Malawi Musician Fight Myths About Albinism

In Malawi, a young albino man is using music to fight discrimination and misconceptions about the genetic condition in a country where more than 100 people with albinism have been attacked since 2014. Lazarus Chigwandali has long been performing on the streets of Lilongwe.  But after catching the eye of a Swedish producer, he began work on an album that is due out in August. He’s also about to embark on a nationwide tour to promote a documentary, produced by American pop star Madonna, about the plight of albinos in Malawi. Lameck Masina reports from Lilongwe.

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Malawi Musician Fights Myths About Albinism

In Malawi, a young albino man is using music to fight discrimination and misconceptions about the genetic condition in a country where more than 100 people with albinism have been attacked since 2014. 

As teens, Lazarus Chigwandali and his late brother, who also had albinism, played on the streets of Lilongwe, mostly to raise money to buy protective skin lotion.

He says in those days it was difficult to find skin lotion that would protect them from the sun, so they had sores all over their bodies. As a result many people discriminated against them because of the way their bodies looked.

Attacks continue

Discrimination and attacks against albinos like Chigwandali continue. Some Africans believe their body parts, used in so-called magic potions, will bring good luck.

At 39, Chigwandali began composing songs about the myths and misperceptions about people with albinism.

Then he heard music producers from abroad wanted to meet him at his home village to record his music, something that worried his wife, Gertrude Levison.

She says she was afraid that maybe they wanted to kidnap them all. But she realized that it was a peaceful move when she heard her husband talking with a friend of his on the phone.

The recording deal enabled Chigwandali to produce a 30-track music album, Stomp on the Devil, which denounces attacks on albinos. It is due out in August

Esau Mwamwaya, is Chigwandali’s manager.

“With the challenge which people with albinism face in Malawi we felt like, with his powerful voice, he can be an instrument to send the message across the world that you know, people born with albinism, are just like anybody else,” Mwamwaya said.

Much work to be done

While some of his songs are playing on local radio stations, Chigwandali says there is still a long way to go before the attacks end.

He says there are still others who ignore the messages in his songs. This means a lot of work. But, he says, “We will soon start a nationwide tour to screen my documentary which shows attacks on people with albinism in Malawi.”

The documentary, produced by American pop star Madonna, is about the plight of albinos in Malawi.

His wife worries that Chigwandali’s growing fame could expose him and their two albino sons to potential attackers.

To ease their concerns, Chigwandali’s managers have launched a fundraising initiative to build a house for the family that will provide greater security.

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Analysts: Iran Unlikely to Return to Nuclear Negotiations

Iran announced Monday that it has exceeded its low-enriched uranium stockpile limit, violating the amount it agreed to hold in the 2015 international deal. The move is aimed at forcing the signatories of the nuclear deal to give Iran relief from U.S. sanctions. VOA’s Kurdish Service discussed the consequences of Iran’s action with two experts on Iranian issues. Zlatica Hoke has a summary of what they said.

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US targets Al-Qaida Militants in Northern Syria

The U.S. military says it has struck an al-Qaida leadership and training facility in northern Syria where attacks threatening Americans and others were being planned.

The U.S. Central Command said in a statement that the strike occurred on Sunday near the northern province of Aleppo.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition-linked war monitor, said Monday that the strike killed eight members of the al-Qaida-linked Horas al-Din, which is Arabic for “Guardians of Religion.”

The Observatory says the dead included six commanders: two Algerians, two Tunisians, an Egyptian and a Syrian.

Al-Qaida-linked militants control wide parts of northern Syria, mostly in Idlib province, the last major rebel stronghold in the war-torn country.




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A Village Benefits as India Links Welfare to Digital Economy

India spends billions of dollars on social welfare support for the poor but corruption, fraud and inefficiencies often prevent the benefits from reaching them. But now, the government is starting to transform the way it gets welfare to the poor by linking welfare programs to the world’s biggest biometric identity project under which more than one billion people have been given biometric cards. Anjana Pasricha reports on how residents of a rural hamlet in the northern Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh are benefiting after it switched from cash to digital payments.

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Bomb, Gun Attack in Afghan Capital Leaves Dozens Dead, Wounded

A powerful car bomb-and-gun attack in the Afghan capital of Kabul is reported to have killed and wounded dozens of people. Officials said the ensuing clashes between the assailants and Afghan security forces were raging six hours into the siege.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for plotting the suicide raid against what it said was the logistics and engineering center of the Afghan Defense Ministry.

Residents said Monday’s blast occurred in a central part of the city during morning rush hour, sending a plume of black smoke over Kabul.

Wounded people receive treatment in a hospital after a powerful bomb blast in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 1, 2019.

Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said in a statement that several gunmen later took positions in a nearby under construction multi-story building following the blast and started firing at Afghan police forces on duty.

Rahimi added that Afghan special forces reached the site and an operation was underway to neutralize the assailants. He said two attackers had already been killed while the rest were currently holed up in “civilian homes” around the site of the attack. Rahimi noted that security forces have rescued more than 200 people to safety.

Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah condemned the Taliban attack, saying it “showcases the group’s inherent criminal nature” and vowed the violence will not deter security forces from pursuing and punishing the “miscreants.”

Ambulances rushed to the scene and ferried one dead and around 100 injured people to hospitals, including children, the Afghan health ministry spokesman said. The education ministry announced in a statement that 52 students were among those injured.

Staff at the nearby office building of the Afghanistan Football Federation (AFF) were also among the casualties. Television footage showed the AFF’s acting chief was among those who suffered injuries.

A security forces soldier arrives at the site of an explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 1, 2019.

A senior Afghan journalist, Bilal Sarwary, tweeted the massive blast killed at least 40 people and wounded 80 others, quoting Afghan intelligence, police and government officials.

Authorities in Kabul, however, have not immediately offered any details about whether the blast caused fatalities.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement that a vehicle-born bomb was detonated before “multiple” suicide attackers entered the Defense Ministry-related compounded and engaged Afghan security forces.

Mujahid said the raid killed “tens of officers and workers of the Defense Ministry, though the insurgent group often releases inflated claims for such attacks.

The violence coincided with intensified Taliban battlefield attacks across Afghanistan that officials said have killed nearly 100 Afghan security forces over the past two days.

Monday’s attack comes as the Taliban and the United States are engaged in a fresh round of talks in Qatar aimed at finding a political settlement to the war in Afghanistan.

Washington says it is trying through the dialogue to lay the ground for inter-Afghan talks for a sustainable peace in Afghanistan.

But a Taliban spokesman on Monday reiterated it will participate in talks with Afghan stakeholders only after a timetable for withdrawal of U.S.-led foreign troops from Afghanistan in the presence of “international guarantors.”

Suhail Shaheen, who speaks for the Taliban’s negotiating team, however, ruled out peace talks with the government in Kabul “as government.” The insurgent group dismisses the Afghan administration as an American “puppet” with no decision-making authority.

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UN Chief Warns Paris Climate Goals Still Not Enough

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres took his global message urging immediate climate action to officials gathered in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday, where production of hydrocarbons remains a key driver of the economy.
Guterres is calling on governments to stop building new coal plants by 2020, cut greenhouse emissions by 45% over the next decade and overhauling fossil fuel-driven economies with new technologies like solar and wind. The world, he said, is facing a grave climate emergency.''<br />
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In remarks at a summit in Abu Dhabi, he painted a grim picture of how rapidly climate change is advancing, saying it is outpacing efforts to address it.<br />
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 He lauded the Paris climate accord, but said even if its promises are fully met, the world still faces what he described as a catastrophic three-degree temperature rise by the end of the century.<br />
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Arctic permafrost is melting decades earlier than even worst-case scenarios, he said, threatening to unlock vast amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas.<br />
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It is plain to me that we have no time to lose,” Guterres said. Sadly, it is not yet plain to all the decision makers that run our world.''<br />
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 He spoke at the opulent Emirates Palace, where Abu Dhabi was hosting a preparatory meeting for the U.N. Climate Action Summit in September. Guterres was expected to later take a helicopter ride to view Abu Dhabi's Noor solar power plant.<br />
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When asked, U.N. representatives said the lavish Abu Dhabi summit and his planned helicopter ride would be carbon neutral, meaning their effects would be balanced by efforts like planting trees and sequestering emissions. The U.N. says carbon dioxide emissions account for around 80% of global warming.<br />
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Guterres was in Abu Dhabi fresh off meetings with The Group of 20 leaders in Osaka, Japan. There, he appealed directly to heads of state of the world's main emitters to step up their efforts. The countries of the G-20 represent 80% of world emissions of greenhouse gases, he said.<br />
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At the G-20 meeting, 19 countries expressed their commitment to the Paris agreement, with the only the United States dissenting.<br />
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In 2017, President Donald Trump pledged to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement as soon as 2020, arguing it disadvantages American workers and taxpayers. Trump has also moved steadily to dismantle Obama administration efforts to rein in coal, oil and gas emissions. His position has been that these efforts also hurt the U.S. economy.<br />
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The secretary-general's special envoy for the climate summit, Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, told The Associated Press it was disappointing that the U.S. has pulled out from the accord. However, he said there are many examples of efforts at the local and state level in the United States to combat climate change.<br />
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I think it is very important to have all countries committing to this cause… even more when we are talking about the country of the importance and the size – not only in terms of the economy but also the emissions – of the United States,” he said.
Guterres is urging business leaders and politicians to come to the Climate Action Summit later this year with their plans ready to nearly halve greenhouse emissions by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050.
He suggested taxing major carbon-emitting industries and polluters, ending the subsidization of oil and gas, and halting the building of all new coal plants by next year.
We are in a battle for our lives,'' he said.But it is a battle we can win.”



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Thousands of Protesters Demand Civilian Rule in Sudan

Tens of thousands of protesters rallied across Sudan on Sunday against the ruling generals, calling for a civilian government nearly three months after the army forced out the long-ruling autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

The mass protests, centered in the capital, Khartoum, were the first since a June 3 crackdown when security forces violently broke up a protest camp. In that confrontation, dozens were killed, with protest organizers saying the death toll was at least 128, while authorities claim it was 61, including three security personnel.

Sunday’s demonstrators gathered at several points across Khartoum and in the sister city of Omdurman, then marching to the homes of those killed in previous protests.

The protesters, some of them waving Sudanese flags, chanted “Civilian rule! Civilian rule!” and “Burhan’s council, just fall,” targeting Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the head of the military council. Security forces fired tear gas at the demonstrators.

Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy head of the military council, said the generals want to reach an “urgent and comprehensive agreement with no exclusion. We in the military council are totally neutral. We are the guardians of the revolution. We do not want to be part of the dispute.”

The European Union and several Western countries have called on the generals to avoid bloodshed.

The June 3 raid followed the collapse of talks on a new government, whether it should be led by a civilian or soldier.

Ethiopia and the African Union have offered a plan for a civilian-majority body, which the generals say could be the basis for new negotiations.










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Ancient Peruvian Water-Harvesting System Could Lessen Modern Water Shortages

Sometimes, modern problems require ancient solutions.  
A 1,400-year-old Peruvian water-diverting method could supply up to 40,000 Olympic-size swimming pools’ worth of water to present-day Lima each year, according to new research published in Nature Sustainability.
It’s one example of how indigenous methods could supplement existing modern infrastructure in water-scarce countries worldwide. 
More than a billion people across the world face water scarcity. Artificial reservoirs store rainwater and runoff for use during drier times, but reservoirs are costly, require years to plan and can still fail to meet water needs. Just last week, the reservoirs in Chennai, India, ran nearly dry, forcing its 4 million residents to rely on government water tankers.  

Animation showing monthly rainfall in the tropical Andes. Humid air transports water vapor from the Amazon and is blocked by the Andean mountain barrier, producing extreme differences between the eastern and western slopes. (B. Ochoa-Tocachi, 2019)

Peru’s capital, Lima, depends on water from rivers high in the Andes. It takes only a few days for water to flow down to Lima, so when the dry season begins in the mountains, the water supply rapidly vanishes. The city suffers water deficit of 43 million cubic meters during the dry season, which it alleviates with modern infrastructure such as artificial reservoirs. 

Panoramic view of the Andean highlands in the Chillon river basin where Huamantanga is located. The city of Lima would be located downstream in the horizon background. (S. Grainger, Imperial College London, 2015)

Artificial reservoirs aren’t the only solution, however. Over a thousand years ago, indigenous people developed another way of dealing with water shortages. Boris Ochoa-Tocachi, a postdoctoral researcher at Imperial College London and lead author of the study, saw firsthand one of the last remaining pre-Inca water-harvesting systems in the small highland community of Huamantanga, Peru. 

Water diverted, delayed
The 1,400-year-old system is designed to increase the water supply during the dry season by diverting and delaying water as it travels down from the mountains. This nature-based “green” infrastructure consists of stone canals that guide water from its source to a network of earthen canals, ponds, springs and rocky hillsides, which encourage water to seep into the ground. It then slowly trickles downhill through the soil and resurfaces in streams near the community.  
Ideally, the system should be able to increase the water’s travel time from days to months in order to provide water throughout the dry season, “but there was no evidence at all to quantify what is the water volume that they can harvest from these practices, or really if the practices were actually increasing the yields of these springs that they used during the dry season,” said Ochoa-Tocachi. 

A diversion canal as part of the pre-Inca infiltration system during the wet season. Canals like this divert water during the wet season to zones of high permeability. (M. Briceño, CONDESAN, 2012)

To assess the system’s capabilities, the researchers measured how much it slowed the flow of water by injecting a dye tracer high upstream and noting when it resurfaced downstream. The water started to emerge two weeks later and continued flowing for eight months — a huge improvement over the hours or days it would normally take. 
“I think probably the most exciting result is that we actually confirmed that this system works,” Ochoa-Tocachi added. “It’s not only trusting that, yeah, we know that there are traditional practices, we know that indigenous knowledge is very useful. I think that we proved that it is still relevant today. It is still a tool that we can use and we can replicate to solve modern problems.” 

Considerable increase in supply
The researchers next considered how implementing a scaled-up version of the system could benefit Lima. Combining what they learned from the existing setup in Huamantanga with the physical characteristics of Lima’s surroundings, they estimated that the system could increase Lima’s dry-season water supply by 7.5% on average, and up to 33% at the beginning of the dry season. This amounts to nearly 100 million cubic meters of water per year — the equivalent of 40,000 Olympic-size swimming pools. 
Todd Gartner, director of the World Resources Institute Natural Infrastructure for Water project, noted that this study “takes what we often just talk about — that ‘green [infrastructure] is as good as grey’ — and it puts this into practice and does a lot of evaluation and monitoring and puts real numbers behind it.” 
Another benefit of the system is the cost. Ochoa-Tocachi estimated that building a series of canals similar to what exists in Huamantanga would cost 10 times less than building a reservoir of the same volume. He also noted that many highland societies elsewhere in the world have developed ways of diverting and delaying water in the past and could implement them today to supplement their more expensive modern counterparts. 
“I think there is a lot of potential in revaluing these water-harvesting practices that have a very long history,” Ochoa-Tocachi said. “There are a lot of these practices that still now could be rescued and could be replicated, even though probably the actual mechanics or the actual process is different than the one that we studied. But the concept of using indigenous knowledge for solving modern engineering problems, I think that is probably very valuable today.” 

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Tens of Thousands Join Gay Pride Parades Around the World 

Tens of thousands of people turned out for gay pride celebrations around the world on Saturday, including a boisterous party in Mexico and the first pride march in North Macedonia’s capital. 
Rainbow flags and umbrellas swayed and music pounded as the march along Mexico City’s Paseo de la Reforma avenue got underway, with couples, families and activists seeking to raise visibility for sexual diversity in the country.   
Same-sex civil unions have been legal in Mexico City since 2007, and gay marriage since 2009. A handful of Mexican states have also legalized same-sex unions, which are supposed to be recognized nationwide. But pride participants said Mexico has a long way to go in becoming a more tolerant and accepting place for LGBTQ individuals.  

Revelers attend the gay pride parade in Quito, Ecuador, June 29, 2019.

“There’s a lot of machismo, a lot of ignorance still,” said Monica Nochebuena, who identifies as bisexual.  
Nochebuena, 28, attended the Mexico City march for the first time with her mother and sister on Saturday, wearing a shirt that said: “My mama already knows.” Her mother’s shirt read: “My daughter already told me.” 
Human rights activist Jose Luis Gutierrez, 43, said the march is about visibility, and rights, especially for Mexico’s vulnerable transgender population. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights says that poverty, exclusion and violence reduce life expectancy for trans women in the Americas to 35 years. 
In New York City, Friday marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, when a police raid on a gay bar in Manhattan led to a riot and days of demonstrations that morphed into a sustained LGBTQ liberation movement. The city’s huge Pride parade on Sunday will swing past the bar. 
Other LGBTQ celebrations took place from India to Europe, with more events planned for Sunday. 

People take part in the first gay pride parade in Skopje, North Macedonia, June 29, 2019.

In the North Macedonian capital of Skopje, U.S. Charge d’Affaires Micaela Schweitzer-Bluhm attended the first pride march there in a festive and incident-free atmosphere despite a countermarch organized by religious and “pro-family” organizations. 
People from across Macedonia took part, along with marchers from neighboring Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia and other countries.  
“This year Skopje joined more than 70 Pride [marches] and the USA are very proud to be part of this,” Schweitzer-Bluhm told reporters. “There is a lot of progress here in North Macedonia but still a lot has to be done.” 

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