Macron in Nairobi to attend the United Nations Environment Assembly

French President Emmanuel Macron is in Kenya to attend the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi.

President Macron had earlier visited Djibouti and Ethiopia after he embarked on a four-day tour of East Africa on Monday evening.

President Uhuru Kenyatta said, “I am delighted to host my friend His Excellency President Emmanuel Macron of the Republic of France at State House, Nairobi in his historic visit to Kenya. Kenya and France enjoy a cordial relationship that has helped spur growth in different areas for the benefit of our people“.

More than 4,700 people including heads of states, environmentalists, and heads of business corporations are expected to attend the Assembly

Macron and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta will also co-chair a summit of the One Planet Coalition on the sidelines of the assembly. The meeting will showcase innovative projects to accelerate the global shift to a low-carbon economy.

Beyond climate action, Macron and Kenyatta are expected to discuss a range of issues, including funding for AU’s mission to combat the Islamist militant group al Shabaab in neighbouring Somalia (AMISOM), as well as 


Who am I? A reflection on my participation in the Kumbh Mehla 2019

By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)

De Monk

My early memories, or rather perceptions, of India were entirely influenced by Bollywood movies. I actually fell in love with India when I was in secondary school in the late 80s and early 90s, through popular movies such as Sholay, Ghazaab, Yaadonki Baraat, Love Story, Disco Dancer, Yeh Vadaah Raha, Nagin (The Snake Girl), The Burning Training and actors such as Dhamendra, Amitabh Bachan, Jeetendra, Amjad Khan, Ranjeet, Mithun Chakraborty, Govinda, Amrish Puri, Hema Malini, Rekha, Rena Roy, Zenat Arman and many more.

I would skip classes at St. Edward’s Secondary School at Kingtom, Freetown to watch matinee at Globe Cinema on Syke Street. On some weekends I would sell my day’s meal and use the money to buy tickets into Starco Cinema on Kissy Road/Savage Square. Other times, our uncle who used to manage the bar and restaurant at Strand Cinema on Waterloo Street, would give us matinee tickets and we would spend the whole weekends watching Indian movies. At some point I even kept a small book where I listed all Indian movies I watched, and they were running into a thousand or more.

The images of India I formed during that period were a nation that communicates well through their unique culture and tradition of singing and dancing for every occasion and worshipers of idols as symbolized by the deity Krishna and other objects such as trees, mostly shown in their movies. And then the popular Hollywood movie featuring Anil Kapoor, ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ in recent times, gave me another perspective of India all-together- a nation caught between the cities of paradise and the slums of the earth.

However, as Euro-Western influences begun to show strongly in Indian movies due probably to the influx of the new generation of actors born and raised in Europe and the US into Bollywood, my interest diminished gradually. Nonetheless, the nostalgia for the old movies is still there as once in a while I would sneak into YouTube and watched my old favourites, and the memories of the cinema- which just vanished one morning in my country- would come back.

So when I got the invitation from the Government and People of India through their Ministry of External Affairs and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) to attend the Kumbh Mehla 2019, I felt excited about the prospect of stepping on Indian soil. Moreover, the prospect of having lunch and a group photo with Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes it all the more enticing.

The Kumbh (meaning confluence or gathering) is undeniably the largest human gathering where people from all walks of life across the world come to partake and experience India’s age-old culture and tradition which celebrate diversity and promote peace and unity. For the one month (February-March 2019) cultural and spiritual festival, the Kumbh hosts more than 230 million people of all socio-political stratifications.

And there I was, at the Lemon Tree Hotel in Delhi on the morning of 21 February, 2019, joining other delegates from around 186 countries across the world. So right there at the hotel the Kumbh started, with delegates trying to acquaint with one another and learning about each other’s country and culture. You can learn about nations, their people and culture on the Internet, but to hear all of it and even more from the citizens themselves is quite a different enlightenment all-together.

Similarly, of course, enough has been documented by the Ministry of External Relations and the ICCR in the forms of brochures, flyers, posters, banners, photos, books, video documentaries and films but nothing compared to witnessing and experiencing the Kumbh personally. The experience of feasting on a panoramic view of the breathtaking landscape hosting the Kumbh pilgrims dotted with stretches of tents, canoes mobile and wash rooms; the experience of seeing firsthand the good, bad and ugly of the second most populated nation on earth; the experience of embracing the sacred fig tree (Ashayvat) and kissing it many times in an effort to get a piece of its immortality; the experience of the breathtaking site of Sangam Nose, the confluence of river Ganga, Yamuna and the mystical river Saraswati; the experience of appreciating and respecting every living thing as an important creation of God; the experience of witnessing the pleasant but strict security alertness of the Indian Police…

My climax is not the meeting with Prime Minister Modi, but the experience of taking a holy dip at the sacred waters of the river Ganga. Though hesitant at first, I find myself voluntarily and gently stepping into the mystical waters and taking a long purposeful dip. Stepping out of the water after a bath, the feeling was refreshing. I felt some kind of inner peace and control, and a strange sense of selflessness. And the life-long question dawned on me: who am I actually? In the midst of such diversity and a very strong connection to mother Nature as displayed at the Kumbh, I realized I was not as important as my ego had led me to believe all this while. I realized that my importance as a person is just as important as the importance of any other living thing- from the smallest of ants to the gigantic fig tree or the highest of mountains- to the existence of the Universe. I felt the renewal of my mind and the broadening of my horizons to include all things I once looked low upon or taken for granted. To live a life of fulfillment is to live not for the self but for the general good of all living things, including the environment.

So I take away with me a new impression of India- a nation proud of the diversity of its culture, tradition and people; a nation with an open heart- ready to learn and share their experiences to the rest of the world; a nation that believes in democracy in every aspect of its national life; a nation with a deep sense of belief in the purpose of this life: service unto others.

My only disappointment was not seeing or meeting the famous Indian actors during the Kumbh. With a program as unique and important as the Kumbh heritage, what better ambassadors can this nation get other than the popular Bollywood actors who had long forged (and continue to) a connection between the great nation of India and the rest of the world?


Note: The author is a journalist from Sierra Leone and was with the Saraswati group during Kumbh Mehla 2019.

2018 fourth warmest year in continued warming trend, according to NASA, NOAA

Earth’s global surface temperature in 2018 was the fourth warmest since 1880, according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

This line plot shows yearly temperature anomalies from 1880 to 2018, with respect to the 1951-1980 mean, as recorded by NASA, NOAA, the Japan Meteorological Agency, the Berkeley Earth research group, and the Met Office Hadley Centre (UK). Though there are minor variations from year to year, all five temperature records show peaks and valleys in sync with each other. All show rapid warming in the past few decades, and all show the past decade has been the warmest. Credit: NASA’s Earth Observatory

Global temperatures in 2018 were 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.83 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 1951 to 1980 mean, according to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. Globally, 2018’s temperatures rank behind those of 2016, 2017 and 2015. The past five years are, collectively, the warmest years in the modern record.

“2018 is yet again an extremely warm year on top of a long-term global warming trend,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt.

Since the 1880s, the average global surface temperature has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius). This warming has been driven in large part by increased emissions into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases caused by human activities, according to Schmidt.

Weather dynamics often affect regional temperatures, so not every region on Earth experienced similar amounts of warming. NOAA found the 2018 annual mean temperature for the contiguous 48 United States was the 14th warmest on record.

Warming trends are strongest in the Arctic region, where 2018 saw the continued loss of sea ice. In addition, mass loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets continued to contribute to sea level rise. Increasing temperatures can also contribute to longer fire seasons and some extreme weather events, according to Schmidt.

“The impacts of long-term global warming are already being felt — in coastal flooding, heat waves, intense precipitation and ecosystem change,” said Schmidt.

NASA’s temperature analyses incorporate surface temperature measurements from 6,300 weather stations, ship- and buoy-based observations of sea surface temperatures, and temperature measurements from Antarctic research stations.

GISS is a laboratory within the Earth Sciences Division of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The laboratory is affiliated with Columbia University’s Earth Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Science in New York.

NASA uses the unique vantage point of space to better understand Earth as an interconnected system. The agency also uses airborne and ground-based monitoring, and develops new ways to observe and study Earth with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. NASA shares this knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

Article published courtesy of NASA

Reaching for objects while driving may raise teen crash risk nearly sevenfold

Teenagers who reach for objects, such as food or makeup, while driving increase their risk of crashing nearly seven times, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health.

Their study, which appears in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, also found that manually dialing, texting or browsing the web on a phone while driving doubled a teen’s crash risk.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death and disabilities among drivers aged 15 to 20 years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration(link is external). The current study is the first to use real-time driving data to quantify the extent to which visual inattention — the amount of time a teen’s eyes shift from the road to various distractions — contributes to the risk of a crash.

Researchers followed 82 newly licensed teen drivers in Virginia over a one-year period, equipping their vehicles with cameras and GPS technology to track the driver’s activity and environment. After one year, 43 of the drivers did not experience a crash, while 25 had one crash and 14 had two or more crashes. Using six-second videos of driver behavior prior to a crash, researchers calculated that for every second that a teen’s eyes were off the road, the risk of a crash increased by 28 percent regardless of the type of distraction. Teens manually using a cell phone doubled their odds of crashing. Teens who were reaching for something while driving increased their risk nearly sevenfold, which researchers attributed to a combination of distractions, including taking their eyes off the road and their hands off the wheel.

“Teenage drivers are so comfortable with mobile devices that they tend to overestimate their ability to multitask while driving,” said Bruce Simons-Morton, M.P.H., Ed.D., a senior investigator at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and one of the authors of the study.

In addition to documenting a driver’s dialing, texting, browsing or reaching for a phone, researchers assessed numerous “secondary tasks,” including dancing to music, attending to personal hygiene, and eating or drinking. The study found that the greatest crash risk came from visual distractions related to using cell phones and reaching for objects.

“During their first year of independent driving, teens often engage in many different activities behind the wheel that could lead to a crash,” said Pnina Gershon, Ph.D., the study’s lead author. “Teenage drivers may benefit from interventions that monitor and alert them during frequent or prolonged inattention to the road.”

Tensions escalate in Venezuela, civilians killed and injured: top UN officials lament excessive use of force by authorities

© UNHCR/Siegfried Modola
Colombia. Venezuelan refugees and migrants cross the Simon Bolivar Bridge, one of 7 legal entry points on the Colombia-Venezuela border.

As tensions escalated on Saturday at various points along Venezuela’s borders with Colombia and Brazil, as well as within the country itself, resulting in the death and injury of various civilians, the United Nations chief, António Guterres, and the head of the UN human rights office (OHCHR), Michelle Bachelet, expressed their shock and appealed for calm.

The UN Secretary-General called for violence to be “avoided at any cost and for lethal force not to be used in any circumstances”. He urged “all actors to lower tensions and pursue every effort to prevent further escalation”.

Ms. Bachelet condemned “the excessive use of force used by the Venezuelan security forces, as well the involvement of pro-government elements”, which have resulted in at least four confirmed deaths and more than 300 injuries on Friday and Saturday, according to OHCHR.

“People have been shot and killed, others have reportedly received wounds from which they will never completely recover, including losing eyes,” she deplored. “These are disgraceful scenes. The Venezuelan government must stop its forces from using excessive force against unarmed protesters and ordinary citizens.”

Ms. Bachelet said she had received reports of numerous and, in some cases prolonged, violent incidents, at different points along the borders with Colombia and Brazil, as the Venezuelan security forces tried to halt the aid supplies coming into the country through closed border points.

OHCHR also received several reports pointing at the involvement of armed pro-government elements in the violent attacks on protestors, and Bachelet urged the Government “to rein in these groups and arrest those among them who have used force against protestors”.

“The use of proxy forces has a long and sinister history in the region,” she added. “And it is very alarming to see them operating openly in this way in Venezuela. The Government can, and must, stop them from exacerbating an already highly inflammable situation.”

International Food Safety Conference opens with call for greater global cooperation

Greater international cooperation is needed to prevent unsafe food from causing ill health and hampering progress towards sustainable development, world leaders said at today’s opening session of the First International Food Safety Conference, in Addis Ababa, organized by the African Union (AU), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

A follow-up event, the International Forum on Food Safety and Trade, which will focus on interlinkages between food safety and trade, is scheduled to be hosted by WTO in Geneva (23-24 April). The two meetings are expected to galvanize support and lead to actions in the key areas that are strategic for the future of food safety.

Food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins or chemicals causes more than 600 million people to fall ill and 420 000 to die worldwide every year. Illness linked to unsafe food overloads healthcare systems and damages economies, trade and tourism. The impact of unsafe food costs low- and middle-income economies around $95 billion in lost productivity each year. Because of these threats, food safety must be a paramount goal at every stage of the food chain, from production to harvest, processing, storage, distribution, preparation and consumption, conference participants stressed.

“The partnership between the African Union and the United Nations has been longstanding and strategic,” said African Union Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat. “This food safety conference is a demonstration of this partnership. Without safe foods, it is not possible to achieve food security,” he said.

“There is no food security without food safety,” agreed FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva during his remarks. “This conference is a great opportunity for the international community to strengthen political commitments and engage in key actions. Safeguarding our food is a shared responsibility. We must all play our part. We must work together to scale up food safety in national and international political agendas,” he said.

“Food should be a source of nourishment and enjoyment, not a cause of disease or death,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “Unsafe food is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths every year, but has not received the political attention it deserves. Ensuring people have access to safe food takes sustained investment in stronger regulations, laboratories, surveillance and monitoring. In our globalized world, food safety is everyone’s issue.”

“Food safety is a central element of public health and will be crucial in achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals,” WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo said. “Trade is an important force to lift people out of poverty… when we reconvene in Geneva in April we will consider these issues in more depth,” he added.

Around 130 countries are participating in the two-day conference, including ministers of agriculture, health, and trade. Leading scientific experts, partner agencies and representatives of consumers, food producers, civil society organizations and the private sector are also taking part.

The aim of the conference is to identify key actions that will ensure the availability of, and access to, safe food now and in the future. This will require a strengthened commitment at the highest political level to scale up food safety in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

African continent ‘an example of solidarity’ towards migrants and refugees: UN chief

African nations are setting an example for richer countries when it comes to the treatment of refugees, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a press conference on Saturday, following a meeting with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

UN Secretary-General speaks to the media in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, following a meeting with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission. 9 February, 2019.

The UN chief is in the Ethiopian capital to attend the annual African Union summit, which brings together Heads of State from across the continent. This year’s event, which begins on Sunday, will focus on the issue of refugees and internally displaced persons.

Mr. Guterres, who spent 10 years as the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, before taking up his position at the head of the organization, said that, in Africa, borders are open for refugees, and that the continent is in the leadership when it comes to addressing migration flows.

The UN chief pointed out that, contrary to popular perception, there are more African migrants in other African countries than in Europe, and migration has been dealt with in a much more humane way. Mr. Guterres appealed for the UN’s global compacts on Migration and Refugees to be fully implemented.

The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR says that Sub-Saharan Africa hosts more than 26 per cent of the world’s refugee population. 18 million people in the region are of concern to UNHCR, with conflicts and ongoing crises in the Central African Republic (CAR), Nigeria and South Sudan, as well as Burundi and Yemen, driving large increases in the numbers of refugees and displaced people.

On the eve of the summit, the UN Childrens’ Fund, UNICEF, published a press release warning that 13.5 million children have been uprooted in Africa – including those displaced by conflict, poverty and climate change – and called on African leaders to implement policies and programmes to protect, empower and invest in refugee, migrant and displaced children.  

Mr. Guterres struck a generally positive note in the press conference, pointing to recent peace deals and conflict de-escalation across Africa. He cited the reconciliation between Ethiopia and Eritrea; the establishment of peace agreements in South Sudan; and elections in Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mali, that took place in a peaceful context. The combined efforts of the African Union and the UN, he said, are producing results in conflict resolution and the prevention of conflicts, and Africa is seeing a “wind of hope” that can be extended to other parts of the world.

However, he went to say that there cannot be peace without development, and that the international community must show more political will in this area, particularly in climate action, and show ambition for mitigation, adaptation, and finance: “We are losing the race with climate change and this can be a disaster for Africa and for world. Africa will pay an even higher price because of the dramatic impacts in the continent.”

Story published courtesy of the UN