Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill
On Monday, Feb. 24, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed an anti-gay bill that imposes harsh punishments, including life imprisonment, for homosexual acts. Homosexual activity was already illegal in Uganda, with a 14-year sentence for first time offenders, but this bill increases the possible penalties for all incidences. In addition, there are now punishments for people who provide counsel to people of the LGBTQ community, including equal rights organizations, NGOs and various companies, as well as individuals (NY Times, “Uganda’s President Signs Antigay Bill,” 2.24.14).
The bill was originally proposed in 2009 with the death penalty involved, but was temporarily set aside when Western powers threatened to withdraw aid from Uganda (CNN, “Uganda’s President Museveni signs controversial anti-gay bill into law,” 2.25.14). The bill was passed by Parliament in December without the death penalty provision. Until the signing on Monday, Museveni had changed his position multiple times on the issue. In January, he claimed that he wouldn’t sign the bill as he saw homosexuality as a sickness and they need to be treated, not imprisoned (Washington Post, “Ugandan leader signs harsh anti-gay bill, ignores warning from Obama,” 2.24.14).
After the announcement of the bill, President Obama made a statement saying that this bill is going to affect the relationship between the US and Uganda. Despite the US being one of the largest aid donors to Uganda, Museveni was not worried about the perception of Western countries, saying that “Africans never seek to impose our view on others; if only they could let us alone.”
The passing of the bill prompted a media witch hunt of sorts when a Ugandan newspaper published a list of the country’s top 200 homosexuals, including popular gay rights activists, pop stars and a Catholic priest. One of the prominent gay activists who was listed was Pepe Onziema, who claimed that many Ugandans have fled the country fearful of violence. Although being condemned all around the world, the bill is popular and accepted amongst Ugandans (Msn News, “Uganda tabloid prints list of ‘top’ homosexuals,” 2.25.14).
China’s Toxic Air Pollution
Many major cities in China have endured weeks of the toxic smog that is now starting to resemble a nuclear winter, where photosynthesis has slowed down in crops which could affect the food supply in the whole country. Because the air pollutants are adhering to greenhouse surfaces, the plants are only receiving 50 percent of the sunlight they should be getting; many farms are now in panic because the heavy smog is affecting their crops and livelihoods. This is one of the many concerns China faces with the ongoing heavy pollution that is covering 10 percent of the country.
The smog is created by China’s rapid economic growth and industrial activity that is burning coal and releasing soot particles and sulfur dioxide. All the toxic particles, combined with the unfavorable meteorological conditions (heat plus lack of wind), are preventing the dispersion of the pollutants (CNN, “China looks for blue-sky solutions as smog worsens,” 2.25.14). In order to try to reduce the smog, around 150 industrial companies have slowed down or stopped production (LA Times, “Toxic smog hangs over large swatch of China but many ignore threat,” 2.25.14).
The concentration of PM 2.5 particles, particles small enough to enter the lungs and the bloodstream, has reached 505 micrograms per cubic meter in Beijing on Tuesday night. The World Health Organization recommends a safe level of 25 micrograms. This has caused the city to raise the smog alert to “orange,” the second highest level of pollution (NBC News, “Orange alert: Dangerous smog chokes Beijing,” 2.25.14). Should the alert be raised to “red,” the government would have to start shutting down schools and roads to avoid serious health repercussions.
Civilians have taken matters of their health into their own hands by wearing facemasks when going outside and buying air purifiers to cleanse the air at home.
The 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study claimed that the China smog had caused 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010 (NY Times, “Air pollution linked to 1.2 million premature deaths in China,” 4.1.13).
—Shelia Hu, Guest Reporter