I get up early, about 0515. Market day, clear skies, warmer again.
To my study to write. Sometimes things go wrong, and it throws you for the rest of the day. It was a bad day today.
Tired, tense, running late; dragged myself to the market and I was done.
Didn't even feel like taking photos.
Then I slept when I should have been outside - a warm day, rain in the evening.
Worked again in my study until midnight, trying to put right the day, only making things worse.
One of the worst days this year. I'm blaming it on the new moon.
Cornered by war and drought, Afghans fear a harsh, hungry winter
YAKOWLANG, Afghanistan: A pitiable harvest this year has left small farmers all over central and northern Afghanistan facing hunger, and aid officials are warning of an acute food shortage this winter for nine million Afghans, more than a quarter of the population.
The crisis has been generated by the harshest winter in memory, followed by a drought across much of the country, which come on top of the broader problems of deteriorating security, the accumulated pressure of returning refugees and the effects of rising world food prices.
The failure of the Afghan government and foreign donors to develop the country's main economic sector, agriculture, has compounded the problems, the officials say. They warn that the food crisis could make an already bad security situation worse.
The British charity Oxfam, which conducted a provisional assessment of conditions in the province of Daykondi, one of the most remote areas of central Afghanistan, has appealed for international assistance before winter sets in. "Time is running out to avert a humanitarian crisis," it said.
That assessment is echoed by villagers across the broader region, including in Bamian Province. "In all these 30 years of war, we have not had it as bad as this," said Said Muhammad, a 60-year-old farmer who lives in Yakowlang, in Bamian. "We don't have enough food for the winter. We will have to go to the towns to look for work."
Underlying the warnings are growing fears of civil unrest. The mood in the country is darkening amid increasing economic hardship, worsening disorder and a growing disaffection with the government and its foreign backers, particularly over the issue of government corruption.
Returning refugees are already converging on the cities because they cannot manage in the countryside, and they make easy recruits for the Taliban or other groups that want to create instability, said Ashmat Ghani, an opposition politician and tribal leader from Logar Province, south of Kabul, the nation's capital.
"The lower part of society, when facing hunger, will not wait," he said. "We could have riots."
The Afghan government, together with United Nations organizations, was quick to mount an appeal at the beginning of the year to prevent a food shortage as world food prices soared and neighboring countries stopped wheat exports.
The World Food Program, which was assisting 4.5 million of the most vulnerable Afghans with food aid in recent years, widened its program to include an additional 1.5 million Afghans and extended it further because of the drought to reach a total of nine million people until the end of next year's harvest.
Several weeks ago, Oxfam warned in a letter to ministers responsible for development in some countries assisting Afghanistan that the $404 million appeal by the government and the United Nations was substantially underfinanced.
"If the response is slow or insufficient, there could be serious public health implications, including higher rates of mortality and morbidity, which are already some of the highest in the world," the letter said.
It also warned of internal displacement of families who had no work or food, and even of civil disturbances. "The impact as a whole could further undermine the security situation," Oxfam said.
The United States government announced this week that it would supply nearly half the emergency food aid requested in the appeal.
Susana Rico, the director of the World Food Program in Afghanistan, said last-minute contributions had come in to cover the immediate emergency. But there is still a rush to get supplies to the countryside before the first winter snows arrive next month, she said.
Development officials say that deteriorating security has made it harder to do that job in the countryside. Aid workers have become the targets of an increasing number of attacks from insurgents and criminals.
The dangers have restricted the scale and scope of aid operations, said the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, an umbrella group of nongovernmental organizations.
Those dangers, the agency says, have even spread to areas previously considered relatively secure. In the first seven months of the year, it reported, 19 workers for nongovernmental organizations were killed, more than the number in all of 2007.
The agency appealed for governments to take a broad range of measures, beyond the military, to combat the escalating insurgency.
"The conflict will not be brought to an end through military means," the agency said in a statement. "A range of measures is required to achieve a sustainable peace, including strong and effective support for rural development."
Neglecting a lifeline as vital as agriculture has been dangerous for stability in Afghanistan, as people are unable to feed themselves, several provincial governors said in interviews.
The governor of Bamian, Habiba Sarabi, has repeatedly complained that because her province has been one of the most law-abiding and trouble-free, it has been forgotten in the big distribution of resources from international donors.
Donors, and in particular the United States government, have spent far larger amounts in the provinces in the south and southeast to help combat the dual problems of the insurgency and narcotics, she said.
Hasan Samadi, 23, the deputy administrator of Yakowlang District in Bamian Province, said, "The economic situation of the people here is very bad and the government is not focused to help.
"They focus on other provinces and unfortunately not on Bamian, and not on remote districts of Bamian," he said.
Daykondi, adjacent to Bamian, is one of the most underfinanced provinces in the country. It receives half the budget of its neighbor to the south, Oruzgan, which has two-thirds the population and a poor record on combating insurgency and the cultivation of the opium poppy, said Matt Waldman, a spokesman for Oxfam in Kabul.
In Daykondi, 90 percent of the population relies on subsistence farming, yet the provincial Department of Agriculture has a budget of only $2,400 for the whole year, he added.
The imbalance in aid to the provinces is being corrected now, Governor Sarabi said, but in the meantime it has put great strain on the people in her province.
She estimated that a quarter of Bamian's population would need food aid this winter because of the drought. There have already been local conflicts over water supplies in two regions, she said.
Development officials warn that neglecting the poorest provinces can add to instability by pushing people to commit crimes or even to join the insurgency, which often pays its recruits.
While the severe drought contributed to the decline of poppy cultivation in the central and northern provinces, it also pushed farmers into debt. If they do not get help now, they could turn back to poppy-growing and lose their faith in the government, said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Costa called for urgent assistance for farmers and regions that have abandoned poppy cultivation. He and others have also criticized the inefficiency of international aid.
Of $15 billion of reconstruction assistance given to Afghanistan since 2001, "a staggering 40 percent has returned to donor countries in corporate profits and consultant salaries," the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief said in a March report.
"Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world," Costa said during a recent visit to Kabul. "I insist on the importance of increasing development assistance, making it more effective. Too much of it is eaten up by various bureaucracies and contractors."
Superfood or monster from the deep?
Off the coast of Peru swim billions of sardines and anchovies: oily, smelly little fish, rich in nutritious omega-3 fatty acids. Their spot on the food chain is low; many will be caught, ground up, and fed as fishmeal to bigger animals.
But a few have a more exalted destiny: to be transported, purified and served at North American breakfast tables in the form of Tropicana Healthy Heart orange juice and Wonder Headstart bread. These new products promise to deliver the health benefits of fish oil without the smell and the taste — without, in fact, the fish.
The possible benefits of eating omega-3s include cardiovascular protection and improved neural development in children.
However, "People just aren't eating salmon or sardines twice a day," said Ellie Halevy, director for marketing of Tropicana, which is owned by PepsiCo. "But they will drink two glasses of orange juice, if it has no fishy taste and all the benefits."
Orange juice laced with anchovies is one example of the latest way major food companies are competing for health-conscious consumers: plugging one food into another and claiming the health benefits of both. Shoppers are offered green tea extracts in their ginger ale, yogurt bacteria in their salsa, and powdered beets in their peanut butter. Market staples like blueberries (high in certain antioxidants), cherries (may have anti-inflammatory benefits) and bananas (when unripe, particularly rich in fiber) are being broken down, shaken up, microencapsulated, and put to work in new ways.
Instead of eating to diet, they're eating to enjoy
After decades of obsessing about fat, calories and carbs, many dieters have made the unorthodox decision to simply enjoy food again.
That doesn't mean they're giving up on health or even weight loss. Instead, consumers and nutritionists say they are seeing a shift toward "positive eating" — shunning deprivation diets and instead focusing on adding seasonal vegetables, nuts, berries and other healthful foods to their plates.
For 32-year-old Rina Gonzalez-Echandi of Los Angeles, giving up calorie counting and packaged foods and adding real food back into her diet has helped her maintain her weight and even be happier. She used to watch fat and calories so obsessively she would sometimes avoid socializing.
"You forget how wonderful it is to have a meal with friends and family," said Gonzalez-Echandi, a special-education aide and mother of a 10-year-old daughter. "I realize I had taken that joy away from myself."
Now she focuses on the pleasure of eating fresh, home-cooked food. She has started cooking with olive oil and occasionally butter, and has increased her consumption of nuts and peanut butter. She even got to know her grocer to find out which fruits and vegetables are in season and grown locally.
The market research firm NPD Group gets a glimpse of national eating habits through the food diaries it has collected from 5,000 consumers since 1980. The percentage of those consumers who are on a diet is lower than at any time since information on dieting was first collected in 1985. At the peak in 1990, 39 percent of the women and 29 percent of the men were dieting. Today, that number has dropped to 26 percent of women and 16 percent of men.
The diarists also report eating more organic foods and whole grains, said Harry Balzer, an NPD vice president.
"Instead of trying to avoid things, they've started adding things," Balzer said.
Even the Calorie Control Council, which represents makers of commercial diet foods, notes the percentage of people who are dieting has declined — to 29 percent in 2007 from 33 percent in 2004.
And there are other indicators of a shift in eating habits. In May, the market research firm Information Resources reported that 53 percent of consumers say they are cooking from scratch more than they did just six months ago, in part, no doubt, because of the rising cost of prepared foods.
Sales of organic foods have surged, and the number of farmers' markets has more than doubled since the mid-1990s.
Nutrition experts and consumers say positive eating trends are being fueled in part by the failures of the past. A national epidemic of obesity suggests that the spread of diet foods, sugar-free soft drinks and low-fat snacks hasn't helped people manage their weight.
Cynthia Sass, a New York dietitian and author who was a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association from 2001 to 2007, said many clients embrace positive eating after years of failed dieting. "They would much rather focus on what to eat instead of what not to eat," Sass said. "Most people I have encountered have a track record of trying different things that didn't work for them."
Meanwhile, books like Gary Taubes's "Good Calories, Bad Calories" (Alfred A. Knopf, 2007) and Michael Pollan's "In Defense of Food" (Penguin, 2008) have prompted a rethinking of Americans' eating habits and dependence on processed and refined foods.
Martha McClintock, 46, of Riverdale, in the Bronx, said she was more focused these days on adding healthful foods like avocados, blueberries and walnuts to her plate. She said she tries to improve the quality of food she eats, such as switching to blue corn chips as a snack rather than potato chips.
"If something is high in calories, I try to look at the big picture," said McClintock, a photo service account executive. "If you're going to indulge in something, just try and walk it off or limit it to once a week."
Some former dieters say they've been influenced by the international Slow Food movement, a 10-year-old group that encourages locally grown, unprocessed food. Over the Labor Day weekend an estimated 60,000 people attended the Slow Food Nation festival in San Francisco.
Alice Waters, of the restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, and a prominent supporter of the Slow Food movement, said food habits change when a person begins to cook at home more. Her efforts to encourage home cooking include a new campaign of Internet cooking videos from the Slow Food Nation event, such as one from the chef Bryant Terry, who showed how to strip corn from the cob and sauté it with chili.
China formula scare spreads to ice-cream and yoghurt
BEIJING: Hong Kong has ordered the recall of a Chinese company's products after milk, ice cream and yoghurt were found to be contaminated with melamine, the compound responsible for killing four children in a China health scandal.
Tainted milk powder produced in China has made thousands ill, and triggered sackings and detentions and rocked public trust already battered by a litany of food safety scares involving tainted eggs, pork and seafood in recent years.
Now the scandal has spread to milk, ice-cream and yoghurt ice-bars. Hong Kong ordered the recall of a Chinese company's products on Thursday after tests found that eight of 30 of its products, including milk drinks, were tainted with melamine.
The company, Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group Co Ltd, was a Beijing Olympic Games sponsor and is one of 22 Chinese firms implicated in the scandal.
A regional Chinese health authority said on Thursday a fourth child had died at a hospital in remote northwestern Xinjiang. The report on the authority's website (www.xjwst.gov.cn) gave no further details.
Word of mouth fills German brewer's steins
GRAFENHAUSEN, Germany: A country girl from the Black Forest has conquered the hearts of hipsters across big-city Berlin.
Her name is Birgit Kraft, a play on words in her local dialect for "beer gives strength," and she can be found, smiling in her traditional garb and holding a pair of beers, on the labels of Rothaus beer bottles. The cartoon maiden has not changed a bit since 1972, which is one of the secrets of her success.
Beer from the state-owned brewery here deep in the Black Forest, founded as part of the St. Blasien monastery in 1791, has grown into a surprise hit in big cities around the country, and nowhere more so than in Berlin. Rothaus has managed to thrive in an era dominated by multinational beverage concerns, on little more than crisp beer and its quaint, old-fashioned image.
When the first Oktoberfest keg is tapped in neighboring Bavaria at noon on Saturday, the tourist spectacle of the world's largest beer festival will likely produce fresh records for visitors and consumption that will obscure the woes of a domestic beer industry that has been in slow decline for decades.
Rothaus has succeeded in bucking the trend, more than doubling its output over the last 15 years — to nearly 24 million gallons last year from just over 10 million gallons in 1992 — during a period when German beer sales have fallen by more than 13 percent. The company has done it without television or radio commercials, relying almost entirely on word of mouth to sell the beer outside of its local market between Freiburg and Lake Constance in southwest Germany.
Greek wines look to regain mythical status
ARGOSTOLI, Greece: In the sun-bathed vineyards outside Argostoli, where the fictional Captain Corelli wooed his love Pelagia, the descendants of a real-life Italian soldier are conducting their own love affair with Greek wines.
Many consumers, when they imagine Greek wine, think with a shudder of retsina: a cheap white wine flavoured with pine resin served to generations of package tourists. But Greece has a longer winemaking tradition than its more famous European neighbours.
The wines of Kefalonia -- a verdant island in the sparkling waters of the Ionian sea -- were once prized across the Mediterranean, before centuries of colonisation, war and poverty brought Greek winemaking to its knees.
Now the small Gentilini vineyard, run by a distant relative of a 16th-century Venetian commander, is part of a new generation of winemakers using unique local grape varieties to put the country's vintages back on the map.
"Other people can make Chardonnay. We want to take Greek grapes and stretch them a little, try something new," said manager Petros Markantonatos, tanned from a long day harvesting.
With just 10 hectares (25 acres) of vines, Gentilini prides itself on handcrafting its wines.
The vineyard uprooted the last of its Chardonnay and Sauvignon vines last year, replacing them with Kefalonia's native Robola grapes for crisp whites with floral and citrus tones. Its reds, made mainly from the local Mavrodaphne and Agiorgitiko grapes, are full-bodied, chocolaty and spicy.
"These are not sissy wines!" said Petros's wife Marianna Cosmetatos, whose father founded Gentilini in 1982. "What we fight against is bad wine: 'wannabe' boutique wineries that throw money at the market, not quality."
DEVOTED TO DIONYSUS
Viticulture arrived here around 4,000 BC from the Middle East and the seafaring ancient Greeks spread the cult of the wine god Dionysus across the Mediterranean. But winemaking languished as most of Greece became a neglected province of the Ottoman empire.
While aristocratic winegrowers in France and Italy competed for prestige, vineyards here remained small and peasant-run during more than a century of wars after independence in 1832.
Things began to improve in the 1960s when growing prosperity allowed people to spend more on wines, and the 1980s saw the emergence of a new generation of small producers. But Greek winemakers know they have to make up ground.
"Unless the word Greece gets accepted, it's very hard to get Gentilini accepted," said Marianna.
At the vineyard's outset, schoolgirl Marianna had to bring yeast for fermentation in her suitcase from England when she returned for the holidays. These days, Gentilini is at the forefront of blending Greek grape varieties to create new wines.
"We don't make any money making wine but we have fun trying!" joked Marianna, hugging her two-year-old daughter.
Compared with European heavyweights France and Italy, Greece's production remains tiny. Its output slipped to 3.5 million hectolitres last year, less than 2 percent of Europe's total.
This contrasts with another resurgent European producer. After years of successful marketing, Spain's exports grew by 12 percent in 2007 and it is tipped to oust France soon as the world's top producer with over 50 million hectolitres.
Litsa Kourenta, head of wine at the Agriculture Ministry, said the Greek government has a three-fold strategy to nurture the industry. Firstly, under an EU scheme to improve wine quality, it is paying farmers to uproot old and diseased vines.
Second, it is subsidising the husbandry of the remaining vines and finally, promoting exports of Greek wines through marketing campaigns, such as a recent one in the United States.
"The problem is Greek wines are not cheap because production is so fragmented," said Constantine Lazarakis, author of "The Wines of Greece", saying a good bottle costs around 10 euros. "Italian wines are far cheaper. Medium-cost Greek wines are excellent value, but they don't yet have a good reputation."
Germany remains the most important destination for Greek exports, but new markets are gaining ground such as Britain, the United States and Russia, with its growing middle-class.
"Greek wine is getting a better name with experts but that's not yet enough to redeem the bad impression with consumers," said Lazarakis, saying a fifth of Greece's 600 wineries were making top quality wines.
"Changing the wine experience of visitors to Greece is essential," he said, suggesting the industry should target the 15 million holidaymakers who visit the country each year.
In the Nemea valley at the heart of the Peloponnese, where Hercules performed the first of his 12 labours, lies Greece's largest wine appellation, home to the Agiorgitiko grape.
Lying around 600 metres above sea level, the Domaine Helios estate produces wines that are acidic, fruity and low in alcohol, at around 11 percent, due to its high altitude.
Number of people needing aid in Africa doubles
LONDON: The number of people living "on the edge of emergency" in Africa has nearly doubled to 220 million in just two years, a leading charity said on Thursday.
CARE International said emergency aid to the impoverished and strife-ridden continent continued to arrive too late, was short-term and policies were targeted too heavily on saving lives rather than building resilience in the population.
"The world's inaction on food emergencies has proved costly and it is the world's poorest people -- stripped of enough to eat -- who are paying the price," said Geoffrey Dennis, the charity's chief executive.
"Governments, the U.N., donors and aid agencies must take this opportunity to deliver the long-term structural reforms to the aid system that will protect the most vulnerable from emergency and build their resilience to food price rises, drought and other shocks."CARE's report "Living on the Edge of Emergency -- Paying the Price of Inaction" is timed to coincide with a summit in New York next week dedicated to the fight against poverty -- one of the key Millennium Development Goals (MDG) for 2015.
It called for donors to fulfil existing aid commitments and then add some, focus on disaster risk reduction, early warning systems, food production and support for the poorest and make emergency aid and long-term development better coordinated.
It also highlighted the more recently emerged threats to security and welfare that have added to older woes.
Prices of staple foods have surged by an average of 83 percent in the past three years, climate change has already hit some of the poorest -- and therefore less resilient -- countries, biofuels have replaced food crops and increasing urbanization has compounded the problems.
"It is a disgrace that, despite warnings, money is still being spent in the wrong ways," said Dennis.
"Leaders at the MDG meeting must ensure that the aid system can rise to the challenge of the global food crisis or they will measure the cost in billions of wasted emergency funds and the suffering of millions of people pushed to and beyond the edge of yet more needless emergencies."
Working to reverse a man-made disaster
There are so many reasons not to trust Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's dictatorial president. But the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai - the man who would have won the presidency in a fair election - has decided to take a chance by agreeing this week to a vaguely defined power-sharing agreement.
With luck, and continued international pressure, the agreement could be the start of an extended transition to democracy and economic revival for Zimbabwe's brutalized citizens. That is, undoubtedly, why Tsvangirai accepted it, despite Mugabe's history of bad faith.
Washington and the European Union are right to keep their sanctions in place until it becomes clearer whether this agreement can produce real change or is just another devious maneuver.
Tsvangirai told a radio interviewer on Wednesday that he was "quite certain" about his rival's commitment to the deal. We are less certain.
In a democratic Zimbabwe,, Tsvangirai would be president and Mugabe would be gone. Instead, Mugabe will remain president, with Tsvangirai becoming prime minister.
Mugabe's party will hold 15 ministries, Tsvangirai's 13, and a splinter opposition party three. The deal is very precise on these numbers, but not on how the powers of the president and the prime minister will be apportioned. Both will exercise "executive power."
The crucial question is how much power Mugabe will retain to intimidate opponents and veto economic reforms. The deal affirms the principles of free speech and multiparty democracy, but it also appears to declare Mugabe's disastrous land reform untouchable. Some reports say that Mugabe will keep control over the army, while Tsvangirai will control the police. The army must be kept out of domestic politics.
With its rich agricultural land and abundant mineral resources, Zimbabwe should be thriving. Instead, Mugabe has turned it into a land of famine, with an annual inflation rate estimated to be 11 million percent. These man-made disasters cannot be reversed without substantial help.
The United States, Europe and others should be getting ready to provide technical support and aid. But first, they must make sure that this agreement is not just another trick by Mugabe to stay in power.
Water shortage cripples Palestinian farming
BARDALA, West Bank: In the plains around the village of Bardala, the Israeli-Palestinian tug-of-war over land and water plays itself out in vivid colour -- largely brown Palestinian farms border green fields owned by Jewish settlers.
Israel and the occupied West Bank have both been hit hard by drought, but Palestinian farmers say Israeli restrictions on their water supplies have made conditions far worse for them than for farmers in nearby Jewish settlements.
In many homes in the West Bank city of Jenin, water has been all but cut off since April. To cope, residents of Jenin and hundreds of villages get their water delivered by truck at sky-high prices.
In U.S.-sponsored peace talks over Palestinian statehood, disputes over water may be overshadowed by more sensitive issues like the future of Jerusalem and refugees. But Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said an accord would be "unthinkable" without agreement on dividing up the region's water resources.
"If you want to have a state, you must have water," said Palestinian Water Authority chief Shaddad Attili.
In Bardala in the northern Jordan Valley, Ziyad Sawafta says he gets only enough water to plant eggplant, cabbage and other crops on half his 125-acre (50 hectare) plot.
To illustrate the disparity, Sawafta, a 60-year-old father of four, points to the thriving citrus grove next door, owned by the Jewish settlement of Mehola and fed with water through a network of irrigation pipes.
"We get only the ear from the whole camel. The rest of the camel goes to the settlements," said Sawafta, using a common Arab saying to illustrate how little water he receives.
Uri Shor, spokesman for the Israeli Water Authority, said Palestinians get more water than called for under interim peace agreements. He attributed shortages to Palestinians who he said illegally tap into the water system.
Water has long been a scarce resource in the Middle East but the problem is more acute this year. Scant rainfall has further strained supplies already restricted by Israel, which largely controls the West Bank's three main aquifers.
Water Authority Chief Attili estimated Palestinian farmers in West Bank and Gaza need 250 million cubic metres of water per year only for irrigation, but they get only about 20 percent of that, or about 50 million cubic metres a year.
The total amount of water that Palestinians get from their own resources and from Israel is estimated at 205 million cubic metres annually.
"People and land are thirsty and we can do little about it," Attili told Reuters.
Palestinian officials say Israel controls some 50 West Bank wells, with a total capacity of 50 million cubic metres per year, directing it mainly to Jewish settlements, which house some 250,000 people.
The Palestinians control about 200 shallow wells in the West Bank, many of them drilled before the 1967 Middle East war in which Israel captured the territory. Those wells produce about 105 million cubic metres per year, but they are meant to supply water to 2.5 million Palestinians.
Attili says West Bank Palestinians supplement their own well supplies by buying up to 45 million cubic metres of water from Israel. Another 5 million cubic metres bought from Israel goes to the Gaza Strip, supplementing 50 million from an aquifer.
A big part of the problem for Palestinians, officials and rights groups say, is that the amount of water supplied by Israel, set by quotas in interim peace agreements in the 1990s, has not increased in line with Palestinian population growth.
"That is not fair," Attili said, adding that the shortages could be alleviated if Israel allowed his authority to drill two or three new wells in the West Bank.
But Shor, of the Israeli Water Authority, said permitting Palestinians to drill more wells could "ruin" the existing West Bank aquifers.
Israeli officials say Palestinians aren't the only ones facing water shortages. Underscoring its concerns, Israel's government has launched a public campaign to discourage residents and businesses from wasting limited supplies.
Abdel-Rahman Tamimi, head of the Palestinian Hydrology Group, said there was no comparison between the shortages facing Israelis and those facing Palestinians in the West Bank because some areas do not even have piped water and other areas suffer from irregular access to drinkable water.
He described the West Bank water crisis as "suffocating" because it affects both families and businesses, "whereas Israel is talking about reducing water for recreational purposes, such as ... swimming pools and lawns".
A recent report by the Israeli human rights group B'tselem said Israeli households consumed on average 3.5 times as much water as Palestinian households.
The group attributed the water shortage in Palestinian areas to what it called Israel's "discriminatory" policy in distributing water resources and restrictions on drilling new wells.
The shortages have translated into brisk business for water delivery trucks in several West Bank areas.
Jenin is connected to the water system but dwindling supplies have forced many there to turn to water vendors, whose prices have soared due to heavy demand and limited supply.
A recent U.N. report found that Palestinians in some of the hardest-hit communities were spending as much as 30 percent to 40 percent of their income on water delivered by truck. The Israeli Water Authority did not return several calls from Reuters to request similar information about Israeli consumers.
"I have never witnessed such shortage before," said Hussein Rahhal, a 73-year-old Jenin water vendor, as he stood by his truck in a long queue of similar vehicles waiting to fill their tanks. He added that some Jenin wells have already dried up.
His colleague, Hashem Abdel-Hafith, who nodded in agreement with Rahhal, said he switched off his mobile phone because he couldn't keep up with callers demanding water. "I kept answering: 'No water,'" Abdel-Hafith said.
In Bardala, home to nearly 2,000 Palestinians, farmers remember better days. Bardala had a surplus of water until the late 1970s when Israel drilled three deep wells next to the village's four shallow wells, causing them to dry up, they said.
Since then, Israel has reduced the amount of water it pumps to Bardala's farms, from 240 cubic metres per hour to 140, forcing many to slash production by up to 50 percent and to choose crops such as eggplant and beans that can survive on one watering per week.
Yousef Sawafta, another farmer from Bardala, said prices were falling because everyone in the village was planting the same drought-resistant crops.
"In the past, one could find all kinds of vegetables throughout the year. It is not the same any more," he said.
Leah Koenig is a freelance writer and editor of The Jew & The Carrot, a blog on Jewish life, food and sustainability.
When it arrived in my boyfriend's mailbox last summer, the invitation to the September wedding of a college friend immediately posed a problem. "It's on a Saturday," he said, scanning the R.S.V.P. card. "In Maryland." Saturday meant Shabbat - the day of rest when Sabbath-keeping Jews like us, abstain from driving, using electricity, spending money and engaging in the 39 types of "creative work" identified in the Torah. Dancing after the ceremony was fine. Traveling there by car was not.
Still, my boyfriend was determined to go while following Shabbat's laws. The nearest hotel was four miles from the wedding. We could arrive Friday before dark, he reasoned, wake up late and walk to the midafternoon ceremony with time to spare. "Sure," I said, when he asked if I would go with him. "Sounds like fun."
As the day approached, my excitement about our journey began to build. I remembered a line from my days as an environmental-studies major: "Walking is the great adventure, the first meditation." Was that Gary Snyder or John Muir? No matter. We'd walk the terrain that Shabbat afternoon and pray with our feet! When the day arrived, we set out from the parking lot of our hotel with enthusiasm and plenty of time to make it.
Less than a mile into it, however, it was clear that our route was not meant for walkers. The few existing stretches of sidewalk dwindled away, swallowed by the hot highway. Cars hurtled around sharp bends. But we continued, past gas stations and car washes. Past enormous housing developments and swaths of undeveloped land with For Sale signs sticking like birthday candles out of the soil. Make a wish! Buy your dream home!
One mile became two. Under the sun's glare, the relaxing Shabbat evening we'd spent in the hotel slipped away, and so did my poetic sentiment. Freckles of sweat dotted across my boyfriend's T-shirt as he trudged a few steps ahead of me. I thought about my slinky black dress, now crumpled in his backpack. Kicking a pile of dusty stones, I drained my water bottle, irritated that I'd neglected to bring reserves. The "not purchasing stuff on Shabbat" rule was still new to me.
"Maybe we could knock on one of the houses and ask to fill up," he said. But the homes gave off an impenetrable air, like fortresses with cul-de-sacs. The manicured lawns were absent of children. Living in New York City for four years, I have grown accustomed to the clamor of pedestrians on the sidewalks. But the only people we passed were two young Hispanic women heading toward one of the houses from a bus stop. "They must be cleaning ladies," I said aloud, alarmed by my assumption and the suspicion that I was right.
Around Mile 3, a rummage sale on the side of the road appeared like an unlikely mirage. "Did your car break down or something?" asked the man sitting in a lawn chair, surrounded by bric-a-brac. We assured him we were fine, throwing him shoulder-shrugging smiles. How, in exurban Maryland, could we explain that we were actually walking on purpose?
My thirst was starting to get serious when we heard the faint sound of drumming. It was celebratory, slightly militaristic. An SUV streaked by trailing colored streamers; a high-school football game was nearby. We practiced asking for water as we approached the outdoor stadium. "Should I explain that it's Shabbat and we can't pay for a bottle?" I asked. My boyfriend said, "No need to answer that question if it's not asked," showing far more experience than I with moving through the world as an observant Jew. The woman at the gate raised her eyebrows, but she took the empty water bottle from me to refill it.
When we finally "pulled in" to the small farm where the wedding guests were gathering, I felt my dreamy naturalist euphoria return. I went into the bathroom, splashed more water on my face and neck and changed into my miraculously unwrinkled dress. Outside, I found him looking handsome in dress pants and a tie, coming from the bar with a drink for each of us. We quietly agreed not to bring up our walk to the other guests. The walk was ours, but the day belonged to the bride and groom.
Later that evening the late summer sun set, signaling both the end of Shabbat and the party. We hitched a ride with a guest back to our hotel. I strained my eyes in the darkness, trying to catch familiar glimpses of the landscape now blurring by at 40 miles an hour. It took us more than two and a half hours to get to the wedding that afternoon. The drive back took 10 minutes.
Ryanair says will break even at $100 a barrel oil
LONDON: Irish low-cost airline Ryanair said on Thursday it would break even in the current year if oil remains at $100 a barrel, and would return to profitability next year if the price continues to fall.
Chief Executive Michael O'Leary said in a statement for the annual general meeting that the group remained unhedged on the oil price for the fourth quarter to end March, although he warned that savings on cheaper fuel may be offset by declining passenger numbers as economies go into recession.
"While profitability declines steeply in the current year, our cost-reduction programme and significantly lower oil prices -- if they persist at under $100 per barrel -- should lead to a return to substantial profitability next year," he said.
Ryanair shares climbed more than 5 percent to 2.7 euros by 10:24 a.m.
O'Leary echoed the widely held industry view that the run of airline bankruptcies was set to continue.
"We believe there will be further airline bankruptcies in Europe over the coming weeks, as more of Europe's non-viable, loss making airlines run out of cash or their credit facilities are withdrawn," he said.
EDF close to deal to buy British Energy
PARIS: French power group EDF is close to a deal to buy British Energy that would secure its expansion and Britain's nuclear power future, without making big new concessions, EDF sources said on Thursday.
The final price, the stumbling block for important minority shareholders in a previous offer, could still be a deal breaker with both the cash price and a paper element uncertain.
British Energy investors rejected a 12 billion pound all-cash bid on Aug 1. The government, which controls 35 percent of the utility, backed the all-cash offer.
Several sources close to EDF said on Thursday a deal was being hammered out between the two companies and their banks.
A French Ministry of Finance official said an announcement was likely early next week and an analyst close to the British Energy camp said a statement could be due as soon as Monday after a possible board meeting at the weekend.
There is currently no EDF board meeting planned.
"The (EDF) President (Pierre Gadonneix) told the board that discussions continue," an EDF source said. "There is no board meeting today. The president has the right to call a board meeting within ... 24 hours."
Gadonneix said in London earlier this week his company would not pay "any price" for British Energy.
An EDF spokesman declined to comment on whether the company had sweetened the offer, but analysts said it was likely to have improved the contingent value rights element rather than the cash.
India's iconic electric car gets volt of energy
MUMBAI: Long before "green" cars became trendy in other parts of the world, a boxy electric two-seater began rolling out of a small factory in the Indian city of Bangalore, which was then emerging as a software services hub.
Today, scores of Reva electric cars can be seen tootling down Bangalore's crowded streets, their bright colours and minimalist design drawing curious looks, even smiles, from commuters.
"It is simply beautiful," said T. Shivaram, a small business owner who bought a yellow-and-black Reva last year to cut his fuel bill. "It gives me driving pleasure and everyone stares at it and wants to know more about it."
The Reva was among the world's first electric vehicles sold commercially. It did not take off initially quite as its maker had hoped but it has blazed a trail for other electric cars -- such as General Motors' new Chevrolet Volt -- which are coming into their own in an age of high oil prices.
Reva Electric Car Co was set up in 1994 by India's Maini Group and AEV of the United States. The company was the first to successfully commercialise electric vehicles, according to consultancy Frost & Sullivan.
France scales back database plans after outcry
PARIS: The French government will scrap a decree that would have allowed the police to store private information on politicians and unionists, the prime minister's office said Thursday after the text caused an outcry.
The Edvige electronic database will still go ahead, but the government will come up with a new decree that significantly tightens the rules so that only people considered a security threat can be included.
"The decree will explicitly rule out the collection of any data on people's sexual orientation or health," the prime minister's office said in a statement. The first decree had made it possible to store such data, drawing widespread criticism.
The statement also noted that the new decree will no longer allow the police to collect data on politicians, union activists or religious figures simply because of their activities.
The criteria for being included will now be related to perceived security threats.
However, the new text will still allow the police to store data on minors as young as 13 if they are considered a threat to public safety.
The original decree allowed the police to collect data on people aged 13 or above who are active in politics or labor unions, who play a significant institutional, economic, social or religious role, or who are "likely to breach public order."
The government will present the new decree Friday to a consultative body that will give an opinion on whether it respects privacy rights.
The main labor unions said in a joint statement that they were not satisfied. They reiterated that it was unacceptable for the database to include minors and called for stronger guarantees that citizens' rights and freedoms would be respected.
Opponents to the Edvige database have called for a day of demonstrations on Oct. 16, which is Saint Edwige's day in the Roman Catholic calendar used in France. Edvige is an acronym that is pronounced the same way as the woman's name, Edwige.
The first decree drew criticism from civil rights groups, workers' unions, gay rights organizations and even from within the government, with one minister publicly voicing concerns.
Pope defends wartime predecessor
VATICAN CITY: Pope Benedict on Thursday forcefully defended his wartime predecessor Pius XII against accusations he did not do enough to help the Jews, saying Pius "spared no effort" on their behalf during World War II.
The pope spoke to members of the U.S.-based Pave the Way Foundation, a mixed Jewish-Catholic group which held a symposium in Rome on the papacy of Pius, who reigned from 1939 to 1958.
The symposium prepared a 200-page compilation of documents, diplomatic cables and newspaper clippings from the period -- some of them previously unpublished -- showing Pius did much to help Jews during the war and was thanked by Jewish leaders.
"Thanks to the vast quantity of documented material which you have gathered, supported by many authoritative testimonies, your symposium offers to the public forum the possibility of knowing more fully what Pius XII achieved for the Jews persecuted by the Nazi and fascist regimes," Benedict said.
"One understands, then, that wherever possible he spared no effort in intervening in their favour either directly or through instructions given to other individuals or to institutions of the Catholic Church," Benedict told the group at his summer residence south of Rome.
Some Jews have maintained that Pius did not do enough to save Jews while the Vatican and those Jews who support him say he worked behind the scenes to help because more direct intervention would have worsened the situation.
But Benedict praised the symposium for drawing attention "to his many interventions, made secretly and silently, precisely because, given the concrete situation of that difficult historical moment, only in this way was it possible to avoid the worst and save the greatest number of Jews".
Gary Krupp, an American Jew who is president and founder of Pave the Way, told the pope the group's investigation "directly contradicts the negative perception of the pope's war time activities".
CAMP SURVIORS THANKED POPE
The pope noted that in November, 1945, some six months after the end of the war, 80 delegates of German concentration camps came to the Vatican to thank Pius.
The symposium's documents included numerous newspaper clippings of Jewish leaders thanking Pius during and after the conflict and former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir saying: "When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the pope was raised for the victims".
The issue of Pius' papacy is one of the most difficult in Catholic-Jewish relations and the pope said that nearly five decades after his death "not all of the genuine facets of his diverse pastoral activity have been examined in a just light".
The Vatican will on October 9 mark the 50th anniversary of Pius' death with a conference and photo exhibition.
Historians have been calling on the Vatican to open up all its archives on the period.
The Vatican says while some of the archives of the period are still closed for organisational reasons, most of the significant documentation regarding Pius is already open to scholars.
Last year, the Vatican's saint-making department voted in favour of a decree recognising Pius's "heroic virtues," a major hurdle in a long process toward possible sainthood that began in 1967. But Pope Benedict has so far not approved the decree.
Some Jewish groups have said the Vatican should freeze the beatification process but others say it is an internal Church matter.
Greed wasn't good enough
Paul Wilmott is the London-based founder of Wilmott, a journal of quantitative finance.
I'm fairly risk-averse by nature, and so have always ignored the offers from my bank to help me "manage my money more successfully."
Put the money in a savings account, earn a bit of interest, but mainly work hard - that's been my philosophy.
Like everyone else, though, I've been looking into the small print lately to see just how safe my safe-as-houses account really is.
In Britain the government will guarantee the first £35,000 (roughly $63,000) in a bank account. If you have more than this saved up, an obvious solution is to spread the money around several accounts. Fine in theory, but this rapidly becomes tedious if you want to protect the savings of a lifetime.
So finally I succumbed to the calls from my bank manager. As of the middle of last week, I have a man who will give me advice day or night, and crucially can help someone as conservative as me to not suffer while all hell breaks loose. At our first meeting one of the questions I raised was how to deal with the money I owe the tax man.
Could he recommend a safe yet interest-bearing haven where I could keep the money until Her Majesty's Government asks for it?
He proposed an insurance bond that will mature on the date I have to pay my taxes. Insurance bonds have the nice feature that 90 percent of your money is insured, with no cap, and so even in a disaster I would lose "only" 10 percent.
This is how my first venture outside my comfort zone ended with me being invested in American International Group.
When I heard about the potential collapse of AIG shortly thereafter, I contacted my manager.
"We are in talks with AIG," he told me. "I want out!" I tell him.
Luckily for me, I'm within a cooling-off period in which I can get my money back, losing none of the principal. At least I think I am. I hope. I'll know more in the next couple of days. Even though AIG now apparently has been rescued by the Federal Reserve and downgraded relatively little, and even though I can theoretically lose only 10 percent, with the rest being insured, I want to play it safe. That last sentence contains quite a few important concepts that are worth thinking about.
First of all, "the rest being insured..." Insured by whom, exactly?
The main problem with the current crisis is not simply that all financial institutions are now intertwined, but rather the new manner of this interlacing through their complex derivatives transactions.
In the Long-Term Capital Management hedge-fund mess of 1998, the transactions were fairly transparent and with obvious counterparties. The cancer, if I may use that dramatic word, was contained and operable. The long-term impact for me, as someone who researches and lectures on finance, is that I can tell some great tales about the fall to earth of Nobel laureates who tried to put their theories to work in the real world.
The current crisis, however, is nowhere near as simple. The cancer has metastasized. It has spread through all the organs of the financial markets and a straightforward excision is probably not possible.
That's what makes the question of whether to rescue each institution such a difficult one. Sure, people have to learn a lesson, but - and this is my final surgical analogy - would that be cutting off one's nose to spite one's face? Back to my money with AIG, I ask myself, "Who insures the insurers?" I want out.
I mentioned "downgrading." Institutions and products are graded by various credit-rating firms so as to supposedly give an objective view of the risks and of the possibilities of default.
Can anyone say, while keeping a straight face, that the current system of having the institutions themselves pay for this service is a good idea? The moral hazard is so obvious that you can almost taste it.
I spend a great deal of time speaking to people in banks about their mathematical models. I know which are using good models - a very few banks - and which are using bad models - most banks. I know of the dangers present, from a quantitative-finance and risk-management perspective. And for many years I have explained these dangers to anyone who would listen, and I will continue to do so.
So it is incredible to think that ratings agencies, which must also have detailed knowledge of these toxic transactions, will happily give out their multiple A grades without any feeling of shame.
And then the word "theoretically" becomes very important. I have attended many conferences on quantitative finance, at which professors and practitioners describe their latest models for derivative instruments and the like.
All the time I'm sitting in the audience thinking that these models are far too simplistic and based on countless unrealistic assumptions. I tell people that these instruments are dangerous, that no one understands the risks. But no one cares.
As long as people are compensated hugely for taking risks with other people's money, and do not suffer equally on the downside, then those risks will inevitably become outrageous. Whether markets are efficient or not, I don't know for sure. But I do know that, if there's a way for someone to make money at another's expense, he will.
In spades. I want out.
So where next? And, most important, what should be done? I've taken to comparing the current situation to "Hamlet": We've had the deaths of Polonius, Claudius and Laertes - that is, the falling house prices, the rising commodity prices and the collapse of banks. As of now there is no sign of Hamlet himself, a catastrophic fall in the markets. Yet it's difficult to believe that markets are not going to undergo a climactic implosion some time soon. If the current situation doesn't fill investors with fear, then what are they smoking?
I believe that, to get to the root of the matter, we have to address the bad side of greed. We know from Ivan Boesky and Gordon Gecko that greed can be good. Greed makes the world go around. It makes people take risks that ultimately lead to economic or scientific advances.
But the greedy must also face the consequences of taking those risks. And thus the current system of compensation at financial companies does not lead to anything good at all.
If you give $10 million to random people on the street and tell them that they'll get 20 percent of any profit they make, without any consequences if they lose it, then many of them will go into the nearest casino and bet it all on red. The really clever ones will find a way to leverage it up first. After all, a $2 million bonus is nothing - you can't seriously expect people to live in New York or London on less than eight figures, can you?
Many Lehman Brothers employees received some of their compensation in Lehman shares. They aren't feeling too happy right now. But a system run on that principle could achieve exactly what is needed: a closer link between a person's paycheck and the longer-term success of his trading.
At the moment a trader can sell a 10-year toxic contract, pocket a nice bonus after a few months based on some theoretical valuation, and then disappear to another bank or off into the sunset, leaving nine years in which that contract could blow up.
These companies need to tie compensation to long-term performance rather than short-term performance. This won't be popular on Wall Street, but, if we want to turn investment banking back to performing something useful and positive, rather than some sort of riverboat-gambling scheme in which we are all unwitting participants, then there's not much choice.
Meanwhile I will be in contact with my new best friend, the bank manager, day and night. I will be closely monitoring every twitch of AIG's share price, balance sheet and credit rating. And I'll hope that, if all does not end well, Her Majesty's government is understanding of this loyal, faithful and increasingly risk-averse subject.
Nicholas D. Kristof: $17,000 an hour. No success required.
Are you capable of taking a perfectly good 158-year-old company and turning it into dust? If so, then you may not be earning up to your full potential.
You should be raking it in like Richard Fuld, the longtime chief of Lehman Brothers. He took home nearly half-a-billion dollars in total compensation between 1993 and 2007.
Last year, Fuld earned about $45 million, according to the calculations of Equilar, an executive pay research company. That amounts to roughly $17,000 an hour to obliterate a firm. If you're willing to drive a company into the ground for less, apply by calling Lehman Brothers at (212) 526-7000.
I'm delighted to announce that Fuld (who continues to lead Lehman since it entered bankruptcy proceedings this week) is the winner of my annual Michael Eisner Award for corporate rapacity and poor corporate governance. The award honors the pioneering achievements in this field of Eisner, the former Walt Disney chief.
This isn't a plaque that will simply gather dust in a closet. It's a shower curtain to commemorate the $6,000 one that the former CEO of Tyco purchased and billed to his shareholders.
So, Fuld, you'll be pleased to know that I've picked out a lovely green vinyl number for you. Only $14.99! Why, I saved you $5,985!
Perhaps it seems frivolous to be handing out shower curtains to chief executives when we're caught in a deepening economic crisis.
Well, it is.
But one of our broad national problems is rising inequality, and it is exacerbated by corporate executives helping themselves to shareholders' cash.
Three decades ago, CEOs typically earned 30 to 40 times the income of ordinary workers. Last year, CEOs of large public companies averaged 344 times the average pay of workers.
John McCain seems to think that the problem is that CEOs are greedy. Well, of course, they are. We're all greedy. The real failure is one of corporate governance, which provides only the flimsiest oversight to curb the greed of executives like Fuld.
"Compare the massive destruction of wealth for shareholders to what he gets at the end of the day," said Lucian Bebchuk, the director of the corporate governance program at Harvard Law School.
A central flaw of governance is that boards of directors frequently are ornamental and provide negligible oversight.
As Warren Buffett has said, "in judging whether corporate America is serious about reforming itself, CEO pay remains the acid test." It's a test that corporate America is failing.
These Brobdingnagian paychecks are partly the result of taxpayer subsidies. A study released a few weeks ago by the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington found five major elements in the tax code that encourage overpaying executives. These cost taxpayers more than $20 billion a year.
That's enough money to deworm every child in the world, cut maternal mortality around the globe by two-thirds and also provide iodized salt to prevent tens of millions of children from suffering mild retardation or worse. Alternatively, it could pay for health care for most uninsured children in America.
Do we truly believe that CEOs like Fuld are more deserving of tax dollars than sick children?
Perhaps it's understandable that CEOs are paid heroically when they succeed, but why pay prodigious sums when they fail? E. Stanley O'Neal, the former chief of Merrill Lynch, retired last year after driving the firm over a cliff, and he walked away with $161 million.
The problem isn't precisely paychecks that are huge. Baseball stars, investment bankers and hedge fund managers all earn obscene sums, but honestly - through arm's-length transactions. You and I may gasp, but that's the free market at work.
In contrast, boards pay CEOs after negotiations that are often more like pillow talk. Relationships are incestuous, and compensation consultants provide only a thin veneer of respectability by finding some "peer group" of companies so moribund that anybody shines in comparison.
The result is what critics call the Lake Wobegon effect, which miraculously leaves all CEOs above average. Indeed, one study of 1,500 companies found that two-thirds claimed to be outperforming their peer groups.
John Kenneth Galbraith, the great economist, once explained: "The salary of the chief executive of a large corporation is not a market award for achievement. It is frequently in the nature of a warm personal gesture by the individual to himself."
There are widely discussed technical solutions to CEOs overpaying themselves that we should move toward. We can also learn from Britain and Australia, which offer shareholders more rights than in America, redrawing the balance between shareholders and management and curbing pay in the process.
As for Fuld, unfortunately, he had no comment for this column. At $17,000 an hour, it probably wasn't worth his time.
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