Today’s headlines from the world of the interface between people and planet opens again with the story of the year, at least so far.
From Foreign Policy, a frightener by a public health expert:
You Are Not Nearly Scared Enough About Ebola
- Experimental drugs and airport screenings will do nothing to stop this plague. If Ebola hits Lagos, we’re in real trouble.
Attention, World: You just don’t get it.
You think there are magic bullets in some rich country’s freezers that will instantly stop the relentless spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa? You think airport security guards in Los Angeles can look a traveler in the eyes and see infection, blocking that jet passenger’s entry into La-la-land? You believe novelist Dan Brown’s utterly absurd description of a World Health Organization that has a private C5-A military transport jet and disease SWAT team that can swoop into outbreaks, saving the world from contagion?
Wake up, fools. What’s going on in West Africa now isn’t Brown’s silly Inferno scenario — it’s Steven Soderbergh’s movie Contagion, though without a modicum of its high-tech capacity.
The Associated Press adds a new number:
Ebola may leave 1 million starved
The deadly Ebola virus that has killed more than 1,000 in West Africa is disrupting the flow of goods, forcing the United Nations to plan food convoys for up to a million people as hunger threatens the largely impoverished area.
Amid roadblocks manned by troops and pervasive fear among the population of the dreaded disease, the worst-ever outbreak of Ebola is increasingly impacting the food supply in three countries.
While none of the regulations restricts the movement of basic necessities, fear and inconvenience are disrupting supplies. Some 1 million people in isolated areas might need food assistance in the coming months, according to the U.N. World Food Program, which is preparing a regional emergency operation to bring food by convoy to the needy.
From the Associated Press again, ramped up efforts:
Liberia expands Ebola treatment in capital
Liberian authorities expanded Ebola treatment centers in the capital Saturday to cope with increasing numbers of patients, while two more airlines announced they were halting flights to the capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone amid the deepening crisis.
Kenya Airways and regional carrier Gambia Bird join a number of other airlines in temporarily cancelling flights to avoid transmitting the disease beyond the four countries already affected in West Africa.
The Kenya Airways flights will stop as of midnight Tuesday, said Titus Naikuni, the chief executive officer of Kenya Airways. The decision was made with guidance from the country’s health ministry, Naikuni said. Gambia Bird said it had stopped flying to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.
And the New York Times offers hope for a very, very few:
3 Liberian Health Workers With Ebola Receive Scarce Drug After Appeals to U.S.
Three Liberian health care workers who have contracted Ebola received an extremely scarce experimental serum on Friday at a hospital outside the national capital, Monrovia, a Liberian health official said Saturday.
The official, Tolbert G. Nyenswah, an assistant minister of health and social welfare, would not say if any of the three were doctors.
The drug, a mix of monoclonal antibodies called ZMapp, has been tested in animals, but has not been studied for safety or effectiveness in humans. It arrived in Liberia on Wednesday after appeals by leaders there to top officials in the United States and a letter from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia to President Obama.
From the New York Times again, a quackery alert:
Agencies Issue Warnings Over Bogus Ebola Cures
Panic over Ebola has the makers of dietary supplements aggressively targeting Africans, claiming to have a cure for the lethal virus.
Late this week, both the World Health Organization and the United States Food and Drug Administration issued strong warnings about false Ebola cures. The latter threatened American companies with penalties if they continue making such claims. Neither agency listed products or companies they accused of fraud or explained why they had acted so suddenly.
Nigeria’s health minister was widely reported on Thursday to have endorsed an American nutritional supplement, one that the W.H.O. said was an example of the sort of “false rumors of effective products” it was trying to quell.
The Japan Times reassures:
Ebola unlikely to spread to Japan: health ministry
The Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 1,000 people in West Africa recently is unlikely to spread to Japan, health ministry officials say.
Although the probability is deemed low, Japan is making preparations at international airports and other entry points to deal with the possible arrival of Ebola-infected people, the officials also say.
“This is not an unknown disease and we have a system for dealing with it, so the disease is unlikely to spread (in Japan) even if an infected person appears,” a health bureaucrat said. “In developed countries, fatality rates are said to be around 20 percent.”
From the Associated Press, another consequence:
US Basketball: No Africa trip after Ebola outbreak
The U.S. national team has canceled a trip to Senegal after the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
The Americans were scheduled to interrupt their World Cup of Basketball preparations to travel to the African continent for the first time, conducting a joint clinic on Aug. 27 with the Senegal national team. They planned to tour Senegal’s Goree Island and attend a reception hosted by the Senegalese government.
But USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said Friday the Americans had no choice but to call off the trip because of the risk involved with Senegal’s location near countries where the outbreak has been deadly.
SINA English covers lust for bucks amidst a plague:
Chinese investors’ enthusiasm toward Africa undiminished despite Ebola outbreak
Nigeria, a magical land that raises the biggest population in Africa and boasts the continent’s biggest economy, is like a magnet that keeps attracting Chinese investors.
Even the current rampant outbreak of Ebola virus could not dampen the enthusiasm of Chinese entrepreneurs, who keep coming into the country to build bridges, establish factories and farms, bringing changes to the country and the life of people living there.
And from Defense One, looking for help, Pentagon style:
The Pentagon Wants You to Help Them Find the Next Pandemic
Ever heard of Chikungunya? It’s a mosquito-borne virus that causes joint pain and fever and can be debilitating. It’s also spreading fast, having hit the Americas for the first time in decades at the end of last year and new cases were reported in Florida this last month. There is no official cure, yet, but recent research into a vaccine shown promise.
If you can build a model for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, explain where it’s going next, and do it by the end of September, they’ll give $150,000.
The initial submission, the entry exam if you will, should “contain a detailed description of the planned data sources and model applicability.” That has to be in by Sept. 1. It should include “predictions for the next six months, followed by five monthly update submissions, due on the first of each subsequent month, with predictions for the remaining period of the challenge.”
That model should include items like this, via the London Daily Mail:
Government scientist took shortcuts in handling deadly bird flu virus and then tried to cover up dangerous cross-contamination, CDC says
- Scientist took shortcuts to speed up the work and accidentally contaminated the samples, mixing a deadly strand with a benign one
- Accident occurred at Center for Disease Control HQ in Atlanta, Georgia, in January, a new report found
- CDC shipped a virulent avian flu virus rather than a benign strain to a poultry research laboratory of the Department of Agriculture
- No one became infected and the pathogen was destroyed
- Took CDC six weeks to admit to the blunder
- Follows the recent exposure of dozens of employees to live Anthrax
From the Christian Science Monitor, the melting point:
Humans now the major cause of alpine glacier melt, researchers say
- The researchers estimate that between 1990 and 2010, some 69 percent of the mass lost by the world’s alpine glaciers can be traced to human influence – basically global warming.
Retreating alpine glaciers in a warming world may seem to have an obvious connection. But glaciers respond to environmental changes, well, glacially. At any point, it’s hard to tell how much of a glacier’s retreat is due to human-triggered factors now and how much is due to natural factors that might have held sway years ago, researchers say.
Now comes an analysis estimating that between 1990 and 2010, some 69 percent of the mass lost by the world’s alpine glaciers can be traced to human influence – basically global warming. That compares with only 25 percent traceable to human influence averaged over the entire study period of 1850 to 2010. The team picked 1850 since that is when a prolonged, modest cooling period known as the Little Ice Age, mainly in the Northern Hemisphere, ended.
The study shows that throughout the 160-year period, an increasing proportion of mass loss could be traced to human influence, which becomes significant from about 1950 on, notes Ben Marzeion, a researcher at the Institute of Meteorology and Geophysics at the University of Innsbruck in Austria who led the team performing the analysis.
CIP Americas covers another environmental dilemma:
Coffee, a crisis about to explode
The dual plagues of blight and price fixing are causing the scarcity and high prices of the fragrant bean, but the real problem for communities is the need to grow other foods.
“The scarcity of coffee and the price increases will have an affect on the indigenous population,” warns Eliseo Gómez Álvarez, member of a small association of coffee growers in the community of San Pedro, in Chenalhó, in the highlands of Chiapas. Jorge Santiago, who works alongside the local communities, explains that “the coffee economy is not an alternative, they have to be able to produce corn and other foods.”
During the months of January and February 2014, coffee prices rose in Chiapas. One explanation was coffee rust, a fungus that infects coffee trees. However, as local experts explain, there are many factors working together to turn production into a crisis. “There’s not far to go until the situation becomes explosive,” explains Javier Galván, member of the coffee network of the National Union of Regional Autonomous Rural Farmworker Organizations (UNORCA, in Spanish).
And from north of the border. Alien invaders via CBC News:
Goldfish dumped by Coquitlam pet owners become invasive species
- City says goldfish just one of several invasive species breeding in local lakes where they were dumped
They’re easy to take care of, inexpensive and entertaining, but goldfish and other aquatic pets including exotic fish, turtles, bass and carp are getting into local waterways and breeding and competing with native species.
In Coquitlam, so many goldfish are winding up in Como Lake that the city is cracking down with hefty fines ranging from $2,500 to $250,000.
David Scott, from Simon Fraser University’s School of Resource and Environmental Management, said there’s good cause for concern. “If you have non-native species that become established in let’s say the Fraser River, they would be competing and influencing dozens of local species that we have here including salmon which are economically important,” he said.
On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with an NGO [NPO] fraud with friends in high places via Jiji Press:
Tokyo NPO in N-Accident Fraud Scandal May Have Been Dummy
A Tokyo-based nonprofit organization at the center of a fraud scandal related to nuclear accident compensation is suspected to have been a dummy organization since its establishment, it was learned Saturday.
Business reports submitted to the Tokyo metropolitan government by the NPO, established in August 2011, said no operations were carried out in fiscal 2011-2012 for various reasons, showing zeros for all categories of costs such as personnel expenses and energy bill.
The NPO, headed by former Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma, did not submit its business report for fiscal 2013 by the deadline at the end of June 2014.
Associated Press sounds a domestic nuclear dilemma:
Delays for SC nuclear plant pressure industry
Expensive delays are piling up for the companies building new nuclear power plants, raising fresh questions about whether they can control the construction costs that crippled the industry years ago.
The latest announcement came this week from executives at SCANA Corp., which has been warned by its builders the startup of the first of two new reactors in South Carolina could be delayed two years or more. SCANA Corp. and plant co-owner Santee Cooper have not accepted that timeline from the companies designing and building the reactors, nor have they accepted responsibility for additional costs.
That announcement may well foreshadow more delays for a sister project in eastern Georgia, and they have caught the attention of regulators and Wall Street.
And for our final item, TheLocal.at covers more nuclear discontent:
Austrian province wants Swiss nuclear power halt
- The head of the regional Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) in Voralberg, Roland Frühstück, wants to exert pressure on the Swiss government to speed up decommissioning of its aging nuclear power reactors due to concerns over safety.
Switzerland has four remaining active nuclear power plants, one of which is the oldest non-military reactor operating in the world.
The Swiss government decided in 2011 to shut down one of the plants, which was commissioned in 1972. The plant, in Mühleberg, is now more than 42 years old, and has a similar design to the ill-fated Fukushima plant – although it isn’t on the coast in a tectonically active region.
A similar decision has yet to be taken by Switzerland in connection with its Beznau Nuclear Power Plant, which was commissioned in 1969, making it 45 years old.