Researched by: Rachel John, Nirmal Bhansali, Aarthi Ramnath & Anannya Parekh
The Ukraine invasion: A global wheat crisis
The context: Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest suppliers of wheat. In the early months of the war, Russia blocked its ships in the Black Sea—which sent global wheat prices soaring. In July last year, Turkey brokered a deal that gave safe passage to Kyiv’s ships.
What happened now: The Kerch bridge—which connects Crimea and Russia—collapsed on Monday. Moscow blamed Ukraine for the disaster—and promptly pulled out of the grain export deal. Why this matters a lot: the wheat shipments are a lifeline for countries in the Middle East and Africa struggling with drought and famine. Plot mein twist: the #1 destination of Ukrainian wheat is China. Western allies are hoping Beijing will help nudge Moscow back to the table. Reuters has details on the bridge; New York Times has more on the grain deal; Politico reports on the China angle.
The disappearing Chinese foreign minister
Qin Gang has not been seen in public for three weeks—which is especially remarkable since US Senator John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen visited Beijing during this period. Qin has also flaked on a number of high-level diplomatic meetings—and failed to show up for an annual ASEAN meeting in Indonesia. Beijing has given no explanation for his absence—which makes it all the more worrying:
Senior Chinese officials have disappeared from public view in the past, only to be revealed months later by the ruling Communist Party’s disciplinary watchdog that they’ve been detained for investigations. Such sudden disappearances have become a common feature in Xi’s anti-corruption campaign.
Setting heat records: China experienced a record-breaking temperature of 52.2°C on Sunday—beating the previous high of 50.3°C. And in January, temperatures plunged to minus 53°C—smashing the previous all-time low of minus 52.3°C set in 1969. The seasons have always been extreme in China—but the swings are getting bigger due to climate change. (EuroNews)
Moving on to job numbers: Youth unemployment among 16-24 year olds hit a record high of 21.3% in June. And it shows no signs of slowing in the short-term. Also this: a record 11.58 million university graduates are expected to enter the Chinese jobs market this year. All of which is alarming for a government already wrestling with a slow post-pandemic recovery. (BBC News)
Disastrous river mining in Uttarakhand
The context: In 2013, the Uttarakhand government’s permission to mine in four rivers of the state—Gaula, Sharda, Dabka and Kosi—was extended for ten years. And the state made a sweet Rs 1 billion (100 crore) a year from the minerals, sand and stones mined from just one river.
What happened now: The mining permit was renewed for another five years in February—thanks to a meeting between CM Dhami and Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav—“sidestepping critical legal requirements to conserve forests and protect rivers.” Reporter’s Collective has uncovered documents that show flagrant violations of procedure and protections. Why this investigation is worth your attention:
[A]s miners unscientifically scoop away tonnes of boulders, gravel and sand, they end up removing stones that stand in the path of the water, which is now free to barrel down the river during the rains, take unprecedented paths, swallow up farmland, smash bridges and create treacherous pits.
In other words, it explains a lot of those landslide clips you’ve been watching over recent days. (Reporter’s Collective)
Threads is looking good!
New data shows that the app has already achieved one-fifth of the weekly active user base of Twitter worldwide. What caught our eye: India accounts for 33% of the 150 million app downloads—followed by Brazil (22%) and only then the US (16%). But not everything is peachy. Threads also saw a 20-25% drop in active users—and a 50% dive in time spent—since its launch. The main takeaway from researchers: “While there was intense interest in checking out the app initially, not every user has made a habit of visiting Threads as often as they might other social apps.” We have everything you need to know about Threads in this Big Story. (TechCrunch)
PS: Direct messaging may be coming soon to Threads.
A very expensive iPhone
An original, factory-sealed, 4GB iPhone was sold at an auction for over $190,000. One reason for the eye-watering price: it was owned by a member of Apple's original iPhone engineering team. Old iPhones have recently become a hot commodity—selling for $30-50,000—but this sale marks an unprecedented high. (Gizmodo)
Elizabethan era censorship comes to light
Experts used state-of-the-art imaging technology to read a heavily self-censored account of the reign of Elizabeth I by a 17th century author. The account—considered until now to be an “impartial and supposedly accurate record”—was commissioned by her successor James VI of Scotland. And the weight of royal pressure shows:
[P]ages had been either over-written or concealed beneath pieces of paper stuck down so tightly that attempting to lift them would have ripped the pages and destroyed evidence.
What does the new information tell us? Not very much that would excite a layperson. It merely confirms what we already know—official accounts of history are always “edited.” (The Guardian)
Three things to see
One: More than 20 cyclists crashed into each other at the Tour de France thanks to a fan who was taking a selfie. Sepp Kuss had his handlebars knocked by a fan holding out a phone. Soon after, the Tour’s Twitter account shared this slow motion video with the message: "Please pay attention to the riders." (BBC News)
Two: There are unidentified flying objects—and then there are unidentified floating objects. A giant gold-coloured cylinder has washed on an Australian beach. Authorities have no clue wtf it is—but are sure it is not part of a commercial airline (duh!). Initial investigation has “determined the object is safe and there is no current risk to the community.” One theory: it could be part of a space launch. TBH, it looks like a big pipe to us. (Sky News Australia)
Three: Lionel Messi received a hero’s welcome from a sold-out crowd in DRV PNK Stadium in Florida as he joined his new club Inter Miami. Let’s hope those cheers don’t turn into boos—as they did with Ronaldo over at King Abdullah Sports City in Saudi Arabia. The Guardian has lots more on Messi’s new gig.