By: Keara Polovick
In the past weeks, air pollution levels in Delhi, India have reached an all time high in the past this year. The city and other parts of Northern India are filled with a gray haze and objects within a few yards are hardly visible. On November 3, the hazardous particle measure was 23 times higher than the set guidelines outlined by the World Health Organization and 7 times higher than in Beijing.
Air quality index (AQI) readers are a common way to measure the level of pollution in an area. The safe and healthy AQI range is typically from 0-50. The recorded AQI in Delhi within the past week has been upwards of 900, reaching unbearable levels and calling for a national health emergency.
Due to the unsafe levels of air pollution outside, many people have been left isolated in their homes, instructed to wear masks and sit next to an air purifier. 5 million masks have already been handed out by the government and schools have been temporarily closed. The lack of visibility has also led to numerous flights being cancelled and an overall disruption to air transportation in the area.
A combination of environmental and human causes are likely to blame for these conditions. Farmers have been burning their crop stubble, the straws sticking out of the field after harvest, causing a release of carbon dioxide and other hazardous chemicals. This, coupled with the fireworks set off during the Diwali festival earlier this month, have resulted in an unfavorable environment for air pollution levels to rise. Cars and other motor vehicles have also contributed to the smog. India is now trying to manage this by having odd and even license plates rotate depending on the day. The common weather of slow winds and still air during this time of year in India has only worsened the issue as well.
The Indian Health ministry official has called this matter “a disaster” and other officials have named the city a “gas chamber.” Although the government has taken preliminary measures to curb pollution and the Supreme Court has banned farmers from burning crop stubble, young people in Delhi protested against the government on November 3, calling for more significant action. If these levels of poor air quality in Delhi continue, many people are likely to suffer from respiratory illnesses, heart disease, and other serious health issues.
The dangers of rising toxic air pollution is not limited to India, though. Over 90% of the world’s population lives in areas with pollution levels higher than the standards set by the World Health Organization. This is a concerning global trend that will require much effort and compromise to reverse.
By: Sophie Cavalcanti
Two months ago, in the northeastern region of Brazil, pristine beaches were caught in the middle of a nightmare, clear waters suddenly and unexplainably becoming black. Nearly 2,500 kilometers of coastline have been affected by a mysterious oil contamination. In the end of August, oil patches began to appear in the beaches of the state of Pernambuco, reaching the state of Bahia in October. At this point, more than 300 localities in nine states have been affected by this environmental disaster. This is the third major environmental catastrophe hitting the country this year alone, following the rupture of the Brumadinho barrage – an iron ore mine tailings dam in the State of Minas Gerais and the fires that are still destroying the Amazon rainforest and the Pantanal wetlands flora and fauna.
This disaster is devastating to the poor fishing communities in the region, which rely heavily on ecotourism and the sale of seafood. Community members are finding themselves hopeless and having their subsistence threatened. As locals are desperately trying to clean the oil residues in the sand and water with their own hands and scarce resources, many are getting sick. Several volunteers, locals, and tourists are being seen at the emergency departments of different hospitals, after having been in contact with the oil. They are presenting acute signs of intoxication that include nausea, vomiting, and skin lesions. The long-term consequences of this exposure are unknown and should be monitored properly by health authorities.
In addition to the human health toll, dozens of turtles, birds, and dolphins have already died because of the oil spill, which is now moving towards whale migration areas. The oil contamination is about to reach Abrolhos Marine National Park. Abollhos is a small archipelago with clear waters and a great diversity of underwater flora and fauna, including rare coral formations. If this happens, there will be irreversible consequences to this conservation area.
While the world is deeply alarmed about what is going on in Brazil this year, the right-wing government of Jair Bolsonaro was completely inert, minimizing the disaster and waiting for 41 days to implement the national contingency plan, which allowed for mobilizing financial resources and deploying military to the field to help with the oil cleaning. In addition, the Tourism Minister Marcelo Alvaro Antonio in October made a surreal declaration in October, stating that some beaches are already "clean" and "ready for swimming", according to the Brazilian press. Moreover, the Environment Minister Ricardo Salles published a photo of a Greenpeace ship on Twitter, saying that the ship was navigating off Brazil's northeastern coast when the spill is believed to have occurred, naming them “eco-terrorists” and insinuating that they could have been responsible for the disaster. Greenpeace representatives stated that they would take legal action and intend to sue the Brazilian Minister for his declaration. It sounds like all the Ministers of this government are exactly on the same page, marked by inconsequent statements and lack of responsibility with public health, the environment, and the economic welfare of affected communities.
As the crisis unfolds, Brazilian authorities declared this week that a Greek-flagged ship carrying Venezuelan crude oil was responsible for the spill. Investigators said oceanographic and geolocation data indubitably shows the Greek ship was the only one navigating near the origin of the spill, about 700km off Brazil’s coast, between July 28–29. Search warrants were conducted at offices linked to two companies with commercial relationships with the ship’s operator in Rio de Janeiro. As the Company responsible for the ship denies any responsibility on the disaster, Brazilian authorities are also requesting cooperation from Interpol and other international agencies to advance investigations.
By: Eva English
The small African country of Cameroon is currently on the brink of a civil war. Also known as the Anglophone Crisis, the conflict began with demonstrations and protests that date back to 2016 at the appointment of Francophone judges in English speaking regions now known as Ambazionia. Members of those regions organized mostly peaceful protests that demanded increased autonomy. However, those demonstrations led the Cameroon government to use excessive force with their largely American and Israel trained private military. Throughout 2016 and 2017, the government has used live ammunition, injuring and killing both protestors and bystanders. Some have also been detained and subjected to inhumane treatment and torture.A recent report from the International Crisis Group estimated 3,000 people have been killed.
The issue’s origin can be traced to a complicated colonial past. Protests stemmed from large dissatisfaction with President Biya’s concentration of resources and power in the French-speaking regions of Cameroon. The English speaking or Anglophone regions have experienced discrimination and marginalization, despite the fact that the Anglophone comprise one fifth of the population. Anglophone regions have a lack of infrastructure, along with assigned teachers and judges who speak poor English.
In October 2017, separatist leaders declared independence and formed a new nation known as Ambazonia. Ambazonian fighters, known locally as the “Amba boys,” are estimated to be 2,000 in number and arming themselves with homemade guns.
A month after the declaration of separation, President Biya of Cameroon announced the separatists were terrorists and that the country was under attack. Since then, the scale and frequency of the attacks led by separatist groups against security forces, government workers, and state institutions have only increased. The government crackdown on the separatists has been ruthless; residents and local officials report regularly of troops burning homes, detaining civilians, and executing sometimes innocent young men in hopes of rooting out the separatists.
The Cameroon government isn’t the only side guilty of violating human rights though. To enforce boycotts following the protests, separatist groups have attacked and burned schools, while also threatening, attacking, and kidnapping students, principals, and teachers.
Amnesty International estimates tens of thousands of people have fled the English speaking parts of Cameroon. Those who have escaped live in unsuitable homes, and live with the knowledge that those they left behind were killed.
More recently, Cameroon’s leaders are starting a national dialogue to end the conflict. The talks are to be led by Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute, and are scheduled to occur from September 30 to October 4. Nevertheless, key separatist leaders have refused to participate, which has many activists and experts voicing their skepticism on whether the efforts will produce tangible results.
Despite this, the United States has continued to send military aid to Cameroon. This is because the country is a vital partner to the U.S. in battling Islamist extremism in Africa.
By: Ophelia Bentley
Most people know that plastic is creating a massive problem for our environment and is wreaking havoc on oceans and wildlife. It is estimated that on average the equivalent of a garbage truck of plastic enters our oceans every minute. Statistics like these have sparked a global movement to save our seas and reduce plastic. We have been told to ditch the plastic straw, use reusable bags, and stop drinking bottled water, however, plastic is woven into our lives on a much more micro level than any of us realized.
Microplastics are pieces of plastic less than five mm in width. Since plastic has been under so much scrutiny, scientists have found that microplastics are practically everywhere, in our soil, water, even the air! In a recent study that made international headlines, it was found that they are even in tea. Plastic tea bags leach tiny microplastics into the water. In a single cup of tea, 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nano plastics can be released.
Microplastics are not only found in tea but also in 93% of the water in plastic bottles. Microplastics are also released when polyester fabrics are washed in a washing machine, the plastic draining through the machine and into our oceans. They can also be found in cosmetic products and as a result of larger pieces of plastic breaking down. There are also many undergoing studies about the possibility of plastic in drinking water. It is estimated that humans eat a credit card’s worth of plastic every single day.
Plastic is not always directly consumed by humans. Often times fish eat these microplastics or plastic of any size. These are the same fish that people are eating as well. In fact, two-thirds of the world’s fish stocks are said to have ingested plastic. Even though we are not eating the plastic directly, it is still an issue due to biomagnification, meaning the fact that we eat lots of fish/seafood, toxins levels rise as each of those fish may have eaten plastic.
While scientists have yet to discover the implications of consuming so much plastic, it does not look hopeful. Plastic is like a toxin sponge. A singular piece of plastic can be one million times more toxic than the water around it. The toxins in plastic are the same ones that have been known to cause cancer, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruptors, and other diseases.
Though they are small, microplastics are causing a huge problem.
Last Thursday, South Korea’s Constitutional Court declared that a 1953 ban on abortions was unconstitutional, giving the South Korean Parliament until 2020 to revise the law. If the Parliament fails to pass a revision, the law will become null and void.
Before the ban was uplifted, the 66 year law stated that should a woman receive and abortion, she could face up to a year in prison and a fine of up to 2 million won ($1750 USD). Doctors that performed an illegal abortion could face up to 2 years in prison. Although illegal, the law failed to be enforced— in 2017, the state-sponsored Korean Institute for Health and Affairs estimated that 49,700 abortions had taken place. However, across the span of 2012 and 2017 only 80 women and doctors went to trial for the charge of illegal abortions.
The change in legislation was supported by a majority of the South Korean people according to recent polls. The law was made in a time when the nation was one of the least developed in the world, and where more conservative social policies were commonplace. South Korea has rapidly modernized since the turn of the 21st century, becoming a world economic and political leader. The ban on abortion is a rare vestigial law, with South Korea being one of the only developed countries with an abortion ban still in place. The decriminalization of abortion is indicative of an increasingly socially liberal politics and population.
Although many in Korea see this as a necessary social reform, there are still many conservative groups opposed to the change. On April 6th, anti-abortion protestors convened in Seoul for the “March for Life”. The population of South Korea is heavily Evangelical Christian, and many affiliated religious groups have contention with the morality of abortion.
Japan, a rapidly developing country similar to South Korea, now faces a population crisis with declining birth rates— a smaller young population cannot support the older population. Some fear that this could act as the nail in the coffin to a declining population, and plunge Korea into a similar situation as Japan.
Although there is still opposition to the decision, this indicates a growing socially liberal awareness in South Korea.
Jacinda Ardern may be the youngest female Prime Minister in the history of New Zealand, but she has been rather surprisingly catapulted to the international stage following the horrific Christchurch terror attacks, Islamophobia-inspired shootings at mosques which claimed 51 lives. Since then, her passionate advocacy for gun-control laws and against religious hatred have been accoladed as a paragon of leadership following such a tragedy. Immediately following the attack, she met with the families of the victims and grieved with them, continuously reaffirming that the Muslim community is one with the people of New Zealand. She also referred to the killer as a “terrorist” and refused to say his name. In a time of growing Islamophobia and xenophobia, she stated that “ Many of those affected will be members of our migrant communities - New Zealand is their home - they are us."
Prime Minister Ardern has also committed to ensuring that there will be no more Christ churched. Less than a week after the shooting, she announced a ban on military-style semi-automatic guns and assault rifles like those used in the terror attack, as well as rolling out a gun buyback plan to ensure that “fair and reasonable” compensation be paid to law-abiding gun owners in New Zealand. This was lauded by political figures the world over, including US Senator Bernie Sanders, who stated that “This is what real action to stop gun violence looks Like.”
Although Ms. Ardern may be most known for her swift action following Christchurch, she has also advocated for the cause of human rights across the globe. Speaking in front of the United Nations in September of this year, she covered a vast range of topics from Me Too to climate change. On the former, she said that “I for one will never celebrate the gains we have made for women domestically, while internationally other women and girls experience a lack of the most basic of opportunity and dignity”, and that “Me Too must become We Too.” On global warming, she chose not to stick her head in the metaphorical sand, instead referring to the undermining of climate agreements as “catastrophic” and called upon member nations to work together multilaterally to solve this pressing issue. While meeting with Li Xi, the Party Secretary of Guangdong Province in China, she raised concerns over the treatment of Uighur Muslims and similarly did so with Aung San Suu Kyi in regards to the Rohingya crisis, offering the help of New Zealand to fix the latter issue.
Jacinda Ardern may be relatively young, but it is clear she is committed, at least on a vocal level to remember the “lessons of history”, saying that “ In an increasingly uncertain world it is more important than ever that we remember the core values on which the UN was built. “That all people are equal, that everyone is entitled to have their dignity and human rights respected, that we must strive to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom and we must consistently hold ourselves to account on each.” She has clearly worked to uphold these values, and many people both in New Zealand and across the world hope to see her continue to lead with a promise of equality and safety for all people.
In the past five months, two Boeing 737 Max plane models have crashed, killing hundreds in the process. The first incident was in October, on Lion Air Flight 610, where 189 people died. The second was Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 10 th , where 17 were killed.
There has been much speculation regarding what actually caused these incidents. A large amount of evidences points to the automated system used to avoid stalling. Specifically, in the Ethiopian crash, it was reported that the captain and first officers were unable to prevent the aircraft from nose diving, even though they followed procedure.
The faulty sensors of the Boeing 737 have been under intense scrutiny. The sensing system, called the MCAS, is suspected to have incorrectly pushed the front of the plane downwards. Investigators are still looking into what exactly led to the faults.
As a result of these crashes, aviation regulators internationally have decided to ground the plane model. There were thousands of unfilled orders of the model, but after the crashes, orders significantly dropped, and the company’s revenue dipped. The company has run into criticism on the design and approval of the plane.
On May 4th, a military-chartered Boeing 737, similar to the 737 Max, slid into a river in Jacksonville, Florida. None of the 143 passengers were killed, however the pets on board have not been retrieved.
In international travel, one will always consider safety as a factor. Especially in air travel, even when the risk is relatively low, the possibility of major errors in passenger safety measures will always be a major concern.
Nowadays, scientists generally agree that human-made climate change – the effect of greenhouse gas emissions from things like cars and factories – is what has caused a constant increase in sea level and warm weather. However, the impacts of such things, the socio-economic impacts on less economically developed nations, is ignored far too often. Egypt, a nation riddled with fear and terror, with an unstable government and constant revolutions and military coups, is already not faring well. With a 12% unemployment rate and with 27% of its population below the poverty line, the last thing Egypt needs is an external force driving it's people further into the ground. Egypt's, a country that rests besides the Mediterranean Sea, two main income sources are agriculture and tourism: two things that climate change will specifically impact.
As crops are destroyed by the sea and the weather becomes so unbearably hot that to drives tourists away, the world will see as Egypt, along with many other struggling nations, descends into chaos. Rising sea levels are affecting the Nile River delta, the triangle where the Nile spreads out and drains into the sea. It's where Egypt grows most of its crops. According to the world bank, Egypt is one of the countries that will be most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. All along the Sea's waterfront, the Egyptian government has erected barriers in an attempt to prevent flooding caused by ever-stronger winter storms. There's no beach in Egypt anymore since the sand washed away years ago. Many scientists predict a sea level rise of a further two feet by the end of the century. Some historic buildings are already crumbling, as salt water seeps into the bricks. Entire neighborhoods could be submerged. And who is this affecting? Nations that can barely afford to sustain themselves under normal conditions. Experts say that the effects of hotter weather, including reduced rainfall, would cut agricultural productivity by 15 to 20 percent – a huge blow to a country already struggling to feed its people.
Though Haiti was first colonized by the Spanish and then by the French, this Caribbean nation has been independent since the late 18th century when half a million slaves overthrew the French. In spite of its status as a free nation for over 200 years, Haiti is one of the poorest nations in the world. 59% of the population is considered poor, living on less than $2 a day. A quarter of the population is “extremely poor”, living on less than $1.25 per day. Two thirds (some estimates say half) the population is unemployed. Income inequality is extreme with the top 20% owning 64% of national wealth. To top it all, Haiti is prone to significant natural disasters, the most recent being an earthquake in 2010 that cost more than 300,000 lives and left over 1.5 million people homeless. Even before the earthquake over 25% of the population had no access to power. According to Transparency International, Haiti ranks 161 out of 180 countries in terms of corruption. They believe that there is a direct link between corruption and poverty. The World Bank suggested a four pronged approach to addressing Haiti’s poverty:
(1) Promote inclusive growth by providing access to energy and financing
(2) Investing in human capital by providing access to primary education, healthcare, and clean water
(3) Ability to deal with climate and natural disasters by investing in infrastructure
(4) Improving governance and reducing corruption and increasing transparency and accountability of public officials
One approach to understanding how to address poverty in Haiti is to look at global trends in poverty. The World Bank estimates that between 1990 and 2015 over a billion people moved out of poverty. This is now the lowest percentage of poor people in history. Much of this success in addressing poverty can be largely attributed to China and India. However, in some other parts of the world like Sub-Saharan Africa and places like Haiti, poverty seems to be getting more entrenched. A broader definition of poverty can also be helpful. Though most studies focus on the monetary notion of poverty and link it to a threshold such as earning less than $1.25 per day, a better measure might be multi-dimensional such as access to clean water, primary education, energy, sanitation, and infrastructure services. This broader view truly reflects the overall quality of life and enables governments to tackle each issue more directly and effectively.
A recent crisis that has blown up in not only South Korean, but international news, is the spy cam epidemic. South Korea is commonly referred to or viewed by the average foreigner as one of the most technologically advanced societies in the world, 93% of their population has access to the internet, 90% own at least one smartphone. However, technology can advance both reprehensible and fantastical projects. One such object is the camera, which South Koreans have successfully turned into an almost invisible, small black square. The spy-cam crisis fits into a certain set of rules: Every year, more than 6,000 incidents are reported to the police, of which 80% are women.
This practice- of setting up small, imperceptible cameras in public spaces such as restrooms and changing rooms and uploading these videos to voyeur porn websites- not only highlights the epitome of a profound invasion of privacy but also shines a light on a few, extremely troubling, aspects of South Koreans and their culture. "My Life is Not Your Porn", one of the main activist groups against this terrible crime, has encouraged and inspired many women to come out with their stories and explain why they felt like they needed to remain silent. A young woman who refused to reveal her identity in national television said: "When I first saw the chat room, I was so shocked, my mind went blank and I started crying," She said. "I kept thinking, what would other people think? Will the police officer think that my clothes were too revealing? That I look cheap? In the police station, I felt lonely. I felt all the men were looking at me as if I was a piece of meat or a sexual object. I felt frightened. I didn't tell anyone. I was afraid of being blamed. I was afraid my family, friends and people around me would look at me as these men looked at me." How can a woman who has been filmed against her will while in a vulnerable position and been exposed online be worried about what her family will think of her? A sexist, misogynistic culture is the only one in which such thoughts could cross this woman's mind after suffering such an enormous breach of privacy.
Under current laws and regulations, "spy cam" buyers are not required to disclose any personal information, making it difficult to trace the cameras back to their owners. However, many "lawmakers are hoping to change that, co-sponsoring a bill in August that requires hidden camera buyers to register with a government database, raising alarm among retailers." In order for such a crime to not only be banned but denormalized, South Korea and it people must go through a major ideological change. The amount of cameras the police apprehend is meaningless if victims continue feeling like they are at fault for these illegal recordings.
Out-of-Town (informally called MUNdays) is a publication run by students in Exeter's Model UN club. Currently, the amazing Sophie Fernandez '22 maintains the publication, curates its articles, and edits them. We do accept outside submissions! If you have an article or reflection on foreign policy, email email@example.com!