Mike Pence to visit Nebraska amid deadly floods

Lanni Bailey and a team from Muddy Paws Second Chance Rescue enter a flooded house to pull out several cats during the flooding of the Missouri River near Glenwood, Iowa, U.S. March 18, 2019. Passport Aerial Photography/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will visit Nebraska on Tuesday to survey the devastation left by floods in the Midwest which have killed at least four people and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

The floods, the result of last week’s ‘bomb cyclone,’ a term used by meteorologists to describe the powerful winter hurricane, inundated stretches of Nebraska and Iowa along the Missouri River. It swamped homes, covering about a third of the U.S. Air Force Base that is home to the United States Strategic Command, and cut off road access to a nuclear power plant.

FILE PHOTO: One of many areas near the southeast side of Offutt Air Force Base affected by flood waters is seen in Nebraska, U.S., March 16, 2019. Courtesy Rachelle Blake/U.S. Air Force/Handout via REUTERS

FILE PHOTO: One of many areas near the southeast side of Offutt Air Force Base affected by flood waters is seen in Nebraska, U.S., March 16, 2019. Courtesy Rachelle Blake/U.S. Air Force/Handout via REUTERS

Farms were deluged and rescuers could be seen in boats pulling pets from flooded homes.

About 74 Nebraska cites had declared states of emergency by Monday evening, according to Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). More than 600 residents were evacuated and taken to American Red Cross-operated shelters.

“Heading to Nebraska today to survey the devastating flood damage. To the people of Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, all regions impacted: we are with you,!” Pence said in a post on Twitter early Tuesday. He will tour the zone with Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds.

The flood waters are the result of snowmelt following heavy rains last week and warm temperatures, said Bob Oravec, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.

“Most of the snowpack in Nebraska is now gone, but upriver in North and South Dakota, there’s significant snowpack of up to 20 plus inches (51 cm) and it’s melting,” he said.

Flooded Platte River seen in this DigitalGlobe Satellite image over Nebraska, U.S., March 18, 2019. Picture taken on March 18, 2019. ©2019 DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company/Handout via REUTERS

Flooded Platte River seen in this DigitalGlobe Satellite image over Nebraska, U.S., March 18, 2019. Picture taken on March 18, 2019. ©2019 DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company/Handout via REUTERS

The Missouri River, the longest in North America, has flooded much of Nebraska between Omaha and Kansas City.

The river was expected to crest at more than 47 feet (14.5 meters) on Tuesday, breaking the previous record, set in 2011, by more than a foot (30 cm), NEMA said.

At least one person was missing on Monday. The four reported deaths included one person in Iowa who was rescued from flood waters but later succumbed to injuries, according to the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office.

“This is clearly the most widespread disaster we have had in our state’s history,” in terms of size, Governor Ricketts told reporters Monday.

Damage to the state’s livestock sector was estimated at about $400 million, said Steve Wellman, director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.

The state’s highway system suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in damage, said Kyle Schneweis, director of the state Department of Transportation.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Scott Malone and Bernadette Baum)

U.S. wildfires ravage ranches in three states

Rancher Nancy Schwerzenbach walks with dogs through pasture burned by wildfires near Lipscomb, Texas, U.S., March 12, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

By Lucas Jackson

LIPSCOMB, Texas (Reuters) – When the Schwerzenbach family saw a wildfire racing toward their remote ranch in Lipscomb, Texas, there was no time to run.

“We had a minute or two and then it was over us,” said 56-year-old Nancy Schwerzenbach.

The fire, moving up to 70 miles per hour (112 kph), was one of several across more than 2 million acres (810,000 hectares) that hit the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma and Kansas last week, causing millions of dollars of damage and killing thousands of livestock.

Burning through nearly all 1,000 acres of the Schwerzenbach ranch, the fire killed some 40 cattle. A mile away, a young man in the rural community was killed.

“The fire was about two miles away before we knew what happened to us,” she said.

Numerous smaller fires burned in Colorado, Nebraska and the Florida Everglades, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas ranchers are returning home to survey the damage from the fires, fueled by tinder-dry vegetation and high winds. Local farmers from the Great Plains have helped those who have been affected by the wildfires by donating hay and fencing material.

In Oklahoma, the fires scorched a Smithfield Foods Inc. hog farm in Laverne, killing some 4,300 sows.

“When we drive down the road and look out on the pasture lands, there’s no grass. There’s dead deer, dead cows, dead wildlife, miles of fence gone away. It looks like a complete desert,” said Ashland Veterinary Center co-owner Dr. Randall Spare, who is helping in relief efforts in Clark County, Kansas.

Oklahoma Department of Agriculture State Veterinarian Rod Hall said bulldozers were being used to bury dead animals.

“They’re digging large pits and burying the animals in there,” he said.

In Texas, state government agencies estimate about 1,500 cattle were lost, according to Steve Amosson, an economist at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.

“When we value the deaths of cattle at market value, including disposal costs, we’re talking about $2.1 million at this point, and I expect that to go up,” he said. “We’re still dealing with chaos, they’re still trying to find cattle.”

Amosson estimates it could cost $6 million to recover 480,000 acres burned in Texas fires along with $4.3 million to replace and repair fences in the northern Texas Panhandle either destroyed by the fire or by cattle trampling them to escape the blaze.

Texas is the top U.S. cattle producing state with some 12.3 million head and Kansas is third at 6.4 million.

For Troy Bryant, 34, a rancher in Laverne, Oklahoma, the impact from the fires has been devastating. He lost livestock

worth about $35,000 and fencing worth about $40,000.

“We saw 4,000 acres burned here. Some places further west of here lost much more,” he said.

Click on http://reut.rs/2lXlAZK to see a photo related essay

(Reporting by Lucas Jackson in Lipscomb, Texas; Additional reporting by Renita D. Young and Theopolis Waters in Chicago; Writing and additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Melissa Fares and Diane Craft in New York)

Brazil races against time to save drought-hit city, dying crops

cracked ground in Brazil

By Anthony Boadle

CAMPINA GRANDE, Brazil (Reuters) – The shrunken carcasses of cows lie in scorched fields outside the city of Campina Grande in northeast Brazil, and hungry goats search for food on the cracked-earth floor of the Boqueirao reservoir that serves the desperate town.

After five years of drought, farmer Edivaldo Brito says he cannot remember when the Boqueirão reservoir was last full. But he has never seen it this empty.

“We’ve lost everything: bananas, beans, potatoes,” Brito said. “We have to walk 3 kilometers just to wash clothes.”

Brazil’s arid northeast is weathering its worst drought on record and Campina Grande, which has 400,000 residents that depend on the reservoir, is running out of water.

After two years of rationing, residents complain that water from the reservoir is dirty, smelly and undrinkable. Those who can afford to do so buy bottled water to cook, wash their teeth with, and even to give their pets.

The reservoir is down to 4 percent of capacity and rainfall is expected to be sparse this year.

“If it does not fill up, the city’s water system will collapse by mid-year,” says Janiro Costa Rêgo, an expert on water resources and hydraulics professor at Campina Grande’s federal university. “It would be a holocaust. You would have to evacuate the city.”

Brazil’s government says help is on the way.

REROUTING THE RIVER

After decades of promises and years of delays, the government says the rerouting of Brazil’s longest river, the São Francisco, will soon relieve Campina Grande and desperate farmers in four parched northeastern states.

Water will be pumped over hills and through 400 kilometers of canals into dry river basins in Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Pernambuco, and Paraíba, the small state of which Campina Grande is the second-biggest city.

Begun in 2005 by leftist president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the project has been delayed by political squabbles, corruption and cost-overruns of billions of dollars.

Brazil’s ongoing recession, which economists calculate has shrunk the economy of the impoverished northeast by over four percent during each of the past two years, made things even worse.

Now, President Michel Temer is speeding up completion of the project, perhaps his best opportunity to boost support for his unpopular government in a region long-dominated by native-son Lula and his leftist Workers Party.

In early March, Temer plans to open a canal that will feed Campina Grande’s reservoir at the town of Monteiro. The water will still take weeks to flow down the dry bed of the Paraíba river to Boqueirão.

With the quality of water in Campina Grande dropping by the day, it is a race against time.

Professor Costa Rêgo says the reservoir water will become untreatable by March and could harm residents who cannot afford bottled water.

Helder Barbalho, Temer’s minister in charge of the project, says the government is confident the water will arrive on schedule.

“We have to deliver the water by April at all costs,” he said.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Climate change has worsened the droughts in Brazil’s northeast over the last 30 years, according to Eduardo Martins, head of Funceme, Ceará state’s meteorological agency.

Rainfall has decreased and temperatures have risen, increasing demand for agricultural irrigation just as water supplies fell and evaporation accelerated.

Costa Rêgo blames lack of planning by Brazil’s governments for persistent and repeated water crises, shocking for a country that boasts the biggest fresh water reserves on the planet.

The reservoir supplying São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city and a metropolitan region of 20 million people, nearly dried up in 2015. The capital, Brasilia, resorted to rationing this year.

In Fortaleza, capital of Ceará and the northeast’s second largest city, the vital Castanhão reservoir is down to 5 percent of its capacity.

While that city will also get water from the São Francisco project, it will not arrive until at least year-end because contractor Mendes Junior abandoned work after being implicated in a major corruption scandal.

“Water from the São Francisco river is vital,” Ceará Governor Camilo Santana told Reuters. He said the reservoir can supply Ceará only until August.

After that, the state must use emergency wells and a mandatory 20 percent reduction in consumption to keep Fortaleza taps running until water arrives.

RATIONING

Ceará has had to cut back on irrigation, hurting flower and melon exporters, cattle ranchers and dairy farmers. They stand to flourish when the transfer comes through, but quenching the thirst of the cities will take priority.

In Campina Grande, a textile center, companies including industry leaders Coteminas and Alpargatas have curtailed expansion plans and drastically cut back consumption by recycling the water they use.

There, too, new water will first go towards solving the crisis in Campina Grande and surrounding towns. Only then will officials think about agriculture.

“First we have to satisfy the thirst of urban consumers. Only then can we think of producing wealth,” said Joao Fernandes da Silva, the top water management official in Paraíba.

Rationing has particularly hurt poorer urban families. Many have no running water or water tanks and instead store water in plastic bottles.

For those who have waited decades for the São Francisco transfer, they will believe it only when they see the water flow.

Brito said he and his neighbors survive on the social programs that were the hallmark of Lula and his Workers Party administration. Though tainted by corruption allegations, Lula remains Brazil’s most popular politician ahead of presidential elections next year.

“Without the Bolsa Familia program, we would be dying of hunger,” said Brito, who believes shortages could persist even after the river transfer. “It’s political season again, so they promise us water, just for our votes.”

(Additional reporting by Ueslei Marcelino and Sergio Queiroz; Editing by Paulo Prada, Daniel Flynn and Bernadette Baum)

Drug resistance in people and animals may push millions into poverty

The mcr-1 plasmid-borne colistin resistance gene has been found primarily in Escherichia coli, pictured.

By Alex Whiting

ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – If drug-resistant infections in people and animals are allowed to spread unchecked, some 28 million people will fall into poverty by 2050, and a century of progress in health will be reversed, the World Bank said on Monday.

By 2050, annual global GDP would fall by at least 1.1 percent, although the loss could be as much as 3.8 percent – the equivalent of the 2008 financial crisis – the Bank said in a report released ahead of a high-level meeting on the issue at the United Nations in New York this week.

The rise of “superbugs” resistant to drugs has been caused partly by the increased use and misuse of antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs in the treatment of people and in farming.

“We cannot afford to lose the gains in the last century brought about by the antibiotic era,” Tim Evans, the World Bank’s senior director for health, nutrition and population, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“By any measure, the cost of inaction on antimicrobial resistance is too great, it needs to be addressed urgently and resolutely,” he said.

Greater quantities of antibiotics are used in farming than for treating people, and much of this is for promoting animal growth rather than treating sick animals, economist Jim O’Neill said in a report in May commissioned by the British government.

The O’Neill report estimated that drug-resistant infections could kill more than 10 million people a year by 2050, up from half a million today, and the costs of treatment would soar.

LIVESTOCK

Farmers too will be greatly affected. The bank estimates that by 2050, global livestock production could fall by between 2.6 percent and 7.5 percent a year, if the problem of drug resistant superbugs is not curbed.

“Investments are urgently needed to establish basic veterinary public health capacities in developing countries,” Evans said.

Improved disease surveillance, diagnostic laboratories to ensure a disease is identified quickly, inspections of farms and slaughterhouses, training of vets, and oversight over the use of antibiotics are also needed, he said.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates 60,000 tonnes of antimicrobials are used in livestock each year, a number set to rise with growing demand for animal products.

One of the most important ways to curb the spread of drug resistant microbes in food is to promote good farming practices, said Juan Lubroth, chief veterinary officer of FAO.

“I think this is where we can do most of our prevention – better knowledge on hygiene, vaccination campaigns, so these animals do not get sick and need antimicrobials (drugs),” Lubroth said in an interview from Rome.

Public demand for food that is uncontaminated, and better training of health professionals – doctors and vets – are also vital to help contain the problem, he added.

Hospitals and pharmaceutical companies also need to do more to treat their waste, he said.

The World Bank estimates that an investment of some $9 billion a year is needed in veterinary and human health to tackle the issue.

“The expected return on this investment is estimated to be between $2 trillion and $5.4 trillion … or at least 10 to 20 times the cost, which should help generate political will necessary to make these investments,” Evans said.

(Reporting by Alex Whiting, Editing by Ros Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)