PRI's The World on RADIO IQ with BBC

Weekdays at 4:00 pm on our RADIO IQ With BBC network.

PRI’s The World is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. Launched in 1996, PRI’s The World, a co-production of WGBH/Boston, Public Radio International, and the BBC World Service.

The World's coverage is provided by a global network of international journalists. The program also has access to the 250 BBC correspondents located around the world. Unique in public radio, this network works in concert with the program's multinational team of producers and editors, and brings an exceptional depth of understanding and freshness of perspective to the program content. The result is an award-winning hour of breaking news, in-depth features, hard-hitting commentaries, and thought-provoking interviews found nowhere else in U.S. news coverage.

PRI's The World -- international news for an American audience -- weekdays at 4:00 on our RADIO IQ With BBC News network of signals and streaming live on the web.

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Program Headlines

  • Friday, December 19, 2014 12:21pm

    Cuba, your Internet access is crap. You know it. The whole world knows it. But especially your citizens.

    And to some degree, it's not a technical issue. You have a somewhat spanking new underwater cable connecting you to the global internet. We heard about it a few years ago when the people at Dyn Research spotted it.

    Turns out Venezuela financed it, a French company built it, and Doug Madory, the guy at Dyn Research who spotted that underwater cable, says it's got potential you haven't even tapped: "It's improved their connectivity to the outside world. However, the improvement of greater access to the people of Cuba, that's still slow going."

    Sure, you've built some government-run Internet cafes here and there (which are reportedly heavily censored and too costly for your average Cuban) and you've made an attempt to provide DSL connections for some Cuban households, but all in all, not much improvement. So here's your chance. 

    So here's your chance. You've got a new agreement with the US. And there's lip service in that agreement to expand access to the Internet.

    Doug Madory has a model you might want to follow: Myanmar.

    That country just opened up three years ago from the haze of a decades' long military rule and was a total telecom desert. And what they did was to think outside the command-economy box: They let outside companies in. "They got a lot of good advice from outside experts, including the World Bank, about how to hold auctions, how to have outside companies come in and do what they do," says Madory. "Telenor out of Norway paid $500 million dollars to the government of Myanmar for a 15-year license." And on top of that the Norwegian company is spending another billion dollars putting in their own infrastructure to provide service to 90 percent of the population of Myanmar.

    And the Myanmar job is in the jungles of southeast Asia. "I think the island of Cuba would be a lot easier to work in," says Madory. He thinks the government of Cuba could expect a comparable revenue sream to the Telenor numbers.  The service in Myanmar isn't yet up to Western standards but Madory says what's most important is that the trajectory is in the right direction.

    But first Cuba will have to get out of the state-run mindset. "I think in Cuba, they need to let the outside experts come in and do what they do. I think everyone involved, the people of Cuba, the government of Cuba, and the outside companies would all benefit from operating there."

    Earlier this year, the BBC's Sarah Rainsford reported from Havana on the frustrations many Cubans have with the lack of Internet access. Here's her video below:

  • Monday, December 15, 2014 4:04pm

    There's a new global deal today on climate: It's a deal to make a deal to set a course to cut the greenhouse pollution that's heating up the planet in another few years. And if that's more than a bit confusing to you, you're hardly alone.

    What happened over the weekend at the global climate talks in Lima, Peru, was something of a breakthrough. Every one of the 194 countries there agreed, in principle, to cutting their emissions. That's the first time this has ever happened — though climate activists say the deal is far too weak.

    Countries now have until March to decide on those cuts, but none of them has to show details on what they'll do, at least for now. So last weekened's deal is basically a table-setter for the final negotiations that will happen a year from now, in Paris.

    "What we really saw here in Lima was a foretaste of some of the major issues that parties will have to wrestle with in Paris," says Elliot Diringer of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. "Cutting through all of this is the issue of how to rebalance the distribution of effort across developed and developing countries."

    That's climate policy wonk-speak for who has to do how much to tackle the problem.

    The biggest players at the Lima talks were, as usual, the US and China. Their own historic emissions deal, announced in November, set up that rebalancing act.

    That deal, in part, saw China set a deadline for capping its emissions for the first time. China was previously a reliable vote against any climate pact calling on developing countries to cut their own emissions. They argued these poorer countries should not have to sacrifice economic growth in order to solve a problem largely caused by rich industrialized nations.

    But the the dynamic at these UN-sponsored meetings has begun to shift after the US-China deal, with the typical coalitions starting to crack and other developing countries emerging as important players for the first time. The Philippines, for instance, went into the meeting as a sort of self-appointed representative for poor countries — and actually had a big impact.

    The Philippines "disassociated itself from a block of countries called the 'like-minded group’ that frankly has not been playing a terribly constructive role in these negotiations," Diringer says. "That signified that the Philippines recognized that its interest is in making progress."

    Diringer says its part of a larger shift on climate policy over the last several years. Developing countries are now splintering, and some smaller countries now believe their interests are not always aligned with bigger developing nations like China or India.

    The Lima outcome is still just a baby step toward solving the climate problem, but Diringer says any progress is welcome, no matter how long it takes.

    "Sometimes it's difficult to measure the process," he acknowledges. "But I think, in fact, we are on the way to, hopefully, a broad and durable agreement."

  • Monday, December 15, 2014 12:05pm

    Tourists flock to the Israeli Red Sea resort town of Eilat for sea, sun and snorkeling. But crows have flocked there too — and one man is on a mission to get rid of them.

    At 7 a.m. in Eilat, the ocean is still. The tourists are fast asleep in their hotel rooms.

    One man, approaching retirement age, with a baby face and sparkling eyes, makes his rounds in a white pickup truck. We’ll call him Yoram, though that’s not his real name.

    Every once in a while he stops, rolls down the window, looks through the sight of his hunter’s rifle, and shoots.

    “Did you see him?” he asks. “Now they’ve learned.”

    It isn’t even 8:30 a.m. and there are already four dead.

    Residents and tourists are beginning to wake up, so Yoram carefully places his rifle in the back seat, puts on a CD of oldies music, and calmly drives downtown, as if he didn’t just finish a killing spree on the outskirts of town.

    The victims of this killing spree are not people. They’re crows — a type of bird that is not indigenous to these parts.

    Crows fleeing from a tree after "Yoram," Eilat's hitman, shoots.

    Credit:

    Daniel Estrin

    The arrivials of the crows can likely be traced back 30 years ago, when a ship from India anchored in the Red Sea port of Aqaba. On board was a bird known by scientists as the House Crow. Ever since, every summer, the crows attack.

    For years, residents have called Eilat’s municipal hotline to report a range of violent crow encounters. A lifeguard at a beach hotel, for instance, says a crow swooped down at him almost every day for more than a month and left him with a bloody forehead. In June alone, the hotline got 60 calls about the birds.

    Crow attacks do happen in other parts of the world, but Zadok Tsemach, manager of the Eilat Bird Observatory, said the House Crow is especially vengeful during summer, when it suspects a person’s presence is threatening its baby chicks.

    The municipality wanted to do something about the crows. So it hired a hit man.

    That’s where Yoram entered the picture. He was the perfect man for the job: he was a sniper in the Israeli army.

    Like any successful hit man, he lives a double life. When he’s not out with his gun, Yoram is actually a peacenik. He teaches seminars on Arab-Israeli coexistence in local schools. But for two hours a couple of days a month, he becomes Yoram the hit man.

    “At the moment I am doing it quite in a secret,” Yoram said.

    Yoram estimates he has killed some 3000 to 4000 crows over the last 10 years, without anyone knowing. And no one seemed to mind. Until a morning this past May.

    He shot the wrong crow — the crow that lives next to Daniela Schulenburg-Ortner, the city’s number one animal rights activist.

    Daniela looks like you might expect an animal rights activist to look: she has shoulder-length blond hair with a streak of turquoise, to match her turquoise eye shadow and turquoise bracelet.

    Daniela Schulenburg-Ortner, Eilat animal rights activist, holds Keanu, an injured crow she is rehabilitating in her backyard. She named it after the actor Keanu Reeves.

    Credit:

    Daniel Estrin

    In her free time, she directs the local branch of “Let the Animals Live,” Israel’s version of PETA. She has 27 cats, 17 dogs, and, yes, one crow.

    That morning in May, Daniela got a telephone call from her 13-year-old son.

    “I was out of the house, and my son called me hysterically that somebody is shooting at our house,” she said.

    She called the police, rushed home, and hid under the table with her son. Then the police called back to say, 'Don’t panic, it’s not a terrorist, it’s just the municipality’s sniper shooting some crows that attacked a neighbor. Nothing to be worried about.'

    But Daniella was furious.

    “We need to coexist with them in an urban environment, and not kill them and shoot them. That’s not a solution,” she said.

    Daniela wrote an angry post on Facebook that went viral. The local media picked up the story. And with that, she has become a woman on a mission.

    “I’m intending to sue the city and this person for what they did,” she said.

    After Daniela published her story, the police set out new rules for Yoram. No more shooting inside the city. Only on the outskirts. Now, when he drives around the city, he sees entire packs of crows enjoying immunity. And he can’t do a thing.

    He insists he's not a villain.

    “I am the good guy,” Yoram said. “Unfortunately, with the crow, the only way they will understand, is to shoot them.”

    According to the city’s count, there are now about 260 crows flying around Eilat. That’s it, just 260.

    But now that the police have ordered Yoram to stop shooting inside the city, he says their numbers are only going to grow, and that there will be more attacks next summer.

    He thinks it’s only a matter of time before the city begs him to get out his rifle again. As long as he keeps up with his work, his nemesis Daniela will keep up with hers, too.

    And so will the crows.

    This story is adapted from a longer version that first appeared on the Israeli radio program Israel Story.

  • Thursday, December 11, 2014 10:34am

    On a bright day in early May, Chris Polashenski tromps across the ice north of Alaska — 100 miles from the nearest land — to sink half-a-dozen plastic pipes into the ice.

    Other researchers are spread out around the Healy, a Coast Guard icebreaker. Some have begun drilling through the ice or sawing up sections of it, the din piercing the Arctic air.

    They’re all here because the Arctic is ground zero for climate change. Scientists know the region is warming up faster than any place on Earth, and that the ice cap here is shrinking fast. But scientists still need to get a better handle on what’s going on in the Arctic as the Earth warms up, and how that might affect the rest of the planet.

    Geophysicist Chris Polashenski drops a pressure sensor into a plastic tube that he's using for his research into melt ponds that form on the Arctic ice every spring.

    Credit:

    Amanda Kowalski/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

    Polashenski is geophysicist from the US Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in New Hampshire, and he’s setting up these pipes to help study a big spring change that comes to the Arctic every year.

    The snow here will start to melt around June 1. Water will start pooling on the surface of the ice, and those melt ponds will soon cover vast areas of the Arctic sea, turning the icy surface into a mosaic of intense opal blue.

    “It’s one of the most dramatic transformations of a landscape there is anywhere on Earth,” Polashenski says.

    But it’s more than just a beautiful change: It can have a big impact on the global climate. That’s because the darker blue ponds absorbs more sunlight, which means more heat, than white, snow-covered ice.

    Right now, Polashenski says, “about 80 percent of the sunlight that’s coming in goes right back out to space. And [that will] very, very quickly drop to as little as 20 percent as soon as that water starts pooling on the surface.”

    More heat can mean more melting, which is exactly what’s been happening here: The Arctic has lost half its summertime ice since the 1970s.

    Scientists know that melt ponds are crucial to understanding what’s going on up here, and, through that, what’s in store for the rest of the planet as changes in the Arctic reverberate throughout the global climate system.

    But those same scientists have been struggling to simulate the ponds in computer models that forecast the Arctic climate. They can’t predict exactly where or when the ponds will appear, and they don’t really know why the ponds even stick around.

    Crew and scientists traveling on the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy unload equipment in the lee of the parked ship before hiking off to set up their research projects in undisturbed snow.

    Credit:

    Amanda Kowalski/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

    That’s where Polashenski’s drainpipes come in.

    He stands by one of the tubes with a bucket of seawater and starts to pour it in. “I can fill it up,” he says, “put 10 to 15 centimeters in there, and there it goes, doo-doo-doo-doo, right back down.”

    The seawater just drains right through the meter-thick ice, which looks solid but is actually full of tiny cracks. So if the water can drain through, why do the melt ponds even form? It’s a question that’s long nagged at Polashenski.

    “What could possibly be making it, on the one hand, so permeable that we can’t even measure it,” he asks, “and on the other hand so thoroughly impermeable that the two centimeters of melt water that form on the surface, stay on the surface for a week?”

    Chris Polashenski uses an electric drill to core out a sample of sea ice. He uses the cores to investigate the tiny cracks in the ice that may or may not allow water to drain from melt ponds.

    Credit:

    Amanda Kowalski/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

    He hopes the answer will come from the second part of what he calls his crazy experiment.” He moves over to another tube, pours in another bucket of water, and waits. Nothing happens.

    “It’s not draining out,” Polashenski says. “Just like the melt ponds. It’s going down into the ice and cgggg — clogged.” How does one bucket of water drain through the ice, while the other doesn’t?

    Here's how: The second bucket was full of fresh water, the kind you get when snow melts, not salty sea water. Fresh water freezes at a higher temperature than salt water, so it solidifies inside those tiny cracks in the ice when sea water won’t.

    It's Polashenski’s eureka moment: That’s why the ponds stick around.

    It’s a seemingly simple answer to a riddle that had stumped researchers for years. It's hard to imagine no one had thought of it before, though Polashenski admits he already had. “I published the idea in a 2012 paper,” he says, but until now, “I wasn’t really sure it was all that good of an idea.”

    His colleague Ken Golden, an ice mathematician from the University of Utah, seems equally astonished at the simplicity of the answer.

    “It seems obvious now,” Golden says, but it took real-world research to make it clear. “This is great. This is what you come out here for, see stuff like this!”

    The discovery by Polashenski’s team is just part of the melt pond puzzle, but it’s a big piece. The group poses for pictures to capture the moment, but there’s little time to celebrate. Between setting up the experiment and carrying it out, they’ve been on the ice for four hours, and it’s time to break down, get back to the icebreaker and move on to the next research site.

    There’s plenty more work ahead for Polashenski on this Arctic expedition. But his findings on this piece of ice might make the biggest splash in helping to understand what lies ahead for the Arctic — and the rest of the world.

  • Friday, December 12, 2014 3:15pm

    An investigation by the UK's Channel 4 has revealed the identity of the person behind a very prolific, pro-ISIS Twitter account.

    According to the report, the account with handle @ShamiWitness, which has since been shut down, had about 18,000 followers and was run by a man named Mehdi. Channel 4 described him as "an executive in Bangalore, working for an Indian conglomerate."

    J.M. Berger, editor of intelwirepro.com, says he wasn't surprised that the news channel was able to find Mehdi's identity. Berger, who has researched jihadi activities on social media for years, says the @ShamiWitness account had intrigued many users. It constantly defended ISIS and regularly shared information about the group.

    "He is indisputably the most influential English speaking supporter of ISIS on Twitter," he says. "A lot of people sort of looked at him and saw his following grow and wondered how's this guy able to stay online for so long and where is he?"

    Still, Berger says it's not clear whether he was a "card-carrying member" of ISIS — or simply a sympathizer.

    "He had links to foreign fighters ... and it appeared that he helped people make the connection that they need to go [to the so-called Islamic State]," he says.

    Berger expects Indian police to open a criminal investigation into Mehdi's activities. It's possible he could be charged with supporting terrorist organizations, if officials are able to prove he assisted or recruited fighters for ISIS.

    For now Mehdi, has deleted his Twitter account, but it's possible he has opened other accounts under different names. That's what makes dealing with accounts like these difficult, Berger says. They can pop back up at a moment's notice.

    But he believes shutting them down does slow them. He compares what Twitter is doing to weeding a garden.

    "You don't expect the weeds are never going to come back," he says. "But if you don't weed the garden, then it's going to get overrun."