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« Reply #1710 on: Aug 03, 2015, 05:01 AM »

World’s first malaria vaccine approved by EMA

by Susanna Pilny
Red Orbit
August 2 2015

The world’s first malaria vaccine has gotten a thumbs up from the European Medicine Agency for use outside the European Union, paving the way for a WHO policy recommendation by November.

The vaccine, known as Mosquirix or RTS,S, has been developed over the course of 30 years by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It aims to stop malaria in the first stages of infection.

“The vaccine is designed to prevent the parasite [Plasmodium falciparum] from infecting the liver where it can mature, multiply, and re-enter the bloodstream, where it infects red blood cells and can lead to disease symptoms,” wrote MVI, a partner in the trials, in a press release.

The European Medicine Agency (EMA), a decentralized agency of the EU, gave its “positive scientific opinion” after seeing the results of 11 clinical trials across seven countries: Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania. There were 15,459 participants in the stage III trials, all children less than two years of age at enrollment.

Acceptable vaccine with moderate results

The EMA found the safety profile of the vaccine to be “acceptable”, and the results were moderate: The vaccine was effective at preventing a first or only clinical malaria episode in 56% of children (5-17 months old at the start) and in 31% of infants (6-12 weeks old at the start). After a year, the efficacy of the vaccine decreased.

“Based on the results of the trial the CHMP concluded that despite its limited efficacy, the benefits of Mosquirix outweigh the risks in both age groups studied. The CHMP considered that the benefits of vaccination may be particularly important among children in high-transmission areas in which mortality is very high,” wrote the EMA in a press release.

Even a modestly effective drug can have enormous ramifications, because malaria kills around 584,000 people annually worldwide—82% of that number being children under five years old in Africa. When paired with other protective measures, like bed nets, many more children may be saved from the disease. Further, the vaccine also protects against hepatitis B.

However, before treatment can become available, there must be a policy recommendation by the WHO. Once that is (theoretically) achieved, there are several more steps to take, actions by individual countries regarding licensure, and implementation and locating financing options.

GSK is not looking to make a profit from this medication, announcing, “GSK has committed to a not-for-profit price for RTS,S so that, if approved, the price of RTS,S would cover the cost of manufacturing the vaccine together with a small return of around five percent that will be reinvested in research and development for second-generation malaria vaccines, or vaccines against other neglected tropical diseases.”

According to Reuters, sources say the cost would be about $5 per dose, or $20 for the full-recommended vaccination—roughly the equivalent cost of four insecticide-treated bed nets.

The results of the stage III trial were published in The Lancet.


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« Reply #1711 on: Aug 03, 2015, 05:29 AM »

Remote, abandoned and hidden in plain sight

Upper Eskdale, Lake District This is England’s answer to a Himalayan sanctuary, a stark citadel of rock and earth that collects the holy waters of the Scafells, Esk Pike, Bowfell and Crinkle Crags

Carey Davies
Monday 3 August 2015 05.30 BST
Guardian

Built from rough-cut, closely packed igneus rock, the disintegrating dry stone wall looks like a pile of crude cannonballs glistening darkly in the rain. It has lost a lot of height, but its half-life is long; perhaps a hundred years old or more, it still looks robust enough to outlive me.

For an area of about 10 square miles in the heart of the Lake District, these unattended, mostly abandoned walls are virtually the only human structures. We opt to camp on a snug bank between one of these and the river Esk, stern solidity on one side and the boundless energy of a wild river on the other. Usually I fall asleep to the susurration of traffic beyond the window; this time it is the symphonic, hypnotic sound of cold water cascading over rocks. Strange how we have reframed simple things as rare luxuries.

Upper Eskdale is England’s answer to a Himalayan sanctuary, a stark citadel of rock and earth that collects the holy waters of the Scafells, Esk Pike, Bowfell and Crinkle Crags. Yet by some wonderful sleight of hand, it remains a remote redoubt, hidden in plain sight, the antithesis of the chocolate-box bustle between Bowness and Grasmere.

As this is the Lake District, the absence of humanity is not exchanged for an abundance of vegetation and wildlife – the sheep see to that. There are pipits and ravens, tiny glimmers of tormentil, dwarf juniper clinging to the crags, but in part thanks to the arguments of rewilders I have become increasingly conscious of the potential for more.

Even so, spending time in these hills is rarely less than revelatory. I wake to the sound of a tent spasming in a fit of rain-lashed wind. Unzipping the door reveals a low ceiling of incontinent cloud, and I feel briefly indignant at the absence of summer.

As if in reply, a pulse of sun breaks through from somewhere and begins travelling over the valley, a light-creature rippling over the screes and moraine, lighting up the vast face of Esk Buttress, before retreating to somewhere out of reach. My friend and I are the only human witnesses.


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« Reply #1712 on: Aug 03, 2015, 06:16 AM »

White House insists tough new carbon restrictions are legal under Clean Air Act

EPA chief: 2007 supreme court ruling allows ambitious greenhouse gas target
Bush and Rubio lead Republican opposition to ‘overreaching’ new plan

Dan Roberts in Washington
Monday 3 August 2015 09.29 BST
Guardian

The White House insisted on Sunday it was on strong legal footing as it unveiled details of ambitious carbon reduction plans that are likely to be fiercely opposed by coal-burning Republican states.

Obama to hit US power plants with tougher than expected emissions cuts...Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/aug/02/obama-to-hit-us-power-plants-with-tougher-than-expected-emissions-cuts

Gina McCarthy, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told reporters the Obama administration’s goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from US power plants by 32% between 2005 and 2030 kept squarely “within the four corners” of the Clean Air Act.

The US supreme court determined in 2007 that this anti-pollution legislation, which was originally aimed at mercury and sulphur emissions, could be used to tackle greenhouse gases too.

But the Obama administration’s decision to tackle climate change by introducing new rules through amending pollution regulation rather than an attempt to pass so-called “cap and trade” legislation or implement a carbon tax has been attacked by several states, who plan a series of legal challenges.

Similar administration attempts to circumvent opposition in Congress with executive actions on immigration reform have become bogged down in the courts. The 2007 supreme court ruling on the Clean Air Act, however, gives environmentalists hopes that carbon reduction efforts may prove more resilient.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday ahead of a formal announcement of the new carbon rule by Barack Obama on Monday, White House adviser Brian Deese said the new EPA rules represented the “biggest step that any single president has made to curb the carbon pollution that is fuelling climate change”.

A White House statement said: “Taken together these measures put the United States on track to achieve the president’s near-term target to reduce emissions in the range of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, and lay a strong foundation to deliver against our long-term target to reduce emissions 26 to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025.”

Crucially, the US hopes that leading by example will put it in a stronger position to negotiate international reductions at the Paris climate conference in December and build on bilateral talks with China and Brazil.

Later this month, Obama will make trips to Nevada and the Alaskan arctic – the latter the first by a sitting president – to talk up renewable energy investments and the threat from climate change ahead of a US visit by Pope Francis in September. The pope has also backed the moral imperative of carbon-reduction strategies.

Details of the US rules, which began emerging over the weekend but were announced formally on Sunday afternoon, confirm slightly higher targets for carbon reduction than were envisaged in draft proposals last year, at a cost of $8.4bn.

McCarthy said the higher target was mainly because renewable energy investment and efficiency gains among electricity customers were improving faster than expected.

She stressed that the EPA had listened to industry concerns in its decision to allow an extra two years to phase in the new rules and to lower the target for mandatory carbon capture equipment in coal plants.

The administration argues that its approach leaves it up to individual states to determine if overall carbon emissions can be best reduced on the demand side, through making existing plants more efficient or by swapping coal generation for renewable sources, nuclear and gas.

“They can cut carbon pollution in whatever way makes sense for them,” said McCarthy.

Nonetheless, the administration stuck to its uncompromising position on the overall necessity of the rule change.

Barack Obama sets sizzling climate action pace in push to leave legacy..Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jun/25/barack-obama-climate-change-legacy

“Over the next few days we will hear the same tired old plays from the old special interests playbook,” said McCarthy, who argued “climate change is personal”.

Republican candidates to replace Obama in the White House were quick to express their opposition to the move.

“President Obama’s carbon rule is irresponsible and overreaching,” said the former Florida governor Jeb Bush, in a statement. “The rule runs over state governments, will throw countless people out of work, and increases everyone’s energy prices.”

The Florida senator Marco Rubio followed a similar line.

“A lot of what these people are advocating for would hurt our economy badly,” he said. “If you’re a single mom in Tampa, Florida and your electric bill goes up by $30 a month, that is catastrophic.”


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« Reply #1713 on: Aug 03, 2015, 06:19 AM »

‘Everyone associates the dumps with death’: the Kyrgyz town built on nuclear waste

Residents of Mailuu-Suu, one of the most polluted places on the planet, complain that officials are doing little to protect them from health hazards. EurasiaNet reports

David Trilling in Mailuu-Suu for EurasiaNet, part of the New East network
Monday 3 August 2015 07.00 BST
August 2 2015

On the ground floor of Mailuu-Suu’s central hospital, pharmacist Ainagul Parpibaeva says she’s had enough.

“We’re full of illness. Many people have cancer, leukaemia. I think this is because of the uranium, but the government never tells us anything,” she says. People continuously come to her complaining of the same symptoms over and over, “like children who are nauseous and vomit”, she explains.

Almost everyone in this mining town in southern Kyrgyzstan can recount tales of recent deaths amongst family and friends, often related to cancer. But despite being consistently rated one of the world’s most polluted places thanks to nearby Soviet-era radioactive waste dumps, cleanup measures have been limited.

The town was once closed to outsiders, with workers getting handsome salaries to perform dangerous work. They produced 10,000 metric tonnes of radioactive uranium between 1946 and 1967, providing much of the fuel for the Soviet Union’s first nuclear weapons and atomic energy plants.

But they also buried millions of tonnes of waste from the milling of the radioactive metal along the river that runs through it. At the time, the wellbeing of workers was not a priority and little thought was given to future health hazards.

However, since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, locals say there has been little monitoring or maintenance of the dumps: “Production targets usually took precedent over environmental, health and safety standards,” the International Atomic Energy Agency wrote in a 2010 report, which warned that Mailuu-Suu was in urgent need of a cleanup.

The anti-pollution thinktank Blacksmith Institute still reports high cancer rates and poor immune systems among adolescents.

Confusion

The town is one of seven sites across Kyrgyzstan with radioactive waste dumps containing tailings – a byproduct from milling uranium ore. Overall, government figures indicate the country is home to 92 hazardous dumps containing 475m tonnes of waste, with a quarter of these near Mailuu-Suu.

Radiation and hazardous radon gas – produced as uranium decays – are big concerns for inhabitants and health agencies, as are the carcinogenic heavy metals that have seeped into the water supply.

“Some of the protective dams [surrounding the waste] built by the Soviets are in very bad condition,” says Damir Kushbakov, the top official for tailings at Kyrgyzstan’s ministry of emergency situations.

    Though officials say they teach children to stay away from the toxic sites, few seem aware of the invisible threat

His modest budget funds only the most urgent repairs to dams that are slipping into the river, and he says his office spends much of its money refilling holes where locals have scavenged for metal.

Standing on an unmarked tailings dump (the fence surrounding it was looted long ago), Kanybek Kydyrov, who also works at the ministry of emergency situations, says uranium is leaking into the river a few feet away. Behind him, a shepherd leads his goats across the radioactive pile. A few kilometres downstream, boys fish with nets.

Though officials insist they organise education campaigns and teach children to stay away from the toxic sites, few locals seem aware of the invisible threat. “Even in the hospital they don’t give you information or tell you not to go there [to the dumps] or about related health problems,” says Chinara Sarieva, a 35-year-old cradling a baby at her home in the town.

A girl of 12 is surprised when asked if her teachers have ever warned of the tailings: “No, why?”

Local health workers are often uneasy discussing the risks. Though there are significant links between cadmium, a heavy metal present in Mailuu-Suu’s water, and increased risk of uterine cancer, one doctor claimed the high frequency of cases in Mailuu-Suu is because local women have “too little sex”.

The deputy director of the city’s main hospital, Okumzhan Maksutaliev, confirms he has seen a rise in cancers in recent years, but insists there is nothing special about Mailuu-Suu. “There are increasing cases of cancer all over the world,” he claims.

In December 2013 the United Nations general assembly called on the international community to assist Central Asian states with a region-wide clean up of toxic sites, but local officials complain progress is slow.

Conspiracy theories circulated amongst the local population are catalysed by a lack of information, combined with pervasive concerns about corruption among a population accustomed to receiving little support from the state. “People say that the authorities get extra payments for the dangers [we’re exposed to] and that we should get this too, but we don’t, so they probably just put it in their pockets,” says Parpibaeva, the pharmacist.

    After the tailings were opened to move them, many people died
    Jumakan Bekbaeva

Ira Sarieva, 58, who sells women’s clothing to support her pension, echoed such suspicions, voicing a belief that officials have taken foreign assistance money earmarked for the cleanup.

Despite widespread distrust, both officials and donors consider one pilot project a success. Between 2010 and 2012, a World Bank-led venture moved one of the most precarious of Mailuu-Suu’s 23 tailings dumps to safer ground and reburied it, at a cost of $8.4m (£5.3m). Moving the remaining highest-risk tailings in town would cost a further $50m, the ministry of emergency situations estimates.

Some locals are opposed to the moves, motivated, in part, by lack of information. Jumakan Bekbaeva, a 63-year-old widow who cares for most of her nine grandchildren, says her granddaughter became sick with thrombocytopenia – a shortage of blood platelets – shortly after the World Bank project ended.

“It was because of the uranium, because they uncovered the tailings,” says Bekbaeva. “Everyone here associates any death with the mining. After the tailings were opened [to move them], many people died. People believe this, but our doctors won’t admit it.”


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« Reply #1714 on: Today at 05:02 AM »

August 3, 2015

Earliest evidence of reproduction in living organisms discovered

by Brett Smith
Red Orbit

Rangeomorphs are a strange taxon of plant-like aquatic organisms that lived more than 560 million years ago and new research suggests these organisms used two different modes of reproduction – sending out settlers to a new area and colonizing the surrounding area.

According to a report set to be published in the journal Nature, researchers used a spatial analysis to determine the distribution of populations of a kind of rangeomorph known as Fractofusus. The scientists witnessed larger “grandparent” rangeomorphs being arbitrarily distributed, and were encompassed by distinct patterns of smaller “parents” and “children”.

These patterns clearly resemble the biological clustering seen in modern plants, and suggest a dual mode of reproduction: the “grandparents” originating from ejected waterborne propagules, while the “parents” and “children” come from “runners” dispatched by the older generation. Strawberry plants are a great example of another organism that reproduces in this manner.

Thought to be some of the first animals

Alive during the late Ediacaran period, between 580 and 541 million years ago, rangeomorphs are thought to be some of the first animals. Resembling trees or ferns, the organisms did not appear to have mouths or organs. They also appear to have been immobile and likely absorbed nutrients from the water around them.

"Rangeomorphs don't look like anything else in the fossil record, which is why they're such a mystery," said Emily Mitchell, a postdoctoral earth sciences researcher in the University of Cambridge. "But we've developed a whole new way of looking at them, which has helped us understand them a lot better - most interestingly, how they reproduced."

In the study, researchers used high-resolution GPS, spatial statistics and computer modeling to examine fossils of Fractofusus, a type of rangeomorph. The study team found “generational” clustering patterns that resembled the type of clustering seen in modern plants. One aspect of the spatial pattern suggested rapid, asexual reproduction via stolons or runners. A more random aspect of larger “grandparent” specimens indicated spread via waterborne propagules, which could have been part of a sexual or asexual reproductive process.

"Reproduction in this way made rangeomorphs highly successful, since they could both colonize new areas and rapidly spread once they got there," Mitchell said. "The capacity of these organisms to switch between two distinct modes of reproduction shows just how sophisticated their underlying biology was, which is remarkable at a point in time when most other forms of life were incredibly simple."


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« Reply #1715 on: Today at 05:53 AM »

Obama unveils sweeping cuts to power plant emissions: 'We have to get going'

‘We are the last generation that can do something’ about climate change says president in announcing requirement of 32% reduction on 2005 levels by 2030

President Obama delivers remarks outlining his clean power plan in the East Room of the White House on Monday: Click to watch: <iframe src="https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/environment/video/2015/aug/03/obama-clean-power-climate-change-plan-video" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Dan Roberts in Washington
Monday 3 August 2015 21.05 BST
Guardian

Six years after first promising to “roll back the spectre of a warming planet”, Barack Obama finally committed the US to unprecedented action against climate change on Monday, with sweeping new curbs on carbon emissions from power plants that are equivalent to taking 70% of American cars off the road.

The culmination of his long-fought battle against coal industry lobbyists and climate change sceptics in Congress was greeted with jubilation by many environmentalists who described the tougher-than-expected regulations as a “game-changer”.

Describing it as “the single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against climate change”, Obama warned it was almost too late: pointing out that 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have already fallen in the first 15 years of this century.

Obama's clean power plan hailed as US's strongest ever climate action..Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/aug/03/obamas-clean-power-plan-hailed-as-strongest-ever-climate-action-by-a-us-president

“Climate change is no longer about protecting the world for our children and grandchildren, it is about the reality that we are living with right now,” said Obama in a speech announcing the plan. “We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.”

But, recalling his own experience amid the smog of 1970s Los Angeles, Obama also insisted that tackling climate change was an achievable goal – comparing it to past environmental achievements in improving air quality, and measures to tackle acid rain and polluted rivers.

“I don’t want my grandkids not to be able to swim in Hawaii or climb a mountain and see a glacier because we didn’t do something about it,” he added in an unusually personal speech on a subject that has previously proven toxic for his political strategists.

White House officials hope the timing of their binding pollution regulations – the first ever US limit on carbon pollution from power plants – will help persuade other big carbon-emitting countries to sign up to international targets at a major climate change conference in Paris this December.

“I don’t want to fool you, this is going to be hard. No single action, no single country will change the warming of the planet,” added Obama. “But today, with America leading the way, countries representing 70% of carbon emissions have announced plans to tackle emissions … We can solve this thing, but we have to get going.”

Under the Clean Power Plan, published in its final form by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday, states will now be required to work with electricity producers to reduce overall carbon emissions by 32% below 2005 levels by 2030.

The target is slightly higher than the 30% cut envisaged under draft proposals last year, but states have been given an extra two years before implementation becomes mandatory and are left to decide what mix of renewable energy, gas generation or efficiency savings is the best way to achieve the target.

The 1,000 fossil fuel-fired power plants in US are by far the largest source of CO2 emissions in the country, making up 32% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Experts predict the EPA standards will force US coal production back to levels last seen in the 1970s.

Investment in renewable alternatives, such as wind, hydro and solar power, together with mandatory new carbon-capture equipment are expected to cost the electricity industry $8.4bn, although the EPA claims this will be dwarfed by $34-$54bn in wider environmental benefits.

Some campaigners stressed the carbon reduction targets, which are already partially achieved by many states, are only a start toward what is necessary to curb climate change.

“While historic, when measured against increasingly dire scientific warnings it is clear the rule is not enough to address our climate crisis,” said the Friends of the Earth president, Erich Pica. “This rule is merely a down payment on the US’s historic climate responsibility.”

Others heralded the rule as a turning point. “It’s a simple idea that will change the world: cut carbon pollution today so our kids won’t inherit climate chaos tomorrow,” said the Natural Resources Defense Council president, Rhea Suh.

Vera Pardee of the Center for Biological Diversity added: “While the plan should have been stronger and implemented reductions more quickly, it lays a solid legal foundation for further efforts to avoid global warming’s most dangerous consequences.”

Many international companies have also supported the plan. EBay, Nestlé and General Mills were among 365 businesses to sign a letter in support of the proposals and encouraging states not to delay implementation.

Nonetheless the plan is expected to run into a wall of opposition from Republican-controlled states, many of whom fear it will decimate jobs in the coal industry and drive up electricity prices for consumers.

The depth of feeling among many on the right is particularly visible in the party’s presidential primary, where few major candidates acknowledge the need for emissions controls to tackle climate change.

Jeb Bush, seen as the leading establishment contender for the Republican nomination, slammed the rule as “irresponsible and overreaching” in a statement.

“The rule runs over state governments, will throw countless people out of work, and increases everyone’s energy prices,” he said.

“Climate change will not be solved by grabbing power from states or slowly hollowing out our economy. The real challenge is how do we grow and prosper in order to foster more game-changing innovations and give us the resources we need to solve problems like this one.”

Texas senator Ted Cruz added: “The president’s lawless and radical attempt to destabilise the nation’s energy system is flatly unconstitutional and – unless it is invalidated by Congress, struck down by the courts, or rescinded by the next administration – will cause Americans’ electricity costs to skyrocket at a time when we can least afford it.”

The president first pledged to tackle climate change in his 2009 inauguration address, a commitment he reiterated four years later, but despite more modest achievements on fuel efficiency standards and renewable energy investment, a comprehensive legislation was blocked in the Senate.

Instead, his administration has sought to use pollution control legislation to circumvent political opposition with executive actions that are underpinned by supportive supreme court rulings.

On Monday, Obama said it was not a moment too soon. “This is one of those rare issues, because of its magnitude and scope, that if we don’t get it right, we may not be able to reverse. There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change,” said the president.


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« Reply #1716 on: Today at 05:56 AM »

G20 countries pay over $1,000 per citizen in fossil fuel subsidies, says IMF

World’s leading economies still paying trillions in subsidies despite pledges to phase them out, new figures show

Damian Carrington
Tuesday 4 August 2015 06.00 BST
Guardian

Subsidies for fossil fuels amount to $1,000 (£640) a year for every citizen living in the G20 group of the world’s leading economies, despite the group’s pledge in 2009 to phase out support for coal, oil and gas.

New figures from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) show that the US, which hosted the G20 summit in 2009, gives $700bn a year in fossil fuel subsidies, equivalent to $2,180 for every American. President Barack Obama backed the phase out but has since overseen a steep rise in federal fossil fuel subsidies.

Australia hosted the most recent G20 summit, where prime minister Tony Abbott was forced to reaffirm the commitment to the phase out, but it still gives $1,260 per head in fossil fuel subsidies.

The UK, which is cutting renewable energy subsidies, permits $41bn a year in fossil fuel subsidies, which is $635 per person. In contrast, Mexico, India and Indonesia, where per capita subsidies average $250, have begun cutting fossil fuel support.

The vast fossil fuel subsidies estimated by the IMF for 2015 include payments, tax breaks and cut-price fuel. But the largest part is the costs left unpaid by polluters and picked up by governments, including the heavy impacts of local air pollution and the floods, droughts and storms being driven by climate change.

    The [new] figures reveal the true extent to which individual countries are subsidising pollution from fossil fuels
    Lord Nicholas Stern

The IMF, which published a global estimate – $5.3tn a year – of fossil fuel subsidies in May, calculates that ending fossil fuel subsidies would slash global carbon emissions by 20%, a huge step towards taming global warming.

Ending the subsidies would also prevent 1.6m premature deaths from outdoor air pollution, a 50% cut. The money freed by ending fossil fuel subsidies could be an economic “game-changer” for many countries, says the IMF, by driving economic growth and poverty reduction.

“The new figures reveal the true extent to which individual countries are subsidising pollution from fossil fuels,” said Lord Nicholas Stern, an eminent economist at the London School of Economics. “The failure to reflect the real costs of fossil fuels in prices and policies means that the lives and livelihoods of billions of people around the world are being threatened by climate change and local air pollution.”

“In particular, these figures reveal that the G20 countries are wasting trillions of dollars each year on subsidies for fossil fuel pollution,” Stern said. “It is time for the G20 to recognise that the extent of subsidies is far greater than has been previously understood, and to honour their commitment.”

Stern criticised the UK government’s recent attacks on renewable energy subsidies: “The government should remember that if it wants to cut the subsidies for low-carbon energy, it should cut the subsidies for fossil fuel pollution that are at the core of the problem for which clean technology is the sensible and attractive solution.”

In July, Stern estimated that tackling climate change would require investment of 2% of global GDP each year. The IMF work indicates that ending fossil fuel subsidies would benefit governments by the equivalent to 3.8% of global GDP a year.

Christiana Figueres, the UN’s climate change chief charged with delivering a deal to beat global warming at a crunch summit in December, said: “The IMF data reveal a simple and stunning truth: that fossil fuel subsidy reform alone would deliver far more funds than is required for the global energy transformation we need to keep the world below a 2C temperature rise [the level governments have promised to hold them to].”

In April, the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, told the Guardian that it was crazy that governments were still driving the use of coal, oil and gas by providing subsidies. He said they should be scrapped immediately as poorer nations were feeling “the boot of climate change on their neck”.

Fossil fuels subsidised by $10m a minute, says IMF...Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/may/18/fossil-fuel-companies-getting-10m-a-minute-in-subsidies-says-imf

The new IMF data show that national fossil fuel subsidies are significant – about the same as defence spending – when compared to national GDP in the US (3.8%), Australia (2.0%) and UK (1.4%). In nations with severe air pollution problems, the subsidies are an even higher as a proportion of GDP, such as China (20%), India (12%) and Ukraine (60%).

The countries with the highest fossil fuel subsidies per person are the middle eastern oil states, with subsidies in Qatar amounting to $6,000 a year and those in Saudi Arabia $3,400. The UAE gives $3,000 a head, but announced on 22 July it was ending its $7bn-a-year petroleum subsidies.

Fossil fuel subsidy reforms are beginning in dozens of countries, including India where subsidies for diesel ended in October 2014.

“You could look at the glass as half empty or half full,” said Ian Parry, the IMF’s lead green taxes expert. “There are some encouraging signs, such as reforms in Mexico, India and Indonesia, and 40 countries now have some form of carbon pricing, albeit typically at a too low level. On the other hand, these schemes cover only 12% of global carbon emissions, so we are an awful long way from where we need to be. We are at base camp.”

Parry defended the inclusion of the costs of air pollution and climate change impacts in the IMF’s subsidy estimates: “We think that energy prices need to cover both the production and environmental costs. This is largely in countries’ own interest, as many of the environmental costs, like air pollution, are local.” Lord Stern said the IMF had actually underestimated the costs of global warming.

Fossil fuel subsidies can benefit some of the poorest in the world, but Parry said: “There are much more efficient ways to address those concerns. Most current benefits, from holding down energy prices, are poorly targeted, with much going to higher income groups.”


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« Reply #1717 on: Today at 06:00 AM »

Stop burning fossil fuels now: there is no CO2 'technofix', scientists warn

Researchers have demonstrated that even if a geoengineering solution to CO2 emissions could be found, it wouldn’t be enough to save the oceans

Tim Radford
Monday 3 August 2015 16.22 BST
Guardian

German researchers have demonstrated once again that the best way to limit climate change is to stop burning fossil fuels now.

In a “thought experiment” they tried another option: the future dramatic removal of huge volumes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This would, they concluded, return the atmosphere to the greenhouse gas concentrations that existed for most of human history – but it wouldn’t save the oceans.

That is, the oceans would stay warmer, and more acidic, for thousands of years, and the consequences for marine life could be catastrophic.

The research, published in Nature Climate Change today delivers yet another demonstration that there is so far no feasible “technofix” that would allow humans to go on mining and drilling for coal, oil and gas (known as the “business as usual” scenario), and then geoengineer a solution when climate change becomes calamitous.

Climate change: world’s wealthiest understand, but only half see it as threat..Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/jul/28/climate-change-worlds-wealthiest-understand-but-only-half-see-it-as-threat

Sabine Mathesius (of the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research) and colleagues decided to model what could be done with an as-yet-unproven technology called carbon dioxide removal. One example would be to grow huge numbers of trees, burn them, trap the carbon dioxide, compress it and bury it somewhere. Nobody knows if this can be done, but Dr Mathesius and her fellow scientists didn’t worry about that.

They calculated that it might plausibly be possible to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at the rate of 90bn tons a year. This is twice what is spilled into the air from factory chimneys and motor exhausts right now.

The scientists hypothesised a world that went on burning fossil fuels at an accelerating rate – and then adopted an as-yet-unproven high technology carbon dioxide removal technique.

“Interestingly, it turns out that after ‘business as usual’ until 2150, even taking such enormous amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere wouldn’t help the deep ocean that much - after the acidified water has been transported by large-scale ocean circulation to great depths, it is out of reach for many centuries, no matter how much CO2 is removed from the atmosphere,” said a co-author, Ken Caldeira, who is normally based at the Carnegie Institution in the US.

The oceans cover 70% of the globe. By 2500, ocean surface temperatures would have increased by 5C and the chemistry of the ocean waters would have shifted towards levels of acidity that would make it difficult for fish and shellfish to flourish. Warmer waters hold less dissolved oxygen. Ocean currents, too, would probably change.

How to join the divestment movement – your questions answered

Anyone with a checking account, savings or a 401(k) will almost certainly have money invested in oil, gas and coal companies. Find out how to divest by reviewing the questions and answers in this live chat with our expert panel

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/live/2015/jun/17/keep-it-in-the-ground-divestment-personal-finance-questions-live-chat

But while change happens in the atmosphere over tens of years, change in the ocean surface takes centuries, and in the deep oceans, millennia. So even if atmospheric temperatures were restored to pre-Industrial Revolution levels, the oceans would continue to experience climatic catastrophe.

“In the deep ocean, the chemical echo of this century’s CO2 pollution will reverberate for thousands of years,” said co-author Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, who directs the Potsdam Institute. “If we do not implement emissions reductions measures in line with the 2C target in time, we will not be able to preserve ocean life as we know it.”

    This story was amended on 4 August to remove incorrect conversions from celsius to fahrenheit in temperature increases.


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« Reply #1718 on: Today at 06:06 AM »

Let's go fly a kite: British team looks to harness wind power from the skies

Former yacht designer’s ambitious project intends to put huge kites flying over the sea in formation to generate clean, affordable electricity

Damian Carrington in Bradwell
Tuesday 4 August 2015 12.00 BST
Guardian

“Oh wow! Look at that, it’s really hoofing some power out now,” beams Bill Hampton, looking up at his outsize kite as it swoops over a wheat field on the Essex coast. The purple prototype is, Hampton hopes, a step towards his vision of scores of huge kites flying over the sea in formation and generating clean, affordable electricity.

The test site for Kite Power Solutions (KPS) is an apt one for technology innovation, with the disused airfield lying in the shadow of one of the UK’s first nuclear power stations at Bradwell, and a few flat fields away from new wind farms whose blades turn slowly in the gentle breeze.

But, huddling behind a second world war pill box to observe the latest test flight, Hampton admits his motivation to found the company was more for the technical challenge than environmental awareness. He spent 18 years working in the exclusive super-yacht industry, creating the bespoke equipment that billionaires dream up for their huge boats.

“You’d sit with the designers and they’d say ‘we want a swimming pool but we want it to turn into a dance floor’,” he says, explaining how he learned to build novel gadgets from scratch. “I then had a real moment – you are making toys to go on someone’s toy. It’s great when you are young, but why are you doing it?” He recalls working night and day with his team to get a yacht ready to cross the Atlantic in time for a party in the Caribbean. “I walked off that site and thought ‘I don’t want to do this again’.”

Now Hampton’s enthusiasm is for the high-tech kites his company is developing and he is being taken seriously: oil giant Shell and the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change have given £3m in funding so far.

The ambition is to harvest the strong, reliable winds found offshore, and away from anti-turbine protesters. But planting tall turbines into the sea is expensive, both in the steel and concrete needed and the specialised boats required to install and maintain them.

Instead, Hampton wants to tether two kites to each mooring to capture the wind. Each kite flies in a figure of eight, drawing out the tether and generating power at the winch. When it has reached its maximum height – likely to be 750m – the kite switches to a hover-like mode, where there is little stress on the tether and it can be winched back in ready for the next run, using just a fraction of the power already generated.

Power is delivered continuously because one kite is generating as the other is winched in. Ultimately, the plan is to have scores of kites flying in formation, all automatically controlled using custom-made software.

Hampton calls the kites “wings”, due to their tilting control surfaces, and at full-scale they will be 40m wide with 2-3MW capacity, about the same as a 100m-tall conventional turbine. So far, KPS have tested prototypes of 7m.

They are testing each part of the development in turn, such as avoiding collisions and automated take-offs and landings. KPP employs 16 people, including experts in aeronautics, neural network software, mechanical engineers, atmospheric physics and sail makers.

Hampton is not concerned about storms: “The kites fly at 100-150mph, so storms are all in a day’s work.” But lightning is a worry, given each kite will have an on-board computer as back-up to ground controls, but he says the kites can be brought down to safety in minutes. If the wind drops away for a short time, a small propeller is being tested to keep the kite coasting aloft.

Mission control at the Bradwell site is a converted mobility bus, now crammed with computer screens, joysticks and doughnuts. Here Hampton explains that KPS are far from alone in attempting to develop kites and wings to lower the cost of wind power.

“If we were the only people doing it, I’d be really worried,” says Hampton. The most interesting from an engineering perspective, says Hampton, is Makani, a project backed by the deep-pocketed Google. It involves a very high-tech wing collecting wind power at altitude using attached rotors, then cabling the power to the ground. “I desperately want them to get there,” Hampton says. “It will help people see this is a viable market.”

Another company, Altaeros Energies, founded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, aims to use a tube-shaped helium balloon to suspend a wind turbine in the air. Ampyx Power is developing a glider and SkySails is focusing on a simple single-kite and winch system. There is even a company, Minesto, developing an underwater kite that flies in tidal currents to generate power, which has just been awarded €13m of EU funding for testing in north Wales.

“Offshore wind is currently too expensive, although costs are coming down through evolutionary change,” says David Sanders, director of innovation at the Carbon Trust. “But wind kites have the potential to be revolutionary and bring a step-change reduction in costs.”

Sanders says backing such technologies carries a big risk, with $50-100m needed to get to commercial scale: “You need to gamble very large amounts of money, but if it works out you could make a huge amount of money. I would love to see these sorts of radical innovations get funding from somewhere, whether that’s governments or large companies. Not all of them will work, but some will and they are really needed.”

On KPS, Sanders says: “They are on track – but they have a long way to go.” The company is looking for $10m in 2016, says KPS business development director David Ainsworth, with the aim of selling their first commercial onshore systems in 2019 and having a demonstration array in the ocean before 2025.

Ainsworth spent a decade with tidal power pioneers Marine Current Turbines, who installed an underwater turbine at Strangford Loch and have now been bought by engineering giant Siemens. He is alongside Hampton watching the test flights at the Bradwell Bay airfield, which has its own history of novel technology. During the second world war, hundreds of the all-wooden Mosquito fighter-bombers flew out of the airfield to fight the Nazis.

On the question of whether the public will warm to the sight of kite-powered wind farms more than some have to turbines, Ainsworth makes an aviation link: “Everyone loves the Red Arrows, so having 200 kites flying in formation would be quite spectacular.”


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« Reply #1719 on: Today at 06:14 AM »

Are plants intelligent? New book says yes

A new book, Brilliant Green, argues that not only are plants intelligent and sentient, but that we should consider their rights, especially in the midst of the Sixth Mass Extinction

Jeremy Hance
Tuesday 4 August 2015 09.43 BST
Guardian

Plants are intelligent. Plants deserve rights. Plants are like the Internet – or more accurately the Internet is like plants. To most of us these statements may sound, at best, insupportable or, at worst, crazy. But a new book, Brilliant Green: the Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence, by plant neurobiologist (yes, plant neurobiologist), Stefano Mancuso and journalist, Alessandro Viola, makes a compelling and fascinating case not only for plant sentience and smarts, but also plant rights.

For centuries Western philosophy and science largely viewed animals as unthinking automatons, simple slaves to instinct. But research in recent decades has shattered that view. We now know that not only are chimpanzees, dolphins and elephants thinking, feeling and personality-driven beings, but many others are as well. Octopi can use tools, whales sing, bees can count, crows demonstrate complex reasoning, paper wasps can recognise faces and fish can differentiate types of music. All these examples have one thing in common: they are animals with brains. But plants don’t have a brain. How can they solve problems, act intelligently or respond to stimuli without a brain?

    Intelligence is the ability to solve problems and plants are amazingly good in solving their problems
    Stefano Mancuso

“Today’s view of intelligence - as the product of brain in the same way that urine is of the kidneys - is a huge oversimplification. A brain without a body produces the same amount of intelligence of the nut that it resembles,” said Mancuso, who as well as co-writing Brilliant Green, is the director of the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology in Florence.

As radical as Mancuso’s ideas may seem, he’s actually in good company. Charles Darwin, who studied plants meticulously for decades, was one of the first scientists to break from the crowd and recognise that plants move and respond to sensation – i.e., are sentient. Moreover, Darwin – who studied plants meticulously for most of his life, observed that the radicle – the root tip – “acts like the brain of one of the lower animals.”

Plant problem solvers

Plants face many of the same problems as animals, though they differ significantly in their approach. Plants have to find energy, reproduce and stave off predators. To do these things, Mancuso argues, plants have developed smarts and sentience.

“Intelligence is the ability to solve problems and plants are amazingly good in solving their problems,” Mancuso noted.

To solve their energy needs, most plants turn to the sun – in some cases literally. Plants are able to grow through shady areas to locate light and many even turn their leaves during the day to capture the best light.

Some plants have taken a different route, however, supplying themselves with energy by preying on animals, including everything from insects to mice to even birds. The Venus flytrap may be the most famous of these, but there are at least 600 species of animal-eating flora. In order to do this, these plants have evolved complex lures and rapid reactions to catch, hold and devour animal prey.

Plants also harness animals in order to reproduce. Many plant use complex trickery or provide snacks and advertisements (colours) to lure in pollinators, communicating either through direct deception or rewards. New research finds that some plants even distinguish between different pollinators and only germinate their pollen for the best.

Finally, plants have evolved an incredible variety of toxic compounds to ward off predators. When attacked by an insect, many plants release a specific chemical compound. But they don’t just throw out compounds, but often release the precious chemical only in the leaf that’s under attack. Plants are both tricky and thrifty.

“Each choice a plant makes is based on this type of calculation: what is the smallest quantity of resources that will serve to solve the problem?” Mancuso and Viola write in their book. In other words, plants don’t just react to threats or opportunities, but must decide how far to react.

The bottom of the plant may be the most sophisticated of all though. Scientists have observed that roots do not flounder randomly but search for the best position to take in water, avoid competition and garner chemicals. In some cases, roots will alter course before they hit an obstacle, showing that plants are capable of “seeing” an obstacle through their many senses.

Stefano Mancuso talks plant intelligence at TED: Click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIfwFLDXFyQ

Humans have five basic senses. But scientists have discovered that plants have at least 20 different senses used to monitor complex conditions in their environment. According to Mancuso, they have senses that roughly correspond to our five, but also have additional ones that can do such things as measure humidity, detect gravity and sense electromagnetic fields.

Plants are also complex communicators. Today, scientists know that plants communicate in a wide variety of ways. The most well known of these is chemical volatiles – why some plants smell so good and others awful – but scientists have also discovered that plants also communicate via electrical signals and even vibrations.

“Plants are wonderful communicators: they share a lot of information with neighbouring plants or with other organisms such as insects or other animals. The scent of a rose, or something less fascinating as the stench of rotting meat produced by some flowers, is a message for pollinators.”

Many plants will even warn others of their species when danger is near. If attacked by an insect, a plant will send a chemical signal to their fellows as if to say, “hey, I’m being eaten – so prepare your defences.” Researchers have even discovered that plants recognize their close kin, reacting differently to plants from the same parent as those from a different parent.

“In the last several decades science has been showing that plants are endowed with feeling, weave complex social relations and can communicate with themselves and with animals,” write Mancuso and Viola, who also argue that plants show behaviours similar to sleeping and playing.

A new book explores the intelligence and sentience of plants: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/radical-conservation/2015/aug/04/plants-intelligent-sentient-book-brilliant-green-internet#img-3

And it turns out Darwin was likely right all along. Mancuso has found rising evidence that the key to plant intelligence is in the radicle or root apex. Mancuso and colleagues recorded the same signals given off from this part of the plant as those from neurons in the animal brain. One root apex may not be able to do much. But instead of having just one root, most plants have millions of individual roots, each with a single radicle.

So, instead of a single powerful brain, Mancuso argues that plants have a million tiny computing structures that work together in a complex network, which he compares to the Internet. The strength of this evolutionary choice is that it allows a plant to survive even after losing 90% or more of its biomass.

“The main driver of evolution in plants was to survive the massive removal of part of the body,” said Mancuso. “Thus, plants are built of a huge number of basic modules that interact as nodes of a network. Without single organs or centralised functions plants may tolerate predation without losing functionality. Internet was born for the same reason and, inevitably, reached the same solution.”

Having a single brain – just like having a single heart or a pair of lungs – would make plants much easier to kill.

“This is why plants have no brain: not because they are not intelligent, but because they would be vulnerable,” Mancuso said.

In this way, he adds, it may be better to think of a single plant as a colony, rather than an individual. Just as the death of one ant doesn’t mean the demise of the colony, so the destruction of one leaf or one root means the plant still carries on.

The wide gulf

So, why has plant sentience – or if you don’t buy that yet, plant behaviour – been ignored for so long?

Mancuso says this is because plants are so drastically different from us. He says it is “impossible” for us to put ourselves in the place of a plant.

“We are too different; the fruit of two diverse evolutive tracks...plants could be aliens for us,” he said. “But all the same we share with plants life, the same needs, we evolved on the same planet. In the end we respond in the same way to the same impulses.”

Plants also largely live on a different timescale than animals, moving and acting so slowly that we hardly notice they are, indeed, reacting to outside stimuli.

Due to our vast differences, Mancuso says, plants fail to attract interest in the same way as, say, a tiger or an elephant.

    We depend on plants, thus plant conservation is necessary for man conservation.
    Stefano Mancuso

“The love for plants is an adult love. It is almost impossible to find a baby interested in plants; they love animals,” he said. “No child thinks that a plant is funny. And for me it was no different: I began to be interested in plants during my doctorate when I realised that they were capable of surprising abilities.”

This has resulted in very few researchers studying plant behaviour or intelligence, unlike queries into animals.

“Today the vast majority of the plant scientists are molecular biologists who know [as much] about the behaviour of plants as much as I know of cricket,” said Mancuso.

Yet, humankind’s disinterest and dispassion about plant behaviour and intelligence may put our very survival at stake.

Totally dependent on plants

While plants are by no means as diverse as the world’s animals (no one beats beetles for diversity), they have truly conquered the world. Today, plants make up more than 99 percent of biomass on the planet. Think about that: this means all the world’s animals – including ants, bluewhales, and us – make up less than one percent.

“We depend on plants, thus plant conservation is necessary for man conservation,” said Mancuso.
Deforestation in the Amazon. Forest destruction worldwide has pushed innumerable species into extinction, many of which we may never know.

Yet, human actions – including deforestation, habitat destruction, pollution, climate change, etc. – have ushered in a mass extinction crisis. While plants in the past have fared better in previous mass extinctions, there is no guarantee they will this time.

“Every day a consistent number of plant species that we never met, disappears,” noted Mancuso who added that mass extinctions “are never happy events and I suspect that, despite their diversity, even plants don’t like to disappear.”

At the same time, we don’t even know for certain how many plant species exist on the planet. Currently, scientists have described around 20,000 species of plant. But there are probably more unknown than known.

“We have no idea about the number of plant species living on the planet. There are different estimates saying we know from 10 to 50% (no more) of the existing plants,” said Mancuso.

Charles Darwin was one of the earliest proponents of plant intelligence.

Many of these could be wiped out without ever being described, especially as unexplored rainforests and cloud forest – the most biodiverse communities on the planet – continue to fall in places like Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Papua New Guinea, among others.

Yet, we depend on plants not only for many of our raw materials and our food, but also for the oxygen we breathe and, increasingly it seems, the rain we require. Plants drive many of the biophysical forces that make the Earth habitable for humans – and all animals.

“Sentient or not sentient, intelligent or not, the life of the planet is green...The life on the Earth is possible just because plants exist,” said Mancuso. “Is not a matter of preserving plants: plants will survive. The conservation implications are for humans: fragile and dependent organisms.”

Still, there are few big conservation groups working directly on plants – most target the bigger, fluffier and more publicly appealing animals. Much like plant behaviour research, plant conservation has been little-funded and long-ignored.

Mancuso says the state of plant conservation and the rising evidence that plants are sentient beings should make people consider something really radical: plants’ rights.

“It is my opinion that a discussion about plants’ rights is no longer deferrable. I know that the first reaction, even of the more open-minded people, will be ‘Jeez! He’s exaggerating now. Plant’s right is nonsense,’ but should we not care? After all the reaction of the Romans’ father to the proposal of rights for women and children, was no different. The road [to] rights is always difficult, but it is necessary. Providing rights to plants is a way to prevent our extinction.”


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« Reply #1720 on: Today at 07:41 AM »

'We woke up in a desert' – the water crisis taking hold across Egypt

UN says the country will face ‘absolute water scarcity’ by 2025, but for some villages the catastrophe has already arrived – as the Middle East faces severe heatwave. Mada Masr reports

Mohamed Ezz and Nada Arafat for Mada Masr, part of the Guardian Africa network
Tuesday 4 August 2015 12.05 BST
Guardian

On a blazing hot summer day, rumours that the water truck is finally arriving spread like wildfire through the village of Ezbit al-Taweel. In minutes, some 100 men, women and children pour onto the town’s main road, each with as many containers as they can carry.

Trying to escape the punishing sun, Osama Sayed and his seven-year-old son, Ahmed, take shelter beneath a bush. “It’s like we’ve travelled back in time, having to wait with jars for the water carrier,” says Sayed. Severe water cuts have repeatedly forced him and the 5,000 other farmers living in this small Nile Delta village to wait hours, sometimes even days, for drinking water, amid a severe heatwave in the Middle East.

Half an hour later the truck finally appears, to the palpable relief of the crowd. “There will be enough for everyone,” promises an elderly driver. “Organise yourselves and separate men from women.” Two workers begin distributing the water, while another collects money from the villagers.

Egypt, once celebrated as the “gift of the Nile”, is in the grips of a serious water crisis. With a rising population and a fixed supply, the country has less water per person each year.

The country’s annual water supply dropped to an average of 660 cubic metres a person in 2013, down from over 2,500 cubic metres in 1947, according to official figures. Egypt is already below the United Nations’ water poverty threshold, and by 2025 the UN predicts it will be approaching a state of “absolute water crisis”.

For people like Sayed, living in villages and cities outside of Egypt’s centres of power and wealth, that crisis has already arrived.

In June, the Delta city of Bilqas, with a population of 50,000, was suffering from a severe drought. “We can’t find water to drink, wash, clean or anything. We woke up to find we have moved to the desert and our taps are dry,” said Hossam Megahed, a city resident.

The same week, the city of Fayoum suffered a water cut so severe that even hospitals found themselves dry. A few days later, residents in Ismailia threatened to cut off the commercial highway from the Suez Canal after living for a week without water. Similar crises have struck Kafr al-Sheikh, Sohag, Qena and other cities throughout the summer.

Despite the magnitude of the problem, critics say the government has taken little action to resolve the crisis, or even to help ease the suffering of those most affected.

Why now?

Water shortages – and the unrest they cause– are making headlines in Egypt, but the problem has been building since 2011. Amid the security vacuum that emerged following the 2011 revolution, thousands of residents on the peripheries of Cairo and other cities began illegally constructing buildings and linking them up to the official supply pipes. Tens of thousands of new pipelines have tapped into water supplies that barely suffice for the citizens already there.

To make matters worse, when people illegally connect their homes to makeshift pipelines they tend to break and waste resources.. According to a 2014 report by the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, as much as 35% of all residential water leaks into the ground because of the deteriorating pipe network. Without this wastage an additional 11 million inhabitants could have fresh water.

Meanwhile, Egyptian officials bogged down by the post-revolution turmoil have done little to correct the problem. “The issue of water is that it is not a priority to the government,” said Khaled Wasif, spokesperson for the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources. Only a fraction of the money needed to maintain the network is actually allocated each year by the government, he said.

    When taps go dry, residents have little recourse except a ruthless black market

The company that operates and maintains the network of pipes, the Holding Company for Water and Wastewater, , has been so under-funded in recent years that it cannot properly carry out its functions, according to an inside source.

Without enough money, water sector projects have been put on hold, except for a limited number financed by foreign donors. In a vicious cycle, this pushes more people to resort to illegal DIY solutions that cause the grid to deteriorate faster.

Shortages can last for a few hours a day in upscale districts such as New Cairo, a few days in villages like Ezbit el-Taweel, or as long as five years in some rural areas such as Sandub in Mansoura, where residents have grown accustomed to receiving water for only two hours a day.

When taps go dry, residents have little recourse except a ruthless black market. People in villages with water will often load tanks onto trucks and transport them to nearby residents in need – for a price.

Residents in Belqas said the price of bottled water increased every day from the beginning of Ramadan. As dozens of people waited in lines outside shops and kiosks, the price of a 1.5 litre bottle jumped from three pounds to 10 pounds within days.

Egyptians facing dwindling stocks have often resorted to unsanitary measures to fill the gap, often with serious health consequences.

“I live in Kafr al-Sheikh. I grew up knowing the water is highly polluted,” said Mohamed Abdel Razik, professor of water chemistry at the local university. The current water treatment process is like “using a fishing net to sanitise water”, he said.

In areas such as Ezbit al-Taweel, water bought from trucks is often heavily contaminated. Farmers looking to make a quick profit often transport liquid in tanks normally used to carry gas. These trucks are filled from the most convenient source, which can often be a nearby wastewater canal.

    Fishermen have to find new jobs. Even the fish die!
    Abdel Razik

“We know very well that this water is coming from the nearest polluted source, but we have no other alternative,” said Sayed.

Wastewater canals are awash with agricultural runoff filled with dissolved fertilisers and pesticides, and make a rich habitat for pathogens such as bilharzia. Heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic, carcinogenic cadmium and lead have also been detected in high concentrations. Kafr al-Sheikh, which lies at the northern end of the Nile, once provided a significant proportion of Egypt’s total fish production. Today, polluted waters have wreaked havoc on stocks. “Fishermen have to find new jobs. Even the fish die,” said Razik.

The scarcity of water has made it harder for the government to keep even the country’s formal supply clean. The Ministry of Water Resources used to open the dams and release additional fresh water to flush out pollution created by industrial and agricultural waste. Nowadays, given the shortages, it can’t.

Poor sanitation means that 95.5% of the population drinks improperly treated water, according to the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights.

“Just living next to contaminated water affects public health,” said Mazen Abdel Aziz, who works at Kafr al-Sheikh public hospital. The water people drink is highly toxic, he said, containing heavy metals which could cause a wide range of diseases from diarrhoea to Hepatitis A and E.

Even attempts to treat people suffering from diarrhoea, dehydration and other effects of water scarcity and pollution have lead to their own disasters; this month, four children died and 27 others were severely ill after being treated with faulty rehydration medication in Beni Suef.
A way out

There are no quick or easy fixes to water scarcity and the resulting sanitation concerns, but Ibrahim Salman, head of the Mid-Delta Drainage Canals Authority, believes that there are three possible solutions.

The first is pumping for underground water, which is expensive, takes time and draws on finite sources of groundwater. The second is adopting water-efficient agricultural technologies like drip irrigation, instead of the flooding techniques still used by most Egyptian farmers. This, Salman said, is a long-term solution, not one that can be implemented overnight. The third is finding ways to recycle water from drainage canals. Unfortunately, at present these canals carry highly toxic industrial and agricultural waste mixed with the low toxicity freshwater.

Last year, the Minister of Housing Mostafa Madbouly announced that all Egyptians would be connected to water and wastewater networks within eight years, provided his ministry receives enough money from the cabinet. However, until that happens, thousands of people will be forced to wait in line, resort to black markets, and build creaky pipes of their own just to get a few drops of water.


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« Reply #1721 on: Today at 07:45 AM »


'We woke up in a desert' – the water crisis taking hold across Egypt

UN says the country will face ‘absolute water scarcity’ by 2025, but for some villages the catastrophe has already arrived – as the Middle East faces severe heatwave. Mada Masr reports

Mohamed Ezz and Nada Arafat for Mada Masr, part of the Guardian Africa network
Tuesday 4 August 2015 12.05 BST
Guardian

On a blazing hot summer day, rumours that the water truck is finally arriving spread like wildfire through the village of Ezbit al-Taweel. In minutes, some 100 men, women and children pour onto the town’s main road, each with as many containers as they can carry.

Trying to escape the punishing sun, Osama Sayed and his seven-year-old son, Ahmed, take shelter beneath a bush. “It’s like we’ve travelled back in time, having to wait with jars for the water carrier,” says Sayed. Severe water cuts have repeatedly forced him and the 5,000 other farmers living in this small Nile Delta village to wait hours, sometimes even days, for drinking water, amid a severe heatwave in the Middle East.

Half an hour later the truck finally appears, to the palpable relief of the crowd. “There will be enough for everyone,” promises an elderly driver. “Organise yourselves and separate men from women.” Two workers begin distributing the water, while another collects money from the villagers.

Egypt, once celebrated as the “gift of the Nile”, is in the grips of a serious water crisis. With a rising population and a fixed supply, the country has less water per person each year.

The country’s annual water supply dropped to an average of 660 cubic metres a person in 2013, down from over 2,500 cubic metres in 1947, according to official figures. Egypt is already below the United Nations’ water poverty threshold, and by 2025 the UN predicts it will be approaching a state of “absolute water crisis”.

For people like Sayed, living in villages and cities outside of Egypt’s centres of power and wealth, that crisis has already arrived.

In June, the Delta city of Bilqas, with a population of 50,000, was suffering from a severe drought. “We can’t find water to drink, wash, clean or anything. We woke up to find we have moved to the desert and our taps are dry,” said Hossam Megahed, a city resident.

The same week, the city of Fayoum suffered a water cut so severe that even hospitals found themselves dry. A few days later, residents in Ismailia threatened to cut off the commercial highway from the Suez Canal after living for a week without water. Similar crises have struck Kafr al-Sheikh, Sohag, Qena and other cities throughout the summer.

Despite the magnitude of the problem, critics say the government has taken little action to resolve the crisis, or even to help ease the suffering of those most affected.

Why now?

Water shortages – and the unrest they cause– are making headlines in Egypt, but the problem has been building since 2011. Amid the security vacuum that emerged following the 2011 revolution, thousands of residents on the peripheries of Cairo and other cities began illegally constructing buildings and linking them up to the official supply pipes. Tens of thousands of new pipelines have tapped into water supplies that barely suffice for the citizens already there.

To make matters worse, when people illegally connect their homes to makeshift pipelines they tend to break and waste resources.. According to a 2014 report by the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, as much as 35% of all residential water leaks into the ground because of the deteriorating pipe network. Without this wastage an additional 11 million inhabitants could have fresh water.

Meanwhile, Egyptian officials bogged down by the post-revolution turmoil have done little to correct the problem. “The issue of water is that it is not a priority to the government,” said Khaled Wasif, spokesperson for the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources. Only a fraction of the money needed to maintain the network is actually allocated each year by the government, he said.

    When taps go dry, residents have little recourse except a ruthless black market

The company that operates and maintains the network of pipes, the Holding Company for Water and Wastewater, , has been so under-funded in recent years that it cannot properly carry out its functions, according to an inside source.

Without enough money, water sector projects have been put on hold, except for a limited number financed by foreign donors. In a vicious cycle, this pushes more people to resort to illegal DIY solutions that cause the grid to deteriorate faster.

Shortages can last for a few hours a day in upscale districts such as New Cairo, a few days in villages like Ezbit el-Taweel, or as long as five years in some rural areas such as Sandub in Mansoura, where residents have grown accustomed to receiving water for only two hours a day.

When taps go dry, residents have little recourse except a ruthless black market. People in villages with water will often load tanks onto trucks and transport them to nearby residents in need – for a price.

Residents in Belqas said the price of bottled water increased every day from the beginning of Ramadan. As dozens of people waited in lines outside shops and kiosks, the price of a 1.5 litre bottle jumped from three pounds to 10 pounds within days.

Egyptians facing dwindling stocks have often resorted to unsanitary measures to fill the gap, often with serious health consequences.

“I live in Kafr al-Sheikh. I grew up knowing the water is highly polluted,” said Mohamed Abdel Razik, professor of water chemistry at the local university. The current water treatment process is like “using a fishing net to sanitise water”, he said.

In areas such as Ezbit al-Taweel, water bought from trucks is often heavily contaminated. Farmers looking to make a quick profit often transport liquid in tanks normally used to carry gas. These trucks are filled from the most convenient source, which can often be a nearby wastewater canal.

    Fishermen have to find new jobs. Even the fish die!
    Abdel Razik

“We know very well that this water is coming from the nearest polluted source, but we have no other alternative,” said Sayed.

Wastewater canals are awash with agricultural runoff filled with dissolved fertilisers and pesticides, and make a rich habitat for pathogens such as bilharzia. Heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic, carcinogenic cadmium and lead have also been detected in high concentrations. Kafr al-Sheikh, which lies at the northern end of the Nile, once provided a significant proportion of Egypt’s total fish production. Today, polluted waters have wreaked havoc on stocks. “Fishermen have to find new jobs. Even the fish die,” said Razik.

The scarcity of water has made it harder for the government to keep even the country’s formal supply clean. The Ministry of Water Resources used to open the dams and release additional fresh water to flush out pollution created by industrial and agricultural waste. Nowadays, given the shortages, it can’t.

Poor sanitation means that 95.5% of the population drinks improperly treated water, according to the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights.

“Just living next to contaminated water affects public health,” said Mazen Abdel Aziz, who works at Kafr al-Sheikh public hospital. The water people drink is highly toxic, he said, containing heavy metals which could cause a wide range of diseases from diarrhoea to Hepatitis A and E.

Even attempts to treat people suffering from diarrhoea, dehydration and other effects of water scarcity and pollution have lead to their own disasters; this month, four children died and 27 others were severely ill after being treated with faulty rehydration medication in Beni Suef.

A way out

There are no quick or easy fixes to water scarcity and the resulting sanitation concerns, but Ibrahim Salman, head of the Mid-Delta Drainage Canals Authority, believes that there are three possible solutions.

The first is pumping for underground water, which is expensive, takes time and draws on finite sources of groundwater. The second is adopting water-efficient agricultural technologies like drip irrigation, instead of the flooding techniques still used by most Egyptian farmers. This, Salman said, is a long-term solution, not one that can be implemented overnight. The third is finding ways to recycle water from drainage canals. Unfortunately, at present these canals carry highly toxic industrial and agricultural waste mixed with the low toxicity freshwater.

Last year, the Minister of Housing Mostafa Madbouly announced that all Egyptians would be connected to water and wastewater networks within eight years, provided his ministry receives enough money from the cabinet. However, until that happens, thousands of people will be forced to wait in line, resort to black markets, and build creaky pipes of their own just to get a few drops of water.


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Why fresh water shortages will cause the next great global crisis

Click here to read: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/08/how-water-shortages-lead-food-crises-conflicts
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