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Ethiopia Plants Record-Breaking 350 Million Trees

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Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed plants a tree in Addis Ababa. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's office

About 353 million trees were planted in a single day in Ethiopia on Monday, setting a new world record for seedling plantings, as CNN reported.


The record-setting day is part of a wider "green legacy" initiative started by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's office. The campaign wants every Ethiopian to plant 40 seedlings during the rainy season, which runs from May to October. In the end, the country will have 4 billion indigenous trees to help mitigate the effects of the global climate crisis.

Ethiopia is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather and has suffered from recurrent droughts and deforestation. According the UN figures, Ethiopia's forest coverage dropped from 35 percent a century ago to just 4 percent in the 2000s, as the Guardian reported.

While 80 percent of Ethiopia's population depends on agriculture for their livelihood, extensive farming has increased Ethiopia's vulnerability to land degradation, soil erosion and flooding, according to CNN.

Bekele Benti, a bus driver in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa who has witnessed the effects of deforestation, participated in the tree plantings.

"As a bus driver, with frequent trips across the country, I have witnessed the extent of deforestation in different parts of Ethiopia," Benti told Xinhua. "It's really frustrating to see forest-covered areas turned to be bare lands within a few years."

The Green Legacy project "is an ambitious undertaking to become a green society by planting various types of eco-friendly seedling to combat environmental degradation and, a national platform that will be used for various societal green activities," according to the prime minister's official website.

The initial plan for Monday was to plant 200 million trees, which would shatter the record for a single day planting, set in India in 2017 when 1.5 million volunteers planted 66 million trees. To facilitate the planting, many government offices were closed and civil servants were given the day off to take part in the planting, as CNN reported.

After the 12-hour period ended, the Prime Minister posted to Twitter that Ethiopia had far exceeded its goal. A total of 353,633,660 tree seedlings had been planted, the country's minster for innovation and technology, Getahun Mekuria, tweeted, as CNN reported.

Abiy took part in the planting, making appearances that included stops in Addis Ababa, Arba Minch and Wolaita Sodo. More than 400 staff from the United Nations planted trees, along with staff from the African Union, and various foreign embassies in Ethiopia, according to the BBC.

Ethiopian Airlines was one of several corporate entities to join the effort. "Environmental sustainability is one of our corporate philosophies," said the airline, which shared pictures of its executives planting trees near airplanes, according to the Africa Times.

The move to plant so many trees comes in the wake of a recent study that planting 500 billion trees could remove one-fourth of the carbon in the atmosphere, as EcoWatch reported.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.