African Muslims arrive at Mecca for annual hajj pilgrimage
Thousands of Muslims from Kenya, Ghana and across Africa are streaming to Saudi Arabia as the annual hajj pilgrimage begins Friday. Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, is an obligation for adult Muslims who are able to make the journey to Mecca at some point in their lives. Saudi officials expect at least 2.5 million people for this year’s hajj, which includes the Eid al-Adha rituals to begin on Monday.
This year, Muslims from Sierra Leone are able to visit Mecca after a two-year hiatus because of the Ebola virus outbreak. At least 20,000 Nigerians are making the trek to Mecca, where authorities say they have increased staff and implemented comprehensive plans to help ensure a safe and peaceful sojourn.
The measures include 2,000 security cameras at the holy sites, and 200,000 security personnel on the ground. Pilgrims now are required to wear electronic tracking devices on their wrists that can be tracked by satellite, according to Standard Media reports. Beyond their security function, the wearables offer identification and medical data in the event of personal emergencies.
Saudi officials say the measures will decrease the likelihood of tragedies at Mecca. Last year, more than 2,000 people died in stampedes that – in addition to their human toll – sparked controversy when hajj officials blamed African pilgrims.
Credit-report abuse is adversely affecting Kenyans
In Kenya, access to mobile banking and sophisticated loan products are creating economic opportunity – but they’re also creating new credit-history problems for customers. Those reports are adversely affecting Kenyan consumers, which was never the intent of the credit reporting models.
Business Daily Africa reports that since 2010, when Kenyan officials first launched a credit information-sharing model that relies on bureau reports, the Central Bank Kenya data shows more than 12 million requests have been processed. The banks are forwarding the names and information of customers to bureaus like Metropol and TransUnion Africa, which offers credit bureau services in countries across Africa, for relatively minor amounts.
In some cases, those amounts are as low as 100 Kenyan shilling, with more than 400,000 Kenyans now listed for outstanding mobile loans of Sh200 or less.
The CBK recently warned banks against using the system to abuse customers. Many of those customers eye credit bureau reporting with suspicion because it serves as a tool to punish borrowers rather than reward the responsible with better rates and product options. The CBK reports that just 177,450 consumer requests for a free annual credit report have been filed, many of them to fulfill employment and job application requirements.
West African research explores air pollution, climate-haze relationship
Scientists say the first results of a 5-year project to measure atmospheric conditions over southern West Africa are in, with encouraging results for better understanding pollution sources and acting on climate change. The DACCIWA researchers measured air-pollution plumes that originate in Accra, Abidjan, Lomé, and Cotonou, to map the relationship between emissions that originate in the coastal cities and their impact up to 300 kilometers inland.
The haze-generating plumes show high amounts of organic matter, said Peter Knippertz, a professor at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany and head of the DACCIWA team. The practice of burning trash, agricultural waste and charcoal fuels contributes to the high particulate count.
That, in turn, combines with sea salt from the south and wind-blown Saharan dust from the north, to create unique atmospheric conditions in West Africa. When combined with power plant and oil-industry carbon emissions, the plumes waft inland and affect the savannahs and inland forests of the region. The haze changes available sunlight and affects temperature, wind, cloud formation and particle-altered rainfall.
The DACCIWA team hopes to better understand the complex relationships between the pollution sources, and the clouds and related atmospheric conditions, to improve weather and climate-change models. It’s too early to know if what they learn can be extrapolated to other regions, Knippertz told Phys.org.