US Treasury Sanctions Syrian Prisons, Officials, Armed Group  

The U.S. Treasury Department on Wednesday announced sanctions on eight Syrian prisons run by President Bashar al-Assad’s intelligence agencies, citing human rights abuses against political prisoners and other detainees.

The department also sanctioned five senior Syrian government officials who control these detention centers.

“The Assad regime has waged a ruthless war against the Syrian people, imprisoning hundreds of thousands of Syrians calling for reform and change, of whom at least 14,000 have been tortured to death,” the Treasury Department said in a statement. “More than 130,000 people reportedly remain missing or arbitrarily detained” by Syrian government security forces, the statement added.

The Treasury Department also imposed sanctions on a Syrian armed group, Ahrar al-Sharqiya, and two of its leaders for abuses against civilians.

Killings, abductions, torture

Ahrar al-Sharqiya, which is active in northern Syria, has committed numerous crimes against civilians, particularly Syrian Kurds, including unlawful killings, abductions, torture and seizures of private property, according to the Treasury.

The armed group has also incorporated former members of the Islamic State terror group into its ranks, the Treasury said.

“Today’s designations promote accountability for abuses committed against the Syrian people and deny rogue actors access to the international financial system,” said Andrea M. Gacki, director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

“This action demonstrates the United States’ strong commitment to targeting human rights abuses in Syria, regardless of the perpetrator,” she added.

Rights experts said these designations showed a balanced approach by the U.S. government to what has been taking place in Syria for years.

“The Syrian regime and rebel groups such as Ahrar al-Sharqiya alike have committed grave human rights abuses across Syria. Exposing them is a very positive move by the U.S.,” said Bassam al-Ahmad, executive director of Syrians for Truth and Justice, an advocacy group that documents human rights violations in Syria.

“There are many other armed groups in Syria that have the same ideology as ISIS [IS], and the U.S. should target them as well,” he told VOA.

What is Ahrar al-Sharqiya?

Ahrar al-Sharqiya became a prominent militia in the Syrian conflict after a Turkish-led incursion into the mostly Kurdish region in October 2019. The Syrian group, along with several other Turkish-backed factions, controls parts of northern Syria.

Ahmad al-Hayes, commonly known as Abu Hatem Shaqra, one of the group’s two leaders targeted by the U.S. sanctions, is directly complicit in many of the militia’s human rights abuses, the Treasury said.

It added that al-Hayes commanded Ahrar al-Sharqiya’s prison outside Aleppo, where hundreds of detainees have been executed since 2018. He has been implicated in the trafficking of Yazidi women and children and has integrated former IS members into the ranks of Ahrar al-Sharqiya, according to the Treasury.

Aykan Erdemir, a senior analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, said the Treasury’s designation of Ahrar al-Sharqiya sent a strong message to Ankara.

The “partnership between the [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan government and Ahrar al-Sharqiya has prompted Ankara to turn a blind eye to the militant group’s numerous crimes against humanity targeting ethnic and religious minorities in parts of northern Syria under Turkey’s direct or indirect control,” he told VOA.

Erdemir added that Washington’s designation of Ahrar al-Sharqiya showed that “the Biden administration’s patience is running thin when it comes to the Erdogan government’s utilization of former jihadists as proxies in Syria in ways that undermine U.S. efforts against ISIS.”

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CDC to Recommend Indoor Masks Again, Even for Some Vaccinated People

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is expected to recommend that vaccinated people in parts of the country wear masks while indoors, reversing a decision it made two months ago.

Federal officials with knowledge of the decision told news agencies the CDC is expected to make the announcement later Tuesday, based on surging numbers of new cases in regions with low vaccination rates.   

The rising caseload is driven by the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.  

There has also been a rise in cases of so-called breakthrough infections among fully vaccinated people, suggesting the delta variant may be able to cause such infections more often than previous strains of the virus.  

Health officials say vaccines remain effective against the worst outcomes of infection with the virus, including those involving the delta variant.

In televised interviews Sunday, White House medical advisor and top U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said the mask guidelines were under review, as new infections in areas with low vaccination rates have been surging. The CDC says 30 states have less than half their residents fully vaccinated.

In May, the CDC said fully vaccinated people no longer would be required to wear masks or maintain social distancing of six feet from other people.  The agency still suggested people remain masked on public transportation and at crowded outdoor events.  

For months, COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations in the U.S. fell steadily, but those trends reversed over the past two months as the delta variant of the coronavirus began to spread.

The New York Times reports several cities and towns have restored indoor masking rules in recent weeks, including St. Louis, Missouri, Savannah, Georgia and Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Some information for this report was provided by the Associated Press, Reuters and the French News agency, AFP.

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UN Says Armed Groups Threaten Thousands of Eritrean Refugees in Tigray

The UN refugee agency warns about 24,000 Eritrean refugees trapped in two camps in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray province are in great danger as fighting among armed groups escalates. 

Concerns are growing for the safety and wellbeing of thousands of Eritrean refugees in Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps as fighting intensifies in Tigray’s Mai Tsebri area.  

The UN refugee agency reports aid agencies have been unable to access the camps since July 14.  It says conditions for the refugees have become increasingly dire and worrisome since then. 

UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch says members of armed groups have infiltrated the camps.  He says the Eritreans are living in constant fear.  He says they are facing intimidation and harassment and are cut off from humanitarian assistance.

“We have received disturbing and credible reports in recent days from Mai Aini camp that at least one refugee was killed by armed elements operating inside the camp,” Baloch said. “The latest death is in addition to the killing of another refugee on 14 July.”   

Baloch says he does not know which of the armed groups is responsible for the killings.  However, his agency, he says, has received credible reports that people with guns are operating inside the two refugee camps.

He says the UNHCR has been appealing to the local authorities and the Ethiopian refugee agency to provide safety for the refugees and to grant aid agencies access to the camps.  He notes the Eritrean refugees have been without humanitarian assistance for the last two weeks.

“Trapped refugees need urgent life-saving assistance,” Baloch said. “Clean drinking water is running out, no healthcare services are available, and hunger is a real danger.  The last food distribution to both refugee camps was done in late June, which provided them rations for just one month.  

Baloch says recent armed clashes in Afar region to the east of Tigray have displaced thousands of people, among them about 55,000 Eritrean refugees.  He says concerns for their safety also are growing as armed confrontations are taking place near where the refugees live.

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Pakistani, 19, Becomes Youngest Person to Summit K2

A 19-year-old Pakistani has become the youngest person to summit K2, the world’s second highest mountain, the Alpine Club of Pakistan said Tuesday.  

Shehroze Kashif reached the 8,611-meter (28,251 foot) summit at 8:10 a.m. Tuesday.

Kashif, who began climbing in his early teens, scaled the world’s 12th highest mountain, 8,047-meter (26,400 foot) Broad Peak, at the age of 17. In May, he became the youngest Pakistani to scale Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain.  

Several of Pakistan’s youngest climbers have been on K2 in recent days. Sajid Ali Sadpara, who in 2019 became the youngest to climb K2 at the age of 20, is part of an expedition there to find the body of his father, who went missing along with two other climbers in February.

On Monday, sherpas affixing ropes for climbers about 300 meters below an obstacle known as the Bottleneck discovered the bodies of Muhammad Ali Sadpara of Pakistan, Iceland’s John Snorri and Chile’s Juan Pablo Mohr. The same day, Samina Baig, 30, said she was abandoning an attempt to summit the mountain because of dangerous conditions. Baig became the youngest Pakistani woman to scale Mount Everest in 2013.

On Sunday night the body of Scottish climber, Rick Allen, 68, was recovered after he was swept away by an avalanche while attempting to traverse a new route on K2’s southeastern face.

Earlier this month, Kim Hong-bin, 57, a South Korean Paralympian, went missing after falling from the nearby Broad Peak.

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Volunteers Pitch in to Fight Russia’s Raging Forest Fires

The little domed tents of the volunteer firefighters in the clearing of a Siberian forest can be hard to see — even from only a few steps away — because of the choking smoke. Their shovels and saws seem to be tiny tools against the vast blaze, like toy weapons brought to a war.

As of Monday, about 1.88 million hectares (4.6 million acres) of forest were burning in Russia — an area larger than the U.S. state of Connecticut.  

More than 5,000 regular firefighters are involved, but the scale is so large and the area is so enormous that 55% of the fires aren’t being fought at all, according to Avialesookhrana, the agency that oversees the effort.

That means the volunteers, who take time off work and rely on their own money or nongovernmental funds, are a small but important addition to the overwhelmed forces.

“The guys (volunteers) are doing a great job. Their help is significant because the area and distances are quite large, so the more people there are, the more effective our efforts are to control the fires,” said Denis Markov, an instructor at a base for paratrooper firefighters in Tomsk, who is working with some of the volunteers.

The hardest hit area is the Sakha Republic, also known as Yakutia, in the far northeast of Russia, about 5,000 kilometers (3,200 miles) from Moscow. About 85% of all of Russia’s fires are in the republic, and heavy smoke forced a temporary closure of the airport in the regional capital, Yakutsk, a city of about 280,000 people.

As the smoke intensified, Ivan Nikiforov took a leave from his office job in the city — not to escape the bad air but to head into the fires as a volunteer.

“I think it’s important to participate as a volunteer because our republic, our shared land and our forests are burning. This is what we’ll be leaving for our children and our grandchildren,” he said at his group’s encampment in the Gorny Ulus area west of Yakutsk.

Nikiforov and a small contingent of other volunteers dig trenches, chop down trees and set small, controlled fires to try to block the spread.

Volunteers in the area received some support from the nongovernmental agency Sinet-Spark, which provided sleeping bags, gloves and heavy equipment. Alexandra Kozulina, the group’s director of projects, said Sinet-Spark initially had planned to spend its money on information campaigns but decided to provide equipment as the fires worsened.

“I also believe our government should be doing this. I don’t understand why it isn’t happening — whether there isn’t enough money because budgets were cut, or some other reason, but we are doing what is in our power,” she said.

The main problem, many observers say, is that the size of the aerial forest protection agency has been reduced, along with the number of rangers.

“I can personally remember how each district had a branch of Avialesookhrana with 15-20 paratroopers. They constantly made observation flights and put out fires as soon as they started,” said Fedot Tumusov, a member of the Russian parliament from Sakha.  

The 2007 changes that reduced the number of rangers also gave control over timberlands to regional authorities and businesses, eroding centralized monitoring, fueling corruption and contributing to illegal tree-cutting practices that help spawn fires.

Critics also say the law allows authorities to let fires burn in certain areas if the potential damage is considered not worth the cost of containing them. They say this encourages inaction by authorities and slows firefighting efforts, so a blaze that could have been extinguished at a relatively small cost is often allowed to burn uncontrolled.

This year’s fires in Siberia already have emitted more carbon than those in some previous years, according to Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts.

He said the peat fires that are common in Siberia and many other Russian regions are particularly harmful in terms of emissions because the peat has been absorbing carbon for tens of thousands of years.

“Then it’s releasing all that carbon back into the atmosphere,” Parrington said.  

While pledging adherence to the Paris agreement on climate change, Russian officials often underline the key role played by the country’s forests in slowing down global warming. However, regular fires have the opposite effect, dramatically boosting carbon emissions.

“Everyone emphasizes that we have huge forests, but no one so far has calculated how much our forest fires contribute to greenhouse gas emissions,” said Mikhail Kreindlin of Greenpeace Russia.  

It’s too early to tell whether this year’s fires will reach a record-breaking scale, Kreindlin says, noting that the situation in Siberia has been particularly difficult for the past three years. What sets 2021 apart is that Karelia — a small region in northwestern Russia on the border with Finland — also has been engulfed by devastating, unprecedented fires.

As of Monday, Karelia was among the top three regions affected by the fires, according to Avialesookhrana, with 22 of them still active on more than 11,000 hectares (27,180 acres).  

“The fact that Karelia got ablaze so unexpectedly — there were fires there before, but there hasn’t been such massive fires there in many years — shows that in general the situation with the fires in the country is extremely difficult and poorly controlled,” Kreindlin said.

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At Tokyo Olympics, Skateboarding Teens Blaze Trail for Women

On the Olympic podium stood three teenage girls — 13, 13 and 16 — with weighty gold, silver and bronze medals around their young necks, rewards for having landed tricks on their skateboards that most kids their age only get to see on Instagram.

After decades in the shadows of men’s skateboarding, the future for the sport’s daring, trailblazing women suddenly looked brighter than ever at the Tokyo Games on Monday.

It’s anyone’s guess how many young girls tuned in to watch Momiji Nishiya of Japan win the debut Olympic skateboarding event for women, giving the host nation a sweep of golds in the street event after Yuto Horigome won the men’s event.

But around the world, girls trying to convince their parents that they, too, should be allowed to skate can now point to the 13-year-old from Osaka as an Olympic-sized example of skateboarding’s possibilities.

A champion of few words — “Simply delighted,” is how she described herself — Nishiya let her board do the talking, riding it down rails taller than she is. She said she’d celebrate by asking her mother to treat her to a dinner of Japanese yakiniku barbecue.

The silver went to Rayssa Leal, also 13 — Brazil’s second silver in skateboarding after Kelvin Hoefler finished in second place on Sunday in the men’s event.

Both Nishiya and Leal became their countries’ youngest-ever medalists. The bronze went to 16-year-old Funa Nakayama of Japan.

“Now I can convince all my friends to skateboard everywhere with me,” Leal said.

She first caught the skateboarding world’s attention as a 7-year-old with a video on Instagram of her attempting, and landing, a jump with a flip down three stairs while wearing a dress with angel wings.

“Skateboarding is for everyone,” she said.

But that hasn’t always been true for young girls, even among the 20 female pioneers who rode the rails, ramps and ledges at the Ariake Urban Sports Park.

The field included Leticia Bufoni of Brazil, whose board was snapped in two by her dad when she was a kid to try to stop her from skating.

She was 10.

“I cried for hours,” she recalled. “He thought girls shouldn’t skate because he had never seen a woman skate before.”

Bufoni added, half-joking, that getting him to relent had been harder than qualifying for the Tokyo Games.

“So I want be that girl that the little girls can show their parents and be like, ‘She can skate. I want to be like her,'” Bufoni said.

Annie Guglia of Canada said she didn’t see any other girls skate during her first two years on her board. The first contest she entered, at the age of 13, had no women’s category, so organizers had to create one for her.

“And I won, because I was the only one,” the 30-year-old Guglia said. “We have come a long way.”

Skaters predicted that by time the next Olympics roll around, in Paris in 2024, the women’s field will have a greater depth of talent and tricks, built on the foundations they laid in Tokyo.

“It’s going to change the whole game,” U.S. skater Mariah Duran said. “This is like opening at least one door to, you know, many skaters who are having the conversations with their parents, who want to start skating.

“I’m not surprised if there’s probably already like 500 girls getting a board today.”
Nishiya is going places with hers. She said she aims to be at the Paris Games “and win.”

“I want to be famous,” she said.

But first — barbecue. Her delighted mom didn’t take much convincing.

“I’ll definitely take her,” she said.

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28 Abducted Baptist School Students Freed in Nigeria

Armed kidnappers in Nigeria have released 28 of the more than 120 students who were abducted at the beginning of July from the Bethel Baptist High School in the northern town of Damishi.

Church officials returned those children to their parents at the school on Sunday. But the Rev. Israel Akanji, president of the Baptist Convention, said more than 80 other children are still being held by the gunmen.

So far 34 children kidnapped from the school on July 5 have either been released or have escaped from the custody of the gunmen. It is unclear when the other children will be released. The gunmen have reportedly demanded 500,000 Naira (about $1,200) for each student.

Akanji said the church did not pay any ransoms because it is opposed to paying criminals, but he added the church was unable to stop the children’s families from taking any actions they deem fit to secure their release.

A spokesman for the Nigerian Police, Mohammed Jalige, said security forces and civilian defense forces were on a routine rescue patrol July 12 around the forests near the village of Tsohon Gaya when they found three exhausted kidnapped victims roaming in the bush. Two other students escaped on July 20 when they were ordered to fetch firewood from a nearby forest. Jalige said they were undergoing medical examinations.

Gunman called bandits have carried out a spate of mass abductions from schools in northern Nigeria this year, mainly seeking ransoms.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who won election on hopes that he would tackle Nigeria’s security challenges, has not been able to do much in addressing the growing cases of mass abductions from Nigerian schools.


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Israel Launches Airstrikes on Gaza After Incendiary Balloon Fires

Israel hit Gaza with airstrikes on Sunday after incendiary balloons launched from the Palestinian enclave caused fires in the Jewish state, with no reported injuries on either side.  

The Israeli strikes targeted an open area in northern Gaza and a militant training site belonging to Gaza Strip’s Hamas Islamist rulers in southern Khan Yunis, Palestinian security sources told AFP.  

The strikes came after Israel cut by half the fishing zone off the blockaded coastal territory, a common response following projectile attacks by armed groups in Gaza.   

Israel’s army had no immediate comment on the strikes.  

But the military branch responsible for civil affairs in the Palestinian territories (COGAT) said the fishing zone had been reduced from 12 nautical miles to six.  

“The decision was made following the continued launching of incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, which constitutes a violation of Israeli sovereignty,” it said in a statement.  

Hamas was “responsible for all activities within the Gaza Strip and all actions originating in the Gaza Strip directed towards the state of Israel,” COGAT said. “It will therefore bear the consequences for the violence committed against the citizens of the state of Israel.”

Earlier Sunday, Israeli firefighters said they extinguished brush blazes at three spots in the Eshkol region near the border, blaming “incendiary balloons” as the cause.  

The balloons are basic devices intended to set fire to farmland surrounding the Israeli-blockaded Palestinian enclave.

On July 12, Israel announced it was re-expanding the fishing zone off Gaza and allowing additional imports into the Palestinian territory but warned the measure could be reversed in response to fresh unrest.  

An 11-day conflict in May saw Israel launch hundreds of airstrikes on Gaza,and Hamas fire thousands of rockets at Israel.

Before the May conflict, the Gaza fishing zone was 15 nautical miles, but Israel reduced it during the warfare.

There has been sporadic unrest since a cease-fire ended the conflict, with incendiary balloons launched from Gaza and Israeli reprisal airstrikes targeting facilities belonging to Hamas. No casualties have been reported.

The last time balloons from Gaza caused a fire in Israel was early this month.

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US Infrastructure Proposal May Move Forward Despite Senate Stall

Issues in the News moderator Kim Lewis talks with VOA senior diplomatic correspondent, Cindy Saine, and senior reporter for Marketplace, Nancy Marshall-Genzer, about growing congressional challenges on infrastructure, police reform, COVID-19 and the economy facing the Biden administration, the ramifications of a widespread cyber-attack on Microsoft allegedly conducted by China, controversial Israeli phone surveillance software allegedly misused amid a global hacking scandal, the Tokyo Olympics and global concern over the spreading of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

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Fauci Sounds New Virus Warnings

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, sounded new alarms Sunday about the surge in coronavirus cases in the country, especially in regions where people have been resistant to getting vaccinated even as the delta variant spreads rapidly.

“We’re going in the wrong direction,” Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union” show. “Fifty percent of the country is not vaccinated. That’s a problem.”

“We’re putting ourselves in danger,” said Fauci, the top medical adviser to President Joe Biden.

In the United States, hospitalizations and deaths are far below their peaks last winter. But the number of new infections has been rising sharply in parts of the country where skepticism about the need to get vaccinated, the safety of the vaccines and resistance to government suggestions to get inoculated remain a potent force.

More than 51,000 new infections were recorded in the U.S. on Saturday, a 172% increase over the last two weeks, and more than 250 deaths have been occurring daily in recent weeks.

As it stands, the government says more than 162 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, which corresponds to 49% of the country’s population and nearly 60% of adults.

But polls have shown that as many as 80% of unvaccinated Americans say they definitely will not get inoculated or are unlikely to, no matter how many officials urge them to get the shots.

Many conservative politicians previously had adopted a more cautious approach toward vaccinations or said whether to get inoculated was a matter of personal choice. Now some are voicing their exasperation at those refusing to get vaccinated.

Republican Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama said last week of the unvaccinated, “These people are choosing a horrible lifestyle.”

Another Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, has long urged vaccinations in his southern state but it still has one of the lowest rates of inoculations. Two adolescents recently died of COVID-19 in his state. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.

“These are alarm bells,” he told CNN. Nonetheless, he noted, “Certainly the resistance (to inoculations) has hardened.”

But Hutchinson voiced optimism that the unvaccinated will change their minds. 

“People can change their resistance,” he said. “That should be our focus.”

Fauci said those vaccinated “are highly protected,” including against the delta variant. But the pace of vaccinations has dropped in the U.S. by more than 80% since mid-April.

Some cities, including Los Angeles in the West and St. Louis in the middle of the country, have imposed new orders for people to wear masks in public indoor spaces regardless of vaccination status. Other cities are considering similar directives.


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South Africa Turmoil

On this edition of Encounter, Ambassador Michelle Gavin, senior fellow for Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and former Ambassador to Botswana, and Frans Cronje, CEO of the Johannesburg-based Institute of Race Relations, analyze with host Carol Castiel the political, economic and social situation in South Africa following the arrest and detention of former South African president Jacob Zuma given the protests, looting and violence which this incident triggered.  How did the celebrated multiracial democracy led by Nelson Mandela reach this critical juncture point, and what does the future hold for South Africa? 

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Interior Secretary: Drought Demands Investment, Conservation 

Confronting the historic drought that has a firm grip on the American West requires a heavy federal infrastructure investment to protect existing water supplies but also will depend on efforts at all levels of government to reduce demand by promoting water efficiency and recycling, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said Thursday.

Haaland told reporters in Denver that the Biden administration’s proposed fiscal 2022 budget includes a $1.5 billion investment in the Bureau of Reclamation, which manages water and power in the Western states, and more than $54 million for states, tribes and communities to upgrade infrastructure and water planning projects.

“Drought doesn’t just impact one community. It affects all of us — from farmers and ranchers to city dwellers and Indian tribes. We all have a role to use water wisely,” Haaland said at the start of a three-day visit to Colorado to address the U.S. response to the increasing scarcity of  water and the massive wildfires burning throughout the region.

The American West, including most of western Colorado, is gripped by the worst drought in modern history. The northern part of the state is experiencing deadly flash flooding and mudslides after rain fell in areas scarred by massive wildfires last year. Fires are burning across the West, most severely in Oregon and California, while the drought stresses major waterways like the Colorado River and reservoirs that sustain millions of people.

The drought and recent heat waves in the region that are tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight. Climate change has made the West much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires larger and more destructive.

Haaland spoke after meeting with Democratic Representative Diana DeGette, Governor Jared Polis and Jim Lochhead, chief executive of Denver Water, Colorado’s largest water agency, for a discussion on the drought and possible federal solutions.

Among other initiatives, she said, the Bureau of Reclamation is working to identify and dispense “immediate technical and financial assistance for impacted irrigators and Indian tribes.”

Tanya Trujillo, the department’s assistant secretary for water and science, cited a recent decision to release water from several Upper Colorado River basin reservoirs to supply Lake Mead and Lake Powell — the two manmade reservoirs that store Colorado River water.

The reservoirs are shrinking faster than expected, spreading panic throughout a region that relies on the river to sustain 40 million people. Federal officials expect to make the first-ever water shortage declaration in the Colorado River basin next month, prompting cuts in Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico.

“We have seen hydrologic projections that are worse than anticipated,” Trujillo said.

Haaland’s three-day stay in Colorado includes her first trip Friday to the Bureau of Land Management’s new headquarters in Grand Junction, established by the Trump administration in 2019. The agency’s move from Washington, D.C., produced an outcry from critics who said it gutted the office. Haaland opposed the move as a member of Congress.

The agency overseen by the Interior Department manages nearly 250 million acres of public lands, most of which are in the West. Polis and Colorado’s congressional delegation have urged Haaland to keep the office in Grand Junction.

Haaland is visiting as severe dry periods sweeping areas of the West over the last several years have resulted in more intense and dangerous wildfires, parched croplands and a lack of vegetation for livestock and wildlife, according to government scientists.

They also found that the problem is accelerating — rainstorms are becoming increasingly unpredictable and more regions are seeing longer intervals between storms since the turn of the century.

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Over 600,000 Notified to Quarantine in British ‘Pingdemic’

Over 600,000 users of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service’s (NHS) COVID-19 test and trace app were “pinged” alerts recommending self-isolation earlier this month.

In what has been dubbed the “pingdemic,” the app told users to begin a 10-day quarantine if they tested positive for the coronavirus or had been in close contact with someone who did.

The mass alerts have had significant repercussions for supermarkets and other businesses in the U.K. Stores warn that products are running low, and staff shortages have affected restock abilities. Some shops are altering their hours of operation in response to the challenge.

Grocery store chain Lidl indicated a worker shortage was “starting to have an impact on our operations.”

Supermarkets are hiring large numbers of temporary employees to overcome staffing challenges. After 1,000 staff members were unable to return to work, the Iceland grocery chain is hiring 2,000 interim workers.

Photographs of empty shelves were widely shared on social media, but supermarkets downplayed the shortages, with Iceland declaring them “isolated incidents.”

Driver shortages and a rising number of workers required to self-isolate have also led to fuel supply issues.

BP announced that a “vast majority” of the shortages were going to be resolved “within the day,” but a “handful” of their gas stations will be temporarily closed.

According to the BBC, isolation is only legally required when instructed by the NHS test and trace program. A ping from the NHS COVID-19 app is only an advised self-isolation.

Some business owners are trying to circumvent this regulation by allowing ‘pinged’ employees who have received a negative PCR test to return to work.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng cautioned those attempting to avoid isolation, stating that “the rules are clear, and I think they should be followed.”

The British government announced that it is necessary to maintain these guidelines until August 16, when further restrictions are scheduled to be lifted.


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