Economy & business

Finance Minister: Chile’s Forest Fires Will Cost Government $333M

Chile’s massive forest fires that have killed 11 people and destroyed nearly 1,500 homes will cost the government $333 million, Finance Minister Rodrigo Valdes told reporters on Friday.

The government will reallocate $100 million from the current budget to mitigate the effects of the blazes, while another $233 million will be taken out of a rainy day fund that the government maintains for such situations, Valdes said at a press conference.

“Those are the costs that the state will have to assume in the preliminary estimate that we’re doing,” Valdes said. “That situation can change when we have more information, and it will depend on how the wildfires evolve.”

According to official figures, the fires have so far consumed over 580,000 hectares (1,433,000 acres).

Foreign firefighters and specialists from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, France, Japan, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Spain, the United States and Venezuela have teamed up with local rescue teams to fight the 41 active fires.

Forest fires are a regular feature of Chile’s hot, arid summers, but a nearly decade-long drought combined with historically high temperatures have created tinder-like conditions in the nation’s central regions.

Valdes said the estimates do not include damages to small and medium sized producers, nor private donations.

Losses for Chile’s private sector have been significant in some cases. Chile’s forestry industry, one of the country’s main export sectors, reported $350 million in losses as of Monday.

Valdes said that the government would not need to issue debt to help with the aid effort and added that they are still calculating the potential impact on economic growth.

Economy & business

From Recycling to #MadeinDakar, Senegal’s Capital Maps Route to Resilience

Senegal’s capital Dakar aims to boost its ability to weather floods, disease, unemployment and other shocks through a wide-reaching strategy for urban resilience unveiled on Thursday.

The rapidly growing city, which juts out into the Atlantic, is Africa’s first to publish such a strategy in partnership with the 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) network, a global initiative of the Rockefeller Foundation.

By anticipating disasters, creating more green spaces to help curb climate change, and tackling problems like waste,  Dakar is aiming to craft a model for other cities facing similar challenges on the continent.

“[Dakar] is a city where there is no more green… where we live everywhere and in every which way,” said Mayor Khalifa Sall at a ceremony marking the publication of the plan.

He emphasized the need to protect Dakar’s beaches against coastal erosion, and to re-think housing policies for the urban hub of around 3 million people, where half-finished buildings are a common sight along highways and in already packed neighborhoods.

The resilience plan includes projects in five priority areas: civic engagement, health and sanitation, private-sector partnerships, energy efficiency and inclusive governance.

One idea is to introduce the concept of resilience in early education, teaching children about environmental responsibility and what it means to be a citizen.

Another is the creation of a brand to promote local crafts and goods with the label “#MadeinDakar,” increasing artisans’ visibility and helping them partner with formal businesses.

“One thing I like about this strategy is that it’s a mix between ambitious things and do-able, funded things,” 100RC President Michael Berkowitz told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

One of the more ambitious goals is to install a city-wide recycling system. Waste management is a major problem in Senegal, where there are few opportunities for recycling and many citizens are unaware of its importance.

But a relatively low-cost step identified in the strategy is to organize horse-cart drivers, who do informal trash collection, to partner with the city and pick up different kinds of waste.

Dakar was one of the first cities selected in 2013 to join the 100RC network, and is also the first Francophone city to publish its strategy, with Paris and Montreal planning to do so later this year.

Dakar’s Chief Resilience Officer Antoine Faye said the next step would be to instill ownership of the initiative in the local population, working with youth groups, women’s organizations and the media to spread the message.

“When we talk about this city’s capital, the most important is the human one,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We are going to try to impact people’s behavior.”

Economy & business

January Jobs Report Boosts Stocks

U.S. stocks closed in the green this week following a better-than-expected January employment report that handily topped consensus estimates, even though wage growth disappointed slightly.

“This is good for corporations because it shows that they are hiring more people and growing while paying low wages,” said Phil Davis, founder of He said that “0.1 percent wage inflation for the month translates to 1.2 percent per year, which is nothing.”

The Dow Jones industrial average closed back over 20,000 Friday for its best day of 2017, on the back of Visa, which reported blowout earnings after the market close Thursday.

Watch: Workers Must Train for Jobs Computers and Robots Can’t Do

Meanwhile, the Nasdaq Composite Index closed at an all-time high as tech earnings mostly continued to beat estimates this week.


Financials led market gains after reports that President Donald Trump and his administration announced steps to roll back regulatory laws contained in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that was  enacted in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Bank of America all rallied on the news by nearly 2 percent.

The administration also wants to delay and review for the next 90 days a regulation designed to force retirement advisers to work in the best interest of their clients. That “fiduciary rule” is set to take effect in April. Gary Cohn, director of the White House’s National Economic Council and a former executive at Goldman Sachs, told CNBC that the rule was “completely misintended.”

Online brokers such as TD Ameritrade, E*Trade and Charles Schwab and mutual fund firms T. Rowe Price and Legg Mason moved higher on the move to repeal the rule.

Investor focus

While financials celebrated the latest executive order on Dodd-Frank, business leaders were increasingly divided on the new administration’s approaches to taxes and immigration, particularly tech companies, which are the most concerned about the travel ban announced last week. Investors were looking for clarity as well.

“Equity investors have been clamoring for specifics on the timing and details of Trump’s tax plans — which simply aren’t available to know just yet and seem likely to remain unknowable for quite some time — and have been struggling to understand the implications of some of the pieces of tax reform being floated for the companies they follow [in particular, border adjustment],” Credit Suisse analysts said in a research report. “Meanwhile, more controversial issues with less clear implications for the broader equity market have moved into the national spotlight, like health care policy, immigration and global trade policy.”

Trading week ahead

The earnings parade marches on with mostly retail, industrial and material companies on tap, as well as Twitter.

While China will begin to report its January 2017 data set after the Lunar New Year holiday, there are few if any potentially market-moving data reports on tap in the U.S., Europe or Japan next week.

A handful of Federal Reserve speakers will be on the circuit, and the U.K. Parliament will continue to debate and then vote next week on whether to trigger Article 50 and start the process of leaving the European Union.

As of now, traders have completely shifted their focus to what Trump and his administration will be doing on a macro level and what specific sectors will be affected.

“You really have to be on your toes to trade this market,” Davis said. “There is the potential for volatility in this market, and you have to be on top of the news and pay attention for what’s coming out of Washington.”

Economy & business

Brazil Slum Dwellers Shun Home Ownership, Fearing Gentrification

Mauricio Hora’s family has lived in Rio de Janeiro’s oldest favela for generations but despite his deep roots, the artist-activist has no interest in formally owning his home.

Contrary to the views of many economists, he doesn’t believe residents of informal settlements like his native Morro de Providencia should hold official property deeds.

“When people have formal titles, they can sell their homes – it’s a form of cleansing the favela,” Hora told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Titles make it easier to remove people… there are no advantages to regularizing these titles.”

More than 20 percent of Rio de Janeiro’s population live in favelas but most lack formal property rights, a setup common in many big Brazilian cities. Instead, they rely on networks of family, friends and community organizations to buy or sell homes which are not recorded on government registries.

Many economists believe that formalizing property ownership will give poor residents more security and let them buy and sell their homes on the market, like anyone else. Activists say this informality protects favela residents from gentrification, as big investors aren’t interested in properties lacking titles.

Hora wants people like him – the son of drug dealer – to pull together and win better social conditions in their gritty downtown neighborhood rather than sell out to the rich.

“My hope is that people with education stay in the community and make improvements in sanitation and infrastructure,” Hora said as a police helicopter buzzes overhead.

“There is no point in people getting an education and some culture and then just leaving the favela – because that way the cycle just continues.”

Global Problem

Debates on how to manage property rights in the world’s informal settlements are becoming ever more pressing, as hundreds of millions of people move into cities from rural areas, with many ending up in fast-growing slums.

In a bid to boost economic growth in the recession-hit nation, Brazil’s government has launched a program to make it easier for favela residents to secure formal ownership.

“Titles bring the possibility of putting millions of assets into the economy which can be used in the market to access credit,” Bruno Araujo, the minister of cities, said in a statement last month announcing the initiative.

The idea that formal ownership for ramshackle homes in slums can improve the economy by unlocking assets was pioneered by the Peruvian economist and author, Hernando de Soto.

Formal property rights for the 5.3 billion people worldwide who currently lack deeds could unlock more than nine trillion dollars in assets, says de Soto, as slum dwellers could get loans to start businesses using their homes as collateral.

“There is no such thing as an investment without property rights,” de Soto told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview last year.

‘Right to the City’

However some academics and slum residents question these promised benefits, saying they have not materialized in slums where residents have won formal ownership.

“Many countries believed that titles would allow poor people to get finance,” Patricia Cezario, a professor of urban planning at the University of Sao Paulo, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“That didn’t happen,” she said, explaining that banks had little interest in administering small loans to the urban poor. “Favela residents are more concerned with their right to the city itself: access to jobs, health, transport and education.”

Tens of millions of Brazilians lack formal property rights, but poor data mean the exact number is unknown, Cezario said.

Slum Gentrification

In some neighborhoods, formal ownership has led to gentrification, as residents sell hillside homes to wealthier people. The poor then end up living further out, facing grueling commutes to find work or access services.

Barbara Nascimento, a resident of the Vidigal favela near Rio de Janeiro’s wealthy Ipanema neighborhood, has seen friends move away from the increasingly trendy neighborhood.

“There is a lot of demand for the land,” Nascimento told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “I want residents to be conscious and stay here, instead of selling their houses to people who don’t live here.”

Small investors have bought houses informally, Nascimento said, with residents’ association providing the licenses.

Without hard titles, big institutional investors have not bothered to buy up homes and land in the area, according to an official with a major U.S.-based real estate brokerage firm.

Science & Health

WHO: Early Cancer Diagnosis Could Save Millions of Lives

The World Health Organization reports the lives of millions of the 8.8 million people who die every year from cancer could be saved if the disease was diagnosed early.  

The agency has issued new cancer guidelines in advance of World Cancer Day on Saturday, which it said could improve the chances of survival for people living with cancer.

Cancer has reached epidemic proportions globally.  It is the second-leading cause of death after cardiovascular disease, killing nearly one in six people around the world every year.  

WHO reports more than 14 million people develop cancer annually, a figure that is expected to rise to over 21 million by 2030.

Once considered a disease of people in rich countries, data show that is no longer the case.  WHO finds two-thirds of all cancer deaths now occur in low- and middle-income countries.

The agency estimates cancer deaths in the poorer countries will rise to more than 9 million by 2030, if action is not taken to better diagnose, detect and treat the disease at an early stage.

Cost of cancer is huge

Etienne Krug, director of WHO’s Department for the Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention, noted that while the cost in lives lost was huge, the financial cost associated with cancer also was huge.  

“It has been estimated that $1.6 trillion is lost due to cancer, which is, of course, an enormous amount. These are costs to the health care system. Treating cancer is very expensive, but also the lost productivity, et cetera,” he said.

Krug said cancer for a long time was considered a death sentence, but that this was changing. Cancer, he said, can be prevented by tackling risk factors such as smoking, unhealthy diets, air pollution and alcohol intake, and that much can be done to help people who already are diagnosed with cancer.

“It does not have to be a death sentence,” he said. “There is a lot that we can do in terms of early diagnosis and screening, in terms of improving treatment, surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and, when needed, palliative care.”  

For this year’s World Cancer Day, WHO is focusing on the importance of early diagnosis, calling it key to survival.  

In its new “Guide to Cancer Early Diagnosis,” WHO has a three-step recommendation. The steps are improving awareness of cancer symptoms so people can get checked out for cancer; strengthening health services to conduct “accurate and timely diagnostics,” and ensuring that “people living with cancer can access safe and effective treatment.”

The stigma of cancer

Surgical oncologist Andre Ilbawi acknowledged that awareness or health literacy was a problem in low-income countries.  He said many places in the world do not even know that cancer exists, let alone what symptoms may represent cancer.

He told VOA that there also was a lot of stigma that goes with a cancer diagnosis.

“A woman, for example, may know that this breast mass may be a cancer, but may fear the consequences of treatment — removal of the breast, for example, or the financial cost of treatment, which maybe can cause significant strain on the family.

“And, that fear can contribute to someone coming to the hospital late or not at all,” he said.

Ilbawi agreed that the poor are more disadvantaged than the rich when it comes to health care, especially if they have no access to health coverage.

“There are studies that show that people from lower socioeconomic groups present at a later stage. … Poverty is a risk factor for cancer.”

Help doesn’t have to be costly

Nevertheless, WHO’s Krug said there were many things that can be done to improve cancer diagnosis and care that are not costly.

“Some things are not expensive,” he said, such as raising awareness of symptoms, stressing the need to consult and training staff.

“We cannot put an amount exactly on this because it depends on what countries have and what is needed,” Krug said.

He added, “What we do know is that the health system will gain a lot if people present earlier with their symptoms and treatment can happen much earlier and less expensively.”

Science & Health

Alaska’s Busy Volcano: Seawater, Magma Figure in Eruptions

Alaska’s remote Bogoslof Island is only 169 acres, a third the size of the average American farm. And it’s highest “peak” is just 490 feet, half as tall as the Eiffel Tower.

Like other Aleutian islands, it’s swarming with sea lions. But it’s what’s below the surface that sets Bogoslof apart.

The tiny island is the summit of an active, underwater volcano that extends down 5,500 feet, with its base on the floor of the Bering Sea.

Since mid-December, the volcano has erupted more than two dozen times, sending up clouds of ice crystals and rock fragments that airliners must dodge as they fly between North America and Asia.

The explosiveness is partly due to the volcano magma’s interaction with seawater, and the ash clouds could be a regular feature in 2017, said Chris Waythomas, a U.S. Geological Survey research geophysicist at the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

“Some of the previous, historical eruptions have lasted many months,” he said.

Bogoslof is younger than the United States. The island appeared after an underwater eruption in 1796, the year John Adams defeated Thomas Jefferson to become the nation’s second president. Castle Rock, a lava plug left by that eruption, stands like a Gothic church spire on the island’s southwest side.

In 1883, Bogoslof Volcano erupted again and created a lava dome. The dome was once part of the island but because of erosion, now stands as a rock pillar 2,000 feet off shore.

Last month, Bogoslof blew from a vent in shallow water off its northeast side. The first confirmed ash emission was December 14. Two acres on the island’s east side disappeared in the eruptions.

Since then, Bogoslof has erupted more than two dozen times, sometimes sending ash clouds higher than 20,000 feet — potentially in the path of jetliners.

Air traffic controllers receive an advisory after eruptions, said Allen Kenitzer, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman. Bogoslof so far has caused no major interruptions. Flights have been slightly rerouted above or around ash clouds, Kenitzer said in an email response to questions. In years past, major eruptions have led airlines to cancel flights.

The Aleutian Islands are part of the Pacific Ocean “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped zone of frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Under the theory of plate tectonics, the Pacific plate of the planet’s outer shell is being shoved under the North American continental plate.

That action creates magma, or molten rock, roughly 6 to 12 miles deep. With a lower density than surrounding rock, magma rises toward the Earth’s surface. Volatile dissolved gases under pressure also push up magma. Whether a volcano explodes or oozes out lava depends on the dissolved gases and their ability to escape rapidly from the magma.

“It’s not all that different from opening a can of soda on a warm day,” Waythomas said. “The gas that’s dissolved in the liquid comes out rapidly, and as it comes out, it brings magma with it. It fragments it as it expands. That produces the fine particles.”

At Bogoslof, magma also interacts with seawater and water-saturated soils.

Typically, Waythomas said, when magma meets water, the Leidenfrost Effect kicks in. That’s the phenomenon in which a liquid near an object that’s much hotter produces an insulating vapor that keeps it from boiling rapidly.

“When you make pancakes, and you sprinkle water on your griddle, the water skates around on a film of vapor,” Waythomas said. “If you break that vapor film down, and brought the water right into contact with the hot griddle, you’d produce a steam explosion. That’s basically what’s going on with Bogoslof.”

Shockwaves from earthquakes break down the vapor film between hot magma and seawater, triggering explosions. Explosions cause more shockwaves and more direct contact between magma and water, leading to an eruption, Waythomas said.

Without an analysis of ash, it’s difficult to know which explosions are driving the eruptions, Waythomas said.

Eruptions could end when the system runs out of shallow magma.

“Once the vent really pushes above sea level, that might change the eruption dynamics,” Waythomas said. “Then seawater will play less of a role, and it’s just a function of how gassy the magmas are. That might herald the end.”

Economy & business

South Korea’s Samsung Mulls Building US Appliance Factory

South Korea South Korea’s Samsung Electronics said Friday it’s considering building a factory to make household appliances in the United States as various industries brace for potential protectionist trade policies under the administration of President Donald Trump.

A spokeswoman for Samsung said the plans were “purely in the evaluation stage” and no decisions have been made. She didn’t want to be named, citing office rules.

Samsung also said in an emailed statement on Friday that it continues to assess “new investment needs in the United States. The news drew the attention of Trump, who tweeted “Thank you, [at]Samsung! We would love to have you!”

Most Samsung televisions, refrigerators and other household appliances sold in the United States are made in Mexico.

The spokeswoman refused to say whether Samsung was worried about the possibility of the United States moving to impose tariffs on products imported from Mexico.

A spokesman from LG Electronics, another South Korean technology company, said it is also considering building a manufacturing plant in the United States and will decide on the matter within the first half of the year. He also didn’t want to be named, saying that the matter was sensitive.

Economy & business

Lettuce Shortage Hits Europe Due to Bad Weather

Europe is short of lettuce, broccoli and other vegetables due to bad weather, leading some supermarkets in Britain to start rationing produce.

A succession of droughts, floods and cold weather in southern European countries has hurt agricultural yields there, creating a drop in supply felt mainly by importing countries to the north.

Stores in Britain were rationing Friday the number of lettuces shoppers can buy, with some removing iceberg, sweet gem and romaine varieties from their online offerings. Similar shortages earlier affected courgettes, broccoli and cabbage.

Shoppers in Britain shared images of bare shelves under the hashtags #lettucecrisis and #courgettecrisis.

Analyst Rob Gregory of PlanetRetail posted a photo on Twitter of empty boxes in a Tesco supermarket. The picture showed a sign reading: “Due to continued weather problems in Spain, there is a shortage on Iceberg and other varied lettuce products. To protect the availability for all customers, we are limiting bulk purchases to three per person.”

Gregory tweeted: “My local Tesco also affected by the lettuce and salad rationing. Not much there to ration though!”

British supermarket chain Asda said in a statement that, “Contrary to popular belief it seems the rain in Spain doesn’t fall mainly on the plane and a run of unusually bad weather has resulted in availability issues on a small number of salad items and vegetables such as courgettes and aubergines.”

Spain’s federation of vegetable exporters, Fepex, said it was trying to keep up supply to European markets.

But even in Spain overall production of vegetables was 30 percent below normal levels, due to the bad weather over the past three months, said the group. Cold weather and snow in January also delayed new crops and made a full recovery of production levels unlikely until April, Fepex said.