Rome Newsroom, – Cardinal Peter Turkson delivered face masks and care packages over the weekend to Romani families in need on the outskirts of Rome on behalf of Pope Francis.
“We are here today to witness the support for all those who experience situations of suffering and vulnerability, and who are often forgotten, especially in this time of health, social and economic emergency,” Cardinal Turkson said following the visit June 13.
“As Pope Francis often repeats, no one should be left behind,” he said.
Cardinal Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, met with volunteers of a non-profit association that provides 200-300 weekly food packages for the children who live in Romani camps and slums. The cardinal then visited a Romani camp outside of Rome in Castel Romano to help deliver some of the food packages.
The Romani, often called “gypsies” and known as “travelers” in much of Europe, form a marginal and minority people present in countries across the continent.
Pope Francis has met with members of Rome’s Romani community on several occasions, continuing a tradition of Pope Paul VI who visited a Romani camp near Rome in 1965.
The risk of malnutrition among the Romani children in the camps was heightened by the coronavirus pandemic, a statement from the Dicastery for the Integral Human Development said.
Turkson distributed 300 vinyl gloves, 600 surgical masks, 200 fabric masks, and 500 packs of acetaminophen donated by the Vatican Pharmacy as a part of the dicastery’s Vatican commission for COVID-19.
The Vatican commission for COVID-19, created at the request of Pope Francis, was formed “to express the concern and love of the Church for the whole human family in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, above all through the analysis and reflection on the socio-economic and cultural challenges of the future and the proposal of guidelines to face them.”
During his visit to the Romani community, Cardinal Turkson communicated Pope Francis’ feeling of spiritual closeness and paternal embrace in this difficult time to all of the volunteers, families, and children at the camp, acccording to a June 13 press statement issued by the Dicastery.
GULU, Uganda,- When the Ugandan government ordered all non-essential workplaces shut to contain the coronavirus pandemic in late March, Peter Okwoko and his colleague Paige Balcom kept working.
But the pair – who had been turning collected plastic waste into building materials since last year – shifted gear and instead began manufacturing makeshift plastic face shields from discarded plastic bottles.
When they posted pictures of their prototypes on social media, they got a surprise phone call from the local public hospital.
“The doctor from Gulu regional referral hospital requested we make 10 face shield masks urgently because they didn’t have enough” and the hospital had just received its first COVID-19 patient, said Okwoko, 29, a co-founder of Takataka Plastics.
The social enterprise set to work shredding plastic, melting it and shaping the liquid plastic into face shields and frames. Soon a first set of shields was delivered.
But “in the afternoon, the hospital called again. They said they needed more face shields because the previous ones had worked out well for them”, Okwoko said.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to burn around the world, it has also caused severe disruptions in supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The problem is particularly severe in poorer countries with few resources to pay high prices in a competitive global market. In March, WHO officials urged companies around the world to increase production by 40% if possible to meet growing demand.
In Uganda, medical workers have discussed work boycotts to protest the lack of protective equipment in hospitals, especially after several healthcare workers were confirmed infected with the virus.
“The situation is critical. Many people are working without PPE,” Dr. Mukuzi Muhereza, secretary general for the country’s health workers’ body, the Uganda Medical Association, warned last week.
“That is hampering the fight against COVID-19 because there’s fear among health workers that anytime I touch a patient I might be a COVID patient myself,” he said.
Britain is about to pass a significant landmark – at midnight on Wednesday it will have gone two full months without burning coal to generate power.
A decade ago about 40% of the country’s electricity came from coal; coronavirus is part of the story, but far from all.
When Britain went into lockdown, electricity demand plummeted; the National Grid responded by taking power plants off the network.
The four remaining coal-fired plants were among the first to be shut down.
The last coal generator came off the system at midnight on 9 April. No coal has been burnt for electricity since.
The current coal-free period smashes the previous record of 18 days, 6 hours and 10 minutes which was set in June last year.
The figures apply to Britain only, as Northern Ireland is not on the National Grid.
But it reveals just how dramatic the transformation of our energy system has been in the last decade.
That the country does not need to use the fuel that used to be the backbone of the grid is thanks to a massive investment in renewable energy over the last decade.
Two examples illustrate just how much the UK’s energy networks have changed.
A decade ago just 3% of the country’s electricity came from wind and solar, which many people saw as a costly distraction.
Now the UK has the biggest offshore wind industry in the world, as well as the largest single wind farm, completed off the coast of Yorkshire last year.
At the same time Drax, the country’s biggest power plant, has been taking a different path to renewable energy.
The plant, which is also in Yorkshire, generates 5% of the country’s electricity.
A decade ago, it was the biggest consumer of coal in the UK but has been switching to compressed wood pellets. Drax plans to phase out coal entirely by March next year.
“We here at Drax decided that coal was no longer the future,” explains Will Gardiner, the chief executive of the power group.
“It has been a massive undertaking and then the result of all that is we’ve reduced our CO2 emissions from more than 20 million tonnes a year to almost zero.”
That is a controversial claim. Environmental activists point out that wood actually produces more carbon dioxide per unit of power generated than coal when it is burnt to generate electricity.
They also say it will take many years for the trees in US forests where Drax sources the seven million tonnes of wood pellets it now burns each year to absorb the CO2 the power plant and its wood processing operations produce each year.
And it is not just coal that is being eclipsed by renewables.
So far this year, renewables have generated more power than all fossil fuels put together.
Breaking it down, renewables were responsible for 37% of electricity supplied to the network versus 35% for fossil fuels.
Nuclear accounted for about 18% and imports for the remaining 10% or so, according to figures from the online environmental journal, Carbon Brief.
“So far this year renewables have generated more electricity than fossil fuels and that’s never happened before”, says Dr Simon Evans of Carbon Brief.
Phylis Nyambura sits on a plastic chair, pensive and alone in the shade of a tree at Cheshire Home for the Elderly in the Kariobangi slum northeast of Nairobi. With an effortless click, Nyambura shoots a jet of saliva through the gap between her two front teeth, before she begins to lament how her social life has changed as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I’m told it’s a bad disease that kills old people in minutes,” the 80-year-old said in Kikuyu, her native language. “Everyone here is avoiding me. They cannot even allow me to see my daughter and grandson when they come to visit me here. My life has completely changed.”
Nyambura, who arrived at the home four years ago, suffers from dementia (loss of cognitive functioning) and behavioral disabilities to such an extent that it interferes with her daily life and activities.
She has been experiencing increased feelings of confusion, paranoia and delusion during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in 2,862 cases, 85 deaths and 849 recoveries, as of June 9 in Kenya, according to Worldometers, a reference website that provides counters and real-time statistics for diverse topics.
“I don’t know what’s happening nowadays,” said Nyambura, gasping for breath as she struggles to lean on the chair. “We are told to wash our hands all the time, even when we are not eating. I feel very bad, isolated and confused.”
The home, run by the Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa, used to be a hive of activity. More than 300 men and women of advanced age would meet their relatives and lifelong friends every day. They would share meals and pray together.
But the place is now empty since Kenya has adopted strict measures to counter the spread of COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. The government has suspended travel in and out of the country, banned religious and social gatherings, and imposed a nationwide curfew between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m.
In the countrywide fight against the pandemic, the sisters have rolled out a series of strict measures and supportive human services to safeguard the elderly from the virus.
This is because the new disease presents specific risks for older people. Preliminary research from the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, based on more than 44,000 cases of COVID-19, showed a mortality rate of 2.3% for the general population, rising to 8% in those aged 70 to 79 and nearly 15% in those 80 and over.
“Strict isolation is the only way to protect these elderly men and women,” said Sr. Lydia D’sa, who is the administrator of the home. “We have already made changes to provide for social distancing. We told them they could not watch television inside the hall because of space, so they usually watch from outside. Prayers are done outside as well for the sake of distancing.”
The home was built in 1980 with the help of HelpAge International to cater for the destitute and homeless elderly members of society. In recent years, however, the home has come under pressure from those who have families but want to be admitted.
Currently, the home is a permanent residence for 40 elderly men and women and has a day care program for about 300 people from the neighboring slum areas, mostly suffering from leprosy, post-polio paralysis and blindness. It provides a two-pronged care program: Those who are weak and feeble who require nursing care reside in the home and those who capable of carrying out their daily personal care taking part of the day care program.
BARCELONA, – The COVID-19 crisis has exposed how the health of people and nature is intertwined, and protecting the planet, its climate and ecosystems will be crucial to preventing further pandemics, the U.N. chief and political leaders said on Friday.
In a video statement for World Environment Day, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said humans had been harming the natural world “to our own detriment”.
“Habitat degradation and biodiversity loss are accelerating. Climate disruption is getting worse,” he said, noting more frequent and damaging fires, floods, droughts and super-storms.
Oceans are heating and acidifying, harming coral reefs, while the new coronavirus is “raging”, undermining health and livelihoods, he said.
“To care for humanity, we must care for nature,” he added, urging more sustainable consumer habits and decision-making centred around safeguarding the natural world.
The presidents of Colombia, Costa Rica and Switzerland, joined by ministers from a dozen other countries, on Friday launched a “High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People”, aimed at persuading governments to agree on a global goal to preserve at least 30% of the planet’s lands and oceans by 2030.
This, together with retaining wildernesses and conserving biodiversity, is “a crucial step to help prevent future pandemics and public health emergencies, and lay the foundations for a sustainable global economy”, they said in a statement.
The World Health Organization has said the novel coronavirus probably has its “ecological reservoir” in bats, while scientists say 60% of the infectious human diseases that emerged from 1990 to 2004 came from animals.
The new nature coalition noted that illegal and non-regulated wildlife trade, deforestation and ecosystem destruction can increase the risk of disease transmission from wildlife to people, and urged tighter control.
“This pandemic provides unprecedented and powerful proof that nature and people share the same fate and are far more closely linked than most of us realised,” they said in a statement.
Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, told a coalition event that protecting nature was “about security and health”.
The COVID-19 crisis was a predictable manifestation of what scientists branded a “planetary emergency” several months before the pandemic began, he added.
World Environment Day should be renamed “human safety day”, he proposed, adding “it’s no longer about nature – it’s all about humans and our equitable, prosperous future on Earth”.
‘RACE TO ZERO’
The U.N. climate change secretariat (UNFCCC), alongside Britain and Chile, meanwhile, launched a “Race to Zero” campaign, committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest and “a healthy, resilient and zero-carbon recovery” from the economic fallout of the pandemic.
“Net-zero” means producing no more climate-heating emissions than can be absorbed by planting carbon-sucking trees or using other methods to trap greenhouse gases.
A U.N. climate science panel has said global emissions need to be slashed by 45% by 2030 and to net-zero by mid-century to have a 50% chance of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times.
The new climate campaign unites 120 countries with net-zero emissions initiatives backed by 992 businesses, 449 cities, 21 regions, 505 universities and 38 big investors, the UNFCCC said.
U.N. climate chief Patricia Espinosa said “Race to Zero” should also spur stronger national climate action plans due this year, including targets to cut emissions over the next decade.
The companies signed up to the net-zero goal have combined annual revenues of $4.72 trillion, the UNFCCC said, with new joiners including computer software giant Adobe, alcoholic drinks maker Diageo, fashion retailer Inditex and engineering firm Rolls-Royce.
According to analysis from the UK-based Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) think-tank, 53% of global GDP is now produced in countries, states, regions and cities that have either set a net-zero target or intend to do so.
Alison Doig, international lead at the ECIU, said participants in the “Race to Zero” campaign would have to present plans to reach net-zero, including interim emissions targets for the next decade, by the time of the delayed COP26 U.N. climate summit in Glasgow in November 2021.
“This is not… about pushing climate action to some date in the future. No entity can reach net-zero in 2050 without starting now,” she said.
Sr. Stephanie Baliga had a problem: The Franciscans of the Eucharist of Chicago’s food pantry was shut down by restrictions to stop the spread of the coronavirus, but the need for food in the neighborhood was greater than ever.
So she found a way. And as sisters are doing across the country under challenges imposed by COVID-19, when she ran into still more challenges, she got creative.
Nationwide, millions of people have lost jobs as employers closed or cut back, making the need for food and other support greater than ever, and Catholic women religious have answered the call in myriad ways.
The weekly food pantry at the Mission of Our Lady of Angels in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood normally serves about 225 people, Sister Stephanie said, but the need for food had doubled. So the sisters moved the pantry outside.
Because social distancing requirements meant patrons would not be able to pick and choose their own food, it all had to be prepackaged. At the same time, the sisters couldn’t allow most of their volunteers to help.
So all nine sisters in the small community, founded in 2010, pitched in to help.
“Everyone’s here,” Sister Stephanie said. “We’re very, very limited on volunteers, so it’s a lot of work.”
They did get some unexpected volunteers: the Chicago Police Department.
Even with moving the pantry outside and keeping everyone 6 feet apart, many senior citizens and those with compromised immune systems could not risk exposure. Likewise, those who are homebound discovered many of the services they rely on had been shut down. So the police loaded up a vehicle with more than 100 bags of food and delivered them to those in need.
“The city and the [police] department as a whole is going through a difficult period and this neighborhood, which is one of the more challenged communities within the city as we see it, needs all the help they can get,” Lt. Jason Brown told the Chicago Tribune in late March. “We’re kind of in uncharted waters. I think given that, we have to take a different approach to how we police and what policing really means.”
Sister Stephanie said working with the police is not unusual at the mission, and that has not changed even after a weekend of destruction in Chicago that left 20 dead, sparked by protests over the death of George Floyd.
“They’re absolute heroes,” she said of the police in the neighborhood.
Sister Stephanie said the Mission’s buildings were the only ones not damaged over the weekend, and that the neighborhood was largely destroyed.
“This is one of the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in the United States of America, so we were not in a good place before this [pandemic] started.”
City of Chicago statistics show 34% of households in Humboldt Park are below the federal poverty level of $26,200 for a family of four. Per capita income there is about half that figure, and 35% of those 25 years or older do not have a high school diploma.
The pantry work has become all-consuming, Sister Stephanie said, but it hasn’t been a problem because almost all of the community’s other ministries have been shut down.
In Detroit, two Sisters of St. Felix of Cantalice, known as the Felician Sisters, also found themselves running a food pantry.
Previously, the ministry of Sr. Felicity Marie Madigan and Sr. Shelley Marie Jeffrey focused on hospitality: They opened the Deo Gratias Café in late January in the parish center at St. Jude Catholic Church, a place where they could build relationships with the community.
“We were just getting to really know some people when the pandemic put a kibosh on those kinds of activities,” Jeffrey said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared an emergency after 20,000 tons of diesel fuel spilled into a river in the Arctic Circle.
The accident is the second largest oil spill in terms of volume in modern Russian history, the Word Wildlife Fund (WWF) told AFP, as BBC News reported. The oil spread around 7.5 miles from the fuel site, turning the Ambarnaya river bright red, and contaminated a total of 135 square miles.
“The incident led to catastrophic consequences and we will be seeing the repercussions for years to come,” Sergey Verkhovets, coordinator of Arctic projects for WWF Russia, said in a statement reported by CNN. “We are talking about dead fish, polluted plumage of birds, and poisoned animals.”
Russia’s environmental ministry Rosprirodnadzor is already reporting contaminant levels in the water that are tens of thousands of times higher than the safe limit.
“[T]here has never been such an accident in the Arctic zone, ” former deputy head of Rosprirodnadzor Oleg Mitvol told BBC News.
Greenpeace compared the disaster to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
The spill occurred last Friday when a fuel tank at a power plant near the city of Norilsk in Siberia collapsed. The plant is owned by a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel, the world’s No. 1 producer of nickel and palladium. Its factories are also the reason why Norilsk is one of the most polluted places on Earth, The Guardian reported.
The plant initially attempted to clean the spill on their own and did not tell authorities about the incident for two days, Ministry of Emergency Situations head Evgeny Zinichev said, according to CNN.
Alexei Knizhnikov of WWF said his group was the first to inform cleanup specialists of the spill, according to The Guardian.
“These are huge volumes,” he said. “It was difficult for them to cover it up.”
The governor of the Krasnoyarsk region, where the spill took place, told Putin he only learned of it Sunday from social media posts.
“Why did government agencies only find out about this two days after the fact? Are we going to learn about emergency situations from social media? Are you quite healthy over there?” Putin scolded Sergei Lipin, the head of NTEK, as the subsidiary that owns the plant is called.
Norilsk Nickel countered that NTEK had alerted authorities in a “timely and proper” fashion.
Bogotá, Colombia, – Salesian ministries in Bogota, Colombia, have joined forces to feed the families of the children and young people they serve at the Saint Francis de Sales Oratory youth center, which they run in the poor, crime ridden Las Cruces neighborhood.
In late March, the government ordered a lockdown to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lockdown left many street vendors, recyclers, cleaning staff and other laborers out of work.
With the lockdown extended into June, many poor families are finding themselves running out of food and funds for other necessities.
While the government has offered some support to those in need, many people are still in serious need of assistance.
To respond to this need, especially for food, the Salesian Leo XIII School community has partnered with the Salesian Ladies’ Divine Child Center, the Order of Malta and a local food bank to offer care packages with basic necessities and food to families in need.
Leading the Salesian effort is Marcos Chero, a Peruvian teacher at the Leo XIII School. Speaking to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, Cheo said he was motivated to take on the project after successfully working with the school in 2017 to deliver 700 care packages to the victims of devastating flash floods and landslides that took place in the town of Mocoa in the country’s southwest.
“If we were able to put together care packages three years ago, with this situation we’re going through, why can’t we do it again?” Chero said.
In the initial effort, school parents, alumni, teachers and other members of the Salesian community were able to deliver 200 care packages to needy families in the area. They were then joined by the Salesian Ladies’ Divine Child Center. Several additional food distributions for 80-120 families have taken place in the weeks that followed, with the next one scheduled for June 6.
The National Police have been making the deliveries, taking all the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.
Chero said the plan going forward is to make deliveries every three weeks “because we know that the coronavirus situation is going to last a long time. And so we’re always looking for help, we’re knocking on doors, seeking out institutions and businesses to collaborate with us.”
Chero himself received training as a boy at a Salesian oratory in Peru and admired the spirit of the congregation founded by St. Don Bosco “to work for the very poor and abandoned.”
“There’s a very beautiful saying of Don Bosco that has marked me, and I take it as a motto, an insignia, which is, ‘The Lord has put us in this world to serve others’,” he shared.
The teacher said he is also planning a project to raise funds to buy the technology so students can participate in distance learning, which is currently limited.
The Divine Child Center, founded by the Salesian Ladies Association, is staffed by lay women volunteers who put on sporting and cultural activities and provide formation in values, helping children and young people living in the poor areas of Bogota become good citizens and avoid the dangers of the street.
The Salesian Ladies is a non-profit organization founded in 1968 in Caracas, Venezuela, by Salesian priest Fr. Miguel Gonzalez. Through Christian education and evangelization, these Catholic women help low income people especially women, young people and children who are abandoned, in dangerous situations, or in jail.
They currently run 33 centers in Colombia, in addition to another 145 centers in 27 countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia.
WEDZA, Zimbabwe, – In the rural Zimbabwe district of Wedza, a new electric-powered motorcycle is helping bring income to poor women and easing the burden of looking after families.
The three-wheeler, known as Hamba (Go), powered by a solar-charged lithium ion battery, is being piloted by start-up Mobility for Africa, which leases the motorcycle to women in groups of up to five.
The women can now carry farm produce to markets further away from home, offer transportation services to villagers and use the motorcycle for domestic chores.
Mary Mhuka, a 58-year-old mother-of-six who is leasing the Hamba with her daughter-in-law and a neighbour, said the motorcycle had eased the strain of domestic work.
She could now sell her vegetables at a business centre 15 km away for more money than she would get locally.
“We used to carry firewood on our heads for very long distances … but now it’s much easier as this motorcycle has taken away that burden,” she told Reuters after a trip to the community water borehole.
Fadzai Mavhuna, the Hamba pilot coordinator since February 2019, said women paid an equivalent of $15 a month as a group to lease the Hamba, which has a maximum range of 100 km.
It costs between $0.50 and $1 to change the motorcycle batteries, which are charged at a solar-powered station.
Mobility for Africa is now in the second phase of the pilot project before it can go commercial. The Hamba is assembled in Harare with kits made in China and will be sold for $1,500.
“Some of the women have increased their income because they have embarked on … projects like baking, tailoring and horticulture,” said Mavhuna.
Pamhidzai Mutunya, a farm health worker, said before the arrival of Hamba, many women gave birth at home while others had to walk 12 km to the nearest clinic because there was no transport.
“We now have fewer cases of pregnant women giving birth at home,” the 35-year-old mother-of-three said.
She ferries an average of four people to the clinic a day and also collects medicines for patients.
CNA Staff, – Catholic Relief Services is among the agencies providing aid to those impacted by Cyclone Amphan in Bangladesh and eastern India. The storm killed at least 96, millions were evacuated, and Kolkata was devastated.
The cyclone made landfall in India May 20, and it dissipated the following day. It brought winds of as much at 160 mph, and waves up to 15 feet.
Kolkata, a city of 4.5 million, was without power for at least 14 hours, and its roads were flooded.
“Initially they were not willing to evacuate, because they were weighing between the risk of the cyclone and the invisible risk of Covid-19,” Snigdha Chakroborty, CRS’ Bangladesh country director, told PBS NewsHour May 20 of local residents.
“They do not have income, they do not have homes, they also lost their crops in the field. So basically it a devastating and painful situation that they will have to live with now.”
CRS and Caritas have indicated there are immediate needs for shelter, potable water, sanitation, and hygiene.
Ahead of the storm, the groups indicated they had “pre-positioned emergency supplies” and were “supporting efforts to clean evacuation centers and procure critically needed supplies in local markets.”
Archbishop Thomas D’Souza of Calcutta has asked Church officials to open their facilities to those rendered homeless by the cyclone, according to UCA News. The “top priority is to arrange food for so many people who have lost everything,” he told the independent Catholic news source.