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Solar Panel Technology Boosts Yields for Farmers in Kenya

Scientists in Kenya are testing a project using solar panels to shade crops while generating clean energy. It’s called agrivoltaics. Successful trials have shown that this technology reduces water loss and results in higher yields. Juma Majanga reports from Kajiado, Kenya.

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Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology
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Kenya Gets Huawei-Linked Chinese Communications Cable

China has connected a high-speed, multimillion-dollar, 15,000-kilometer undersea cable to Kenya, as Beijing advances what’s been dubbed its “digital silk road,” and Africa seeks the infrastructure it badly needs for better internet connectivity.  

Chinese giant Huawei is a shareholder in the $425-million PEACE cable, which stands for “Pakistan and East Africa Connecting Europe.” It stretches from Asia to Africa and then into France, where it terminates. 

It reached the coastal city of Mombasa on Tuesday, with the CEO of local partner company Telekom Kenya, Mugo Kibati, saying the cable would help meet the sharp rise in demand for internet services on a continent where internet adoption has trailed the rest of the world, but which is home to a growing, young and increasingly digital population.   

“This ultra-high-capacity cable will assist Kenya and the region in meeting its current and future broadband capacity requirements, bolster redundancy, minimize transit time of our country’s connectivity to Asia and Europe, as well as assist carriers in providing affordable services to Kenyans,” said Kibati.  

Business development

For his part, the PEACE Cable’s COO, Sun Xiaohua, said in a statement that the new infrastructure would “bring more business development to this region.” From Kenya, the cable will later be extended further down the continent’s east coast to South Africa. 

 

It’s estimated that 95% of international data flows via submarine cables, and in terms of Africa, China dominates, with the most projects aimed at connecting the continent. Aside from the PEACE cable, China’s proposed 2Africa cable will become one of the biggest undersea projects in the world when it goes live in 2024. 

 

But China’s massive digital infrastructure investments in Africa and elsewhere have not been without controversy, and Washington has expressed deep concerns that Beijing is attempting to monopolize networks and possibly use them for espionage.  

Safety concerns

Some analysts are concerned the technology could be misused by authoritarian leaders on the continent, but Cobus van Staden, a senior China-Africa researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs, said most Africans simply want better internet. 

“I think this PEACE Cable generally plays very positively in Africa. Obviously, the United States has raised … concerns around this, particularly in relation to security, but I think for lot of African countries, the security issue is actually balanced by the wider issue of a lack of connectivity,” van Staden told VOA.  

Huawei was sanctioned by the U.S. under former president Donald Trump, but the company has built about 70% of Africa’s 4G networks, and van Staden said it seems China is winning the race for digital soft power on the continent. 

“I think there’s a space there for competition, but Western actors will have to step up,” he said.  

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Arts & Entertainment/Economy & business
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Cherry Blossom Season Marks Beginning of Spring in US Capital

Washington celebrates 110 years of cherry blossoms in a festival not only marking the beginning of spring but also commemorating the birth of an international tourist destination and marking the ties between the United States and Japan. 

Each year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival draws more than 1.5 million admirers of the fluffy pink trees. Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki gifted about 3,000 of them to the nation’s capital in 1912. His act of kindness is still celebrated more than a century later. 

“This year, more than ever, you really understand why the festival is so important,” said festival President Diana Mayhew. “We recognize that it’s more than just a festival. It’s about spring and renewal and a sense of new beginnings.”

Tourists and photographers flock to the Tidal Basin, where the trees were first planted in 1912. Later in 1965, the Japanese government gifted 3,800 trees to first lady Lady Bird Johnson, and many of which were planted on the grounds of the Washington Monument. 

Awaiting the cherry blossoms is a long-held Japanese tradition. The delicate blooms symbolize the beginning of spring and last about one week, reflecting the Japanese belief that they embody the fleeting nature of life and a time of renewal.

Cherry blossom season is considered at its peak when 70% of the flowers around the Tidal Basin are open, according to the National Park Service. This year, the peak arrived about 10 days early, on March 21. 

The National Cherry Blossom Festival also marks Washington’s unofficial reemergence from two years of COVID-19 restrictions, which prevented large gatherings and crowds. 

During a recent event announcing this year’s plans, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said, “We want D.C. to be the face of spring for the nation. Let me say, without equivocation, that D.C. is open!”

The festival includes a parade, live music, art installations, kite flying, cultural events, fireworks, a Washington Wizards basketball game, pet- and family-friendly activities, food and liquor sampling, and river cruises.

The Japanese government often exchanges about 90 old trees for new ones every year and continues to be involved in the festival.  

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Science & Health
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Biden Introduces COVID.gov, Urges Congress to Approve Additional Funding

U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday introduced his administration’s new website, COVID.gov, designed to be a clearinghouse for the latest pandemic information, as well as a means of providing access to vaccines, tests, treatments and masks on a single site.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Biden also asked Congress to approve an additional $22 billion in emergency funding to help continue the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biden said the nation was entering a new moment in the pandemic. He stressed that though the pandemic no longer controlled our lives, it was not over, noting an uptick of new cases in recent weeks — as expected, he said.

Biden added that the U.S. now had the tools to protect all people.

The president said COVID.gov provides access to all the tools available to address COVID-19, including a list of all 90,000 vaccination sites in the United States, links to obtaining masks and tests, and where to obtain COVID-19 treatments. The site also has a search function, which can be used to find the latest information on the status of the pandemic in any region in the country.

‘Test-to-treat’ sites

The website also features a so-called “test-to-treat” locator, designed to allow access to U.S. pharmacies and community health centers where anyone can get tested for COVID-19 and, if required, receive appropriate treatment.

The White House said the administration had launched more than 2,000 such sites across the country, as well as 240 in Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense facilities to serve veterans, military personnel and their families.

The president also urged Congress to approve additional funding to fight the pandemic. He said without it, the U.S. would not be able to sustain its testing capacity beyond June, and vaccines could run out as early as September, leaving the nation vulnerable should another wave of the virus that causes COVID-19 hit.

Biden also noted that the U.S. Food and Drug administration on Tuesday approved a second COVID-19 booster — a fourth shot overall for those receiving the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines — for all people over age 50 and people with compromised immune systems.

He urged all eligible people to get their boosters. To prove his point, following his remarks at the White House, he received his fourth vaccination as reporters watched.

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Science & Health
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WHO Reports 43 Percent Increase in Global COVID-19 Deaths, While Caseload Drops

The World Health Organization reported a 43 percent spike in deaths from COVID-19 globally last week, while the number of cases continued to fall worldwide.

In its weekly epidemiological report, the WHO said 45,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19 were reported in the week ending March 27, up from 33,000 the week before. That spike follows a week in which deaths declined by 23 percent.

The agency said the increase in deaths is likely driven by changes in the definition of COVID-19 deaths in nations in the Americas such as Chile and the United States, and by retrospective adjustments reported from India in Southeast Asia.

As an example, Chile had the highest number of new deaths, reporting 11,858, a leap of 1,710 percent from the previous week. The United States saw a smaller but still significant increase of 5,367 new deaths, an increase of 8 percent.

While India saw 4,525 of new deaths; it represented an increase of 619 percent. The WHO said those deaths included numbers from Maharashtra state, which initially were not included in last week’s COVID-19 death toll.

While the number of new cases overall fell globally, three European countries — Germany, Italy and France — all saw an increase in new cases from the previous week. While Germany and Italy reported increases of two and six percent respectively, France reported 845,119 new cases – a increase of 45 percent.

The WHO has said repeatedly that COVID-19 case counts are likely a vast underestimate of the coronavirus’ prevalence. The agency also expressed concern that many countries in recent weeks announced plans to drop their comprehensive testing programs and other surveillance measures. They said doing so will cripple efforts to accurately track the spread of the virus.

Some information for this report was provided by the Associated Press.

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