Paris, Aug 23 (AP/UNB) — Rarely have French President Emmanuel Macron and superstar soccer players including Cristiano Ronaldo been on the same page, but when it comes to the fires that are devastating the Amazon, they're uniting in sounding the alarm.
Five-time world player of the year Ronaldo beat Macron to the punch with his tweet urging action on the Amazon that, by Friday morning, had already racked up more than a quarter-million likes.
Ronaldo tweeted "the Amazon Rainforest produces more than 20% of the world's oxygen and it's been burning for the past 3 weeks. It's our responsibility to help to save our planet."
Macron's tweet later was similarly urgent, saying "Our house is burning. Literally." Macron put the Amazon fires on the agenda for the G-7 summit of world leaders that France is hosting this weekend.
New Zealand, Aug 23 (AP/UNB) — The man who presides over New Zealand's parliament has been called a baby whisperer.
He was in action again this week, gently rocking, bottle feeding and burping a colleague's infant as a lawmaker ranted about gas prices.
Speaker Trevor Mallard held baby Tutanekai for about 15 minutes during a fiery general debate Wednesday after spotting lawmaker Tamati Coffey with his 6-week-old son.
Mallard said Friday he's been trying to make parliament a more family-friendly place by adding baby chairs, family rooms and, soon, a slide. He's also increased the flexibility around family leave for lawmakers.
Mallard, who has six grandchildren, said he's worked hard to help out his colleagues. And he's been in plenty of demand: There are currently seven lawmakers with babies and he figures there have been a dozen since he began his role nearly two years ago.
"I enjoy cuddling them and seem to have some ability to settle them," he said.
The most famous parliamentary infant is Neve, the daughter of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who in June 2018 became just the second elected world leader in modern history to give birth while holding office.
Coffey said he'd just gotten back to work after he and husband Tim Smith had their baby via a surrogate mother last month. He said he doesn't usually plan to bring his son to parliament but thought it would be good to let his colleagues meet and cuddle the boy and get some selfies with him.
He said he's been getting plenty of messages after the images of Mallard spread far and wide.
"People talk about things going viral, but I've never experienced it before," he said. "It's also highlighted a case in Kenya."
In that case from earlier this month, Zuleikha Hassan and her 5-month-old baby were ejected from the floor of the Kenyan National Assembly. Hassan said she had to bring the baby to parliament because she wasn't able to make other arrangements, but temporary speaker Christopher Omulele said "As much as she might want to take care of her child, this is not the place for it."
That's not how Mallard sees it, even if the role does get a little messy sometimes.
He said that when he was burping Tutanekai, a little milk came up, which later required him to clean his official robes.
Poland, Aug 23 (AP/UNB) — Lightning struck across the Tatra Mountains in southern Poland and neighboring Slovakia on Thursday, killing five people and injuring over 100 others in an area popular with hikers and families, authorities said.
Witnesses said the thunderstorm came suddenly on a day that began with clear weather. The lightning strikes pummeled Poland's Giewont peak, a trekking destination that is 1,894 meters (6,214 feet) high, as well as other locations across the Tatras.
Four people were killed on the Polish side, including two children, a spokeswoman for the Polish air ambulance service, Kinga Czerwinska, told the news broadcaster TVN24.
The Slovak rescue service said a Czech was killed after lightning knocked him off Banikov peak. The tourist fell hundreds of meters (yards) down the side of a mountain.
Rescuers with the Polish Tatra emergency service, known as TOPR, said they believe the lightning probably hit some of the metal chains installed on Giewont peak to aid tourists in their climb.
Some of the injured were brought by helicopter to a hospital in the Polish mountain resort of Zakopane and Krakow province governor Piotr Cwik told reporters that the death toll could certainly rise.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who went to Zakopane, said some among the over 100 injured were in very serious condition with severe burns or head injuries, as they fell after the lightning strikes or were hit by falling rocks. He extended his sympathies to their relatives.
The Tatras, part of the Carpathian mountain range, are the highest mountains in Poland and in Slovakia and attract tourists from near and far with scenic lakes and peaks that soar to 2,655 meters (8,710 feet).
Thursday's lightning strikes were the worst accident in the Tatras since August 1937, when lighting killed four people on Giewont.
Footage on TVN24 showed rescuers racing to a helicopter to get to the peak in rainy, foggy weather and then a helicopter landing at the hospital in Zakopane with injured people.
Rescue workers planned to keep checking the mountains for anyone else who might need help.
Tourist Grzegorz Pyzel told TVN24 he was halfway up Giewont peak with his wife in clear weather when suddenly they heard thunder and thought it was a jet overhead.
"But soon lightning struck and we turned back. Suddenly it started pouring and you could hear thunder roaring from every possible direction," Pyzel said.
The couple reached a shelter on Hala Kondratowa, at the foot of the mountain, and soon others started coming in, saying there were injured people further up the mountain, he said.
In another rescue operation in the Tatra Mountains, TOPR emergency workers have been searching for two spelunkers who went missing in a cave on Saturday after being trapped by rising water. Rescuers used small amounts of explosives to widen passages in uncharted parts of the Wielka Sniezna cave, Poland's deepest and longest, to look for the missing cavers.
On Thursday, the body of one of the two was found, an official said.
London, Aug 23 (AP/UNB) — The World Health Organization says it's theoretically possible to wipe out malaria, but probably not with the flawed vaccine and other control methods being used at the moment.
Dr. Pedro Alonso, the U.N. health agency's global malaria director, said WHO is "unequivocably in favor" of eradication, but that major questions about its feasibility remain. In a press briefing on Thursday, Alonso acknowledged that "with the tools we have today, it is most unlikely eradication will be achieved."
Alonso was presenting the results of a WHO-commissioned report evaluating if eradicating malaria should be pursued. He said the experts concluded lingering uncertainties meant they were unable to formulate a clear strategy and thus, couldn't propose a definitive timeline or cost estimate for eradication.
WHO has long grappled with the idea of erasing malaria from the planet. An eradication campaign was first attempted in 1955 before being abandoned more than a dozen years later. For decades, health officials were chastened from even discussing eradication — until the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation threw its considerable resources behind the idea.
Smallpox is the only human disease to ever have been eradicated. In 1988, WHO and partners began a global campaign that aimed to wipe out polio by 2000. Despite numerous effective vaccines and billions of invested dollars, efforts have stalled in recent years and officials have repeatedly missed eradication targets.
Although several African countries began immunizing children against malaria in national programs this year, the shot only protects about one third of children who get it. The parasitic disease kills about 435,000 people every year, mostly children in Africa.
"An effective vaccine is something we desperately need if we're ever going to get malaria under control and we just don't have it," said Alister Lister, dean of biological sciences at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.
Lister also raised concerns about whether malaria programs would be able to raise the billions needed given other competing eradication campaigns, like those for polio, guinea worm and lymphatic filariasis.
"Should we really be pushing for malaria or should we concentrate on getting some of those other diseases out of the way first?" he asked.
Other experts agreed that eradicating malaria in the coming years seems aspirational.
"It's a long game and there will be many bumps on the road," said Sian Clarke, co-director of the malaria center at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Still, Clarke said that eradication might only be achieved if there is a sense of urgency, given how malaria spreads; the parasitic disease is transmitted to people by mosquitoes.
"The longer it takes, the more opportunity there is for the parasite to evolve," she said. "There will be a lot of pressure on the parasite to evolve a mechanism of survival, so this is something that if it's to be done, should be done relatively quickly."
Rio De Janeiro, Aug 23 (AP/UNB) — Amid global concern about raging fires in the Amazon, Brazil's government complained Thursday that it is being targeted in smear campaign by critics who contend President Jair Bolsonaro is not doing enough to curb widespread deforestation.
The threat to what some call "the lungs of the planet" has ignited a bitter dispute about who is to blame during the tenure of a leader who has described Brazil's rainforest protections as an obstacle to economic development and who traded Twitter jabs on Thursday with France's president over the fires.
French President Emmanuel Macron called the wildfires an international crisis and said the leaders of the Group of 7 nations should hold urgent discussions about them at their summit in France this weekend.
"Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest — the lungs which produces 20% of our planet's oxygen — is on fire," Macron tweeted.
Bolsonaro fired back with his own tweet: "I regret that Macron seeks to make personal political gains in an internal matter for Brazil and other Amazonian countries. The sensationalist tone he used does nothing to solve the problem."
Onyx Lorenzoni, the president's chief of staff, earlier in the day accused European countries of exaggerating environmental problems in Brazil in order to disrupt its commercial interests.
"There is deforestation in Brazil, yes, but not at the rate and level that they say," said Lorenzoni, according to the Brazilian news website globo.com.
His allegation came after Germany and Norway, citing Brazil's apparent lack of commitment to fighting deforestation, decided to withhold more than $60 million in funds earmarked for sustainability projects in Brazilian forests.
The debate came as Brazilian federal experts reported a record number of wildfires across the country this year, up 84 percent over the same period in 2018. Satellite images show smoke from the Amazon reaching across the Latin American continent to the Atlantic coast and Sao Paulo, Brazil's biggest city, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres tweeted: "In the midst of the global climate crisis, we cannot afford more damage to a major source of oxygen and biodiversity. The Amazon must be protected."
Federal prosecutors in Brazil's Amazon region launched investigations of increasing deforestation, according to local media. Prosecutors said they plan to probe possible negligence by the national government in the enforcement of environmental codes.
Bolivia is also struggling to contain big fires, many believed to have been set by farmers clearing land for cultivation.
Bolsonaro said there was a "very strong" indication that some non-governmental groups could be setting blazes in retaliation for losing state funds under his administration. He did not provide any evidence.
Bolsonaro, who won election last year, also accused media organizations of exploiting the fires to undermine his government.
"Most of the media wants Brazil to end up like Venezuela," he said, referring to political and economic turbulence in the neighboring South American country.
London-based Amnesty International blamed the Brazilian government for the fires, which have escalated international concern over the vast rainforest that is a major absorber of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The rights group this year documented illegal land invasions and arson attacks near indigenous territories in the Amazon, including Rondonia state, where many fires are raging, said Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty's secretary general.
"Instead of spreading outrageous lies or denying the scale of deforestation taking place, we urge the president to take immediate action to halt the progress of these fires," Naidoo said.
The WWF conservation group also challenged Bolsonaro's allegations about NGOs, saying they divert "the focus of attention from what really matters: the well-being of nature and the people of the Amazon."
Brazil contains about 60 percent of the Amazon rainforest, whose degradation could have severe consequences for global climate and rainfall. Bolsonaro, who has said he wants to convert land for cattle pastures and soybean farms, won office after channeling outrage over the corruption scandals of the former government.
Filipe Martins, an adviser to Bolsonaro, said on Twitter that the Brazilian government is committed to fighting illegal deforestation and that many other countries are causing environmental damage.
The Amazon will be saved by Brazil and not "the empty, hysterical and misleading rhetoric of the mainstream media, transnational bureaucrats and NGOs," Martins said.
Sergio Bergman, Argentina's environment minister, appealed for people to overcome political or ideological divisions to protect the environment. He spoke at a five-day U.N. workshop on climate change in Brazil's northern state of Bahia.
"We all, in a way, understand that it is not possible to keep using natural resources without limits," Bergman said.