Category Archives: Development

EbolaWatch: Politics, woes, and warnings


We begin with high politics from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

U.S. submits Ebola draft to UNSC

The U.S. Mission to the United Nations has presented to U.N. Security Council members a draft of a Security Council resolution on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, calling for a coordinated international response to the deadly virus.

The draft of the resolution obtained by The Yomiuri Shimbun on Tuesday calls on nations to provide urgent aid and lift travel restrictions that could isolate the Ebola-infected region.

The United States seeks to hold an emergency Security Council session on the Ebola outbreak on Thursday and have the resolution adopted at the meeting.

It is unusual for the Security Council to adopt a resolution on public health.

A video report covers some of the reasons for the finally aroused anxieties of the North, via CCTV America:

WHO assessing which countries can deal with Ebola virus

Program notes:

There are worrying reports for Ebola–Free African nations. The World Health Organisation has been assessing which African countries could handle in case there’s an outbreak. As CCTV America’s Jane Kiyo reports, apparently only two countries are up to the challenge.

Star Africa News has one nation’s death toll:

Liberia Ebola-related deaths at 1,424 – Report

Liberia’s Ebola-related deaths since the epidemic began in the country in March has reached 1, 424, according to a report by the Ministry of Health.

The report released on Wednesday showing the latest update on the situation of the epidemic in the country, said the figure concerns deaths in confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola.

The report entitled the Ebola Situation Report covers March 22 through September 13, 2014.

And from France 24, we get the all-too-usual emphasis on non-Acfrican sufferers:

French MSF volunteer contracts Ebola in Liberia

A French volunteer working for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) in Liberia has contracted the Ebola virus, the medical charity said in a statement on Wednesday.

This is the first confirmed case of a French national catching the disease in the current outbreak. The volunteer was put in quarantine on Sept.16 when the first symptoms of the illness appeared.

She will be evacuated to a specialised treatment centre in France.

From Joel Pett, editorial cartoonist of the Lexington Herald-Leader, anxieties expressed:

BLOG Cartoon pett

Reuters covers preventative efforts:

West African powerhouse Ivory Coast battles to keep out Ebola

The worst recorded outbreak of the virus has killed over 2,400 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, wreaking havoc on their fragile economies, and has also spread to Nigeria and Senegal.

If it reaches Ivory Coast, the powerhouse of French-speaking West Africa, the economic consequences could be yet worse. The country of 20 million people exports 40 percent of the world’s cocoa, the raw material for chocolate, and supplies its landlocked neighbors with everything from rice to fuel.

Ivory Coast is taking the kind of aggressive anti-infection measures that its poorer, smaller western neighbors were slow to adopt. Hand washing stations have appeared at the entrances of government buildings and office towers in Abidjan, the bustling economic capital. People have abandoned the traditional three-kiss greeting.

The Guardian covers a radical measure:

Ebola lockdown in Sierra Leone: nationwide three-day curfew

  • Unprecented national shutdown, with health workers going house-to-house to identify Ebola cases; MSF raises concerns about capacity to cope

Residents across Sierra Leone, one of three countries at the centre of the biggest ever Ebola outbreak, scrambled on Wednesday to prepare for a three-day, unprecedented nationwide “lockdown” in a radical step intended to curb the spread of the killer virus, but which some health experts believe could worsen the epidemic.

Citizens will not be allowed to leave their homes from Thursday until Sunday. Known as “ose to ose” in the widely-used local Krio, health workers will also go house-to-house identifying cases and raising awareness. More than 2,300 have died across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in the nine-month epidemic that the World Bank warned this week could lead to deaths in the “tens of thousands” if unchecked by the end of the year.

Some 21,000 people have been recruited to enforce the lockdown, bulking up thousands of police and soldiers already deployed to quarantine districts in the worst-hit regions near the border with Guinea. But some international health experts have advised against the move, citing both practical concerns and disastrous attempts at the mass quarantine of the biggest slum in neighbouring Liberia.

Ghana lends a hand, via the Liberian Observer:

Accra to Serve as Transit Point for Flights

  • President Mahama Discloses; Frowns on Isolation of Ebola-affected Countries

The President of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama, has been in consultation with the United Nations secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, to allow Accra to serve as a transit center for international flights that might be bringing in logistics, medicines and other relief items for the affected countries.

Accra is the capital of Ghana, but President Mahama said his consultation is in his capacity as chair of the regional body, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). This is a  demonstration of how Ghana is prepared to help affected the countries.

He spoke on Monday September 15, when he paid a one-day solidarity visit with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Monrovia.

The New York Times covers financial alarms:

Ebola Could Devastate West African Economies, World Bank Says

The three West African countries most affected by Ebola could experience a “potentially catastrophic blow” to their economies because of the epidemic, the World Bank Group warned Wednesday.

The outbreak could cut gross domestic product by nearly 12 percent in Liberia and nearly 9 percent in Sierra Leone in 2015 if it is not curbed, according to the report. The impact to Guinea would be less severe, at around 2 percent.

A fear of contagion and what the bank referred to as “aversion behavior” is driving most of the economic losses. Places of employment are being closed, transportation is being disrupted, and vital links with other nations by air and sea are being cut, the analysis found.

Reuters hints at purse strings loosening:

IMF proposes $127 million for three Ebola-hit countries in West Africa

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone could receive an additional $127 million from the International Monetary Fund to help them deal with the worst-ever outbreak of the Ebola virus, the IMF said on Wednesday.

The funds, which must still be approved by the IMF’s executive board, would help cover an estimated $300 million financing gap in the West African countries over the next six to nine months, when the IMF expects the impact of the outbreak to be most acute.

“The Ebola outbreak is a severe human, social and economic crisis that requires a resolute response from the international community,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said in a statement. “The governments of the three countries have requested additional IMF support to help cover the acute financing needs they are facing as a result of the outbreak.”

The IMF on Wednesday proposed a $40 million loan for Guinea, $48 million for Liberia and $39 million for Sierra Leone. It has said economic growth in Liberia and Sierra Leone has been hurt in particular by the epidemic’s impact on agriculture, mining and the services sectors.

Punch Nigeria precludes:

World Bank excludes Nigeria from $105m W’African fund

The World Bank Group’s Board of Executive Directors has approved a $105m grant to finance Ebola-containment efforts in West African countries infected with the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease.

A statement issued by the bank in Washington on Wednesday to announce the development, however, excluded Nigeria as a beneficiary of the fund.

The bank said the fund would help families and communities in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to cope with the economic impact of the Ebola crisis as well as rebuild and strengthen essential public health systems in the three worst-affected countries to guard against future disease outbreaks.

The Hill covers cash-inducing anxiety:

Congress worries Ebola could hit US, become more contagious

Lawmakers are increasingly concerned about the spread of Ebola and worry that it could jump to the United States and become more contagious.

President Obama on Tuesday unveiled new plans to surge U.S. support to West Africa that includes sending thousands of U.S. military personnel to the region and establishing a command-and-control center, and new hospitals to aid in the fight.

But lawmakers worry the president’s efforts might not be enough to contain the outbreak. Already, an estimated 2,400 have died from the disease, and the United Nations estimates $1 billion could be necessary to limit the epidemic.

And from Sky News, another vaccine trial, held in the North:

Former Nurse Tests Experimental Ebola Vaccine

  • A former NHS nurse has become the first person to be injected with an experimental ebola vaccine.

Ruth Atkins was given the jab in her arm and then carefully monitored by doctors for any side effects.

She is the first of 60 healthy volunteers to take part in a clinical trial at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute.

She was paid just £380 – not for the risk, but for any loss of earnings.

A video report from the London Telegraph:

British woman first to test Ebola vaccine

Program notes:

Ruth Atkins becomes the first volunteer to be injected with a potentially life-saving new vaccine that scientists hope will tackle Ebola

Another wake-up call received, via TheLocal.de:

Merkel promises help for Liberia in Ebola fight

Chancellor Angela Merkel has promised that Germany will send help to Liberia to tackle the Ebola crisis in response to a personal appeal by the country’s president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

“We will act quickly and stand ready with everything we have available,” Merkel told journalists in Berlin on Wednesday. “The situation in Liberia is in fact very dramatic.”

German help to the stricken West African nation could include air transport, secure return flights for doctors and other workers from international organizations, help building hospital wards and support for the World Health Organization (WHO).

A Merkel spokeswoman said earlier that the German army was also examining what kind of help it might be able to offer Liberia.

African boots on the ground from the Liberian Observer:

AU to Deploys 200 Health Workers in Ebola Affeted Countries

The African Union (AU) is expected to deployed 200 health workers and other professionals,including nurses and doctors to Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone to help combat the deadly Ebola virus in the sub-region.

Africa Union’s Special Representative to Liberia, Amb. Toyin Solaja,said the deployment is a part of a joint AU-led military and civilian humanitarian mission code named African Union Support to Ebola Outbreak in West Africa (ASEOWA).

He puts the cost of the operation to more than 25 million United States Dollars. The Ambassador said a total of two hundred (200) professionals are expected to be deployed in the three countries.

More from Star Africa News:

Namibia gives $1m to Ebola countries

The Namibia government says it is contributing $1 million as a solidarity support to the West African countries currently battling the Ebola outbreak, the permanent secretary in the ministry of information Mbeuta Ua-Ndjarakana announced on Tuesday.

Ua-Ndjarakana told journalists that the contribution will be channeled through the World Health Organisation (WHO) to the African Public Health Emergency Fund for the containment of Ebola in Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Namibia is heeding the call made by the African Union to its member states and the international community to make contributions in cash or kind to assist its fight against the Ebola outbreak in some West African countries,” Ua-Ndjarakana said.

WHO needs an estimated $I billion to bring the epidemic under control, its officials said in Geneva earlier on Tuesday.

Updating a patient from the North with the Associated Press:

Doctors expect Nebraska Ebola patient to recover

An American aid worker infected with Ebola who’s being treated in Nebraska is now expected to make a full recovery, his doctors said Wednesday.

The medical team treating Rick Sacra also said it’s optimistic that the 51-year-old from Worcester, Massachusetts, will soon be able to leave the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

“However, we are still somewhat cautious because of the severity and unknown factors of this disease,” said Dr. Angela Hewlett, associate medical director of the isolation unit housing Sacra, who contracted Ebola while working in Liberia. “We know from experience how other patients look as their condition improves, but since we have so little experience treating patients with Ebola, that tempers our optimism a little bit.”

The Independent covers another extraordinary measure up North:

Ebola outbreak: Survivor William Pooley flown to US to give doctor with virus emergency blood transfusion

William Pooley, the British nurse who was cured of the Ebola, has been flown to America on a life-saving mission to give blood to a new victim of the deadly virus.

Mr Pooley has travelled to Atlanta for an emergency blood transfusion which could save the life of a doctor who contracted the disease while working in Sierra Leone.

The 29-year-old, who became the first Briton to contract Ebola, could help the US victim fight off the virus because his blood carries antibodies for the disease, the Evening Standard reports.

Mr Pooley was put on a flight on Friday night, paid for by the World Health Organisation, to Atlanta where the doctor is being treated in an isolation unit at Emory University Hospital.

Evangelicals ignoring border bans, with Star Africa News:

Batswana disregard travel ban to Ebola nations

Botswana citizens are defying a ban imposed by the Ministry of Health on travel to countries affected by Ebola, an official said Wednesday.Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Diadi Mmualefe told private radio station Gabz FM that some Batswana continued to visit West Africa despite warnings by the Ministry of Health against travelling to Ebola-affected countries.

He revealed that two Batswana travelled on Tuesday night to Nigeria where they want to attend a church service at the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) led by televangelist TB Joshua.

Botswana is one of southern African countries that have banned travel to Nigeria, Guinea, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Liberia that are at the epicentre of an Ebola outbreak that has so far killed more than 2,000 people in the region since March.

From Agence France-Presse, a graphic look inside an Ebola treatment center, based on a plan from Medicine sans Frontieres:

BLOG Ebola center

From the Guardian, a protest from Down Under:

$7m Ebola contribution is not enough, says Australian Medical Association

  • Brian Owler says additional $7m in Ebola aid should be bolstered by deployment of Australian health workers

Australia’s contribution to fighting the Ebola virus is still inadequate despite the promise of another $7m, the head of the Australian Medical Association has warned.

Brian Owler said last week that the government’s commitment of $1m to the World Health Organisation to control the outbreak in west Africa was inadequate, and on Wednesday the government pledged an extra $7m.

WHO and Médecins Sans Frontières will each receive $2.5m, while $2m will be given to Britain to help combat the disease in Sierra Leone, the foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said.

Punch Nigeria covers classroom concerns:

Ebola: Senate urges schools to take precautionary measures

The Senate on Wednesday urged all schools in Nigeria to take precautionary measures to contain the spread of the Ebola virus.

The Senate also appealed to the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States to create regional and continent wide containment programmes to avoid further spread of the deadly virus.

The Senate made this appeal as part of resolutions reached after a debate on a motion, entitled, “The Ebola Virus Disease in Nigeria,” sponsored by Senator Ifeanyi Okowa and 106 others.

Punch Nigeria again, with more classroom concerns:

Ebola outbreak: Parents still worry about possible outbreak

All appears set for the September 22 resumption date as directed by the Federal Government. But, in spite of the dramatic change of mind exhibited by the Nigerian Medical Association, parents and guardians are still apprehensive of a possible outbreak and the devastating effects it would have on children and teenagers.

While the NMA said its latest decision that pupils could go back to schools was based on the fact that no confirmed case of EVD in the country again, the Nigerian Union of Teachers has directed its members not to report to work unless safety gadgets are provided for them though it remained to be seen how far the union could go in view of the fact that the government in some states have asked the schools to reopen on Sept 22.

Parents who spoke with our correspondent on Wednesday expressed diverse opinions on the resumption date.

Punch Nigeria again, with still more:

Niger to reopen schools October

THE Niger State Government has decided that all schools in the state will reopen for the new academic year in October, contrary to the Sept 22 date declared by the Federal Government.

The Federal Government had shifted the resumption dates for all private and public schools in the country to next Monday as a result of the recent outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease in the country.

However, in announcing the new resumption date for public schools in the state on Wednesday, the Niger State Government said it had taken into account the forthcoming Eid-el Kabir Muslim festival expected to hold worldwide in the first week of October.

And for our final Nigerian school item, again from Punch Nigeria, a union call:

Sept 22: Ekiti NUT tells teachers to stay away

The Nigeria Union of Teachers in Ekiti State has asked its members to comply with the directive of its national body to shun the September 22 resumption date for the 2014/2015 academic session.

Chairman of the union in Ekiti, Samuel Akosile, on Wednesday, said his members would not resume work until certain preventive measures capable of curtailing the Ebola Virus Disease had been put in place .

He urged government to organise seminars and workshops on Ebola for teachers in the state, saying “This will broaden their horizons on what the virus is all about and precautions to be taken to engender safety.”

The NUT chairman urged the state government to procure Infra-red thermometers and provide pipe-borne water and sanitisers in all the state-owned primary and secondary schools in order to give the assurances that government was committed to safety in school environments.

Next, from the Liberian Observer, a growing phenomenon:

Orphaned by Ebola

September 15, 2014, an unidentified toddler is seen standing unaware of the commotion going on around her. She and her gravely sick mother had just disembarked few minutes ago, from a taxi cab. Her mother struggled to take few steps, she collapsed and died. The innocent child was pulled away from her. The woman’s “lifeless body” was immediately dumped over other dead bodies already in a pickup truck waiting to transport the dead either for burial or to the crematorium.

She’s still unidentified.

According to witnesses standing in front of Redemption Hospital, which has quite recently become an Ebola holding center, the little girl and her said mother came to the hospital for treatment.

“Just how they arrived, the mother died in the car and her body was added to the bodies that were being taken out of the hospital today,” stated an LNP officer, who asked not to be named.

And for our final item, Defense One covers the American national security perspective:

Africa Needs the US Military To Fight Ebola

Both civilian and military public health experts understand how to contain highly transmissible infectious diseases, such as SARS, avian influenza, the MERS Coronavirus, and other pandemic-prone diseases. These diseases are threats to global security that could lead to outbreaks with significant costs including massive loss of life, a weakened work force, geopolitical instability, and economic disruption and losses. But given the relative successes in responding to these diseases, it has been surprising and disappointing that collective international actions against Ebola have thus far proven largely unsuccessful.

As Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, rightly points out, Ebola won’t be stopped with principles of global solidarity and earnest appeals. Disjointed and erratic funding efforts, dozens of volunteer health workers, and closing national barriers in West African states is either too little, too late, or too ineffective. Like Heracles slaying the many-headed Hydra, cutting off the beast’s individual heads was not enough; only by cauterizing the stumps was he able to contain the threat. Like Heracles, we must evaluate our futile tactics and engage an asymmetric advantage to bring to a halt this unprecedented yet containable Ebola outbreak.

Changing the dynamics of the West African outbreak requires behavioral changes including adjustments to burial practices and sanitation issues that are particularly conducive to the spread of Ebola. The consumption of bushmeat—that is, animal meat from the wild rather than domestically farmed—is also a significant risk factor. On a societal level, there are more broad-based cultural factors at play including a serious mistrust of health aid workers and the national government.

EnviroWatch: Heat, water woes, power hunger


We open with a scorcher from The Hill:

NASA: August 2014 hottest on record

The globe just experienced its hottest recorded August, according to new data released by NASA on Monday.

While last month is ranked the No. 1 August by temperature, the difference among the top five is fewer than .03 degrees Celsius, NASA said in an email to The Hill.

All together, summer 2014 ranked fourth out of the warmest summers on record.

One consequence of heat, via the Guardian:

Where the wildfires are: if there’s smoke, there are costly health problems

  • Scientists fear that climate change could lead to more wildfires – and to lingering, expensive, public health crises as smoke spreads thousands of miles away from the actual fire sites

There are plenty of immediate concerns in a fire: protecting homes and businesses, saving lives, limiting the number of acres consumed and so on. But increasingly, researchers and policymakers are finding that the lingering health and safety impacts of wildfires may be far more worrisome – and more widespread.

Smoke, after all, can travel any way the wind takes it, exacerbating an array of health problems in cities hundreds of miles from the original fire. In 2002, for example, a fire in Canada caused a 30-fold increase in fine particulate matter in the air in Baltimore, 1,000 miles away.

According to Kim Knowlton, a senior scientist with the health and environment program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), that level of air pollution can contribute to a variety of respiratory and cardiac issues and has even been correlated with premature death and low birth weights. In a 2011 study, conducted in partnership with researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of California at San Francisco, Knowlton found that more than 760,000 encounters with the health system between 2000 and 2009 could be attributed to exposure to wildfire smoke.

These health problems carried a steep price tag: $740,000 in direct healthcare costs and more than $14bn in overall health costs once the value of lives lost prematurely was factored in. The 2003 wildfire season in southern California alone resulted in 69 premature deaths, 778 hospitalizations, 1,431 emergency room visits, and 47,605 outpatient visits, mostly for respiratory and cardiovascular health problems aggravated by smoke exposure.

From the Associated Press, control of the commons contested:

EPA administrator pushes for water rules

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said Monday she’s not backing down on her agency’s efforts to implement a new rule that would assert regulatory authority over many of the nation’s streams and wetlands despite criticisms that it amounts to a federal water grab.

The U.S. House approved a bill last week that would block the agency from moving forward with the rule, which aims to clarify the streams and waterways that could be protected from development under the Clean Water Act.

McCarthy denied the rule would expand the jurisdiction of the act, but she said it’s time — given drought pressures in the West and the effects of climate change — to clarify some of the act’s provisions to make them more understandable and to establish regulatory certainty when it comes to drinking water supplies.

From the Guardian, a phenomenon resurgent:

California water witches see big business as the drought drags on

  • Dowsers, sometimes known as ‘water witches,’ are in high demand in drought-stricken California, where four dry years find farmers and vintners taking desperate measures

As California rounds the corner towards a four-year historic drought, many farmers and vintners have become completely reliant on groundwater. After divvying surface water allotments to satisfy urban, ecosystem and industrial needs, farmers in many parts of the state received little or no irrigation water from state agencies this year. In a normal year, allotments would cover roughly two-thirds of farmers’ needs.

Under these severe drought conditions, the success or failure of a well can mean the success or failure of a farm or vineyard, so before the drill bit hits the dirt, landowners need an educated guess as to where to find the most productive well site on their property. To get that, they can call in a professional hydrogeologist, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars – or they can drop a fraction of the cost on a dowser.

Despite a distinct lack of empirical evidence regarding dowsers’ efficacy, demand is high and dowsers’ phones are ringing off the hook.

From the Guardian, a mixed fracking report card:

Drinking water contaminated by shale gas boom in Texas and Pennsylvania

  • Faulty natural gas well casings blamed in study for methane leakage in Barnett Shale and the Marcellus formation

The natural gas boom resulting from fracking has contaminated drinking water in Texas and Pennsylvania, a new study said on Monday.

However, the researchers said the gas leaks were due to defective gas well production – and were not a direct result of horizontal drilling, or fracking.

The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences validated some of the concerns raised by homeowners in the Barnett Shale of Texas and the Marcellus formation in Pennsylvania about natural gas leaking into their water supply.

On a parallel note with BBC News:

Water stress may curtail fracking, says WRI

Water shortages could hinder fracking for shale oil and gas in many parts of the world, the World Resources Institute (WRI) has said.

In the first report of its kind, the WRI found that 38% of the world’s shale resources were in arid areas or in those with severe water stress.

Accessing fresh water was likely to present “serious challenges”, it said.

Until now, concerns about fracking and water have focused on contamination of local supplies.

Killing with our cultural excreta, via the Guardian:

Plastic rubbish from land, not ships, killing Australian sea life, say scientists

  • Research shows three-quarters of rubbish was plastic and debris concentrated near cities

Mounds of plastic rubbish along Australia’s coastline are growing and killing wildlife which is ingesting or becoming ensnared in it, researchers say.

Scientists visited more than 170 sites along the coast and found about three-quarters of the rubbish was plastic from the land, not vessels on the ocean, and debris was concentrated near cities.

The density of plastic ranged from a few thousand pieces per square kilometre to more than 40,000 pieces, a CSIRO scientist, Denise Hardesty, said.

More Down Under water woes with the Guardian:

Great Barrier Reef plan ‘not enough to ward off UN in-danger listing’

  • Federal and Queensland government proposal to improve water quality ‘little more than business as usual’, say environmentalists

A plan to improve the Great Barrier Reef’s water quality and conserve species such as turtles may not be enough to stave off a United Nations “in danger” listing for the ecosystem, environmentalists have warned.

The draft Reef 2050 long-term sustainability plan, a joint strategy by the federal and Queensland governments, has been released in an attempt to satisfy Unesco, which has warned it may place the reef on its list of threatened sites in 2015.

Port developers, the agriculture industry and environment groups helped draft the plan.

The plan stipulates a 50% reduction in nitrogen and a 60% drop in pesticides flowing on to the reef by 2018. There is also a protection plan for dugongs and turtles and a commitment to prioritise “functional ecosystems critical to reef health”.

On the contentious issue of dredging the seabed and dumping it within the Great Barrier Reef’s waters, there is a commitment to prohibit dredging within the world heritage area for new ports for the next 10 years as well as a “code of practice” for dredging.

Water woes on the subcontinent with The Diplomat:

Cleaning Up the Ganges

  • Narendra Modi will need more than just rhetoric to clean up India’s most important river.

Already, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cleanup plan for the Ganges river has come in for criticism from various quarters. The sharpest censure came recently from India’s Supreme Court, which observed that the government’s action plan may not result in a clean Ganges “even after 200 years.”

The apex court has ordered the government to provide a cleanup plan with stages and a schedule.

Promises to clean the Ganges figured in Modi’s election speeches and in his party’s election manifesto. Soon after coming to power in May, he signaled that the Ganges would be a priority by creating a Ministry for Water Resources, River Development and Ganges Rejuvenation. A flurry of meetings followed. In July, the government announced “Namami Ganga,” (in Sanskrit it means “obeisance to the Ganges”), an Integrated Ganges Development Project, and allocated around $334 million for it. It promised a clean Ganges in three years.

However, little is known about the Ganges project or what it entails.

A anthropogenic die-off after an exceptionally long run, via the Guardian:

Wild Chinese sturgeon on brink of extinction in polluted Yangtze

  • The fish has survived for 140m years but failed to reproduce last year according to Chinese researchers

The wild Chinese sturgeon is at risk of extinction after none of the rare fish were detected reproducing naturally in the polluted and crowded Yangtze river last year.

One of the world’s oldest living species, the wild Chinese sturgeon is thought to have existed for more than 140m years but has seen its numbers crash as China’s economic boom has brought pollution, dams and boat traffic along the world’s third-longest river.

For the first time since researchers began keeping records 32 years ago, there was no natural reproduction of wild Chinese sturgeon in 2013, according to a report published by the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences.

The Guardian, with another riverine threat:

Drought bites as Amazon’s ‘flying rivers’ dry up

  • Scientists say deforestation and climate change responsible for forests not producing vapour clouds that bring rain to Brazil, reports Climate News Network

The unprecedented drought now affecting São Paulo, South America’s giant metropolis, is believed to be caused by the absence of the “flying rivers” – the vapour clouds from the Amazon that normally bring rain to the centre and south of Brazil.

Some Brazilian scientists say the absence of rain that has dried up rivers and reservoirs in central and southeast Brazil is not just a quirk of nature, but a change brought about by a combination of the continuing deforestation of the Amazon and global warming.

This combination, they say, is reducing the role of the Amazon rainforest as a giant “water pump”, releasing billions of litres of humidity from the trees into the air in the form of vapour.

From New Europe, an attack on anthropocentric arrogance:

EU leads an international demarche against whaling by Iceland

  • Countries asked Iceland to respect the IWC’s global moratorium and end its commercial whaling

The EU, its 28 Member States and the governments of the United States, Australia, Brazil, Israel, New Zealand, Mexico and Monaco, today declared their opposition to the fact that the Icelandic government still permits commercial whaling, in particular the hunting of fin whales and the subsequent trading of fin whale products.

The EU’s Ambassador to Iceland, Matthias Brinkmann, along with the diplomatic representatives of the United States, France, Germany and the UK delivered a demarche to this effect to the Icelandic government this morning. The Ambassador also pointed out that public opinion in the countries that are Iceland’s main trading partners is very much against the practise of whaling.  This is evidenced by the public pressure put on companies around the world to boycott Icelandic goods, not to mention the pressure that voters and various organisations put on their politicians, encouraging them to send Iceland an increasingly stronger message.

Reuters documents another case of biological and ultimately suicidal form of corporate arrogance:

Farmaceuticals

  • Documents reveal how poultry firms systematically feed antibiotics to flocks
  • Pervasive use fuels concerns about impact on human health, emergence of resistant superbugs

Major U.S. poultry firms are administering antibiotics to their flocks far more pervasively than regulators realize, posing a potential risk to human health.

Internal records examined by Reuters reveal that some of the nation’s largest poultry producers routinely feed chickens an array of antibiotics – not just when sickness strikes, but as a standard practice over most of the birds’ lives.

In every instance of antibiotic use identified by Reuters, the doses were at the low levels that scientists say are especially conducive to the growth of so-called superbugs, bacteria that gain resistance to conventional medicines used to treat people. Some of the antibiotics belong to categories considered medically important to humans.

The internal documents contain details on how five major companies  – Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue Farms, George’s and Koch Foods – medicate some of their flocks.

The documented evidence of routine use of antibiotics for long durations was “astonishing,” said Donald Kennedy, a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner.

For our final item and from MintPress News, consumptive media:

Report: “Critical Action” Needed To Fight Enormous Energy Waste At Data Centers

Data centers consume colossal amounts of energy and water, with most waste — largely stemming from operating inefficiencies — actually coming from the country’s millions of small data centers.

Data centers are wasting electricity so excessively that only “critical action” can prevent the pollution and rate hikes that some U.S. regions could eventually suffer as a result of power plant construction intended to ensure that the ravenous facilities are well-fed, a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Anthesis warns.

The report, “Scaling Up Energy Efficiency Across the Data Center Industry: Evaluating Key Drivers and Barriers” [PDF], was issued on Aug. 26. Data centers, which number in the millions, are collections of servers (in-house or otherwise) which store and process data for businesses as ordinary as real estate firms or as large as social media platforms like Facebook.

The NRDC report describes the inefficient approach to server management common in practically all U.S. businesses, and recommends a variety of actions to save energy by tackling those inefficiencies.

EnviroWatch: Dengue, water woes, toxics


We open with the latest on that other outbreak on another continent, via Jiji Press:

Dengue Fever Outbreak in Japan Shows No Signs of Ending

Despite Japanese authorities’ efforts for containment, dengue fever has not yet shown clear signs of subsiding in the country, with the number of domestic infections topping 100.

The health ministry calls for calm, saying there is no need to panic because the spread of the tropical disease, which is transmitted only by tiger mosquitoes, will not last long, daily reports of new infections are stirring up fears.

The first locally transmitted case of dengue fever in nearly 70 years was reported in late August.

From NBC News, water woes in the Golden State:

Not One Drop: How Long Will California Survive Life Without Water?

The old man knew of the $500-a-day fine for people caught wasting water. He heard the plea for conservation from Governor Jerry Brown. But the water police can’t scare a person whose water isn’t running in the first place.

“Look,” said Carlos Chavez, a retired farm hand in the small town of Seville. He turned the wheel on a big outdoor faucet, the kind of high pressure spigot that’s illegal to operate in California without at least a hose attached to it. Nothing came out except air. It was the same story inside his home, where his plates piled up beneath a kitchen faucet as dry as the shop model.

As the California drought approaches its fourth year, Seville’s well is one of hundreds of private water holes coughing up sand and spitting air in the Central Valley, according to Tulare County officials. As many as 100,000 more wells are at risk around the state if the rains don’t come by October.

From NASA Goddard, another water woe:

Phytoplankton Levels Dropping

Program notes:

New research led by NASA researchers has found populations of the microscopic marine plants, phytoplankton, have decreased in the Northern Hemisphere. An analysis using a NASA model in combination with ocean satellite data between 1998 and 2012, showed a 1% decrease of phytoplankton per year.

From the Guardian, all hat, no cattle in Old Blighty:

Richard Branson failed to deliver on $3bn climate change pledge

  • New book by Naomi Klein claims that Virgin founder gave less than a tenth of cash promised to develop low carbon fuel

Richard Branson has failed to deliver on his much-vaunted pledge to spend $3bn (£1.8bn) over a decade to develop a low carbon fuel.

Seven years into the pledge, Branson has paid out only a small fraction of the promised money – “well under $300m” – according to a new book by the writer and activist, Naomi Klein.

The British entrepreneur famously promised to divert a share of the profits from his Virgin airlines empire to find a cleaner fuel, after a 2006 private meeting with Al Gore.

From Chemical & Engineering News, chemical intransigence:

Syngenta Stands Firm On Neonicotinoids

  • Pesticides: Manufacturer seeks to expand uses of thiamethoxam as pressure against chemical mounts

Amid growing concerns and lawsuits linking neonicotinoid pesticides with bee declines, Syngenta is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to increase the allowable levels of the company’s controversial neonicotinoid product thiamethoxam on certain crops.

Syngenta is seeking the change so thiamethoxam can be used as a spray on the foliage of alfalfa, corn, barley, and wheat. Currently, the pesticide is approved for use only as a seed treatment on those crops. In explaining its request, the company says, “Mid- to late-season insect pests are not controlled by seed treatment.”

The environmental group Beyond Pesticides says the move would be a “step backward for pollinator health.” Syngenta’s request “comes at a time when researchers are discovering that even ‘near-infinitesimal’ exposure to this class of pesticides can result in harm to honeybees and other wild pollinators,” the group says.

From the Yomiuri Shimbun, global warming sets the stage for conflicts ahead:

U.N. to set new rules for N. Sea Route

The U.N. International Maritime Organization will create the first-ever mandatory safety and environmental regulations for the Northern Sea Route by revising relevant conventions, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The London-based organization decided to formulate international rules for maritime traffic because the number of ships using the route has surged, as global warming has been causing ice in the Arctic Ocean to melt. The new regulations are expected to take effect in 2016.

Currently, no international laws have been established for the Arctic Ocean like those in the Antarctic Treaty, which dictates that nations not make territorial sovereignty or other claims. There have also been concerns that coastal nations such as Russia may implement their own regulations.

The paper also illustrates the routes of the new Northwest Passage:

BLOG Seas

From the Contra Costa Times, hints of oily woes ahead:

Crude-by-rail: One federal inspector oversees all California’s railroad bridges, no state oversight

As concerns grow over aging rail infrastructure, earthquake readiness and a dramatic increase in crude oil shipments by train, state railroad regulators are scrambling to hire their first-ever railroad bridge inspectors — two of them.

Once they are hired, the California Public Utilities Commission plans to create a state railroad bridge inventory to determine which are most at risk. That’s right — neither the state nor federal government has a list of railroad bridges for California or the rest of the country. Until that happens, the safety of California’s thousands of railroad bridges — key conduits that carry people and hazardous materials over environmentally sensitive ecosystems and near urban areas — is left up to rail line owners and a single federal inspector who splits his time among 11 states.

“Two more inspectors is better than none, but it’s really a Band-Aid,” said Suma Peesapati, attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental group fighting the oil rail influx. “I think there should be no crude by rail over those bridges until there’s a comprehensive look at all of them.”

And from Global Times oil and water don’t mix:

Kunlun river polluted by oil pipe leaks

A river at the foot of Kunlun Mountain in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau has become seriously polluted due to leaks from a diesel oil pipeline, which was broken by criminals who planned to steal oil, media reported Friday.

An unnamed government agency stated that broken valves on the oil pipeline in Qinghai Province, severed by prospective oil thieves, are the cause of the leaks, the Qinghai branch of China National Radio (CNR) reported on its Sina Weibo account Friday.

A total of 6 tons of oil had leaked, and 3 tons have been cleaned up, CNR reported, adding that the broken pipeline has also been repaired.

For our final item, China Daily hints of massive fracking ahead:

Experts: Potential of shale gas huge in China

China is one of the world’s largest markets for energy consumption, but some experts believe China can make significant headway in the natural gas sector by exploiting technology to tap its potentially huge reserves of shale gas.

China Energy 2020, an event that probed China’s place in the global energy market, was held Thursday at the Columbia Club of New York. The event was co-hosted by the China Energy Fund Committee, Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy and the National Committee on US-China Relations.

A report published by Columbia’s new energy policy center, titled Meeting China’s Shale Gas Goals, states that though China has “a huge shale gas resource,” production of shale gas in China is “just starting” to take shape and “will not be substantial” in the next few years.

EnviroWatch: Water, fracking, forests, nukes


We begin with the latest on that other outbreak, the one in Asia, via Jiji Press:

Dengue Infections in Japan Surpass 100

Nine more people in Japan have been confirmed to have dengue fever, raising the total number of cases to 105, the health ministry said Thursday.

All nine are likely to have been bitten by dengue virus-carrying mosquitoes in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park or nearby areas, where most of the recent infections are believed to have originated, the ministry said.

The 105 infected people come from 16 prefectures across Japan. The nine people developed symptoms between Aug. 30 and Tuesday, according to the ministry. The first domestic case of dengue fever in nearly 70 years was reported late last month.

From Mother Jones, Hillary’s other legacy:

How Hillary Clinton’s State Department Sold Fracking to the World

  • A trove of secret documents details the US government’s global push for shale gas

Under her leadership, the State Department worked closely with energy companies to spread fracking around the globe—part of a broader push to fight climate change, boost global energy supply, and undercut the power of adversaries such as Russia that use their energy resources as a cudgel. But environmental groups fear that exporting fracking, which has been linked to drinking-water contamination and earthquakes at home, could wreak havoc in countries with scant environmental regulation. And according to interviews, diplomatic cables, and other documents obtained by Mother Jones, American officials—some with deep ties to industry—also helped US firms clinch potentially lucrative shale concessions overseas, raising troubling questions about whose interests the programme actually serves.

Geologists have long known that there were huge quantities of natural gas locked in shale rock. But tapping it wasn’t economically viable until the late 1990s, when a Texas wildcatter named George Mitchell hit on a novel extraction method that involved drilling wells sideways from the initial borehole, then blasting them full of water, chemicals, and sand to break up the shale—a variation of a technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Besides dislodging a bounty of natural gas, Mitchell’s breakthrough ignited an energy revolution. Between 2006 and 2008, domestic gas reserves jumped 35%. The United States later vaulted past Russia to become the world’s largest natural gas producer. As a result, prices dropped to record lows, and America began to wean itself from coal, along with oil and gas imports, which lessened its dependence on the Middle East. The surging global gas supply also helped shrink Russia’s economic clout: profits for Russia’s state-owned gas company, Gazprom, plummeted by more than 60% between 2008 and 2009 alone.

Clinton, who was sworn in as secretary of state in early 2009, believed that shale gas could help rewrite global energy politics. “This is a moment of profound change,” she later told a crowd at Georgetown University. “Countries that used to depend on others for their energy are now producers. How will this shape world events? Who will benefit, and who will not? … The answers to these questions are being written right now, and we intend to play a major role.” Clinton tapped a lawyer named David Goldwyn as her special envoy for international energy affairs; his charge was “to elevate energy diplomacy as a key function of US foreign policy.”

From the Japan Times, another tragedy:

Police in Indian Kashmir collect bodies floating in worst floods in years

Authorities in Indian Kashmir collected the bodies of women and children floating in the streets on Thursday as anger mounted over what many survivors said was a bungled operation to help those caught in the region’s worst flooding in 50 years.

Both the Indian and Pakistan sides of the disputed Himalayan region have been hit by extensive flooding in recent days, and about 450 people have been killed, with Indian Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar particularly hard hit.

“Some air force officials have reported that they have seen bodies of women and children floating. We are making every effort to collect the bodies as soon as we can,” said Srinagar police officer Faizal Wani.

Some aerial footage from RT:

Sub(merged)-Continent: Aerial footage of India’s fatal floods

Program notes:

Indian Air Force helicopters continue rescue efforts on to evacuate people stranded in flooded areas in Indian Kashmir. The flooding began earlier this month, causing landslides. More than a million people have been affected, with thousands losing their homes to the rising water.

And from the U.S. Drought Monitor, a look at the grievous condition in the American West, where water shortage is the rule [click on the image to enlarge]:

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

BBC News covers another tragedy:

Amazon rainforest destruction in Brazil rises again

The rate of destruction of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil has increased for a second year running.

Brazilian government figures show deforestation was up by 29% in the 12 months up to the end of July 2013. Satellite data showed that almost 6,000 sq km (2,315 sq miles) of forest were cleared during that period.

The largest increases in deforestation were seen in the states of Para and Mato Grosso, where most of Brazil’s agricultural expansion is taking place.

From the New York Times, tragedy within tragedy:

Peru Investigates the Killing of an Environmental Advocate

The authorities here are investigating the killing of an environmental advocate and indigenous leader who died along with three other men in a remote region of the Amazon jungle that he had sought to protect from illegal logging.

The advocate, Edwin Chota, 54, was a leader of the Ashaninka Indian village of Saweto, near the Brazilian border. Mr. Chota was killed after leaving Saweto on Aug. 31, while on his way to meet with leaders from another Ashaninka village some days walk away, according to his widow, Julia Pérez, and media reports.

Three other Saweto leaders accompanying him were also killed, officials said.

It took several days for villagers to discover the killings and make the trip by river to the regional capital, Pucallpa, to report the crime. Environmental and indigenous advocates announced the deaths over the weekend.

From the Guardian, motivation for rapacity:

Tropical forests illegally destroyed for commercial agriculture

  • Forest Trends warns that demand for palm oil, beef, soy and wood has fuelled rapid deforestation, especially in Indonesia

Increasing international demand for palm oil, beef, soy and wood is fuelling the illegal destruction of tropical forests at an alarming rate, according to new analysis that suggests nearly half of all recent tropical deforestation is the result of unlawful clearing for commercial agriculture.

The report, by the Washington-based NGO Forest Trends, concludes that 71% of tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2012 was due to commercial cultivation. Of that deforestation, 49% was caused by illegal clearing to make way for agricultural products whose largest buyers include the EU, China, India, Russia and the US.

The global market for beef, leather, soy, palm oil, tropical timbers, pulp and paper – worth an estimated $61bn (£38bn) a year – resulted in the clearance of more than 200,000 square kilometres of tropical forest in the first decade of the 21st century, the report says. Put another way, an average of five football fields of tropical forest were lost every minute over that period.

Guardian Professional covers another failure:

Monoculture is failing Nicaragua’s farmers

  • NGOs must acknowledge the risks to livelihoods and food security and teach smallholders to diversify for higher profits

For the farmers on western Nicaragua’s volcanic range, who tend to favour beans over almost all other crops making a living from just beans is far from stable, despite the fertile soils.

As farmers fell trees to make space for land, deforestation has a negative effect on crop yields as increased erosion and surface run-off wash the nutrients from the once-rich volcanic soils. Similarly, environmental pressures such as meteorological variation leads to a high fall in yields.

Marginalised communities with limited access to water for even basic needs have no capacity to irrigate in a dry year. They also rely on the rains relenting between July and August. If there is no dry spell, they cannot dry their beans which then spoil quicker. In some areas, should the winds change and the volcanoes’ acidic smoke billow over farmland, acid rain can destroy an entire harvest.

While the Christian Science Monitor covers tragic dispossession:

Kenya conundrum: Kick out Maasai herders to develop geothermal energy?

  • In East Africa, a clash of two virtues: ancient homelands and clean energy. Kenya has incredible geothermal potential, but much of it sits below indigenous people’s land near volcanic Mt. Suswa.

lready, Kenya is Africa’s largest producer of geothermal and the ninth-largest worldwide. But the 424 megawatts currently generated represent less than 1/20th of the energy locked beneath a string of volcanic fields in the Rift Valley. Suswa alone has an estimated 600 untapped megawatts.

Realizing Kenya’s geothermal potential would cut energy costs and power economic expansion. But it could come at a high price: displacing thousands of indigenous Maasai people who, after a century of losing land rights, are upset at being moved again.

“We don’t like it,” says [Maasai herdsman Daudi] Maisiodo of the budding geothermal exploration at Suswa. “We fear many people will come and take our land.”

After the jump, the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, including a disaster for a Japanese newspaper, questions for the ruling party in Japan, more revelations about the nuclear disaster, and a refusal to shut down a California nuclear power plant built on the coast near another fault. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Health, water woes, climate, nukes


Another shorter collection today, mostly because we pulled our Ebola coverage out for a separate EbolaWatch, but there’s still plenty to cover.

First up, via the Los Angeles Times, another cost of meddling with our own internal environments:

Drugs used for anxiety, sleep are linked to Alzheimer’s disease in older people

Older people who have relied on a class of drugs called benzodiazepines to reduce anxiety or induce sleep are at higher risk of going on to develop Alzheimer’s disease, new research finds, with those whose use of the medications is most intensive almost twice as likely to develop the mind-robbing disorder.

Benzodiazepines — marketed under such names as as Xanax, Valium, Ativan and Klonopin — are widely used to treat insomnia, agitation and anxiety, all of which can be early signs of impending Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly. But the current study sought to disentangle benzodiazepines’ use in treating early dementia symptoms, probing instead the possibility that heavy use of the medications may permit, cause or hasten the onset of Alzheimer’s dementia.

The study compared the pattern of benzodiazepine use in 1,796 people elderly people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s with that of 7,184 similar people who had no such diagnosis. Such a study design, conducted by French and Canadian researchers and published Tuesday in the journal BMJ, cannot by itself establish that more intensive use of the medications causes Alzheimer’s disease. But it does strengthen such suspicions.

Next up, the first of today’s water woes posts, via CNBC:

California rice farmer: Drought may make us ‘quit’

California’s ongoing drought is claiming another victim: the state’s rice crop.

Nearly 25 percent of California’s $5 billion rice crop will be lost this year due to lack of water, say experts. And while analysts say the loss is not a crisis just yet, at least one rice producer is ready to call it a day.

“If we keep going through this drought, it may make us quit and sell the ranch,” said Sherry Polit, who grows organic rice with her family on 1,500 acres in the Northern California town of Maxwell. “We had droughts before, but this is like the third bad one in a row,” explained Polit, who also grows organic olives.

MercoPress covers another:

Caribbean nations beaches disappearing because of rising sea level and recurring storms

The World Bank says due to rising sea levels and recurring storms, the beaches in most Caribbean nations have started to disappear. In a new report, the Washington-based financial institution said, in some areas of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, for instance, an estimated 18-30 meters of beach have been lost over the last nine years.

“The highly vulnerable coastal strand and adjacent towns are fighting against increased flood risk from rainfall and storm surge,” said the bank, noting that the issue of challenges faced by small islands around the world was at the center of the just-concluded Third Small Island Developing States (SIDS) conference in Samoa.

The World Bank said beaches are not the only concern, stating that Caribbean ports are also at risk from rising sea levels.

And from Deutsche Welle, yet another:

India ‘overwhelmed’ by intensity of monsoon floods

Program notes:

In the Indian region of Kashmir, rescue teams have begun evacuating tens of thousands of villagers stranded by the worst floods in over a century. 450 people have been killed as a result of the heavy rainfall in the mountainous region between India and Pakistan.

Still another, via South China Morning Post:

Sea cucumber farmers use of chemicals has led to a large number of fish deaths

  • Significant amounts used in farms in Pikou town in Liaoning, according to CCTV report

Some sea cucumber farmers in northeastern China have been using large amounts of antibiotics, disinfectants and pesticides leading to the deaths of a large number of several species of fish and endangering the conservation of migratory birds in the area, according to a report by the state broadcaster.

CCTV reported that the farmers in Pikou town, Pulandian city of Liaoning, used “a great amount of antibiotics” in their sea cucumber ponds. The water from those ponds was periodically discharged into the Bohai Gulf, causing the death of plenty of fish, the broadcaster said. The water in the gulf has been documented as being heavily polluted, according to the China Marine Environmental Monitoring Centre.

CCTV images show bodies of fish floating in the gulf close to the Pikou farms. Empty bottles of ceftriaxone were shown at one of them. Ceftriaxone is normally used to treat sexually transmitted diseases and infections of the lungs and urinary tract.

Another one, via the Asahi Shimbun:

Salmon still affected by 3/11 disaster, dealing blow to Tohoku economy

The salmon run in northeastern Japan this autumn will likely plummet by 40 percent compared with last year due to damage to hatcheries caused by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.

The Fisheries Research Agency said Sept. 9 the sharp decline in returning salmon to spawn in the Tohoku region will impact the economy of the disaster-stricken region. The price of salmon roe–a delicacy–is bound to rise, sources said.

Millions of salmon fry are released from hatcheries to rivers each spring. The adult fish generally return three and a half years later to the rivers where they were released.

And yet another, via Grist:

Living close to a fracking well could have given you that rash

A new study from Yale University – claimed by the lead author to be the largest of its kind – shows a correlation between living in proximity to a fracking well and symptoms of skin and upper respiratory problems.

The study, which was published today, surveyed 180 households in Washington Co., Pa., which lies about 30 miles south of Pittsburgh and has developed into a hotbed of fracking activity in recent years – the county now plays host to over 1,000 wells. It specifically sampled houses dependent on ground-fed water wells, which can be susceptible to contamination from chemicals used in fracking.

The results? Those who lived less than 0.6 miles away from a well were twice as likely to report health issues as their friends who lived over 1.2 miles from it.

From the Guardian, a rare upbeat note:

Ozone layer shows signs of recovery after 1987 ban on damaging gases

  • Continued rises in other greenhouse gases, as well as illicit usage of carbon tetrachloride, still has potential to undo gains

The ozone layer that shields life from the sun’s cancer-causing ultraviolet rays is showing its first sign of thickening after years of dangerous depletion, a UN study said on Wednesday.

Experts said it showed the success of a 1987 ban on manmade gases that damage the fragile high-altitude screen, an achievement that would help prevent millions of cases of skin cancer and other conditions.

The ozone hole that appears annually over Antarctica has also stopped growing bigger every year, though it will be about a decade before it starts shrinking, said the report, coproduced by the World Meteorological Organisation and the UN Environment Programme.

And another from the Independent:

Bacteria found in honeybee stomachs could be used as alternative to antibiotics, scientists claim

  • Bacteria found in honeybees could be used as an alternative to antibiotics and in the fight against antibiotic-resistant strains of MRSA, scientists have claimed.

For millenia, raw unmanufactured honey has been used to treat infections.

Scientists believe its effectiveness could lie in a unique formula comprised of 13 types of lactic acid bacteria found in the stomachs of bees. The bacteria, which are no longer active in shop-bought honey, produce a myriad of active anti-microbial compounds.

The findings could be vital both in developing countries, where fresh honey is easily available, as well as for Western countries where antibiotic resistance is an increasingly concerning issue.

From the Guardian, delegitimizing Aussie environmentalism:

Queensland passes laws to stop ‘vexatious’ green groups

  • Laws that limit the capacity of most Queenslanders to object to new mines have been savaged as an attack on democracy

New state laws will prevent most Queenslanders going to the land court to object to proposed mining projects.

The government says the Mineral and Resources (Common Provisions) bill will stop green groups and others launching “vexatious” objections just to delay projects.

Green groups, the Labor opposition and minor parties have savaged the government’s bill, which passed parliament on Tuesday. They say the new law is an attack on democracy because it limits the capacity of most Queenslanders to object to mining proposals.

The laws mean only directly affected landholders, their neighbours and local councils can now go to the court.

Next up, Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with Jiji Press:

National Road in Fukushima No-Go Area to Fully Open

The Japanese government plans to fully open a national road that runs north-south along the coast of Fukushima Prefecture on Monday for the first since the March 2011 nuclear accident in the northeastern Japan prefecture, it was learned Wednesday.

The closed 14-kilometer section of Route 6 in a no-go area, where the annual radiation level tops 50 millisieverts, will be open to free traffic after the completion in August of decontamination work, officials said.

The government is expected to announce soon how much the radiation level has been reduced there, according to the officials.

The Japan Times reveals a cover-up attempt:

Tokyo lodged protest over March 2011 U.N. report saying Fukushima plant not under control

The Foreign Ministry unofficially lodged a protest over a U.N. report released immediately after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that described the crisis-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant as not being under control, sources said Wednesday.

At the time, a series of hydrogen explosions occurred in the plant’s reactors as Tokyo Electric Power Co. was unable to cool them sufficiently.

In making the protest, the Foreign Ministry said the expression in the report was too strong, the sources said, indicating the government underestimated the disaster, in which meltdowns occurred in reactors 1, 2 and 3.

From the Guardian, ongoing consequences:

Fukushima nuclear disaster: three years on 120,000 evacuees remain uprooted

  • Japan’s 2011 plant meltdown has torn apart close families, leaving elderly relatives isolated and villages uninhabited

More than three years after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster more than 120,000 people from the region are living in nuclear limbo with once close-knit families forced to live apart.

Japan’s nuclear watchdog on Wednesday gave the green light for two nuclear reactors at Kyushu Electric Power’s Sendai plant in south-west Japan to restart, but communities are anxious over the safety aspects. The nuclear industry in Japan has been mothballed since the meltdown.

But the Asahi Shimbun announces the inevitable, given the current government:

NRA approves safety at Kagoshima nuclear plant; paperwork next step

The Sendai nuclear plant in Kagoshima Prefecture formally passed tougher safety checks on Sept. 10, but the plant operator must submit a mountain of paperwork before it can restart its reactors.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority’s approval is the first since new safety standards were established following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011. That means safety checks have effectively been completed for a resumption of operations of the Sendai plant’s No. 1 and No. 2 reactors.

As the next step, Kyushu Electric Power Co., the operator of the Sendai plant, will have to submit to the NRA construction plans that include designs of equipment and the company’s new safety regulations detailing operation procedures and accident responses.

And for our final item, more from the Japan Times:

Japan’s regulator OKs nuclear plant return while pushing to close old reactors

Japan is nearing the end of its first full year without nuclear power since 1966 and public mistrust of the sector remains high after the 2011 Fukushima triple meltdown, the worst such disaster since Chernobyl.

The government is pressing regulators to make the tough decision on whether to decommission the oldest of the country’s 48 reactors, which face higher safety hurdles than the rest. Weeding out reactors that are 40 years old or more may help win public trust in the rest of the industry.

“For myself, I would like to proceed with smooth decommissioning (of some plants) and at the same time the restart of nuclear power stations certified as safe,” Yuko Obuchi, the new minister for economy, trade and industry, who oversees the nuclear industry, said last week.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water, and nuclear woes


Long compendium today, so we open right up with this from the Associated Press:

Senegal monitors contacts of 1st Ebola patient

Senegalese authorities on Monday were monitoring everyone who was in contact with a student infected with Ebola who crossed into the country, and who has lost three family members to the disease.

An Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed more than 1,500 people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. The university student is Senegal’s first case of the dreaded disease.

The 21-year-old left Guinea on Aug. 15, just days after his brother died of the disease, according to Guinea’s Health Ministry. It said that the brother apparently caught Ebola in Sierra Leone.

We thought we’d look at local papers for a better sense of what the epidemic feels like to journalists there. First this from Punch in Lagos, Nigeria:

Ebola: Three new suspected cases in Port Harcourt

Three people have been taken to the Ebola Virus Disease   quarantine centre at Oduoha, Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers State.

The State Commissioner for Health, Sampson Parker, made this known on Sunday just as the Federal Government said another emergency meeting of the National Council of Health over the EVD would hold in Abuja today. The last meeting took place on August 11, 2014.

Parker, who addressed journalists,   said those quarantined were   a doctor, a pharmacist and a woman who came into contact with Dr. Iyke Enemuo, who died of the virus in Port Harcourt on August 22.

A related story from Leadership, another Nigerian paper:

Rivers Doctor: 60 Ebola Contacts Yet To Be Found

The Rivers State government has said about 60 people, out of close to 200 that had primary and secondary contacts with the late Dr Ikechukwu Sam Enemuo, who died of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in Port Harcourt, the state capital, are yet to be found.

Also, the state government has placed a ban on the movement of corpses within and outside the state without death certificates and explanations on the cause of such deaths, and has directed the police to demand such documents from ambulances conveying such corpses in the state.

This is as the state governor, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, will today meet with leaders of churches in the state, while a meeting with the traditional rulers will hold tomorrow, Tuesday, over the spread of the Ebola virus in the state.

The Associated Press covers another side-effect:

9 African wrestlers barred from worlds championships

The governing body of wrestling says nine athletes cannot compete at the upcoming world championships because of travel restrictions imposed since the Ebola virus outbreak in west Africa.

FILA says the ruling by the Uzbekistan health ministry affects seven wrestlers from Nigeria and two from Sierra Leone.

The decision follows similar travel bans imposed by China and Russia ahead of the recent Youth Olympic Games and judo worlds.

From International Business Times, another border closes:

Saudi Arabia Stops Issuing Visas To Workers From Ebola-Stricken Nations

Saudi Arabia announced Monday it has temporarily stopped granting visas to workers from the countries most ravaged by the Ebola outbreak. The decision follows repeated incidents in the past month that raised fears the hemorrhagic fever could spread to the Middle Eastern nation.

Saudi Arabia’s labor ministry has temporarily stopped issuing visas to laborers from the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, Agence France-Presse reported. The three nations have seen the highest death tolls in the current Ebola outbreak, which was first detected in Guinea in March.

The visa ban was described as a “preventative measure,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported. Saudi Arabia had already instituted a ban in April on Muslim pilgrims visiting from the three nations because of concern the disease could spread as thousands of people descend on Mecca for early October’s hajj.

From StarAfrica, a blackout imposed:

Sudan bans reporting on Ebola

The Sudanese authorities have prohibited local media from covering any news related to the Ebola virus.Press sources who asked not to be mentioned for security reasons confirmed to APA on Saturday that the security authorities have circulated warning to all media outlets not to publish any news or articles related to the transmission of the Ebola virus in Sudan.

The prohibition came after local media reported on some suspected cases of Ebola in the west of Sudan.

The Minister of Health Affairs for the Darfur Regional Authority, Firdos Abdel Rahman Yousif denied reports of the deadly Ebola virus disease in El Geneina, capital of West Darfur State.

From New Dawn in Monrovia, another lack:

Ebola Survivors Lack Clothes

Health authorities at the Eternal Love Wins Africa or (ELWA) Hospital have disclosed that Ebola survivors leaving the treatment center do not have clothes to wear. Medical Director Dr. Jerry Brown, said nurses usually dress survivors in veils as they leave the hospital compound due to lack of clothes. Dr. Brown made the disclosure when the Citizens Organized for Transparency and Accountability (COPTA) presented items valued over US$5,000 to the ELWA Isolation Unit 2.

He appealed to well-meaning Liberians and NGOs to assist the unit with clothes for survivors to wear when leaving the hospital. But a non-governmental organization, Smile Liberia International, has promised to provide clothes for survivals returning home. An executive of the group, Ms. Fasiah Harris, said Smile Liberia in collaboration with COPTA will continue to provide needed services for Liberians.

COPTA is a local partner to Smile Liberia International and some Liberians working with the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC. The project coordinator Christine Brooks-Jarrett said COPTA is an organization working to ensure a better Liberia in which leaders can be held accountable to the people in the discharge of their services.

National Geographic offers a reminder:

Doctors and Nurses Risk Everything to Fight Ebola in West Africa

  • Foreign and local caregivers are essential to stopping the virus’s deadly spread

In two Land Rovers, one fitted out as an ambulance, a small team of humanitarian workers last week headed deep into Sierra Leone’s jungle. After hours on deeply rutted paths that could barely be called roads, they stopped at a village that had seen ten reported cases of Ebola.

With the consent of the village chief, the team fanned out across the community, asking at each hut if anyone was feeling ill or had made contact with the earlier patients. At one, they found a mother nursing a seven-month-old, even though she had experienced bouts of bloody diarrhea and a fever of 102°F—possible signs of Ebola. A quick conversation revealed that the mother had recently attended the same funeral as the ten patients.

The aid workers knew right away they had to get the woman away from her village. It would improve her chances of recovery, even though those chances hovered at only about 30 percent. And it would protect her baby and husband, and the entire community, because Ebola is easily passed through bodily fluids such as diarrhea, vomit, and blood.

BBC News updates:

British Ebola patient ‘pretty well’

The parents of the first British person to contract Ebola during the outbreak in West Africa say he is recovering well.

William Pooley, 29, has spent the last week in a special isolation unit at Royal Free Hospital in London.

His parents, Robin and Jackie, say they knew he was improving when he ordered a “bacon butty” and praised the “world class” care at the hospital.

More than 1,500 people have died since the outbreak started in Guinea.

From the Wall Street Journal, a clearance:

Stockholm Patient Does Not Have Ebola

But Test Results Awaited on Another Suspected Case in Spain

Tests results have shown that a man who was hospitalized in Sweden on Sunday as a suspected Ebola case isn’t carrying the potentially deadly virus, Stockholm County Council health officials said in a news release on Monday.

An unidentified young man sought treatment for high fever and stomach pains at a local health clinic in Stockholm on Sunday evening.

After medical staff learned that he had recently visited a West African country affected by the Ebola virus, he was transferred to medical isolation at Stockholm’s Karolinska University Hospital.

ABC News initiates:

Human Trial for Ebola Vaccine to Begin This Week

The first human trial for an investigational Ebola vaccine is set to begin this week.

The ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa prompted the National Institutes of Health to expedite safety testing for several vaccines already in the works. Since March, the deadly virus has killed 1,552 people, according to the World Health Organization, which predicted last week that the virus could infect 20,000 people in the next six months.

An Ebola vaccine is different from the experimental Ebola drug ZMapp, which two Americans received last month and is designed to treat an existing Ebola infection rather than prevent one.

“There is an urgent need for a protective Ebola vaccine, and it is important to establish that a vaccine is safe and spurs the immune system to react in a way necessary to protect against infection,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said in a statement.

From StarAfrica, getting ready:

Malawi MPs to table Ebola preparedness

Members of the Malawi Parliament are expected to discuss and look at the country’s preparedness for containing the Ebola disease which is rampaging across West Africa.Parliament’s Health Committee Chairperson Juliana Lunguzi said on Monday in Lilongwe that the parliamentarians need to look at measures which government through the Ministry of Health have put in place to prepare for any eventuality.

“We need to know what has been put in place as a country in terms of preventive measures in entry points, border districts and capacity-building for caregivers” she declared.

She said that Malawi needs to be alert because the disease is gradually spreading across the borders of the region.

Reuters notes the obvious but often uncommented upon:

Poor response to Ebola causing needless deaths: World Bank head

The world’s “disastrously inadequate response” to West Africa’s Ebola outbreak means many people are dying needlessly, the head of the World Bank said on Monday, as Nigeria confirmed another case of the virus.

In a newspaper editorial, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said Western healthcare facilities would easily be able to contain the disease, and urged wealthy nations to share the knowledge and resources to help African countries tackle it.

“The crisis we are watching unfold derives less from the virus itself and more from deadly and misinformed biases that have led to a disastrously inadequate response to the outbreak,” Kim wrote in the Washington Post.

Off to another continue and the update on another outbreak via the Asahi Shimbun:

19 new cases of dengue fever reported

Health ministry officials on Sept. 1 confirmed 19 new cases of dengue fever, bringing the total to 22 in a country that had not seen domestic infections of the disease for about 70 years.

The disease was found in individuals living in Saitama, Tokyo, Chiba, Ibaraki, Kanagawa and Niigata prefectures. None of the patients has ever been abroad, but all had recently visited Yoyogi Park in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward.

Officials said the outbreak was likely caused by mosquitoes carrying the virus in the vicinity of the park.

We begin today’s water woes with the South China Morning Post:

Toxic waste mountains threaten Southeast Asia’s booming megacities

From Jakarta’s Bantar Gebang dump to Manila’s “smoky mountain”, open landfills blight Southeast Asia’s booming megacities, as urban planners labour to keep pace with rapid urbanisation and industrial growth.

Experts warn those dumps are an environmental and health time bomb.

Open dumping “offers a quick and easy solution in the short run”, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific says in a study, warning of severe environmental problems and long-term health issues caused by contaminated water and land.

Of Thailand’s 2,500 open rubbish pits, just a fifth are properly managed, according to its Pollution Control Department. The rest are at the mercy of illegal dumping – including of hazardous waste – fires and seepage into nearby land and water systems.

TheLocal.de covers a warm water invader up north:

Vacationer killed by Baltic Sea bacteria

  • Six people were infected with a bacteria from the Caribbean which has made itself at home in the popular German vacation destination. One of them is now in a coma.

The bacterium, Vibrio vulnificus, is found in parts of the Baltic Sea and other regions of the world, though most-concentrated in the Gulf of Mexico. It spreads best in brackish waters with temperatures above 20 degrees Celsius.

“This could be found anywhere as long as the conditions are right,” Dr. Heiko Will, the first director of State Office of Health and Welfare (LAGuS) of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, told The Local. “It is just as prevalent in Denmark, Poland, and all along the German coast.”

The victim had been holidaying on the island of Usedom at the end of July, according (LAGuS). He passed away at the beginning of August.  Another pensioner has been in a coma for three weeks and there is a possibility he will lose a leg. He went swimming near Ahrenshoop with a small open wound on his leg. He went to the hospital after noticing on the drive home that his leg had turned blue. Doctors diagnosed blood poisoning caused by Vibrio vulnificus.

From Al Jazeera America, another invader off the Golden State:

On Calif. coast, biotoxins cause deadly sea lion seizures, seafood scare

  • An outbreak of algae-produced biotoxins that attack animals’?? brains also poses a grave risk to humans

The culprit? Domoic acid, a deadly neurotoxin produced by algae, that appeared at record high levels along California’s Central Coast this spring and summer, closing fisheries and taking the lives of many marine mammals. But toxic algae isn’t just limited to California– this summer various toxic blooms have poisoned coastlines across America, including Lake Erie and the Gulf of Mexico.

While the algae in Monterey, produced by the Pseudo-nitzschia genus of phytoplankton, are a common occurrence along the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines and around the world, its production of domoic acid is not.

First discovered in 1987 when 107 people on Prince Edward Island fell ill after eating mussels harboring domoic acid, the algae occasionally produce this deadly toxin, which scientists believe is triggered by changing ocean conditions and surges of nitrogen into bodies of water.

Another California water woe from the University of California Newsroom:

Drying Sierra meadows could worsen California drought

Carpeting the high valleys of Yosemite and other parts of the Sierra Nevada, mountain meadows are more than an iconic part of the California landscape. The roughly 17,000 high altitude meadows help regulate the release of Sierra snow melt into rivers and streams.

But climate change and California’s severe drought threaten to permanently alter these fragile and important ecosystems, according to research by Chelsea Arnold, who was awarded a doctorate in environmental systems from UC Merced in May. Her findings reveal that soil changes already are taking place that could have long-term implications for California’s water supply.
Impact of extreme weather

Arnold’s research found that meadows in the Central Sierra near Yosemite are drying out as a result of several years of unusual variation in climate and snowfall.

“What we’re seeing is that all kinds of extreme weather, including one dry winter like the one we just had, can totally change the structure of the soil,” Arnold said. “Part of that is an irreversible change.”

Under normal conditions, a mountain meadow acts like a sponge. Organic material in the soil allows the meadow to hold water, which is filtered and slowly released to mountain streams. Samples collected by Arnold and her colleagues found that the larger pores which trap and hold moisture are disappearing, to be replaced with smaller, more compact pores through which water doesn’t easily flow.

As meadows dry out, flooding in wet years is likely to increase. And in drought years, parched meadows could result in less snowmelt reaching streams, exacerbating the state’s already precarious water situation.

And another from the New York Times:

Desperately Dry California Tries to Curb Private Drilling for Water

California’s vicious, prolonged drought, which has radically curtailed most natural surface water supplies, is making farmers look deeper and deeper underground to slake their thirst. This means the drought is a short-term bonanza for firms like Arthur & Orum, which expects to gross as much as $3 million this year.

But in a drought as long and severe as the current one, over-reliance on groundwater means that land sinks, old wells go dry, and saltwater invades coastal aquifers. Aquifers are natural savings accounts, a place to go when the streams run dry. Exhaust them, and the $45 billion annual agricultural economy will take a severe hit, while small towns run dry.

Yet for a century, farmers believed that the law put control of groundwater in the hands of landowners, who could drill as many wells as deeply as they wanted, and court challenges were few.

That just changed. The California Legislature, in its closing hours on Friday, passed new and sweeping groundwater controls. The measures do not eliminate private ownership, but they do establish a framework for managing withdrawals through local agencies.

After jump, water woes in Mexico, ice caps on both poles in epic retreat, a decade-long drought looms in the American Southwest, Mediterranean tsunami dangers, Japanese dolphin slaughter, branding environmentalists as terrorists, volcanic eruptions in both hemisphere, a species extinction commemorated, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now! Continue reading

Sounding the climate alarm: The IPCC report


Sounding the climate alarm: The IPCC report

From The Real News Network, a Sharmini Peries interview with Michael E. Mann, Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Pennsylvania State University who holds dual appointments in the Department of Geosciences and the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI) as well a serving as director of the university’s Earth System Science Center (ESSC).

http://www.meteo.psu.edu/holocene/public_html/Mann/about/index.php

From The Real News Network:

Forthcoming IPCC Report Calls for Control of Fossil Fuel Consumption

From the transcript:

PERIES: So, Prof. Mann, this report is synthesizing the information already captured in previous IPCC reports. But can you break down the key findings that has been sent to governments?

MANN: Sure thing. So in a sense there are no surprises, because we know what material is in this report. It’s a summary of the three working group reports that have already appeared, the report on the basic science of climate change, which was followed by the Working Group II Report on climate change impacts, and then there was the Working Group III report, Mitigation, how we can solve this problem. This is the synthesis report. So it brings it all together. And if there is one word or one sort of assessment that I think summarizes what this report has to say, it’s that we really need to get working on this problem now. We don’t have time to waste. We really need to act now if we are going to protect ourselves against what can reasonably be described as truly dangerous and potentially irreversible changes in our climate.

PERIES: What do you think IPCC expects from the warning sent to the governments?

MANN: Well, what’s interesting is that the IPCC, it’s a very conservative organization, because it’s literally made up of hundreds and hundreds of scientists from around the world, experts in various aspects of the science of climate change. And because of that, it represents sort of a scientific lowest common denominator. The report reflects a very conservative viewpoint that can be shared by essentially all of the scientists contributing to the report, who have various views, various findings. So by their nature, the IPCC reports tend to be conservative. In many cases, the IPCC projections, for example, have actually underestimated the rate of climate change that has actually occurred subsequently. And we see that, for example, with the dramatic decrease in Arctic Sea ice. It’s happening faster than the IPCC said it should. The melting of the ice sheets, it’s happening faster than the IPCC said it should.

So what’s particularly interesting, I think, about this latest synthesis report is the stark terms in which the IPCC, a very conservative body, a very staid body, the very stark terms in which they lay out the problem, essentially saying, look, there’s no question the globe is warming, our climate is changing, it’s due to human activity, and if we don’t do something about it, it’s going to be a real problem. It’s already a problem. We are already seeing damages, in many cases way ahead of schedule.

What is interesting about the report as well is that it also makes it quite clear that it is still relatively inexpensive to solve this problem. If we act now, if we bring our fossil fuel emissions down by several percent a year, which is doable, if we scale up renewable green energy to the point where we can meet growing energy demand through less and less fossil fuel based energy, then we can stabilize global warming below levels that are truly dangerous and potentially irreversible. And it would be fairly inexpensive to do so, because we can actually undergo that transition, we can get that transition underway, we can scale up renewable energy, so that in a matter of decades it meets 80, 90, maybe close to 100 percent of our energy needs.

The problem is if we defer that, if we wait to lower our emissions. Then that means we are going to have to make far more austere cuts in carbon emissions in the future. And that’ll be much more expensive economically, and we will have basically entered into a regime where the cost of inaction, the deferred maintenance, the problems that we will begin to see because we didn’t act on the climate change problem in time, will become far more expensive than any measures necessary to mitigate the problem.