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More than 1,000 children killed, injured in ‘brutal’ Yemen conflict: UN
by Reuters

Months of brutal conflict in Yemen have killed or injured more than 1,000 children, and the number of young people recruited or used as fighters has soared, the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said on Wednesday.

Some 400 children have been killed and more than 600 injured – an average of eight casualties every day – since fighting escalated at the end of March, according to UNICEF.

A Saudi-led Arab coalition has been bombarding the Iranian-allied Houthi rebel movement – Yemen’s dominant force – since late March in a bid to reinstate exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who has fled to Riyadh.

The war has killed more than 4,300 people, many of them civilians, and spread disease and hunger throughout the country.

More than 1.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes since March, and nearly 10 million children – 80 percent of the country’s under-18 population – need urgent humanitarian aid, UNICEF said in a report released on Wednesday.

“Children are bearing the brunt of a brutal armed conflict which escalated in March this year and shows no sign of a resolution,” the U.N. agency said.

“This conflict is a particular tragedy for Yemeni children … (they) are being killed by bombs or bullets and those that survive face the growing threat of disease and malnutrition,” UNICEF Yemen representative Julien Harneis said.

The report Yemen: Childhood Under Threat said the number of children recruited or used in the conflict had more than doubled to 377 so far in 2015 from 156 in 2014.

All warring sides in Yemen are increasingly using teenage boys – who see fighting as a way to support their families financially – to swell their ranks, UNICEF said.

A quarter of Yemen’s health facilities – around 900 – have closed since March, while shortages of medicines and medical supplies have disrupted those that remain open, according to the U.N. body, which said the health system was “crumbling”.

More than 2.5 million children under the age of 15 are at risk of contracting measles, while nearly 2 million are likely to suffer from malnutrition this year, almost one million more than in 2014, UNICEF said.

“I would sell everything I have to ensure my children’s wellbeing… what really disturbs me is how difficult it has become to get proper medical treatment,” Umm Faisal, mother of an 18-month-old baby in Yemen, told UNICEF.

(Thomson Reuters Foundation)

Violence paralyzes earthquake-torn Nepal
by Donatella Lorch for USA Today

KATHMANDU — For many in Nepal, the earthquake is not finished. More than three million people are still living in temporary shelters during torrential monsoon rains. We have daily aftershocks, over 380 of them above magnitude 4, since the 7.8 magnitude quake hit on April 25th.

But, as if that were not enough to cope with, now Nepal is being torn apart by violent protests, a country virtually held hostage by rioting and strikes. Angry protesters are setting buildings, cars and trucks on fire and attacking police who counter with tear gas, baton charges and bullets.

All because Nepal is about to adopt a new constitution.

On Monday, at least eight people were killed in clashes in Kailali in western Nepal, most of them police, including a senior police officer who was speared to death and another set on fire as thousands of demonstrators clashed with security forces. A curfew was imposed, and the government announced it was deploying the army in the riot-hit districts, with orders to shoot curfew violators on sight.

Making a constitution here is a very messy process. In the latest draft, the three biggest political parties have declared that Nepal will be a federal state divided into seven provinces. Many Nepalis do not agree with this model. For weeks now, strikes have not only paralyzed the capital city, Kathmandu, but entire provinces have been gripped by unrest. The issues are many and not easily resolved. Some protesters want ethnically based provinces, others undivided regions or special rights for minorities and women. And then there are those who insist Nepal, a secular democracy, must become a Hindu state.

“We are now getting to the nitty-gritty of constitution making, which we have been waiting to solve for eight years,” says Kunda Dixit, a political commentator and editor of The Nepali Times. “It's about boundaries. Borders in South Asia are extremely sensitive, even within countries. There are competing claims and overlapping claims, indigenous, ethnic, territorial claims, geographical district against district. Essentially, this draft is a political document with little vision for how these provinces are going to be viable and function into the future.”

The protest techniques are not new to Nepal. They are called bandhs, literally "shutdowns," and they grew out of the early 1990s pro democracy movement, which began with non-violent, spontaneous protests. But by the end of the decade, even democratic parties were burning cars. During the 10-year civil war that ended in 2006, Maoist guerrillas mounted roadblocks across the country that terrorized the local populations. Some of these Maoist groups later became the leaders of Nepal’s most violent bandhs.

It’s a simple process. All motorized vehicles are banned and shops and businesses are ordered to close. The enforcers torch buses and taxis that dare to break the bandh, beat up motorcyclists and trash any store that dares to open. Over and over, it has successfully immobilized Nepal.

The daily loss to the economy of a successful bandh is at least $20 million. The emotional toll is incalculable.

In the past few weeks, there have been so many strikes that no one knows who is organizing which bandh. Buses and trucks are marooned on highways. Schools, government offices and sometimes even hospitals are closed. For Nepalis, who have little faith in their government, personal safety is more of a concern than who may be behind the bandh.

Nepal’s earthquake homeless have taken a back seat to the constitution making chaos. With only eight out of 75 districts badly affected by the quake, the government appears to have lost a sense of urgency. Intense political horse-trading between the most powerful parties meant it took the government two and a half months to name a head for the National Reconstruction Authority. Little government reconstruction aid has made it out into the hardest-hit districts.

As the bandhs paralyze Nepal, tour operators are trying hard to re-energize one of the country’s biggest money making industries hard hit by the quake. But tourists are only dribbling in. Many international carriers have cut down on their flights into Kathmandu.

Most Nepalis are frustrated and depressed at the state of their country’s politics.

“I feel so angry,” says Ananda Sharma, 62, a retired office administrator. “These politicians are taking our country back and back and back. Our economy is in ruins. We just want clean drinking water and electricity. If we could funnel all this bandh energy into rebuilding earthquake-hit Nepal, we would be on cloud nine.”

Lorch, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is a writer based in Nepal.

Nepal’s Quake May Have Primed the Area for Another Big One

IN APRIL, A magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Gorkha, Nepal. In Kathmandu, the capital, people fled into the streets as buildings buckled and collapsed. Historic architecture, hundreds of years old, crumbled. More than 8,000 people died.

Potentially even worse, though: According to a paper published in Nature Geoscience today, the Nepal earthquake may have made another Nepal quake even more likely.

That idea contradicts a popular myth in earthquake country—at least in California, where people sometimes hope that occasional light temblors release stress on a fault, making a Big One less likely. That’s not entirely crazy. Earthquakes happen because rock is elastic. Faults, where tectonic plates collide or slide past each other, stretch or compress that rock, which stores energy like a stretched rubber band or a compressed spring. Up to a certain point, friction keeps the rock from moving, but eventually the the rubber band snaps (or the spring rebounds). The rock breaks and slips: earthquake.

But small earthquakes can’t release all that energy. “You can’t have enough small earthquakes to take up all the stress of a major plate boundary,” says Anne Trehu, a seismologist at Oregon State University. It would take a million magnitude-3 earthquakes to release the energy in a single magnitude-7.

Now, it’s true that tectonic plates move all the time without causing quakes; the plates in Nepal move a little less than an inch a year. This movement does relieve stress. But GPS measurements of the south side of the Main Himalayan Thrust fault—where the Gorkha, Nepal earthquake happened—showed that it was getting wedged tighter and tighter under the Himalayas. “So the Gorkha earthquake is not a surprise,” says Jean-Philippe Avouac, a geologist at CalTech and one of the authors of the new paper.

Unfortunately, even that giant quake in Nepal didn’t stave off another one. In the new paper, Avouac’s team found that when the north and south sides of the fault collided, the earthquake rippled eastward at a speed of almost two miles per second. Avouac says that it’s by chance—even lucky—that the earthquake chose to go east rather than west. The last earthquake to the east happened 81 years ago, whereas the western side hasn’t seen a large earthquake in over 500 years. Since it didn’t happen in April, that monster earthquake is still lurking somewhere around the bend. Some scientists think that this area would need to slip at least thirty feet to relieve the stress built over centuries. The earthquake magnitude could be greater than 8.5—paleoseismologists say earthquakes that big have hit the region before.

So when will that Big One hit? No way to know. Scientists would need to be able to track all the stretches and compressions in the rock in detail and in real time. But frequent small earthquakes nearby make that too complicated. Near faults, small tremors shift forces around too quickly for scientists to track.

Here’s what scientists can do: By mounting GPS devices in bedrock, they can measure how far rocks slip in any tectonic movement. If scientists can retrace the steps of the earthquake, they might find clues to how the next one will start. Avouac’s team used GPS measurements, satellite data, and historical seismic records to build “a really detailed image of the rupture process during the earthquake,” Avouac says. “We can use it to make simulations of earthquakes, and we have a way to investigate the physics.”

But this kind of mapping isn’t possible in every earthquake hotspot. Many of the most active faults are partially underwater, making some of Avouac’s techniques impossible. And the team’s analysis relied on old data and knowledge, gathered by geologists over many years of research in the Himalayas. The geology of other regions might not be so well-understood. Even in Nepal, seismologists—not to mention the people who live there—can’t do much more than wait.

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