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Study Shows Moon ‘Wobble’ Contributing to More US Coastal Flooding

A NASA-University of Hawaii study warns that upcoming changes in the moon’s orbit coupled with higher ocean levels could lead to record coastal flooding on U.S. coasts in the next decade.The study, conducted by the NASA Sea Level Change Team at the University of Hawaii, and published last month in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, says a regularly occurring change in the moon’s orbit around the earth will raise ocean water levels along U.S. shorelines.The NASA researchers say the so-called “wobble” in the moon’s orbit is part of an 18.6-year cycle, recorded as far back as 1728. During half of the cycle, the moon creates lower high tides and higher low tides; the other half creates higher high tides and even lower low tides.The phenomenon is expected to peak the mid-2030s and is occurring just as coastal flooding is on the rise due to higher ocean levels linked to the effects of climate change. A report released Wednesday by the U.S. National Oceanic at Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says the U.S. saw record levels of coastal flooding in the past year.NOAA say flooding at high tide, often called “nuisance” or “sunny day” flooding, has regularly occurred within many coastal communities as water routinely sloshes into streets, yards and businesses.But the agency reports from May 2020 through April 2021, U.S. coastal communities saw twice as many high tide flooding days than they did 20 years ago. They expect the near-record high tides trend to continue through April 2022, as well as in decades to come.NOAA oceanographer and author on the NASA study William Sweet told The Washington Post the combination of the moon’s orbit wobble and rising sea levels is  “sort of a double-whammy” that means coastal communities are likely to expect even greater flooding than they might otherwise in coming years, unless they adapt and fortify their shorelines.NASA’s Sea Level Change team leader Ben Hamlington said communities and urban planners need to plan for more extreme flooding in the future.
 

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Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology
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US Offering up to $10 Million for Information to Combat Overseas Ransomware Attacks

The U.S. government said Thursday it will begin offering up to $10 million for information to identify or locate malicious cyber actors working on behalf of a foreign government that are trying to cripple the internet operations of American businesses and infrastructure.The new reward was announced as the U.S. faces a growing threat from ransomware attacks – the demand from foreign entities that U.S. corporations and institutions pay millions of dollars to unlock critical technology systems that hackers have seized. The attacks have usually originated overseas, frequently from Russia, according to U.S. officials.Already this year, one of the largest pipeline operators in the U.S., a major meat processing company and, most recently, hundreds of small businesses have been hit by ransomware, forcing companies to pay millions of dollars to restore their operations or risk losing vital data.The U.S. says that about $350 million in ransom was paid to malicious cyber actors in 2020, a more than 300% increase from the year before.The U.S. State Department said it has created a new Tor-based channel to let potential sources anonymously report tips on malicious activity.At the same time, the departments of Justice and Homeland Security created a new website, stopransomware.gov, with information for organizations to learn how to protect themselves and respond to attacks.Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told CNN it is a “one-stop shop” for information on “how one can prevent oneself from becoming a victim of ransomware, and should one become a victim, how one can work with the federal government in partnership to address the situation.”“Of course, we advise they not pay that ransom,” he said.  In a statement, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the government alone cannot prevent the ransomware attacks.“It is critical for business leaders across industries to recognize the threat, prioritize efforts to harden their systems and work with law enforcement by reporting these attacks promptly,” Garland said.

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After Branson, Bezos Preps for Space Flight

The space-tourism industry got a major boost aboard a billionaire’s rocket ship.  Plus, the EU lends Mother Earth a climate-conscious hand, and LeBron James suits-up for the big screen.  VOA’s Arash Arabasadi brings us the Week in Space. Produced by: Arash Arabasadi

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Science & Health
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COVID-19 Surging in Africa, WHO Warns

The World Health Organization has warned that COVID-19 is gaining ground in Africa, with the death toll jumping 43% in the past week. WHO says the continent recorded 1 million new cases in just one month, with several countries facing shortages of oxygen and beds for patients.Speaking during a virtual press briefing Thursday, Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director, said Africa is recording its highest number of COVID-19 cases since the virus hit the continent in early 2020.”Over the past month, Africa recorded an additional 1 million cases,” Moeti said. “This is the shortest time it has taken so far to add one1 million cases. Comparatively, it took around three months to move from 4 million to 5 million cases. This COVID-19 resurgence is the fastest the continent has seen.”WHO Calls for Urgent Action to Slow COVID-19 Spread in AfricaCases have been rising by 25% every week for six weeks, fueled by a surge of more contagious variants of the diseaseThe global health agency says 12 African countries are experiencing an upward trend of coronavirus, including Algeria, Malawi, Senegal and Zimbabwe.Moeti says the number of Africans losing lives to the virus is high.”As this surge sweeps across Africa, we are witnessing a brutal cost, and life-lost deaths have climbed steeply for the past five weeks, jumping 40 percent in the past week,” Moeti said. “This is a clear warning our hospitals are at a breaking point. In all, 153,000 people have sadly died. Africa is just 1 percent shy of the peak in fatalities reached in January.”The increase in deaths is partly blamed on the delta coronavirus variant that medical experts say is the most transmittable of all the variants. It has been reported in 21 African countries.
 
Namibia is one African country where the total number of COVID-19 positives is on the decline. However, more than 1,000 people have died there from COVID-19 in the last month. Ismail Katjitae is a physician at the Ministry of Health and Social Services in Namibia. He explains why the death rate is so high.  “A high prevalence of comorbidities in some communities, limited capacity in some districts and regions to manage severe and critical cases,” Katjitae said. “And a strong misinformation lobby resulting in noncompliance with public health measures, underutilizing available health care services, and delayed complicated presentation in our health facilities.”So far, only 18 million people out of the 1.3 billion living in Africa have been vaccinated. Some African countries blame the slow vaccination process on the shortage of vaccine doses in the global market.   UNICEF to Ship 220 Million Doses of J&J COVID-19 Vaccine to African Union Agreement reached with Belgium-based and J&J-owned Janssen Pharmaceutica NV  
Catherine Kyobutungi is the head of the African Population and Health Research Center. She says African governments should ask their citizens to follow health protocols like washing hands and wearing masks to limit the spread of the virus.”Other than the usual measures, Africa does not have too many options without really having much of its population vaccinated,” Kyobutungi said. “So, the hope is that in the next month around August, many countries will receive at least substantial doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, but before then, keeping in place the usual measures.”Most African countries have eased health measures meant to combat the spread of the virus for economic reasons, and failure to follow those measures is blamed for the spread.   
 
Some African countries expect to get hundreds of thousands of vaccines in the coming weeks as the Aspen pharmaceutical company in South Africa begins producing 400 million vaccines.
 

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While Southeast Asia Battles COVID-19 Outbreak, Doubts Linger Over Sinovac Vaccine

The highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus is rapidly spreading in Southeast Asia as concerns mount over the efficacy of China’s Sinovac Biotech vaccine, which has been used in several countries in the region.Questions over the effectiveness of Beijing’s vaccine have prompted some governments, including Thailand’s, to consider giving people vaccinated with the Sinovac CoronaVac a booster shot, this time from another vaccine manufacturer such as AstraZeneca.Sinovac is one of seven coronavirus vaccines that have received emergency use approval by the World Health Organization. Studies on the efficacy rate are ongoing, but Sinovac appears to be less powerful against the virus than other COVID-19 vaccines. In Indonesia, the majority of vaccine doses offered so far — nearly 90% — have been made by Sinovac.Concerns about Sinovac have made some Indonesians hesitant to receive the shot. One-third of residents in the province of Jakarta said they are still undecided about whether to be vaccinated, according to a .Overall, little peer-reviewed data on the Sinovac vaccine are available. What information is available suggests that the vaccine is less potent than other COVID-19 vaccines, though it still gives users significant protection.In June, the government of Uruguay released data showing Sinovac reduced COVID-19 infections by 61%, hospitalizations by 92% and deaths by 95%.  The New England Journal of Medicine published a study in early July that used results from a mass vaccination campaign that began in February in Chile. The study results showed Sinovac reduced COVID-19 infections by 65.9%, is 87.5% effective at preventing hospitalizations and 86.3% effective at preventing deaths.In comparison, the WHO says the Pfizer vaccine is 95% effective at preventing symptomatic infection and the Moderna vaccine is 94% effective.Public Health England said last month its analysis of how well the vaccines work against the delta variant suggests the Pfizer shot is 96% effective against cases severe enough to require hospitalization, compared to 92% for the AstraZeneca vaccine. In Cambodia, Sinovac doses represent a much smaller proportion of the vaccination effort than in Indonesia, but are still a major part of the campaign that has given at least one dose of a vaccine to about 5 million people.Health Ministry Secretary of State Or Vandine told VOA Khmer that vaccines used in Cambodia’s mass vaccination drive – Sinovac, Sinopharm and AstraZeneca – were effective in preventing severe illness and death, but that fully vaccinated people still needed to observe COVID-19 measures, like mask wearing and social distancing. Chea Phenghour, 21, a third year student of civil engineering at Norton University in Phnom Penh, said he was vaccinated with two doses of Sinovac in early June, though he is unsure about the efficacy level. “I don’t know exactly the efficacy,” he said. “But I don’t strongly rely on vaccines. I have to be careful by myself. If we freely go out in the gathering, vaccines can’t help fight [the virus].” Sinovac vaccine doses have also been a big part of the COVID-19 vaccination efforts in the Philippines and Thailand, but both countries have also relied on a significant portion of doses from other manufacturers such as Pfizer and AstraZeneca.Indra Yoga, Sun Narin, Aun Chhengpor, Steve Baragona, Luke Hunt contributed to this report.Some information for this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business
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US Modeling Agency Steps Toward Diversity in Fashion

Briana Mariah, founder of We Speak model agency, believes models should reflect the world, and her agency finds and promotes a unique and diverse group of people. Karina Bafradzhian reports from Washington D.C.Camera: David Gogokhia

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Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology
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$10 Million Rewards Bolster White House Anti-Ransomware Bid

The State Department will offer rewards up to $10 million for information leading to the identification of anyone engaged in foreign state-sanctioned malicious cyber activity against critical U.S. infrastructure — including ransomware attacks — and the White House has launched a task force to coordinate efforts to stem the ransomware scourge.The Biden administration is also launching the website stopransomware.gov to offer the public resources for countering the threat and building more resilience into networks, a senior administration official told reporters.Another measure being announced Thursday to combat the ransomware onslaught is from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network at the Treasury Department. It will engage banks, technology firms and others on better anti-money-laundering efforts for cryptocurrency and more rapid tracing of ransomware proceeds, which are paid in virtual currency.  Officials are hoping to seize more extortion payments in ransomware cases, as the FBI did in recouping most of the $4.4 million ransom paid by Colonial Pipeline in May.The rewards are being offered under the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program. It will offer a tips-reporting mechanism on the dark web to protect sources who might identify cyber attackers and/or their locations, and reward payments may include cryptocurrency, the agency said in a statement.  The administration official would not comment on whether the U.S. government had a hand in Tuesday’s online disappearance of REvil, the Russian-linked gang responsible for a July 2 supply chain ransomware attack that crippled well over 1,000 organizations globally by targeting Florida-based software provider Kaseya. Ransomware scrambles entire networks of data, which criminals unlock when they get paid.Cybersecurity experts say REvil may have decided to drop out of sight and rebrand under a new name, as it and several other ransomware gangs have done in the past to try to throw off law enforcement.Another possibility is that Russian President Vladimir Putin actually heeded President Joe Biden’s warning of repercussions if he didn’t rein in ransomware criminals, who enjoy safe harbor in Russia and allied states.That seemed improbable, however, given Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s statement to reporters Wednesday that he was unaware of REvil sites disappearing.”I don’t know which group disappeared where,” he said. He said the Kremlin deems cybercrimes “unacceptable” and meriting of punishment, but analysts say they have seen no evidence of a crackdown by Putin.
 

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Science & Health
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Childhood Killer Diseases Soar as Pandemic Disrupts Life-saving Immunization Services

New data by two leading U.N. agencies find the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted routine life-saving immunization services for millions of children, many of whom risk dying from vaccine-preventable diseases.The World Health Organization and U.N. Children’s Fund report 23 million children missed out last year on vaccines against killer diseases such as measles, polio, and diphtheria. They say global disruptions of immunization services caused by COVID-19 have set back progress in childhood vaccinations by a decade.They report children in the Southeastern Asian and eastern Mediterranean regions were most affected. India topped a list of 10 countries with the greatest increase in children who did not receive a first dose of the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis combined vaccine. The nine following countries are in the Americas and African regions.Director of Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologicals Department at WHO Kate O’Brien said new waves of COVID-19 and the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines must not derail routine immunization. She noted vaccines are the most powerful tools available to safeguard public health.A student reacts as a medical worker administers a shot of the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination campaign for children ages 12-17 at a school in Tangerang, Indonesia, July 14, 2021.“The world has rightly prioritized the emergency response to COVID-19,” she said. “But if we fail to find a catch-up, and catch up those who have missed their vaccines, and restore and improve the essential immunization program, there is a serious risk of disease outbreaks that will continue to grow. We really cannot trade one crisis for another.”Principal adviser and chief of immunization at UNICEF, Ephrem Lemango, said immunizations in the first half of 2020 decreased significantly in many countries. This due to the closure of health facilities, pandemic lockdown measures and transportation disruptions.“Later on, recovery interventions, such as the community mobilization activities and supply of protective equipment to health providers and conducting participatory activities, have actually enabled some regions such as the Middle Eastern, Northern Africa region, as well, to really improve its coverage,” Lemango said.He adds the African region also saw a significant improvement in coverage.WHO, UNICEF and partners are helping countries and regions in their efforts to recover from the pandemic and strengthen immunization systems.The agencies aim to achieve 90% coverage for essential childhood vaccines by 2030. If this U.N.-designated goal is fully implemented, they say the deaths of an estimated 51 million future children could be averted.

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