August 2021 global news roundup: Global COVID-19 vaccine drive; Unavoidable global warming effects; Taliban-controlled Afghanistan

COVID-19 vaccine (Photo by Braňo on Unsplash)

This roundup summarises the most important news stories around the world in the last month (August 2021).

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As the world reached 200 million known COVID-19 cases in half the time it took to reach 100 million, the World Health Organisation called for a moratorium to vaccine booster shots until at least the end of September to address the global inequality in vaccine distribution. However, more economically developed countries such as Israel and the United States (US) have largely disregarded the plea and have readied their citizens to get a third shot.

In the US too, the Pfizer vaccine was granted full approval by the Food and Drug Administration. At the same time, hundreds of thousands in France demonstrated against requirements for COVID-19 vaccine passports to enter venues and participate in other social activities. There were similar protests in Italy and Switzerland. However, in Italy, the nationwide health passport required for entry into public spaces and participation in social activities was largely embraced.

As a result of the pandemic, it is also estimated that 270 million people could face acute hunger this year, especially in the continent of Africa.

Unavoidable global warming effects

The IPCC or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that the intensifying effects from global warming are now unavoidable. Global average temperatures will exceed the 1.5-degree Celsius benchmark set by the previous Paris climate agreement. The temperatures are likely to increase the risks and intensity of extreme weather events. The IPCC report came as the Italian island of Sicily set a modern record for the hottest every day recorded in Europe, and as wildfires forced thousands to free and heavy rain caused flash flooding and deaths in Turkey. At least 65 were killed in Algerian wildfires and dozens were killed in floods in Tennessese in the US.

There was also another major natural disaster in Haiti, where a magnitude-7.2 earthquake killed at least 2,200 people. The earthquake was stronger than the 2010 one which devastated the country, from which it has yet to recover. Days later a strong storm also caused floods and mudslides and additional casualties.

Taliban-controlled Afghanistan

In just a few weeks, as the US ended its military efforts in the country, the Taliban took rapid control of major cities with reports of Afghan government forces abandoning their posts. President Ashraf Ghani left the country as Taliban fighters entered the capital of Kabul and as the Afghan government collapsed. The Taliban leader was declared the new president. Protestors who took to the streets against the new administration were met with violent Taliban response.

Towards the end of the month, ISIS-K suicide bombers killed 13 US troop members and at least 169 Afghan civilians outside Kabul airport. ISIS-K is short for ISIS-Khorasan Province, an offshoot of the ISIS organisation which is likely to continue clashing with the Taliban.

Political turmoil in Lebanon, Malaysia, and Myanmar and electoral developments in Canada

Lebanon’s top officials were accused of being “criminally negligent” for the deadly Beirut blast last year, as activists and families of the deceased continue to seek justice. The country remains mired in economic and political crisis and is experiencing one of the worst collapses in 150 years. The Malaysian prime minister submitted his resignation, resulting in the naming of the country’s third prime minister in three years. The Myanmar military government extended the country’s state of emergency from 2022 to August 2023 to ostensibly “create conditions” to hold a general election. The move signals an intent to remain in power for as long as possible, with its military leader declaring himself prime minister.

And in Canada, an early national election was called for next month.

Geopolitical tensions in Belarus, Lithuania, and Iran; Legal causes and legislative advances

A Belarusian Olympic athlete sought a Polish visa after resisting attempts to be sent back to her home country. Two more athletes said they would not return too. In Lithuania, China recalled its ambassador to the country in protest of the decision to allow Taiwan to open a diplomatic representative office. And in Iran, the country is alleged to have carried out a fatal drone strike on an oil tanker off Oman.

In the largest-ever fine under the EU’s data-protection law, tech giant Amazon was fined US$887 million (approximately S$1.2 billion) for advertising violations. Mexico sued a group of US gun manufacturers for negligent sale and/or distribution of guns to Mexican drug cartels. And the US Senate passed a bipartisan trillion-dollar infrastructure bill by a vote of 69-30.

Man-made disasters around the world

There was an Islamist attack in Burkina Faso, a bus and fuel truck collision and the sinking of a boat in DR Congo, a truck and bus collision in Mali, a bomb explosion in Pakistan, as well as a sightseeing plane crash (Alaska) and van crash (Texas) in the US.

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