Archive for April, 2009

World’s water supplies at risk, UN says

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Surging population growth, climate change, reckless irrigation and chronic waste are placing the world’s water supplies at threat, a landmark UN report said on Thursday. Compiled by 24 UN agencies, the 348-page document gave a grim assessment of the state of the planet’s freshwater, especially in developing countries, and described the outlook for coming generations as deeply worrying.

Water is part of the complex web of factors that determine prosperity and stability, it said.

Lack of access to water helps drive poverty and deprivation and breeds the potential for unrest and conflict, it warned.

“Water is linked to the crises of climate change, energy and food supplies and prices, and troubled financial markets,” the third World Water Development Report said.

“Unless their links with water are addressed and water crises around the world are resolved, these other crises may intensify and local water crises may worsen, converging into a global water crisis and leading to political insecurity at various levels.”

The report pointed to a double squeeze on fresh water.

On one side was human impact. There were six billion humans in 2000, a tally that has already risen to 6.5 billion and could scale nine billion by 2050.

Population growth, especially in cities in poor countries, is driving explosive demand for water, prompting rivers in thirsty countries to be tapped for nearly every drop and driving governments to pump out so-called fossil water, the report said.

These are aquifers that are hundreds of thousands of years old and whose extraction is not being replenished by rainfall. Mining them for water today means depriving future generations of liquid treasure.


Nuclear Power Cannot Solve Climate Change

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

A new report finds that nuclear power plants cannot be built quickly enough and in a safe and secure manner to be a major global solution for climate change

Nuclear power plants cannot be built quickly enough and in a safe and secure manner to be a major global solution for climate change, according to a report released yesterday from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The report says the nuclear industry, under current policies and financing, won’t be able to build enough new reactors to make a difference in climate in the next 20 years.

“Without major changes in government policies and aggressive financial support, nuclear power is actually likely to account for a declining percentage of global electricity generation,” the report says.

The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2008 projects that without policy changes, nuclear power’s share of worldwide electricity generation will drop from 15 percent in 2006 to 10 percent in 2030.

But policymakers should be aware of the timeline, costs and risks nuclear power brings as compared to the possible benefits, before expending a tremendous amount of resources on it, the report says.

Bottlenecks in the nuclear supply chain, weak infrastructure in developing countries and tighter credit risk management strategies in the wake of the economic crises will severely limit all countries’ capabilities to significantly expand their nuclear fleet, while the current fleet of reactors is likely to be retired by 2030, the report said.

The earliest the first new U.S. reactor could be finished is 2015, but the report notes that it takes about 10 years to put a new plant in service, from licensing to connection to the grid. In two dozen countries that are interested in obtaining civil nuclear energy but have not previously built a reactor, it will take even longer, the report says.


More Australian Weather Records Tumble

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

The Big Dry Down Under just got a whole lot drier. The first three months of 2009 in the already parched Murray Darling basin had the least amount of rainfall since Australian weather records began 117 years ago.

This massive drainage supports $9 billion in agriculture but has been hammered by what some are calling the worst drought in 1000 years. Authorities in Australia make no bones about the cause of this freaky weather.

“We’ve had big droughts before and big floods before, but what we didn’t have was climate change,” said Rob Freeman, the chief executive of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

The Murray Darling is home to 2 million people who may not even have enough water to survive in the future. “I’d be loath to say that critical human needs will always be secure”, warned Freeman.

The recent rainfall record was not the only smashed. Water inputs for three-year period ending March 2009 were less than half of the previous record from the great drought of 1943-1946.


Global crisis ‘to strike by 2030’

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Growing world population will cause a “perfect storm” of food, energy and water shortages by 2030, the UK government chief scientist has warned.

By 2030 the demand for resources will create a crisis with dire consequences, Prof John Beddington said.

Demand for food and energy will jump 50% by 2030 and for fresh water by 30%, as the population tops 8.3 billion, he told a conference in London.

Climate change will exacerbate matters in unpredictable ways, he added.


“It’s a perfect storm,” Prof Beddington told the Sustainable Development UK 09 conference.

“There’s not going to be a complete collapse, but things will start getting really worrying if we don’t tackle these problems.”

Prof Beddington said the looming crisis would match the current one in the banking sector.

“My main concern is what will happen internationally, there will be food and water shortages,” he said.

“We’re relatively fortunate in the UK; there may not be shortages here, but we can expect prices of food and energy to rise.”

The United Nations Environment Programme predicts widespread water shortages across Africa, Europe and Asia by 2025.

The amount of fresh water available per head of the population is expected to decline sharply in that time.


African leader embarks on bizarre witch-hunt

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

– Sorry, but I think some folks should just drink the kool-aid.

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A state-sponsored witch-hunt has begun in Gambia where as many as 1000 people have been kidnapped from their villages and taken to “secret detention centres” then stripped, beaten and poisoned.

The campaign in the tiny West African nation is the latest manifestation of the increasingly brutal and bizarre rule of President Yahya Jammeh, who has claimed he can cure people of Aids. Now the President is thought to believe he is under attack from witches.

Witnesses and victims of the abductions told Amnesty International that the President’s personal guard, with armed police and intelligence agents, accompanied witch doctors to round up suspects.

Many of those taken from their homes were elderly people who were held for up to five days in appalling conditions, made to drink hallucinogenic concoctions and forced to confess to black magic powers.

“At 5am, the paramilitary police armed with guns and shovels surrounded our village and threatened the villagers, saying anyone who tries to escape will be buried 6 feet under,” one witness said.


5 Years After: Portugal’s Drug Decriminalization Policy Shows Positive Results

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Street drug–related deaths from overdoses drop and the rate of HIV cases crashes

In the face of a growing number of deaths and cases of HIV linked to drug abuse, the Portuguese government in 2001 tried a new tack to get a handle on the problem—it decriminalized the use and possession of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, LSD and other illicit street drugs. The theory: focusing on treatment and prevention instead of jailing users would decrease the number of deaths and infections.

Five years later, the number of deaths from street drug overdoses dropped from around 400 to 290 annually, and the number of new HIV cases caused by using dirty needles to inject heroin, cocaine and other illegal substances plummeted from nearly 1,400 in 2000 to about 400 in 2006,  according to a report released recently by the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C, libertarian think tank.

“Now instead of being put into prison, addicts are going to treatment centers and they’re learning how to control their drug usage or getting off drugs entirely,” report author Glenn Greenwald, a former New York State constitutional litigator, said during a press briefing at Cato last week.

Under the Portuguese plan, penalties for people caught dealing and trafficking drugs are unchanged; dealers are still jailed and subjected to fines depending on the crime. But people caught using or possessing small amounts—defined as the amount needed for 10 days of personal use—are brought before what’s known as a “Dissuasion Commission,” an administrative body created by the 2001 law.

Each three-person commission includes at least one lawyer or judge and one health care or social services worker. The panel has the option of recommending treatment, a small fine, or no sanction.


Needed: A Fiscal Framework–Not a Stimulus

Monday, April 6th, 2009
“America ranks 22nd out of 23 high-income countries in public social outlays as a percent of national income (ahead only of Ireland), for health, pensions, income support, and other social services. “

The economic debate in the U.S. regarding the fiscal stimulus package has revealed, once again, the soft underbelly of modern economics. It’s perhaps inevitable that a public debate over the allocation of trillions of dollars of taxes and spending should be cacophonous and confused, but the poor quality of the scientific discussion about the fiscal stimulus plan is unjustified. Economists have not helped the public to sort out crucial issues in the debate, leaving public policy to a hurried mish-mash of conflicting interests.

The stimulus debate has centered heavily around the question of “bang for the buck,” that is, whether tax cuts or spending increases would produce more jobs. This perspective is very limited and misleading, however: the implications of tax cuts, for example, depend importantly on whether they are perceived to be temporary or permanent. A temporary tax cut is more likely to be saved, or used to pay down credit-card debt, than consumed, a lesson demonstrated by the failed $100 billion tax-rebate stimulus last spring.

There is a far more important point, however. The choice of spending versus taxes should turn first and foremost on the purposes of government, or on what economists quaintly call “the allocation of resources.” It’s silly to debate whether investing in a $100 million bridge creates more jobs than a $100 million tax cut if we really need the bridge! The American Society of Civil Engineers has credibly documented for years the crumbling state of U.S. infrastructure—roads, bridges, water supply, waste treatment, mass transit, toxic waste cleanup, dams and levees—and the urgent need for more than $2.2 trillion of investments for our wellbeing and competitiveness.


Key: Afghan ‘sexual desire’ law unacceptable

Monday, April 6th, 2009

Prime Minister [New Zealand] John Key said the Shi’ite law in Afghanistan saying a wife is obliged to fulfil the sexual desires of her husband is “unacceptable”. But it would not threaten New Zealand’s commitment to Afghanistan.

Mr Key said last night that he would write to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai to express New Zealand’s views on the law.

“But there is no doubt that our voice will be strongly heard, that we find this an abhorrent act and totally unacceptable to the New Zealand Government.”

But Mr Key is unlikely to follow the example of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper who said it would lead to “a clear diminishment in Allied support” in Afghanistan.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has telephoned President Karzai about the issue.

“I think in the short term, it would be unlikely to have any impact on our commitment to Afghanistan,” Mr Key said. “We are fundamentally there to try and reduce the threat of global terrorism. We need to deal with that situation first and foremost.”


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From top to bottom Kiwis say life is good

Monday, April 6th, 2009

New Zealanders are relatively content with their lives, with most saying they are in good health, can afford everyday needs and feel safe in their homes after dark.

Telephone interviewers talked to 500 people in each of 12 main cities and districts and 2000 people from the rest of the country for the third National Quality of Life survey.

It found just over nine out of 10 people rated their quality of life as good or better.

Almost nine out of 10 people in the 12 cities said their overall health was good or better, and about 86 per cent in the 12 cities and 88 per cent outside them said they had enough money to cover everyday living costs.

The survey of 8100 people was paid for by 12 participating councils and the Ministry of Social Development.

Since the last survey, in 2006, far fewer people said they had not visited the doctor when they wanted to because of the cost.

The number of people who said they wanted to visit a GP in the past year but didn’t fell from 20 per cent in 2006 to 6 per cent.


Pensioners better off in NZ: study

Monday, April 6th, 2009

New Zealand’s older citizens are well looked after by the Government – in fact, better than in the world’s richest nations.

Only 2 per cent of New Zealand’s retirement-age population were classed as below the poverty line in a 2008 OECD study. Just 13 of the 30 countries had poverty rates of less than 10 per cent among older people.

The study of 30 OECD countries compared the income level of retirement-age New Zealanders to median disposable income levels.

However, several organisations who work with older people said the study does not reflect the financial reality of New Zealand’s retirees.

A transtasman comparison found Australia’s older population in far worse shape, with 27 per cent of over-65s below the poverty line.

Michael Littlewood, co-director of the University of Auckland Retirement Policy and Research Centre, said: “There are several possible explanations for New Zealand’s favourable international position but the most obvious difference between New Zealand and the other 29 OECD countries is the simple, generous New Zealand superannuation pension.”