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PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2015 7:11 am 
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Chinese vessels approach islets disputed with Japan
28 May 2015
By Girlie Linao

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Living on edge at Philippines' South China Sea frontline - © dpa

Tokyo (dpa) - Three Chinese coast guard ships on Thursday entered what Japan considers its territorial waters near a group of disputed islets in the East China Sea, Japanese media reported.

The Japan Coast Guard spotted the three ships near the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands around 10 am (0100 GMT), Kyodo News agency reported. A Japanese patrol ship urged the Chinese ships not to approach Japan's waters, but they responded by saying the Chinese laws should be observed, Kyodo reported, citing Japanese coast guard officials.

China and Taiwan also claim the uninhabited islets, calling them Diaoyu and Tiaoyutai, respectively. Japan purchased three of the islets in September 2012, which set off protests in dozens of Chinese cities and a boycott of Japanese products.

Source: dpa.

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 25, 2015 6:35 pm 
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Theft of copper cable causes major disruption on NYC subways
By Karen Matthews
May 27, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) -- Subway service was disrupted for hundreds of thousands of commuters Wednesday because of a massive theft of copper cable from train tracks, transit officials said.

The theft of 500 feet of cable forced the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to suspend train service entirely between the Rockaway Boulevard and Broad Channel stations in Queens and replace it with shuttle buses during the morning rush. The cable was stolen from about 12 locations along the tracks, the MTA said. The crime caused delays and overcrowding along the entire length of the heavily used A and C lines, which carry 775,000 riders a day, the MTA said.

The theft was discovered late Tuesday when a train lost power north of the Howard Beach station in Queens. Crews brought in a train behind it, and an estimated 150 passengers had to walk through the trains to get back to the station. "We are working closely with the NYPD Transit Bureau to help them investigate this crime and identify the culprits responsible," New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco said.

A state lawmaker who represents the area where the thefts occurred wrote to MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast demanding an investigation. "I am alarmed by reported security breaches along the A train and the failure to put in place effective alternative travel plans for our families," Assemblyman Philip Goldfeder said. Service was partially restored by late morning, but the MTA said trains would be replaced by shuttle buses again Wednesday night for repair work.

Thefts of copper to be sold as scrap have plagued railroads and utilities across the country. Copper was trading for about $2.80 a pound Wednesday.

More than a dozen employees of the MTA's Long Island Rail Road were arrested in 2013 on charges they conspired to sell $250,000 worth of copper wire over a three-year period. People prosecuted for copper theft in New York state can be sentenced to 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison or more for grand larceny.

Source: Yahoo! AP

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 05, 2015 5:23 am 
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Coordinated protests hit Socfin plantations in four countries
by Greg Norman
June 5, 2015

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Protesters demonstrate in front of Bolloré’s headquarters near Paris calling on the multinational conglomerate to return land, or compensate farmers, over disputed concessions for plantations in Cambodia and three African countries yesterday. Bollore is the largest shareholder of Socfin, which has been accused by activists of land grabs in Cambodia, Liberia, Cameroon and Ivory Coast. Photo: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP

Such is the breadth and variety of French multinational Bolloré's holdings that some who attended its general meeting yesterday might not have been aware it invested in oil palm.

They likely are now, however, after arriving at company headquarters west of Paris to find protesters gathered calling for thousands of local people to have their land returned to them near oil palm and rubber plantations in several African and Asian countries run by Socfin, a Belgian concern with origins in the Belgian Congo. Bolloré holds a 39 percent stake in the company.

One banner read, "We do not have any land left in our own countries, we come today to sow the Cassava on your lawn Mr Bolloré." It was a reference to founder Vincent Bolloré, whose company employs 28,000 people worldwide.

Similar scenes greeted Socfin shareholders last week as they arrived for their general meeting in Luxembourg. Local NGOs held the demonstrations under the umbrella of ReAct, a French NGO that helps communities involved in conflicts with multinational corporations.

Since April, communities and activists in Cameroon, Cambodia, Liberia and the Ivory Coast have also staged direct protest actions against subsidiaries of Socfin, one of the world's largest independent plantation owners with 150,000 hectares of rubber and oil palm in several African and Southeast Asian countries. The company has faced criticism over its operations in the past, particularly in Africa, where many local communities say its plantations are built on land grabs, poor employment practices, pollution of the local environment and eviction of indigenous peoples.

The recent movement began in Dibombari in western Cameroon. On April 23, hundreds of local activists blocked the entrance to the Socapalm factory and plantation. The same tactic was deployed at a plantation in Mbongo several days later. Workers were prevented from carrying out their work, forcing operations shut for several days.

"Bolloré cashes in its Socfin dividends while shirking responsibility," said Emmanuel Elong, president of an international alliance of villages surrounding Socfin-Bolloré plantations established by ReAct in 2013. "We demand an international negotiation with Socfin and Bolloré to set an agenda to return our land and receive compensation as defined by our previous agreements."

Liberia became the next theater of engagement several weeks ago when residents of 11 villages surrounded the LAC rubber plantation near the town of Gbainfien and converged on company offices to confront management. Socfin has expanded its operations significantly in the area since 2008, but the grievances held by residents date far further back to when the company signed agreements with communities that promised compensation for their land and a raft of development projects such as schools and infrastructure.

"You have to remember this is now nearly 11 years and the company has not implemented a single thing," said Nathaniel Monway, a spokesperson for the communities, referring to the signing of the initial pact. "There was an agreement in place, land was taken, and now there has been nothing in return."

Protesters such as Monway insist their actions are entirely peaceful. But violent land disputes are not uncommon in African countries and the actions against Socfin and Bolloré have sometimes threatened to spiral out of control.

Thousands of miles away in Cambodia last week, about 100 ethnic Bunong in Mondulkiri province gathered outside Socfin's local offices demanding their ancestral lands be returned. If these demands were not met within two weeks the farmers said they would burn down the company's rubber trees.

In January a Zimbabwean and Belgian employee were shot during a protest at a Socfin development in Sierra Leone. This threat of violence is one reason why Socfin has thus far refused to negotiate with some of the groups. In a response to the protests in Cameroon, the company released a statement complaining its operations had been "paralyzed" by the protests, that many of the villagers were armed with machetes and that their land claims were "lies" given that Socopalm plantations were established by the government decades ago.

Bolloré claims it attempted to start a reconciliation process via a meeting with local groups in Paris in October. Monway was unable to attend that meeting due to the Liberian ebola crisis. And the protesters later complained that Vincent Bolloré distanced himself from the problem by claiming that Socfin's majority shareholder, Hugo Fabri, was responsible for the majority of decisions.

Socfin and Bolloré are so far noticeably absent from the raft of commodity suppliers and traders that have committed to ambitious no-deforestation policies. They say they monitor irregularities in their plantations themselves, but NGOs say there is no reason why they should not sign a strict policy. Both companies are at present yielding little to demonstrators, but whether that will remain the case is unclear. Protesters hope the new tactic of coordinated international actions will soon bear fruit.

"We are hoping these actions will increase the international pressure on them," Monway said. "Eventually they will have to listen to us."

Source: Mongabay.

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 12, 2015 5:19 pm 
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China to start construction on reclaimed land in South China Sea
16 June 2015
By Joanna Chiu

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Beijing announces end to land reclamation in South China Sea - © Francis R. Malasig, EPA

Beijing (dpa) - China's land reclamation in the South China Sea will "be completed in the upcoming days," the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday, as the project has increased tensions in disputed areas.

China will now start to build facilities on the land, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said. "Apart from satisfying the need of necessary military defense, the main purpose of China's construction activities is to meet various civilian demands and ... better perform China's international obligations and responsibilities," he said. Those include search and rescue, disaster prevention, scientific research, meteorological observation, environmental conservation, navigation safety as well as fishing management, Lu said.

China has drawn criticism for building airstrips and buildings on reefs in parts of the South China Sea far beyond its shoreline, including in territories administrated by its neighbours. They include the Spratly Islands and the nearby Paracels, known to the Chinese as the Nansha and Xisha, respectively.

A US Department of Defense report on China's military power warned in May that emerging outposts on artificial islands could be used for surveillance systems, harbours, an airfield and logistical support. The Pentagon report said China had reclaimed 200 hectares as of late December.

Lu said construction on the Nansha islands and reefs was "lawful, reasonable and justified." He said China will "firmly work to safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests at the same time as ... working to resolve disputes through negotiation" with member states of the Association of South-East Asian Nations.

Source: dpa.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 13, 2015 6:29 am 
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Billionaires beef up in Australian bush
by Jemima Whyte
10 July 2015

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Growing demand for food from Asia is attracting Andrew Forrest and other rich investors to invest at agriculture. Peter Braig

Harold Mitchell is an unlikely poster-boy for an East Kimberly cattle station.

Inordinately proud of his tailored jackets, designer shoes and even his tracksuits, it's hard to imagine the energetic advertising entrepreneur, who usually resides in Melbourne's CBD, being all that comfortable on his 850,000 hectares in a remote corner of Western Australia. But he's certainly financially comfortable with the investment.

"It's a wonderful feeling and great asset to be involved in," he says of the Yougawalla Pastoral Company, which he bought in 2008 with APN Outdoor chair Doug Flynn and managers Jane and Haydn Sale. "But at the very core it's about the business, and it's paid off," Mitchell tells AFR Weekend from London's Euston Station, on his way to board the Eurostar to Paris. "The growth of Asia is just going to be incredible … the opportunity continues, though it will vary in its performance from year to year. You must think of the long term."

There's something afoot with Australia's wealthiest entrepeneurs and its rural sector. In the past month, Kerry Stokes bought a 3000 hectare station on South Australia's Kangaroo Island, significantly boosting his agricultural holdings with partner Peter Murray. It came just a week or so after cattle and horse investor Gerry Harvey bought into a 2000-hectare Coomboona Holsteins​ property in Victoria, one of the country's largest dairy farms and his first foray into the dairy industry. Andrew Forrest and Gina Rinehart, both long invested in agribusiness have also been expanding their non-mining empires; last year, Forrest's private company Minderoo bought Western Australia's largest beef processor Harvey Beef while Rinehart's bought a cattle property near Dubbo and dairy assets.

Brett Blundy, who has built a fortune with retail companies including Bras N Things, sheets and towels chain Adairs and jewellery retailer Diva, has also beefed up his agricultural holdings. He's now said to have almost as much invested in agribusiness as retail after last year buying a stake in the Northern Territory's Beetaloo​ Station for an estimated $40 million, in addition to his existing cattle stations OT Downs and Mungabroom​.

And Jack Cowin, who owns hamburger chain Hungry Jacks and was an investor in the country's largest single land and cattle producer at the time, Stanbroke Pastoral Company, says his private company is actively reviewing whether to buy into the sector and secure beef supply, though he hasn't made any offers yet. "We are large buyers of beef. We describe our business as a value-added meat business. Whether we stay there or backward integrate, it's all part of the process," he said. "I think what is happening is the long-awaited Asian food basket. Australia is one of the major export producers of beef. The question is what happens to the demand, supply and the product. Being in the business, we're obviously looking at it."

If that isn't enough to pique interest, one of the country's biggest agricultural portfolios S. Kidman & Co is on the sale block, while Mitchell's Yougawalla​ Pastoral Company and Consolidated Pastoral Company, the Northern Territory properties once owned by the Packer family and now backed by Guy Hands' private-equity outfit Terra Firma – are both seeking new investors.

S.Kidman & Co covers almost 11 million hectares (that's 1.4 per cent of Australia, and half the size of the United Kingdom) and its assets include the world's largest cattle station, South Australia's Anna Creek. Perhaps things aren't that big in Texas anymore.

Successful businessmen buying up vast tracts (or even smaller ones) of rural land is nothing new. The iconic and sprawling properties in the Northern Territory have always attracted entrepreneurs, the most flamboyant probably being Perth property developer Warren Anderson who bought Tipperary, a 200,000 hectare station which he filled with African animals in the 1980s. And, at the smaller end of the spectrum, farmers from Pitt Street, Collins Street or St Georges Terrace are par for the course.

Large investors

But what is different, this time around, is that the amount of capital these larger investors are pouring into the assets make it much, much too big to be simply a plaything. And for most of them, the persistent theme of the Asian-demand story is driving much of the investment.

"The forecast growth of the Asian middle class between now and 2030 is massive ... we're all very confident about increasing the outlook for quality protein and beef," CPC's chief executive Troy Setter says, adding that cattle supply in the United States is under pressure, helping drive demand. "Australian cattle price and land prices are still relatively low compared with many other parts of the world. When you weigh that against current market conditions for beef and cattle and the growth outlook, it's unsurprising that the agribusiness sector has caught the attention of domestic and international investors."

As the businessmen and other investors move on the sector, land prices also appear to have stopped falling for the first time since about 2008. "Across the board at a national level it would be fair to say the market value has stabilised from a downward trajectory in terms of value, and we are starting to see acquisitions," says Herron Todd White's Tim Lane. Much of the new capital injected into the sector is used to put fences in and get water to the cattle – and that's a long-term and very expensive project for many of these massive properties. As well, it seems there's a growing trend towards being involved in the whole value chain, from cattle production to abattoirs to feedlots in Asia.

Some, like CPC, have being doing it like that for a while. Others, like Minderoo, have recently positioned themselves that way. And for the rest, there's persistent speculation that more abattoirs and Asian feedlots will be snapped up by Australian investors in coming months. "We're taking a slightly different approach than simply aggregating land portfolios – we have cattle stations, meat processing facilities, export licences and emerging consumer brands It's about being vertically integrated and taking a broader position in the value chain," says Andrew Forrest, adding the group is hunting for new investments in Harvey Beef, in the agricultural and cattle industry. Ground- water harvesting is also key to Minderoo's strategy.

Forrest also stresses – as do others in the sector – that agriculture is a long-term play. "Agriculture generally has a lower yield than many other asset classes in Australia but you can make a much longer-term capital allocation to it. It's good for patient, long-term capital and can have a defensive element to it also," he said. In the past, that's deterred institutional investors, but that's also changing.

Chinese interests

One of China's top 500 companies, Hailiang Group, bought more than $40 million worth of south-west Queensland cattle and cropping land east of St George in March and Chinese group Yiang Xiang Assets bought Allan Myers' Elizabeth Downs cattle station for what's believed to be more than $11.5 million. In March, Canadian pension fund Public Sector Pension Investment Board took a stake in central Queensland's Hewitt Cattle Company, which owns more than 200,000 hectares and 30,000 head of cattle.

Investment banker David Williams says there should be more investment by institutional investors, arguing that individuals across the spectrum can get caught up in the emotion of owning property in the country. "Much of this investment is misguided and wrapped up in a romantic notion that Australians have with owning the bush," he says. "Many of these investors are filling a void that should be taken by institutional investors by adding capital and hoping that foreign and Australian investors will eventually take them out once they have 'proved-up' and de-risked properties. It is easy to throw capital at projects and even easier to improve carrying capacity and output … but making money is another thing, you still have to make a return and sell the increased output at a profit."

Yougawalla's Haydn Sale says it's impossible to overstate the importance of long-term, committed capital– something that in their case, was invaluable to weathering the sinking cattle prices around the Indonesian cattle debacle. And he says Mitchell's support has been crucial – though that doesn't stop him enjoying the investment. "Harold steals my hat and jacket and gets around like an old ringer," he says, adding he visibly relaxes around the property, eating together with all the staff. "You can't be a short-term investor, you have to ride the highs and lows. During Indonesia when things were pretty dire he said we'll be right and get out the other end, hopefully, it's the time now to reap the rewards."

Source: Australian Financial Review.

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 15, 2015 1:16 pm 
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Nasa data shows the world is running out of water
by Todd C. Frankel
Wednesday, 17 June 2015

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California's drought has caused the state to pass its first extensive groundwater regulations. Getty Images

The world’s largest underground aquifers – a source of fresh water for hundreds of millions of people — are being depleted at alarming rates, according to new NASA satellite data that provides the most detailed picture yet of vital water reserves hidden under the Earth’s surface.

Twenty-one of the world’s 37 largest aquifers — in locations from India and China to the United States and France — have passed their sustainability tipping points, meaning more water was removed than replaced during the decade-long study period, researchers announced Tuesday. Thirteen aquifers declined at rates that put them into the most troubled category. The researchers said this indicated a long-term problem that’s likely to worsen as reliance on aquifers grows.

Scientists had long suspected that humans were taxing the world’s underground water supply, but the NASA data was the first detailed assessment to demonstrate that major aquifers were indeed struggling to keep pace with demands from agriculture, growing populations, and industries such as mining.

Satellite system flags stressed aquifers

More than half of Earth's 37 largest aquifers are being depleted, according to gravitational data from the GRACE satellite system. “The situation is quite critical,” said Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and principal investigator of the University of California Irvine-led studies.

Underground aquifers supply 35 percent of the water used by humans worldwide. Demand is even greater in times of drought. Rain-starved California is currently tapping aquifers for 60 percent of its water use as its rivers and above-ground reservoirs dry up, a steep increase from the usual 40 percent. Some expect water from aquifers will account for virtually every drop of the state’s fresh water supply by year end.

The aquifers under the most stress are in poor, densely populated regions, such as northwest India, Pakistan and North Africa, where alternatives are limited and water shortages could quickly lead to instability.

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The researchers used NASA’s GRACE satellites to take precise measurements of the world’s groundwater aquifers. The satellites detected subtle changes in the Earth’s gravitational pull, noting where the heavier weight of water exerted a greater pull on the orbiting spacecraft. Slight changes in aquifer water levels were charted over a decade, from 2003 to 2013. “This has really been our first chance to see how these large reservoirs change over time,” said Gordon Grant, a research hydrologist at Oregon State University, who was not involved in the studies.

But the NASA satellites could not measure the total capacity of the aquifers. The size of these tucked-away water supplies remains something of a mystery. Still, the satellite data indicated that some aquifers may be much smaller than previously believed, and most estimates of aquifer reserves have “uncertainty ranges across orders of magnitude,” according to the research.

Aquifers can take thousands of years to fill up and only slowly recharge with water from snow melt and rains. Now, as drilling for water has taken off across the globe, the hidden water reservoirs are being stressed. “The water table is dropping all over the world,” Famiglietti said. “There’s not an infinite supply of water.”

The health of the world’s aquifers varied widely, mostly dependent on how they were used. In Australia, for example, the Canning Basin in the country’s western end had the third-highest rate of depletion in the world. But the Great Artesian Basin to the east was among the healthiest.

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Before and after pictures show the extent of California's drought (Getty)

The difference, the studies found, is likely attributable to heavy gold and iron ore mining and oil and gas exploration near the Canning Basin. Those are water-intensive activities.

The world’s most stressed aquifer — defined as suffering rapid depletion with little or no sign of recharging — was the Arabian Aquifer, a water source used by more than 60 million people. That was followed by the Indus Basin in India and Pakistan, then the Murzuk-Djado Basin in Libya and Niger.

California's Central Valley Aquifer was the most troubled in the United States. It is being drained to irrigate farm fields, where drought has led to an explosion in the number of water wells being drilled. California only last year passed its first extensive groundwater regulations. But the new law could take two decades to take full effect.

Source: Independent UK.

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 25, 2015 2:50 pm 
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Puerto Rico expands water rationing measures amid drought
June 25, 2015

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This June 15, 2015 photo shows mud cracks at the drought affected Carraizo reservoir in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico is tightening an austere water-rationing plan as its reservoirs shrink due to a regional drought that has hit the U.S. territory especially hard.

The island's water and sewer company said Thursday that 30,000 clients will now receive water every other day. Some 245,000 customers already fall under that plan, while an additional 135,000 clients receive water every third day.

The rationing plan began in May, and officials have expanded it in recent weeks. The government also plans to fine people for improper water use. The amount of water flowing into 12 of at least 22 rivers that supply the island's reservoirs is at an all-time low.

Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands affected by the drought are bracing for a quieter-than-usual hurricane season that began in June.

Source: Yahoo! AP

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 25, 2015 2:55 pm 
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Parched Caribbean faces widespread drought, water shortages
By DANICA COTO
June 27, 2015

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Puerto Rico expanded water rationing across several municipalities as it continues to confront a drought of potentially historic proportions. Aerial photo shows the drought affected lakeshore of La Plata reservoir in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico. (Ricardo Arduengo/AP)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - The worst drought in five years is creeping across the Caribbean, prompting officials around the region to brace for a bone dry summer.

From Puerto Rico to Cuba to the eastern Caribbean island of St. Lucia, crops are withering, reservoirs are drying up and cattle are dying while forecasters worry that the situation could only grow worse in the coming months.

Thanks to El Nino, a warming of the tropical Pacific that affects global weather, and a quieter-than-normal hurricane season that began this month, forecasters expect a shorter wet season. That means less rain to help refill Puerto Rico's thirsty Carraizo and La Plata reservoirs as well as the La Plata river in the central island community of Naranjito. A tropical disturbance that hit the U.S. territory on Monday did not fill up those reservoirs as officials had anticipated.

Puerto Rico is among the Caribbean islands worst-hit by the water shortage, with more than 1.5 million people affected by the drought so far, according to the U.S. National Drought Mitigation Center.

Tens of thousands of people receive water only every third day under strict rationing recently imposed by the island government. Puerto Rico last week also activated National Guard troops to help distribute water and approved a resolution to impose fines on people and businesses for improper water use.

The Caribbean's last severe drought was in 2010. The current one could grow worse if the hurricane season ending in November produces scant rainfall and the region enters the dry season with parched reservoirs, said Cedric Van Meerbeeck, a climatologist with the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology. "We might have serious water shortages ... for irrigation of crops, firefighting, domestic consumption or consumption by the hotel sector," he said.

The Caribbean isn't the only area in the Western Hemisphere dealing with extreme water shortages. Brazil has been struggling with its own severe drought that has drained reservoirs serving the metropolis of Sao Paulo.

In the Caribbean, the farm sector has lost more than $1 million in crops as well as tens of thousands of dollars in livestock, said Norman Gibson, scientific officer at the Trinidad-based Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute.

On St. Lucia, which has been especially hard hit, farmers say crops including coconuts, cashews and oranges are withering. "The outlook is very, very bad," said Anthony Herman, who oversees a local farm cooperative. "The trees are dying, the plants are dying ... It's stripping the very life of rivers."

Officials in Cuba say 75 percent of the island is enduring a drought that has killed cattle and destroyed thousands of hectares (acres) of crops including plantains, citrus, rice and beans. Recent heavy rains in some areas have alleviated the problem some, but all 200 government-run reservoirs are far below capacity.

In the nearby Dominican Republic, water shortages have been reported in hundreds of communities, said Martin Melendez, a civil engineer and hydrology expert who has worked as a government consultant. "We were 30 days away from the entire water system collapsing," he said.

The tourism sector has also been affected. Most large hotels in Puerto Rico have big water tanks and some recycle wastewater to irrigate green areas, but many have curtailed water use, said Frank Comito, CEO of the Florida-based Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association. Other hotels have cut back on sprinkler time by up to 50 percent, said Carlos Martinez of Puerto Rico's Association of Hotels. "Everybody here is worried," he said. "They are selling water tanks like hot cakes ... and begging God for rain."

Guests at Puerto Rico's El Canario by the Lagoon hotel get a note with their room keys asking them to keep their showers short amid the water shortage. "We need your cooperation to avoid waste," says the message distributed at the front desk of the hotel in the popular Condado district. At the Casa del Vega guesthouse in St. Lucia, tourists sometimes find the water in their rooms turned off for the day, preventing them from taking a shower. "Even though we have a drought guests are not sympathetic to that," hotel manager Merlyn Compton said.

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 25, 2015 2:56 pm 
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Jamaica imposes water restrictions due to drought
1 July 2015

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — Jamaica's environment minister says residents must adhere to water restrictions as reservoir levels diminish due to a worsening drought.

Robert Pickersgill told reporters Wednesday that watering gardens, filling swimming pools and washing cars with piped water has been prohibited. He says residents of the southern city of Portmore will be without water from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Mondays to Fridays while Kingston residents will be blocked at night.

Rural communities often have no piped supply or low water pressure. The hardest-hit areas are getting water supplied by trucks.

Jamaica joins Cuba, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands struggling with drought. It's expected to worsen as the region is forecast to receive below-normal rainfall during the hurricane season that began in June.

Source: Yahoo! AP

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 29, 2015 8:46 pm 
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Swiss army makes incursion into France for water for cattle
By MAGGY DONALDSON
27 July 2015

PARIS (AP) -- Swiss army helicopters have crossed the Franco-Swiss border in an unexpected incursion - to help thirsty Swiss cows.

The aerial operation to scoop up water caught authorities responsible for Rousses Lake in the Jura mountains by surprise last Thursday. The helicopters also startled swimmers and fishermen enjoying the beaches of the lake in eastern France. Christophe Mathez, deputy mayor of the Les Rousses commune, said officials had "no idea this operation would occur" - and that the Swiss neither requested authorization or nor warned before descending.

Swiss media reported that the country's military did ask for permission - but from the French air force, not local authorities or the police. "As soon as they contacted us, we realized there was a communication problem and we immediately stopped," Denis Froidevaux, a Swiss military official, told the Swiss newspaper Le Matin, whose headline Monday read "No, Switzerland is not stealing water from France to save its cows."

Mathez said Les Rousses authorities are not "mad at our neighbors," but as of Monday the village was still waiting for clarification. The Swiss army has been pumping water for livestock from its own Neuchatel and Joux lakes since last week, according to a statement from the Swiss Department of Defense. The federal government is bankrolling the operation, expected to continue no longer than August 4, with military aid disaster relief funds.

Thirsty cows produce less milk, of particular concern in the mountainous Jura region of France and Switzerland. Dairy farmers there provide milk to producers who make prized cheeses including the French Comte and Morbier varieties as well as the Swiss Tete de Moine.

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 03, 2015 7:55 pm 
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Families upset by thefts of bronze vases from cemetery
By Nancy Lowry
July 21, 2015

NEW CASTLE, PA. - Since her husband died in December, Jane has visited his grave at Graceland Cemetery every Sunday after church.

Last Sunday, Jane, who asked that her name not be used because she lives alone, was horrified to discover the serenity of the Garden of the Pines had been disrupted. The bronze vase she lovingly filled with flowers each week was gone, cut from the flat gravestone. The flowers lay crushed on the ground. Saying she was the first to report the theft, Jane noted “it was so upsetting to see the flowers just laying there.”

Bob Mollic of Warren, Ohio, thought the groundskeeper at SS. Philip and James Cemetery had been careless. When Mollic visited his parents’ graves three weeks ago, he noticed the bronze vase was gone. The artificial flowers that had been there, he said, were neatly arranged in the hole where the vase had been. “I thought the vase had been hit by a lawnmower and that was why it was gone,” Mollic said. “I learned differently after I read the (New Castle) News online edition on Monday.”

Gale Siddall, manager of Graceland Cemetery, believes 68 vases, which cost about $200 each, were taken over the weekend from the facility. Two family plots were robbed of five vases each, she added.

“This is not the work of kids,” Siddall said. Although she has no proof, Siddall believes individuals looking for quick money — possibly for drugs — are behind the thefts. She said the bronze vases, which weigh eight pounds each, are 87 percent copper.

“We hear about people stealing (copper) water pipes from old buildings and wire from power poles,” she said. “With scrap dealers paying $3 per pound for copper, they are getting about $20 each for the vases.” In some cases, in remote parts of cemeteries, the entire 100-pound marker has been pulled up, she said.

Earlier this year, Siddall said, St. Vitus and St. Joseph cemeteries were hit and vases taken. “I heard that someone went to a scrap dealer in the Ellport area with a pick-up truck full of vases,” she said. “The police were called and the cemeteries got a lot of the vases back.”

Pennsylvania State Police investigating the weekend incident failed to issue a news report on the thefts or to provide information.

Because so many vases are involved, Siddall said, she has been in touch with Matthews International Corp. of Pittsburgh, which provides the headstones to Graceland Cemetery. “We’re negotiating replacement prices of about $60 for veterans and $65 for others.”

She said she is also looking into prices for plastic vases of the same dimensions as the stolen bronze vases. “That would work, but people buy the bronze (vases) because they want something that will last forever.”

“I just feel bad for the old people who live on little more than Social Security check.”

Source: New Castle News, PA

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 04, 2015 11:06 pm 
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Russia bids for vast Arctic territories at UN
By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
4 August 2015

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia has submitted a revised bid for vast territories in the Arctic to the United Nations, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.

The ministry said in a statement that Russia is claiming 1.2 million square kilometers (over 463,000 square miles) of Artic sea shelf extending more than 350 nautical miles (about 650 kilometers) from the shore. Russia, the U.S., Canada, Denmark and Norway have all been trying to assert jurisdiction over parts of the Arctic, which is believed to hold up to a quarter of the planet's undiscovered oil and gas. Rivalry for Arctic resources has intensified as shrinking polar ice is opening new opportunities for exploration.

Russia was the first to submit its claim in 2002, but the U.N. sent it back for lack of evidence. It submitted a partial revision regarding the Okhotsk Sea in 2013 and the commission issued a recommendation the following year, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said. The ministry said that the resubmitted bid contains new arguments. "Ample scientific data collected in years of Arctic research are used to back the Russian claim," it said.

Greenpeace responded by warning of the environmental risks. "The melting of the Arctic ice is uncovering a new and vulnerable sea, but countries like Russia and Norway want to turn it into the next Saudi Arabia," Greenpeace Russia Arctic campaigner Vladimir Chuprov said in a statement. "Unless we act together, this region could be dotted with oil wells and fishing fleets within our lifetimes." He urged countries seeking jurisdiction over the Arctic to work together to create a protected sanctuary around the North Pole.

Russia expects the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to start looking at its bid in the fall, the ministry said. Haq, the U.N. spokesman, said there is no plenary meeting of the commission this fall so the revised Russian submission will be included in the provisional agenda for its meeting in February or March. In accordance with the commission's rules, he said Russia's latest submission is being circulated to all 193 U.N. member states, including all charts and coordinates.

In 2007, Moscow staked a symbolic claim to the Arctic seabed by dropping a canister containing the Russian flag on the ocean floor from a submarine at the North Pole. The Kremlin also has moved to beef up Russian military forces in the Arctic. The effort has included the restoration of a Soviet-era military base on the New Siberian Islands and other military outposts in the Arctic. Earlier this year, the military conducted sweeping maneuvers in the Arctic that involved 38,000 servicemen, more than 50 surface ships and submarines and 110 aircraft. As part of the drills, the military demonstrated its capability to quickly beef up its forces on the Arctic Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land archipelagos.

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 05, 2015 8:35 pm 
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Puerto Rico extends water restrictions as drought worsens
By DANICA COTO
August 5, 2015

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- A deepening drought in Puerto Rico that has affected 2.5 million people forced the government on Wednesday to extend severe water rationing measures to more communities that are already struggling with an economic crisis.

Another 180,000 customers will now receive water only every third day, raising the total facing 48-hour cuts in service to 400,000, as the U.S. territory's main reservoirs continue to shrink, according to the island's water and sewer company. "We have to keep the water that's available under control," said Alberto Lazaro, the company's executive director.

Nearly 13 percent of Puerto Rico is under an extreme drought and another 39 percent under a severe one, according to The National Drought Mitigation Center. July was the fourth driest month on record in San Juan since 1898, with only 1.60 inches (4 centimeters) of rain, said Carlos Anselmi, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. So far this year, it has rained as much as 12 inches (31 centimeters) less than usual in San Juan, and as much as 20 inches (51 centimeters) less in some areas at the Carraizo reservoir, he said.

Forecasters blame the El Nino phenomenon, a warming of the tropical Pacific that affects global weather and has led to a quiet Atlantic hurricane season, which began in June and ends in November. The lack of rain has forced some businesses in Puerto Rico to temporarily close, while others, such as motels, have reported a slight increase in customers.

The drought comes as Puerto Rico is struggling through a nearly decade-long economic slump that has led authorities to raise sales taxes, even on bottled water. Olga Rodriguez, a 62-year-old San Juan resident who lives with her elderly father, has received water only every third day for more than a month. She worries it will only worsen. "May God help us all, because we need it," she said in a phone interview.

The rationing measures began when the governor declared a state of emergency in mid-May, and government officials have said customers might see cuts of more than 48 hours if dry conditions persist. Other Caribbean islands also are struggling with a drought, including Jamaica, St. Lucia and the Dominican Republic.

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 18, 2015 8:02 pm 
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Indonesia scuttles 35 foreign fishing boats caught poaching
18 August 2015

Jakarta (dpa) - Indonesia's navy on Tuesday began sinking 35 boats whose foreign crews were caught fishing in Indonesian waters, an official said.

The confiscated boats were bombed and sunk at different locations in waters off Sumatra and Sulawesi islands as well as the Indonesian part of Borneo, navy spokesman Vice Admiral Muhammad Zainuddin said. "The sunken ships can serve as sanctuaries for fish in the sea," he said. The boats were crewed by fishermen from Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Indonesia's Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti has taken a tough stance against illegal fishing and vowed to blow up vessels operated by foreign poachers. She said Indonesia lost 15 billion dollars every year to illegal fishing. Before Tuesday, Indonesia had sunk more than two dozen foreign fishing boats since President Joko Widodo took office in October.

Source: dpa

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 17, 2015 6:18 pm 
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Beijing seen building third airstrip in South China Sea
15 September 2015

Bangkok (dpa) - China appears to be building an airstrip on Mischief Reef in the South China Sea, a news report said Tuesday.

It would be the third such airstrip built by China in disputed territory, the South China Morning Post reported. A rectangular area 3,000 metres long with a retaining wall is visible on satellite images released by Washington's Centre for Strategic and International Studies on September 8, the report said. "Clearly, what we have seen is going to be a 3,000-metre airstrip and we have seen some more work on what is clearly going to be some port facilities or ships," said Greg Poling, director of the centre's Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.

Mischief Reef is an artificial island created by China in the Spratly archipelago. There are overlapping claims in the region by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei. The airstrip would be capable of handling most Chinese military planes, the report said.

Source: dpa

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