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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Typhoon Deaths May Be Fewer Than Feared

President of the Phillipines, Benigno Aquino, says the death toll from Typhoon Haiyan may be lower than initially thought – around 2,500 instead of 10,000. 29 municipalities, however, have yet to be contacted to establish the number of victims. Nevertheless, the situation on the islands is becoming increasingly desperate for survivors as food and water supplies are running low and dead bodies still lying in the streets. In Talcoban, one of the hardest-hit areas, the smell of decaying corpses is everywhere as officials struggle to collect and identify bodies before burying them in a mass grave. Despite international mobilization, many survivors feel that they have been forgotten about and abandoned.

Threat of Polio Outbreaks Growing

The recent polio outbreak in Syria – and the discovery of the virus in Israel – may cause the virus to spread to Europe. The influx of more than 2 million Syrian refugees, most of whom live outside official – and quarantine-able – camps, means the Middle East could be facing a spike in diseases like polio that had been on the path to extinction. The World Health Organization believes it is crucial to vaccinate up to 20 million children in the region as soon as possible.

The difficulty of that task is highlighted by the UN’s recent failure to vaccinate 165,000 children against polio in Sudan. Sudan has been polio-free for two years, but with the government and rebel groups blocking health workers access, another outbreak could be on the horizon.

Venezuela to Expand Price Controls

Two days after the government of Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro ‘occupied’ a chain of electronics stores to force them to lower their prices, Maduro announced that he plans to extend price controls to all consumer goods and impose limits on profits if he is given powers to govern by decree. The National Assembly will vote on whether to give him these special powers this week.

Inflation in Venezuela is running at over 50%, making price hikes an important issue in the next month’s election. This move is likely meant to bolster government candidates and to regain some of the support Maduro has lost since his election in April.

Police, Protesters Clash Outside Bulgarian Parliament

Thousands of Bulgarian protesters tried to blockade the parliament today, calling for an “end to the oligarchy” and demanding that the nation’s government resign. It is part of a five-month-old anti-government movement that accuses Bulgaria’s leaders of having corrupt ties with business groups. Police used force to try to break a human chain, several people were arrested and some were reportedly beaten and dragged away.

Unrest over poverty and corruption has continued, despite early elections in May after the previous government was resigned after anti-austerity and anti-corruption protests protests.

Women among the Biggest Losers in the Arab Spring

A new poll of women’s rights in the Arab world revealed three of the five Arab Spring countries – Egypt, Syria and Yemen – at the bottom. The poll took into account violence against women, reproductive rights, treatment of women within the family, their integration into society and attitudes towards a woman’s role in politics and the economy. Egypt ranks the lowest on the listing overall. High rates of violence against women, discriminatory laws, widespread female genital mutilation and a spike in trafficking all contributed to its ranking. 99.3% of women in Egypt have been subjected to sexual harassment, and 91% to genital cutting. Iraq ranks second-worst on the list, having seen women’s freedoms plummet since the fall of Saddam Hussein, followed by Saudi Arabia.

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