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A snow plow clears Main St. on January 16, 2022 in Greenville, South Carolina. Snow, sleet and freezing rain are expected in the area for the remainder of the day.
Sean Rayford/Getty Images
Sean Rayford/Getty Images
A major winter storm that is already dropping snow and freezing rain on the Southern U.S. will send temperatures plunging, cause hazardous road conditions and power outages and move up the East Coast in the coming hours.
The major system could leave more than a foot of snow and in excess of a quarter inch of ice in some areas, the National Weather Service warned.
Snowfall and freezing rain began before sunrise in areas of North Carolina. Parts of Georgia began to see freezing rain and wind gusts early Sunday. States that don’t typically experience such severe winter weather — such as Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi — also were seeing heavy snow and ice.
Heavy snow was expected throughout the day in the Tennessee Valley, the Appalachians and parts of the Mid-Atlantic, the NWS predicted, with significant rainfall in parts of the Southeast as well as the Appalachians and the mid-Atlantic.
Meteorologists said the storm system would move north Sunday evening into Monday morning.
Travel is already becoming tricky
Officials from Georgia to the Carolinas and Virginia — all of which were under states of emergency — were urging residents to stay off the roads as snow began falling Sunday morning.
In addition to fast-accumulating snow and the possibility of ice, strong winds were expected to knock down trees and power lines, making driving even more hazardous.
More than 2,500 U.S. flights were canceled Sunday, the flight tracking website FlightAware reported. Slightly less than half of the cancellations were at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina.
In advance of the storm, Amtrak also cancelled dozens of trains over the weekend and into Monday.
Power outages have started to pop up
Strong winds and ice accumulation are bringing the threat of widespread power outages – possibly for a few days – and disruptions to the electricity supply were already beginning in the early hours of the storm.
Power went out for more than 109,000 customers in Georgia at one point Sunday morning, according to the website poweroutage.us. Around 89,000 customers in South Carolina, 31,000 customers in Florida as well as another 16,000 customers in North Carolina also had no electricity.
Ice accumulation meant that power outages could persist even after the storm moves out of the area, authorities said.
Given the possibility of significant power outages across the region, officials were urging people to only use gas-powered generators and grills outside to avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Next stop: the northern U.S.
The storm will advance northward overnight Sunday into Monday morning, the NWS said, stretching from the Ohio Valley to New England.
Parts of the Ohio Valley, Lower Great Lakes and the Northeast could expect heavy snow, while rain and freezing rain will hit other parts of the Northeast and southern New England.
New York City is expected to get less than an inch of snow, but New York and New Jersey towns about an hour’s drive west could see around five inches. Washington, D.C. was slated for two to three inches of snow, while parts of western Maryland were bracing for 8 inches to a foot.
Strong winds and flooding along the Atlantic coastline are likely.
By Monday the storm will bring heavy snow to inland Maine with rain along the shore.
NPR’s Sacha Pfeiffer speaks with Alex Mumford, who moved to the Isle of Rum in the Scottish Hebrides as a part of the island chain’s efforts to boost its population.
One America News White House Correspondent Chanel Rion asks a question of President Donald Trump during a briefing about the coronavirus in April 2020. DirecTV isn’t renewing the network’s contract.
DirecTV is dropping One America News Network from its lineup, a surprise move that’s sure to deal a massive blow to the network that rose to prominence during the presidency of Donald Trump.
Bloomberg reported Friday that the satellite TV provider notified the owner of OAN, Herring Networks Inc., that it would no longer carry the company’s two channels when their contract expires. The other channel, A Wealth of Entertainment, dubs itself a lifestyle channel that features luxury goods.
In a statement, DirecTV said it made the decision “following a routine internal review.” A DirecTV spokesperson told NPR that the company looks at a wide variety of factors in deciding whether to renew a contract. The question for DirecTV was whether OAN’s programming appeals to a broad enough base of customers, given increasing programming costs and more competition for consumers.
Ultimately, the spokesperson said, business needs drove the decision — and keeping the Herring Networks programming simply wasn’t in the best interests of DirecTV.
AT&T, a majority owner of DirecTV, has faced calls to drop OAN for its support of conservative conspiracy theories — such as the falsehood pushed by Trump and many Republicans that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
“OAN’s support for the ‘Big Lie’ that the 2020 election was stolen and the fact that it’s consistently giving airtime to conspiracy theories and misinformation on COVID-19, moves it from a participant in the marketplace of ideas to a peddler of toxic lies,” John Bergmayer, legal director of the nonprofit advocacy group Public Knowledge, said in November. The group was among those advocating for cable and satellite providers to drop OAN.
The DirecTV spokesman declined to comment on whether OAN’s specific editorial policies had anything to do with the decision to drop the network, but said that calls from outside groups didn’t drive the decision.
OAN did not respond to requests for comment.
AT&T faced heavy criticism last year after a Reuters report found that the telecom giant played an integral role in OAN’s 2013 launch. “They told us they wanted a conservative network,” OAN founder Robert Herring Sr. said in a court deposition, Reuters reported.
AT&T carried OAN on its U-verse platform. But after AT&T finalized its purchase of DirecTV in 2015, AT&T declined to carry OAN or any other Herring programming. Herring sued AT&T, alleging it had broken an oral promise; AT&T agreed as part of a settlement to carry OAN in 2017.
In 2020, an OAN accountant testified that 90% of OAN’s revenue came from a contract with AT&T owned platforms such as DirecTV, Reuters reported. In response to the Reuters report, AT&T denied having a financial interest in OAN’s success.
Bloomberg reports that the contract between DirectTV and Herring Networks expires in early April. OAN is still available on Verizon FiOS and a few other platforms, including the Herring Networks-owned KlowdTV.
Recent scandals have rocked two major British institutions: the prime minister’s office and the monarchy.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This week was an especially bad one for two British institutions, the Prime Minister’s Office and the monarchy. Prince Andrew, Queen Elizabeth’s second son, had to give up his royal duties, military titles and charities as he prepares for a possible civil trial here in the U.S. related to allegations he sexually assaulted a young woman. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office was forced to apologize for two staff parties which were forbidden because of a pandemic and held the night before the funeral of Prince Philip, the queen’s husband, where the nation watched the monarch sitting alone to mourn to observe those same rules. For more, we turn to NPR’s Frank Langfitt, who is in Canterbury in the southeast of England. Frank, thank you so much for joining us.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Great to be here, Michel.
MARTIN: First, could you just remind us how these two events played out this week?
LANGFITT: Yeah. The prince basically had to give up any official role with the royal family. And this was because he had a motion to dismiss this civil suit against him, but it failed. And this could end up in a civil trial, which could be devastating, in New York. Now, the plaintiff, Virginia Giuffre, she said she had sex with the prince when she was 17. She was trafficked by the prince’s friend, Jeffrey Epstein, the late financier and convicted sex offender. The prince denies doing anything wrong. With Prime Minister Boris Johnson, he had to apologize for these parties, which he reportedly didn’t attend. But the timing, as you point out, was really bad. It when the country was in mourning. And newspapers contrasted the fact that there were some people apparently who brought wine into one of the parties with a suitcase with this photo that you mentioned of the Queen.
MARTIN: What has the reaction been in the U.K.? How are people reacting to these two things?
LANGFITT: You know, Michel, I think anger and disgust. There’s a public sense here, I think, also in the case of Prince Andrew and Boris Johnson that they think the rules don’t apply to them. Marina Hyde is a columnist with Britain’s Guardian newspaper, and she put it like this in a recent column. She said, the one thing that Downing Street staff don’t seem to have been overburdened by after these many, many parties is a sense of shame.
MARTIN: Well, you know, a lack of a sense of shame, you know, the idea that the rules don’t apply to them, that the rules are, you know, for the little people, that has to be there has to sound familiar to some here in the United States.
MARTIN: …Because this is what people are saying about some of the political leadership here in the United States, especially, you have to say, maybe the prior administration, but as sort of a general concern about people in political leadership, you know.
LANGFITT: Yeah. It feels – it actually feels very familiar to me. I mean, you and I are of an age when we remember when politicians, if you go back 30, 40 years, they made a big mistake, they might – they would, you know, apologize, and they would resign. One of the things people point out with Prince Andrew is his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein was known for more than a decade, but he only gives up his duties when he’s threatened with a trial. And with Boris Johnson, you know, he’s had a lot of scandals. And he, you know, he has been in the House of Commons saying, no, there were no violations of COVID rules with these parties. But more and more we’re seeing that there probably were. And with members of – with people not being able to say good bye to their family members dying of COVID, this really has people angry.
MARTIN: Does this threaten Johnson’s job?
LANGFITT: I think it does. It’s politically the most dangerous moment of his two years as prime minister. Opposition parties here are calling for him to step down. Some, not that many, are publicly in his own party saying, yeah, he should go. But the numbers now are still way too low to topple him. The next thing is there’s going to be a formal investigation. Results will come out on these parties. And I think that will be the next thing to watch to see how damaging that is to him.
MARTIN: That was NPR’s Frank Langfitt in the U.K. Frank, thank you, as always.
LANGFITT: Great to talk, Michel.
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A newly released Census Bureau email written during former President Donald Trump’s administration — when Wilbur Ross, shown at a 2020 congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., served as the commerce secretary overseeing the census — details how officials interfered with the national head count.
Former President Donald Trump’s administration alarmed career civil servants at the Census Bureau by not only ending the 2020 national head count early, but also pressuring them to alter plans for protecting people’s privacy and producing accurate data, a newly released email shows.
Trump’s political appointees at the Commerce Department, which oversees the bureau, demonstrated an “unusually” high level of “engagement in technical matters, which is unprecedented relative to the previous censuses,” according to a September 2020 email that Ron Jarmin — the bureau’s deputy director — sent to two other top civil servants.
At the time, the administration was faced with the reality that if Trump lost the November election he could also lose a chance to change the census numbers used to redistribute political representation. The window of opportunity was closing for his administration to attempt to radically reshape the futures of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Electoral College.
Despite the 14th Amendment’s requirement to include the “whole number of persons in each state,” Trump wanted to exclude unauthorized immigrants from the census counts used to reallocate each state’s share of congressional seats and electoral votes.
While the former president’s unprecedented push did not reach its ultimate goal, it wreaked havoc at the federal government’s largest statistical agency, which was also contending with the coronavirus pandemic upending most of its plans for the once-a-decade tally. The delays stemming from COVID-19 forced the bureau to conclude that it could no longer meet the legal reporting deadline for the first set of results and needed more time.
The administration’s last-minute decision to cut the counting short sparked public outcries, including a federal lawsuit that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
But its interference in other areas related to the 2020 census largely flew under most radars. The newly released email — first reported by The New York Times and obtained by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School through an ongoing public records lawsuit — details the wide scope of its attempts to buck the bureau’s experts and tamper with the count.
According to the document, the agency’s career civil servants saw when to end counting as a “policy decision that political leadership should make.”
But the methodologies and procedures for filling in data gaps, reviewing the counts for errors and protecting the confidentiality of people’s information should strictly stay in the lane of civil servants at “an independent statistical agency,” the email says.
Trump officials — including Wilbur Ross, who served as commerce secretary — however, “expressed interest” in many technical areas, including exactly how the bureau could produce a state-by-state count of unauthorized immigrants and citizenship data that could have politically benefited Republicans when voting districts are redrawn.
The email suggests that the bureau’s civil servants were planning to discuss their concerns with Ross through the end of 2020.
The bureau’s public information office did not immediately respond to NPR’s questions about whether those discussions took place.
NPR’s Scott Simon speaks to George Kourounis, Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s explorer-in-residence, about the possible closing of “The Gates of Hell,” a natural gas field in Turkmenistan.
Defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic practices on Margaret Court Arena on Thursday ahead of the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne on Thursday.
MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic’s effort to play in the Australian Open despite being unvaccinated for COVID-19 moved to a higher court Saturday as the No. 1-ranked tennis player appealed the second cancellation of his visa.
Djokovic was not seen on the online feed available to the public for the 15-minute procedural hearing, which began just two days before he is scheduled to play his first match of 2022 at Melbourne Park.
Judge David O’Callaghan ruled that lawyers representing Djokovic and the government would need to submit written arguments later Saturday and scheduled another hearing for Sunday morning.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke blocked the 34-year-old Serb’s visa, which was originally revoked when he landed at a Melbourne airport last week. But it was restored Monday by a judge on procedural grounds, because Djokovic was not allowed to have a lawyer with him at the airport.
As the latest appeal began Friday night, Djokovic remained free, but the plan was for him to effectively return to immigration detention when he met with Australian Border Force officials Saturday morning.
Deportation from Australia can lead to a three-year ban on returning to the country, although that may be waived, depending on the circumstances.
Djokovic has a record nine Australian Open titles, including the past three in a row, part of his overall Grand Slam haul of 20 championships. He is tied with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer for the most by a man in history.
Djokovic has acknowledged that his travel declaration was incorrect because it failed to indicate that he had been in multiple countries over the two weeks before his arrival in Australia. His supporters in Serbia have been dismayed by the visa cancellations.
In a post on social media Wednesday that constituted his most extensive public comments on the whole episode, Djokovic blamed his agent for checking the wrong box on the form, calling it “a human error and certainly not deliberate.”
In that same post, Djokovic said he went ahead with an interview and a photo shoot with a French newspaper in Serbia despite knowing he had tested positive for COVID-19 two days earlier. Djokovic has been attempting to use what he says was a positive test taken on Dec. 16 to justify a medical exemption that would allow him to skirt the vaccine requirement.
Hawke said he canceled the visa on “health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.” His statement added that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government “is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The main ground of appeal against Hawke’s decision, according to the athlete’s lawyers, was that it was not based on the health risk that Djokovic might pose by not being vaccinated, but on how he might be perceived by anti-vaxxers.
Morrison himself welcomed Djokovic’s pending deportation. The episode has touched a nerve in Australia, and particularly in Victoria state, where locals went through hundreds of days of lockdowns during the worst of the pandemic and there is a vaccination rate among adults of more than 90%.
Australia faces a massive surge in virus cases driven by the highly transmissible omicron variant. On Friday, the nation reported 130,000 new cases, including nearly 35,000 in Victoria state. Although many infected people aren’t getting as sick as they did in previous outbreaks, the surge is still putting severe strain on the health system, with more than 4,400 people hospitalized. It’s also causing disruptions to workplaces and supply chains.
“This pandemic has been incredibly difficult for every Australian, but we have stuck together and saved lives and livelihoods. … Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” Morrison said. “This is what the Minister is doing in taking this action today.”
Everyone at the Australian Open — including players, their support teams and spectators — is required to be vaccinated. Djokovic is not inoculated.
His exemption was approved by the Victoria state government and Tennis Australia, apparently allowing him to obtain a visa to travel. But the Australian Border Force rejected the exemption and canceled his visa when he landed in the country on Jan. 5.
Djokovic spent four nights in an immigration detention hotel before a judge overturned that decision. That ruling allowed Djokovic to move freely around Australia and he has been practicing at Melbourne Park daily.
“It’s not a good situation for anyone,” said Andy Murray, a three-time Grand Slam champion and five-time runner-up at the Australian Open. “Just want it obviously to get resolved. I think it would be good for everyone if that was the case. It just seems like it’s dragged on for quite a long time now — not great for the tennis, not great for the Australian Open, not great for Novak.”
According to Grand Slam rules, if Djokovic is forced to pull out of the tournament before the order of play for Day 1 is announced, No. 5 seed Rublev would move into Djokovic’s spot in the bracket.
If Djokovic withdraws from the tournament after Monday’s schedule is released, he would be replaced in the field by what’s known as a “lucky loser” — a player who loses in the qualifying tournament but gets into the main draw because of another player’s exit before competition has started.
And if Djokovic plays in a match — or more — and then is told he can no longer participate in the tournament, his next opponent would simply advance to the following round and there would be no replacement.
The shortest route to get a ship from Asia to the U.S. is through America’s West Coast ports. But given the pileup there, some ships are going the long way through eastern Canada into the Great Lakes.
In the United States and many other wealthy countries, you can get a free COVID vaccine at supermarkets, pharmacies and clinics.
In other countries, it’s a very different story.
“The vaccine is not available in the North (of Yemen),” says Jasmin Lavoie with the Norwegian Refugee Council, who’s based in the northern city of Sana’a. “If a person wanted to be vaccinated, that person would have to go to the south. So drive around 15 to 20 hours crossing front lines in the mountains.” Even then, after such a treacherous journey through a war zone, it’s not clear if doses would be available. Like many low-income countries, Yemen has struggled to get hold of vaccine.
“Yemen has been one of the places with the lowest vaccination rates in the world,” says Lavoie. “And that’s despite the fact that we’ve experienced three waves of COVID.” Currently fewer than 2% of Yemenis are fully vaccinated.
Yemen is one of 36 countries that fall below the 10% immunization threshold, some with rates under 2%. Much of the mid-section of Africa is in that category, including powerful economic and political players like Kenya, Nigeria and Senegal.
By contrast, many wealthy countries have fully vaccinated more than 80% of their citizens.
Yemenis queue up to receive a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a center on the outskirts of Yemen’s embattled province of Marib. Yemen is one of 36 countries with a vaccination rate below 10%.
AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images
Why Africa lags so far behind
Maaza Seyoum with the African Alliance, a South Africa-based advocacy group, says there are many factors playing in to the low vaccination rates in many countries on the continent but the biggest issue is simply that African nations have struggled to get doses.
“Initially, 100 percent, I would say the problem was a lack of access (to vaccines) and a global system that did not prioritize African countries,” Maaza says. Wealthy nations bought up far more pharmaceutical firms vaccine production than they could even use. The WHO-backed COVAX program faltered as it relied heavily on voluntary donations and on manufacturers in India who were blocked from exporting doses when COVID case numbers skyrocketed on the sub-continent. Some African countries managed to get supplies from China but Beijing often prioritized donations to wealthier trading partners.
That situation has changed, says Maaza. Recently vaccine deliveries to Africa have increased. But now there are new problems: the shipments are haphazard and sometimes consist of less popular brands that are about to expire.
“Now we’re seeing the sort of drip, drip, drip of vaccines,” she says. “People are waiting for vaccines to come. They come, then they stop.”
This unpredictable supply chain, she says, makes it nearly impossible for African countries to plan nationwide vaccination drives. And in some of these places where hardly anyone has gotten the jab, rumors about the mysterious vaccine have flourished and augmented vaccine hesitancy.
“The truth is, there is vaccine hesitancy everywhere,” Maaza says. “But as people are waiting, it leaves kind of a fertile ground for these rumors to circulate.”
Which makes convincing people to come to a clinic and get immunized even more of a challenge.
What’s behind those under 10% vaccination numbers
The World Health Organization set a goal of trying to push all countries to 40% vaccine coverage by the end of 2021. The 36 countries still under 10% obviously didn’t even get close. Kate O’Brien, the director of immunization and vaccines for the World Health Organization, says this is a significant problem.
“For countries that are struggling to get even above 10%, what this means is that health-care workers are not fully vaccinated yet,” she says. “It means older age populations, those who have underlying medical conditions, the people at highest risk are not fully protected yet.”
She acknowledges vaccine supply inequity as a major part of why rates are so low in these three dozen countries but says there are other reasons too. Many of these countries had health systems that were struggling even before the pandemic to meet local medical needs. Some of them have needed to upgrade refrigeration systems to be able to store certain mRNA vaccines at extremely low temperatures. Others need syringes. All of this takes money that many low-income nations health ministries may not have.
“A COVID vaccine campaign does require funding,” O’Brien says. Countries need money “to deploy new health workers and to assure that the clinics have the resources that they need.”
And while there has been some international assistance to lower-income nations to help, that financing has also at times been haphazard and unpredictable.
Ongoing conflicts present another obstacle
Away from Africa, the other nations that haven’t yet gotten above 10% COVID vaccine coverage are some of the most troubled in the world, including Yemen as well as Syria, Afghanistan and Haiti.
Currently the armed conflict has displaced 4 million of 30 million Yemenis from their homes. Various groups control different parts of the country. According to the U.N. more than 2/3rds of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance. Yet international aid agencies have struggled to meet those needs and keep their operations running in the country due to the ongoing insecurity and a lack of funding.
For most people in Yemen, life is incredibly difficult. COVID vaccinations are “not on the top of the list of priorities for many people in Yemen,” Jasmin Lavoie with NRC says. He says most Yemenis spend their days trying to find food, shelter, decent toilets and worrying about whether they’ll have to flee fighting once again. “These are reasons why people are not getting vaccinated too,” he adds.
There are similar issues in other conflict zones. “In a place like Afghanistan, in a place like Syria, COVID is not their number one priority,” says Paul Spiegel, who runs the Center for Humanitarian Health at Johns Hopkins University.
Spiegel returned to Baltimore from working in Afghanistan in mid-December. “[Vaccination] campaigns are happening,” he says but adds that the immunization drives are constrained by the limited shipments of vaccine. “A fair bit of it is Johnson and Johnson, which makes a lot of sense in Afghanistan situation because it’s just one dose,” he notes.
But similar to Yemen, the social upheaval in Afghanistan, with the U.S. departing and the Taliban returning to power, has pushed COVID to the backburner. Vaccine drives are not a top priority for the Taliban, even though it has said it supports vaccination drives by COVAX and the U.N.
Nor is it a priority among Afghans. “Right now there’s such a dire humanitarian situation there,” he says. “[Afghans] are worried about getting food on the table, they’re worried about feeding their kids. And so COVID is not a priority for the average person.”
With the ongoing pandemic and the rise of the omicron variant, it’s easy to forget that the world isn’t battling other major crises right now.
But for The New Humanitarian, an independent nonprofit media outlet that covers conflict and disasters, these “other crises” are always top of mind.
In December, the outlet published its annual list of 10 global crises and trends that it will be watching in 2022. It’s been compiling the list for the past five years to spotlight problems likely to drive humanitarian need in the months ahead.
To compile the rundown, The New Humanitarian reached out to analysts, aid workers and reporters from more than 60 countries. This year’s list consists of:
- The pandemic’s poverty and equality hangover
- Social media’s hate problem
- Afghanistan, Haiti, Myanmar: Political upheaval, humanitarian challenges
- West vs. the rest: Roadblocks for those seeking asylum
- Mercenaries and their humanitarian costs
- The hidden health risks of climate change
- Ethiopia: Endless obstacles to aid
- Latin America: Turbulent politics meets COVID fallout
- All eyes on the city of Marib, the center of Yemen’s conflict
NPR spoke to Josephine Schmidt, The New Humanitarian’s Geneva-based executive editor who helped compile the list, about her worries — and hopes — for the year ahead. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How do you decide which crises make the cut?
It is difficult to compile these lists of crises because you don’t want to get into a contest of misery and say, “Well, this crisis deserves to be one of the top 10 and that one doesn’t.” So we don’t do a ranked list.
But what we did was put together a list of crises and topics that we feel attention must be paid to — either because of the sheer scale or because they are hidden or forgotten.
There are so many ongoing crises that get very little media attention and get far from enough financial assistance. We feel it is our duty to bring those crises to the attention of readers.
What was the most surprising thing on this year’s list?
It was very eye-opening to realize how deep and long-felt the reverberations of the pandemic may be, especially for communities dealing with overlapping crises. We call it the pandemic’s “hangover effects.”
The financial and social impacts of the pandemic are not only making poverty and existing inequality worse, but they’re also contributing to unprecedented levels of hunger. Just the sheer scale, depth and breadth of hunger in 2021 really surpassed what we would have imagined.
The pandemic seems to be affecting other crises on the list.
Pandemic lockdowns and supply chain and transport difficulties have also made it more difficult to provide aid in places experiencing conflict right now, including Ethiopia, Haiti and Yemen.
For so many people, when – or if – the pandemic ends, life won’t suddenly become less complicated. The pandemic has created deeper need that’s going to be difficult to dig out of.
Your list mentions that the pandemic has delivered a particularly devastating blow to Latin America.
More than 30% of COVID-19 deaths have been in Latin America, home to a bit more than 8% of the world’s population.
Think of the lives capsized by those deaths alone: families losing wage earners, kids orphaned or forced to leave school to work. Jobs lost to the pandemic have pushed millions into poverty, and millions of others have fallen out of the middle class. Hunger is also rising faster than any other part of the world.
Anything that’s taken you by surprise?
Residents walk past an abandoned tank on a main road in Amhara region, Ethiopia, in 2021, where hundreds of thousands of people have fled recent fighting — and in need of humanitarian assistance.
Maria Gerth-Niculescu/The New Humanitarian
Maria Gerth-Niculescu/The New Humanitarian
One thing that hit harder and faster than we expected was the difficulties with aid access in Ethiopia [which is in its second year of civil war].
In Ethiopia, the very public and sustained vitriol toward aid workers and agencies from the government and its opponents has been alarming. Aid workers have been called spies and terrorists. More than 20 aid workers have been killed. Aid groups have been kicked out.
And civilians pay the price. More than 9 million are hungry in northern Ethiopia alone, with hundreds of thousands edging toward famine, according to the U.N. And in the south and east of the country, the U.N. says that drought will leave another 6 million people in need of assistance this year.
Roqia Qasqari, right, who lives in Gero village in Afghanistan’s Bamyan Province, inspects potatoes stored from a previous harvest. Snow was scarce over the winter, raising fears of a severe drought in 2021.
Stefani Glinski/The New Humanitarian
Stefani Glinski/The New Humanitarian
Hunger has been on your list for several years. Have there been any improvements?
I do think there is a glimmer of hope. At the first U.N. Food Systems Summit in September, there were a number of commitments made by world leaders to build more sustainable, equitable and green food systems. If talk translates to action, then those commitments offer some hope for increasing food security globally and reducing hunger.
The New Humanitarian is known for original reporting on humanitarian crises, sometimes in conflict zones. It must be difficult in the best of times. How are you managing during the pandemic?
Due to the pandemic and increased danger in conflict zones, we have had to be very creative in the way we report. When our staff cannot get into places ourselves, we work with local journalists or local citizens via WhatsApp or other [virtual] means.
We really feel the best stories are told by people in and from the communities in which the stories are taking place. So even if we send in our own reporters, we make sure they are not only working with local translators and fixers but also local reporters.
What are you looking forward to in 2022?
I look forward to upending the idea that humanitarian news is only about what’s broken, what’s wrong and what’s overwhelmingly hopeless.
For example …
We’ve done stories on how women in South Sudan are leading peace-building efforts and how women’s groups operating with little to no funding in Colombia are supporting victims of gender-based violence.
Many of the answers to these crises are found in the local communities that are experiencing these problems. We need to ask and listen to them.
How do you regroup after a long day of covering crises?
I take a long, unplugged walk to nowhere in particular. Or at least think about doing that.
Joanne Lu is a freelance journalist who covers global poverty and inequity. Her work has appeared in Humanosphere, The Guardian, Global Washington and War is Boring. Follow her on Twitter: @joannelu