Month: October 2023

Deep-Sea Mining Could Help Fight Climate Change but Damage Ocean

Thousands of meters beneath the Pacific Ocean lie vast deposits of the metals needed for the shift to renewable energy. Mining companies are ready to scoop up this sunken treasure strewn across an area more than half the size of the continental United States. But not much is known about the ecosystem deep beneath the ocean and what impacts mining these rocks might have. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.


UNICEF: Children Dying in Gaza as Cease-Fire Call Unheeded 

A top U.N. agency is warning that if calls for a cease-fire in Gaza are not heeded, causalities will continue to mount, putting children in the densely populated Palestinian enclave at even greater risk.

“Gaza has become a graveyard for thousands of children,” said James Elder, UNICEF spokesperson, Tuesday. “It is a living hell for everyone else.”

The Hamas-controlled Gaza health ministry says that more than 8,300 Palestinians in Gaza, including at least 3,457 children, have been killed since Israel began a punishing bombing campaign following the horrific massacre of its civilians by Hamas militants October 7.

“From the earliest days of the unprecedented hostilities in the Gaza Strip, UNICEF has been forthright on the need for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire, for the aid to flow and for children abducted to be released,” he said. “Like many others, we have pleaded for the killing of children to stop.”

While Washington has thrown its support behind Israel, it has also called for the protection of civilians and pushed for the opening of humanitarian aid into Gaza as the Israeli military expands its ground campaign aiming to uproot Hamas, which is a U.S.-designated terrorist group.

Since Israel partially lifted its blockade of Gaza on October 21, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, says 143 trucks carrying food, water, and medical supplies have entered Gaza through the Rafah Crossing with Egypt.

“Before this escalation, there were 500 trucks on average going in every working day. So about 22 days per month,” said Jens Laerke, OCHA spokesperson.

“The equivalent of 50 trucks of that daily average of 500 was fuel,” he said.


OCHA says that none of the trucks entering Gaza now contain fuel, which is needed to produce electricity at Gaza’s only power plant, to back up hospital generators, keep water desalination plants running, and prevent Gaza’s few remaining bakeries from shutting down.

“Fuel is not just a luxury commodity for fancy cars to drive around,” said Christian Lindmeier, spokesperson for the World Health Organization. “It is vital for the water supply. It is vital for the ambulances, for the hospitals to operate and many other instances to make life in Gaza a little bit lighter in this ongoing humanitarian catastrophe.”

Israel refuses to allow fuel to enter Gaza because it classifies diesel as a “dual use” good that can be used by Hamas for military purposes. It also argues that Hamas has stockpiled large quantities of fuel which it is hoarding for military use.

It also insists that no cease-fire is possible while it is engaged in an existential struggle against an organization that is committed to the killing of Jews and the destruction of Israel.

“Children are absolutely dying because there are situations where they do not have the medical supplies, the medical care they need … who have been impacted by the bombardments and should have had their lives saved,” said Elder.

“Without humanitarian access, the deaths from the attacks could be the tip of the iceberg,” he said, warning that deaths will increase substantially if hospitals continue to be deprived of the medicine they need, “if incubators start to fail, and hospitals go dark for lack of electricity.”

The WHO says 130 premature infants are dependent on incubators, 61 percent of whom are in the northern part of Gaza, where Israeli bombardment is most intense. It says 50,000 women are pregnant, with an average of 180 births a day, and 350,000 people with non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, need urgent medical care.

“None of this can happen without medical supplies, without electricity,” said Lindmeier. “This is an imminent public health catastrophe that looms with mass displacement, with overcrowding, with damage to water and sanitation infrastructure.”

Elder said UNICEF has sent 25 trucks across the border into Gaza since October 21. He said eight trucks, which arrived in Gaza Monday, were carrying water, hygiene and medical supplies, but no fuel.

“There is a lot of frustration and anger from agencies because we have so, so many trucks at that border, so many containers full and unable to get into Gaza.

“We know that even if we cannot get that cease-fire that we have so desperately been calling for from day one, that at least we must get these people the basics that any humans deserve — water, medicines.”

“Agencies are getting some in, UNICEF is getting some in,” he said. “But it remains a drop. It remains unacceptable.”


Electric Vehicle ‘Fast Charger’ Seen as Game Changer

With White House funding to put more electric cars on the road, some states are using the money to build out their part of a fast-charging EV network. Deana Mitchell has the story.


Saudi Arabia Likely to Host 2034 World Cup After Australia Decides Not to Bid

Saudi Arabia is all but certain to host the men’s 2034 World Cup after the Australian soccer federation decided not to enter the bidding contest, which had been widely seen as shaped by FIFA to suit the oil rich kingdom. 

FIFA had set Tuesday as the deadline to formally declare interest in hosting the tournament, but Australia’s decision not to enter the race leaves Saudi Arabia as the only declared candidate — to the dismay of many human rights activists. 

“We have explored the opportunity to bid to host the FIFA World Cup and — having taken all factors into consideration — we have reached the conclusion not to do so for the 2034 competition,” Football Australia said in a statement. 

FIFA still needs to rubber stamp Saudi Arabia as the host — a decision that is likely to be made next year — but that now seems a formality. It would be the culmination of Saudi Arabia’s ambitious drive to become a major player in global sports, having already spent massive amounts on bringing in dozens of star soccer players to its domestic league, buying English soccer club Newcastle, launching the breakaway LIV Golf tour and hosting major boxing fights. 

But FIFA’s seeming eagerness to pave the way for Saudi Arabia to host its marquee event has drawn widespread criticism from activists who say it exposes the governing body’s human rights commitments as “a sham.” 

Saudi Arabia’s sports spending program approved by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been described as sportswashing to soften a national image often associated with its record on women’s rights and the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has built close ties to Saudi soccer and the crown prince personally, and has long been seen as trying to steer the world soccer body’s competitions toward the kingdom. 

When FIFA made deal this month to have just one host bid for the 2030 World Cup — uniting Spain, Portugal and Morocco with three games placed in South America — it also fast-tracked the 2034 hosting race with only member federations in Asia and Oceania eligible to bid. The tight deadline gave them less than four weeks to enter the race by Tuesday and just one month more to sign a bidding agreement that requires government support. 

The timetable “was a little bit of a surprise,” Australian soccer federation leader James Johnson acknowledged Tuesday, adding “we’re adults and we just try to roll with it and deal with the cards that we have been given.” 

Within hours of the FIFA announcement on October 4, the Saudi soccer federation said it was in and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) — which includes Australia — said it was backing the kingdom to bring the World Cup back to the Middle East after neighboring Qatar hosted the 2022 edition. 

Qatar hosted in November and December, in the heart of the European club soccer season, to avoid extreme heat in the summer months and a Saudi tournament likely also will be moved from the traditional June-July period. 

Indonesia’s football association initially showed interest in a joint bid with Australia, potentially alongside Malaysia and Singapore, but that faded when Indonesia instead backed Saudi Arabia. 

Australia will instead attempt to secure hosting the 2029 Club World Cup — which will relaunch in 2025 playing every four years in a new format with 32 teams qualifying — and the 2026 Women’s Asian Cup. Saudi Arabia also is bidding for the women’s Asian championship. 

“I think there will be some goodwill created by not going for 2034,” Johnson told reporters in an online call, accepting that the resources of a government-backed Saudi bid “is difficult to compete with.” 

Australia and New Zealand successfully co-hosted the Women’s World Cup in July and August. Brisbane, Queensland state, is due to become the third Australian city to host the Olympics when it stages the 2032 Summer Games. 

Saudi Arabia also will host the men’s Asian Cup in 2027 and has started a widespread construction program to build and renovate stadiums that likely will be used for the World Cup. FIFA’s bidding documents say 14 stadiums are needed at the 48-team tournament. 

Qatar’s World Cup was dogged by years-long allegations of rights abuses of migrant workers needed to build its stadiums. 

“FIFA’s failure in 2010 to insist on human rights protections when it awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar is a major reason why serious reforms were so delayed, and so often weakly implemented and enforced,” Football Supporters Europe executive director Ronan Evain said Tuesday. 

Saudi Arabia’s preparation should face some of the same scrutiny in the next decade. 

“With Saudi Arabia’s estimated 13.4 million migrant workers, inadequate labor and heat protections and no unions, no independent human rights monitors, and no press freedom, there is every reason to fear for the lives of those who would build and service stadiums, transit, hotels, and other hosting infrastructure in Saudi Arabia,” Human Rights Watch director of global initiatives Minky Worden said in a recent statement.

“The possibility that FIFA could award Saudi Arabia the 2034 World Cup despite its appalling human rights record and closed door to any monitoring exposes FIFA’s commitments to human rights as a sham,” Worden said.

FIFA’s own World Cup bidding documents push potential hosts toward “respecting internationally recognized human rights,” though limits the remit to tournament operations rather than in wider society.

“FIFA must now make clear how it expects hosts to comply with its human rights policies,” Amnesty International official Steve Cockburn said in a statement Tuesday. “It must also be prepared to halt the bidding process if serious human rights risks are not credibly addressed.” 


Study: In Early 2029, Earth Will Likely Lock Into Breaching Key Warming Threshold

In a little more than five years – sometime in early 2029 – the world will likely be unable to stay below the internationally agreed temperature limit for global warming if it continues to burn fossil fuels at its current rate, a new study says.

The study moves three years closer the date when the world will eventually hit a critical climate threshold, which is an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since the 1800s.

Beyond that temperature increase, the risks of catastrophes increase, as the world will likely lose most of its coral reefs, a key ice sheet could kick into irreversible melt, and water shortages, heat waves and death from extreme weather dramatically increase, according to an earlier United Nations scientific report.

Hitting that threshold will happen sooner than initially calculated because the world has made progress in cleaning up a different type of air pollution — tiny smoky particles called aerosols. Aerosols slightly cool the planet and mask the effects of burning coal, oil and natural gas, the study’s lead author said. Put another way, while cleaning up aerosol pollution is a good thing, that success means slightly faster rises in temperatures.

The study in Monday’s journal Nature Climate Change calculates what’s referred to as the remaining “carbon budget,” which is how much fossil fuels the world can burn and still have a 50% chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times. That is the threshold set by the 2015 Paris agreement.

The last 10 years are already on average 1.14 degrees Celsius (2.05 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter than the 19th century. Last year was 1.26 degrees Celsius (2.27 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer and this year is likely to blow past that, according to scientists.

The new study set the carbon budget at 250 billion metric tons. The world is burning a little more than 40 billion metric tons a year (and still rising), leaving six years left. But that six years started in January 2023, the study said, so that’s now only five years and a couple months away.

“It’s not that the fight against climate change will be lost after six years, but I think probably if we’re not already on a strong downward trajectory, it’ll be too late to fight for that 1.5 degree limit,” said study lead author Robin Lamboll, an Imperial College of London climate scientist.

A 2021 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report gave a budget of 500 billion metric tons pointed to a mid 2032 date for locking in 1.5 degrees, Lamboll said. An update by many IPCC authors this June came up with a carbon budget the same as Lamboll’s team, but Lamboll’s analysis is more detailed, said IPCC report co-chair and climate scientist Valerie Masson-Delmotte.

The biggest change from the 2021 report to this year’s studies is that new research show bigger reductions in aerosol emissions — which come from wildfires, sea salt spray, volcanoes and burning fossil fuels — that lead to sooty air that cools the planet a tad, covering up the bigger greenhouse gas effect. As the world cleans up its carbon-emitting emissions it is simultaneously reducing the cooling aerosols too and the study takes that more into account, as do changes to computer simulations, Lamboll said.

Even though the carbon budget looks to run out early in the year 2029, that doesn’t mean the world will instantly hit 1.5 degrees warmer than pre-industrial times. The actual temperature change could happen a bit earlier or as much as a decade or two later, but it will happen once the budget runs out, Lamboll said.

People should not misinterpret running out of the budget for 1.5 degrees as the only time left to stop global warming, the authors said. Their study said the carbon budget with a 50% chance to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) is 1220 billion metric tons, which is about 30 years.

“We don’t want this to be interpreted as six years to save the planet,” study co-author Christopher Smith, a University of Leeds climate scientist, said. “If we are able to limit warming to 1.6 degrees or 1.65 degrees or 1.7 degrees, that’s a lot better than 2 degrees. We still need to fight for every tenth of a degree.”

Climate scientist Bill Hare of Climate Action Tracker, which monitors national efforts to reduce carbon emissions, said “breaching the 1.5 degree limit does not push the world over a cliff at that point, but it is very much an inflection point in increasing risk of catastrophic changes.”

As they head into climate negotiations in Dubai next month, world leaders still say “the 1.5-degree limit is achievable.” Lamboll said limiting warming to 1.5 degrees is technically possible, but politically is challenging and unlikely.

“We have got to the stage where the 1.5C carbon budget is so small that it’s almost losing meaning,” said climate scientist Glen Peters of the Norwegian CICERO climate institute, who wasn’t part of the research. “If your face is about to slam in the wall at 100 miles per hour, it is sort of irrelevant if your nose is currently 1 millimeter or 2 millimeters from the wall. … We are still heading in the wrong direction at 100 mph.”

People “shouldn’t worry — they should act,” said climate scientist Piers Forster of the University of Leeds, who wasn’t part of Lamboll’s team. Acting as fast as possible “can halve the rate of warming this decade.”



Spanish Soccer Official Who Kissed Unwilling Star Player Is Banned for Three Years

The Spanish soccer official who provoked a players’ rebellion and reckoning on gender when he kissed an unwilling star player on the lips at the Women’s World Cup final trophy ceremony was banned for three years on Monday by the sport’s global governing body.

Luis Rubiales’ conduct at the Aug. 20 final in Australia — and his defiant refusal to resign as Spanish soccer federation president for three weeks — distracted many people from the women’s career-defining title win.

Rubiales is now barred from working in soccer until after the men’s 2026 World Cup. His ban will expire before the next women’s tournament in 2027.

Spanish authorities have launched a criminal investigation against Rubiales for kissing Jenni Hermoso on the lips after the team’s 1-0 victory over England in Sydney, and his conduct in the fallout from the scandal.

Spanish prosecutors have formally accused Rubiales of sexual assault and coercion. Hermoso said that Rubiales pressured her to speak out in his defense amid the global furor.

Rubiales denied wrongdoing to a judge in Madrid who imposed a restraining order for him not to contact Hermoso, the record goal scorer for the Spain women’s team.

FIFA has said it was investigating whether Rubiales violated “basic rules of decent conduct” and “behaving in a way that brings the sport of football and/or FIFA into disrepute.”

In another incident, at the final whistle in Sydney Rubiales grabbed his crotch as a victory gesture while he was in an exclusive section of seats and Queen Letizia of Spain and 16-year-old Princess Sofía were standing nearby.

A third incident FIFA judges cited to remove Rubiales from office during their investigation — “carrying the Spanish player Athenea del Castillo over his shoulder during the post-match celebrations” — was detailed in a ruling to explain why he was provisionally suspended.

Women’s soccer has seen allegations of sexual misconduct by male soccer presidents and coaches against female players on national teams.

Two of the 32 World Cup teams, Haiti and Zambia, had to deal with such issues while qualifying for the tournament co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

Even before the Women’s World Cup, Rubiales — a former professional player and union leader — had been the target of unproven allegations of a sexual nature about his managerial culture, including at the national federation he led since 2018.

The Spanish players’ preparation for the Women’s World Cup also was in turmoil in the year ahead of the tournament because of their dissatisfaction with the leadership of their male coach, Jorge Vilda.

Vilda was supported by Rubiales to stay in the job despite 15 players asking last year not to be called up again because of the emotional pain it meant to play for the team. Three continued their self-imposed exile and refused to be selected for the World Cup.

As the Rubiales scandal continued into September, with lawmakers supporting the players, Vilda was fired by the federation’s interim management.

Rubiales resigned from his jobs in soccer on Sept. 10 after three weeks of defiance that increased pressure on him from the Spanish government and national-team players.

He also gave up his vice presidency of European soccer body UEFA which paid him $265,000 a year. One day later UEFA thanked Rubiales for his service in a statement that offered no backing to the women players.

When Rubiales resigned, he said he did not want to be a distraction from Spain’s bid to host the men’s 2030 World Cup in a UEFA-backed project with Portugal and Morocco.

That bid has since been picked by FIFA as the only candidate to host the 2030 tournament in a plan that now also includes its former opponents Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The Morocco soccer federation that partnered with Spain on the men’s 2030 World Cup later hired Vilda to coach its women’s national team. The Morocco women were a standout story at their World Cup reaching the last-16 knockout round in their tournament debut.

The quick forgiveness of Vilda fueled the view that soccer administrators’ actions often do not meet their claims of zero-tolerance of misconduct.

Rubiales can choose to appeal his three-year ban, first to FIFA and subsequently at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

FIFA said Rubiales has 10 days to request the full written verdict in his case which it would then publish.


Biden Signs Sweeping Executive Order on AI Oversight

President Joe Biden on Monday signed a wide-ranging executive order on artificial intelligence, covering topics as varied as national security, consumer privacy, civil rights and commercial competition. The administration heralded the order as taking “vital steps forward in the U.S.’s approach on safe, secure, and trustworthy AI.”

The order directs departments and agencies across the U.S. federal government to develop policies aimed at placing guardrails alongside an industry that is developing newer and more powerful systems at a pace rate that has many concerned it will outstrip effective regulation.

“To realize the promise of AI and avoid the risk, we need to govern this technology,” Biden said during a signing ceremony at the White House. The order, he added, is “the most significant action any government anywhere in the world has ever taken on AI safety, security and trust.” 

‘Red teaming’ for security 

One of the marquee requirements of the new order is that it will require companies developing advanced artificial intelligence systems to conduct rigorous testing of their products to ensure that bad actors cannot use them for nefarious purposes. The process, known as red teaming, will assess, among other things, “AI systems threats to critical infrastructure, as well as chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and cybersecurity risks.” 

The National Institute of Standards and Technology will set the standards for such testing, and AI companies will be required to report their results to the federal government prior to releasing new products to the public. The Departments of Homeland Security and Energy will be closely involved in the assessment of threats to vital infrastructure. 

To counter the threat that AI will enable the creation and dissemination of false and misleading information, including computer-generated images and “deep fake” videos, the Commerce Department will develop guidance for the creation of standards that will allow computer-generated content to be easily identified, a process commonly called “watermarking.” 

The order directs the White House chief of staff and the National Security Council to develop a set of guidelines for the responsible and ethical use of AI systems by the U.S. national defense and intelligence agencies.

Privacy and civil rights

The order proposes a number of steps meant to increase Americans’ privacy protections when AI systems access information about them. That includes supporting the development of privacy-protecting technologies such as cryptography and creating rules for how government agencies handle data containing citizens’ personally identifiable information.

However, the order also notes that the United States is currently in need of legislation that codifies the kinds of data privacy protections that Americans are entitled to. Currently, the U.S. lags far behind Europe in the development of such rules, and the order calls on Congress to “pass bipartisan data privacy legislation to protect all Americans, especially kids.”

The order recognizes that the algorithms that enable AI to process information and answer users’ questions can themselves be biased in ways that disadvantage members of minority groups and others often subject to discrimination. It therefore calls for the creation of rules and best practices addressing the use of AI in a variety of areas, including the criminal justice system, health care system and housing market.

The order covers several other areas, promising action on protecting Americans whose jobs may be affected by the adoption of AI technology; maintaining the United States’ market leadership in the creation of AI systems; and assuring that the federal government develops and follows rules for its own adoption of AI systems.

Open questions

Experts say that despite the broad sweep of the executive order, much remains unclear about how the Biden administration will approach the regulations of AI in practice.

Benjamin Boudreaux, a policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, told VOA that while it is clear the administration is “trying to really wrap their arms around the full suite of AI challenges and risks,” much work remains to be done.

“The devil is in the details here about what funding and resources go to executive branch agencies to actually enact many of these recommendations, and just what models a lot of the norms and recommendations suggested here will apply to,” Boudreaux said.

International leadership

Looking internationally, the order says the administration will work to take the lead in developing “an effort to establish robust international frameworks for harnessing AI’s benefits and managing its risks and ensuring safety.”

James A. Lewis, senior vice president and director of the strategic technologies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VOA that the executive order does a good job of laying out where the U.S. stands on many important issues related to the global development of AI.

“It hits all the right issues,” Lewis said. “It’s not groundbreaking in a lot of places, but it puts down the marker for companies and other countries as to how the U.S. is going to approach AI.”

That’s important, Lewis said, because the U.S. is likely to play a leading role in the development of the international rules and norms that grow up around the technology.

“Like it or not — and certainly some countries don’t like it — we are the leaders in AI,” Lewis said. “There’s a benefit to being the place where the technology is made when it comes to making the rules, and the U.S. can take advantage of that.”

‘Fighting the last war’ 

Not all experts are certain the Biden administration’s focus is on the real threats that AI might present to consumers and citizens. 

Louis Rosenberg, a 30-year veteran of AI development and the CEO of American tech firm Unanimous AI, told VOA he is concerned the administration may be “fighting the last war.”

“I think it’s great that they’re making a bold statement that this is a very important issue,” Rosenberg said. “It definitely shows that the administration is taking it seriously and that they want to protect the public from AI.”

However, he said, when it comes to consumer protection, the administration seems focused on how AI might be used to advance existing threats to consumers, like fake images and videos and convincing misinformation — things that already exist today.

“When it comes to regulating technology, the government has a track record of underestimating what’s new about the technology,” he said.

Rosenberg said he is more concerned about the new ways in which AI might be used to influence people. For example, he noted that AI systems are being built to interact with people conversationally.

“Very soon, we’re not going to be typing in requests into Google. We’re going to be talking to an interactive AI bot,” Rosenberg said. “AI systems are going to be really effective at persuading, manipulating, potentially even coercing people conversationally on behalf of whomever is directing that AI. This is the new and different threat that did not exist before AI.” 


Malian Artists Decry Suspension of French Cultural Exchange

Adiara Traore was due to travel to France with an international dance troupe before France suspended visa services in Mali, and the French Ministry of Culture asked the country’s artistic union to “suspend cooperation” with artists from Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. Amid tensions between France and Sahelian juntas, Malian artists and their supporters are asking the French government to allow artists to continue the cultural exchange that has flourished between Mali and France for years. Annie Risemberg reports.


Paris Palestinian Exhibit Casts Eerily Prescient Spotlight on War in Gaza

The photos of property are neatly lined up, looking — at first glance — like a classic window display at any real estate agency.

“Calm, light filled, and unobstructed surroundings,” reads one, indicating the location as the Ezbet Abed-Rabbo neighborhood, in northern Gaza. “Garden + parking: 120 square meters. Inhabitants: 10 people.”

The photo above it shows the rubble of a blasted building, flanked by a baby-blue sky.

The artwork is part of a trove of paintings, photographs and sculptures that comprise the exhibit, “What Palestine Brings to the World,” at the Arab World Institute in Paris. Running through November 19, the show was organized well before the Israeli-Hamas war broke out earlier this month. Yet the images of shattered Palestinian homes, rings of barbed wire and tall fences are eerily prescient. 

“The exhibition gives a foretaste of the coming eruption, the pent-up anger and the sense of injustice,” said the Institute’s head, Jack Lang, a former French culture minister, in an interview with VOA. “And at the same time, it shows the talent, intelligence and creativity of Palestinians, notably the youth.”

The works are authored and donated by a mix of Palestinian and other largely Arab artists, many of them living in the West. But the themes are about Palestinians: their recent history, their loss, the truncated territories where some live today.

The collection’s home, for now, is the Arab World Institute, whose show aimed to mark the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, or catastrophe — the Palestinian commemoration of their mass displacement during the establishment of Israel. But its owner, former Palestinian ambassador to UNESCO Elias Sanbar, wants it to form the basis of a future Palestinian museum of modern and contemporary art in East Jerusalem. 

On display too is the Sahab or “cloud” museum painted by Palestinian artists of the art house they hope will rise in Gaza one day. With swathes of that territory now lying in ruins, it seems like an unlikely dream.

The war has entered the exhibit in other ways. One Gazan artist died in a bomb explosion. Others cannot be located.

“I send messages to the different artists,” Lang said. “I have received one answer. But it doesn’t mean the others have died.” 

The collection reflects Palestinian history as interpreted by its artists. One massive painting seems a riff on Picasso’s “Guernica,” the Basque town bombed during the Spanish civil war. This time, the structure is an Israeli separation barrier. In another room, photos show yellow no-trespass signs transposed over images of former Palestinian land. 

A picture by Texan-Jordanian photographer Tanya Habjouqa — part of a series called “Occupied Pleasures” — shows two men and a child sitting in armchairs, flanked by an Israeli border barrier. Others depict the dreamed-of return by Palestinian exiles to their homeland. There are only a few scraps of semi-normality, like youngsters on skateboards, or a pair of women on a yoga mat.

The Institute’s chief curator, Eric Delpont, says despite its bleak images, the exhibit offers an undercurrent of hope. 

“The Palestinians are people, like so many others, who have been hurt through the history,” he said. “Yet there is a force of life, and a believing of what can be tomorrow, despite the harshness of today.” 

The show has drawn good crowds since it opened in May, museum officials say, but turnout has spiked since the war.

Events in the Middle East are closely followed here in France, home to Western Europe’s largest populations of Jews and Muslims. Thousands of French joined pro-Israel rallies after Hamas’ deadly attacks in Israel on October 7. Following Israel’s retaliatory strikes on Gaza, thousands more have participated pro-Palestinian demonstrations — some of which were banned for fear of unrest.

“It’s enriching, you see through the works the distress of the Palestinians,” said Radia Robani, a Parisian of ethnic Algerian origin, who visited the exhibit one recent afternoon.

Of the war in Gaza, she added, “it’s hard, it’s sad. You don’t have to be an Arab or a Muslim to feel this.”

Student Gihed Barreche said the Palestine exhibit helped him to make sense of recent events. “It really shows us what Palestinians think,” he said, “and how they try to free themselves from the conflict through their words and their pictures.”

Institute head Lang, who visited Gaza in July and knows the region well, is not hopeful about the months to come.

“The future is very, very grave, and the hatred is very high,” he said, describing both Israel and the Palestinians as currently lacking the political leadership needed to realize peace. “The people who could discuss things a little before are today not able to discuss.”  


Musk Pulls Plug on Paying for X Factchecks

Elon Musk has said that corrections to posts on X would no longer be eligible for payment as the social network comes under mounting criticism as becoming a conduit for misinformation.

In the year since taking over Twitter, now rebranded as X, Musk has gutted content moderation, restored accounts of previously banned extremists, and allowed users to purchase account verification, helping them profit from viral — but often inaccurate — posts.

Musk has instead promoted Community Notes, in which X users police the platform, as a tool to combat misinformation. 

But on Sunday, Musk tweeted a modification in how Community Notes works.

“Making a slight change to creator monetization: Any posts that are corrected by @CommunityNotes become ineligible for revenue share,” he wrote.  

“The idea is to maximize the incentive for accuracy over sensationalism,” he added. 

X pays content creators whose work generates lots of views a share of advertising revenue. 

Musk warned against using corrections to make X users ineligible for receiving payouts.

“Worth ‘noting’ that any attempts to weaponize @CommunityNotes to demonetize people will be immediately obvious, because all code and data is open source,” he posted.

Musk’s announcement follows the unveiling Friday of a $16-a-month subscription plan that users who pay more get the biggest boost for their replies. Earlier this year it unveiled an $8-a-month plan to get a “verified” account.

A recent study by the disinformation monitoring group NewsGuard found that verified, paying subscribers were the big spreaders of misinformation about the Israel-Hamas war. 

“Nearly three-fourths of the most viral posts on X advancing misinformation about the Israel-Hamas War are being pushed by ‘verified’ X accounts,” the group said.

It said the 250 most-engaged posts that promoted one of 10 prominent false or unsubstantiated narratives related to the war were viewed more than 100 million times globally in just one week. 

NewsGuard said 186 of those posts were made from verified accounts and only 79 had been fact-checked by Community Notes. 

Verified accounts “turned out to be a boon for bad actors sharing misinformation,” said NewsGuard.

“For less than the cost of a movie ticket, they have gained the added credibility associated with the once-prestigious blue checkmark and enabling them to reach a larger audience on the platform,” it said.

While the organization said it found misinformation spreading widely on other social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Telegram, it added that it found false narratives about the Israel-Hamas war tend to go viral on X before spreading elsewhere. 


As Cases of Kidney Disease Rise in Ghana, Patients Face High Costs, Limited Access to Care

The US-based National Kidney Foundation says that each year, kidney disease kills millions of people worldwide because they don’t have access to affordable or available care. This problem of cost and access to care is also seen in Ghana, where kidney-related cases are on the rise in the Northern region’s Tamale Teaching Hospital. Alhassan Abdul Washeed reports. Camera: Eyor Zamani


Day of the Dead Celebration in Los Angeles Connects Mexican Americans to Their Heritage

As October gives way to November, Halloween is followed by the celebration of the Day of the Dead in Mexican American communities across the U.S. to honor the memory of loved ones who have died. Genia Dulot visited one of the largest events, the Dia de los Muertos — Day of the Dead — at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles.


Love It or Hate It, Feelings Run High Over Candy Corn Come Halloween

Cruel joke for trick-or-treaters or coveted seasonal delight? The great Halloween debate over candy corn is on.

In the pantheon of high-emotion candy, the classic shiny tricolor kernels in autumn’s white, orange and yellow are way up there. Fans and foes alike point to the same attributes: its plastic or candle-like texture (depending on who you ask) and the mega-sugar hit it packs.

“I am vehemently pro candy corn. It’s sugar! What is not to love? It’s amazing. It’s like this waxy texture. You get to eat it once a year. It’s tricolor. That’s always fun,” comedian Shannon Fiedler gushed on TikTok. “Also, I know it’s disgusting. Candy corn is objectively kind of gross, but that’s what makes it good.”

Or, as Paul Zarcone of Huntington, New York, put it: “I love candy corn even though it looks like it should taste like a candle. I also like that many people hate it. It makes me like it even more!”

Love it or loathe it, market leader Brach’s churns out roughly 30 million pounds of candy corn for the fall season each year, or enough to circle planet Earth about five times, the company says. Last year, that amounted to $75 million of $88.5 million in candy corn sales, according to the consumer research firm Circana.

When compared to top chocolate sellers and other popular confections, candy corn is niche. But few other candies have seeped into the culture quite like these pointy little sugar bombs.

While other sweets have their haters (we’re looking at you Peeps, Circus Peanuts and Brach’s Peppermint Christmas Nougats), candy corn has launched a world of memes on social media. It inspires home decor and fashion. It has its knitters and crocheters, ombre hairdos, makeup enthusiasts and nail designs.

And it makes its way into nut bowls, trail mixes, atop cupcakes and into Rice Krispie treats. Vans put out a pair of shoes emblazoned with candy corn, Nike used its color design for a pair of Dunks, and Kellogg’s borrowed the flavor profile for a version of its Corn Pops cereal.

Singer-actor Michelle Williams is a super fan. She recorded a song last year for Brach’s extolling her love.

As consumers rave or rage, Brach’s has turned to fresh mixes and flavors over the years. A Turkey Dinner mix appeared in 2020 and lasted two years. It had a variety of kernels that tasted like green beans, roasted bird, cranberry sauce, stuffing, apple pie and coffee.

It won’t be back.

“I would say that it was newsworthy but perhaps not consumption-worthy,” said Katie Duffy, vice president and general manager of seasonal candy and the Brach’s brand for parent Ferrara Candy Co.

The universe of other flavors has included s’mores, blueberry, cotton candy, lemon-lime, chocolate and, yes, pumpkin spice. Nerds, another Ferrara brand, has a hard-shell version.

It’s unclear when candy corn was invented. Legend has it that Wunderle Candy Co. in Philadelphia first produced it in 1888 in collaboration with a longtime employee, George Renninger. It was called, simply, Butter Cream, with one type named Chicken Corn. That made sense in an agrarian-society kind of way.

Several years later, the Goelitz Confectionery Co., now Jelly Belly, began to produce candy corn, calling it Chicken Feed. Boxes were adorned with a rooster logo and the tagline: “Something worth crowing for.“ Brach’s began candy corn production in 1920.

Today, kids delight in stacking candy corn in a circle, points in, to create corncob towers. As for nutrition, 19 candy corns amount to about 140 calories and 28 grams of sugar. To be fair, many other Halloween candy staples are in the same ballpark.

Ingredient-wise, it couldn’t be more straightforward. Candy corn is basically sugar, corn syrup, confectioner’s glaze, salt, gelatin, honey and dyes, among some other things.

“It’s not any sweeter than a lot of other candy, and I’ve tasted every candy there is,” said Richard Hartel, who teaches candy science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Hartel’s students spend time in the lab making candy. The candy corn lab is among his most popular, he said, because it’s fun to make. His unscientific poll of the nine seniors who last made candy corn turned up no strong feelings either way on actually eating it.

“It’s the flavor, I think, that puts some people off. It sort of tastes like butter and honey. And some people don’t like the texture, but it’s really not that much different than the center of a chocolate-covered butter cream,” he said.

Candy corn fans have their nibbling rituals.

Margie Sung is a purist. She’s been partial since childhood to the original tricolor kernels. She eats them by color, starting with the white tip, accompanied by a warm cup of tea or coffee.

“To this day, I swear the colors taste different,” she laughed.

Fact check: No, according to Duffy.

Don’t get people started on Brach’s little orange pumpkin candies with the green tops. That’s a whole other conversation.

“The candy pumpkins? Disgusting,” said the 59-year-old Sung, who lives in New York. “Too dense, too sweet, not the right consistency.”

She likes her candy corn “borderline stale for a better consistency.” Sung added: “Unfortunately, I can’t eat too many because I’m a Type 2 diabetic.” 

Aaron Sadler, the 46-year-old spokesman for the city of Little Rock, Arkansas, and its mayor, doesn’t share his candy corn. He keeps stashes at home and in a desk drawer at his office.

“My fiancee can’t stand that I like candy corn,” he said. “I buy it and I get this look of disdain but I don’t care. I just keep plugging on.”

Sadler has been a partaker since childhood. How does he describe the texture and flavor? “Sugary bliss.”

He’ll keep buying candy corn until mid-November.

“It’s 50% off after Halloween. Of course I’m going to buy it,” Sadler chuckled. 

After Thanksgiving, he’ll move on to his Christmas candy, York Peppermint Patties. And for Valentine’s Day? Sadler is all about the candy Conversation Hearts.

And then there are the hoarders. They freeze candy corn for year-round consumption. Others will only eat it mixed with dry roasted peanuts or other salty combinations.

“My ratio is 2 to 3 peanuts to 1 piece of candy corn. That’s the only way I eat it,” said Lisa Marsh, who lives in New York and is in her 50s. She stores candy corn in glass jars for year-round pleasure.

To the haters, 71-year-old fan Diana Peacock of Grand Junction, Colorado, scolded: “They’re nuts. How can they not like it?”

Au contraire, Jennifer Walker fights back. The 50-year-old Walker, who lives in Ontario, Canada, called candy corn “big ole lumps of dyed sugar. There’s no flavor.”

Her Ontario compatriot in Sault Ste. Marie, Abby Obenchain, also isn’t a fan. She equates candy corn with childhood memories of having to visit her pediatrician, who kept a bowl on hand.

“A bowl of candy corn looks to me like a bowl of old teeth, like somebody pulled a bunch of witch’s teeth out,” said Obenchain, 63.

Candy corn isn’t just a candy, said 29-year-old Savannah Woolston in Washington, D.C.

“I’m a big fan of mentally getting into each season, and I feel like candy corn is in the realm of pumpkin spice lattes and fall sweaters,” she said. “And I will die on the hill that it tastes good.”


Sexually Transmitted Diseases Increase in US as Funding Cut

State and local health departments across the U.S found out in June they’d be losing the final two years of a $1 billion investment to strengthen the ranks of people who track and try to prevent sexually transmitted diseases — especially the rapid increase of syphilis cases.

The fallout was quick.

Nevada, which saw a 44 percentage-point jump in congenital syphilis from 2021 to 2022, was supposed to get more than $10 million to bolster its STD program budget. Instead, the state’s STD prevention budget fell by more than 75%, reducing its capacity to respond to syphilis, according to Dawn Cribb at the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health.

Several states told The Associated Press the loss of funding is affecting efforts to expand their disease intervention workforce. These are people who do contact tracing and outreach and are key in stopping the spread of syphilis, which reached a low point in the U.S. in 2000 but has increased almost every year since. In 2021, there were 176,713 cases — up 31% from the prior year.

“It was devastating, really, because we had worked so hard to shore up our workforce and also implement new activities,” said Sam Burgess, the STD/HIV program director for the Louisiana Department of Health.

His state was slated to receive more than $14 million overall, but instead got $8.6 million to stretch until January 2026. “And we’re still scrambling to try to figure out how we can plug some of those funding gaps,” he said.

While men who have sex with men are disproportionately impacted by syphilis, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health officials across the country also point to the increase in pregnant women who are passing syphilis to their babies. It can cause serious health issues for infants, including blindness and bone damage, or lead to stillbirths. In 2021, there were 77.9 cases of congenital syphilis per 100,000 live births.

Disease intervention specialists often link infected mothers and their partners with care for syphilis, which has mild symptoms for adults, like fever and sores. Doing so in a timely manner can prevent congenital syphilis. The specialists also can help pregnant patients find prenatal care.

“When you have a mother who didn’t know (she had syphilis), it can be very emotional trying to explain … it could have been prevented if we could have caught it before,” said Deneshun Graves, a public health investigator with the Houston Health Department.

The Houston Health Department is in the midst of what it calls a “rapid community outreach response” because syphilis cases increased by 128% among women from 2019 to 2022, and congenital syphilis cases went from 16 in 2019 to 151 in 2021.

Its STD/HIV bureau was set to receive a total of $10.7 million from the federal grant but will end up with about 75% of that.

The department has used the money to hire disease intervention specialists and epidemiologists — including Graves. But Lupita Thornton, a public health investigator manager, said she could use “double of everything,” and had planned to bring down the caseload for her investigators by hiring even more people.

It would help Graves, who deals with more than 70 cases at a time.

“You got people that don’t want to go in and get treatment. You have people that don’t want to answer the phone, so you got to continue to call,” Graves said.

Mississippi is also seeing an increase in congenital syphilis cases, which a recently published study showed rose tenfold between 2016 and 2022. Health officials said a combination of funding shortages and poor access to prenatal care compounds their ability to stop the spread of syphilis.

The Mississippi State Department of Health was supposed to get more than $9 million in federal grant money over five years to expand its disease intervention workforce. Agency head Dr. Dan Edney said one of his top priorities now is finding money from other parts of the state’s health budget.

Arizona has the highest rate of congenital syphilis in the nation: 232.3 cases per 100,000 live births. The federal money helped the state Department of Health Services clear out a backlog of several thousand non-syphilis STD investigations that had been stalled for years, said Rebecca Scranton, the deputy bureau chief of infectious disease and services.

“We were finally at the point where we were able to breathe again,” Scranton said, “and start really kind of tackling it.”


Video Game Adaptation ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’ Notches $130 Million Global Debut

It hardly mattered that “Five Nights at Freddy’s” was released simultaneously in theaters and on streaming this weekend. Fans flocked to movie theaters across the country to see the scary video game adaptation on the big screen, which made $78 million to top the North American box office, according to studio estimates Sunday.

Universal Pictures bet on a day-and-date release on the weekend before Halloween, sending it to 3,675 theaters in the U.S. and Canada, while also making it available for Peacock subscribers, the subscription streaming service owned by NBCUniversal. The movie also opened in 64 markets internationally, where it’s expected to gross $52.6 million, giving the film a $130.6 million global launch – the biggest of any horror released this year.

“It was an extraordinary debut,” said Jim Orr, the president of domestic distribution for Universal, who praised Blumhouse, the filmmakers and the studio’s marketing department for the targeted campaign.

“Our marketing department continues to be one of the great superpowers we have at Universal,” he said.

Blumhouse, the company behind “Paranormal Activity,” “Get Out” and recent horror hits like “M3GAN” and “The Black Phone,” produced “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” which was directed by Emma Tammi and stars Josh Hutcherson, Mary Stuart Masterson and Matthew Lillard. The popular video game series, in which a security guard has to fend off murderous animatronic characters at a rundown family pizza restaurant, Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, was created by Scott Cawthon and first released in 2014.

While the game’s fanbase was strong, and passionate, the movie took many years to make. Producer Jason Blum said in an interview with IGN earlier this year that he was made fun of for pursuing an adaptation.

“Everyone said we could never get the movie done, including, by the way, internally in my company,” Blum said. They made the film with a reported $20 million production budget.

And it paid off: “Five Nights at Freddy’s” is his company’s biggest opening of all time, surpassing “Halloween’s” domestic and global debut. It’s also Blumhouse’s 19th No. 1 debut, which Orr noted is an “amazing accomplishment.”

The opening weekend audience was predominately male (58%) and overwhelmingly young, with an estimated 80% under the age of 25 and 38% between the ages of 13 and 17.

While the numbers aren’t surprising for anyone who knows the game’s audience, it is still notable for a generation not known for making theatrical moviegoing a priority.

“It’s great to get that kind of audience in theaters,” Orr said.

Audiences gave the film an A- CinemaScore, which could be promising for future weekends too.

“It’s a very young demographic,” said Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for Comscore. “It won’t be lost on any of the other studios or video game manufacturers. This door has been kicked wide open.”

It’s also notable that so many chose theaters even though it was also available to watch at home.

“In some cases streaming can be additive and complimentary to theatrical,” Dergarabedian said. “Clearly audiences wanted that communal experience.

“Five Nights at Freddy’s” did not score well with critics, however. It currently has a dismal 25% on Rotten Tomatoes. AP’s Mark Kennedy wrote that it “has to go down as one of the poorest films in any genre this year.” But like many other horror movies, it appears to be critic-proof.

In second place, “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” is expected to cross $200 million in global grosses by the end of Sunday, having added $14.7 million domestically and $6.7 million internationally this weekend. The concert film, distributed by AMC Theatres, is in its third weekend in theaters where it is only playing from Thursday through Sunday, though there will be “special Halloween showtimes” on Tuesday at a discounted price of $13.13.

Third place went to Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which added $9 million in its second weekend, bringing its total domestic earnings to $40.7 million, according to Paramount. With an additional $14.1 million from international showings, the film’s global total now stands at over $88 million.

Angel Studios’ “After Death,” a Christian documentary film about people who have had near death experiences, opened in fourth place to $5.1 million from 2,645 locations.

And “The Exorcist: Believer” rounded out the top five with $3.1 million in its fourth weekend, bringing its domestic earnings to just shy of $60 million.

Several of the fall’s high-profile films also launched in very limited release this weekend, including Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers” and Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla.” Both opened exclusively in New York and Los Angeles and will expand in the coming weeks.

Focus Features’ “The Holdovers,” starring Paul Giamatti as a curmudgeonly ancient history teacher at a New England prep school, debuted in six theaters where it earned an estimated $200,000.

Coppola’s “Priscilla,” about Priscilla Presley’s life with Elvis, also opened on four screens in New York and Los Angeles, where it averaged $33,035 per screen. With a cumulative gross of $132,139, the A24 release starring Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi expands nationwide next weekend.

“It was an eclectic and exciting weekend for moviegoers,” Dergarabedian said. “If you couldn’t find a film to your liking, you’re not looking hard enough.”

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.

  1. “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” $78 million.

  2. “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” $14.7 million.

  3. “Killers of the Flower Moon,” $9 million.

  4. “After Death,” $5.1 million.

  5. “The Exorcist: Believer,” $3.1 million.

  6. “Paw Patrol: The Mighty Movie,” $2.2 million.

  7. “Freelance,” $2.1 million.

  8. “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (re-release), $2 million.

  9. “Saw X,” $1.7 million.

  10. “The Creator,” $1 million.


Mouse Embryos Grown in Space for First Time

Mouse embryos have been grown on the International Space Station and developed normally in the first study indicating it could be possible for humans to reproduce in space, a group of Japanese scientists said.

The researchers, including Teruhiko Wakayama, professor of University of Yamanashi’s Advanced Biotechnology Centre, and a team from the Japan Aerospace Space Agency (JAXA), sent frozen mouse embryos on board a rocket to the ISS in August 2021.

Astronauts thawed the early-stage embryos using a special device designed for this purpose and grew them on the station for four days.

“The embryos cultured under microgravity conditions developed” normally into blastocysts, cells that develop into the foetus and placenta, the scientists said.

The experiment “clearly demonstrated that gravity had no significant effect,” the researchers said in a study that was published online in the scientific journal iScience on Saturday.

They also said there were no significant changes in condition of the DNA and genes, after they analysed the blastocysts that were sent back to their laboratories on Earth.

This is “the first-ever study that shows mammals may be able to thrive in space,” University of Yamanashi and national research institute Riken said in a joint statement on Saturday.

It is “the world’s first experiment that cultured early-stage mammalian embryos under complete microgravity of ISS,” the statement said.

“In the future, it will be necessary to transplant the blastocysts that were cultured in ISS’s microgravity into mice to see if mice can give birth” to confirm that the blastocysts are normal, it added.

Such research could be important for future space exploration and colonisation missions.

Under its Artemis programme, NASA plans to send humans back to the Moon in order to learn how to live there long-term to help prepare a trip to Mars, sometime towards the end of the 2030s.



Marathoners in Beijing Go Maskless, Unfazed by Smog 

Runners undeterred by thick smog engulfing the Chinese capital ran the Beijing Marathon maskless on Sunday, many wearing shorts in one of the warmest Octobers on record.

Despite a greyish brown smog settling, some 30,000 marathoners set off at 7:30 a.m. (2330 GMT) from Tiananmen Square on the route through four districts of the Chinese capital over 42.195 km (26.2 miles).

Beijing was the second most-polluted major city in the world on Sunday, according to Swiss air-quality technology firm IQAir.

In the Haidian district on Beijing’s outskirts, the sky looked dreary, but hikers and visitors showed up at the Fragrant Hills Park where many go to enjoy autumn foliage, according to a Reuters witness.

China’s national forecaster advised the public to wear masks, warning on Sunday morning that air quality was reaching moderate or severe pollution.

Smog and fog will blanket parts of China for the next few days, reducing visibility and affecting travel in northeastern, northern, central and some eastern provinces, the National Meteorological Center said on Sunday.

Beijing’s observatory cautioned in the evening that visibility in most areas of the city will drop to less than 1 km (0.62 mile) overnight.

The smoggy weather is expected to gradually weaken and dissipate from Friday, but not before heavy fog forecast to cover parts of Jiangsu, Anhui and Sichuan provinces over the next three days could reduce visibility to less than 200 meters (650 feet), the forecaster said.

Steel production hubs in Tangshan, Handan and other cities in the northern province of Hebei launched emergency responses on Friday after heavy air pollution forecasts. The notices did not indicate when the controls would be lifted.

The smog adds unusually warm October weather, due to significantly weaker cold air currents from the north as the polar vortex that sends cold air southward was situated further north recently, experts said.

Beijing’s high on Sunday was 19 C (66 F), according to the national weather bureau.

Parts of China, including in the north and northeast, have been experiencing temperatures 2 to 4 degrees Celsius (4-7 Fahrenheit) higher than normal the past 10 days.

“At present, a total of 237 national meteorological stations have broken historically highest temperatures in late October, which is still a relatively rare situation,” meteorological bureau’s chief forecaster Fang Chong was quoted by state media as saying.

Weak cold air currents were forecast to last the rest of the month before beginning to cool in early November.

While the smog was expected to clear up in less than a week, the backdrop of hazy weather resembled that of Beijing’s annual race almost a decade ago. In 2014 then-Premier Li Keqiang, who died on Friday, declared “war” on pollution and many marathoners donned masks for protection.



Albinism Pageant Winner Says Event Gave her Sense of Purpose

A glittering crown on her head and a bouquet of flowers in her hands, Andreia Solange Sicato Muhitu beamed at being named the co-winner of the inaugural Mr. and Miss Albinism Southern Africa pageant. 

The 28-year-old Angolan model has competed in beauty pageants in her home country since her teens and won some of them. But none made her feel more beautiful or purposeful as the pageant for people with albinism that was held this month in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. 

“I can be that inspiration for young girls, especially those with albinism, to feel comfortable and beautiful in their own skin,” Muhitu said. “That is the strong message we are hoping to send out there.” 

Misunderstood condition

Albinism, an inherited genetic condition that reduces melanin pigment production, is “still profoundly misunderstood,” according to the United Nations human rights agency. People with the condition have pale-colored skin, hair and eyes, are vulnerable to sun exposure and bright light, often have eyesight problems, and are prone to developing skin cancer. 

Although traditional beauty pageants have come under criticism for objectifying women’s bodies, Muhitu thinks the October 14 event where she was crowned could bring about positive change in parts of Africa where people with albinism are treated with disdain, ridicule and even violence driven by dangerously misguided superstitions. 

“This crown gives me the opportunity to change the lives of people living with albinism in ways I never imagined, not just in my country, but in the entire region. I don’t feel shamed, I feel empowered,” she said, shaking hands with people eager to congratulate her. 

The superstitions include the belief that having sex with a person with albinism can cure HIV or that their skin, hair, feet, hands, eyes, genitals or breasts have supernatural powers to bring good luck or boost the effectiveness of witchcraft potions, according to the U.N. and rights activists. In Malawi and Tanzania, people with the condition are sometimes killed for their body parts. 

They typically face daily prejudice despite anti-discrimination laws. She and other pageant participants talked about rejection by families and fathers who denied paternity once they realized a child had albinism. 

The contestants also highlighted how they need affordable skincare services and cancer treatment but more often receive hate, mocking or insults. 

Muhitu, who works as head of the tourism department in southeastern Angola’s Cuando Cubango province, said ridicule at school almost derailed her dreams, but celebrating her skin color is helping her and others push back against stereotypes and stigma. 

“The progressive laws on paper and the ugly reality on the ground are miles apart,” Muhitu said, adding: “It is time for soft power. We can change mindsets through modeling contests, storytelling, music and any outlets that are interesting. Art forms can be a powerful tool to change mindsets.” 

Albinism is more common in sub-Saharan Africa, where it affects about 1 in 5,000 people. The prevalence can reach 1 in 1,000 in some populations in Zimbabwe and in other ethnic groups in southern Africa, compared to 1 in every 17,000 to 20,000 in North America and Europe, according to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

‘We are no different’

The 18 contestants who participated in the regional pageant in Zimbabwe came from countries that also included South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Angola and Tanzania. They included fashion designers, health workers and professional models. 

Waving their national flags, they entertained a small audience with poetry, song and dance performances. They elegantly cat-walked in professional wear, evening gowns and African animal skin outfits before answering questions from a panel of judges on a variety of social and economic topics. 

Held under the theme, “Into the light,” the pageant was aimed at shining a spotlight on the “boundless talents” of people with albinism in a region where they often face harsh treatment and stigma, event organizer Brenda Mudzimu, who also has albinism, said. 

“We are mentally and physically tortured, yet we are no different from any other person except skin color,” said Mudzimu, whose Miss Albinism Trust founded the event as a local Zimbabwean contest in 2018. 

The contestants were judged for their charisma, confidence, poise, quality of walk and intellect. The Mr. Albinism Southern Africa title was claimed by Zimbabwean Ntandoyenkosi Mnkandla, 26, a trainee paralegal. 

Winners also received cash prizes, trophies, medals and flowers for categories such as Miss Personality and the People’s Choice awards. 

Muhitu, who received $250 for winning the Miss Albinism prize, commended the growing number of events that celebrate people with albinism in Africa. 

“Pageants are a powerful way of showcasing our limitless potential. I love them and I want to keep on inspiring young girls to follow their dreams,” she said. “People living with albinism have dreams, they have talent, and they are amazing people. But they will stay in the background if they are not given a chance to sparkle.”