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Archive for Science, Technology & Environment

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

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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

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

Health: Racial gaps in access to robotic surgery

Minority and Medicaid cancer patients are less likely to have their prostates removed at hospitals that use robot-assisted surgery, according to a new study that stops short of suggesting the robotic technique represents better care.

“People who are poor – frequently Hispanic, African American or black, and Medicaid patients – tend to get what is considered to be less high-quality care than those who are middle class and wealthy,” said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical and scientific officer of the American Cancer Society.

But Brawley, who wasn’t involved in the new study, also said there is no evidence that removing a prostate with a robot is better than the old-fashioned way, with “open” surgery that requires an incision across a man’s stomach.

Those are two of several treatment options available for prostate cancer, including radiation as well as active surveillance, also known as watchful waiting.

The American Cancer Society estimates approximately 250,000 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012, and about 28,000 died from it.

Despite a lack of evidence showing its superiority, robot-assisted prostate removal has become the predominant method since being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2000, according to the researchers, led by Dr. Simon Kim at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Robotic surgical tools allow doctors to operate through small incisions with the aid of a tiny video camera, an approach that is considered less invasive but also tends to be more expensive.

Kim and his colleagues write in The Journal of Urology that evidence does exist to show that black patients are already less likely to get radiation or to have their prostates removed, but there is less data on whether they and other minorities have equal access to robot-assisted prostate removal.

For the study, Kim’s group used two national databases to compare the differences between the approximately 20,500 cancer patients who had their prostates removed at hospitals offering robotic surgery, and the 9,500 who had their surgery at hospitals without robots between 2006 and 2008.

Overall, the researchers found, the proportion of all prostate removals shifted from about 56 percent taking place at hospitals with robots in 2006 to 76 percent in 2008.

They also found that hospitals offering robotic surgery removed more than four times the number of prostates as other hospitals during that time.

That’s important because hospitals that remove more prostates tend to report better patient outcomes after surgery.

In addition, black patients were 19 percent less likely to have their surgery at a hospital using robots compared to white patients, and Hispanic patients were 23 percent less likely.

Medicaid patients were also 30 percent less likely to go to a hospital offering robotic surgery, compared to patients with private insurance.

Dr. Michael Barry, who was not involved in the new research but has studied prostate cancer treatment and outcomes, pointed out that the new work shows a gap in who is able to access the hospitals that perform the greatest number of prostate removals.

“The issue here is not access to robot (surgery) but high-volume hospitals,” said Barry, a clinical professor of medicine at Boston’s Harvard Medical School.

The study authors, who were not available for comment by press time, similarly conclude that gaps in access to robotic surgery hospitals may also indicate limited access to high-volume hospitals.

“More effective health care policies focusing on incentives to provide better access for minorities or for patients primarily insured by Medicaid may reduce disparities in access to high volume hospitals with robotic surgery,” they write.

Source: News International

China unveils rival GPS satellite system

BEIJING: China has launched commercial and public services across the Asia-Pacific region on its domestic satellite navigation network built to rival the US global positioning system.

The Beidou, or Compass, system started providing services to civilians in the region on Thursday and is expected to provide global coverage by 2020, state media reported.

Ran Chengqi, spokesman for the China Satellite Navigation Office, said the system’s performance was “comparable” to GPS, the China Daily said.

“Signals from Beidou can be received in countries such as Australia,” he said.

It is the latest accomplishment in space technology for China, which aims to build a space station by the end of the decade and eventually send a manned mission to the moon.

China sees the multi-billion-dollar programme as a symbol of its rising global stature, growing technical expertise, and the Communist Party’s success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.

The Beidou system comprises 16 navigation satellites and four experimental satellites, the paper said. Ran added that the system would ultimately provide global navigation, positioning and timing services.

The start of commercial services comes a year after Beidou — which literally means the Big Dipper in Chinese — began a limited positioning service for China and adjacent areas.

China began building the network in 2000 to avoid relying on GPS.

“Having a satellite navigation system is of great strategic significance,” the Global Times newspaper, which has links to the Communist Party, said in an editorial.

“China has a large market, where the Beidou system can benefit both the military and civilians,” the paper said.

“With increases in profit, the Beidou system will be able to eventually develop into a global navigation satellite system which can compete with GPS.”

In a separate report, the paper said satellite navigation was seen as one of China’s “strategic emerging industries”.

Sun Jiadong, the system’s chief engineer, told the 21st century Business Herald newspaper that as Beidou matures it will erode GPS’s current 95 percent market share in China, the Global Times said.

Morris Jones, an independent space analyst based in Sydney, Australia, said that making significant inroads into that dominance anywhere outside China is unlikely.

“GPS is freely available, highly accessed and is well-known and trusted by the world at large,” he told AFP. “It has brand recognition and has successfully fought off other challenges.”

Morris described any commercial benefits China gains as “icing on the cake” and that the main reason for developing Beidou is to protect its own national security given the possibility US-controlled GPS could be cut off.

“It’s that possibility, that they could be denied access to GPS, that inspires other nations to develop their own system that would be free of control by the United States,” he said.

“At a time of war you do not want to be denied” access, he said.

The Global Times editorial, while trumpeting Beidou as “not a second-class product or a carbon-copy of GPS” still appeared to recognise its limitations, at least in the early stages.

“Some problems may be found in its operation because Beidou is a new system. Chinese consumers should… show tolerance toward the Beidou system,” it said.

Source: News international