Uluru national park closed after huge rainfall

ULURU (BBC): A record amount of rainfall has led to the closure of Australia’s famous national park at Uluru.

Waterfalls appeared all over the landmark, also known as Ayers Rock, at the heart of the park in central Australia. The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) described the massive Christmas storm as a twice-a-century weather event. Flash floods in the remote town of Kintore forced the evacuation of dozens of residents. Northern Territory police told Australia’s ABC Network that up to 25 houses were flooded in the town, near the border with the state of Western Australia. The town was almost cut off, with only severely impaired access from the Western Australian side, they added. Papunya, another town 250km (155 miles) from Alice Springs, was completely cut off, while the town square of Yulara - the nearest community to Uluru - was inundated. Rangers closed the Uluru-Kata Tjuta national park at 09:00 local time on Boxing Day (23:30 GMT on Christmas Day), citing the risk of flooded roads and potential car accidents. Parks Australia said they were continuing to monitor the situation but it was not yet safe to reopen.

“There’s a lot of water … coming off the rock and what that does is just channels across the ring road around Uluru, some of those roads there were flooded by about 300-400mm of rain. Quite spectacular but very hazardous road conditions,” park manager Mike Misso told ABC.

Uluru is a large sandstone rock in the outback sacred to the indigenous Anangu people, and one of Australia’s top tourist attractions.



Iran culls birds after avian flu outbreak

TEHRAN (AFP): Iran has killed hundreds of thousands of birds in recent weeks as avian flu spreads across seven provinces of the country, officials have reported. More than 1,000 wild birds, mostly geese, have been found dead in the Mighan wetland in central Iran, the environmental protection organisation told state news agency IRNA on Monday. IRNA said 63,000 chickens, along with 800,000 fertilised eggs and day-old chicks, were culled at a farm in Qazvin province in recent days after an outbreak of the deadly H1N8 and H1N5 strains of the disease.That adds to the 725,000 birds destroyed since mid-November across the country following nine flu outbreaks, according to a report from the World Organisation for Animal Health released last week. Licenses for bird shooting have been suspended due to fear of infection by migratory birds, and people have been advised not to buy game birds at local markets. Despite a small number of human deaths in different countries over the years, the disease is mostly a risk to other birds, spreading rapidly and killing large numbers. However, scientists have raised concerns that bird flu strains could mutate to be transmitted between humans.






Chinese province says has learnt smog lesson

SHANGHAI (Reuters): The heavily polluted northern Chinese province of Hebei, which surrounds the capital Beijing, said it will learn lessons from the smog that engulfed the region last week and step up efforts to clean the air. Hebei, home of seven of China’s 10 smoggiest cities last year, has declared 2017 to be the “year of transformation and upgrading”, the province said on its official website on Saturday. China has repeatedly vowed to curb pollution of its air, soil and water caused by more than three decades of economic growth. Beijing frequently features near the top of the list of China’s most polluted cities. In the Hebei capital of Shijiazhuang, average concentrations of small breathable particles known as PM2.5 were higher than 500 micrograms per cubic metre for three consecutive days last week - 50 times higher than World Health Organization recommendations. In the province’s first official response to last week’s smog outbreak, governor Zhang Qingwei said Hebei would work to improve “levels of scientific precision” when it came to controlling pollution. Hebei has been on the front line of China’s nearly three-year “war on pollution”, but experts say enforcement has remained lax amid lingering concerns about the impact that smog controls have on economic growth and jobs.

Eight cities in Hebei launched “red alerts” last week in response to the smog, which reached record levels at some monitoring stations in the province, but it quickly came under fire from the Ministry of Environmental Protection, with a number of its steel firms singled out for failing to suspend operations.

Zhang, in comments published on Monday, said better “top-level planning” was required as Hebei sought to adjust its industrial and energy structures.

Hebei would also draw up more detailed plans to deal with issues like the direct combustion of coal, a major source of smog, the provincial government said on its official website (http://www.hebei.gov.cn).

The province aimed to cut PM2.5 concentrations to an average of around 67 micrograms per cubic meter this year, down from 77 micrograms in 2015, but officials have warned that the latest outbreak could make China’s pollution targets difficult to reach.





Mass wedding for fatherless brides

AHMEDABAD (AFP): An Indian diamond trader has thrown a mass wedding for more than 200 fatherless brides and given each of them gifts worth thousands of dollars, to help poor women start a new life. Mahesh Savani performed the Hindu wedding ritual of ‘Kanyadaan’ - the practice of giving away one’s daughter in marriage - for 236 fatherless brides from poor families at a mega-wedding event in the western state of Gujarat at Christmas. Savani, who believes that giving away brides is a blessing from God, has been organising similar mass weddings every year since 2012. “With Sunday’s mass wedding, I have become (a) proud father to have performed ‘kanyadaan’ of over 700 girls,” he told AFP. Hundreds of brides in colourful ethnic attire and ornate jewellery performed their wedding rituals in front of thousands of guests in the city of Surat, a hub for the diamond polishing industry. The tycoon also gave gifts of gold and household items, including sofas and beds, worth 500,000 rupees ($7,400) to each of the brides to help them start married life. Two of the grooms at the mass wedding were his own sons.

“This year my two sons also got married during the mass wedding event. So, in all there were 238 marriages,” said Savani.

Savani said he began his charitable campaign in 2008 when one of his own employees died just days before his daughter’s wedding.

It is not known how much the giant ceremony cost.

Indian weddings are famous for their lavish scale with multi-course feasts, decorated horses, brass bands and huge tents to entertain hundreds or even thousands of guests.