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Saturday
Oct142017

One hundred ISIS fighters surrender in Raqqa

Rick Findler/Getty Images(RAQQA, Syria) -- About 100 ISIS fighters have surrendered in Raqqa, Syria, in the last 24 hours and have been removed from the city, the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS told ABC News.

The mass surrender is viewed as a sign that the coalition's battle to retake Raqqa could be nearing its end, with 85 percent of the city now under the coalition's control.

"This is consistent with the trend we have seen in the past month, both in Syria and Iraq. A good number of ISIS fighters are giving up," said Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the anti-ISIS coalition.

In addition, over the last week, about 1,500 civilians in the area have safely made it to locations controlled by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, Dillon said.

An estimated 300 to 400 fighters remain in Raqqa.

"We still expect difficult fighting in the days ahead and will not set a time for when we think ISIS will be completely defeated in Raqqa," Dillon added.

Separately, the Raqqa Civil Council and local Arab tribal elders have brokered a deal in which they are allowing a convoy of vehicles to leave Raqqa Saturday.

In a press release Saturday morning, the coalition, which was not involved in the discussions that led to this deal, said people who are being allowed to leave Raqqa are subject to search and screening by Syrian Democratic Forces.

The coalition also states in the release that the arrangement is "designed to minimize civilian casualties and purportedly excludes" foreign fighters.

However, the coalition's director of operations, Brig. Gen. Jonathan Braga, said the coalition is concerned about ISIS fighters fleeing the area.

"We do not condone any arrangement that allows Daesh terrorists to escape Raqqah without facing justice, only to resurface somewhere else," he said in the press release.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Oct142017

Global fund championed by Ivanka Trump to help women entrepreneurs begins operations

Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A global fund that aims to empower women entrepreneurs in developing countries -- and which was spearheaded in part by first daughter Ivanka Trump -- is now open for business.

The Women Entrepreneur Finance Initiative (WeFi), announced at the G-20 Summit in July and operable as of this week, will leverage more than a billion dollars in financing for women’s small- and medium-size enterprises in the developing world, where women are often cut out from accessing loans through traditional banks or struggle to gain access to adequate financial resources.

Anta Babacar -- a pioneering woman entrepreneur in Senegal, who manages the largest agricultural business in West Africa -- called the fund “the biggest opportunity one could dream of.”

Babacar said women often struggle to get loans from banks for business projects because the very fact that they are a woman makes them “more risky.”

Coming up in her own family business -- starting from the bottom and working her way up -- Babacar said she was unable to find a woman role model.

“The whole time I was wondering: Is there a woman in Senegal, in the agricultural sector, who has actually made it, who I can look up to? And I was sad to look around and see nobody,” she said.

The World Bank estimates that the unique challenges facing women have led to $300 billion credit deficit for women-owned, small- and medium-sized enterprises in the developing world.

Caren Grown, senior director for gender at the World Bank Group, said the new fund is the first of its kind and will take a “multi-pronged, eco-system approach” to tackle the collection of constraints facing women entrepreneurs, ranging from access to capital to training and support.

“I’ve been working on this topic for many years, and having a facility dedicated specifically to women with this level of finance -- we’ve never had something to this scale, something that really brings together the commercial private sector with governments,” Grown said.

Fourteen countries have collectively contributed $340 million to the fund -- $50 million of that is from the United States -- which will be used to enable at least an additional $800 million in international financial institutions and commercial financing.

Grown said one of the keys to getting the new fund off the ground has been the advocacy on the part of the first daughter, along with Chancellor Angela Merkel and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine LaGarde.

“The high-level advocacy has been really important,” Grown said. “We needed that push, and also the environment is right.”

The concept of the fund grew out of a conversation between the first daughter and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim early in the Trump administration, according to senior officials from the White House and World Bank, with the two identifying that there is not a comparable initiative. While the first daughter has no role in running the facility, she will continue to play an outside advocacy role going forward.

“The progress that the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative has made over the past few months is encouraging and exciting,” Ivanka Trump said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing my work with the World Bank Group via this facility to support women entrepreneurs around the globe and remove existing barriers to their growth and success.”

The fund will seek to create more independent entrepreneurs such as Babacar, whose unique success story was made possible in large part thanks to the foresight of her father. When given the choice to invest in Babacar’s education or one of her two older brothers, he chose to invest in his daughter.

“In Senegal, back then, most girls did not go to school. For my dad to make that choice was really not understandable at that time, but he followed his gut that there are no limits for girls,” Babacar said.

Her father’s investment paid off.

Now in her early 30s, Babacar manages her family’s business that her father started in the 1970s with $120 he received from Anta’s grandfather to buy 100 chicks. After multiple setbacks, the poultry-focused business has grown into an empire that also produces flour.

The idea to break into the flour market was Babacar’s idea. And she’s made another change too: Hiring more women to positions of power within the company.

Babacar said women often face discrimination in the hiring process because of their gender.

“For certain positions, they will not even look at the resume. They will just look at the picture -- man on one side, woman on the other -- and they will pick the man,” she said, adding that pregnancy is viewed as “a sickness.”

“If it was a man, we would not be missing four or five months. For that reason, they would have chosen to put a man in that position, which I think is really unfair,” she added.

Now in a position to hire herself, Babacar sees it as her responsibility to not only help other qualified women advance in her business, but also to serve as the role model she never had for other aspiring women entrepreneurs.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Saturday
Oct142017

Freed Canadian hostage says Haqqani extremists killed infant daughter, raped US wife

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) --  After being held hostage for five years by a Taliban-affiliated terrorist network in the mountains of Afghanistan, a Canadian man, his American wife and their three children born in captivity arrived in Toronto Friday night.

Joshua Boyle -- who arrived at Toronto's Pearson International Airport with his wife Caitlan Coleman and their children -- told reporters inside the Air Canada terminal that the Haqqani network killed a fourth child born in captivity -- an infant daughter -- and raped his wife.

"The stupidity and the evil of the Haqqani networks, kidnapping of a pilgrim and his heavily pregnant wife engaged in helping ordinary villagers in Taliban-controlled regions of Afghanistan was eclipsed only by the stupidity and evil of authorizing the murder of my infant daughter, Martyr Boyle," Boyle said, revealing the murder of his daughter.

He added, revealing the rape of his wife, "As retaliation of the repeated refusal to accept an offer that the criminal miscreants of the Haqqani had made to me. And the stupidity and evil of the subsequent rape of my wife, not as the lone action of one guard, but assisted by the captain of the guards and the commandant."

Speaking about the couple's children, Boyle said, "Obviously it would be of incredible importance to my family that we are able to build a secure sanctuary for our 3 surviving children to call a home, to focus on edification," Boyle told reporters. "And to try to regain of the childhood that they had lost."

The Government of Canada issued the following statement on the arrival of Joshua Boyle, his wife Caitlan Coleman and their children at Toronto's Pearson International Airport: "Today, we join the Boyle family in rejoicing over the long-awaited return to Canada of their loved ones. Canada has been actively engaged on Mr. Boyle’s case at all levels, and we will continue to support him and his family now that they have returned."

The couple and their children were rescued in a dramatic operation orchestrated by the U.S. and Pakistani governments, officials said Thursday.

The couple were abducted in October 2012 while in Afghanistan as part of a brief backpacking trip and held by the Haqqani network, which has ties to the Taliban and is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. Coleman was pregnant at the time.

The operation came after years of U.S. pressure on Pakistan for assistance. It unfolded quickly and included what some described as a shootout and a dangerous raid. U.S. officials did not confirm the details.

The family arrived in Toronto after flying from Islamabad, Pakistan, with a stopover in London. The family was seated in business class next to U.S. State Department officials.

Boyle expressed his displeasure with U.S. foreign policy by gesturing to one of the U.S. State Department officials and saying, "Their interests are not my interests."

Boyle said one of his children is suffering from health issues and needed to be force-fed by rescuers.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Oct132017

How many nuclear weapons does the US have?

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump has said that, while he would prefer that no country have nuclear weapons, he would like to see the U.S. have superiority in the number of weapons and that they be in "tip-top shape".

So, exactly how many nuclear weapons does the United States have? And what is the U.S. doing to modernize its arsenal?

As of September 2015, the United States has a total of 4,571 warheads in its nuclear weapons stockpile, according to a State Department official. The United States has retired thousands of nuclear warheads that are removed from their delivery platform that are not included in this total, the official said, noting those warheads are not functional and are in a queue for dismantlement.

The 2011 New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) nuclear weapons agreement limits to 1,550 the number of nuclear warheads that can be deployed on ICBMs, submarines or heavy bombers by the U.S. and Russia. Both countries have until February 2018 to meet the New START’s reduction target levels for deployed warheads.

The U.S. currently has 1,393 deployed nuclear weapons while Russia has 1,561. The larger Russian number is a temporary increase as Russia replaces older warheads with new ones.

The components of America's nuclear triad of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM's), strategic bombers, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles are decades old. While the Pentagon has undergone a modernization process to keep these systems intact over that time, the Pentagon has plans to replace each leg of the triad in the coming decades.

The Pentagon will soon release the results of a Nuclear Posture Review requested by President Trump soon after he was sworn in. That review will help guide the administration's future plans for the modernization of the nuclear force.

But the Pentagon's plans to update and modernize the nuclear triad will be a lengthy and costly enterprise. Defense Secretary Ash Carter told Congress earlier this year that it will cost $350 billion to $450 billion to update and modernize beginning in 2021. But there are some estimates that a 30-year modernization program could cost as much as $1 trillion.

And that process has gotten underway since the lifespan of the existing delivery systems ends in the next 15 to 20 years. Replacement systems are currently in the phase of research, development, testing and evaluation.

The U.S. Air Force maintains a fleet of 406 Minuteman III ICBM missiles located in underground silos across the plains states, each carrying multiple nuclear warheads. A key leg of the nuclear triad, the Minuteman III missiles went into service in the 1970's and have been upgraded ever since to keep them mission ready. No new ICBM missiles have gone into service since the MX missile was deployed in the 1980's, but those missiles were retired a decade ago.

Last summer, the Air Force began the process of soliciting designs for a new ICBM to replace the Minuteman III, with the first new missile scheduled to enter service by 2029.

The Air Force has already begun the process of replacing the 76 B-52 strategic bombers that have been flying since the 1960's with the new B-21 "Raider" that will begin flying in 2025. Upgrades to the B-52, designed in the 1950's, have allowed the aircraft to continue serving as a nuclear-capable aircraft and also allowed it to conduct airstrikes against ISIS.

The Navy has also begun the process to find a replacement for its 14 Ohio Class ballistic missile submarine fleet that first went into service in the 1980's. But the first Columbia Class submarine is not slated to enter service until 2031.

But it is important to point out that a replacement of these systems, while incredibly expensive, does not equate to an overall growth of the nuclear arsenal.

In other words, the U.S. is looking to become more efficient -- it’s not looking for more nuclear weapons. As one defense official put it, with the cost of the new systems, the Pentagon is simply not able to do a one-to-one replacement.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Oct132017

Two-star Army general relieved from duty for alleged inappropriate contacts

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Army has relieved from duty a two-star general who allegedly sent inappropriate Facebook messages to the wife of an enlisted soldier under his command at a base in Camp Vicenza, Italy.

"Maj. Gen. Joseph Harrington was today relieved of his duties as the Commander of United States Army Africa / Southern European Task Force due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command,” said Col. Pat Seiber, an Army spokesman, in a statement on Friday.

“The Army has been investigating allegations related to Maj. Gen. Harrington's communications with the spouse of an enlisted Soldier; however, since the review of the investigation is still ongoing, we can provide no further comment at this time."

An Army official said Harrington allegedly sent inappropriate Facebook messages to the soldier's wife.

U.S. Army Africa, based at Camp Vicenza, Italy, is responsible for U.S. Army troops that are deployed to Africa for training and bilateral exercises.

Harrington has been reassigned to the staff of the Director of the Army at the Pentagon until the investigation is finished, said the official.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Oct132017

Storytelling group Relato:Detroit celebrates diversity through bilingual performers 

Nicole Lucio(DETROIT, Mich.) -- Every day, about 350 languages are spoken in American homes, according to 2015 U.S. Census Bureau data, with one in five residents speaking at least one language other than English. In the various cultural corners of Detroit, Michigan, a small organization is working to celebrate and embrace that diversity.

Once a month, Relato:Detroit, a storytelling project, provides a small stage for immigrants and bilingual performers to tell their stories the way they would speak at home. At these events, languages blended with English like “Spanglish,” “Porglish,” and “Chinglish” are the norm, allowing speakers of Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese to share their stories. Each gathering offers a different theme and featured speaker, and audiences get to hear an unfiltered version of storytellers' tales.

For example, last month’s event focused on the theme of love and featured Rabbi Herschel Finman. He recounted his love for Sabbath in a mixture of Yiddish and English.

The project's founder, Jeni De La O, said she doesn't want storytellers to worry about translation, so she works with performers to make sure audience members can follow the story based on context.

A first-generation Cuban American from Miami, De La O is a bilingual performer herself. The frustration of having to translate and explain different cultural norms as she went along led her to envision a platform that allowed bilingual people to speak freely, which later inspired her to start her own storytelling project. Relato:Detroit's slogan is "leave your translator at the door."

"To cage that innate tendency [to speak in multiple languages] inhibits them to tell a story naturally," De La O told ABC News.

Adolfo Campoy, an immigrant from Spain, echoed this sentiment as he performed in Thursday's Hispanic Heritage Month event at Oakland University in Michigan, where he works as a Spanish professor.

"We often forget many people around the world are bilingual and trilingual; it’s their natural state of being," Campoy told ABC News.

At the event, Campoy told a three-part story on the way Spanish speakers pass on knowledge and wisdom through refranes or "sayings." From his bedtime routine with his children to his experiences of working as a pro-bono translator for seasonal farm workers, he told one tale after another to the audience.

Jiyong Pak, a Korean American who is also fluent Spanish, spoke of her adventures in Peru. She said she accidentally stumbled into a prostitution ring in the Peruvian jungle, Puerto Maldonado. Through that experience, she told ABC News, she learned the importance of not only language but also our connection to each other as human beings.

De La O said she had a similar realization when she first moved to Detroit. She remembered walking into a grocery store in Dearborn, Michigan and overhearing families switching between English and Arabic. “In that moment, it felt a bit isolating,” she said.

But the more she thought about it, she said she realized their linguistic and cultural differences shouldn’t be “something that isolate or divide us." Instead, she said, those differences allow people to find beauty in all that makes us unique and human.

Even though English is the de facto national language in the United States, the country has never been monolingual. There are at least 126 languages spoken in Detroit homes, according to 2015 Census data. The beauty of storytelling from such diverse perspectives "is that it allows people to enter a room filled with strangers and by the end of the night we would feel like family," De La O said.

In the face of rising reports of intolerance and anti-immigrant rhetoric, she hopes to expand Relato:Detroit to other cities around the nation and continue to share more stories that will bring different communities together.

Many repeat performers for Relato:Detroit said they are grateful for De La O’s budding platform. Ber-Handa Williams, who teaches Spanish, told ABC News the project "allows folks to bring their whole selves to the experience and folks like me to walk both worlds as a bridge."

Myrna Segura, a community organizer and actress from Mexico, told ABC News she felt “vulnerable and empowered at the same time” to be able to perform in both English and Spanish. She believed her storytelling helped create “a sound and intangible vision, a feeling of who we are.”

“We live in a time where any difference is polarizing,” De La O said. “We should instead create bridges and find unison in diversity.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Oct132017

As families of freed hostages Coleman and Boyle rejoice, tensions rise about their return

ABC News(TORONTO) -- As American Caitlan Coleman flies to Toronto Friday with her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle and their three children after five years in Taliban captivity, tensions between the couple’s families surrounding circumstances of their abduction and the decisions about their journey home have already begun to flare.

Coleman, 31, and Boyle, 34, were kidnapped by the Taliban while hiking in Afghanistan’s Ghazni Province in 2012. Coleman, who was pregnant at the time of their capture, gave birth to all three of her children while in captivity. The Pakistani military claims its troops rescued the family in a mission “based on actionable intelligence from US authorities,” but the details remain a mystery.

As thrilled as the two families are — hers in Stewartstown, Penn., and his in Ottawa, Canada — the couple's exodus has exposed anger built up over a five-years ordeal. In an exclusive interview with ABC News that aired Friday on Good Morning America, Caitlan’s father Jim said he remains angry at his daughter’s husband for taking her to Afghanistan in the first place.

“What I can say is taking your pregnant wife to a very dangerous place is to me and the kind of person I am, is unconscionable,” he said. “I can’t imagine doing that myself. But, I think that’s all I want to say about that.”

Jim, a retiree who has worked exhaustively for five years in a largely secret effort to secure his daughter's freedom — building a network of counterterrorism, political, media, military, tribal and diplomatic sources —is also struggling to understand why his son-in-law has apparently rejected assistance from the U.S. military.

Late Wednesday, a C-130 full of "tier one" U.S. Navy commandos from SEAL Team Six flew from Afghanistan to a Pakistani military base to secure and transport Coleman, Boyle and their family. What was expected to be a quick "transfer" from the Pakistani army to the U.S. military force hit a snag when Joshua Boyle balked at boarding the American military airplane and refused to allow medical personnel examine his children.

“I don’t know what five years in captivity would do to somebody but if it were me and I saw you a US aircraft and US soldiers, I’d be running for it, OK?” Jim said. “But, I don't -- like I said, I don't know what five years in captivity would do to a person.”

After a tense negotiation, Boyle and his family are on their way to Canada aboard a commercial flight.

Jim credited President Donald Trump for the unexpected release, who he had predicted last December would deliver their daughter from harm's way.

"Thank you, thank you, Mr. President, my friend," he said.

Trump had not called the Colemans personally as of Thursday night, however, a common practice by past presidents, though he did thank the Pakistani government for their efforts in a press conference on Thursday, hailing the news as a sign that the country was “starting to respect the United States again.”

Patrick Boyle, Joshua’s father, told ABC News that he had been briefed on the plan to pick up his son and was as surprised as everyone else when he didn’t board the plane. The FBI even put Patrick on the phone with Joshua to try to resolve the situation.

According to Patrick, his son rejected the invitation to fly the family out on the U.S. military plane because the U.S. military was headed for Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan and not Canada.

"He did not have an objection to who was transporting them," Patrick Boyle insisted, based on his discussions with his son. "He and Cait had decided they wanted to return back directly to Canada and not go to Bagram and Landstuhl."

The SEALs' original mission was an elaborately staged operation hatched weeks ago intended to rescue the family in a commando raid sometime this month from a site in Pakistan associated with the Haqqani network, part of the Afghan Taliban insurgency, counterterrorism officials have told ABC News. That was scratched when the hostages suddenly appeared in Pakistani military protective custody on Wednesday.

Neither the Boyle or Coleman families had known about the planned SEAL combat operation to rescue the family before ABC News disclosed the operation to each of them on Friday.

Boyle's rejection of the flight to Landstuhl, the American military medical center where Amy Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl began his recovery after his release from the same Haqqani captors, could be significant.

The Pentagon-run Joint Personnel Recovery Agency has developed an elaborate repatriation program for released prisoners of war and freed hostages to help them readjust to life outside of extreme and austere imprisonment -- but Boyle and Coleman have rejected entering the program, against the wishes of their parents, they each said.

"Their biggest problem is they won't have even made basic day to day decisions [in captivity],” said Patrick, Joshua’s father. “They will have forgotten how to, or that they even need to.”

Still, both families are rejoicing at their release and anxiously awaiting their return.

"Yesterday was the happiest day of my life. I still cannot believe it," Caitlan’s mother Lyn told ABC News. "I mean there's just no way to describe how happy that this has made me. To know that my daughter and her family are no longer hostages. Are no longer prisoners. And are going to be back and start a life again. I felt like prayers were answered. And I just wanted to hold them all in my arms as soon as possible."

She said a brief call with Caitlan this week was exhilarating.

“I spoke to her briefly. Early this morning. It was just about ten minutes, and to hear her voice and to have it sound exactly like I remembered."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Oct132017

High alert amid fear of war in Iraq for US-led coalition

iStock/Thinkstock(KIRKUK, Iraq) -- About 6,000 Kurdish Peshmerga reinforcements have been moved into defensive positions around the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, Iraq, amid fear of attack from Iraqi troops, officials from the semi-autonomous region of northern Iraq said.

Kurdistan Vice President Kosrat Rasul told Rudaw News the reinforcements were sent to Kirkuk late Thursday night in response to “threats” of attack from a combined force of Iraqi government soldiers and Iranian-backed militia, called Hashd al-Shaabi, reportedly massing on the Iraqi side of the border with Kurdistan.

Both the Iraqi army and the Kurdish Peshmerga are key allies of the U.S.-led coalition in its fight against ISIS in Iraq, and the threat of armed clashes poses a major challenge for Western governments. The threat of military conflict and open civil war between America’s two biggest allies in Iraq could lead to a potential political minefield for the United States.

Iraqi forces and their allies began moving toward Kirkuk Thursday night, aiming for military bases to the northwest and southwest of the city, Kurdish commander Gen. Pirot Abdulla told ABC News.

In response, Kurdish forces pulled back from outer defensive lines and entrenched behind a major irrigation channel, with Iraqi forces now only about 100 yards to the west, Abdulla said.

Kurdish officials said the move was in response to reports that Iraqi army and federal police forces, along with Hashd al-Shaabi troops, had moved to within a few miles of Peshmerga positions and were preparing a “major attack in southwest Kirkuk” against oil fields, military bases and the airport. The General Command of Peshmerga Forces released a statement saying the situation “has dangerous indications for war.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Thursday he would not use the army against Kurdish citizens, despite reports of military convoys heading toward Kirkuk early Friday morning.

Al-Abadi said he had no plans for military operations in Kirkuk and was focused on recapturing the last ISIS stronghold in Iraq, near the western border with Syria. Iraq’s military command rushed to issue a statement denying media reports that it had commenced operations for the city.

Peshmerga forces annexed Kirkuk and the surrounding area after halting ISIS fighters in their sweep across northern Iraq in 2014 as Iraqi military forces crumbled. Ever since, Kirkuk has become a point of contention between Baghdad and Kurdish officials in Erbil.

The dispute over ownership of Kirkuk escalated in the wake of Kurdistan’s independence referendum held last month. Even though results of the poll were not legally binding, voters living in Kurdish-controlled areas, including Kirkuk, voted overwhelmingly in favor of secession, prompting Kurdish officials to call for negotiated concessions from Baghdad.

Iraq's central government responded by imposing a ban on direct international flights to Kurdistan’s airports, placing severe restrictions on Kurdish-owned banks and threatening to end the region’s independent crude oil sales.

Baghdad remains bitterly opposed to Kurdish ambitions to incorporate Kirkuk province in its autonomous region in the north and has voiced determination to take it back. “Iraqi armed forces are advancing to retake their military positions that were taken over during the events of June 2014,” an Iraqi general told AFP news agency by telephone, asking not to be identified.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Oct122017

Famine threatening four countries casts shadow over global hunger progress

Maciej Moskwa/NurPhoto via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The number of hungry people around the world has fallen more than a quarter since 2000, but famine has cast a dark shadow over four countries in the past year where conflict and climate shocks are threatening to reverse this progress, according to results from an annual global hunger index.

The overall score of the 2017 Global Hunger Index released Thursday is 27 percent lower than the score 17 years ago, which indicates the world has made strides in reducing hunger and increasing food security.

But this progress has been uneven with levels of hunger still considered "serious" or "alarming" in 51 nations and "extremely alarming" in one country out of 119 countries for which data could be collected. Moreover, inequalities within countries are masked by national averages, while the nations with missing data may be the ones suffering most, the report warned.

“The results of this year’s Global Hunger Index show that we cannot waiver in our resolve to reach the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger by 2030,” said Shenggen Fan, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute, which calculates the Global Hunger Index scores each year.

“We have made great progress toward that goal but indications that this progress is threatened emphasizes the need to establish resilience in food systems. We must provide immediate aid to those areas facing the most severe crises, such as famines, and construct policies at the international and national levels to address the structural issues that create persistent food insecurity," Fan added.
 
Earlier this year, the United Nations declared that more than 20 million people are at risk of famine in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. These four famine-threatened countries, two of which were not included in the Global Hunger Index, show how far our planet is from ending global hunger as it faces one of the largest food crises in decades.

Nigeria

Since launching its brutal insurgency in 2009, Islamic militant group Boko Haram has devastated entire villages and communities in northeast Nigeria. But the scale of the food crisis only came to light as more areas in the region that were once under Boko Haram’s control become accessible to government and aid workers.

Last year, the United Nations children's fund estimated a quarter of a million children in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state are severely malnourished and many are facing death. This year, Oxfam estimates 340,000 people will face food insecurity and 12,000 children will suffer from acute malnutrition.

But the severity of the region's food shortages is obscured when you look at Nigeria's national score on the 2017 Global Hunger Index.

Nigeria ranked 84 out of the 119 countries assessed. Its hunger level, falling in the "serious" category, is more than 15 percent lower this year than it was 17 years ago. That does not fully reflect the vast inequality within the West African nation's borders. Child stunting ranges from 7.6 percent to 63.4 percent by region, according to the report.

Timing also played a factor in why Nigeria did not receive a higher hunger level, the report said. Global Hunger Index scores are based on the most up-to-date information available for four component indicators: undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting, and child mortality. For this year's scores, data was included from the most recent reference period, 2012 to 2016, and thus reflect hunger and malnutrition in this period.

The extent of the unfolding crisis in northeast Nigeria will be reflected in future Global Hunger Index indicators and scores, the report added.

Somalia

Child mortality was the only indicator for which data was available for Somalia. At 13.7 percent, it was the third-highest rate of under-five mortality among the 119 nations included in this year's report.

While there was insufficient data to calculate Somalia's score for the 2017 Global Hunger Index, the report noted that other available data and information make clear that the country's hunger levels are extreme, driven by conflict and climate shocks.

Clan warlords battling for power carved up the East African nation following the collapse of a military dictator’s regime in the early 1990s. After years of interim authority, an internationally backed federal government was installed in 2012. In February, Somalia elected its first president in decades.

But the federal government has failed to assert central authority over the entire nation which, combined with high youth unemployment, has created a niche for piracy and armed groups, such as the terrorist group al-Shabab.

Al-Shabab, whose name means “the youth,” emerged in 2006 from the now-defunct Islamic Courts Union, which once controlled Somalia's capital of Mogadishu. The Sunni extremist group launched its own insurgency on major cities in Somalia in 2009, seizing Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia until it was pushed out by domestic and international forces around 2012.

While the group lost control of most cities and towns, it continues to dominate in many rural areas of southern Somalia and is reportedly becoming increasingly present in the northern region. The conflict, coupled with a lack of access for aid workers, has made it difficult to deliver food assistance during times of drought.

The ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa region, exacerbated by the strongest El Nino on record, has triggered an increase in food insecurity and malnutrition. Although the weather phenomenon is considered to be over, the region is still reeling from its effects, and the situation is especially dire in Somalia.

More than 6 million people in Somalia -- over half the country’s population -- are in need of aid, including food, water and sanitation, as well as protection and shelter. Meanwhile, over 893,000 people -- mostly women and children -- have been forced to flee their homes from November 2016 to August due to a persistent drought, which the country has declared a national disaster, according to the United Nations.

These displaced families are typically herders from the north whose animals have all perished or farmers from the south whose lands are parched from the lack of rain. While on the move, they don’t know where their next meal will come from or whether they’ll have access to drinking water.

Humanitarian agencies on the ground report the situation has begun to look increasingly similar to Somalia’s 2011 famine, in which over 250,000 people died, according to a press release from the International Organization for Migration in March. Some rural communities were still struggling to recover when the next wave of drought struck.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network estimates more than a quarter of Somalia's population will face acute food insecurity at "crisis or "emergency" levels through December. If the situation in Somalia escalates into a full-blown famine, it would be the nation’s third famine in a quarter of a century, and the second in less than a decade, the World Health Organization has said.

“Conflict and climate related shocks are at the heart of this problem. We must build the resilience of communities on the ground, but we must also bolster public and political solidarity internationally. The world needs to act as one community with the shared goal of ensuring not a single child goes to bed hungry each night and no one is left behind.” said Dominic MacSorley, head of Concern Worldwide, which helped calculate the 2017 Global Hunger Index scores.

South Sudan

South Sudan also lacked sufficient data for calculating this year's Global Hunger Index score. But in February, the United Nations declared famine in parts of the country — the first to be announced anywhere in the world since 2011. The formal declaration meant South Sudanese were already dying of hunger, the report noted.

By July, more than 6 million people were believed to be severely food insecure.

The acute food crisis is fueled by conflict and insecurity, the report said.

Not long after gaining independence and emerging from civil war, South Sudan spiraled back into conflict in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir sacked his then-deputy Riek Machar and accused him of plotting a coup. The personal rivalry fueled fighting between forces loyal to the president and rebels allied with Machar. It also deepened a rift between two of South Sudan’s largest ethnic groups -- Kiir’s dominant Dinka and Machar’s Nuer people.

Facing sanctions and mounting pressure from the international community, the sparring sides signed a power-sharing agreement in August 2015 with the promise to end nearly two years of ruinous war. However, the peace deal collapsed less than three months later and the struggle for power between the opposing groups rages on today.

South Sudan was among just three countries in this year's Global Hunger Index that showed a child wasting rate above 20 percent from 2012 to 2016.

Yemen

Yemen was the sole country on the 2017 Global Hunger Index suffering from "alarming" or "extremely alarming" levels of hunger that's not located in Africa. Situated at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen ranked 114th out of the 119 countries assessed, and its hunger level, falling in the "alarming" category, has dropped 7 percent in the past 17 years.

Yet, as the report noted, 17 million people in Yemen — about 60 percent of the population — are facing crisis levels of acute food insecurity amid the ongoing conflict between the Sunni Muslim-led government and the Houthis, a rebel group backed by Iran and championing Yemen's Zaidi Shiite Muslim minority.

Like Nigeria, the report said Yemen did not fall into the "extremely alarming" category for two reasons: inequality and timing. The latter is particularly true for Yemen, as the already dire humanitarian crisis has deepened.

Yemen plunged into civil war when the Houthis seized the capital Sanna in September 2014, forcing Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee and leading a Saudi Arabia-led coalition to launch a military campaign on his behalf.

Riven by years of war, Yemen's instability has created fertile ground for militant groups, such as al Qaeda and ISIS, who have launched attacks on both sides of the crisis.

The fighting has devastated Yemen's agricultural sectors and livelihoods, the United Nations said, making the "man-made catastrophe" the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. With 16 million people there lacking access to clean water or sanitation, diseases and epidemics have reached unprecedented levels.
 
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Thursday
Oct122017

Prince Harry accepts posthumous award on behalf of Princess Diana's HIV and AIDS activism work

ABC News (LONDON) -- Prince Harry accepted a posthumous award for his mother's groundbreaking work raising HIV and AIDS awareness by Attitude magazine this evening.

"William and I are incredibly proud of what our mother achieved. And we thank you for awarding her the Legacy Award," he said of the late Princess Diana.

Collecting the award on his and his brother Prince William's behalf, Prince Harry recalled his mother's work ending the stigma around AIDS. Diana famously changed the public perception of AIDS when she shook hands and kissed the cheek of an AIDS patient, showing that the virus could not be transferred from casual contact

"She knew exactly what she was doing," Prince Harry told the audience as he accepted the award. "She was using her position as Princess of Wales, the most famous woman in the world, to challenge everyone to educate themselves, to find their compassion, and to reach out to those who need help instead of pushing them away."

Throughout her short life, Diana campaigned for increased resources and a change in the way people treated victims of the disease

Prince Harry, 33, and Prince William, 35, have vowed to carry on their mother's work and legacy. Prince Harry made a heartfelt tribute to his mother in setting up the charity "Sentebale," which means "forget me not," to help the vulnerable children in southern Africa struggling with HIV and AIDS. He has campaigned tirelessly following in his mother's footsteps for a greater understanding and funding for the disease.

Last year, Prince William appeared on the cover of Attitude magazine, who held the awards tonight, speaking out against homophobia, bullying and prejudice.
The brothers have spent the last six months commemorating their mother's memory and work leading up to the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana's tragic death in a car crash in Paris Aug. 31, 1997.

"I often wonder about what she would be doing to continue the fight against HIV and AIDS if she were still with us today," Prince Harry said at the awards ceremony tonight.

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