5 important stories worth your time right now

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Women walk at the Bakassi camp for internally displaced people in Maiduguri, Nigeria, in November. Photo by Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters

Women walk at the Bakassi camp for internally displaced people in Maiduguri, Nigeria, in November. Photo by Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters

During Week One of Donald Trump’s presidency, there was a dizzying array of executive actions: 14 to be exact, enough to break President Barack Obama’s record of 13 in his first week in office.

Faster than you could say “alternative facts,” there were emergency rallies against a couple of the president’s directives, including those centered around several airports this weekend in protest of Trump’s immigration ban.

As we work to clear the fog and learn more about the implications of these presidential actions, there were a spate of stories last week that got lost in the shuffle and deserve a second look.

1. Severe malnutrition in northern Nigeria worsens, as children under five almost entirely disappear

Hadiza Mohammad, 40, lies with her 4-year-old child who's being treated for severe malnutrition at an MSF clinic in Maiduguri. Hadiza fled from her village of Gowza due to Boko Haram violence. Photo by Danielle Villasana

Hadiza Mohammad, 40, lies with her 4-year-old child who’s being treated for severe malnutrition at an MSF clinic in Maiduguri. Hadiza fled from her village of Gowza due to Boko Haram violence. Photo by Danielle Villasana

For months, aid groups have warned of a coming famine in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state, where government forces have been fighting Boko Haram’s years-long insurgency.

In June, the Nigerian government declared a “nutritional emergency” in the region, as a lack of access to food gave way to severe malnutrition rates.

The hunger crisis is so widespread that Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières, reported that malnutrition appears to have killed an entire age group, children under five.

Why it’s important

Seven-month-old Aisha receives an IV at an MSF clinic in Maiduguri that treats children suffering from severe malnutrition. Photo by Danielle Villasana

Seven-month-old Aisha receives an IV at an MSF clinic in Maiduguri that treats children suffering from severe malnutrition. Photo by Danielle Villasana

In November, Doctors Without Borders wrote that they normally saw “small children buzzing around the camps that get set up for internally displaced persons.”

Now, they’re seldom seen, the organization said.

“We saw only older brothers and sisters. No toddlers straddling their big sisters’ hips. No babies strapped to their mothers’ backs. It was as if they had vanished,” they wrote.

Boko Haram has displaced more than two million Nigerians since 2014, according to late 2016 figures from the United Nation’s Children’s Fund.

[Watch Video]

There’s a larger and more far-reaching menace than Boko Haram in parts of Nigeria: Aid groups are warning of a coming famine. John Yang talks to Kevin Sieff of The Washington Post.

The militants’ presence has made it difficult for aid groups to reach these affected areas, but so has the Nigerian government, aid agencies have said. Months after the government declared a “nutritional emergency,” President Muhammadu Buhari accused aid groups, including Doctors Without Borders, of making “hyperbolic claims” that “draw donor support.”

“The hype, especially that which suggests that the government is doing nothing is, therefore, uncharitable and unnecessary,” Buhari said in December.

Dr. Natalie Roberts, an emergency operations manager for Doctors Without Borders, said “bureaucratic obstruction” has slowed agencies’ movement into areas hit hardest by malnutrition.

“It’s an embarrassment to a big state like Nigeria to admit it has malnutrition,” she told The New York Times. “They don’t particularly enjoy outside interference,” she added.

2. Woman whose claims led to the lynching of Emmett Till admits her testimony was false

A plaque marks the gravesite of Emmett Till at Burr Oak Cemetery in Aslip, Illinois. Photo taken in 2005. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

A plaque marks the gravesite of Emmett Till at Burr Oak Cemetery in Aslip, Illinois. Photo taken in 2005. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

In 1955, Carolyn Bryant Donham accused 14-year-old Emmett Till, an African-American boy, of making physical and verbal advances on her. Days later, he was murdered by two white men in Mississippi.

Till’s death is often cited as a catalyst for the next chapter in the civil rights movement. Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley, Emmett’s mother, wanted his corpse photographed in an open casket.

Turns out, according to his accuser, the allegations against Till are false.

“That part’s not true,” Donham told historian Timothy B. Tyson during a 2008 interview as part of the new book, “The Blood of Emmett Till.” Tyson also told the Times that Donham said she couldn’t exactly remember what happened.

Why it’s important

The two white men accused of lynching Emmett were acquitted by an all-white male jury in 1955. And because double jeopardy meant they couldn’t be retried, the men admitted to killing Till in “Look” magazine the following year.

The Justice Department reopened the case in 2004. Emmett’s body was exhumed for a new autopsy. But in 2007, a Mississippi grand jury failed to bring any new charges, against Donham or any others in the case, citing insufficient evidence.

The current location of Donham, now 82, is kept secret by her family, Variety reported.

The Times spoke with Wheeler Parker, one of Emmett’s cousins, who said, “I was hoping that one day she would admit it, so it matters to me that she did, and it gives me some satisfaction.”

“It’s important to people understanding how the word of a white person against a black person was law, and a lot of black people lost their lives because of it,” the 77-year-old said. “It really speaks to history, it shows what black people went through in those days.”

3. Reinstating and expanding the “Mexico City policy”

President Donald Trump holds up the executive order on the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy after signing in the Oval Office of the White House in Washingtob, D.C., on  Jan. 23, 2017. At his side is White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President Donald Trump holds up the executive order on the reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy after signing in the Oval Office of the White House in Washingtob, D.C., on Jan. 23, 2017. At his side is White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Trump’s executive order to temporarily ban refugees from entering the U.S. — and the protests that have followed — has gotten most of the media’s recent attention.

But Trump also signed a number of other executive orders last week. One of them: A reinstatement of the “Mexico City policy,” also known as the global gag rule, which prohibits all health organizations that receive federal funding overseas from performing or suggesting abortion as a method of family planning.

Why it’s important

The fight over this policy isn’t new. Since President Ronald Reagan first created the rule in 1984, Republicans have upheld the ban, and Democrats, when in the Oval Office, have rescinded it. (President Barack Obama withdrew the policy early in his first term in 2009).

Funding for abortion overseas was banned in 1973, except for cases of incest, rape or threat to a mother’s life. In the past, the gag rule has applied only to family planning funding, around $600 million, which means groups that performed abortions overseas could still receive U.S. dollars for other services, like providing contraception.

Trump’s executive order not only reinstates the policy. It also expands it, the New York Times says.

Trump’s new actions would apply the policy to “global health assistance furnished by all departments or agencies,” the Times says, which means it would apply to all international health funding, used to fight things like Zika, HIV and other threats to global health.

Anti-abortion advocates praised the decision, saying Trump was making good on the promises about abortion funding he made on the campaign trail.

“We applaud President Trump for putting an end to taxpayer funding of groups that promote the killing of unborn children in developing nations,” Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said in a statement.

Abortion rights activists are calling the order “catastrophic.” Marie Stopes International, an NGO that provides abortion and contraceptive services worldwide, told CNN the new rule would prevent them from reaching 1.5 million women with contraception every year.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, said the order would lead to the closure of clinics around the world.

And the Center for Reproductive Rights said it could actually lead to increases in unsafe abortions, unintended pregnancies and maternal and newborn deaths.

What’s next? With Republicans controlling both the House and the Senate, watch for more legislation on abortion in the coming weeks, experts say. A day after Trump reinstated the gag rule, the House also passed a bill that makes the Hyde amendment — which blocks taxpayer money from funding abortions in the U.S. — permanent.

“We are a pro-life Congress,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis, said in a statement.

4. Soon, a third of American households won’t be able to afford their water bill.

This file photo shows tap water in Flint, Michigan, a city that made headlines for its water issues. More cities will face a different kind of water issue -- affordability -- over the next five years, a new study says.  Photos by REUTERS/Carlos.

This file photo shows tap water in Flint, Michigan, a city that made headlines for its water issues. More cities will face a different kind of water issue — affordability — over the next five years, a new study says. Photos by REUTERS/Carlos.

We’ve reported on poor access to water, and the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

But the biggest problem facing Americans in the coming years: being able to pay for water, according to a new study.

Right now, the average monthly water bill in America is $120. Researchers at Michigan State University predict this figure will rise by $49 over the next five years, and if it does, water may become unaffordable for one-third of American households, PBS Newshour’s Nsikan Akpan reports.

Why it’s important

A number of communities already have trouble accessing water. Take Detroit, where 50,000 households have lost water access since 2014, or in Philadelphia, where 40 percent of the city’s 227,000 water bills are past due.

The study says nearly 14 million American households — 11.9 percent — couldn’t afford water in 2014. If water prices continue to rise at the same rate (41 percent over five years), then a third of American households — 40 million — may lose access to affordable water.

Who’s most at risk? The South, urban centers and low-income communities.

Counties (census tracts) with a high-risk (black) or at-risk (grey) of losing water access due to affordability. High-risk is defined as areas with a median income below $32,000, which are likely to face affordability challenges based on current water rates. At-risk communities have median incomes of $32,000 and $45,120. Image by Mack EA and Wrase S, 2017, PLoS ONE

Counties (census tracts) with a high-risk (black) or at-risk (grey) of losing water access due to affordability. High-risk is defined as areas with a median income below $32,000, which are likely to face affordability challenges based on current water rates. At-risk communities have median incomes of $32,000 and $45,120. Image by Mack EA and Wrase S, 2017, PLoS ONE

“While Flint has certainly garnered the most attention for its water infrastructure problems – and with good reason – they are certainly not alone,” Justin Mattingly, a research manager at the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation, told PBS Newshour.

5. Serena Williams is No. 1 again, but let’s also have a moment for Venus.

Serena Williams reacts as she holds her trophy after winning her women's singles final match against her sister Venus Williams. Photo by Thomas Peter/Reuters

Serena Williams reacts as she holds her trophy after winning her women’s singles final match against her sister Venus Williams. Photo by Thomas Peter/Reuters

After winning the Australia Open against her sister this weekend, Serena Williams moved into the No. 1 slot in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) rankings.

That also means Williams has moved past Steffi Graf with 23 Grand Slam singles titles to her name, the most of anyone in the Open era. The 35-year-old tennis legend is now one title away from tying Margaret Court’s grand slam record of 24 of both the amateur and open eras of the sport.

“I won’t lose any sleep over it,” Court said of Serena’s potential dethroning. “But records are there to be broken, it wouldn’t matter what sport it’s in,” she added.

Why it’s important

Fanfare may have been subdued with the week’s current events, but in her post-win ceremony, Serena shared the accolades with her sister Venus.

“There’s no way I would be at 23 without her; there’s no way I would be at 1 without her,” Serena said. “There’s no way I would have anything without her. She’s my inspiration. She’s the only reason I’m standing here today, and the only reason that the Williams sisters exist.”

The top is never lonely when your best friend @venuswilliams is there. Here's to #23. What a night for our family.

A photo posted by Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) on

Venus, who has claimed seven Grand Slam titles, was diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome, an incurable autoimmune disorder, in 2011. Then, she fell out of the Top 100.

“Looking back, it’s affected my career in a huge way. I’ve been playing a lot of matches with a half a deck,” Venus said then.

Venus’ match against her sister is also her first appearance at the Australia Open since 1998. Prior to the match between the Williams sister, The New Yorker’s Louisa Thomas wrote that Venus “is not always treated as a champion.”

“She is no longer defined by her seven major titles, or by the power of her serve, or even by her sister — even though, I believe, there is no Serena without Venus. She has been known, lately, for her age, and for sticking around,” Thomas wrote.

In fact, many advance reporting of the match repeated the fact that Venus, 36, was the oldest player to play in a Grand Slam final.

Fine.

But, parroting Court here, records are meant to be broken. I won’t forget how Venus advocated for equal prize money. Nor will I forget how she celebrated after she secured her spot in Saturday’s Australia Open final 14 years later.

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Pure bliss.

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