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Updates of cyclone in Tamil Nadu: Deaths rose to 10, over 16,000 evacuated electricity is cut in Chennai

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It is unfortunate that even while people of Tamil Nadu have not overcome the grief they suffer from the sudden demise of their beloved leader Amma, the high speed cyclone attacked them, making their life just unbearably miserable. Experts say Tamil Nadu this year had the worst ever wild wind this time and devastation is deadly, schools and colleges closed; over 16,000 evacuated.

The death toll due to cyclone Vardah rose to ten in Tamil Nadu on December 13. Four persons have died in Chennai alone, two in Kancheepuram, two in Tiruvallur, one in Villupuram and one in Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu.

Chennaities woke up to uprooted trees, big broken branches blocking the roads, fallen name boards, hoardings, damaged compound walls and vehicles under fallen trees, power cut and lack of milk supplies on Tuesday, a day after severe cyclone Vardah ripped through the city. People in the residential localities after being awed by the damage caused by the cyclone started cleaning their compound of fallen trees, leaves and other muck that was blown by the cyclonic winds.

As the cyclone struck land, so strong were the winds that glass panels blew off the facade of a five-star hotel in Chennai, while in Andhra Pradesh, an oil tanker tipped over on a highway. The state government has asked people to stay home at least till midnight. All schools and colleges were closed today in Chennai, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur and private offices were asked to allow staff to take a day off or work from home. The TN administration began clearing roads the moment the rain stopped this evening, with residents pitching in at many places, but it will be a long haul, with many arterial roads still flooded with ankle-high water.

In Chennai, powerful gusts of wind uprooted more than 200 trees and 50 electricity poles, blocking off many localities for several hours as corporation staff and policemen struggled to clear the roads. The electricity board cut power supply in most parts of Chennai for up to eight hours as a precaution.

Much of TN capital Chennai is in dark as electricity is cut. Traffic is dislocated for hours.

It has not rained in Chennai since about 4 pm, a little after Cyclone Vardah hit the Tamil Nadu coast on Monday afternoon making landfall about 15 km away from the capital. But after a one-hour lull, strong winds have started to blow again. The cyclone struck land with a wind speed of 120 and 130 kmph, bringing with it heavy rain that lashed the coast in Tamil Nadu and neighbour Andhra Pradesh all through Monday morning. More than 16,000 people have been evacuated from low areas and four people have died. Schools and colleges in Chennai, Kanchipuram and Tiruvallur will be closed tomorrow.

Thousands of people were evacuated from the low-lying areas, as the cyclone made a landfall near Chennai. Chennai airport services suspended at least till 9 pm; 4 killed in Tamil Nadu, over 8000 evacuated.

Many roads in Chennai are water logged traffic collapse. Electricity polls are broken as trees fell on them. At least four persons were killed so far as heavy rains accompanied by high velocity winds pounded the city and coastal districts of north Tamil Nadu on December 12 Monday due to severe cyclonic storm called “Vardah” which began making landfall near Chennai, disrupting land and air transport and throwing normal life out of gear. “The landfall process of cyclone Vardah has begun,” the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said. According to M Mohapatra, Additional Director General (Services) of IMD, the “eye” of the Cyclone is 20 kms off Chennai.

In the wake of the cyclone, the government and private schools, colleges and other educational institutions in Chennai, Kanchipuram and Tiruvallur will remain closed today. Chennai Airport has now become operational after the services were temporarily suspended yesterday in view of the cyclone.

Thousands of people were evacuated as Vardah pounded Chennai, Tiruvallur and Kanchipuram districts with heavy rain and squall. More than ten thousand people were rescued by the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). Director General of (NDRF) R.K. Pachnanda told ANI that the situation is being monitored closely by concerned authorities and they are working to restore normalcy as fast as they can.”It is as if we are in the midst of a forest,” quipped a businessman surveying the fallen trees in his locality.

The government declared Tuesday as holiday for all educational institutions in Chennai, Thiruvallur and Kanchipuram districts. Meanwhile shops and hotels opened their shutters in the morning as usual. Some hotels refused to accept debit/credit cards for payment saying the point-of-sale terminals were not working.

In a statement issued on Monday, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam said over 4,000 trees fell. According to citizens the number could be much more if one takes into account the trees inside the residential compounds. While the authorities have cleared the main roads of fallen trees for traffic, it would take a couple of days for them to clear the trees in the residential areas. While bus services were resumed, it would take some more time for the services to become normal as the routes have to be cleared of trees.

At the spot where former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa was buried at the Marina beach, the canopy remained intact despite the cyclonic winds. Several sand bags were lined up surrounding the burial spot to prevent flooding. The burial place continued to get stream of visitors from early morning.

Over 7,000 people have been evacuated from near the sea in Tamil Nadu and more than 9,400 in Andhra Pradesh and moved to relief camps. Over 9,400 people living along the Bay of Bengal coast in SPS Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh were evacuated to relief camps amid heavy rains due to the influence of severe cyclonic storm Vardah.

Over 15 teams of NDRF have been deployed in various coastal regions of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh which are on high alert due to the approaching cyclonic storm. Eight fishermen belonging to Tamil Nadu were rescued from the sea near the Sriharikota High Altitude Range while search was on for ten more persons feared trapped at sea.

The armed forces have been asked to be on standby with the army, navy and air force prepared to be deployed anytime as and when required.

The Navy, Army and Air Force have been on the ready to assist with evacuation and rescue. The Navy has had two ships ready with doctors, food and water for 5,000 people. The National Disaster Relief Force or NDRF has deployed 16 teams.

The coastal zones are under panic and TN government and CM Paneerselvam, Radio and TV channels alert the people about the latest position and possible future effects and warn them not to go the beach..

However, the human deaths and other casualties are less than that happened last year thanks to preparedness of Tamil Nadu government to face such natural calamities. Last year’s tragedy in Chennai taught lessons to Tamil Nadu to be very cautious and this time the government was quick to react and take appropriate measures to bring the impact lesser felt and under control

Last year about this time giant floods ransacked the Chennai city and many other coastal towns .that had resulted in destructions, evacuations, dislocations, and deaths. It took months for Chennai to return to normalcy as many houses were in flood water.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh has phoned the chief ministers of both Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to assure them of the centre’s help if needed and to make an assessment of damage.

Cyclone Vardah will reach Karnataka tomorrow and pass over south Goa on Wednesday, December 14.

As it stands now the speed of cyclone has come down considerably but local rails in Chennai city have not yet begin operation. Some important trains going to other cities have also been stopped temporarily.

Rescue operations continue while rehabilitation works have begun slowly.

Since roads are filled with fallen tress transportation is facing difficulties, the government sections are taking care to remove the logs from the roads so that transport could begin normally.

The normal life is yet to return to Chennai.

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Human Rights

UNESCO research on AI’s implications on human rights

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“Artificial Intelligence (AI) is increasingly becoming the veiled decision-maker of our times.  AI has profound implications on human rights ranging from freedom of expression, privacy, to right to equality and participation; a human rights based approach must be mainstreamed to guide the development AI through inclusive multi-stakeholder participation,” said UNESCO programme specialist Xianhong Hu, when she spoke at the 40th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council last week.

She was presenting the summary findings of UNESCO’s new report Steering AI for Knowledge Societies: A ROAM Perspective, during the panel discussion on Human Rights in the Era of Artificial Intelligence: Exploring the AI development from UNESCO’s prism of Internet Universality, this report shows these principles are intended for all interested stakeholders and AI development should align with human Rights, Openness, Accessibility and Multi-stakeholder governance.

This ROAM approach can serve to guide the ensemble of values, norms, policies, regulations, codes and ethics that govern the development and use of AI – a theme that was echoed by a number of delegates in the room.

“The complexity of AI calls for an interdisciplinary, comprehensive, global and multi-stakeholder reflection on the opportunities and challenges that come with such advanced ICTs,” stated Abdulaziz Almuzaini, Director of the UNESCO Geneva Liaison Office.

UNESCO’s ROAM framework was highly commended by delegates, professionals and academic representatives present during the panel session. “We appreciate our cooperation with UNESCO. AI is transforming our lives, the use of AI in the exploitation of big data is essential. These are all areas we need to protect human rights,” said Omar Zniber, Permanent Representative of Morocco. H.E. Zniber elaborated that AI-generated content sometimes boosts “fake news” and blurs the lines for accountability of produced content. Moreover, AI’s consequences will be felt strongly the Global South, where the potential for digital divide are stronger.

Further insight was provided by Francois Gave, Deputy Permanent Representative of France, regarding France’s position on AI and technology. Stating that AI has been placed on the G7 agenda, he noted that democracy itself could be at stake in the grander scheme of human rights, because some people do not realise that their information is being gathered and retained. At the level of the European Union, many principles surrounding human rights and data privacy exist. However, he held that “now is the time to take things further and work together.”

Dr. Eileen Donahoe, Executive Director, Stanford Global Digital Policy Incubator, moderated the session and pointed that the implication of AI for human rights are vast and multilayered. She believes the existing universal human rights framework including UNESCO’s ROAM principles, can serve as a primary guide for technologist and for policy-makers to help ensure that AI development is beneficial for humanity.

The UNESCO summary report also reveals that privacy is often infringed when AI involves opaque data collection, de-anonymization, third-party data-sharing, and the tracking and profiling of individuals.

 “Increasing Information personalization and content moderation by AI enhance users’ access to information, but at the same time can narrow down the scope of Information and the pluralism of ideas to which they are exposed. Particularly, when Internet intermediaries are pressured to use AI to combat hate speech and disinformation, this can risk removing legitimate content and thus undermine the free flow of information”, stressed UNESCO’s Hu in her presentation.

Vidushi Marda, Legal Scholar from Article 19, stressed that some people may be “forsaken” with the development of AI. She held that the unintended consequences of AI are not being considered as much as they ought to be.

Coining AI as a “trend” word, Jovan Kurbalija, Executive Director and Co-Lead of the United Nations Secretary General High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, emphasised that using AI in local scenarios is of utmost importance. In addition to the protection of human rights, “human happiness and appreciation” must also be considered.

UNESCO’s new summary report is about ongoing research and  the final publication will elaborate key options for actions for different stakeholders as well as overarching options for shaping the future of AI development. The preliminary brochure is online at https://en.unesco.org/sites/default/files/unesco-steering_ai_for_knowledge_societies.pdf as well as on UNESCO’s webpage dedicated to Artificial Intelligence https://en.unesco.org/artificial-intelligence.

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UN launches ‘South-South Galaxy’ knowledge-sharing platform in Buenos Aires

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Flag Raising Ceremony for the Second High Level UN Conference on South-South Cooperation in Buenos Aires, Argentina. 19 March, 2019. Photo: UNIC Argentina.

When countries of the Global South forged an historic technical cooperation deal among themselves 40 years ago, digital technology was a thing of the future, but developing nations have come a long way since then.

China, for example, has managed to send an exploration vehicle to the dark side of the Moon, while India has a satellite orbiting Mars. A new digital tool launched on Tuesday, just ahead of the Second High-level UN Conference on South-South Cooperation, aims to strengthen the ways countries share their technology, to benefit developing countries.

The “South-South Galaxy”, is a global knowledge sharing and partnership platform, officially launched in the city hosting the “BAPA+40” conference – the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires – by the UN Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC).

The project aims to give systematic and effective support to countries of the South so they can connect, learn and collaborate with potential partners in the wider digital world.

“The Galaxy project will place in a single digital space all the great experiences of South-South cooperation”, said Jorge Chediek, Special Envoy of the Secretary General, and Director of the UNOSSC, in an interview with UN News, which will be covering the conference throughout the week. “We are talking about the best cases, the best opportunities to establish contacts and partnerships”, he added.

The project, which was launched on the eve of the conference, seeks to unite existing platforms developed by UN agencies and their partners, allowing all in the South-South cooperation field to access and navigate a wide range of knowledge, solutions, research, and development initiatives.

“I look forward to making it a live database. The key for that is to have a strong institutional commitment of many partners and to develop it in a way that it becomes an useful element where users can find what they need to build a better reality in their countries”, Mr. Chediek explained.

From recipients, to tech pioneers

For the Special Envoy, technology has become essential for developing countries, which are increasingly taking the initiative to innovate in the digital world.

“Traditionally, the countries of the South were the recipients of technology. The productive technology, the information technology, was generated in the North,” said Mr. Chediek. “Currently these countries are creating new technologies and have developed new models of how to use them for the benefit of their societies. In this context, South-South cooperation becomes very important for other developing countries to learn and take advantage of these new tools”, he added.

The Envoy stressed during the event how in 1978, when the Buenos Aires Plan of Action was adopted to promote technical cooperation among developing countries, there was still no notion of what technology will actually represent in the 21st century.

“Who would have thought that after 40 years we would meet in Buenos Aires, at the same time that China has managed to send an exploration vehicle to the dark side of the Moon, and India orbits a satellite on Mars”, Mr. Chediek said.

UNOSSC also launched its new report “South-South Cooperation in a Digital World”, on Tuesday, which further explores and analyzes development prospects and trends affecting and impacting digital industries in the Global South, and puts forward proposals for digital industrial cooperation among Southern countries.

Uruguay hails digital opportunities

The President of Uruguay, Mr. Tabaré Vásquez, echoed the Special Envoy’s words of the Envoy saying the world was going through a torrent of technological changes, changing the development paradigm.

“The economy as we have conceived it until now has a new discipline: the digital economy, which is advancing by leaps and bounds. If we look closely at the Big Data market from 2011 to 2017, it has multiplied by 5, and it is estimated that in the next ten years it will triple”, he said.

“The immense amount of data available, the ability to process and transmit it, opens a wide range of development opportunities. However, the challenge is that these changes benefit the largest number of inhabitants of our planet and reach the entire population, serving the neediest”, Mr. Vásquez added.

Flags fly at BAPA+40

On Tuesday, the United Nations flag was raised next to flag of Argentina at the Convention and Exhibition Center of Buenos Aires, marking the formal opening of BAPA+40. UN Development Programme (UNDP) chief Achim Steiner, was joined by Jorge Chediek, and the Argentine Foreign Minister, Jorge Faurie, at the ceremony.

“South-South Cooperation enables countries to reach their development goals and reduce poverty through mutual assistance and solidarity. The Conference will adopt a crucial roadmap to accelerate the implementation of concrete solutions to achieve the sustainable development agenda”, said the UNDP chief.

“We are not talking about abstract realities. We are talking about practices and exchanges that are oriented to improve the quality of lives”, the Special Envoy told UN News.

More than 1,000 participants and high-level delegations from dozens of countries, will debate the importance of South-South Cooperation as a tool for achieving the Sustainable Development Agenda by 2030.

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Brexit: Plans in place to mitigate impact of no deal

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If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the effects will be felt by people and companies across Europe. The EU has adopted measures to mitigate the impact of a disorderly withdrawal.

The EU has repeatedly stressed that it favours an orderly withdrawal of the UK from the Union. It concluded a withdrawal agreement with the UK to ensure the two parties can continue to collaborate on various issues to their mutual benefit, nevertheless the EU has adopted measures to reduce the impact of a possible no-deal Brexit.

These measures cannot replicate the advantages of being part of the EU. They are temporary, unilateral measures. Some will require UK’s reciprocity in order for them to come in force.

Long-term solutions depend on future discussions between the EU and the UK.

See below for the measures preparing the EU for a no-deal Brexit:

Aviation

UK airlines would be able to provide services to EU countries provided EU companies are also able to do so to the UK.

Rail services

The validity of rail safety authorisations would be extended to ensure the continuity of rail services between the UK and the EU, provided the UK does the same.

Road transport

Freight transport and bus and coach operators from the UK would be able to provide services between Britain and the EU, provided the UK provides equivalent access to EU companies.

Social security

EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU would keep social security benefits acquired before the withdrawal.

Erasmus+

Students and teachers in or from the UK would be able to complete their ongoing learning abroad as part of the Erasmus+ programme.

Peace process in Northern Ireland

Funding for bilateral peace programmes in Northern Ireland would continue until at least 2020 to help support the peace and reconciliation process started by the Good Friday agreement.

Fishing

If the UK agrees to full reciprocity of access to fishing waters, an easy procedure is in place for companies to obtain authorisation to fish. Quota swapping would still be allowed until these measures end on 31 December.

If the UK does not agree, EU firms banned from UK waters could be eligible for compensation from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.

Defence

EU firms will still be able to export certain items used for civilian and military purposes to the UK.

In some areas: no special measures in place

In many areas, no special measures are in place to replace existing relation with the UK in case of a no-deal. This could lead to additional costs and extra paperwork and it would be a good idea to check with relevant authorities of your country or region.

Driving licences

Driving licences issued by one EU country are automatically recognised by other member states. When the UK leaves, this will no longer apply to British licences. EU nationals wishing to drive in the UK will need to check with UK authorities if their licence is valid, while Brits will need to check with the national authorities of each EU country in which they wish to drive. International driving licences are valid across the UK and EU.

Pets

The EU pet passport, which allows your pet to travel with you to another EU country, will no longer be valid in the UK. It is likely more paperwork will be needed when taking your pet to or from the UK.

Medical treatment

Under EU rules people benefit from access to healthcare during a temporary stay in another member states using the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). These rules will no longer apply to the UK. Both EU nationals travelling to the UK and Brits visiting EU countries should check whether their insurance covers the costs of medical treatment abroad. If not, they should consider taking out private travel insurance.

For additional information about travelling to and from the UK, check out this website from the European Commission.

Parliament’s role

All of these measures can only come into effect with European Parliament’s approval.

Any agreement reached by the EU and UK – including the withdrawal agreement and any agreement on future relations – must be agreed by the Parliament before it can enter into force.

Next steps

None of these temporary measures can replace actual agreements. Only once the UK has left the EU, the EU and the UK, as a third country, can look at the future relations and might wish to conclude deals to ensure they can continue to work together on issues ranging from trade to security, migration and defence. The political declaration attached to the withdrawal agreement, if ratified by the UK, gives the general framework on how these relations could look like.

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