Bangkok, Nov 29 (AP/UNB) — Feeding a hungry planet is growing increasingly difficult as climate change and depletion of land and other resources undermine food systems, the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization said Wednesday as it renewed appeals for better policies and technologies to reach "zero hunger."
Population growth requires supplies of more nutritious food at affordable prices, but increasing farm output is hard given the "fragility of the natural resource base" since humans have outstripped Earth's carrying capacity in terms of land, water and climate change, the report said.
About 820 million people are malnourished. The FAO and International Food Policy Research Institute released the report at the outset of a global conference aimed at speeding up efforts to achieve zero hunger around the world.
"The call for action is very clear. It is possible in our lifetime and it is also realistic to end hunger and malnutrition," Inonge Wina, vice president of Zambia, told the gathering.
Food security remains tenuous for many millions of people who lack access to affordable, adequately nourishing diets for a variety of reasons, the most common being poverty.
But it's also endangered by civil strife and other conflicts. In Yemen, where thousands of civilians have died in airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition, the aid group Save the Children says 85,000 children younger than 5 may have died of hunger or disease in the civil war.
In Afghanistan, severe drought and conflict have displaced more than 250,000 people, according to UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency.
FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva noted that the number of hungry and malnourished people in the world has risen to levels last seen a decade ago.
"After decades of gains in fighting hunger, this is a serious setback and FAO and the U.N. sister agencies, together with member governments and other partners, are all very concerned," Graziano da Silva said in a videotaped address to the conference.
Hunger is still most severe in Africa, but the largest number of undernourished people live in the Asia-Pacific region, the report said. It said good public policies and technology are the keys to improving the situation.
The FAO estimates that global demand for food will jump by half from 2013 to 2050. Farmers can expand land use to help make up some of the difference, but that option is constrained in places like Asia and the Pacific and urbanization is eating up still more land that once may have been used for agriculture.
Increasing farm output beyond sustainable levels can cause permanent damage to ecosystems, the report said, noting that it often causes soil erosion, pollution with plastic mulching, pesticides and fertilizers, and a loss of biodiversity.
China destroys 12 million tons of tainted grain each year, at a loss of nearly $2.6 billion, according to the report.
Tehran, Nov 26 (AP/UNB) — Iranian authorities said Monday that the number of injured in the magnitude 6.3 earthquake in western Iran the previous night has risen to 716. No fatalities were reported from the temblor.
According to Iran's state television, most of the injured were immediately released from hospitals and suffered only slight injuries in the quake on Sunday night. The TV said 37 remained hospitalized.
It said more than 160 aftershocks occurred in the region, including two quakes stronger than magnitude 5. Dozens of rescue teams and several rescue dogs were deployed to the region.
The TV showed footage of hospitalized people. Dr. Hossein Rahnimi, the head of a local hospital, said many of the injured also suffered panic attacks.
The earthquake struck western Iran near its border with Iraq, damaging buildings and sending fearful residents running into the streets.
It hit near the town of Sarpol-e Zahab in Iran's Kermanshah province, which was the epicenter of an earthquake last year that killed more than 600 people and where some still remain homeless.
That earthquake had a magnitude of 7.3 and also injured more than 9,000 people.
Sunday's temblor also downed power lines and caused brief power outages into the night as temperatures hovered around 8 degrees Celsius (46 degrees Fahrenheit).
The quake struck just after 8 p.m. in Iran, meaning most were still awake at the time and able to quickly flee.
The region, nestled in the Zagros Mountains, largely rebuilt in recent decades after Iran and Iraq's ruinous 1980s war, saw many buildings collapse or sustain major damage in the 2017 quake.
Iran is located on major seismic faults and experiences an earthquake per day on average. In 2003, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake flattened the historic city of Bam in southern Iran, killing 26,000 people.
Damascus, Nov 25 (AP/UNB) — Syrian warplanes attacked rebel-held areas in northern Syria for the first time in weeks on Sunday, as Syrian officials said more than 100 people were treated at hospitals following a suspected poison gas attack by rebels in the northern city of Aleppo.
The latest wave of shelling and airstrikes in northern Syria is the most serious violation of a truce reached by Russia and Turkey that brought relative calm to the country's north for the past two months. The rebels, who have denied carrying out any chemical attacks, accused the government of trying to undermine the cease-fire.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Thiqa News Agency, an activist collective, said government warplanes pounded rebel-held areas west and south of Aleppo city. The airstrikes were the first since the truce went into effect on Sept. 17.
Syria's Arab News Agency, SANA, said the alleged chemical attack late Saturday was carried out by "terrorist groups positioned in Aleppo countryside" that fired shells containing toxic gases on three neighborhoods in Syria's largest city.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Russian chemical weapons specialists have been dispatched to Aleppo. Russia is a close ally of President Bashar Assad and has intervened in recent years to turn the tide of the civil war in his favor.
"According to preliminary data, particularly the symptoms shown by the victims, the shells that bombarded residential areas of Aleppo were filled with chlorine gas," Konashenkov said.
Syria's forensic medicine general director, Zaher Hajo, told The Associated Press that all but 15 of the 105 people who were treated have been discharged. He said two people who were in critical condition have improved.
The Observatory said 94 people were treated, with 31 remaining in hospitals.
The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists and contacts throughout Syria, said the airstrikes hit the Rashideen district on the western outskirts of Aleppo and the village of Khan Touman south of the city.
The truce brokered by Russia and Turkey, which supports the rebels, has been repeatedly violated, but until Sunday there had been no airstrikes.
Syrian state media meanwhile reported that rebels shelled the Christian village of Mahradeh in northwestern Syria, causing material damage but no casualties.
Dubai, Nov 24 (AP/UNB) — Polls opened in Bahrain on Saturday to elect a new parliament, but absent from the ballot is the country's Shiite-dominated opposition, whose most prominent figures are serving lengthy prison sentences.
Up for grabs are 40 seats in Bahrain's lower house of parliament and 30 municipal council seats. Runoffs will be held next month.
It's the second election in Bahrain since mass protests led by the country's Shiite majority erupted in early 2011. The government, which is ruled by a Sunni monarchy, crushed the Arab Spring-inspired protests with help from Saudi and Emirati forces, but disenfranchised Shiite youth continue to hold scattered street protests in the tiny Persian Gulf nation.
Rights groups say Saturday's vote is taking place in a repressive environment that is not conducive to free elections.
Just before Bahrain held its last parliamentary elections in 2014, the country's largest opposition bloc, Al-Wefaq, was suspended. Fourteen Shiite candidates won seats in those elections, which were boycotted by much of the Shiite-dominated opposition.
Since then, Al-Wefaq has been ordered dissolved and its leader, Sheikh Ali Salman, has been sentenced to life in prison. Courts also dissolved the secular Waad group and closed the last independent newspaper in the country, Al-Wasat.
Just this month, prosecutors detained and charged a former lawmaker for expressing his intention on Twitter to boycott the elections. Prosecutors say the tweets sought to "hamper the democratic process."
More than 100 Bahrainis have been stripped of their nationality in recent years, forced to take up residence in Iraq and other countries.
Human Rights Watch noted that in June, King Hamad signed legislation that disqualifies opposition candidates from these elections by banning anyone who belonged to a dissolved political organization or who was previously convicted and sentenced to more than six months in prison from running for political office.
"By jailing or silencing people who challenge the ruling family and banning all opposition parties and independent news outlets, Bahrain is failing to create the conditions necessary for a free election," said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
The government, however, has defended the election as free and fair, saying the vote is being monitored by the judiciary and local civil society groups.
The state-run Bahrain News Agency carried a report in the lead-up to the election saying those barred from running had been found guilty of violating the law. It accused some of the barred opposition groups of receiving support from Iran and Qatar, which Bahrain has repeatedly accused of sowing instability.
Some Shiite protesters have taken up arms amid the crackdown and have carried out attacks on security forces. The government accuses Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard of training and supporting them.
Bahrain, a nation of around 760 square kilometers (290 square miles) in size, is home to some 1.4 million people. About half are Bahraini citizens, the majority of them Shiite. There are 365,467 eligible voters. Polls close at 8 p.m. (1700 GMT), and it's unclear when results will be announced.
The island is also home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet and a new British naval base.
The country has been ruled since the 1780s by the Al Khalifa family. King Hamad, who took the throne in 1999, initially took steps to move the country from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one.
Tehran, Nov 24 (AP/UNB) — Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has called Israel a "cancerous tumor" established by Western countries to advance their interests in the Middle East.
Iran's leaders frequently condemn Israel and predict its demise, but Rouhani, a relative moderate, rarely employs such rhetoric.
Addressing an annual Islamic Unity Conference on Saturday, Rouhani said "one of the ominous results of World War II was the formation of a cancerous tumor in the region." He went on to refer to Israel as a "fake regime" set up by Western countries.
Rouhani says the United States cultivates close ties with "regional Muslim nations" to protect Israel, an apparent reference to Iran's archrivals Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Iran supports militant groups like Hezbollah and Hamas that are pledged to Israel's destruction.