🗺️ Picks of the Week — Jan. 22

First Nationwide Covid Referendum, Biden Cancels Keystone XL Pipeline, Honduran Migrant Caravan, AI Finds Billions of New Trees, Bali Monkey Thieves, Uganda Election Aftermath

Happy Friday folks! Hope this week was as uneventful as possible. Another loaded edition today as we sweep up the most interesting and important news from around the world.

Today we’ll visit Switzerland who became the first country to approve a national Covid referendum; North America where new U.S. President Joe Biden has revoked the permit of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline; Central America where the first migrant caravan of the year was violently dispersed; the Sahara where artificial intelligence has found almost two billion new trees; Bali where fascinating new research on thieving monkeys has been published; and Uganda with an update to its violent election aftermath.

Be sure to check out Wednesday’s Inside The Middle East where we looked at the most important news from around the region, including three Syrian businessmen being linked to August’s devastating explosion in Beirut. And if you’re job hunting, have a look at Monday’s job board update.

And a big thank you to our friends at the Global Investigative Journalism Network for giving our Data Corner some love, which we’ll be ramping up in the coming weeks. Okay, let’s get to it!

Data Corner: 58 Datasets Used in 2020

Job Corner

This weekend’s deadlines include at the likes of the Associated Press, Bell Media, CBC, GIJN, Google, The Independent and The Times…

Job Board: w/c Jan. 18

Job Board: w/c January 18

Preview of this weekend’s deadlines 👇

Data Corner

Some datasets we used in today’s newsletter…

  1. Keystone XL Pipeline: Mapping data sources of the pipeline, from Climate Alliance Mapping Project

  2. Migrant Caravan: Global migration data, from Migration Data Portal

  3. Trees: Interactive map of the world’s trees, from Global Forest Watch

Biden Cancels Keystone XL Pipeline

We start this week with the news that new U.S. President Joe Biden has revoked the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, as part of several executive orders in his first week in the White House. Biden said the project, worth around $10 billion that was set to transport oil from Alberta, Canada, across the border to the Texas Gulf Coast, didn’t fit with the economic and climate imperatives of his administration. Former President Barack Obama previously rejected the permit application also due to environmental concerns, but it was revived under Donald Trump in his first week in office.

In Canada, about 300 miles of the pipeline have already been constructed, reaching the U.S. border. Alberta’s Premier, Jason Kenney, said he was “deeply disturbed” by Biden’s decision, as around 1,000 jobs, the majority unionized, are set to be eliminated in the coming weeks. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement “We are disappointed but acknowledge the President’s decision to fulfil his election campaign promise on Keystone XL”.

First Central American Migrant Caravan of 2021 Dispersed

Moving to Central America next where Guatemalan security forcibly broke up a group of approximately 7,000 migrants fleeing Honduras on foot, with hopes of reaching Mexico and the U.S. The violent standoff, during which security forces sprayed tear gas and beat migrants with truncheons, culminated on a highway about 30 miles into Guatemalan territory, and the migrants were returned in buses to the Honduran border. 

Fleeing unemployment, gang violence, and destruction caused by last year’s major hurricanes Eta and Iota, conditions in Central America have deteriorated significantly because of the pandemic. The hope among the migrants is that Biden will overhaul Trump’s anti-immigration policies that targeted undocumented migrants, and reintroduce Temporary Protected Status visas. Migrant caravans have attempted to reach the U.S. since Trump took office in 2017, but the Biden administration warned that reforms wouldn’t be made overnight.

Caravan of Central American migrants heads toward US border

Previous Picks of the Week 👀

🔎 Picks of the Week — Jan. 15

🔎 Picks of the Week — Jan. 8

🔎 Picks of the Week — Dec. 18

🔎 Picks of the Week — Dec. 11

AI Discovers Billions of New Trees in Sahara

More positive news on the environment front this time in Africa, where artificial intelligence, satellite imagery and one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers located more than 1.8 billion new trees in the Sahara. The team of international scientists, led by professor Martin Brandt of the University of Copenhagen, said they didn’t expect to find many trees in the arid area, where nobody would expect to find many trees.

Trees are an essential part of the Sahara’s ecosystem and our long-term survival, crucially absorbing carbon dioxide to curb the effects of climate change, as well as providing food and shelter. However, scientists say most public resources devoted to documenting this type of biodiversity are designated to forests, not dryland shrubbery like the recent Saharan discovery. The researchers added that new technology has allowed them to monitor trees outside of forests around the world, and to explore their role in mitigating degradation, climate change and poverty.

Seeing the forest and the trees: dryland trees grow in isolation without forming forests (greenish colors in upper figure), which makes them invisible for conventional satellite systems. A new study has used new sensors and artificial intelligence to map all individual trees within the rectangle over West Africa, showing that millions of trees grow in areas known as desert or grassland.
Source: The Guardian. Dryland trees grow in isolation without forming forests (marked in green, top), making them invisible to conventional satellite systems. Scientists used new sensors and AI to map individual trees within the rectangle over west Africa, showing that millions of trees grow in desert and grassland areas.

Ugandan President Holds Opposition Under House Arrest

We move to Uganda next for an update on last week’s presidential election, which saw President Yoweri Museveni win his sixth term amid some of the worst election violence the country’s seen, including more than 50 deaths. Opposition leader Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, has been held under house arrest since shortly after the election, in part because of his claims that the military stuffed ballot boxes with votes for Museveni.

The country’s internet blackout ended after five days, in a shutdown described as a "textbook case of pre-meditated, pre-election internet blackout". After failing to deploy election observers, the EU has joined a growing number of voices calling for an investigation into the human rights violations in the East African country. This comes after the U.S. ambassador to Uganda, Natalie E. Brown, was blocked from visiting Wine this week, and has vowed to disregard the result.

Christiane Amanpour interviews Bobi Wine


Switzerland to Hold First Nationwide Covid Referendum

Stopping briefly in Europe next where Switzerland voted to become the first country in the world to hold a referendum on whether to end a national government’s Covid restrictions. After the Swiss government tightened restrictions earlier this month, campaign group Friends of the Constitution collected 86,000 signatures to repeal Switzerland’s 2020 Covid-19 Act, which allows the government to impose measures to protect the health of its population. The group accuses the government of taking advantage of the pandemic to limit democracy, with the vote is set for June.

Campaigners in the UK proposed a similar referendum in September, but it was rejected for being unclear of what was being asked of the public to vote on. Switzerland operates under a system of direct democracy, which encourages participation in political decision making by all citizens, meaning referendums aren’t uncommon. The government has stopped short of national lockdowns like most other European countries, instead relying on personal responsibility of its people. Regardless, the nation ranks among the worst in the world for daily new deaths.

Bali Monkeys Steal Valuables for Food 

We’ll finish the week with some advice for any future tourists looking to protect themselves against petty theft in the Indonesian province of Bali. If you’re planning to visit the Uluwatu Temple, you’ll need to keep your wits about you, because the thieves hanging around the area are in fact long-tailed macaque monkeys, who have their eye on your valuables. New research, which was crucially conducted in the open and not in a laboratory setting, found that the small primates are able to identify the most valuable inedible items we possess, and steal them in hopes of bartering for an edible reward. 

Dr. Jean-Baptiste Leca of Canada’s University of Lethbridge, whose team spent more than nine months filming the monkeys’ interactions with people, said mobile phones, wallets and glasses were among the high-value possessions the monkeys aim to steal. “These monkeys have become experts at snatching them from absent-minded tourists who didn’t listen to the temple staff’s recommendations to keep all valuables inside zipped handbags firmly tied around their necks and backs,” Leca said. Good luck!

Macaque monkeys on the prowl…

That’s all for this week! Enjoy your weekends and see you on Monday for new jobs! 👋

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