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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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Environment

Landmark decision gives legal teeth to protect environmental defenders

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A 46-strong group of countries across the wider European region has agreed to establish a new legally binding mechanism that would protect environmental defenders, the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) said on Friday.

“I remain deeply concerned by the targeting of environmental activists”, said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, welcoming the rapid response mechanism as “an important contribution to help advance my Call to Action for Human Rights”. 

The agreement will delegate setting up the new mechanism to the United Nations, or another international body.

As the first ever internationally-agreed tool to safeguard environmental defenders, it marks an important step in upholding the universal right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment – as recognized by the Human Rights Council earlier this month

“Twenty years ago, the Aarhus Convention entered into force, bridging the gap between human and environmental rights.

Today, as the devastating effects of climate change continue to ravage the world, the Convention’s core purpose – of allowing people to protect their wellbeing and that of future generations – has never been more critical”, spelled out the UN chief. 

A protective eye

The agreement to establish the mechanism was adopted on Thursday by the Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, known as the Aarhus Convention. 

“This landmark decision is a clear signal to environmental defenders that they will not be left unprotected”, said UNECE chief Olga Algayerova.

“It demonstrates a new level of commitment to upholding the public’s rights under the Aarhus Convention, as well as Parties’ willingness to respond effectively to grave and real-time challenges seen in the Convention’s implementation on the ground”.   

Vital defence

Whether it is groups protesting the construction of a dangerous dam or individuals speaking out against harmful agricultural practices in their local community, these activists are vital to environmental preservation across the globe, said the UNECE.

The Aarhus Convention ensures that those exercising their rights in conformity with the provisions of the Convention shall not be penalized, persecuted or harassed in any way for their involvement.

As such, the mechanism will establish a Special Rapporteur – or independent rights expert – who will quickly respond to alleged violations and take measures to protect those experiencing or under imminent threat of penalization, persecution, or harassment for seeking to exercise their rights under the Convention.  

As time is of the essence to buttress the safety of environmental defenders, any member of the public, secretariat or Party to the Aarhus Convention, will be able to submit a confidential complaint to the Special Rapporteur, even before other legal remedies have been exhausted.   

Defenders targeted

Although it is crucial for environmental defenders to confidently exercise their rights, cases have been reported in which instead, they face being fired, heavy fines, criminalization, detention, violence, and even death. 

Moreover, incidents of harassment and violence against environmental defenders are far from uncommon

A report to the Human Rights Council by Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, found that one-in-two human rights defenders who were killed in 2019 had been working with communities around issues of land, environment, impacts of business activities, poverty and rights of indigenous peoples, Afrodescendants and other minorities.  

Since January 2017, among the Parties to the Aarhus Convention, incidents of persecution, penalization and harassment of environmental defenders have been reported in 16 countries

In contrast to current existing initiatives, which mainly rely on applying political pressure through the media, the Aarhus Convention’s rapid response mechanism will be built on a binding legal framework, giving it much greater powers to act.

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Environment

Plastic pollution on course to double by 2030

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Plastic pollution in oceans and other bodies of water continues to grow sharply and could more than double by 2030, according to an assessment released on Thursday by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). 

The report highlights dire consequences for health, the economy, biodiversity and the climate. It also says a drastic reduction in unnecessary, avoidable and problematic plastic, is crucial to addressing the global pollution crisis overall.  

To help reduce plastic waste at the needed scale, it proposes an accelerated transition from fossil fuels to renewable energies, the removal of subsidies and a shift towards more circular approaches towards reduction. 

Titled From Pollution to Solution: a global assessment of marine litter and plastic pollution, the report shows that there is a growing threat, across all ecosystems, from source to sea. 

Solutions to hand 

But it also shows that there is the know-how to reverse the mounting crisis, provided the political will is there, and urgent action is taken. 

The document is being released 10 days ahead of the start of the crucial UN Climate Conference, COP26, stressing that plastics are a climate problem as well.  

For example, in 2015, greenhouse gas emissions from plastics were 1.7 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent; by 2050, they’re projected to increase to approximately 6.5 gigatonnes. That number represents 15 per cent of the whole global carbon budget – the​​ amount of greenhouse gas that can be emitted, while still keeping warming within the Paris Agreement goals. 

Recycling not enough 

Addressing solutions to the problem, the authors pour cold water on the chances of recycling our way out of the plastic pollution crisis. 

They also warn against damaging alternatives, such as bio-based or biodegradable plastics, which currently pose a threat similar to conventional plastics. 

The report looks at critical market failures, such as the low price of virgin fossil fuel feedstocks (any renewable biological material that can be used directly as a fuel) compared to recycled materials, disjointed efforts in informal and formal plastic waste management, and the lack of consensus on global solutions. 

Instead, the assessment calls for the immediate reduction in plastic production and consumption, and encourages a transformation across the whole value chain. 

It also asks for investments in far more robust and effective monitoring systems to identify the sources, scale and fate of plastic. Ultimately, a shift to circular approaches and more alternatives are necessary.  

Making the case for change 

For the Executive Director of UNEP, Inger Andersen, this assessment “provides the strongest scientific argument to date for the urgency to act, and for collective action to protect and restore our oceans, from source to sea.” 

She said that a major concern is what happens with breakdown products, such as microplastics and chemical additives, which are known to be toxic and hazardous to human and wildlife health and ecosystems. 

“The speed at which ocean plastic pollution is capturing public attention is encouraging. It is vital that we use this momentum to focus on the opportunities for a clean, healthy and resilient ocean”, Ms. Andersen argued.  

Growing problem 

Currently, plastic accounts for 85 per cent of all marine litter. 

By 2040, it will nearly triple, adding 23-37 million metric tons of waste into the ocean per year. This means about 50kg of plastic per meter of coastline. 

Because of this, all marine life, from plankton and shellfish; to birds, turtles and mammals; faces the grave risk of toxification, behavioral disorder, starvation and suffocation. 

The human body is similarly vulnerable. Plastics are ingested through seafood, drinks and even common salt. They also penetrate the skin and are inhaled when suspended in the air. 

In water sources, this type of pollution can cause hormonal changes, developmental disorders, reproductive abnormalities and even cancer. 

Economy 

According to the report, there are also significant consequences for the global economy. 

Globally, when accounting for impacts on tourism, fisheries and aquaculture, together with the price of projects such as clean-ups, the costs were estimated to be six to 19 billion dollars per year, during 2018. 

By 2040, there could be a $100 billion annual financial risk for businesses if governments require them to cover waste management costs. It can also lead to a rise in illegal domestic and international waste disposal. 

The report will inform discussions at the UN Environment Assembly in 2022, where countries will come together to decide a way forward for more global cooperation. 

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Human Rights

No safe harbour: lifting the lid on a misunderstood trafficking crime

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photo © UNICEF/Noorani

The crime of harbouring, in which victims of human trafficking are accommodated or forced to stay in a specific location, is not universally understood by courts around the world. A new UN study aims to address that issue, and improve protection for victims.

A journey of exploitation

Harbouring is one of five actions that constitute an ‘act’ in the internationally recognised definition of human trafficking, and is often used by prosecutors and judges for convictions of this crime.

The act can take place before and during exploitation, or between periods of abuse, encompassing a wide variety of settings, including brothels, private homes, factories, farms, or fishing vessels.

These locations can be dangerous, inhumane and unsanitary, and cn be controlled by criminals involved in the trafficking network.  

In another case, victims who had been brought from Thailand to Australia were harboured during transit and at the place of exploitation: while being transported the victims were accommodated in hotels and accompanied by minders.

Once they were received by the offenders, the victims were either accommodated in the brothel where they were forced to work, or alternatively stayed at the offenders’ house, and were transported to and from the brothel each day.

Trafficking victims can also be subjected to harbouring once they arrive at the place of exploitation. In a case from the Dominican Republic, the offenders, a married couple, recruited a Chinese national to work in their business.

They promised to pay her and provide her with food. Instead, she was not paid, forced into domestic servitude and subjected to abuse.

A misunderstood concept

However, a new publication from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has found that there is neither a uniform understanding of the act of harbouring, nor a consistent approach to this concept during court proceedings.

“Harbouring is one of the most frequent acts when committing human trafficking, but the concept is not interpreted in the same way throughout the world,” says Martin Hemmi, the UNODC expert who led the study. 

“Some countries require the victims to be concealed or moved between locations for harbouring to be considered as an act of human trafficking. Others stipulate a minimum amount of time for the harbouring process,” adds Mr. Hemmi. “It is important to fully understand the concept to get justice for victims of this crime.”

The language barrier

Further findings show there are different meanings of the word ‘harbouring’ in the various language versions of the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol,  which is the world’s primary legal instrument to combat this crime.

In French and Arabic, the word used for harbouring has a positive connotation in the sense of hosting, while in English, Chinese and Russian, it can be perceived as having a negative meaning in the sense of hiding or concealing.

“Due to these discrepancies, the same conduct is considered human trafficking in one country but not necessarily in another,” says Mr. Hemmi.  

“This has wide consequences. For the perpetrator, it can have an effect on the sentence. For the victim, it has an impact on rights and protection measures. For the courts, it can hamper requests for legal assistance and international cooperation.” 

Wherever and however it occurs, harbouring with the intent of exploitation is an act of human trafficking and a violation of the victim’s rights and dignity, says Martin Hemmi.  

“We hope that our new study will be used by investigators, prosecutors and judges to lead to a better understanding of this terrible crime and support measures to effectively protect victims and punish traffickers,” he concludes.

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