Heat Wave Causes Massive Melt of Greenland Ice Sheet 

Greenland’s ice sheet has experienced a “massive melting event” during a heat wave that has seen temperatures more than 10 degrees above seasonal norms, according to Danish researchers.Since Wednesday, the ice sheet covering the vast Arctic territory has melted by about 8 billion tons a day, twice its normal average rate during summer, reported the Polar Portal website, which is run by Danish researchers.The Danish Meteorological Institute reported temperatures of more than 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit), more than twice the normal average summer temperature, in northern Greenland.And Nerlerit Inaat airport in the northeast of the territory recorded 23.4 degrees C (74.1 F) on Thursday — the highest recorded there since records began.With the heat wave affecting most of Greenland that day, the Polar Portal website reported a “massive melting event” involving enough water “to cover Florida with two inches of water” (five centimeters).The largest melt of the Greenland ice sheet still dates to the summer of 2019.The area where the melting took place this time, though, is larger than two years ago, the website added.The Greenland ice sheet is the second-largest mass of freshwater ice on the planet with nearly 1.8 million square kilometers (695,000 square miles), second only to Antarctica.The melting of the ice sheets started in 1990 and has accelerated since 2000. The mass loss in recent years is approximately four times greater than it was before 2000, according to the researchers at Polar Portal.One European study published in January said ocean levels would rise between 10 and 18 centimeters by 2100 — or 60 percent faster than previously estimated — at the rate at which the Greenland ice sheet was now melting.The Greenland ice sheet, if completely melted, would raise the ocean levels by six to seven meters.But with a relatively cool start to the Greenland summer, with snowfalls and rains, the retreat of the ice sheet so far for 2021 remains within the historical norm, according to Polar Portal. The melting period extends from June to early September.

Era of VHS Might Be Over, but Many Are Not Ready to Let Go

The last VHS player was produced five years ago by Funai Electric in Japan. But for many, the era of VHS tapes never ended. Karina Bafradzhian and Angelina Bagdasaryan have the story.Camera: David Gogokhia, Vazgen Varzhabitian.

Olympics: French Men’s Basketball Team Coasts to Quarterfinals With Win Over Iran

France secured a comfortable win over Iran in Olympic men’s basketball on Saturday to qualify for the quarterfinals and remain undefeated in the preliminary round.Real Madrid’s Thomas Heurtel led with 16 points in France’s 79-62 victory at the Saitama Super Arena, north of Tokyo. They swept their opponents in Group A, including a shock defeat of Team USA on Sunday, the first Olympic loss for the Americans since 2004.”The focus really was more about us and trying things out,” Evan Fournier, who plays for the NBA’s Boston Celtics, said about France’s decisive win. Despite his team’s dominant showing so far, he wouldn’t speculate on medal odds.”Quarter-final first. Focus on that,” he said. “Too many times we’ve beaten very, very good teams and we lost in the semi-final, so no more of that.”The men’s quarterfinals are Tuesday.Iran finished 0-3 in the group stage. Arsalan Kazemi lamented that the travel restrictions imposed on Iran affected their performance.”We cannot really get out of Iran for any good friendly game,” he said at a press conference. “For Olympic preparation, we could have gone to a lot of different countries like other teams and played like 10, 11, 12 good games, and would have come here and would have competed differently.”The United States bounced back with a win over Iran earlier this week and will face the Czech Republic later on Saturday.Team USA has historically been the team to beat at basketball, with a 139-6 record and 15 gold medals since 1936. But as the sport has grown in popularity around the globe, many national teams can field teams with NBA experience, and the U.S.’s talent advantage has shrunk.Before losing to France at these Games, the United States dropped two straight exhibition games this month, including a defeat to world 22nd-ranked Nigeria. 

Millions in 23 Hunger Hot Spots Face Famine, Death, UN Agencies Say

The United Nations warns global hunger is increasing and urgent action is needed to stave off famine and death over coming months in nearly two dozen unstable, violence-prone countries.A report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program said more than a half-million people are experiencing catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity and 41 million are at risk of famine.The report from the WFP and FAO focuses on the particularly serious situation in 23 so-called hunger hot spots.  Most of those countries are in sub-Saharan Africa, with others in Central America, Asia and the Middle East.Patrick Jacqueson, FAO officer in charge of the Geneva office, said acute hunger is set to increase in those countries over the next four months without urgent, scaled-up humanitarian assistance.“Conflict continues to be the primary driver for the largest share of people facing acute food insecurity,” Jacqueson said. “Closely associated with conflict are humanitarian access constraints, which remain significant, compounding food insecurity. Weather extremes and climate variability are likely to affect several parts of the world during the outlook period.”The report said dry conditions are likely to affect Haiti, Nigeria’s Middle Belt and the “Dry Corridor” in Guatemala, while above-average rainfall and flooding are forecast in South Sudan, central and eastern Sahel, and Gulf of Guinea countries.400,000 face starvation in TigrayThe report highlighted the perilous situation in Ethiopia and Madagascar, the world’s newest highest-alert hunger hot spots.Annalisa Conte, WFP Geneva Office director, said the aggravation of conflict in recent months is having a catastrophic impact on the food security of the Tigrayan population in Ethiopia.  She warned that more than 400,000 people would face starvation if they did not receive sufficient humanitarian aid.“If we move to Madagascar, Madagascar is experiencing the worst drought in 40 years,” Conte said. “On top of that, economic decline largely caused by COVID. As a result, 1.3 million people are currently facing the acute food insecurity.”The FAO and WFP said fighting, blockades that cut off lifesaving aid to families on the verge of famine, and a lack of funding were hampering efforts to provide emergency food aid to millions of desperate people.The agencies said families who rely on humanitarian aid to survive were hanging by a thread. They noted that most of those on the verge of famine in the 23 hot spots were farmers and must receive help to resume food production.  That, they said, will allow them to feed themselves and become self-sufficient.

US Complies With Russia Ban, Lays Off Local Embassy Staff

The United States said Friday it has laid off nearly 200 local staffers working for its diplomatic missions in Russia ahead of an August 1 deadline set by the Kremlin for their dismissal. The move is the latest in a series of measures taken by both sides that have strained U.S.-Russia relations. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the layoffs are regrettable and something the U.S. had hoped to avert, despite a sharp deterioration in ties between Moscow and Washington, which show few signs of improvement.  FILE – Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department in Washington, July 12, 2021.”These unfortunate measures will severely impact the U.S. mission to Russia’s operations, potentially including the safety of our personnel as well as our ability to engage in diplomacy with the Russian government,” Blinken said in a statement. “Although we regret the actions of the Russian government forcing a reduction in our services and operations, the United States will follow through on our commitments while continuing to pursue a predictable and stable relationship with Russia,” he said.  The Russian Foreign Ministry was silent on the matter, and the Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a query. Russia earlier this year announced a ban on almost all non-American staff at the embassy in Moscow and consulates in Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok. That came in response to U.S. expulsions of Russian diplomats and tit-for-tat closures of numerous diplomatic facilities in each country. Those expulsions and closures came in the context of U.S. sanctions imposed over Russian interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain, and the arrest of opposition figure Alexey Navalny and crackdown on his supporters, as well as involvement in the SolarWind hack of U.S. federal agencies. All are activities that Russia has denied. After the announcement of the ban, the embassy suspended routine consular services and since May has been processing immigrant visas only in the case of life-or-death emergencies.  The suspension of consular services has also left Russian businessmen, exchange students and romantic partners adrift because they are no longer able to obtain U.S. visas in Russia.  Still, the U.S. had been cautiously optimistic that the Russian decision might be reversed at last month’s meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin in Geneva. But those hopes evaporated even after the two sides resumed strategic arms control talks this week. FILE – U.S. President Joe Biden and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin meet at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021.Thus, Friday’s announcement sealed the employment fate of 182 locally employed staffers who worked as office and clerical staff, drivers and contractors at the U.S. facilities. Only security guards who work outside the gates of the compounds were exempted from the ban.  “The United States is immensely grateful for the tireless dedication and commitment of our locally employed staff and contractors at U.S. Mission Russia,” Blinken said. “We thank them for their contributions to the overall operations and their work to improve relations between our two countries. Their dedication, expertise and friendship have been a mainstay of Mission Russia for decades.”We value our deep connection to the Russian people,” Blinken added. “Our people-to-people relationships are the bedrock of our bilateral relations.” 

Amazon Hit With Record EU Data Privacy Fine

Amazon.com Inc has been hit with a record $886.6 million (746 million euros) European Union fine for processing personal data in violation of the bloc’s GDPR rules, as privacy regulators take a more aggressive position on enforcement.The Luxembourg National Commission for Data Protection (CNPD) imposed the fine on Amazon in a July 16 decision, the company disclosed in a regulatory filing on Friday.Amazon will appeal the fine, according to a company spokesperson. The e-commerce giant said in the filing it believed CNPD’s decision was without merit.CNPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, requires companies to seek people’s consent before using their personal data or face steep fines.Globally, regulatory scrutiny of tech giants has been increasing following a string of scandals over privacy and misinformation, as well as complaints from some businesses that they abuse their market power.Alphabet’s Google, Facebook Inc, Apple Inc and Microsoft Corp have drawn heightened scrutiny in Europe.In December, France’s data privacy watchdog handed out its biggest ever fine of 100 million euros ($118.82 million) to Google for breaching the nation’s rules on online advertising trackers.

Firefighters Continue to Battle Deadly Wildfires in Southern Turkey

Firefighters continued to battle raging wildfires in southern Turkey Friday that have killed at least four people and forced the evacuation of villages and hotels.More than 70 wildfires broke out this week in Turkey’s Mediterranean and southern Aegean region and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters that crews were still trying to contain them in 14 locations after bringing 57 other wildfires under control since Wednesday. Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said the uncontained wildfires were in six provinces and vowed to hold accountable anyone found to be responsible for starting them. Authorities said Thursday that investigations into the fires had begun.The mayor of the Turkish resort town of Marmaris said he could not dismiss the possibility of “sabotage” as the cause of a mountainside fire that threatened holiday homes and hotels on Thursday.Erdogan said a plane from Azerbaijan would join planes from Russia and Ukraine to battle the fires, adding “with the arrival of the planes, we are turning in a positive direction.”In addition to at least five planes, the Turkish president said 45 helicopters, drones and nearly 1,100 firefighting vehicles are involved in the effort.Wildfires are common in Turkey’s Mediterranean and Aegean regions during the dry summer season, but arson or Kurdish militants have been blamed for some previous forest fires.

World Leaders Pledge $4 Billion to Public Education Affected by Pandemic

Thursday marks the second and final day of the Global Education Summit in London, hosted by Kenya and the United Kingdom. International governments and corporations pledged to donate $4 billion for the Global Partnership for Education, which provides fair access to public education in 90 countries and territories that account for 80% of children out of school. The summit emphasized the importance of equitable access to education amid warnings that COVID-19 has exacerbated already under-resourced public education programs in less economically developed countries. Experts alerted the organization that it was unlikely for those forced out of schools due to the pandemic to return. Australia’s former prime minister Julia Gillard gestures as she speaks during the closing ceremony on the second day of the Global Education Summit in London, Britain, July 29, 2021.Julia Gillard, former Australian prime minister and chair of the partnership, noted that the pandemic affected access to education in all nations but poorer countries where families may lack internet connection or electricity were devastated. Gillard said that this pledge puts the partnership on track for completing the goal of raising $5 billion over five years. Ambassador Raychelle Omamo, Kenyan Cabinet secretary for foreign affairs, warned of the pandemic’s devastating impact on global education, saying “education is the pathway, the way forward.” Malala Yousafzai, a Nobel Peace Prize winner from Pakistan and activist for female education, spoke to the summit leaders and stressed the significance of accessible education for young girls who are often discriminated against. She warned that 130 million girls were unable to attend school because of the pandemic and said that “their futures are worth fighting for.” Addressing the conference with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his government’s commitment to girls’ education and its goal of enrolling 40 million more girls in school by 2026. Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson applaud during the closing ceremony on the second day of the Global Education Summit in London, Britain, July 29, 2021.”Enabling them to learn and reach their full potential is the single greatest thing we can do to recover from this crisis,” Johnson said. Johnson faced criticism for advocating for girls’ education while simultaneously cutting the U.K.’s overseas aid budget. The prime minister pledged $602 million to the Global Partnership for Education, while slashing $5.6 billion from the U.K.’s international development allowance. British officials said that the budget cut is temporary and was a necessary action due to the economic strain from pandemic recovery. The Global Partnership for Education also received criticism for continuing funding to partner countries that openly discriminate against students. Investigations by Human Rights Watch uncovered open exclusion of pregnant students in Tanzania and Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh.  Some information for this report came from the Associated Press. 
 

France Calls British Travel Rules ‘Discriminatory,’ Not Science-Based

France’s European Affairs Minister on Thursday called Britain’s decision to lift quarantine requirements for all fully vaccinated travelers arriving from Europe except France “discriminatory and incomprehensible” and said he hopes it is reviewed as soon as possible. Clement Beaune made the comments during an interview on French television a day after Britain announced it was dropping the quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated visitors from the European Union and the United States but that it would review rules for travelers from France only at the end of next week. FILE – French minister for European affairs Clement Beaune arrives at a General Affairs meeting in Luxembourg, June 22, 2021.The British government has said it is keeping quarantine rules for travelers from France because of the presence of the beta variant there. But Beaune told French broadcaster LCI the beta strain accounted for fewer than 5% of COVID-19 cases in France, and mostly occurred in overseas territories from where relatively few people traveled to Britain.  “We are saying to the British that, on the scientific and health levels, there are no explanations for this decision,” he said. In a Wednesday interview, British Transportation Minister Grant Shapps said the government will not be able to review the decision until the end of next week because they need to see the data. Beaune said he will continue pressuring Britain to review the requirement, but said, for now, he is not planning to impose similar measures on British travelers to France.  Some information in this report came from Associated Press, Reuters and AFP. 
 

Israel’s NSO Under Fire for Spyware Targeting Journalists, Dissidents

There is growing international criticism of Israel following allegations that software from the private security company NSO was used to spy on journalists, dissidents, and even political leaders around the world. A group of American lawmakers is urging the U.S. government to take punitive action against the company, which denies any wrongdoing. In Israel, some experts are calling for better regulation of cyber exports. Linda Gradstein reports for VOA from Jerusalem.