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Disaster Risk to Urban Growth

A pair of new studies say that more people than ever lie in harm’s way from earthquakes, droughts, floods and other disasters, largely because of a surge in urban populations in developing countries. Smaller or poorer countries can be devastated by disasters that are relatively inconsequential in places shielded by size or wealth. While the economic cost from disasters has risen, the cost as percentage of the global economy has been flat. The mortality rate has been declining in many areas. But in hot spots combining dense populations with the risk of earthquakes, floods and other hazards, the potential for catastrophic impact is growing. “Without governance capacity, the faster you develop, it’s almost like the faster you’re building disasters.” The dominant factor raising death tolls and economic losses from disasters is humanity’s hastening transformation into a mainly urban species, with a surge of people in search of work settling in marginal urban lands and shoddy housing. “Some of the statistics are almost hallucinatory. Some time before 2050, the urban population of India will rise by 500 million people. Mumbai and Calcutta are already very poor about providing land and housing. How will they accommodate tens of millions more? And both cities are in very hazard-prone locations.”

Atrocious weather bill hits €2 million a day

Atrocious weather is costing Irish farmers more than €2m each day. Experts warn this is only the beginning and it's too soon to estimate the real cost as the fallout will be felt well into 2010. Emergency measures have been employed on farms around the country and it's all about survival at this stage. Soil temperatures are currently two to three degrees BELOW NORMAL for this time of year and recorded growth rates at present are running way below what would be expected. At Teagasc's beef research facility in Grange in the past week, growth rates on the cattle grazing unit were running at less than half the normal rate for this time of year. Worsening ground conditions have also forced the re-housing of stock at the Co Meath unit. Silage prices have shot up to €30-40 a bale and there are even reports of farmers selling cut grass at €100 for each trailer load. Most farmers are now feeding 2-10kg of ration/animal/day. Even so, animal performance, particularly in dairy herds, has been badly affected. Grass shortages have reached "nightmarish" proportions, especially on mixed holdings. In parts of the west, rain levels are three times the normal rate for this time of year.

Climate change amplifying animal disease

PARIS (AFP) — Climate change is widening viral disease among farm animals, expanding the spread of some microbes that are also a known risk to humans, the world's top agency for animal health said on Monday.
The World Animal Health Organisation -- known as OIE, an acronym of its name in French -- said a survey of 126 of its member-states found 71 percent were "extremely concerned" about the expected impact of climate change on animal disease.
Fifty-eight percent said they had already identified at least one disease that was new to their territory or had returned to their territory, and that they associated with climate change.
The three most mentioned diseases were bluetongue, spread among sheep by biting midges; Rift Valley fever, a livestock disease that can also be picked up by people handling infected meat; and West Nile virus, which is transmitted by mosquito from infected birds to both animals and humans.

Fungus threatens to wipe out Philippine frogs:

MANILA (AFP) — A deadly frog fungus that has wiped out hundreds of amphibian species in the Americas is now devastating the populations of five frog species in the Philippines, experts said Wednesday.

A two-year nationwide survey by a team of US and Filipino scientists found that the Philippines has become the third country in Asia to be hit by the chytrid fungus.

The fungus, which attacks the skin of frogs and salamanders and affects the formation of tadpoles' body parts, is also present in Japan and Indonesia.

The Luzon striped frog, Rana similis, one of five affected endemic species, has practically disappeared from the lowland forests of Mount Labo on the southeast tip of the main Philippine island of Luzon, said Arvin Diesmos, curator of amphibians and reptiles at the National Museum of the Philippines.

The Luzon stream frog (Rana luzonensis), two species of the Luzon fanged frog (Limnonectes woodworth and Limnonectes macrocephalus), and the Puddle frog (Occidozyga laevis) were also found to be infected in Labo and the Palay-palay mountain range near Manila.

Warning over new threat from MRSA

A new strain of MRSA seems to be triggering a deadly form of pneumonia in people who catch flu, experts say.

Researchers believe the new strain of the antibiotic-resistant bacterium is becoming more widespread.

It is known as community acquired MRSA, (CA-MRSA) because, unlike most forms of the superbug, it poses a significant risk outside hospitals.

The potential threat is detailed in a study appearing in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases.

However, experts stressed cases of pneumonia caused by CA-MRSA in the UK were very rare.

"CA-MRSA pneumonia is particularly dangerous due to the rapid, aggressive nature of the infection"

Climate Change Driving Michigan Mammals North

Some Michigan mammal species are rapidly expanding their ranges northward, apparently in response to climate change, a new study shows. In the process, these historically southern species are replacing their northern counterparts.

The finding, by researchers at the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Ohio's Miami University, appears in the June issue of the journal Global Change Biology.

"When you read about changes in flora and fauna related to climatic warming, most of what you read is either predictive—they're talking about things that are going to happen in the future—or it's restricted to single species living in extreme or remote environments, like polar bears in the Arctic," said lead author Philip Myers, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at U-M. "But this study documents things that are happening right now, here at home."

*Image: Southern flying squirrel. Of the nine mammal species examined, four have established strongholds or increased in abundance, while five have declined. The increasing species—white-footed mice, southern flying squirrels, eastern chipmunks and common opossums—all are southern species, while the declining species—woodland deer mice, southern red-backed voles, northern flying squirrels, woodland jumping mice, and least chipmunks—are all northern species. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Michigan)

Key coral reefs 'could disappear'

The world's most important coral region is in danger of being wiped out by the end of this century unless fast action is taken, says a new report. The Coral Triangle covers 1% of the earth's surface but contains a third of all the world's coral, and three-quarters of its coral reef species. 40% of reefs in the Coral Triangle have already been lost. The area is shared between Indonesia and five other south-east Asian nations and is thought to contain 75% of the world's coral species. It is likened to the Amazon rainforest in terms of its biodiversity.

What we can expect if the world's richest coral reef is destroyed:
It's 2099, and across south-east Asia, a hundred million people are on the march, looking for food. The fish they once relied on is gone. Communities are breaking down; economies destroyed. And that could happen this century.
"Up until now we haven't realized how quickly this system is changing. In the last 40 years in the Coral Triangle, we've lost 40% of coral reefs and mangroves - and that's probably an underestimate. We've fundamentally changed the way the planet works in terms of currents and this is only with a 0.7 degree change in terms of temperature. What's going to happen when we exceed two or four or six?" "Pollution, the inappropriate use of coastal areas, these are destroying the productivity of ocean which is plummeting right now. That is the system that traps CO2 - 40% of CO2 goes into the ocean. Now if we interrupt that, the problems on planet earth become even greater."

Storm thrashes kiwifruit crops

KIWI - Some Bay of Plenty kiwifruit growers are trying to salvage crops devastated by a FREAK HAIL STORM. The storm hit at about 5pm on Monday and growers say they may have lost millions of dollars of produce. "It was like someone getting a shot gun and just firing it into all of the (kiwifruit) canopy." The storm is more bad news for the already struggling industry The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research says the freak weather strike is VERY RARE AND EXTREME. "It's a bit like having a pot on a stove, you've got heat at the bottom and cold at the top and it bubbles up and blows up these big thunder storm clouds."

'Tsunami' Of Ice Wreaks Havoc On Alaskan Town

Temperatures in some parts of Alaska soared into the 70s this week, causing a rapid "melt-out" of ice and snow along the Yukon River and unprecedented flooding that nearly wiped out the small community of Eagle.

The historic gold rush outpost sits on the upper reaches of the Yukon River on the eastern edge of Alaska, along the border with Canada.

"The Front Street buildings, the store, the museum, the shop, some houses and storage buildings all have been basically destroyed," says resident John Borg, 41.

Image: An aerial view shows at least two dozen buildings submerged in a sea of car-sized ice chunks and 30 feet of muddy floodwater.

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Brazilians flee flooding, stay in cow pens

Brazilians huddled in cow pens converted into emergency shelters Friday, as swollen rivers continue to rise and northern Brazil's worst floods in decades boosted the number of homeless to nearly 300,000. The death toll rose to 39, and coffins started popping out of the soaked earth. Local health officials acknowledged sanitary conditions were deplorable and could lead to outbreaks of disease, but those staying in the stables said they worried conditions could be worse elsewhere if they are forced to go. None thought about returning home anytime soon as UNUSUALLY HEAVY RAINS continued Friday, extending two months of rainfall across 10 of Brazil's 26 states. Three times the size of Alaska, the affected area stretches from the normally wet rainforest to coastal states known for lengthy droughts. Meteorologists blame the heavy rain on an Atlantic Ocean weather system that typically moves on by April - and they forecast weeks more of the same. Rivers still were rising in the hardest-hit state of Maranhao. The surging torrents wrecked bridges and made it too dangerous for relief workers to take boats onto some waterways. Mudslides were stranding trucks, preventing them from delivering food and supplies to places cut off from civilization. "Our houses are falling down, and on my street there are houses that were completely destroyed because the river's flow was so strong." The flooding in northern Brazil is THE WORST IN 20 YEARS, and experts have warned that by June river levels, including the Amazon, could hit records not seen since 1953

Flu virus's likely human-to-swine jump triggers concern

Humans occasionally pick up influenza viruses from pigs. Reports of human-to-pig transmission are apparently RARE, but such cases are assumed to happen. The tentative detection of the novel swine influenza H1N1 virus in an Alberta swine herd over the weekend shook Canada's pork industry and raised concern about the potential for new hybrid viruses to emerge. Canadian authorities said on May 2 that preliminary testing detected the virus in an Alberta herd and that it probably came from a Canadian carpenter who works on the farm and had a flu-like illness when he returned from a visit to Mexico in mid-April. The worker had contact with the pigs on Apr 14 and about 220 pigs in the herd of 2,200 began showing signs of sickness on Apr 24. The carpenter has recovered and the pigs were recovering. Pigs are often infected with flu viruses, including strains from humans and birds. They are described as a mixing vessel where different viruses can trade genes (reassort) and produce new variants. The novel H1N1 virus itself has been said to contain genetic material from swine, avian, and human flu viruses. The virus isolated from the swine does not appear to differ from the virus spreading among humans. "There is no sign that it has changed at all. But this could of course happen like with any other flu viruses." Despite repeated official assurances that proper cooking destroys any flu viruses in pork, ten countries have banned Canadian pork products since the Alberta finding. The USDA said it is "actively working to develop an H1N1 vaccine for swine, just as the CDC is doing for humans."

Will Pandemic Be Mild, Or Kill Millions?

Swine flu will carry the name "pandemic" even if the new virus turns out to cause mainly mild symptoms as it sweeps the world, raising questions about how serious the global alert actually is. Although it has been deadly in the disease epicentre, Mexico, and caused the death of one Mexican infant in the United States, in other countries people infected with swine flu have fared well, with diarrhoea the biggest complaint.
The World Health Organisation is expected to move quickly to designate a full pandemic -- at level 6 of its 6-point scale -- within days to reflect the continuing spread of swine flu among people who have not been to Mexico, including in Europe.
Margaret Chan, the WHO's director-general, on Wednesday night raised the world flu alert level from 4 to 5 and said: "It is really all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic."
Echoing other infectious disease experts, and drawing on her experience fighting SARS and bird flu outbreaks as health director of Hong Kong, she said viruses such as the H1N1 swine strain needed to be closely watched in case they worsen.
"We learn from previous pandemics. Pandemic virus is precarious, unpredictable, and will take us by surprise," she told reporters at the WHO's headquarters.

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