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End Time News – Updated 1 March 2017 - 9 stories
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earthquake headlines             6.0 quakes            7.0 quakes            quakes in diverse places          quake map

Magnitude 7.9 quake strikes off Papua New Guinea
by Joe Sutton and Susannah Cullinane, CNN

(CNN) A magnitude 7.9 earthquake has struck west of Papua New Guinea.

The quake was 153 kilometers (95.5 miles) deep and centered 40 kilometers (24 miles) west of the town of Panguna, according to the US Geological Survey.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center has advised that tsunami waves of up to a meter above the tide level are possible for some coasts of Papua New Guinea and nearby Solomon Islands.

Preliminary reports said the earthquake, which occurred at 2:30 p.m. local time Sunday (11:30 p.m. Saturday ET) measured 8.0 but USGS later downgraded its magnitude.

The USGS estimates that 72,000 people would have experienced severe shaking as a result of the quake.

The predominant structure of homes in the area meant they were vulnerable to earthquakes, it said, and fatalities were possible.

CNN's Derek Van Dam contributed to this report.

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Magnitude 7.3 earthquake strikes near Tabiauan, Philippines
SF Gate

The United States Geological Survey reports a magnitude 7.3 earthquake struck near Tabiauan, Philippines on Tuesday.

An earlier report had stated that the preliminary magnitude was a 6.9, but was later updated by the USGS.

The quake hit at 2:13 PM local time at a depth of 622 kilometers.

There was no initial word on damage or injury resulting from the quake. More information on this earthquake is available on the USGS event page.

See the latest USGS quake alerts, report feeling earthquake activity and tour interactive fault maps in the earthquake section.

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Magnitude 6.5 earthquake strikes near Padilla, Bolivia
SF Gate

The United States Geological Survey reports a preliminary magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck near Padilla, Bolivia on Tuesday.

The quake hit at 10:09 AM local time at a depth of 597 kilometers.

There was no initial word on damage or injury resulting from the quake. More information on this earthquake is available on the USGS event page.

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6 dead, dozens injured in powerful earthquake in southern Philippines
by Azadeh Ansari, CNN

(CNN) A 6.7-magnitude earthquake killed at least six people and injured more than 120 in the southern Philippines late Friday, officials said.

The powerful quake hit roughly 14 kilometers northwest of Surigao City, at about 10:03 p.m. (9:03 a.m. ET), according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. At least 30 aftershocks have rattled the surrounding areas in the hours following the quake, the Institute measured.

Surigao City, is in the Mindanao region of the country and has a population of more than 140,000 people.

A state of calamity has been declared by the mayor of Surigao City, CNN affiliate ABS-CBN reports. The shocks from the quake rippled across 54 "barangays" or barrios.

The earth tremors crumbled a number of buildings, knocked out power and forced the closure of Surigao City domestic airport, officials said.

The Philippines is situated in the so-called Ring of Fire, an arc of fault lines circling the Pacific Basin that is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Relief and rescue operations are underway, officials said.

In 2013, a magnitude-7.1 earthquake struck the central Philippines near a town in Bohol province and killed at least 183 people and injured 583 people.

CNN's William Lee contributed to this report.

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Why Killer Viruses Are On The Rise
by Michaeleen Doucleff and Jane Greenhalgh

Pygmy elephants. Monkeys with noses the size of beer cans. And a deer so small you could cradle it like a baby.

And right there, sitting on a leaf, is the strangest bug we've ever seen.

"Check out the size of it," says virus hunter Kevin Olival as he picks up a ginormous roly-poly. "It's the size of a ping-pong ball!"

We're in the middle of Malaysia's Borneo rain forest. Olival has brought us here because this is the type of place where pandemics are born. HIV came from a rain forest. So did Ebola. Yellow fever. And Zika.

Rain forests are the world's secret laboratory — where evolution experiments with body shapes, sizes and colors. Maybe if a monkey gets a giant schnoz, he'll have a better time finding love?

The result is a biological bonanza. "It's a biodiversity hot spot," says Olival, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist with the U.S.-based nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance.

This rich diversity in the rain forest doesn't apply to just creatures we can see. It also applies to creatures we can't see. Microcreatures. Nanocreatures. You guessed it: viruses.

New world order

The world is now in uncharted territory when it comes to infectious diseases. We're facing a whole new era. Over the past century, the number of new infectious diseases cropping up each year has nearly quadrupled. The number of outbreaks per year has more than tripled.

In the U.S., we have seen more than a dozen new human diseases appear over the past 25 years. For instance, a killer tick-borne virus showed up in Kansas in 2014. A new type of leprosy dismembered a man in Arizona in 2002. And a new hemorrhagic fever jumped from rodents into people, killing three women in California in 1999 — to name just a few.

But it's the tropical rain forest that is the most worrisome to many scientists like Olival.

Wearing a headlamp and a khaki shirt with the words "Virus Hunter" embroidered on the back, Olival looks like Indiana Jones' nerdy brother. He is constantly talking about how much he loves bats and admits he picked up his future wife by wowing her with his bat knowledge. But at the end of day, he is a global treasure hunter. He flies around the world collecting undiscovered viruses — and he focuses his hunt on viruses with the potential to kill.

It's part of a $200 million project called PREDICT, sponsored by the U.S. government and led by University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. The goal is to figure out the viruses that are lurking inside animals around the world. So we are ready when a new and potentially harmful virus jumps from animals into people and causes an outbreak. In other words, Olival wants to find the next pandemic virus before it finds us.

Little puppy face

Olival and his team are out here in Borneo setting up traps to catch animals. On the ground, they set up little metal boxes, each about the size of a Coke bottle, to catch rodents, shrews and those tiny rabbit-size deer. And they have strung thin nylon nets high in the trees, like giant spiderwebs.

"We've got one," yells Olival's colleague Jimmy Lee, a virologist with EcoHealth Alliance. We rush over to one of the nets. Dangling in the middle is one of the most beautiful sights to a virus hunter: a bat.

Lee puts on thick gloves and starts to untangle the bat from the net. "They can bite," he says, as he holds the little creature gently in his hands. It's not much bigger than a grapefruit.

One glimpse at the bat's face, and my heart melted. "He has a little puppy face, doesn't he?" Olival asks.

And it's true. The bat — a short-nose fruit bat — looks uncannily like a brown puppy. It is incredibly cute, especially as it wraps its wings around its body like a little blanket. But you wouldn't want to snuggle with this little guy.

Bats are arguably one of the most dangerous animals in the world. They carry a daunting list of killer viruses. They likely triggered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. They very likely launched a pandemic of killer pneumonia back in 2003, called SARS. And they're behind one of the viruses scientists think could cause a nasty pandemic: Nipah.

Bats carry viruses all over their bodies. In their spit. Their blood. And their poop. Because they fly, bats can spread these viruses across huge distances. So when there are bats in the sky, there could be Ebola in the poop that lands on your shoulder.

So if bats are such a problem, why not kill the bats? "Not a good idea," Olival says bluntly. "Bats do a lot of good for the environment. A lot."

Without bats, the world wouldn't have rain forests. Bats are key pollinators for more than 500 species of flowers and trees. They disperse seeds for many other plants, and they keep insect populations in check with their arthropod-rich diets.

As we learn a bit later, bats really aren't the ones to blame when it comes to creating outbreaks. It's the intruders into their homes that are the problem.

Olival and Lee lay the bat on small table, gently spread its wings open and then prick it to get a few drops of blood. They also take a smidge of saliva and then do a quick rectal swab.

"That's the worse part," Olival chuckles. Then they let the bat go.

Lee puts the samples in test tubes and drops them into liquid nitrogen. He'll take them back to the lab, extract genetic material to see if any of it looks like something they haven't seen before.

So far, Olival and Lee's team, have trapped and sampled more than 1,300 animals in this region of Malaysia, in partnership with the Sabah Wildlife Department and Danau Girang Field Centre. Globally, the PREDICT team has sampled more than 74,000 animals.

Not everyone is a fan of the project. Some infectious disease scientists think creating a long list of viruses isn't very helpful. They say money could be better spent on diseases we actually have now instead of trying to guess which ones might become a problem someday.

And even if scientists could predict when an outbreak is likely to happen, it might not, says Michael Osterholm, who directs the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy in Minneapolis.

"I don't think the actual premise for the PREDICT project — that it will make us better prepared for a pandemic — holds water," Osterholm says.

For example, in 2012 scientists predicted that the deadly H5N1 flu was about to jump from birds into people. "Did we do anything to prepare, like make a new or better flu vaccine?" Osterholm asks. "No."

We're not even making vaccines for viruses that we know are threats, that are regularly killing people, he says. "How are we going to convince people to invest money into a virus from the remote jungle for which we have no evidence that it has caused any human illness?"

1,000 viruses found

The next morning, we meet up with Olival at a quiet spot on the edge of the rain forest. He is going to show us what his team has found in all these bats and other animals in Borneo. He opens up his laptop and pulls up data from Malaysia.

It's a bit eye-opening. "We've found 48 new viruses. And 16 that were already known," Olival says as he scrolls down a large spreadsheet. There's a new polio-like virus in orangutans. A bunch of new herpes viruses in monkeys, rodents and bats.

And that's just in this part of Malaysia.

Teams with PREDICT have been sampling in rain forests around the world for seven years and found nearly 1,000 new viruses in more than 20 countries, such as a new rabies-like virus in shrews. And many, many SARS-like viruses in bats across three continents.

And then Olival drops a bombshell.

"These viruses aren't 'new,' " he says. "They're just new to science. But not to the animals in the forest," he adds.

All these viruses have been circulating in bats, monkeys and rodents for tens of thousands of years, maybe longer, he says, and no one has cared. No one has noticed. They're just a natural part of the ecosystem of the rain forest, coexisting with the animals, who are generally not harmed by the viruses.

How do they become problems then?

"Well, they don't magically jump out of the forest," Olival says. "It's because we are getting in there. Getting into the forest."

To see what he means, we take a short walk from where we're sitting. There's a break in the forest and an overlook of the land below. And the view is incredible.

As far as the eye can see are palm trees, row after row of oil palm trees. Nothing else. The rain forest has been eaten away by plantations for palm oil — you know, that inexpensive vegetable oil that is used in crackers, pizza dough, ice cream, even lipstick.

Before the palm oil boom in the 1980s, this was all pristine forest. Filled with all these crazy animals and their viruses, Olival explains. But then people came along and started cutting down the forest. Destroying their homes.

It's like puncturing a balloon filled with viruses, says Barbara Han, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York. "Whatever survives, spills out. Deforestation is closely tied to disease emergence."

In the past 40 years, more than a third of the Borneo rain forest has been destroyed. About half of that land has turned into palm oil plantations.

A similar pattern is happening all over the world.

By 2050, more than half of the world's population is projected to live in the tropics and subtropics, Han says.

Right now, only 15 percent of the world's rain forests is still intact. The rest has been burned flat. Broken into pieces. Or converted into farms, ranges for cattle, metal mines — even shopping malls.

"It's soybeans in the Amazon. It's suburban development in the U.S. Every part of this planet has been modified by people in some way," Olival says. "We're changing the environment in ways that are really unprecedented in human history."

Wild animals are now refugees. They have no home. So they come live in our backyards. They pee on our crops. Share our parks and playgrounds. Giving their viruses a chance to jump into us and make us sick.

"So it's really the human impact on the environment that's causing these viruses to jump into people," Olival says.

And cause an outbreak? I ask. Or a pandemic, says Olival.

What do you want to know about pandemics? Share your questions by submitting them in our special tool here. Our global health team will answer some of them in an upcoming story.


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2017 Global Infectious Diseases Threats to the United States
by Peter Hotez in General, Neglected Diseases

PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases co-Editor-in Chief Peter Hotez predicts the major infections that will threaten the US in the coming year.

By the fall of 2015 it was pretty clear that Zika virus infection was going to threaten much of Latin America and the Caribbean, and shortly thereafter I wrote how 2016 would become the year of Zika, highlighting the vulnerability of our US Gulf Coast, Texas and Florida.

Insect-transmitted diseases in Texas, Florida, and the US Gulf Coast. Zika transmission has begun in South Texas and it will likely continue into next year. Indeed, we have to be alert for the likelihood that Zika transmission will become widespread next summer as Aedes aegypti populations predictably rise again. I also fear that we missed multiple Zika outbreaks in 2016 due to lack of federal funds and active surveillance across the US Gulf Coast. We won’t know the full extent of the 2016 Zika outbreak until next spring if and when microcephalic babies appear on obstetrical wards. Beyond Zika, we can expect outbreaks of West Nile virus infection to continue and with it an uptick in renal disease and even kidney failure. We remain vulnerable to dengue and chikungunya, and now Mayaro virus has appeared in the Caribbean. Transmission of Chagas disease, a debilitating parasitic heart infection (acquired by the bite of kissing bugs) is also now underway in Texas. The major forces promoting these diseases still require investigation, but among the leading candidates are extreme poverty, warm climate and climate change, human migrations, and changes in transportation patterns such as the doubling in size of the Panama Canal together with an expansion in Gulf Coast ports.

Vaccine-preventable childhood illnesses: Measles, mumps, and pertussis. In addition to its insect-transmitted diseases Texas may also have become the epicenter of the American anti-vaxxer movement. Leading anti-vaxxer spokespersons have set up in Austin to produce a slick pseudoscience and conspiracy-theory laden faux documentary, while ‘Texans for Vaccine Choice’ have established a new political action committee (PAC) to help parents exempt their kids out of receiving school vaccinations. Sadly it’s working! The number of non-medical exemptions for vaccines is reaching 50,000 and as a result we can expect measles and other disease outbreaks to follow.

Diseases Emerging from the Conflict Zones and Killing Fields. Next to poverty, 21st century conflicts and the resulting health system collapses have become important disease drivers. Ebola virus infection arose in West Africa from these forces, and now an equally devastating tropical disease known as kala-azar is spreading across East Africa, while multiple diseases are arising from the ISIS-occupied areas of Syria and Iraq, with some like cutaneous leishmaniasis spreading to adjoining areas of the Middle East. As national borders collapse animals are being trafficked and we can expect the additional emergence of zoonotic diseases within the Middle East and North African region.

Southern Europe: Still more Vector-borne (insect and snails) diseases. In parallel to the situation in the Middle East and Africa, we have also seen a rise of vector-borne diseases from insects and snails in Southern Europe. The diseases include malaria in Greece, dengue in Portugal, West Nile virus and chikungunya in places such as Italy, Spain, and France, and even schistosomiasis, a neglected tropical disease of Africa, in Corsica. While human migrations may be partly responsible, other factors may be in play including economic downturns, and climate change. Overall, the Middle East, North Africa, and Southern Europe have emerged as one big “hot zone” and we need to consider their impact on economic trade and the health of the US.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR). A combination of factors including human and livestock antibiotic use, together with the absence of a robust pharmaceutical pipeline of new antibiotics, has created a serious global AMR crisis. Especially worrisome are the carbapenem-resistant and multidrug gram negative bacteria capable of causing hospital-acquired infections. For the first time in the US last year a patient in Pennsylvania was found to be infected with bacteria that acquired the mcr-1 gene that can make bacteria resistant to colistin, often considered the antibiotic of “last-resort” for multi-drug resistant organisms

Flu. Influenza remains one of the greatest threats to the US population killing on average 3,000-49,000 Americans annually. People at the greatest risk of severe flu and death are pregnant women, residents of long-term care facilities, the very old (adults over the age of 65), the very young (children less than 2), Native American populations, and those with underlying chronic conditions such as asthma, COPD, heart disease, obesity, and other conditions. Timely vaccination remains the most proven and effective way to avoid serious injury from influenza.

The new Trump Administration will face a formidable array of global and indigenous infectious disease threats in 2017. A Global Health Security Agenda will help provide a framework for tackling some of these tough issues, but enhanced efforts will be needed to prevent new epidemics, especially from vector-borne and zoonotic neglected tropical diseases, measles, and the ever-constant threats from AMR and flu.

Peter Hotez MD PhD is Editor-in-Chief of PLOS NTDs and Dean, Professor, and Texas Children’s Hospital Endowed Chair of Tropical Pediatrics at the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. He is also President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute.

Dec. 22 2016, 14:38PST: Featured image credit: jacinta lluch valero, Flickr.


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Wars and Rumors of Wars

Armed Conflict in Syria Has Grave Human Consequences
by Media Express

As part of its annual report of the state of human rights, Amnesty International included critical facts about several hotspots within the Middle East, including Syria.

The human consequences of more than five years of conflict in Syria are incalculable. The suffering to the population includes deaths, injuries, devastation and dislocation of families and livelihoods, and the destruction of homes, property, historical sites and religious and cultural icons. Raw statistics from cities, such as Aleppo, give some indication of the scale and intensity of the crisis, but experts argue that it is just the tip of the iceberg.

By the end of 2016, the conflict had caused the deaths of more than 300,000 people and the forcible displacement of more than 11 million others, including 6.6 million who remained internally displaced and 4.8 million who had fled to other countries in search of refuge. All the forces engaged in the conflict continued to commit war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law, flagrantly disregarding their obligation to protect civilians.

Syrian government forces conduct indiscriminate attacks, dropping barrel bombs and other explosives and firing imprecise artillery shells into civilian residential areas controlled by opposition fighters. Assad’s forces have continued to besiege opposition controlled areas, causing further civilian deaths from a lack of food and medicine.

Government forces also carried out direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects, relentlessly bombing hospitals and other medical facilities and, apparently, attacking a UN humanitarian relief convoy. In December 2016, a ceasefire agreement between the Assad government and some opposition forces opened the way for new peace talks. The UN Security Council unanimously reiterated its call for all parties to allow the “rapid, safe and unhindered” delivery of humanitarian aid into the country.

However, the ceasefire was brokered by Russia and Turkey, with Iran ignoring the ceasefire to continue fighting in various areas of Syria. Iran is backing Assad’s regime, and this could have an impact on the peace talks. In areas of Syria controlled by the government, there has been a severe crackdown on all opposition, including the detaining of thousands and enforced disappearances where the families are denied any information about their loved ones’ whereabouts, conditions or fate.

Armed groups have been fighting in Syria and these groups have committed horrific war crimes and other serious violations of international law. As a result, civilians have killed or injured by the indiscriminate shelling and other actions by these groups.

But Syria is not the only country in the region struggling with armed conflict. Yemen is also mired in armed conflict between Yemeni and foreign forces. Again, civilians are taking the brunt of the conflict. These military forces are displaying wanton disregard for civilian lives in their choices where to use bombs, artillery shells and other imprecise weapons. As in Syria, Iran has been accused of backing groups of foreign fighters, even providing training through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as was recently revealed in a National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) report.

Meanwhile, a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition of Arab state forces, which are dedicated to restoring Yemen’s internationally recognized government, have conducted a relentless campaign of air strikes on areas controlled or contested by the Huthis and their allies, killing and injuring thousands of civilians.

All of the conflicts in the Middle East are being exacerbated to some extent by the involvement of various foreign governments. Western governments are sending troops to fight terrorist factions, while there are individuals being recruited globally to fight for ISIS.

Another impact of these conflicts is the number of refugees flooding other countries in the region. Lebanon hosted more than 1 million refugees from Syria and Jordan hosted more than 650,000, according to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. These countries are struggling to meeting the additional economic, social and other needs that these refugees impose upon them and often with little humanitarian aid from international sources. This is becoming a burden on their own resources, especially as relocation provisions disappear or are inadequate to address the need.

In addition to these hot-beds of conflict, freedoms of expression, association and assembly have been restricted or impeded throughout the region. Most governments in the region have maintained and enforced laws that criminalized peaceful speech, writing or other expression, including social media and other online commentary.

Throughout the region, those who are speaking out for human rights are finding themselves being jailed, prosecuted and dealing with long prison terms or outright torture and ill-treatment. Journalists, unionists and filmmakers are just a few of the groups that might be targeted in any given country. Protests are often banned and if the population defies the ban, then they are likely to be forcibly dispersed.

In order for these types of sentences and targeting to take place, then the governments must know that the judicial systems will back them up and many have done so. Trials are often held without following all applicable law or aren’t held at all.

The Middle East is struggling on a variety of human rights fronts, although the current conflicts have only increased the international scrutiny of these abuses. Is it enough to change the course of many of these governments and keep them from doing business as usual? Only time will tell.


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Wars and Rumors of Wars

Armed Conflict, Starvation And Sickness: The Forgotten Children Caught Up In Lake Chad's Crisis
James Macintyre

International children's charity World Vision is urging donors attending an Oslo Humanitarian Conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region this Friday to take swift action to help millions of suffering vulnerable children in the Lake Chad Basin.

Some 2.4 million people have been forcibly displaced due to violence and conflict or are trapped in areas that are hard to reach, the charity says. More than 1.2 million of them are children.

World Vision said that children trapped by the fighting are particularly vulnerable to being forcibly recruited into armed groups, sexual exploitation and child marriage.

'This is a crisis of forgotten children. Not only have children been forced to endure atrocities of enormous proportions, but many are also suffering the effects of hunger and illnesses,' said Kathryn Taetzsch, the Lake Chad Basin response director for World Vision.

'Some children are traumatised and require psychological support as well as medical assistance. We are especially worried about those children who have been caught up between armed groups and are now held hostage or forced to fight.'

A total of 17 million people across Niger, Chad, Nigeria and Cameroon have been affected by the long-running violence incited by Boko Haram and the military counter-offensive. Of those affected, 10.7 million people need urgent humanitarian assistance, World Vision says.

While there is much focus on the mass kidnappings of women and girls in northern Nigeria, boys have also suffered the brunt of the crisis in the region, as many are abducted and conscripted.

Over the past three years, militant groups have kidnapped more than 10,000 boys and trained them in boot camps, abandoned villages and forest hide-outs. Boys, and at times girls, as young as five years old are being indoctrinated into violence and used as fighters, suicide bombers and spies. Since 2014, 86 children have been used as a suicide bombers, including 38 last year, World Vision says.

One boy affected by the crisis – and now being supported by World Vision – is Mohamed, aged 12.

Mohamed (which is not his real name) was living in Damasak, Nigeria with his family, before being captured by Boko Haram militants.

Each day before school he used to sell fried yam at the local market. 'The day Boko Haram attacked our town for the first time, I was at the market selling yam,' he told World Vision. Disorientated and afraid, he ran away and was kidnapped and taken to a large compound in town.

Mohamed explained that his kidnapper told him: 'We will educate you, teach you the Holy Quran and you will all become fighters.'

The man who kidnapped Mohamed, who was flanked by three soldiers, made him recite verses of the Quran every day and whipped him if he was too slow in carrying out that and other tasks.

After two months he was eventually rescued by his grandfather, who had been spared by the militants along with other elders. He is now being looked after by World Vision at a refugee camp.

'Children like Mohamed will continue to pay the highest price for this crisis unless their humanitarian and protection needs are urgently met and there's a swift and sustainable resolution to the conflict, World Vision said. 'As donors and humanitarian actors meet in Oslo, Norway, World Vision calls on all parties to the conflict to take immediate measures to protect children and civilians from both direct involvement and the indirect effects of armed conflict.'

That conflict, coupled with the effects of climate change and dire poverty, has further exacerbated the crisis. The land is parched and Lake Chad itself is receding, according to the charity. Water points are scarce, water quality is poor, harvests have dried up and livestock have perished.

Millions have been left struggling for food and water, with traditional means to generate income like fishing, agriculture and trade severely limited.

'Surviving has become a near miracle', Taetzsch said. 'This generation's future is in peril. The scope of this crisis coupled with the humanitarian community's inadequate response are nearly unprecedented. Decades of humanitarian and development gains are threatening to unravel if the global community continues to turn a blind eye to the scale and severity of the crisis. All actors must protect rights, uphold the rule of law, provide emergency water and food assistance, and prioritise ending violence against children.'

The deteriorating humanitarian crisis across the Lake Chad Basin has caused World Vision to elevate its response to the equivalent of a UN Level 3 emergency. The charity has established new programmes in Western Chad and scaled-up interventions in Eastern Niger to respond to the needs of 300,000 of the most vulnerable children and their families.

World Vision is appealing for $15m to respond to the urgent needs of families and children in affected areas in the Lake Chad Basin.


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Millions Risk Starvation in Nigeria, Lake Chad Region: United Nations
by Gwladys Fouche

OSLO (Reuters) - More than seven million people risk starvation in Nigeria's insurgency-hit northeastern region and around Lake Chad, a senior U.N. official said on Wednesday ahead of a new funding appeal.

Famine has been ongoing since last year in parts of Nigeria where the government is fighting a seven-year long Boko Haram insurgency.

An international donor conference in Oslo on Friday will aim to raise a chunk of the $1.5 billion the United Nations says it needs to address deepening food insecurity in the region this year.

"They are living on the edge, barely getting by on one meal a day," Toby Lanzer, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel, told Reuters. "My biggest concern today is starvation."

Earlier this week the United Nations said 1.4 million children were at risk of "imminent death" in famines in Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.

Lanzer said he was worried the Boko Haram insurgency would deter farmers from planting their crops after missing the last three planting seasons, and that the number of lives at risk could increase. He also expressed concerns the coming rainy season could harm vulnerable people.

"Hungry people without shelter when it rains die," he said.

Lanzer said the humanitarian response needed to go beyond food aid and include seeds, tools and fishing nets.

Lanzer said he hoped a total $500 million will have been pledged by the end of February, including this week's funding round.

Lanzer, who has also worked in South Sudan, Darfur and Chechnya, said it was difficult to estimate how many people would die from hunger in the next few months.

"If we were to lose another planting season, I dread to think how severe the crisis could get," he said.

Some 10.7 million people in northeastern Nigeria and around Lake Chad -- roughly two in every three people -- need humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations.

Boko Haram militants have killed about 15,000 people and forced more than 2 million from their homes, and still launch deadly attacks despite having been pushed out of the vast swathes of territory they controlled in 2014.

Lanzer cautioned that failure to address the deteriorating situation could encourage more Africans to try and flee to Europe.

(Editing by Richard Lough)



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