UN: Deaths From Starvation Reported in Ethiopia’s Tigray

The United Nations humanitarian chief warned Tuesday that the 1984 famine that killed more than 1 million Ethiopians could occur again if aid access to that country’s northern Tigray region is not quickly improved, scaled up and properly funded. “There is now famine in Tigray,” aid chief Mark Lowcock told a private, informal meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday, according to a copy of his written remarks seen by VOA. He said the Tigray administration has reported deaths from starvation. “The situation is set to get worse in the coming months, not only in Tigray, but in Afar and Amhara, as well.” Last week, urgent calls went out from the U.N. and partner aid agencies for a humanitarian cease-fire. It came on the heels of a report warning that 350,000 people were already in famine conditions in Tigray and that 2 million more were just a step away. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, or IPC as it is known, reported that more than 5.5 million people overall were in crisis levels of food insecurity in Tigray and the neighboring zones of Amhara and Afar. The U.N. children’s agency UNICEF has also warned that 33,000 severely malnourished children in currently unreachable areas of Tigray are also at high risk of death. The scope of the problem is massive. Lowcock said there were 123 humanitarian agencies operating in the area and 10 times as many aid workers in Tigray today than at the start of the crisis in November. “But substantial further scale-up is urgently required if we are to make a significant impact on growing needs,” Lowcock said. FILE – U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock in Geneva, Switzerland, Dec. 4, 2018.The United Nations has appealed for $853 million to assist 5.2 million people until the end of the year, with almost $200 million needed before the end of July. Access to people in remote and hard-to-reach areas has been an ongoing problem since the conflict erupted in November between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the government of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Ethiopia’s U.N. ambassador, Taye Atske Selassie Amde, said the situation did not warrant security council attention. He added that his government “vehemently disagreed” with the humanitarian assessment, saying data was collected in a “very botched” way. “Having said that, using humanitarian issues, particularly famine and starvation, in order to exert undue pressure on Ethiopia is completely unacceptable,” he told reporters after the meeting. “It’s not a drought or locusts that are causing this hunger, but the decisions of those in power,” British Ambassador Barbara Woodward said. “That means those in power could also end the suffering.” She added that Eritrean forces need to leave Ethiopia. “We were told in March that Eritrean forces would be withdrawing. It’s now June. There can be no further delay,” she told reporters. The Ethiopian envoy said the delay was due to “sorting some technical and procedural issues.” “Our expectation is that they will definitely leave soon,” he said.  U.S. envoy Jeffrey DeLaurentis told council members that “we have to act now” to prevent a famine, according to a diplomat familiar with the council’s discussion. DeLaurentis also called for an urgent end to hostilities, unhindered aid access and a political dialogue to resolve the crisis, as well as accountability for those responsible for human rights abuses.  The U.N. Security Council has held a handful of private meetings on the growing crisis but has failed to take any serious action to pressure the parties to stop the fighting, allow aid workers safely in and get Eritrea’s troops to leave. In April, the council issued a statement calling for better humanitarian access, but it has taken no action to pressure spoilers to comply. 

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Federal Judge Blocks Biden’s Pause on New Oil, Gas Leases

The Biden administration’s suspension of new oil and gas leases on federal land and water was blocked Tuesday by a federal judge in Louisiana, who ordered plans be resumed for lease sales that were delayed for the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty’s ruling came in a lawsuit filed in March by Louisiana’s Republican attorney general Jeff Landry and officials in 12 other states. Doughty’s ruling granting a preliminary injunction to those states said his order applies nationwide.The 13 states said the administration bypassed comment periods and other bureaucratic steps required before such delays can be undertaken. Doughty heard arguments in the case last week in Lafayette.The moratorium was imposed after Democratic President Joe Biden on January 27 signed executive orders to fight climate change. The suit was filed in March. The states opposing the suspension said it was undertaken without the required comment periods and other bureaucratic steps.Federal lawyers also argued that the public notice and comment period doesn’t apply to the suspension, that the lease sales aren’t required by law and that the secretary of the Interior has broad discretion in leasing decisions.Although Landry and the lawsuit’s supporters said the moratorium has already driven up prices and endangered energy jobs, Biden’s suspension didn’t stop companies from drilling on existing leases.”No existing lease has been canceled as a result of any of the actions challenged here, and development activity from exploration through drilling and production has continued at similar levels as the preceding four years,” lawyers for the administration argued in briefs.A long-term halt to oil and gas sales would curb future production and could hurt states like Louisiana that are heavily dependent on the industry that has contributed to global warming.The lawsuit notes that coastal states receive significant revenue from onshore and offshore oil and gas activity. Stopping leases, the lawsuit argues, would diminish revenue that pays for Louisiana efforts to restore coastal wetlands, raise energy costs and lead to major job losses in oil-producing states.

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Study: Half of US Cosmetics Contain Toxic Chemicals

More than half the cosmetics sold in the United States and Canada are awash with a toxic industrial compound associated with serious health conditions, including cancer and reduced birth weight, according to a new study.  Researchers at the University of Notre Dame tested more than 230 commonly used cosmetics and found that 56% of foundations and eye products, 48% of lip products and 47% of mascaras contained fluorine — an indicator of PFAS, so-called “forever chemicals” that are used in nonstick frying pans, rugs and countless other consumer products.  Some of the highest PFAS levels were found in waterproof mascara (82%) and long-lasting lipstick (62%), according to the study published Tuesday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters. Twenty-nine products with higher fluorine concentrations were tested further and found to contain between four and 13 specific PFAS, the study found. Only one item listed PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, as an ingredient on the label. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates cosmetics, said the agency does not comment on specific studies. The FDA said on its website that there have been few studies of the presence of the chemicals in cosmetics, and the ones that have been published generally found the concentration is at very low levels not likely to harm people, in the parts per billion level to the hundreds of parts per million. A fact sheet posted on the agency’s website says, “As the science on PFAS in cosmetics continues to advance, the FDA will continue to monitor” voluntary data submitted by industry as well as published research. But PFAS are an issue of increasing concern for lawmakers working to regulate their use in consumer products. The study results were announced as a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill to ban the use of PFAS in cosmetics and other beauty products.  The move to ban PFAS comes as Congress considers wide-ranging legislation to set a national drinking water standard for certain PFAS and clean up contaminated sites across the country, including military bases where high rates of PFAS have been discovered. “There is nothing safe and nothing good about PFAS,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat who introduced the cosmetics bill with Republican Senator Susan Collins. “These chemicals are a menace hidden in plain sight that people literally display on their faces every day.” Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., talks with reporters at the Capitol in Washington, June 15, 2021.Representative Debbie Dingell, a Democrat who has sponsored several PFAS-related bills in the House, said she has looked for PFAS in her own makeup and lipstick but could not tell whether they were present because the products were not properly labeled. “How do I know it doesn’t have PFAS?” she asked at a news conference Tuesday, referring to the eye makeup, foundation and lipstick she was wearing.  The Environmental Protection Agency is also moving to collect industry data on the uses and health risks of PFAS as it considers regulations to reduce potential risks caused by the chemicals. The Personal Care Products Council, a trade association representing the cosmetics industry, said in a statement that a small number of PFAS may be found as ingredients or at trace levels in products such as lotion, nail polish, eye makeup and foundation. The chemicals are used for product consistency and texture and subject to FDA safety requirements, said Alexandra Kowcz, the council’s chief scientist. “Our member companies take their responsibility for product safety and the trust families put in those products very seriously,” she said, adding that the group supports prohibition of certain PFAS from use in cosmetics. “Science and safety are the foundation for everything we do.”  But Graham Peaslee, a physics professor at Notre Dame and the principal investigator of the study, said the cosmetics pose an immediate and long-term risk. “PFAS is a persistent chemical. When it gets into the bloodstream, it stays there and accumulates,” Peaslee said. No specific companies were named in the study.  Environmental, health risksThe chemicals also pose the risk of environmental contamination associated with manufacturing and disposal, he said. The man-made compounds are used in countless products, including nonstick cookware, water-repellent sports gear, cosmetics and grease-resistant food packaging, along with firefighting foams. Public health studies on exposed populations have associated the chemicals with an array of health problems, including some cancers, weakened immunity and low birth weight. Widespread testing in recent years has found high levels of PFAS in many public water systems and military bases. Blumenthal, a former state attorney general and self-described “crusader” on behalf of consumers, said he does not use cosmetics. But speaking on behalf of millions of cosmetics users, he said they have a message for the industry: “We’ve trusted you and you betrayed us.” Brands that want to avoid likely government regulation should voluntarily go PFAS-free, Blumenthal said. “Aware and angry consumers are the most effective advocate” for change, he said. 
 

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People Hurt by Parachuting Protester at Euro 2020 Game

Several spectators were treated in the hospital for injuries caused by a protester who parachuted into the stadium before France played Germany at the European Championship, UEFA said Tuesday.Debris fell on the field and main grandstand, narrowly missing France coach Didier Deschamps, when the parachutist struck wires for an overhead camera attached to the stadium roof.The governing body of European soccer called it a “reckless and dangerous” act and said “law authorities will take the necessary action.””This inconsiderate act … caused injuries to several people attending the game who are now in hospital,” UEFA said.The incident happened just before the start of the Euro 2020 match between the last two World Cup champions. Deschamps was shown ducking into the team dugout to avoid falling debris.France won the match, 1-0.”We as the German soccer federation condemn it of course, because it wasn’t just him, but others that he endangered and injured. It’s unacceptable from our point of view,” German team spokesman Jens Grittner said. “And the incident is being checked by the police, the authorities here in Munich and at UEFA. But of course we also condemn what happened there. It could probably have turned out much worse.”The protester’s parachute had the slogan “KICK OUT OIL!” and “Greenpeace” written on it.He glided into the stadium and seemed to lose control after connecting with the wires. He veered away from the playing area toward the main grandstand and barely cleared the heads of spectators.The parachutist managed to land on the field and Germany players Antonio Rüdiger and Robin Gosens were the first to approach him. He was led away by security stewards and given medical attention on the side of the field.UEFA and one of its top-tier tournament sponsors, Russian state energy firm Gazprom, have previously been targeted by Greenpeace protests.In 2013, a Champions League game in Basel was disrupted when Greenpeace activists abseiled from the roof of the stadium to unfurl a banner protesting Russian oil and Gazprom, which sponsored the visiting team, German club Schalke.Greenpeace later donated money to a charity supported by Basel, which was fined by UEFA for the security lapse.UEFA defended its environmental credentials in Tuesday’s statement.”UEFA and its partners are fully committed to a sustainable Euro 2020 tournament,” UEFA said, “and many initiatives have been implemented to offset carbon emissions.”

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Military Defends January 6 Response as House Steps Up Probes

A top Army leader defended the Pentagon’s response to the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, telling a House panel Tuesday that the National Guard was delayed for hours because they had to properly prepare for the deployment and that senior military leaders had determined beforehand that there was “no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of an American election.” Lieutenant General Walter Piatt, director of the Army staff, echoed comments from other senior military leaders about the perception of soldiers being used to secure the election process. He said the Pentagon wanted to be careful about their response in part because of concerns about military helicopters that had flown low over Washington streets during protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in the summer of 2020. It also took several hours for Guardsmen to be equipped and given a plan for how to secure a building overrun by hundreds of supporters of former president Donald Trump, Piatt said.  “When people’s lives are on the line, two minutes is too long,” he said. “But we were not positioned to respond to that urgent request. We had to reprepare so we would send them in prepared for this new mission.” FILE – Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., walks to a news conference at the Capitol, Feb. 25, 2021.Piatt’s testimony comes as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the House will step up its investigations into the deadly insurrection. She said Tuesday that the House “can’t wait any longer” to do a comprehensive investigation after Senate Republicans blocked legislation to create an independent commission. “Whether we have a commission today, tomorrow or the next day over in the Senate or not, the work of the committees will be very important in what we’re seeking for the American people — the truth,” Pelosi said.  One option under consideration is a select committee on the January 6 attack, a setup that would put majority Democrats in charge. More than three dozen Republicans in the House and seven Senate Republicans wanted to avoid a partisan probe and supported the legislation to create an independent, bipartisan commission outside Congress.  But those numbers weren’t strong enough to overcome GOP opposition in the Senate, where support from 10 Republicans is needed to pass most bills. Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer has said he may hold a second vote after the legislation failed to advance last month, but there’s no indication that Democrats can win the necessary support from three additional Republicans.  “We can’t wait any longer,” Pelosi said. “We will proceed.”  Meanwhile, most Republicans are making clear they want to move on from the January 6 attack, brushing aside the many unanswered questions about the insurrection, including how the government and law enforcement missed intelligence leading up to the rioting, and the role of Trump before and during the attack.  FILE – FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies on Capitol Hill, June 10, 2021.The hearing Tuesday in the House Oversight and Reform Committee was to examine “unexplained delays and unanswered questions” about the siege, with public testimony from FBI Director Christopher Wray, Piatt and General Charles E. Flynn, who was previously Army deputy chief of staff.  All three men were involved that day as the Capitol Police begged for backup. The National Guard did not arrive for several hours, as police were overwhelmed and beaten by the rioters.  Piatt insisted that he did not deny or have the authority to deny Guard help during a call with former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who has previously said he believed Piatt and other Army leaders were concerned about the optics of soldiers surrounding the building. According to the Defense Department, military leadership approved activation of the full D.C. National Guard at 3:04 p.m., about 40 minutes after the call with Sund.  FILE – Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 11, 2020.Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who chairs the committee, criticized Wray for not providing documents her staff had requested and asked him if he believed the FBI should be blamed for the law enforcement failures on January 6.  “Our goal is to bat 1.000, and any time there’s an attack, much less an attack as horrific and spectacular as what happened on January 6, we consider that to be unacceptable,” Wray replied.  Seven people died during and after the rioting, including a Trump supporter who was shot and killed as she tried to break into the House chamber and two police officers who died by suicide in the days that followed. A third officer, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, collapsed and later died after engaging with the protesters, but a medical examiner determined he died of natural causes. 
 

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Biden Picks Israel, Mexico, NATO Ambassadors

President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced his nominees to be ambassadors to Israel, Mexico and NATO, as he moves to strengthen U.S. alliances in tough regions. Among a slate of names announced by the White House on Tuesday were Thomas Nides, a Morgan Stanley vice chairman who served as a deputy secretary of state under former President Barack Obama, to serve as the ambassador to Israel. The close U.S. ally is welcoming a new government after Israel’s parliament ended Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year run as prime minister on Sunday. Biden also picked Ken Salazar, a former U.S. senator from Colorado and interior secretary, as his ambassador to Mexico. The country is one of the United States’ biggest trading partners and the Biden administration is working to manage immigration across the U.S.-Mexican border. He also chose security expert Julianne Smith to represent the United States on the Council of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a key Western bulwark against Russia. Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin are set to meet in Geneva on Wednesday at a time of increased tensions between the two powers. The White House also said Biden picked C. B. “Sully” Sullenberger to be an ambassador and serve as the U.S. representative on the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization. Sullenberger rose to fame in 2009 after gliding his Airbus A320 to a safe landing on the Hudson River after hitting a flock of geese shortly after takeoff, in what became known as the “Miracle on the Hudson.” He also joined Biden on the campaign trail when he was running for president. Biden also named his ambassador picks to Sri Lanka, Gambia, Guinea, Paraguay and Costa Rica. 
 

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Arab Foreign Ministers Meet in Qatar to Discuss Nile Dam Conflict

Arab League foreign ministers met Tuesday in Qatar, focusing on efforts to resolve the Nile River dam conflict between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. Egypt’s Foreign Minister said Cairo is seeking a diplomatic, not a military, solution to its dispute with Ethiopia over the filling of the dam, set to begin next month.Arab League head Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdel Rahman bin Jassem al Thani talked to journalists Tuesday after Arab League foreign ministers met in Doha.They said the group is calling on the U.N. Security Council to take up the water dispute between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.  Arab Ministers of Foreign Affairs attend a consultative meeting in the Qatari capital Doha, June 15, 2021.The league is trying to prevent a conflict when Ethiopia begins to fill the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam again next month despite the absence of a water-use agreement with Egypt and Sudan.  Mediation efforts by the African Union have not made any tangible progress and both Egypt and Sudan have expressed concern that their national security will be adversely affected if Ethiopia proceeds with filling the dam. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry addresses his Arab counterparts during a consultative meeting in the Qatari capital Doha, June 15, 2021.Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told Arab media Monday that Cairo is still trying to exhaust all diplomatic channels with Ethiopia before resorting to other means.He said Egypt is trying to reach a solution within the current negotiating framework, but if it fails and there is damage or a threat to the lives of Egyptians or Sudanese, then both countries have a responsibility to defend and protect their people. Sudan’s Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas told a press conference Monday in Khartoum his country would approve the filling of the dam if Ethiopia enters into a binding agreement with both Sudan and Egypt. He said Sudan is ready to accept a step-by-step agreement with Ethiopia if it will sign an accord including everything that has been agreed upon until now, including a guarantee that negotiations will continue within a finite period of time. FILE – Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed responds to questions from members of parliament at the prime minister’s office in the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Nov. 30, 2020.Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who repeatedly has insisted the filling of the dam will continue, as scheduled, at the start of July, said recently his country was not trying to use the dam to pressure its neighbors. He said the dam is a sign of Ethiopia’s independence and through it, “we affirm that we have no behind-the-scenes colonialist project to use against our neighbors.” He added that Ethiopia is a “proud, independent country, and will continue to be so, forever.” Egyptian political analyst Said Sadek told VOA that Ethiopia’s ruling party has been using the dam negotiations for “internal political considerations,” including uniting disparate ethnic factions within the country and rallying support ahead of upcoming elections.  He also believes Egyptian leaders will exhaust diplomatic means before taking more forceful action.  “Egypt is hesitant to jump into a war before fulfilling all the diplomatic channels so that anything that is done, at least we have legitimate international coverage, or we went through the channels of solving international problems peacefully and we failed,” Sadek said. Paul Sullivan, a professor at the U.S. National Defense University in Washington, told VOA, “This is a very delicate and treacherous moment for negotiations,” and the situation could become “inflamed” if Ethiopia tries to fill the dam too quickly, causing water shortages in Egypt and Sudan.  “The situation is coming to a head, and what happens in the next few weeks could determine a lot,” he added. 
 

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Tree to Table: Cicadas Make for Culinary Adventure at DC Restaurant

Parts of the United States are being invaded by a mass brood of cicadas that emerges from the ground once every 17 years.  For most people the noisy insects are a nuisance, but for others, they’re a meal. VOA’s Alam Burnahan has details in this story narrated by Irfan Ihsan.
Camera: Alam Burhanan, Irfan Ihsan, Ronan Zakaria

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