Australia’s Drought ‘Eats Away at You’

From ground level, Australia’s drought looks like a featureless, brown dust bowl, but from the air it transforms into an artistry of color and texture as the land cracks under a blazing sun.

Circular dry plow tracks resemble the concentric circles in Aboriginal dot paintings that tell of an ancient mythology; starving cattle queuing for feed look like an abstract painting, and their black shadows stretching across the land resemble a surrealist image.

But for farmer Ash Whitney, there is no such beauty, just blood, sweat and tears as he struggles to feed his cattle, cutting the drying branches of Kurrajong trees — a last resort during the worst of droughts.

“I have been here all my life, and this drought is feeling like it will be around a while,” said a despairing Whitney, whose property near the town of Gunnedah is on the Liverpool Plains, a usually fertile area now withered, having received the lowest average rainfall in nearly 30 years.

The worst drought in living memory is sweeping parts of eastern Australia, leaving farmers struggling to cope and many of them asking questions about the future.

Cattle farmer Tom Wollaston, born 70 years ago in the same house he lives in today, is afraid for what this drought will mean for his children, who aim to take over the 2,300-hectare (5,683-acre) property when Tom “hangs up his

boots.”

“I can’t seem to be able to do anything else apart from just feed and keep things going, and it [the drought] seems to be one step ahead of me all the time. We’ll battle it out, but it puts a strain on everyone,” Wollaston said.

His wife, Margo, said droughts negatively affect not only her family but also the whole farming community around the nearby town of Tamworth in northwest New South Wales state.

“I find droughts a little bit like cancer — it sort of eats away at you, and it just gets drier and drier and more severe and more severe, and impacting on your life a lot worse,” she said. “I do try really hard to keep the house and the garden clean and green, because that keeps your head in the right space at nighttime.”

May McKeown, 79, and her son Jimmie, who live on a property near the northwest NSW town of Walgett, said they were extremely worried about the future, having had almost no rain since 2010.

“My great-grandfather settled on this land in 1901, and he never had to remove cattle from the paddocks over there,” she said, pointing to the west. “But we have had to remove them all and bring them closer to the homestead so we can more easily feed them.”

The farm has made little income in recent years, and when they run out of hay in a few months, rising hay prices will leave them in a financial situation her family has never had to contend with in more than a 100 years, she said.

A quarter of Australia’s agricultural production by value is grown in NSW and the state government has offered more than A$1 billion in emergency funding to farmers. It announced the latest tranche — A$500 million — on Monday.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said parts of Australia experienced the second-warmest summer (December-February) on record and have just been

through one of the driest and warmest autumns (March-May) on record.

And the dry spell, which has left more than 95 percent of NSW in drought, according to Department of Primary Industries, has no end in sight.

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Free Ambulance Service Imperiled in Somali Capital

Financial troubles, staffing shortages and high demand threaten to halt the only free private ambulance service in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.

“We have been providing this voluntary service for 12 years with the help of friends and other generous individuals in private business, but now the responsibility is greater than our power,” said Abdulkadir Abdirahman Adam, a dentist who founded Aamin Ambulance. He cited a staffing shortage and an inability to cover costs.

At its peak, the service had 53 workers. Now, “only 20 people with 16 vehicles [are] providing 24/7 services to a growing city and huge population,” Adam said, estimating the metropolitan area at more than 2 million people.

Adam, who also teaches at a Mogadishu university, said the service has been running on donations from individuals, such as “students who provided us $1 a month. That is not enough to cover the needs of this city and its residents.”

The service began in 2006 with a single ambulance and a few drivers and nurses in Mogadishu, risking their lives while trying to save victims of mortar fire, artillery shells and random gunfire that have ricocheted around this crumbling seaside city for almost 30 years.

“Before this service, people used to transport the wounded with wheelbarrows and taxis that charged expensive fees,” said Fadumo Nur, who runs a midwifery center. “But now all you need is to call 999 and then there is an ambulance at your door. If we miss this service, we will go back to the dark days.”

The United Nations’ top diplomat in Somalia called for more support during a February visit to the ambulance service office.

Aamin plays “an important role in providing the population a degree of comfort that when something very bad goes wrong, there is someone they can turn to,” said the envoy, Michael Keating, who was quoted by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM). 

Aamin Ambulance maintains the only Mogadishu call center with a 24-hour emergency helpline.  

But staffing shortages, along with traffic issues, delay the ambulance service’s life-saving responses, he said. “We have many times witnessed mothers who called us from homes in an active labor and, due to delays, they deliver babies in our vehicles on their way to the hospital.”

Aamin Ambulance is almost always found at sites hit by terror attacks or natural disasters, often as the first emergency responder. Photos from the country’s deadliest assault — an October 14 truck bombing in Mogadishu that killed 512 and wounded more than 300 — showed Aamin’s first responders at the blast scene tending to injuries.

Earlier this month, Aamin Ambulance responded to a blast at Somalia’s ministry of interior affairs compound, transporting 21 people with injuries along with five bodies, the company said in a tweet. 

Somalia has been engulfed by chaos since President Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991. Subsequent governments and administrations have not been able to provide basic social services such as health care and education.

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Free Ambulance Service Imperiled in Somali Capital

Financial troubles, staffing shortages and high demand threaten to halt the only free private ambulance service in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.

“We have been providing this voluntary service for 12 years with the help of friends and other generous individuals in private business, but now the responsibility is greater than our power,” said Abdulkadir Abdirahman Adam, a dentist who founded Aamin Ambulance. He cited a staffing shortage and an inability to cover costs.

At its peak, the service had 53 workers. Now, “only 20 people with 16 vehicles [are] providing 24/7 services to a growing city and huge population,” Adam said, estimating the metropolitan area at more than 2 million people.

Adam, who also teaches at a Mogadishu university, said the service has been running on donations from individuals, such as “students who provided us $1 a month. That is not enough to cover the needs of this city and its residents.”

The service began in 2006 with a single ambulance and a few drivers and nurses in Mogadishu, risking their lives while trying to save victims of mortar fire, artillery shells and random gunfire that have ricocheted around this crumbling seaside city for almost 30 years.

“Before this service, people used to transport the wounded with wheelbarrows and taxis that charged expensive fees,” said Fadumo Nur, who runs a midwifery center. “But now all you need is to call 999 and then there is an ambulance at your door. If we miss this service, we will go back to the dark days.”

The United Nations’ top diplomat in Somalia called for more support during a February visit to the ambulance service office.

Aamin plays “an important role in providing the population a degree of comfort that when something very bad goes wrong, there is someone they can turn to,” said the envoy, Michael Keating, who was quoted by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM). 

Aamin Ambulance maintains the only Mogadishu call center with a 24-hour emergency helpline.  

But staffing shortages, along with traffic issues, delay the ambulance service’s life-saving responses, he said. “We have many times witnessed mothers who called us from homes in an active labor and, due to delays, they deliver babies in our vehicles on their way to the hospital.”

Aamin Ambulance is almost always found at sites hit by terror attacks or natural disasters, often as the first emergency responder. Photos from the country’s deadliest assault — an October 14 truck bombing in Mogadishu that killed 512 and wounded more than 300 — showed Aamin’s first responders at the blast scene tending to injuries.

Earlier this month, Aamin Ambulance responded to a blast at Somalia’s ministry of interior affairs compound, transporting 21 people with injuries along with five bodies, the company said in a tweet. 

Somalia has been engulfed by chaos since President Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991. Subsequent governments and administrations have not been able to provide basic social services such as health care and education.

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US Military in Africa Says Changes Made to Protect Troops

The U.S. military in Africa has taken steps to increase the security of troops on the ground, adding armed drones and armored vehicles and taking a harder look at when American forces go out with local troops, the head of the U.S. Africa Command says.

Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser told reporters on Monday the U.S. also has cut the response time needed for medical evacuations — the result of a broad review in the wake of last year’s ambush in Niger that killed four U.S. soldiers and four of their Niger counterparts.

 

“Since that happened, there were significant things to change and learn,” Waldhauser said. “We’ve done a thorough scrub really on every level, whether it’s at a tactical level… or how we conduct business at AFRICOM.”

 

A report is due in mid-August on actions taken in response to the findings, Waldhauser said. He released a report in May on the ambush, which has been blamed on extremists linked to the Islamic State organization.

 

He said Africa’s challenges remain vast, from Islamic State and al-Qaida-linked groups in the west to al-Shabab in the east.

 

The U.S. takes a hard look at what is necessary when accompanying local forces on operations, “in terms of when it’s necessary; is the threat there going against something that’s significant to the U.S. homeland and our national interests,” he said.

 

Drones are part of the strategy to provide intelligence-gathering for partner nations so they can “consider various operations and take on these threats,” Waldhauser said.

 

The U.S. has authority to carry out drone strikes in Libya and Somalia, according to AFRICOM, but Waldhauser confirmed that “we have been arming out of Niger, and we’ll use that as appropriate.” The U.S. says it started arming drones in Niger earlier this year; they are currently deployed to an air base in the capital, Niamey.

 

He stopped in Senegal while in the region for an annual senior leader and communications symposium in Cape Verde, according to the U.S. Africa Command.

 

The U.S. maintains a small site at Camp Cisse in Dakar’s old airport that allows for U.S. military aircraft to land and refuel. It also allows for storage and use during crisis situations in West Africa such as the response to the deadly Ebola outbreak a few years ago or to any threats against embassies.

 

America’s role on the continent is to build the capacity of local partner forces, Waldhauser said.

 

“The majority, if not all of the combat operations, will be conducted by the partner force, not by the United States. So our whole goal is to get them up to a level that they can deal with the challenges that they face,” he said.

 

“In no case are we trying to take the lead. In no case do we want to own the problem, really in all cases and various methods, whether it be kinetic strikes in places like Somalia or working bilaterally with G-5 countries in the west,” he said, referring to the new five-nation G5 Sahel counterterror force in West Africa.

 

When the U.S. does step in with strikes, “we go out of our way to reach levels of certainty with whom we know we are up against,” he said. Officials and residents in Somalia, however, more than once in recent months have accused the U.S. of killing civilians in drone strikes.

 

Waldhauser also warned that partnership with the U.S. comes with responsibility and mentioned as an example recent reports of extrajudicial killings in Cameroon. The United Nations human rights chief last week said he was “utterly appalled” at a recent video appearing to show Cameroonian soldiers shooting to death women with small children strapped to their backs as suspected Boko Haram extremists.

 

“We want to have a strong military relationship with Cameroon. But their actions will go a long way toward how that will play out in the future with regards to the transparency on some of these latest allegations.” Waldhauser said.

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US Military in Africa Says Changes Made to Protect Troops

The U.S. military in Africa has taken steps to increase the security of troops on the ground, adding armed drones and armored vehicles and taking a harder look at when American forces go out with local troops, the head of the U.S. Africa Command says.

Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser told reporters on Monday the U.S. also has cut the response time needed for medical evacuations — the result of a broad review in the wake of last year’s ambush in Niger that killed four U.S. soldiers and four of their Niger counterparts.

 

“Since that happened, there were significant things to change and learn,” Waldhauser said. “We’ve done a thorough scrub really on every level, whether it’s at a tactical level… or how we conduct business at AFRICOM.”

 

A report is due in mid-August on actions taken in response to the findings, Waldhauser said. He released a report in May on the ambush, which has been blamed on extremists linked to the Islamic State organization.

 

He said Africa’s challenges remain vast, from Islamic State and al-Qaida-linked groups in the west to al-Shabab in the east.

 

The U.S. takes a hard look at what is necessary when accompanying local forces on operations, “in terms of when it’s necessary; is the threat there going against something that’s significant to the U.S. homeland and our national interests,” he said.

 

Drones are part of the strategy to provide intelligence-gathering for partner nations so they can “consider various operations and take on these threats,” Waldhauser said.

 

The U.S. has authority to carry out drone strikes in Libya and Somalia, according to AFRICOM, but Waldhauser confirmed that “we have been arming out of Niger, and we’ll use that as appropriate.” The U.S. says it started arming drones in Niger earlier this year; they are currently deployed to an air base in the capital, Niamey.

 

He stopped in Senegal while in the region for an annual senior leader and communications symposium in Cape Verde, according to the U.S. Africa Command.

 

The U.S. maintains a small site at Camp Cisse in Dakar’s old airport that allows for U.S. military aircraft to land and refuel. It also allows for storage and use during crisis situations in West Africa such as the response to the deadly Ebola outbreak a few years ago or to any threats against embassies.

 

America’s role on the continent is to build the capacity of local partner forces, Waldhauser said.

 

“The majority, if not all of the combat operations, will be conducted by the partner force, not by the United States. So our whole goal is to get them up to a level that they can deal with the challenges that they face,” he said.

 

“In no case are we trying to take the lead. In no case do we want to own the problem, really in all cases and various methods, whether it be kinetic strikes in places like Somalia or working bilaterally with G-5 countries in the west,” he said, referring to the new five-nation G5 Sahel counterterror force in West Africa.

 

When the U.S. does step in with strikes, “we go out of our way to reach levels of certainty with whom we know we are up against,” he said. Officials and residents in Somalia, however, more than once in recent months have accused the U.S. of killing civilians in drone strikes.

 

Waldhauser also warned that partnership with the U.S. comes with responsibility and mentioned as an example recent reports of extrajudicial killings in Cameroon. The United Nations human rights chief last week said he was “utterly appalled” at a recent video appearing to show Cameroonian soldiers shooting to death women with small children strapped to their backs as suspected Boko Haram extremists.

 

“We want to have a strong military relationship with Cameroon. But their actions will go a long way toward how that will play out in the future with regards to the transparency on some of these latest allegations.” Waldhauser said.

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China Urges US Not to Allow Stopover by Taiwan President

China urged the United States on Tuesday not to allow Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen to transit its territory when she visits Belize and Paraguay next month, adding to tension between Beijing and Washington that has worsened amid a trade war.

Beijing considers democratic Taiwan to be a wayward province of “one China,” ineligible for state-to-state relations, and has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control.

China regularly calls Taiwan the most sensitive and important issue between it and the United States, and Beijing always complains to Washington about transit stops by Taiwanese presidents.

Taiwan’s government announced on Monday that Tsai would travel to and from its two diplomatic allies via the United States, standard procedure for visits by Taiwanese presidents to Latin America.

Taiwan’s Presidential Office said Tsai would be stopping off in Los Angeles and Houston, though did not provide exact dates.

Speaking at a daily news briefing in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China had already lodged solemn representations with Washington about the planned transits.

“We have consistently resolutely opposed the United States or other countries with which China has diplomatic relations arranging this kind of transit,” Geng said.

China urged the United States “not to allow the transit of the leader of the Taiwan region, and not send any wrong signals to Taiwan independence forces,” he added.

China has been peeling away the number of countries which maintain formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, amid a concerted effort to pressure Tsai, whose Democratic Progressive Party espouses independence for the island, a red line for China.

The timing of Tsai’s August visits to the United States comes amid an increasingly bitter trade war between China and the United States.

While the United States has no formal ties with Taiwan, it is the island’s main source of arms and strongest unofficial diplomatic backer, to Beijing’s anger.

Taiwan has official relations with just 18 countries worldwide, many of them poor nations in Central America and the Pacific such as Nicaragua and Nauru.

Taiwan has accused China of using dollar diplomacy to lure away its allies, promising generous aid packages, charges China has denied.

 

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