A species of mosquito originally from Asia threatens to put tens of millions of city-dwellers in Africa at higher risk of catching malaria as the invading insect spreads throughout the continent, a study said Monday.

Malaria -- which killed 400,000 people in 2018, mainly children in Africa -- is caused by parasites that roughly 40 mosquito species spread among humans when they feed.

The Anopheles gambiae group of mosquito species are the main drivers of malaria's spread in Africa, but these insects dislike the polluted puddles seen in cities and haven't learned to lay their larvae in urban fresh water tanks.

For these reasons, most malaria transmission in Africa occurs in rural areas.


In a new study published in the Proceedings on the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), medical entomologist Marianne Sinka, of the University of Oxford, charted the spread of another species, Anopheles stephensi, which originated in Asia.

This species has learned to slip through cracks to access water tanks, favoring those made from brick and cement. 

"It's the only one that's really good at getting into central urban areas," Sinka told AFP.

Anopheles stephensi caused a major outbreak in Djibouti City in the Horn of Africa in 2012, a city where malaria hardly existed, and has since been observed in Ethiopia, Sudan and elsewhere. 

Sinka and colleagues combined location data for the species with spatial models that identified the environmental conditions characterizing its preferred habitat: high-density urban areas where it is hot and rainfall is plentiful.

Their study found that 44 cities are "highly suitable" locations for the insect, putting 126 million more Africans -- mainly around the equatorial regions -- at risk of malaria, compared to today. 

"That means that Africa, which has already got the highest burden of malaria, could have an even bigger impact," said Sinka, with 40 percent of the continent's population in urban areas.

Unlike African mosquitoes, which like to bite humans when at night when it is cool, Anopheles stephensi can feed in the evening when it is warmer, making bed nets less effective.

So installing mosquito nets on windows, soaking the walls in insecticides, and covering the body are better ways to protect against this species.

Longer term, the most effective measure is to target the larvae: eliminate stagnant water and tightly seal water tanks from intrusion. These methods proved effective in India, said Sinka./AFP

The atmosphere of Venus contains a gas that on Earth can be attributed to living organisms, scientists said Monday, a discovery the head of NASA called "the most significant development yet" in the hunt for extraterrestrial life.

Conditions on our planetary neighbour are often described as hellish with daytime temperatures hot enough to melt lead and an atmosphere comprised almost entirely of carbon dioxide. 

However, a team of experts detected traces of phosphine, a flammable gas that on Earth often occurs from the breakdown of organic matter.

They used telescopes in Hawaii and Chile's Atacama Desert to observe Venus' upper cloud deck, around 60 kilometres (45 miles) from the surface.


Writing in Nature Astronomy, the team stressed the presence of phosphine did not prove the presence of life on Venus.

But, as the clouds swirling about its broiling surface are highly acidic and therefore destroy phosphine very quickly, the research did show that something was creating it anew.

The researchers conducted several modelling calculations in a bid to explain the new phosphine production.

They concluded that their research provided evidence "for anomalous and unexplained chemistry" on Venus.

Lead author Jane Greaves, from Cardiff University's School of Physics and Astronomy told AFP that the presence of phosphine alone was not proof of life on Earth's next door neighbour.

"I don't think we can say that -- even if a planet was abundant in phosphorus, it might lack something else important to life -- some other element, or conditions might be too hot, too dry," she said. 

Greaves added that it was the first time phosphine had been found on a rocky planet other than Earth.

The breakthrough was hailed by NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, who tweeted, "it's time to prioritize Venus." 

"Life on Venus? The discovery of phosphine, a byproduct of anaerobic biology, is the most significant development yet in building the case for life off Earth," he wrote.

The bulk of current efforts to look for past extraterrestrial life focus on Mars, which is known to have once contained all the necessary ingredients to support carbon-based organisms.

The US and China recently sent rovers to the Red Planet, while the UAE sent an atmospheric probe.

- 'Exciting' -

Reacting to the study, Alan Duffy, an astronomer from Swinburne University and Lead Scientist of The Royal Institution of Australia, said it while it was tempting to believe that the phosphine was produced by lifeforms, "we have to rule out all possible other non-biological means of producing it".

He called the finding "one of the most exciting signs of the possible presence of life beyond Earth I have ever seen".

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, which has conducted several fly-bys of Venus, called Monday's research "intriguing".

"As with an increasing number of planetary bodies, Venus is proving to be an exciting place of discovery, though it had not been a significant part of the search for life," he tweeted.

He added that the planet was the focus of two out of four of NASA's next four candidate missions under its Discovery Program, as well as Europe's proposed EnVision mission, in which NASA is a partner.

Venus, which rotates in the opposite direction to Earth and where a day lasts 243 times longer, is a subject of intense interest among astronomers. 

It is so close and of such similar size to our home planet that some experts believe it serves as a warning of the dangers of runaway climate change. 

Previous studies have unearthed tantalising clues suggesting Venus has active volcanoes, including signs of recent lava flows. /AFP


Authorities in Arab countries confirmed more cases and deaths Monday from the coronavirus outbreak. 


Morocco reported at least 36 more fatalities from COVID-19, bringing the country’s death toll to 1,614, the Health Ministry said in a statement.

A total of 1,517 infections were also reported, bringing the number of cases to 88,203, while a total of 68,970 people have recovered from the virus, it added.


At least eight deaths and 242 new infections were reported in Algeria over the past 24 hours, according to a statement by the Health Ministry.

The death toll in the country reached 1,620 and the number of cases climbed to 48,496, including 34,204 recoveries.


Five more fatalities and 547 new cases were reported in Lebanon, according to the country's health authorities.

The death toll hit 246 and the number of infections stands at 24,857, including 8,765 recoveries.


The coronavirus pandemic has claimed more than 925,000 lives in 188 countries and regions since originating in Wuhan, China in December. The US, India, Brazil and Russia are currently the worst-hit countries.

Over 29.13 million COVID-19 cases have been reported worldwide, with recoveries exceeding 19.67 million, according to figures compiled by US-based Johns Hopkins University./aa

BOGOTA, Colombia 

Fires are raging in the wetlands of west-central Brazil, leaving behind a vast swath of charred ruins in a paradise of biodiversity.    

The enormous fires have destroyed nearly 12% of the world’s largest tropical wetland, partially reducing to ashes one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet.  

The fires, often set by ranchers and farmers to clear land but exacerbated by the most severe drought in 47 years, are out of control, authorities say. 

The Pantanal, which also covers areas of Bolivia and Paraguay, is home to roughly 1,200 vertebrate animal species, including 36 that are threatened with extinction. The region is home to rare birds and the world's densest population of jaguars. 

Scientists say the magnitude of the loss cannot be estimated. Satellites of the National Institute for Space Research reported that from January to September, 14,764 fire spots swept the Brazilian side of this biome, an increase of 214% from the same period in 2019. 

The fires in the Pantanal this year quadruple the size of the largest fire in Brazil's Amazon rainforest, according to the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The Pantanal is smaller and less-known than the Amazon jungle, but the region has abundant waters and a strategic location.  

The fires in the Brazilian Amazon are becoming stronger, aggravated by deforestation, for which environmentalists blame President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of encouraging intervention in protected lands./aa

MUGLA, Turkey 

The Turkish Coast Guard rescued nine asylum seekers Monday who were pushed back by Greek coastal authorities into Turkish waters off the Aegean coast, according to security sources. 

The coast guard team was dispatched to the area off the coast of Datca district in southwestern Mugla province after receiving information that the asylum seekers were stranded on a dinghy.

They were brought to the port and transferred to the provincial migration office.

Turkey has been a key transit point for asylum seekers aiming to cross into Europe to start new lives, especially those fleeing war and persecution.

The country opened its gates earlier this year to asylum seekers seeking to cross to Europe, accusing the European Union of failing to keep its promises under a 2016 migrant deal./aa


California Governor Gavin Newsom had an unequivocal warning for US President Donald Trump on Monday, telling him "climate change is real" as the president sought to pin blame for the state's historic wildfires on poor forest management.  

Newsom acknowledged that more should be done to regulate forests, saying "we have not done justice" on clearing dead trees and debris, but he adamantly insisted climate change not only exists, but is a driving factor for the state's continual wildfire woes.

"We obviously feel very strongly that the hots are getting hotter, the dries are getting drier," Newsom told Trump during a briefing on the ongoing infernos. "Something's happened to the plumbing of the world and we come from a perspective, humbly, where we submit the science is in and observed evidence is self-evident that climate change is real and that is exacerbating this."

Trump has long cast doubt on the existence of climate change, and his administration has taken measures intended to rollback environmental protections that were established to combat the worsening phenomenon.

Notably Trump decided to leave the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, which was brokered to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in a bid to slow Earth's warming, and the accompanying extreme weather and natural disaster events.

The president continued to downplay the significant of climate change, telling officials during the briefing "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Wade Crowfoot, California's secretary for natural resources, quickly retorted "I wish science agreed with you."

"Well, I don't think science knows actually," Trump said.

Asked by Newsom to respect "the difference of opinion" on climate change, Trump said "Sure. Absolutely."

Upon arriving in northern California, Trump suggested that downed trees "just explode" during wildfires, adding "when you have years of leaves, dried leaves on the ground it just sets it up, it's really a fuel for a fire."

"So they have to do something about it," he continued.

During Monday's briefing, Newsom said over 50% of the state is federally-protected forest, imploring the president for additional national assistance to better manage the forests and combat the fires.

At least 21 people have died in 2020 as the state's infernos continue to rage, according to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CalFire. The largest existing firestorm, the August Complex Fire, has scorched 755,603 acres and is just 30% contained.

In all, California has lost over 2.2 million acres and nearly 5,000 structures so far this year, and the wildfire season traditionally does not conclude until October.


At least 30 people were rescued after a boat carrying irregular migrants sank on Monday near the Greek island of Crete, according to Greek News Agency ANA-MPA.

A merchant ship dispatched to the region, some 19 kilometers (12 miles) east of Crete, made the rescue after a person on the sinking boat called the emergency call center for help.

In addition to a helicopter and boat belonging to the Greek Coast Guard, a navy frigate was sent to the region to participate in search and rescue operations, the agency added.

Gautham Subramanyam

NBC News

NEW DELHI — The president of India recently received a letter from a young man in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. It included graphic details of how the writer said he had been abused by police in his village.

Vara Prasad, 22, said he was seeking the permission of President Ram Nath Kovind to join the Naxalites,an outlawed Maoist insurgent group fighting a guerrilla war against Indian security forces.

"The law-and-order system has failed me," Prasad, a "Dalit" from the lowest rung of India's caste hierarchy, said in the letter, dated Aug. 11 to Kovind — who is also a Dalit. "I want to look elsewhere to preserve my dignity."

India's caste system — and the violence perpetrated against those at the bottom of the rigid, hereditary social stratification — stood yet again at center stage.

Prasad lives on the banks of a deltaic stream of the Godavari, India's second longest river. The riverbed is a reservoir for rampant illegal sand mining, controlled by powerful local business and political cliques.

"There was a death in our village that day," Prasad told NBC News by telephone, referring to July 19, the day before he was beaten by the police.

"We were making funeral arrangements when a truck belonging to a local politician fetching sand from the riverbed passed by. I asked them to wait awhile while we moved the body. They wouldn't listen, and there was an altercation."

In the ensuing melee, Prasad said, blows were exchanged and, by his account he was hit first. He also admitted damaging the windshield of the truck.

"They wouldn't listen and words came to blows," he said. "The driver slapped my face and I damaged his windscreen."

"The next day, I was taken to the police station," he said. "The officers thrashed me and used the vilest expletives. They called in a barber and had him shave the top of my head and shave off my mustache. It was so humiliating. I wrote the president to grab attention."

Local police acknowledge the incident took place. In a two-page document, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, Shemushi Bajpai, the district's superintendent of police, said a departmental investigation established that Prasad had been the victim of "inhuman acts towards an accused person," and the officer involved had been arrested.

Prasad contends he was victimized for being a Dalit.

The police filed a case against the officer in question under what is commonly known as the Atrocities Act, which specifically targets crimes based on the victim's caste. It was an internal, departmental investigation.

Dalit is a word that can mean oppressed, broken or crushed and refers to those formerly known by the dehumanizing term "untouchables." Over the years, the community has chosen the term Dalit for itself, eschewing the official moniker of Scheduled Castes. There are 200 million Dalits in India out of a population of 1.3 billion.

The Hindu caste system, in which identity and status are ascribed at birth, dates to an ancient Sanskrit text called the "Manusmriti" (The laws of Manu), and uses a doctrine of purity and pollution to classify people into four varnas or castes.

At the top are the Brahmins (priests), followed by Kshatriyas (soldiers/administrators) and Vaishyas (merchants), with Shudras (servants/laborers) at the bottom. Dalits are beyond the scope of this system, which considers them "untouchables."

Untouchability was abolished legally in 1950, when India became a republic. In reality, it remains embedded in India's psyche.

‘Caste hatred at work’

Beyond prejudice, Dalit activists see a more sinister agenda, tied to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's vision for a Hindu nation.

The BJP — or the Indian people's party — leads the alliance heading the central government. In its second consecutive term in power, it's known for its robust assertion of nationalism.

A party spokesman denied the BJP's Hindu nationalism had contributed to the increasing number of attacks on Dalits.

"Ours is an inclusive nationalism," Sudesh Verma, a national spokesperson for the party, said by telephone. "We believe all Indians are Hindu by ancestry."

India, however, has a significant population of minorities, including about 194 million Muslims, which equates to 14.9 percent of the population. This is the second largest Muslim population of any country in the world after Indonesia, according to a Pew Research Center document released in 2019. There are also about 28 million Christians, and 20 million Sikhs.

Activists point to a spate of mob lynchings over beef, for instance, in which people have been attacked and often killed on mere suspicion.

Hindus venerate the cow, and its slaughter is illegal in most states.

The lynchings are carried out by vigilante groups; the victims are mostly Dalits and Muslims. Many of these events are filmed and circulated widely on social media.

The president's office said it forwarded Prasad's letter to local government officials, asking them to investigate.

While the police officers involved have been suspended and a departmental inquiry ordered, Prasad says the policemen were following orders. He hopes the president's directives will lead to action against the dominant-caste villagers — those, he said, who instigated the police brutality.

The note circulated by the police confirms Prasad's accusation, and names Kavala Krishna Murthy, a local man of the dominant Kapu – a land owning caste, — along with five unnamed persons — as the accused. The note says the complaint is under investigation. Murthy could not be reached for comment.

"This is caste hatred at work," Prasad said.

Litany of violence

Prasad's experience at the police station is just the most recent in a long list of cases in which Dalits have faced violence in India.

India has a special statute to deal with crimes against Dalits. Parliament passed the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act in 1989. Its existence is an acknowledgment that Dalits suffer disproportionate violence and hatred, and the law targets crimes against the group. It also allows for speedy trials, special courts and strict punishment. Prasad's case has been registered under this act.

But less than half the cases go to court and the conviction rate has been as low as 15 percent, according to government data. A 2017 Home Ministry document said, "despite the deterrent provisions made in the act, increasing atrocities ... have been a cause of concern for government."

The National Crime Records Bureau publishes an annual "Crime in India" report. In its 2018 report, it lists 42,793 cases — meaning a Dalit was a target of crime, on average, every 15 minutes. The number of cases has increased 66 percent over the last decade.

S.R. Darapuri, who uses initials instead of a last name like many Indians, is a retired police officer, a member of the Indian Police Service. He is also a Dalit and has spent his retirement campaigning for Dalit and minority rights.

"I know the force well, and caste prejudice is rife among all ranks," he said by telephone.

Beyond police violence, inter-caste violence is also widespread. The triggers can be acts as innocuous as entering a temple or falling in love.

In September 2018, Pranay Kumar, 25, was hacked to death in broad daylight in the town of Miryalaguda in Telangana state. His wife, Amruta, accused her father of hiring hitmen to kill Pranay because he was a Dalit. The father, Maruti Rao, was charged and died by suicide while the case was still being heard.

His funeral was broadcast live on local TV and he was celebrated for his "fatherly love." Amruta was trolled as an uncaring daughter, and vilified on social media.

"We saw the casteist face of the media and the public," Kumar’s father, Balaswamy, who goes by one name, said by phone. "We don't want revenge. We want this story known so that there can be an end to such casteist and so-called 'honor killings'."

India's history as a republic is littered with even more macabre incidents. There have been massacres of Dalits in states as far apart as Tamil Nadu and Bihar, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. There has been retaliatory violence, as well.

In 2016, in Una, a town in Gujarat state, seven members of a family were tied to an automobile and publicly flogged, stripped and marched naked in the town. They were skinning a cow, which they had bought after it was dead. They were accused of having slaughtered it.

In another incident in Jharkhand state, in 2018, a BJP minister gave flowers to six men accused of lynching to celebrate their release on bail. There has been criticism from Dalit and minority activists, the political opposition and media commentators that the ruling party has never clearly condemned these incidents.

In March 2018, the Supreme Court diluted some provisions of the Atrocities Act. It restricted police powers, and introduced "safeguards" to protect people accused under the law. The judgment even hinted that some Dalits might have been using the act as a weapon for blackmail and harassment.

India's Dalits erupted in protest.

A national strike was announced for April 2, 2018, and thousands joined across the country. They blocked railroads and highways. There were clashes with the police in several states and many incidents of violence and arson. Fourteen people died and several hundred were injured, according to Jignesh Mevani, 38, an independent legislator in the state of Gujarat, and a firebrand Dalit youth leader.

It was the first time that Dalit protesters ensured a nationwide lockdown, Mevani said. And this, without the backing of any major political party.

The protests galvanized the government. It filed a review petition and also went further. Hurriedly drafted amendments to the act, nullifying the judgment, were rushed through parliament. Eventually, the Supreme Court recalled its own judgment in October 2019.

This was no small victory for the Dalit movement.

The BJP parlayed its response to engineer an increase in its Dalit vote share in the 2019 elections.

"Educated Dalits are no longer meek," Mevani says. "They are organizing and demanding their due. This is resented by the non-Dalit castes, exposing them to more violence, but we are not giving up".

Still, the road ahead for activists like him is filled with peril, according to Darapuri, the retired police officer.

"The present dispensation operates at two levels — at the political level it uses rhetoric to woo the Dalit vote, to great success," he says. "But on the streets the vigilantes now feel emboldened and are more aggressive. They feel protected."

The caste system also dogs Indian communities as they migrate and settle abroad.

A recent survey among Dalits living in the USA claims that 25 percent of the respondents reported facing verbal or physical assault, and 60 percent experiencing caste-based derogatory jokes.

There have also been lawsuits filed in California against large IT companies alleging caste discrimination against Dalit employees, by their managers from other Hindu castes.

Tanzania and Uganda have signed an agreement allowing for the construction of a 1,445 km (898 miles) crude oil pipeline.

The $3.5bn (£2.7m) project will connect Uganda's oil fields to Tanzania's port of Tanga.

The signing ceremony was attended by the presidents of both countries.

Oil reserves were found in Uganda in 2006 but production has been delayed partly by a lack of infrastructure including an export pipeline.

A start date for construction has not yet been announced for what is set to become East Africa's first major oil pipeline.

But there are warnings the project could come at a huge cost to some Ugandan communities.

More than 12,000 families risk losing their land and livelihoods, according to a joint report by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Oxfam.

Conservationists have also warned that ecosystems are at risk from the drilling in Uganda's nature reserves.

French oil giant Total is leading the plans along with China's CNOOC, and the governments of Uganda and Tanzania.

Sunday's ceremony comes days after Total, the majority shareholder in Uganda's oil fields, said it had reached an agreement on the pipeline with Uganda's government.

About 80% of the pipeline will run through Tanzania and the project is expected to create more than 18,000 jobs for Tanzanians, Reuters news agency quotes government spokesman Hassan Abassi as saying.


NBC News

A university professor in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has been placed on paid leave after a video widely shared on social media showed him using a racial slur in class and appearing to give students permission to use the slur "because we're using it in a pedagogical sense."

"Effective yesterday, Friday, September 11, that faculty member in the video, education professor Gary Shank, is on paid leave, pending investigation," Duquesne University said in a statement, adding that another professor is taking over the course.

The video posted on Twitter on Friday afternoon shows Shank teaching an online course.

"What's the one word about race that we're not allowed to use? I'll give you a hint. It starts with 'N,'" Shank says.

Several seconds of silence follow his remarks.

"It's even hard to say, OK. I'll tell you the word, and again. I'm not using it in any way other than to demonstrate a point," Shank says, before using the slur and recounting instances in which he says he heard it used when he was a young man.

NBC News reached out to Shank on Saturday by email, phone and social media but did not receive an immediate response.

The Duquesne Duke, a student publication, said it obtained a Sept. 9 email that Shank sent to students in his educational psychology class with the subject line, “My most sincere apology.”

"As part of my pedagogy this morning I used a term that I now realize was deeply troubling to the class. It was not my intent to do so, but I must take responsibility for the impact of my words and teaching," wrote Shank. "I am offering each and every one of you my most sincere apology and my guarantee that I will never cross this line again in our class."

The university statement included a letter that School of Education Dean Gretchen Generett sent to students in the class Friday afternoon, in which she offered "my sincere apologies to you for what you experienced."

According to the letter, Generett found out about the incident after one student emailed Shank directly and others emailed their adviser.

"I understand that sending those emails was not easy and I want to thank students for using their voices to share the troubling and disturbing language that was used by your professor in class," Generett wrote.

"There is never a time, pedagogically or otherwise, for a professor to create a hostile learning environment," she said. "Using the ‘N word’ or seemingly encouraging students to use that word is not in keeping with the mission of the University, the School of Education, or the Pennsylvania Department of Education."