Category Archives: Agriculture

EbolaWatch: Mali, patients, fear, and Africa


And lots of news from Africa, much of it not so good.

We begin with dashed hopes from France 24:

Mali confirms new case of Ebola, locks down Bamako clinic

The government of Mali confirmed the country’s second case of Ebola late on Tuesday and police deployed outside a clinic in the capital, Bamako, that authorities said had been quarantined.

In a statement via Twitter, Mali’s Information Minister Mahamadou Camara said “prevention measures” were being taken, but gave no details on the case. Local officials and diplomats said the new case was unrelated to the first one last month.

Mali became the sixth West African country to record a case of Ebola when a two-year-old girl from Guinea died in October. It has not recorded any confirmed cases since then and 108 people linked to the girl were due to complete their 21-day quarantine period on Tuesday.

Mali shares an 800 km (500 mile) border with Guinea, which alongside Liberia and Sierra Leone, has been worst affected by an Ebola outbreak that has killed nearly 5,000 people this year.

Earlier the New York Times had offered a more optimistic video report:

Ebola Virus Outbreak 2014: Limiting Its Spread in Mali

Program notes:

Mali’s Ebola scare is not yet over. But with a quick diagnosis, extensive communication, and no shortage of luck, authorities and partners may be able to limit the number of cases to one.

Produced by: Nicholas Loomis

Another grim assessment from the U.N. News Center:

West Africa ‘on brink’ of major food crisis in wake of Ebola outbreak – UN expert

As Ebola continues to ravage West Africa, leaving more than 4,000 people dead, the region is now on the brink of a major food crisis, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food has warned today.

“While the countries hardest hit by the Ebola crisis struggle to contain the devastating virus, they now face a new challenge with experts predicting that over a million people in the region need food aid to allay shortages,” Ms. Hilal Elver said in a statement.

Agriculture, the main economic activity in West Africa with two thirds of the population dependent on farming, has taken a severe toll since the Ebola outbreak hit earlier this year.

The closure of border and sea crossings, a reduction in regional trade, along with a decline in foreign investment has left regional countries in a precarious food situation and farmers in disarray.

“Farmers in West Africa have been severely affected by this crisis, with fear and panic resulting in many having abandoned their farms, this in turn has led to a disruption in food production and a soaring rise in food prices,” Ms. Elver noted.

Staple crops such as rice and maize will reportedly be scaled back due to shortages in farm labour with potential “catastrophic” effect on food security, she added.

Meanwhile, good news in the U.S. from USA Today:

Doctor leaves NYC hospital Ebola-free

Program notes:

Craig Spencer, the last Ebola patient in the U.S., left New York’s Bellevue Hospital Ebola-free Tuesday. Spencer was diagnosed with Ebola three weeks ago after returning from West Africa, where he was treating patients with the disease.

From The Hill, a cautionary note:

White House: NY Ebola case won’t be last

The doctor discharged Tuesday from a New York City hospital after recovering from Ebola won’t be the last U.S. case of the deadly virus, the White House warned Tuesday.

“Today is a milestone, but let’s be clear … we’re going to see occasional additional cases of Ebola in our country,” White House Ebola czar Ron Klain told MSNBC. “This is not the last one.”

Craig Spencer, a 33-year-old physician who contracted the virus while treating patients in West Africa, was released from Bellevue Hospital on Tuesday after weeks of isolation and treatment. Spencer was the last known case of Ebola in the United States.

Klain hailed Spencer’s discharge as “a milestone in showing our strategy of identifying, isolating, and treating Ebola patients can be successful,” and he noted that all eight U.S. citizens who had contracted the disease survived. A Liberian man who traveled to Dallas and infected two nurses treating him died from the disease.

The Associated Press covers a walkout:

California nurses strike over patient care, Ebola

As many as 18,000 nurses went on strike Tuesday and picketed in front of Kaiser Permanente facilities in Northern California to express their concerns about patient-care standards and Ebola.

The nurses, who are in the midst of contract negotiations, held red and yellow “strike for health and safety” picket signs. The two-day strike was expected to affect at least 21 Kaiser hospitals and 35 clinics and last until 7 a.m. Thursday.

Union officials said nurses are striking over claims there has been an erosion of patient-care standards in Kaiser facilities for months and that the company has failed to adopt optimal safeguards for Ebola.

“The nurses are telling story upon story of the lack of safety for patients, the lack of concern for patients,” RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association, the union representing the striking nurses, said. “This isn’t about money. This is about something far deeper.”

And TheLocal.dk has the latest European Ebola scare:

Dane admitted to hospital for Ebola testing

A patient who has recently been in west Africa was being tested for Ebola on Tuesday evening, with test results first expected during the course of the day on Wednesday.

A Dane who recently returned from west Africa was admitted to Hvidore Hospital on Tuesday afternoon on the suspicion of carrying the Ebola virus, the hospital has announced.

“We determined that there were grounds to admit the patient and we have sent a test to the State Serum Institute,” hospital spokesman Toben Mogensen said in a statement.

The patient was put in isolation late on Tuesday and will remain there until the test results return. An initial result was expected to arrive overnight on Tuesday and a secondary sample will be sent for testing on Wednesday morning.

While Jiji Press covers preparations in Japan:

Tokyo Govt Conducts Ebola Response Drill

The Tokyo metropolitan government carried out a drill on Tuesday to deal with a suspected Ebola case.

The drill was carried out under the assumption that a doctor who returned to Japan a week before after working in West Africa, where there is an Ebola epidemic, contacted a public health center, complaining of a fever.

Placed in a capsule-type stretcher, which prevents the Ebola virus from spreading, a man in the doctor’s role was put into an ambulance and taken to a designated hospital in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward.

And RT covers another sort of scare:

Ebola-labeled vial prompts NZ parliament lockdown

What was called a sample of the Ebola virus in an attatched letter has been sent to the New Zealand Parliament’s mailroom, prompting a lockdown of the room. Just hours before, the Auckland office of the New Zealand Herald received a similar package.

Mailroom staff at the Parliament building in Wellington called the police after discovering the unaddressed package. It contained a small liquid-filled vial and documents claiming that the vial contains a sample of the deadly Ebola virus.

“Wellington Police have secured a package delivered to the Parliament mailroom today with the assistance of the Army’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal team,” New Zealand police said.

More from The Hill:

Ebola packages likely a hoax, says US czar

The U.S. is monitoring reports that New Zealand’s parliament and top newspaper received packages purportedly containing vials of the Ebola virus, but believes the incident was most likely a hoax, the White House said Tuesday.

Ebola czar Ron Klain told CNN he was briefed on the incident earlier in the day, but based on the best available intelligence information, “odds are high that this turns out to be a hoax.”

The New Zealand Herald reported that its Aukland headquarters received a small bottle of liquid with an accompanying message suggesting it contained Ebola. Hours later, the mailroom at the parliament building in Wellington was also closed after reception of a similarly suspicious package. Both packages have been forwarded for forensic testing.

On to Africa, starting with an urgent assessment from the UN News Center:

Stopping Ebola as fast as possible is ‘number one priority’ – UN envoy

The number one priority is to stop Ebola as fast as possible and “get ahead of the virus,” the chief of the United Nations emergency response mission said as the UN health agency today reported that efforts to contain the outbreak in West Africa are being hampered by cumbersome diagnostic tests.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) said that standard tests used in mobile and other laboratories need 2 to 6 hours to test for Ebola and cost around $100, but these requirements are difficult to meet in resource-constrained West African settings, thus severely limiting testing capacity.

“Efforts to contain the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa are currently hampered by cumbersome, slow, and complex diagnostic tests that imposed a number of additional logistical challenges, including requirements for a high level of laboratory biosafety and staff expertise in using sophisticated machines,” WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told reporters in Geneva.

Anthony Banbury, the head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) in New York to brief Member States this week, told the UN News Centre that he is “deeply concerned that the true numbers of people affected by the virus, dying of it, are higher than the numbers being reported.”

From Associated Press, the cost of Ebolaphobia:

Morocco thrown out of African Cup, dumped as host

Morocco was thrown out of the 2015 African Cup of Nations and dumped as the host Tuesday after refusing to commit to the scheduled dates early next year because of fears over Ebola.

The decisions by CAF were taken at a meeting that was forced by Morocco’s refusal to hold the tournament on the planned dates of Jan. 17-Feb. 8 because of the threat of the spread of Ebola. The disease has killed about 5,000 people in West Africa, and Morocco wanted the 16-team soccer event postponed until 2016 because of fears the deadly virus would arrive with supporters and other travelers.

CAF repeatedly refused Morocco’s request to postpone the African Cup, the body’s main money-earning tournament, and gave the country until Saturday to commit to the planned dates. Morocco declined again.

“The Royal Moroccan Football Federation reiterated its refusal to hold the competition on the dates indicated,” CAF said Tuesday. “Therefore having firmly and unanimously notified … its decision to keep the competition on the dates indicated, the executive committee confirmed that the Africa Cup of Nations 2015 will not take place in Morocco.”

From VOA video, old message, new medium:

Ebola Training Available Online

Program notes:

Since an Ebola outbreak began its deadly course through West Africa earlier this year, health officials worldwide have sought to inform the general public about the virus that has killed some 5,000 people. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Tuesday launched an online training program for its staff and others interested in fighting Ebola. Zlatica Hoke has more.

Voice of America covers complexity:

Ebola is More Than Medical Challenge, Experts Say

South Africa knows all too well how it feels to watch a disease rampage through once-healthy communities, to watch the illness divide society and trigger shame, fear and panic, and to be shunned by the rest of the world.

And so as three West African nations battle with the often-deadly Ebola virus, South African experts say the hard lessons they learned in their nation’s HIV epidemic are as important as ever.

Fighting Ebola, they say, will require many of the same tools needed to fight AIDS, an epidemic that fundamentally transformed the way the world looks at diseases — not just through the microscope of science, but through the wider lens of society and development.

From the Sun in Lagos, Nigeria, stunning allegations about the patient who triggered the first U.S. Ebolas outbreak:

How Liberian-American, Patrick Sawyer, deliberately infected our staff with Ebola — First Consultant Hospital

Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian-American who brought Ebola into the country, was a bio-terrorist, bent on a mission to deliberately infect as many Nigerians as possible with the deadly virus, the Chief Medical Director of First Consultant Hospital, Benjamin Ohiaeri, has said.

In a detailed interview with ThisDay newspaper, Mr. Ohiaeri spoke of how Mr. Sawyer lied to his hospital that he had no contact with any Ebola case and how he plotted to be allowed to storm the streets of Nigeria to spread the virus.
He also revealed shocking details of how Mr Sawyer deliberately and systematically infected hospital personnel with the virus.

He said the Liberian- American was not interested in receiving treatment or discussing the option available to him. Rather he demonstrated a deliberate intent to be discharged from the hospital into the public where he would have posed dire public health risk.

After the jump, one to Sierra Leone and good news for the most exposed, hospitals blasted by patient families, another doctor stricken, help from the nuclear realm, and one bright spot, then on to Liberia and another tragedy in another county, a suspected carrier captured, more help from within Africa, a plea for help from Liberian news media, care for kids in quarantine, and help from cells phones, then on to Ghana and a question of awareness. . . Continue reading

Breaking the Set: Cows, compassion, & crisis


In this episode of Breaking the Set, Abby Martin covers some important ground, including the tremendous environmental impact of pour meat habit.

From Breaking the Set:

Don’t Feed the Homeless, The ‘Cowspiracy’ & 50 Shades of White Voters

Program notes:

Abby Martin Breaks the Set on Arresting Homeless Helpers, Purposeful Voter Suppression, Cowspiracy & The Heroes of Guatemala City.

EPISODE BREAKDOWN: On this episode of Breaking the Set, Abby Martin talks about the story of a 90-year-old man in Florida who was arrested for feeding the homeless, demonstrating the latest effort to crackdown on this vulnerable population. Abby then discusses the ways that minorities, young people, and the poor are being dissuaded from going to the polls on election day and how both major parties either ignore or pay attention to these demographics when its politically convenient. Abby then discusses the new documentary, “Cowspiracy” with Director, Kip Andersen, about how the meat industry is the biggest contributor to climate change and why environmental groups rarely take it on. BTS wraps up the show with an interview with volunteer paramedic, Dr. Jorge Chiu, and photojournalist, Giles Clarke, about the health system in Guatemala City, and why it is one of the most violent cities in the world.

EnviroWatch: Water, fuel, climate, toxins, nukes


First up, water and war from Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Ground water depletion driving global conflicts – NASA scientist

Global ground water supplies, crucial for sustaining agriculture, are being depleted at an alarming rate with dangerous security implications, a leading scientist said.

“It’s a major cause for concern because most of the places where it (ground water depletion) is happening are major food producing regions,” James Famiglietti, a University of California professor who conducts research for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“India is the worst off, followed by the Middle East, and the U.S. is probably number three … the Chinese, particularly on the north China plain, are more water limited than people believe.”

Famiglietti’s conclusions are based on his latest research paper “The global ground water crisis” published in the journal Nature Climate Change last month.

Green woes in the Golden State from the Los Angeles Times:

State recycling program has been running large deficits

A state audit has found that the cost of the state’s recycling program for beverage containers has exceeded its revenue by over $100 million in three of the last four fiscal years.

The audit released Thursday reviewed the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery’s administration of the Beverage Container Recycle Program, which is meant to encourage and increase consumer recycling.

The audit found that in the last four fiscal years, the beverage program has been operating under an annual deficit. In the last fiscal year, costs exceeded revenue by nearly $29 million–an improvement over the three years before.

From the Los Angeles Times again, not in the bag yet:

Campaign begins to preserve ban on plastic grocery bags

A group of politicians, environmentalists and businesses announced Thursday it is launching a campaign to fight efforts to repeal a ban on single-use plastic bags from stores that is scheduled to take effect July 1.

The new group is trying to counter plastic bag manufacturers, operating as the American Progressive Bag Alliance, which is trying to collect more than 504,000 signatures for a referendum that, if it qualifies, would delay the bag ban until a statewide vote in November 2016.

That effort to repeal the nation’s first statewide bag ban will be fought by a new coalition that includes Sierra Club California, Surfrider Foundation, the California Grocers Assn., Grocery Outlet Inc., Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and Assemblyman-elect Kevin McCarty.

The Ecologist covers an unusual electoral win:

Victory! Outspent 87-1, Maui voters back GMO moratorium

A voter initiative in Maui, Hawaii requires a suspension of GMO crops pending a safety review to be paid for by Monsanto and other corporations – although corporations spent almost $8 million trying to defeat the measure. Monsanto is now preparing a legal challenge.

Hawaii voters in Maui County made history this week by backing a ballot initiative to prohibit the growth, testing or cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) crops in Maui until an environmental and public health study can show that they are safe.

Voters backed the measure by 23,082 to 22,005 – in the face of massive spending by agrochemical companies.

The opposition ‘Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban’ – almost exclusively backed by Monsanto and Dow Chemical to defeat the initiative – raised $7,970,686.12 million for its campaign.

Thar’s an amazing $362.22 per vote earned, or $174.43 per total vote cast – 87 times more than ban supporters – leading the Center for Public Integrity to dub it “the most expensive local initiative in the country”.

Much corporate GMO agriculture is devoted to crops grow to feed our sugar habit, and new research is revealing unsuspected ways in which that addiction is causing major problems for our well-being, as revealed in tis short documentary from ABC Australia, via Journeyman Pictures:

How Sugary Diets Are Destroying Our Immune Systems

Program notes:

Catalyst: Ancient Teeth – By investigating evidence from ancient teeth, we find out about how the human diet and health conditions have changed over time.

Our diets have changed tremendously as humans have developed and progressed over time, from the meat-heavy diets from our hunter-gatherer days, to the advent of agriculture about 10,000 years ago and the high sugar content of today’s fast, convenient food. Our changing diet has had a variety of effects on our health, not least on our ‘microbiome’; diversity in the bacteria living inside us has decreased dramatically, with severe knock-on effects on our immune systems. Dr Graham Phillips presents evidence from our ancestors’ teeth, which shows just how much our diets and resultant bacterial communities inside our bodies have changed over time.

It could be worse, and probably is, via the Guardian:

New study questions the accuracy of satellite atmospheric temperature estimates

  • A new study finds that satellites may be underestimating the warming of the lower atmosphere

Over the past decades, scientists have made many measurements across the globe to characterize how fast the Earth is warming. It may seem trivial, but taking the Earth’s temperature is not very straightforward. You could use temperature thermometers at weather stations that are spread across the globe. Measurements can be taken daily and information sent to central repositories where some average is determined.

A downside of thermometers is that they do not cover the entire planet – large polar regions, oceans, and areas in the developing world have no or very few measurements. Another problem is that they may change over time. Perhaps the thermometers are replaced or moved, or perhaps the landscape around the thermometers changes which could impact the reading. And of course, measurements of the ocean regions are a whole other story.

An alternative technique is to use satellites to extract temperatures from radiative emission at microwave frequencies from oxygen in the atmosphere. Satellites can cover the entire globe and thereby avoid the problem with discrete sensors. However, satellites also change over time, their orbit can change, or their detection devices can also change.

Death by drought, via the Express Tribune in Karachi:

A matter of negligence? Drought has killed 275 children in 11 months: official list

The unabated drought in Tharparkar coupled with a dearth of health facilities has claimed the lives of 275 children in 11 months, according to an official list prepared by the district administration.

Deputy commissioner (DC) Asif Jameel submitted the list, containing the details of children under the age of five who died between December 2013 and October 2014, to the provincial government on Thursday. Although the deaths are officially recognised as drought-related, the medical causes of mortality have mostly been cited as being pneumonia, blood infection, diarrhoea, birth asphyxia and haemorrhagic fever.

This admission also flies in the face of the Sindh government’s attempts to downplay the effect of the persistent drought and prevailing poverty among children and pregnant mothers. Four more deaths, including that of a mother, have been reported from Tharparkar in the last two days.

The Environment News Service covers a holding action:

Brazilian Judge Sides With Tribe Over Land Threatened by Dams

In a struggle between a Brazilian indigenous tribe and the federal government over two dams that would flood lands claimed by the tribe, a federal judge has ruled that the government must immediately publish its report delineating the tribe’s territory that has been withheld for more than a year.

Last week, in response to a lawsuit filed by the Federal Public Prosecutors’ Office, federal judge Rafael Leite Paulo issued a ruling that requires FUNAI, the federal agency responsible for indigenous people, to publish its report within 15 days and determine the final decision on demarcation of the Sawre Muybu territory.

In October 2013, after completing 12 years of field studies, FUNAI completed a technical report confirming the status of Sawre Muybu as the Munduruku people’s traditional indigenous territory.

But under pressure from the administration of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, FUNAI and the Ministry of Justice have refused to officially publish the report, stalling demarcation.

From MercoPress, a plague afloat:

Greenpeace names twenty “monster vessels, the scourge of the oceans”

Five fishing vessels from Spain are among the 20 most destructive community fishing vessels in the European Union, according to a new report from the environmental organization Greenpeace. Out of the five, two are from Galicia,: Eirado do Costal, with home port in Cangas, and Playa de Tambo, based in Marin.

The other three vessels are from the Basque Country: Albacora Uno, Albatún Tres and Txori Argi.

With the release of the report, “Monster boats, The scourge of the oceans”, Greenpeace intends to warn on overfishing issues and protect the oceans through sustainable fishing. Greenpeace details that other ships belong to the following countries: Netherlands: 2; Portugal: 2; Sweden: 1; UK: 2; France: 1; Germany: 2; Denmark: 1; Lithuania: 2; Poland: 1 and Vanuatu, 1. The only vessel flagged outside the EU is operated by a Greek-registered company.

Greenpeace aim is that the publication of this report forces the vessels mentioned, will eventually withdraw from the oceans.

MintPress News covers fracking woes:

Oil, Gas Sites Spewing Airborne Chemicals Far Above Federal Standards

Formaldehyde and benzene are among the compounds being released into the air around the country’s oil and gas sites at up to hundreds of times the limits deemed safe by the federal government. More alarmingly, these sites are also releasing entirely unknown compounds.

Oil and gas sites in the United States, including fracking wells, are spewing toxic chemicals into the air at levels up to hundreds of times higher than federal safety limits, according to a two-year study in six states.

While no direct link can be established, local communities in five of those states complain that these chemicals are responsible for a spectrum of health problems, including nausea, dizziness, sore throats and more. Further, some of the study’s lead researchers warn that the long-term health impacts of these chemicals remain unknown to community members and to the government regulators vested with safeguarding public health.

The investigation is the result of collaboration between Global Community Monitor, an anti-fracking organization that trains community members to monitor pollution levels, and Coming Clean, an advocacy group that campaigns on issues of health and the environment. The results have been published in two parts, one for a general readership and another, in the journal Environmental Health, for a technical audience.

Organizers say the latter constitutes the first peer-reviewed multi-state investigation into airborne toxics near oil and gas facilities.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with RT:

Fukushima workers injured as steel material for coolant tank collapses

Three workers at the troubled Fukushima nuclear power plant were hurt during an operation to set up a coolant tank for contaminated water. A 13-meter-high steel construction collapsed on them.

One of the workers has been left in critical condition after being knocked unconscious. He was transported to the hospital from the plant by helicopter, according to a TEPCO spokesman, AFP reported.

A second worker has a broken leg, while the third did not sustain any major injuries.

The plant has been facing the worrying issue of contaminated water leaking into the Pacific Ocean. It is looking into ways to clean the water to later release into the ocean without risk.

From the Japan Times, greenlighting a restart:

Kagoshima assembly, governor green-light restart of Sendai reactors

Kyushu Electric Power Co. received approval from the Kagoshima Prefectural Assembly and governor on Friday to restart two nuclear reactors at the Sendai power plant.

The move clears the last major political hurdles to bring Japan’s first two reactors back online, under new nuclear safety regulations introduced in July 2013.

However, some towns and villages that lie within 30 km of the plant have doubts about the restart and are demanding they, too, be consulted as part of promises by the central government and the utility to seek local consensus prior to restarting the units.

Despite protests, via NHK WORLD:

Anti-nuclear rally against plant restart

Anti-nuclear protesters on Friday held a rally in front of the Kagoshima prefectural office. They are opposing the restart of the Sendai nuclear power plant.

The protesters criticized the prefectural assembly members for approving the restart of the plant. They said they regret the assembly made the hasty decision in an extraordinary session, ignoring the views of the people in the prefecture and elsewhere in Japan. They added they will continue to fight against the restart.

A local woman said she can’t understand why the assembly members want to resume the plant operation so prematurely.

A man from neighboring Kumamoto Prefecture said radioactive substances could spread to areas beyond Kagoshima and contaminate them. He added he doubts the effectiveness of the Kagoshima Prefecture’s evacuation program.

To close, via JapanToday, another delay:

Gov’t says interim nuclear waste storage facilities delayed

Work to begin storing nuclear waster from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and surrounding areas in interim storage facilities in two Fukushima towns will most likely not begin in January as scheduled.

Reconstruction Minister Wataru Takeshita told a news conference Friday that the government had not been able to secure the land due to ongoing negotiations with landowners, NTV reported.

In September, former Fukushima Gov Yuhei Sato said the two towns of Futaba and Okuma had agreed to accept the temporary storage of nuclear waste from the disaster, paving the way for an end to a years-long standoff.

Chart of the day: Graphic legalization argument


With that much money involved, making it taxable makes sense. From the Guardian:

BLOG Ag cash

EbolaWatch: Numbers, money, science, Africa


With the emphasis on coverage from African media.

We begin with that rare bit of news from the lighter side, via the London Telegraph:

Ebola not spread by zombies, says minister

  • International Development Minister Desmond Swayne tells the Commons a constituent believed zombies were responsible for the escalation of ebola

International Development Minister Desmond Swayne has dismissed concerns that Ebola is spread by zombies.

The Tory front-bencher told the Commons he had to enlighten a constituent who believed zombies were responsible for the escalation of the killer virus.

But Mr Swayne noted the “irony” of Ebola is that people are capable of causing infection when they are dead.

More new on the bright side from Voice of America:

Officials: Number of New Ebola Cases in W. Africa Declining

The good news from West Africa began trickling in last week.

The Ebola coordinator at the Guinean Health Ministry said Tuesday in Paris that the numbers of new cases are declining in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

Guinean Health Ministry official Aboubakar Sidiki Diakite said, “The figures are declining because the number of confirmed cases that we had in health care centers, the number also of suspected cases that we had in health care centers, these figures are starting to decline – not in a very significant way, but we realize that these figures are decreasing.”

In Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, a United Nations official in charge of emergency Ebola response confirmed there has been a significant improvement in the fight against the deadly disease.

According to Wednesday’s World Health Organization Ebola Response Roadmap Situation Report [PDF], 13,015 people have contracted Ebola, of whom 4808 have died.

Two contrasting graphics [click on them to enlarge] illustrate the report’s good news and bad. First, the hopeful Bell Curves in Liberia and its capital, Monrovia:

BLOG Liberia

While the ongoing misery continues to accelerate in Sierra Leone and its capital, Freetown:

BLOG Sierra leone

From BBC News, a deplorable lack:

Ebola outbreak: UN ‘lacks resources’ to fight deadly virus

The head of the UN mission charged with fighting Ebola in West Africa has told the BBC he does not yet have the resources necessary to defeat it.

Tony Banbury said more help was urgently needed, despite significant contributions from the UK, China, Cuba and the US.

But he was hopeful of achieving the target of 70% bed space for new cases and 70% safe burials by December.

The confirmed death toll is now 4,818, says the World Health Organization. The numbers are down since the WHO previously reported figures last Friday, as it says it has changed the way the figures are collated.

But it said in the countries worst affected by the outbreak – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – transmission remained “persistent and widespread, particularly in the capital cities”.

Putting politicians on the spot with before the congressional red shift, via the New York Times:

Obama to Ask Congress for $6 Billion to Fight Ebola

President Obama is asking Congress for just over $6 billion in emergency funding to combat Ebola in West Africa and protect Americans from the virus in the United States, an administration official said Wednesday.

The request comes just after the midterm congressional elections on Tuesday in which Republicans took control of the Senate, dealing devastating losses to Democrats across the country and a rebuke to Mr. Obama that will complicate his efforts to advance his agenda.

The White House described the proposal as a chance for collaboration between the president and Capitol Hill.

And a question from National Journal:

Is Ebola Funding One Thing the White House and Congress Can Agree On?

  • With a new $6 billion request to Congress, the administration sure hopes so

Tensions are high between the White House and Congress following Tuesday’s elections, but the Obama administration is confident it’s found one area where Democrats and Republicans can still work together: fighting Ebola.

In a huge scale-up in funding requests, the administration is asking Congress for $6.18 billion in emergency funding for the federal government’s Ebola response efforts. And administration officials remain optimistic that a deal will be worked out—fast.

“It’s clear to us thus far that this is being taken seriously as an emergency,” said Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan on Thursday. “We’ve been pleased so far with the engagement seen on both sides of the aisle.”

AJ+, Al Jazeera America’s new YouTube channel, covers another sad reality:

Why Pharmaceutical Companies Are Ignoring Tropical Diseases Like Ebola

Program notes:

Only 1% of medicines developed in the last 40 years were made to fight tropical diseases. Ethan Guillen, from Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, explains why it’s no mistake that these diseases have been neglected.

The run for the cure with the Associated Press:

US officials unveil plan to test Ebola drugs

The quest for an Ebola treatment is picking up speed. Federal officials have unveiled a plan to test multiple drugs at once, in an umbrella study with a single comparison group to give fast answers on what works.

“This is novel for us” and is an approach pioneered by cancer researchers, said Dr. Luciana Borio, head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Ebola response. “We need to learn what helps and what hurts” and speed treatments to patients, she said.

She outlined the plan Wednesday at an American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene conference in New Orleans. Thousands of scientists have crowded into day and late-night sessions on Ebola, which has killed 5,000 West Africans this year.

One promising entrant from NBC News:

Nose Spray Ebola Vaccine Protects Monkeys

A needle-free Ebola vaccine protects monkeys 100 percent of the time from the virus, even a year after they’ve been vaccinated, researchers reported Monday.

The vaccine uses a common cold virus genetically engineered to carry a tiny piece of Ebola DNA. Sprayed up the nose, it saved all nine monkeys tested for infection.

But now the research is dead in the water without funding, Maria Croyle of the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Pharmacy said.

“Now we are at the crossroads, trying to figure out where to get the funding and resources to continue,” Croyle told NBC News.

A Spanish healer healed, via El País:

“I don’t know what went wrong, or if anything went wrong”

  • Nursing assistant who contracted Ebola speaks after doctors discharge her
  • Medical team admits they can’t pinpoint what cured Teresa Romero

The Spanish nursing assistant who became the first person outside of West Africa to contract Ebola appeared before the press on Wednesday morning after being discharged from hospital. After more than a month of treatment, Teresa Romero has been given the definitive all-clear by her medical team.

An emotional but at all times in control Romero appeared before a press scrum at Carlos III Hospital in Madrid, where she spent nearly the whole of October in isolation. Also present at the press conference was her husband Javier Limón.

“I’m here to give you my thanks, but I’m still very weak,” Romero said, before reading a statement in which she thanked her doctors, her family and the public for their messages and letters of support.

“I don’t know what went wrong,” she said in reference to her infection. “I don’t even know if something did go wrong. All I know is that I’m not bitter and I’m not blaming anyone.”

From CBC News’s The National, deplorable and deplored:

World Health Organization condemns Canada’s freeze on visas from Ebola affected countries

Program notes:

WHO demanded Canada justify the move that few other nations have made.

Profit potential from Want China Times:

Ebola outbreak sends demand for protective gear rocketing

As China sends more aid to Ebola-plagued West Africa, medical equipment suppliers are rushing to meet the soaring global demand for protective products.

Protective gear such as coveralls, gloves and goggles are essential supplies in the battle against the deadly virus, with Chinese suppliers seeing a wave of orders from concerned countries.

Gao Yan, a sales manager of Crown Name Disposable Hygiene Products, based in Hubei province, said since the outbreak of the epidemic, the firm has received an influx of inquiries on orders. “People are calling from everywhere, asking whether we have anything in stock,” Gao told Xinhua at the Canton Fair, the country’s largest trade event.

Aid money, via the Associated Press:

Ebola countries to get $450 million in financing

A new private sector initiative announced Wednesday will provide at least $450 million in commercial financing to the three West African countries hardest hit by Ebola to promote trade, investment and employment.

The International Finance Corporation, which is part of the World Bank Group, announced that the package will include $250 million in rapid response projects and at least $200 million in investment projects to support the economic recovery of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea after the Ebola outbreak is controlled.

The announcement coincides with the U.N. Development Program’s release of a study on the socio-economic impact of the outbreak, which found that the governments of the three countries need $328 million to be able to function at pre-crisis levels. The study said the shortfalls are caused by increased spending to tackle Ebola and the slowdown of economic activity in fields such as tourism, mining and trade.

More aid, via Reuters:

EU scheme commits $350 mln for research on Ebola vaccines, tests

The Europe Union and drugmakers pledged on Thursday to invest 280 million euros ($350 million) in Ebola research, with the lion’s share going to the testing and manufacture of potential vaccines.

The funding will go to projects backed by the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), a public-private scheme jointly paid for by the European Commission and the pharmaceuticals industry.

Reuters reported on Oct. 22 that an IMI investment of around 200 million euros was pending. Since then, further discussions have been held about the resources needed for various projects and the amount has been increased.

The final document setting out the plans commits the European Commission to giving as much as 140 million euros, with companies providing an equivalent amount in staff time, goods and services.

Aid by the Like from the Star in Nairobi, Kenya:

Facebook launches Ebola charity donation button

Facebook Inc said users would now have option to donate directly to various Ebola relief charities through a button at the top of their News Feeds.

Facebook users can donate to three charities – International Medical Corps, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and Save the Children – starting today, the company said on its website on Thursday. (http://bit.ly/1pqeRUq)

The social media company is also donating 100 terminals to provide internet and voice-calling access for aid workers to Ebola-hit areas such as Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Help from above via SciDev.Net:

Space agency alliance joins the struggle against Ebola

An international collaboration of space agencies that provides free satellite imagery and data to assist disaster responses is now supporting efforts to control the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa.

When the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters was activated on 9 October it was the first time it had been triggered in response to a disease outbreak.

The charter has previously only been activated to help map areas in response to natural disasters such as typhoons.

In the Ebola context, satellite data could assist attempts to find out where the virus originated and help produce maps useful for coordinating medical responses.

Japanese precautions from the Asahi Shimbun:

Ministries move to quell fears over Ebola with new policy

To avoid creating public hysteria over the spread of the Ebola virus, information on arriving passengers suspected to be carriers of the deadly disease will be promptly disclosed.

The health and land ministries decided on the policy change following a case late last month in which a passenger arrived in Tokyo showing signs of fever, but later tested negative.

The ministries said Nov. 4 they will immediately release information on potential victims of the virus, including age bracket, gender and specific symptoms, as well as the air carrier and flight number of the aircraft the individual used.

Previously, the government would only disclose such information after a passenger was confirmed to be infected.

And from News Corp Australia, barely horrified:

Ebola scare on nudist beach as refugees turn up on Canary Islands with fever

HOLIDAYING nudists on a Spanish beach fled when a boatload of sick refugees from Africa decided to make a surprise visit.

Local media reports the migrants were kept huddled together while Red Cross workers cordoned off the area and began taking temperatures while wearing protective gear.

A number of the 17 men and two women showed signs of fever including one who had a temperature of 40 degrees. Some said they were from Guinea and Sierra Leone – both Ebola hotspots.

After a few hours, the authorities used a dump truck to collect the group from Maspalomas beach and take them away to a holding centre, which angered some locals. None of the refugees tested positive for the deadly virus, but four were taken to hospital with other health issues.

Replacement at the top from the New York Times:

Amid Ebola Disaster, WHO Picks New Africa Chief

With nearly 5,000 dead of Ebola in West Africa, the World Health Organization elected a new director Wednesday of its Africa office, which has been accused of bungling the response to the outbreak in its early stages.

The new chief, Matshidiso Moeti, is a doctor from Botswana and a WHO veteran who stepped down as deputy director for Africa in March, the same month the crisis was announced.

The results of the five-candidate election were made public at a meeting of the U.N. agency in Benin and came amid the worst outbreak of the dreaded disease ever seen.

And a plea from the Vanguard in Lagos, Nigeria:

W.Africa urges tourists to keep visiting despite Ebola

West African tourist chiefs urged travellers on Wednesday not to boycott their region because of the Ebola crisis, insisting that the epidemic was only affecting three countries in a vast continent.

“Africa is not a country, Africa is a continent,” said Ola Wright, the chief executive of West Africa Tourism, warning that fear over Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone was having a damaging impact on neighbouring countries.

The deadly virus has brought an abrupt and indefinite halt to international tourism in those three affected countries, where almost 5,000 people have died in the outbreak.

But tourism has been affected across the region and even in east and southern Africa, which are thousands of miles (kilometres) away and have not reported Ebola cases.

After the jump, West Africa mobilizes regional defenses and names a coordinator, an educational campaign in Mali, then on to Sierra Leone where things are getting worse, a chief cries for help, new treatment centers open, Australia finally vows to send medical help to staff a new British-built treatment center [but there’s less to the vow than meets the eye or ear], presidential pleas for help and food, disturbing allegations, and a crackdown on the press amidst hints of a coming crackdown, thence onward to Liberia with the press also under siege, America opens a new treatment center for sick medical workers only, China prepares to build a treatment center, life begins to return to normal as clubbing rebounds — but beach goers are threatened with “severe floggings,” U.S. medics to treat Ebola patients directly, food aid stolen, major public awareness campaigns underway, a deplorable lack of infrastructure, and a plea for investors to return, on to Guinea and advice ignored, thence to Nigeria and reassurance aplenty. . .
Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Bees, parasites, toxins, nukes


First up, the buzz from BBC News:

Plan bee: New measures to protect pollinators

The government has made an agreement with landowners including Network Rail and the Highways Agency to restore bee-friendly habitat throughout England.

It is part of a 10-year National Pollinator Strategy. But some conservation groups say the plan does not go far enough.

It includes countryside stewardship schemes, worth a total of £900m, to provide financial incentives for farmers to plant pollinator-friendly crops and let meadows grow.

The plan is announced on Tuesday by Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss.

And from Medical News Today, a mind-altering parasite we’re discussed before:

A fifth of schizophrenia cases ‘may be attributable to T. gondii infection’

A parasite responsible for toxoplasmosis – Toxoplasma gondii – may be involved in the cause of around a fifth of schizophrenia cases in the US. This is according to a new study published in the journal Preventive Veterinary Medicine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that around 60 million people in the US may be infected with T. gondii. Infection most commonly occurs through eating undercooked, contaminated meat, drinking contaminated water and coming into contact with cat feces that contain T. gondii.

Most people with T. gondii infection are unaware they have it; people with healthy immune systems are usually able to stop the parasite causing illness. But for those with weaker immune systems, such as older people, pregnant women and those with immune system disorders, the parasite can cause toxoplasmosis.

Toxoplasmosis a disease characterized by flu-like symptoms, including swollen lymph glands and muscle aches and pains. In severe cases, toxoplasmosis can cause damage to the eyes, brain and other organs.

The Los Angeles Times covers drought compounded by austerity:

In Cambria, rift over water treatment plant is a drain on parched town

They’re the trees that gave this quaint Central Coast village its nickname: Cambria Pines by the Sea.

But the towering Monterey pines — one of only three such native forests in the United States — are being ravaged by the drought. Most are brown and brittle. Weakened by lack of water, some have toppled. Others were cut down to prevent them from falling on cars and houses.

“The town lost 25% of its trees last year, and half of those that are standing are brown and dead,” said Rick Hawley, a founder of the preservation group Greenspace, who waters some of the younger, more vulnerable trees.

The trees are a symbol of the drought’s effect on the relatively isolated Central Coast, which — despite its proximity to the world’s largest body of water — is particularly vulnerable to shortages because it relies on an unstable networks of creeks, lakes and State Water Project allocations.

Fracker power from Al Jazeera America:

Communities find little success in resisting fracking infrastructure

  • Locals say their health concerns over wells and waste pits are ignored by oil and gas companies and state authorities

Scientific data about the potential health effects of fracking is limited, but an growing body of studies points to decreased air quality and an increased presence of carcinogens near gas wells and infrastructure.

But there’s often little local citizens and their municipalities can do to ameliorate their concerns about this ever-growing web of wells, pits, pipelines and compressor stations as they grapple with outdated zoning laws and underfunded and understaffed environmental protection departments.

“Maybe what we need is more coordinated oversight of these types of operations,” said Patty Robertson, the chief prosecutor for statewide environmental crimes in Texas, where many communities are pushing back against drilling. “You’ve got one agency saying “We don’t regulate that” and one saying “Well, we do what we can,” and nobody is taking the bull by the horns and running with it. So we fall back on the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] and rely on them, but they’re hampered also.”

From Yale Environment 360, something we’ve also discussed before:

For Cellulosic Ethanol Makers, The Road Ahead Is Still Uphill

While it has environmental advantages over other forms of ethanol, cellulosic ethanol has proven difficult to produce at commercial scale. Even as new production facilities come online in the U.S., a variety of economic and market realities suggest the new fuel still has big challenges to overcome.
by erica gies

For years, cellulosic ethanol has been touted as a just-around-the-corner technology that would provide cleaner, greener transportation fuel and an alternative to environmentally dubious forms of corn-based ethanol. But the complexity of drawing fuel from the cellulose found in agricultural wastes, grasses, and other non-food sources has proved daunting, nudging the advent of the cellulosic fuel industry ever-further into the future — until now.

This fall, three new, commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plants are coming online in the United States. They join two other advanced biofuels facilities in Italy and Brazil that have begun operations within the last 12 months, and others are in the pipeline — suggesting to many industry-watchers that the long-predicted arrival of cellulose-based fuels might finally be here.

Energy experts aren’t so sure.

For starters, despite U.S. government mandates requiring that some ethanol be blended into the nation’s fuel supply, the market remains constrained by the design of most modern car engines, which are generally unable to tolerate more than small percentages of the cleaner-burning fuel that cellulosic ethanol provides. Complicating matters, federal officials are now considering a reduction in those very blending mandates — a move that cellulosic fuel supporters say would stymie the industry before it ever gets off the ground. Meanwhile, recent studies have suggested that ethanol made from crop residues, which have the nominal advantage of not competing with food markets like corn-based fuels, could have environmental downsides of its own.

Next up, Fukushimapocalypse Now!, with more fuel removed from NHK WORLD:

All spent fuel removed from Fukushima No.4 reactor

Workers have finished removing highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel from one of the reactor buildings at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The No.4 reactor had no nuclear fuel when the plant was hit by a massive quake and tsunami in March 2011. But there were more than 1,500 units of spent and unused fuel in the pool in the reactor building.

The operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, is putting priority on removing spent fuel because it is highly radioactive. The utility began removing 1,331 units of spent fuel in November of last year. Workers completed the removal of the last 11 units by Tuesday.

TEPCO plans to finish removing the unused fuel from the building by the end of the year.

And to close, a dangerous dump closer to literally gaining ground, via the Japan Times:

Storage site for radioactive debris near Fukushima No. 1 is one step closer

The Lower House on Tuesday approved a bill for the construction of temporary storage facilities for radioactive waste on land near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

The bill is expected to be enacted during the current extraordinary session of the Diet following debate in the Upper House.

The bill calls on the government to ensure the safety of the facilities and complete within 30 years the final disposal of radioactive waste, including contaminated soil, after moving it outside Fukushima Prefecture.

EnviroWatch: Climate, icebergs, nukes, GMOs


We begin with climate, and the latest shrieking alarm from the London Telegraph:

UN climate change report to warn of ‘severe, pervasive’ effects of global warming

Flooding, dangerous heatwaves, ill health and violent conflicts among likely risks if the world keeps burning fossil fuels at current rates, IPCC expected to say

The world is on course to experience “severe and pervasive” negative impacts from climate change unless it takes rapid action to slash its greenhouse gas emissions, a major UN report is expected to warn on Sunday.

Flooding, dangerous heatwaves, ill health and violent conflicts are among the likely risks if temperatures exceed 2C above pre-industrial levels, the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will say.

Yet on current trends, continued burning of fossil fuels could see temperature increases of between 3.7C and 4.8C by the end of the century, the report warns, according to a draft seen by the Telegraph.

Warming beyond 4C would likely result in “substantial species extinction, large risks to global and regional food security, impacts on normal human activities”.

One impact from EcoWatch:

Warming Oceans Impact Future of Shrimp

Shrimp is America’s most popular seafood, but now it seems like the bad news for shrimp lovers is coming from every direction. Last winter, higher water temperatures in the Gulf of Maine forced the cancellation of Maine’s Northern shrimp season, and now scientists are saying it could happen again. And a new report from Oceana, which did DNA testing on 143 shrimp products, found that as much as 30 percent of shrimp sold in grocery stores and markets is being misrepresented, with species substitution rampant.

The technical committee that makes recommendations to federal regulators at the Atlantic States Marina Fisheries Administration is urging extending last season’s moratorium on shrimp fishing off Maine’s coast to this season’s as well. According to AP, their draft report pins the shrimp decline on rising ocean temperatures.

Temperatures in the Gulf of Maine are rising faster than in 99 percent of the Earth’s oceans, increasing half a degree Fahrenheit annually, scientists from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute found. That’s eight times faster than the global rate. In the process, Maine’s Northern shrimp haul has plummeted from 12 million pounds in 2010 to 563,313 pounds last year, as warmer temperatures cause their food supply to decline and their number of predators to increase and ocean acidification impacts their development.

“The decline of the shrimp fishery, I think that’s another one that has a very strong fingerprint of global warming,” said Andrew Pershing, chief scientific officer with the Institute.

Another from Der Spiegel:

The Grapes of Wrath: France’s Great Wines Are Feeling the Heat

In France, climate change is no longer just an abstract problem. The culinary country’s grand wine culture is threatened by rising global temperatures. Vintners are fighting to save a part of our world culture heritage that spans the last two millennia.

Extreme weather is becoming more common in all of France’s wine-growing regions. Heavy rains and hailstorms frequently come on the heels of summer heat waves and dry periods. Winters and nighttime temperatures are so mild that the plants are never able to rest. Few winegrowers continue to deny these tangible phenomena.

On the other hand, it isn’t easy to perceive that the last three decades have been the warmest in the last 1,400 years. It’s hard to comprehend that the average annual temperature has increased by 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), that the Atlantic and the Mediterranean are warming almost imperceptibly, and that days are getting just slightly warmer. Human beings lack the natural sensors to detect such changes, but grapevines have them. The vines are suffering from ongoing stress, say some vintners. Vineyards are in turmoil, not just in France but also in Italy, Spain and all of Southern Europe — in all the places where it has always been warm and where it is now getting too hot.

Vintners along the Rhône River, 500 kilometers (310 miles) east of Bordeaux, know what this means. The region is home to the large Guigal winery at Château d’Ampuis, a complex of old and new buildings less than half an hour south of Lyon. The château sits directly at the base of the small mountains that produce the Côte-Rôtie, the best location in the northern Rhône Valley. Signs bearing the names of vintners, who proudly mark their parcels, are posted like standards up and down the steep hillsides. This is one of the world’s oldest wine-growing regions, where the first vines were reportedly planted 2,400 years ago.

The Guardian adds another complication:

Amazon rainforest losing ability to regulate climate, scientist warns

  • Report says logging and burning of Amazon might be connected to worsening droughts – such as the one plaguing São Paulo

The Amazon rainforest has degraded to the point where it is losing its ability to benignly regulate weather systems, according to a stark new warning from one of Brazil’s leading scientists.

In a new report, Antonio Nobre, researcher in the government’s space institute, Earth System Science Centre, says the logging and burning of the world’s greatest forest might be connected to worsening droughts – such as the one currently plaguing São Paulo – and is likely to lead eventually to more extreme weather events.

The study, which is a summary drawing from more than 200 existing papers on Amazonian climate and forest science, is intended as a wake-up call.

“I realised the problem is much more serious than we realised, even in academia and the reason is that science has become so fragmented. Atmospheric scientists don’t look at forests as much as they should and vice versa,” said Nobre, who wrote the report for a lay audience. “It’s not written in academic language. I don’t need to preach to the converted. Our community is already very alarmed at what is going on.”

A draft seen by the Guardian warns that the “vegetation-climate equilibrium is teetering on the brink of the abyss.” If it tips, the Amazon will start to become a much drier savanna, which calamitous consequences.

The Amazon works as a giant pump, channeling moisture inland via aerial rivers and rainclouds that form over the forest more dramatically than over the sea, the author says. It also provides a buffer against extreme weather events, such as tornados and hurricanes.

In the past 20 years, the author notes that the Amazon has lost 763,000 sq km, an area the size of two Germanys. In addition another 1.2m sq km has been estimated as degraded by cutting below the canopy and fire.

From SciDev.Net, apparently premature:

Plan to tow thirst-quenching icebergs to Africa is on ice

A project conceived to solve water shortages by towing icebergs from the poles to regions such as Africa and South America is still awaiting funding to progress, despite plans to start tests two years ago.

Real-life tests for the Ice Dream project slated for 2012 or 2013 were postponed due to a lack of funding. Now the project’s developer tells SciDev.Net that funds may be available next year — from a source he did not identify — to test the idea by towing an iceberg from off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada.

The man behind the ambitious scheme is French engineer and entrepreneur Georges Mougin. He picked up on the idea — first conceptualised by the US Army — of using icebergs as a fresh water source some 30 years ago. But in 2009 he teamed up with French firm Dassault Systèmes, which specialses in 3-D modelling for engineering projects.

More water woes from the Guardian:

Introduction of water charges in Ireland cause widespread street protests

  • Government says it needs money for infrastructure, but some citizens say they are willing to go to prison for refusing to pay

Ireland is facing mounting anger over controversial moves to introduce water charges, with street protests against the measure likened to the revolt against the poll tax in Britain.

Weeks after the first bills were sent out, the unprecedented water charges, which can cost households more than €500 (£390) a year, have provoked a ferocious response from citizens that is threatening to destabilise the ruling Fine Gael-Labour coalition in Dublin.

Tens of thousands are expected to gather at 80 different locations across the republic Saturday, forcing the coalition to rapidly draw up plans for partial relief from the new charges.

The Ecologist covers environmental corruption:

ICC told: Cambodia land-grabbing is ‘crime against humanity’

A British lawyer has filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court, writes Kevin Ponniah, alleging that a wave of violent land-grabbing that has displaced 770,000 people has been carried out by Cambodia’s ruling elite, and that it amounts to a crime against humanity

A British lawyer has asked the International Criminal Court to investigate “widespread and systematic” land grabbing in Cambodia over the past 14 years as a “crime against humanity”.

The complaint filed in The Hague last week by lawyer Richard Rogers, who is officially representing 10 Cambodian victims, alleges that a “ruling elite” has perpetuated mass rights violations in pursuit of wealth and power.

According to a statement released by Global Diligence LLP – where Rogers is a partner – and the International Federation for Human Rights:

“The communication contends that senior members of the Cambodian government, its security forces, and government-connected business leaders carried out an attack on the civilian population with the twin objectives of self-enrichment and preservation of power at all costs.”

From Kyodo News, Fukushimapocalypse Now!:

New industry minister Miyazawa visits Fukushima plant for 1st time

New industry minister Yoichi Miyazawa on Saturday visited the disaster-struck Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant for the first time since replacing Yuko Obuchi, who resigned in late October over a funding scandal.

Miyazawa visited the plant before going to Kagoshima Prefecture in southwestern Japan to push for the restart of nuclear reactors there, apparently to fend off criticism that he places greater importance on restarting reactors than handling the meltdown in Fukushima and its aftermath.

Referring to ongoing efforts to scrap the stricken reactors and deal with radioactive water accumulating at the plant, the economy, trade and industry minister said, “There are difficult issues, but we see things proceeding steadily so far.”

And to close, the Guardian covers another extravagant GMO claim:

Indian prime minister claims genetic science existed in ancient times

  • Narendra Modi gives examples of Karna and Ganesha to support view that cosmetic surgery and reproductive genetics used thousands of years ago

Hindu nationalists have long propagated their belief that many discoveries of modern science and technology were known to the people of ancient India. But now for the first time an Indian prime minister has endorsed these claims, maintaining that cosmetic surgery and reproductive genetics were practiced thousands of years ago.

As proof, Narendra Modi gave the examples of the warrior Karna from the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata and of the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha.

“We can feel proud of what our country achieved in medical science at one point of time,” the prime minister told a gathering of doctors and other professionals at a hospital in Mumbai on Saturday. “We all read about Karna in the Mahabharata. If we think a little more, we realise that the Mahabharata says Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means that genetic science was present at that time. That is why Karna could be born outside his mother’s womb.”