News That Matters

04/09/2023 ---- 13/09/2023

On September 12, Libya experienced an unprecedented catastrophe as Storm Daniel swept across its northeastern region. The storm, which originated from a potent low-pressure system previously seen in Greece, developed into a tropical-like cyclone, or medicane, fueled by above-average ocean temperatures linked to global warming. This climate disaster, part of a series of record-breaking weather extremes, has left the world in a state of shock, with over 5,000 people presumed dead and an estimated 10,000 still missing.

Derna, a city with a population of approximately 125,000, was the hardest hit, with almost a quarter of it decimated. Buildings were reduced to rubble, cars flipped over, and neighborhoods washed away. Hospitals are no longer operational, and morgues are overflowing. The storm's impact extended to several other cities, including Al-Bayda, Al-Marj, Tobruk, Takenis, Al-Bayada, Battah, and the eastern coast up to Benghazi, resulting in at least 37 residential buildings being swept into the sea.

Libya's ongoing political conflict, a decade-long standoff between the UN-backed Government of National Unity (GNU) in northwest Libya and the eastern-based administration led by commander Khalifa Haftar, has exacerbated the crisis. Despite deploying tens of thousands of military personnel, the political divide has hindered rescue efforts. Many affected regions remain unreachable for emergency workers, and the country now needs specialized search groups to recover bodies from rugged valleys, under rubble, and from the sea.

The international community has united in response to the disaster. Countries such as Turkey and Italy have sent search and rescue teams and humanitarian aid. The US has declared a humanitarian need, providing initial funding for relief efforts. The UAE and Egypt have also dispatched aid and rescue teams.

Personal stories of loss have begun to emerge from the chaos. Mostafa Salem lost 30 relatives in the floods, while Raja Sassi mourns the loss of most of his family. Naval teams are currently searching for families swept into the sea by the floods.

In the aftermath of the disaster, an investigation into the cause of the floods has been initiated, with 2.5bn Libyan Dinar (£412m; $515m) allocated for rebuilding Derna and Benghazi. Water engineering experts suggest that the upper dam, located 12km from the city, likely failed first, leading to the failure of the second dam.

This disaster underscores the urgent need for action on climate change and highlights the importance of political stability in responding to such crises. As Libya fights to recover from the devastation wrought by Storm Daniel, the world is reminded of the unseen fury of nature.


The annual G20 summit, hosted by India on September 8, 2023, brought together the world's major economies to discuss a range of pressing issues, from climate change to economic development and the conflict in Ukraine. This event marked a significant milestone for India, being the largest diplomatic gathering it has hosted in four decades.

The G20, which comprises 19 countries and the European Union, serves as a critical platform for promoting international financial stability. The 2023 summit tested India's diplomatic prowess, particularly in managing the divergent views on the Ukraine conflict and the economic advancement of the Global South.

A notable outcome of the summit was the joint declaration by the G20 leaders. Although the statement recognized the situation in Ukraine and its economic repercussions, it did not explicitly condemn Russia's invasion. This marked a departure from the previous year's declaration and was seen as a compromise reflecting resistance from Russia and China, both G20 members.

While US President Joe Biden had aimed to rally support for Ukraine, the joint declaration was praised by US national security adviser Jake Sullivan as a significant achievement for India's chairmanship. However, the statement drew criticism from Ukraine's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko due to its lack of reference to Russian "aggression" and Ukraine's absence from the summit.

In a move to enhance global connectivity, the summit announced plans for a major transit corridor linking Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. This initiative, endorsed by India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the European Union, aims to bolster trade, fortify supply chains, and potentially challenge China's Belt and Road initiative.

On the economic front, the G20 leaders committed to enabling low-cost financing for developing countries to transition to low emissions and to addressing the debt burden of these nations. The World Bank estimates that the world's poorest countries owe over $60bn annually to bilateral creditors, with China accounting for two-thirds of this debt.

Climate change was a central topic at the summit, with leaders pledging to triple global renewable energy capacity. The leaders unanimously agreed that the timelines for peaking greenhouse gas emissions would be influenced by sustainable development, poverty eradication needs, equity, and different national circumstances.

The G20 presidency was passed from India to Brazil, with Brazilian President Lula highlighting social inclusion, combating hunger, energy transition, and sustainable development as Brazil's G20 priorities.

In a strategic move, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited the African Union (AU) to become a permanent member of the G20. This, coupled with the new transit corridor and consensus on climate change, signals a shift in the G20's focus towards the Global South.

Despite the challenges and disagreements, the G20 summit 2023 demonstrated the power of diplomacy and dialogue. The joint declaration, while not meeting everyone's expectations, marked progress in addressing global issues. The summit also highlighted India's capacity to navigate intricate international dynamics, setting the stage for Brazil to continue the dialogue as the next G20 president in 2024.


The devastating 6.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Morocco recently has left the country in a state of profound loss and mourning, reminiscent of the nation's deadliest quake in 1960 that claimed approximately 12,000 lives. This recent disaster, the most severe in over six decades, has affected over 300,000 people, with a death toll of 2,012, 2,059 injured, and 1,404 critically injured, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The Haouz region, including parts of the High Atlas Mountains, reported the highest fatalities, nearing 1,300 deaths.

The aftermath of the quake, which affected the city of Agadir, the High Atlas Mountains, and the historic city of Marrakech, has exposed the dire need for aid. Despite the grim circumstances, the people of Morocco have shown remarkable resilience and unity. Many are braving the outdoors, fearing aftershocks that could bring further destruction. In a show of solidarity, members of Morocco's national football team have donated blood, while the Moroccan armed forces are working tirelessly to provide clean drinking water, food supplies, tents, and blankets to the affected areas.

However, the challenge is immense. The quake has significantly damaged Morocco's infrastructure, causing landslides and damaging Marrakesh's central square Jemaa el-Fna, its surrounding historic buildings, and popular cafes and restaurants. The village of Amizmiz near the epicentre and the area of Asni, 40 km south of Marrakech, also suffered significant damage. The village of Tansghart in the Ansi area was the worst hit, with ten fatalities reported, including two teenage girls.

In the face of this tragedy, global aid efforts have been mobilized. Countries including Italy, Spain, France, and the US have offered support, with Spain sending 65 specialist workers to assist in the rescue mission. Even Algeria, despite its strained relations with Morocco, has opened its airspace for humanitarian and medical flights. The International Red Cross has pledged one million Swiss francs (£900,000; $1.1 million) from its Disaster Response Emergency Fund to support the mission. However, the organization's Middle East and North Africa director, Hossam Elsharkawi, warns that the rebuilding process could take years.

Amidst the national grief, Morocco declared three days of national mourning, flying the national flag at half-mast. As the nation faces the daunting task of rebuilding, the world stands ready to lend a helping hand in these trying times. This disaster serves as a stark reminder of the vulnerability of old and historical buildings, highlighted by Mohammad Kashani, associate professor of structural and earthquake engineering at the University of Southampton. The need for improved infrastructure and preparedness in the face of such disasters has never been more apparent.

Despite the devastation, Morocco's spirit remains unbroken, as its people and the world unite to face this crisis. The country, though in mourning, stands tall, bolstered by the outpouring of international aid and the indomitable spirit of its people.


In a groundbreaking discovery, researchers at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, led by Prof Jacob Hanna, have developed models of human embryos from stem cells. These models, while not identical to actual human embryos, imitate the 3D organization of features found in embryos aged one to two weeks, providing a unique perspective into the earliest stages of human life.

The researchers utilized "naive" human stem cells, which possess the ability to transform into various cell types. When combined in a lab, around 1% of these stem cells self-organized into structures resembling human embryos. At two weeks, these models, approximately half a millimeter wide, developed features such as a placenta, a yolk sac, and an outer membrane known as the chorionic sac, similar to actual embryos of the same age.

The potential applications of these models are vast. They could significantly aid research into the causes of miscarriages and birth defects, areas that have been largely unexplored due to the difficulty of accessing human embryos at such early stages. Furthermore, the models could be used to grow organs for transplant by altering their genetics to prevent the development of a brain or nervous system, potentially revolutionizing organ transplants.

Another intriguing application involves assessing the impact of medicines on actual human embryos. These models could offer a safe, ethical means to test drug safety during pregnancy, as pregnant women are often excluded from clinical trials.

Despite their potential, these models are not flawless replicas of human embryos. For example, while the trophoblast, a placenta precursor, was present, it was not properly organized. Additionally, these models cannot implant into a womb, making pregnancy impossible. Nonetheless, they returned a positive result on a pregnancy test, indicating successful growth.

The research, published in the journal Nature, is hailed as the first to create a "complete" embryo model. It involved reprogramming naive stem cells to potentially become any type of tissue in the body and guiding them into becoming four types of cells found in the earliest stages of human embryos.

These models were allowed to develop until they resembled a 14-day-old embryo, the legal limit for normal embryo research in many countries. They could help scientists understand cell emergence, organ building, and genetic diseases. The study also found that other parts of the embryo will not form unless early placenta cells surround it, a finding that could improve in vitro fertilisation (IVF) success rates.

While Prof Robin Lovell Badge from the Francis Crick Institute acknowledges that the models "look pretty good" and "normal", the current 99% failure rate necessitates improvement. The research also raises ethical questions about mimicking embryo development beyond the 14-day stage, as embryo models are legally distinct from embryos.

Despite these challenges, Prof Alfonso Martinez Arias from Pompeu Fabra University lauds the research as "a most important piece of research". The potential benefits are immense, ranging from uncovering the cause of birth defects and infertility types to possibly leading to new technologies for growing transplant tissues and organs.

In conclusion, while the research is still in preliminary stages and raises significant ethical considerations, it marks a substantial advancement in our understanding of early human development. As we further explore these models' potential, we may be on the cusp of a new era in medical science, potentially bringing hope to countless individuals worldwide.


The serene valley of Lake Whakatipu Waimāori in New Zealand's South Island recently witnessed a significant conservation victory. Eighteen Takahē birds, a species once presumed extinct, were reintroduced into the wild. This event not only marks a milestone for conservationists but also represents a victory for the native Ngāi Tahu tribe, the landowners.

The Takahē, a large flightless bird standing around fifty centimeters tall, is a unique species. Having evolved without any native land mammals around, its existence in Aotearoa, the Māori name for New Zealand, traces back to the prehistoric Pleistocene era. However, the late 19th-century influx of European settlers along with their animal companions such as stoats, cats, ferrets, and rats, led to the Takahē being declared extinct in 1898.

The narrative of the Takahē took an unexpected turn in 1948 when the species was rediscovered. Since then, a steady increase in their population has been observed, attributed to rigorous conservation efforts including egg collection and incubation, chick nurturing, and controlled environment breeding. Presently, the Takahē population stands at around five hundred, growing at a rate of about eight percent annually.

The Department of Conservation (DOC), led by Deidre Vercoe, has been instrumental in this revival. The DOC has carefully reintroduced the birds to select island sanctuaries and national parks, while also setting up traps and eliminating pests threatening their survival. This aligns with New Zealand's countrywide mission to eradicate its most destructive invasive predators, such as rats, possums, and stoats, by 2050.

Following the successful reintroduction of the kiwi, another iconic New Zealand bird, into natural spaces on the outskirts of urban areas last year, the Takahē is now treading a similar path. Future plans include the release of an additional seven birds in October, and up to ten young Takahē birds in the early part of next year.

The Takahē's reintroduction holds immense importance for the Ngāi Tahu tribe. The tribe’s long legal battle for the return of their lands coincided with the decline of the wild Takahē population. The Māori people named the mountain tops Kā Whenua Roimata, or the Lands of Tears, symbolising their loss. Tā Tipene O’Regan, an 87-year-old Ngāi Tahu elder, had the honor of releasing the 18 takahē in the Lake Whakatipu Waimāori valley, describing the event as "closing a very long circle".

The return of the Takahē to the South Island's alpine slopes is a powerful testament to conservation efforts and nature's resilience. It's a story of hope and perseverance, of a species resurrected from the brink of extinction, and a tribe reclaiming its heritage. This event underscores the importance of protecting our natural world and its many wonders, providing hope that with effort and dedication, we can reverse the damage done and pave the way for a more sustainable future.


On a September day in Sochi, a meeting between two influential world leaders, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russia's Vladimir Putin, took place. The focal point of their discussion was a grain deal that had been previously brokered by the United Nations. This deal allowed Ukrainian grain to reach global markets, significantly mitigating the ongoing food crisis. However, Russia had withdrawn from this deal in July 2023, citing hindrances to its food and fertiliser exports.

Erdogan's objective was to convince Putin to reconsider Russia's withdrawal, proposing that Ukraine should ease its stance against Russia and increase grain exports to Africa. Despite Ukraine's Foreign Minister's firm stance, Putin indicated a possible return to the agreement, provided the West stops restricting Russian agricultural exports.

The outcome of these discussions held global implications, as Russia and Ukraine are significant contributors to the worldwide agricultural market. In 2023, Russia alone projected a grain harvest of 130 million tonnes, with 60 million tonnes available for export.

Adding another layer to the situation, Putin proposed supplying Turkey with up to 1 million tonnes of Russian grain at discounted prices for further distribution to countries in need. He also announced imminent plans to provide free grain to six African countries, a move with potential to significantly affect the global food crisis.

Simultaneously, regional tensions were escalating. Russia targeted Ukrainian export hubs, while Kyiv's forces retaliated against Moscow's naval ports and warships. Notably, a Russian drone attack significantly damaged a Ukrainian grain export hub on the Danube River. Amidst this tension, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov resigned, following President Volodymyr Zelensky's call for new strategies to counter Russia's offensive.

In an unexpected development, Ihor Kolomoisky, a Ukrainian oligarch and supporter of Zelensky's 2019 presidential campaign, was arrested in a fraud investigation. This arrest was part of Ukraine’s ongoing anti-corruption drive, which has targeted several high-profile figures, aiming to improve Ukraine's standing on the Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.

Adding to the turmoil, Ukraine's military intelligence chief, Kyrylo Budanov, reported a drone attack on an airbase in the Russian city of Pskov, launched from within Russia. This attack resulted in significant damage to Russia's ability to transport troops and equipment over long distances.

Further escalating tensions, Russia deployed the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, a next-generation weapon capable of carrying nuclear charges. Described as "invincible" by Putin, this missile's deployment adds a new dimension to the situation.

The global community now faces a complex international scenario. The potential revival of the grain deal, the escalating regional tensions, Ukraine's anti-corruption drive, and the deployment of the Sarmat missile all play crucial roles in this international chessboard. These events impact global food security, political stability, and the balance of power. As the world watches, it becomes increasingly evident that the stakes are high, and the game is far from over.