Category Archives: News

Typhoon leaves flooding, four dead in Japan before moving out to sea

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TOKYO (Reuters) – A rapidly weakening typhoon Lan made landfall in Japan on Monday, setting off landslides and flooding that prompted evacuation orders for tens of thousands of people, but then headed out to sea after largely sparing the capital, Tokyo.

A collapsed road is seen following torrential rain caused by typhoon Lan in Kishiwada, Japan in this photo taken by Kyodo on October 23, 2017. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

Four people were reported killed, hundreds of plane flights canceled, and train services disrupted in the wake of Lan, which had maintained intense strength until virtually the time it made landfall west of Tokyo in the early hours of Monday.

At least four people were killed, including a man who was hit by falling scaffolding, a fisherman tending to his boat, and a young woman whose car had been washed away by floodwaters.

Another casualty was left comatose by injuries and a man was missing, NHK public television said. Around 130 others suffered minor injuries.

Rivers burst their banks in several parts of Japan and fishing boats were tossed up on land. A container ship was stranded after being swept onto a harbor wall but all 19 crew members escaped injury.

Some 80,000 people in Koriyama, a city 200 km (124 miles) north of Tokyo, were ordered to evacuate as a river neared the top of its banks, NHK said, but by afternoon water levels were starting to fall. Several hundred houses in western Japan were flooded.

A listing cargo ship which ran onto a breakwater earlier, amid strong wind caused by Typhoon Lan, is seen at a port in Toyama prefecture, Japan in this photo taken by Kyodo on October 23, 2017. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

“My grandchild lives over there. The house is fine, but the area is flooded, and they can’t get out,” one man told NHK.

Lan had weakened to a category 2 storm when it made landfall early on Monday, sideswiping Tokyo, after powering north for days as an intense category 4 storm, according to the Tropical Storm Risk monitoring site.

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Lan is the Marshall islands word for “storm”.

By Monday afternoon the storm had been downgraded to a tropical depression and it was in the Pacific, east of the northernmost main island of Hokkaido, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

Around 350 flights were canceled and train services disrupted over a wide area of Japan, although most commuter trains were running smoothly in Tokyo.

Toyota Motor Corp canceled the first shift at all of its assembly plants but said it would operate the second shift as normal.

Additional reporting by Junko Fujita and Naomi Tajitsu; Editing by Michael Perry & Simon Cameron-Moore

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Twelve big cities to buy zero emissions buses, extend green areas

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OSLO (Reuters) – Twelve major cities including London, Paris, Los Angeles and Cape Town promised on Monday to buy only zero-emissions buses from 2025 and to make major areas free of fossil fuel emissions by 2030 to protect the environment.

From L to R: Mauricio Rodas, mayor of Quito, Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, former New York City Mayor and founder of Bloomberg L.P. Michael Bloomberg, Barcelona’s Mayor Ada Colau and Milan’s mayor Giuseppe Sala pose together during a two-day summit of the C40 Cities initiative, a network of cities making plans to cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions along levels agreed upon in Paris two years ago, in Paris, France, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

The 12, with a combined population of almost 80 million, said they would promote walking, cycling and the use of public transport under a joint “fossil-fuel-free streets declaration”.

Many cities are setting tougher environmental goals than governments to limit air pollution and to achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“Air pollution caused by petrol and diesel vehicles is killing millions of people in cities around the world,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said in a statement. “The same emissions are also causing climate change.”

The mayors, part of the C40 group of cities which is seeking to slow global warming, said they would “procure only zero-emissions buses from 2025 and ensure that major areas of their city are zero emissions by 2030.”

Other cities signing up were Copenhagen, Barcelona, Quito, Vancouver, Mexico City, Milan, Seattle and Auckland.

Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti shows off a skateboard he will offer to London Mayor Sadiq Khan during a two-day summit of the C40 Cities initiative, a network of cities making plans to cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions along levels agreed upon in Paris two years ago, in Paris, France, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Zero emissions areas could mean more parks, pedestrian areas or roads where only electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles could enter to make cities more attractive places to live. They did not define how big “major areas” would be.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau, for instance, said the city was aiming to add 165 hectares (408 acres) of green space in coming years, extend bike lanes and cut the number of trips by private vehicles by a fifth.

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Seattle Mayor Tim Burgess said the plan demonstrated “the power of cities to lead on climate.”

C40 estimated that there were 59,000 buses of all types operating on the streets of the 12 cities.

Among them, London says it has the largest electric bus fleet in Europe, with more than 2,500 hybrid electric buses made by China’s BYD and Britain’s Alexander Dennis.

In an expanding market, other makers include Volvo, Mercedes-Benz Daimler and Proterra Inc.

Caroline Watson, an expert in low-emission vehicles at C40, told Reuters the declaration was meant as “a clear commitment in writing to raise the bar and give a signal to the private sector” to encourage greener investments in cities.

Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Toby Chopra

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Forest fires stoke record loss in world tree cover: monitor

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OSLO (Reuters) – Forest fires in Brazil and Indonesia contributed to a record loss in global tree cover in 2016, equivalent to the size of New Zealand, that could accelerate deforestation blamed for climate change, an independent forest monitoring network said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Police and a fire fighter from a local forestry company try to extinguish a forest fire in the village in Rokan Hulu regency, Riau province, Sumatra, Indonesia August 28, 2016 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Picture taken August 28, 2016. Antara Foto/Rony Muharrman/via REUTERS

Man-made global warming increased the risks of wildfires by adding to extreme heat and droughts in some regions, according to Global Forest Watch (GFW). This year, California and Portugal have been among places suffering deadly blazes.

The combination of forest fires with land use change and climate change could speed destruction in areas like the Amazon and contribute to emissions of carbon dioxide, one of the gases that contribute to global warming, the report said.

Worldwide, global tree cover losses rose 51 percent in 2016 from the previous year to 297,000 square kilometers (114,672 square miles), according to data from the University of Maryland compiled by Global Forest Watch (GFW).

That was a record high for GFW records stretching back to 2000, and contrasted with some other satellite measurements that indicated a slowdown in the pace of forest clearances to make way for farms, cities and roads.

“We saw quite a dramatic spike in 2016,” said Mikaela Weisse, research analyst at the U.S. think-tank World Resources Institute which oversees GFW. “That seems to be related to forest fires in countries including Brazil, Indonesia and Portugal.”

GFW measures loss of tree cover and does not estimate net changes in forests to take account of re-growth and new plantings.

By contrast, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, using different methods, says the net global rate of deforestation has slowed by more than 50 percent in the last 25 years.

GFW said Brazil’s Amazon region lost 37,000 square kilometers of tree cover in calendar 2016, almost three times more than in 2015.

That contrasts with official Brazilian data showing that deforestation in the Amazon fell 16 percent in August 2016 to July 2017 compared with the same period a year earlier. Brazil said it was the first decline in three years.

Brazil’s environmental agency Ibama said 2016 was the ninth-worst year for forest fires since monitoring began in 1998.

“The dry climate and low humidity made man-made fires gain larger dimension,” Ibama said in an email.

Weisse said GFW data often detected smaller-scale losses in tree cover, including in layers beneath the forest canopy, while the Brazilian data was better at recording clearances of large blocks of forest.

GFW said Indonesia lost almost 1 million hectares of tree cover in 2016, probably the delayed result of a severe fire season in 2015.

Additional reporting by Fergus Jensen in Jakarta and Jake Spring in Brasilia; Editing by John Stonestreet and Andrew Hay

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London introduces vehicle pollution levy in new blow to diesel

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LONDON (Reuters) – London brought in a new levy on the oldest and most polluting cars entering the city center from Monday, almost doubling how much motorists have to pay in the latest blow to diesel.

Drivers are already charged 11.50 pounds ($15) to enter the financial district and parts of west London under a congestion charge. But those driving petrol and diesel vehicles typically registered before 2006 will need to pay an additional 10 pounds.

Since the 2015 Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) emissions cheating scandal, a number of major cities including Madrid, Paris and Athens have announced plans particularly focused on cutting diesel emissions including bans, fines and restrictions.

The new charge could further encourage motorists to switch to greener models in one of Europe’s biggest cities as Mayor Sadiq Khan hopes the new levy to reduce toxicity, known as the T-Charge, will help save thousands of lives each year.

“The air is bad, but it’s also a killer,” he told Reuters. “There are children in London whose lungs are underdeveloped. There are adults who suffer a whole host of conditions caused by the poor quality air from asthma to dementia to suffering strokes.”

The tax will apply to up to 34,000 vehicles every month, according to Khan’s office, a small proportion of the 535,000 vehicles which come into the area. But it sets the tone for future policies including an ultra low emission zone due by the end of 2020.

Although the T-Charge will also affect older petrol cars, diesel has been particularly maligned over the last few years, with sales down 14 percent this year in Europe’s second-biggest car market as petrol demand continues to rise.

A road sign indicates the beginning of the congestion charging area in central London, Britain, October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mary Turner

“There’s a budget coming up and the government’s got to step up and announce the diesel scrappage scheme to help families and businesses,” said Khan, a politician from Britain’s main opposition Labour Party.

Britain’s Conservative government said this year that sales of new diesel and petrol cars would be banned from 2040 but has stopped short of an immediate program to incentivize drivers to trade in their old models.

Whether 40,000 Uber [UBER.UL] drivers, one in three of all private hire vehicles working in the British capital, continue to operate will also have a major impact on London’s streets in the years ahead.

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The city’s transport regulator shocked the Silicon Valley taxi app last month by stripping it of its license. But the company can continue to operate until an appeals process is exhausted, which could take several years.

After discussions between Uber’s global Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi and Transport for London (TfL) Commissioner Mike Brown this month, Khan said further talks could take place.

“If it’s possible for the global CEO to continue discussions with the TfL commissioner of course that’s a sensible course of action,” he told Reuters.

“Whenever you can avoid litigation, you should avoid litigation but I appreciate Uber are appealing the TfL decision. We’ll have to wait and see how that pans out.”

(This version of the story adds how many vehicles will be affected)

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper and Katie Gregory,; Editing by Toby Chopra and Ed Osmond

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Exclusive: EU dismisses smoke regulation, looks into tougher fire safety tests

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BRUSSELS/LONDON (Reuters) – There is no need for Europe-wide rules on toxic smoke from building materials, according to a report expected to be signed off by the EU executive over the coming weeks, disappointing campaigners who say regulation is urgently needed following London’s deadly Grenfell Tower fire.

FILE PHOTO: An official works in the burnt out remains of the Grenfell apartment tower in North Kensington, London, Britain September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville /File Photo

The European Commission is, however, considering EU-wide fire safety testing for building facades and will conclude a study early next year, according to EU sources, who asked not to be named.

Debate on fire safety has intensified since the Grenfell Tower apartment block fire that killed about 80 people in June. An investigation into the fire is underway and it remains unclear what role, if any, smoke played in the tragedy.

More generally, firefighters say one of their biggest concerns is smoke because of research linking it to cancer. They also say synthetic materials produce more deadly smoke than natural products.

“The responses received do not agree that regulation of toxicity of smoke from construction products is required,” extracts from the final report seen by Reuters showed.

It found there was not sufficient evidence that member states want EU-wide smoke regulation and cited concerns it could add to building costs.

“There is general agreement that regulation of toxicity of smoke of construction products could increase product costs and potentially remove some products from the market,” is another conclusion. It does not name them.

Two sources, who asked not to be named, said the Commission expected to review, finalize and publish the report after the end of this month, but a publication date had yet to be confirmed.

CAMPAIGNERS VERSUS PLASTICS INDUSTRY

The Commission had asked for the report to help resolve an argument between fire safety campaigners and the plastics industry.

Trade body Plastics Europe, which represents companies such as ExxonMobil, Total and BASF, says there is no evidence that rules on smoke would save lives and there are multiple factors to consider when assessing a building’s safety.

“Toxicity criterion for construction products will not per se guarantee more safety in the eventuality of a fire,” Plastics Europe said in a position paper. The European Commission declined to comment.

Firefighters and other safety campaigners say labeling products according to their toxicity when burned would address a lack of clear fire safety regulations for builders.

“Had the construction products regulation incorporated fire toxicity into the product labeling, it would have been very clear to the architects and designers that they were putting the occupants of Grenfell in danger,” said Richard Hull, a professor of fire science at the University of Central Lancashire in England.

For now, the EU only sets standards to ensure construction materials can be shipped across borders within the bloc, although EU sources said the Commission decided long before the Grenfell fire to draw up the planned rules to harmonise fire-safety tests for building facades.

In addition, the Grenfell Tower fire led the Commission to set up a Fire Information Exchange Platform to share safety information among member states. It met in Brussels for the first time on Oct. 16.

Sian Hughes, chair of Fire Safe Europe, said harmonized testing for facades would be a step forward but for high-rise buildings it was impossible for any test to accurately predict a real-life fire.

“We must design the risk out of these buildings and that means only permitting non-combustible materials in these buildings from the start,” she said.

Fire Safe Europe brings together fire fighters, representatives of the concrete and cable industries, and equipment and insulation companies including Danish-listed Rockwool and Germany’s Knauf Insulation.

It says around 40 percent of deaths in fires are caused directly by smoke, while a further 20 percent are caused by a combination of severe burns and smoke.

Editing by Giles Elgood

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China aims to meet air quality standards by 2035: minister

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BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China will strive to comply fully with its own air quality standards by 2035, the country’s environment minister said on Monday, adding that the long and difficult battle against pollution would eventually benefit the economy.

Chinese Minister of Environmental Protection Li Ganjie attends a news conference during the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Beijing, China October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Speaking on the sidelines of China’s Communist Party Congress, Minister of Environmental Protection Li Ganjie urged the public to be “patient” when it came to improving air quality, and said a strengthened environmental protection system would eventually benefit the country’s economic development.

China has been cracking down on big industrial polluters in order to reverse the damage done to its skies, rivers and soil by more than three decades of breakneck growth.

Beijing will impose tough production curbs this winter to cut hazardous airborne particles known as PM2.5 by at least 15 percent in 28 smog-prone northern cities, to help ensure the nations meets a series of politically crucial 2017 targets.

“We are fully aware of the problems we are facing,” Li told reporters.

“Coal accounts for a high proportion of the overall energy mix,” he said. Also, “we have too many commodities transported by trucks. Some companies avoid emission control measures. Some local governments are not enforcing measures from the central government,” Li said.

China’s capital Beijing is under pressure to bring average PM2.5 readings to 60 micrograms per cubic meter this year, down from 73 micrograms last year. The figure remains significantly higher, however, than even the country’s own official air quality standard.

The World Health Organization recommends concentrations of no more than 10 micrograms, while China itself should aim to meet its own “interim” standard of 35 micrograms by 2035, Li said.

“We understand that current air quality fails to meet people’s expectations,” he said.

“People should be patient about improvements in air quality improvement as it will take time to solve such a big problem.”

China’s average PM2.5 rate stood at 42 micrograms per cubic meter in the first eight months of 2017, down 2.3 percent from the same period last year.

The average reading in the smog-prone Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, however, stood at 65 micrograms over the period, up 10.2 percent from a year earlier.

Reporting by Muyu Xu, Meng Meng and David Stanway; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Tom Hogue

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China’s top steelmaking city deepens output cut to fight smog: CSJ

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SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s top steelmaking city, Tangshan, will step up curbs on industrial output as it makes greater efforts to cut hazardous smog, the China Securities Journal reported on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: The sun sets behind a chimney of a steel mill in Tangshan, Hebei province February 18, 2014. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic/File Photo

The city, in northern China’s Hebei province, has ordered more industrial plants, including rubber, plastics and paint producers, to make deep cuts in production, the newspaper said, citing a government notice.

The curbs will last for four months, until March 2018, but the city is asking industrial plants to make temporary, steeper, cuts in production over the next three days, when smog is expected to worsen.

The city will also limit the use of trucks and tractors between Oct. 24-27.

China has been cracking down on big industrial polluters to reverse the damage done to its air, rivers and soil by more than three decades of breakneck growth.

Tangshan already ordered steel mills, cement and other plants to cut output in early October, a month earlier than expected. It is the latest city to launch a campaign to tackle toxic air before the previous deadline of Nov. 15.

The city produces nearly 100 million tonnes of crude steel a year, more than the United States, and is routinely listed among China’s 10 smoggiest cities. It vowed last month to shut ceramic and cement factories and restrict road freight activities during the heating season.

China will strive to comply fully with its own air quality standards by 2035, the country’s environment minister Li Ganjie said on Monday, adding that the long and difficult battle against pollution would eventually benefit the economy.

Reporting by Ruby Lian and Josephine Mason; Editing by Adrian Croft

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Israel’s water worries return after four years of drought

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) – It was a source of national pride – technology and discipline besting a crippling lack of water.

A dry agricultural field is seen in the Hula Valley, northern Israel October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

But four years of drought have overtaxed Israel’s unmatched array of desalination and wastewater treatment plants, choking its most fertile regions and catching the government off-guard.

“No one imagined we would face a sequence of arid years like this, because it never happened before,” said Uri Schor, spokesman for Israel’s Water Authority.

The Sea of Galilee, technically a lake near the border with Syria, is forecast to hit its lowest level ever before winter rains come, despite the fact that pumping there was massively reduced. Underground aquifers, the other main freshwater source, are nearing levels that will turn them salty.

How to cope with the crisis is becoming an increasingly touchy subject in Israel. Proposed cuts to water use for the coming year, more than 50 percent in some areas, prompted vehement opposition from farmers, who already face tough restrictions and would have been the hardest hit. The government quickly backtracked.

In the Middle East, one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change, water is also the subject of wider tensions. Intense pressure on already scarce water resources could lead to an increase in migration and the risk of conflict, the World Bank has warned.

Syria and Jordan depend on some of the same water sources as Israel, which as added to tensions in the past. Palestinians have long complained of inadequate access to water, which is mostly under Israeli control in the occupied West Bank. Israel has said it has supplied more water than required under interim peace deals.

Under discussion for a possible long-term solution to Israel’s water problem is the construction of an additional desalination plant, an industry official said. A similar facility in Israel has cost more $400 million.

Cranes stand in a dry agricultural field in the Hula Valley, northern Israel October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Several new reservoirs to catch rain and flood waters could also relieve some pressure as a quick, $60 million fix, the official said, asking to remain anonymous due to the political sensitivity of the subject.

Just a few years ago Israel, a country two-thirds arid, declared an end to the water shortages that hounded it for decades. A longstanding nationwide awareness campaign ceased and Israelis could take long showers and water their gardens.

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There was even talk of exporting surplus water to its neighbors. This came as a result of a massive investment drive which saw Israel put 15 billion shekels ($4.3 billion) in its national water grid and sewage treatment centers. The commercial sector invested another 7 billion shekels into the construction of five desalination plants.

Supply issues are being hardest felt among farmers in the northern tip of Israel, the region where Dubi Amitay, a fourth-generation farmer and president of the Israel Farmers Federation, lives.

Amitay said the shortage had made him decide to dry out 3,700 acres of land, which will take a toll on future harvests.

His home region of eastern Galilee, a lush swath of land between the coast and the Golan Heights, could lose up to 500 million shekels this season, he said.

The lack of reliable waters supply leaves farmers with deep uncertainty.

“Will we have water or not?,” he said.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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Sunny weather provides relief for Ivory Coast cocoa farmers

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ABIDJAN (Reuters) – The sunniest weather in three months should improve the size and quality of Ivory Coast’s main crop just before harvesting picks up next month, farmers said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Farmers stand at a cocoa farm in Agboville, Ivory Coast April 24, 2017. Picture taken April 24, 2017. REUTERS/Luc Gnago/File Photo

A break in the rain in the world’s top cocoa producer has provided relief to farmers who have expressed concern about high levels of soil moisture in recent weeks. The sun will help to dry out beans and strengthen pod development, they said.

“The sun has been very strong this week. If it continues, the quality of the beans will be very good,” said Salame Kone, who farms on the outskirts of the western region of Soubre in the heart of the cocoa belt.

The 2017/18 season officially started on Oct. 1.

FILE PHOTO: A farmer holds an opened cocoa pod at his farm in Anyama, Ivory Coast July 21, 2017. REUTERS/Luc Gnago/File Photo

Data collected by Reuters showed the temperature in cocoa regions ranged last week from 26 degrees Celsius to 28.7 degrees.

Rain in the Soubre region was at 19.3 mm, 1.4 mm below the average and way down on the 74.8 mm recorded the previous week.

FILE PHOTO: A farmer carries cocoa pods at a cocoa farm in Agboville, Ivory Coast April 24, 2017. Picture taken April 24, 2017. REUTERS/Luc Gnago/File Photo

In the central western region of Daloa, farmers said weather conditions remained good for the main crop, which runs from October through March. Rainfall reached 7 mm, 11.3 mm below the average and down from 29.4 mm the previous week.

In the southern region of Divo there was 10.7 mm of rain, 11.5 mm below the average and down from 48.3 mm.

Farmers were also encouraged in the eastern region of Aboisso, where data collected by Reuters showed that rainfall was at 21.7 mm, 4.1 mm below the average and down from 57.7 mm the previous week.

Reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly; Editing by Edward McAllister and David Goodman

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Rhino, elephant poaching declines in Namibia

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WINDHOEK (Reuters) – Namibia recorded fewer cases of rhino and elephant poaching this year compared to recent years, the southern African nation’s minister of environment and tourism said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Black rhinos, one of the world’s endangered animals, are seen at a farm outside Klerksdorp, South Africa, February 24, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo

Namibia has one of the largest black rhino populations in the world; but as in neighboring South Africa, it is under threat from the lucrative market in rhino horn, especially in Asia.

So far this year, 27 rhinos were poached compared to 60 last year and 95 in 2015, environment and tourism minister Pohamba Shifeta told reporters. Twenty elephants have been poached since January compared to 101 in 2016 and 49 a year before.

“More resources have been allocated to fight poaching, more government agencies, non-governmental organizations, private sector, international development partners, communities and the general public have come on board to support our efforts to stop poaching,” Shifeta said.

The police have so far arrested 75 people this year with ties mainly to Asian criminal syndicates for wildlife crime related to illegal hunting and possession of either rhino horns or elephant tusks.

A total of 30 rhino horns, 103 elephant tusks and 69 pieces of elephant tusk have also been recovered by ministry officials working together with the Namibian Police and Namibian Defence Force.

Reporting by Nyasha Nyaungwa

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