NEWS ON DATE - 26-02-2024
Dhaka has ranked 10th on the list of cities with the worst air quality with an AQI index of 160 at 9 am this morning (February 26, 2024). Dhaka’s air was classified as 'unhealthy', according to the air quality index. Pakistan’s Lahore, India’s Delhi and Mumbai occupied the first, second and third spots on the list, with AQI scores of 191, 183 and 173 respectively. Read: AQI: Dhaka’s air 2nd most polluted in the world this morning When the AQI value for particle pollution is between 101 and 150, air quality is considered ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’, between 150 and 200 is ‘unhealthy’, between 201 and 300 is said to be 'very unhealthy', while a reading of 301+ is considered 'hazardous', posing serious health risks to residents. The AQI, an index for reporting daily air quality, informs people how clean or polluted the air of a certain city is and what associated health effects might be a concern for them. The AQI in Bangladesh is based on five pollutants: particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), NO2, CO, SO2, and ozone. Read: AQI: Dhaka's air quality 'moderate' this morning Dhaka has long been grappling with air pollution issues. Its air quality usually turns unhealthy in winter and improves during the monsoon. As per World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution kills an estimated seven million people worldwide every year, mainly due to increased mortality from stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and acute respiratory infections. Read more: AQI: Dhaka's air 'unhealthy for sensitive groups' this morning
In a captivating celebration of language, literature, and community spirit, D's Bistro, an innovative café in the heart of the capital’s Uttara, teamed up with JCI Dhaka Sparks to curate a month-long Bangla book recitation event titled 'Golper Provat.' The event, held every Saturday morning on February 10, 17, and 24, has not just been a literary concern but also a meeting of minds and stories, aimed at connecting passionate readers with veteran authors, according to its initiators. Supported by Cosmos Foundation and JCI Dhaka Sparks, 'Golper Provat' opened its pages with an inaugural session featuring three distinguished writers. SM Niaz Mowla, a polymath and fiction genius renowned for mythology, history, and historical fiction, engaged the audience with a sneak peek into his latest work, "Puraner Somantorale." The writer is also the visionary behind the Pencil Foundation, a Facebook-based haven for emerging talents in literature, poetry, music, photography, recitation, and art. Poet Nizamul Huda Khan followed, sharing insights not only as an educator but also as a backpacker and keen observer of shifting reading habits in society. His recitations knit a poetic narrative, setting the stage for Mehedi Hassan Rifat, the wordsmith behind the first Bangla book on artificial intelligence, 'ChatGPT and AI Millionaire,' showcased at this year's Ekushey Book Fair. On February 17, the spotlight turned to the dynamic duo of literary fiction - Kingkor Ahsan and Kizzy Tahnin, whose popularity among the youth resonates with their distinctive storytelling prowess. Their journeys as writers intertwined with readings from their works, captivating the audience. The event wrapped up on February 24 and unfolded with a lineup of well-known speakers, inaugurated by Engr Saumitra Kumar Mutsuddi, Chairman of the Civil Engineering Division, emphasising the significance of such literary activities. The 2024 local president of JCI Dhaka Sparks Sumaya Mahmud Sharna commended the organizers for nurturing literary growth in Bangladesh, steering towards a 'Smart Bangladesh.' The stage was then graced by accomplished writers, each sharing unique insights. Mahbubur Rahman highlighted the importance of entertaining communication for writers, presenting his work "Leta Semoya." Popular social media personality Sakib Bin Rashid shared sketches of his writing journey, emphasizing the value of maintaining everyday relationships, while Zabed Amin and Naser Mohammad Mohsin shared their literary journeys respectively. Notable figures such as Shampa Reza and Azmeri Haque Badhon engaged the audience on not only books but also many of society’s norms, beliefs, myths, and more. Moreover, each guest was bestowed with a plant, symbolizing growth and nurturing creativity. Co-founder and CEO of D's Bistro, Sabnin Sababa, expressed her commitment to utilizing the space for enlightenment and fostering a love for literature among the youth. D's Bistro looks forward to extending its impact by launching a 'Book Club,' envisioned as a thriving platform to connect and promote readers and writers across languages and genres.
The United States has said it looks forward to working with Bangladesh to "enhance economic investment" over the next 50 years and beyond. The visiting US delegation met Salman F Rahman, Private Industry and Investment Adviser to PM Sheikh Hasina, to hear how government and private companies are collaborating. Eileen Laubacher, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for South Asia, US National Security Council (NSC); Michael Schiffer, USAID Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Asia; and Afreen Akhter, US Department of State Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, are on a three-day visit to Bangladesh. For over 50 years, the US has partnered with the government and the people of Bangladesh, providing over $8 billion to tackle issues like public health, education, energy, environment, food security, natural disasters, and more. Read: Want to create a new chapter in our relations: Foreign Minister says after meeting with US delegation The United States is one of the largest investors in Bangladesh and its largest single country export market, said the US Embassy in Dhaka. "Our leadership from Washington D.C. joined local economic experts to discuss a range of issues impacting the bilateral trade relationship," said the US Embassy. The United States "stands ready" to help Bangladesh create a business climate that attracts more investment from the US. The delegation discussed ways to improve the business environment, making investment in Bangladesh more attractive to American companies. Read: Bangladesh-US relations will be stronger based on environment, climate actions: Environment Minister The three officials, according to the US side, are visiting Bangladesh to discuss with the government of Bangladesh ways to "strengthen diplomatic ties, address challenges, and promote a shared vision for the advancement of mutual interests in the Indo-Pacific region." They also met Foreign Minister Dr Hasan Mahmud, Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen, civil society representatives, labour leaders, youth activists and those engaged in developing a free and uncensored media. "We discussed with the Foreign Minister how our two countries can work on mutual interests, including economic development, security, refugees, climate, labor, and trade," said the US Embassy in a separate message after the meeting. Bangladesh is an important partner in the Indo-Pacific region, it said. Read more: US Deputy Assistant Secretary meets Bangladeshi civil society members including Zillur and Adilur
The Eiffel Tower reopened to visitors on Sunday after a six-day closure because of striking employees demanding better maintenance of the historic landmark, showing traces of rust, and salary hikes. The operator of the 330-meter (1,083-foot) tower said in a statement it reached an agreement with unions representing the workers after promising to allocate an “ambitious 380 million euro (about $412 million) investment by 2031” for renovation work. This week, it also launched salary negotiations, expected to be finalized next month, after employees on strike demanded an increase proportionate to revenue from ticket sales. Read: France requires COVID pass for Eiffel Tower, tourist venues The 135-year-old tower will feature prominently in the July 26-Aug. 11 Paris Games and the following Paralympics. The Olympic and Paralympic medals in Paris are being embedded with pieces from a hexagonal chunk of iron taken from the historic landmark. The Eiffel Tower is typically open 365 days a year. Last year, the monument was closed to visitors for 10 days during massive protests across France against the government’s plan to reform the country’s pension system. Read more: Eiffel Tower says "Merci" to health workers fighting virus
Algeria inaugurated a gigantic mosque on its Mediterranean coastline Sunday after years of political upheaval transformed the project from a symbol of state-sponsored strength and religiosity to one of delays and cost overruns. Built by a Chinese construction firm throughout the 2010s, the Great Mosque of Algiers features the world's tallest minaret, measuring at 869 feet (265 meters). The third largest mosque in the world and largest outside Islam's holiest cities, its prayer room accommodates 120,000 people. Its modernist design contains Arab and North African flourishes to honor Algerian tradition and culture as well as a helicopter landing pad and a library that can house up to 1 million books. The inauguration would guide Muslims “toward goodness and moderation,” said Ali Mohamed Salabi, the General Secretary of world union of Muslim Ulemas. Propagating a moderate brand of Islam has been a key priority in Algeria since government forces subdued an Islamist-led rebellion throughout the 1990s when a bloody civil war swept the country. Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune inaugurated the mosque, fulfilling his promise to open it with great pomp and circumstance. The event, however, was mainly ceremonial. The mosque has been open to international tourists and state visitors to Algeria for roughly five years. An earlier ceremony was delayed. The timing allows the mosque to officially open to the public in time to host nightly prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins next month. Read: A Hindu temple built atop a razed mosque in India is helping Modi boost his political standing Beyond its gigantic dimensions, the mosque is also known for the delays and controversy that characterized the seven years it was under construction, including the choice of site, which experts warned was seismically risky. The state denied that in a news release Sunday posted on APS, the state news agency website. Throughout the delays and cost overruns, the project never stopped feeding Algerians’ anger, with many saying they’d rather have four hospitals built throughout the country. The project’s official cost was $898 million. The mosque was originally a project of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who designed it to be the largest in Africa. He wanted it to be his legacy and called “Abdelaziz Bouteflika Mosque” much like Mosque Hassan II in Casablanca, Morocco. That mosque, named after the former King of Morocco — Algeria's neighbor and regional rival — was once marketed as Africa's largest. But the protests that swept Algeria in 2019 and led him to resign after 20 years in power prohibited Bouteflika's from realizing his plans, naming the mosque after himself or inaugurating it in February 2019 as scheduled. Also read: Tk 6-crore Mosque: Donation boxes at Kishoreganj's Pagla Masjid yield record amount The mosque — along with a major national highway and a million new housing units — each were marred by suspicions of corruption during the Bouteflika era, with suspected kickbacks to contractors then paid to state officials.
It was the puddles of green sludge left by the tires of massive tractors in western Belgium’s industrial farmlands that drew the attention of biological engineer Ineke Maes. The slime was destructive algae, the result of the excess of chemicals used by farmers to boost their crops, but at a high cost to nature. Maes had hoped the European Union’s environmental policies would start to make a fundamental difference by improving exhausted soils. In recent weeks, some of those tractors moved off the land and onto the roads, blocking major cities and economic lifelines from Warsaw to Madrid and from Athens to Brussels. Farmers were demanding the reversal of some of the most progressive measures in the world to counter climate change and protect biodiversity, arguing that the rules were harming their livelihoods and strangling them with red tape. And the impact has been stunning. The farmers' protests affected the daily lives of people across the 27-nation bloc, costing businesses tens of millions of euros in transportation delays. The disruption triggered knee jerk reactions from politicians at national and EU level: they committed to rolling back policies, some of them years in the making, on everything from the use of pesticides to limiting the amount of manure that could be spread on fields. To environmentalists like Maes, who works for the Belgian Better Environment Federation umbrella group, it would almost be laughable if it were not so depressing. Read: Farmers from 10 EU countries protest agricultural policies “In the environmental movement, we joke that we should get tractors ourselves to make a point. Then we would be competing fair and square. The purpose should be that we get negotiations, and that we get a deal through democratic process — the rules, you know," she said. Reasoned arguments, she says, have been drowned out by the rumble of tractor engines. And there's no end in sight. After hundreds of tractors disrupted the EU summit in Brussels early this month at a volume that kept some leaders awake at night, farmers plan to return on Monday. They intend to be there when agriculture ministers discuss an emergency item on the agenda — the simplification of agricultural rules and a decrease in checks at farms that environmentalists fear could amount to a further weakening of standards. The political noise level from the tractors — not to mention the loads of manure dumped outside official buildings — does get through, officials said. “That puts a bit more pressure on the ministers inside. So I would believe that ministers will be a bit more — insisting to have concrete results,” said a high-level EU official, who asked not to be identified because the meeting has yet to take place. It is this attitude that drives the environmental lobby and NGOs to distraction: knowing that scientific arguments are too often no match for the rule of the street. As a result, the EU's flagship Green Deal, that aims to make the continent carbon-neutral by 2050, is under threat. “You really should not lose that long-term view, that vision of the future when you are working on policy,” said Maes. “You should not respond to the issues of the day by simply scrapping very important rules that have been seriously discussed, considered, that have been included in environmental impact reports and so on — and that have also been democratically approved in that way.” Read: Indian farmers reject government offer and say they will carry on marching to New Delhi Yet ahead of Monday's farm protest and meeting of agriculture ministers, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, for many the most powerful EU politician, insisted that she “remains fully committed to delivering solutions to ease the pressure currently felt by our hard-working farming women and men.” Von der Leyen's change in emphasis comes ahead of the June 6-9 elections, when a good showing by her Christian Democrat group, the European People's Party, will be key to keeping her at the helm of the all-powerful Commission. As her party has swayed toward putting farmers and industry first, so has she. “It is a bit difficult putting a pin on Mrs. von der Leyen,” said Jutta Paulus, a Green member of the European Parliament. "She started off in 2019 being a climate and environment champion, more or less saying, ‘We don’t need the Greens anymore, we are green ourselves.’ And now she says: ‘Well industry called me and they are worried. So I have to do something.’” In the wake of the tractor protests, action came fast and furious. Early this month, von der Leyen's Commission shelved an important anti-pesticide proposal, insisting “a different approach is needed.” She also allowed farmers to continue using some land they had been required to keep fallow to promote biodiversity. And the proposals on the table for Monday's meeting about simplifying paperwork go in the same direction. At the same time, a nature restoration law which was seen as another element in the Green Deal aspiration has already been watered down to appease farmers before it goes to a final legislative vote next Tuesday. And at a national level, politicians have been bending the same way, from France to Spain and Belgium. Read more: Protesting Indian farmers clash with police for a second day as they march toward the capital Flanders, in northern Belgium, has already relaxed its policy on the use of manure which was intended to limit emissions of nitrates that can harm water quality. Under pressure from multinational food manufacturers, whose processing plants dwarf even the biggest family farms in western Belgium, farmers are likely to stick with the industrial methods that exhaust soils and pollute waterways, Maes fears. “It is mind-boggling that this whole process is now grinding to a halt,” she said.
Israel’s defense minister vowed Sunday to step up attacks on Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group even if a cease-fire is reached with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Hezbollah, which has been exchanging fire with Israel throughout the war in Gaza, has said it will halt its nearly daily attacks on Israel if a cease-fire is reached in Gaza. But Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that anyone who thinks a temporary cease-fire for Gaza will also apply to the northern front is “mistaken.” “We will continue the fire, and we will do so independently from the south, until we achieve our goals,” Gallant said. He said there is a simple aim: to push Hezbollah away from the Israeli border, either through a diplomatic agreement or by force. Hezbollah began striking Israel almost immediately after Hamas triggered the fighting in Gaza with a deadly attack along Israel’s southern border from the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7. Tens of thousands of civilians on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border have been displaced by the continued cycle of Hezbollah rocket and missile attacks and Israeli airstrikes and artillery fire. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech earlier this month that the group would adhere to a cease-fire in southern Lebanon if a cease-fire should be reached in Gaza. But he said it would resume and escalate attacks if Israel continued to strike in Lebanon after any agreement with Hamas. A Lebanese security official said Sunday that five Hezbollah members were killed in two separate Israeli airstrikes on trucks in the border area between Lebanon and Syria. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to share the information with journalists. Hezbollah announced that three of its fighters had been killed, but did not say where. The Israeli military did not acknowledge the strikes on the Lebanon-Syria border but announced that it had struck several sites in southern Lebanon in response to missile launches and that it targeted a “terrorist cell” in the town of Blida. Read: Israel claims to uncover Hezbollah missile plant in Lebanon Gallant said Israel’s targeting of Hezbollah commanders has significantly weakened the group's ability to attack Israel. About 200 Hezbollah fighters and 35 civilians in Lebanon have been killed in nearly five months of daily low-level clashes between the Lebanese militant group and Israeli forces against the backdrop of the Israel’s war with Hamas, a Hezbollah ally. In Israel, nine soldiers and nine civilians have been killed in Hezbollah attacks. Most of the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel has been confined to the area within a few kilometers on either side of the border. Diplomats from the United States and European countries have presented a series of proposals in hopes of producing a deal that would tamp down the border conflict. The ideas mostly hinge on a Hezbollah pullback a few kilometers from the border, a beefed-up Lebanese army presence in the border region, and negotiations over border points where Lebanon maintains Israel has been occupying small areas of Lebanese territory since withdrawing its forces from the rest of southern Lebanon in 2000. Read: Hezbollah leader: We have no missile factories in Lebanon Eventually, the plans could lead into a demarcation of the land border between Lebanon and Israel, following the maritime border deal reached in 2022. The most recent of these proposals, put forward by France, would involve Hezbollah withdrawing its forces 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the border, said a Lebanese government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the negotiations. Lebanon is still studying the proposal, and Hezbollah officials have indicated they are willing to consider it, but both government and Hezbollah officials have said there would be no agreement on the border before there is a cease-fire in Gaza. Read more: Hezbollah: Israeli drone falls, another explodes over Beirut
An Israeli military offensive in Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah could be “delayed somewhat” if a deal is reached for a weekslong cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, and claimed that total victory in the territory would come within weeks once the offensive begins. Netanyahu confirmed to CBS that a deal is in the works, with no details. Talks resumed Sunday in Qatar at the specialist level, Egypt’s state-run Al Qahera TV reported, citing an Egyptian official as saying discussions would follow in Cairo with the aim of achieving the cease-fire and release of dozens of hostages held in Gaza as well as Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. Meanwhile, Israel is nearing the approval of plans to expand its offensive against the Hamas militant group to Rafah on the Gaza-Egypt border, where more than half the besieged territory's population of 2.3 million have sought refuge. Humanitarian groups warn of a catastrophe. Rafah is Gaza's main entry point for aid. The U.S. and other allies say Israel must avoid harming civilians. Netanyahu has said he will convene the Cabinet this week to approve operational plans that include the evacuation of civilians to elsewhere in Gaza. “Once we begin the Rafah operation, the intense phase of the fighting is weeks away from completion. Not months," Netanyahu told CBS. ““If we don’t have a deal, we’ll do it anyway.” He said four of the six remaining Hamas battalions are concentrated in Rafah. U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan told NBC that President Joe Biden hadn't been briefed on the Rafah plan. “We believe that this operation should not go forward until or unless we see (a plan to protect civilians),” Sullivan said. Early Monday, Netanyahu’s office said the army had presented to the War Cabinet its “operational plan” for Rafah as well as plans to evacuate civilians from the battle zones. It gave no further details. His office also said the War Cabinet had approved a plan to deliver humanitarian aid safely into Gaza. United Nations agencies and aid groups say the hostilities, the Israeli military’s refusal to facilitate deliveries and the breakdown of order inside Gaza make it increasingly difficult to get vital aid to much of the coastal enclave. In some chaotic scenes, crowds of desperate Palestinians have surrounded delivery trucks and stolen the supplies off them. Heavy fighting continued in parts of northern Gaza, the first target of the offensive, where the destruction is staggering. Read: Israel vows to target Lebanon's Hezbollah even if cease-fire reached with Hamas in Gaza “We’re trapped, unable to move because of the heavy bombardment," said Gaza City resident Ayman Abu Awad. He said that starving residents have been forced to eat animal fodder and search for food in demolished buildings. In nearby Jabaliya, market vendor Um Ayad showed off a leafy weed that people pick from the harsh, dry soil and eat. “We have to feed the children. They keep screaming they want food. We cannot find food. We don’t know what to do,” she said. Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner general of the U.N. agency for Palestinians, said it has not been able to deliver food to northern Gaza since Jan. 23, adding on X, formerly Twitter, that “our calls to send food aid have been denied." Israel said that 245 trucks of aid entered Gaza on Sunday — less than half the amount that entered daily before the war. DETAILS OF THE PROPOSED DEAL A senior official from Egypt, which along with Qatar is a mediator between Israel and Hamas, has said the draft cease-fire deal includes the release of up to 40 women and older hostages in return for up to 300 Palestinian prisoners, mostly women, minors and older people. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations, said the proposed six-week pause in fighting would include allowing hundreds of trucks to bring desperately needed aid into Gaza every day, including the north. He said both sides agreed to continue negotiations during the pause for further releases and a permanent cease-fire. Negotiators face an unofficial deadline of the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan around March 10, a period that often sees heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions. Hamas says it has not been involved in the latest proposal developed by the United States, Egypt and Qatar, but the reported outline largely matches its earlier proposal for the first phase of a truce. Read: New attempts at Gaza cease-fire are underway, Israel's Gantz says Hamas has said it won't release all of the remaining hostages until Israel ends its offensive and withdraws its forces from the territory, and is demanding the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including senior militants. Netanyahu has rejected those conditions. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday made clear that a cease-fire deal for Gaza wouldn't affect the military's daily low-level clashes with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, a Hamas ally. “We will continue the fire, and we will do so independently from the south," he said while visiting the Northern Command. Israel declared war after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel in which militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took around 250 hostages. More than 100 hostages were released in a cease-fire deal in November. More than 130 remain in captivity, a fourth of them believed to be dead. Families have followed the negotiations with hope and anguish. “It feels like Schindler's list. Will he be on the list or not?” Shelly Shem Tov, the mother of Omer, 21, told Israeli Army Radio of his chances of being freed. Israel's air and ground offensive has driven around 80% of Gaza's population from their homes, putting hundreds of thousands at risk of starvation and the spread of disease. The Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza says 29,692 Palestinians have been killed in the war, two-thirds of them women and children. The ministry's death toll doesn't distinguish between civilians and combatants. Israel says its troops have killed more than 10,000 militants, without providing evidence. NEWBORNS DYING IN RAFAH The war has devastated Gaza's health sector. Less than half of hospitals even partially function. At the Emirates Hospital in Rafah, three to four newborns are placed in each of its 20 incubators, which are designed for just one. Read more: US vetoes Arab-backed UN resolution demanding immediate cease-fire in Gaza Dr. Amal Ismail said two to three newborns die in a single shift, in part because many families live in tents in rainy, cold weather. Before the war, one or two newborns in incubators there died per month. “No matter how much we work with them, it is all wasted,” she said. “Health conditions in tents are very bad.”