Sunday, September 7, 2014

US to take on IS; South Africa mines in dire times; India PM Modi on river clean-up venture

1 US to take on IS (BBC) US President Barack Obama is to set out his "game plan" against Islamic State militants in a speech on Wednesday. Mr Obama, who has been criticised for failing to outline a strategy, said the US would degrade IS, shrink their territory and "defeat them".

Meanwhile, the Arab League has vowed to take "all necessary measures" against IS, which has seized a huge amount of territory from Iraq and Syria. The league gave its backing to a Security Council resolution passed last month calling on member states to stem the flow of weapons and money to extremists in Iraq and Syria.

Mr Obama said: "I'm preparing the country to make sure that we deal with a threat from Isil." IS, also often referred to as Isil or Isis, has taken over large swathes of Iraq and Syria in recent months, declaring the land it controls a "caliphate".

Mr Obama said: "This is not the equivalent of the Iraq war. What this is, is similar to the kinds of counterterrorism campaigns that we've been engaging in consistently over the last five, six, seven years. "I just want the American people to understand the nature of the threat and how we're going to deal with it and to have confidence that we'll be able to deal with it."

2 South Africa mines in dire times (Loni Prinsloo & Jana Marais in Johannesburg Times) Most South African gold mines are set to close in the next 25 years. Gold mining, once the backbone of the economy, has fallen on dire times, and the legal framework is making it impossible to successfully close mines in the country. This has plunged communities living around those mines into economic, social and environmental crisis.

“The gold industry is sitting with a terminal problem, and no one is giving us the right medicine. We need hospice care, but there are no hospices. Nobody wants to talk about death,” said Bernard Swanepoel, chairman of Village Main Reef. Swanepoel, who made a career in taking over marginal gold mines and extending their productive life, is now facing fire over closures.

Without a closure certificate, the environmental problems remain the responsibility of the last owner indefinitely, which makes it more attractive to allow mines to apply for liquidation or sell the assets to any willing buyer, no matter how inexperienced and underfunded. This was the problem at Grootvlei, where an inexperienced team at Aurora Empowerment Systems  took control and ran the mine into the ground, leaving staff and communities high and dry.

3 India PM’s river clean-up venture (Amrit Dhillon in Straits Times) In a moment of irony during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Japan, an official in the beautiful city of Kyoto told Mr Modi that the Japanese had learnt their habits of cleanliness from the Buddha who, of course, was born in India. Mr Modi listened, then murmured: "But we in India have forgotten all this."
Amid the unusual bonhomie that has marked this visit, Mr Modi has persuaded the Japanese, among other things, to help clean up the River Ganges and the sacred Hindu city of Varanasi through which the river flows.

If Mr Modi and the Japanese are to succeed, it will mean changing the daily habits of Indians. On this, Mr Modi has made a start by telling Indians some home truths. For the first time in decades, a prime minister is telling Indians bluntly that India is dirty, its cities and towns are scenes of unbelievable squalor and filth and it is all because many Indians have dirty habits. 

Varanasi is sacred for all Hindus but they don't mind if its special status is sullied by dirt. Experts estimate that 3,000 million litres of untreated sewage are pumped into the river every day. It's the same all over India. Vice-President Hamid Ansari said: "Indian cities produce nearly 40,000 million litres of sewage per day... and barely 20 per cent of this is treated." The untreated waste seeps into rivers, lakes and ponds, contaminating the country's water sources and turning them into, as Mr Ansari said, a "ticking health bomb". 

Mr Modi has urged Indians to make India clean as a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi by 2019, the year they will celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth. If Mr Modi can clean up this country and give Indians the civic sense they once presumably had, he will be doing a greater service than any adding of percentage points to the gross domestic product.

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