Vanuatu to permanently

evacuate volcanic island

PORT VILA (AFP): Entire communities living under the shadow of a smouldering volcano on an island in Vanuatu will be permanently relocated to another island from next week, the Pacific nation’s government has decided. Most villagers on the northern island of Ambae had only recently returned home. The 11,000 people on the island were forced to leave last September when the Manaro volcano erupted. The latest evacuation is not compulsory but the government said it wants those who left to stay away for good and resettle elsewhere. The Council of Ministers has approved four permanent settlements on the nearby island of Maewo, which it will lease from landowners. The government will organise and pay for the evacuation beginning June 1 and finishing July 30. However only those who choose to relocate to Maewo will receive the assistance and people who move to other islands will do so at their own expense. “Food support will be provided to the displaced population of Ambae on Maewo for a maximum of six months before withdrawing its support,” a government statement said. “(By then) food crops which have been planted on day one of evacuation (will be) ready for harvest.

On Maewo, chief Jonah Toaganase told the Daily Post newspaper that his community was ready to look after more than 3,000 people until the four permanent settlements are established and gardens planted.

About 1,000 have already moved to the main island of Espiritu Santo and the capital Port Vila.

However, Ambae is unlikely to be abandoned completely - just the areas which suffered the heaviest ashfall, with homes blanketed and crops choked.

“Most of the ashfall is affecting communities in the south and west, so they are the ones most likely to relocate,” an Ambae community organiser in Port Vila, Henry Vira, told AFP.

Vanuatu’s Red Cross has pre-positioned some aid on Maewo and a New Zealand Air Force Hercules brought in more supplies last week.

China and Australia have also donated funds to help the evacuation.

Vanuatu, with a population of about 280,000 spread over 65 inhabited islands, is regarded as one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.

It sits on the so-called “Pacific Rim of Fire”, making it vulnerable to strong earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, while powerful cyclones also regularly lash the islands.




Six pygmy elephants found dead on Malaysian Borneo

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP): Six Borneo pygmy elephants have been found dead in Malaysian palm oil plantations in recent weeks, officials said Monday, the latest of the endangered creatures to perish as their rainforest habitat is devastated. The carcasses of the elephants, aged between one and 37, were discovered at different locations in Sabah state on Borneo island, local wildlife department director Augustine Tuuga told AFP. “We are currently conducting tests on their internal organs,” he said, adding the carcasses did not have any signs of gunshot wounds. Tuuga said the elephants could have accidently consumed fertiliser in the palm oil plantations, which could have poisoned them. The Star newspaper, citing conservationists, said the creatures might have drunk from poisoned watering holes. There are about 2,000 pygmy elephants, the smallest type of elephant in Asia, in the wild. Late last year three were killed by poachers. In 2013 14 pygmy elephants were found dead in Sabah and were thought to have been poisoned. They are threatened by widespread logging of their natural habitat to make way for lucrative palm oil plantations, and are targeted by poachers as their ivory fetches a high price on the black market.

The pygmy elephants are baby-faced with oversized ears, plump bellies and tails so long they sometimes drag on the ground as they walk.






China satellite heralds first mission to dark side of Moon

BEIJING (AFP): China launched on Monday a relay satellite that will allow a rover to communicate with the Earth from the far side of the Moon during an unprecedented mission later this year. The Queqiao (“Magpie Bridge”) satellite was blasted into space from the southwestern Xichang launch centre in the pre-dawn hours, according to the China National Space Administration. The satellite split from its carrier, a Long March-4C rocket, after 25 minutes and unfolded its solar panels and communication antennas, as it headed towards its destination, the CNSA said. “The launch is a key step for China to realise its goal of being the first country to send a probe to soft-land on and rove the far side of the Moon,” Zhang Lihua, manager of the relay satellite project, was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency. The satellite will relay communications between controllers on Earth and the far side of the moon, where the Chang’e-4 lunar probe - named after the moon goddess in Chinese mythology - will be sent later this year. Also known as the “dark side” of the Moon, the far hemisphere is never directly visible from Earth and while it has been photographed, with the first images appearing in 1959, it has never been explored.

The Chang’e-4 rover will be sent to the Aitken Basin in the lunar south pole region, according to Xinhua.

It will be the second Chinese probe to land on the Moon, following the Yutu (“Jade Rabbit”) rover mission in 2013.

At first, the Yutu looked destined to fail when the rover stopped sending signals back to Earth.

But then it made a dramatic recovery, ultimately surveying the Moon’s surface for 31 months, well beyond its expected lifespan.

The CNSA is planning to send another lunar rover, Chang’e-5, next year to collect samples and bring them back to Earth.

China is pouring billions into its military-run space programme, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022, and of sending humans to the Moon in the near future.






Monet sister paintings

reunited in US for first time

WASHINGTON (AFP): For the first time since they were painted more than a century ago, two oil paintings of Claude Monet’s garden in Vetheuil have been reunited, in Washington. Monet moved to this village in the Paris suburbs in 1878 with his sickened wife Camille and their two young children as they faced financial difficulties, along with the family of one-time patron Ernest Hoschede. The period that ensued was one of the most prolific for the French Impressionist, who produced in just three years nearly 300 paintings, including “The Artist’s Garden at Vetheuil” (1881). Until August 8, the National Gallery of Art is presenting two of four known works of this lush summer scene with huge sunflowers, including its own, larger piece and another temporarily on loan from California’s Norton Simon Museum. “It’s a turning point in terms of his career, his struggles, he’s turning more toward landscape, he’s becoming more interested in atmospheric effects,” National Gallery curator of 19th century French paintings Kimberly Jones said in an interview. The Norton Simon’s version, believed to have served as a model for its companion, is more heavily worked in most areas.


“Before these two pictures were together, we always described the handling of this one as quite loose because we didn’t have another example, and we had always believed ours was a study for the larger picture,” said Norton Simon assistant curator Emily Talbot.

“All of the things that have been published about these two pictures we’re starting to question just by having them in the same space.”

Where Monet layered meridian green thickly on top of cobalt blue to give more interest to the sky in the Norton Simon’s picture, in the companion piece it’s defined instead by contrasts of thick and thin, and patches of exposed canvas ground.

The National Gallery’s senior conservator of paintings Ann Hoenigswald spent months removing a discolored natural resin varnish from the museum’s masterpiece that had flattened the work visually.

“The minute I got the varnish off, it just soared,” she said.

“What I find really exciting is the energy of the brushwork. You see the richness of the impasto and the speed at which he moves his brush across, and all the bristles of the brush, or a little lip of paint that just comes straggling there.”

It was not until almost 10 years later, in 1890, that Monet began painting formal series each comprised of dozens of works depicting a single subject - the Rouen Cathedral, London’s Houses of Parliament or water lilies - at different seasons or times of the day usually from the same vantage point.

The garden proto-series “could be the germ of an idea that’s just starting to develop in his mind,” said Jones.