Canada’s latest rescue flight from Sudan planned today as fighting enters 3rd week
Canadians stranded in Sudan will have another chance to leave on Saturday aboard at least one evacuation flight, as fighting continues across the country, Canada’s Defence Minister Anita Anand said.
“The situation on the ground remains volatile, precarious and unpredictable,” Anand said Saturday. “The window for opportunity at the airfield is closing” and the Canadian government is looking at other options for transport by sea and land, she said.
She reiterated that the Canadian military will continue evacuation flights “as long as conditions allow it.”
Two Canadian rescue flights made it safely out of the Wadi Seidna Air Base just north of the capital Khartoum late Friday after two earlier airlifts to extract people from the war zone were cancelled. Anand said the successful airlifts carried 221 passengers, including 68 Canadians and six permanent residents of Canada.
Two flights on Thursday airlifted 117 people, including 42 Canadians, from Sudan. In total, 375 Canadians have left the country as of Friday “as the security situation in Sudan continues to worsen,” she said.
WATCH | Chaos in Sudan hinders Canadian evacuations:
Foreign governments are rushing to evacuate their diplomats and other citizens to safety despite the latest ceasefire between warring factions in Sudan, broken on Saturday as part of a power struggle between the country’s army and a paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
The sounds of airstrikes, anti-aircraft weaponry and artillery could be heard in Khartoum early on Saturday and dark smoke rose over parts of the city, as fighting in Sudan entered a third week.
Fighting continued despite the announcement of a 72-hour ceasefire extension on Friday, when strikes by air, tanks and artillery rocked Khartoum and the adjacent cities of Bahri and Ombdurman.
The RSF said in a statement on Saturday it had shot down an army warplane in Omdurman, across the Nile from Khartoum, and accused the army of violating the ceasefire with an attack there. The army did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Social media filling in gaps
Amid the confusion, some have turned to social media to help others flee Sudan.
Sara Elnaiem, of Milton, Ont., is one of several Sudanese Canadians who run a WhatsApp group that relays on-the-ground, real-time information to Canadians in Sudan.
She told CBC News that she joined the effort after seeking help with extricating her own family from Sudan. She was introduced to the group and said she stayed on to help fill in the information gap.
“I’m surprised of how little involvement there is from international governments and international NGOs to help people on the ground, that it has fallen on the shoulders of … the diaspora,” Elnaiem says, adding she hopes the awareness raised by the group will lead to increased efforts from said institutions.
She says the group relays information about safe routes for travelling and flight schedules; details requirements needed to enter different countries, and connects people who need rides with those who can offer them.
“It’s been quite challenging,” Elnaiem says, noting the telecommunication issues in Sudan that can lead to radio silence from evacuees using the group for days. “You’re just hoping for their safety. The moments of darkness where you’re not getting any news or updates can be quite scary.”
Maritime evacuation to Saudi port
Saudi state broadcaster Alekhbaiya said a passenger ship with 1,982 people on board from 17 countries would arrive at Jeddah port on Saturday, adding to 5,000 others who had already arrived.
Britain said its evacuations would end on Saturday as demand for spots on planes had declined.
The U.S. said several hundred Americans had departed Sudan by land, sea or air. A convoy of buses carrying 300 Americans left Khartoum late on Friday on a 850-kilometre trip to the Red Sea in the first U.S.-organized evacuation effort for citizens, the New York Times reported.
A reported 230 Indian citizens were safely flown out of the country to New Delhi on Saturday.
Iran’s foreign ministry said on Saturday 65 Iranian citizens had left from Port Sudan, through Jeddah, to Iran.
Hundreds have been killed and tens of thousands have fled for their lives in the power struggle that erupted into violence on April 15, derailing an internationally backed transition toward democratic elections.
The fighting has also reawakened a two-decade-old conflict in the western Darfur region where scores have died this week.
In Darfur, at least 96 people had died since Monday in inter-communal violence rekindled by the army-RSF conflict, UN human rights office spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said.
Residents pinned down by urban warfare
The army has been deploying jets or drones on RSF forces in neighbourhoods across the capital. Many residents are pinned down by urban warfare with scant food, fuel, water and power.
At least 528 people have been killed and 4,599 wounded, the health ministry said. The United Nations has reported a similar number of dead, but believes the real toll is much higher.
The violence has also sent tens of thousands of refugees across Sudan’s borders and threatens to stir instability across a swath of Africa between the Sahel and the Red Sea.
More than 75,000 people were internally displaced within Sudan just in the first week of the fighting, according to the United Nations. Only 16 per cent of hospitals were operating as normal in the capital.
The renewed truce, brokered by foreign powers, is supposed to last until Sunday at midnight.
The RSF accused the army of violating it with airstrikes on its bases in Omdurman, Khartoum’s sister city at the confluence of the Blue and White Nile rivers, and Mount Awliya.
The army blamed the RSF for violations.
Envoy sees sides more open to talks
The UN special representative in Sudan, Volker Perthes, told Reuters he had recently sensed a change in the two sides’ attitudes and they were more open to negotiations, and were saying they would accept “some form of talks.”
Perthes said the sides had nominated representatives for talks and suggested they could take place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, or Juba in South Sudan, though he said there was a practical question over whether they could get there to “actually sit together.”
The immediate task, Perthes said, was to develop a monitoring mechanism for ceasefires.
“They have both accepted that this war cannot continue,” he said.
How 'severe and unusual' smoke from Canadian wildfires is spreading and what it means for your health – CBC.ca
Vast portions of eastern Canada and the United States are covered in smoke and haze, as wildfires continue to rage out of control in Quebec and other provinces.
The smoke has prompted air quality warnings in many cities and towns in Quebec, Ontario and beyond in Canada, and resulted in hazy, apocalyptic skies and warnings in places like New York City and Washington, D.C.
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CBC News spoke to experts and consulted recent studies to show the potential health impacts of the smoke in the air — and the extent to which it has spread across North America.
“The levels of air pollution that we’re seeing today are severe and unusual in Canada and in parts of the U.S.,” said Rebecca Saari, an air quality expert and associate professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Waterloo.
“These are poor air quality days, especially in certain areas, where people should be aware and protecting themselves.”
She says such events are likely to be more common as climate change intensifies and prolongs the hot, dry conditions that wildfires need to thrive.
For June, the fire risk is considered well above average in almost every province and territory. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the risk is considered average. In P.E.I., the risk is low across the island.
Overall, people across Canada are facing an especially difficult wildfire season, and federal government officials have said their modelling shows increased wildfire risk in most of the country through August.
Roughly 130 forest fires are currently burning in Quebec, with just under 100 of them considered out of control.
A storm system off the eastern coast of Nova Scotia has pushed the smoke from those fires toward Ontario and to the U.S., with poor visibility as far south as North Carolina and into the Midwest.
It has also spread further east, and officials as far as Norway warned the smoke could affect air quality there on Thursday.
The air quality improved early Thursday in Ontario and Quebec, but was forecast to get worse in many parts of Ontario again later in the day and through the weekend.
How bad is the haze?
Different countries use different indexes to measure air quality.
While the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) used in Canada reflects current knowledge of the health effects associated with air pollution and measures on a scale of 10, the Air Quality Index (AQI) used in the U.S. is based on air quality standards and is measured on a scale of 0 to 500. The higher the value, the greater the level of air pollution.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the AQI exceeded a staggering 400 at times in Syracuse, New York City and Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. A level of 50 or under is considered good; anything over 300 is considered “hazardous.”
Meanwhile, the air quality in Toronto ranked among the worst in the world for much of Wednesday, near the level of Delhi, India, and Dhaka, Bangladesh, according to IQair, an online service that monitors and tracks air quality using the AQI.
The levels in Kingston and points further east in Ontario were considerably worse on both scales.
Those areas had among the highest levels of particulate matter — known as PM2.5 levels — in the country.
Those particles are so small — 30 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair — that they can go into the lungs and into the bloodstream, said Dr. Samir Gupta, a respirologist and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.
“So you can imagine the havoc that they wreak in the lungs themselves,” he said. “That’s the most sensitive organ to all of this in terms of breathing symptoms, particularly people who have underlying lung conditions like asthma.”
Air quality in terms of cigarettes
A recent Stanford University study quantified what breathing in that particulate matter would mean in terms of cigarettes.
According to the study, an AQI measurement of 20 is equivalent to smoking one cigarette a day.
The study noted that exposure to wildfire smoke causing an AQI of 150 for several days would be equivalent to smoking about seven cigarettes a day if someone were outside the whole time.
By that calculation, Kingston residents who spent eight hours outside Wednesday smoked the equivalent of nine cigarettes.
Most of Western Canada had a break from the smoky air after struggling with poor quality last month, though some regions, including Vancouver, were designated as “moderate risk.”
If an area has been designated as “very high risk,” Environment Canada advises the general population to reduce or reschedule strenuous outdoor activities.
It recommended that at-risk populations, such as young children, seniors and those with chronic conditions, to avoid strenuous activities altogether.
Many of the tips people picked up during the pandemic are useful now, said Scott Weichenthal, an associate professor in the department of epidemiology, biostatistics and occupational health at McGill University in Montreal.
“If you have to work outside, wear a mask, a proper mask that filters out the small particles, like an N95 mask,” he said.
“If you don’t need to be outside when it’s very polluted, don’t be.”
Bank of Canada raises key interest rate – CTV News
The Bank of Canada raised its overnight rate by 25 basis points to 4.75 per cent on Wednesday, its first increase since pausing hikes in January. The central bank’s key interest rate has not been this high since April 2001.
Several factors led to the bank’s decision to raise the key interest rate, including economic growth in Canada. Gross Domestic Product exceeded expectations in the first quarter of this year, growing by 3.1 per cent.
The central bank says demand in the economy has rebounded, with surprisingly strong consumer spending. Housing market activity has picked up again and the Canadian labour market remains tight.
“Overall, excess demand in the economy looks to be more persistent than anticipated,” reads the release.
In April, inflation increased for the first time in 10 months to 4.4 per cent. The bank still expects inflation to decline to 3 per cent by this summer, but concerns remain that inflation could get stuck above the 2 per cent target.
“Goods price inflation increased, despite lower energy costs,” reads the statement. “Services price inflation remained elevated, reflecting strong demand and a tight labour market.”
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland says Canada has made meaningful progress, with inflation dropping from its peak of 8.1 per cent last year to 4.4 per cent in April.
“The Bank of Canada has predicted that inflation will fall to 3 per cent this summer,” Freeland said to reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday. “We are very close to the end of this difficult time and to a return to low stable inflation and strong steady growth.”
The federal government has faced criticism from the opposition over its fiscal spending and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is sounding the alarm on Canada’s household debt problem.
“This is on the verge of becoming a crisis and that is an overused term,” Poilievre said during a caucus speech to his party in Ottawa. “As these hundreds of billions of dollars of debt collide with massive increases in interest rates there will be a severe default crisis.”
Global inflation also remains high. Despite this, the economies of the United States and China are beginning to slow down and Europe’s economy has stalled.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) projects the global economy to grow moderately by 2.7 per cent in 2023 and global inflation to decline to 6.6 per cent this year, according to its economic outlook.
“Core inflation is proving sticky, on the back of strong service increases and higher profits in some sectors,” reads the OECD Economic Outlook. “Monetary Policy should remain restrictive until there are clear signs that underlying inflationary pressures are durably reduced.”
Going forward, the Bank of Canada’s Governing Council will focus mainly on inflation expectations, wage growth, corporate pricing and excess demand to ensure these factors are in line with the inflation target.
The next scheduled rate announcement is expected on July 12, 2023.
Forest fire smoke envelops Toronto, bringing poor air quality, pollution
Environment Canada has increased the air quality risk level for Toronto on Wednesday, up from Tuesday, as forest fire smoke continues to blanket the city.
A special air quality statement remained in place for the city on Wednesday night, saying high levels of pollution had developed due to the wildfires in Quebec and northeastern Ontario.
The federal weather agency predicts Toronto will reach a risk level of nine on the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) on Thursday. The index measures air quality based on how it will impact health. That number indicates high risk during the day and means people may want to consider cancelling outdoor activities.
“There’s a ridge over Ontario right now, so it means these winds are consistently bringing in poor air quality,” said Trudy Kidd, an operational metrologist with Environment Canada.
On Tuesday, the city was at moderate risk and on a level five on the scale of one to ten.
Moderate risk levels mean the general population need not cancel “usual activities” unless you start to experience symptoms like throat or cough irritation. For at-risk populations at that risk level, people are urged to consider rescheduling outdoor activities if symptoms are present, according to Environment Canada.
Those with lung disease, such as asthma, people with heart disease, older people, children, pregnant people and those who work outside are at higher risk of experiencing health effects, the agency said.
Don’t light campfires, premier says
Premier Doug Ford commented on the wildfires and poor conditions on Wednesday during question period, urging the public refrain from lighting campfires.
Ford said half of the forest fires in Ontario were started by lightning strikes and the other half were caused by human activity, such as campfires not being properly extinguished.
When the index indicates a high level of risk, the general population should consider rescheduling or reducing outdoor activities if symptoms are experienced. At-risk populations should reschedule outdoor activities, according to Environment Canada.
“Stop those outdoor activities and contact a health-care provider, if you or someone in your care experiences shortness of breath or wheezing, asthma attacks, cough, dizziness or chest pains,” Kidd said.
“Poor air quality will persist into the weekend,” Environment Canada said. The agency’s most recent statement was firmer than Tuesday, as the agency previously said there were hopes the conditions would ease by the weekend. A low pressure system that could bring in cleaner air may arrive by Sunday, Kidd said.
“Wildfire smoke can be harmful to everyone’s health even at low concentrations. Continue to take actions to protect your health and reduce exposure to smoke,” Environment Canada said.
Air quality and visibility due to the wildfire smoke can fluctuate over short distances and can vary considerably from hour to hour. But wildfire smoke can be harmful even at low concentrations, it said.
Wear a mask if outside, Environment Canada suggests
If you must spend time outdoors, Environment Canada recommends wearing a well-fitted respirator type mask, such as an N95, to help reduce exposure to fine particles in smoke.
“These fine particles generally pose the greatest risk to health. However, respirators do not reduce exposure to the gases in wildfire smoke,” the federal weather agency said.
Environment Canada recommends the following:
- If you or someone in your care experiences shortness of breath, wheezing, severe cough, dizziness or chest pains, stop outdoor activities and contact your health care provider.
- If you are feeling unwell and experiencing symptoms, stay inside.
- Keep your indoor air clean.
- Keep your doors and windows closed if the temperature in your home is comfortable.
- Take a break from the smoke by temporarily relocating or finding a place in your community with clean, cool air such as a library, shopping mall or community centre.
- If you must spend time outdoors, a well-fitted respirator type mask that does not allow air to pass through small openings between the mask and your face can help reduce your exposure to fine particles in smoke.
- Be sure to check on people in your care and those who may be more susceptible to smoke.
- Evacuate if told to do so.
- Review your wildfire smoke plan and make sure you have enough medical supplies if the smoke continues to be an issue.
Toronto-area school board moves recess indoors
Due to the air quality warning for the Toronto area, one school board in the region has opted to move recess inside for safety, while others say they are monitoring the situation.
The York Catholic District School Board said in a statement on Tuesday evening that indoor recess would be held indoors all day on Wednesday due to poor air quality.
The Peel District School Board said Tuesday that “strenuous outdoor activities” scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday would be cancelled, including athletic events. While outdoor recess is allowed to continue, it encouraged students to “avoid strenuous activity” and stay inside if they chose.
The Toronto District School Board made the same changes and issued the same guidance as Peel. Further, it said “TDSB schools will also ensure that HEPA air filters are continuing to be used,” and it will monitor the situation. The Toronto Catholic District School Board left the choice up to schools, stating that it recommends indoor recess be considered along with possibly rescheduling activities.
The Dufferin Catholic District School Board said it will also keep an eye on the air quality on Wednesday and that it would be going ahead with field trips due to difficulties in rescheduling.
Schools aren’t the only thing in the city that’s affected — in an e-mail sent to CBC News, Toronto Blue Jays spokesperson Madeleine Davidson said that due to poor air quality, the dome is closed for Wednesday night’s baseball game.
On Wednesday night, the Toronto Zoo said it would limit its hours from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday due to poor air quality from the smoke and provide protective masks to staff and volunteers required to work outdoors.
The zoo said it would also limit access to the outdoors for some animals as well as limit the amount of time that staff and volunteers work outside.
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