Friday, January 7 2022

Dive In


Jae-myung bro. I love you. I’ll implant you in the Blue House.

That’s the response of balding fans of South Korea’s presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung—who has promised government payments for hair loss treatments. Thanks to Lee, hair loss has emerged as the hot topic in the election to be held in March. Critics call him a dangerous populist. Though to be fair, one in every five South Koreans suffers from hair loss. So he definitely has a considerable voting constituency there.

Stuff to check out: On the latest episode of the splainer podcast ‘Press Decode’, the splainer team looks at the Bulli Bai app—and the joys of hate-watching ‘Emily in Paris’. Be sure to head over to the IVM website, Spotify or Apple Podcasts to listen to it.

Big Story

Afghanistan: The greatest humanitarian crisis in the world

The TLDR: While the rest of the world is busy worrying about Omicron, Afghans are literally starving to death. But no one seems to care now that the US and its allies have left. We look at why this is happening—and whether they will receive assistance in time.


Editor’s note: We will not issue a trigger warning for the suffering of millions—which is atrociously privileged. But we’re readying you for the tough bits in the first section. At least one image—of a starving child—will be hard to see. 


Researched by: Vagda Galhotra and Ankita Ghosh


How bad is it?

Bad, really, really bad. Here are some quick stats:


  • The UN estimates that only 2% of the population have enough to eat.
  • 22.8 million—more than half the population—are facing extreme levels of hunger. Of those, 8.7 million people are close to a famine—the worst stage of a food crisis.
  • One in three children are malnourished—and 3.2 million face acute malnourishment.
  • At least 1 million kids under the age of 5 are at risk of dying of starvation.
  • The chance that an Afghan baby will die of hunger is the highest in twenty years.
  • The UN projects that by the middle of this year Afghanistan may experience “universal poverty”—with 97% of Afghans living below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day.


Beyond the stats, here are some examples of how dire the situation is—especially for children. 


One: Parents are selling their children to save the rest of their family—little girls as young as 6 and 7, but also boys like 8-year old Salahuddin: “I don't want to sell my son, but I have to. No mother can do this to her child, but when you have no other choice, you have to make a decision against your will.”


Two: Malnutrition wards at hospitals are overflowing with mothers desperate to save their infants. This is 3-year-old Kamila:


Three: Hunger is threatening the lives of newly born babies, as well:


“Pregnant women across Afghanistan are increasingly malnourished, and their bodies, unable to carry their babies to full term, give birth prematurely. Meagre diets then leave new mothers unable to breast-feed. ‘A lot of babies are premature,’ Abdul Jabad, a pediatrician in his late twenties, told me. ‘Some survive. Some not.’”


About a third of the children who arrive at Jabad’s unit do not survive.


Four: Most of the healthcare has broken down since the World Bank stopped funding Afghanistan’s healthcare system. Only 17% of the 2,300 health facilities are functional. And fewer than one in five hospitals are still open. Doctors in remote areas are unable to provide basic medicines—“even something as simple as paracetamol for the gravely ill who have walked 12 hours to seek treatment.” And frequent power cuts are killing babies in incubators and patients in surgery:


“The other day, we were in the operating theatre and the electricity was cut off. Everything stopped. I ran and shouted for help. Someone had fuel in their car and gave it to us so we could run the generator.”


Big point to note: The Taliban government continues to deny the colossal tragedy unfolding across the country. A spokesperson told the New Yorker:


“There are some rumors and propaganda that the country is going through a crisis, and it is not correct. We have resources and ongoing works, revenue collection which is enough for our government.”


Why is this happening?


Headlines that matter

The BJP’s secret app: Tek Fog

A two-year investigation by The Wire has uncovered an app used by the party’s IT cell that allows its operatives to:


  • “hijack the 'trending' section of Twitter and 'trend' on Facebook.”
  • “hijack 'inactive' WhatsApp accounts of private citizens and use their phone number to message their 'frequently contacted' or 'all contacts', using a technique resembling 'token theft'.”
  • deploy “an extensive and dynamic cloud database of private citizens categorised according to their occupation, religion, language, age, gender, political inclination and even physical attributes.”
  • “delete or remap all existing accounts at a moment's notice”—to get rid of any incriminating activity. 

We strongly recommend reading the details over at The Wire.

Jio eyes Gir forests

Reliance Jio is looking for permission from the Gujarat government to construct 45 telecommunication towers inside protected forest areas—of which 34 are inside the Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary. If allowed, they will be the first such towers inside the reserve. Point to note: In 2017, the Environment Ministry advised against setting up of mobile towers to minimise the impact of electro-magnetic radiation on wildlife. Another point to note: One of the members of the Gujarat wildlife board is Reliance Group President Dhanraj Nathwani. What conservationists say:


“The lack of connectivity and communication for humans inside forest makes a forest a forest. In fact… availability of digital connectivity inside the forest will facilitate sharing of live locations and geo-tagged photographs. This can be misused by poachers.”

IQ of celebrity-obsessed people

A newly published study found that people who are fixated on famous people are not, umm, very bright. It revealed “a direct association between celebrity worship and poorer performance on cognitive tests”—specifically a 30-word vocabulary test and a digit symbol substitution test. (PsyPost)


In today’s edition

Sanity Break

  • 'Illuminating India'—an exhibition spanning 1.5 centuries.


Weekend Advisory

  • Good stuff to watch this weekend
  • A list of good reads

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