Brazil in recession as drought, inflation and interest rates bite

By Marcela Ayres and Camila Moreira

BRASILIA (Reuters) -Brazil’s economy contracted slightly in the three months to September, government data showed on Thursday, as surging inflation, steep interest rate hikes and a severe drought triggered a recession in Latin America’s largest economy.

The 0.1% decline in Brazil’s gross domestic product (GDP) in the third quarter, reported by official statistics agency IBGE, was below a median forecast for zero growth in a Reuters poll.

Brazil’s economic rebound from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic has sputtered as inflation surged into double digits, forcing the central bank to raise borrowing costs aggressively despite the downturn.

Economists have said that the stubbornly high levels of inflation in Brazil have steadily eroded consumers’ purchasing power, proving a drag on the economy.

Some analysts said Thursday’s weak data may discourage the bank’s monetary policy committee, called Copom, from an even larger interest rate increase at its December meeting.

“Against this backdrop, we no longer see Copom upping the pace of monetary tightening next week,” William Jackson, chief emerging markets economist at Capital Economics, told clients in a note, forecasting another rate increase of 150 basis points.

Big rate hikes from the central bank, whose autonomy was written into Brazil’s constitution this year, are one more headwind for a weak economy, which is weighing on President Jair Bolsonaro’s popularity as he prepares to seek reelection in 2022.

Revised data showed a 0.4% drop in the second quarter, worse than the 0.1% decline reported previously. Two straight quarters of contraction meet the definition of a recession.

Unusually dry weather this year has also hurt key Brazilian crops such as corn and coffee. Vanishing reserves at hydropower dams drove up electricity costs, adding to price shocks.

Agricultural production fell 8.0% in the third quarter, while industrial output was flat and services advanced 1.1%.

Brazil’s auto industry has struggled to ramp up production amid a shortage of components such as microchips in global supply chains. Shortages have also hurt manufacturing in Mexico, whose economy contracted more than expected in the quarter.

WORSE TO COME

Some economists are warning of a deeper downturn next year.

The market outlook for 2022 economic growth has fallen from 2.3% in June to less than 0.6% in the latest central bank poll of economists, released on Monday.

Brazil’s Economy Ministry dismissed that consensus in a statement on Thursday, reaffirming its forecast of economic growth above 2% next year and pointing to recent job creation data as evidence of a resilient recovery.

Brazil’s unemployment rate fell to 12.6% in the third quarter from 14.2% in the prior quarter, data showed this week, hitting the lowest point since the beginning of the pandemic.

“The government has an obvious bias to overestimate (growth) as long as possible. But there comes a point when you can’t,” said José Francisco Gonçalves, chief economist at Banco Fator.

Compared to the third quarter of 2020, Brazil’s economy grew 4.0%, IBGE data showed, below a median forecast of 4.2% growth.

(Reporting by Marcela Ayres in Brasilia and Camila Moreira in Sao Paulo; Writing by Brad Haynes; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Daniel Flynn and Richard Chang)

 

California farm town lurches from no water to polluted water

By Daniel Trotta

TEVISTON, Calif. (Reuters) – The San Joaquin Valley farm town of Teviston has two wells. One went dry and the other is contaminated.

The one functioning well failed just at the start of summer, depriving the hot and dusty hamlet of running water for weeks. With temperatures routinely soaring above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius), farm workers bathed with buckets after laboring in the nearby vineyards and almond orchards.

Even as officials restored a modicum of pressure with trucked-in water, and after the well was repaired, the hardships have endured. Teviston’s 400 to 700 people – figures fluctuate with the agricultural season – have received bottled drinking water since the well failed in June.

But for years, probably decades, the water coming from Teviston taps has been laced with the carcinogen 1,2,3-Trichloropropane, or 1,2,3-TCP, the legacy of pesticides.

The Western U.S. drought, the most severe in 125 years of record-keeping, is exacting a further toll on communities throughout the San Joaquin Valley, where people living on the edge of farmland gather many of the crops but little of the largesse from California’s $50 billion agricultural industry.

For Esperanza Guerrero, 35, a Mexican immigrant and homemaker whose husband works at a dairy farm, the poor water quality poses additional dangers for her 16-year-old daughter, who can drink only purified water because of a gastrointestinal ailment.

“It’s very stressful as a mother to know that if for any reason she should wash a piece of fruit (with tap water) and eat it, she’s going down,” Guerrero said while picking up bottled water from the community depot.

Teviston, devoid of any retail or commercial business, won a $3 million settlement in June from pesticide producers Dow Chemical Company and Shell Oil Company and distributors that will pay for a water treatment plant.

Dow declined to comment on Teviston, but said there was “no merit” to allegations in similar lawsuits brought by other local jurisdictions in the San Joaquin Valley.

“The plaintiffs’ claims in these cases are based on a California water quality standard that went into effect in 2018, several decades after the product formulations in question were discontinued. To the extent TCP was present in past product formulations, it would have been at levels so low as to pose no environmental risk,” the company said in a statement.

Shell declined to comment on active litigation.

The settlement will help Teviston resolve the dilemma of having to choose between safe or affordable water, said Todd Robins, an attorney with San Francisco-based Robins Borghei LLP who has represented other towns like Teviston in similar lawsuits.

The arid, forbidding land of the San Joaquin Valley has been transformed into one of the most fertile plains in the world by farmers, politicians and engineers who changed the course of mighty rivers and brought water hundreds of miles to a valley so broad and flat that in most directions the fields meet sky.

The drought has made both surface and ground water scarce.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates canals moving surface water from Northern California further south, has cut allotments to farmers this year: first to a mere 5% of normal, then down to zero.

That increased demand on the aquifers. Growers who operate their own wells are lowering the water table for neighboring towns like Teviston that depend on well water.

Outside the valley, many environmentalists criticize growers. The people of Teviston don’t paint them as the enemy.

“We need the farms. Without the farms, we don’t have any work,” said Frank Galaviz, a director on the town council who has emerged as Teviston’s leading water advocate.

THE ENEMY BELOW

Historically, the farms have faced another nemesis besides drought.

Beneath the ground, tiny worms called nematodes infest roots. For decades, through the 1980’s, growers injected their soil with the since-discontinued pesticides Telone, made by Dow, and D-D, made by Shell, according to Robins, who has pieced together the history of 1,2,3-TCP contamination through about 70 lawsuits against both companies.

By the 1990’s health officials established that TCP was carcinogenic and would linger in the water table for a lifetime unless removed by filtration. California’s TCP problem is concentrated in the San Joaquin Valley, state data show.

Telone and D-D were essentially a byproduct of other chemical processes that would have been disposed of were it not found to be an effective pesticide, enabling the companies to offload the byproduct by selling it to farmers, Robins said.

“It’s a dirty secret,” Robins said, adding that Dow’s reformulated Telone II became more effective once TCP and other impurities were removed.

While Teviston awaits a treatment plant, its TCP levels remain above safe levels. In May, testing showed the TCP level was nearly three times the maximum acceptable level, and in March it was more than seven times the limit, according to the state’s Safe Drinking Water Information System. In September, Teviston showed a negligible amount, an outlier that experts said could be skewed by the new well or the extreme drought.

Teviston’s marginalization dates back nearly a century, when Black workers arrived to work white-owned cotton farms. While the farmers had sought the Black workers, the workers were unwelcome in white towns, and they formed a tent city that became Teviston. Over the years the workforce became immigrant Mexican, another politically disadvantaged class, and white family farms were supplanted by corporations operating ever larger tracts of factory farms.

Dorris Brooks, an African American woman who lives at the end of Teviston’s water line, said past efforts to improve well water have only resulted in temporary relief.

“You can see there’s actually sludge that comes out of the tap,” Brooks said.

Brooks, who moved to Teviston as an adult 43 years ago, questioned whether the settlement was just.

“That company got away with for messing up the water and the people’s lives,” Brooks said. “There’s sick people here.”

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta. Editing by Donna Bryson and Diane Craft)

NOAA expects U.S. Southwest drought to continue or worsen this winter

By Karl Plume

(Reuters) – A harsh drought is expected to continue or worsen across parts of the U.S. West and northern Plains this winter, including in central and southern California, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) winter outlook.

NOAA, however, expects the drought to lessen in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and northern California amid an emerging La Nina phenomenon, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center said on Thursday.

A drought spanning much of western North America has damaged crops from apples to wheat, and has cooked cattle grazing pastures, weakened bee colonies and fueled concerns about rising food prices.

Nearly the entire U.S. West is in some level of drought, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center, with almost half of major agricultural state California under exceptional drought, the most severe category.

“A major region of concern this winter remains the Southwest, where drought conditions remain persistent in most areas,” said Jon Gottschalck, chief of the Operational Prediction Branch of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

“The Pacific Northwest, northern California, the upper Midwest and Hawaii are likely to experience drought improvement,” he said during a webinar highlighting NOAA’s December-to-February outlook.

The conditions are expected to be fueled by an emerging La Nina pattern and its colder-than-normal Pacific Ocean surface water temperatures for a second straight winter.

(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by David Gregorio)

Drought may force Brazil to ration power, says Vice President Mourao

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourao said on Wednesday a severe drought could lead to energy rationing in Brazil, contradicting other officials who have said that such a step would not be necessary.

Brazil, one of the world’s agricultural superpowers, is suffering from one of its worst droughts in a century. The lack of rainfall has emptied hydroelectric reservoirs, fanned inflation and hurt farmers. The government has given incentives to use less energy but says rationing is not expected.

“There may have to be some rationing,” Mourao told reporters in Brasilia, although he said the government had taken necessary measures to prevent blackouts.

Brazil’s Mines and Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque on Tuesday said the country’s energy crisis was worse than previously thought. In a televised national address, Albuquerque said Brazil had lost hydropower output equal to the energy consumed by the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second largest, in five months.

Separately on Tuesday, the ministry announced it would once again raise energy prices, with affected consumers paying on average 6.78% more for electricity starting on Sept. 1.

The meteorological outlook remains grim for Brazil. Rainfall in energy-producing regions is likely to remain well below average in September, the national grid operator ONS said last week.

(Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter in Rio de Janeiro and Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia; editing by Barbara Lewis)

‘Once in 100 years’ drought seen affecting Argentine grains exports into next year

By Hugh Bronstein

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) -A once-a-century drought has lowered the water level of Argentina’s main grains transport river, reducing farm exports and boosting logistics costs in a trend that meteorologists said will likely continue into next year.

The South American grains powerhouse is the world’s No. 3 corn supplier and No. 1 exporter of soymeal livestock feed, used to fatten hogs and poultry from Europe to Southeast Asia. Farm exports are Argentina’s main source of hard currency needed to bolster central bank reserves sapped by a three-year recession.

Southern Brazil, source of the Parana River, has been hit by severe dryness for three years. This has reduced water levels in the Argentine ports hub of Rosario, Santa Fe province, where about 80% of the country’s agricultural exports are loaded.

“This is about a once-in-a-hundred-years event. That’s the type of frequency we are looking at,” said Isaac Hankes, a weather analyst at Refinitiv, financial and risk business of Thomson Reuters.

On Monday the United Nations climate panel’s report found that climate change is making extreme weather events more common. One meteorologist told Reuters the situation could “even get worse after the rainy season” set to start in late September.

Ships sailing from Rosario are loading 18% to 25% less cargo than normal due to the shallow water, said Guillermo Wade, manager of Argentina’s Chamber of Port and Maritime Activities.

Logistics costs are rising as more soy and corn must be trucked to the Atlantic ports of Bahia Blanca and Necochea, in southern Buenos Aires province, where ships make a final stop to be topped off with cargo before heading out to sea.

The Parana at Rosario was at 0.06 meters on Thursday versus a median 2.92 meters over the last 24 years, according to Argentina Coast Guard data. The measurement is a reference used by ship captains rather than an actual gauge of water depth.

GIMME SOME WATER

The drying trend in Brazil started in 2019. The next year was drier and 2021 has been the driest of the three years, Hankes said. The effect on the river is cumulative.

Over the last 12 months the Parana River basin has gotten only 50% to 75% of normal rainfall.

“We would need something like 130% of normal rainfall between now and February to replenish river levels. Anything less than 100% would be bad news for the river basin, and between now and February we expect maybe 80% of normal rainfall,” Hankes said.

“We do expect to see a wetter trend once we get into October-November, which you would typically see in the wet season anyway. But after that our best indications right now are that we could see a similar pattern to last year,” Hankes added.

The usually rainy Southern Hemisphere spring starts in September and ends in December. But the coming increase in water is expected to only temporarily help refresh the Parana.

“It could even get worse after the rainy season,” said German Heinzenknecht, a meteorologist at consultancy Applied Climatology.

“This shallow level of the waterway is historic, and it is hard to predict when it could be reversed,” Heinzenknecht added.

A top Argentine oilseeds executive with an international exporter with major crushing operation in Rosario agreed that the Parana crisis will probably continue next year. The executive asked not to be named, as per company policy.

“The situation will remain critical until October, improving in the late fourth quarter and first quarter. But from April onward, when Argentina’s soy and corn harvest starts, and the biggest number of cargo vessels are expected, the river at Rosario will be back to a scenario similar to 2021,” the executive said.

(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein, additional reporting by Maximilian Heath; Editing by David Gregorio)

Wildfires blaze on in drought-hit Turkey as criticism grows

By Mehmet Emin Caliskan and Daren Butler

MARMARIS, Turkey (Reuters) – Firefighters using planes and helicopters, and locals with buckets of water, battled wildfires raging for a sixth day near southern resorts in drought-hit Turkey and the government faced fresh criticism of its handling of the disaster.

Seven fires were still burning on Monday, fanned by temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104°F), strong winds and low humidity, Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said.

Huge flames engulfed trees on a hillside near the coastal resort of Marmaris, images filmed by Reuters showed, while drone footage revealed a grey landscape nearby where fires had left smoldering buildings and blackened tree trunks.

While 16 planes and 51 helicopters tackled the blazes across a swathe of southwest Turkey, villagers carrying water containers up a hill to fight a fire near Marmaris said the government was not doing enough to help them.

“We are here as the entire village, from the locals to others. We didn’t run or anything, so the government must see this and also not run away. It must send some of its planes here,” a woman called Gulhan told Reuters.

The heatwave exacerbating the fires comes after months of exceptionally dry weather in Turkey’s southwest, according to maps issued by meteorological authorities.

Data from the European Forest Fire Information Service showed there have been three times as many fires as usual this year, while the 136,000 hectares burnt were almost three times the area burnt on average in an entire year.

Engin Ozkoc, a senior figure in the main opposition CHP, called on Pakdemirli to resign for failing to adequately prepare.

“OUR TURKEY IS STRONG”

“You don’t deserve that ministry. You didn’t foresee this and buy firefighting planes,” he said, criticizing the amount of aerial resources available.

The European Union said it had helped mobilize three fire-fighting planes on Sunday. One from Croatia and two from Spain joined teams from Russia, Iran, Ukraine and Azerbaijan.

President Tayyip Erdogan’s communications director, Fahrettin Altun, rejected criticism of the government’s handling of the fires and condemned a social media campaign calling for foreign help.

“Our Turkey is strong. Our state is standing tall,” Altun said on Twitter, describing most information about the fires on social media as “fake news”. “All our losses will be compensated for.”

Eight people have been killed in the wildfires, but there were no reports of further casualties on Monday.

Since Wednesday, thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes and some tourists have left their hotels, although Tourism Minister Mehmet Ersoy said holidaymakers had returned within hours.

The wildfires are another blow to Turkey’s tourism industry following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bulent Bulbuloglu, head of the South Aegean Hoteliers Association, said 10% of reservations had been cancelled in Bodrum and Marmaris. Others had cut their visits short.

(Reporting by Mehmet Emin Caliskan, Mert Ozkan and Ceyda Caglayan; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and Andrew Heavens)

Freak Brazil frost hits heart of coffee belt, damaging crops

By Nayara Figueiredo and Marcelo Teixeira

SAO PAULO/NEW YORK (Reuters) – An unusual cold snap, with temperatures dropping to freezing levels in a matter of minutes, delivered a blow to the heart of Brazil’s coffee belt, damaging trees and harming prospects for next year’s crop, farmers said on Wednesday.

Agricultural products across the western hemisphere have been beset by unusually bad weather – be it floods or extreme drought – all season. Brazil is the world’s largest coffee producer, as its climate is most conducive for production of the beans. Coffee prices surged nearly 14% in response to the frosts, nearing four-and-a-half year highs.

The sudden frost happened in the morning of July 20. Farmers, brokers and analysts were assessing their crops on Wednesday after reports that the cold snap was much stronger than expected.

“I’ve never seen something like that. We knew it would be cold, we were monitoring, but temperatures suddenly went several degrees down when it was already early morning,” said Mario Alvarenga, a coffee producer with two farms in the southern part of Minas Gerais, Brazil’s largest producing state.

Farmers shared pictures of their crops, where large black areas were visible in places where they should see dark green spots marking coffee trees.

“I will probably have to take out some 80,000 trees, they are burned all the way to the bottom,” said Airton Gonçalves, who farms 100 hectares of coffee in Patrocinio, in the Cerrado region of Minas Gerais.

“I was going to the farm yesterday and a sensor in the truck started to alert me about ice in the road. I thought the system had gone crazy. But when I got to the farm, it was covered in ice, the roofs, the crops.”

According to reports, the frost hit areas all the way from the south to the central parts of Minas Gerais.

Joel de Souza Borges, a coffee broker in Patrocinio, believes that around 50% of farms in the Cerrado region were hit. He said this year’s production will not be harmed, since most areas were already harvested, but production in 2022 is a question mark.

“In some cases the trees recover, you need to cut down some of the branches. In other cases, you have to take the tree out and replant,” he said.

Farmer Gonçalves estimates his production in 2022 will fall from 5,500 bags to around 1,500 bags.

(Reporting by Marcelo Teixeira; editing by David Evans)

Thousands of flamingos die in drought in central Turkey

By Mert Ozkan

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Thousands of baby flamingos have died at Turkey’s Lake Tuz in the past two weeks from a drought that environmentalists said was the result of climate change and agricultural irrigation methods.

Drone footage of the large saline lake in Turkey’s central province of Konya showed dead flaminglets lying partially buried in dried mud. Lake Tuz is home to a flamingo colony where up to 10,000 flaminglets are born every year.

Turkish Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Bekir Pakdemirli said around 1,000 birds were thought to have died but denied that agriculture was to blame.

“With less water and increased concentration ratio in the water, we observed deaths of flaminglets that were unable to fly,” he said.

“I want to stress that there is no direct or indirect connection between this incident and the wells in the area or the agricultural irrigation.”

Pakdemirli said “the necessary measures” had been taken, without elaborating.

In 2000, Lake Tuz was declared a specially protected area, a designation that aims to protect biological diversity, natural and cultural resources.

Environmentalists blame farming practices along with climate change for the drought, which saw demand for water in the area outstrip supply by 30 percent last year, according to a report published by Turkish environmental foundation TEMA.

In 2020, the annual water reserve in central province of Konya’s close basin was 4.5 billion cubic meters, while the consumption reached 6.5 billion cubic meters, TEMA found.

Environmentalist and wildlife photographer Fahri Tunc said water supplies from a canal which feeds Lake Tuz were being redirected for farming.

“This is the irrigation canal that comes from Konya. It needs to deliver water to Lake Tuz. As you can see, the water is not coming through. It stopped,” environmentalist and wildlife photographer Fahri Tunc said.

Tunc said only 5,000 eggs had hatched in the colony this year and most of the chicks had died for lack of water on the partially dried lake.

“It is a sin we are all committing,” Tunc said.

President of the Turkish NGO the Nature Association Dicle Tuba Kilic said the only way to prevent mass flamingo deaths is to change the agricultural irrigation methods in region.

Lake Tuz (Salt Lake) is one of the largest hypersaline lakes in the world.

(Writing by Yesim Dikmen; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

‘If you don’t leave, you’re dead:’ Oregon wildfire forces hundreds from homes

By Deborah Bloom and Sergio Olmos

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. (Reuters) – A growing wildfire in a bone-dry Oregon forest had forced hundreds of people from their homes by Wednesday as it charred more than 200,000 acres (80,940 hectares) and showed no signs of slowing, officials said.

The so-called Bootleg Fire, which has spread through the Fremont-Winema National Forest about 250 miles (400 km) south of Portland since July 6, has destroyed 21 homes and threatened 1,926 more, according to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland.

By Wednesday morning, the fire had left a thick haze over nearby Klamath Falls, where the local fairgrounds were turned into a Red Cross evacuation center.

Tim McCarley, one of the evacuees, told Reuters earlier this week that sheriff’s deputies and state troopers showed up at his home just as “sparks and embers were coming down” and told his family “if you don’t leave, you’re dead.”

“This is my first wildfire and I’m going to tell you, it is scary,” another evacuated resident, Sarah Kose, added this week. “You don’t know if you’re going to be the one that loses your house, or you sit there and you watch your neighbor lose their house, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

The Bootleg Fire is the biggest of several wildfires scorching parts of Western states, where a drought and a recent record-setting heat wave have left brush and timber highly flammable.

So far, it has burned more than 212,000 acres (330 square miles), including about 50,000 acres (20,230 hectares) on Monday alone, and crews have managed to put containment lines around only 5% of it.

In all, 60 large fires have consumed more than 1 million acres (404,680 hectares) across 12 states this season, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, a firefighting group combining eight federal agencies.

Last year, numerous late summer wildfires, fueled by gusty winds and hot, dry terrain, killed more than three dozen people and charred more than 10.2 million acres (4.1 million hectares) in California, Oregon and Washington.

Earlier in the week, flames burning along a high-voltage power corridor connecting Oregon’s electricity grid with California’s affected power supplies, prompting the agency that manages California’s power grid to issue temporary conservation alerts. But as the worst of the heat wave abated, the alerts were withdrawn.

(Reporting by Sergio Olmos in Portland, Oregon and Peter Szekely in New York; Additional reporting by Deborah Bloom and Mathieu Louis-Rolland in Klamath County, Oregon; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Northern U.S. Plains drought shrivels spring wheat crop to smallest in 33 years, USDA says

By Julie Ingwersen and Karl Plume

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Farmers in the northern U.S. Plains are on track to harvest the smallest spring wheat crop in 33 years, reflecting the impact of severe drought in the key farming region, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said on Monday.

The shortfall in spring wheat, which typically represents a quarter of total U.S. wheat production, means tighter supplies of the variety used in bread and pizza dough, prized by millers for its quality and high protein content.

Benchmark futures prices on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange surged more than 5% after the USDA slashed its 2021 spring wheat harvest outlook to 345 million bushels, down 41% from a year earlier and the smallest since 1988. Chicago Board of Trade winter wheat contracts followed suit, gaining 3% to 4%.

Soaring U.S. wheat prices will further pinch import-dependent nations that have struggled with food inflation and climbing costs for shipping grain around the world.

A harsh drought in the Canadian Prairies is threatening to pare supplies of the high-protein grain even further. Both nations export the majority of their spring wheat.

“The spring wheat production is a lot weaker than expected and has been heading south. There’s just nothing good to say about this spring wheat crop,” said Jack Scoville, analyst with the Price Futures Group in Chicago.

“Wheat millers are going to pay, and so are we. The good news is that there’s only few cents worth of wheat in each loaf of bread or package of cereal. But even so, it’s going to creep up,” Scoville said.

Spring wheat production losses should be partially offset by a large U.S. winter wheat harvest, but U.S. supplies are still projected at the tightest in eight years, the USDA said.

Late on Monday, the USDA rated just 16% of the U.S. spring wheat crop in good-to-excellent condition, the lowest early-July level since 1988.

(Reporting by Julie Ingwersen and Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by Alistair Bell)