Wider Image: The Indian children who need to take a train to get to water

By Rajendra Jadhav

MUKUNDWADI, India (Reuters) – As their classmates set off to play after school each day, nine-year-old Sakshi Garud and her neighbor Siddharth Dhage, 10, are among a small group of children who take a 14-km (9-mile) return train journey from their village in India to fetch water.

Their families are some of the poorest in the hamlet of Mukundwadi, in the western state of Maharashtra, a village that has suffered back-to-back droughts.

India’s monsoons have brought abundant rain and even floods in many parts of the country, but rainfall in the region around Mukundwadi has been 14% below average this year and aquifers and borewells are dry.

“I don’t like to spend time bringing water, but I don’t have a choice,” Dhage said.

“This is my daily routine,” said Garud. Their cramped shanty homes are just 200 meters (220 yards) from the train station. “After coming from school, I don’t get time to play. I need to get water first.”

They are not alone. Millions of Indians do not have secure water supplies, according to the UK-based charity, WaterAid. It says 12% of Indians, or about 163 million people, do not have access to clean water near their homes – the biggest proportion of any country.

For an interactive graphic on India’s depleting water resources, please click https://tmsnrt.rs/2mgof1L

Recognizing the issue, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised to spend more than 3.5 trillion rupees ($49 billion) to bring piped water to every Indian household by 2024.

More than 100 families in Garud and Dhage’s neighborhood do not have access to piped water and many depend on private water suppliers, who charge up to 3,000 rupees ($42) for a 5,000-litre tanker during summer months.

But private water supply is something Garud and Dhage’s parents say they can not afford.

“Nowadays, I don’t get enough money to buy groceries. I can’t buy water from private suppliers,” said Dhage’s father, Rahul, a construction worker. “I am not getting work every day.”

PIPE DREAM

The children take the train daily to fetch water from the nearby city of Aurangabad.

The train is often overcrowded, so a group of small children jostling to get on board with pitchers to fill with water is not always welcome.

“Some people help me, sometimes they complain to railway officials for putting pitchers near the door. If we don’t put them near the door, we can not take them out quickly when the train stops,” Dhage said.

Garud’s grandmother Sitabai Kamble and an elderly neighbor help occasionally by pushing them on board in the face of irritable passengers.

“Sometimes they kick the pitchers away, they grumble,” Kamble said.

When the train pulls into Aurangabad thirty minutes later, they scramble to fill the pitchers at nearby water pipes. Garud can’t reach the tap, so she relies on her taller sister, Aaysha, 14, and grandmother.

Others, like Anjali Gaikwad, 14, and her sisters, also board the train every few days to collect water and wash clothes.

Their neighbor Prakash Nagre often tags along with soap and shampoo. “There’s no water to bathe at home,” he says.

When the train returns them to Mukundwadi, they have just under a minute to disembark. At times, Dhage’s mother, Jyoti, is waiting at the station to help.

“I’m careful, but sometimes pitchers fall off the door in the melee and our work is wasted,” she said, holding her infant in one arm and a pitcher in the other. “I can’t leave my daughter at home alone so I have to take her along.”

(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Additional reporting by Francis Mascarenhas; Writing by Sankalp Phartiyal; Editing by Euan Rocha and Neil Fullick)

U.S. records 16 new measles cases as outbreak shows signs of slowing

FILE PHOTO: Materials are seen left at demonstration by people opposed to childhood vaccination after officials in Rockland County, a New York City suburb, banned children not vaccinated against measles from public spaces, in West Nyack, New York, U.S. March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

(Reuters) – The United States recorded 16 new measles cases between July 18 and July 25, federal health officials said on Monday, as the spread of the disease, which has infected 1,164 people this year in the worst U.S. outbreak since 1992, shows signs of slowing.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the new cases represented a 1.4% increase in the number of cases of the highly contagious and sometimes deadly disease since the previous week.

In recent weeks, the CDC has reported smaller increases in the number of measles cases, compared with a surge of more than a hundred cases reported in a single week earlier this year.

The running tally of cases this year, which have popped up in 30 states, includes active cases and those that have since resolved. No fatalities have been reported.

Health experts say the virus has spread mostly among school-age children whose parents declined to give them the measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR, vaccine, which confers immunity to the disease. A vocal fringe of U.S. parents cites concerns that the vaccine may cause autism despite scientific studies that have debunked such claims.

Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, meaning there was no continuous transmission of the disease for a year. Still, cases of the virus occur and spread via travelers coming from countries where measles is common.

CDC officials have warned that the country risks losing its measles elimination status if the ongoing outbreak, which began in October 2018 in New York, continues until October 2019.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York and Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru; editing by Maju Samuel and Jonathan Oatis)

Cholera cases jump to 138 in Mozambique’s Beira after cyclone

Medical staff wear protective masks at a cholera treatment centre set up in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai in Beira, Mozambique, March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

By Stephen Eisenhammer

BEIRA, Mozambique (Reuters) – The number of confirmed cases of cholera in the cyclone-hit Mozambican port city of Beira jumped from five to 138 on Friday, as government and aid agencies battled to contain the spread of disease among the tens of thousands of victims of the storm.

Cyclone Idai smashed into Beira on March 14, causing catastrophic flooding and killing more than 700 people across three countries in southeast Africa.

Many badly affected areas in Mozambique and Zimbabwe are still inaccessible by road, complicating relief efforts and exacerbating the threat of infection.

Although there have been no confirmed cholera deaths in medical centers in Mozambique yet, at least two people died outside hospitals with symptoms including dehydration and diarrhea, the country’s environment minister Celso Correia said.

A Reuters reporter saw the body of a dead child being brought out of an emergency clinic in Beira on Wednesday. The child had suffered acute diarrhea, which can be a symptom of cholera.

“We expected this, we were prepared for this, we’ve doctors in place,” Correia told reporters.

The government said for the first time that there had been confirmed cholera cases on Wednesday.

Mozambique’s National Disaster Management Institute said the local death toll from the tropical storm had increased to 493 people, from 468 previously.

That takes the total death toll across Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi to 738 people, with many more still missing.

“Stranded communities are relying on heavily polluted water. This, combined with widespread flooding and poor sanitation, creates fertile grounds for disease outbreaks, including cholera,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement.

In Geneva, the World Health Organization’s Tarik Jasarevic said 900,000 doses of oral cholera vaccine were expected to arrive on Monday.

Cholera is endemic to Mozambique, which has had regular outbreaks over the past five years. About 2,000 people were infected in the last outbreak, which ended in February 2018, according to the WHO.

But the scale of the damage to Beira’s water and sanitation infrastructure, coupled with its dense population, have raised fears that another epidemic would be difficult to put down.

(Reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer in Beira and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing Alexander Winning; Editing by Alison Williams)

After Venezuelan troops block aid, Maduro faces ‘diplomatic siege’

Venezuelan national guard members stand near a fire barricade, at the border, seen from in Pacaraima, Brazil February 24, 2019. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

By Angus Berwick, Sarah Marsh and Roberta Rampton

CARACAS/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro faced growing regional pressure on Sunday after his troops repelled foreign aid convoys, with the United States threatening new sanctions and Brazil urging allies to join a “liberation effort”.

Violent clashes with security forces over the opposition’s U.S.-backed attempt on Saturday to bring aid into the economically devastated country left almost 300 wounded and at least three protesters dead near the Brazilian border.

Juan Guaido, recognized by most Western nations as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, urged foreign powers to consider “all options” in ousting Maduro, ahead of a meeting of the regional Lima Group of nations in Bogota on Monday that will be attended by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

Pence is set to announce “concrete steps” and “clear actions” at the meeting to address the crisis, a senior U.S. administration official said on Sunday, declining to provide details. The United States last month imposed crippling sanctions on the OPEC nation’s oil industry, squeezing its top source of foreign revenue.

“What happened yesterday is not going to deter us from getting humanitarian aid into Venezuela,” the official said, speaking with reporters on condition of anonymity.

Brazil, a diplomatic heavyweight in Latin America which has the region’s largest economy, was for years a vocal ally of Venezuela while it was ruled by the leftist Workers Party. It turned sharply against Venezuela’s socialist president this year when far-right President Jair Bolsonaro took office.

“Brazil calls on the international community, especially those countries that have not yet recognized Juan Guaido as interim president, to join in the liberation effort of Venezuela,” the Brazilian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Colombia, which has received around half the estimated 3.4 million migrants fleeing Venezuela’s hyperinflationary economic meltdown, has also stepped up its criticism of Maduro since swinging to the right last year.

President Ivan Duque in a tweet denounced Saturday’s “barbarity”, saying Monday’s summit would discuss “how to tighten the diplomatic siege of the dictatorship in Venezuela.”

Maduro, who retains the backing of China and Russia, which both have major energy sector investments in Venezuela, says the opposition’s aid efforts are part of a U.S.-orchestrated coup.

His information minister, Jorge Rodriguez, during a Sunday news conference gloated about the opposition’s failure to bring in aid and called Guaido “a puppet and a used condom.”

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said on Sunday that Venezuela, the Caribbean island’s top ally, was the victim of U.S. imperialist attempts to restore neoliberalism in Latin America.

Venezuelan National Guards block the road towards the Francisco de Paula Santander cross border bridge between Venezuela and Colombia, in Urena, Venezuela February 24, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

Venezuelan National Guards block the road towards the Francisco de Paula Santander cross border bridge between Venezuela and Colombia, in Urena, Venezuela February 24, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

SMOLDERING BORDER AREAS

Trucks laden with U.S. food and medicine on the Colombian border repeatedly attempted to push past lines of troops on Saturday, but were met with tear gas and rubber bullets. Two of the aid trucks went up in flames, which the opposition blamed on security forces and the government on “drugged-up protesters.”

The opposition had hoped troops would balk at turning back supplies so desperately needed by a population increasingly suffering malnutrition and diseases.

Winning over the military is key to their plans to topple Maduro, who they argue won re-election in a fraudulent vote, and hold new presidential elections.

Though some 60 members of security forces defected into Colombia on Saturday, according to that country’s authorities, the National Guard at the frontier crossings held firm. Two additional members of Venezuela’s National Guard defected to Brazil late on Saturday, a Brazilian army colonel said on Sunday.

The Brazilian border state of Roraima said the number of Venezuelans being treated for gunshot wounds rose to 18 from five in the past 24 hours; all 18 were in serious condition. That was the result of constant gunbattles, which included armed men without uniforms, throughout Saturday in the Venezuelan town of Santa Elena, near the border.

The Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, a local crime monitoring group, said it had confirmed three deaths on Saturday, all in Santa Elena, and at least 295 injured across the country.

In the Venezuelan of Urena on the border with Colombia, streets were still strewn with debris on Sunday, including the charred remains of a bus that had been set ablaze by protesters.

During a visit to a border bridge to survey the damage, Duque told reporters the aid would remain in storage.

“We need everything they were going to bring over,” said Auriner Blanco, 38, a street vendor who said he needed an operation for which supplies were lacking in Venezuela. “Today, there is still tension, I went onto the street and saw all the destruction.”

MILITARY INVASION?

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed on Sunday for “violence to be avoided at any cost” and said everyone should lower tensions and pursue efforts to avoid further escalation, according to his spokesman.

But U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, an influential voice on Venezuela policy in Washington, said the violence on Saturday had “opened the door to various potential multilateral actions not on the table just 24 hours ago”.

A car of the Brazilian Federal Police is seen at the border between Brazil and Venezuela in Pacaraima, Roraima state, Brazil February 24, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

A car of the Brazilian Federal Police is seen at the border between Brazil and Venezuela in Pacaraima, Roraima state, Brazil February 24, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

Hours later he tweeted a mug shot of former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who was captured by U.S. forces in 1990 after an invasion.

President Donald Trump has in the past said military intervention in Venezuela was “an option,” though Guaido made no reference to it on Saturday.

The 35-year old, who defied a government travel ban to travel to Colombia to oversee the aid deployment, will attend the Lima Group summit on Monday and hold talks with various members of the European Union before returning to Venezuela, opposition lawmaker Miguel Pizarro said on Sunday.

“The plan is not a president in exile,” he said.

(Reporting by Angus Berwick, Sarah Marsh, Brian Ellsworth and Vivian Sequera in Caracas; Roberta Rampton in Washington; Additional reporting by Ricardo Moraes and Pablo Garcia in Pacaraima, Brazil; Ana Mano in Sao Paulo; Nelson Bocanegra in Cucuta, Colombia; Anggy Polanco in Urena and Mayela Armas in San Antonio, Venezuela; Ginger Gibson in Washington; Editing by Daniel Flynn, Jeffrey Benkoe, Lisa Shumaker and Jonathan Oatis)

Public mistrust after Congo election raises Ebola epidemic anxiety

FILE PHOTO: A healthcare worker sprays a room during a funeral of a person who is suspected of dying of Ebola in Beni, North Kivu Province of Democratic Republic of Congo, December 9, 2018. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic/File Photo

By By, Kate, Kelland,, Health and and

LONDON, Jan 14 (Reuters) – Global health teams battling the world’s second largest Ebola epidemic in Democratic Republic of Congo fear an election dispute may deepen public mistrust and allow the epidemic to run out of control.

Fostering confidence in health authorities is essential when fighting a disease that can spread furiously through communities where local services are scant and patients are often scared to come forward to government or international response teams.

“When you have political instability, public health always suffers,” said Jeremy Farrar, an infectious disease expert who recently visited east Congo with a World Health Organization leadership team.

Without public trust, he said, the Congo epidemic could kill many hundreds more people.

The Dec. 30 election was supposed to mark Congo’s first uncontested democratic transfer of power after 18 years of chaotic rule by President Joseph Kabila.

But accusations of fraud and calls for a recount are threatening more volatility and violence after opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi was declared the winner.

“The worst case scenario is that political instability remains, mistrust grows … and then there’s nothing to stop the epidemic getting embedded into a big urban center and taking off as it did in West Africa,” said Farrar.

“GAINS COULD BE LOST”

Already, 385 people have been killed in the outbreak of Ebola in east Congo that began six months ago and has infected at least 630 people, according to WHO data. The death rate in this epidemic – by far the biggest Congo has seen, and the world’s second largest in history – is more than 60 percent.

Ebola spreads through contact with bodily fluids. It causes hemorrhagic fever with severe vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding. The outbreak is concentrated in North Kivu and Ituri provinces.

There are some signs case numbers in the North Kivu city of Beni may be leveling off, but WHO experts are cautious.

They say the apparent lull might be due to people getting ill but failing to seek proper diagnosis and treatment.

The West Africa Ebola outbreak Farrar referred to lasted for two years from 2014. It infected 28,000 and killed more than 11,300 people in an epidemic that devastated Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea and spread in sporadic cases to several other African countries as well as the United States and Europe.

The WHO says the risk of the disease spreading remains “very high” at national and regional levels and is working urgently with Congo and its neighbors – Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan – to do everything to avoid that happening again.

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said 25 million people have already been screened for Ebola at border checks with Congo’s neighbors. Vaccination campaigns have also begun for health workers in Uganda and South Sudan.

Jasarevic also said multiple threats to response teams’ ability to find, treat and prevent cases of Ebola infection make the Congo situation particularly worrisome: “Gains could be lost if we suffer a period of prolonged insecurity,” he said.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

China warns pig trade against African swine fever cover-ups as Taiwan concerns grow

Pork for sale is seen at a market in Beijing, China December 26, 2018. Picture taken December 26, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) – China has warned the country’s pork industry that covering up cases of African swine fever is a crime, days after a dead pig was found on a Taiwanese beach prompting Taipei to claim Beijing was not sharing accurate information on the disease.

China’s animal husbandry and veterinary affairs bureau is stepping up investigation and punishment of illegal activity in the pig industry, said a statement published on the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs website on Friday.

Failing to report deaths and privately slaughtering and selling sick or dead pigs would be pursued under criminal law, it said, and compensation of 1,200 yuan ($175) for each pig culled was sufficient incentive for farmers to report the disease.

In the worst epidemic of the disease ever seen, China has confirmed about 100 cases of African swine fever across 23 provinces since August last year. The disease, for which there is neither cure nor vaccine, is deadly to pigs but does not harm people.

But many experts believe it is even worse than has been reported, and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen urged Beijing last month to “not conceal” information about the disease.

Tsai raised the issue again in a New Year’s speech after a dead pig was found on a beach on Taiwan’s Kinmen island, a half-hour ferry ride from the east coast of China. The pig has since been confirmed to have the African swine fever virus, while another dead pig was found on a nearby island on Friday, Taiwan’s official Central News Agency reported.

“During our recent efforts to prevent an African swine fever epidemic, China’s government has never followed the relevant agreements and provided Taiwan with accurate, real-time reports about the epidemic situation,” she said.

China has repeatedly said that the disease has been effectively dealt with and is under control. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs did not immediately respond to a fax seeking comment on Friday.

The dead animals found on the Taiwanese islands have stoked fears that Taiwan’s pigs could soon become infected with the disease.

Taiwan’s herd of 5.39 million pigs is tiny compared with China’s 700 million, but pork is the most popular meat in both places and domestic production in Taiwan reduces its need for imports of the staple meat.

(Reporting by Dominique Patton in BEIJING and Yi-Mou Lee in TAIPEI; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

Number of hungry children in Africa’s Sahel hits 10-year high

Rural women who have carried their malnourished children for days across the Sahel desert in search of [food] rush into an emergency feeding center in the town of Guidan Roumdji, southern Niger, July 1, 2005. [Niger's severe food crisis could have been prevented if the United Nations had a reserve fund to jump-start humanitarian aid while appeals for money were considered, a senior U.N. official said on July 19. Some 3.6 million people are in need of food, among them 800,000 malnourished children. About 150,000 may die unless food arrives quickly in the impoverished West African nation of 13 million.] Picture taken July 1, 2005. - PBEAHUNYKGE

By Umberto Bacchi

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The number of hungry children in West Africa’s Sahel region reached a 10-year high in 2018 due to poor rains, conflict and high food prices, the United Nations said on Friday.

More than 1.3 million children under the age of five suffered from severe malnutrition this year in the six worst hit countries in the semi-arid belt below the Sahara – a 50 percent increase on 2017, said the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.

“When children suffer from severe acute malnutrition, they are more vulnerable to illnesses such as malaria and waterborne diseases,” Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF regional director for West and Central Africa said in a statement.

Hunger is a recurrent scourge in the region, whose growing population grapples with high poverty rates and periodic droughts, the agency said.

This year the problem was particularly acute across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal, it added.

An estimated 6 million people did not have enough to eat across the region during the lean season, according to the U.N. food agency (FAO).

Pastoralist communities were among the worst hit because poor rains meant there was not enough vegetation for grazing, said Coumba Sow, the FAO’s regional coordinator for resilience.

The Sahel has only one growing season and if it goes poorly due to climate shocks or conflict people must survive on whatever they have until the next one.

Global warming exacerbates the problem by making rainfall more erratic, said Sow, adding the rains were late and suffered a prolonged break, causing many farmers to lose half their seeds.

U.N. agencies and local governments were currently evaluating production levels for the new season, she said.

“We still hope that we will be able to get some good results in harvest, but it is too early to say,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Indonesians step up search for quake victims to beat deadline as toll exceeds 2,000

Men walk at Petobo neighbourhood which was hit by earthquake and liquefaction in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

By Rozanna Latiff and Kanupriya Kapoor

PALU, Indonesia (Reuters) – Rescue workers in Indonesia stepped up their search for victims of an earthquake and tsunami on Tuesday, hoping to find as many bodies as they can before this week’s deadline for their work to halt, as the official death toll rose to 2,010.

The national disaster mitigation agency has called off the search from Thursday, citing concern about the spread of disease. Debris would be cleared and areas, where bodies lie, would eventually be turned into parks, sports venues and memorials.

Perhaps as many as 5,000 victims of the 7.5 magnitude quake and tsunami on Sept. 28 have yet to be found, most of them entombed in flows of mudflows that surged from the ground when the quake agitated the soil into a liquid mire.

Most of the bodies have been found in the seaside city of Palu, on the west coast of Sulawesi island, 1,500 km (930 miles) northeast of the capital, Jakarta.

An excavator removes a damaged car next to the debris of a mosque damaged by an earthquake in the Balaroa neighbourhood in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 8. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

An excavator removes a damaged car next to the debris of a mosque damaged by an earthquake in the Balaroa neighbourhood in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 8.
REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

More than 10,000 rescue workers are scouring expanses of debris, especially in three areas obliterated by soil liquefaction in the south of the small city.

“We’re not sure what will happen afterwards, so we’re trying to work as fast as possible,” said rescue worker Ahmad Amin, 29, referring to the deadline, as he took a break in the badly hit Balaroa neighborhood.

At least nine excavators were working through the rubble of Balaroa on Tuesday, picking their way through smashed buildings and pummeled vehicles. At least a dozen bodies were recovered, a Reuters photographer said.

“There are so many children still missing, we want to find them quickly,” said Amin, who is from Balaroa and has relatives unaccounted for. “It doesn’t matter if it’s my family or not, the important thing is that we find as many as we can.”

The state disaster mitigation agency said the search was being stepped up and focused more intensely on areas where many people are believed to be buried.

Forjan carries his grandson Rafa outside his tent at a camp for displaced victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

The decision to end the search has angered some relatives of the missing but taxi driver Rudy Rahman, 40, said he had to accept it.

“As long as they keep searching, I will be here every day looking for my son,” said Rahman, who said he had lost three sons in the disaster. The bodies of two were found, the youngest is missing.

“This is the only thing I can do, otherwise I would go insane,” he said, choking back tears. “If they stop, what can I do? There are four meters of soil here. I couldn’t do it on my own.”

‘POLITICAL SENSITIVITIES’

While Indonesian workers searched, the disaster agency ordered independent foreign aid workers to leave the quake zone.

Indonesia has traditionally been reluctant to be seen as relying on outside help to cope with disasters, and the government shunned foreign aid this year when earthquakes struck the island of Lombok.

But it has accepted help from abroad to cope with the Sulawesi disaster.

The disaster agency, in a notice posted on Twitter, set the rules out for foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs), saying they were not allowed to “go directly to the field” and could only work with “local partners”.

Gumbu, 73, stands with is family outside his tent at a camp for displaced victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Gumbu, 73, stands with is family outside his tent at a camp for displaced victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

“Foreign citizens who are working with foreign NGOs are not allowed to conduct any activity on the sites,” it said, adding that foreign NGOs with people deployed should withdraw them immediately.

A few foreign aid workers have been in the disaster zone, including a team from the group Pompiers Humanitaires Francais that searched for survivors, but they have spoken of difficulties in getting entry permits and authorization.

“This is the first time we encountered such difficulty in actually getting to do our work,” team leader Arnaud Allibert told Reuters, adding they were leaving on Wednesday as their help was no longer needed.

Indonesian governments are wary of being too open to outside help because they could face criticism from political opponents and there is particular resistance to the presence of foreign military personnel, as it could be seen as an infringement of sovereignty.

“There are political sensitivities, especially with an election coming up, and sovereignty is another issue,” said Keith Loveard, a senior analyst with advisory and risk firm Concord Consulting, referring to polls due next year.

Sulawesi is one of Indonesia’s five main islands. The archipelago sees frequent earthquakes and occasional tsunami.

In 2004, a quake off Sumatra island triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean that killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

Foreign governments and groups played a big role in aid efforts in 2004.

(Additional reporting by John Chalmers, Agustinus Beo Da Costa, and Tabita Diela in JAKARTA; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Nick Macfie and Clarence Fernandez)

Three decades after nuclear disaster, Chernobyl goes solar

Visitors walk past solar panels at a solar power plant built on the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster, Chernobyl, Ukraine October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

By Pavel Polityuk

CHERNOBYL, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukraine unveiled a solar plant in Chernobyl on Friday, just across from where a power station, now encased in a giant sarcophagus, caused the world’s worst nuclear disaster three decades ago.

A new Safe Confinement arch covering the damaged fourth reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is seen near a newly built solar power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

A new Safe Confinement arch covering the damaged fourth reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is seen near a newly built solar power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Built in a contaminated area, which remains largely uninhabitable and where visitors are accompanied by guides carrying radiation meters, 3,800 panels produce energy to power 2,000 apartments.

In April 1986, a botched test at reactor number 4 at the Soviet plant sent clouds of nuclear material billowing across Europe and forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate.

Thirty-one plant workers and firemen died in the immediate aftermath of the accident, mostly from acute radiation sickness.

Thousands more later succumbed to radiation-related illnesses such as cancer, although the total death toll and long-term health effects remain a subject of intense debate.

“It’s not just another solar power plant,” Evhen Variagin, the chief executive of Solar Chernobyl LLC, told reporters. “It’s really hard to underestimate the symbolism of this particular project.”

The one-megawatt solar plant is a joint project by Ukrainian company Rodina and Germany’s Enerparc AG, costing around 1 million euros ($1.2 million) and benefiting from feed-in tariffs that guarantee a certain price for power.

An employee walks past solar panels at a solar power plant built on the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster, Chernobyl, Ukraine October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

An employee walks past solar panels at a solar power plant built on the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, Chernobyl, Ukraine October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

It is the first time the site has produced power since 2000, when the nuclear plant was finally shut down. Valery Seyda, head of the Chernobyl nuclear plant, said it had looked like the site would never produce energy again.

“But now we are seeing a new sprout, still small, weak, producing power on this site and this is very joyful,” he said.

Two years ago, a giant arch weighing 36,000 tonnes was pulled over the nuclear power station to create a casement to block radiation and allow the remains of the reactor to be dismantled safely.

It comes at a time of sharply increasing investment in renewables in Ukraine. Between January and September, more than 500 MW of renewable power capacity was added in the country, more than twice as much as in 2017, the government says.

Yulia Kovaliv, who heads the Office of the National Investment Council of Ukraine, said investors want to reap the benefits from a generous subsidy scheme before parliament is due to vote on scrapping it in July next year.

“Investors expect that in the renewable energy sector facilities launched before 2019 will operate on the current (beneficial) system of green tariffs,” she told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference in Odessa in September.

“And that is why investors want to buy ready-to-build projects in order to complete construction before that time.”

(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets in Odessa; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Dale Hudson)

U.N. holds emergency meeting in Asia as China battles African swine fever

FILE PHOTO: Piglets are seen by a sow at a pig farm in Zhoukou, Henan province, China June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

BEIJING (Reuters) – The United Nations is holding an emergency meeting this week with animal health experts in Asia to discuss the threat of African swine fever after the first outbreak of the disease in the region was discovered in China last month.

China has detected eight cases of the highly contagious virus since discovering the first outbreak on Aug. 3, raising concerns about its spread in the world’s largest pork producer and beyond its borders into Southeast Asia.

Its arrival in China marked a new front in the battle to control the disease, which has traveled from Europe over the past decade through Russia.

(Outbreaks of African swine fever in China by location: https://reut.rs/2PCNswR)

First detected in Africa almost a century ago, the virus is often deadly for pigs but does not harm humans.

Specialists from China and nine countries close by and considered to be at risk from a spread of the disease are attending the meeting running from Wednesday to Friday in Bangkok, along with experts from outside the region and participants from the private commercial swine sector.

The nine countries are Cambodia, Japan, Laos, Mongolia, Myanmar, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam, the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a statement on Wednesday.

The FAO has repeatedly warned that the arrival of the disease poses a significant threat to Asia.

“It’s critical that this region be ready for the very real possibility that (swine fever) could jump the border into other countries,” said Wantanee Kalpravidh, regional manager of the FAO Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) in Asia.

“That’s why this emergency meeting has been convened – to assess where we are now – and to determine how we can work together in a coordinated, regional response to this serious situation.”

Chinese authorities are rushing to contain the virus, shutting live markets in infected provinces and banning transportation of live pigs and pork products in and out of those regions.

Highlighting the challenge though, South Korea had to ramp up quarantine measures at airports after finding a traveler carrying Chinese food infected with the disease.

The seminar will review recent research studies and technologies and consider lessons from recent and ongoing episodes in Europe, it said.

The disease is transmitted by ticks and direct contact between animals, and can also travel via contaminated food, animal feed, and people traveling from one place to another. There is no vaccine.

(Reporting by Josephine Mason; Editing by Joseph Radford)