NUNZIUM

News That Matters

23/06/2023 ---- 23/07/2023

Alzheimer's disease, a prevalent form of dementia projected to affect an alarming 153 million people globally by 2050, has long been a formidable challenge for the medical community. A new drug, donanemab, developed by Eli Lilly, is now offering a beacon of hope. This antibody medicine, designed to clear protein buildup in Alzheimer's patients' brains, has been found to slow cognitive decline in a global trial.

Donanemab functions similarly to lecanemab, a product of Eisai and Biogen. Both drugs have demonstrated potential in decelerating cognitive decline in Alzheimer's patients. Specifically, donanemab has been found to slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease by approximately a third. This significant finding was determined through a trial involving 1,736 individuals aged 60 to 85 with early-stage Alzheimer's. Over 18 months, half of the participants received a monthly infusion of donanemab, while the other half were administered a placebo. Results published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that after 76 weeks of treatment, donanemab reduced clinical decline by 35.1% in early Alzheimer’s patients with low or medium levels of tau protein.

The trial's participants included Mike Colley, an 80-year-old UK resident, whose experience has ignited optimism among health leaders and Alzheimer's research advocates. Former Prime Minister David Cameron is among those advocating for further research into what he terms a "statin for the brain," and urges government investment in new treatments.

However, the trial also disclosed that brain swelling was a common side effect in up to a third of patients, leading to two fatalities. Coupled with the recent rejection of another Alzheimer's drug, aducanumab, due to safety concerns, experts are urging caution. They warn that donanemab's effects might be modest, and it remains unclear whether the treatment will continue to be effective over a longer period.

Regardless of these challenges, the potential benefits of donanemab are substantial. Approximately 720,000 people in the UK alone could potentially benefit from these emerging Alzheimer's treatments, provided they gain approval. However, the Alzheimer's Society warns that the NHS is not yet equipped to administer these treatments on a large scale.

In terms of cost, lecanemab is currently priced at around $27,500 (£21,000) in the US. The UK's drug watchdog NICE has commenced its appraisal of donanemab for treating mild cognitive impairment or mild dementia due to Alzheimer's disease. Eli Lilly has applied for approval for donanemab in the US and plans to do so in the UK shortly.

In conclusion, donanemab signifies a crucial advancement in the fight against Alzheimer's. Despite the drug's side effects and the challenges associated with large-scale delivery, the potential benefits for millions of people worldwide are undeniable. As Dr Richard Oakley of the Alzheimer’s Society points out, these treatments could mark a turning point in the battle against Alzheimer's, underlining the importance of early and accurate diagnosis for treatment eligibility. As we stand on the brink of this potential medical breakthrough, the world watches in anticipation.

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The island nation of Cyprus, renowned for its rich history and stunning beaches, is confronting an unprecedented crisis. A lethal strain of feline coronavirus, known as feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), has claimed nearly 300,000 cats since the beginning of the year. This outbreak, the first of its kind in magnitude, is affecting both stray and domestic cats and raising alarm among experts who warn of a potential significant death toll among the UK's feline population if the virus spreads.

FIP, a fatal inflammatory condition primarily affecting kittens and young cats, is not new. Symptoms include fever, abdominal swelling, energy loss, and occasionally increased aggression. However, the scale of the current outbreak is unparalleled. Dr. Demetris Epaminondas, vice-president of the Pancyprian Veterinary Association, reports a disturbing rise in FIP cases. Given the total feline population in Cyprus is estimated to be around one million, the impact is significant.

Prof. Danièlle Gunn-Moore, a feline medicine specialist at the University of Edinburgh, suggests that the virus may have mutated into a new, more lethal strain. Her team is currently conducting genome sequencing to confirm this. If true, the implications could be far-reaching, with anecdotal evidence pointing to the virus's presence in Turkey, Lebanon, and possibly Israel.

In response to the crisis, Cyprus's local authorities have taken proactive measures, including setting up an advisory team, launching a media awareness campaign, and initiating legislative changes to permit the use of specific drugs for treatment. These drugs, remdesivir and GS-441524, have shown promise in treating FIP, but their high cost and bureaucratic challenges pose significant barriers. The cost of these drugs can range from £2,500 to £6,000 for a cat weighing between 3kg and 4kg, a price beyond many people's means.

With slow government action, some individuals have resorted to purchasing drugs themselves, leading to a black market for cheap, unlicensed drugs. This development is as concerning as the disease itself. Vasiliki Mani, a member of several animal welfare organizations, spent around £3,000 of her savings on treatments for two sick strays, illustrating the desperate measures being taken.

The situation in Cyprus underscores the interconnectedness of our world and the potential indirect impact of global events like the Covid-19 pandemic on the emergence of new disease strains. The Global Center for Health Security (GCHS), a leading U.S. institution for managing high-consequence infections, is closely monitoring this situation among other disease outbreaks worldwide. The hope is that with continued vigilance and research, solutions can be found to protect our feline friends from this lethal disease.

In conclusion, the unprecedented FIP outbreak in Cyprus serves as a stark reminder of life's fragility and the importance of swift action, comprehensive research, and global cooperation in the face of emerging infectious diseases. As we navigate these challenges, we must remember the lessons learned from this feline fiasco and strive to create a safer world for all inhabitants, big and small.

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On Monday, Russia ignited international concern by suspending a wartime deal that enabled grain exports from Ukraine to Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. This decision, which European Diplomacy leader Josep Borrell described as 'weaponizing hunger', is a part of the escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine, two significant global suppliers of wheat, barley, sunflower oil, and other affordable food products.

The deal, facilitated last summer by the United Nations and Turkey, was a significant development that permitted food to leave the Black Sea region after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. However, the recent suspension of this agreement, coupled with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, has triggered a surge in food commodity prices. This increase has amplified economic difficulties and escalated poverty and food insecurity in many developing countries. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, labelled Russia's withdrawal as "cruel" and accused Moscow of holding "humanity hostage."

Despite these tensions, the Black Sea Grain Initiative has facilitated the export of 32.9 million metric tons of grain and other food from three Ukrainian ports to the world, with over half of the supply reaching developing nations. However, there has been a notable decrease in food shipments and vessels leaving Ukraine in recent months, with Russia being accused of limiting additional ships.

In light of these events, the G7 members, comprising Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US, are anticipated to endorse a security pact with Ukraine at the NATO summit. This pact, which includes defense equipment, training, and intelligence sharing, does not specify a timeframe for Kyiv's entry into the security alliance, leading to disappointment for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The NATO Summit, held in Vilnius, Lithuania, did not extend a membership invitation to Ukraine but expressed support for the country's security. President Joe Biden and other NATO diplomats underscored that Ukraine must first achieve peace with Russia before considering NATO membership.

At the summit, several military packages for Ukraine were announced, including a program to train Ukrainian pilots to operate US-made F-16 fighter jets at a center in Romania, set to open in August. The UK also intends to deliver over 70 combat and logistics vehicles to Ukraine to enhance its counteroffensive operations.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin, responding to these developments, cited NATO’s expansion into eastern Europe as a justification for invading Ukraine in February 2022. On the final day of the Vilnius summit, the G7 countries pledged long-term support for Ukraine, eliciting a response from Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

In the midst of these escalating tensions, Russia and China are preparing for the "Northern/Interaction-2023" drills in the Sea of Japan. This marks Russia's second participation in the annual strategic drills by the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Northern Theater Command and the first time Russia has deployed both naval and air forces for such events.

The current geopolitical landscape is riddled with tension and unpredictability. The cancellation of the grain deal by Russia, the persistent conflict in Ukraine, and the evolving alliances and strategies globally all indicate a complex and daunting future. As nations strive to navigate these tumultuous circumstances, the world anxiously anticipates peaceful resolutions and stability.

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The world is currently grappling with an unprecedented heat crisis that is stretching from Europe to America. Italy, a popular tourist destination, is under red alerts with 16 cities experiencing soaring temperatures due to the ongoing heatwave named Cerberus. This heatwave is but a prelude to the upcoming Charon, which is predicted to push the mercury above 40°C next week.

This intense heat is not confined to Italy. Greece, the US, Japan, and China are also feeling the effects. In Greece, temperatures have reached 40°C (104°F), leading to the closure of the Acropolis in Athens during peak heat hours. In the US, Nevada, Arizona, and California are expecting temperatures to exceed 120°F (48.8°C), while in Asia, Japan and China are bracing for temperatures around 39°C.

The consequences of these extreme temperatures are severe and life-threatening. In Italy, the heat has already claimed a life, and several tourists have suffered from heatstroke. The Greek Red Cross is aiding those affected by heat-related illnesses, while in Phoenix, Arizona, mobile clinics are treating homeless people with third-degree burns.

The heatwaves are also sparking fears of wildfires. Greece, still reeling from major wildfires in 2021, is on high alert, especially in areas with strong winds. In Spain's Canary Islands, a forest fire has necessitated the evacuation of 4,000 people and destroyed 11,000 acres of land. Meanwhile, California in the US has seen a series of blazes.

These extreme heat events are part of a disturbing trend. The EU's climate monitoring service, Copernicus, reports that last month was the hottest June ever recorded. The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) warns that such extreme weather, a consequence of climate change, is becoming the "new normal." These intense heat periods are becoming more frequent, severe, and prolonged due to global warming.

This trend is not confined to Europe. In the US, heat advisories have been issued for almost a third of the population, approximately 113 million people. The National Weather Service (NWS) is urging people to take the life-threatening risk seriously. The CDC estimates that heat-related causes result in around 700 deaths annually in the US.

Scientists attribute the rising temperatures to climate change and El Niño, a naturally occurring weather pattern. The world has already warmed by about 1.1°C since the industrial era began. Paolo Ceppi, a climate scientist at Imperial College London, links the increased incidence of extreme weather to these higher global temperatures.

As the world endures the twin heatwaves of Cerberus and Charon, it's clear that this is more than just a summer heatwave - it's a wake-up call. The future is here, and it's hotter than ever. It's a stark reminder that it's time for the world to pay attention to the escalating climate crisis.

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Hollywood is currently grappling with its most significant labor disruption in over six decades. This strike, involving actors, screenwriters, and other industry professionals, has the potential to impact major films currently in production, including anticipated sequels of Avatar and Gladiator. High-profile figures such as Jason Sudeikis and Susan Sarandon are among the thousands who have joined the picket lines, refusing to participate in or promote films.

The strike was triggered when the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), which represents approximately 160,000 performers, accused the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) of failing to offer a fair deal. This followed a breakdown in contract negotiations, leading to demonstrations outside the offices of major studios and streaming services across various cities.

However, this labor dispute extends beyond actors. It also involves 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) who have been on strike since May 2, voicing concerns over pay, working conditions, and the industry's increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI).

The strike's repercussions are already evident across the industry. Red-carpet premieres, promotional interviews, and events such as the Emmys and Comic-Con have been halted, rescheduled, or scaled back. Additionally, upcoming seasons of popular shows like Stranger Things, Family Guy, and The Simpsons are likely to be affected.

This labor dispute is partly driven by the transition to the digital streaming era and broader technological changes. Both writers and actors have reported declining earnings due to inflation undercutting contracts. For actors, pay for individual roles has decreased, necessitating more roles to maintain previous income levels. Writing contracts have also become shorter and more precarious, often excluding payment for work on revisions or new material.

The strike, anticipated to last for months, could pose significant challenges for cinemas and limit new content for viewers. However, the participants have garnered support from various quarters, including President Joe Biden and Oscar-winning actor George Clooney.

While the SAG's sister union in the UK, Equity, continues to operate normally due to UK employment laws, it remains vigilant against attempts to relocate US productions to the UK. Numerous high-profile actors, including Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, and Joaquin Phoenix, have expressed their support for the strike.

The key issues of the strike are residuals and the ownership of an actor's likeness if replicated by AI. Streaming has altered the way films and shows are presented, complicating traditional methods of assessing value. The AMPTP proposed a solution regarding AI, but SAG's chief negotiator, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, rejected it.

As this landmark strike continues, the world watches with anticipation. The future of the industry, the fate of upcoming films and shows, and the livelihoods of thousands of professionals hang in the balance. This off-screen drama serves as a stark reminder that sometimes, the most captivating stories are those that occur behind the scenes.

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The world stands on the brink of a new frontier in mining, with the potential to extract battery metals such as manganese and nickel from the deep sea. This method has been touted as a potential alternative source of metals that could avoid terrestrial habitat destruction. However, as the International Seabed Authority, a United Nations observer organization, deliberates on regulations for this emerging industry, Canada has joined nearly 20 other countries including Ireland and Switzerland, in calling for a pause on deep-sea mining due to environmental concerns.

The Canadian government's opposition to deep-sea mining was expressed by the ministers responsible for foreign affairs, natural resources, and fisheries and oceans departments. They emphasized the necessity for a comprehensive understanding of the environmental impacts of seabed mining and a robust regulatory framework before such activities are permitted. This aligns with Canada's previous declaration in February that it would not authorize deep-sea mining in domestic waters due to the absence of a legal framework for issuing permits.

The cautionary stance taken by Canada and other countries is supported by warnings from the scientific community. The European Academies Science Advisory Council, in June, cautioned about the "dire consequences" for marine ecosystems if deep-sea mining proceeds unregulated. Concerns include sediment plumes, noise, vibration, light pollution, and potential spills of fuels and chemicals used in mining. Furthermore, a deep-sea mining test in February raised additional questions about the industry's safeguards and potential impacts on ecosystems.

This opposition is also shared by several European nations, environmental organizations, and companies such as BMW, Volvo, and Samsung, which have pledged not to use deep-sea minerals in their products. Seafood groups representing a third of the world's tuna trade, and even some early seabed mining supporters like Maersk and Lockheed Martin, have been divesting from their deep-sea mining investments.

Despite the opposition, some proponents argue that deep-sea mining is a less destructive source of materials vital for the energy transition. Norway has recently permitted deep-sea mining in its waters. Additionally, The Metals Co., a prospective deep-sea miner, and Nauru, have prompted the International Seabed Authority to create a mining code within two years. Although this deadline expired on July 9 this year, The Metals Co. stated it would wait for a comprehensive set of regulations before submitting a mining application.

As the International Seabed Authority convenes this week to discuss potential regulations, the future of deep-sea mining remains uncertain. Key issues such as royalties, environmental standards, and benefits sharing are yet to be agreed upon, with a full mining code not expected until the October meeting.

In the interim, some environmental advocates, like Susanna Fuller, vice-president of conservation and projects at Oceans North, argue for improved recycling of rare earth metals before resorting to deep-sea mining. As we approach this new frontier, the decisions made will have far-reaching implications for our planet's future. The deep-sea mining dilemma underscores the need for careful consideration in our pursuit of progress, to ensure the protection of our most valuable resource – the Earth itself.

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The summer of 2023 was not just a scorching season but a historical one, with temperatures reaching the highest in 100,000 years during the first week of July, as reported by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). This was not a standalone incident but the climax of a warming trend dating back to the mid-1800s, with the world's average temperature increasing by nearly 1.2 C. This rise in temperature has intensified heatwaves, droughts, and storms.

The heatwave was amplified by climate change and the early stages of the El Nino weather pattern, a natural cycle that contributes to global heating. This resulted in the warmest June ever recorded, with severe consequences for ecosystems and the environment. The oceans, which absorb most of the planet-warming gases, experienced record-breaking temperatures, disrupting weather patterns, damaging aquatic life, and affecting vital planetary systems.

Countries worldwide are feeling the effects of these heatwaves and droughts, with Spain suffering a drought and severe heatwaves hitting China and the United States. Southern Iraq endured its most severe heatwave in 40 years, with the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization warning of potential devastation to the ecosystem, local farmers, and fisheries. Texas is under a persistent 'heat dome', with warm air trapped in the atmosphere.

The Canadian Ministry of Natural Resources reported over 670 wildfires in the last week, impacting more than 100 million people in Canada and the neighboring United States. Last year's unprecedented summer heat in Europe resulted in over 61,000 deaths, mainly among those over 80 and women, due to heat-related health complications.

China's situation mirrors this global trend. The country's average summer temperature, coastal sea levels, and permafrost active layer thickness have reached new peaks. The eight-year period from 2015-2022 was the warmest on record in China, with the country registering 3,501 extreme heat events in 2022 alone, the highest number since 1961.

Despite these concerning trends, efforts are underway to address the situation. China has initiated emergency plans focusing on accurate forecasting and predictions. Simultaneously, scientists are proposing the Anthropocene Epoch, a new geological time period recognizing human impacts on the planet.

Crawford Lake in Ontario, Canada, is being proposed as a key site that records humanity's effects on Earth. Its sediments have captured fallout from intense fossil fuel burning and plutonium from bomb tests. The Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) has been working for a decade to establish whether the geological time chart should be updated to include this epoch, with a proposed start date in the 1950s.

In conclusion, the escalating heatwaves and droughts are alarming indicators of climate change spiraling out of control, as stated by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. However, by acknowledging our impact on the planet and taking steps to mitigate further damage, we can work towards a future where such extreme weather events are the exception rather than the norm.

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The geopolitical chess game of alliances and strategies continues to evolve, with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently agreeing to support Sweden's bid to join NATO. This unexpected development, announced by NATO's chief Jens Stoltenberg, signals a significant shift in Turkey's stance, which had previously blocked Sweden's application due to accusations of hosting Kurdish militants. However, Sweden has since taken substantial measures to address Turkey's security concerns, including constitutional amendments, expansion of counter-terrorism operations against the Kurdistan Workers' Party, and the resumption of arms exports to Turkey.

Erdogan's support for Sweden's NATO bid is contingent on the European Union reopening frozen membership talks with Ankara, a proposition that EU officials have so far rejected. Despite this, NATO has confirmed that Sweden would back efforts to "reinvigorate Turkey's EU accession process". Turkey's journey towards EU membership, initiated in 1987, has been fraught with challenges and delays due to Turkey's increasing authoritarian tendencies.

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine continues to strain relations between NATO and Russia. The recent two-day NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, highlighted Ukraine's bid for membership, although all alliance members concur that Ukraine cannot join NATO amidst active warfare with Russia. On the battlefield, Ukrainian artillery troops are reportedly outmatched, with their adversaries using significantly more ammunition daily. Essential supplies from allies, including cluster munitions from the US, have been vital for Ukraine in this conflict.

Ukrainians view NATO membership as a potential deterrent to Russia and a path towards ending the war. While acknowledging the need for reforms to meet NATO's membership requirements, Ukrainians are seeking clearer and more concrete assurances from the alliance. However, some NATO members are wary of offering too much to Ukraine, fearing potential engagement in a war with Russia.

Adding to the complexity of the situation, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has deployed his Akhmat military unit to Bakhmut, an eastern Ukrainian city where fighting has intensified. Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar confirmed Kadyrov’s account of heavy fighting around Bakhmut.

US President Joe Biden's decision to supply Ukraine with cluster bombs has elicited mixed reactions. While Ukraine's leader commended the move as "timely", it was criticized by UK's Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and Spain's Defence Minister, Margarita Robles.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently met with Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the mercenary group, the Wagner Group, following an unsuccessful mutiny last month. The Wagner Group, a private army, has been fighting alongside the regular Russian army in Ukraine since the invasion last year.

As the world closely observes the unfolding NATO summit, the stakes are high in this intricate web of alliances, negotiations, and conflicts. The hope is for resolutions that will bring peace and stability to the regions impacted by these geopolitical complexities.

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In an announcement made on the eve of the NATO summit in Lithuania, the Biden administration revealed its decision to supply Ukraine with thousands of cluster bombs. These weapons, which disperse smaller bomblets over a large area, have been banned by over two-thirds of NATO members due to their history of causing civilian casualties. Despite this, the US views these munitions as a critical tool in bolstering Ukraine's offensive capabilities and penetrating Russian front lines.

The cluster bombs being sent to Ukraine are of a version with a reduced "dud rate," indicating that less than 3% of the smaller bomblets fail to explode. This decision is part of a larger €730 million package of military aid from the US, which also includes Bradley and Stryker armored vehicles and various types of ammunition. The last significant deployment of cluster bombs by the US was during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, with the weapons also playing a pivotal role during the 2001 Afghanistan invasion.

Meanwhile, there's a growing concern over the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, seized by Russian forces earlier in 2022. Reports indicate that the facility may have been mined by the occupying forces, with "objects resembling explosives" found on two blocks of the power plant. Experts warn that a leak could cause the plant's cooling water, which can reach 280 degrees Celsius, to evaporate, leaving a mere 27-hour window to prevent radiation from escaping. Any detonation within Zaporizhzhia's cooling system could potentially result in a disaster akin to Fukushima, Japan.

In another twist, Yevgeny Prigozhin, the chief of the Wagner mercenary group, was confirmed to be in Russia, contradicting earlier reports of his presence in Belarus. Prigozhin has instigated a rebellion against Russia's military leadership, marking a significant challenge to President Vladimir Putin's authority. This internal conflict has further divided Russia's anti-Kremlin opposition, with figures such as exiled former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky backing Prigozhin.

The US's controversial decision to provide Ukraine with cluster munitions, the potential nuclear threat at Zaporizhzhia, and the internal discord within Russia's opposition contribute to an increasingly complex and volatile geopolitical landscape. The choices made in the coming days will undoubtedly shape the trajectory of this conflict, potentially leaving lasting impacts on international relations and the lives of numerous civilians.

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The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a century-old dispute over land possession, has taken a dramatic turn with the Israeli army conducting its largest operation in the West Bank in nearly two decades. The operation, codenamed House and Garden, targeted the Jenin refugee camp, a stronghold for various armed Palestinian factions and home to 14,000 Palestinian refugees. The operation, which spanned from Monday to Wednesday, saw the deployment of intense ground and aerial forces.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) successfully dismantled six explosives manufacturing facilities and three situation rooms, seizing a significant cache of weaponry. Despite the loss of an Israeli soldier, the IDF hailed the operation as an "extensive counterterrorism effort". It involved 15 air raids, a ground invasion with 150 armoured military vehicles, and the deployment of 1,000 elite special forces. Palestinian officials reported 12 fatalities and over 100 injuries.

This operation marks a significant shift in Israeli tactics towards the growing cross-factional Palestinian resistance. The last major assault on the Jenin camp occurred in April 2002, resulting in 52 Palestinian deaths over 10 days. Over the past six months, the Israeli army has conducted five major raids on the camp.

Following the operation, the camp's infrastructure lay in ruins, with the Palestine Red Crescent Society evacuating about 3,000 people. The Israeli army justified its incursion into the Jenin camp, citing over 50 attacks launched from there.

Despite international efforts to implement a two-state solution, the last attempt collapsed in 2014, and the conflict has only escalated since then. Frequent confrontations have become the norm, and there are concerns that the situation could spread across the rest of the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli army is now focusing on tracking and destroying weapons and explosives in the Jenin camp. Public security minister Itamar Ben Gvir drew a parallel between the conflicts in Jenin and Tel Aviv, underscoring the interconnected nature of the issue.

The operation has left a significant impact on the inhabitants of the region. Hundreds of families, like that of Fatina al-Ghoul, are returning to their homes in ruins. Local hospitals are struggling to cope with the aftermath of the fighting, and residents are in dire need of basic necessities such as drinking water, food, and shelter. The Palestinian foreign ministry has condemned the operation as an "open war against the people of Jenin".

As the conflict potentially enters a more violent phase, with plans to expand Jewish settlements on occupied land, tensions are rising. Discontent is growing among Palestinians with their leaders in the Palestinian Authority. The world watches on as the path to peace becomes increasingly fraught, but the hope for resolution persists.

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In the post-Cold War era, the simmering tensions between East and West are often overlooked. However, recent events have served as a stark reminder of these persisting frictions. On Tuesday, Russia's Defense Ministry reported the interception of five Ukrainian drones near Moscow, an incident that caused disruptions at Moscow's Vnukovo International Airport and was labeled a "terrorist act". The drones were intercepted across the Kaluga region, the town of Kubinka, and the village of Valuevo, without any reported casualties or damage.

Drone attacks have become a recurrent issue in Russia following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Notably, the capital city of Moscow was subjected to a large-scale drone attack on May 30, following an alleged assassination attempt on President Vladimir Putin by Kyiv on May 3.

In response to these escalating tensions, NATO is planning its most significant military restructuring since the Cold War. The alliance's planning system shakeup is set to be endorsed by US President Joe Biden and his NATO counterparts at a summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, next week. Concurrently, China's defense minister, Li Shangfu, is advocating for strengthened military relations with Russia through increased military exchanges, joint exercises, and other forms of cooperation.

However, the drone attacks are not exclusively directed at Russia. Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, was targeted by a Russian drone attack on Sunday, marking the first such attack in 12 days. Despite Russia's claims of repelling Ukrainian attacks near Bakhmut and further south, Ukrainian forces have managed to reclaim 37.4 km sq of territory in the past week.

The conflict in Ukraine has also attracted the involvement of mercenaries. In a surprising turn of events, the Wagner Group, a mercenary outfit, staged an insurrection against the Russian government, seizing military sites and marching on Moscow. In exchange for halting the uprising, the Kremlin agreed not to prosecute the Wagner fighters or their leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin. The repercussions of this mutiny and the subsequent agreement with the Wagner Group remain uncertain.

Amid the military tensions, there are mounting humanitarian concerns. Russia has reportedly relocated approximately 700,000 children from Ukraine to its territory, a move that Ukraine and the US have criticized as illegal. The US estimates that Russia "forcibly deported" 260,000 children in July 2022 alone.

As the conflict continues, frontline soldiers are bearing the brunt. Ukrainian officer, Major Spartanets, criticized the French-provided AMX-10 RC tanks as unsuitable for frontline attacks due to their light armor. The Major reported instances where shrapnel from shell explosions pierced the tanks' light armor, causing casualties. Conversely, he praised the armor of the American Oshkosh and British Husky light transport vehicles supplied to Kyiv for their ability to withstand improvised explosive devices and ambushes.

In conclusion, Eastern Europe is grappling with escalating tensions characterized by drone attacks, military maneuvers, and mercenary involvement. As political leaders navigate these turbulent times, the civilians and frontline soldiers are the most affected. With no clear end in sight, hopes for a peaceful resolution to this ongoing crisis remain.

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The Southern US, particularly Texas, experienced a lethal heatwave on June 17th, with temperatures reaching an unbearable 119F (48C). This extreme heat, which resulted in several deaths, was caused by a "heat dome," a ridge of high pressure that traps hot ocean air over a region. The heat dome, likened to a lid over a boiling pot, combined with an unusually warm Gulf of Mexico and the timing around the summer solstice, led to this extreme heat, explained John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas State Climatologist and director of the Southern Regional Climate Centre at Texas A&M University.

This alarming event is not isolated and is a clear indicator of the escalating impacts of climate change. Over the past century, Texas has warmed between half and one degree Fahrenheit, a subtle change with significant implications. If this trend persists, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) predicts a three to four-fold increase in days per year above 100F (38C) in Texas by the end of the century.

The human toll of such heatwaves is devastating, with extreme heat being the deadliest natural hazard in the US. Particularly vulnerable are children and adults over 65. In 2022 alone, heat-related illnesses claimed more than 275 lives in Texas, with the current heat dome causing at least a dozen deaths in Texas and Louisiana. A 2010 study revealed that a "wet-bulb" temperature of 95F (35C) at 100% humidity, or 115F at 50% humidity, marks the threshold where the human body struggles to maintain a healthy core temperature, increasing the risk of heat-related illnesses.

The economic implications are equally significant. Infrastructure upgrades to cope with future heatwaves come with a hefty price tag, with an estimated cost of US$66.5 bn (£52.7bn) for improving wind and solar resources in Texas by 2030.

Future projections are equally concerning. A 2021 report by Rutgers University suggests that three degrees of global warming could put 1.2 billion people at risk of heat stress annually. By 2070, four million Americans could be living outside "the ideal niche for human life," according to a joint effort between ProPublica and The New York Times.

The recent Texas heatwave is a stark reminder of the increasing frequency and intensity of global extreme heat events due to human-induced climate change. Over the past three weeks, a high-pressure ridge has caused temperatures to rise above 48C (120F) in parts of southern US and Mexico. Over 40 million people, including residents of Houston, San Antonio, and Austin, have been under excessive heat warnings.

The heatwave has strained Texas's energy grid due to increased air conditioner use. The burning of fossil fuels has made such extreme heatwaves at least five times more likely, according to Climate Central, a climate science non-profit. Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University, emphasizes the unusual early arrival of such extreme heat, making this one of the hottest Junes ever recorded in southern Texas.

Michael Wehner, a climate and extreme weather expert at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, estimated that human-caused global warming made the Texas heatwave around 2.7C (5F) hotter. He warns, "Dangerous climate change is here, now." The current heatwave has not only claimed lives but also strained power grids, with power outages exacerbating the risks in cities like Memphis, where tens of thousands of residents remain without power following storms.

In conclusion, the recent Texas heatwave is a chilling reminder of the escalating impacts of climate change and a call to action to address its root causes. As we prepare for a future where such extreme heat events become increasingly common, the heat dome may have lifted, but the issue remains a burning concern.

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In an era where pandemics have become a reality, the discovery of a genetic defense against bird flu by scientists from the University of Glasgow is a significant development. Bird flus, since 1918, have triggered four pandemics, including the infamous 1918 flu pandemic, which claimed approximately 50 million lives. This pandemic, like the others, is believed to have originated from birds.

The scientists identified a segment of our genetic code, BTN3A3, which serves as a defense mechanism against bird flus. BTN3A3 becomes active in our nasal passages, throat, and lungs upon detection of an infection. This activation impedes the replication of bird flus, effectively thwarting their invasion. This defense mechanism has proven effective against most bird flus, preventing them from transitioning to humans.

However, all pandemic viruses to date have evolved to resist BTN3A3, allowing them to bypass this defense and infect humans. This was the case with the H7N9 bird flu, which developed heightened resistance to BTN3A3 in 2011 and 2012, leading to the first human cases in 2013.

Currently, the world's bird populations are grappling with the largest bird flu outbreak ever recorded, attributed to the H5N1 virus. Over half of the virus samples from birds and all seven human cases detected this year have demonstrated resistance to BTN3A3. This underscores that the ability to resist BTN3A3 is but one facet of the virus's threat to human health.

The research team, spearheaded by Prof Massimo Palmarini, director of the Centre for Virus Research in Glasgow, plans to routinely analyze the genetic code of flus circulating in birds. The objective is to identify and neutralize the dangerous strains before they can trigger a pandemic. Prof Palmarini is optimistic that this research will allow for accurate predictions of which viruses are likely to cross over to humans in the future.

The World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) has been dedicated to enhancing global animal health since 1924. They supervise various programs aimed at improving Veterinary and Aquatic Animal Health Services. Avian influenza, or 'bird flu', is a significant concern for WOAH due to its implications for the poultry industry, farmer’s livelihoods, international trade, and the health of wild birds.

Avian influenza is a highly infectious viral disease affecting both domestic and wild birds, and occasionally, mammalian species, including humans. The disease, caused by viruses divided into multiple subtypes such as H5N1, H5N3, H5N8, is spread through direct contact with secretions from infected birds or contaminated feed and water.

From 2005 to 2020, avian influenza resulted in the death or culling of 246 million poultry. During this period, humans have been sporadically infected with subtypes H5N1, H7N9, H5N6, with infrequent cases reported with subtypes H7N7 and H9N2.

WOAH has established international standards on avian influenza, providing a framework for effective surveillance and control measures. Through the OFFLU network, WOAH collaborates with partners to assess the risks of avian influenza viruses and offer guidance to the international community.

In conclusion, while bird flu remains a significant threat to both human and animal health, the discovery of our genetic defense and the relentless efforts of organizations like WOAH offer a ray of hope. As we continue to decode the mysteries of our genetic code and enhance our surveillance and control measures, we edge closer to a future where pandemics are relegated to history.

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Our planet is at a critical juncture with over 20% of our ecosystems on the brink of collapse, a worrying reality underscored by the intricate web of life under threat. This is not a mere environmental issue but a matter of survival for all species, including humans. The combined effects of human-induced stresses and climate change are accelerating this potential ecosystem collapse, a reality brought to light by the research of John Dearing, Gregory Cooper, and Simon Willcock.

Their study, published in Nature Sustainability in June 2023, utilized computer models to simulate future ecosystem behavior in response to changes. Focusing on forests and lake water quality, along with the Chilika lagoon fishery in Odisha, India, and Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean, the team conducted over 70,000 simulations. The alarming results suggested that the confluence of stress and extreme weather events could hasten ecosystem tipping points by 30-80%, potentially leading to collapses expected later this century occurring within the next few decades.

Interestingly, the study found that around 15% of ecosystem collapses in the simulations were triggered by new stresses or extreme events, even while the main stress remained constant. This underscores the importance of the speed at which stress is applied in determining system collapse. Unlike economic systems, collapsed ecosystems cannot be immediately restored with natural capital, highlighting the absence of ecological bailouts.

The research also questioned the accuracy of conventional modeling approaches in estimating the impact of climate and human activities on ecosystems. It revealed that while ecosystem collapses occur sooner under increasing primary stress, additional stresses and/or noise significantly expedite these collapses. This aligns with the UK Chief Scientist, John Beddington's prediction of a 'perfect storm' of global events by 2030 and the concept of 'cascades of collapse', where Earth's ecosystems rapidly destabilize.

Despite a global decrease in birth rates and an increase in renewable energy generation, population, greenhouse gas concentrations, and economic drivers continue to trend upwards. This is coupled with an increased frequency and magnitude of erratic events such as heatwaves and precipitation extremes, consistent with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report.

The report warns that multiple climate hazards will occur simultaneously, and multiple climatic and non-climatic risks will interact, resulting in compounded overall risk and cascading risks across sectors and regions. There is a looming danger that many tipping points, including the collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, die-off of low-latitude coral reefs, and widespread abrupt permafrost thaw, could be triggered within the Paris Agreement range of 1.5 to 2 °C warming.

In conclusion, the research by Dearing, Cooper, and Willcock serves as a stark wake-up call. The combined effects of human activities and climate change could accelerate the collapse of our ecosystems, potentially triggering a catastrophic chain reaction of ecosystem collapses, an "ecological doom-loop". The urgency of the situation cannot be overstated, and immediate action is required to prevent a catastrophic collapse of our planet's ecosystems. Our survival, and that of our planet, hinges on our response.

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Last week was a pivotal period in the ongoing Ukraine-Russia conflict, characterized by deadly missile strikes, a rebellion within the Russian military, and significant progress made by Ukrainian forces.

On a tragic Tuesday evening, a missile strike by Russian forces devastated the city of Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine, claiming the lives of eight people, including three children. The strike occurred at 19:30 local time, impacting a busy restaurant and shopping area, and causing substantial damage to nearby apartment buildings. Among the 56 injured were an eight-month-old baby, three foreigners, and a 17-year-old girl. This attack is one in a series that has targeted Kramatorsk since the Russian invasion began in February 2022.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the White House both condemned the attack. Zelensky stated that the strike proved Russia deserved "only defeat and a tribunal", reflecting the White House's condemnation of Russia's "brutal strikes" on Ukraine.

Simultaneously, a rebellion was stirring within the Russian military. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the private army group Wagner, led a mutiny against the Russian government, protesting against government plans to take direct control of Wagner and defense officials' errors during the war with Ukraine. This rebellion, which was halted near Moscow to prevent bloodshed, revealed significant security issues within Russia. Although quelled without overthrowing President Vladimir Putin, it led to Putin's vow to bring the revolt's organizers to justice and his accusation of the West's desire for bloodshed in Russia. US President Joe Biden denied any involvement in the rebellion.

On the Ukrainian front, there were notable victories. According to the UK's Ministry of Defence, Ukrainian forces likely reclaimed territory occupied by Russia since 2014, making headway near the Russian-occupied village of Krasnohorivka, near Donetsk. The US pledged an additional $500 million in military aid to Ukraine, including more than 50 heavily armoured vehicles and missiles for air defense systems.

The United Nations reported widespread and systematic torture of civilians by Russian forces in Ukraine, including summary executions, with over 900 cases of arbitrary detention. Ukrainian forces were also reported to have detained 75 people, some of which were enforced disappearances. More than half of those detained by Ukrainian forces reported being tortured or mistreated.

As the tumultuous week concluded, the future of the conflict remains uncertain. The upheaval within the Russian military and the significant advances by Ukrainian forces could potentially alter the power dynamics in the ongoing conflict. The world continues to observe, hoping for a peaceful resolution to a conflict that has already caused immense suffering.

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A recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has discovered that dolphin mothers use a high-pitched baby talk when communicating with their young ones. This fascinating finding not only adds to our understanding of the complex social lives of these intelligent marine mammals but also highlights the similarities between dolphins and humans in terms of how we communicate with our offspring.

Dolphins are known for their unique and complex communication skills, which include a signature whistle that each individual uses, similar to calling out their own name. Researchers recorded the signature whistles of 19 mother bottlenose dolphins in Florida's Sarasota Bay and found that the mother's whistle pitch is higher and her pitch range is greater when directed at her calves. The data for this study were collected over more than three decades using special microphones on wild dolphin mothers in the area.

The study was co-authored by Laela Sayigh from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Peter Tyack from the University of St Andrews, and Frants Jensen from Aarhus University. They focused on the bottlenose dolphin population in Sarasota, Florida, where dolphin calves stay with their mothers for an average of three years. This extended period of bonding allows the researchers to study the communication between mother and calf more thoroughly.

Baby talk, or motherese, is a common phenomenon in the animal kingdom. It is believed to help offspring learn to pronounce novel sounds or catch their attention. For example, humans use a higher pitch and exaggerated intonation when talking to babies, which is thought to help them learn the language more effectively. Similarly, the high-pitched baby talk used by dolphin mothers could serve a similar purpose in helping their calves learn to vocalize the many sounds needed for effective communication.

However, it remains unclear if dolphins use this baby talk for other exchanges or if it actually helps their offspring learn to "talk." Further research is needed to determine the exact purpose and benefits of this unique form of communication among dolphins. So, the next time you find yourself cooing at a baby, remember that you might not be the only species using baby talk to connect with the younger generation.

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Kenya and the European Union (EU) have signed a trade deal, the EU-Kenya Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), which guarantees duty-free entry for Kenyan agricultural products into the EU market. This agreement will allow Kenya to export €1.2 billion ($1.31 billion) worth of mainly agricultural products to the 27-member bloc, significantly impacting the country's economy since 70% of Kenya's total flower production is sold in Europe.

The deal is the first broad trade agreement between the EU and an African nation since a similar agreement with Ghana in 2016. Kenya will gradually and partially open its market to European goods, with tariffs reduced over a 25-year period. Trade relations between the EU and Kenya have grown by 27% from 2018 to 2022.

As part of the commitment to sustainable growth, Kenya has agreed to enforce binding commitments related to environmental protection, climate action, fighting gender inequality, and strengthening labor rights. Kenya has also signed a trade deal with the United Kingdom in December 2020 and is currently negotiating with the United States and the United Arab Emirates.

In a separate development, South Africa, the Netherlands, and Denmark have launched a $1 billion green hydrogen fund to fight climate change. South Africa's energy transition plan includes setting up an export hub for green hydrogen, which is renewable energy produced without greenhouse gas emissions. The Netherlands and Denmark have expressed their support for South Africa's efforts and plan to contribute to the country's renewable energy, hydrogen, and infrastructure development.

The Kenya-EU trade agreement ensures duty-free and quota-free access for Kenyan goods to the EU, while EU imports to Kenya will receive progressive tariff reductions over 25 years, with some sensitive products excluded. Kenya's main exports to the EU are agricultural products, including vegetables, fruits, tea, coffee, and cut flowers. The EU's Global Gateway initiative aims to increase investments in Kenya by hundreds of millions of dollars, countering China's Belt and Road program.

This deal is the culmination of trade talks between the EU and the East African Community (EAC) that started a decade ago, and the agreement is open for other EAC members to join. Partnerships like these are essential for fostering sustainable growth, promoting fair trade practices, and combating climate change. With the signing of this landmark trade agreement, Kenya and the EU have set a positive example for other countries to follow, paving the way for a greener and more equitable future.

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The European Union (EU) has imposed an 11th round of sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, targeting the transit of goods and technology for military use through Russia and the sale of sensitive dual-use goods and technology to countries potentially reselling to Russia. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the sanctions package, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed concerns about the slower-than-desired counteroffensive against Russian forces.

Germany has announced an additional €381 million ($416 million) in humanitarian aid for Ukraine, and the EU will add €3.5 billion ($3.8 billion) to a fund for weapons for Ukraine. The UK's Ministry of Defence reports that Russia is building defensive lines in Crimea, and the International Ukraine Recovery Conference held in London saw over 60 countries attending, with Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmygal estimating the rebuilding cost at $750 billion.

The situation in Ukraine has been exacerbated by the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam in southern Ukraine on June 6th, causing flooding and a rising death toll, now at 41. Satellite images show four canal networks disconnected from the reservoir, which held 18 cubic kilometers of water before drying up. The loss of water from these canals is critical for food production in the region, as they yielded about two million tonnes of grain and oil seeds in 2021. The destruction of the dam has had a "huge impact on global food security," as Ukraine is a major exporter of sunflower, maize, wheat, and barley.

Tensions within Russia have escalated between the Russian military and the Wagner mercenary group, headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin. Prigozhin has accused Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu of ordering a rocket strike on Wagner's field camps in Ukraine, and the Russian National Anti-Terrorism Committee has opened a criminal inquiry on charges of making calls for a military coup. In response, Russia's Federal Security Agency (FSB) has filed criminal charges against Prigozhin, punishable by 12 to 20 years in prison.

The feud between the Wagner Group and the Russian military leadership has led to increased security measures in Moscow and other Russian cities. Prigozhin has vowed to topple Russia's military leadership, claiming that Wagner's forces have entered the southern Rostov region, where Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu is located. However, the Russian Defense Ministry has denied these claims and called on Wagner fighters to lay down their arms.

As tensions continue to rise within Russia and between Russia and the EU, the situation in Ukraine remains precarious. The United Nations has placed Russian forces on its annual blacklist for violating children's rights in Ukraine, attributing 136 child deaths in the country in 2022 to Russian forces and affiliated groups. Despite the ongoing conflict, Ukraine remains on course towards opening EU membership talks, while the international community continues to monitor the situation and provide support for the beleaguered nation.

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