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North Korea.
North Korea food production ‘lowest for a decade’: UN
6 March 2019, 6:04 AM

North Korea recorded its worst harvest for more than a decade last year, the United Nations said on Wednesday, as natural disasters combined with its lack of arable land and inefficient agriculture to hit production.

The isolated North, which is under several sets of sanctions over its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programmes, has long struggled to feed itself and suffers chronic food shortages.

But last year’s harvest was just 4.95-million tonnes, the United Nations said in its Needs and Priorities assessment for 2019, down by 500 000 tonnes.

It was “the lowest production in more than a decade”, the UN’s Resident Coordinator in the North Tapan Mishra said in a statement.

“This has resulted in a significant food gap.”

As a result 10.9-million people in the North needed humanitarian assistance – 600 000 more than last year – with a potential for increased malnutrition and illness.

It is equivalent to 43% of the population.

But while the number of people needing help rose, the UN has had to cut its target for people to help – from 6.0-million to 3.8-million – as it seeks to prioritise those most in need.

Funding has fallen far short of what the UN says it needs.

Only 24% of last year’s appeal was met, with Mishra describing it as “one of the lowest funded humanitarian plans in the world”.

Several agencies had been forced to scale back their programmes and some faced closing projects, he said, appealing to donors to “not let political considerations get in the way of addressing humanitarian need”.

“The human cost of our inability to respond is unmeasurable,” he said, adding that sanctions had created unintended delays and challenges to humanitarian programmes, even though they are exempt under UN Security Council resolutions.

The impoverished North has been frequently condemned by the international community for decades of prioritising the military and its nuclear weapons programme over adequately providing for its people – an imbalance some critics say the UN’s aid programme encourages.

Ahead of his Hanoi summit with leader Kim Jong Un last week, US President Donald Trump repeatedly dangled the prospect of the North becoming an economic powerhouse if it gave up its arsenal, but the two were unable to reach a deal.

The Centre for Strategic and International Studies said – based on its analysis of satellite imagery – activity is “evident” at a North Korean long-range rocket test site, suggesting Pyongyang may be pursuing its “rapid rebuilding” after the failed summit.

The country industrialised rapidly following the end of the Korean War and for a time was wealthier than the South. Funding from Moscow papered over the effects of chronic economic mismanagement, but that came to an end with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was followed by a crippling famine.

That episode – known as the Arduous March, when hundreds of thousands of people died – is in the past but North Korea does not have access to the latest agricultural technology or fertilisers and its yields are well below global averages.

It is also a rugged, largely mountainous, country with only around 20% of its land area suitable for cultivation.

It was hit by a heat wave in July and August last year, followed by heavy rains and flash floods from Typhoon Soulik. As a result, the UN said, rice and wheat crops were down 12 to 14%.

The figure is significantly larger than in the South, where rice production was down only 2.6% last year, according to Seoul’s statistics, even though it experiences similar weather and climate.

The North’s soybean output slumped 39% and production of potatoes – promoted by leader Kim as a way to increase supplies – was 34 down, the UN said.

Last month Pyongyang told the UN that it was facing a shortfall of 1.4-million tonnes of food this year.

Mishra insisted that humanitarian agencies were able to monitor their programmes “rigorously” to make sure that help reached the most vulnerable people, adding: “We simply cannot leave them behind.”

HIV/AIDS
HIV-positive man functionally cured, UNAIDS encouraged
6 March 2019, 5:32 AM

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids  says it’s greatly encouraged by the news that an HIV-positive man has been functionally cured of HIV.

In a statement, UNAIDS said the London patient was treated by specialists for Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2016 using stem cell transplants from a donor who carried a rare genetic mutation.

According to the Joint Programme, stem cell transplants are highly complex, intensive and costly procedures with substantial side-effects and are not a viable way of treating large numbers of people living with HIV.

However, the results do offer a greater insight for researchers working on HIV cure strategies.

UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric says, “Our colleagues at UNAids said they are greatly encouraged by the news that an HIV-positive man has been functionally cured of HIV. The result, reported at the conference in Seattle, is one of only two cases of reported functional cures of HIV. The man was treated in London for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma using stem cell transplants from a donor carrying a rare genetic mutation. The virus has been undetectable since he stopped taking antiretroviral medicine 18-months ago”

He adds: “Michel Sidibé, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, said the breakthrough gives us great hope for the future, but also shows how far we are from the point of ending AIDS with science, as well as the absolute importance to continue to focus on HIV prevention and treatment efforts.”

Taxi strike
Several roads in Soweto blocked due to strike
5 March 2019, 8:35 AM

Several taxi associations in Soweto have embarked on a protest in White City. They have blockading several roads.

It’s understood that the taxi associations are protesting against Rea Vaya buses operating in the area.

Authorities have advised motorists to avoid the area for now.

JMPD spokesperson Wayne Minnaar explains:

“There are protests at the moment by taxi associations at Koma Road and Ellias Motsoaledi Road in White City. Motorists are advised to avoid that intersection for now. The protesters are complaining about Rea Vaya busses. It’s not safe for motorists to drive through the area, officers are in the area monitoring the situation.”

British royals Kate and Meghan
British royals appeal for online kindness after trolling of Kate and Meghan
5 March 2019, 6:31 AM

Britain’s royals unveiled a new protocol on Monday for users of their social media channels, asking for kindness and warning of possible police action following a rise in abusive comments, often aimed at Prince Harry’s pregnant wife Meghan.

Abusive and even threatening remarks have become commonplace on the comment sections and Twitter feeds of the royal family, with Kate and Meghan, the wives of Queen Elizabeth’s grandsons Prince William and Harry, particular targets.

Unveiling their “Social Media Community Guidelines”, Buckingham Palace, Clarence House and Kensington Palace – the offices for the queen, her son and heir Prince Charles, and William and Harry – outlined what behaviour they expected from users of their channels.

“We ask that anyone engaging with our social media channels shows courtesy, kindness and respect for all other members of our social media communities,” the guidelines said.

They stated that comments must not be defamatory, obscene, threatening, or abusive; be discriminatory in any way; be “off-topic, irrelevant or unintelligible” or contain advertising.

The protocol said royal officials would determine whether the guidelines had been breached and anyone who did so would be blocked or have their comments hidden or deleted.

“We also reserve the right to send any comments we deem appropriate to law enforcement authorities for investigation as we feel necessary or is required by law,” it said.

Some 3.87-million accounts follow the Royal Family’s Twitter feed and another 1.69 follow that of Kensington Palace as the House of Windsor seeks to reach out directly to royal fans and showcase its work, with the overwhelming number of messages supportive.

However, while the palaces gave no explanation as to why they had issued the guidance now, there has been rising abuse of Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, since the former U.S. actress married Harry last May.

A source from Kensington Palace told Hello! magazine, which launched a campaign in January to end the online abuse, that officials were spending hours each week addressing sexist and racist comments aimed at the duchesses.

These included a number of violent threats while there have also been vicious online rows between rival supporters of the two royals, and even those who report on their activities.

“It is not just the royal princesses who are being trolled, every royal journalist, every royal correspondent is being trolled as well,” royal biographer Claudia Joseph told Reuters.

“People see their opinions as valid and I don’t think they totally understand journalists do research, that the royals have a job to do.”

Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York and ex-wife of the queen’s second son Prince Andrew, called on social media firms to do more following the Hello! Campaign, saying it was not a matter of free speech.

“Much of social media has become a sewer,” she said on Twitter last month. “Tech firms need to do much more to take a stand against online abuse, rather than shrugging their shoulders.”

Michel Barnier
Brexit talks resume as divorce day looms
5 March 2019, 6:05 AM

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier meets Britain’s negotiating team on Tuesday as both sides seek a breakthrough with just weeks to go before this month’s ominous divorce deadline.

The sitdown comes after Barnier said on Saturday that the European Union was ready to give London further guarantees to help push a troubled divorce deal through the British parliament.

Barnier also suggested European leaders would be amenable to a short “technical” delay in Britain’s departure from the EU, scheduled for March 29, to give parliament time to formally ratify a final divorce deal.

His small overture to Britain has raised hopes that both sides can find a solution, including to the so-called “backstop” plan for the Irish border, a major sticking point for pro-Brexit MPs.

Barnier, a former French foreign minister, will meet in Brussels with Britain’s attorney general Geoffrey Cox and Brexit minister Stephen Barclay for talks that start at 1700 (1600 GMT).

“We’re now at a particularly critical stage in these negotiations,” says a spokesperson for British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday.

Cox’s presence is seen as central to the meeting, as he will ultimately offer a legal opinion on the Brexit deal and the Irish backstop that could determine whether key MPs in the British parliament will approve the accord.

Earlier disfavourable advice by Cox was viewed as a contributing factor in the defeat of May’s deal by MPs in January.

“Cox is running the show,” a senior EU source told AFP.

“We are trying to find a junction between our positions and we are not there yet,” the source adds.

But despite that defeat, EU leaders insist that the withdrawal agreement will not be reopened, and talks in Brussels are focused on drafting a separate document to placate doubters in London.

Also raising hopes are the softening positions of several hardline Brexit supporters in May’s Conservative party who have dropped their demand that changes to the backstop be made to the withdrawal treaty itself.

But most of them continue to press for a time limit or exit clause to the backstop. They have also set up a team of lawyers to scrutinise anything that Cox brings back from Brussels.

“Many Tories who dislike May’s deal are reluctantly coming round to the idea of voting for it,” says Eurasia Group analyst Mujtaba Rahman, a former UK official.

“Regardless of what he gets” from Barnier, “Cox will reverse his previous legal advice that the UK could be trapped ‘indefinitely’ in the backstop,” Rahman predicted.

In 2017, Britain invoked Article 50 of EU law, triggering a two-year countdown to Brexit that ends at 11pm (2300 GMT) on March 29.

Both sides are furiously trying to steer away from a dreaded “no-deal” divorce with the EU that could wreak havoc on global markets and create border chaos.

British MPs last week agreed to give May more time to get her changes from Brussels, but if she cannot get her deal passed by March 12, she has agreed to let parliament vote for a possible Brexit delay.

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