NPR: A Mix Of These Foods Could Restore Healthy Microbes In Malnourished Kids

Olivia Falcigno/NPR

Olivia Falcigno/NPR

When children suffer from severe malnourishment, they don't just lose weight.

The condition wreaks havoc on biological systems throughout the body — including the microbiome, the healthy bacteria and other microbes that live in our digestive tracts. Those bacteria number in the trillions in every person and include hundreds of different species. They're essential for metabolism, bone growth, brain function, the immune system and other bodily functions.

In a study published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Science, scientists in a renowned microbiology lab at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, report the development of a specialized food designed to rehabilitate gut microbes in severely malnourished children, a treatment that should facilitate both their immediate and long-term recovery.

The food — a spoon-fed paste made from chickpeas, soy, peanuts, bananas and a blend of oils and micronutrients — was shown to substantially boost microbiome health.

The researchers are still working to understand the exact biochemistry that causes certain foods to have a greater impact on restoring the microbiome than others. But Lawrence David, a leading gut microbe specialist at Duke University School of Medicine who was not involved in the study, says that the research represents an unprecedented step forward in understanding what a healthy gut microbiome should look like, how health conditions like malnourishment affect it and what interventions might work to repair damages.

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NPR: Trump Froze Aid To Guatemala. Now Programs Are Shutting Down

farmer2.jpg

For Carlos Marroquín, the chickens are all that's left.

For the past several years, Marroquín has struggled to feed his wife and five children with the proceeds from their 10-acre corn farm. They live in a mud-brick house with a sloped terra cotta roof, nestled among pines, acacias and prickly pear cactus in Guatemala's mountainous northern Quiché region, part of the country's Dry Corridor that has been gripped by a multiyear drought.

Last November, his family was one of the 6,000 poorest families here to be selected for a U.S. government-backed humanitarian relief program. The family began receiving a monthly cash transfer of around $60, which it was encouraged to spend on fresh fruit, cereal, dairy products and other grocery staples to supplement a diet that rarely varied beyond black beans and homemade corn tortillas.

"The first time we got the money, we thought it was a dream," he recalls. "How was it possible to get money we hadn't earned? It was only when we had it that we believed it was real."

But this summer, as Marroquín watched his corn wither once again, he noticed that the cash was also starting to dry up. The $60 became $40, which became $18. Then he learned that in the last week of August, the program would come to an end, at least a year earlier than its organizers had hoped.

The reason: a decision in April by President Trump to freeze $450 million in U.S. foreign aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — what's known as the Northern Triangle — over what he described as their failure to stem the outflow of northbound migrants.

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Medium: The FDA Is About to Crack Down on Shady CBD Products

This ‘Wild West’ industry could be facing some law and order


Credit: yavdat/Getty Images

Credit: yavdat/Getty Images

This story first appeared on Medium:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is gearing up to tighten its oversight of cannabidiol, better known as CBD, the non-intoxicating chemical cousin of THC that is marketed as a natural remedy for a wide variety of ailments.

Since late last year, products containing CBD—from pills, oils, and cosmetics to drinks, gummies, and even dog treats—have proliferated across the country. The boom is largely thanks to a change in federal law that legalized hemp—a low-THC variety of marijuana—which had previously been categorized with pot and harder drugs like cocaine and heroin. That change opened the door for legal hemp-derived CBD and a market that could explode to $22 billion by 2022, according to the market research firm Brightfield Group. 

But now a broad cross-section of medical researchers, policy analysts, marijuana industry insiders, and federal regulators are worried that door was opened a little too wide. On June 20, the House of Representatives approved an amendment to a package of upcoming spending bills that directs the FDA to come up with new regulations for CBD products. 

But the agency was already on it: In May, it hosted an all-day hearing on CBD, where officials grilled dozens of experts about which—if any—of the multitude of claims made about CBD were actually backed by science, and how consumers can be sure about the quality of what they’re really getting when they pay for a CBD product. The agency also fired off a series of menacing letters to CBD-selling companies that the agency claims violated marketing laws. The FDA is accepting public comments on potential CBD regulation until July 16, and has already received more than 2,700 (many of which sing CBD’s praises: “I want the FDA to leave cbd oil alone…this is a plant from God, let Gods people use it to heal and manage pain”). After that, new rules could follow quickly. 

“We must sort this out in service of public health,” Amy Abernethy, the FDA’s principal deputy commissioner, said on Twitter after the hearing. “We will work as quickly as possible to define a way forward.”

So is it time to start stockpiling your favorite CBD products before they disappear? Here’s what you need to know:

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National Geographic: Cameroon’s embattled ebony trees get a lifeline—from guitar maker

The guitar industry has a spotty track record for sustainable wood sourcing. But one manufacturer is trying to help stave off deforestation.

Noël Nakere Dobo Nkouli finishes planting an ebony sapling in the Congo Basin forest of southeastern Cameroon. “These trees,” he says, “are our heritage.” PHOTOGRAPH BY TIM MCDONNELL

Noël Nakere Dobo Nkouli finishes planting an ebony sapling in the Congo Basin forest of southeastern Cameroon. “These trees,” he says, “are our heritage.” PHOTOGRAPH BY TIM MCDONNELL

This story first appeared in National Geographic.

WIELDING A MACHETE, Noël Nakere Dobo Nkouli hacks a path through thick vines crowding the tropical forest outside his village in Kompia, in Cameroon’s rural southeast. Every few yards, he digs a shallow hole in the rich, red soil and plants the leafy sapling of an ebony tree, an iconic indigenous hardwood species with a jet-black interior that is prized for sculptures, piano keys, furniture accents, and stringed instrument fingerboards.

Since last year, Nkouli and his neighbors in a handful of other villages in the area have planted more than 5,000 ebony trees. The trees won’t be mature enough to harvest for a century, but Nkouli sees them as an investment in future generations at a time when the forests of central Africa are quickly disappearing under pressure from agriculture and logging.

Their work is part of an ambitious reforestation effort supported by an unlikely patron: the American guitar manufacturer who equips the likes of Taylor Swift and Jason Mraz and is among Africa’s biggest commercial consumers of ebony.

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Bloomberg Businessweek: The NASA Veteran Cracking Down on Illegal Gold Miners

Satellite-imaging software helps government officials identify unlicensed mining sites.

A small-scale mining operation in Kibi, Ghana.

PHOTOGRAPHER: RUTH MCDOWALL FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK

A small-scale mining operation in Kibi, Ghana. PHOTOGRAPHER: RUTH MCDOWALL FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK

A small-scale mining operation in Kibi, Ghana. PHOTOGRAPHER: RUTH MCDOWALL FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK

This story first appeared in Bloomberg Businessweek.

The illegal gold mine is hidden just past a thick grove of cocoa trees, a little ways off the two-lane road through Sagyimase, Ghana, a rural town a couple hours’ drive north of the West African nation’s capital, Accra. It sits on a torn-up patch of ground the size of a football field, where three dozen workers operate backhoes and a tangle of generators, pumps, and hoses, washing peanut-size nuggets of gold out of the red earth. Gold was Ghana’s biggest export last year, and mines like this are common throughout the country, often a more lucrative alternative to cocoa farming. But this mine—like too many others, government officials say—is operating without a valid permit, without oversight of its severe environmental impact, and without paying taxes meant to underwrite the land’s eventual restoration.

In Ghana’s vast agricultural hinterland, such mines often operate with little fear of regulators. Felix Addo-Okyireh, an official with Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency who oversees the small-scale mining industry in Sagyimase and the rest of the country’s Eastern Region, has two enforcement officers patrolling an area slightly smaller than New Jersey. “It’s difficult to identify the illegal mines unless we happen to bump into them,” he says. Mining is a big reason why Ghana has the world’s fastest-growing rate of deforestation, according to the World Resources Institute, and often leads to the contamination of farmland and water sources with toxic chemicals including mercury and cyanide. So Addo-Okyireh and his colleagues have turned to NASA for help.

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NPR: Rewards — And Risks — Of Using Antibiotics As Silver Bullet For Kids In Africa

A boy named Zourkaleyn, 3 years old, has is blood tested at a station inside a mud-brick house in the village of Poulloh, Dosso region, Niger, as part of the pioneering MORDOR study. Gates Archive/Dominique Catton

A boy named Zourkaleyn, 3 years old, has is blood tested at a station inside a mud-brick house in the village of Poulloh, Dosso region, Niger, as part of the pioneering MORDOR study. Gates Archive/Dominique Catton

Researchers pursuing a simple, cheap way to dramatically reduce childhood deaths in sub-Saharan Africa released some promising new results today — but it's still unclear whether their approach might ultimately put more children at a disadvantage in fighting off serious diseases.

The story starts in 2009, when a group of ophthalmologists from the University of California-San Francisco published some surprising results from a study they had conducted in Ethiopia on trachoma, an eye infection that's the world's leading cause of preventable blindness. The eye doctors knew that the antibiotic azithromycin was effective in fighting the disease and had administered it to tens of thousands of children there, ages 1 to 9. Meanwhile, they wanted to keep watch on whether the drug seemed to have any other beneficial effects on the children's health.

What they found was remarkable: Mass azithromycin treatment, administered two times a year, seemed to have an almost miraculous ability to reduce childhood deaths. In Ethiopia, 58 babies per 1,000 births don't survive past the age of 5. That's lower than the sub-Saharan Africa average of 76 but still far higher than in Europe or the U.S. (where the rate is around 6 per 1,000). But in groups of children treated with azithromycin, the mortality rate was half that of untreated groups.

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MIT Technology Review: How do cow herders spot water in the Sahara? With satellites, of course.

Climate change makes it even harder to find water on the edge of the Sahara. Now herders in Mali rely on images from space to direct them to the nearest watering hole.

JEROME DELAY/AP

JEROME DELAY/AP

This story first appeared in MIT Technology Review.

For most of his 50 years, Abdoul Ag Alwaly, a cattle herder in northern Mali, used the same way of finding water for his cows. He would pay a motorcyclist or camel driver to roam the desert surrounding the city of Gao and check the levels of scattered creeks and wells. The process was expensive, time-consuming, and risky—sometimes he’d march his herd for days only to find that he’d received a bad tip, or that another herd had gotten there first.

In recent years climate change has made the search even harder, Alwaly says. Where he lives, in the Sahel, the vast strip of arid scrubland south of the Sahara Desert, temperatures are rising faster than the global average, droughts are more frequent, and vegetation is scarcer. Erratic rainfall has made traditional watering holes unreliable. Animals frequently perish during the search, Alwaly says, and competition for water can easily turn violent.

So he’s trying a new approach. Over the last year, Alwaly, who leads a local union of livestock herders, has started to look for leads in satellite images. “With your phone and 25 francs”—about four US cents— “you’ll know, and can move with a lot more certainty,” he says.

Across the continent, rising temperatures and unpredictable rains are a serious threat to millions of small farmers and herders. Real-time, hyper-local satellite data can be used to detect early warning signs of drought and crop failure. As satellite imaging gets cheaper, more prolific, and higher in resolution, and the massive quantities of data it yields become easier for computers to manage and interpret, a growing number of private companies and nongovernmental organizations are finding ways to put it directly into the hands of people who deal with the effects of climate change every day.

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NPR: U.S. Supreme Court Rules That World Bank Can Be Sued

More suits could follow as international financial organizations grapple with this new standard of accountability for the unintended consequences of their investments.

The coal-fired Tata Mundra power plant in western India was funded by a branch of the World Bank. A group of farmers and fishermen is suing, claiming that contamination of local water sources has disrupted their livelihoods.   Sami Siva/International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

The coal-fired Tata Mundra power plant in western India was funded by a branch of the World Bank. A group of farmers and fishermen is suing, claiming that contamination of local water sources has disrupted their livelihoods.

Sami Siva/International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

This story first appeared in NPR.

The World Bank can be sued when its overseas investments go awry. And so can some other international organizations.

That is the clear message from the U.S. Supreme Court, which last week issued a 7-1 decision in Jam v. International Finance Corporation, ruling for the first time that international financial institutions, including various branches of the bank and other U.S.-based organizations like the Inter-American Development Bank, can be subject to lawsuits in cases where their investments in foreign development projects are alleged to have caused harm to local communities.

The decision overturns a decades-old presumption dating to the founding of the World Bank in 1945 — that the IFC, a Washington, D.C.-based branch of the World Bank Group that finances private-sector projects in developing countries, and other bank-affiliated organizations are fully immune from such suits.

The Jam suit, which was filed in 2015, is far from over. With the fundamental immunity issue resolved, it will return to a federal circuit court in Washington, D.C., this spring for further battles over the facts of the case, and it may not be decided for years. In the meantime, at least one other major suit against the IFC is now gaining steam in response to last week's decision, and more could follow as international financial organizations grapple with this new standard of accountability for the unintended consequences of their investments.

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Medium: Scientists Are Making THC and CBD Without Marijuana

New research paves the way for cannabinoids without cannabis

Credit: NurPhoto/Getty Images

Credit: NurPhoto/Getty Images

This story was first published in Medium.

As marijuana becomes increasingly mainstream — the legal cannabis market is estimated to reach $166 billion by 2025 — the potential for cannabis to change numerous industries from health to food is great. The future of cannabis may feature production facilities that have more in common with a craft beer brewery than a grow house — and leave out the plant altogether.

In a paper published today in the peer-reviewed journal Nature, biochemists at the University of California, Berkeley report what some cannabis industry experts are describing as a breakthrough in biosynthetic cannabinoid production. By using genetically modified yeast, the Berkeley scientists were able to convert simple sugars into the active chemical compounds in marijuana: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). The scientists made THC and CBD — the chemicals that get users high and which have supposed medical benefits — without the marijuana plant.

The research could help make these compounds — which are produced in relatively low quantities by the plant — much cheaper and more widely available for medicinal and recreational use, potentially bypassing some of the common constraints for the traditional marijuana market, including sky-high energy needs and a complex, ever-shifting legal landscape.

“It’s an idea that many companies have been working on, but I’ve never seen anything so thorough,” says Daniele Piomelli, director of the University of California, Irvine’s Institute for the Study of Cannabis, who was not involved in the research. “It appears like a very substantial step forward.”

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NPR: A Fatal Public Health Problem In Africa That Flies Under The Radar

Western donors are overlooking the safety of African food markets

An unrefrigerated meat market in Cameroon (Photo by Siobhán O’Grady)

An unrefrigerated meat market in Cameroon (Photo by Siobhán O’Grady)

This story first appeared in NPR.

In September, public health officials in South Africa finally declared victory over the world's worst-ever outbreak of listeriosis, a foodborne illness that had sickened more than 1,000 people and killed more than 200 there since January 2017.

The cause? A batch of "polony," a popular processed lunch meat similar to bologna, contaminated with listeria, a bacteria found in animal feces. Government health inspectors traced the outbreak to a factory owned by the South African packaged foods producer Tiger Brands, and ordered the recall of nearly 6,000 tons of affected food.

Even with that particular crisis under control, Africa as a continent continues to suffer from the world's highest per-capita rate of foodborne illnesses. A new report this month from the World Bank's Global Food Safety Partnership points to one reason why: Much of the funding for food safety efforts on the continent come from Western donors — and most of those efforts concentrate on safety standards for foods exported to other countries.

"Trade is important for a lot of [African] economies," says Lystra Antoine, an agricultural economist who is one of the report's authors. But, she says, "that has an unintended consequence."

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CIGI: Climate Migrants Face a Gap in International Law

Even with the GCM, climate-displaced people are falling through the cracks.


Photo by Tim McDonnell

Photo by Tim McDonnell

In December, diplomats from more than 160 nations met for two days in Morocco to adopt the United Nations’ Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM), a non-binding agreement that aims to make life a little easier for the unprecedented number of people worldwide who are on the move away from home.

One of the agreement’s signature achievements was to recognize the role that extreme weather and other climate-related disasters can play in prompting displacement and migration. According to the Nansen Initiative, a research collaborative backed by the European Union, between 2008 and 2014 an average of 22.5 million people were displaced every year by natural disasters. Experts expect that number to grow as sea levels rise, droughts last longer and storms worsen. By 2050, the total number of climate-displaced people could grow beyond 200 million — about two percent of the global population. And yet, there remains no legally binding international recognition or protection for climate migrants.

The GCM took the biggest step yet toward solving that problem. It calls on its signatories to “better map, understand, predict and address migration movements, such as those that may result from sudden-onset and slow-onset natural disasters, the adverse effects of climate change, environmental degradation...” The GCM also calls on signatories to “cooperate to identify, develop and strengthen solutions...including by devising planned relocation and visa options” for climate migrants. Its recommendations mirror those put forward in September by aspecial UN task force on displacement, which was created during the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris.

Still, there’s a long way to go before any of this language translates to tangible benefits for climate migrants. The GCM has yet to yield substantive regional or national policy changes aimed at climate migrants. The United States, as well as Australia, Israel, Italy, Hungary and other key players in global migration politics, pulled out of the agreement over concerns that it could impede their domestic immigration agendas. In the meantime, as climate displacement escalates, more evidence is accumulating about the complex ways in which climate change interacts with the panoply of other factors that might compel a person to migrate, and what the impacts of this unprecedented surge of human mobility might be.

The stakes of this issue were vividly on display on the southern US border late in 2018, when thousands of Central American migrants joined caravans. A September assessment by US border officials pointed to drought-stricken farms and hunger as the primary driver for those migrants. US President Donald Trump responded by deploying National Guard troops to the border and instigating an unprecedented federal government shutdown over funding for a border wall.

Even with the GCM, climate-displaced people are falling through the cracks.

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NPR: What It Will Take For Trump To End AIDS 'Beyond' America

The president's record on addressing the virus in other countries has been inconsistent.

A staffer at the Right to Care AIDS clinic in Johannesburg administers an HIV test on a young boy. South Africa is one of the countries that receives funds from the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).   Gallo Images/Getty Images

A staffer at the Right to Care AIDS clinic in Johannesburg administers an HIV test on a young boy. South Africa is one of the countries that receives funds from the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

Gallo Images/Getty Images

This story first appeared in NPR.

When President Trump gave his State of the Union address last week, he made an ambitious promise to "eliminate the H.I.V. epidemic in the United States within 10 years." The announcement was followed by a blueprint from the Department of Health and Human Services that details the administration's plan to concentrate funding for treatment and preventative medicine in a few dozen counties nationwide with the highest rates of infection. Public health experts generally applauded the plan as achievable with existing tools and techniques.

The announcement also contained a second, less-noticed promise: To defeat AIDS "beyond" the U.S. But the president's own record on addressing the virus in other countries has been inconsistent.

In December, Trump signed a bill reauthorizing the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR, a flagship foreign assistance program that was initiated in 2003 by President George W. Bush and has grown to be one of the biggest and most successful public health interventions in history, responsible for saving millions of lives around the world.

But in his budget proposal for fiscal year 2019, released this time last year, Trump called for more than $1 billion in cuts to PEPFAR and the Global Fund, an international public-private partnership that is the world's biggest funder of AIDS treatment and prevention programs, part of a broader package of cuts to foreign aid programs of all kinds. Those cuts are still embroiled in the ongoing budget negotiations that have shaken the capital since the beginning of the year. Jennifer Kates, director of Global Health & HIV Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, says Congress is expected to reject Trump's proposal as early as this week, and keep funding for foreign AIDS programs at roughly its current level.

To keep reading, click here.

National Geographic: Climate change creates a new migration crisis for Bangladesh

The country, already grappling with the Rohingya crisis, now faces a devastating migration problem as hundreds of thousands face an impossible choice between battered coastlines and urban slums.

Forida Khatun stands behind her house in Gabura, Bangladesh, in November. Two of her sons migrated to Dhaka after the family home was destroyed by storms multiple times and agricultural jobs were lost due to salinity intrusion. “Only Allah can save us," she says. "We don’t have any power to save our children.” (Photo by Tim McDonnell)

Forida Khatun stands behind her house in Gabura, Bangladesh, in November. Two of her sons migrated to Dhaka after the family home was destroyed by storms multiple times and agricultural jobs were lost due to salinity intrusion. “Only Allah can save us," she says. "We don’t have any power to save our children.” (Photo by Tim McDonnell)

This story was first published in National Geographic.

DHAKA, BANGLADESHGolam Mostafa Sarder starts every day before dawn, rising from a thin reed mat in the shed that he shares with fifteen roommates. Each has just enough space to lie flat. He dresses in gym shorts and t-shirt by the light of a single dangling bulb.

Outside the shed’s open doorway, in the outskirts of Dhaka, the sprawling megacity capital of Bangladesh, is the brick factory where Golam and his neighbors work for fifteen hours a day, seven days a week, at least six months a year. His home in Gabura, a remote village on the country’s southwestern coast, is more than a day’s journey from the city by bus, rickshaw, and ferry.

Golam’s job is to push wheelbarrows of mud down the production line. Waist-high rows of drying bricks spiral off from a towering kiln that belches smoke over an area the size of a city block. By 6 p.m. his lanky frame is spattered in gray mud. The evening air swims with mosquitoes. He has just enough strength left to clean his bare feet and angular face, inhale a dinner of lentils and rice, and collapse back onto his mat.

Golam has never heard of global warming. But he says he knows one thing for sure: “If the river didn’t take our land, I wouldn’t need to be here.”


Bangladesh, a densely populated, riverine South Asian nation, has always survived its share of tropical storms, flooding, and other natural disasters. But today, climate change is accelerating old forces of destruction, creating new patterns of displacement, and fueling an explosion of rapid, chaotic urbanization. report last week from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that the State Department and other foreign aid agencies have not done enough to combat climate change-induced migration in developing countries, and highlighted Bangladesh as particularly vulnerable. And as climate change drives the migration of up to 200 million people worldwide by 2050, Dhaka offers a cautionary tale for refuge cities around the globe.

Interviews with dozens of migrant families, scientists, urban planners, human rights advocates, and government officials across Bangladesh reveal that while the country is keenly aware of its vulnerability to climate change, not enough has been done to match the pace and scale of the resultant displacement and urbanization, toppling any prospect of a humane life for one of the world’s largest populations of climate migrants.

“Right now the government’s vision is to have no vision,” says Tasneem Siddiqui, a political scientist who leads the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit at the University of Dhaka. “It’s just that everything is in Dhaka, and people are all coming to Dhaka. And Dhaka is collapsing.”

To keep reading, click here.

NPR: The Rule of Law Is Crumbling in Rural Nigeria

2018 was an exceptionally bloody year in the country’s ongoing conflict between farmers and pastoralists.

Saminu Mohammad is a Fulani cattle herder who decided to defy Benue State’s ban on cattle grazing. (Tim McDonnell)

Saminu Mohammad is a Fulani cattle herder who decided to defy Benue State’s ban on cattle grazing. (Tim McDonnell)

This story first appeared in NPR.

Deadly conflicts between farmers and cattle herders in central Nigeria over land and natural resources reached a high point in 2018, according to a new report from Amnesty International.

In 2018, more than 2,000 people were killed in such conflicts, the report found. That's more than the previous two years combined, and hundreds more than were killed by the terrorist group Boko Haram. The death toll this year, the report found, was exacerbated by the government's failure to keep the peace and investigate and prosecute the attackers.

Overall, the report — which details three years of clashes — paints a picture of a conflict in which both farmers and pastoralists across Nigeria's Middle Belt region have lost confidence in the rule of law and feel empowered to retaliate against their neighbors with impunity.

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NPR: A Great African Kingdom Tells Its History In Fabulous Royal Clothes

A new exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art combines carbon dating, beautiful textiles, and a turbulent history.

This textile would have been used as an "overskirt." It has been dated to 1736‑1799 and is the oldest piece in the exhibition.   Courtesy of Baltimore Museum of Art

This textile would have been used as an "overskirt." It has been dated to 1736‑1799 and is the oldest piece in the exhibition.

Courtesy of Baltimore Museum of Art

This story first appeared on NPR.

What can an old piece of cloth tell us about the rise and fall of a kingdom? Quite a lot, if you know how to read it.

That's the premise behind a new exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art titled "Kuba: Fabric of an Empire." It features an array of captivating patterned textiles from the Kuba Kingdom, which between the 17th and early 20th centuries was one of Africa's largest and most powerful societies, controlling trade in ivory and rubber in what is today the southeastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Kuba were renowned for their artistry, and today any museum of African art in the U.S. or Europe is likely to display Kuba sculpture, masks, beadwork or especially textiles, which were commissioned by royalty and worn or displayed for ceremonial occasions. The textiles are made of woven and dyed raffia palm fronds and feature hypnotic geometric designs mostly in shades of black and tan.

In some, the designs are stitched; in others, serpentine cutouts are appliquéd onto a raffia backing. Some are 20 feet long and meant to be worn as a wrapped unisex skirt; others are 2-foot-square panels meant to be hung on display behind a royal throne.

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Medium: The Life-or-Death Science of Evacuation Psychology

Scientists are gaining a better understanding of why, no matter the severity, many residents won’t heed orders to evacuate.

WILMINGTON, NC — September 13, 2018: Elizabeth Claire Toomer floats while swimming with friends in the Intracoastal Waterway as Hurricane Florence approached the area. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images News/Getty

WILMINGTON, NC — September 13, 2018: Elizabeth Claire Toomer floats while swimming with friends in the Intracoastal Waterway as Hurricane Florence approached the area. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images News/Getty

This story first appeared on Medium.

Early Friday morning, Sept. 14, Hurricane Florence made landfall as a Category 1 storm near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. Although the storm has lost some of its offshore strength, it’s still considered highly dangerous by authorities and is already causing severe flooding. By Thursday, North Carolina officials had issued evacuation orders in 16 vulnerable counties. Some are voluntary, but most are mandatory, covering around 1 million people, according to the state’s Department of Public Safety (DPS).

But, as in the cases of Harvey, Maria, Katrina, and other recent high-profile hurricanes, many people have chosen not to follow evacuation orders, putting themselves and emergency responders at risk. Keith Acree, a North Carolina DPS spokesperson, said the state has no way to monitor exactly how many people evacuated ahead of Florence, although he reported a steady stream of inland-bound traffic.

As climate change increases the severity and frequency of catastrophic storms, emergency management authorities are looking for new ways to motivate people to take precautionary action. The answer may be more psychological than technological. Over the last decade, meteorologists have made huge strides in precision weather forecasting, but it hasn’t proven to be enough to get more people to move themselves out of harm’s way, said Jennifer Marlon, an environmental scientist at Yale. “We need to invest in communication,” Marlon said. “There’s a recognition that what’s going on in people’s minds is as important as us getting the models right.”

To keep reading, click here.



Mother Jones: Families Who Fled Hurricane Maria Could Lose Their Homes. Again.

“It’s a crisis that we’re facing.”

Betzaida Crespo and her family have shared this Orlando hotel room since November. (Tim McDonnell)

Betzaida Crespo and her family have shared this Orlando hotel room since November. (Tim McDonnell)

Nearly 2,000 families who fled Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria could once again find themselves without a place to live if a federal court allows the US government to cut off housing subsidies for people displaced by the storm.

One of those families is led by Betzaida Crespo. Betsy, as she’s known, left Dorado, Puerto Rico, in November with her husband Erín and their young son and daughter after their home was severely damaged by the hurricane. Like an estimated 150,000 other Puerto Ricans, the family boarded a plane to Florida. When they arrived in Orlando, they signed up to receive temporary housing aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They moved into a room with two queen-size beds at a Holiday Inn just down the street from Disney World, and they’ve lived there ever since.

The room has all the trappings of any young family’s home, condensed into less than 200 square feet. The walls are lined with plastic footlockers that have been jammed full of clothing. Action figures are piled on the floor next to tools belonging to Erín, a handyman. Ramen and canned food are stacked on a rickety table alongside a single electric burner and a rice cooker. A bouquet of fresh-cut flowers fills a pink plastic water bottle on the window ledge.

Living in this cramped space has put the whole family on edge, Betsy says. Their months-long search for their own apartment—on what Erín can earn from odd jobs, in a sprawling metropolitan area with one of the country’s worst affordable housing markets—has been unsuccessful. Betsy struggles with crippling anxiety and depression and suffers from back pain caused by scoliosis. She has bad credit from a dispute with a previous landlord. After she gets her children to sleep and steals a rare private moment with Erín in the bathroom, she often lays awake until 4 a.m., scrolling aimlessly on her phone.

Her mind constantly circles the same question: What next?

“The reality is we have nowhere else to go,” she says. “After here, we could be on the streets.”

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NPR: The Refugees The World Barely Pays Attention To

Attention on people displaced by environmental chaos is growing, but new international policies are toothless.

“Things now are changing. It might become very difficult to stay here if things don’t improve,” says Maigari Lawal, the chief of Saidagyada village in northern Nigeria. “But God wants us to live here. It’s only God who can decide.” (Tim McDonnell)   

“Things now are changing. It might become very difficult to stay here if things don’t improve,” says Maigari Lawal, the chief of Saidagyada village in northern Nigeria. “But God wants us to live here. It’s only God who can decide.” (Tim McDonnell)

 

This month, diplomats from around the world met in New York and Geneva to hash out a pair of new global agreements that aim to lay out new guidelines for how countries should deal with an unprecedented surge in the number of displaced people, which has now reached 65.6 million worldwide.

But there's one emerging category that seems to be getting short shrift in the conversation: so-called "climate refugees," who currently lack any formal definition, recognition or protection under international law even as the scope of their predicament becomes more clear.

Since 2008, an average of 24 million people have been displaced by catastrophic weather disasters each year. As climate change worsens storms and droughts, climate scientists and migration experts expect that number to rise.

Meanwhile, climate impacts that unravel over time, like desert expansion and sea level rise, are also forcing people from their homes: A World Bank report in March projects that within three of the most vulnerable regions — sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America — 143 million people could be displaced by these impacts by 2050.

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