Planet Watch
Fikile Ntshangase

Record number of ecologists slain in 2020

A record number of environmental defenders were murdered last year, according to a report by advocacy group Global Witness. The report, “Last Line of Defense,” counts 227 activists killed around the world in 2020—the highest number recorded for a second consecutive year. Many of the murders were linked to resource exploitation—logging, mining, agribusiness, and hydroelectric dams. Since the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, the organization found on average of four activists have been killed each week. (Photo via Groundwork)

Africa
Nigeria

Sectarian massacre in Nigeria’s Plateau state

Nigerian authorities imposed a curfew in Jos, capital of north-central Plateau state, after at least 20 Muslim travelers passing through the city were massacred by a presumed Christian militia. The Muslims, mostly of the Fulani ethnicity, were in a convoy of vehicles, returning to their homes in Ondo and Ekiti states from a celebration in neighboring Bauchi state marking the start of Muharram, the Islamic new year. In Jos, the convoy was caught in a traffic jam, and the vehicles set upon by militiamen, the occupants slain with machetes, daggers and other weapons. The assailants were apparently Christians of the Irigwe ethnicity. Northern and central Nigeria have for years seen growing violence between Muslim semi-nomadic herders and Christian farmers over control of land and water. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library)

Planet Watch

Podcast: climate change and the global struggle

In Episode 81 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg takes stock of the fast-mounting manifestations of devastating climate destabilization—from Oregon to Siberia, from Germany to Henan. In Angola, traditional pastoralists are joining the ranks of “climate refugees” as their communal lands are stricken by drought. In Iran’s restive and rapidly aridifying Ahwazi region, protests over access to water have turned deadly. These grim developments offer a foreboding of North America’s imminent future. Yet media commentators continue to equivocate, asking whether these events are “linked to” or “caused by” climate change—rather than recognizing that they are climate change. And the opportunity for a crash conversion from fossil fuels that was posed by last year’s pandemic-induced economic paralysis, when already depressed oil prices actually went negative, is now being squandered. Oil prices are again rising, with the return to pre-pandemic dystopian “normality.” Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Photo of Ahwazi protesters in Iran: Ahwazna)

Iran
Ahwazis protest

Iran: protests over water rights in Ahwazi region

Two were killed as Iranian security forces opened fire on Ahwazi Arab protesters in Ahvaz, capital of southwestern Khuzestan province. The deaths came after days of demonstrations in the Arab-majority region, which is stricken by withering drought. Hundreds of sheep, cattle, buffalo and other livestock have died over the past weeks. The protests began a week ago, with a peaceful vigil outside the governor’s office, demanding that authorities open the sluice gates on the network of massive hydroelectric dams built upstream on the region’s main rivers, which divert some 90% of the waters to other regions of Iran. Protesters held up placards in Arabic, Persian and English, with messages including: “Water is a human right”, “We are thirsty–give us water!”, “Stop killing our environment!”, and “Stop drying out the Ahwazi rivers and marshlands!” The protesters also chanted slogans condemning Iran’s central government, such as “The regime keeps us in poverty in the name of religion!” (Photo: Dur Untash Studies Center)

North America
PennEast Pipeline

SCOTUS: pipeline companies may take state property

The US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in PennEast Pipeline Co. v. New Jersey that the Natural Gas Act grants private companies authority to take state-owned property to build interstate pipelines. PennEast Pipeline obtained a certificate from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to build a 116-mile gas pipeline from Pennsylvania to New Jersey and sought to exercise its federal eminent domain authority by taking public land in New Jersey. The state of New Jersey moved to dismiss the company’s request on sovereign immunity grounds. A district court ruled in favor of PennEast Pipeline, but the Third Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the order. In an opinion delivered by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court reinstated the district court order in favor of PennEast Pipeline. (Photo via WHYY)

The Caucasus
Lake Sev

Armenia-Azerbaijan border stand-off —over water

Armenia’s Security Council held an emergency meeting in response to a reported border incursion by Azerbaijan. Local authorities in southern Syunik province issued urgent reports that Azerbaijan’s forces had crossed the border and completely surrounded Lake Sev. The glacial lake, which provides water for irrigation in the area, is bisected by the frontier between the two countries, with its northern third lying within Azerbaijan. But the territory on the Azerbaijan side had been held by Armenia between the 1991-4 war and last November’s ceasefire, under which it was ceded back. The two sides remain at odds on the precise demarcation of the line, which had not been formalized in Soviet times. (Photo: Albero/Wikimedia Commons via Armenian Weekly)

Central Asia
kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz-Tajik border clash over control of water

The armed forces of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan clashed at a disputed section of their border, leaving 30 dead and thousands displaced before a ceasefire was declared. The fighting broke out near the strategic Golovnoi water pumping facility, in the Tajik-controlled exclave of Vorukh. Kyrgyz protesters gathered on their side of the de facto border after Tajik authorities installed surveillance cameras at the facility. The two sides began hurling rocks across the line before military troops intervened. The Golovnoi facility pumps water from the Isfara River, a tributary of the Syr Darya, to irrigate agriculture in the area. It is in the Fergana Valley, a small fertile pocket in the arid Central Asia region. Soviet authorities drew the boundaries so that Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan each got a portion of it. However, this meant intricate, twisting borders, and territorial disputes have arisen. Tajik authorities accuse Kyrgyzstan of seeking to seize the Vorukh exclave. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library)

Africa
somalia

Somalia: drought compounds political crisis

The political heat is rising in Somalia over the determination of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, known as Farmajo, to cling to power despite his term having ended in February. He’s embraced a decision by the lower house of the Federal Parliament to extend his (and their) stay in office for an extra two years, to allow the running of delayed elections. The move was rejected by the Senate as “unconstitutional. The Senate called on Farmajo to rejoin UN-led talks—which he has rejected. As the crisis deepens, there are reports of a troop build-up in the capital and the fragmentation of the security forces. Yet this political tussle is being played out in the Mogadishu bubble. In the countryside, where the government holds little sway, a new drought emergency is underway. Almost 40,000 people have been forced from their homes in the first three months of the year due to poor rains, joining the 1.3 million displaced in 2020 by combined humanitarian disasters. (Photo: Joe English/UNICEF)

North America
dapl

Biden admin defers to courts on Dakota Access

The Biden administration’s Army Corps of Engineers indicated at a federal district court hearing in Washington DC that they would not stop the flow of oil through the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) despite the threat it poses to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe‘s water supply. The project is currently operating without a federal permit as the matter is contested in the courts. (Photo of January 2017 march against the DAPL in Minneapolis: Fibonacci Blue/Wikimedia Commons)

Central America
Berta Caceres

Accused author of Berta Cáceres murder on trial

The trial of the alleged mastermind behind the March 2016 murder of environmentalist Berta Cáceres began in Honduras. Cáceres was slain when a squad of gunmen invaded her home at La Esperanza, Intibucá department. A visiting Mexican friend, Gustavo Castro, was also shot but survived. Cáceres had been campaigning against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam project, then under development by Desarrollos Energéticos (DESA). Four of eight defendants were each sentenced in December 2019 to 34 years in prison for the murder of Cáceres and 16 years for the attempted murder of Castro. Three others were sentenced to 30 years as co-conspirators in the crime. In the new trial that opened in a Tegucigalpa court, a former DESA president and military intelligence officer, Roberto David Castillo, is charged with being the “intellectual author” of the murder. (Photo by UN Environment via Wikimedia Commons)

Europe
Dardanelles

Strategic strait at issue in Turkish naval purge

Turkish prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 10 senior navy officers a day after 104 officers released a letter defending the Montreux Doctrine—a 1936 agreement protecting passage of international shipping through the straits of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles. The letter was critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Istanbul Canal project, a plan to construct a waterway between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, running parallel to the Bosphorus. Erdoğan insists that the new canal would not be subject to the Montreux Doctrine. The officers were arrested on charges of conspiring to commit “a crime against the security of the state.” (Map: French Navy via PopulationData.net)

Mexico
CFE

Mexico: court suspends new electricity law

A Mexican court issued a suspension of the new electricity law that aims to strengthen the state-run company, Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE). The law is supported by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who wants to increase state control of the energy market. López Obrador claimed that under the previous administration, the electricity market was skewed in favor of private operators. Grupo Bimbo, Walmart Inc and two unnamed companies filed challenges against the law. The US Chamber of Commerce expressed concern that the new law violates the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and may create a monopoly in the electricity sector. The injunction will be in place until the case is decided on its merits. The judge asserted that the injunction was necessary “to prevent economic damage to the electricity sector, to ensure competition, and to protect the environment.” (Photo of power lines in Ixtapaluca via Wikimedia Commons)