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World News in Brief: Unprecedented cholera spike in Africa, Julian Assange extradition update, locusts compound Sudan crisis

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Dr. Fiona Braka from WHO’s regional office in Brazzaville, Congo, said that eastern and southern Africa have been particularly badly affected.

In just the first four weeks of the year, 10 African countries reported more than 26,000 cases and 700 deaths, which is nearly double the number reported last year over the same period.

Zambia and Zimbabwe have been worst hit, but Mozambique, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Nigeria are also in the grip of “active outbreaks”, with a high risk of further spread, Dr. Braka said.

Preventable and treatable

“We will continue to see records being broken as long as people do not have access to clean water and sanitation facilities,” she explained. “Cholera is preventable and treatable. No one, no longer, should die from it.”

Increased flooding associated with climate change has helped the spread of cholera, a preventable waterborne disease. More cyclones and droughts have also reduced access to clean water, creating an ideal environment for cholera to thrive.

Despite a global shortage of oral cholera vaccines, WHO supports inoculation drives in Zambia, where over 1.7 million people have been vaccinated. A campaign is also underway in Zimbabwe, which expects to provide protection to 2.3 million people.

WHO has also deployed over 100 medical experts and dispatched emergency supplies to affected areas in Zambia and Zimbabwe.

More than 30 tonnes of emergency supplies have already been delivered to both countries, including cholera kits and rehydration salts, with more assistance on the way.

UN torture expert urges UK to halt extradition of Julian Assange to the US

The UN Human Rights Council-appointed independent expert on torture urged the United Kingdom on Tuesday to halt the possible extradition of Julian Assange to the United States.

Alice Edwards called on British authorities to consider Mr. Assange’s appeal based on the substantial fears that, if extradited, he would be at risk of treatment amounting to torture or other forms of ill-treatment or punishment.

“Julian Assange suffers from a long standing and recurrent depressive disorder. He is assessed as being at risk of committing suicide,” the Special Rapporteur said in a statement.

He faces numerous charges in the US, including under the Espionage Act of 1917, for the alleged unlawful release of diplomatic and other cables and documents via the investigative site he co-founded, WikiLeaks.

Lifetimes in jail

“If extradited, he could be detained in prolonged isolation while awaiting trial or as an inmate. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 175 years in prison,” Ms. Edwards said.

The independent expert questioned whether his extradition is compatible with the UK’s international human rights obligations considering the risks to his mental health through solitary confinement or likelihood of “disproportionate” sentencing.

“Diplomatic assurances of humane treatment provided by the Government of the United States are not a sufficient guarantee to protect Mr. Assange against such risk,” she added, calling on the UK to carefully review the extradition order.

A final domestic appeal after a long-running legal battle on Mr. Assange’s extradition is scheduled to take place before the High Court in London on 20 and 21 February.

Rapporteurs and other rights experts are independent of any government or organization, receive no salary and serve in their own capacity.

Sudan: Food scarcity set to worsen as threat increases from desert locusts

UN humanitarians are warning that food will become even more scarce in the coming months as Sudan enters the lean season, the UN Spokesperson told journalists on Tuesday.

“An estimated 18 million people are food insecure – that’s 10 million more than last year,” said Stéphane Dujarric.

This comes as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) cautioned earlier in Geneva that the damage caused by desert locusts in the country has worsened significantly since the middle of last year.

Existential threat to seed supplies

FAO Deputy Representative in Sudan Adam Yao warned that the pest problem had reached a “threatening level”, and without sustained efforts to control the invasion, significant agricultural losses are inevitable.

© FAO/Haji Dirir

Locusts swarm in the Nugal region of Somalia.

This is due in part to the absence of surveillance and control operations in central and western Sudan resulting from the ongoing war between Government forces and the rival RSF militia, which has plunged the country into crisis.

Nonetheless, locust control officers supported by the FAO have managed to survey more than 113,500 hectares and control around 23,000 hectares of land already infested.

Mr. Yao said FAO was working together with the UN humanitarian coordination office, OCHA, to secure immediate access to Wad Madani to ensure seed collections under threat can be moved to a safer location.

Aid agencies have managed to deliver lifesaving assistance to seven million people in Sudan since last April.

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