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Monday, November 05, 2007

Environment: Snippets

Environmental news over the past half year has been uniformly depressing, I'm afraid. Okay, there are little pockets of WTF? in a pleasant way, occasionally - the goddamned daffodils are finally blooming in the garden at Casa de Los Gatos, after who knows how many years - even the bougainvillea is blooming, it's like fall never happened, just an endless summer. But that's not good news, really. It's supposed to be cool and rainy, right now, not warm and sunny. Today the inhabitants of La Casa were sweating like pigs while fixing dinner.

In the meantime, over in Sulawesi, Indonesia, July brought rains with attendant mudslides, although a lot of that is due to the slash-and-burn farming practised there, and the absolute greed of loggers. Death toll so far, 66, and another 23 are missing. Aid helicopters are stuck on Borneo, unable to fly supplies to people desperately needing them.

A series of major earthquakes struck Sumatra island in Indonesia, killing 23 people, wounding 88, and damaging over 15,000 buildings. A small tsunami also hit the islands of Mentawai group, off Sumatra.

High winds destroyed 200 homes in the historic Kampung Ayer (Water Village) of Brunei, inhabited by some 30,000 people. The houses are built on stilts over the water, much like the kelongs of Southeast Asia, and are an important tourist attraction. Kampung Ayer pic from this Brunei site

At least China has begun acknowledging the serious impact of pollution, and is taking steps to reduce it, although with a population of 1.5 billion, the sheer magnitude of the problem must be overwhelming. China's Vice-Minister of State Environmental Protection recently authored a column acknowledging the existence of a Five-Year Plan and insisting that environmental protection is a priority. The Plan suggests that development should, in future, be measured in terms of "Green GDP." Let's see how it works.

Liu Jian qiang, a visiting scholar at Beijing University, believes that the growing environmental crisis is fostering greater openness and the growth of democracy, as China's population begins to fight the environmentally unsafe practices of its government.

The urbanisation of Asia is being blamed for an epidemic rise in cases of dengue hemorrhagic fever, a more serious variant of dengue fever which is caused by the Aedes mosquito. Kampuchea suffered 25,000 cases this year, resulting in the deaths of 300 children under the age of 15 years. Indonesia suffered 100,000 cases. Malaysia's infection toll rose by 50 per cent over the previous year, with 1,000 people being admitted to hospital each week in July, and 56 deaths recorded in June. Vietnam's toll rose by 40 per cent over the previous year, with 33,000 people infected and 32 deaths. There is no vaccine for any of the four known strains of the virus and no one strain confers immunity from any other strain.
Dr Axel Kroeger, a WHO dengue research coordinator in Geneva, said: "We always think next year it will get better but we always find next year it gets worse. There's a very clear upward trend."
An earthquake measuring 7.4 on the Richter scale hit the Pacific island of Vanuatu in August. No tsunami warning was issued, nor were there any reports of death or serious injury.
August in Japan brought some of the hottest temperatures the island nation has seen since 1933, resulting in the deaths of 13 people as temperatures soared to 40.9C (106F). Hundreds of people were hospitalized due to heat-related illnesses and injuries.

Typhoon Nari, with winds of 155 mph, is churning across the East China Sea, heading towards Japan at 20 kph. It is expected to bring heavy rain to southern Japan and Korea. Earlier, typhoon Fitow hit eastern and northern Japan, killing 2 people and injuring 82 others.

An earthquake of 6.7 magnitude hit the Solomon Islands in mid-August, striking 1.1 miles below the sea. Previously, the islands had been hit by an 8.0 earthquake and tsunami in April which killed 50 and displaced thousands. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said there was no real risk of a tsunami but warned of possible local tidal waves.

Between June and September, the annual monsoons left 13.5 million stranded or displaced in India and Bangladesh. Over 2,200 people died in India, and over 1,000 more died in Bangladesh. The storms and flooding were reported to be the worst in decades. Additionally, landslides and floods have killed at least 185 people in neighbouring Nepal. The rains have also destroyed millions of acres of food crops, threatening food shortages. Victims of the flood are now trying to cope with water-borne illnesses.

Forest fires in Spain have forced 10,000 from their homes and destroyed 60,000 acres of land in the Canary islands in August. Special prosecutor for environmental crimes Guillermo Garcia Panasco described the fire as one of the worst ever suffered by the islands. High winds contributed to the conflagration while impeding firefighting helicopters. Low humidity and temperatures above 104F kept the fires going as well.

Meanwhile, voles have infested nearly a million acres of land in the Castilla-Leon region of Spain, leading farmers to use controlled burning as a means of coping with the rodents. Castilla-Leon's Agriculture Minister, Silvia Clemente, said
"There has never been a plague like the one we have now."

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