Science

The world’s largest refugee settlement you’ve never heard of

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The number of South Sudanese refugees sheltering in Uganda has reached 1 million, the United Nations said Thursday, a grim milestone for what has become the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis.

The largest of the settlements hosting refugees from South Sudan is Bidi Bidi.

It is roughly 230 square kilometres (88.8 sq. miles) and houses at least 272,000 refugees – making it the largest settlement of its kind in the world.

Drone footage has been released by Oxfam to highlight the scale of Uganda’s refugee crisis. 

Oxfam and its local partners are currently supporting over 280,000 refugees in four districts with emergency food, clean water, sanitation services such as toilets, activities and information to help people stay healthy and work and training to help people earn a living. 

Ugandan officials say they are overwhelmed by the flow of people fleeing South Sudan’s civil war and the U.N. refugee agency urges the international community to donate more for humanitarian assistance.

An average of 1,800 South Sudanese citizens have been arriving daily in Uganda over the past 12 months, the UNHCR said in a statement. Another 1 million or more South Sudanese are sheltering in Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Congo and Central African Republic.

The number of people fleeing jumped after deadly fighting again erupted in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, in July 2016.

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The algae that terraformed Earth

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Oldest oilImage copyrightStuart Hay/ANU
Image caption The biomolecules were contained in oil extracted from deeply buried rock

A planetary takeover by ocean-dwelling algae 650 million years ago was the kick that transformed life on Earth.

That’s what geochemists argue in Nature this week, on the basis of invisibly small traces of biomolecules dug up from beneath the Australian desert.

The molecules mark an explosion in the quantity of algae in the oceans.

This in turn fuelled a change in the food web that allowed the first microscopic animals to evolve, the authors suggest.

“This is one the most profound ecological and evolutionary transitions in Earth’s history,” lead researcher Jochen Brocks told the BBC’s Science in Action programme.

The events took place a hundred million years before the so-called Cambrian Explosion, an eruption of complex life recorded in fossils around the world that puzzled Darwin and always hinted at some kind of biological prehistory.

Scattered traces of those precursor multi-celled organisms have since been recognised, but the evolutionary driver that led to their rise has been much argued over.

Image copyrightSPL
Image caption More than 650 million years ago, Earth froze over even down to the equator

Cambridge University palaeontologist Nick Butterfield has said the period “was arguably the most revolutionary in Earth history”, and not just because of the rapid biological changes. There were violent swings in climate, too, that experts have long suspected are intertwined.

The context was a planet that previously had long had life-sustaining oceans and a benign climate. Yet, for over three billion years – since 3.8 billion years before present according to most estimates – all life was single-celled, mostly bacteria; little evolutionary innovation had happened.

Algae, more complex than bacteria but still single-celled, had themselves had been around for over a billion years (the “boring billion” some palaeontologists call it), but without making much of an ecological impact.

Image copyrightSPL
Image caption Large, complex organisms appear in the fossil record from about 600 million years ago

With their DNA packed away safely inside a nucleus (so-called eukaryotes, like all animals and plants today), they had an evolutionary advantage over bacteria they seemed unable to exploit.

That changed about 650 million years ago, according to the new study.

There are no fossils of the algae. Instead, Brocks and his team at the Australian National University, have tracked down molecular remnants of their cell walls, molecules closely related to the cholesterol in our bodies, “the most stable thing of any organism – fat,” Brocks quips.

After every other trace of the cells had decayed, these fat molecules remained and were absorbed into sediments, and over geological time became cemented into the bedrock of Australia. To be drilled up and analysed hundreds of millions of years later.

“The signals that we find show that the algal population went up by a factor of a hundred to a thousand and the diversity went right up in one big bang, and never went back again,” Brocks says.

This ecological flip happened just after one of the greatest environmental catastrophes the planet has ever seen – the “Snowball Earth” period when ice extended from pole to pole, and even at the equator temperatures could have plunged to minus 60 degrees.

The episode ended after 50 million years, when the build-up of volcanic CO2 in the atmosphere created a supergreenhouse that melted the ice in a second cataclysm.

Image copyrightStuart Hay/ANU
Image caption The study was led by ANU’s Amber Jarrett (L) and Jochen Brocks (R)

The connection, Brocks believes, is that glacial action ground up continental rocks, releasing the nutrient phosphate which was then washed into the oceans as the thaw progressed.

Today’s agricultural green revolution is dependent on phosphates dug up in giant mines around the world, and the pre-Cambrian biological revolution may have been powered the same way, the researchers believe.

“This rise in algae happens just around the time the first animals appeared on the scene,” Brocks explains. “It was algae at the bottom of the food web that created this burst of energy and nutrients that allowed larger and more complex creatures to evolve.”

Yale University’s Noah Planavsky, whose study earlier this year [Nature link] revealed the phosphate nutrient outburst following the Snowball Earth, says the new revelations are “incredibly important”.

“It gives the first evidence of ecosystems dominated by complex lifeforms – the eukaryotes,” he told the BBC.

Image caption Blue whale: An “escalating arms race” resulted in the diversity we see today

In a commentary also in Nature, Andrew Knoll of Harvard University, a world authority on pre-Cambrian life, says the new work makes “a substantial contribution” to revealing “the relationship between life and the surrounding physical environment” at a critical time in animal evolution.

“Food source changes might have helped to pave the way for the animal radiation,” he agrees, though adding “key questions remain”.

Getting the data was painstaking work, says MIT’s Roger Summons, who has previously collaborated with Brocks. The nanogram traces of pre-Cambrian oil measured in the study had to be picked out from a fog of contamination made by fossil fuels.

“I applaud Jochen’s insight and his tenacity,” Summons wrote in an e-mail. “The results show how fastidious attention to detail ultimately pays off.”

However, he suggests the tale is not complete. Likewise, Cambridge University’s Nick Butterfield, while accepting the data, disagrees with the interpretation.

In fact, he thinks that Brocks has got cause and effect back to front; the explosion of algae did not drive the rise of animals, he says.

“There’s no evidence for animal evolution being constrained by a shortage of food,” he argued in an e-mail.

Instead, he says, it was the rise of animals – sponges to be precise – that cleared the ecological path for algae.

Brocks and Butterfield debated the interpretation in the corridors of the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference in Paris this week, as others looked on.

Brocks remains unswayed – that the outburst of algae 650 million years ago “kicked off an escalating arms race” in which larger creatures, fuelled by their ocean-grazing, become prey to yet larger ones – until you end up with the complexity we see today.

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Sarah Champion is being used as a ‘scapegoat’ after warning of cultural link in child sex cases, critics claim

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Trevor Philips, the former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, told The Telegraph: “I am absolutely gobsmacked, this is not the Labour party I know, even in the darkest days I don’t remember people being asked to stand down for trying to represent their constituents, which is what I think Sarah Champion was trying to do.

“We shouldn’t have to have an argument about free speech, what this feels like is what we used to call democratic centralism in the Labour party, in other words Stalinism”.

Writing in The Sun, Ms Champion said: “Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls.

“There. I said it. Does that make me a racist? Or am I just prepared to call out this horrifying problem for what it is?

“For too long we have ignored the race of these abusers and, worse, tried to cover it up. “No more. These people are predators and the common denominator is their ethnic heritage.

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Prince Charles and Duke of Cambridge attend Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo for first time

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The Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge have attended the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo for the first time.

A cast of more than 1,200 people from across the globe performed at Edinburgh Castle in front of the royal duo.

The line-up included more than 250 pipers and drummers, five UK military bands and the event’s first Japanese act, as well as major contingents from France, India and the United States.

Charles is known as the Duke of Rothesay in Scotland, and it was the Rothesay flag that flew above the castle once they had arrived.

The Prince, wearing a Royal Navy Admiral uniform, was at the Tattoo as guest of honour, accompanied by William.

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Theresa May must seek ‘liberal’ migration rules after Brexit to avoid ‘shooting herself in foot’, says Lord Hague

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This should result in the UK taking powers back – including leaving the single market – but then using them in a “very constructive” way to develop a “liberal” approach on migration and enter into a “very robust” free trade agreement, he said.

Lord Hague added he does not expect the negotiations to be easy, noting it is the “most complex task” any government has faced since the Second World War.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Reflections with Peter Hennessy he said: “It has to be delivered now, Brexit.

“There is a way through actually because there is just sufficient space or common ground among the positions of the various political parties, the factions within parties, the business world and that can be negotiated with the EU and to me that means taking powers back, the sovereign powers back to the UK, leaving the EU, leaving the single market, but then using those in a very constructive way.

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UK weather forecast: Dry day with sunny spells but rain is on the way tonight

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Manchester

It will then be mainly dry with sunny spells, but there is the chance of a shower later. Moderate southerly winds. Max temp 19-22C (66-72F).

Midlands

It will be mostly dry and bright with sunny spells and variable amounts of cloud. Moderate south-westerly winds. Max temp 20-23C (68-73F).

Leeds and Sheffield

It is expected to be dry for much of the time with hazy sunshine, but there is the small chance of a shower later. Gentle westerly winds. Max temp 20-23C (68-73F), but cooler over many upland areas.

South West

A day of sunshine and showers, some of these showers could be heavy at times. Moderate south-westerly winds. Max temp 20-23C (68-73F).

Wales

In the south it will be bright with sunny spells and scattered showers. These will mostly fall during the afternoon. Brisk south-westerly winds. Max temp 18-21C (64-70F).

In the north it is going to be bright with periods of sunshine, although do expect some showers too. Fresh south-westerly winds. Max temp 18-21C (64-70F), but cooler over many upland areas.

Northern Ireland

It is going to be mainly cloudy with scattered light showers, mostly during the afternoon. Heavier showers at the end of the day. Moderate southerly winds. Max temp 17-20C (63-68F).

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Peta pays family $50,000 after taking and euthanising their pet chihuahua 

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The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) has apologised and paid a family almost $49,000 after taking and euthanising a little girl’s pet chihuahua.

Two people affiliated with the group travelled to the mobile home park because they said they had been asked for help picking up wild dogs and feral cats.

They removed an unattended chihuahua called Maya, which was a Christmas present to nine-year-old Cynthia Zarate.

Her father, Wilber Zarate, from Virginia, sued the company after it picked up his daughter’s dog from the mobile home park and putting it down before a five day grace period was up.

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Duke of Beaufort dies aged 89 at home on Badminton estate ‘leaving £315m fortune’

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David Somerset, the 11th Duke of Beaufort and owner of one of England’s biggest estates, has died aged 89.

The former art dealer passed away peacefully at his home on the Badminton Estate in Gloucestershire on Wednesday.

He leaves an  estimated fortune of £315million, according to reports, including the 52,000-acre estate which is home to the famous Badminton Horse Trials.

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Hong Kong jails Joshua Wong and two other pro-democracy protest leaders 

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Joshua Wong and two other young leaders of Hong Kong’s huge Umbrella Movement rallies in 2014 were jailed Thursday for their role in the pro-democracy protests.

Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow were sentenced to six months, eight months and seven months respectively after the Court of Appeal upped their previous non-custodial sentences.

Activists say the case is more proof that Beijing is tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous city.

Wong shouted: “Hong Kong people, don’t give up!” as he was led away by security.

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Torre Del Mangia in Siena catches fire

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The Torre del Mangia in Siena, Italy, attracting a large crowd of onlookers who watched flames emerge from the tip of the tower’s spire.

Corriere di Siena and La Nazione reported that the blaze may have been caused by torches lit atop the tower to commemorate the finale of Palio di Siena, a local horse race festival.

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