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Syria’s war: Who is responsible for the dying children of Rukban? | News





Beirut, Lebanon – There was no heating to keep the tent warm. There was no money to buy the medicine which might have saved his daughter. There was not even enough milk in the breast of the mother – suffering from malnutrition – to feed the girl. There is nothing but misery in this camp.

That is how Abdul Karim described the death of his two-month-old daughter Khadija to his friend Abdul Fattah Basleh in Rukban refugee camp in southern Syria, an encampment of about 50,000 people.

Khadija was one of at least eight children who have died in the camp this winter. The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, which has been seeking permission to send life-saving aid, called the deaths a “man-made” tragedy.

“The lives of babies continue to be cut short by health conditions that are preventable or treatable,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF’s regional director for the Middle East.

He said that “more children will die, day in, and day out”, in Rukban and areas around it, unless they are provided with safer shelters and reliable healthcare.

The camp lies in the arid landscape alongside the sand-berms demarcating the Jordanian border.

ISIL danger

Jordan shut its gates and stopped the aid flow in 2016 suspecting the camp harbours sleeper cells of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) armed group, and only supplies water.

It is in the pocket controlled by the US-led coalition troops stationed at the Tanf base nearby. But they are only there to wipe out the remnants of ISIL from their last hide-outs in the neighbourhood, and, to contain Iranian influence over Syria.

They opted for the area to establish their presence for strategic reasons.

The Syrian government stands guard outside the 55km security zone agreed upon between Russia and the US, to avoid a confrontation with the US soldiers.

Harsh winter takes deadly toll on Syrian refugees

Damascus has allowed only two aid convoys to go through this year.

The government has systematically used the lack of basic necessities in besieged areas to coerce people into giving in to President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.

Karim did not even consider crossing over to the government-held territory, which has food and medicine and doctors, in case they suspected him of being a “terrorist” supporter and arrest him, a common fear.

He did want to take baby Khadija to a medical centre in Jordan, “but he could not”, said his friend Basleh, “because they have banned us”.

Jordan sealed the border but has sporadically taken in patients in need of immediate healthcare.

Khadijah died of high fever and inflammation even before she could be taken there.

The conditions in the camp, other residents said, make it unlivable.

UN aid

Wissam Khaled* fled from Palmyra when the war intensified in his city. He said that the last batch of aid from the UN came in November after months of hiatus and was barely enough for a fortnight.

The people, he said, are relying on smugglers in the government-controlled areas who sell everything at exorbitant rates. “Food, medicine, all is coming only from the smugglers and it is very expensive,” he said. “People cannot afford it because they do not have any money, because there is no work here.”

How will US troop withdrawal affect Syria’s war?

Mohammed Al Sharkh, the husband of 28-year-old Sundus Fatahallah, regrets his inability to have the cooking stove repaired.

One morning, a few days ago, as his wife made breakfast, he said, the kerosene spilled and burnt her severely, also causing minor burns to the children.

“She had been asking me to fix it,” he said, “But I could not, because I did not have enough money.”

Rukban’s Syrians are most disappointed with the US for not helping despite being just 16km from the camp.

“The Americans have not sent anything, no doctors,” Wissam said. “We only have a few nurses but they do not know much and have very limited medicines.”

Bassam Barabandi, a former Syrian government diplomat who now runs a Syrian activist group in the US, said that while the nurses are provided with some “basic medical training”, by the US, Washington has refused to do more.

“The American army always says their mandate is to fight ISIS only,” he said. “They say they have no humanitarian mandate and do not want to own this problem.”

His view resonated among other Syria experts.

Jordan shut its gates and stopped the aid flow in 2016 [Al Jazeera]

Arun Lund, a fellow with the Century Foundation, said the US is a “de facto occupying power” on the ground, yet it has refrained from assuming responsibility.

“The US troops at Tanf don’t currently have the budget for it and want to keep it someone else’s problem,” he said. “They also can’t access the camp itself under current rules, since the military deems it unsafe and full of potential hostiles.”

The camp is controlled by several groups, including the Pentagon-backed Free Syrian Army-affiliated Maghawir al-Thawra. ISIL members are also believed to be hiding in the camp.

Elizabeth Tsurkov, an activist and a research fellow at an Israeli think-tank on regional thinking, said that the US has failed to leverage its position with Jordan, which could easily supply aid to Rukban. “The US, which has forces stationed in the area, appears unable to compel its ally Jordan to provide the residents of camps in Rukban with this much-needed aid,” she said.

However, Wissam thinks the presence of the US troops is the best safety measure they have against the Syrian government taking over. As the troops’ exit looms, there is panic in the camp.

“This is more important than food and medicine,” Wissam added. “If the American soldiers leave, it will be very dangerous for us. Then regime forces will come to arrest us, or we don’t know what will happen. People are very scared.”

ISIL members are also believed to be hiding in the camp [Al Jazeera]

Abu Al Athir, head of security of the Maghawir al-Thawra, said that so far, even after US President Donald Trump’s announcement to withdraw troops, the US soldiers are conducting “mutual patrols” and are delivering on “logistical and military support”. But he is not sure how long that will carry on for.

He said anticipating the government’s seizure of Rukban, many people have already begun to reconcile with Assad and are heading back to government-controlled areas. Many others though, despite the harsh life in the camp, cannot take that risk.

“Many people cannot do this and want to go north,” Athir said. “As the coalition is withdrawn, we would definitely go north to the opposition-held areas otherwise we will be decimated by the regime.”

On Wednesday, ISIL claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on US service personnel in Manbij in northeast Syria, another town with a US base. Nineteen people were killed in the blast.

It is uncertain if the attack will alter Trump’s position on the withdrawal. If he does change his mind, it will be a relief for the people of Rukban, among others who have been hoping the US troops will stay until there is a final political solution to the Syrian war.

For now, the children of Rukban face a more immediate threat; plummeting temperatures and no aid.

“History will judge us for these entirely avoidable deaths,” Cappelaere said.

But who will history hold accountable?

The humanitarian catastrophe in Rukban has been exacerbated by the Syrian government, Jordan, the quarreling groups within the camp and left to its devices by the US-led coalition.

Inside Story: What is Trump’s strategy for Syria and the region? (25:00)


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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic





TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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Canada: Significant Changes To Canada’s Federal Environmental Protection Regime Proposed





On April 13, 2021, the government of Canada proposed significant changes to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (“CEPA”)1 through the introduction of Bill C-28, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act (the “Amendments“).2

With these Amendments, the government hopes to modernize Canada’s environmental regime which has not undergone significant change in over 20 years. CEPA is the primary statute through which the federal government regulates and protects the environment. CEPA and its accompanying regulations regulate among other things the treatment and disposal of chemicals and hazardous waste, vehicle and engine emissions, equipment and other sources of pollution, and the prevention and impact of environmental emergencies such as oil and chemical spills.

This bulletin provides an overview of the major changes to CEPA that have been proposed.

The Right to a Healthy Environment and Certain Soft Rights

Significantly, the Preamble under the Amendments will officially recognize Canadians’ right to a healthy environment. Section 2 of CEPA will require the government to protect that right when making decisions relating to the environment.3

The Amendments set out specific obligations the government must undertake to safeguard this right, including developing an implementation framework to set out how this right will be considered in the administration of CEPA as well as conducting research, studies and monitoring activities to support this goal.

In addition, the Preamble will recognize some additional considerations, including confirming the government’s commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as well as recognizing the importance of considering vulnerable persons, reducing or replacing the use of animal testing, and the right of Canadians to have access to information on product labels.

Project Impact Assessment

With respect to risk assessments under CEPA, under the new provisions the federal government must consider impacts on vulnerable populations and possible cumulative effects of the proposed conduct. Vulnerable populations will include groups of people with elevated biological susceptibility, such as children, and groups with elevated exposure risks, such an indigenous communities. Consideration of cumulative effects of proposed conduct takes a holistic approach to substance management by considering the compounding risks of exposure to various chemicals during daily life rather than looking at substances on their own.

Chemicals Management

The federal government has identified the management of chemicals as a key target area under the new CEPA.

The Amendments thus propose to overhaul this regime in order to better protect Canadians from the evolving risks of harmful chemicals and pollution. To accomplish this, the government has proposed wide ranging changes relating to risk assessment, public accountability, management of toxic substances and new substances, which are discussed in turn below.

Risk Assessment

The government must consult, develop and publish a Plan of Chemicals Management Priorities which will set out an integrated plan for the risk assessment of various chemical substances currently being used in Canada. The Plan will establish priorities for the management of substances, taking into account a number of factors including among others the views of stakeholders and partners, public comments, the effects on vulnerable populations, the toxicity of the substance, the ability to disrupt biological reproduction or endocrine systems, and whether there are safer and more sustainable alternatives.4 The government will also be empowered to make geographically targeted regulations to address pollution “hot spots”.

Additionally, the Amendments will establish a mechanism through which any person can submit a request to the Minister to assess a substance to determine its toxicity and risk to the environment. The Minister must provide a response within 90 days, indicating whether they intend to assess the substances and their reasons for their decision.

Public Accountability Framework

The Amendments intend to increase transparency and public participation in risk assessments by the government for the categorization and management of potentially toxic chemicals. Currently, CEPA contains a public accountability framework under section 77 and provides time limits for the government to assess substances under sections 91 and 92. However, these provisions only apply to certain risk assessments being conducted by the government such as substances placed on the Domestic Substances List that in the opinion of the Minister present the greatest potential for exposure to Canadians or are persistent or bio-accumulative. The proposed Amendments plan to amend section 77 to expand these transparency and accountability measures to all substance risk assessments for toxic or capable of being toxic substances, with the exception of assessments for new substances.5

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Scientists, Homalco First Nation team up to probe massive B.C. landslide — and its impact on salmon





When the side of a B.C. mountain gave way on Nov. 28, 2020, crashing into a glacier fed lake and creating a 100-metre high tsunami, no one was around to see the destruction or hear the sound of rocks and trees tearing through the valley below. 

But scientists say the force, which was picked up by seismographs across North America, was the equivalent of a 4.9-magnitude earthquake. 

Fortunately, no one was in the slide’s path, but experts believe that a melting glacier likely contributed by making the slope less stable — and climate change means it is a growing risk. 

As more of Canada’s glaciers recede, scientists say there is great interest in finding out what exactly triggered this slide, and how the rocks and sediment have impacted the salmon population of nearby Elliot Creek and Southgate River. 

The mountain, which is located about 220 km north west of Vancouver, is on the traditional territory of the Homalco First Nation. 

It’s an area of remote wilderness, only accessible by air or by boating 80 km up Bute Inlet.

When the slide hit last year, more than 18 million cubic meters of rock barrelled down the slope hitting the lake within 30 seconds. 

“That is the equivalent of all of the cars in Canada coming down the hill at once,” said Marten Geertsema, a geomorphologist who works with the B.C. government studying landslides. 

He is one of several scientists, along with members from the Homalco First Nation, who have been studying the landslide and its cascading environmental impact on the watershed and salmon habitat. 

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