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400,000 Children Risk Dying In Yemen Famine; U.N. Security Councill Calls For Reversal Of Myanmar's Coup; Former Brazilian President Lula Urges Vaccination As Brazil COVID Crisis Worsens; Fallout from Fukushima Disaster Still Gripping Japan; U.N. Chief: Situation in Syria Still a "Living Nightmare; China's NPC to Vote on Hong Kong Election Changes; Giving Life to the Desert; Meghan Says Palace Denied her Mental Health Support. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired March 11, 2021 - 01:00   ET



JOHN VAUSE, ANCHOR, CNN NEWSROOM: Hello, everyone, I'm John Vause. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Just ahead. The misery in Yemen. Six years of war, widespread hunger and now a maritime blockade preventing aid from reaching millions in need.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SNR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Over half the hospitals in this district are threatened with shuttering. This is one of them. They need urgent support, urgent help.

Can you imagine what it would do to this community if this facility was shut down?


VAUSE: Also ahead. Myanmar accused of using battlefield weapons and are using lethal force against unarmed protesters.

And later, a decade after the wave, Japan remembers tens of thousands of lives lost in a mega-disaster that caused destruction on an unprecedented scale.

400,000 children are at risk of dying right now in Yemen as its six- year war civil war rages on.

4000,000 according to the U.N. World Food Program.

Now a CNN investigation shows just how dire the situation is. The Biden Administration says it wants to bring an end to the war partially funded with American tax dollars but no longer backing the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iranian-backed Houthis.

U.S. backing of the war started under President Obama, escalated under Donald Trump. CNN's investigation found it's been more than two months since the

U.S-backed Saudi blockade has allowed tankers packed with fuel for food and food for starving Yemenis to dock at the crucial port of Hodeidah which is controlled by the Houthis.

Fourteen tankers scheduled to dock there are also currently being held off the Saudi coast, according to a vessel tracking app. This goes against the United Nations agreement and is making the situation on the ground desperate for innocent parents and children.

CNN's Nima Elbagir, Alvara Advadhediz (ph) and Alex Pratt takes us directly into Houthi territory in Northern Yemen to show what is really at stake.

And we want to warn you, some of those images will be tough to watch.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SNR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The derelict coastline of the coast of Yemen. Rusting hulks tell a story of war, blockade and devastation.

For years now, the Houthi-controlled north has been increasingly isolated from the outside world.

We secretly traveled through the night by boat after our previous reporting here led the government to deny us entry. On the road to Hodeidah port, we get a sense of the humanitarian disaster kept from the outside world.

Along the roadside, hundreds of stalled food supply trucks with no fuel to move. In a country in a grip of hunger, their cargo stands spoiling in the hot sun.

The port of Hodeidah is the supply gateway for the rest the country. It should be bustling with activity, but today it is eerily empty. A result of the U.S-backed Saudi blockade. The last tanker to dock here was in December.

In the echoing silence, it dawns on us. We are about to witness the terrible impact of this blockade.

Desperate patients and family members trying to get the attention of Dr. Khalid, chairman of Hodeidah's hospital.

If he signs these papers, they get some financial relief for their treatments and medicines. He doesn't get far before he is stopped again and again.

DR. KHALID AHMED SOHIL, CHAIRMAN, AL THOWRA HOSPITAL, HODEIDAH: Nima, this is the pediatric emergency.

ELBAGIR: Since the Yemen war started six year ago, families have been in financial freefall. The fuel blockade has sped that dissent into oblivion.

This is the main hospital for Hodeidah province and we're surrounded by doctors and nurses rushed off their feet.

ELBAGIR: Is this a normal day?

AHMED SOHIL: Not the busiest day.

ELBAGIR: This is not a busy day?

AHMED SOHIL: Normal day.

ELBAGIR: Wow. Dr. Khalid wants to show us some of his critical patients in the therapeutic feeding center.

A ten-year old girl whose growth has been so stunted by starvation, she can no longer stand.

Dr. Khalid says every hour of every day they are receiving more and more cases of severe malnutrition that are this advanced because the parents can't afford to feed their children. They also can't afford to bring them to the hospital to treat them.

The U.N. says pockets of Yemen are in famine-like conditions. But it says Hodeidah is not considered one of them because it doesn't meet the metrics to declare famine. But Dr. Khalid thinks the reality on the ground has outpaced the U.N.'s projections.

The Saudi fuel blockade is biting. Malnutrition numbers are spiking and, at the same time, this busy hospital is running out of the vital fuel that keeps its generators running.


Which means that babies like Merium (ph) who doctors say at two months weighs the same as a newborn, would die.

Yemen has been devastated by a civil war which has pitted Iran-backed in Salala, known as Houthis, against the internationally recognize government and a U.S-backed Saudi led coalition.

We're in Houthi territory, some of whose officials have been designated as terrorists by the U.S. for targeting neighboring Saudi Arabia.

We've been granted a rare interview with a leading Houthi official. We must meet in an undisclosed location because his aides say of the threat of assassination.

We ask him to respond to allegations they are escalating this war.

MOHAMMED ALI AL-HOUTHI, SENIOR HOUTHI OFFICIAL (Through Translator): Not true at all. The battle is continuing, it has not stopped.

ELBAGIR: Do you trust America to take forward negotiations to bring peace here in Yemen?

ALI AL-HOUTHI (Through Translator): Trust must come about decisions. So far, we've not seen any concrete decisions being made. ELBAGIR: You've spoken about being subjected as a nation to

international terror but three of the leaders within the in Salala movement are designated by the U.S. as terrorists. One of your key slogans talks about death to America.

How do you see this as pushing forward the negotiation and the possibility for peace in the future?

ALI AL-HOUTHI (Through Translator): When we say death to America, they effectively kill us with their bombs, rockets and blockades. They provide logistics and intelligence support and their actual participation in the battle.

So who is bigger and greater? The ones who are killing us or the ones who say death to them?

ELBAGIR: The Biden Administration has announced it has withdrawn support for the Saudi offensive. But it comes after six long years of war.

And for the children dying of hunger it still hasn't brought peace any quicker. Peace and help can't come soon enough.

Over half the hospitals in this district are threatened with shuttering. This is one of them, they need urgent support, urgent help.

Can you imagine what it would do to this community if this facility was shut down? Look at the chaos that there is already here, and that's while it's functioning.

For years now, the U.N. has been warning that famine is coming to Yemen. Doctors across Yemen's north tell us famine has arrived.

Another hospital witnessing wave after wave of children in the red zone, severe malnourishment, impoverished mothers desperate to keep their children alive are forced to make harrowing choices.

UNKNOWN (Through Translator): Just to get to the hospital, I stopped eating and drinking, not even water. Just to get him treated.

ELBAGIR: These doctors are keeping track of the numbers spiking beyond what they ever imagined.

The doctor was saying that in 2020, this population 23 percent of the children under five here were severely malnourished. In 2021, they think that that number is going to go over 30 percent.

There is no doubt in his mind, he says, that they -- here in Hodeidah -- are in famine.

Nearly three years ago, the U.S. Security Council condemned the use of starvation as a method of warfare demanding access to supplies that are necessary for food preparation including water and fuel be kept intact here and in other conflicts. That clearly hasn't happened.

What's more, the world has stopped caring.

The U.N. needs almost four billion dollars to staunch this crisis. They received less than half that from donors.

Numbers don't lie. But numbers also don't reflect the full tragedy.

This is Hassan Hali (ph). Ten months and struggling to breathe, he came to the hospital six days ago. He keeps losing weight even with the critical care he's receiving.

Hours after we left, Hassan Hali died. One more child in Yemen that represents so much more pain.

The doctors here are desperate for the world to see and to help.

ELBAGIR [(Voice Over): Nima Elbagir. CNN, Hodeidah, Yemen.


VAUSE: CNN has reached out to Saudi Arabia for comment, but has yet to receive a reply.

Mark Lowcock is the U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs. Mark, thanks for coming back for another hour. Appreciate it.

So right now, the pressure seems to be on the Houthis to put down their weapons, start negotiations.

I want you to listen to state department spokesman, Ned Price.


NED PRICE, SPOKESMAN, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE: The Houthis in our view and in the view of our allies and partners, have to demonstrate their willingness to engage in a political process.

They need to quite simply stop attacking and start negotiating. And only then will we be able to make progress towards the political settlement that we're after.



VAUSE: At the same time, the Saudi ambassador to Washington has publicly declared the Kingdom's willingness to find a political resolution to this.

So right now, is all this essentially on the Houthis, they control what, 75 percent of the country? To them they may be closer to victory than ever before.

MARK LOWCOCK, UNDER SECRETARY GENERAL FOR HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS, OCHA: Well, I don't think there is a military victory for anybody here. The war has wrought untold misery and loss of life and starvation across the millions of people of Yemen in all parts of the country, whoever's in control of any part of the country.

The only way out is through a peaceful resolution and a formation of a government where all Yemenis have a stake in the future.

And the Biden Administration's policy to focus more on the humanitarian crisis and a diplomatic solution provides the best chance I've seen for years to get out of this morass.

VAUSE: We have the Biden Administration making some positive moves but the Houthis, the rebels rather, are backed by Iran.

So what responsibility is Teheran playing in all this and trying to bring an end to the conflict, and quickly, given how many lives are at risk right now?

LOWCOCK: Well, the main responsibility is with the Yemeni parties, all the tribes and clans, the government side, the Houthi side as well.

External actors -- Saudi Arabia, Iran, others in the region, the U.S., the U.K., the wider world -- can bring pressure to bear on the Yemeni parties and get them to think about the future of their children and the civilians of their country and finally end this horrific war. And it's up to them to do that.

VAUSE: Very quickly. The U.N. asked for 4 billion dollars to help the Yemeni people avoid starvation and for all these kids to actually live and not starve to death. They came up short of that, less than half.

Is there just fatigue right now around the world for this kind of stuff, especially with the pandemic happening?

LOWCOCK: Well, we raised 1.7 billion dollars, which I think is best seen as a down payment on what needs to happen.

I think but for the ongoing fighting in and around Ma'rib in Northern Yemen where there's this assault by the Houthis on government-held areas, we would probably have raised more money.

And the message to all the Yemeni parties is the world does want to help your country but you need to take your responsibility as well. And the first thing you need to do is put the guns down and get round a table and start talking.

VAUSE: Yes. Your lips to God's ear. We'll see. Mark, thank you. Mark Lowcock there, U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs.

LOWCOCK: Thank you.

VAUSE: The U.N. Security Council calling for a reversal of Myanmar's coup condemning the escalating violence against protesters.

The condemnation came in a presidential statement one step below a resolution and the wording was watered down by Russia and China and others. The original draft condemned the military coup directly and threatened further action if the violence continues to escalate.

Nonetheless, this is the strongest statement yet from the U.N. about Myanmar.

Meantime, Amnesty International alleges conflict-hardened troops in Myanmar have been armed with battlefield weapons and are using lethal tactics to carry out a killing spree on unarmed protesters.

The allegations are in a new report which says visual proof of systematic and premeditated killings was found by analyzing 55 video clips recorded by the public as well as local media.

CNN's senior international correspondent, Ivan Watson, live in Hong Kong for more.

Yes. The use of lethal force by the security forces in Myanmar on protesters, it's been on display in public for weeks now. You can just watch the news.

But the allegations by Amnesty seemed to raise the bar in the type of weapons, the tactics. So what are the implications here?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SNR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the question is could an Amnesty International report really effect change in the behavior of the Myanmar security forces? I think the pattern we've seen says no.

This isn't the first time that a human rights organization has condemned the security forces in Myanmar for abuses. In fact, Amnesty points out there are specific brigades and divisions within the Myanmar military that they have accused of human rights abuses in the past fighting the ethnic militias in border areas of the country.

And now Amnesty is saying some of those same military divisions are in the cities using the weapons that they used in the mountains and in the jungles and against the Rohingya for example against peaceful demonstrators and bystanders in the cities.

The interesting perspective here as Amnesty and all our reporting shows what appears to be -- and the United Nations for that matter using very undiplomatic language basically accusing outright the security forces of being behind the killings of at least 67 people in recent weeks in Myanmar.

The Myanmar military regime has not issued a clear cut denial that this is taking place. It has kind of said well, hey our police use soft approaches to rioters and non-lethal methods.


But they haven't really said anything thus far about the army units, the military units, that are working hand in glove with the police and are being filmed firing their assault rifles down streets in the direction of the demonstrators out on the streets. John.

VAUSE: This report from Amnesty seems to be in stark contrast to what we're getting out of the Security Council which did call for the military to show utmost restraint in dealing with the protesters. And that clearly is not the case.

But that watered down version of the presidential statement which came out of the Security Council, that is something which the generals in Myanmar will be very pleased with.

WATSON: I don't totally agree with that.


WATSON: This was criticism, it was directed at the military coup and I would argue the military junta seems to have lost the United Nations Security Council which often disagrees on almost everything.

And here you have China stepping forward, the Chinese ambassador to the U.N. saying now it's the time for de-escalation, it's the time for diplomacy, it's time for dialog whereas just a couple days ago Beijing's position was well, this is Myanmar's internal affairs.

You have the statement with unanimous support coming from the U.N. Security Council reiterating, repeating a recall for Aung San Suu Kyi and the president to be released from detention. We haven't heard from them since the coup on February first.

And condemning violence against peaceful protesters including against women, youth and children and calling for the military to exercise utmost restraint.

So if I was a general right now in Naypyidaw I would be concerned at the fact that in capitals where governments have typically not wanted to interfere, those governments -- China, Russia, Vietnam -- while watering down some of the language are also clearly sending a message to the military.

And China has reason to be concerned about the potential for civil war breaking out on its border.

VAUSE: One last point on that though. They did take the wording out which condemned the coup directly and the wording that there would be further action --


VAUSE: -- it just continues to escalate -- was also removed. So I guess both could be true at the same time. There could also be this concern about maybe the international community getting its act together on Myanmar. But I guess we'll see on that one.

Ivan, thank you. Appreciate the discussion and the insight.

Well, a year since an outbreak became a pandemic. And while some countries are now seeing improvements in the coronavirus outbreak, Brazil is worse off than ever.

We'll look at what's behind the surge. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: The coronavirus variant first found in the U.K. appears to be a much higher death rate than previous strains.


A new study city has found those infected with the B117 variant are about 64 percent more likely to die than those with other forms of the virus. Experts say it is a bigger threat because it also appears to be more contagious.

Meantime, the variant first found in Brazil is spreading quickly around the country, and it's being blamed for a massive spike in the number of deaths and infections as well as an increase in hospital admissions.


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Matt Rivers in Mexico City.

Further south in Brazil, that countries pandemic is arguably in the worst days since all of this began.

It was on Wednesday that Brazilian health officials announced a new daily record for coronavirus-related deaths, nearly 2,300 deaths reported on Wednesday.

That number topped the previous record which had just been set on Tuesday of this week.

And there's no sign that things are going to get better, really anytime soon.

ICU occupancy rates in the country's federal district as well as 22 of its 26 states are at least 80 percent or higher.


VAUSE: Brazil's former president says this health crisis, the rising death toll, infections spiraling out of control and imminent collapse of the public health system can be blamed on the current leader.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva says Jair Bolsonaro has failed to deal the pandemic. And says everything he says from point should just be ignored.

The warning came days after a judge annulled Lula's corruption convictions from 2017, effectively clearing the way for a political comeback.

He hasn't confirmed whether he will challenge Bolsonaro next year but he did attack the current president for frequently downplaying the threat of the virus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LUIZ INACIO LULA DA SILVA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF Brazil (Through Translator): There was a president who invented a chloroquine, a president who said those who are scared of COVID are sissies. That COVID was just a little flu, that COVID was something for cowards.

That he was a former athlete, and that it would not affect him.

That is not the role of a president of the republic in a civilized country.

I want to make propaganda so that the Brazilian people do not follow any imbecile decisions by the president of the republic or the health minister.

Get vaccinated. Get vaccinated because it is one of the things that can free us from COVID.


VAUSE: Dr. Peter Hotez is a professor and the dean of tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

He is with us from Houston, Texas.

It's good to see you again, Dr. Hotez.


VAUSE: We're at this one-year mark now. So the big picture, what has been the most striking lesson you think we've learned from this pandemic?

HOTEZ: From my perspective, certainly in the United States anyway and a few other countries is how so many of the deaths were not only due to the virus, the SARS coronavirus type 2, but how it was so -- how so many people died from what I call anti-science.

Meaning that so many individuals which were defiant of masks and social distancing and now defiant of vaccines and this is a major contributory factor. So it was a combination of death by virus and death by anti-science.

VAUSE: So with that in mind, apart from our own collective stupidity, it seems one of the biggest threats, immediate threats from the virus are the mutations.

There's a B.1.1.7 which is A/K/A the U.K. variant, which has now been found to be a lot more deadly than first thought. There's the B157, A/K/A the New York variant, which is more infectious than earlier assessments.

And then, of course, there's the P.1, the Brazil variant spreading rapidly across Brazil and now with the risk of spreading around the world.

Out of all of those, would the Brazil variant be the biggest risk?

HOTEZ: Well, it depends on where you are. Certainly, in Latin America right now, I'm extremely concerned about the Brazil variant.

But in the United States right now, it looks like the B117 variant is gaining ascendancy rapidly. And now we're seeing in states like Florida, California and Georgia maybe up to half the variants are the B117 variant from the U.K.

So just like in Southern England when we first heard about this in September and how it became dominant roaring across England and by December we're we seeing the same thing in the United States.

So I'm anticipating now a steep rise in the number of cases in there.

And then again, in the African Continent, which overall has done better than many would've expected across 2020, I'm worried that's going to come to an end as the B1351 variant from South Africa goes into Mozambique and Malawi and Zimbabwe.

And that could be of even greater catastrophic proportion than anything we've seen so far.

VAUSE: Amidst all of this, developing a vaccine in record time was one of the highlights of 2020, it was an incredible achievement.

The downside is there just wasn't really a system put in place to distribute that around the world so every country for themselves. And that brings some long term implications.

HOTEZ: Yes. And that happened for a few reasons. First of all, the global policy makers working with the companies relied very heavily on innovation. And as a scientist, I'm all for innovation.


But when you have a brand-new technology, when you're first out of the starting gate, it's very difficult to scale that up rapidly and produce lots of doses. And sometimes you have to use unusual storage conditions..

And we saw with the mRNA vaccines that deep freezer requirement for the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine.

We are able to work around this in the United States and Europe but for the low and middle-income countries, we're suddenly now facing a potentially very dire situation where we don't have vaccines for Africa and Latin America, given the fact that we went so heavy on the new and innovative technologies.

There was not enough balance to bring in the old-fashioned, durable, sturdy, simpler vaccines and that's really what worries me as well especially for Africa and Latin America.

So we're trying to fill that gap right now. VAUSE: And just as we wrap up here, Peter. Tell me, is there one

reason out there you cling to that gives you optimism and hope for the future, one factor, all of this that we've learned about ourselves, about the virus?

HOTEZ: Yes. The one factor that really does give me hope is that this COVID-19 virus, the SARS-coronavirus type 2, ultimately is a relatively soft target.

We showed over the last decade if you induce high levels of virus- neutralizing antibody to the spike protein, you'll get protection. And these lots of ways to do that.

So I think we're going to have lots of vaccines coming out and we will be able to conquer this virus, even with the variants.

And it did happen in record time and, fortunately, this virus was soft prey. Or as Carl Zimmer, the science writer, says "clumsy prey."

VAUSE: Dr. Peter Hotez, thank you so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

HOTEZ: Thank you.

VAUSE: U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to sign his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package into law on Friday. The U.S. House approved the plan without a single Republican vote on Wednesday.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development now predicting it will help boost U.S. growth to a rate of six and-a-half percent this year.

Among the key features; $1,400 stimulus payments for many Americans, expanded unemployment benefits, child tax credits and there will also be funding for vaccine distribution.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This bill represents a historic victory for the American people. And I look forward to signing it later this week.

Everything in the America Resource Plan addresses a real need, including investments to fund our entire vaccination effort.


VAUSE: Still to come here. Japan holding a day of remembrance. Ten years since the devastating tsunami and a nuclear meltdown and a powerful earthquake.

For many, the pain is still fresh.


[01:30:25] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Just moments ago, a moment of silence in Tokyo. Part of a memorial service honoring some 20,000 victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

It's been 10 years since the biggest earthquake in Japan's history triggered a catastrophic tsunami, setting off a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima power plant. Parts of an area around Fukushima are still uninhabitable today.

CNN's Blake Essig is following the memorial events from Tokyo. He is with us now live. You know, it seems like this was yesterday because so many people I can only imagine for those who lived through this, it's been a blink of an eye.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, 10 years really does fly by and these ceremonies typically thousands of people will be in attendance but only a couple of hundred specifically at the memorial service here in Tokyo that is still ongoing right now.

Emperor Naruhito, Prime Minister Suga gave speeches honoring the victims, the recovery effort and really calling for unity as they move forward with the recovery effort, recognizing that there are still a long way to go.

And there is a tendency, John, to look at this 10-year mark as a completion point and Japan has done a good job when it comes to infrastructure. They spent about $368 billion -- physical buildings, homes, help victims but when you talk about the victims, the impact, the emotional scars of these survivors, 10 years is a very, very short time.


ESSIG (voice over): At 65 years old, Shigeko and Tenji Kobayashi (ph) spend most of their day in the garden, a peaceful and beautiful space surrounded by life.

SHIGEKO KOBAYASHI, FORMER FUTABA RESIDENT (through translator): I wake up in the morning, and have to remove weeds, cut them and water them. I can spend my whole day like that.

ESSIG: For the Kobayashis, gardening offers a chance to heal after surviving one of the worst natural disasters the world has ever seen.

In 2011, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake off Japan's northeast coast triggered a tsunami with waves reaching nearly 40 meters in some spots. About 22,000 people died or are still missing.

It crippled the Fukushima-Daichi nuclear power station, the damage has been estimated at $300 billion and left hundreds of thousands of people without a home.

KOBAYASHI: I kept wondering, why on earth things have become like this.

ESSIG: That includes the Kobayashis, who were living in Futaba just a few kilometers from the nuclear plant.

KOBAYASHI: My husband was involved in the designing the nuclear plant. So when there was an explosion he thought this was bad and knew that we cannot go back for a long time.

ESSIG (on camera): About 1,400 Futaba residents, nearly a fifth of the entire town's population were evacuated to this former high school in Kazo City, Saitama. They spent roughly three years living in a classroom just like, nearly 200 kilometers away from Fukushima prefecture and the homes that they were forced to evacuate.

(voice over): This monument, inscribed with the word "hope" forever marks the evacuation site.

The experience for Kenichi Kurosawa who still lives in Ishinomaki was very different. Unlike residents in Futaba affected by the nuclear disaster, Kurosawa almost died when a three-meter wall of water nearly swept him away.

He showed CNN how he survived.

KENICHI KUROSAWA, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR (through translator): I remember seeing people who would climb up trees like me being swept away, there were people in cars gripping the steering wheel being swept away.

ESSIG: Kurosawa says he lost everything that day except for his life.

A decade later, the struggle to rebuild continues.

KUROSAWA: It's like my old self died and I tried to restore it. But it's not possible. I do feel like I'm living a totally different life.

ESSIG (on camera): Loss that Liz Maly, an expert in post-disaster and community recovery, says can't be quantified.

LIZ MALY, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, TOHOKU UNIVERSITY: This disaster is not over after the 10-year anniversary and that -- this area and these communities and these people still need support, investment and attention.

ESSIG (voice over): While many like Kurosawa have rebuilt homes elsewhere, the Kobayashis and tens of thousands more remain displaced, unlikely to ever return home.


ESSIG: For Shigeko, it took time to accept her new life in quiet Kazo City. And when she thinks about the future?

KOBAYASHI: Recovery Olympics?

ESSIG: She gets frustrated that the world will see a different version of Futaba, as the Olympic torch passes through the town her family was forced to leave.

KOBAYASHI: People may think Futaba is much restored, but if you travel a little further there are many places abandoned and ruined that people will see no picture of them.

ESSIG: And they won't see the reality of a still contaminated coastline, an ecological and human disaster that experts say will remain long beyond her lifetime.


ESSIG: Well, one of the ongoing issues right now at the Fukushima- Daichi power plant has to do with the water being used to cool the reactors. There's about 1.2 million tons of water that are being stored in 1,000 tanks. Those tanks are expected to be completely filled by next year.

The government has proposed to dump that water, which they say is safe after being untreated, into the ocean. Now, as you might expect, the fishermen in the area and a lot of people across Japan don't like that idea, saying that the optics of dumping contaminated water into the ocean, even if it is safe like the Japanese government says it is, will essentially be damaging to the livelihood of those fishermen in the area, John.

VAUSE: Yes, except the nuclear -- (INAUDIBLE) stay there if it is in fact contaminated.

Blake, thank you. Blake Essig there in Tokyo.

Well, it's been 10 years since the start of Syria's civil war, a living nightmare to this day, according to the U.N. About half of Syria's children have not lived a day without war. 60 percent of the entire population is at risk of hunger.

The U.N. Secretary General is calling for more humanitarian access. and says while Syria has fallen from the front pages, the situation remains dire.


ANTONIO GUTERRES, U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL: For 10 years, the world has watched Syria spiraling to destruction and bloodshed. In that time, Syrians have been subjected to human rights violations on a massive and systematic scale. The parties to the conflict have also repeatedly violated international humanitarian law, so far with absolute impunity.


VAUSE: It was March of 2011 when the government of President Bashar al-Assad carried out a deadly crackdown on pro democracy protesters that then evolved to a full blown civil war.

And since then, hundreds of thousands of people have died. Millions have been internally displaced and millions more have fled the country and are living in refugee camps to this day.

Well, the first high-level talks between Chinese and U.S. officials in the Biden administration is set for next week. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet with his Beijing counterpart Wang Yi in Alaska.

Talks are expected to focus on China's rollbacks of democratic freedoms in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang and its pressure on Taiwan as well as economic practices around the world. The Biden administration is also planning to review a Trump policy towards Beijing.

China's National Peoples Congress is hours away from voting on changes to Hong Kong's electoral system. That's raising a lot of concern that any opposition in the city will be completely silenced.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong with an update.

And you know, this is all part of that national security law, being a patriot and loving Hong Kong and loving China. And if you don't love it -- and Beijing will decide what love is, right -- you're in trouble.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is all about patriotism and that is what this law is about. We're waiting for the National Peoples Congress momentarily in the next 30 minutes or so to rubberstamp this new electoral reform legislation that will reduce democratic representation in the territory while vetting candidates for that quality of patriotism.

Under this new electoral reform plan, we know that the usually pro- Beijing election committee will be expanded and that the committee will not only select the chief executive or top leader of Hong Kong but will select members of the legislature as well.

We've been talking to pro-democracy activists with their thoughts about this electoral reform plan. And this is what we heard from veteran pro-democracy activist Lee Cheuk Yan. We will bring up the statement for you.

He tells CNN this. Quote, "It is a total regression and is a total betrayal of the basic law promise of gradual improvement towards democracy. Therefore, it is a backward development," unquote.

Now this comes at a time that increasing Chinese control here in the territory -- remember it was at the Nationals Peoples Congress last year when the NPC passed the national security legislation.

Weeks later, it was imposed on the territory, criminalizing secession, subversion, terrorism, including with foreign forces. These are major crimes here punishable with up to life in prison.

Recently, there's a reporting on the 47 pro-democracy activists who have been charged with subversion. This is the single biggest crackdown since the national security law was imposed.


STOUT: And it was earlier this week when I spoke to the deputy commissioner, China's ministry of foreign affairs here in Hong Kong, a senior mainland Chinese official based here in the territory, and he said that this electoral reform plan will improve the system. It will reinforce Hong Kong's standing as an international financial hub. And he also had this message for the international community.


SONG RU'AN, MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS OF CHINA IN HONG KONG: Hong Kong is part of China. And its electoral system is part of China's local electoral systems. It is surely China's internal affair as to how to design, develop, and improve the system and no external force shall interfere.


STOUT: After his prepared remarks, the deputy commissioner opened it up to Q&A and I ask him a question. A very simple one that you and I have been wondering about. What does it mean to be a patriot?

And his response was very simple, anyone who only loves Hong Kong and not the country is not a patriot, John.

VAUSE: You know, this does go back to the 1984 joint declaration from the handover from Britain to Beijing for Hong Kong. And guarantees and promises were made that the unique nature of Hong Kong would remain the same at least until 2047 for 50 years. And that included, you know, a good degree of autonomy for the executive, the legislator, as well as an independent judiciary.

None of that is being held up to here and I guess no one really cares in Beijing, do they?

STOUT: No. In fact, when the issue was brought up during that briefing that took place earlier this week, the senior Chinese official would say it was the Chinese Communist Party that came up with One Country Two Systems. It was the Chinese Communist Party that allows universal suffrage to remain in the basic law as an eventual goal.

But the reality is this. The dream of democracy for now has been dashed. Voices of opposition have been silenced because opposition lawmakers and activists have either been disqualified, arrested, or they have been fled -- living in exile.

And it is very rare to see any outburst or protest expressing opposition. There were rare flashes of demonstrations last week during the bail hearings for the 47 pro-democracy activists but a very rare sight during this time of increasing Chinese control, John.

VAUSE: Yes. It is one of those things which is difficult to watch from a distance. Imagine just sitting there and being there while this is happening. Kristie, thank you.

Kristie Lu Stout there in Hong Kong.

Well, coming up, a pan-African project to stop the spread of the Sahara Desert.


VAUSE: And now "Call to Earth" where today's story looks at desertification. 40 percent of the land on this planet is at risk of desertification and it's only getting worse. According to the U.N. by 2030 around 15 million people may have to leave their homes if this trend is not reversed.

That's why Rolex Award laureate Sarah Toumi is drawing a line in the sand.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Sahara desert -- remote, romantic. It's also a threat.

SARAH TOUMI, FOUNDER, ACACIAS FOR ALL: What they love about the desert is that it is very peaceful, but in the same time it's very scary because when the desert enters the house of people, pushing them to leave, because they have no more livelihoods in their communities. It is scaring me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Desertification is a process which transforms once arable lands into a barren environment. It is something that Sarah Toumi witnessed firsthand.

TOUMI: My grandparents, they were growing olives and olive trees, they were growing beautiful gardens (INAUDIBLE) and other crops. Now let's say 25 years after, they don't grow anymore of their food. They have to buy their food from the shops. And I think it's very sad.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Desertification can be reversed. Tomi's project Acacias for All has cultivated almost 700,000 deep-rooted trees in the region improving soil structure, and allowing for other trees and crops to be planted nearby.

TOUMI: It is very easy to plant a tree. It is not easy to grow a tree. And that's what I learned in Tunisia from just planting acacia trees, into growing (INAUDIBLE) ecological ecosystems with communities, creating value change that sustains the ecosystem.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Toumi impact in Tunisia led her to want to do more. She has been invited to join a program of epic proportions.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Great Green Wall is a patchwork of restored lands across the entire continent. Expected to stretch 8,000 kilometers by 2030 covering 100 million hectares of land across 11 countries. The aim is to create a natural shield against desertification.

BARBUT: Up to now the Great Green Wall initiative, has filled up about 18 percent of the objective. Yes, you have another 80 percent to go. I am optimistic, it is a question of making sure that that part of

Africa gets the attention it deserves.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Great Green Wall has the goal of creating up to 10 million new jobs, securing people's income as part of the strategy.

TOUMI: They need to eat, they need to improve their livelihoods. Then they will think about their ecosystem.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In January 2021, the initiative received a boost of $14 million in funding. Toumi is advising how that money is best allocated on the ground.

BARBUT: Sarah Toumi has a tremendous experience in Tunisia working with grassroots organizations. She perfectly understands what the need are, but also which are needed to make the project come to reality.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For Toumi desertification is a threat that affects us all, and the work is urgent.

TOUMI: If we don't do it now, we will never have the opportunity to do it again. We are all on the same planet, we are all concerned by the same problems, because when during the summer in Paris (ph) we have temperatures like 40 degrees, or we have sand of Sahara that is covering the ice. We see concretely directly the impact that desertification can have on all of us.


VAUSE: We will continue to showcase stories like that as part of the initiative here at CNN. Let us know what you're doing to answer the call with the #CallToEarth.

Back in a moment.



VAUSE: Two major revelations from the Oprah Winfrey Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. That was an accusation of racism within the Royal House of Windsor. The other had to do with mental health and thoughts of suicide while Meghan was pregnant with her son.

CNN's Max Foster has the fall out on that last issue about mental health.


MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a crisis the royal family is attempting to handle privately. But the fallout from Meghan's interview with Oprah is exploding publicly.

One deeply personal issue raised in the interview -- mental health.

MEGHAN MARKLE, DUCHESS OF SUSSEX: I just didn't want to be alive anymore.

FOSTER: CNN has learned the Duchess of Sussex filed a formal complaint with British broadcaster ITV, following Piers Morgan's on-air comments. Concerned about the impacts his words can have on others.

MARKLE: I went to the institution. And I said that I needed to go somewhere to get help. I said that I've never felt this way before and I need to go somewhere.

I was told that I couldn't. That it wouldn't be good for the institution.

PIERS MORGAN, TV HOST: Ok, let's have the names? Who did you go to? What did they say to you? I'm sorry, I don't believe a word she says, Megan Markle.

FOSTER: Piers Morgan stormed off the set of "Good Morning Britain" on Tuesday, amid heated discussions about Meghan.

MORGAN: I'm done with this. Sorry.

FOSTER: And he later resigned from the show altogether. His comments generating more than 41,000 complaints from viewers. Morgan doubled down on his criticism of the duchess, speaking to reporters outside his home.

MORGAN: If people want to believe Meghan Markle that's entirely their right. I don't believe almost anything that comes out of her mouth.

FOSTER: Tonight, the British royal family is working to contain the impact of the interview. Buckingham Palace released a brief statement on behalf of the Queen the critics say didn't go far enough.

The Queen calling the allegations of racism concerning, but not forcefully condemning the issue. At least one British tabloid, taking note of the Queen's assertion, that some recollections may vary.

As the palace tries to handle the fallout privately, what remains in plain view are the striking similarities between the hardships Meghan experienced and those of Harry's late mother, Princess Diana.

DIANA SPENCER, PRINCESS OF WALES: I was actually crying out, I wanted to get better in order to go forward and continue my duty and my role as wife, mother, Princess of Wales.

So yes, I did inflict upon myself. I didn't like myself. I was ashamed that it couldn't cope with the pressures.

MARKLE: It takes so much courage to admit that you need help. It takes so much courage to voice that. As I said I was ashamed, I was supposed to be stronger than that. I don't want to put more on my husband's shoulders. He's carrying the weight of the world. I don't want to bring that to him. I bring solutions.

FOSTER: Max Foster, CNN -- Windsor, England.


VAUSE: And CNN's Anna Stewart is live from Windsor yet again, the estate's (INAUDIBLE).

Ok. What is also interesting is that we also heard these claims of racism within the House of Windsor, but now the allegations that Meghan made about the press in the U.K. and that, you know, the tone of her coverage and the underlying racism and colonialism that came with it. And that's actually prompted maybe some soul searching from within the U.K. media.

We've had this letter from The Society of Editors (ph) What more do we know? Are you going to blow away or are you ok?

ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER: You know what John, first of all, I think I might blow away like Mary Poppins. I'm going to remove this umbrella and I will just stand in the rain with you for a little bit longer.

VAUSE: Thank you.

STEWART: But yes, this interview has really sort of galvanized the nation. It is forcing people to have some really uncomfortable conversations.

Piers Morgan wasn't the only resignation. On Monday, The Society of Editors released a statement, now this is a body that represents U.K. media and they said the U.K. media is not bigoted. They described the interview as an attack on the press.

Now, not everyone of course agrees with that, in fact 250 journalists of color wrote a petition saying that they completely disagree with that statement, and this is really an opportunity for people to take home the debate.


STEWART: Now, on Wednesday, the Society tried to walk their initial statement back. They said that they are very proud of their history of campaigning for freedom of speech.

They went on to say that the statement on Meghan and Harry was made in that spirit but it didn't reflect what we all know. That there's a lot of work to be done in the media to improve diversity and inclusion. Was it enough? No. Not nearly enough. Hours later, the executive director (INAUDIBLE) had to resign.

There is a lack of representation in newsrooms. We know this. We also know from a CNN poll last summer, that black people in the U.K. are twice as likely as white people to say that there is discrimination in the media.

So we had Piers Morgan resigning after what he said about mental health, not believing what Meghan had said. The damage that has done.

And then we had this. People in the U.K. are finally having some very difficult conversations, and it is having an impact. VAUSE: Ok. So with that in mind, when they say there's still work to

be done within the media, I mean in this sort of attempt to walk this back a little bit. They don't actually spell out what they plan on doing do they?

STEWART: No they don't. Not in that statement. But I think from the letter of those 250 journalists of color who say there is more to be done, there is a lot to be said for diversity in newsrooms.

A 2016 report by the Reuters Institute of Journalism showed that only 6 percent of newsroom include people who are not white. That is against 13 percent of the U.K. population. There is simply not enough representation. Also not enough understanding about unconscious bias.

People have been eager to point out whether or not headlines to do with Meghan and Harry were overtly racist. That isn't only the only problem. Clearly it is the unconscious bias that is going on behind many of the articles, as well as the fact that there is just not enough representation in the newsrooms anyway, John.

VAUSE: Anna very quickly -- we're almost out of time. What is the update on Prince Philip? How is his health?

STEWART: Yes. It is rather concerning. Prince Philip is still in hospital it has been over three weeks. Now over a week ago he had a procedure for a heart condition. He was moved back to a small private hospital.

We were told he'd be there for a number of days. Those days are stretching on and this is concerning to anyone who's been over three weeks in the hospital. Prince Philip is 99 years old. This is a big concern for the Queen, of course, who is dealing with her day-to-day job but also this massive royal rift.

VAUSE: Yes. The timing is not great, but I guess we wish him well.

Anna, thank you for braving the rain. Thank you for being with us this early.


STEWART: Lovely to chat with you, John.

VAUSE: Stay warm.

I'm John Vause. Please stay with us. We are just getting started. I'll be back with another hour of CNN NEWSROOM, just after the break.