The United Nations warns in a new report that 2 billion people — or a quarter of humanity — lack access to safe drinking water, and nearly half the global population has no access to basic sanitation. Secretary-General António Guterres announced the findings on Wednesday as the U.N. Water Conference opened three days of meetings — the first such event in nearly half a century.
Secretary-General António Guterres: “Water is a human right — and the common development denominator to shape a better future. But water is in deep trouble. We are draining humanity’s lifeblood through vampiric overconsumption and unsustainable use and evaporating it through global heating.”
In Santiago, Chile, protesters marked World Water Day Wednesday with a march demanding access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Chile is in the grips of a 13-year megadrought, with more than half the nation’s population suffering from “severe water scarcity.” This is journalist and social activist Lucía Sepúlveda.
Lucía Sepúlveda: “We are here representing many who cannot join us, because in their territories they have no water, because they have a miserable quality of life, because the water is being taken away by logging companies, because the water is being used by single-crop plantations.”
Here in the United States, more than 2 million people lack running water and basic indoor plumbing, with renters and people of color most likely to be affected.
In California, at least five people were killed and over 100,000 homes and businesses left without electricity, after fierce winter storms brought heavy rain and wind gusts of up to 80 miles an hour. Parts of California’s central San Joaquin Valley face catastrophic flooding, with estimates that up to 100,000 acres of farmland are under water. In Southern California, the National Weather Service says two rare tornadoes touched down this week, injuring two people and damaging dozens of structures in Los Angeles County.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky returned to the frontline near the devastated city of Bakhmut Wednesday, promising to “respond to every blow” following a string of Russian attacks on civilian sites across Ukraine that killed at least eight people and injured dozens on Wednesday.
In Moscow, Russian officials have warned the United Kingdom not to send ammunition to Ukraine containing depleted uranium. The metal is a byproduct of the enrichment process used to make nuclear warheads and fuel for power plants. It’s both toxic and radioactive and has been linked to congenital birth defects, cancer and kidney damage. This is Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaking Wednesday.
Sergey Lavrov: “While there is no convention to ban depleted uranium shells, the United Nations General Assembly regularly considers resolutions calling on nations not to produce or use depleted uranium. Every time, the United Kingdom, the United States and France vote it down.”
Since the 1990s, the U.S. has fired munitions containing hundreds of tons of depleted uranium in Iraq, Serbia, Kosovo and Syria, as well as the former U.S. Naval Training Range in Vieques, Puerto Rico.
On Capitol Hill, peace activists with the group CodePink repeatedly interrupted U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken Wednesday as he testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This is CodePink founder Medea Benjamin.
Medea Benjamin: “The American people don’t want to keep fueling a proxy war with Russia that could lead us to World War III or a nuclear holocaust. You’re supposed to be a diplomat. Start negotiating! You know, if you don’t like the Chinese proposal, where is your peace proposal?”
Police moved in to arrest CodePink members as they delivered their messages to Blinken and senators.
In Russia, security forces have raided the homes of people affiliated with the banned Memorial Human Rights Center, confiscating items and equipment and bringing some of the group’s members in for questioning. Memorial won the Right Livelihood Award in 2004 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022 for its work documenting human rights violations and crimes committed by the former Soviet Union. It was outlawed by the Russian government in late 2021, ahead of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The International Criminal Court has expressed concern over comments by former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who said Monday, “It’s quite possible to imagine a hypersonic missile being fired from the North Sea from a Russian ship at The Hague courthouse.” Medvedev added that any attempt by the ICC to arrest President Vladimir Putin on war crimes charges would amount to a declaration of war. Russia, the United States and Ukraine have not ratified the Rome Statute treaty that established the International Criminal Court. In 2002, then-President George W. Bush signed a bipartisan bill known as the American Service-Members’ Protection Act, authorizing U.S. military action to bring about the release of any U.S. personnel being detained at the request of the International Criminal Court.
The United Nations is calling for an international “specialized support force” to deploy to Haiti to help stem a worsening gang crisis, which has already killed over 530 people this year. Gang violence steadily rose amid mounting political and economic instability following the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Gangs now control over half of Haiti, while some 160,000 have been displaced, many now living in makeshift homes.
Natacha Germain: “The gangs invaded us. I lost my husband because of the gang war. I am alone with my children. I was living on the street, and after many searches, they found this place for us to stay in. Now I can’t go back home. I lost everything.”
Half of Haiti’s population does not have enough food. The U.N. warns children are especially at risk of gang violence and face kidnappings, forced recruitment and sexual violence.
A 6.5-magnitude earthquake killed at least 19 people and injured hundreds more in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The earthquake struck Tuesday evening in the mountainous northeast of Afghanistan, near its border with Pakistan, damaging buildings and triggering landslides.
Back in the United States, a judge in Wyoming has put a temporary hold on the state’s recently enacted abortion ban — pending a legal challenge — citing the constitutional right of Wyoming residents to make individual healthcare decisions.
Meanwhile, in Idaho, one hospital announced it would stop delivering babies as too many doctors have left the state over its abortion ban, which criminalizes abortion providers. Expectant residents of Sandpoint in northwest Idaho will now have to drive 46 miles for labor and delivery care.
The U.S. central bank has raised interest rates by another quarter of a percent. It’s the eighth time in a row the Federal Reserve has raised the cost of borrowing, even though the Fed’s own forecasts show the hikes could cost 2 million people their jobs. Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren blasted Fed Chair Jerome Powell’s decision, tweeting, “I’ve warned for months that the Fed’s current path risks throwing millions of Americans out of work. We have many tools to fight inflation without pushing the economy off a cliff.”
The International Monetary Fund approved a $3 billion loan for Sri Lanka this week amid its worst economic crisis since gaining independence. Inflation has soared to above 50% as people struggle to pay for food. It’s the 17th IMF bailout Sri Lanka has received and the third since the end of its civil war in 2009.
In Lebanon, protesters rallied in Beirut Wednesday to decry worsening economic conditions as Lebanon’s currency hit an all-time low. Security forces fired tear gas at the demonstrators. Many of the protesters were former security force members whose state pensions have been rapidly losing value amid a dire economic crisis. The Lebanese pound lost more than 98% of its value against the U.S. dollar since 2019.
And in Argentina, inflation has topped 100% for the first time since its financial crisis of the early 1990s. Argentina has struggled to turn around its economy amid government infighting and ministerial turnover. Last year, massive protests called out austerity measures resulting from IMF bailouts and the government’s mismanagement of its debt. Fed-up Argentines say they want change in their leadership.
Patricia Quiroga: “Let all the politicians go. I am tired, tired, just tired of all this, of the politicians who fight while the people die of hunger.”