USCG Chennai is headed by Phillip A. Min who assumed post last year. We’ve asked @USAmbIndia how USG employees are holding up in Chennai but have not received a response. Post did issue an updated emergency message on December 4 saying that ConGen Chennai has sustained major flood damage, and is closed for all services Friday December 4 and Monday December 7. Travelers are asked to defer all travel to the area. The Ambassador to India Richard Verma tweeted that he is “Thinking of all in Chennai & monitoring situation closely – hoping for drier days ahead.”
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday said Chennai has turned into an island. “It would not be an exaggeration to say that. Since the day before, Chennai has been cut off from all national and state highways,” said Singh, responding to a discussion in the Lok Sabha on the flood situation in the country’s southern region. […] The minister added that in the 24 hours beginning December 1, 8.30 pm, Chennai has received 330 mm of rain, which exceeds the rain the city receives for the entire month of December, thereby “breaking a 100-year record”.
According to World Population Review, Chennai has an estimated population of 4.9 million, with an area that has grown from 176 square kilometers to 426 square kilometers after a 2011 expansion. The urban agglomeration, which includes the city and suburbs, has a population estimated at 9 million. This makes it the 4th most populous metropolitan area in India and the 31st largest urban area in the world.
Update: USCG Chennai has now posted the following announcement:
In the interest of public safety, and due to the flooding in Chennai, the U.S. Consulate General in Chennai will be closed for normal Consular operations, including nonimmigrant visa appointments and non-emergency American Citizen Services (ACS), on Thursday, December 3, 2015 and Friday, December 4, 2015.
It has also issued an Emergency Message to U.S. citizens:
The city of Chennai and surrounding areas in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu as well as the adjacent Union Territory of Pondicherry (Puducherry) have experienced very heavy rains in recent weeks resulting in localized flooding, which has been severe in some areas. The Adyar River has overflowed its banks and rains are expected to continue for several days. U.S. citizens visiting and residing in the area should exercise caution. All flights into and out of Chennai International Airport have been temporarily suspended until at least Thursday morning. Power has been cut throughout Chennai, though some hotels and businesses continue to operate with back-up generators. Most hotels that remain open report that they are at capacity. The U.S. Consulate General in Chennai remains open with minimal staffing but has temporarily suspended visa services and non-emergency services for U.S. citizens. Travelers should consider deferring non-essential travel to the area.
Chennai is currently suffering its worst flooding in a hundred years. The deluge is forcing airport and factory closures in the city. The US Consulate in Chennai says it is tentatively planning to open with limited staff although it is “urging” applicants to reschedule their visa interviews. Folks … this would be where “out of an abundance of caution” would really work.
Chennai Post: Due to the flooding in Chennai, the U.S. Consulate in Chennai strongly urges applicants with visa appointments scheduled for Wednesday, December 2 not to come to their scheduled appointment. While the consulate is tentatively planning to open with extremely limited staff, wait times will be long and due to the potential for an unexpected closure, we cannot guarantee applicants who come will be interviewed. We encourage applicants to reschedule their existing appointments at the Visa Application Center for biometric enrolment and their interview appointment at the Consulate by logging in to their profile after 8.00 a.m. Thursday, December 3.
[…] Chennai Visa Application Center: Due to unexpected weather conditions, the Visa Application Center in Chennai will not be able to honour your Biometric appointment on December 2, 2015. You will have to reschedule your existing appointment at the Visa Application Center for your biometric enrolment and your interview appointment at the Consulate. There is no need to contact the call center or customer support—simply login to your profile and reschedule both of your appointments.
Rain or floods : US Consulate makes visa seekers wait out as usual! #chennairains pls guys…
“ਗੁਰਪੁਰਬ ਦੀਆਂ ਲੱਖ-ਲੱਖ ਵਧਾਈਆਂ I Gurupurab diyaan lakh-lakh wdaayiaan! A very happy #GuruNanakJayanti.”
That’s US Ambassador to India Richard Verma paying his respects at the Golden Temple back in May during his Punjab visit. Guru Nanak Jayanti is celebrated to commemorate the birth of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion. It is the biggest festival among Sikhs all over the world and usually falls in October or November. This year, the Indian holiday was celebrated on November 25.
On Sept. 16, Nepal passed a long-awaited constitution containing several controversial clauses. Chief among these was a refusal to allow for Madhesi- and Tharu-majority provinces near the Indian border. While supporters insisted such a move was necessary to counteract Indian dominance, ethnic Tharus and Madhesis termed it a form of prejudice. Protests began in August and have been, at times, violent, reportedly claiming more than 40 lives. Citing security concerns, India launched an unofficial border blockade shortly after the constitution was enacted. While many here believe the blockade is an expression of India’s disapproval of the constitution, New Delhi has steadfastly denied political interference. “The reported obstructions are due to unrest, protests and demonstrations on the Nepalese side, by sections of their population,” said a statement issued on the Indian Foreign Ministry website on Sept. 25.
Regardless of intention, the impact has been substantial. In early October, Nepal’s scant reserves neared exhaustion and the government was forced to introduce fuel rationing. Since then, the effects have spread to every sector. At local markets, food prices have gone up — 30%, 50%, 100%. Restaurants are raising prices and scaling back production and, even in the capital city of Kathmandu, homeowners have begun switching from propane to firewood. Buses are severely overloaded, private transport uncomfortably expensive. Getting petrol requires waiting for hours, or even days, on queue for the government ration or paying black market rates out of reach for most Nepalese. Ambulances don’t have enough petrol to operate, hospitals are running out of supplies, social services severely curtailed.
“Last time I queued for petrol, it took four days and nights.” Nepal’s border blockade continues https://t.co/tfsDF3cxPP
Below is what Gulfutar, a neighborhood about 3 kilometers north of the US Embassy in Kathmandu looks like. The lines for cooking fuel are said to be also huge. We understand that USAID programs are reportedly grinding to a halt for lack of fuel and so are other development agencies that are trying to help Nepal recover from the quake. With the winter season just a few weeks away, “this could get very, very ugly” is what we’re hearing.
USAID programs in Nepal reportedly seeks to reinforce recent gains in peace and security, stabilize the transitional government, strengthen the delivery of essential social services, expand proven health interventions, and address the global challenges of food insecurity and climate change.
How do you do that when on the ground reality is like this?
Thousands of Nepalis line up for a small allotment of fuel in Kathmandu as the “unofficial blockade” continues. Photo by Derek Brown via FB (used with permission)
With extremely limited fuel, people are reportedly resorting to extreme measures to get around. A bus with approx 90 people (a vehicle with a 35 person capacity) went off a cliff last week.
The most recent embassy message to U.S. citizens on travel and fuel is dated over a month ago, and the fuel situation has not gotten better as the blockade continues:
We recommend that travelers evaluate any upcoming travel plans in Nepal. Due to the nationwide fuel shortage, due to blockages at the border with India, many of the safety measures that would normally be relied on in an emergency situation may become unavailable. These measures include air medevacs and local hospitals. As of today these services are still operational, but service providers are facing dwindling supplies. If you are planning multi-day travel the situation could change drastically during your trip. Please consider that if you are trekking in a remote area and become injured, there will be limited options for you to be rescued until the fuel situation returns to normal. Tourist facilities continue to operate in the Kathmandu valley, but levels of service may be lower than normal. It is estimated that the fuel situation will not return to normal until 2-3 weeks after the border supply lines are fully restored.
The UKFCO has issued a travel advice and notes that delays at border crossings have caused a severe fuel shortage which is affecting travel and provision of some emergency services. Some airlines have stopped or reduced the number of domestic flights they’re operating in Nepal until further notice.
Meanwhile, on November 5, the US Embassy in Nepal released the following statement about being “deeply concerned by the increasingly volatile situation along the Nepal-India border.” You could practically see folks rolling their eyes:
On December 9, the U.S. Senate slowly winding its business in town, confirmed the ambassadorial nominees for Afghanistan and India. There’s still a long list of nominees awaiting confirmation, but the candle is growing short here; we don’t think many more will make it through this Congress. But here are the nominees who made it through the confirmation obstacle course on December 9:
The Senate confirmed Peter McKinley to be Ambassador to Afghanistan by a voice vote.
Deputy Ambassador Michael McKinley traveled to Bagram Airfield today to help administer the Oath of Citizenship to 11 Service Members in the United States Armed Forces. (Via US Embassy Kabul/FB)
Ambassador McKinley is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, currently serves as Deputy Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan. A two-time Ambassador and four-time Deputy Chief of Mission, he is known for his gifted leadership and management abilities. A consensus builder with demonstrated interpersonal skills, broad expertise in high-level foreign policy negotiations and detailed knowledge of the region, he will bring essential skills to the task of furthering bilateral relations with the Government of Afghanistan, a nation of unsurpassed foreign policy importance to the United States Government in a critical region of the world.
Previously, Mr. McKinley served in the Department of State as Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Bogota, Colombia (2010-2013), Ambassador, U.S. Embassy Lima, Peru (2007-2010), Deputy Chief of Mission, United States Mission to the European Union, Brussels, Belgium (2004-2007), Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, Washington, D.C. (2001-2004), Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Brussels, Belgium (2000-2001), Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Kampala, Uganda (1997-2000), Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Maputo, Mozambique (1994-1997), Political Officer, U.S. Embassy London, United Kingdom (1990-1994), Special Assistant, Office of the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Washington, D.C. (1989-1990), Political Officer, Office of Southern African Affairs, Washington, D.C. (1987-1989), Political Officer, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Washington, D.C. (1985-1987) and Consular and General Services Officer, U.S. Embassy La Paz, Bolivia (1983-1985).
Mr. McKinley earned a MPhil and DPhil from Oxford University, Oxford, United Kingdom (1975-1982), and a B.A. from Southampton University, South Hampton, United Kingdom (1971-1975). He is the recipient of numerous awards from the Department of State, including a Presidential Meritorious Service Award (2011), 12 Senior Foreign Service Performance Awards, six Superior Honor Awards and two Meritorious Honor Awards. He speaks Spanish, Portuguese and French. via state.gov-McKinley, Michael P. – Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – September 2014
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The Senate confirmed Richard Verma to be Ambassador to India by a voice vote.
Richard Rahul Verma serves as Senior Counselor to the global law firm of Steptoe & Johnson LLP, as well as to the Albright Stonebridge Group in Washington, DC. His practice focuses on international law and regulatory issues, with a specialization in Asia and emerging markets. Mr. Verma also serves as a Senior National Security Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he directs their “India 2020” initiative. Known as a talented leader and manager, he is recognized for his many years of experience working on high-level policy in the federal government, in the private sector and with non-governmental organizations, especially on matters relating to the affairs of South Asia and India, including political-military relations. His knowledge and ability to set the agenda will enable him to strengthen bilateral relations with India, a pivotal nation of critical global importance to the U.S.
Previously, in Washington, D.C., he served as Assistant Secretary of State (Legislative Affairs), Department of State (2009-2011), Partner, Steptoe and Johnson LLP (2007-2009), Senior National Security Advisor, Office of the Senate Majority Leader (2006-2007), Senior National Security Advisor, Office of the Senate Minority Leader (2004-2006), Senior Counsel, Office of the Senate Democratic Whip (2003-2004), Foreign Policy Advisor, Office of Senator Reid (2002-2003) and Associate, Steptoe and Johnson (1998-2002). Mr. Verma served on active duty as a First Lieutenant and Captain in the U.S. Air Force at Holloman, Air Force Base, New Mexico and Fort Meade, Maryland (1994-1998). He was also Field Representative, National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, Bucharest, Romania (1993-1994) and Staff Assistant, Congressman John P. Murtha (1991-1992).
Mr. Verma earned a B.S. at Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 1990, a J.D., cum laude, at American University in 1993 and a LL.M, with distinction, at Georgetown University Law Center in 1998. He is the recipient of a Distinguished Service Medal from the Department of State, the International Affairs Fellowship from the Council on Foreign Relations and a Meritorious Service Medal, a Commendation Medal and a National Defense Service Medal from the U.S. Air Force. via state.gov–Verma, Richard R. – Republic of India – September 2014
Secretary Kerry Participates in Traditional Scarf Ceremony Upon Arriving in India For Strategic and Economic Dialogue U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry bows to receive a scarf during a traditional arrival ceremony at his hotel in New Delhi, India, on July 30, 2014, after he traveled for a Strategic Dialogue with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzer. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
Secretary Kerry is in New Delhi for the 5th U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue,and is accompanied by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. Other members of the interagency trip include Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman, Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary Francis Taylor, and NASA Associate Administrator Michael O’Brien. The State Department’s does not have a Senate-confirmed assistant secretary for its Bureau of Energy Resources. Ambassador Carlos Pascual who announced he was stepping down as special envoy and coordinator for energy affairs has been succeeded by Amos Hochstein as acting special envoy and coordinator and Mr. Hochstein is accompanying Secretary Kerry to New Delhi.
You’ve probably seen this last week, but if you haven’t, here is a newly elected member of the House of Representatives from Florida’s 19th district, who the Miami Herald called, the “latest inductee to the Sunshine State’s face-palming club. USAToday notes that the congressman won a special election last month to replace Trey Radel, who resigned following a cocaine bust.
House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, freshman Rep. Curt Clawson misidentified two senior U.S. government officials as representatives of the Indian government. The two officials, Nisha Biswal and Arun Kumar, are Americans who hold senior positions at the State Department and Commerce Department, respectively.
The hearing was on U.S.-India Relations Under the Modi Government. Nisha Biswal is the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) at the State Department. Prior to her appointment as State, she was with USAID. Previously, she also served in the House of Representatives, as the majority clerk for the House Appropriations Committee Foreign Operations Subcommittee (HACFO) and as professional staff in the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), where she was responsible for South Asia. Arun Kumar is the Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service and Assistant Secretary for Global Markets, International Trade Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce.
According to USAToday, Mr. Clawson said, “I made a mistake in speaking before being fully briefed and I apologize. I’m a quick study, but in this case I shot an air ball.” He has reportedly apologized to both A/S Biswal and DG/FCS Kumar according to Tampa Bay Times. On Saturday, A/S Biswal tweeted this:
Honest mistake by new Member of Congress -but the strength & beauty of America is its diversity. Proud to represent my country & Prez Obama
Still, doesn’t that make you wonder — he wasn’t “fully briefed?” What was he doing there? He wasn’t listening to the introductions? He had a “dog ate my homework” moment? He never meet U.S. officials of color before?
He had trouble recognizing that two Americans who trace their ancestry to the developing world are really American.
In today’s Republican Party, and beyond, a lot of people are having the same trouble. How else to explain the fact that, according to a 2011 New York Times/CBS poll, 45 percent of Republicans think President Obama was born outside the United States? Is it because they’re well versed in the details of which kind of birth certificate he released and when? Of course not. It’s because they see someone with his color skin and his kind of name and think: Doesn’t seem American to me.
There’s no point in continuing to ridicule Clawson. Everyone’s entitled to a dumb mistake. But it’s worth noting how unlikely it is that he would have mistaken an Irish-American for a representative of the government of Ireland or a German-American for a representative of the government of Germany. Throughout our nation’s history, whiteness (itself a shifting category) has been used as a proxy for Americanness. And as Clawson reminded us last Thursday, it still is.
Maybe we’ll start a series of getting to know our official USG representatives.
As a side note, these Indian-American officials do not have it easy. When they go to India on behalf of the U.S. Government, they’re told, “It is a bad idea for the U.S. to send Indian-American diplomats here. They end up having to prove their loyalty to the U.S. more than others, and it doesn’t help us.”
— Domani Spero
The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi announced today the retirement of Ambassador Nancy Powell after 37 years in the Foreign Service:
Ambassador Nancy J. Powell Photo via US Embassy India/FB
U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy J. Powell announced in a U.S. Mission Town Hall meeting March 31 that she has submitted her resignation to President Obama and, as planned for some time, will retire to her home in Delaware before the end of May. She is ending a thirty-seven year career that has included postings as U.S. Ambassador to Uganda, Ghana, Pakistan, Nepal and India as well as service in Canada, Togo, Bangladesh, and Washington, where she was most recently Director General of the Foreign Service. Ambassador Powell expressed her appreciation for the professionalism and dedication of the U.S. Mission to India team who have worked to expand the parameters of the U.S.-India bilateral relationship. She also thanked those throughout India who have extended traditional warm Indian hospitality to her and who have supported stronger bilateral ties.
In December last year, Hindustan Times reported on how air and water pollution plagued Indian cities:
One in three people in India live in critically-polluted areas that have noxious levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and lung-clogging particulate matter larger than 10 micron (PM10) in size. Of the 180 cities monitored by India’s Central Pollution Control Board in 2012, only two — Malapuram and Pathanamthitta in Kerala — meet the criteria of low air pollution (50% below the standard).
The NYT also reported in February last year that “The thick haze of outdoor air pollution common in India today is the nation’s fifth-largest killer.”
NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response Photo from January 11, 2013 (click on image to read more)
The State/OIG report from 2011 says that the health environment for US Embassy employees in India is “challenging, punctuated by frequent respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses.” That’s putting it mildly. Reports about the air pollution in India is nothing new but has not been as widely reported as the “fog” in China. That’s probably because we have @BeijingAir monitoring crazy bad air in China and no @DelhiAir to report on India’s bad air. NYT reported this week that “The United States does not release similar readings from its New Delhi Embassy, saying the Indian government releases its own figures.” Click here to see NYT’s follow-up report why.
The Times of India notes that “Lately, a very bad air day in Beijing is about an average one in New Delhi” and cites disturbing comparative numbers between the two cities:
Clean Air Asia, an advocacy group, found that another common measure of pollution known as PM10, for particulate matter less than 10 micrometers in diameter, averaged 117 in Beijing in a six-month period in 2011. In New Delhi, the Center for Science and Environment used government data and found that an average measure of PM10 in 2011 was 281, nearly two-and-a-half times higher.
Of course, FS folks have been living and hearing about this for years. Haven’t you heard — “If you have asthma or other breathing issues, think long and hard before committing to New Delhi?” Last year, an FS member said, “Very unhealthy, especially for young children, during winter when dung, garbage, and everything else is burnt for warmth, and smog traps it within Delhi.” In 2010, somebody assigned to New Delhi warned that “Asthma and skin disorders are on the rise.”
We understand that you don’t get to see the blue sky for a couple of months. In 2011, somebody called it, “the worst in the world.”
This past weekend, Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network released its 2014 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland. The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranks how well countries perform on high-priority environmental issues in two broad policy areas: protection of human health from environmental harm and protection of ecosystems.
The announcement made special mention of improvement in India’s overall performance but cites dramatic declines on air quality. The announcement notes that “India’s air quality is among the worst in the world, tying China in terms of the proportion of the population exposed to average air pollution levels exceeding World Health Organization thresholds.
India ranks 155th out of 178 countries in its efforts to address environmental challenges, according to the 2014 Environmental Performance Index (EPI). India performs the worst among other emerging economies including, China, which ranks 118th, Brazil, at 77th, Russia, at 73rd, and South Africa at 72nd.
In particular, India’s air quality is among the worst in the world, tying China in terms of the proportion of the population exposed to average air pollution levels exceeding World Health Organization thresholds.
“Although India is an ‘emerging market’ alongside China, Brazil, Russia, and South Africa, its environment severely lags behind these others,” said Angel Hsu of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and lead author of the report.“ Very low GDP per capita coupled with the second highest population in the world means India’s environmental challenge is more formidable than that faced by other emerging economies.”
This is not a health hazard that just showed up yesterday. So we were surprised to hear that at a town hall meeting at Embassy New Delhi, a medical professional reportedly said that none of the government issued embassy purifiers at the mission do the fine particles.
Wait, the US Embassy in New Delhi issued air purifiers that do not work for the finest particles — the particles that do the most damage?
How did that happen?
Some folks apparently are now buying their own air purifiers. A mission member reportedly spent $1600 for purifiers to allow a breath of clean air inside the house.
Dear US Embassy India, we would have liked an official comment, but your public affairs ninja ignores email inquiries. Call me, maybe — we’d like to know which smart dolt spent all that money for decorative air purifiers.
On a related note, early this month, China Daily reported that in December last year, the US Embassy in Beijing ordered 2,000 air purifiers for its employees in the country from Blueair, a Swedish manufacturer:
The cheapest model from Blueair, the Blueair 203, costs 3,590 yuan ($591) from Torana Clean Air, Blueair’s official seller in Beijing, while it sells for $329 on the Best Buy and Amazon websites in the US. The order placed for air purifiers by the US embassy was handled by the Swedish company’s American supplier, and the unit price was not disclosed.
We don’t know what types of purifiers were issued at US Embassy India. Popular brands like Blueair, Panasonic, Daikin, Sharp, Yadu, Honeywell are compared here as used in China via myhealthbeijing. There is also a review of air purifiers by the Consumer Reportthat should be worth looking into; the report is only available to subscribers. Or check with MED which should have this information available.
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Updated 1/31 12:25PM PST for clarity and additional links.