

‘Watching with alarm’

President Bush is set to hold a video conference with some of his most senior staff, including Ms Rice and Defence Secretary Robert Gates, to discuss the crisis in Georgia.

George Bush (file)
President Bush said Russia had to act to end the crisis in Georgia

On Friday, Mr Bush said Russia’s actions in Georgia were “completely unacceptable”.

“The world has watched with alarm as Russia invaded a sovereign neighbouring state and threatened a democratic government elected by its people,” he said.

He called upon Russia to end the crisis or risk its credibility on the global stage.

Mr Bush said he would send his secretary of state to Brussels next week to discuss how to deal with Russia with Nato foreign ministers and EU officials.

But the president did not respond to comments from Russia’s deputy chief of staff, who said Moscow would be justified in launching a nuclear attack if Poland went through with its agreement to base US interceptor missiles on its territory as part of Washington’s controversial defence shield.

Map of region


Are you in Georgia or Russia? Have you been affected by the conflict? You can send us your experiences

August 7, 2008

Net address bug worse than feared

Net address bug worse than feared

Courtesy BBC

Computer keyboard, BBC

Attackers could use the loophole to redirect web users to fake sites

A recently found flaw in the internet’s addressing system is worse than first feared, says the man who found it.

Dan Kaminsky made his comments when speaking publicly for the first time about his discovery at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas.

He said fixes for the flaw in the net’s Domain Name System (DNS) had focused on web browsers but it could be abused by hackers in many other ways.

“Every network is at risk,” he said. “That’s what this flaw has shown.”

The DNS acts as the internet’s address books and helps computers translate the website names people prefer (such as bbc.co.uk) into the numbers computers use (212.58.224.131).

Mr Kaminsky discovered a way for malicious hackers to hijack DNS and re-direct people to fake pages even if they typed in the correct address for a website.

In his talk Mr Kaminsky detailed 15 other ways for the flaw to be exploited.

Via the flaw hi-tech criminals or pranksters could target FTP services, mail servers, spam filters, Telnet and the Secure Socket Layer (SSL) that helps to make web-based transactions more secure.

“There are a ton of different paths that lead to doom,” he said.

‘Hype’

But the DNS threat was played down by net giant VeriSign which issues many of the security certificates used in SSL. It told BBC News its system was “not vulnerable”.

The Silicon Valley company looks after two of the net’s 13 DNS root servers. It also controls the computers that contain the master list of domain name suffixes such as .com and .net

Ken Silva, CTO VeriSign

“If there is a silver lining in all of this, it’s that users will become more aware and more consious of who they do business with.”

Ken Silva, chief technology officer at Verisign, said: “We have anticipated these flaws in DNS for many years and we have basically engineered around them.”

He believed there had been “some hype” around how the DNS flaw will affect consumers. He added that while it was an interesting way to exploit DNS on weak servers, there were other ways to misdirect people that remained.

Mr Silva said he was concerned that people would read too much into the doom and gloom headlines that have surrounded the discovery of the DNS flaw.

“It’s been overplayed in a sense. I think it has served to confuse the consumer into believing there is somehow now a way to misdirect them to a wrong site.

“The fact of the matter is that there have been many ways like phishing attacks to misdirect them for a long time and this is just yet another of those ways that will be surgically exploited.”

Security gap

Mr Kaminsky kept news of the flaw out of the public domain for months after its discovery to give companies time to patch servers.

Mr Kaminsky said that 75% of Fortune 500 companies have fixed the problem while around 15% have done nothing.

Major vendors like Microsoft, Cisco, Sun Microsystems and others have issued patches to close the security hole.

“The industry has rallied like we’ve never seen the industry rally before,” said Mr Kaminsky.

Student using laptop, BBC

Computer users need to be educated to surf the superhighway more safely

DNS attacks are not new but Mr Kaminsky is credited with discovering a way to link some widely known weaknesses in the system so that the attack now takes seconds instead of days or hours.

“Quite frankly, all the pieces of this have been staring us in the face for decades,” said Paul Vixie, president of the Internet Systems Consortium, a non-profit that makes the software run by many of the world’s DNS servers.

Mr Silva at VeriSign said even though patches have been put in place, this doesn’t mean users can sit back and relax.

“The biggest gap in security rests between the keyboard and the back of the chair,” he said.

“The look and feel of a website is not what a consumer should trust. They should trust the security behind that website and do simple things like use more secure passwords and change their password regularly.”

Mr Silva said education is fundamental in making the net a safer place.

“We have been trained since we were young to lock the door to our house, our car. We take these sensible security measures in the environment we are functioning in.

“Yet when it comes to computer safety we forget to look both ways before crossing the internet highway.”

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