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24 Sep

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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Activists in Centre Wellington plan to block Ontario pump tests after bottled-water makers overtook community’s attempt to secure long-term water source

ontario spring water

Nestlé Canada currently has permits that allow it to extract up to 4.7m litres of water a day from sources in Ontario. Photograph: Don Ryan/AP

A small town in Ontario, Canada, has prompted fresh scrutiny of the bottled-water industry after its attempt secure a long-term water supply through the purchase of a well was outbid by the food and drinks multinational Nestlé.

When authorities in Centre Wellington, population of about 30,000, learned that Nestlé had put a bid on a spring water well in their region, they scrambled over the summer to counter with a competing bid. The goal was to safeguard a water supply for the township’s fast-growing population, Kelly Linton, the mayor, told the Guardian. “By 2041, we’ll be closer to 50,000 so protecting our water sources is critical to us.”

Using a numbered company, the municipality submitted what Linton described as an “aggressive bid” for the five-hectare site. “We put in more money than they did and we removed all conditions.” He declined to specify the exact amount of the bid.

An agreement forged with Nestlé after its initial bid, made 18 months earlier, gave the company the right to respond. “They had the opportunity to match our offer and that’s how we lost on that on that one,” said Linton.

The news was met with disappointment in the community. “As you can appreciate we aren’t going to be outbidding Nestlé,” he said. “As a small town we’re using taxpayer dollars, so we have to be good stewards of that.”

Nestlé Canada currently has permits that allow it to extract up to 4.7m litres of water a day from sources in Ontario. On its website, the company noted that its latest acquisition – the well also sought by Centre Wellington – would be a source to supplement other operations in the region, as well as support future business growth.

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Number of drownings in the Mediterranean in 2016 now expected to easily surpass last year’s record figure of 3,771

Relatives of people missing after the shipwreck await news on the quayside in Rosetta, Egypt

Relatives of people missing after the shipwreck await news on the quayside in Rosetta, Egypt. Photograph: Tarek Alfaramawy/EPA

A record number of migrants is expected to drown in the Mediterranean in 2016, after the estimated death toll in this week’s latest shipwreck rose to about 300 on Friday.

Egyptian officials have rescued about 160 survivors from Wednesday’s shipwreck off the country’s north coast, leaving about 150 people still unaccounted for, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Those confirmed dead include 10 women and a baby, taking the estimated number of migrants to die in the Mediterranean so far this year to more than 3,500. At the current rate, the death toll for 2016 is expected to easily surpass the figure for 2015 of 3,771, which was the highest ever recorded. By this stage in 2015, 2,887 people had drowned.

The number of people trying to reach Europe has fallen significantly since last year’s record levels, as a result of the deal struck between the EU and Turkey and the closure of a humanitarian corridor between Greece and Germany. The flow of migrants from the three main departure points – Libya, Turkey and Egypt – stands at roughly the same level as 2014.

Libya remains the most popular departure point in north Africa, particularly for people fleeing war, poverty and oppression in Nigeria, Eritrea, Gambia and Sudan. Several thousand migrants also leave from Egypt every year. Flavio di Giacomo, spokesman for IOM, said: “The Egyptian route is used mainly by migrants coming from eastern African countries – Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan – and some coming from the Middle East.” Unusually, the majority of Wednesday’s survivors were from Egypt.

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Lake Urmia’s grim destiny reflects a wider trend of enviromental problems in Iran, including an over-reliance on dams, extreme weather patterns, climatic changes, poor irrigation practices and unregulated use of water

A man swims in Lake Urmia, northwestern Iran.

A man swims in Lake Urmia, northwestern Iran. Photograph: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

Long tucked away behind the mountains of northwest Iran, Lake Urmia is becoming a national symbol of environmental degradation that is eliciting public sensitivity and awareness. Launched at the end of August, the ‘I am Lake Urmia’ campaign is a grassroots effort to collect a million signatures to push the United Nations to discuss ways to revive this salt lake, which has lost 90% of its surface area since the 1970s.

The “I am Lake Urmia” hashtag is slowly trending across social media platforms. Actor Reza Kianian was one of the first to take up the call, using Instagram to ask fellow Iranians to take responsibility for the lake. In his post Kianian stressed, “If we save our lake, we will save ourselves”, reminding Iranians of their social responsibility for creating a more sustainable future. Kianian’s plea has echoed across popular apps like Instagram and on the newly formed “I am Lake Urmia” Telegram channel.

This is not the first effort to bring national and international attention to Lake Urmia. Iranian politicians including President Hassan Rouhani, Iranian parliamentary deputies, and even Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio have made Lake Urmia part of their public advocacy. DiCaprio’s Instagram post on the lake in May resulted in 328,000 likes and made him an overnight superhero among Iranians, illustrating the way social media can help collaboration on topics that defy borders.

Travel to the basin of Lake Urmia and you will find an area facing a high risk of salt storms. The shrinking of the lake has diminished a fragile ecosystem, with the gradual disappearance of native wildlife including the brine shrimp Artemia and migratory birds like flamingos and pelicans.

Such degradation threatens dire economic consequences. A once flourishing tourism industry, where visitors bathed in salty water rather like the Dead Sea, is curtailed. Many people living near the lake fear they may be forced to leave due to eye problems, respiratory diseases and other health problems caused by dust and salt particles blowing in the air.

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Studies show solitary confinement can increase the risk of suicide, leaving mental health professionals shocked at the US military’s decision

WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning is being punished with solitary confinement after a recent suicide attempt.

WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning is being punished with solitary confinement after a recent suicide attempt. Photograph: AP

The US military’s decision to punish Chelsea Manning with solitary confinement as a reprimand for a recent suicide attempt has provoked shock and outrage among clinical experts and mental health practitioners who warn that it risks further aggravating the soldier’s vulnerable state of mind.

A disciplinary panel at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, where Manning is serving a 35-year sentence for leaking US state secrets, ordered that the army private serve 14 days in an isolation cell after she tried to take her own life in July.

She was disciplined on Thursday under a charge known as “conduct which threatens”, which alleged that by making an attempt on her own life Manning had interfered with the “orderly running, safety, good order and discipline, or security” of the facility.

But psychologists and other clinical professionals specializing in mental health and suicide prevention were astounded by the punishment, which they said flew in the face of current thinking. Numerous studies over many years have shown that even short spells in a solitary confinement cell can dramatically increase the risk of suicide in both civilian and military prisoners.

A 2004 study in Californian prisons found that 73% of suicides in incarceration happened in isolation cells, where less than 10% of the prison population of the state was being held. Separate research in New York City concluded that prisoners in solitary were seven times more likely to harm themselves than those in the general prison population.

She was disciplined on Thursday under a charge known as “conduct which threatens”, which alleged that by making an attempt on her own life Manning had interfered with the “orderly running, safety, good order and discipline, or security” of the facility.

But psychologists and other clinical professionals specializing in mental health and suicide prevention were astounded by the punishment, which they said flew in the face of current thinking. Numerous studies over many years have shown that even short spells in a solitary confinement cell can dramatically increase the risk of suicide in both civilian and military prisoners.

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The bill, which would have allowed families to sue, sailed through both chambers of Congress and lawmakers are expected to override president’s move

Barack Obama

Obama, in a statement accompanying his veto message, said he had ‘deep sympathy’ for the 9/11 families, but the bill would be ‘detrimental to USnational interests’. Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP

Setting up a potential override by Congress, Barack Obama vetoed a bill Friday that would have allowed the families of 9/11 victims to sue the government of Saudi Arabia.

Obama cited the potential for the popular bipartisan bill to backfire against the US, its diplomats and military personnel.

The bill sailed through both chambers of Congress by voice vote, with final House passage coming just two days before Obama led the country in marking the 15th anniversary of the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on 11 September 2001.

Congress was expected to move rapidly to try to override the veto, which requires a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate. A successful override would be the first of Obama’s presidency. With lawmakers eager to return home to campaign ahead of the November election, a vote could come as early as Tuesday.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s office said the Senate would take up the override “as soon as practicable in this work period”.

Obama, in a statement accompanying his veto message, said he had “deep sympathy” for the 9/11 families and their desire to see justice for their relatives. But he said the bill would be “detrimental to US national interests” and could lead to lawsuits against the US or American officials for actions taken by groups armed, trained or supported by the US.

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