Dr Ghulam Ashraf's Blog

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Millions face starvation as world warms, say scientists

World is unprepared for changes that will see parts of Africa turned into disaster areas, say food experts

Millions of people could become destitute in Africa and Asia as staple foods more than double in price by 2050 as a result of extreme temperatures, floods and droughts that will transform the way the world farms.

As food experts gather at two major conferences to discuss how to feed the nine billion people expected to be alive in 2050, leading scientists have told the Observer that food insecurity risks turning parts of Africa into permanent disaster areas. Rising temperatures will also have a drastic effect on access to basic foodstuffs, with potentially dire consequences for the poor.

Frank Rijsberman, head of the world’s 15 international CGIAR crop research centres, which study food insecurity, said: “Food production will have to rise 60% by 2050 just to keep pace with expected global population increase and changing demand. Climate change comes on top of that. The annual production gains we have come to expect … will be taken away by climate change. We are not so worried about the total amount of food produced so much as the vulnerability of the one billion people who are without food already and who will be hit hardest by climate change. They have no capacity to adapt.”

America’s agricultural economy is set to undergo dramatic changes over the next three decades, as warmer temperatures devastate crops, according to a US government report. The draft US National Climate Assessment report predicts that a gradually warming climate and unpredictable severe weather, such as the drought that last year spread across two-thirds of the continental United States, will have serious consequences for farmers.

The research by 60 scientists predicts that all crops will be affected by the temperature shift as well as livestock and fruit harvests. The changing climate, it says, is likely to lead to more pests and less effective herbicides. The $50bn Californian wine industry could shrink as much as 70% by 2050.

The report lays bare the stark consequences for the $300bn US farm industry, stating: “Many agricultural regions will experience declines in crop and livestock production. The rising incidence of weather extremes will have increasingly negative impacts on crop and livestock production. Climate disruptions have increased in the recent past and are projected to increase further over the next 25 years.

“Critical thresholds are already being exceeded. Many regions will experience declines in crop and livestock production from increased stress due to weeds, diseases, insect pests and other climate change-induced stresses. Climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the recent past and are projected to increase further”.

Lead author Jerry Hatfield, director of the US government’s national laboratory for agriculture and the environment, said that climate change was already causing weather extremes to worsen. Very hot nights, fewer cool days and more heatwaves, storms and floods have already devastated crops and will have “increasingly negative” impacts, he said.

The report follows recent disastrous harvests in Russia, Ukraine, Australia and the US. In 2010, climate-driven factors led to a 33% drop in wheat production in Russia and a 19% drop in Ukraine. Separate climate events in each case led to a 14% drop in Canada’s wheat output, and a 9% drop in Australia.

A separate US government-funded study of the fertile Lower Mekong basin, which includes Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, states that temperatures there could rise twice as much as previously expected, devastating food supplies for the 100 million people expected to live there by 2050. “We’ve found that this region is going to experience climate extremes in temperature and rainfall beyond anything that we expected”, says Jeremy Carew-Reid, author of the Climate Change Adaptation and Impact Study for the Lower Mekong.

Two major food security summits are being held in Ireland, organised by UN World Food Programme, the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change and the Mary Robinson Climate Justice foundation.

Ertharin Cousin, the UN’s World Food Programme director, said: “We are entering an uncertain and risky period. Climate change is the game changer that increases exposure to high and volatile food prices, and increases the vulnerability of the hungry poor, especially those living in conflict zones or areas of marginal agricultural productivity. We must act quickly to protect the world’s poorest people.”

Source: Guardian News

Intelligence based on ‘fabrication’

 

  • Press Association – A member of the British Desert Rats during fighting on the outskirts of the Iraqi city of Basra

Vital intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq 10 years ago was based on “fabrication” and “wishful thinking”, a new documentary claims.

A BBC Panorama investigation, broadcast to mark the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, suggests that US and UK security services relied on several pieces of questionable information, while dismissing others that were contradictory.

The war, which started on March 20, 2003, lasted over six years, claimed the lives of 179 UK personnel, more than 100,000 Iraqis, and and cost more than £9 billion.

Britain ended combat operations in 2009 but a decade on the war remains unfinished business, with ongoing questions about the legality of the invasion, and the conduct of British troops.

Panorama – The Spies Who Fooled The World – documents the chain of secret information that contributed to the decision to invade, including new testimonies from intelligence sources.

It tells how claims from a few sources that Iraq was manufacturing Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) spiralled into apparently sound intelligence used to justify the war.

The programme alleges that certain intelligence was relied on out of wishful thinking, with one source telling the programme the Iraq War was borne out of “choice” rather than “necessity”.

In his first TV interview on the subject August Hanning, former head of German Intelligence, said Iraqi spy Rafed Al Janabi – codenamed Curveball – told German secret services he had witnessed the manufacture of chemical and biological weapons, including mobile facilities to produce them.

The information was passed by the Germans to American and British intelligence, along with concerns about its reliability, he said.

Former CIA Europe Division chief Tyler Drumheller also claimed he passed warnings about Curveball’s claims up the chain of command, while Mr Hanning said he also sent a personal cable to then CIA director George Tenet. Mr Tenet denies receiving the warnings, the programme says.

Source: Press Association Via Yahoo News

China replaces Britain in world’s top five arms exporters

China’s J-10 fighter jets from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force Aerobatics Team perform during a flight demonstration at the air show in Zhuhai last year. —Photo (File) Reuters

China’s J-10 fighter jets from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force Aerobatics Team perform during a flight demonstration at the air show in Zhuhai last year. —Photo (File) Reuters

BEIJING: China has become the world’s fifth-largest arms exporter, a respected Sweden-based think tank said on Monday, its highest ranking since the Cold War, with Pakistan as the main recipient.

China’s volume of weapons exports between 2008 and 2012 rose 162 per cent compared to the previous five year period, with its share of the global arms trade rising from 2 per cent to 5 per cent, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said.

China replaces Britain in the top five arms-dealing countries between 2008 and 2012, a group dominated by the United States and Russia, which accounted for 30 per cent and 26 per cent of weapons exports, SIPRI said.

“China is establishing itself as a significant arms supplier to a growing number of important recipient states,” Paul Holtom, director of the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme, said in a statement.

The shift, outlined in SIPRI’s Trends in International Arms Transfers report, marks China’s first time as a top-five arms exporter since the think tank’s 1986-1990 data period.

Now the world’s second-largest economy, China’s rise has come with a new sense of military assertiveness with a growing budget to develop modern warfare equipment including aircraft carriers and drones.

At the Zhuhai air show in southern China in November, Chinese attack helicopters, missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles and air defences were on public show for the first time.

SIPRI maintains a global arms transfers database base that tracks arms exports back to the 1950s. It averages data over five-year periods because arms sales vary by year.

“Pakistan – which accounted for 55 per cent of Chinese arms exports – is likely to remain the largest recipient of Chinese arms in the coming years due to large outstanding and planned orders for combat aircraft, submarines and frigates,” SIPRI said.

Myanmar, which has been undergoing fragile reforms that the United States thinks could help counter Beijing’s influence in the region, received 8 per cent of China’s weapons exports.

Bangladesh received 7 per cent of the arms, and Algeria, Venezuela and Morocco have bought Chinese-made frigates, aircraft or armoured vehicles in the past several years.

Beijing does not release official figures for arms sales.

Germany and France ranked third and fourth on the arms exporter list. China followed only India in the acquisition of arms, though its reliance on imports is decreasing as it ramps up weapons production capabilities at home.

After decades of steep increases in military spending and cash injections into domestic defence contractors, experts say some Chinese-made equipment is now comparable to Russian or Western counterparts, though accurate information about the performance of Chinese weapons is scarce.

China faces bans on Western military imports, dating back to anger over its crushing of pro-democracy protests in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989. That makes its domestic arms industry crucial in assembling a modern military force that can enforce claims over Taiwan and disputed maritime territories.

China has faced off recently with its Southeast Asian neighbours and Japan over conflicting claims to strings of islets in the South China Sea and East China Sea, even as the United States executes a military pivot towards the Pacific.

Source: Dawn News

Muslim helpline reveals majority of faith attacks on women

Tell MAMA, for victims of Islamophobia, logged more than 630 incidents during its first 12 months

The majority of Muslims physically attacked, harassed or intimidated because of their faith are women, according to the first results from the UK’s official helpline for victims of Islamophobia.

More than 630 incidents were logged during the first 12 months of the helpline, launched in an attempt to quantify the scale and nature of anti-Muslim violence in Britain.

Some of the most egregious attacks recorded include a family being forced from their Nottinghamshire home, a five-year-old girl knocked over by a hit-and-run driver and a Somali lady who had dog faeces placed on her head by a white man while shopping in south London.

The attacks, collated by the helpline, Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks), show that Muslim women were targeted in 58% of all incidents.

The majority of physical assaults committed in the street were on women wearing Islamic clothing, with most victims describing the nature of the attacks as seemingly “random”.

High-profile female targets have included communities minister Lady Warsi who was threatened online by an English Defence League (EDL) member and journalist Jemima Khan, whose 14-year-old son received anti-Muslim comments on Twitter.

Of the perpetrators, the majority were subsequently found to have had links to recognised far-right groups such as the British National Party (BNP) or the EDL. So far, information provided to the helpline has led to the arrests of 21 far-right EDL supporters, with more than 40 incidents reported against EDL leader Tommy Robinson alone.

Members of the BNP or EDL were involved in 54% of all incidents, of which three-quarters were committed by men. The average age of perpetrators were between 21 and 30.

The results follow a report by think-tank Chatham House which identified a considerable Islamophobic sentiment in the UK, detecting a “wide reservoir of public sympathy for claims that Islam and the growth of settled, Muslim communities pose a fundamental threat to the native group and nation.”

The majority of incidents received by the helpline related to what it described as “abusive behaviour” with 74% of recorded incidents occurring online. However, experts agree that even non-violent incidents have a profound adverse impact on peoples’ lives.

Fiyaz Mughal, co-ordinator of Tell MAMA and director of non-profit group Faith Matters said he was “shocked” by the amount of racial hatred they had detected in their first year of monitoring, particularly online.

Mughal, a former advisor to the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, added: “We are calling on police and politicians to do more to tackle this shameful wave of fear and prejudice. From the internet, to the workplace, the street and even houses of worship, too often Muslim women and men are becoming the target of vicious, sometimes violent, abuse.

He added: “Recent history shows us what happens if we allow our fears to run unchecked. Demonisation of ‘the other’, misguided beliefs that Muslims are somehow a monolithic block, unchecked lies that Islam is a violent religion or that British Muslims wish to abuse white girls must be challenged.”

He is now calling on police forces to drastically improve their recording of Islamophobic crimes. At the moment just two forces, the Metropolitan police and City of London police, currently record anti-Muslim crimes separately. Mughal also wants the Home Office to take over monitoring of online hate and far-right groups from the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Other areas that the Muslim community believe could be improved include more prosecutions against online-based hatred.

“The police frequently fail to take victim statements, fail to appreciate the terrifying effects of these incidents upon women and vulnerable children. Few police forces even bother to record Islamophobia as part of their reporting systems. More training is needed at a time when police are facing budget cuts; we need more leadership too from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) which, unhelpfully, has talked about fewer rather than more social media prosecutions,” added Mughal.

During 2011 2,000 hate crimes were recorded against different faiths in England, Wales and Northern Ireland by police with officers at the time admitting that they were unclear how many were against Muslims because separate figures were not recorded.

Source: Guardian News

Civilisation could fail say food experts

The upcoming era of food scarcity is said to mirror the times that led to the demise of other civilisations.

 

Over the last decade, world grain reserves have fallen by one third while world food prices have more than doubled.

The new geopolitics of food is said to be spreading hunger amongst poorer people while still allowing population growth, rising affluence, and the conversion of food into fuel for cars in wealthier nations.

Extreme soil erosion and growing water shortages are also leading to imbalances that could ensure that food prices continue to rise, eventually leading to world hunger and the end of our social system.

This tightening of world food supplies contrasts sharply with the last half of the twentieth century when overproduction in agriculture was a major issue.

During that time, from 1950 to 2000, there were large grain stock carry-overs which maintained stability in world grain markets.

Countries in over-supply were able to ship the excess grain to countries which were suffering from drought or other natural disasters as a means of averting famine.

But during that time the world had 2.5 billion people. Today it has seven billion.

World consumption started to exceed production from 2002, which is when the unprecedented period of world food security came to an end.

Food shortages undermined earlier civilisations.

For instance, the Mayan civilisation declined it moved onto an agricultural path that was environmentally unsustainable.

Like the Mayans, our lands are now being mismanaged, generating record losses of soil from erosion.

While deforestation and soil erosion defeated the Mayans, farmers are currently facing new threats such as depletion of aquifers, grain yield down-trends and rising temperatures.

Source: Pakistan New

Israel must pull all settlers from Palestinian land: UN

GENEVA: Israel must immediately stop all settlement activity and start to withdraw its settlers from the Palestinian territories, a United Nations report said on Thursday.

“Israel must … cease all settlement activities without preconditions (and) must immediately initiate a process of withdrawal of all settlers” from the occupied territories, a UN fact-finding mission concluded.

Because of the settlements, Palestinians’ human rights “are being violated consistently and on a daily basis,” the three independent experts said in a report commissioned by the UN’s Human Rights Council last March.

The three experts – Christine Chanet of France, Asma Jahangir of Pakistan and Unity Dow of Botswana – who will present their findings to the 47-member state council on March 18, also called on the Jewish state to “ensure adequate, effective and prompt remedy to all Palestinian victims … of human rights violations that are a result of the settlements.”

The council’s decision to dispatch the fact-finding mission to determine what impact the settlements are having on the rights of Palestinians so enraged the Jewish state that it cut all ties with the 47-member state council in March 2012.

The experts published their findings just two days after Israel made its anger felt by becoming the first country to ever boycott a special council review of its rights situation.

Israel calls report ‘biased’

Israel on Thursday slammed as “biased” the report by the UN Human Rights Council, saying it would only hamper peace efforts.

“The Human Rights Council has sadly distinguished itself by its systematically one-sided and biased approach towards Israel. This latest report is yet another unfortunate reminder of that,” foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.

“Counterproductive measures, such as the report before us, will only hamper efforts to find a sustainable solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict,” Palmor said in a statement.

“The only way to resolve all pending issues between Israel and the Palestinians, including the settlements issue, is through direct negotiations without pre-conditions.”

The experts were not able to visit Israel or the Palestinian territories, after failing to secure Israeli permission, and instead met in Jordan with more than 50 people affected by the settlements or working in NGOs in a relevant field, it said.

The Jewish state is not a member of the council but like all 193 UN countries it is required to undergo Universal Periodic Reviews of its human rights situation.

Source: Dawn News

Polish now England’s second language

POLISH is now the main language spoken in England and Wales after English and Welsh, according to 2011 census data released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

The language-speaking figures recorded for the first time from a survey of 56.1 million residents of England and Wales show 546,000 speak Polish. It is now the second main language in England. There are still slightly more Welsh speakers in Wales at 562,000.

The next biggest main languages are the south Asian languages of Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali and Gujarati, followed by Arabic, French, Chinese and Portuguese. The statisticians said they recorded over 100 different languages and 49 main languages with more than 15,000 users. English was the biggest of that group and Swedish the smallest.

Chinese people alone listed 67 different languages or dialects, although a minority of those were different spellings of the same language. All but three of the London boroughs, excluding the City, Richmond and Havering, have residents speaking more than 100 main languages, the ONS said. Hillingdon is the most linguistically diverse, with 107 languages listed, followed by Newham, with 103.

Some of the languages are in a tiny minority. For example, there was only one person in Barnet who said they spoke Caribbean creole and one person in Bexley.

Fifty-eight people speak Scottish Gaelic, 33 speak Manx Gaelic and 629 speak Romany.

Ealing in west London is the nation’s hotspot for Polish speaking, the town of Slough for Punjabi/Urdu, the city of Leicester for Gujarati, Kensington in central London for French and Manchester for Cantonese and Mandarin.

One million households have no residents with English as a main language, although most had some proficiency in English, the ONS said.

Only 138,000 people could not speak English at all.

“The West Midlands is the region with the lowest percentage of people that can speak English very well or well at 72 per cent,” said Roma Chappell, census director. It was the region that also had the highest number of people who can’t speak English at all.

The latest figures from the 2011 census also revealed how people in England and Wales get to work. The university cities of Cambridge and Oxford were the cycling capitals with 18 per cent and 10 per cent of their populations commuting on two wheels but London had the most cyclists, with the number more than doubling from 77,000 in 2001 to 161,000 in 2011.

Half of London residents travel using public transport but two per cent now use bikes and nine per cent of the people of Hackney in east London cycle to work.

Source: Dawn News/Guardian News

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