United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for a major and rapid change in the fight against climate disruption.
"Major and rapid change is exactly what we need in the fight against climate disruption. Change that will make our planet more livable, sustainable and inclusive," the UN chief said on Wednesday in a pre-recorded video message for the Youth4Climate virtual event, which was convened by the government of Italy.
"No group is more effective in pushing leaders to change course than you," said Guterres. He urged young people to keep raising their voices in their schools, workplaces and online communities, bringing their ideas and "driving forward the ambition we need."
"When you march, the world follows," he said.
Noting that climate crisis is "the most pressing issue of our time," Guterres said that young people "are having a major impact."
The death toll from Covid-19 in the US surpassed 250,000 on Wednesday, according to the Centre for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.
With the national caseload topping 11.4 million, the death toll across the United States rose to 250,029 as of today, according to the CSSE data.
New York State reported 34,173 fatalities, at the top of the U.S. state-level death toll list. Texas recorded the second most deaths, standing at 20,147. The states of California, Florida and New Jersey all confirmed more than 16,000 deaths, the tally showed.
States with more than 9,000 fatalities also include Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Georgia.
The United States remains the worst hit by the pandemic, with the world's highest caseload and death toll, accounting for more than 18 percent of the global deaths.
The United States reached the grim milestone of 200,000 coronavirus deaths on Sept. 22 and the number climbed to a quarter of a million in nearly two months.
U.S. daily fatalities caused by COVID-19 hit 1,707 on Tuesday, the highest rise in coronavirus deaths in a single day since the country reported 1,774 daily deaths on May 14, the CSSE chart showed.
Furthermore, an updated model forecast by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington shows that a total of 438,941 Americans may have died of COVID-19 by March 1, 2021, based on current projection scenario.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio decided to close public school buildings on Wednesday as the city has reached the threshold of 3 percent COVID-19 testing positivity rate on 7-day average.
Public school students in the largest U.S. city will transition to remote learning starting from tomorrow until further notice. The schedule of resuming in-person learning is still unknown.
Since the start of the fall semester, the United States has seen an upward trend in new cases on campus.
Experts warned students returning from college and those who travel for family gatherings during Thanksgiving holiday may lead to a new wave of coronavirus infections.
Also read: Coronavirus: US death toll tops 200,000
Pfizer says that more interim results from its ongoing coronavirus vaccine study suggest the shots are 95% effective and that the vaccine protects older people most at risk of dying from COVID-19.
The announcement, just a week after Pfizer first revealed promising preliminary results, comes as the company is preparing within days to formally ask U.S. regulators to allow emergency use of the vaccine.
Pfizer initially had estimated its vaccine, developed with German partner BioNTech, was more than 90% effective after 94 infections had been counted. With Wednesday’s announcement, the company now has accumulated 170 infections in the study -- and said only eight of them occurred in volunteers who got the actual vaccine rather than a dummy shot. One of those eight developed severe disease, the company said.
The company has not yet released detailed data on its study, and results have not been analyzed by independent experts.
Pfizer said its vaccine was more than 94% effective in adults over age 65, though it is not clear how the company determined effectiveness in older adults, with only eight infections in the vaccinated group to analyze and no breakdown provided of those people’s ages.
Earlier this week Moderna, Inc. announced that its experimental vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective after an interim analysis of its late-stage study.
Pfizer says it now has the data on the vaccine’s safety needed to seek emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.
The company didn’t disclose safety details but said no serious vaccine side effects have been reported, with the most common problem being fatigue after the second vaccine dose, affecting about 4% of participants.
The study has enrolled nearly 44,000 people in the U.S. and five other countries. The trial will continue to collect safety and efficacy data on volunteers for two more years.
Pfizer and BioNTech said they expect to produce up to 50 million vaccine doses globally in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021.
U.S. officials have said they hope to have about 20 million vaccine doses each from Moderna and Pfizer available for distribution in late December. The first shots will be offered to vulnerable groups like medical and nursing home workers, and people with serious health conditions.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s expected tour of a West Bank winery this week will be the first time a top American diplomat has visited an Israeli settlement, a parting gift from an administration that has taken unprecedented steps to support Israel’s claims to war-won territory.
The Psagot winery, established in part on land the Palestinians say was stolen from local residents, is part of a sprawling network of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that most of the international community views as a violation of international law and a major obstacle to peace.
The award-winning winery, which offers tours and event spaces, is a focus of Israel’s efforts to promote tourism in the occupied territory and a potent symbol of its fight against campaigns to boycott or label products from the settlements.
Pompeo’s expected visit, reported by Israeli media but not officially confirmed, would mark a radical departure from past administrations, both Democratic and Republican, which frequently scolded Israel over settlement construction — to little effect.
President Donald Trump has already broken with his predecessors by recognizing contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and repudiating the decades-old U.S. position that settlements are inconsistent with international law. The administration has also recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, seized from Syria in the 1967 war, where Pompeo may also pay a visit.
Trump’s Mideast plan, which overwhelmingly favored Israel and was immediately rejected by the Palestinians, would have allowed Israel to annex nearly a third of the West Bank, including all of its settlements.
The visit to the winery — which released a blended red wine named for the secretary last year — would be yet another gift to Israel in the final weeks of Trump’s presidency, even as neither Trump nor Pompeo have acknowledged President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
The visit could also burnish Pompeo’s credentials with evangelical Christians and other supporters of Israel should he pursue a post-Trump political career.
The Falic family of Florida, owners of the ubiquitous chain of Duty Free Americas shops, is a major investor in the winery. An Associated Press investigation last year found that the family has donated at least $5.6 million to settler groups in the West Bank and east Jerusalem over the past decade. Since 2000, they have donated at least $1.7 million to pro-Israel politicians in the U.S., both Democrats and Republicans, including Trump.
Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 war, territories the Palestinians want for their future state. Since then, it has built some 130 settlements and dozens of smaller outposts, ranging from clusters of mobile homes on remote hilltops to fully developed towns. Over 460,000 Israeli settlers reside in the occupied West Bank and more than 220,000 live in annexed east Jerusalem.
The Palestinians say the settlements make it nearly impossible to create a viable state — which was one of the main goals of the settlers who established them.
The settlers, most of whom oppose a Palestinian state and view Jerusalem and the West Bank as the biblical and historical heart of Israel, say they are the scapegoats for a long-standing approach to solving the conflict that was never going to succeed.
“More important than where (Pompeo) is going to visit ... is the message,” said Oded Revivi, mayor of the Efrat settlement. “The message that he’s bringing with him is one of not falling into the trap that (former U.S. President) Jimmy Carter has set of treating us as second-class citizens, of seeing us as an obstacle to peace.”
The Palestinians say many of the settlements, including Psagot and its winery, were built on land stolen from private Palestinian owners. The residents of the nearby town of Al-Bireh — many of whom are American citizens — say the settlement gobbled up their land after Israel built a security fence around Psagot during the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, in the early 2000s.
Kainat and Karema Quraan, two sisters from Al-Bireh, say they have documents showing they own a plot of land on which some of the vineyards and a winery building were established.
“Imagine that your own land, your property, that you lived off of and your ancestors lived off of, is taken like this by strangers, by force, and you can’t touch it,” Kainat said.
Yaakov Berg, the chief executive of the winery, did not respond to requests for comment.
Muneef Traish, an Al-Bireh city council member who has U.S. citizenship, has led a legal campaign for years on behalf of the community seeking the return of the confiscated lands. He said the settlers seized a total of 1,000 dunams (250 acres), 400 of which are being used by the winery.
Last November, the European Court of Justice ruled that European countries must label products originating in the settlements. The decision came after the Psagot winery, which produces 600,000 bottles a year and exports 70% of them, challenged an earlier ruling.
Israel lashed out at the decision to make the labels mandatory, saying it was unfair, discriminatory and would embolden the Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel.
A week after the ruling, Pompeo announced that the U.S. no longer considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be a violation of international law, reversing four decades of American policy.
To express its gratitude, Psagot released a new wine called “Pompeo,” a blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and merlot.
“The U.S. administration’s message is extremely important and strengthens our ongoing fight against the boycott and hypocrisy campaign,” Berg, the CEO of the winery, said at the time. “We will continue this just and moral struggle.”
A very different struggle is underway in Al-Bireh, where city councilman Traish and other residents plan to protest Pompeo’s visit to the encroaching settlement.
“We want to say to Pompeo that instead of asking Israel to return the land to American citizens, you are here to celebrate the occupation,” he said.
The 16-year-old girl describes how her boss raped her amid the tall trees on an Indonesian palm oil plantation that feeds into some of the world’s best-known cosmetic brands. He then put an ax to her throat and warned her: Do not tell.
At another plantation, a woman named Ola complains of fevers, coughing and nose bleeds after years of spraying dangerous pesticides with no protective gear.
Hundreds of miles away, Ita, a young wife, mourns the two babies she lost in the third trimester. She regularly lugged loads several times her weight throughout both pregnancies, fearing she would be fired if she did not.
These are the invisible women of the palm oil industry, among the millions of daughters, mothers and grandmothers who toil on vast plantations across Indonesia and neighboring Malaysia, which together produce 85 percent of the world’s most versatile vegetable oil.
Palm oil is found in everything from potato chips and pills to pet food, and also ends up in the supply chains of some of the biggest names in the $530 billion beauty business, including L’Oréal, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Avon and Johnson & Johnson, helping women around the world feel pampered and beautiful.
Female workers carry heavy loads of fertilizer at a palm oil plantation in Sumatra, Indonesia, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017. Some women spread up to 880 pounds of fertilizer, nearly a half-ton, over the course of a day.
The Associated Press conducted the first comprehensive investigation focusing on the brutal treatment of women in the production of palm oil, including the hidden scourge of sexual abuse, ranging from verbal harassment and threats to rape. It’s part of a larger examination that exposed widespread abuses in the two countries, including human trafficking, child labor and outright slavery.
Women are burdened with some of the industry’s most difficult and dangerous jobs, spending hours waist-deep in water tainted by chemical runoff and carrying loads so heavy that, over time, their wombs can collapse. Many are hired by subcontractors on a day-to-day basis without benefits, performing the same jobs for the same companies for years – even decades.
“Almost every plantation has problems related to labor,” said Hotler Parsaoran of the Indonesian nonprofit group Sawit Watch. “But the conditions of female workers are far worse than men.”
The AP interviewed more than three dozen women and girls from at least 12 companies across both countries. Because previous reports have resulted in retaliation against workers, they are being identified only by partial names or nicknames.
The Malaysian government said it had received no reports about rapes on plantations, but Indonesia acknowledged physical and sexual abuse appears to be a growing problem, with most victims afraid to speak out. Still, the AP was able to corroborate a number of the women’s stories by reviewing police reports, legal documents, complaints filed with union representatives and local media accounts.
Reporters also interviewed nearly 200 other workers, activists, government officials and lawyers, including some who helped trapped girls and women escape, who confirmed that abuses regularly occur.
A 17-year-old mother gives a bottle to her 2-week-old baby, whom she says was born as a result of a rape in Sumatra, Indonesia, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018. She started working on a plantation as a young child to help her family survive, never going to school or learning how to read or write. One day she said her boss took her alone to a quiet part of the estate. After the attack, while still half-naked, she said the man held a blade to her throat. "He threatened to kill me with an ax. ... He threatened to kill my whole family." Then, she said, he stood up, spit on her and walked away.
In both countries, the AP found generations of women from the same families who have served as part of the industry’s backbone. Some started working as children alongside their parents, gathering loose kernels and clearing brush from the trees, never learning to read or write.
And others, like a woman who gave her name as Indra, dropped out of school as teenagers. She took a job at Malaysia’s Sime Darby Plantations, one of the world’s biggest palm oil companies. Years later, she says her boss started harassing her, saying things like “Come sleep with me. I will give you a baby.”
Now 26, Indra dreams of leaving, but it’s hard to build another life with no education and no other skills. Women in her family have worked on the same Malaysian plantation since her great-grandmother left India as a child in the early 1900s.
“I feel it’s already normal,” Indra said. “From birth until now, I am still on a plantation.”
Women have worked on the estates since European colonizers brought the first trees from West Africa more than a century ago. As the decades passed, palm oil became an essential ingredient for the food industry, as a substitute for unhealthy trans fats. And cosmetic companies were captivated by its miracle properties: It foams in toothpaste, moisturizes soaps and lathers in shampoo.
New workers are constantly needed to meet the relentless demand, which has quadrupled in the last 20 years alone. And on almost every plantation, men are the supervisors, opening the door for sexual harassment and abuse.
The 16-year-old girl who described being raped by her boss in 2017 said it happened when he took her to a remote part of the estate.
“He threatened to kill me,” she said softly. “He threatened to kill my whole family.”
Nine months later, she sat by a wrinkled 2-week-old boy. She made no effort to comfort him when he cried, struggling to even look at his face.
The family filed a report with police, but the complaint was dropped, citing lack of evidence.
The AP heard about similar cases on plantations big and small in both countries. Union representatives, health workers, government officials and lawyers said some of the worst examples they encountered involved gang rapes and children as young as 12 being taken into the fields and sexually assaulted by plantation foremen.
While Indonesia has laws in place to protect women from abuse and discrimination, Rafail Walangitan of the Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection said he was aware of many problems identified by the AP on palm oil plantations, including child labor and sexual harassment.
Malaysia’s Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development said it hadn’t received complaints about the treatment of women laborers so had no comment.
Many beauty and personal goods companies have largely remained silent when it comes to the plight of female workers female workers’ plight, but it’s not due to lack of knowledge.
The powerful global industry group Consumer Goods Forum published a 2018 report alerting 400 CEOs that women on plantations were exposed to dangerous chemicals and “subject to the worst conditions among all palm oil workers.”
Most cosmetic makers contacted by the AP defended their use of palm oil and its derivatives, with some attempting to show how little they use of the roughly 80 million tons produced annually worldwide. Others pointed to pledges on their websites about commitments to sustainability and human rights or to efforts to list their processing mills in the name of transparency.
This combination of November 2020 photos shows the hands of five generations of women from a family that has worked on the same palm oil plantation since the early 1900s, ranging in age from 6 to 102. They each hold products made by iconic Western companies that source palm oil from Indonesia and Malaysia.
The AP used U.S. Customs records, product ingredient lists and the most recent published data from producers, traders and buyers to link the laborers’ palm oil and its derivatives from the mills that process it to the supply chains of almost all big Western brands -- including some that source from plantations where women said they were raped.
Abuses were even linked to product lines sought out by conscientious consumers like Tom’s of Maine and Kiehl’s, through the supply chains of their giant parent companies Colgate-Palmolive and L’Oréal.
Coty Inc. which owns CoverGirl, did not respond to multiple AP calls and emails. And Estee Lauder Companies Inc., owner of Clinique, Lancome and Aveda, refused to disclose which products use palm oil or its derivatives, but have acknowledged struggling with traceability issues in filings with a global certification association that promotes sustainable palm oil. (need to spell this out or I fear the flak will jump on it and say he didn’t say this)
Both companies, along with Clorox, which owns Burt’s Bees Inc., keep the name of their mills and suppliers secret. Clorox said it would raise the allegations of abuses with its suppliers, calling AP’s findings “incredibly disturbing.”
Some of the women on plantations regularly haul tanks of toxic chemicals on their backs weighing more than 13 kilograms (30 pounds), dispensing 80 gallons each day.
A number who use agrochemicals daily had milky or red eyes and complained of dizzy spells, trouble breathing and blurry vision. Activists reported that some totally lost their sight.
Ita, who has worked on the plantation alongside her mother since the age of 15, was among those who said her work affected her ability to deliver healthy children. She lost two babies, both in the third trimester.
“The second time, I gave birth at seven months and it was in critical condition, and they put it in an incubator. It died after 30 hours,” Ita said.
“I kept working,” she said. “I never stopped after the baby died.”