Category Archives: Europe

EbolaWatch: Heroes, numbers, fears, and food


First, the honorific, via the Associated Press:

Ebola fighters named Time Person of the Year

Doctors, nurses and others fighting Ebola have been named Time’s 2014 Person of the Year, the magazine announced Wednesday.

The runners-up included Ferguson, Missouri, protesters; Russian President Vladimir Putin; Kurdish Regional Government President Massoud Barzani; and Jack Ma, the China-based founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba.

In an article on the Time website, Editor Nancy Gibbs praised “the people in the field, the special forces of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the Christian medical-relief workers of Samaritan’s Purse and many others from all over the world” who “fought side by side with local doctors and nurses, ambulance drivers and burial teams.”

A warning from BBC News:

Ebola outbreak: Virus still ‘running ahead of us’, says WHO

The Ebola virus that has killed thousands in West Africa is still “running ahead” of efforts to contain it, the head of the World Health Organization has said.

Director general Margaret Chan said the situation had improved in some parts of the worst-affected countries, but she warned against complacency. The risk to the world “is always there” while the outbreak continues, she said.

She said the WHO and the international community failed to act quickly enough. The death toll in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone stands at 6,331. More than 17,800 people have been infected, according to the WHO.

From WHO’s latest Situation Report, the latest Ebola map:

BLOG Ebola

From StarAfrica, ongoing anxiety:

Ghana’s VP urges extra vigilance on Ebola ahead of Christmas

Ghanaian Vice President Paa Kwesi Amissah-Arthur has called on Ghanaian to be extra vigilant on Ebola virus alert ahead of the Christmas festivities so as to prevent the outbreak of the disease in the country.Speaking at an Ebola stakeholders meeting in Accra on Wednesday, Vice President Amissah-Arthur told nurses and doctors to be vigilant during the yuletide because it is during such period that people from far and near unite with their families.

He noted that although Ghana has not recorded any Ebola case, there was the need for all and sundry to be alert to prevent the dreadful disease from spreading into the country. All 120 suspected Ebola cases tested negative and the country is doing everything possible to maintain its record.

“Ebola disease has stayed longer than we expected and we must not be complacent,” he told stakeholders who gathered at College of Physicians in Accra.

And the Associated Press covers devastation at ground zero:

Debt and hunger at birthplace of Ebola in Guinea

When 2-year-old Emile Ouamouno caught a fever, started vomiting, passed blood in his stool and died two days later, nobody knew why.

Nor did anyone really ask. Life is unforgiving in this part of the world, and people often lose their children to cholera, malaria, measles, typhoid, Lassa fever and a host of other illnesses that have no name.

Now Emile is widely recognized by researchers as Patient Zero, the first person to have died in the latest Ebola outbreak back on December 28 last year. And Meliandou, a small village at the top of a forested hill reached by a rutted red earth track, is notorious as the birthplace and crucible of the most deadly incarnation of the virus to date.

Today villagers here are in debt, stigmatized, hungry and still angry and deeply suspicious about who or what brought the disease that has devastated their lives. It is a question scientists have yet to answer conclusively, although they have come to Meliandou to test great apes and bats as possible sources.

On to Sierra Leone, first with StarAfrica:

Sierra Leone: Bodies pile up for lack of burial team

Reports from eastern Sierra Leonean Kenema district say some 23 dead bodies have piled up at the mortuary due to prolonged absence of a burial team in the district.

The situation, according to sources, was occasioned by the sacking last month of the burial team, which went on strike over pay delay.

The head of the National Ebola Response Centre Retired Major Paolo Conte at the time announced on radio the summary dismissal of the men who had displayed corpses in the street in protest the delay in paying them. Conte also said at the time that he would replace them with a team of military officials.

But local journalist Seedy Fofana, who heads a local radio station in the town, told Radio Democracy in Freetown on Wednesday morning that until now the new team was yet to assume duty.

About 20 percent of the bodies, which he said were not Ebola victims, were children who had died of other illnesses.

From the Sierra Leone Concord Times, heroism again:

‘Health workers are our greatest patriots’

  • - President Koroma

President Ernest Bai Koroma has stated that Sierra Leonean health workers are patriots in the fight against the deadly Ebola disease, likening them to loyal soldiers during the civil war, as they routinely put themselves in harm’s way to save lives.

Speaking during the State Opening of the Second Session of the Fourth Parliament, President Koroma said, “Our doctors and nurses have ensured that over 1,100 of those infected have been healed. Over 80% of personnel on the ground fighting the disease are Sierra Leoneans.”

He said Sierra Leonean doctors and nurses provide most the frontline services at various treatment and holding centres across the country, while other compatriots are contact tracers, members of the surveillance and burial teams.

“The largest treatment centre in the country with 120 beds at Hastings opened in September is run by young Sierra Leonean doctors and nurses and they have since ensured the survival of 350 affected people with the virus,” the president said glowingly about the heroics of local medicos.

While NBC News adds a grim statistic:

High Risk: 100-Fold Ebola Rate for Health Workers in Sierra Leone

Health care workers have more than 100 times the risk of catching Ebola in Sierra Leone as the general public there does, according to a new report.

And it’s not necessarily down to failed protective measures in hospitals. Health care workers form their own community, and when one gets sick or dies, he or she can infect fellow medics, the report finds.

The World Health Organization has been saying that health care workers such as doctors and nurses are at special risk of Ebola. It says 622 health-care workers have been infected and 346 of them have died in all the affected countries.

The Associated Press covers a lockdown:

SIerra Leone area to hold 2-week Ebola ‘lockdown’

Authorities in an eastern district of Sierra Leone launched a two-week “lockdown” on Wednesday, hoping to halt the spread of Ebola after the area recorded seven confirmed cases in a day.

The lockdown will last until Dec. 23 in the diamond-rich Kono district in eastern Sierra Leone, said Emmanuel Lebbie, a local official.

The action is being taken after the district recorded seven confirmed cases on Tuesday. The decision was made by traditional rulers in the area including Paramount Chief Paul Jabbie Saquee of Tankoro Chiefdom, Lebbie said.

While people can move within the district, no one will be allowed to enter or leave, said Lebbie, who is the area’s monitor for the Independent Media Commission.

From France 24, a good, solid report on the complications reduced agricultural production, closed food markets, and insufficient funds add to Sierra Leone’s devastating Ebola outbreak:

Battling Ebola, then food shortages in Sierra Leone

Program notes:

FOCUS : Ebola survivors in Sierra Leone find they have successfully battled the deadly disease only to confront a food crisis fueled by high prices, decreased agricultural yields and falling imports.

After the jump another take on origins, then it’s on to Liberia and regional efforts intensifying, the Red Cross offers help for survivors, a presidential plea for help, and the U.N. continues a Liberian arms embargo and more. . . Continue reading

InSecurityWatch: And the story of the day is. . .


. . .torture.

But first, from the Oakland Tribune, a remarkable story:

Richmond police chief a prominent participant in protest against police violence

Amid the nationwide tumult over recent instances of police officers using deadly force against unarmed people, Bay Area cities like Berkeley and Oakland have been rived by impassioned protests that have at times turned violent.

But a different kind of protest popped up in Richmond on Tuesday, and at the vanguard of the gathering calling for a reduction in police violence in communities of color was an unlikely participant: Richmond’s police chief.

“I’ve never seen anything like it, not in Richmond, not anywhere,” said longtime resident Mary Square, who stood on the north side of Macdonald Avenue watching the protesters on the south side of the street. “All these police, and the police chief, holding signs calling for an end to police violence. … I’m going to tell my kids.”

About 100 protesters lined Macdonald Avenue at 41st Street by noon Tuesday, holding signs and listening to a stereo that boomed speeches by Martin Luther King Jr.

Police Chief Chris Magnus, who has drawn acclaim for his community-policing approach and helping drive down both crime and use of force by his officers in recent years, was front and center, facing the street while holding a white sign that said “#blacklivesmatter.” The photo quickly went viral on social media, the image of the uniformed chief with the popular hashtag a stark contrast to the anti-police sentiment many associate with it.

On to the story of the day, first with a graphic comment from editorial cartoonist Lee Judge of the Kansas City Star:

BLOG cartoon

Next, via the New York Times:

Senate Torture Report Condemns C.I.A. Interrogation Program

A scathing report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday found that the Central Intelligence Agency routinely misled the White House and Congress about the information it obtained from the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects, and that its methods were more brutal than the C.I.A. acknowledged either to Bush administration officials or to the public.

The long-delayed report, which took five years to produce and is based on more than six million internal agency documents, is a sweeping indictment of the C.I.A.’s operation and oversight of a program carried out by agency officials and contractors in secret prisons around the world in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It also provides a macabre accounting of some of the grisliest techniques that the C.I.A. used to torture and imprison terrorism suspects.

Detainees were deprived of sleep for as long as a week, and were sometimes told that they would be killed while in American custody. With the approval of the C.I.A.’s medical staff, some C.I.A. prisoners were subjected to medically unnecessary “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration” — a technique that the C.I.A.’s chief of interrogations described as a way to exert “total control over the detainee.” C.I.A. medical staff members described the waterboarding of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, as a “series of near drownings.”

Next, from the Washington Post:

Senate report on CIA program details brutality, dishonesty

An exhaustive, five-year Senate investigation of the CIA’s secret interrogations of terrorism suspects renders a strikingly bleak verdict of a program launched in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, describing levels of brutality, dishonesty and seemingly arbitrary violence that at times brought even agency employees to moments of anguish.

The report by the Senate Intelligence Committee delivers new allegations of cruelty in a program whose severe tactics have been abundantly documented, revealing that agency medical personnel voiced alarm that waterboarding methods had deteriorated to “a series of near drownings” and that agency employees subjected detainees to “rectal rehydration” and other painful procedures that were never approved.

The 528-page document catalogues dozens of cases in which CIA officials allegedly deceived their superiors at the White House, members of Congress and even sometimes their own peers about how the interrogation program was being run and what it had achieved. In one case, an internal CIA memo relays instructions from the White House to keep the program secret from then-Secretary of State Colin Powell out of concern that he would “blow his stack if he were to be briefed on what’s going on.”

More from the Associated Press:

Brutal CIA questioning didn’t work, report says

Senate investigators delivered a damning indictment of CIA interrogations Tuesday, accusing the spy agency of inflicting suffering on prisoners beyond its legal limits and peddling unsubstantiated stories that the harsh questioning saved American lives.

Treatment in secret prisons after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was worse than the government told Congress or the public, said the report from the Senate Intelligence Committee, the first official public accounting after years of debate about the CIA’s brutal handling of prisoners.

Five hundred pages were released, representing the executive summary and conclusions of a still-classified 6,700-page full investigation.

President Barack Obama declared the past practices to be “contrary to our values” and pledged, “I will continue to use my authority as president to make sure we never resort to those methods again.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the committee chairman, branded the findings a stain on the nation’s history.

And from the National Journal, well, what a surprise:

Torture Report Suggests Interrogation Supplied False Intelligence Used to Justify 2003 Invasion of Iraq

  • But the full story remains classified

A Senate investigation into the CIA’s use of brutal interrogation practices released Tuesday suggests that at least one detainee supplied false intelligence contributing to erroneous claims by the Bush administration that former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and was working with al-Qaida.

A footnote buried in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 500-page report references a Libyan national known as Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi who “reported while in … custody that Iraq was supporting al-Qaida and providing assistance with chemical and biological weapons.”

Some of that intelligence from al-Libi was used by former Secretary of State Colin Powell during a speech to the United Nations attempting to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq, according to the footnote, despite al-Libi later recanting the claim.

The Washington Post has the inevitable response:

CIA director rebuts report, says interrogation techniques ‘saved lives’

CIA Director John Brennan on Monday rebutted two of the central premises of the just-released Senate report on the agency’s former practice of interrogating suspected terrorists in secret, saying the controversial program produced evidence that helped avert potential strikes against the U.S. and that agency officials did not intentionally mislead Congress about its tactics.

“Our review indicates that interrogations of detainees on whom [enhanced interrogation techniques] were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives,” Brennan said in the statement. “The intelligence gained from the program was critical to our understanding of al-Qa’ida and continues to inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day.”

As evidence of how the program contributed to the government’s broader effort to fight terrorism, a CIA fact sheet released along with Brennan’s statement cited the case of Ammar al-Baluchi, who was subjected to the severe tactics and was the first detainee to reveal that Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti worked as a courier to convey messages for Osama bin Laden after the late al-Qaeda leader left Afghanistan.

We’ll start the overseas headlines with the News in Lagos, Nigeria, offering a succinct take:

Horrendous CIA torture of terror suspects : The Shame of America

The US Senate on Tuesday released the most thorough public report on the brutal interrogation techniques used by the CIA after September 11 on suspected members of Al-Qaeda.

Prisoners were beaten, slapped and forced into coffin sized containers. One was threatened with a power drill and with a handgun in a Russian Roulette style intimidation.

Rectal feeding and rehydration was used as a “means of behavior control” with no medical need.

From the Independent in Old Blighty:

CIA Torture: Report shows the CIA tortured suspects at secret overseas sites for years, achieved nothing from it, and lied about it

The United States was last night confronted with a landmark report into the CIA interrogation of detainees in the wake of the September  11 attacks at “black site” prisons around the world so replete with details of barbarism and inhumane treatment as to call into question the values at the core of the nation’s identity.

From Canada, via CBC News:

CIA torture report: 6 things we learned

  • CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques were ‘brutal and far worse’ than represented

Here are six things CBC News has learned about the CIA’s detention and interrogation program based on today’s report.

  • The CIA illegally detained a mentally challenged man to force a family member to talk
  • Brutal torture included ‘rectal rehydration’
  • CIA officers with ‘histories of violence’ participated in torture
  • President Bush kept in dark for 4 years
  • Outside contractors helped with CIA’s dirty work
  • CIA officers, contractors rarely held accountable, even when detainees died

The full report summary [minus redactions] is posted here [PDF].

And from the New York Times, a torture timeline:

BLOG Torture

And from Britain’s Channel 4 News, and so it continues:

Is the US overseeing torture in Somalia?

Program notes:

An exclusive report on allegations the CIA has been working closely with Somali forces in the interrogation and torture of suspected al-Shabaab members – the Islamist militant group with links to al-Qaeda.

After the jump, Iraq asks the U.S. for more bombing and weapons, a Scottish sub hunt, an imminent Occupy Hong Kong eviction, rising Taipei/Beijing tensions, and rising concerns over Japan’s new state secrets law. . . Continue reading

InSecurityWatch: Nukes, hacks, threats, & war


From the Independent, lest we forget:

Risks of nuclear war rising because of global tensions and insecure stockpiles, warn experts

Urgent action is needed to minimise the risk of a nuclear war, more than 120 senior military, political and diplomatic figures from across the world have warned.

Ahead of the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, which starts today, the experts wrote in a letter that the danger of such a conflict was “underestimated or insufficiently understood” by world leaders.

The signatories include people from across the political spectrum such as former Conservative Defence Secretary Lord King, a Labour counterpart Lord Browne, former Foreign Secretaries Margaret Beckett and David Owen, and former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell. John McColl, former Nato Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Lord Richards, former Chief of the Defence Staff, and General James Cartwright, former Vice-Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, also signed the letter.

And on to the domestic political issue of the year via the Los Angeles Times:

Justice Department unveils new rules on racial, ethnic profiling

New Justice Department guidelines announced Monday seek to limit federal law enforcement officers’ ability to use a person’s race and other characteristics during investigations, particularly in spontaneous enforcement decisions.

According to a copy of new guidelines obtained by the Los Angeles Times on Monday, profiling should never be used in routine or spontaneous situations like ordinary traffic stops, unless race or other characteristics are part of a specific subject description.

In all other activities, officers may consider race or other characteristics “only to the extent that there is trustworthy information. . . that links persons possessing a particular listed characteristic to an identified criminal incident, scheme, or organization, a threat to national or homeland security, a violation of federal immigration law, or an authorized intelligence activity,” the guidelines say.

The other political issue of the year from the Associated Press:

Judges hear arguments over NSA surveillance

A federal appeals court is considering an Idaho woman’s challenge to the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records.

U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Winmill in Boise, Idaho, ruled in June that the agency’s collection of such data doesn’t violate the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches. But Winmill said the issue raises privacy concerns, and the case could wind up before the nation’s top court.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have joined nurse Anna Smith’s case, one of three challenging the agency’s bulk collection that are before federal appeals courts.

And from National Journal, on it goes:

NSA Mass Spying Earns Another Rubber Stamp Nearly a Year After Obama’s Pledge to End It

Collection of bulk U.S. call data will continue for at least another 90 days.

A federal court has renewed an order allowing the government to continue unchecked its bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, a decision that comes nearly a year after President Obama promised to end the spying program in its current state.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved last week the Justice Department’s request for another 90-day extension of the National Security Agency’s most controversial surveillance program, which was publicly exposed last summer by Edward Snowden. The spying authority is next set to expire on Feb. 27, 2015.

The extension, announced Monday, is the fourth of its kind since President Obama pledged in January to reform how the NSA spies on U.S. citizens, during a major policy speech intended to give Americans “greater confidence that their rights are being protected, even as our intelligence and law-enforcement agencies maintain the tools they need to keep us safe.”

A judgment from Europe, via the Guardian:

Mass surveillance exposed by Snowden ‘not justified by fight against terrorism’

Report by Nils Muižnieks, commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe, says ‘secret, massive and indiscriminate’ intelligence work is contrary to rule of law

The “secret, massive and indiscriminate” surveillance conducted by intelligence services and disclosed by the former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden cannot be justified by the fight against terrorism, the most senior human rights official in Europe has warned.

In a direct challenge to the United Kingdom and other states, Nils Muižnieks, the commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe, calls for greater transparency and stronger democratic oversight of the way security agencies monitor the internet. He also said that so-called Five Eyes intelligence-sharing treaty between the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada should be published.

“Suspicionless mass retention of communications data is fundamentally contrary to the rule of law … and ineffective,” the Latvian official argues in a 120-page report, The Rule of Law on the Internet in the Wider Digital World. “Member states should not resort to it or impose compulsory retention of data by third parties.”

On a related note, via Network World:

UK court to review legality of fast-tracked surveillance law

A surveillance law that was rushed through by the U.K. government will be reviewed by the country’s High Court to determine if it violates human rights.

The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014, also known as DRIPA, was adopted in July by the U.K. government, after the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) invalidated EU laws requiring communication providers to retain metadata. The EU court said those laws seriously interfered with fundamental privacy rights. Since the U.K. law that preceded DRIPA was based on the invalidated EU laws, it needed replacement legislation.

However, the new law is worse than the one it replaces, according to civil rights groups which pointed out that, for instance, it not only gives law enforcement officers access to metadata but also allows them access to the content of messages, even if they are held by companies outside the U.K.

That is why U.K. human rights organization Liberty, along with two members of the British Parliament, decided to seek a review of the law. Permission for such a review was granted on Monday, Liberty said on Twitter.

Similarly related, via TheLocal.es:

Spain opposition slams ‘big brother’ wiretapping

Spain’s Socialist opposition on Saturday accused the government of acting like “Big Brother” after proposing legislation that would give top officials more power to bypass judges and authorize wiretaps or other surveillance.

Spanish law currently allows police to intercept private communications without a judge’s OK only in probes targeting suspected terrorists or organised crime groups.

But the draft bill adopted Friday by cabinet ministers would grant the interior minister and the secretary of state for security the power to authorize surveillance in “emergency cases,” or for a matter of “particular gravity.”

The leader of the main opposition Socialists, Pedro Sanchez, condemned the proposal, likening it to “a kind of Big Brother” move that represented “another tightening of the screws” on human rights and freedoms.

And from the Guardian, another bombshell about to detonate:

CIA braced for global impact of torture report as release date nears

  • Public airing of post-9/11 practices, coming after months of negotiation, is likely to attract attention worldwide and could come as early as Tuesday

The CIA is bracing for what could be one of the most damaging moments in its history: a public airing of its post-9/11 embrace of torture.

The Senate intelligence committee is poised to release a landmark inquiry into torture as early as Tuesday, after the Obama administration made a last-ditch effort to suppress a report that has plunged relations between the CIA and its Senate overseer to a historic low point.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Monday the administration welcomed the release of the report, but warned US interests overseas were at risk of potentially violent reactions to its contents.

The release of the torture report will represent the third major airing of faulty CIA intelligence in 15 years, following official commissions into the 9/11 plot and Saddam Hussein’s defunct illicit weapons programs.

More from the Independent:

US embassies braced for attacks as report on CIA torture comes out

American diplomatic and military posts overseas have been told to prepare themselves for violent protests this week if the US Senate proceeds with its promised release of a long-awaited report into “enhanced” interrogation techniques used by the CIA on prisoners after the 11 September attacks 13 years ago.

The warnings to overseas installations about the report were delivered by the State Department. It urged all overseas posts to “review their security posture” for a “range of reactions”.

Damage control from the New York Times:

Bush and C.I.A. Ex-Officials Rebut Torture Report

A long-awaited Senate report condemning torture by the Central Intelligence Agency has not even been made public yet, but former President George W. Bush’s team has decided to link arms with former intelligence officials and challenge its conclusions.

The report is said to assert that the C.I.A. misled Mr. Bush and his White House about the nature, extent and results of brutal techniques like waterboarding, and some of his former administration officials privately suggested seizing on that to distance themselves from the controversial program, according to people involved in the discussion. But Mr. Bush and his closest advisers decided that “we’re going to want to stand behind these guys,” as one former official put it.

Mr. Bush made that clear in an interview broadcast on Sunday. “We’re fortunate to have men and women who work hard at the C.I.A. serving on our behalf,” he told CNN’s Candy Crowley. “These are patriots and whatever the report says, if it diminishes their contributions to our country, it is way off base.”

The New York Times again, with more of the same:

Dismissing Senate Report, Cheney Defends C.I.A. Interrogations

Former Vice President Dick Cheney offered a full-throated defense of the Central Intelligence Agency on Monday, arguing that its harsh interrogations of terrorism suspects a decade ago were “absolutely, totally justified” and dismissing a new Senate report criticizing them.

Mr. Cheney, who was a vocal champion of those techniques after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has never accepted the widespread description of them as torture, said he had not read the report that the Intelligence Committee is expected to release on Tuesday. But from news reports about it, he said he had heard nothing to change his mind about the wisdom and effectiveness of the program.

“What I keep hearing out there is they portray this as a rogue operation and the agency was way out of bounds and then they lied about it,” he said in a telephone interview. “I think that’s all a bunch of hooey. The program was authorized. The agency did not want to proceed without authorization, and it was also reviewed legally by the Justice Department before they undertook the program.”

While a China Daily story is, certainly, well timed:

China to ban sleep deprivation in interrogation

China’s highest court is drawing up a document that defines confessions obtained through depriving the suspect of sleep as illegal evidence, an insider of the Supreme People’s Court was quoted by the Beijing News as saying on Monday.

According to the document, confessions obtained through grueling techniques, in which the interrogator deprives the suspects of sleep to force a confession, will be deemed as illegal, reported the Beijing News.

There has been widespread concern over torture used by some Chinese law enforcement who want to wrap up cases quickly through forced testimony or confessions.

After the jump, American ignorance kills a hostage, American angst as ISIS builds up a Libyan base, Sony hack continues with a release of executive emails and demand a comedic killing, home routers open up computers to hacks, on to China and a warning to Taiwan, a Hong Kong Occupy crackdown deadline, Washington and Tokyo talk Pyongyang while South Korean calls for trilateral talks with Washington and Beijing, news media protest Abe’s new official secrets act, and a victim of an earlier Japanese secrecy law makes a similar plea. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Disease, climate, water, fuel


And more. . .

We begin with another global health crisis, via Spiegel:

Epidemics Expert Jeremy Farrar: ‘The Most Dangerous Emerging Disease Is Drug Resistance’

  • British medical expert Jeremy Farrar is a key figure in the fight against Ebola and other infectious diseases. In a SPIEGEL interview, he says that the development of vaccines is key because drug-resistant viruses and bacteria pose immense dangers.

SPIEGEL: Is that really such a big threat to global health?

Farrar: There’s no doubt that the most dangerous emerging disease is drug resistance. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people die from drug resistant malaria, HIV or TB infections as well as from drug resistant infections in intensive care units over the world. Take the phenomenal Chinese herbal drug for malaria — Qinghaosu, Artemisinin, one of the very, very few true wonder drugs. After about 20 years of use in Southeast Asia, we have started to see Artemisinin-resistant malaria in Cambodia and it’s now spreading to Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. Inevitably, that could spread to Africa.

SPIEGEL: Resistant forms of tuberculosis have also become a serious threat.

Farrar: Yes, and also in HIV. HIV is not a disease like diabetes. A virus changes, it mutates, and at some stage today’s medicines won’t work as well. There are only so many targets for new drugs in this virus. I don’t think this is going to happen tomorrow. But it will happen at some point. If we have not developed new ideas by then, and this includes developing a vaccine, then the diagnosis “HIV positive” could revert to becoming the same as it was in the 1980s and early 90s. I was a young doctor here in London then when HIV first came to London. It was terrible. All these mostly young people simply died, there was very little we could do. An untreatable infection. But I am not overly pessimistic. If we are innovative and we do the right things, we can stop these events from happening. The world can be better.

From Vanguard in Lagos, good news and bad:

Embargo: Malaria deaths halved since 2000, Ebola risks gains: WHO

The number of people dying from malaria has almost halved since 2000, although progress in west Africa risks being reversed by the Ebola outbreak, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.

The UN agency also warned of major gaps in access to mosquito nets and anti-malaria treatments, as well as the worrying emergence of resistance to the most commonly used insecticides.

Worldwide, malaria deaths were down 47 percent between 2000 and 2013 and decreased 53 percent in children under the age of five, the WHO said in its annual report on the disease.

In sub-Saharan Africa, where 90 percent of all malaria deaths occur, the mortality rate decreased by 54 percent — 58 percent in under fives, the equivalent of about 3.9 million children’s deaths averted.

From India Today, a toxic crisis:

Garbage dumping sites pose big threat to Delhi

A huge environmental hazard looms over the Capital as the city’s three landfill sites – Okhla, Bhalswa and Ghazipur – continue to accumulate garbage beyond their shelf life.

A study done by Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Department of Environment shows that the groundsoil of these three sites harbour organic pollutants exceeding the permissible limits by up to 158 times.

These sites were found to be high on compounds like aliphatics, terpenoids, benzenes, ketones, pharmaceuticals and phthalates which do not degrade with time, enter the food chain quickly and cause a variety of health issues such as hormone disruption, reproductive disorders, learning disabilities, heart diseases, diabetes and cancer.

Additionally, Ghazipur was found to accumulate compounds which are more cytotoxic, that is human cell killing, in nature. On the other hand, Okhla contained more of genotoxic compounds which cause alteration in cell DNA. The researchers fear that the contaminated liquid emanating from the garbage, called leachate, will pollute the groundwater beyond cure. This can prove to be disastrous for large populations residing near these three landfill sites which use groundwater. It will also further pollute Yamuna which runs along the course of these three sites.

Pooja Ghosh, a research scholar and co-author of the study, said, “The national Capital produces more than 9,000 tonnes of Municipal Solid Waste daily. The Ghazipur, Okhla and Bhalswa sites are all unengineered, that is lacking a baseline, and oversaturated with waste. Based on amount of rainfall, age of the landfill as well as waste composition and degradation stage of waste, the sites continuously leak contaminants in the groundwater.”

Tragic victims of the climate game, via the Ecologist:

Kenya: a forest people illegally evicted, beaten, imprisoned – paid for by the World Bank

Financed by the World Bank, the Kenya Forest Service has intensified its illegal campaign of evictions, arson, beatings and arrests of the Sengwer forest people of the Embobut forest, Dean Puckett reports from the Cherangani Hills. And behind the violence lies the lure of hard cash – from the prospect of selling the forest’s carbon to international financiers.

When Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, visited Kenya earlier this month, he reportedly urged the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to sort out Kenya’s historical land injustices once and for all, specifically mentioning the plight of the “Sengwer of Cherangani Hills.”

But despite the World Bank having ‘a word’ with its ‘client’, the plight of the Sengwer of Embobut forest has worsened dramatically. An indigenous community is being evicted from their ancestral land in the name of conservation.

A related story, via the Guardian:

Lima climate talks: pledge to plant 20m hectares of trees

  • Global plan to plant hundreds of millions of trees will save over 1bn tonnes of CO2 a year and restore degraded land as natural forests or as agro-forestry

Eight Latin American countries have pledged to combat deforestation and restore an area of land twice the size of Britain by 2020. The move is part of a global plan to plant hundreds of millions of trees and save over 1bn tonnes of CO2 a year.

Much of the land to be replanted and improved in Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina and Costa Rica, has been deforested in the past 15 years and is now used for subsistence farming or is unusable after being intensively farmed. But it will be restored either as natural forests, or as “agro-forestry” which mixes trees with crop lands and “silvo-pasture” which combines trees with animals.

According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), one of five research groups working with business and government on the ‘Initiative 20×20′, of the 4.2 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases emitted by Latin American and Caribbean countries in 2012, nearly half were from agriculture and the loss of forests. Between 2001 and 2012, the region lost 36m hectares of forest and grassland to agricultural expansion. Cutting down forests to make way for ranches releases carbon.

SciDev.Net raises questions:

Experts question slowing Amazon deforestation trend

“The last five years have seen the lowest deforestation rates ever recorded for the Amazon,” said [Brailian] environment minister Izabella Teixeira.

The recent slowdown of deforestation rates is due to several factors, said Teixeira, such as the work of law enforcement teams and a task force for the environmental regularisation of rural properties.

But some experts believe the true picture is less promising. Marco Lentini, who heads the Amazon Programme run by conservation body WWF’s Brazilian office, says he found the recent announcement surprising.

“We didn’t expect those results since we’ve analysed deforestation data from monthly monitoring system DETER [also from INPE] and other independent sources such as Imazon [the Amazonian Institute of Man and Environment] that have showed an upward trend,” he says.

A related story from the Ecologist:

‘It’s war!’ Peru-Brazil indigenous people pledge to fight Amazon oil exploration

Peru – host of the COP20 UN climate conference now under way in Lima – is facing rebellion by a 3,500 strong indigenous people deep in the Amazon committed to fighting oil exploration in their forest territory, writes David Hill, following the government’s failure to consult Matsés communities or respect their rights.

Members of an indigenous people living on both sides of the Brazil-Peru border in the remote Amazon say they are prepared to fight with spears, bows and arrows if companies enter their territories to explore for oil.

The Matsés have publicly opposed operations by Canada-based firm Pacific Rubiales Energy for at least five years, but they say that neither the company nor Perupetro, the government body which granted the licences to two oil concessions in Peru, are taking any notice.

European long, hot summers ahead, via the New York Times:

Global Warming to Make European Heat Waves ‘Commonplace’ by 2040s, Study Finds

[T]hree scientists from the Met Office, the British weather agency, have concluded that human-caused global warming is going to make European summer heat waves “commonplace” by the 2040s.

Their findings, published on Monday in the online journal Nature Climate Change, suggest that once every five years, Europe is likely to experience “a very hot summer,” in which temperatures are about 1.6 degrees Celsius, or 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit, above the 1961-90 average. This is up from a probability, just a decade ago, that such events would occur only once every 52 years, a 10-fold increase.

To predict how global warming will play out in Europe in the years ahead, Nikolaos Christidis and two of his Met Office colleagues first looked back with a statistical tool called optimal fingerprinting. Their method, in which they entered observed data into complex mathematical models, allowed them to assign responsibility for weather events to natural or human-made factors, an approach that scientists call “climate attribution.”

Dr. Christidis and his colleagues, Gareth S. Jones and Peter A. Stott, studied historical data for an area encompassing most of Western Europe and the Mediterranean. They found a striking rise in the probability of extreme summer temperature events over just two decades, 1990-99 and 2003-12.

After the jump, an Aussie climate change fail, climate change exonerated in California record drought, Big Coal’s dirty climate politics, a British air pollution public health crisis, a call for biodiversity from the country that’s literally eating up the world’s endangered species, BP loses an oil spill appeal, refinery safety closer to Berkeley, unsafe drinking water in China, another Chinese water problem, and for our lone Fukushimapocalypse Now! item, not hot air. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Numbers, anxiety, politics, memory


First, the latest Ebola numbers, released today [8 Dec] by the World Health Organization:

BLOG Ebola

From the New York Times, errors were made:

Dallas Physician in Nation’s First Ebola Case Acknowledges Errors in Treatment

In a report published by The Dallas Morning News on Sunday, the Texas emergency room physician who misdiagnosed the first case of Ebola in the United States acknowledged his error in his first public comments on the treatment of the patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, who later died.

“I was unaware of a 103-degree fever,” one Ebola symptom, the doctor, Joseph Howard Meier, wrote in answer to questions by the newspaper. “It appears in the chart, but I did not see it.”

Asked whether he would have changed his evaluation if he had known that Mr. Duncan had traveled from Liberia, the doctor responded that he would have contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and begun an Ebola assessment. “But the likelihood would have still been low since Mr. Duncan denied any sick contacts,” he said. The hospital has acknowledged that the nurses and doctors in that initial visit had access to the fact that Mr. Duncan had arrived from Liberia.

The Wire signals emergent amnesia:

A Quiet Exit for a Forgotten Ebola Czar

  • The public’s attention has moved on from the deadly disease, and soon, so will Ron Klain.

When Ron Klain leaves his post as the White House’s “Ebola response coordinator,” or czar, sometime early next year, don’t expect a big send-off from President Obama, much less a declaration of mission accomplished. In all likelihood, the disease will still be raging in parts of West Africa, and the U.S. will still have a sizable military presence there to combat it. The CDC will still be warning of the possibility of isolated cases on domestic soil, and the Department of Homeland Security probably won’t have lifted the heightened security and travel restrictions it put in place in the fall.

But as President Obama himself noted last week, the public’s attention has moved on from Ebola, and so, too, will Klain. A respected former top aide to both Vice Presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden, Klain arrived in the White House in October as the designated behind-the-scenes fixer of a crisis that was roiling the administration just weeks before a national election. He was given the title of coordinator, but it was never precisely clear what he did. Republicans panned the selection because Klain was not a doctor or a scientist, while reporters complained that he rarely appeared in public. During Obama’s last two extensive remarks on Ebola, he never mentioned Klain or his work.

The Associated Press covers another problem:

In Ebola outbreak, bad data adds another problem

As health officials struggle to contain the world’s biggest-ever Ebola outbreak, their efforts are being complicated by another problem: bad data.

Having accurate numbers about an outbreak is essential not only to provide a realistic picture of the epidemic, but to determine effective control strategies. Dr. Bruce Aylward, who is leading the World Health Organization’s Ebola response, said it’s crucial to track every single Ebola patient in West Africa to stop the outbreak and that serious gaps remain in their data.

“As we move into the stage of hunting down the virus instead of just slowing the exponential growth, having good data is going to be at the heart of this,” Aylward said. “We are not there yet and this is something we definitely need to fix.”

From the U.N News Center, material materiel help:

Health workers on Ebola response frontlines get boost with donation of protective gear – UN

The first of 700,000 sets of protective gear intended for healthcare workers battling on the frontlines of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa arrived today from Japan and were handed over the United Nations, as the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said the crisis has left some 5 million children out of school.

Declaring 2014 a “devastating year for children” including those posed by new significant new threats to children’s health and well-being, most notably the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, UNICEF reported today that the epidemic has orphaned thousands and left an estimated 5 million children out of school.

The fight against Ebola received a boost today with the arrival of 20,000 sets of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from the Japan Disaster Relief Team. It is the first batch of 700,000 sets of such equipment committed by the Government of Japan to the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER).

The equipment committed by the Government of Japan to UNMEER should help provide critical protection to healthcare workers in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Mali.

VOA News covers training:

In Brussels, Unlikely Ebola Boot Camp Arises

Far from the outbreak’s steamy West African epicenter, against a wintry skyline edged with factories, these lifesavers are undergoing MSF’s own anti-Ebola boot camp.

“It’s like preparatory training, really, to make sure that people understand what Ebola is and how they can stay safe and how they can keep other people safe,” says Brett Adamson, a nurse and program facilitator. “And, of course, to understand the overall response to an Ebola outbreak and know that it requires teamwork at all levels, from day-to-day work in a center to the whole coordinated response. Without any of those parts, we won’t win this outbreak.”

Those attending the workshops include not only MSF staff, but also government employees and humanitarian workers from other agencies. The medical charity recently opened two other training centers, in Switzerland and the Netherlands, to handle the growing demand.

And from TV2Africa, an Ebola song:

Ebola Song

Program notes:

It’s Music Makers Friday and today we’re featuring a new release, “Ebola we can overcome.” Here to tell us all about it is the producer, Peter Ngu Tayon.

On to Sierra Leone and a desperate measure, via the Associated Press:

Sierra Leone doctors strike for better Ebola care

Junior doctors in Sierra Leone went on strike Monday to demand better treatment for health workers infected with Ebola, a health official said.

The association representing junior doctors asked the government to make sure life-saving equipment, like dialysis machines, is available to treat infected doctors. The government has promised that a new, fully equipped unit is opening soon near the capital. But the doctors began their strike anyway, according to Health Ministry spokesman Jonathan Abass Kamara.

Ten of the 11 Sierra Leonean doctors who have become infected have died. Ebola has killed more than 6,300 people, including hundreds of health workers. Throughout the outbreak in West Africa, health care workers have periodically gone on strike to demand better protection or higher pay.

In an effort to make sure health workers get top-notch treatment, special centers dedicated to their care have already opened in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

CCTV America covers collateral damage:

Fewer parents vaccinate children, fearing Ebola

Program notes:

Health experts in Sierra Leone said the country’s current Ebola crisis could well be masking outbreaks of other diseases. Since the virus took hold, immunologists say fewer parents are taking their children for vaccinations against preventable diseases like measles and polio. CCTV America’s Katerina Vittozzi reported from Freetown.

From VOA News, a tragic landmark:

Sierra Leone Overtakes Liberia in Number of Ebola Cases

The World Health Organization says new cases of Ebola continue to rise in West Africa, and it says Sierra Leone has overtaken Liberia as the country with the highest number of cases.

Data published Monday by the WHO shows that Sierra Leone has recorded 7,798 cases of the deadly virus, indicating that the disease is now spreading fastest in that country.

Infection rates for Ebola are decreasing in Liberia, which now has just over 7,700 cases.  Liberia still has more Ebola deaths than any other country.

More from IRIN:

Sierra Leone’s worrying Ebola trend

In the week ending 30 November, Sierra Leone reported 537 confirmed Ebola cases, 152 more than the previous week and over four times the combined number of cases in Guinea and Liberia during the same period, according to World Health Organization’s (WHO) latest updates.

For more than a month, the outbreak has been slowing in Liberia, which reported 43 cases from 24-28 November. In Guinea, where the virus was first reported in March, there has been a slight increase in cases since October. Seventy-seven cases were reported in the last week of November, says WHO.

Health authorities in Sierra Leone say the continued denial of the existence of Ebola and unsafe burials are driving up infections. Seventy percent of infections are due to unsafe burials of Ebola victims, Brima Kargbo, chief medical officer at the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, told reporters on 3 December.

“The issue of denial is still [widespread] in our communities despite the fact that there is increased awareness and sensitization. People continue to hide the sick; people continue to wash bodies,” Kargbo said.

“What we have done is continue to engage the community leaders – for them to fully understand the risk factors of Ebola and for them to see the need to be involved in the fight [against Ebola] by reporting early when their loved ones are sick; at the same time for people not to bury without the support of the medical teams.”

After the jump, on to Liberia and a presidential propaganda campaign, political and presidential houses divided, a covert campaign and more public opposition, more medics arrive from within Africa, cremation anxieties continue, notable progress in one county and in another county troubles flow from a WHO hospital funding cutoff, and Uncle Sam funds training for parents of survivors. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day II: A rapidly aging Europe


Click on it to enlarge, via Reuters:

BLOG Aging

And now for something completely different


And that would be chess boxing.

From Deutsche Welle:

Chess Boxing – With Brain and Brawn | Journal Reporters

Program note:

Meet the world champion of an interesting new sport: chess boxing!