At least one is reported dead as angry protests have spread across Tunisia in response to an austerity package imposed by the government under pressure from the International Monetary Fund. The protester died due to tear-gas inhalation Jan. 8 in Tebourba, 40 kilometers west of Tunis, with demonstrations reported from several other cities and towns, including Sidi Bouzid, cradle of the country's 2011 revolution. Under the new budget, which took effect Jan. 1, fuel prices are hiked, and new taxes imposed on housing, cars, phone calls, Internet services, and several other items. Hamma Hammami, leader of the opposition Popular Front, pledged to keep up the pressure, telling reporters: "We will stay on the street and we will increase the pace of the protests until the unjust financial law is dropped."
Sudanese authorities on Jan. 7 carried out mass arrests and confiscated newspapers as protests exploded over rising bread prices and severe economic austerity. One student was killed amid demonstrations in Geneina, capital of West Darfur state. Protests were also reported from the cities of Nyala, South Darfur; al-Damazin, Blue Nile atate; and the capital Khartoum. The unrest broke out as bakeries doubled the price of bread following a government decision to increase the price of flour nearly fourfold. The decision was part of a package of austerity measures issued by the Sudanese government under the country's 2018 budget, seeking to address the spiralling inflation rate, currently at about 25%.
A wave of protests across Iranian cities began as a response to inflation and economic pain, but shows signs of escalating to a popular repudiation of clerical rule. Spontaneous protests first broke out Dec. 28 in the northeast city of Mashhad, where security forces responded with tear-gas and water cannons. Since then, protests have been reported from Kermanshah and Hamadan in the west, Rasht and Sari in the north, Ahvaz in the southwest, and Qom and Isfahan in central Iran. Arrests are also reported from the capital, Tehran, where a group of demonstrators attempted to occupy a public square. Protests began with the slogan "Death to high prices!" But as repression mounted, demonstrators began chanting "Death to the dictator," in apparent reference to President Hassan Rouhani and the ruling mullahs.
There is an unseemly tone of gloating to conservative commentary on the crisis in Venezuela, with pundits calling out their opposite numbers on the left for their cheerleading for the regime and pointing to the current chaos as evidence that "socialism" doesn't work. Indeed, many left-wing commentators deserve to be called out for their uncritical attitude toward the late Hugo Chávez and his mediocre successor Nicolás Maduro. But a case can be made that, contrary to conservative and mainstream assumptions, the problem is precisely that the Bolivarian Revolution has been insufficiently revolutionary and socialist.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on May 11 signed the Fairbanks Declaration, affirming the neeed for protection of the Arctic's climate. The move, at the 10th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting held in the Alaska city, came after much speculation that the US would decline to sign, or even use the occasion to announce its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. The Fairbanks Declaration notes the importance of the Paris Agreement, while stating that "the Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of the global average." The US getting on board was apparently the fruit of behind-the-scenes diplomatic pressure. "I think we were able to push the US back as much as possible," Rene Solderman, Finland's senior adviser on Arctic affairs, told reporters after the ministerial session.
New evidence is deepening fears in the scientific community that the Middle East and North Africa risk becoming uninhabitable in a few decades, as accessible fresh water has fallen by two-thirds over the past 40 years. Already, per capita availability of fresh water in the region—encompassing 22 countries and home to nearly 400 million inhabitants—is 10 times lower than the world average. The region's fresh water resources are among the lowest in the world, and are expected to fall over 50% by 2050, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). By century's end, higher temperatures may shorten growing seasons in the region by 18 days and reduce agricultural yields by up to 55%. "Looming water scarcity in the North Africa and Middle East region is a huge challenge requiring an urgent and massive response," said FAO director general Graziano da Silva on his recent visit to Cairo.
Struck hard by a drought related to this year's severe El Niño phenomenon, Colombia's northern region of La Guajira is suffering from a crisis of malnutrition. Tania Galván, a leader of the region's Wayúu indigenous group, told local media that her people's children are dying each week from malnutrition. According to the National Health Institute, 897 children currently suffer severe malnutrition in La Guajira. Indigenous leaders charge the government is ignoring an order from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to take urgent action against extreme poverty in the region, where more than 4,000 indigenous children have died of malnutrition in the past eight years. The December ruling came in a case brought by Javier Rojas Uriana, leader of the Shipia Wayúu Association. Indigenous leaders say drought conditions are compounded by local corruption, economic slowdown, and massive use of water by the Cerrejon coal mine in Albania municipality. (Colombia Informa, Feb. 20; El Espectador, Feb. 16; Colombia Reports, Feb. 12; Al Jazeera, Feb. 3)
At least 6,000 villagers have fled their homes in Mozambique's western Tete province amid renewed fighting between the government and RENAMO guerillas. Most are now in refugee camps across the border in Malawi, where the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is calling on the government to grant them asylum. Violence has been escalating since mid-December, and on Feb. 8 RENAMO formally announced a return to war, accusing the government of murdering and kidnapping their leaders. The Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO), which waged a brutal insurgency in the 1980s, formally re-organized as a political party at the end of the Mozambican Civil War in 1991. However, it returned to arms in 2013, charging the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) with controlling elections and running a one-party state. There have been repeated ceasefires since then, but the current fighting is the most serious since the end of the civil war. (Times Live, South Africa, UNHCR, Malawi24, Feb. 18; MSF, South Africa Institute of International Affairs via AllAfrica, Mozambique News Agency via AllAfrica, Feb. 16; Mozambique News Reports & Clippings via AllAfrica, Feb. 14)