UK Transit Strike, Escalating Ethnic Violence in Ethiopia, and Devastating Flooding in India and Bangladesh
United Kingdom: Largest Rail Strike in Decades Disrupts Travel
More than 40,000 railway workers represented by the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) union staged the first out of the three intended strikes on June 21, resulting in the cancellation of 80% of trains and massive transportation delays across England, Scotland and Wales. The strikes – also planned for June 23 and June 25 – were scheduled following unsuccessful last-minute talks between the RMT and the country’s rail companies over demands for pay increases and job security. Services at the London Underground metro were also significantly impacted as 10,000 workers staged a separate strike over job cuts and pension disputes. Combined, these work stoppages caused transportation disruptions for millions of people across the country. Elevated traffic congestion was reported outside of London, with major traffic bottlenecks recorded on M1, M4, A4, and A40 highways. The 20% of rail services that remained operational were primarily focused on supporting the flow of critical freight, including supermarket supplies, fuel for airlines and gas stations, and biomass for generating energy at power stations. Despite these efforts, freight flows have experienced an estimated 50% disruption. While days between the planned strikes may partially alleviate the impact, labor shortages will contribute to prolonged delays, and only 60% of the railway services are expected to be operational. Representatives of the RMT agreed to another round of negotiations on June 22 but have indicated that the industrial action could continue into the winter if the rail companies refuse to commit to a 7% pay increase and guarantee job security for safety critical roles. The strikes mark yet another substantial blow to the UK’s transportation industry, which has faced severe backlash this summer in response to aviation staff shortages and a high volume of flight delays and cancellations across the country. Labor discontent is not limited to the transportation sector as members of the Criminal Bar Association and the National Health Service have also expressed their intention to organize industrial action in the coming weeks. Protracted work stoppages in various sectors, compounded by labor shortages, decades-high inflation and supply chain disruptions caused by COVID-19, will likely result in substantial economic losses across a broad swathe of industries and could lead the country into another recession.
Ethiopia: Recent Violence Adds to Growing Ethnic Tensions
Ethnic tensions in Ethiopia are continuing to escalate and are threatening the country’s fragile stability following one of the largest and deadliest ethnically targeted attacks on civilians in recent history. The attack reportedly took place in Gimbi county in Ethiopia’s western Oromia region on June 18, where witnesses say armed assailants targeted ethnic Ahmaras, a minority in the Oromia region. Though no official death toll has been reported, eyewitness statements estimate that fatalities are likely between 260-320 and are still climbing. Witnesses and the local and central governments have accused the Oromia Liberation Army (OLA)—an outlawed faction of the Oromia Liberation Front (OLF) opposition group—of perpetrating the attack. The government asserts that the group carried out the attack in retaliation for
successful military offensives on the OLA-controlled territory. The OLA claims the opposite, stating that the government and military slaughtered civilians during their retreat from Gimbi and attacked them due to their perceived connection to the OLA. The government conducts regular military operations targeting the group due to its links to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – an organization that has been at war with the central government since November 2020. Though the conflict is currently under a unilateral ceasefire declared by the government in March 2022, the ceasefire agreement only applies to the Tigray region. Details surrounding the motives for the June 18 attack remain scarce; however, it serves as another focal point in growing ethnic tensions throughout the country, particularly those between the Oromo and Amhara, Ethiopia’s two largest ethnic groups. Ethnic tensions have also been escalating in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, as ethnic Gumuz have reportedly carried out targeted attacks against both the Amhara and Oromo peoples in the area. In addition to local disputes and religious discrimination, economic hardship stemming from the protracted Tigrayan conflict – which had reversed years of previous growth – continues to fuel ethnic-based grievances in the country. With the government embroiled in a temporarily halted ethnic civil war, localized ethnic conflicts and deteriorating economic conditions could catalyze broader inter-ethnic disputes. This could potentially spark further tensions with the central government and threaten regional political stability.
South Asia: Devastating Floods in India and Bangladesh
Continuous heavy rainfall in northeast India and the bordering area of Bangladesh has triggered severe flooding and landslides in the past week, leading to casualties, internal displacement, extensive infrastructure damage and shortages of basic supplies. Approximately 120 people have died in both countries since June 14, and the death toll will likely continue to climb. Sylhet and Sunamganj districts in Bangladesh – low-lying regions located in the country’s northeast – have witnessed the most destruction, receiving more than 970 millimeters (38 inches) of rain in the past week. According to the Flood Forecasting and Warning Centre (FFWC), around four million people have been impacted by flash floods, and approximately 94% of Sunamganj and 84% of Sylhet are either partially or fully submerged. Electricity supply to both areas was disrupted on June 18, although power has begun to return to certain parts of the districts as of June 22. Emergency teams in Bangladesh have evacuated nearly 105,000 people to local shelters, although these facilities lack adequate resources to house the evacuees. In India’s northeast state of Assam, 5,140 villages in 32 of the 35 districts have been affected by severe flooding. According to the state disaster management authority, 1,425 relief camps have been erected in the area to house approximately 230,000 displaced residents. Transportation infrastructure in both countries has been damaged or destroyed, complicating search and rescue operations and disrupting supply of fresh water and dry goods. Operations of Sylhet’s Osmani International Airport have been temporarily suspended due to heavy rains but are expected to resume in the coming days. Floods have also significantly impacted health facilities, and many local medical centers have been converted to makeshift shelters. Water levels in the Brahmaputra River – which flows through Tibet, Bangladesh and India – continue to rise, measuring 130 millimeters (roughly 5 inches) over the danger mark, which has triggered the closure of at least 150 schools and led to the destruction of nearly 2.8 million acres of crops in India and Bangladesh. The region’s monsoon season is projected to last from June until mid-October and will likely result in additional flooding and landslides, causing further damage to regional infrastructure and delays in disaster relief efforts.