Chennai, Aug 6 (AP/UNB) — Dozens of billion-dollar companies. Thousands of high-paying IT and manufacturing jobs. Luxury apartments towering over the Bay of Bengal. The southern Indian city of Chennai has one of the world's fastest-growing economies, but it's out of water, threatening to put a brake on all that growth.
In Chennai, a coastal city of about 10 million and the capital of Tamil Nadu state, rapid development and rampant construction have overtaxed a once-abundant natural water supply, forcing the government to spend huge sums to desalinate sea water, bring water by train from hundreds of kilometers (miles) away and deploy an army of water trucks to people whose household taps have suddenly run dry.
The water shortfall is disrupting business at all levels, from the gleaming, 45-kilometer (28-mile) IT Corridor to the neighborhood tea shop. Some workers have been asked not to report to the office while others have had to give up a day's wages to wait for the erratic water truck that makes daily deliveries.
The Madras Chamber of Commerce, named for what British colonialists called the city, said that results from a survey sent to its 700 members in May found that most industries in the city's diversified economy have been affected by the crisis, which has caused disruptions in production schedules, higher operation costs and a reluctance to invest in expansion because of the uncertainty about future water supplies.
Companies are paying 30% more for private supplies sourced from farther outside Chennai and delivered by water tankers, which require dedicated workers to manage. Others have set up their own water-recycling systems, said chamber Secretary-General K. Saraswathi.
"Buying water in tankers cannot be depended (upon) and is not sustainable," Saraswathi said. "Small-capacity desalination plants along with supply of tertiary treated water have to be taken up on war footing."
Receiving about 80% of its annual rainfall in two months, October and November, Chennai is naturally prone to droughts and floods, exacerbated in recent years by climate change. But some of the disaster is manmade.
Chennai's population has more than tripled in three decades. And like many cities across India, in a drive to develop, the Chennai Municipal Corporation has changed zoning to permit building over filled-in ponds and canals and on flood plains, which means the monsoon season's copious rainfall isn't absorbed to recharge groundwater supplies.
Organized water distribution in Chennai dates to British rule in the 1870s.
At Red Hills Lake, a lone fisherman casts a line into a shallow pool — all that remains of the 4,500-acre (1,820-hectare) reservoir. Elsewhere, sheep graze and bulldozers fill truckloads of sand from the dry lakebed. Red Hills and the three other rain-fed reservoirs that are meant to supply the bulk of Chennai's water have been left without "a single drop of water," Edappadi Palaniswami, Tamil Nadu's chief minister, said in June.
He said about 9,800 water truck trips were being made daily to supply drinking water in Chennai, but that his office had been flooded with requests from apartment owners for more.
On the trash-strewn banks of the Cooum River, one of half a dozen natural waterways in the city, bulldozers level the earth for a new high-rise on one side while a small community of tin-roofed shacks rely upon a hand pump for their daily water needs. Because sewage treatment capacity is far below sewage generated, the city's rivers and canals are filled with raw waste.
Nearby, Sonalal Saw, 24, takes an auto rickshaw to a public tap under a metro rail overpass every four or five days to fill more than a dozen 50-liter (13-gallon) jugs for his tea shop. As Saw loads up the vehicle, a steady stream of people arrive at the tap, carrying water jugs on wagons attached to bicycles or balanced with rope on motorcycles.
Behind the tap is one of the metro board's distribution centers. Trucks contracted by the city fill up tankers to deliver to residential areas, including Royapettah, a busy working-class neighborhood where a line of women with colorful plastic jugs wait in line for the truck's arrival.
The trucks have been coming nearly every day for a month, often several times a day, but the schedule is erratic, residents say, forcing them to forego work waiting for water delivery.
As he helped his neighbors fill their jugs, tailor Syed Ansarbasha, 40, said that development was to blame for the crisis.
"The rainwater which flows into the lakes, those lakes now have houses, factories (constructed on them)," he said. Where will the water go when it rains now? That's why we have water problem," he said.
This is the first time Royapettah resident Rasheeqa Sheriff, 15, has experienced water scarcity in her young life. Her family's three-story apartment building has always had running taps — a luxury that she said continuously astounded her grandparents, who saw it as a sign of Chennai's modernity and India's great progress.
"I feel like, wait, have we gone back in time?" said Sheriff, who aspires to be a barrister like her father.
"The thing is, we didn't take care of the rivers, canals. We are responsible, but nobody's ready to take this blame. Everyone's blaming the government. Come on, blame yourselves," she said.
Evidence of growth and development is everywhere in Chennai. A brand new apartment complex in the western outskirts called Golden Opulence hung a banner advertising big capital letters: "Drinking water in abundance, absolutely free!" Nearby, Ford and Hyundai factories assemble cars and IT companies including Foxconn, the Taiwanese purveyor of the iPhone, build gadgets for India's growing electronics export business.
Water also flows more freely in richer south Chennai, where upscale hotels with swimming pools, shopping malls with fountains, high-end apartment buildings and restaurants purchase their water from private sources.
Chennai's Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board is delivering about 500 million liters (132 million gallons) of water per day — less than half of the city's needs. It's supplementing its supplies with water brought by rail from a dam hundreds of kilometers (miles) away. It is also planning a third desalination plant.
"Shiny new investments may always be required for large-scale water supply systems, but we all need to increase the focus on the efficient use and management of our water too," said Vivian Castro-Woolridge, an urban affairs specialist at the Asian Development Bank who runs a project to improve Chennai's climate change resiliency.
"It's not an optimal use of limited financial resources to put more water into any system without also ensuring proper network management, active leak management programs and skilled staff to minimize water losses," she said.
To be sure, the problem isn't limited to Chennai. The National Institution for Transforming India, a government think tank, said in a report last year that India was undergoing the worst water crisis in its history. "Critical groundwater resources — which account for 40% of our water supply — are being depleted at unsustainable rates," it said.
More than 600 million people are facing "acute" water shortages, and 21 Indian cities, including Chennai, are expected to run out of groundwater by 2020.
With the London-based consultancy Oxford Economics predicting all of the world's 10-fastest growing cities in India, the implications globally could be significant.
The water crisis "raises the question of whether the infrastructure will be in place to support the growth. If not, then the consequence would probably be much slower growth," said Richard Holt, the consultancy's head of global cities research.
Tokyo, Aug 6 (AP/UNB) — Hiroshima marked the 74rd anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city with its mayor renewing calls for eliminating such weapons and demanding Japan's government do more.
Mayor Kazumi Matsui raised concerns in his peace address Tuesday about the rise of self-centered politics in the world and urged leaders to steadily work toward achieving a world without atomic weapons.
"Around the world today, we see self-centered nationalism in ascendance, tensions heightened by international exclusivity and rivalry, with nuclear disarmament at a standstill," Matsui said in his peace declaration.
He urged the younger generations never to dismiss the atomic bombings and the war as a mere events of history, but think of them as their own, while calling on the world leaders to come visit the nuclear bombed cities to learn what happened.
Matsui also demanded Japan's government represent the wills of atomic bombing survivors and sign a U.N. nuclear weapons ban treaty.
Japan, which hosts 50,000 American troops and is protected by the U.S. nuclear umbrella, has not signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, an inaction atomic bombing survivors and pacifist groups protest as insincere.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe acknowledged widening differences between nuclear and non-nuclear states.
"Japan is committed to serve as a bridge between nuclear and non-nuclear states and lead the international effort, while patiently trying to convince them to cooperate and have a dialogue," Abe said in his address at the ceremony. He vowed to maintain Japan's pacifist and nuclear nuclear-free principles, but did not promise signing the treaty.
Survivors, their relatives and other participants marked the 8:15 a.m. blast with a minute of silence.
The Hiroshima anniversary ceremony came hours after North Korea launched suspected ballistic missiles in its fourth round of recent weapons demonstrations. The activity follows a stalemate in negotiations over its nuclear weapons.
The U.S. attack on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, killed 140,000 people. The bomb dropped three days later on Nagasaki killed another 70,000 before Japan's surrender ended World War II.
New Delhi, Aug 5 (AP/UNB) — India's Hindu nationalist-led government moved Monday to revoke the special status of Muslim-majority Kashmir, cutting off communications and deploying thousands of troops in the restive Himalayan region amid fears the action could lead to uprisings there.
Home Minister Amit Shah announced the revocation amid an uproar by opposition lawmakers in Parliament over the move.
It also comes as Kashmir is under a security lockdown that has kept thousands of people in their homes and in the dark about the change, which would strip them of long-held hereditary rights to jobs, scholarships and land ownership in the disputed region along the mountainous India-Pakistan border.
The order, which still needs the approval of the ruling party-controlled Parliament, revokes Article 370 of India's Constitution, eliminating the Indian-administered state's right to its own constitution and decision-making process for all matters except defense, communications and foreign affairs. It would also allow Indians from outside the region to permanently settle, buy land, hold local government jobs and secure educational scholarships.
Government critics see the move as an attempt to dilute the demographics of Kashmir, which is predominantly Muslim, with Hindu settlers. Proponents say scrapping Article 370 addresses gender discrimination, since the law stipulates that Kashmiri women who marry people outside the region lose inherited property rights, and will vitalize the economy.
Rebels in Indian-controlled Kashmir have been fighting Indian control for decades. It was unclear when freedom of movement would be eased in the region, but an outpouring of condemnation by Kashmiris living outside the region or who were able to access the internet despite the government blocks suggest there will be resistance to the changes.
The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi issued a security alert, urging Americans to leave the region immediately citing the "potential for terrorist incidents, as well as violent public unrest."
In a statement, Amnesty International India said the move could "cause unrest and wide scale protests in the state."
In Delhi, protesters marched shouting slogans such as "we will not tolerate murder of democracy," and holding signs that read "we stand with Kashmir."
The order by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi amounted to a "constitutional coup," activist Kavita Krishnan said, adding that "it is not just about Kashmir. It is also a prelude to destroying the constitutional rights and liberties of all Indians."
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and both claim the region in its entirety. Two of the three wars between the nuclear-armed neighbors have fought since their independence from British rule were over Kashmir.
Most Kashmiris support the rebels' demand that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country, while also participating in civilian street demonstrations against Indian control. About 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian crackdown.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Pakistan will step up diplomatic efforts to prevent the order from taking effect.
"India is playing a very dangerous game by changing the status of Kashmir through illegal acts," he told a Pakistani TV station from Saudi Arabia, where he is on a pilgrimage to Mecca.
In Pakistan's capital of Islamabad, hundreds of Kashmiri activists rallied against the change in Kashmir's status. The demonstration took place near the diplomatic enclave where India's embassy is located but authorities kept demonstrators away from the building.
Ghulam Mohammad Safi, a prominent Kashmiri leader in Pakistan, urged the United Nations and the international community to help Kashmir achieve self-determination.
The president of the Pakistan-controlled portion of Kashmir, Sardar Masood Khan, also rejected the Indian presidential order and said it could lead to a war with Pakistan.
Mehbooba Mufi, former chief minister for Jammu and Kashmir, tweeted that the Indian government's action was illegal and unconstitutional.
"Today marks the darkest day in Indian democracy," Mufti wrote.
Modi and his Hindu nationalist party won re-election this year on a platform that included promises to do away with special rights for Kashmiris.
Shah, the home minister, also introduced a bill which, if passed, would downgrade Jammu and Kashmir from a state into a union territory with an elected legislature. It would also carve out the region of Ladakh as a separate union territory, ruled directly by the central government without a legislature of its own.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir currently comprises three regions: Hindu-majority Jammu, Muslim-majority Kashmir and Buddhist-majority Ladakh.
The reaction in Ladakh, a pristine, sparsely populated area that stretches from the Siachen Glacier to the Himalayas, was mixed, said Tsewang Gyalson, a guide whose family's roots in the area are centuries deep.
"Some fear that people from outside will come and start business or will buy lands. Maybe slowly our identity will disappear," he said.
Former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley tweeted that Modi and Shah were "correcting a historical blunder" in removing Article 370.
The provision dates to 1927, when an order by the administration of the then-princely state of Jammu and Kashmir gave its subjects exclusive hereditary rights. Two months after India won independence from British rule in August 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, signed a Treaty of Accession for the state to join the rest of the union, formalized in Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.
Further talks culminated in the 1952 Delhi Agreement, a presidential order that extended Indian citizenship to the residents of the state but left the maharaja's privileges for residents intact.
Regional parties in Jammu and Kashmir have called attempts to revoke Article 370 an aggression against the people, but many parties in other Indian regions welcomed the decision.
"In a real sense today, Jammu and Kashmir has become part of India. My party supports this resolution," Prasanna Acharya, leader of the Biju Janata Dal party, said in Parliament's upper house.
On Sunday night in Kashmir, government forces laid steel barricades and razor wire on roads and intersections to cut off neighborhoods in Srinagar, the region's main city. The government issued a security order banning public meetings, rallies and movement and said schools would be closed. Authorities also suspended internet services on cellphones, a common tactic to prevent demonstrations from being organized and to stop news dissemination.
The order affects about 7 million people in the region, including journalists who faced difficulties in relaying information.
The recent security deployment added at least 10,000 soldiers and other forces in Kashmir, which was already one of the world's most militarized regions. India also ordered thousands of tourists and Hindu pilgrims to leave the region.
Tensions also have soared along the Line of Control, the volatile, highly militarized frontier that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
Kabul, Aug 5 (AP/UNB) — An Afghan policeman in the southern province of Kandahar opened fire on his colleagues, killing seven other policemen before fleeing the scene, a provincial official said Monday. The Taliban claimed the attack, saying the policeman had joined their ranks.
The deadly shooting as the latest case of so-called "insider attacks," instances when an Afghan policeman or soldier — or a Taliban insurgent wearing a police or military uniform — turns his weapon on Afghan forces or international troops.
Last week, two American soldiers were shot and killed by an Afghan soldier in the same Kandahar district. The attacker, who was wounded and taken into custody, was dubbed a "hero" by the Taliban, though the insurgents did not claim the assault.
The latest attack in Kandahar took place on Sunday, and the attacker fled the scene, said Jamal Naser Barekzai, a provincial spokesman. He added that an investigation is underway.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yusouf Ahmadi claimed the attack and said the policeman had joined their ranks.
In last week's attack, the U.S. Defense Department said 20-year-old Pfc. Brandon Jay Kreischer of Stryker, Ohio, and 24-year-old Spc. Michael Isaiah Nance of Chicago died "as a result of wounds sustained in a combat related incident" in southern Afghanistan.
Both soldiers were assigned to the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
The Taliban also claimed an attack on a checkpoint that killed 11 security forces Sunday in northern Jawzjan province, said Faridon Aneeq, spokesman for the provincial governor.
Elsewhere, a female police officer was shot dead Monday while traveling through the northern Balkh province, said Adil Shah Adil, provincial police chief's spokesman. The Taliban did not comment on the incident.
The Taliban now effectively control half the country and stage near-daily attacks, mainly targeting Afghan security forces and government officials or those they see as siding with the government. Many civilians caught in the crossfire are also killed.
Since late last year, the insurgents have been meeting with U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad for talks on finding a peaceful resolution to the nearly 18-year war, America's longest conflict.
After visiting Kabul and Islamabad for another round of talks, Khalilzad travelled last week to the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office, to talk to the insurgents. The Taliban refuse to negotiate directly with the government in Kabul, considering it a U.S. puppet.
Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman at the Doha office, tweeted on Sunday that the Taliban and Khalilzad "started talks today and the process may continue for few days."
"If the agreement is finalized, then all foreign troops will quit Afghanistan in a specified timeframe that will pave the way for dialogue with all Afghan sides," he added.
In another development Monday in Afghanistan, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for an explosion involving a bus carrying media workers in the capital, Kabul, the previous day.
A magnetic explosive device attached to the bus killed two on Sunday, the bus driver and a pedestrian, according to Nasrat Rahimi, the Interior Ministry's spokesman. Two employees of the Khurshid TV station and another pedestrian were wounded in the attack, he said.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack. "Deliberately targeting the media and civilians is a war crime and those responsible will be held accountable," he tweeted.
Jakarta, Aug 5 (AP/UNB) — A United Nations fact-finding mission called Monday for an embargo on arms sales to Myanmar and for targeted sanctions on businesses with connections to the military after finding they are funding human rights abuses.
The mission released a report detailing how businesses run by Myanmar's army, also known as the Tatmadaw, are engaged in such violations and provide financial support for military operations such as efforts to force Muslim Rohingya out of Rakhine state.
The report focused mainly on the activities of two military-dominated conglomerates — Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. and Myanmar Economic Corp. It said nearly 60 foreign companies have dealings with at least 120 businesses controlled by the two companies in industries ranging from jade and ruby mining to tourism and pharmaceuticals.
"The revenue that these military businesses generate strengthens the Tatmadaw's autonomy from elected civilian oversight and provides financial support for the Tatmadaw's operations with their wide array of international human rights and humanitarian law abuses," Marzuki Darusman, the Indonesian human rights lawyer who chairs the fact-finding mission, said in a statement.
The mission was established in March 2017 by the U.N.'s Human Rights Council in reaction to increasing repression of the Rohingya. The violence increased markedly in August 2017, when Myanmar security forces launched a brutal counterinsurgency campaign that drove more than 700,000 members of the Rohingya minority into neighboring Bangladesh.
A wide array of international groups has documented killings, rapes and the torching of villages carried out on a large scale by Myanmar security forces. Myanmar's government has denied abuses and said its actions were justified in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents.
The mission, which also investigated human rights violations against ethnic groups in other parts of the country, documented the abuses in an initial report issued last year.
Military leaders in charge of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. and Myanmar Economic Corp. are among officials the fact-finding mission earlier said should be investigated for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Monday's report urged the U.N. and member governments to immediately impose targeted sanctions against companies run by the military and suggested carrying out business with firms unaffiliated with the military instead.
"Get out of bed with the military. Cut their access to independent resources. Stop the process of enriching the generals individually and the military," said Christopher Sidoti, one of the mission's three experts, at a briefing on the report in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. Sidoti is an international human rights lawyer and former Australian human rights commissioner.
The U.S. lifted long-standing economic sanctions against Myanmar in 2016. But it has reimposed some sanctions against members of the military, citing the army's treatment of the Rohingya.
Myanmar Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing is already being sanctioned by the U.S. for the Rohingya campaign. In July, Washington barred him, his deputy Soe Win, and two subordinates believed responsible for extrajudicial killings from traveling to the U.S.
Myanmar's military objected to the sanctions, saying they were a blow against the entire military and the U.S. should respect investigations into the Rakhine situation being conducted by the army.
The U.S. sanctions against the top commander are useful and have a cumulative effect, Sidoti told The Associated Press.
At the same time, he said they are small and symbolic — "only a start" — and more actions such as freezing their bank accounts are needed.
In the past decade, as Myanmar transitioned from a military regime to a civilian government dominated by the military, businesses have poured investment into one of the region's fastest growing economies. The country of more than 60 million people long was isolated and has huge potential, but the crisis over the treatment of Rohingya and other ethnic minorities has raised the risks for investors.
The report issued Monday alleged that at least 15 foreign companies have joint ventures with military-affiliated businesses.
The report did not suggest the foreign companies have directly violated any laws. But it said such ties pose "a high risk of contributing to or being linked to, violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law. At a minimum, these foreign companies are contributing to supporting the Tatmadaw's financial capacity."
It pointed to South Korea's Inno Group, which is building a "skyscraper city" in Yangon in a joint venture with MEHL. Posco Steel Co. also has joint ventures with military-related companies, as does Pan-Pacific, an apparel maker that according to its website began operating in Myanmar in 1991 and is a supplier of shirts and other garments to many fashion brand names.
Some foreign investors in Myanmar have conducted human rights assessments in response to criticism of their activities in the country, including Japan's Kirin Holdings Co. Ltd., which has taken stakes in Myanmar Brewery Ltd. and Mandalay Brewery Ltd.
But dozens of companies conduct business with Myanmar partners that have ties to the two big military-linked conglomerates, the report said. Others rent office space from them or operate in industrial zones that are owned by MEHL.
The report also raised concerns over suppliers of arms to the Myanmar military. They include China, Russia and North Korea, but also India, Israel and Ukraine, it said.
The report outlined links between the military and its businesses and jade and ruby mining in northern Myanmar, where the army has been fighting ethnic insurgencies for decades.
The fact-finding mission did not propose sweeping sanctions against Myanmar.
"There is need for economic development. There is need for investment ... but not where this involves the military," Sidoti said at the briefing. "We recommend a positive approach to build up the non-military component of the Myanmar economy. Not no investment, but more investment, more activity, more support for the people but in ways that exclude the further enrichment of the military and the funding of their human rights- violating activities."