Baby sea otter Rialto’s heart-melting story of survival
Originally published August 30, 2016 at 6:00 am Updated August 30, 2016 at 6:27 am
This adorable baby sea otter was stranded on a beach in Olympic National Park. Now 6 to 7 weeks old, he’s being nursed back to health at Seattle Aquarium. We’ll follow Rialto’s journey in the weeks to come, and we’ll also tell the story of the sea otters’ comeback in Washington.
By Lynda V. Mapes
Seattle Times staff reporter
It could have been a crumpled, sandy old towel on the beach. Except that it was moving. And shrieking.
It was a baby sea otter, just a few weeks old. Normally, a baby sea otter would never be separated from its mother for long, carrying her young atop her belly as she floats on her back. But something had gone terribly wrong. This baby sea otter had been cast adrift, alone, on a wide, cold sea. And now it had stranded on Rialto Beach, at Olympic National Park.
“It was a tiny pup, maybe 14 inches long. It was moving, crawling a little bit,” said Joseph Alcorn, a wilderness ranger for the National Park Service who first encountered the sea otter Aug. 1. “The waves would crash over it, and it would be moved up the beach and it was barely strong enough to right itself. It was pretty tragic. I didn’t think it had much more time left.
“It was a baby animal in distress. This pup didn’t look like it would last one more minute, one more wave.”
Alcorn decided to act. He called the Washington Sea Otter Stranding Network.
By the time Dyanna Lambourn, the marine mammal stranding coordinator for the department, got to the beach from Lakewood, Pierce County, it was evening. The pup had been stranded for at least a day, maybe longer.
It wasn’t long before Lambourn saw the otter, still screaming, and still getting battered by the waves.
In consultation with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which has responsibility for sea otters — a protected marine mammal — Lambourn was given permission to intervene.
“Knowing picking it up either means we will probably have to put it to sleep, or it’s going in permanent captivity, it’s not an easy decision,” Lambourn said. The third choice was to watch the baby keep struggling, and surely die.
She leaned over and picked up the pup.
As Lambourn drove away, she didn’t know if she would find any vet or aquarium to help. The animal might spend the night in her truck while she kept searching; that had happened before. She might still need to choose euthanasia, as she struck out on call after call. Each time she made a phone call, the pup would scream. And then the Seattle Aquarium agreed to help.
“Touch and go”
What is the thickest, softest thing you can think of? Think thicker, softer, fuzzier. Add the biggest, brownest eyes. A warm, squiggly body under all that fur. Velvety soft paws. Now add a repertoire of sounds: soft coos, small squeaks, tiny groans. That’s Rialto. Named for the beach where he was found, Rialto is now under round-the-clock care.
Rialto started off in the aquarium’s equivalent of intensive care, a room with no windows, sleeping on a water bed on the bottom half of a medium dog kennel. He snuggled in towels on top of a bag of ice — cool, the way he likes it — with a humidifier tucked in the corner of his kennel, to ease his lungs.
Baby sea otters, even in their mother’s care, have only a 50 percent chance in the wild. Rialto’s chances of survival when he first arrived were much lower.
“He had so many strikes against him,” said Lesanna Lahner, staff veterinarian at the Seattle Aquarium. “He was emaciated, he had GI (gastrointestinal) upset. He had pneumonia. That is a lot. And he had no muscle, no fat, he was just skin and bones. It was really touch and go. I gave him a 10 percent chance.”
Nursed on puppy formula that was fed from a bottle and heated to his body temperature of 100 degrees, he quickly started gaining weight. Before long, X-rays showed Rialto’s lungs were clear and he’d kicked the pneumonia.
On a recent afternoon, he was judged big and well enough to move outside into a holding area usually for river otters. Rialto now lives there amid the sound of sea gulls, and smell of salt air, and a pool, just for him. He often naps atop a bag of ice, holding an ice toy to his chest for comfort.
It costs about $1,500 a day for food and care by a rotating and on-call staff of about six humans to replicate as best as possible an otter’s maternal care in the wild. Staff are helping out from the Vancouver Aquarium, too, to ensure coverage for 12-hour shifts, 7 to 7, every day.
Rialto’s typical day would be recognizable to any new parent: an endless refrain of feeding, pooping, cleaning, grooming, play and sleep.
He’s already eating solid food: raw, restaurant-grade clams and shrimp, chopped up in baby-bite small chunks. His tiny white teeth are still nubs, emerging from pink gums. The ice toys aren’t just for play and comfort, they also help with his teething.
Shawn Larson, curator of conservation research and animal health at the Seattle Aquarium, is overseeing Rialto’s care. “I’ve been studying otters for 20 years, and usually only see them through a spotting scope,” she said. Holding him, grooming him, feeding him, she’s watched Rialto get stronger and better each day. “It’s hard to go home, even after a 12-hour shift.”
Lahner says Rialto’s prognosis is still guarded, but his chances of survival have improved to about 80 percent.
Frisky and shrieking
Already, Rialto has transformed from a struggling waif to He Who Will Not Be Ignored.
Rialto at a glance
Weight upon arrival at the Seattle Aquarium: 5.2 pounds
Weight Monday: 8.7 pounds
Hairs per square inch: Up to 1 million (the most dense coat of any mammal)
Current favorite food: Raw clams (eats 25 to 30 percent of his weight every day)
Thursday morning, he had woken up early. He was reposing like an emperor on caregiver Julie Carpenter’s lap. Usually the aquarium’s associate curator of birds and mammals, she was two hours into her day shift with Rialto.
“First shrimp!” she said, offering a raw chunk. Then clam, then more shrimp and more clam. He’s learned how to take a bit of clam on his paw and feed himself, but today, he seemed to enjoy the lap of luxury, as Carpenter snuggled him in a towel, and fed him as fast as he wanted to eat. Which was chunk after chunk after chunk.
When he turned away from a few proffered shrimp, she tried putting him back in his kennel. But Rialto, frisky and still wanting to play, would have none of it. Both paws up on the edge of the kennel, he hauled and heaved, trying to get out, keeping up an ear-piercing shriek all the while.
“OK! You don’t want to be in here, do you?” said Carpenter, pulling him onto her lap, and continuing to groom him from his first morning swim with a fresh towel from the constantly replaced, clean, dry, folded stack.
“Shriek!” said Rialto. “Shriek!”
“OK!” said Carpenter, and back in the pool he went. Master of his tiny universe, he steered around the pool with his thick furry tail, thrusting with his flippered back feet to nail the turns. He nuzzled the fresh, cold, filtered seawater from Puget Sound coming into the tank from a pipe, tooled around for a lap or two, and stuck his head under water, blowing bubbles. He twisted his shoulders, trying to execute a roll onto his back. So on the verge, but not yet.
He looked over to Carpenter, who placed a chopped clam on the ledge of the pool. She supported his belly with one hand while he snacked. Eventually he hauled himself up on the ledge, looking ready to get out, and Carpenter was ready with the towel.
They groomed his fur together, she with her towel, and he with his muzzle, pausing now and then to shake his wet head like a dog. His natal pelage, so fuzzy and soft, requires hours of grooming every day to keep him warm and dry. He’ll molt this youngster’s coat soon and lose his light brown coloring, for the darker brown, sleek fur of the adults. Or so everyone hopes.
Living in the moment
What’s next? A move to sea otter holding, with its bigger pool? Perhaps see if Lootas, a grandmother in the aquarium’s adult sea otter clan, will adopt him as a surrogate mother? Or even move to the Vancouver Aquarium, where there is room for Rialto to permanently live?
For now, his tasks are just to sleep, gain weight, and play. And sleep some more. As much as 14 hours a day. And eat, eat, eat.
Most attempts to rescue sea otters by untrained people end in death or injury to the animal and often result in injury to the would-be rescuer. You and the animal will both be better off if you seek help from a trained wildlife professional. It is always illegal for anyone to touch a sea otter or other marine mammal, which are protected by federal law, without authorization from a wildlife authority.
Call the following numbers to report the stranding of a live or dead marine mammal:
Washington: 1-877-326-8837 (1-87-sea-otter)
Oregon: 1-800-452-7888 or 1-541-270-6830
Alaska: 1-888-774-7325California: 1-805-927-3893
Whales, seals and sea lions
Washington and Oregon:1-866-767-6114
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
“He’s getting more meat to his bones, so much more than when he first came in,” Carpenter said, smoothing the fur on his rounded belly. She tried once more to put him back on his water bed, waiting to see if Rialto would again shriek objection.
“He looks so much brighter, and he has an opinion about everything,” Carpenter said. “Which is good.”
But this time, Rialto groomed a bit, then quieted. He reached out a paw for an ice toy. Time for a nap.
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The tribes paying the brutal price of conservation
Across the world, governments are protecting habitats. But indigenous peoples are being evicted
30 August 2016 08.00 BST
The Botswana police helicopter spotted Tshodanyestso Sesana and his friends in the afternoon. The nine young Bushmen, or San, had been hunting antelope to feed their families, when the chopper flew towards them.
There was a burst of gunfire from the air and the young men dropped their meat and skins and fled. Largely through luck, no one was hit, but within minutes armed troops arrived in a jeep and the nine were arrested, stripped naked, beaten and then detained for several days for poaching in a nature reserve.
Welcome to 21st-century life in the vast Central Kalahari game park, an ancient hunting ground for the San, but now off-limits to the people who forged their history there. The brutal incident took place last week, just days after Botswana’s wildlife minister Tshekedi Khama, the brother of President Ian Khama, announced a shoot-on-sight policy on poachers.
Khama claims the policy, which is supported by conservation groups, will deter poaching and the illegal wildlife trade, which is widely seen by Europe and the US as disastrous for biodiversity. But there are no rare or endangered species such as elephants or rhinos in the areas where the bushmen hunt. Sending a helicopter gunship and armed guards to arraign the hunters looks rather like an escalation of the low-grade war that Botswana has waged for years on one of the most vulnerable indigenous groups in the world.
For the past 20 years, the San have been systematically stripped of their homes, land and culture. In a series of heavy-handed evictions, houses have been burned, schools and health centres closed, and water supplies cut off. Now these people live, dispossessed, on the edge of the huge game park, forbidden to hunt in or enter the land they have lived on sustainably for centuries.
Meanwhile, one of the largest diamond mines in the world has been allowed to open in the park, and wealthy big game hunters from abroad are welcomed to newly constructed state-of-the-art game lodges. Is this conservation, or something more akin to bullying of the weak and exploitation of the land in the interests of the powerful?
What has happened in Botswana is happening all over the world, according to an increasingly vocal group of campaigners, academics and environmentalists. They claim that indigenous peoples are being appallingly treated and abused, all in the name of a conservation philosophy that carries a heavy human cost. In order to make room for wildlife, tourism and industry, governments are using conservation as a pretext to drive the world’s most endangered peoples away from the lands and animals they have lived with for generations.
This week, the issue will be raised in Hawaii at the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s congress. “The world’s most vulnerable people are paying the price for today’s conservation,” says Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. She has already sounded the alarm at the UN over the impact that conservation is having on tribal peoples in Kenya, Uganda, Bangladesh, Namibia, Botswana, Ethiopia, South Africa, Argentina, Chile and Ecuador.
Tauli-Corpuz will tell the congress that nature conservation is not working for people or for wildlife. “Houses are still being burned down, and people are being displaced violently. Protected areas continue to expand, yet threats against them are also increasing,” she will say. Vulnerable tribal peoples are being removed by force from India’s tiger reserves and forests; tribal groups such as the Ogiek and Sengwer, the San, Maasai and Baka are being forced out of forests and wildlife-rich plains in Africa; and from Thailand to Ecuador, Cameroon to Bangladesh, ethnic groups are being dispossessed in the name of protecting nature.
“It is happening all over Asia and Africa. We can agree with the goals of conservation, but if these protected areas are then being overrun by mining companies, what is the point of conservation?” Tauli-Corpuz said.
What’s more, human rights groups claim, governments are accessing wealthy conservation groups based in the US and Europe to take advantage of the billions of pounds of conservation money being offered by global banks, northern governments and foundations for climate change and biodiversity protection. The international money duly flows in, but recipient governments are not abiding by international laws to protect communities.
Life for the Baka Pygmies of Central African Republic... in pictures and text: read here... https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/04/life-for-the-baka-pygmies-of-central-african-republic
“Governments like conservation because there is a lot of money in it. It brings money from the Global Environment Facility and elsewhere. But when your economic priority is to generate money from conservation, you want to get rid of people from these protected areas. That is what is now happening,” Tauli-Corpuz told the Observer.
Most of the world’s 6,000 national parks and 100,000 protected places have been created by the removal of tribal peoples. Hundreds more parks are being created every year as countries commit to meeting the UN’s goal to protect 17% of land by 2020. And the human toll is rising accordingly. “Eviction numbers are declining,” says Rosaleen Duffy, a political ecologist at Sheffield University. “There are still large-scale, violent evictions, generally in national parks, but they are less common now. But much more common is the everyday form of exclusion [of tribal groups] which makes it impossible for anyone to live in protected areas.”
Gonzalo Oviedo is head of social policy at the IUCN. He told the Observer: “Conservation has changed a lot. Governments are more likely now to restrict the rights of people who live in protected areas. They may ban hunting, or farming, the cutting down of trees or fishing. The effect is to force people to move.
“They are more careful now about evictions. But in practice they are reducing access to resources and reducing people’s ability to live in protected areas. People in reserves may not be allowed to do anything. They are often poorer than they were before, and the impact can be bigger than if they are moved out,” said Oviedo.
Simon Counsell, director of the UK’s Rainforest Foundation, agrees: “Much conservation is still in the mindset of being in opposition to people. The ‘conservation v people’ approach to protecting wildlife has worsened the lives of thousands of native people.”
The foundation this year documented dozens of cases of human rights abuses in central Africa, where up to $500m has been spent in the last decade by the US, EU and other western donors to protect the world’s second largest swath of rainforest.
The irony is that “anti-people” conservation doesn’t appear to be having a beneficial effect on wildlife and may in fact be self-defeating. Analysis this year of 34 large protected areas in Congo DRC, Cameroon, Gabon, the Central African Republic and the Republic of Congo found that conservation had displaced villages and led to conflict and multiple human rights abuses – and that animals including elephants, gorillas and chimps were still declining at alarming rates anyway.
“Conservation is clearly not working,” said Counsell. “Despite billions of dollars being poured into protected areas over this period and in spite of legally binding commitments to respect people’s rights, there was evidence that local indigenous and local communities across the world continue to pay a heavy price for protected areas,” he said.
“A new model of saving nature is urgently needed because the anti-people agenda now being practised by many countries is not working and undermines attempts to protect nature. Not only is the present anti-people model which is being practised unjust. It marginalises the very people who have protected forests for millennia and who represent one of our best hopes for doing so in the future.”
Meanwhile, tension is mounting between human rights groups who seek to protect people and conservationists who are paid to effectively run protected areas for government. The ill-feeling came to a head this year when the WWF was accused by tribal defence group Survival International of funding and logistically aiding anti-poaching eco-guards in Equatorial Africa. The guards were allegedly victimising pygmy groups in the region.
According to a 228-page complaint made to the OECD, the Baka people in Cameroon had been forbidden to enter many of their traditional hunting areas, despite the fact that their hunting is reported to have minimal impact on the environment.
The WWF responded that it provides human rights training for the eco-guards, and that it was working in a complex area overrun with military groups. Adjudication by the OECD on that row is expected shortly.
According to Duffy: “Some groups are in danger of becoming complicit in government wrongdoing. They rely on national governments to allow access. Some have very significant links with corporates and corporate sponsorship, and tend not to be very critical of what is going on. It can be difficult for them to talk out of turn. Some facilitate the process.”
The IUCN’s Gonzalez believes conservation groups and western governments need to monitor what is happening on the ground far more closely. “A lot has changed in the big groups but there is still a lot to be done. Countries often impose no conditions on money for conservation. EU countries give money but do not have sufficient safeguards on how it is used. They don’t care what is going on. But multilateral groups like the World Bank have social safeguards and are more careful now. Why don’t governments have the same safeguards? Foundations and private money also do not care much about the impact of their spending,” he said.
According to Kristen Walker at Conservation international’s Policy Center for Environment and Peace, the big conservation groups are attempting to adapt to often difficult dilemmas and relationships. “We can find ourselves in tricky situations. We are invited guests in countries, but we also try to advocate and support communities, too. There are countries we have pulled out of because we felt we could not work there, and in some places people expect us to be more outspoken advocates.
“Governments sometimes look at the short term. We have adopted a rights-based approach and we are guided by an indigenous advice group. There has been a lot of change in conservation in 10 years. But how do you make sure governments are not shortsighted? How do you make sure communities are recognised? These are challenges,” she said.
The lobby in favour of returning more protected land to the original “owners” is growing. Studies by the Centre for International Forestry Research and the World Bank have found that when traditional communities are given full legal rights to their land, they protect the environment efficiently and cheaply.
“In India, tribal peoples face arrest and beatings, harassment, threats and trickery and feel forced to ‘agree’ to leave their forest homes. But the evidence proves that tribal peoples are better at looking after their environment than anyone else”, says Sophie Grig of Survival.
“In the BRT tiger reserve in southern India where tribal people have been allowed to stay, tiger numbers have increased at above the national average. There is no reason to believe that evicting tribes helps tigers. In fact, it’s harming conservation.”
In Hawaii this week, Tauli-Corpuz will make the same argument. She will tell delegates that indigenous-owned lands are effective at resisting deforestation in Brazil; that in Namibia, community-based wildlife management has resulted in significant growth in wildlife populations; and in the US and Australia, indigenous peoples manage protected areas effectively. “Studies have demonstrated that the territories of indigenous peoples who have been given land rights have been significantly better conserved than the adjacent lands”.
Leading environmentalists and human rights advocates, including Noam Chomsky, Jonathon Porritt and Ghillean Prance, agree. Last year they appealed to conservationists to protect endangered tribes. In a letter to the Guardian, they stated: “Tribal peoples have managed their lands sustainably for generations. Forcibly removing them usually results in environmental damage. Such removals are a violation of human rights. The cheapest and quickest way to conserve areas of high biodiversity is to respect tribal peoples’ rights. The world can no longer afford a conservation model that destroys tribal peoples: it damages human diversity as well as the environment.”
The argument is still a long way from being won. But could 2016 be the year that some of the world’s most ancient tribes began to return to the land of their ancestors?
Thousands of pastoralist Maasai groups in Tanzania have been evicted from a 1,500 sq km area close to the Serengeti, Maasai Mara and Ngorongoro national parks. The government has tried to remove them to establish exclusive game-hunting in the area. In 2009, a mass eviction left more than 200 homes burned and 3,000 people homeless.
Thousands of these tribespeople in India are being forcibly evicted from Kanha tiger reserve, though they do not hunt tigers and have lived in the forests with the animals for centuries. Many other adivasi, or tribal groups, are under notice to leave their forest homes to make way for tourism and tiger conservation. The Baiga have now set up a project to “save the forest from the forest department”.
The indigenous forest pygmy tribe which lives near Nki national park in south-east Cameroon, and the Bagyeli ethnic group of South Kribi have been forced out of their forests or massively restricted in what they hunt and fish. The groups says that they have become squatters on their own land, with entry into the forest restricted.
Thousands of ethnic Hmong and Karen hill tribes groups in northern Thailand have been displaced from their forests after they were designated national parks or protected areas. The groups have been classed as “illegal occupants” or “squatters” even though they have been living there for more than 100 years. The Hmong and Karen are routinely blamed for resource degradation but say their traditions protect nature.
These tribespeople, who have lived in the forests of central Bangladesh for centuries with other ethnic groups, have been evicted or prevented from living in traditional lands rezoned by the government as protected reserves in the 1980s. They are now restricted in where they live, move, and what they grow.
Kenya Forest Service guards have for years harassed and tried to evict Sengwer indigenous people from the western highlands. The 5,000 hunter gatherers were barred from their ancestral forests in 1964 but continue to return. Many now live in makeshift homes, camped out on roadsides.
The San, or Bushmen, peoples of the Kalahari desert in Botswana have been outlawed from their traditional lands to make way for tourism and mining. Even though they have lived in the desert for generations, they are considered a threat to wildlife. In a series of evictions, they have had their homes destroyed and water cut off and have been restricted from hunting. In 2006 the high court granted the Bushmen the right to return to their land, but the government has continued to enforce a permit system.
The Kenyan government has long been seeking to drive the Ogiek and others from the Mau forest to protect national water supplies and wildlife. The forest has been severely degraded after an influx of logging companies and illegal settlers, but the Ogiek, who have lived there for centuries, say they are not responsible and are resisting eviction. Many communities have had their homes burned but continue to fight to return.
The nomadic reindeer-herding Dukha tribe of northern Mongolia are struggling to survive after being banned from hunting in the name of conservation. Their traditional land was declared a protected area in 2013 and they face prison and restrictions on where they migrate to and hunt. The Dukha have hunted sustainably for generations, with their own strict rules governing the number of animals they can kill, and when and where they can hunt.
The Lickan Antay indigenous people from the Atacama desert in northern Chile live in a state-protected reserve but have been overwhelmed by tourism and conservation which leaves them little water and restricts them from access to many places. “Before the creation of the reserve there wasn’t a single tourist, and suddenly they’re everywhere. Our existence is now a constant battle,” says one member of the community.
The “forest people” of Sri Lanka were evicted from their homeland in what is now the Maduru Oya national park. Until recently, they hunted deer and wild boar, and collected honey, fruit and nuts. Today, they live outside their forest with small plots of land to grow rice and vegetables. They need a permit to enter the forest and those caught hunting risk arrest and violence.
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The most important dam you probably haven’t heard of
30 Aug 2016 at 08:09 ET
Large dams are major nation-building projects. They harness power to generate energy, provide water for large-scale irrigation and can help control flooding. And politicians often describe them as symbols of national power and technical prowess.
The early 20th century is known as the “golden age” of dam building in the United States. Between 1950 and 1979 over 40,000 dams were built across the country, mainly for hydropower and irrigation.
Today developing nations are investing heavily in large dam projects. Year over year, China creates more new hydropower capacity than the rest of the world combined. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is moving forward with plans for the US$100 billion Grand Inga Dam, which will span the Congo River and produce over 50,000 megawatts of power when complete. In Brazil, the newly constructed BeloMonte Dam will be the world’s fourth largest hydropower source when it becomes fully operational in 2019.
Ethiopia joined the ranks of large dam builders in 2011 when it launched construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, or GERD, on the Blue Nile. The GERD will be the eighth largest dam in the world, measured by the capacity of its reservoir, and will create the second largest reservoir on the Nile.
The GERD is already reshaping political relationships between Ethiopia and its neighbors, Sudan and Egypt, and will have multigenerational impacts on the Nile and the people who depend on it. Ethiopia’s reluctance to engage in public review and critiques of operation and design plans, as well as Eygpt’s initial hyperbolic reaction to the project, make it hard to assess whether the GERD will have a positive or negative long-term impact in the region.
The power of the Nile
The GERD is located approximately 30 kilometers east of the border between Ethiopia and Sudan. It is currently 70 percent complete and is expected to enter operation in 2017.
Construction progress on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (click for larger image). An image from February 2010 shows preconstruction conditions of the Blue Nile. In May 2012, one year into construction, land clearing is visible. In May 2014, active construction and foundation structures are visible. By April 2016, the Nile is being diverted and hydraulic structures are visible.
The GERD promises many benefits for Ethiopia. Today 74 percent of Ethiopians do not have access to electricity, and more than 95 percent rely on wood for cooking and heating.
The dam will have the capacity to generate 6,000 megawatts of electricity. For comparison, Hoover Dam in Nevada has a capacity of 2,080 megawatts. The World Bank estimates that Ethiopia can earn $1 billion a year exporting power from the GERD to neighboring countries.
Who controls the Nile?
The Nile is the primary water source for Ethiopia’s downstream neighbors, Sudan and Egypt. Construction of the GERD has strained relations with both countries, particularly Egypt.
The Blue Nile supplies approximately 60 percent of the water that reaches the Nile, the main water source for Eygpt’s 85 million people. Egypt is extremely water-poor: it has only 20 cubic meters per person of internal renewable freshwater resources, compared to 1,258 m³ per person in Ethiopia and 8,836 m³ per person in the United States.
The United Nations classifies nations as facing water stress when total annual water supply per person falls below 1,700 m³. Countries that have less than 500 m³ per person per year are in absolute water scarcity. At this point they do not have enough to meet all national water demands for agricultural, industrial, domestic and environmental uses; in other words, they have a water deficit. Egypt suffers from chronic water scarcity today and is predicted to experience absolute scarcity by 2025.
Historically, international agreements have guaranteed Egypt a disproportionate share of the Nile’s waters, starting at 57 percent under the 1929 Nile Treaty and rising to 69 percent under an agreement between Egypt and Sudan in 1959. For most of the 20th century, Ethiopia was not included in water-sharing agreements, even though almost 86 percent of the Nile’s water originates from Ethiopia.
Ethiopia has consistently stated that it will use the GERD only to generate electric power, but Egyptian officials are concerned that Ethiopia will also draw water from the reservoir behind the dam for agricultural irrigation. This would reduce the amount of water that ultimately flows to Egypt.
Relations between Egypt and Ethiopia hit a low point in 2013, when Egyptian politicians unintentionally discussed sabotaging the GERD during a live broadcast on state-owned television. More recently, tensions have eased as the two nations have finally begun formal discussions.
In 2016, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan signed a declaration of principles to guide operation of the GERD. But this occurred after the dam was already designed and partially constructed, so it is unclear whether the agreement will have any significant impact.
Who’s paying the bills?
Ethiopian leaders have taken unusual steps to fund the GERD, which is projected to cost $4.8 billion. Typically such projects are financed through Western international organizations such as the World Bank. But most financing for the GERD has come from domestic sources, including taxes, sales of government bonds to Ethiopians at home and abroad, and a national lottery. Chinese banks reportedly are providing funding for the dam’s turbines and electrical equipment.
Very little information is available about the dam’s long-term environmental impacts. One assessment was published in 2015 by the Nonpartisan Eastern Nile Working Group (NENWG), a collaboration among 17 prominent water resource scholars and practitioners.
Their report identified concerns and potential risks associated with the GERD’s technical design, including structural issues and the location and capacity of release outlets. It also warned that the dam could increase the Nile’s low-flow water levels in Sudan and thus support higher rates of irrigation withdrawals for Sudanese farms. That could come at the cost of reducing the productivity of millions of hectares of farmable land in Egypt, as wastewater discharged from Sudanese farms downstream will contain more salts and be of lower quality. To address these challenges, the NENWG has called for technical collaboration between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to manage water resources equitably among the three countries.
The promise and reality of dams
The GERD is a source of national pride in Ethiopia. Parallels with big U.S. hydroelectric projects are striking. At the dedication of Hoover Dam (then known as Boulder Dam) on the Nevada-Arizona border in 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt called the dam “a 20th century marvel” that would benefit the entire nation. Similarly, at the announcement of the GERD project in 2011 the late Prime Minister Meles Zenwai called the project “an expression of our commitment to the benefit of all the countries of the Nile Basin.”
But African nations need only to look at the history of large dam construction to see what kind of damage can occur if water resources are not managed well.
The Colorado River, which flows through Hoover Dam and 15 others in the western United States, once emptied into the Pacific at a lush, green delta in northern Mexico. But dams and diversions have removed so much water from the river that now it ebbs to a trickle in the Mexican desert, leaving its former delta dry and parched. Scholars have documented harmful environmental impacts from large dams in many other countries, including Australia and Brazil.
The Colorado River reaches the Sea of Cortez in 2014 for the first time in 16 years after a planned release of water from a dam near the U.S.-Mexican border to imitate spring floods of past years.
NASA Earth Observatory
Understandably, countries like Ethiopia expect great benefits from dams. But they could profit from studying the impacts of dams in other countries to find ways of using water resources sustainably to benefit their people.
Jennifer Drake, Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering, University of Toronto
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Missouri university researchers blind 6 beagle pups — then slaughter them after their study fails
29 Aug 2016 at 13:12 ET
Four researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia are under fire after they killed six beagle puppies after first blinding them and then being unable to return their sight with a drug therapy they are working on.
According to the Riverfront Times, the fate of the six pups — ages nine to twelve months — was revealed in a research paper published in the 2016 Journal of Veterinary Ophthalmology.
According to the paper, the researchers blinded the dogs by damaging their corneas and when they were unable to restore their sight with an experimental drug treatment, the dogs were killed.
Dan Kolde, a St. Louis-based attorney for the Beagle Freedom Project, was horrified saying,, “We would have found them homes. The Beagle Freedom Project would have happily taken these dogs.”
Kolde also noted that the researchers knew their study was doomed to failure because the sample was size was too small by their own admission before going ahead with the six pups.
“Prior to study initiation, a power analysis was performed and it was determined that 12 animals per group would be required to detect a clinically significant difference in healing rates.” their paper stated “a study size of 24 dogs was deemed impractical given concerns of animal resources for this pilot study.”
A spokesperson for the university defended their actions, invoking not only the need to research methods of restoring eyesight, but making an appeal to patriotism.
“Without animal research, we would not be able to answer some of the most important medical questions,” Mary Jo Banken, a spokeswoman for the university stated in an emailed statement. “Researchers at the University of Missouri are working to develop painless or non-invasive treatments for corneal injuries to the eyes of people and dogs, including search and rescue dogs and other service animals.”
“Since dogs share similar eye characteristics with people, they are ideal candidates for corneal studies, and veterinarians have provided vital information to physicians and veterinarians treating corneal injuries – which ultimately benefit other dogs, animals and humans, including many of our U.S. veterans who have sustained corneal injuries while defending our country,” she continued.
According to the spokesperson, “The animals were treated humanely and every effort was made to ensure dogs were as comfortable as possible during the tests to study the effectiveness of the new drug treatment.”
Kolde, from the Beagle Freedom Project, said he has been keeping an eye on the research done on the dogs at the university and had previously sought records relating to the care of beagles, which the school is required by law to maintain.
According to Kolde, the university said it would make them available to him for over $82,000 — the Riverfront Times also reported — or approximately $7 a page.
on: Today at 06:39 AM
|Started by Rad - Last post by Rad|
See Young Lion Yank Tranquilizer Dart out of Lioness
Was this heroic behavior or merely cat curiosity? A big cat expert explains.
Photograph by Tony Karumba, AFP, Getty Images
By Aaron Sidder
A series of photos published Monday show a male lion pulling a tranquilizer dart from his companion’s shoulder at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. The lion was darted by a team of park rangers working for the Kenya Wildlife Service, who were reportedly subduing the animal to check her health and fit her with a radio tracking collar for further study. During the process, they treated her for a wounded paw.
The photos reveal an uncommon behavior for the lions, so we asked Luke Dollar, a biologist and the program director for the National Geographic Society’s Big Cats Initiative, to help us make sense of it. He took a break from working with lions in Zambia to spend a few minutes talking with us about the photographs.
Have you ever seen big cats behave this way?
If anybody has watched a young cat play with a toy, they have seen a cat behave that way. When a dart hits a lion, they will usually vocalize their discomfort and move; it is like getting stung by a wasp. When that happens, the other lions nearby will investigate, particularly if they are young and curious like the male in the photographs. A tranquilizer dart with a bright flight—the fanned end that helps stabilize the dart—will be especially enticing to a lion, like a bouncy cat toy.
Lions hit by darts often behave as if they were stung by a wasp, says big cat scientist Luke Dollar.
So the photos only show a curious cat, nothing more?
We see a lot of lion cartoons and tend to project human behaviors and thought processes on them; we anthropomorphize them. The more simple explanation is that the female was “stung” by the dart and jumped, which got the male’s attention. He went over to explore and grabbed the dart with his mouth. Anyone with a house cat knows that curiosity. It was not altruistic in the sense of, “my companion is injured, I must rescue her!”
There is a strong social bond in the pride, but this is probably more curiosity than anything, particularly if they have been darted before and are habituated to the practice.
Is this behavior common for all big cats?
Most cats in this situation would explore, including your house cat. But lions are more social than other big cats; in fact, they are the only social big cats that live in groups.
Lions form prides, which usually consist of five or six females, their cubs, and one or two males. Most other big cats—leopards, jaguars, and tigers, for example—are solitary. The lions’ great success is their social structure.
Wildlife vets inspect the lioness for injuries and disease as they set up a radio collar for monitoring.
Can you describe the basic care for an animal with a wound like this?
Without having been there, I can’t speculate on this specific instance, but I just helped dart a lion less than 48 hours ago in Zambia, so I have experience with this type of treatment.
It depends on what drug(s) are used, but usually a lion is sedated within 10 to 20 minutes of being darted. The dart has a small barb to keep it from falling out, which is evident in the photos as the male tugs on the dart. It’s not a gruesome hook; it sticks in the skin and bounces there, and we remove it when it is sedated. The sedatives are usually a cocktail with a fast intake and a longer lasting drug that will last no longer than an hour, maybe an hour and a half. It is similar to the anesthesia used when spaying or neutering a pet.
When the animal is out, the team will usually clean the wound and administer a medicated spray. For the wound shown in the photos, they would not likely bandage it or put a lampshade collar on it. If they have a vet, they may administer antibiotics, which is not an uncommon practice.
The lioness recovers from the effects of the tranquilizer, fitted with her new tracking collar.
Photograph by Tony Karumba, AFP, Getty Images
This interview has been edited.
on: Today at 06:32 AM
|Started by Rad - Last post by Rad|
AP Fails, Weiner Sexts, And Something Wicked This Way Comes. What Will Donald Say?!?
By Ramona Grigg
Trump again. I know. I'm obsessed with who he is, how he got here, where he's going, and who's going down with him. Day by day, in every way, it's as if the planet has tilted and those of us still upright are experiencing an existential vertigo. (In other words, "What the hell is happening??")
In a matter of a precious few months Donald Trump vanquished more than a dozen barely worthy but infinitely better opponents and now he's as astonished as anyone that it's looking less like a political coup and more like a damned junta!
He's the general in charge of an army of rapscallions and scalawags just itching to start the looting and pillaging. But forget all that! He, Donald J. Trump of Donald J. Trump fame, gets to be the general!
It's the power of positive thinking gone ballistic. It worked! The man is at the top of his game--a bigger con game than even he, Donald J. Trump, could imagine, and he'll do anything to stay up there. It's not about them. It's not about us. It's about him, him, a thousand times him.
So let's talk about how he got here. (This won't take long.) He got here because the American press and the TV pundits put the last remnant of journalistic ethics in mothballs in order to whoop it up with a goofy blowhard who could be counted on to give them stories that practically wrote themselves.
When Donald Trump won his party's presidential nomination and promised to go after Hillary Clinton with a vengeance the world has never seen, nobody-- not even the alert, ever-ready (cough cough) press corps--thought he actually meant "with a vengeance the world had never seen."
When he took to calling her "crooked Hillary" everyone on his side got a huge laugh out of it, while our side--the Hillary side--did a kind of "ho-hum, that's all you got?"
It was the press that wouldn't let it go, the press playing the willing foil to Trump's childish attacks on them, the press settling in and going along, no matter how low the road would take them.
Now Trump's attacks have moved from the silly "crooked Hillary", from the astonishing "Hillary Clinton is a bigot", to the outright bald-faced lie, "the Clinton Foundation is a scam".
Just last week, Trump, struggling to follow along with the hated teleprompter, said, about the Clinton Foundation, "access and favors were sold for cash." That's a lie.
In the same on-the-cuff speech he said, "Clinton used her private email to cover corruption". That's a lie.
Everyone, including the press, knows by now that any words surrounding "I", "I'm", "she", "they", and "the people" will form as if by magic into outrageous, slanderous lies. Trump lies. Of course he lies. But the crowds! The polls! The ratings!
Not so with Hillary Clinton. They grab onto every word, waiting for the moment when what they're hearing can be pulled out and molded into something you might expect from the murky Hillary character they've so carefully crafted over a quarter of a century.
Nobody could be happier than Donald that he gets away with it while Hillary doesn't. So it's not surprising that Trump would latch onto a recent Associated Press story about the numbers of Clinton Foundation donors who were able to have an audience with Hillary Clinton while she was Secretary of State and claim he knew it was crooked all along.
The article began like this:
WASHINGTON (AP) -- More than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money - either personally or through companies or groups - to the Clinton Foundation. It's an extraordinary proportion indicating her possible ethics challenges if elected president. (My bold)
The perception, the article explains, is that Hillary Clinton has been selling access to the State Department, the price being a substantial donation to the family foundation. The AP has been on this for a long time, it said, working to bring out the truth about how the Clintons might have profited by using both the State Department and the Clinton Foundation for their own personal gain.
There is nothing in the article to suggest the two reporters working on the story found the answer. Nothing that would raise new questions about the Clinton's ethics or bring to light the need for such a lengthy investigation. (The Clinton Foundation is a 501(C)(3) not-for-profit foundation. Their records are public.) But Donald Trump, ever the opportunist, weighed in on it as if the evidence against the Clintons was obvious. From that same AP article:
Trump fiercely criticized the links between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department, saying his general election opponent had delivered "lie after lie after lie."
"Hillary Clinton is totally unfit to hold public office," Trump said at a rally Tuesday night in Austin, Texas. "It is impossible to figure out where the Clinton Foundation ends and the State Department begins. It is now abundantly clear that the Clintons set up a business to profit from public office."
Well, no, this story does not prove Hillary Clinton is unfit to hold public office, and it's not abundantly clear that the Clinton Foundation was set up for anyone's profit. What's unclear (with abundance) is the reasoning behind the AP's decision to publish an article devoid of any actual research, based solely on what it might look like.
Nancy LaTourneau writes in the Washington Monthly:
But here is where the AP blew their story. In an attempt to provide an example of how this becomes an “optics” problem for Hillary Clinton, they focused much of the article on the fact that she met several times with Muhammad Yunus, a Clinton Foundation donor. In case you don’t recognize that name, he is an economist from Bangladesh who pioneered the concepts of microcredit and microfinance as a way to fight poverty, and founded Grameen Bank. For those efforts, Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010.
The connection the AP tries to make is that SoS Clinton met with Yunus because he was a Clinton Foundation donor. What they didn’t mention is that their relationship goes back over 30 years to the time Hillary (as first lady of Arkansas) heard about his work and brought him to her state to explore the possibility of implementing microfinance programs to assist the poor.
(Note: I'm taking bets on how many times the anti-Hillary opportunists will use that original AP story against her. Add it to the long list of dubious ammunition. File it under "I got nothin. Hey! What's this. ..?")
But where is the mea culpa from the press? When will they admit they had a hand in building up Trump's popularity and an equal hand in creating Clinton's unpopularity? The press reports and the people listen. We depend on them to give us facts to help us make decisions. Politics can be entertaining but there's a reason it's not categorized as "entertainment".
(I leave you with this breaking news: Hillary Clinton's top aide, Huma Abedin has just announced she is separating from her husband, Anthony Weiner, presumably over another sexting incident. At MSNBC, Andrea Mitchell is asking Ann Coulter what she thinks Donald Trump will make of this, while. at CNN, a four-person panel is waiting for the commercial break so they can discuss what Donald Trump will have to say about this. Seriously. Or not.)
The hidden depravity of the Trump campaign that no one is talking about
Todd Gitlin, Moyers & Company
30 Aug 2016 at 12:09 ET
Is this presidential race anything more than a chronicle of depravity? Is it about anything more than race hatred, emails, the deportation of millions, Benghazi, the alt-right, the founding of ISIS, the building of walls and the finances of Ukraine, the insults directed at a former prisoner of war and the parents of a soldier killed in another war, the encouragement of mob rule and the donors to the Clinton Foundation?
The reporting and excavation have to be done. The consequences of this election will be immense, and often enough a scandalous blurt is revealing. The Trump campaign qualifies as an emergency, and journalists who don’t know it and say it and explore its dimensions are cheating the public.
Yet one of the depravities that follows from Donald Trump’s efforts to convince America to take him seriously is that those depravities demand so much attention. A huge price is being paid for all the space and time devoted to the necessary exposés.
That price is nothing less than skilled reporting to help voters evaluate the candidates’ proposals. This may sound old-fashioned, but elections determine the direction of government, and government affects people’s lives. If the candidates’ proposals are not laid out and rationally questioned, not only does ignorance flourish, but the candidates are unable to build mandates to implement what they propose when the moment comes to take office.
Currently, the outrages, almost all from Camp Trump, come so thick and fast that journalists pile on, distracted by their excitement, justifiable as it often enough is. (I am not immune to the temptation.) Who wants to cut back reporting on the latest trampling of truth and decency, the latest insulting travesty of political speech, to issue forth from the loud mouth of the Golden Boy of Fifth Avenue? Who wants to bother much with what the next president proposes to do once she or he crosses the White House threshold unless the issue has exploded to firestorm proportions?
Not that this pattern of campaign by distraction is entirely new. Two obvious truths about the American campaign norm bear restating: (1) Determined candidates run smoke rings of evasion around the issues of the time. (2) Political journalists allow, or encourage them to do so. These practices have hardened into a tradition. Routinely, the dominant theme at virtually every moment has been who’s ahead, who’s behind, who’s gaining, how tactics are and are not changing. Handicapping the horse race has been the dominant pursuit of political journalists as long as I’ve been paying attention to elections. I’ve been writing about the dreary results in various publications every four years since 1980.
That was the year, you may recall, when candidate Ronald Reagan said, “Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do.” I was hardly alone that year in noting Reagan’s artful dodging and the way journalists routinely gave him a pass. For Reagan had a long record of expressing himself on political issues, but his past record might as well have been sealed away in a vault. For years he had been writing weekly columns and giving radio talks on all manner of issues. Yet throughout 1980, not a single mainstream reporter thought them worthy of journalistic notice. Very few reported on how Reagan’s handlers handled his press “appearances.” I remember vividly a marvelous, exceptional piece by Maureen Orth, in theVillage Voice, revealing that reporters, frustrated at Reagan’s elusiveness, went to a tarmac somewhere, propped up a painting of Reagan and interviewed it for laughs. (Unfortunately I can’t locate her piece online to let readers laugh for themselves.)
It was left to the excellent Ronnie Dugger, four years after Reagan’s first victory, to pore through and report (in a book and in The Nation) on Reagan’s radio transcripts from 1975, 1978 and 1979, when he was broadcasting for five minutes a day, five days a week and also writing a column syndicated in 100 newspapers. Despite the relative brevity of his political life, there was plenty of material lying around to help a voter assess his outlook.
I remember ranting to a 60 Minutes producer about the above in 1980. “I know,” he said wearily. “We talk about it all the time. But we can’t figure out how to do things differently.”
So what’s developed differently over the past 36 years, aside from the sleazy and consequential advertising campaigns featuring Willie Horton and “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” and the meteoric rise (and belatedly apologetic fall) of Lee Atwater? A fact-checking industry, for one thing — a good development. Statements and ads regularly go under the microscope, sometimes in real time — even, at times, on CNN’s chyron. Granted, fact-checking is a laborious business, even with Google’s help. Fact-checking must be one of America’s growth industries, and long may it be in the business of hiring, whatever the burden.
It’s not the fact-checkers’ fault that this year so many grotesque distortions have been uttered, the liars’ share of them by Mr. Trump, that fact-checking has encroached upon the space that otherwise have been taken up with color commentary.
But back to those neglected issues. Let’s pause for a moment on questions of workers’ rights. The eclipse of unions in an age of union-busting — and the rigging of union elections to favor management — are not just injustices but causes of wage stagnation and the collapse of the middle class.
But overwhelmingly the economic issues that have attracted attention in the campaign over recent months are trade deals and tax brackets. Both are important, but neither is exhaustive. In the meantime, Hillary Clinton has endorsed a number of significant economic positions virtually unnoticed. For the present, I’ll mention only three:
She proposes to offer tax credits for businesses that hireapprentices. She endorses job training. Questions: How new are her proposals? How many hires does she anticipate? What do employment experts assess the effects of such programs? Candidates have been endorsing job training to the eyes-glazing-over point for decades. Why haven’t they been more effective? What will she do differently?
On jobs, she proposes “bold investments in infrastructure,manufacturing, research and technology, clean energy andsmall businesses” to “create millions of good-paying jobs.” Question: How would workers displaced by the shutdown of manufacturing benefit? How would they find out about the new jobs?
On unions, she proposes to “restore collective bargaining rights for unions and defend against partisan attacks on workers’ rights.” Question: Will any reporter ask why Canadian workers, as much affected by globalization as Americans, are unionized at a rate roughly triple the US rate? (Hint: It has to do with the difference between Canadian and American laws and regulations.)
These questions are only for starters. They’re not hard to come up with. One might, in a normal race, pray that an investigation of views, and the reasons the candidates hold them, might hold a candle to the horse race in sheer volume of coverage. Even then people holding old-fashioned ideas about the role of public discussion in a democracy would likely end up disappointed. Still and all, some journalists would come to feel proud that they did their duty to help the people make more informed choices.
In coming weeks, I hope to address such other questions as the candidates’ views on nuclear weapons; on crash programs to reduce carbon dioxide and methane emissions in electricity, industry, transportation and building; on anti-discrimination enforcement and the crisis in policing; on the Supreme Court—to name only a handful.
It would surely help elicit some answers to such questions if Clinton would hold press conferences. But then we would have to see if reporters would show one-tenth as much interest in her economic proposals as in the server she installed in Chappaqua.
Trump Dumps Plan To Build The Wall As Entire Republican Presidential Campaign Crumbles
By Jason Easley on Mon, Aug 29th, 2016 at 12:37 pm
It turns out that Donald Trump lied about building a wall and making Mexico pay for it, as Trump is instead focusing on reviving a failed Bush policy to construct a “virtual wall” along the US Southern border.
Ari Melber of MSNBC tweeted:
Trump may be shifting towards building more of a "virtual wall" on the border, reports @halliejackson
— Ari Melber MSNBC (@AriMelber) August 29, 2016
Trump’s campaign was based on three promises to his supporters. Trump promised to ban all Muslims, deport 11 million immigrants, and build a wall along the US Southern border. Donald Trump is in the process of breaking all three of those promises.
The first Trump television ad promised that he would build a wall along the border that Mexico will pay for:
To the surprise of no one outside of those who voted for Trump in the Republican primary, the border wall was a lie. In fact, Republican members of Congress have been suggesting since Trump announced his plan to “build the wall” that they didn’t support it, and would not pass the appropriations needed to construct a wall.
Donald Trump keeps promising his supporters that he will build the wall, but he continues to leave out the details. It turns out that Trump isn’t going to build a real wall that his supporters can see with their own eyes. Instead, it sounds like Donald Trump is leaning towards changing his plan back to the failed Secure Border Initiative Network that was attempted under George W. Bush.
Republicans trusted Trump to build them a wall, but instead, they are getting another failed policy from George W. Bush.
Republicans Move To Cripple Trump’s Campaign To Make Sure That Hillary Clinton Wins
By Jason Easley on Mon, Aug 29th, 2016 at 2:19 pm
Anti-Trump Republicans are meeting to explore options to throw their resources behind a third party candidate to cripple Trump’s campaign in states like Arizona and Utah so that Hillary Clinton wins the White House.
Robert Costa of The Washington Post reported:
For Trump, McMullin does not represent a rival nationally but is a possible threat in states such as Utah, where Trump is unpopular and McMullin could pull away votes that would traditionally go for the Republican, especially if Romney allies got behind his bid.
And even if, as is likely, McMullin does not win a state, a strong showing in Utah, Arizona and other states with sizable Mormon populations could prevent Trump from racking up votes in the Electoral College.
Costa added in a tweet:
The realistic goal, per several ppl, wouldn't be McMullin winning a state but to steal votes from Trump and cripple his bid in AZ, UT, etc.
— Robert Costa (@costareports) August 29, 2016
A big money vote-getting operation behind Evan McMullin in a few targeted states would take away any chance that Trump has of winning in November. The Romney Republicans are out to take their party back, and prevent an extremist like Donald Trump from ever seizing power again.
It isn’t that the Romney Republicans want Hillary Clinton to be president. These individuals view Donald Trump as a danger to the country who must be stopped at all costs.
The Republicans leading this effort would rather take their chances running against Hillary Clinton in 2020 than turn the country over to Donald Trump.
Anti-Trump Republicans were never going to be able to stop the nominee with a nationwide campaign. A targeted effort in red states where Trump is weak and a third-party Republican is already on the ballot makes perfect sense.
Mitt Romney could be a major factor if he jumps into the campaign down the stretch. If Romney openly campaigns in support of McMullin, it will peel off enough Republicans to guarantee that Hillary Clinton will win the White House.
Trump’s Education Lies Inform His Public School Privatization Scam
By Rmuse on Mon, Aug 29th, 2016 at 10:50 pm
"We spend far more per pupil than any other country in the world. If you look at education. Out of thirty countries. We’re 30th. We’re last.”
*The following is an opinion column by R Muse*
By now only a comatose individual is unaware of Donald Trump’s typically Republican trait of pathological lying, and that he is prone to lying about any and everything to promote himself as America’s Aryan messiah. So it is little surprise that in the same manner he lied to convince ignorant people to invest in their education with his scam Trump University, he has lied to convince ignorant voters that electing him as president is an investment in their children’s education; in under-performing private charter schools.
It is unclear exactly where Trump stands on educating America’s youth, or anything else for that matter, but based on his lies and parroting corporate privatization and anti-public school teacher talking points, his only plan is eviscerating public schools to enrich the corporate charter school industry – a failed industry not unlike his failed scam university.
To date, Trump’s so-called education plan is founded on: “Education has to be at a local level. Common Core is a total disaster. We spend far more per pupil than any other country in the world. By far. And if you look at education. Out of thirty countries. We’re last. We’re like 30th. We’re last. So we’re last in education.”
Trump’s typically Republican and American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) plan is eliminating the Department of Education and transferring public education control to the local level. President Obama and Congress already accomplished handing local control to states and localities. And the idea of abolishing Common Core as one of his first achievements to save children and cut education spending is something he or any other president could never do. Part of President Obama and Congress’ “local control” agenda was allowing states and localities to adopt or reject Common Core standards at their discretion.
As a side note, Common Core standards were devised primarily by Republican governors long before Barack Obama was President. But since Donald Trump is as ignorant on education as he is foreign policy, race relations, religion and economics, he just made up lies to promote the corporate charter privatization scam.
However, since Trump felt the need to demean America’s public schools, it is worth going over a few statistics it took exactly 21 seconds to find on the Internet.
Of all of Trump’s lies on education, like all of his lies about America’s alleged “loser” status, the idea that America is dead “last in education” compared to third world or any other nations is beyond mendacious. In fact, in white neighborhoods that are adequately funded, American public school students with union teachers easily surpass their international counterparts in subjects across the board. But Trump obviously couldn’t cite that fact or his promotion of privatizing the education system would appear like the gift to corporations it is meant to be; it certainly isn’t about giving parents “choice” in educating their offspring.
Even assuming Trump was talking about the nation’s students as a whole, American students’ outcomes and international rankings based on several different nations’ results still expose everything Trump said as blatant lies. But when Republicans attempt to frighten parents into abandoning public education for a failed privatized charter system, something an overwhelming majority of Americans do not want, they have to lie because the truth destroys their agenda in a heartbeat.
For three examples of just where American students rank among their worldly peers it is best to first look at the results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings. In that test, American students ranked right in the middle, not dead last.
Likewise, in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) standardized examinations, American kids ranked 7th out of 42 countries; a damn sight farther away from, and nowhere near, dead last as Trump stated.
Yet another standardized international exam, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, out of 53 education systems from around the globe, America’s public school students ended up ranking sixth; nowhere near “dead last” as Trump claimed.
No matter how one frames American student’s achievement or with what measure, compared with the rest of the planet’s education systems, American public school students rank at least above average; and that statistic has remained solid going back decades and long before the Republican push to privatize the education system to enrich failed corporate charter schools.
Now, Trump’s claim that America spends more than any other nation on education is as big a lie as his assertion that American students are ‘dead last’ in the world. America’s goal is educating every student to give them a chance to go to University, something completely unique and different from that of most other countries. This country’s educational funding system is also unique in that local property taxes play a significant role in funding that leads to vast inequities from one school district to another; often in the same city. And since it is well-documented for decades that poverty rates correlate to student’s test scores, with America’s world-leading child poverty rate, it is a miracle students aren’t dead last based on the lack of adequate education funding that several countries exceed.
For example, America’s spending on education, even including education funding being stolen by Republicans to fund private religious and corporate charter schools, still lags far behind Switzerland, Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden according to a 2014 study by conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). And, as mentioned above, when America’s schools are funded appropriately, America’s public schools are among the highest achieving in the world; the complete opposite of dead last as Trump says.
Donald Trump is as inept on the subject of public schools and education policy as he is a pathological liar. Of course he cannot possibly state the real condition of America’s public education system because it would deny him the ability to lie about why replacing America’s free public education with corporate charter and private religious schools would “make America great again.” As many pundits and Democrats have already noted, America is already great and it is no stretch to say part and parcel of the greatness lies in its ability to educate all Americans if Republicans don’t decimate the system, something Trump pledges to do to enrich the corporate charter school industry.
on: Today at 06:21 AM
|Started by Rad - Last post by Rad|
Clashing over conservation: saving Congo’s forest and its Pygmies
In the DRC, the indigenous Mbuti people rejected a nature reserve that banned them from their ancestral lands. Now, working with conservationists, they are exploring ways to protect the Itombwe forest together
by Marine Gauthier and Riccardo Pravettoni in the Itombwe nature reserve
Tuesday 30 August 2016 13.09 BST
Reaching the Itombwe forest and the people who live in it isn’t easy. A muddy path from Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), traverses this mountainous terrain, crossing areas controlled by a multitude of armed militias. Access is difficult for everybody: the NGOs working in the area, and the merchants and miners hoping to benefit from the coltan, gold and wood found here. In the heart of the world’s second-largest forest basin (pdf), an incomparable wealth of biodiversity has been preserved: rare trees, tropical birds and the last gorillas on the planet.
But the mountain range is changing rapidly. International demand for the DRC’s natural resources, in addition to the country’s gradual economic and rapid population growth – and consequent appetite for exploitable land – are taking their toll on the forest. Following the war in neighbouring Rwanda in the 1990s, and successive rebellions against the Congolese government, the forest of the Congo basin now hosts rebel groups that hide in the mountains and live off the illegal exploitation and trafficking of natural resources.
“The state is itself a threat to our forests: it makes a complete mess of things by handing out timber licences. It gives them to anyone willing to pay, and we see these people come and cut down our trees with impunity. They cut down our medicinal trees and, with them, the bark and fruits used for our medical treatments. They cut down our caterpillar trees, our oil trees,” says Irangi, who is a member of the Mbuti Pygmies in his 30s. He lives on the edge of the Itombwe reserve.
He has watched as trees have been chopped down for charcoal to be sent to Bukavu and Rwanda. “These people come with their weapons and take everything: the trees, the animals,” says Irangi. “They even kill species whose hunting we forbid, like the pangolin and the gorilla. Because they have weapons, they believe that they’re above our laws.
“We also know that our subsoil is rich. One company has already come to dig for gold. If we don’t protect our forest, more aggressors will come and invade our lands. This is why we have to conserve it.”
In 2006, the government created the Itombwe nature reserve, supported by WWF and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The reserve delineated an area of 15,000 square metres within which all human activity was forbidden.
But this area doesn’t simply contain flora and fauna. It is also home to the Mbuti indigenous people, who have lived and depended on this ecosystem for millennia.
“When we learned that the reserve was created we were angry,” recalls Marie, a woman from Kitale village in the mountains. “If you found out that the place where you gather and hunt your food, where you find your medicines, where the resting place of your ancestors is located, was to be taken … would you be happy? We were afraid that they would steal all of this from us. So we met and decided: we’re not going to let this happen.”
In the 1980s, in the neighbouring national park of Kahuzi-Biega, nearly 6,000 Pygmies were expelled from their villages, condemned to re-establish themselves outside the forest without government support. Today, these groups live in extremely precarious conditions along the major thoroughfares. Deprived of their traditional food sources, lands and identities, they work as manual labourers.
Irangi and his community know this story all too well – it took place only 200km from Itombwe. “We don’t know what will become of us, but we know it’s not a good thing for our forest to belong to the state,” he says.
In many areas of the country, the imperative to protect natural habitats has led to tension with local communities, whose traditional hunting practices are seen as conflicting with conservation. “It’s an old approach to conservation that pushes people out of protected areas in order to conserve nature,” says Lars Løvold, director of Rainforest Foundation Norway, an NGO that defends the rights of indigenous people. “This comes to us from the classic American vision of wild and pristine nature, while in reality, what one thinks to be a virgin forest has in fact been inhabited and delicately manipulated by man for millennia.”
Irangi, who is the local schoolteacher, is not afraid to speak to strangers or officials. “I was born and grew up in this forest,” he says. “I married and had children in this forest. I left for a few years to study in the city, but returned … This land belongs to us because our entire lives are here: we find our food here, our pharmacy, everything we need. We, the Bambuti [plural of Mbuti], can’t live outside of the forest; our nature is to live here.”
Though not protected as indigenous by the state – which would mean recognising their traditional rights over the land – there are at least 600,000 Mbuti Pygmies in the DRC (pdf), according to government estimates, including about 60,000 in the Itombwe forest. They live a semi-nomadic life.
“In this forest we find the wood to build our homes, the fruits and the takus [caterpillars] we eat … We gather plants, we hunt, we fish – it’s our life,” says Marie.
Physically and spiritually connected to the forest, the Mbuti Pygmies have a traditional knowledge of their land, and have their own methods of conservation, which they call their “traditional technologies”.
“We know how to protect our forest because nobody knows it the way we do. We know where the animals give birth, where they sleep and during which periods one must never kill them,” says Mapenzi, a young hunter. Like the other Pygmies, he underwent his initiation, or lutende (in Mbuti), during months of isolation in the forest. The exact location and content of this ritual remains secret.
“I know all of the traditional methods and was trained by the guardians of our customs,” says Mapenzi. “I know the sites and the periods for hunting and fishing. During the dry season, we don’t hunt, because the animals give birth. And there are authorised animals, like the mokumbi [the Gambian pouched rat], and those which must not be killed, like the gorilla.
“We have our own traditional conservation technologies. The animals that the modern law wants to conserve are already under our customary protection. These are the laws our ancestors established. We will continue to use our technologies to manage our forest with the knowledge of our ancestors.”
The rules are numerous, and those who break them are subject to severe punishment. “The malambo are the sacred sites where the animals give birth,” says Irangi. “There, we don’t have the right to hunt. Just as we don’t set traps near the river where the animals go to drink. If you don’t obey, the guardians of custom will place the muzombo on you. It’s a punishment by death.” Whether a spiritual death sentence or more probably an excommunication, the members of the community believe in the punishment and respect the rules.
If you don't obey [the rules], the guardians of custom will place the muzombo on you – punishment by death
Irangi, Mbuti Pygmy
Supported by local organisations from Bukavu, the Mbutis demanded the rejection of the reserve and blocked the entrance to the forest. The protests caught the attention of international indigenous rights organisations, and the reserve project was halted (pdf), forcing the government and conservation organisations to start negotiating with the Bambuti in 2008.
Bitomwa Onesiphore Lukangyu, who was working for WWF at that time and is now director of the reserve, says: “At first, we couldn’t even talk, we were enemies.”
He adds: “It’s difficult to believe that we can sit around the same table together today. But we took an important step by realising that we share the same goal: to protect the Itombwe forest. So we’ve started to work together. To create the reserve together.”
Collaboration between local communities and conservationists might seem like a natural alliance, but this is a first in central Africa. However, feelings about the collaboration vary. For example, is recruiting rangers from among local communities a sufficient step to integrate them into the management of the project? “No,” says Løvold. “The majority of conservation organisations have adopted the rhetoric of working with local communities, but in practice their approach remains very instrumentalising, which indicates that they engage members of the community for certain tasks but don’t work deeply with them. It’s not enough to give indigenous peoples a little job; one must truly implicate them in every step of the management of the ecosystem.”
In June, the Bambuti’s efforts paid off when the government officially recognised new boundaries of the reserve, which were decided in consultation with local communities.
Protecting the newly defined area requires sizeable investment, and the government depends entirely on international aid for the project’s success. “The state itself cannot deliver sufficient support. WWF pays for everything here: my salary, this office, my house,” says Lukangyu.
The economic and social situation of local communities remains difficult. The Pygmies certainly want to conserve their lands and traditions, but they also want access to modern services such as health and education.
“Pygmies are going through profound change,” says Jean de Dieu Wasso, coordinator of Africapacity, a Bukavu-based organisation. “They have suffered forced displacements and violence within a general framework of discrimination as minorities … The community must be free to make its choices and to evolve. The important thing is to respect the international principle of self-determination, guaranteed by the declaration of the UN on the rights of indigenous peoples [pdf].” Wasso lives in the city now, but he has indigenous roots and has devoted the past 10 years of his life to supporting the Itombwe, maintaining the links between his people, the government and international partners.
Local communities are supported by the Norwegian government through Africapacity, while WWF and WCS, the two most active conservation organisations in the reserve, mobilise funds for the project from the Netherlands and the US. The Central African Forest Initiative, a coalition of central African and European countries, and Brazil, has pledged $300m (£231m) to protect forests in the Congo basin. There is a risk this new initiative will protect the forests at the expense of indigenous people. Yet there is hope that it will be guided by the Itombwe experience and approach conservation in a way that empowers indigenous people.
Wasso hopes to promote the Itombwe forest as a model nationwide. “The experiment should be recognised and replicated,” he says. “All conservation projects should now be based on negotiations with communities concerning their rights and their involvement.”
Lukangyu agrees: “We may have our army, our armed forest guards, but if we don’t cooperate closely with local communities this won’t work in the long term.”
Itombwe offers hope for indigenous people elsewhere in central Africa, placing them at the heart of a conservation project – not just as beneficiaries of international aid, but as authentic actors. “The conservation of this forest will be done with us, or it won’t be done at all,” says Irangi.
The Itombwe mountain counts many peaks in its range, and the accessibility is limited at the only road that connects it with Bukavu. Not many vehicles venture on the bumpy track.
on: Today at 06:13 AM
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Nigerian rapists escape punishment using money, influence – and marriage
More than 100 cases of sexual assault are reported in just one state each month, yet only a handful of suspects are ever prosecuted
Philip Obaji in Abuja
Tuesday 30 August 2016 10.47 BST
When 14-year-old Amina got married last year, the occasion was solemn. Rather than the flamboyance that often characterises Nigerian nuptials this was a subdued affair, attended only by a few family members and close friends.
The bride and groom knew each other, but they had not been in a relationship. Rather Amina, not her real name, was marrying one of three men who had gang-raped her in her village when she was 13 years old.
Usaini Ja’afar and his accomplices had confessed to the crime under interrogation by the Hisbah board, a religious police force responsible for the enforcement of Sharia law in the northern Nigerian state of Kano. He pleaded for forgiveness and offered to marry Amina so as to escape punishment.
Amina’s father agreed and the men were allowed to walk free.
“I decided to temper justice with mercy,” said Amina’s father, explaining his decision not to press charges against the men who assaulted his daughter. “I allowed him to marry the girl because our consultations with our Malams [Islamic clerics] showed that there is nothing wrong about that.”
Salahuddeen Armayau, who heads the Hisbah board, said the wedding had taken place last year, adding that the board had approved of the union because “the boy said he was willing to clear his mess, and even the victim’s father gave his blessing”.
The marriage, which has been condemned by human rights activists, is just one example of how rapists are escaping justice in northern Nigeria’s commercial capital. In a state where more than 100 cases of rape are reported each month, only a handful suspects are ever prosecuted.
Authorities say the majority of rape allegations are settled before they ever reach court. Sometimes the accused get off by asking respected members of the community to testify on their behalf; sometimes they offer the family money in return for dropping the charges; sometimes they marry their victims.
Even if charges are pressed, it can be hard to prosecute rape offences.
“Some of the victims are shy of speaking publicly about their ordeal in the hands of their rapists for fear of being stigmatised,” said Agafi Kunduli, a prominent Nigerian human rights activist.
“The police cannot prosecute without witnesses and this is one major reason why many rapists walk free.”
Police officers have even been accused of demanding bribes from women before arresting rape suspects.
“Some victims do not trust the police,” said an officer in Abuja who once worked in Kano. “We cannot blame them because even policemen are also involved in this,” he said, referring to the fact that a number of Kano police officers have themselves been accused of rape.
In 2014, a police officer and four others were arrested for allegedly gang-raping a 17-year- old at gunpoint. Last year, another officer was alleged to have raped a seven-year-old girl at police quarters in Kano. Neither officer has yet been prosecuted.
Even in the case of rape and murder, offenders often avoid jail sentences. Murder victims include a 22-year-old pregnant woman who died after being gang-raped in her home early this year, and a newlywed woman who was killed by at least one rapist in Sha’iskawa village, north of Kano state. No one has yet been prosecuted in either case.
Until last year, the maximum sentence for rape in Kano was two years, with the option of paying a fine instead. After an outcry, the government introduced a minimum sentence of 14 years life sentence in late 2015.
There is no crime of rape under Sharia law, which runs parallel to the criminal justice system in Kano, but having sex outside of marriage carries a sentence of death by stoning if the defendant is married or 100 lashes if they are not. In practice, however, the sentence is seldom enforced.
Women’s rights activists have called on authorities to do more to protect women and girls from sexual violence, and to ensure that rapists face justice. They say marriage should not be used as a way to escape justice.
“We just have to keep encouraging victims to speak,” said Kunduli. “No rapist should be allowed to go scot-free, even when he decides to marry the victim.”
Human rights lawyer, Eno Edet, said that the legal requirements to proving sexual assault needed rethinking, as they did not take into account the particular sensitivities involved in reporting rape.
“Law makers should sit down, speak to victims, and put themselves in their shoes,” said Edet, who has worked with a number of women who have been sexually assaulted. “The police should take their work seriously because rape changes lives.”
on: Today at 06:11 AM
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Female tourists should not wear skirts in India, says tourism minister
Foreign arrivals issued with welcome kit including safety advice for women, after high-profile assaults
The Taj Mahal
Michael Safi in Delhi
Monday 29 August 2016 12.29 BST
India’s tourism minister has said foreign women should not wear skirts or walk alone at night in the country’s small towns and cities “for their own safety”.
Discussing tourist security in the north Indian city of Agra, site of the Taj Mahal, Mahesh Sharma said foreign arrivals to India were issued a welcome kit that included safety advice for women.
“In that kit they are given dos and don’ts,” he said on Sunday. “These are very small things like, they should not venture out alone at night in small places, or wear skirts, and they should click the photo of the vehicle number plate whenever they travel and send it to friends.”
He added: “For their own safety, women foreign tourists should not wear short dresses and skirts ... Indian culture is different from the western.”
The welcome kit, geared at female travellers and introduced last year, is one of a suite of measures introduced to address declining rates of female tourism after the high-profile gang-rape and murder of a Delhi medical student in 2012, and a number of subsequent attacks on female tourists.
The kit says: “Some parts of India, particularly the smaller towns and villages, still have traditional styles of dressing. Do find out about local customs and traditions or concerned authorities before visiting such places.”
It mirrors the UK Foreign Office advice to women travelling in India, which suggests they “respect local dress codes and customs and avoid isolated areas, including beaches, when alone at any time of day”.
Sharma clarified his remarks later on Sunday, denying they amounted to a dress code for foreign women. ”We have not given any specific instructions regarding what they should wear or not wear. We are asking them to take precaution while going out at night. We are not trying to change anyone’s preference,” he said.
“It was very stupid, not a fully thought-through statement,” said Ranjana Kumari, the director of the Delhi-based Centre for Social Research, a thinktank focusing on gender equality in India. “The minister doesn’t realise the implications of such irresponsible statements.”
Women in burkinis and men in suits
Kumari said the remarks reflected “the syndrome of blaming women” for what they wore and where they were. She said: “But the problem is men and boys in India. They go for all kinds of misogyny and sexual acts, rapes and gang-rapes. It’s important for [Sharma] to have said how to punish the perpetrators of crime and stop the nonsense of ogling women and following them. Why should any girls come to India when it is becoming famous for not being safe to girls?”
India toughened sentences for rape and introduced fast-track courts for sexual assault trials after the fatal 2012 gang-rape focused world attention on violence against women in the country.
National crime statistics show 92 women are raped each day in India, mostly in rural areas, though the figure is widely believed to be an underestimate. Street harassment and violence, sometimes called “eve-teasing”, is even more common, experienced by 79% of Indian women according to a recent survey.
Tourists can be subjected to the same harassment and worse, most recently in July 2016 when an Israeli national was sexually assaulted by a gang of men in the Himalayan resort town of Manali. A Japanese woman was kidnapped and sexually assaulted in 2014 in Bihar and a Russian assaulted by an auto-rickshaw driver in Delhi in 2015, among other cases.
Sharma’s remarks trended on Indian social media on Monday and earned rebukes from political rivals.
— Shekhar Gupta (@ShekharGupta)
August 29, 2016
France shd send all burkinis it confiscates to our Tourism Minister who'll turn India into a Hindu Saudi Barbaria https://t.co/o5XudSXzh3
— Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal)
August 29, 2016
Women had greater freedom to wear clothes of their choice in Vedic times than they have in Modi times
— Kapil Mishra (@KapilMishraAAP)
August 29, 2016
I will be writing a letter to Mahesh Sharma ji today requesting him not to insult nation by such advisories. https://t.co/JnoteVLeqD
Sharma has previously been criticised over his views on nights out for women. “It may be alright elsewhere, but it is not part of Indian culture,” he said last year.
India to install panic buttons on public buses to curb sex attacks
Emergency measures in response to fatal gang rape of Delhi medical student in 2012 will be compulsory from June
Wednesday 8/30/ 2016 16.51 BST
Panic buttons are to be made mandatory on India’s public buses “to ensure the safety of women”, the transport minister has said, more than three years after the fatal gang rape of a student on a bus in Delhi.
The government said a series of measures designed to curb sexual violence against women would become law on 2 June.
“To ensure the safety of women after the unfortunate incident, we have decided to make it mandatory for public transport buses to install emergency panic buttons, CCTV cameras and GPS-enabled vehicle tracking devices,” Nitin Gadkari told reporters in New Delhi.
The “unfortunate incident” to which Gadkari was referring was the brutal attack on a woman in December 2012 as she returned home from the cinema. The assault triggered outrage and mass protests across India, leading to an overhaul of its rape laws, but high numbers of assaults persist.
The state of Rajasthan is pioneering trials of the new measures on 20 of its vehicles. Panic buttons are placed above the front doors which, when pressed, send an emergency message to a police control room that can then view live footage of the bus interior.
Gadkari said all public buses would have to be remodelled the same way, while manufacturers must ensure new buses come equipped with the facilities.
The government’s latest measure to prevent sex attacks follows its announcement last month that all mobile phones sold in India would have to have a panic button from the start of 2017. The button would allow users to call emergency services by pressing a single key on their phone.
Girls learn app coding to navigate a way out of their Mumbai slum
With apps to reduce queues for water and to protect women in danger, a project teaching computer skills to girls in India’s Dharavi slum is changing aspirations
Vidhi Doshi in Mumbai
Tuesday 30 August 2016 07.00 BST
Ansuja Madival’s mother, who works as a maid, had never touched a tablet before, so the 15-year-old had to show her which buttons to press. “She was so happy when she saw what I had made,” Ansuja says. “She never knew I was so good at computers.”
No one thought schoolgirls from Mumbai’s Dharavi slum could code mobile apps. The girls didn’t even know what an app was until recently.
But for the past few months, 67 girls have been taking coding lessons at the weekends with a local non-profit, the Slum Innovation Project.
“We learned it so quickly,” says Roshani Shaikh, 14. “Because we’re girls, our parents didn’t want us to do all this in the beginning. They’d say, ‘You need to help with the housework, what will you do with computers?’ Now they say we’ve made them proud, that we’ve made the whole community proud.”
Sapna Helagi, 15, adds: “When I first came here, I couldn’t even use the mouse. I would type only two or three words in one minute. Now, see how fast I am typing.”
Dharavi is home to more than 1 million people, 5,000 businesses and 20,000 small factories. About 90% of the housing in the slum is illegal, and piles of rubbish sit next to open sewers. The slum has come to symbolise the vast inequalities of wealth in India, as well as the aspirations and ambitions of the country’s working classes.
The Dharavi girls saw computers for the first time five years ago. “We had one at school but we could only look, no touching,” says Zaberi Ansari, 15. “I did extra computer classes but it cost 600 rupees [£6] a year and all we learned was [Microsoft drawing programme] Paint. It was Paint for two years, then PowerPoint for two years and you learn nothing because you share the computer, so it’s only 15 minutes a week per person.”
Nawneet Ranjan, from the Slum Innovation Project, which runs educational and sports programmes for the slum’s children, said that at first parents were reluctant to send their girls to lessons. “You know how it is in India – the girl never gets to go to these kinds of classes. If there’s any [opportunity], it goes to the boy. Even if there’s an extra glass of milk, the boy gets to drink it, not the girl.
“The kids here don’t have much. Their parents are taxi drivers, or watch repairmen, or construction workers,” he says. “They don’t learn to dream beyond that.”
Ranjan brought laptops to the slum and started teaching computer classes two years ago, starting with programmes such as Word and Excel, and moving on to more complicated tools. “The girls know intuitively how to use smartphones and tablets. They pick it up easily. I try to teach them using stories so they can remember, and we make apps that help their communities, address problems they have in their daily lives, so they are really passionate about making them.”
Ranjan had the idea to teach code this year, when he noticed that most of the girls had access to smartphones. “I realised that if they had the skills to design apps, maybe they could solve a lot of the problems in their communities,” he says. “Girls using technology used to be almost taboo. They don’t get the same opportunities as boys, and so we thought we’d do a class especially for them.”
In Dharavi, most households have at least one smartphone, even though few homes have basic facilities such as toilets.
Prime minister Narendra Modi’s government has launched huge programmes to promote computer literacy and online connectivity as part of his Digital India campaign, but has focused on rural areas rather than the urban poor.
One of the apps developed by the girls is Women Fight Back, which has a distress alarm and geolocation tool for women who find themselves in danger. Another, Clean and Green, allows the user to take a geotagged photo of rubbish and send the picture to the local municipal authority. A third, Paani, sends an alert when it is your turn to collect water from the communal tap. “We girls spend all day queueing for water,” says Ansuja. “It means we have less time for our studies.”
Roshani and Sapna’s app, Padai, has basic English, Hindi and maths exercises for people who have never had an education. “When our parents came here, we showed them this app. They never finished school, they don’t know that two plus three equals five. So I showed them this app, and made them do the exercises. They were so happy,” says Roshani.
Learning to code and working with computers has taught the girls other skills too. “Our first lesson was using Word, and we had to type an essay with the title Myself. I had never used full stops, commas or anything like that before. I just used to write the words. Now I can use punctuation, and make sentences,” says Zaberi.
“We go home and teach our parents and brothers and sisters what we learn,” adds Roshani. “We taught them how to do their signature; they could never do it before.”
But despite the girls’ efforts, poor Wi-Fi signals and expensive mobile data means few people in the slum are likely to download and use their apps. Plus, smartphones in the slum usually belong to men, and women have limited access to them.
Still, the girls hope their skills will help them when they look for careers. “It’s already helping,” says Ansuja. “At school, my teacher saw me using the computer and she was impressed at how good I was. She asked me where I learned how to use it. I hope I can work with computers one day, and I hope I can use them to help my friends and family.”
on: Today at 06:05 AM
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Nasa: Earth is warming at a pace 'unprecedented in 1,000 years'
Records of temperature that go back far further than 1800s suggest warming of recent decades is out of step with any period over the past millennium
Tuesday 30 August 2016 11.00 BST
The planet is warming at a pace not experienced within the past 1,000 years, at least, making it “very unlikely” that the world will stay within a crucial temperature limit agreed by nations just last year, according to Nasa’s top climate scientist.
This year has already seen scorching heat around the world, with the average global temperature peaking at 1.38C above levels experienced in the 19th century, perilously close to the 1.5C limit agreed in the landmark Paris climate accord. July was the warmest month since modern record keeping began in 1880, with each month since October 2015 setting a new high mark for heat.
But Nasa said that records of temperature that go back far further, taken via analysis of ice cores and sediments, suggest that the warming of recent decades is out of step with any period over the past millennium.
“In the last 30 years we’ve really moved into exceptional territory,” Gavin Schmidt, director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said. “It’s unprecedented in 1,000 years. There’s no period that has the trend seen in the 20th century in terms of the inclination (of temperatures).”
“Maintaining temperatures below the 1.5C guardrail requires significant and very rapid cuts in carbon dioxide emissions or co-ordinated geo-engineering. That is very unlikely. We are not even yet making emissions cuts commensurate with keeping warming below 2C.”
Schmidt repeated his previous prediction that there is a 99% chance that 2016 will be the warmest year on record, with around 20% of the heat attributed to a strong El Niño climatic event. Last year is currently the warmest year on record, itself beating a landmark set in 2014.
“It’s the long-term trend we have to worry about though and there’s no evidence it’s going away and lots of reasons to think it’s here to stay,” Schmidt said. “There’s no pause or hiatus in temperature increase. People who think this is over are viewing the world through rose-tinted spectacles. This is a chronic problem for society for the next 100 years.”
Schmidt is the highest-profile scientist to effectively write-off the 1.5C target, which was adopted at December’s UN summit after heavy lobbying from island nations that risk being inundated by rising seas if temperatures exceed this level. Recent research found that just five more years of carbon dioxide emissions at current levels will virtually wipe out any chance of restraining temperatures to a 1.5C increase and avoid runaway climate change.
Temperature reconstructions by Nasa, using work from its sister agency the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, found that the global temperature typically rose by between 4-7C over a period of 5,000 years as the world moved out of ice ages. The temperature rise clocked up over the past century is around 10 times faster than this previous rate of warming.
The increasing pace of warming means that the world will heat up at a rate “at least” 20 times faster than the historical average over the coming 100 years, according to Nasa. The comparison of recent temperatures to the paleoclimate isn’t exact, as it matches modern record-keeping to proxies taken from ancient layers of glacier ice, ocean sediments and rock.
Scientists are able to gauge greenhouse gas levels stretching back more than 800,000 years but the certainty around the composition of previous climates is stronger within the past 1,000 years. While it’s still difficult to compare a single year to another prior to the 19th century, a Nasa reconstruction shows that the pace of temperature increase over recent decades outstrips anything that has occurred since the year 500.
Lingering carbon dioxide already emitted from power generation, transport and agriculture is already likely to raise sea levels by around three feet by the end of the century, and potentially by 70 feet in the centuries to come. Increasing temperatures will shrink the polar ice caps, make large areas of the Middle East and North Africa unbearable to live in and accelerate what’s known as Earth’s “six mass extinction” of animal species.