5 things to know for August 17: Afghanistan, coronavirus, extreme weather, cybersecurity, India

5 things to know for August 17: Afghanistan, coronavirus, extreme weather, cybersecurity, India

Grace has strengthened into a tropical storm again, threatening the Caribbean with mudslides and flooding. That includes vulnerable Haiti, which just suffered an earthquake and may now face driving rains.

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1. Afghanistan

Fear, tumult and confusion are gripping parts of Afghanistan in the aftermath of the Taliban’s takeover of the capital city of Kabul. People flooded the city’s airport in an attempt to leave the country and escape Taliban rule. Countries around the world, like India and Australia, are fast-tracking immigration pathways to accept Afghan people trying to flee. In Washington, among Biden administration members and longtime national security professionals, there has been fierce debate over how the swift, catastrophic end to the US’ 20-year presence in the country came to be. In a speech to the nation yesterday, President Joe Biden admitted Afghanistan’s collapse “did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated,” but stood behind his withdrawal plan.

2. Coronavirus

The Biden administration is expected to release guidance advising people to get a Covid-19 booster shot eight months after their final initial dose. The plan, which is still being developed, would be put into action beginning in mid- to late September, pending FDA authorization. Pfizer has submitted initial data to the FDA that supports the use of a booster dose, and claims such a step would help protect against the virus and, importantly, its variants. Meanwhile, New Zealand has announced a nationwide lockdown after a single reported coronavirus case — its first locally transmitted case since February. In Tokyo, Paralympics organizers say the games, which start next week, will go on without spectators as the country continues to struggle with new coronavirus outbreaks.

3. Extreme weather

Wildfires and droughts are still relentlessly ravaging the western US. Dry wildfire conditions are expected to continue through the next month, the National Interagency Fire Center says. Right now, there are 97 large fires burning in the US, scorching a total of 2,147,446 acres. In total, more than 4 million acres of US land have been scorched by fires in 2021. Evacuations and power shutoffs could affect tens of thousands of citizens in Western states in the coming days. Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the US by volume, has been pushed to historic lows by severe drought in areas around the Colorado River, which feeds it. The US government has declared a water shortage on the river for the first time ever, triggering mandatory water consumption cuts for states in the Southwest.

4. Cybersecurity

T-Mobile has confirmed it was hit by a data breach after hackers claimed they were selling personal information obtained from some 100 million people. The company has not said whether any personal information from customers was accessed or how widespread the damage may be. These kinds of breaches are becoming more of a threat to US security, and can have long-lasting consequences for individuals as well as the companies affected. Colonial Pipeline, one of the largest fuel pipelines in the US, says the breach that caused it to go offline in the spring also compromised the personal information of nearly 6,000 individuals, who are mostly current or former company employees and their family members.

5. India

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has renewed a pledge to spend more than $1 trillion on infrastructure to boost the economy and create hundreds of thousands of jobs. Modi made the announcement on India’s Independence Day, which is a holiday he often likes to use to make ambitious promises (he made a similar infrastructure pledge last year). As Asia’s third-largest country and home to nearly 1.4 billion people, things like railways and emissions regulations are a big priority for India. The country is also clawing its way out of its first recession in a quarter century, spurred on by the pandemic. Modi did not give a timeline for the infrastructure plan, called “Gati Shakti,” which means momentum.


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