With Drones and Satellites, India Gets to Know its Slums

Satellites and drones are driving efforts by Indian states to map informal settlements in order to speed up the process of delivering services and land titles, officials said.

The eastern state of Odisha aims to give titles to 200,000 households in urban slums and those on the outskirts of cities by the end of the year.

Officials used drones to map the settlements.

“What may have takes us years to do, we have done in a few months,” G. Mathi Vathanan, the state housing department commissioner, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation last week.

Land records across the country date back to the British colonial era, and most holdings have uncertain ownership, leading to fraud and lengthy disputes that often end in court.

Officials in Mumbai, where about 60 percent of the population lives in informal settlements, are also mapping slums with drones. Maharashtra state, where the city is located, is launching a similar exercise for rural land holdings.

In the southern city of Bengaluru, a seven-year study that recently concluded used satellite imaging and machine learning.

The study recorded about 2,000 informal settlements, compared with fewer than 600 in government records.

“Understanding human settlement patterns in rapidly urbanizing cities is important because of the stress on civic resources and public utilities,” said Nikhil Kaza, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina.

“Geospatial analysis can help identify stress zones, and allow civic authorities to focus their efforts in localized areas,” said Kaza, who analyzed the Bengaluru data.

About a third of the world’s urban population lives in informal settlements, according to United Nations data.

These settlements may account for 30 percent to 60 percent of housing in cities, yet they are generally undercounted, resulting in a lack of essential services, which can exacerbate poverty.

Identifying and monitoring settlements with traditional approaches such as door-to-door surveys is costly and time consuming. As technology gets cheaper, officials from Nairobi to Mumbai are using satellite images and drones instead.

About 65 million people live in India’s slums, according to census data, which activists say is a low estimate.

Lack of data can result in tenure insecurity, as only residents of “notified” slums – or those that are formally recognized – can receive property titles.

Lack of data also leads to poor policy because slums are “not homogenous,” said Anirudh Krishna, a professor at Duke University who led the Bengaluru study.

Some slums “are more likely to need water and sanitation facilities, while better off slums may require skills and entrepreneurship interventions,” he said.

“Lack of information on the nature and diversity of informal settlements is an important limitation in developing appropriate policies aimed at improving the lives of the urban poor.”

Lights Go Out During Vote for Maduro as Socialist Party Head

An annual gathering of Venezuelan socialists took an unexpected turn when the lights went out just as they were about to select President Nicolas Maduro as their party’s leader.

The blackout happened Monday right as Diosdado Cabello was urging socialist party delegates to give Maduro unlimited power to “strengthen the party and revolution.”

Cabello raised his hand and asked others to follow suit in electing Maduro, but the lights abruptly went out and the live television transmission cut off.

After about 20 minutes the event went back on air.

Maduro later appeared and called the incident an act of “sabotage,” offering no proof except to note that other parts of the hotel never lost electricity.

He frequently blames the opposition for the beleaguered country’s increasing power woes.

Crime or Right? Some Danish Muslims to Defy Face Veil Ban

On August 1, when face veils are banned in Denmark, Sabina will not be leaving her niqab at home. Instead, she will be defying the law and taking to the street in protest.

In May, the Danish parliament banned the wearing of face veils in public, joining France and some other European countries to uphold what some politicians say are secular and democratic values.

But Sabina, 21, who is studying to be a teacher, has joined forces with other Muslim women who wear the veil to form Kvinder I Dialog (Women in Dialogue) to protest and raise awareness about why women should be allowed to express their identity in that way.

“I won’t take my niqab off. If I must take it off, I want to do it because it is a reflection of my own choice,” she said.

Like the other women interviewed for this article, Sabina did not wish to have her surname published for fear of harassment.

The niqab wearers who plan to protest on August 1 will be joined by non-niqab-wearing Muslim women and also non-Muslim Danes, most of whom plan to wear face coverings at the rally.

“Everybody wants to define what Danish values are,” said Meryem, 20, who was born in Denmark to Turkish parents and has been wearing the niqab since before meeting her husband, who supports her right to wear it but feels life could be easier without.

“I believe that you have to integrate yourself in society, that you should get an education and so forth. But I don’t think wearing a niqab means you can’t engage yourself in Danish values,” said Meryem, who has a place to study molecular medicine at Aarhus University.

Like Sabina, Meryem plans to defy the law, keep her niqab on and protest the ban.

Under the law, police will be able to instruct women to remove their veils or order them to leave public areas. Justice Minister Soren Pape Poulsen said officers would fine them and tell them to go home.

Fines will range from 1,000 Danish crowns ($160) for a first offense to 10,000 crowns for a fourth violation.

“I feel this law legitimizes acts of hatred but, on the other hand, I feel people have become more aware of what is going on. I get more smiles on the street and people are asking me more questions,” said Ayah, 37.

Mathias Vidas Olsen, who makes reproductions of Viking-age jewelry, is supporting the campaign by making special bracelets and giving the proceeds to Kvinder I Dialog.

“I’m not for or against the niqab,” the 29-year-old Copenhagen man said. “I’m for the right of the people to wear whatever they want whether they be a Muslim or a punk.

“I see this as the government reaching in to places they don’t belong and as a cheap hit on an already stigmatized group to score cheap political points,” he said.

Mexico Had More Homicides in 2017 Than Previously Thought

The number of homicides in Mexico last year was higher than originally thought, with national statistics institute INEGI reporting Monday that there were 31,174 slayings in 2017.


That is the most since comparable records began being kept in 1997, including the peak year of Mexico’s drug war in 2011.


The Interior Ministry previously reported 29,168 homicides for 2017.


Data from the statistics institute is seen as more thorough, since INEGI visits morgues and public registries to collect information. The Interior Ministry counts homicide investigations that could involve multiple victims, thus potentially underrepresenting killings.


INEGI said the homicide rate last year broke down to 25 per 100,000 inhabitants — near the levels of Brazil and Colombia at 27 per 100,000. Mexico’s rate was 20 per 100,000 people in 2016.


Honduras and El Salvador — among the deadliest countries in the world — have homicide rates of around 60 per 100,000. Some U.S. cities, like Chicago, Detroit and New Orleans, also top Mexico’s per-capita homicide rate.


But some parts of Mexico are singularly violent.


Mexico’s deadliest state is Colima, on the Pacific coast, where killings rose 38 percent last year to a homicide rate of 113 per 100,000. The rate in Baja California, home to the border city Tijuana, nearly doubled as the Jalisco New Generation and Sinaloa cartels clashed over drug trafficking routes.


“The country is in a public security crisis,” said Alejandro Schtulmann, president of Mexico City-based political risk firm EMPRA.


In addition to fights between criminal groups for territory in states such as Baja California and Quintana Roo, fuel theft has turned more violent and extortion cases are on the rise.


Central Mexican states such as Guanajuato and Puebla, known for their agricultural output and growing manufacturing base, have seen homicide rates spike in recent years because of fuel theft from pipelines operated by the national oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos.


“The problem now is not just the murder rate,” said Schtulmann. “More citizens are being affected by crime than ever before in Mexican history.”


Schtulmann pointed to a recent wave of property crimes, unprecedented killings of politicians in this year’s elections and attempts to extort businesses in fancy neighborhoods like Polanco in the Mexican capital as indications that criminal activity is encroaching on more territory and affecting more segments of the population.


President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who takes office Dec. 1, has said he will tackle crime by creating educational and work opportunities for disenchanted youth.


Schtulmann finds Lopez Obrador’s plans a bit vague, saying Mexico more than anything needs to improve state security forces since thinly stretched federal resources often can’t reach all the trouble spots.


“We are talking about long-term efforts. This is not going to go away from one day to another,” Schtulmann said. “If the opportunity is there, and the impunity is there, the criminals will keep committing crimes.”


INEGI said it surveyed 2,127 civil registries, 688 public ministries and 145 forensic medical services to collect the 2017 data. Firearms were the leading cause of homicide deaths in 2017, with 20,049 gunshot victims.

Italy’s PM Plans to Organize Conference on Stabilizing Libya

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Monday he was organizing a conference to look for ways to stabilize Libya, a main departure point for migrants from North Africa trying to reach Europe.

“In agreement with President (Donald) Trump, I’m going to organize a conference on Libya,” Conte told reporters at the White House after meeting with the U.S. president.

“We would like to deal (with) and discuss all of the issues related to the Libyan people, involving all of the stakeholders, actors, protagonists in the whole of the Mediterranean,” said Conte, who took office last month promising a crackdown on immigration.

Italy has told its allies it wants to hold an international conference on Libya this autumn and Conte was eager to get Trump’s blessing for the gathering at their meeting on Monday.

Italy is competing with neighboring France over how best to deal with Libya, which has been wracked by violence for years.

Conte believes a conference in Rome, backed by the United States, will help Rome establish itself as the major interlocutor for Libya’s warring factions.

After their meeting, Conte said Trump had agreed Italy would become “a reference point in Europe and the main interlocutor for the main issues that need to be faced … with particular reference to Libya.”

“We are going to discuss economic aspects, but also social aspects: the need for protection of civil rights; the problem of constitutional process – of issuing and passing laws so as to enable Libya, in particular, to get to democratic elections in a condition of the utmost stability,” Conte said.

Canada’s Trudeau Pressed on Gun Control After Toronto Shooting

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asked on Monday if he would support a ban on handguns, said he was looking at a range of options after last week’s shooting in Toronto left two dead and 13 wounded.

Trudeau spoke after laying flowers at the site of the shooting, promising to look at a “broad range” of options in order to make “the right decision for the long term,” and adding that the city needed time to heal.

“Strength of community comes from moments of resilience like this,” he said.

Police have said 29-year-old Faisal Hussain used a handgun when he opened fire along Toronto’s Danforth Avenue. They have not released any other information on the weapon, or said whether it was obtained legally. His motive is not clear.

On Monday, sidewalks in the area were lined with flowers and messages of hope written in chalk.

Police surrounded the site as Trudeau arrived, following the funeral of 18-year-old victim Reese Falcon, who was shot while on a night out with friends.

In Markham, mourners gathered at a Greek Orthodox church to honor 10-year-old victim Julianna Kozis.

Dozens of people surrounded the fountain, lighting candles and talking quietly. A single protester interrupted Trudeau, and was shouted down by onlookers before being escorted away by police.

Lopez Obrador Looks to Tree Planting to Create Mexico Jobs

Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador says he wants to create 400,000 jobs by planting 1 million hectares (2.47 million acres) with timber and fruit trees.


Lopez Obrador said in a video posted Sunday that he wants to plant half the total amount in 2019, focusing on timber species like cedar and mahogany. The other half would be planted in 2020.


Referring to the Usumacinta river basin near the border with Guatemala, Lopez Obrador said 50,000 to 100,000 hectares could be planted there. He said the upper canopy of timber species could provide cover for cacao plantings beneath. Cacao is the source of chocolate.


Lopez Obrador sees the planting program as a way to offer rural Mexicans work in their home communities, so they do not have to emigrate.

Macedonia Sets Referendum Date on Renaming Country

Macedonia’s parliament has set September 30 as the date for a referendum on changing the country’s name to North Macedonia.

Macedonian lawmakers approved the measure with 68 votes in the 120-seat parliament. Opposition members boycotted the vote by leaving the room.

Greece has objected to its neighbor being called Macedonia, saying it implies territorial claims over its own province of the same name. It has blocked the former Yugoslav republic’s bid to join the European Union and NATO because of the naming disagreement.

Macedonia Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who was elected in 2017, has pushed for an agreement with Greece to solve the dispute. In June, the two sides agreed on the name North Macedonia.

The referendum question that parliament approved Monday does not explicitly mention changing the country’s name. It says only: “Are you for EU and NATO membership by accepting the agreement between the Republic of Macedonia and the Republic of Greece?”

Macedonia’s nationalist opposition party, VMRO-DPMNE, criticized the wording of the referendum question. “It is manipulative,” said Igor Janusev, VMRO-DPMNE secretary general.

Impact of Trade Tariffs on European Companies

Some European companies are rethinking their strategies to cushion the impact of trade tensions between the world’s two biggest economies, the United States and China.

The focus will switch back to China after a truce on tariffs emerged from U.S. President Donald Trump’s meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on July 25.

Trump and Juncker agreed to suspend any new tariffs on the European Union, including a proposed 25 percent levy on auto imports, and hold talks over duties on imports of European steel and aluminum. However, Trump retained the power to impose tariffs if no progress is made.

In the case of China, Trump threatened that he was ready to impose tariffs on an additional $500 billion of imports.

The United States has already imposed tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese imports. In return, China has levied taxes on the same value of U.S. products.

Below are recent comments from European companies on trade tensions:

Russian steelmaker MMK has delayed the launch of a project in Turkey, which was expected to add $90-$100 million to its core earnings, due to uncertainty created by global trade wars, the company said.
Siemens Healthineers plans to cushion the impact of U.S.-China trade tensions by changing its supply routes to ship goods from its European factories. The firm expects tariffs to have a low single digit million euro impact on Healthineers’ results this year, which could rise to a double-digit million euro effect next year.
German automaker BMW said it would increase suggested retail prices of the relatively high-margin X5 and X6 SUV models by 4 percent to 7 percent. The company has said that it would be unable to “completely absorb” a 25 percent Chinese tariff on imported U.S.-made models.
China-based car dealers said Mercedes maker Daimler moderately raised prices in the country of its GLE midsize SUV which is produced in Alabama. Daimler is looking at ways to mitigate the impact of the trade tensions, including reviewing whether to shift some U.S. production to Asia. The company blamed tariffs for a 30 percent drop in second-quarter profit.
Wind turbine maker Siemens Gamesa warned that trade tensions would drive up U.S. costs by 2 to 4 percent, depending on the product and whether further tariffs are imposed. The company is working to reduce the impact on margins by optimizing its supply chains.
French electrical equipment company Schneider Electric foresees growth slowing in the second half of the year and expects the first extra costs linked to higher U.S. tariffs, which could reach 20 million euros.
“If the trade war escalates we are more concerned about the consequences that it can have on global macro environment,” STMicro said, adding that the direct impact of trade war risks were currently negligible.
Fiat Chrysler cut its 2018 outlook, hurt by a weaker performance in China. Its operating profit for the second-quarter was negatively impacted by China import duty changes.
French mining group Eramet warned that current favorable markets could be hurt by trade rows.
Philips confirmed its sales growth target for this year but added that trade worries and the consequences of Brexit continued to cause uncertainty.
Finnish steel maker Outokumpu sees a double impact from the U.S. tariffs, with surging imports to Europe resulting in heavy price pressure, whilst in the Americas base prices have risen, benefiting local manufacturers itself.
Fellow Finnish company Valmet said tariff increases could derail the recovery and depress its medium-term growth prospects.
Chinese-owned Volvo Cars said it was shifting production of its top-selling SUV production for the U.S. market to Europe from China to avoid Washington’s new duties on Chinese imports.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, whose members include General Motors, Volkswagen AG and Toyota, also warned on the impact of the tariffs. A study released by a U.S. auto dealer group warned that the tariffs could cut U.S. auto sales by 2 million vehicles.
Sweden’s Electrolux said U.S. tariffs announced in July would have an impact of $10 million plus this year. In the third quarter. It expects raw material costs to rise by 0.5 billion Swedish crowns.
Belgian steel wire maker Bekaert reported it sees underlying operating profit 20 percent below analysts’ estimates in the first half, blaming wire rod costs partly driven up by tariffs.
Swedish lock maker Assa Abloy sees a further increase in steel prices in the second part of the year in the U.S., partly due to new import tariffs.
Austrian steelmaker Voestalpine said about a third of its U.S. sales would be impacted by import tariffs, adding it was talking to its customers about who would bear the cost.
Norway’s REC Silicon booked an impairment charge of $340 million “due to the market disruption from the curtailment of solar incentives in China, as well as continued trade barriers that prevent access to primary markets inside China.”

US Revokes Visas of Nicaraguan Officials Behind Violence

The United States is revoking visas for Nicaraguan officials responsible for violence against anti-government protesters, saying these are just the start of what could be more sanctions.

“After years of fraudulent elections and the regime’s manipulation of Nicaraguan law, the Nicaraguan people have taken to the streets to call for democratic reforms,” the White House said Monday. “These demands have been met with indiscriminate violence, with more than 350 dead, thousands injured, and hundreds of citizens falsely labeled “coup-mongers’ and ‘terrorists.'”

The U.S. has already sanctioned three senior Nicaraguan officials for human rights abuses and corruption.

It has also taken back vehicles it donated to the Nicaraguan police, which officers have used in their violent crackdown, and suspended such sales to Nicaragua.

The Trump administration is also pledging $1.5 million in aid to those fighting for democracy, human nights and an independent media in Nicaragua.

Anti-government protests erupted in April after President Daniel Ortega announced changes to the country’s popular pension system.

Ortega soon scrapped his plans, but the protests continued and were met by a violent crackdown by police and armed pro-government civilians.

Nicaraguan human rights groups say more than 350 people have been killed. The government puts the death toll at a little more than 200.

Ortega is a former leftist Sandinista leader who helped topple a right-wing government in 1979.

He has rebuffed calls from religious leaders to hold talks with the opposition and rejected demands for early elections.

Ortega accuses the protesters of planning a coup.