Category Archives: Food

EnviroWatch: Eruptions, fuels, GMOs, ills


We begin with the latest from the GMO front via Common Dreams:

Second Discovery of GMO Wheat Reveals ‘Failed Policy’ That Threatens Farmers: Watchdog

USDA says genetically engineered wheat discovered on Montana farm

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday revealed that it was opening an investigation into the appearance of unapproved genetically engineered wheat in Montana.

It marks the second time the USDA is issuing notice of a discovery of rogue genetically engineered (or GMO) wheat. There is no commercially-approved GMO wheat.

According to a statement issued by the USDA, the discovery of the Roundup-resistant GMO wheat was made in July at Montana State University’s Southern Agricultural Research Center (SARC) in Huntley, Montana. That location was the site of Monsanto-led GMO wheat trials, approved by the USDA, from 2000 to 2003.

The Latin American Herald Tribune delivers a warning:

Agriculture Experts Warn of Lack of Food Security in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is far from achieving food security because it imports between 85 percent and 87 percent of its daily food consumption, partly due to neglect of the island’s farm sector as well as to increased urban development in recent decades, several experts told Efe.

Gladys Gonzalez, professor of agricultural economics at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), said in an interview with Efe that the island’s geographical limitations prevent it from producing enough food to feed the entire population.

Based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2012 census, the amount of farm land in Puerto Rico expanded to 584,988 acres but only 433,563 acres were under cultivation. The 2014 amendment to Puerto Rican Law 550 requires that between 600,000 and 700,000 acres of land throughout the commonwealth be set aside for growing crops.

On the beach with Star Africa News:

SLeone: Environmental body alarmed by sand mining

Sierra Leone’s environmental and tourism authorities have warned that a resurgence of illegal sand mining threatens to destroy the country’s beaches and hence its tourism industry.The tourism ministry, which is on a joined monitoring of communities where sand mining is predominant, said the country’s beaches are a major component of its tourism potential.

A spate of illegal sand mining activities last year attracted wide spread concern, prompting a temporary ban.

The government has identified three places were sand mining could be allowed but under strict conditions. Report now say dealers in sand have been violating the ban and some carry out their illegal act in the dark of night.

From the Los Angeles Times, a non-eruption story, hopefully:

Mammoth Lakes earthquake swarm tied to water pressure, tectonic stress

The more than 600 earthquakes that have struck the Mammoth Lakes region over the last 24 hours are an indication of tectonic, not volcanic, stress, an expert said Friday.

At least 109 of the earthquakes were magnitude 2.0 or greater, with smaller quakes making up the bulk of the activity, said David Shelly, a seismologist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcano Science Center. At least six, however, were greater than magnitude 3.0.

The largest, a 3.8 temblor six miles from Mammoth Lakes, occurred at 9:21 p.m. Thursday.

The swarm of quakes, which began Thursday in the 20-by-10-mile Long Valley caldera east of the central Sierra Nevada Range, isn’t uncommon for the region. About 200 small quakes — the largest a magnitude 2.7 — shook in Long Valley Caldera in July.

And from the Japan Times, the first of two lethal eruptions:

Volcano eruption on Nagano-Gifu border kills hiker, wounds 46; Abe mobilizes SDF

Mount Ontake, a volcano straddling Nagano and Gifu prefectures, erupted on Saturday, spewing ash and small rocks into the air, killing a female hiker, leaving at least 16 people unconscious and 30 others seriously injured, and stranding more than 40 on the mountain, officials and media said.

Following the eruption at 11:53 a.m., a thick, rolling gray cloud of ash rose high into the sky above the mountain close to where hikers were taking pictures, TV footage showed. Hikers and residents were warned of falling rock and ash within a radius of 4 km.

Rescue headquarters on the Nagano side of the mountain said it had received information from rescue workers that a female hiker was killed in the eruption. Further details, including her identity or cause of death, were not yet available.

Japanese vlogger Kuroda Terutoshi was climbing the mountain when the eruption happened, and his clip is understanding a bit shaky:

The second lethal eruption, via TheLocal.it:

Child dead after Sicily mud geyser eruption

The sudden eruption of a mud geyser at a nature reserve in southern Sicily killed a seven-year-old girl on Saturday, Italian media reported, adding that her nine-year-old brother was missing.

The two children were walking with their father in the Maccalube nature reserve north of Agrigento when a geyser spewed mud over them.

The father, a police officer, was uninjured, but the girl’s body was found shortly afterward while the boy could not be found, the reports said.

From TheLocal.dk, another outbreak:

Three deaths traced to new listeria outbreak

The new outbreak stems from soups served at two hospitals and is not connected to the deli meat outbreak that has claimed 16 lives.

Three people have died from listeria-infested asparagus soup at Odense University Hospital.

The deaths are a result of a new listeria outbreak and are not related to the one that has been traced to the deli meat rullepølse, which has claimed 16 lives.

From the Associated Press, a far larger outbreak:

New mosquito-borne virus spreads in Latin America

An excruciating mosquito-borne illness that arrived less than a year ago in the Americas is raging across the region, leaping from the Caribbean to the Central and South American mainland, and infecting more than 1 million people. Some cases already have emerged in the United States.

While the disease, called chikungunya, usually is not fatal, the epidemic has overwhelmed hospitals, cut economic productivity and caused its sufferers days of pain and misery. And the count of victims is soaring.

In El Salvador, health officials report nearly 30,000 suspected cases, up from 2,300 at the beginning of August, and hospitals are filled with people with the telltale signs of the illness, including joint pain so severe it can be hard to walk.

From the Guardian, blood fever for our fine feathered friends:

New controversy over Malta’s bird slaughter

  • Island MP Karmenu Vella nominated as European commissioner to head green policies, including wildlife protection

Karmenu Vella has unusual credentials for a man selected to be the next European commissioner for the environment. The 64-year-old politician is a long-serving member of Malta’s Labour government, which is accused of direct involvement in the widespread slaughter of birdlife on the island – including many endangered species.

Every spring and autumn, thousands of migratory birds – including quails, song thrushes and brood eagles – pass over Malta as they fly between northern Europe and Africa, only to be greeted by thousands of local hunters who gather in trucks bearing slogans like “If it flies it dies”. They duly open fire on the birds.

“Turtle doves have suffered a catastrophic decline in western Europe, including Britain. Yet the Maltese government continues to allow them to be shot in their thousands every year,” said Andre Farrar of the RSPB. “This slaughter has widespread implications and involves dozens of rare species, many of them regular visitors to the British Isles.”

Public Radio International gives us our first fuels story:

Fearing pollution, some local governments are demanding back zoning control over oil and gas

In eight states across the country, communities are trying to decide if new energy sources and possible economic growth from oil and gas are worth losing control of their land — and the huge changes it brings to the countryside.

Ten years ago, Ohio changed its zoning laws. It took zoning control of oil and gas operations away from local communities and gave the authority to the state department of natural resources. In 2012, Pennsylvania also tried to limit local zoning rights around oil and gas operations, as part of the controversial Act 13. But late last year, the state Supreme Court struck it down, maintaining local control. New York courts have also upheld the rights of local governments to regulate fracking.

TheLocal.no gives us our second:

Statoil freezes oil sands project in Canada

Norwegian oil company Statoil announced the postponement of an oil sands project in Canada due to rising costs and limited pipeline transport capacity.

The Corner project, located in the province of Alberta in western Canada, is being postponed for a minimum of three years, the company said in a statement late Thursday.

The production capacity of the project is 40,000 barrels per day and its delay does not affect the neighbouring Leismer project, which can produce up to 20,000 barrels per day, according to Statoil.

“Costs for labour and materials have continued to rise in recent years and are working against the economics of new projects,” Statoil Canada country manager Ståle Tungesvik said.

From the Independent, the spice of life:

Curry spice turmeric ‘could help brain heal itself’

A spice commonly used in curries could help the brain heal itself, new research has suggested.

A report in the journal Stem Cell Research and Therapy found a compound in the curry spice turmeric may hold the key to repairing the brains of people with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

A team in Germany say aromatic turmerone promoted the proliferation of brain stem cells and their development into neurons during laboratory tests on rats.

And for our last item, via the Guardian, submitting the question to a jury of their pee-ers:

US city considers testing sewage to gather data on residents’ marijuana use

  • Spokane, Washington wants to test the water to get a more accurate picture of marijuana usage now the drug has been legalised

City leaders in Spokane, Washington, want to know just how much pot residents are smoking, now that it’s legal there. Sewage might hold the answer.

The primary author of Washington state’s recreational marijuana law, attorney Alison Holcomb, made this suggestion to the city’s marijuana policy subcommittee at a meeting on Tuesday. About 50 city leaders and residents make up the group, which attempts to grapple with what legalization means for the city of about 210,000.

“We don’t have really good data on usage and perceptions of harm,” said Jon Snyder, a Spokane city council member. “It’s funny how the sewage thing has really captured people’s imagination.”

EbolaWatch: Crisis, shortages, help, & more


First up, a notable quarantine from the Associated Press:

Liberia Health Chief Is Under Quarantine

Liberia’s chief medical officer is placing herself under quarantine for 21 days after her office assistant died of Ebola.

Bernice Dahn, a deputy health minister who has represented Liberia at regional conferences intended to combat the ongoing epidemic, said Saturday that she did not have any Ebola symptoms but wanted to make sure that she was not infected.

Liberia’s government has asked people to keep themselves isolated for 21 days if they think they have been exposed. The unprecedented scale of the outbreak, however, has made it difficult to trace the contacts of victims and quarantine those who might be at risk.

“Of course we made the rule, so I am home for 21 days,” Ms. Dahn said. “I did it on my own. I told my office staff to stay at home for the 21 days. That’s what we need to do.”

She’s clearly better off than most of her fellow citizens, as the Toronto Globe and Mail reveals:

Newest Liberian Ebola treatment centre overwhelmed with cases

Less than a week after opening, the 150-bed unit is already overwhelmed with 206 patients, and more are arriving each day. Some lie huddled on the dusty ground outside the gates until they are carried in, while a steady stream of ambulances, sirens blaring, bring more patients.

“We’re trying to squeeze in as many as possible,” said Atai Omoruto, the overworked Ugandan doctor in charge of the centre. “We’re still getting so many patients, every day. We’re using the corridors. Whatever space is available, we’re putting camp beds there.”

As she spoke, trucks arrived with piles of donated mattresses from a local microfinance organization and a load of wooden bed frames from a Liberian carpenters’ union. But the new treatment unit, on Bushrod Island near the city’s seaport, is making barely a dent in an ever-growing disaster that has already killed more than 3,000 people in five West African countries. Monrovia has roughly 500 treatment beds, but Liberia as a whole needs thousands and they have been slow to arrive.

It’s not just Liberia, as this clip from the Voice of America makes clear:

Sierra Leone Struggles to Care For Ebola Patients

Program notes:

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It’s a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.

Al Jazeera English covers backlash:

Guinea residents ‘refusing’ Ebola treatment

  • Residents say people frightened to go to clinics because of conspiracy theories that they will be killed by doctors

Residents of the Guinean capital Conakry, hit hard by Ebola, say they are afraid to seek treatment at hospitals for fear of being poisoned by doctors, as the death toll across West Africa passed the 3,000 mark.

Local resident Tairu Diallo said on Friday that people living in his neighbourhood refused to seek medical help and instead stayed at home, trying to alleviate their symptoms with drugs bought at a pharmacy.

Diallo said people think doctors at hospitals inject patients with a deadly poison. “If we have a stomach ache we don’t go to hospital because doctors there will inject you and you will die,” he said.

While Reuters covers the pale rider’s companions:

Ebola’s spread brings host of other diseases in its wake

Last week, fear of Ebola caused locals to kill eight members of an Ebola education team, sick people are avoiding clinics, and the World Health Organization says that 208 of the 373 infected healthcare workers in the region have died from the virus.

As a result, “the health services of West Africa have to a very large degree broken down,” according to Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust international health charity.

Experts predict a quadrupling in deaths caused by diarrhea, pneumonia, and particularly malaria, next year, and the collapse of immunization programs means that children are at a higher risk of diphtheria, polio and tuberculosis. Not to mention the impact to things like childbirth, diabetes and mental health.

So it’s a race against time. According to WHO director of strategy Dr. Christopher Dye, “If control efforts are only partly successful, Ebola viral disease in the human population could become ‘a permanent feature of life in West Africa.’”

From Star Africa News, a call from the Economic Community Of West African States:

ECOWAS calls for regional response to Ebola

ECOWAS has called for urgent mobilization of the Armed and Security Forces of Member States to strengthen the regional response and interventions against Ebola, according to a statement issued on Saturday.The body’s Coordinating Ministerial Group for the implementation of the Regional Operational Plan on the fight against the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) issued the statement on Saturday in Abuja after on Friday meeting with a Ministerial Group Chaired by Ghana’s Health Minister, Dr. Kwaku Agyeman.

It recommended that the armed and security forces should provide, among others, medical personnel and logistics as well as mobilize the support of military engineers regiments in setting up Ebola treatment centers in Ebola-hit countries.

It added that the Ministerial Group, which considered the report of the just-ended two-day meeting of the ECOWAS Technical Monitoring Surveillance and Group on Ebola response, equally called for the provision of adequate financial incentives to National Health personnel already on ground in Member States.

Another call, this one from China, via Xinhua:

Chinese FM calls for more global assistance as Ebola epidemic rages

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Saturday called for more global assistance to African countries as the Ebola epidemic is raging in some countries in the region.

Wang made the appeal while speaking at the ongoing annual high- level debate of the UN General Assembly, which opened here Wednesday. “The Ebola epidemic, which is raging in some African countries, has once again sounded the alarm bell for global health security,” he said.

“As a good brother and good partner of Africa sharing weal and woe with it, China will continue to stand firmly with the African people, and support and assist them to the best of its ability,” Wang said, pledging China’s active part in the international assistance efforts.

The Los Angeles Times covers those left behind:

Ebola outbreak often leaves children alone and terrified

As the Ebola virus sweeps through Liberian villages, through its towns and cities, whole families are being cut down by the disease. Parents who die leave behind children no one wants to care for, rejected by neighbors and relatives, who order them to stay away. With an acute shortage of beds, the lucky ones are picked up by ambulance and taken to treatment units. Many of the rest die on the streets.

In Monrovia, the capital, all the Ebola treatment unit beds are full, vacancies opening only as patients die or survivors are discharged. The IMC center, which opened just last week, is one of two in Liberia with available beds. It has admitted 26 patients, seven of whom have died. Two of the dead were children.

The main priority in the treatment units is to keep the workers safe. Next is to isolate infectious patients to prevent spread of the disease. Providing decent care has to come third.

And from the London Telegraph, a short clip about those children:

The abandoned children of the Liberia Ebola outbreak

Program notes:

Children whose families have been killed by outbreak of Ebola in West Africa have found themselves shunned through fear of the deadly disease.

On to Liberia, with new numbers from The Analyst:

Bong County: 21 New Suspected Ebola Deaths Reported

Reports coming from the Central Province of Bong County say there were 36 new suspected Ebola cases in the County last week. This was disclosed by the head of the Bong County Ebola Response task force Superintendent Selena Polson Mappy last Thursday. Out the number, 21 died, she said.

Superintendent Mappy also disclosed that four persons out of the number of confirmed cases that were treated at the Ebola Testing Unit have also died. Appearing on a live radio talk show, Info Box on Radio Gbarnga, Superintendent Mappy said, although the task force and other stakeholders continue to make progress in the fight against the killer disease in the County, more needs to be done to contain the spread of the virus.

The Bong County task force chairperson called on citizens of the County to desist from denial and take preventive measures to avoid further spread of the virus. Superintendent Mappy said Liberia can only succeed in combating the killer disease when citizens accept the existence of the virus and join the fight, adding that plans are underway for the construction of another Ebola testing unit in the County. The Bong superintendent said the facility is expected to be constructed by the US Army at the former UNMIL base in Maimu Salala district

The Analyst again, with evidence of spreading contagion:

Grand Gedeh Records First Ebola Case

A 35-year-old man in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County, has tested Ebola positive, making it the first case in the county since the outbreak of the disease in the country in March. The man, whose name is being withheld by the Liberia News Agency, was showing signs and symptoms of the disease when the Grand Gedeh County Health Team (CHT) picked him up from the Zwedru Central Market last Friday.

In a brief interview with the Liberia News Agency Wednesday, the Coordinator of the CHT, Netus Nowena, said the man migrated from Ganta, Nimba County to Grand Gedeh County following the death of nine of his family members from the disease early this month.

According to Nowena, the health team was taking the man to Gbarnga, Bong County for treatment when they observed that he was showing signs and symptoms of the virus, adding that he later tested positive for the disease. According to Nowena, the 36 people who were at the holding center for 21 days of observation have been released without any signs or symptoms of Ebola.

The Liberian Observer covers another threat:

Ebola Weakens Liberia Food Security

Liberia has been the hardest hit country in West Africa’s Ebola outbreak of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) with more than 3000 cases, Voice of America (VOA) reports.

With this latest development, it is reported that 14 of Liberia’s 15 counties have been affected. Some of the first cases in Liberia were reported in northern Lofa County. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (ANFAO) said, the outbreak has had a big effect on food security in the country.

The FAO has just completed a four-day assessment of Lofa County, where a three-man team visited the towns of Foya and Barkedu. The far northern area is close to the border with Guinea. That’s where the World Health Organization (WHO) reports the Ebola outbreak probably began early this year with the case of a two year old boy.

FAO representative, Alexis Bonte is quoted as telling the VOA’s Joe DeCapua that Lofa County residents are “terrified at how fast the disease is spreading.” He says that “neighbors, friends and family members are dying within just a few days of exhibiting shocking symptoms.”

After the jump, calls for mobilization in Sierra Leone,  Guinea, and Gambia, Sierra Leone’s Patient Zero heads home, Ivory Coast ends airline restrictions, an HIV drug cures Ebola in Liberia, World Bank warns Nigeria over Ebola complacency, another American comes home for treatment, Cuba medical teams arrive, more cash is promised by Europe, Asia, and the IMF. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Climate, water, nukes, more


We begin with cockeyed optimism from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

EPA head: No need to fear hurting economy in battle against climate change

Hot off the United Nations Climate Summit 2014, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency kept up the Obama administration’s push for significant changes in the rules on carbon pollution – an overhaul she said would help, not hinder, economic progress.

In a speech Thursday at Resources for the Future, a non-profit policy organization, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy looked back some 40 years to the nation’s battle with the chemicals harming the ozone layer.

“The United States didn’t temper its resolve, despite the hesitation of other nations. American science identified the problem. American industry innovated the solution,” McCarthy said. “Because we acted, the ozone layer is healing. Our people are safer. And our economy is stronger. Our fight to save the ozone layer was a defining moment in American leadership.”

From the Guardian, bait and switch:

Row over EU marine protection fund tasked with lobbying for oil drilling

  • €36m fund could make it easier for oil and gas companies to win public support for deep sea drilling, environmentalists say

An EU fund for marine protection has been condemned by lawmakers, scientists and NGOs for being tasked with promoting public acceptance of deep sea oil and gas drilling.

The €36m (£28m) ‘Blue Growth’ funding pot is part of a Horizon 2020 disaster response programme to help EU countries measure and contain oil and gas pollution spills, in the wake of the calamitous BP Deepwater blowout in 2010.

While its scope deals with increasing operational responses to similar accidents, the research programme’s expected impacts include increasing the competitiveness of European industry, reducing risks for the new offshore economy and, crucially, persuading a sceptical public of the merit of offshore drilling. One of its stated objectives is to “improve societal acceptance of offshore activities.”

“It is outrageous,” Isabella Lovin, a Swedish Green MEP, told the Guardian. “We know from scientists that we need to leave two thirds of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we are to stay within the 2C global warming trajectory. So why on Earth would we give taxpayers money to raise public acceptance for offshore oil drilling which will damage the sea floor, marine life, and the planet. It is totally absurd.”

CNN covers the despicable:

Dolphins killed as Taiji’s controversial hunting season resumes in Japan

The slaughter of dolphins has begun again in a small Japanese village, in a controversial annual hunt that pits Western environmentalist values against what locals say are traditional hunting practices.

Taiji, a coastal town of 3,500 people in the Japanese prefecture of Wakayama, has a dolphin hunting season from September to March every year.

Local fishermen are permitted by the Wakayama prefectural government to hunt an annual quota of nearly 2,000 dolphins and porpoises from seven different species, in accordance with what the government says is traditional practice.

Most of the dolphins are killed for their meat, but many are sold live to aquariums around the world.

From BBC News, fertilizer from afar:

Ancient African fish dust nourishes Amazon

The Amazon is being fertilised by the remains of ancient fish from Africa. The nutrient-rich material is being carried in millions of tonnes of dust blown across the Atlantic from the Sahara every year.

Scientists have long recognised the importance of this airborne train to the rainforest’s health. But now a UK team has been able to show that much of the essential phosphorous in the dust is derived from the bones and scales of fish and other organisms.

These are animals that lived in Megalake Chad, a massive body of water that covered north-central Africa thousands of years ago.

From the Christian Science Monitor, Gore’s BFF loses out a bid for a grab at the coastal commons:

Surfers win out over billionaire in California beach ruling

Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla has been locked in a land dispute with surfers and local residents over his blocking access to a stretch of beach in northern California. For now, things aren’t going the billionaire’s way.

Surf’s up, bro. But maybe not if you’re Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla.

In a David-and-Goliath-type standoff, the tech billionaire, who owns land that includes access to a northern California beach, had drawn heated criticism for blocking that access. On Wednesday, he lost a court battle over this coveted sector of coastal land.

In what’s being called a landmark case, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Barbara Mallach ruled that Mr. Khosla, who was sued by the coastal protection group Surfrider Foundation, did not obtain the requisite permit to block access to the land.

And a stay of execution for a natural wonder from the Guardian:

Barrier reef dredging: green groups win more time for court challenge

  • Conservationists are opposed to any dredging which would enable the expansion of the Abbot Point coal terminal

Green groups have won more time for a court challenge to plans to dump dredge spoil from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park on land.

The federal government last year approved a plan to have three million cubic metres of spoil dumped in the marine park boundaries in north Queensland, but following a public backlash the Queensland premier, Campbell Newman, this month announced that his cabinet was instead backing a plan to have the material disposed of on land.

Conservationists, however, remain opposed to any dredging which would enable the expansion of the Abbot Point coal terminal, near Bowen.

From Al Jazeera America, another oceanic reprieve:

US creates world’s largest marine sanctuary

  • President Obama signed a proclamation on Thursday to expand a marine reserve in the Pacific to 490,000 square miles

President Barack Obama signed a proclamation on Thursday to create the world’s largest marine sanctuary in the Pacific Ocean in a bid to protect sea life from climate change, the White House said.

The decree expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument in the south-central Pacific, thereby making it off-limits to development and commercial fishing.

“The administration identified expanding the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument as an area of particular interest because science has shown that large marine protected areas can help rebuild biodiversity, support fish populations, and improve overall ecosystem resilience,” a White House statement issued Wednesday said.

The expanded reserve will cover 490,000 square miles — an area roughly three times the size of California.

From China Daily, an alliance for cleaner water:

Joint institute will take on water pollution

Two Nevada-based environmental research institutions will partner with a Nanjing university on water pollution research, which they hope eventually will help solve water pollution problems in China.

The Desert Research Institute and the Nevada Center of Excellence have signed a memorandum of understanding with the Hohai University to share hydrology and water resource research and exchange academic personnel, the institutions said on Tuesday.

“We believe that this collaboration will allow us to build a team of world class researchers from both institutes to solve urgent water pollution and management – not only in China but all over the world,” said Xu Hui, president of Hohai University, in a statement.

Public Radio International covers consequences of a Chinese crackdown:

China says no to a shipment of US corn contaminated with GMOs — and surprising lawsuits follow

Since November, China has been rejecting shipments of grain from the US, claiming they contain trace amounts of a type of genetically engineered corn not approved in the People’s Republic — costing US agribusiness nearly $3 billion.

Now, in an unexpected legal twist, agricultural trading giants Cargill and Trans Coastal Supply are suing Syngenta, the seed company that created the strain of genetically modified corn, claiming it failed to get import approval from China.

Greg Mandel, a professor of law at Temple University who studies emerging technologies and intellectual property, finds the lawsuits rather dubious and is surprised they were even filed. “At the bottom of both lawsuits is essentially a negligence claim — that Syngenta acted negligently … by commercializing a biotech product that had not received regulatory approval in all major markets,” Mandel explains.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with NHK WORLD:

Obuchi vows plant decommission, water management

Japan’s industry minister Yuko Obuchi says her government is strongly committed to containing radioactive wastewater at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, and to seeing decommissioning completed.

Obuchi met Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato at his prefectural office on Thursday. It was their first meeting since Obuchi joined the cabinet last month. Obuchi said her ministry is determined to make the plant’s problems its top priority.

Sato said Fukushima is still suffering from post-accident rumors, with tourism and fisheries being especially hard-hit. He asked the central government to do more to prevent problems, such as in the work to contain radioactive wastewater.

The Asahi Shimbun covers a technical advancement:

Quicker way found to test for radiation in water

Kajima Corp. and analysis equipment maker Nikkin Flux Inc. have jointly developed equipment that quickly examines large quantities of water for radioactive cesium.

The box-shaped device, measuring 2.2 meters by 2.7 meters, is expected to be used at interim storage facilities for radioactive soil and debris generated from decontamination work due to the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The equipment is able to analyze 1,800 times the amount of water that conventional systems can, and at nine times the speed, according to officials of the two companies.

And for our final item, longstanding consequences from the Asahi Shimbun:

Over 10,000 Fukushima children still studying far from homes

Thousands of students who evacuated following the nuclear disaster triggered by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami are still attending schools away from their homes in Fukushima Prefecture, a survey shows.

A total of 15,281 students were transferred from their kindergarten, elementary, junior and senior high schools and special support schools.

Of these, 9,767 are attending schools outside the prefecture, while 5,514 are attending schools in the prefecture.

The survey by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology was carried out in May.

EbolaWatch: Hope, warnings, attacks, & more


First from Canada’s The National, a good overview of the Ebola crisis to date in the form of a panel discussion that hits most of the key points. Panelists include physicians Danielle Martin, Doctors Without Borders physician Tim Jagatic, and Ahmed Tijan-Sie of the University of North Carolina:

Ebola Checkup Panel

Program note:

Our health panel looks at the Ebola outbreak that has turned into a global crisis.

Next, from CCTV Africa, Kenyan physician Esther Waithira Wanjiru describes her experiences in helping to battle the outbreak in Sierra Leone:

Ebola: Kenyan Doctor returns From Sierra Leone

Program notes:

Health services in the Ebola hot zone have been overwhelmed. But medics from across Africa are answering the call for help. Among them is a young Kenyan who asked for her family’s permission to go. CCTV’s Jane Kiyo reports

And on to the days’ hard news, starting with a positive development from Star Africa News:

Ebola vaccines accessible by year’s end – WHO

The World Health Organisation has said that vaccines to treat the deadly disease Ebola ravaging West Africa may be more accessible by the end of 2014.
In a statement seen by APA on Wednesday, the WHO said the more vaccines are made available to the three worst affected countries the better it will be to contain the epidemic which has killed over 1, 660 people in the region since March.

Up till now there has been no certified vaccine to treat Ebola, which is mostly contracted by contact with victims’ body fluids.

Tests are already at an advanced stage for two types of vaccines which may be certified for use.

And the first item of grim news comes from BBC News:

Ebola-hit nations may ‘face collapse’

The Ebola outbreak threatens to become a political crisis that could unravel years of effort to stabilise West Africa, a think tank has warned.

“The worst-hit countries now face widespread chaos and, potentially, collapse,” the International Crisis Group (ICG) said.

The world’s largest outbreak of Ebola has caused 2,811 deaths so far, mainly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Punch Nigeria delivers a plea:

Ebola: More hands needed in the battle

Nigeria may be out of the woods in the current outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease, but the increasing number of cases in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone has ensured the country cannot yet sleep with two eyes closed. Only last week, 700 new cases of the virus were confirmed by the World Health Organisation in Liberia and Sierra Leone, a development which has sent jitters across the region.

Hundreds more cases may be unearthed in the coming weeks. Findings from a joint study by officials of the WHO and the Imperial College, London, released on Monday warned that there might be more than 20,000 cases of the virus by November. To contain future outbreaks in Nigeria, however, a director of the Yale World Fellows Programme, Dr. Michael Capello, has offered to train 150 health workers on the management of the disease.

Capello, who is also a Professor of Paediatrics, Microbial Pathogenesis and Public Health, will be working in conjunction with the Private Sector Health Alliance of Nigeria, a body which coordinates private sector intervention in the management of the EVD.

From Nextgov, turning to the digital:

Scientists Turn to Computer Models to Predict Ebola’s Next Move

In the early stages of the Ebola outbreak, the World Health Organization, Doctors Without Borders and other aid organizations concentrated their efforts on the ground. They tried to convince patients to go to hospitals or let aid workers set up quarantine areas in their homes. Unfortunately, these and other interventions did little to slow the outbreak. According to the WHO, the number of cases has nearly doubled in the last three weeks, prompting Sierra Leone’s government to enforce a three-day lockdown over the weekend.

On September 17, WHO director general Margaret Chan said there are now at least 5,357 reported cases, including 2,630 deaths, in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, and Senegal. “None of us experienced in containing outbreaks has ever seen, in our lifetimes, an emergency on this scale,” she said. She has previously said the numbers are an underestimate, as there are many unreported cases. On September 16, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called the outbreak the world’s first Ebola epidemic.

As the speed of this outbreak increased, experts planning the response started relying more heavily on computer models, says Dr. Martin Meltzer. Meltzer is a senior health economist at the CDC, where he leads the Health Economics and Modeling Unit. On August 4, Meltzer started building the CDC’s Ebola models, called EbolaResponse.

From the Associated Press, another assault:

Red Cross team attacked while burying Ebola dead

A Red Cross team was attacked while collecting bodies believed to be infected with Ebola in southeastern Guinea, the latest in a string of assaults that are hindering efforts to control West Africa’s current outbreak.

One Red Cross worker is recovering after being wounded in in the neck in Tuesday’s attack in Forecariah, according to Benoit Carpentier, a spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Family members of the dead initially set upon the six volunteers and vandalized their cars, said Mariam Barry, a resident. Eventually a crowd went to the regional health office, where they threw rocks at the building.

The attack is the most recent in a series that have plagued teams working to bury bodies safely, provide information about Ebola and disinfect public places. The most shocking was the abduction and killing last week in Guinea of eight people, health workers educating people about Ebola and the journalists accompanying them.

Star Africa News covers a major break in an earlier and deadlier attack:

Guinea rounds up 27 suspects in massacre of anti-Ebola sensitizers

Guinea’s Justice Minister, Cheikh Sacko has announced the arrest of at the least 27 persons suspected to be involved in the violence in the town of Wome in the Forestry Guinea region during which eight people who were sensitizing the population over Ebola were killed, official sources disclosed here Wednesday.

According to the minister, the main suspect in the affair, Labile Haba was arrested in a village called Yomou near the border with Liberia.

Two other suspects were also rounded up by the security forces as they had been attempting to flee to Cote d’Ivoire to join another suspected co-author of the deadly massacre of the anti-Ebola crusaders.

Furthermore the minister has confirmed the apprehension of 22 more suspects who have already appeared before a judge.

From the Guardian, more numbers from a nationwide lockdown:

Ebola epidemic: house-to-house search in Sierra Leone reveals 358 new cases

  • Teams of volunteers also find hundreds of unburied corpses, according to leaked email from senior American diplomat

Door-to-door searches during a three-day curfew in Sierra Leone identified more than 350 suspected new cases of Ebola, according by the top US diplomat in the country.

Charge d’affairs Kathleen Fitzgibbon said teams of volunteers had also discovered 265 corpses, of which 216 have since been been buried, in an email to organisers of the curfew that has been seen by the Guardian.

Fitzgibbon said the home visits had identified a preliminary 358 new suspected cases, with 85 patients sent to treatment centres.

Although there had been some “challenges” during the curfew, which saw the normally chaotic streets of the capital Freetown replaced by eerie silence after the government ordered everyone to stay in doors, it could be seen as the “beginning of the end” of the Ebola epidemic, which has killed more than 2,800 people, primarily in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The Independent covers the despicable:

4Chan’s latest, terrible ‘prank’: Convincing West Africans that Ebola doctors actually worship the disease

The message-board 4chan has been rightly blamed for many unsavory Internet things: the celebrity nude scandal, the dangerous “bikini bridge” meme, the brief virality of the self-harm hashtag #cuttingforBieber.

Now, the denizens of one of the Internet’s least-principled places are attempting to propagate another tasteless meme: She’s called Ebola-chan, and she’s some cross between a prank, a witless joke and a truly vile strain of racism.

“Have you welcomed her into your heart yet?” Asks one post on 4chan’s “politically incorrect” message board, /pol/. “I’m talking, of course, about Ebola-Chan. The viral goddess of love and Afrocide … Our shrines and incantations give her strength.”

Ebola-Chan is not, needless to say, a goddess anywhere outside of 4chan’s diseased imagination: The character is a /pol/ invention, a cartoon mascot for the virus that could infect half a million people within the next four months.

Liberian Observer has more new numbers — and troubles:

Ebola Weakens Liberia Food Security

Liberia has been the hardest hit country in West Africa’s Ebola outbreak of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) with more than 3000 cases, Voice of America (VOA) reports.

With this latest development, it is reported that 14 of Liberia’s 15 counties have been affected. Some of the first cases in Liberia were reported in northern Lofa County. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (ANFAO) said, the outbreak has had a big effect on food security in the country.

The FAO has just completed a four-day assessment of Lofa County, where a three-man team visited the towns of Foya and Barkedu. The far northern area is close to the border with Guinea. That’s where the World Health Organization (WHO) reports the Ebola outbreak probably began early this year with the case of a two year old boy.

BuzzFeed covers another Liberian development:

Liberia Opens New Ebola Wards But They Won’t Be Nearly Enough

A new rural facility brings hope to the country hardest-hit in the Ebola outbreak, but experts warn Liberia could see as many as 10,000 cases in a matter of months

For once, there’s good news in rural Liberia.

Last week, the International Medical Corps opened Liberia’s newest Ebola treatment center, in rural Bong County. It’s one of only a handful of treatment centers in the country hardest-hit by West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, and it’s the first treatment center to open since the disease spread from Liberia’s two key epicenters to most of the rest of the country.

The treatment center came too late for its first two patients — a 45-year-old man and his stepson, both of whom who died — but it’s an irrefutable mark of progress in a response that has been hampered by delays and malaise.

“Every week that goes by that an Ebola treatment unit doesn’t open up, we probably need to add another one or two [treatment units] on the back end. The growth is exponential now, so if there’s a delay, that means the scale of the response has to grow,” Sean Casey, the International Medical Corps’ Ebola emergency response team director, told BuzzFeed News by telephone from Bong County.

From Al Jazeera English, another complication:

Senegal gold miners hit by Ebola measures

Thousands of miners stranded as government imposes trade restrictions to contain Ebola outbreak in West Africa

The government of Senegal has placed restrictions on gold trade to contain the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Thousands of informal gold miners living along the Senegal-Guinea border are now stranded, with no money to leave.

Punch Nigeria covers a reasonable demand:

Union demands insurance cover for nurses

The National Union of Allied Health Professionals on Tuesday demanded Personal Protective Equipment and comprehensive health insurance for its members.

The union said the first victim of the Ebola Virus Disease after the index case was a Nigerian nurse, hence nurses and other heath workers were more exposed to hazards than medical doctors.

This was contained in a communique issued by the NUAHP after its National Executive Council meeting in Abuja. President and Secretary of the union, Mr. Felix Faniran and O.C Ogbonna, respectively signed the communiqué.

Businessweek lays some blame to the North:

How the U.S. Screwed Up in the Fight Against Ebola

Since appearing in Guinea in December, Ebola has spread to five West African countries and infected 5,864 people, of which 2,811 have died, according to the World Health Organization’s Sept. 22 report. This number is widely considered an underestimate. The CDC’s worst-case model assumes that cases are “significantly under-reported” by a factor of 2.5. With that correction, the CDC predicts 21,000 total cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone alone by Sept. 30.

A confluence of factors has made it the biggest Ebola outbreak yet. For starters, West Africa has never seen Ebola before; previous outbreaks have mainly surfaced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa. The initial symptoms of Ebola—fever, vomiting, muscle aches—are also similar to, and were mistaken for, other diseases endemic to the region, such as malaria.

Then, when officials and international workers swept into villages covered head to toe and took away patients for isolation, some family members became convinced that their relatives were dying because of what happened to them in the hospitals. They avoided medical care and lied to doctors about their travel histories. Medical staff at local hospitals became scared and quit their jobs. Aid workers trying to set up isolation units or trace infected people’s contacts were attacked by angry villagers. With these countries short on resources, staff, medical equipment, and basic understanding of the disease, Ebola took hold and spread.

The San Francisco Chronicle covers consciousness-raising in an unlikely setting:

Nurses simulate Ebola deaths on Vegas Strip

U.S. hospitals aren’t ready for an Ebola outbreak, according to nurses who staged a “die-in” Wednesday outside a Las Vegas Strip resort where they are holding a union convention.

A union spokesman pointed to a recent case of a patient tested for Ebola at a northern California hospital and said nurses don’t believe U.S. hospitals have the training, equipment and isolated areas where patients with the deadly virus could be quarantined.

“If there’s disaster plans in hospitals, the people who are supposed to implement them aren’t aware of them,” said Charles Idelson, a spokesman for the California Nurses Association and National Nurses Organizing Committee.

Many protesters in the crowd of perhaps 1,000 wore bright red T-shirts, and several hundred wore suits resembling hazardous materials gear as they crossed Las Vegas Boulevard from the Planet Hollywood to Bellagio resorts.

And the Guardian warns:

US hospitals ‘unprepared’ to safely handle infectious Ebola waste

  • Waste management companies refusing to haul waste citing federal guidelines requiring special packaging for Ebola waste

US hospitals may be unprepared to safely dispose of the infectious waste generated by any Ebola virus disease patient to arrive unannounced in the country, potentially putting the wider community at risk, biosafety experts said.

Waste management companies are refusing to haul away the soiled sheets and virus-spattered protective gear associated with treating the disease, citing federal guidelines that require Ebola-related waste to be handled in special packaging by people with hazardous materials training, infectious disease and biosafety experts told Reuters.

Many US hospitals are unaware of the regulatory snafu, which experts say could threaten their ability to treat any person who develops Ebola in the US after coming from an infected region. It can take as long as 21 days to develop Ebola symptoms after exposure.

From People’s Daily, more assistance:

China offers Ebola prevention materials to Benin

The Chinese government has offered Benin materials worth 840,000 U.S. dollars for the prevention of Ebola virus, an official source in Cotonou has said.

An agreement in this regard was signed on Monday in Cotonou between Benin’s Foreign Minister Arifari Bako Nassirou and China’s ambassador to Benin Tao Weiguang.

Besides this gesture by the Chinese government, the ambassador announced that the Chinese Embassy will give 10 million CFA Francs (20,000 U.S. dollars) to Benin Red Cross to help it prepare to fight against Ebola.

And for our final item, Reuters reassures:

Scientists see risk of mutant airborne Ebola as remote

The Ebola virus raging through West Africa is mutating rapidly as it tears a deadly path through cities, towns and villages, but the genetic changes are for now not giving it the ability to spread more easily.

Concern that the virus could gain capability to transmit through the air – creating a nightmare scenario of the disease being able to spread like a flu pandemic, killing millions – was fueled by a top infectious disease expert in the United States.

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said in an opinion article he believed the risk of airborne Ebola is real, and warned: “Until we consider it, the world will not be prepared to do what is necessary to end the epidemic.”

Yet many other virus and infectious disease specialists say that while the prospect of an airborne Ebola virus is not impossible, it is extremely remote.

EnviroWatch: Soaring carbon, water woes, nukes


We begin with a diagnosis from the Guardian:

Record CO2 emissions ‘committing world to dangerous climate change’

  • Global greenhouse gas emissions on course to reach record high of over 40bn tonnes in 2014, study in Nature Geoscience says

Children born today will see the world committed to dangerous and irreversible levels of climate change by their young adulthood at current rates, as the world poured a record amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere this year.

Annual carbon dioxide emissions showed a strong rise of 2.5% on 2013 levels, putting the total emitted this year on track for 40bn tonnes. That means the global ‘carbon budget’, calculated as the total governments can afford to emit without pushing temperatures higher than 2C above pre-industrial levels, is likely to be used up within just one generation, or in thirty years from now.

Scientists think climate change is likely to have catastrophic and irreversible effects, including rising sea levels, polar melting, droughts, floods and increasingly extreme weather, if temperatures rise more than 2C. They have calculated that this threshold is likely to be breached if global emissions top 1,200 billion tonnes, giving a “carbon budget” to stick to in order to avoid dangerous warming.

Action from BBC News:

Climate change summit: Global rallies demand action

Street protests demanding urgent action on climate change have attracted hundreds of thousands of marchers in more than 2,000 locations worldwide.

The People’s Climate March is campaigning for curbs on carbon emissions, ahead of the UN climate summit in New York next week.

In Manhattan, organisers said some 310,000 people joined a march that was also attended by UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

Earlier, huge demonstrations took place in Australia and Europe.

The New York Times covers a sellout:

Rockefellers, Heirs to an Oil Fortune, Will Divest Charity From Fossil Fuels

John D. Rockefeller built a vast fortune on oil. Now his heirs are abandoning fossil fuels.

The family whose legendary wealth flowed from Standard Oil is planning to announce on Monday that its $860 million philanthropic organization, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, is joining the divestment movement that began a couple years ago on college campuses.

The announcement, timed to precede Tuesday’s opening of the United Nations climate change summit meeting in New York City, is part of a broader and accelerating initiative.

From RT, another outbreak:

500,000 people ill with mosquito-borne virus in Dominican Republic

The mosquito virus chikungunya has left almost 500,000 people ill, and 109 of them are newborn babies, according to an official in the Dominican Republic hit by the disease.

The newborns contracted the illness from their mothers, who were ill while giving birth, Carmen Adames, the Health Ministry’s coordinator dealing with the outbreak, told AP. None of the children have died, she added.

The symptoms of the disease take three to seven days to appear, and include high fever, severe headaches and joint pain that can render a person virtually immobile for months. Research in the Indian Ocean islands has demonstrated that patients can suffer joint pains for as long as two years, depending on their age.

There is no vaccine for the illness at the moment, and no specific cure as well; on the positive side, it has rarely been deadly.

From News Corp Australia, Down Under torture by Alexion, a U.S.-based drug maker:

Patient nearly dies after being denied access to life-saving drug

A DRUG company denied a critically ill woman access to a life-saving drug this month because it wanted to ramp up pressure on Health Minister Peter Dutton to subsidise its $500,000 per patient per year medicine.

Mr Dutton had to intervene to pay for the medicine Soliris to save the woman’s life. The furious Health Minister told News Corp: “I won’t tolerate patients being used as pawns”.

Melbourne woman Toula Lockley, 42, suffers from a rare disease called aHUS that sees tiny blood vessels blocked, cutting off the blood supply to major organs.

From the Associated Press, California still ablaze:

32 structures destroyed in California wildfire

Officials say nearly three-dozen structures have been destroyed in an expanding wildfire in Northern California.

Capt. Tom Piranio, a fire information officer, says 10 residences and 22 outbuildings have been destroyed in the King Fire, according to preliminary figures released Sunday. Assessment teams were going back in dangerous conditions to survey more damage.

Smoky conditions from the fire also forced the cancellation of the popular Ironman Triathlon event in nearby Lake Tahoe on Sunday.

The fast-moving blaze located about 60 miles east of Sacramento has grown to more than 128 square miles. It has kept 2,800 people from their homes and remains 10 percent contained. About 100 people have been allowed to return home.

Context from the Christian Science Monitor:

Burning money: Cost of fighting wildfires robs funds to prevent them

The cost of fighting wildfires and protecting life and property from harm has exceeded $1 billion every year since 2000, eating into agency resources for forest management and fire preparedness – programs meant to prevent wildfires before they start

News from California this week made it seem as if half the drought-stricken state was ablaze with wind-whipped wildfires, forcing thousands of residents to evacuate, wrecking some vacation plans for Yosemite National Park, and torching hundreds of structures – including 143 homes in the small town of Weed.

All of that is happening and continues to happen as firefighters battle what fire officials say are 23 active wildfires around the state – 17 of those described as “uncontained large fires.”

So far this year, there have been slightly more wildfires (39,927) than there were in 2013 (38,208). But the total acreage burned so far in 2014 (3,002,842 acres) is significantly less than last year (4,006,080 acres).

From the Associated Press, California still dry:

Some California wells run dry amid drought

Hundreds of domestic wells in California’s drought-parched Central Valley farming region have run dry, leaving many residents to rely on donated bottles of drinking water to get by.

Girl Scouts have set up collection points while local charities are searching for money to install tanks next to homes. Officials truck in water for families in greatest need and put a large tank in front of the local firehouse for residents to fill up with water for bathing and flushing toilets.

About 290 families in East Porterville — a poor, largely Hispanic town of about 7,000 residents nestled against the Sierra Nevada foothills — have said their shallow wells are depleted. Officials say the rest of Tulare County has many more empty wells, but nobody has a precise count.

Other Central Valley counties also report pockets of homes with wells gone dry and no alternative water service.

Another water woe, this time from south of the border in Hermosillo, via the Associated Press:

Western Mexico state reports new mine spill

Authorities in northern Mexico have issued a new alert of a river spill from a copper mine operated by Grupo Mexico, the state director of civil protection said Sunday.

The agency is urging people to avoid using the water from after local municipalities complained of a toxic plume, said Carlos Arias, civil protection director for the border state of Sonora, where the spill occurred.

Arias said the tributaries affected drain into the Bacanuchi River. A flyover of the area shows an abnormal orange stain, he added. He said his department is taking measures to ensure people don’t come in contact with the water until it can be tested.

Bone dry in Old Blighty too with the Independent:

UK weather: Britain must be prepared for ‘worst droughts in modern times’

The UK must prepare for “the worst droughts in modern times” experts will warn this week at a major international conference to discuss the growing global water crisis.

As the population continues to grow and water is increasingly scarce, suppliers across Britain simply “cannot afford to fail”, according to Trevor Bishop, the Environment Agency’s deputy director. “We need to have more resilience, we need to be able to deal with tougher situations, and we cannot afford to fail. The consequences of failure would be very substantial,” he said.

“In the past we have planned for our water resources to cope with the worst situation on record but records are only 100 years long,” he explained. “We may get a situation that is worse than that – with climate change that is perfectly possible.”

Star Africa News covers African water woes:

Water shortage hits Somali regions

People and animals in the Galgagud, Hiran and Mudug regions of central Somalia have been hit by an acute shortage of water after almost a year without proper rainfall.The Commissioner of Mahas district in Hiran region, Mumin Mohamed Halane told the African Press Agency on Sunday that hundreds of rural people have flocked to towns in search of drinking water for them and their animals.

He said wells, waterholes and pools which whole communities had depended on to water their animals have dried up.

According to him, the situation has worsened in areas where al-Shabaab militants forcibly took away water generators from villages in an apparent scorch earth tactic against government troops and African Union peacekeepers.

And from the Express Tribune, water woes in the Subcontinent:

Uneasy neighbours: Pakistani experts to discuss water dispute in India

A three-member Pakistani delegation, led by Indus Water Commissioner Mirza Asif Baig, left for India on Saturday amid hopes that the two arch-rivals would work out a solution to the decades-old water issues that have been bedeviling their bilateral relations.

“We are hopeful that India will show some flexibility on [Pakistan’s] reservations over the building of new dams in India,” Baig told reporters at Wagah border before crossing into India. During the five-day trip, the delegation will also visit four controversial sites on the Chenab River where New Delhi is planning to construct new dams. Reiterating that Pakistan’s objections over the design of Kishanganga dam were logical, Baig said that some serious doubts pertaining to the controversial project – particularly regarding the Neelum distributary point – and other dams on the Chenab River have already been allayed.

Experts, however, believe there is little or no hope of a breakthrough in talks as India is unwilling to entertain any Pakistani demands. Islamabad would have to move the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to settle the dispute, they say. Baig said that his delegation would try their best to resolve all issues during their stay in India. But at the same time, he admitted that Islamabad would have no choice but to approach the ICJ if New Delhi did not entertain their ‘fair’ demands.

Last week, a 10-member delegation from India visited Pakistan to discuss the thorny water issues between the two nations. The talks, however, failed to make any headway as the Indian side refused to accept Pakistan’s demand for changing the design of Kishanganga dam.

And another kind of water woe from RT America:

Microbeads gumming up Lake Erie, your body

Program notes:

While cleaning patients’ teeth, a Phoenix dental hygienist discovered that Crest toothpaste contains tiny plastic “microbeads.” After a public backlash, Crest and many other companies are now removing the environmentally degrading ingredient from their products. RT’s Lindsay France takes a look at why consumers should be worried.

After the jump, China sends carbon soaring, Fukushima-damaged rice genes, other nuke-zone food heads to the market, a Japanese reactor complex shutdown contemplated, an Abe appointee pushes for restarts, underground reactors mulled, hot water testing, and a global reactor slowdown. . . Continue reading

Image of the day: Tragedy in Amazonia


From NASA’s Earth Observatory:

Amazon Forest Fires

Amazon Forest Fires

Explanation and credits:

On an unusually cloud-free day at the height of the dry season, several fires were burning in Amazonia, giving rise to a broad smoke pall easily seen from the International Space Station (ISS). Parts of the ISS appear along the margins of the photo.

Against the backdrop of the dark green rainforest, several fires follow the major highway BR 163. Fires are set to clear patches of forest for agriculture, a process that reveals red-brown soils. A long line of newly cleared patches snakes east from BR 163 towards the remote valley of Rio Crepori.

Extensive deforested areas in Brazil’s state of Mato Grosso appear in tan across the top of the image. Fires show the advance of deforestation into the state of Pará, which is now second after Mato Grosso in terms of deforestation acreage.

Astronaut photograph ISS040-E-103496 was acquired on August 19, 2014, with a Nikon D3S digital camera using a 70 millimeter lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 40 crew. It has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by M. Justin Wilkinson, Jacobs, and Michael Trenchard, Barrios Technology, at NASA-JSC.

EbolaWatch: Tragedy continues, aid promised


But it is the scale of the aid that still remains the problem, given the lack of adequate funding from the U.S. and other industrialized nations for the World Health Organization.

We begin with another video clip from Liberia, hardest hit of the countries, via FrontPageAfrica:

FPA WEB TV: Unlucky 7

Program notes:

A family of seven, showing symptoms of the deadly Ebola virus arrive at the Medecins Sans Frontieres treatment facility Friday looking to get in and get treated, what they met was rejection, the latest in a series of Liberians coping with Ebola but joining a long waiting list, finding it difficult to get in.

The Washington Post covers anther complication:

With Ebola crippling the health system, Liberians die of routine medical problems

While the terrifying spread of Ebola has captured the world’s attention, it also has produced a lesser-known crisis: the near-collapse of the already fragile health-care system here, a development that may be as dangerous — for now — as the virus for the average Liberian.

Western experts said that people here are dying of preventable or treatable conditions such as malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and the effects of high blood pressure and diabetes, such as strokes. Where services do exist, Ebola has complicated the effort to provide them by stoking fear among health-care workers, who sometimes turn away sick people or women in labor if they can’t determine whether the patient is infected. And some people, health-care workers said, will not seek care, fearful that they will become infected with Ebola at a clinic or hospital.

“If you stub your toe now in Monrovia, you’ll have a hard time getting care, let alone having a heart attack or malaria,” said Sheldon Yett, the Liberia country representative for UNICEF. “It’s a tremendous threat to children and a tremendous threat to families.”

The latest from the World Health Organization:

WHO welcomes decision to establish United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response

Nearly six months after the first case of Ebola in West Africa was reported to the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations (UN) General Assembly and the Security Council have approved resolutions creating the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) to contain the ongoing outbreak which has sickened more than 5,500 people and killed over 2,500.

“This is not just a public health crisis. This is a social crisis, a humanitarian crisis, an economic crisis and a threat to national security well beyond the outbreak zones,” said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, to the UN Security Council on Thursday. “For these reasons, Mr Secretary-General and I are calling for a UN-wide initiative that draws together all the assets of all relevant UN agencies.”

This is the first time in history that the UN has created a mission for a public health emergency. The Mission will bring together the vast resources of the UN agencies, funds and programmes, to reinforce WHO’s technical expertise and experience in disease outbreaks.

While WHO plays a central role in leading the public health efforts for this response, the support of other UN agencies is essential to deal with the social, economic, development and security challenges that are affecting these countries and the region.

From Al Jazeera English, another plea:

Sierra Leone seeks assistance to fight Ebola

  • Doctors say they are in desperate need of health workers and medical supplies.

Sierra Leone continues its efforts for the second day to halt the spread of the deadly Ebola virus, but doctors say they are in desperate need of health workers and medical supplies.

Thousands of workers join together to visit every single household in the country to educate people about the virus, while they also intend on isolating the sick.

Volunteers plan on placing stickers on each household they have visited, and any one suspected of being infected with the virus will be sent to an isolation ward in the capital Freetown.

Meanwhile, independent observers have voiced concerns over the quality of advice being given out, deeming the shutdown a “mixed success” in the Western Area, the region that includes the capital Freetown.

Star Africa News has the latest on the Sierra Leone lockdown:

S/Leone streets deserted amidst lockdown

The streets of Freetown and other cities across Sierra Leone have been deserted after the first day of a three-day curfew to allow health teams clear away contaminated bodies and identify possible cases of the deadly Ebola virus.By the morning of Saturday, the Sierra Leonean capital appeared like a ghost town as people and cars stay off the streets and markets after days spent stocking up on food and other basic essentials.

The road around Freetown’s landmark cotton tree, which is the busiest part of the city looked desolate as millions of the city’s residents and commuters heed the call to stay in their homes from September 19 to 21.

The lockdown has been characterized by a heavy security presence with the police manning roadblocks while health volunteers continue to conduct house-to-house visits in their designated areas to conduct Ebola tests on residents and identify those afflicted by the disease.

More from CBC News:

Ebola outbreak: Burial team attacked in Sierra Leone amid 3-day lockdown

  • Likely the largest lockdown in recent history, WHO says

Health workers in Sierra Leone have come under attack while trying to bury the bodies of five Ebola victims east of the capital, a police official said.

Sgt. Edward Momoh Brima Lahai said there was a confrontation Saturday between a group of youths and the burial team in the Waterloo district.

A witness told state television the burial team initially had to abandon the five bodies in the street and flee. Lahai said the burial was successfully completed after police reinforcements arrived.

CCTV Africa covers the lockdown:

Ebola: Sierra Leone Lockdown Mixed Reactions

Program notes:

Streets in the capital of Sierra Leone are deserted, as the country continues it’s three-day lockdown to check the spread of Ebola virus. Although the majority of Sierra Leoneans are cooperating, some have fled to neighbouring Guinea in fear of being taken into isolation. Maria Galang reports

From TheLocal.fr, a belated assistance:

France plan air lifts to help fight Ebola

France and Germany will send military transport planes to West Africa to help efforts to contain the Ebola epidemic, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and military officials said on Friday.

Merkel said Germany “will establish airlifts from Dakar (Senegal) from where deliveries can be made to all three countries, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea”.

She said Berlin would also supply a mobile clinic and could train medical personnel.

Government ministries were still discussing the details of the mission, she said, adding that “it’s currently not a question of money, but of capacity and logistics”.

More help from Bloomberg:

747 Filled With Supplies Helps on Ebola, But Only So Much

Aid organization Direct Relief had 100 tons of gloves, masks, medicines and gowns stockpiled in a California warehouse. Doctors fighting Ebola were calling from West Africa desperate for supplies.

Getting it there was the challenge. With airlines halting flights and borders closing to stop the disease from spreading, the nonprofit took matters into its own hands, chartering a Boeing 747 that’s leaving New York today for Sierra Leone and Liberia. It’ll figure out how to pay the $500,000 bill later.

“Sometimes we need to do the work, then hope the financial support follows,” Chief Executive Officer Thomas Tighe said.

From Sky News, Britain make a plea to its own National Health Service:

NHS Staff Asked To Help Africa’s Ebola Fight

The Department of Health’s Chief Medical Officer writes to NHS staff to encourage them to volunteer to help with the deadly virus.

NHS staff are being encouraged to volunteer to help with the deadly ebola virus outbreak which is continuing to spread across West Africa.

The Department of Health’s chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies said doctors, nurses and paramedics are among the medical staff who are needed to help contribute towards efforts to tackle the crisis.

In a letter to health service staff, Dame Sally says those who wish to help should contact the UK International Emergency Medical Register, set up to respond to large-scale international emergencies.

Star Africa News covers a desperate measure:

EU Condemns isolation of Ebola-hit countries

The European Union (EU) said on Saturday that it would rather the world help isolate the Ebola virus disease rather than isolate the affected countries.The Deputy Director-General, Directorate-General Development and Cooperation of EuropeAid (DEVCO), Marcus Conaro, said this is the time to demonstrate international partnership by giving all the help rather than sitting to witness the death of more people.

According to a presidential statement issued Saturday, the EU official made the observation when he paid a courtesy call on President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Friday at her office in the
capital Monrovia.

Mr. Conaro said the EU, as a long time and a strong partner, will continue to support Liberia in its fight against Ebola as well as its post-Ebola recovery.

From Agence France-Presse, another resource mobilized:

Traditional leaders join fight against Ebola in Liberia

Program notes:

Traditional, religious and local government Leaders are being trained in Liberia to enable them to take control of the fight against the deadly Ebola virus.

From Star Africa News, border controls enforced:

Seven arrested over Ebola on C/d’Ivoire-Guinea border

Seven people attempting to enter Cote d’Ivoire through the bush from Guinea have been arrested by the national gendarmerie in Madinani, about 709km northwest, APA can report, quoting security sources in Abidjan.Those arrested thought they had circumvented the security measures to enforce the closure of the Ivorian border with Ebola-hit countries after by entering Cote d’Ivoire through the bush, sources said.

“Fortunately, they were arrested Thursday by security forces in Madinani,” the sources added. They have been identified as Zonon Souley, Ngnampa Alassane, Sauré Boukary, Sauré Moussa, Sauré Issa, Zonon Idrissa and Sauré Amadou.

The seven were taken to Odienné, Madinani’s capital by Warrant Officer, Gérémie Kouamé, the town’s chief gendarmerie.

And from BBC News, an adjustment:

Ebola outbreak: How Liberia lost its handshake

Families and communities have been devastated by the deaths caused by West Africa’s Ebola outbreak. But the disease also has consequences for the region’s way of life, and in particular their traditional greetings.

One of the things the people of West Africa are very good at is greeting each other. In most of the region’s countries it would be positively rude to exchange a passing, British-style “Hello, how are you?” and walk on.

In West Africa the normal thing to do would be to stop, reach out one hand, or even two, shake warmly and then embrace. This is followed by much backslapping, more handshaking on points of agreement and even the odd high five.

It’s what children do, it’s what men do, it’s what elderly ladies do.

Well, not any more. Ebola is spread by contact with bodily fluids, so these days people shun contact with others – including handshakes.

Pacific Standard cautions:

Why Science Won’t Defeat Ebola

  • While science will certainly help, winning the battle against Ebola is a social challenge

Ebola is different. It’s unusually deadly and extremely rare. That combination makes it difficult to develop and test safe and effective treatments. That there are even experimental Ebola drugs available during this current, record-breaking outbreak is a lucky coincidence; researchers have worked on their development for decades, despite Ebola’s historically small threat.

In fast, scientists have been interested in treatments for Ebola since it was first discovered in 1976. But because Ebola is so rare, and conventional methods to control it are generally effective, the virus is easily overshadowed by much larger public health threats in Africa. Between 1976 and 2012, there were fewer than 3,000 cases and 1,600 deaths caused by Ebola outbreaks. Compare this with the 5,000 deaths caused by African meningitis in just one year, the half-million or more malaria deaths annually, or the nearly 25 million Africans infected by HIV, and Ebola seems much less threatening. If we care about saving lives, then medical research to develop effective vaccines for HIV and meningitis or to combat the difficult problem of drug-resistant malaria should clearly take higher priority than Ebola treatments.

On the other hand, as we’re seeing now, Ebola outbreaks can quickly get out of control and wreak havoc on fragile economies and social institutions in developing countries. Without an effective response, the number of cases could swell to tens of thousands within a month. Because of Ebola’s pandemic potential, the U.S. boosted funding for research on the virus in 2002 as part of its effort to prepare for bioterrorism. With this funding, researchers have developed several candidate drugs and vaccines over the past decade, but these are only just now reaching the point where human clinical trials can even be considered. The most promising drug, the ZMapp antibody cocktail, was just recently shown to be effective in monkeys. ZMapp is the latest version of a drug that has been in development for years; previous versions weren’t nearly as effective as the current one.

To close, from Radio Africa, a famous Liberian theatrical troupe provides Ebola education in their own unique style:

Cultural performance by the Flomo Theater Cultural Troupe.

Program note:

Flomo theater cultural troupe dramatize the severity of the deadly Ebola virus.